Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Transformative Call to Adventure

Adventures have been staples of storytelling for as long as stories have been exchanged between man, and adventure stories within the cinema are a dime a dozen, but a simple genre that started off merely as Saturday matinee cheese has become the studios bread and butter. How did the adventure movie become what it is today?

The other night I was watching the 1960 adpatation of H.G. Wells' The Time Machine, made by George Pal, and what I was struck by with that movie was how low budget of an affair it was. While it was one of the biggest moneymakers of its respective year, the costumes and sets were laughable (about on par with the original Star Trek television series), and this got me thinking about the genre we now know as adventure. It's interesting that back then, while adventure movies were financially successful, the studios put less money in them, whereas nowadays, the entire backbone of the studios strategy is to put all of their money into adventure movies and less in every other kind of movie produced. While adventure movies of yesteryear and adventure movies of today are still the prime source of revenue for the studios, budgets and respectability have morphed over the years.

Back in the early days of cinema, adventure movies were simple swashbucklers starring the likes of Errol Flynn; they were movies meant to attract the children for the Saturday matinee. The sets were often flimsy, the costumes laughable, and yet people continued to show up to see them. Cinemagoers seemed to enthrall to the exploits of tongue and cheek adventure, but what made many of these early adventure movies different than what they are today is that the people making them didn't take them seriously. The performances were over the top, and less money was put into these movies than the bloated star-driven epics of the Golden Age of Hollywood. As time progressed, it seemed that everyone was simply laughing at these movies and just simply saw them as cheap thrills.

Then, in 1977 along came Star Wars and totally reshaped the whole idea of the adventure movie. Star Wars was one of the first in a line of adventure movies that would go on to include: Superman: The Movie, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and eventually movies like The Dark Knight or Avatar. What Star Wars did, and many of these transformative adventure movies of the late 70s and early 80s, is they were big budgeted affairs from the studios. A higher sheen of quality was applied to this once throwaway genre. More respectable actors were being attracted to the roles (i.e. Marlon Brando in Superman), more respectable directors (i.e., Irivn Kershner and The Empire Strikes Back), and more respectable writers (i.e., Lawrence Kasdan and Raiders of the Lost Ark). What this did is it made critics and moviegoers alike start to think of advneture movies as more than just cheap thrills and laughable acting, costumes, and sets, but they began to see these movies as serious and respectable pieces of cinema.

Think about it, Star Wars is still being studied by purveyors of Greek mythology, religion, and Shakespearean dynamics. The adventure movie is no longer seen as throwaway trash, but as something that has some more heft to it. While, yes there are many an adventure movie nowadays that do not apply that heft, there are just as many "dramas" that miss the mark entirely as well. I mean, just think, in the past few years we have gotten adventure movies like: The Dark Knight, Spider-man 2, and Avatar, alongside a great many others, that all arguably have great philosophical and emotional depths to their storytelling. An adventure movie even finally won an Oscar (The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King)!

I don't know where the adventure movie is to go from here. Me personally, I would like to see the few critics still out there of this genre that refuse to consider these movies as works of art, change their minds on this genre and accept it. They don't have to like it, but don't deride the genre simply because a movie about a guy who dresses up as a bat or a teen who happens to be a wizard is just a touch too much fantasy for them. Perhaps a few more Oscar-winning adventure movies may change the thoughts of the few naysayers still out there, regardless, great adventures like Peter Pan or The Iliad are still staples of classic literature and considered art, so why not The Dark Knight or Star Wars? Just a simple question.

1 comment:

  1. Christian,

    This is great blog entry. And I'm enjoying reading your film reviews. Looking forward to your film analysis.