Did you see Independence Day: Resurgence? I did. It didn’t stand out as a masterpiece but, by golly, it was so much fun. Space ships, lasers, Jeff Goldblum’s cynical quips. It even climaxed with a Cthulhu inspired, Kaiju-esque alien rampage. I ate my popcorn and watched the extraterrestrial mayhem unfold. So many explosions. And to my knowledge, it is the first time a mainstream movie has introduced the potential for a large space ship to have its own gravitational pull. A ship three thousand miles in diameter devastates the eastern seaboard of the US and all of the UK because it has its own gravity! WHAT!? Now that earns mad science fiction props in my book. The Death Star doesn’t even have its own gravitational pull (at least not in the films) and it’s the size of a moon! It was visually terrifying and mind-boggling. The sci-fi nerd in me laughed out loud in the theatre at how unnerving the scene was. What gleeful, popcorn movie destruction.
Tuesday morning I came into work and made a quick scan of the headlines. They all reported the current presidential race. But a close second were the suicide attacks in Baghdad and Saudi Arabia (Let that sink in. The media would rather repeat the same pig swill about Clinton and Trump that it has since April than cover terrorist attacks outside of the US and western Europe). Several weeks ago, our nation was focused for a hot second on the violence perpetuated at a night club in Orlando. We live in a world full of violence. This is nothing new. In the Hebrew Scriptures, the book of Genesis as early as chapter 6 describes the world as being filled with violence (Genesis 6:11). Six chapters earlier, the narrative describes how good Creation was. It is repeated over and over that it was good. Now only six chapters into the book of Genesis, a book which has been broke down into 50 chapters throughout tradition I might add, and the world is full of violence. The horror we watch in the news is not new.
The entertainment value we place on violence is also nothing new. Gladiatorial games or public executions were a day at the county fair in antiquity. What is new is the medium and volume through which we can be entertained by such violence. Have you watched any of the Transformers films, or perhaps Man of Steel? Watch the climaxes of those movies, then watch clips of the World Trade Center bombings. I sincerely hope it makes you very, very uncomfortable. While one could argue that the similarities are intentional and meant to be poignant (somehow), I’m not convinced the summer blockbuster is striving for anything more than flashy spectacle.
Blockbuster is a curious term. Fun fact: it was originally used in the 1940s to refer to aircraft deployed bombs capable demolishing whole city blocks. Thirty years later it would be applied to describe hit films and other media. Today in 2016, if you go to see a summer “blockbuster,” you can expect explosions and mayhem and chaos that threatens life as we know it. Thank heavens for the Avengers or Optimus Prime or Earth Space Defense for using more explosions, mayhem, and chaos to save the day. Redemptive violence at its best. It is ironic that we call these films blockbusters. And poetic. And tragic.
But I love watching the spectacle of these movies. I had a blast watching Independence Day: Resurgence. I am excited that the groundwork was laid for a sequel (Interstellar travel! With a giant Apple alien kick ball!).
This morning, I do not have any statements to make. I haven’t found a soapbox to stand on. I just have questions. How do we bridge that seemingly insurmountable chasm between the summer blockbuster we dish out billions of dollars to watch with popcorn and Red Vines, and the horrific scenes of bombings and shootings we see (all too briefly I might add) on the news? Where do I begin to change my thinking so I am not amazed at the sight of all of London being crushed and burned by catastrophe merely because it is at the hands of CG aliens? Can I or should discriminate between when it is or isn’t part of the art form and narrative of a film? And finally how do I encourage art that doesn’t seek entertainment in violence, mayhem, and chaos? I wish I had answers. Because I did enjoy the sequel to Independence Day. But should I have?
I’d love to hear what you think in the comments below.