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Slo-Mo Helicopters and Gangsta Grimace: The Oversaturation is Upon us All! May 31, 2006

Posted by doctorolove in Movies, Pop Culture Rants.

The mediums of male visceral artistic expression always have their tipping point. It’s like the famous quote in “Sun Also Rises”: Things happen gradually, then suddenly. You never quite notice, in your base entertainment of choice, exactly when the see-saw starts to begin its’ inevitable gravity induced slam to Earth. That is, until the one day you wake up and go, “Holy shit…everybody’s doing it.” And you are left in that precarious position where what you thought made you cool and accepted is now just another facet of society that everybody likes. Hell, even the first guy to rock a yellow Livestrong bracelet seemed cool for a week. At most.

And I was positive my favorite niche of machismo, the big budget action flick, would never reach its’ decline. The medium itself lends itself to so many clichés and so many ways to keep giving it’s audience more that oversaturation was damn near impossible. Everybody is blowing up buildings, you say. We’re taking out the whole city. That movie’s cop is three days from retirement, huh? Well, so is ours and he just found out he has prostate cancer. And it’s damn near impossible to make it any less outrageous since that’s what our testosterone is desiring anyway. We may scoff as the effects become bigger and the plot has been slowly replaced by an extra ten minutes of a cab engulfed in flames trying to make it across I-70 before the drawbridge opens. But that’s been coming for a while. Plot is just what the studios have been throwing in so the actors have something to do while the stuntpeople are covering themselves in Kevlar insulated heat suits.

No, the reasoning behind why the action flick has finally reached its’ point halfway down the mountain can be similarly paralleled to the beginning, decline and ultimate rebirth of rap and hip-hop in the eighties.

When the scene moved from the sweaty gyms of Bronx high schools and the overgrown grass of housing project playgrounds, it was looked at with trepidation with first. Radio stations couldn’t play a song without a hook and try as they may, MCs couldn’t convince the DJs that “Hip-hop-hippity-hop” was going to dominate the airwaves like “OOOOOOHHHH…Abra-abra-cadabra.” But as the underground embraced the sound, new stars emerged from other parts of the city. The kids from Queens (Run DMC, LL, the one Beastie Boy nobody really likes anyway) had heard about what was going on and built upon what their forefathers had done. And soon, the music was about the beat and the words. Young males, no matter their background, latched on to the sounds and the words, now containing liberal rhymes about everything from the mundane (Going to a party, and damn, your shoes aren’t up to par) to the outrageous (Your girl came home, and damn, caught you inflagrante delicto). And radio caught on. Sure, it was still hiding in the upper level of the dials between the farm report and the Jesus station but it was out there and it was growing.

But it soon went horribly wrong. As society stopped worrying the artists were dangerous, they realized, “Hey, this shit is good.” And more artists came from out of basements and collegiate dorm rooms, armed with nothing more than a demo tape and a black and white composition book full of rhymes. Some survived and others quickly returned to the moldy turntables near their parents back issues of National Geographic. But suddenly and without warning, rap became acceptable. People realized it was like that cute Doberman next door: It barks and snarls, but if you just pet it a few times, it’ll fall to the ground and lick your face. And America began to pet hip-hop ferociously.

Rap was everywhere. Dog Food commercials, the Snorks were busting moves on Saturday mornings, and I still can’t the image out of my head of seeing loveable Fry-Hound Grimace rocking a fedora and gold chains and breaking it down old school with “The Big Mac Rap.” The Golden Girls had, gasp, rappers move into the neighborhood but everyone had a good laugh (and a crossover audience opportunity) when they performed to save the Senior Center. This was all well and good for popularity, but an army of guys who had sought solace in the beats of drum machines and “I Need Love” now stood in the line at Sam Goody with the poseurs who really dug the beats on the latest Vanilla Ice record. Yup, it was a collective “Holy Shit….everybody’s listening to it.”

Which brings us back to the Big Budget Action Flick. Sure, you could pretty much guarantee a good time in the early nineties when you saw a Lethal Weapon flick. Explosions. Chases. Witty banter, that while not Wilde, still made you giggle. Heck, even the plot twisted just enough so you wouldn’t run to the bathroom between fight sequences. In the beginning, only three or four guys were really doing the genre right in front or and behind the cameras. The Scott brothers. Gibson. Willis. The Governator himself. You knew when you plunked down six bucks for a McTiernan movie, it would be worth it, sweaty machismo and all.

But the Doberman fell down on all fours, thanks to one man. Michael Bay. Michael fucking Bay. We all secretly knew that the genre was cliché full but felt no need to revel in it. This man has decided to take every cliché and not only use it without improving on it, but instead puts it in slo-mo so we can revel in just how amazing an exploding building or a swirling helicopter can be. In “Pearl Harbor” he stocks the films with the “On the head of the missile” camera angle so we can feel just how it must be to be, well, a missile. “The Island” tries to break from convention, but the second the clones are chased by the police, you can almost hear Michael screaming from behind the camera, “Look at how cool my shots are.”

The genre now is full of imitators. Directors who pack the action, yet lack the witty banter. They revel in every second of the film without the old-fashioned slamming over the head of rapid fire Booms and the occasional gratuitous pair of breasts. Everybody’s doing what he is since, well, his movies do make money. Which is scary because I don’t think I’ve met somebody who has really paid for a ticket to any of his films. Except Armageddon. Though I credit Willis for most of that.

The man is what the B.B.A.F. has became: glossy, pretty, devoid of anything more than a Glamour shot of a Don Johnson look-alike.

But there is hope: not a single director but because history has taught us that the genre will rebound. Yup, and they came straight outta Compton.

Because when rap was at its’ darkest hour, five guys from LA turned the world on its’ ear by taking rap to where it began. N.W.A.’s first major album was a wake-up call to the industry. You could be successful by rapping about what’s going on in the streets and still keep butts shaking. It was, as Ice Cube once called it, “Ghetto CNN.”

So who will take that mantle for the BBAF. I can only hope Michael Bay doesn’t take a slo-mo helicopter to grab it from someone’s more capable fingers. 



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