Saturday, 13 December 2014

Lights, camera, action hero...

My first recollection of the cinema is seeing the original Star Wars in 1977, and it set in motion a lifelong enthusiasm for George Lucas's creation. I still feel that the original trilogy is far superior to the prequels from more recent years, with the newer ones relying a bit too heavily on CG graphics and Hayden Christensen's acting which was more hammy than a ploughman's lunch and about as convincing as an email from Africa offering you a once-in-a-lifetime investment opportunity.
With a new episode in the making, I can't help wondering where the story could possibly be taken, and the cynic in me is crying out that it's just a shameless cash-in on the phenomenal success of the series, but I hope that idea is proved at least partially wrong. I want the new one to be a worthy addition to the saga so that my affection for Star Wars remains untarnished.
But not every film stands the test of time this way, and the most glaringly obvious examples of time eroding the appeal of a movie can be found in the action genre.
From the martial arts movies of the 70's through the unintelligible grunts of John Rambo to Steven Seagal proving that being a one-trick-pony is no barrier to movie success and a big paycheck, we've seen it all. With a dazzling catalogue of films featuring the dominating presences of Schwarzenegger, Stallone,  Van Damme, Seagal, etc we're shown time after time that there's no point taking out the bad guy with one bullet from 1000 yards when you can blow up an entire city block to achieve the same end. All of these movies are larger than life with enormous body counts racked up by a single hero who suffers little more than a few bruises and a torn vest, leaving a swathe of destruction that would have made the Luftwaffe's effect on London look like a job that could be cleaned up with a brush and dustpan.
When these films were released they had a huge following. Men could sit back and lose themselves in 90 minutes of mindless escapism while women could just about tolerate them for the sake of Van-Damme's glistening muscles when his shirt inevitably fell off during the big fight with Mr Naughty.
At that time - late 80's to mid 90's - I was completely hooked on these films and my VHS video collection began to swell with numerous examples which were watched over and over until I knew all the dialogue and who would be the next bad guy to explode on the receiving end of a 40mm grenade.
Eventually my tastes expanded to cover many other types of movie, but recently the old titles have started to emerge either on Netflix or in the DVD bargain bin in the supermarket.
Unlike the original Star Wars trilogy and countless classics that relied exclusively on a good story and top rate acting talent, the old action movies have suffered greatly with the passing of time and our own expectations of what makes a good film.
The other evening I sat down to watch 'Kickboxer' which I used to enjoy back in the day, only to conclude that it was more cheesy than a French delicatessen. There have been others too which have not survived being revisited years later. The best bits of 'Under Siege' were Erika Eleniak getting her rack out and Tommy Lee Jones proving he was the only actor involved with any real talent.
The first 'Terminator' film still possesses a decent story, but the effects of the fleshless terminator in the last scenes are now almost as laughable as ED209 in 'Robocop'. Almost without exception all these action movies fulfil every cliché, particularly the theme of a one-man army defeating the enemy despite being outnumbered hundreds to one by evil minions (not the purple ones) armed to the teeth with machine guns and heavy artillery. Throw in a few post-slaying witty quips, like Arnie's "Stick around" after pinning his hapless quarry to a tree with a large knife, lots of torn clothes to show off well honed muscles, and a final scene involving our hero walking slowly out of the smoke to a background of American soft rock. You always knew how it was going to pan out. It was as predictable as there being a Bond film on telly on Christmas day, but like a good road trip it was more about the journey than the destination.
That was then, but trying to watch them now is kind of embarrassing. I spot one of these films and say to the boy "Hey, I remember this, it was great - you'll love it!". Twenty minutes in he's giving me funny looks and if he makes it to the end he's in disbelief that I made him sit through such a torrent of nonsense and that I could ever have enjoyed such a thing. Okay, he'll get a bit of enjoyment from the gunfights and blokes kicking the shit out of each other for way longer than they ever would in real life, but that's about it. For my own part I'll sit through it determined to find that spark that made me enjoy it so much twenty years ago, but failing miserably and finding that actually it's a pretty crappy excuse for entertainment.
The recent attempts to resurrect the genre have been patchy at best. I admit I really enjoyed 'The Expendables' as a bit of brain-out fun, but the second one was simply awful so I have no intention of subjecting myself to number three.
Clearly this is why I've moved on. I enjoy watching many kinds of film including some old black and white ones, foreign films, and God help me even the odd chick-flick. I loved 'Breakfast at Tiffanys', although that might have been helped by the delectable Audrey Hepburn, 'White Heat' with James Cagney, and 'Some Like It Hot' with Marilyn Monroe. Even though decades have passed, these film are still as enjoyable today as they ever were, but the action movies were a passing fad that belongs in the history books of cinema.

Arnie felt his mouse problem demanded something
bigger than the standard commercial mousetraps