There exist many kinds of movies; some are pure entertainment (often times called “popcorn” movies, examples being any directed by Michael Bay and/or produced by Jerry Bruckheimer) and they boast great visual effects, but not much in the way of story (referred to as ‘style over content’); there are movies meant to deliver messages (sometimes in subtle ways), and sometimes these films put characters in difficult situations so as to ask questions of the viewer; then there are movies that are based on true events or certain times in people’s lives; there are also documentaries, although we’ve learned nowadays that documentaries can be edited to portray events in a particular (or slanted) way (“Fahrenheit 9/11” and “Bowling for Columbine” as examples). Although I don’t believe that Michael Moore edited things falsely in his films (he has been accused by other people of doing so), the fact remains that it can be done. If anyone out there has ever edited a film, you know what I’m talking about. Newscasters can do this too; they can twist a story around and present it any way they want because they’ve got the footage and the control over how it’s going to be presented.

In my opinion, there are many great movies out there and many more that are horrible. But what makes a movie great or not? The acting? The message? Storyline? Cinematography? Is it be a combination of some or all of those things?

Directors and writers sometimes put hidden messages and symbols into films because it’s part of what makes filmmaking an art. There was one director (name unknown at this time) who said, “If I want to give people a message, I’ll send a telegram”. In a way, I suppose he has a point; why not simply say it instead of using long stories packed with hidden meaning and symbolism? But I think it’s much more interesting to try and figure out what the message is, even if those of us watching don’t get the same message out of the movie. That, however, can be frustrating if you’re a director and you’re certain that you’ve told the story in such a way that the message should be very clear, and yet, somehow, some people get a very different message. As a director, you may think you have failed in what you were trying to achieve. It may give you the incentive to either try harder or try something different next time. Trying new things is very important for an artist’s growth. We’re all human, we all have varied interests and we shouldn’t be punished for exploring those interests. Some people might call that “selling out” (for example, if a band tries a different style of music); that’s true in some cases. My definition of “selling out” is when you do something new simply for money. If you try something new because you want a challenge, a change, or the chance to apply your creative juices to offer a unique perspective, you are exploring, growing, and changing.

I’ve seen many a movie in my 23 years; I believe the very first one was “The Monster squad” at the age of 5 or 6, and it made me want to start my own squad and hunt down monsters. Seeing “Star Wars: A new hope” a few years later was mind boggling, along with “Star Trek”, “Raiders of the lost ark” and “Back to the future”. Nowadays, I’ll watch just about any genre of movie. The most obscure movies (those least advertised) may turn out to be hidden gems for your collection, and I have seen quite a few of those because I was sick of what the mainstream was pumping out.

It’s great to see a variety of actors in different roles collaborating with talented directors going off great scripts. Sometimes this is not the case; sometimes it’s a good actor with an unknown director going off a mediocre script. But Hollywood’s studios try and hit the ‘BEST’ mark every time (the best actor, best director, scriptwriter, producer, etc.). Who they choose is sometimes based on who they can afford, who’s available, who has signed a contract to a 3-picture deal…so on and so forth. There are times when studios will put money on a film the way someone in a casino would place a bet (that is to say, go all in, cross their fingers, and hope for the best), but that happens far less these days because of some people’s credit and reputation; everyone hates losing money, especially people who have a lot of it. I believe that some movies are made with big stars and bigger explosions with little effort for story and editing and more than a decent share of that effort going towards marketing and advertising.

If violent movies can influence a young person’s mind and lead them to commit violence, how come I haven’t gone out and killed anyone? Why haven’t I ever taken a gun to school and blown someone away? I saw “Die hard” at the age of 11 and “Friday the 13th part 6” at the age of 12. The list of violent and gruesome movies that I’ve seen since that time would make any bleeding heart think that I was two steps away from becoming a full-fledged homicidal maniac…but that’s simply not true. What is the justification behind blaming action and horror films for the crimes some people commit? I think that someone who is so influenced by a work of fiction that it drives them to kill someone or destroy something is either very young and has an impressionable mind or is mentally unstable and doesn’t understand the definition and purpose of fiction. I don’t believe that a work of fiction can warp the minds of everyone who comes in contact with it. I also don’t think that violent films should be banned; this is why a ratings classification system exists, because once you reach a certain age, it is assumed that you are mentally prepared to absorb visually graphic images without resorting to violence as a reaction to those images.

What about pornographic films? Should they be banned? Is it wrong to watch human beings engage in the act of sex on film/video? Why or why not? What is the difference between you watching two people have sex on a TV screen and you yourself engaging in the act? The images that you see are almost identical! If the age of consent is 16, then why does someone have to be 18 or 19 to watch a porn film? Are there people out there who think that watching pornography will lead to nymphomania? (If there are, they’re probably the same people who believe that those who watch violent films will go out and commit acts of violence.) It can be said that pornography causes sexual thoughts, but it can also be said that sexual thoughts cause people to make pornographic films. But besides sexual thoughts, what is the purpose of pornography? Can a multi-billion-dollar-a-year industry be shut down simply because it’s not moral or decent?

Finally, is the war between the movie studios and the movie pirates ever going to end? How much stricter can copyright laws get? Is there a line (moral, ethical, legal) that they should not cross, and has it already been crossed? Is saving $20 on a DVD by downloading a film worth the increased risk of being sued for hundreds of thousands of dollars and/or put in jail for a few years? I’ve learned quite a bit about copyright law since the public debate on copyright infringement became popular after the rise of Napster and the court cases between large media companies and individual downloaders. I don’t know how that war is going to end, but as long as there’s a machine from which media can be played, someone will figure out a way to copy that media from that machine and share it with others.

There’s quite a bit of time and effort that goes into making a movie. Watch the “Behind the scenes” clips on some of the DVDs that you own. Watch “Lost in La Mancha” to get an idea of why some movies are never made. Understand that a film editor probably has more power than a director when it comes to the final say of how a film is put together (unless the director has ‘final cut’, a term that means that since it’s their film, they get the final say on how it’s edited). Some films may suck, but probably not for the reasons that you initially think. Once you understand the creative process behind filmmaking and the number of people involved, you may have a greater appreciation for films that do turn out very well.

For some reason, a book, character or TV show may not receive that much attention (or become popular) until that book, character or TV show is going to be the focus of a movie. It’s as if being in a movie is the highest thing one can achieve entertainment-wise. Why might this be? Could it be that advertising hypes the movie way beyond its actual entertainment value?

All in all, some movies are great, while others are a great waste of time (hence the phrase, “That’s X hours of my life that I’ll never get back!”). Movies can be the reason for a gathering of friends, a homework assignment, or the theme for a drinking game. While I don’t think they are the be-all, end-all of entertainment, I do believe they can serve a useful purpose in society (if the right story is handled carefully and properly by the right cast, crew and studio…and THAT in and of itself takes a lot of luck). More than simply entertainment vehicles, movies can be artifacts of history or objects of study. It’s all in how you watch them…and it’s a hell of a lot of fun to participate in making them.

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