Over the weekend at SIGGRAPH in Vancouver, Andy Hendrickson, the chief technical officer at Walt Disney Studios, basically said that story was unimportant in making a summer blockbuster. His boss John Lasseter has said no amount of animation can save a poor story, but Hendrickson points out last year’s Alice in Wonderland as a movie that was pretty, starred Johnny Depp and has a near complete lack of story. Alice in Wonderland grossed, $1B so it appears no one really minded the missing story.
The champion of spectacle over story has to be the Transformers franchise. Each movie seems more written like a porno to showcase giant robot battles at impressive backdrops. Shia LaBeouf and random Maxim hottie globe-trot and dodge explosion or any meaningful story along the way. Certainly hasn’t hurt Transformers’ box office take, $2.7B over three movies.
Even Avatar the currently highest grossing movie of all time really only has a premise with a bunch of set pieces to show off the wonderful CG eye candy. It has a wonderful check list of cool geek stuff that crosses fantasy (gigantic, blue tribal elves) and sci-fi (weapon ladden exo-skeletons) and really does not have a coherent story so much as a driving message.
The question really isn’t when story went missing from tentpole movies, so much as why has it taken us this long to notice or why do so few people seem to care? My guess is that since the accidental creation of the big summer movie season in the late ‘70s, we go to these “big” movies to intentionally park our brain. We let the sound and light wash over us and for 90 minutes so we don’t have to think. Occassionally someone combines this spectacle with a good story and then we ask, why aren’t there more movies with good stories. The answer seems painfully obvious, we don’t care about story.