When you hear the term, ‘everything to everyone’, what comes to mind? Perhaps you think of a friend of yours who just tries too hard, or that Everclear song from a few years ago. But it’s a term that most people wouldn’t automatically associate with films. Lately though, it seems like the trend is to take a movie that would normally appeal to one specific audience and dumb it down, broaden and flatten it out so much that they can stretch the material out over millions of people, thus creating a much wider profit margin. Genius, right? Well, maybe it is, but only until it turns enough people off that the formula is no longer profitable.
Hugh Jackman in Van Helsing
I had the immense displeasure of seeing Van Helsing recently, and all criticisms aside, I left vastly disappointed with the movie itself and also the state of film today. The premise is simple: Van Helsing is loosely based on Bram Stoker’s character who serves as a literary foil to Dracula. The vampire-hunter is taken one step further and becomes a Catholic monster-hunter. Point being: the premise leads you to believe this is an action film and in that light, the film does not disappoint. In fact, it doesn’t really quit either. The action is so non-stop I wished there were an intermission or a pause where I could catch my breath and say, “What the hell is going on?”
Another common aspect of current films is the inclusion of the comedic relief. Of course, this is a timeless gimmick that will almost always work. Everyone loves comedy, right? The problem occurs when the comic relief is just another trite element in an amalgamation of equally trite film clichés. In Van Helsing there was a deliberate and quite obvious clash of very separate film elements. It’s an adventure, a comedy, and a revolving door of old Universal All-Stars: Dracula, Wolfman and Frankenstein’s Monster. Add a smattering of religious and personal background about Van Helsing that is also squeezed in for good measure and you see what I mean.
It’s very hard to make a consistent film while trying to please every point in the spectrum. The comedy then seems forced, the personal information useless and confusing, and the adventure loud (very, VERY loud) and over the top. Speaking of over the top, Richard Roxburgh’s “performance” (and by performance, I really mean scene chewing) of Dracula was one of the more offensive crimes I’ve seen committed on screen in recent history. But enough of my personal bias, I have forgotten that the point I am trying to make is that movies lately are simply trying much too hard.
Thomas Jane in The Punisher
Another recent example would be the blunder that is The Punisher. I will admit now that I have never read the comic, though I have it on good authority that the fans are not happy with it either. It was obvious to me, even as a newcomer to the world of Frank Castle, that this film was attempting to reach far too many people on far too many levels. First, the movie seeks to reach the comic book geeks and fans of the original story. Using MacGuyver-style ingenuity, the film-makers expect to reach a more sensitive audience by displaying that the Punisher is not always killing people or blowing things up. (I won’t even get into the ridiculous, time wasting sub-plot involving Mr. Quentin Glass and his sexual preference.) There are a number of plot holes that result from some odd decisions the script makes. For instance, Castle still resides in Miami after the massacre of his family, and yet Howard Saint (the man who killed his family) cannot seem to find him?
The Punisher and Van Helsing struggle to mix content from all over the spectrum. The problem begins when you have a story that has zero use for humor, and sticks it in there anyway. It’s quite obvious that today, studios put money far ahead of ideas or quality. Perhaps if all the people who have been so disgusted and disappointed with movies being spread so thin could take a moment to consider NOT going to see the movie that promises “a heart-warming, action packed adventure,” the film industry might see that it’s time for a change.