I can list only a handful of films that blew me away over the years....ones that did all the things the movie-going experience can be capable of doing...you know, entertain and awe and inspire. But mostly awe.
That first film for many people I know was either Star Wars or Raiders of the Lost Arc. Neither really worked for me at the time of their release (though I've grown to appreciate them with age). For me the first was probably Jaws. Awe-some. Subsequent movies that made a similar impression were Alien, Road Warrior, Aliens, Terminator 2, The Matrix, and The Fellowship of the Ring.
So why those films exactly (interestingly, nearly all could be categorized as fantasy/sci-fi/action)? A decent story and interesting characters for sure, but more importantly was a combination of palpable energy emanating from an enthralled audience with lots of 'blow your mind' spectacle. And that spectacle was usually achieved via some new and extremely effective visual or practical effect done in such a way as to essentially transport one to another place/time/realm or world.
Well, last night, Transformers joined the list. Yes, it's a Michael Bay film, so that is a little troubling...but it was also a Spielberg film, so perhaps they cancel each other out. Or maybe that's who Bay needs exec producing him in order to create something acceptable. Or maybe I don't know squat. But this morning I couldn't stop thinking about and marveling at so many of the sequences in the flick...much like one other film Transformers reminded me of that needs to be on my list: Jurassic Park.
Yes, the dinosaur movie. Awe-some. Movie. Experience.
Like Transformers, I knew little about the story of Jurassic Park before I saw it, but I was well aware of the film long before it arrived in the theatres. We see this all the time today, but back then I remember being stunned after opening up a Variety and seeing this one page spread...exactly one year before its release date.
An ad? One year early?? WTH???
I turned to a colleague and made a joke about it...snarking that there's no way anyone will remember this movie when it comes out. But I did secretly admire the simplicity of the ad, and was somewhat intrigued by a film that might be so amazing it was touting its release a year in advance.
Then I saw a teaser trailer for it a few months later...
Interestingly, last summer, a YEAR IN ADVANCE, I saw this print ad for Transformers.
I was a little confused...such early promotion, for a cartoon? But then I saw this teaser trailer for it....
Besides both being groundbreaking in the art of CGI, Transformers and Jurassic Park ran almost identical ad campaigns and celebrated near identically spectacular openings. And I realize I'm talking about two different things here: the marketing and selling of a movie, and then the movie-going experience itself (one so often lets the other down). But I'm letting these two examples stand because the build-up ultimately contributed to the 'awe-some' experience. At the end of the day, the movies delivered.
Now, were they perfect? Hell no. There were plot holes and logic bumps aplenty in both films, but visual spectacle and a spectacular movie-going experience trumped in a big way.
That's when effects laden movies can truly be magic...when you don't find yourself saying: "Wow. How did they do that?" but rather, just: "WOW."