Last Friday, one of my coworkers -- a bright guy in his mid-twenties whom I quite like, but often struggle to find common ground with -- asked if I knew when Clash of the Titans was coming out.
"Sure," I replied, "the next time I go to my video cabinet and get the DVD."
Big laughs ensued. The kid was talking, of course, about the upcoming remake of the Ray Harryhausen classic, while I was playing to my usual curmudgeonly, remake-hating persona.
Well, this humorous bonding moment led to a discussion of the original film, which my colleague had never seen, and he asked me if I'd recommend it. I told him yes, but qualified my opinion by advising that if he thought he might want to give Clash a try, he needed to keep in mind that it was a 30-year-old movie that was originally made for 12-year-olds. You see, I've been down this path before; I know how younger people usually react to the stuff I grew up liking.
Sure enough, I received a somewhat chagrined message from my coworker last night, saying he'd tried, he'd really tried, to watch the original Clash over the weekend, and he was sorry, but he just couldn't get through it. The problem, not surprisingly, was the visual effects. They were just too antiquated for his jaundiced eye, too "phony-looking." He simply could not suspend his disbelief long enough to enjoy the movie's plot.
I was disappointed by his reaction, but not remotely surprised. Of course he had problems with the visual effects. The Damn Kids always do, don't they? Actually, I guess that's not fair... it's not just the kids, as I know a lot of people my own age who snark on older films for the exact same reason. Even the groundbreakers and landmarks like the original Star Wars don't look real enough to modern audiences anymore; ironic, considering Star Wars gave birth to the modern emphasis on visual effects, as well as the effects giant Industrial Light and Magic, which pioneered most of the digital technology that now dominates the field.
I guess I must be some kind of mutant, because I don't have a problem with the things that bother other people about old movies. I'll be the first one in the room to nitpick a plot hole or note that a movie had a good premise but was poorly executed, or that it had a bad premise and never should've been greenlighted in the first place. I'm not saying that I like everything without reservation. But I very, very rarely complain about surface-level trappings like visual effects. I seem to have a knack for simply accepting vintage movies and TV shows for what they are -- vintage. The best that could be done at the time they were made, and given the constraints the individual productions may have been under in terms of budget, schedule, and available technology.
It isn't that I don't notice when the effects are primitive or unsuccessful. I'm not delusional, and -- despite what the smart-alecks out there might be thinking -- I really don't revel in crap the way some connoisseurs do. But a movie that was considered good -- or at least good enough -- when it came out tends to remain that way in my eyes. Unlike a lot of the folks with whom I find myself debating this subject, I don't expect a movie made in 1953 or 1977 or 1981 to look like Avatar, and it doesn't matter to me that it doesn't. (Actually, it's a plus for me that old movies don't look like Avatar, because I didn't think the Big Thing du Jour was all that neat. Just about everything about Pandora looked like a damn video game, and to my eye, that's more phony than rubber masks and model rocketships dangling from piano wires. But that, perhaps, is a tangent for another time.)
I'm not trying to make myself out to be morally superior because I like old movies and a lot of people -- perhaps most people -- do not. But I do get frustrated with the modern preoccupation with visual effects and whether or not they look "real." (Not to mention the disconnect between what looks real to me, and what apparently is the current standard for real. But again, that's a tangent.) In my view, being unable to watch a movie because it has obsolete visual effects is as illogical as not liking a flick from the '70s because the cast is wearing leisure suits, or sneering at a movie from the '40s because it was shot in black-and-white. That's just how things were when those movies were made, and I personally don't see why it's such a problem that they don't look like everything looks now.
Of course, I do know people who won't watch '70s movies because they can't stop laughing at the clothes, or who turn up their noses at black-and-white, for no reason other than... it's black and white. I once met a guy who actually believed there wasn't any point in watching anything older then five years. Even something he'd once enjoyed was off the menu after five years, because he just knew it would now be "too dated." I couldn't have been more baffled by that theory if it'd been presented in Swahili.
You know, film preservation has thus far focused entirely on the physical, i.e., capturing the content from decaying film stock and getting it into a more stable medium. But I wonder if maybe it's not equally important to work on the psychological aspect of preservation... because what good is it to save the content if no one wants to actually experience it?