Hollywood Sucks Ass

Why is Tora Tora Tora such a good film and Pearl Harbour a steaming pile of turd? Surely Michael Bay is merely a symptom and not a cause.

I recently watched both movies again … well, watched one and raged at the other for 40 minutes before turning it off. It’s not so much the two film’s difference in treatment of the same event (and, in fact, many of the same characters and incidents) as the difference in tone and approach to story telling which intrigues me.

A friend of mine lays the blame for the difference between the two films squarely on the shoulders of Steven Speilberg and Jaws. This film was the first of the summer blockbusters. It showed, he says, that story is entirely secondary and geared Hollywood up to produce over the top flashy brain candy to sucker college kids out of their cash. I’m not sure that agree – primarily because I like Jaws.

People have proposed other ‘death of Hollywood’ scenarios. One of the most popular says that since the development of televsion, movies had to find a way to compete. What could they do that tv couldn’t? Big flashy explosions and stuff. They never look good on the small screen, do they. If people want character and story, they’ll watch television. The movies offer spectale and extravagance. It’s a position which is more difficult to argue with but it doesn’t address the continued profitability and popularity of low budget films which concentrate solely on characetr and story without the need for special effects.

At the risk of pretentious philosophising, I’m going to hang my hat on another option: economic rationalism. At its simplest, I’d argue that Hollywood has become concerned solely with playing the percentages, appealing to the lowest common denominator in order to put bums on seats in cinemas. The bigger the spectacle, the greater the number of people who will watch it. Profits are put in front of art. The problem with this approach is that Hollywood has always done this.

I think, however, that there has been a change and that it’s significant. It can be summarised in the famous quote from the equally famous British Prime Minister and proponent of economic rationalism: “There is no such thing as society. There are individuals.” This strikes closer to the mark, I reckon. This the the attitude and the turning point after which Hollywood films (and much of the rest of society) starts to decay towards Wall Street.

The theme of Tora, Tora, Tora can be summarised in the last words of the film, which are given to Admiral Yamamato: “All we have done is to awaken the sleeping giant.” Without a concept of society as an entity, there is no sleeping giant to awaken. If the movie Pearl Harbour cannot talk about society, what can it say? Nothing really. It’s a love story. Not even an interesting love story. Not a love story set in the time of cholera. Not a meeting of star-crossed lovers.

So, why wrap this tedious harlequin novel in one of the greatest events of the twentieth century? To disguise this fact and nothing more.

In the words of the immortal Bill Collins, “Tora, Tora, Tora is a movie about Pearl Harbour. Pearl Harbour is a movie about Hollywood.”

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