Once upon a time… in my first salaried job… a tired embittered ancient (I guess this guy was forty) started to berate me. When he started on about his twenty years in the job, I said: ‘You’ve not had twenty years’ experience, you’ve had the same six months’ experience 40 times.’
He was trying to force me to adopt the same outmoded M.O. that I’d been specifically headhunted to dispel.
For anyone who’s ever been interviewed by a reporter, it will come as no surprise that automated articles produced by automated software Quill, can produce ‘perfectly serviceable articles’.
Journalists are proud to have ‘paid their dues’. That is, they have to robotically learn the ropes, and any originality or talent becomes trussed up like an oven-ready turkey. They have their who, what, how… in PR they refer to SOLAADS. Again ‘How to write a story’ is so so wrong.
Newspapers can’t fathom why their circulations are falling. It’s simply because they all adopt the same tired tropes, and thus produce tripe. The tabloids are lazy. Firefighters are always hunks, and military casualties were always fathers of one, two, or three. Thus fearsome heroes are rendered formulaic zeroes. If a journalist had written Beowulf it would have read more like Baywatch.
The cliché of the hard-bitten editor is embedded in Spiderman and Superman. J. Jonah Jameson and Perry White are always demanding that someone get an incriminating picture or bring them a story.
The term newspaper hack now summons images of phones – not because they’re smart, or app-licable, but because lazy newsrooms seek salacious stories to fill column inches.
These same short-cuts and short circuits are what have homogenised Hollywood. Scripts are required to adopt a format, so that producers can quickly assess their suitability i.e. familiarity. No wonder audiences grow increasingly contemptuous of movies, and choose to watch HBO.
Ray Harryhausen the creative titan behind Dynamation, retired from movie-making once the studios started pandering to adolescent formulas – that require an explosion every five minutes. While he admired what Spielberg produced for Jurassic Park, he couldn’t see how anyone could get any satisfaction tapping at keyboards. There’s no emotional or physical connection between the action and the outcome.
Spielberg and Jackson, both acknowledged the influence of Harryhausen’s work on their careers. However, given all the technological advances and near infinitesimal processing power available to them, when they attempted to adapt Georges Prosper Remi’s character to the Big Screen, they failed dismally. Because? It was souless. Tintin had dead eyes. His creator was better known by the pen name Hergé – and his TinTin was required to convey all from the same components as an emoji.
Almost every fantasy scene with a visceral visual connection in their movies can be traced back to Harryhausen’s work. ‘The Valley of Gwangi’ is virtually a template for Jurassic Park, but the studios in their infinite wisdom, thinking Gwangi too akin to Gojira, delayed release until the movie seemed archaic. CGI special effects had eclipsed stop-frame animation.
And yet, today, thanks to over-supply and exposure, the effects are no longer seen as special.
Ray Harryhausen used to invest months studying lizards in order to create a reptilian creature (he never once aimed to make a ‘monster’). Had he known, as we do today that Tyrannosaurus Rex was probably covered with brightly coloured plumage, he would have drawn his creatures thus.
As it is, we know what a dragon will look like before we ever see it. Peter Jackson can pad out the first hour of The Desolation of Smaug, but there’s zero suspense. It is the audience who are desolate. But they only have themselves to blame.
Today’s ‘product’ is a direct representation of the end-user’s impatience. Ironically, The Hobbit is a slim volume, written to appeal to Tolkien’s four children. Jackson’s bloated movies are created not to satisfy his audience, but to supply a sequel to the LOTR trilogy. The studios wanted ‘another one of those.’ And Jackson obliged.
Media hacks are now so used to following SOP that the BBC have mimicked HBO’s title to declare their ‘Original British Drama’ – the use of ‘original’ must be iRonic (when branding their digital distribution network, their iDea didn’t fall far from the apple). Apple in turn had to buy the rights for the name iPod – as that wasn’t theirs either.
America has been described as the most over-entertained and under-educated ‘culture’ in the world. Perhaps the American Dream has become a nightmare, or perhaps the cultivated ‘innocent’ image of the Apple Pie disguised the fact that the ingredients were rotten to the core.
When it comes to waste, recycling may be a good idea. When it comes to stories and movies, recycling is such a waste.
In our capitalist society when making money comes before inspiring children, and supply meets demand, perhaps we have to wait for a more discriminating generation. Who will break the stranglehold of ever-decreasing circles, and such shallow gene pools?
It’s obvious really: dumbing down can’t be uplifting.
I’m so grateful that I got to watch Ray while his sun shone.
© Glenn Platt 18th April 2014