Is there any phrase more offensive to the people working in the cinematic entertainment industry today than the supremely dismissive and ridiculously close-minded phrase “they don’t make them like they used to?” By uttering those eight short words, a critic can dismiss virtually any movie made in the last 20 years while at the same time elevating films that, all things considered, simply aren’t as entertaining as the movie being dismissed. It is a tool of the overly-nostalgic audience that thinks if a movie takes advantage of modern technology to assist with the process of telling a story, the film simply cannot be as good as an older film that utilized practical physical effects to achieve a similar result.
In the most obvious way, this kind of casual dismissal is insulting to today’s visual effects artists. Imagine having to go into work every single day, working those long, often immensely tedious hours, knowing that the work you are doing, no matter how much effort you put into getting those tiny details just right, will never be as good as the work the people did in the generations before yours. Can you think of anything more debilitating to your motivation than that thought? Your work will never be as good as the work that came before because of the way you accomplish it. Anybody who has done any form of digital graphic design knows the amount of painstaking effort that goes into even the smallest of details. Not to mention endless battles with software crashes and things not working the way they are supposed to. This is not to say that digital visual effects are better than practical effects; not by any stretch. It all comes down to the individual talents of the production team. There are movies that have astounding practical effects, just as their are movies that have incredible digital visual effects. Consistently claiming that one is always going to be better than the other is ignorance at its finest, and quite frankly a huge insult to the talented digital artists behind today’s films.
The insult, unfortunately, doesn’t stop in the special effects department. By so casually dismissing newer films, you are also dismissing the actors who bring them to life. While there are plenty of iconic, brilliant performances in the earlier years of cinematic history, are they really better than anything any actor has done in more recent years? Is Marlon Brando’s performance as Don Vito Corleone in The Godfather really better than Michael Peña’s performance as Daniel in 2005’s Crash, or are we just letting the nostalgia bandwagon get in the way of appreciating modern talent? There was not a single moment with Vito Corleone in The Godfather that resonated with me as much as Michael Peña’s reaction to having his daughter gunned down in his arms in Crash. Considering a similar situation befalls both characters in their respective films, I felt the performances were worthy of comparison. Those nostalgia junkies will call Michael Peña’s performance melodramatic, but this is akin to calling Brando’s performance boring. Neither one is a fair assessment to make, and both are a disservice to the talents of the individual actors. Why is this okay to do to newer movies, but when you do it to an older movie, people look at you like you’re pissing into the wind? In fact, how dare I even consider comparing Brando to Peña?
You can’t stop at the actors, either. The directors also fall under this very large insult umbrella; after all, they are the ones who are “making” these movies. I wonder how Stephen Spielberg sleeps at night knowing he will never make a movie as good as Jaws. I wonder how Peter Jackson feels knowing that his remake of King Kong never had a chance in Hell of being received as a better film than the original. I wonder how Coppola feels knowing that after his stint in the 1970’s, his career ended because people didn’t think his newer work could ever compare to his “classics.” Why on Earth did Ridley Scott make Prometheus? Surely these directors know that they will never be able to make them like they used to, and therefore will never reach that same level of acclaim.
What really kills me is that there are many, many people out there who feel I am completely wrong in my assessment that modern films can be just as good and, on occasion, even better than “the classics.” I am sorry, but I have more respect for the people working in the industry today than to tell them the work they do is second rate; that no matter how much time and effort, how much of their lives they sacrifice to bring a good film to the big screen, the end result can never be as good as a classic film. Its pure, nostalgic ignorance. I certainly hope its blissful.