In Defense of Stupid Movies

Dan Wells and I are having a Twitter argument. That’s fine in my book. Half the fun of being friends with a guy like Dan Wells is being able to get into enjoyable arguments. (The other half of the fun is finding out who’s right by board game duel.) Today’s topic? Basically whether or not Jurassic Park is a good movie, although I think it goes beyond that. Here’s a rundown of the relevant Tweets:

  1. I want everyone who sees movies, or tells stories in any medium, to hang this on their wall: Movies Should Be Good …

  2. @TheDanWells I disagree. There are different values of “good” for stories. Jurassic World is NOT going for this kind of good.

    @TheDanWells Jurassic World is going for “explodey stupid action” good, and it does it very well. Doesn’t matter if some dislike that genre.

  3. @bmoorebooks I disagree vehemently that explodey action has to be stupid. There are plenty of action movies with viable stories.
  4. @TheDanWells True. But that’s a different genre. There’s “explodey stupid action” and “explodey action.” I happen to like both.

  5. @TheDanWells Half the fun of stupid action is laughing at how stupid the characters are.

We went on from there, and I for one was entertained by the thought exchange, even if Dan did end up saying I had poor taste in movies and I wasn’t his favorite librarian. (We’ll just see if *any* of his interlibrary loan items every show up at his library ever again.) But after the dust all settled, I think it came down to basically one topic (or at least, as I reflect on what started the whole thing it does): what redeeming quality do stupid movies have? And does it matter if they’re stupid on purpose or just by accident?

See, I don’t think Jurassic World is trying to be a stupid action movie, and I think that’s one of the reasons it succeeds so well at it. What is a stupid action movie? It’s hard for me to define, but I know one when I see it. The first GI Joe movie definitely qualifies. The A-Team movie. Fast and Furious films (though I didn’t like them nearly as much as the first two examples.)

The more I think about it, the more I begin to wonder if this isn’t a personal taste issue: a proclivity I have for movies that try to be one thing but do it with such big holes that I stop holding them to the standard of the genre they’re trying to be.

That sentence made sense to me, even if it didn’t to you.

Let me try and break it down some more. Action movies have standards. What you can get away with, and what you can’t. Go too far with your physics-defying stunts, and you lose me. But there’s this interesting path I can sometimes take when watching a movie, and I think it typically has to do with the plot, not the action. Have the characters do enough stupid things with a straight face, and my mind starts to play a game: laugh at the stupid. It’s how I came up with the VENGIL scale for movies like this. (The key components for GI Joe’s success was Violence, Explosives, Ninjas, and Girls in Leather. VENGIL.)

The VENGIL scale gets tweaked a bit for me from film to film. Obviously Jurassic World had no ninjas (though wouldn’t it have been awesome if it had?), and Bryce Dallas Howard isn’t in leather (though again, wouldn’t it have been . . . I’ll stop there), so it would be more of a VADGIS scale: Violence, Attacking Dinosaurs, Girls in Skirts. (One Bryce Dallas Howard in a cute outfit goes an awfully long way to making a movie successful on the VADGIS scale.)

But once my internal critic senses this shift in a movie, I stop caring as much about the plot and the characterization, and I start just enjoying the ride. (Is this how normal people consume movies?)

See, I can understand Dan’s point about Jurassic World. If I wanted a seriously awesome movie, I would have been upset by many of the decisions the film made. The plot has gaping holes, and the characters make massively huge mistakes multiple times throughout the film. But somehow, I stopped caring about any of that and just enjoyed the ride.

The great thing about consuming media is that you get to do it on your own terms, and that everyone can have a unique experience. What works for one person might bomb with another. Was Jurassic World supposed to be taken as an idiotic romp through the Cretaceous Period? I tend to doubt it, and likely the film maker would be sad that that’s how I was able to enjoy it.

But at least I still enjoyed it.

I don’t know. What started as a simple Twitter-off has made me all introspectivey. I’d love to hear some other takes on this subject, because I think my Friday mind has about reached its limits for now. Please chime in!

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