Through an unusual set of circumstances I found myself on the phone with my television provider voicing a complaint over a recent decision they had made which impacted my channel lineup. It wasn’t a major ordeal but I just wanted them to know it wasn’t cool with me. Since I have been with them for 14 years they heard my complaint, apologized for the inconvenience and (as they always do) showed their appreciation for my loyalty by heaping upon me some free movie channels. This is the TV provider equivalent of free dessert at your local steak house. It doesn’t really cost them much to do that but as the customer you feel better about the fact that they overcooked your ribeye.
Suddenly I found myself with literally dozens of movie channels that I usually only see during a “free weekend.” During those sneak peeks I set up the DVR to record as many good movies as I can, great movies I hadn’t seen in a while or maybe something I need to show my son, an aspiring filmmaker. Sometimes I will even load up on some stinkers either for my own comedic mockery or that of our good friends at Rifftrax.
Knowing that I now had all these channels for a while I decided to also venture somewhere in-between. I recorded a number of movies that at one point or another piqued my interest but not enough to actually go see it. Maybe the reviews weren’t great. Maybe I was too busy. Maybe I just forgot about it. Whatever the reason I was now giving some movies a shot to grab my interest again.
I have recently established a viewing principle when watching movies and new TV shows. I’ll watch it until I don’t want to watch it anymore. It’s pretty simple. But for me it breaks a bad habit of digging in and toughing it out when something just isn’t doing it for me. (Note: This doesn’t apply to my annual Oscar watch. I have braved some doozies over the years.)
So this past Sunday I settled in with a DVR full of movies and nothing on my plate for the day. It was a good day to check out some of the in-betweeners. What ensued was an accidental movie marathon. All three movies I watched were sci-fi. I didn’t intend that. It just kinda happened.
First up was the Total Recall remake with Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale and Jessica Biel about a factory worker in a dystopian future who has memories implanted in his mind as an escape (cheaper than an actual vacation) but finds himself in what might be his actual forgotten espionage past, or possibly just a memory implant gone wrong. I had seen the original with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sharon Stone back in 1990. I don’t remember a lot about it but I remember thinking it was pretty good. Apparently someone thought it was good enough to remake. I was only mildly curious.
Next came Men In Black 3, the third in the series of comedic, high action adventures of two odd-couple agents (Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith) from a top secret government alien policing agency. Like most people I had really enjoyed the first one. To this day you might hear me or my brother say “I’ve never seen sugar do that before.” (Siobhan Fallon is just so great – love her in The Negotiator too). Also like most people I thought MIB2 was a disappointment. So a third installment 10 years later felt a little forced so I never gave it much thought.
Last was Oblivion, another dystopian future in the aftermath of an alien invasion which humanity won but during which the earth become virtually uninhabitable. I started to write more of a synopsis but it would take a lot to really explain the premise. The trailers looked pretty impressive and with the star power of Tom Cruise and Morgan Freeman it seemed like a winner. But the reviews were luke warm and those who saw it seemed to be confused. Before too long it was gone. Out of sight, out of mind.
Here’s what happened.
I actually enjoyed all of these movies. I employed my “watch until I don’t want to” principle and ended up watching all three all the way through. Oblivion pushed me to the limit, taking an inordinate amount of time establishing the characters and their world. This is probably why I couldn’t give you one or two sentences explaining it. But then it hit its stride just in the nick of time. They weren’t great. But I enjoyed them. And after all, isn’t that why we usually watch movies? For enjoyment?
I can be a film snob. I am comfortable admitting that. I have written on this blog about my fascination with the Oscars. But not every movie is an Oscar contender. Not every film breaks new ground. Not every movie will take filmmaking to another level. Filmmakers are storytellers. And I love a good story. If you like sci-fi I would recommend watching each of these movies. You just might enjoy them too.
But again I found myself in an encounter with The Expectation Factor. I recently wrote a blog post about how our expectations impact how we view movies. As I looked back at my accidental sci-fi movie marathon I couldn’t help but wonder how my expectations impacted my enjoyment of each of these films.
I talked with people at work the last couple of days about it. So far nobody has responded with “that movie stunk!” So maybe my low expectations weren’t as critical a factor. It’s interesting to me that these were all in-betweeners. I wonder if the Expectation Factor is weakened when you aren’t anticipating much one way or another. I didn’t expect any of these films to be horrible or great. Maybe I just enjoyed them for what they were: pretty decent movies.
What was your take on these three movies? Did you see them with any kind of expectations? Comment below or tweet at me (@cmselby).
(pictured: Tom Cruise in Oblivion, Kate Beckinsale in Total Recall, Will Smith in Men In Black 3)