Well Golden Globe nominee Billy Bob Thornton has offered up one possible explanation. It's not a drying up of creative talent. It's not the money-driven industry's need to rely on cookie cutter safe bets in an age of spiralling budgets and falling cinema attendance. It's not even plain old fashioned corporate interference.
No, films are crap because they're trying to be like video games. And video game narrative is just about men shooting shit up, right?
Says Billy Bob:
"They’re geared toward the video game-playing generation. And these video games, which I’m on my son about constantly, these games are people killing for fun, and I think traditionally in movies, there’s always been some kind of lesson in the violent movies"
And to justify his own upcoming stylish violence-a-thon, Faster:
"This movie doesn’t say, ‘Oh, here’s this fun guy and we’re going to do this tongue-in-cheek character right out of a video game who likes to destroy things’ and all this kind of thing. This movie actually shows what prisons create, what murder creates. It shows this perpetual, violent string of events.
“One of the flaws in most commercial action movies is that the characters are usually not very developed. A lot of times you’ll have the movie star hero and then some bad guys who are just there to be killed by the hero, and they’re nameless, faceless people. And as a result, you’re usually not afraid of them because you don’t see them ask somebody to pass the salt, you don’t see them with their kids"
Oh Billy Bob. You're a fine actor and I enjoy your work, but your naivite upsets me. Firstly, there's your naivite in regards to video games. Yes, a lot of games are violent action games. Certainly not all of them, but a good proportion. But to label said subdivision as being merely about visceral thrills without narrative weight or consequence? Just plain wrong. We're talking about a medium in its infancy here, and one still learning its own storytelling techniques, but real successes have been happening in that field for some time.
Call of Duty 4? An arguably anti-war war game that makes players face up to the hideous realities of a virtual conflict as they themselves perpetuate it? BioShock? A game which mixes intelligent action with heady dissection of philosophical doctrine, concepts of free will and the construction of video game narrative itself? Metal Gear Solid? Shadow of the Colossus? Uncharted? All stand out as action-driven games with important intellectual, emotional or philosophical things to say, or at the very least just have deftly written, well-rounded and very human characters. Billy Bob, you have been playing the wrong games, or else just haven't been paying enough attention.
And on the idea that big dumb action movies starring two-dimensional protagonists are a new thing manifested by the rise of video games, you know the '80s existed, right? Are you familiar with the work of one Arnold Schwarzenegger? Hell, if anything, as a young medium taking its first narrative steps, games have taken movies as their model, not the other way around. Play Gears of War and tell me it isn't the spiritual son of Predator (only with more to say about the unjust hierachy of war-mongering). Go on. You can't, can you?