Ask the Critic Illustration by Michael Witte
Owen Gleiberman
July 18, 2003 AT 04:00 AM EDT

An EW movie critic on the glut of action flicks

I rarely go to movies now because they are all action movies. What happened? — David
If you’re a film fan who doesn’t love action, you’re really out of luck these days, aren’t you? Your question is perfectly phrased, since something did happen — a collective shift in taste that has altered the very DNA of what a movie is. Have you seen ”Die Hard” recently? Back in 1988, it looked willfully decadent in its exploding-glass excess; 15 years later, believe it or not, it looks subtle, quiet, virtually Hitchcockian. Consider, as well, most of the top 20 box office movies on any given week. Dialogue, character, intimacy, psychology — the former building blocks of popular filmmaking have, in essence, been supplanted by speed and violence and kinetics.

What caused the change? The influences may be obvious — videogames; the triumph of digital imagery; a generation that experienced ”Star Wars” as the real beginning of movies — but the ultimate influence can be found in our newly hyperactive selves. We’re now living in such a high-strung, wired, brainiac culture, with our PCs and information overload, that movies based on words no longer feel, for most people, like an escape. For that, audiences crave — demand — the spectacle of action.

Do you think that filmmakers shoot eXXXtra content on purpose to give the ratings board something to cut and to pad ”Special Edition” DVDs? — Steve
Yes and yes. On occasion, directors are canny enough to walk into the ratings board with an even raunchier movie than they plan to release. That way, they’ll have a better chance of retaining the scenes they really want. To me, that counts as a victory. But when directors, as often happens, feature ”uncut” footage on a DVD simply to market it as an extra with, you know, a little something extra, I think they win the battle but lose the war. The bonus raunch, whether in ”Basic Instinct” or ”American Pie 2,” seldom lives up to the hype, yet home viewing makes these tidbits look all the more like what they really are: value-added porno.

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