See, for example, the opinions on American Hustle from many of those who watched it late on in its release and, given its place in the awards race last season alongside heavyweight films such as Dallas Buyers Club and 12 Years a Slave, went in expecting something mind-blowingly incredible. A lot of the criticism revolved around the fact that it wasn’t as good as reviews were making it out to be. But this hardly seems a fair basis on which to judge a film. Whereas it might not be entirely wrong to be a little bit suspicious of its December release date, American Hustle is indeed a great film and shouldn’t be viewed solely as part of a ‘potential Oscar-winner’ group.
American Hustle happened to be more than capable of proving that its popularity was in fact deserved, but we cannot watch films waiting for them to fulfil their existing quota of award nominations. Surely one of the points of great filmmaking – and great film enjoyment – is that it is the other way around. But hype is currently increasing expectations in audiences to the point at which ‘not knowing what to expect’ because you know nothing about the film becomes ‘not knowing what to expect’ because it has been so talked up that apparently, the experience can be nothing short of opening the door to the cinema to find that they’ve secretly built a theme park with which to take you through each scene, complete with the actors themselves as the guides.
The answer to what could possibly be as good as all this is, quite frankly, nothing. In fact, not even those films that do have their own theme parks can expect to reliably survive being overhyped. Just ask Pirates of the Caribbean. Again we can use the phrase ‘they’re good – but not that good,’ only this time it feels like a real shame to say it. Film is still doing what it is meant to do, but often it seems as though we are perhaps expecting it to do something more.
There is also the risk that while looking for the obviously amazing, we are missing the more understated elements of films that display the sort of commitment and attention to detail on the part of the filmmakers that can add eons of power to a movie in single moments. How the diner scene is played in Heat, the light non-focal conversations between Leon and Mathilda in Leon, Frodo’s silent, expressionless tears over the catastrophic loss of Gandalf in The Fellowship of the Ring, the inclusion of the brief but touching real life footage of James Hunt and Nikki Lauda at the end of Rush – all are crucial indicators that real filmmaking capability was present in these movies.
We have to hope that the volume of hype never reaches a pitch at which such aspects of cinema are drowned out. We need to make sure that while watching for the fireworks we don’t forget about the sparklers, because we all know that the sparklers are really the main event, right?