Heresy of the Week – Better to be bad than dull


after earth jaden smith

Heresy of the Week is a (mostly) weekly spot in which I entertain some of the unthinkable notions of geek-culture. The arguments I put forward are not always things I personally agree with, but often rhetorical devices designed to force myself (and maybe readers) out of the boxes which fan discussions can get caught in. But that aside, feel free to get yourselves worked up and your knickers in a twist if you really want to.

This week’s heresy:

Critics save a lot of ire for works which are qualitatively bad, when arguably there is a worse sin in film, books, and all creative works of entertainment: being boring.

There’s nothing worse than a bad film, is there?

I do love a bad film. The feeling, leaving the cinema or turning off the DVD, and launching into a full-blooded Kermodian rant, detailing in livid and oft-times sweary glory every last fault. This very blog is the usual venue.

But whilst there is a joy in bad films, there is a cardinal sin which cannot be forgiven: being dull.

I say this having just seen — at last — the much-panned After Earth. It did, absolutely, live down to its reputation. It was bilge. There was so much wrong with it that I am sorely tempted to do simply a list of everything wrong with it, rather than a review. But the worst thing about it, far and away, is that it was boring.

It was boring. A sci-fi epic involving outlandish creatures, life and death decisions, and a spaceship crash. And it was boring. There ought to be some sort of award for failure that catastrophically complete.

And it isn’t like it’s a given. A sci-fi action film staring Will Smith. I mean, I Am Legend was a bad film (particularly the ending), but it was still enjoyable. I, Robot was a nonsensical massacre of the source material, but it still entertained me. Hell, Independence Day was an absurd, jingoistic, flag-waving piece of twaddle, and yet it is still good for a laugh.

But After Earth was not entertaining. It was flat, humourless, and indeed lifeless. It prized itself on a lack of emotion, and as such I could not care.

Contrast this with, as a good example, the famously infamous Nicholas Cage. He has been in some stinkingly bad films, and yet (to my knowledge) has never been anything less than delightfully entertaining. From mad, scenery chewing in Vampire’s Kiss, to mock-serious baseball bat swinging in Knowing. From discount Indiana Jones in National Treasure, to…that in The Wicker Man.

The difference is attention to what the actual purpose of it is. Yes, film, as with all creative media is capable of (and indeed should) conveying great ideas and deep philosophical themes. But its core purpose, without which none of it is worth a damn, is that it must be entertaining.

After Earth‘s writer/director M. Night Shyamalan used to get it. Will Smith, I am convinced, does get it; here he groans under the weight of Shyamalan’s bloated vision, convoluted back-story, and backwards character arcs. I don’t care about the characters, and even the world building (which in the bland Man of Steel, for instance, was the only thing I was interested in) was such a convoluted, under-explained mess that I was lost and disinterested.

This applies not just to films, but across the board to all creative works. Getting lost in your own pretentious ponderings is all well and good, but nobody will care unless it is interesting, fun, and entertaining. And if nobody cares, then what on earth is the point?

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