year like clockwork. It’s the beginning of the summer movie season and
a bad film gets released; while many people complain about how awful
this overhyped spectacle was, others inevitably come in and drop pearls
of amazing wisdom:

‘It’s fun, don’t overthink it!’

‘Movie X that you love is just as stupid!’

‘You’ve lost touch with your inner five year old!’*

and the kicker

‘You have to turn your brain off!’

that last one that really tweaks me. It’s so lazy, so lowest common
denominator… and worst of all, it obliterates all critical thought.
There is literally no difference between ‘You have to turn your brain
off to enjoy Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull!’
and ‘You have to turn your brain off to enjoy this series of colorful
displays and loud noises!’ By taking that side of the debate, not only
are you killing all future discussion (there is no actual comeback to
that stance in terms of talking about the film – you can only attack
the stance itself, which has rendered the film immune to every single
possible criticism), you’re murdering the very concept of discernment
itself. It’s the equivalent of ‘Phish is really great if you’re totally
stoned’ argument; banging on pans is also really great if you’re
totally stoned. This argument is just as valid for Epic Movie as it is for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. You’ve leveled the playing field with an H-Bomb.

worked with retarded adults in the past I have seen grown men with the
IQs of two year olds spend hours licking crayons; these people are
fitting the ‘turn your brain off’ criteria pretty soundly, and while
some of them were big hearted, special people who moved me deeply**,
there’s no aspect of their lives to which I aspire. But hey, they’re
pretty indiscriminate when it comes to being entertained, so they must
be doing something right according to the ‘turn your brain off’ people.

a belief among these ‘brain off’ types (we’ll call the Schiavos from
now on) that people who don’t seek vegetative states at the cinema are
in some way broken. We’re all grown up and can’t find Neverland again
maybe, or we’re just snobs who demand only six hour Nordic language
black and white movies about crib death. Nothing could be farther from
the truth, and the Schiavos almost hit on the truth when the say ‘But
you liked Movie X, which was also stupid when you break it down!’ What
they’re missing, though, is that movies are magic. Not Merlin magic,
but Houdini magic. It’s all about sleight of hand, tricking and fooling
you into thinking you’re seeing what isn’t there. That’s the case on a
fundamental technical level – film is a series of still images given
the illusion of movement, and editing is taking things that are almost
completely unrelated in space and time and juxtaposing them so they fit
together and tell a story. You’re being fooled.

it goes deeper than that, deeper than the technical aspects. A good
storyteller will use magician’s techniques when weaving his tale,
especially that of misdirection. A magician will bring your attention
away from wherever the illusion is taking place so that you’re looking
at his right hand while his left is stuffing a silk handkerchief up a
dove’s asshole or something, and that’s the same thing a good
action/adventure storyteller should be doing. Steven Spielberg has in
the past been a master at this -sure, lots of stuff in Raiders, Temple of Doom and Last Crusade don’t
make 100% sense, things happen because they need to happen or because
it’s exciting for them to happen, but Spielberg is keeping your eyes on
something else so that you’re not paying attention to the narrative
trickery required to get characters from place to place or to make an
action scene more exciting.

misdirection happens in the form of strong plot construction, attention
to detail and great characters. None of these things are important to
the Schiavos, though – they don’t care if no one in a film has a
personality as long as enough loud moments occur to keep their
flat-lining alpha waves comforted. Over the years I’ve seen the
Schiavos become more and more lowest common denominator, to the point
where basic narrative is no longer of any concern to them. Sure, I
understand the metaphor of a movie as a roller coaster, but it’s
important to remember that a roller coaster is not a narrative
experience. It’s also usually about three minutes long, not two plus

evidence about the Schiavos is troubling, as it indicates many of them
are high-ranking diplomats involved in touchy peace talks, brain
surgeons, nuclear safety technicians, or the President of the United
States. See, the Schiavos back up their desire for coma level
entertainment by talking about the need to unwind, the desire to get
away from it all. Escapism is the order of the day, but not just
escapism from the trials and tribulations of daily life. They need to
escape from all brain use, which is what leads me to believe that
Schiavos hold these sorts of lofty positions. After all, your average
American doesn’t need to use his or her brain less,
especially after a week at a job that is stultifying and utterly
without intellectual challenge. If Schiavos were ordinary people you
would expect that they would want to have their minds engaged in fun
ways. Of course, it’s possible that Schiavos are all ex-heroin abusers
and seek nothing more than the bliss of non-existence.

truth is that I’m not looking for that much in my summer blockbuster. I
don’t expect weighty meditations on the nature of the human heart or
thematic explorations of the Thanatos instinct. I’d like to have my
intellect somewhat engaged, to have the movie try to stay one step
ahead of me or to surprise me beyond ‘Holy shit, that was exceptionally
bright and loud!’, but I’d settle for something that doesn’t treat me
like an oversugared six year old with a lead pipe lodged in my frontal
lobe. Iron Man won’t
be winning any non-technical awards this year, but it’s a movie that
gave me characters I could enjoy, scenarios that were plausible within
the world it created for itself, and action that was fun and exciting. Iron Man isn’t
even one of my top ten ‘blockbusters’ of all time, but it still stands
heads and shoulders above the rest of the crap that gets shoveled into
theaters in the warm months. I understand that, just like in your
workplace, many people in Hollywood don’t bother trying to do more than
the minimal amount of work, but do we have to reward them by turning
off our brains and pretending like its acceptable? Why is it that in
Hollywood the amount of effort that goes into a film seems to be
inversely proportional to how much it cost?

time has come to pull the plug on Schiavo thinking. Walk into your
local theater this summer with your brain proudly turned on.

suspect that the people making these arguments have not yet lost touch
with the local outer five year olds. Call Chris Hansen.

**Radio has been teaching us all along!