Some time ago, not so long that I’ve forgotten, but so long that I can no longer totally remember, I watched a film that was bad. Upon completion of said film, I went with the cliched statement of “I want my money back.” This prompted a response from an acquaintance and colleague who took some exception to this statement, for whatever reason. It was his opinion that asking for one’s money back is somehow offensive to the people making the movie and he asked what I would do if the filmmakers asked for their budget back.
Rather than getting into an internet fight over it, I stewed for a bit, but recently decided to get vocal, especially once I realized that the entire business side of making money is actually studios asking for their budget back.
That’s how the system works. A studio makes a movie and then, more or less, asks audiences to give them their budget back (and then some) in exchange for watching it. They put a lot of time, effort, and money into making the film and they’re asking us to make it worth their while to keep doing that.
But what about when it’s not worth our while to waste time watching it? Is it so wrong, so offensive, to ask for your money back? Now, I would never, or have never, actually requested a refund for a movie from a theater, a rental station, or a streaming pornographic website. That’s part of the gamble. Some movies are good, others not so much. And others still blow assholes with a passion.
Requesting your money back is a pretty simple way of expressing your displeasure. What you’re saying is not only was the movie not worth your money, but that it was so bad it wasted your time and that money should be refunded. Pretty simple, fairly elegant. Not bad.
We all understand that movies take a lot of time and effort, but I think it’s pretty safe to say most of us understand that some movies and studios put in a lot less time, effort, and money. It’s one thing if a movie from a dedicated cast and crew just sucks, it’s another when The Asylum plunks out a turd knowing fairly well in advance that they’re plunking out a turd.
Most movies are subjectively bad in that different people have different responses to them. I don’t think you can classify any of the Transformers films as bad considering they’re hugely successful monetarily, have a decent following, and have been nominated for various technical achievements. Michael Bay’s robot flicks can be subjectively bad though, as plenty of people don’t like them.
Movies, though, can also definitely be objectively bad. Filmmaking is not just art, but also craft. There is a skill set that is required, a certain set of parameters that a film must fulfill to be considered a successful film. Shots should be in focus, various rules of cinematography should be followed, the audio should be clean and in sync, the graphics should meet a certain standard and so on and so forth.
It’s as if there are two camps of viewing films: film is definitively art or film is definitively business. I think being firmly entrenched in either isn’t a great idea. On the one hand, you elevate movies to a place where they’re above reproach. You can’t just give filmmakers carte blanch to put whatever they want on digital stock and get away with it. If a movie sucks, it should be said that it sucks. We can’t let shitty, shoddy products into the marketplace. On the other hand, viewing it solely as a business is exactly how you get stuck with shitty, shoddy products. Businessmen who find the formula of a workable movie and just put bodies and money in front of it and wait for people to see it.
When those two sides align, it’s the worst case scenario because it’s an objectively shitty movie yet someone is defending it as high art.
All I’m really saying is, some studios make shitty movies more often than others. Film can be great art with tremendous creative value, but sometimes it’s fucking amateur karaoke hour in there. When I see a flick that blows donkey, I’m going to let you know it blows donkey. Film is art, but it’s also business. We can’t make excuses in either direction. Film can be objectively and undeniably bad and ignoring that fact pushes me past my boiling point.