We’ve all been there… your friends, co-workers, boss, agent, and big brother can’t stop talking about some hot new “must watch” (or read) film, TV show, book, whatever. They are aghast, sympathetic, and even evangelical when you admit you’ve never seen Highlander or read Harry Potter. Thus convinced by people whose opinion you respect, you jump on the bandwagon, eager for a great ride. When the ride comes to a stop, however, you wander off, vaguely nonplussed. Did I see the same movie? Is my brother on drugs? What’s happening here? Yep: You’ve become the victim of hype that fell flat.
With the theory that intelligent pop culture consumers can have different but equally valid opinions, we’ve asked the borg.com contributors to sound off about their single biggest hype failures. What highly-anticipated, universally-praised properties didn’t work for us, at all?
Elizabeth Bunce: This one was easy: The Matrix. I consider myself an intelligent fan of intelligent science fiction (Gattaca, The Adjustment Bureau), and can appreciate the fun the genre has to offer, too (who doesn’t love Total Recall or Tron?). Heck, I even thought Inception was OK! But, man, did I ever miss the boat on The Matrix. Admittedly, I was handicapped coming in, as I’m not usually a big Keanu Reeves fan, although I thought he was perfectly cast in Bill & Ted and Speed. I know the super-slow-mo, bullet-dodging SFX are much admired (not to mention imitated), but I found them just plain silly. Any minute, I expected them to start spouting stilted, dubbed-in English like some vintage Kung-fu send-up. But my biggest problem with the film is a thematic one. I just can’t get behind the premise.
Ok, I can believe that our world is just a virtual reality recreation foisted upon us by energy-hungry robots. That’s not my problem. What I can’t get around is everyone’s eagerness to shed that illusion and return to the drudgery of real life. Sure, freedom fighting is all very noble, and 150 years of fantasy have convinced us there’s no place like home, but come on! If I have to choose between riding a motorcycle with Carrie Ann Moss or slurping rations in some dingy 23rd century version of your mom’s basement, along with the other gamer geeks who haven’t showered in three days… Yeah. I’m gonna let those metal squids suck out my brain.
Art Schmidt: The first thing that popped into my head was a movie I saw last year. I had been reading about this movie for a year. The director had directed three of my favorite movies from the last ten years, and this time he was writing the screenplay, too! Bonus!!! The early hype on this movie was phenomenal, and the trailers that trickled out onto Facebook were mind-blowing. This movie was going to absolutely R-U-L-E!!! And then it didn’t rule. In fact, the movie was a certifiable train wreck. The director was Zack Snyder, and the movie was, of course, Sucker Punch. However, I can’t list this as my pick for the thing that I hated that everyone else liked, because no one liked it. The studio “suckered” me into giving them my money, so I have no close friends to conveniently lay the blame for that lost ten dollars on. Now for my real pick. The Millenium Trilogy (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo novels).
Critics said it was cutting-edge, gritty and brilliant. My neighbors who read it said it was awesome (I have one neighbor who is from Ireland, and he said they were “brilliant”). My favorite entertainment magazine said the novels were better than anything being written out there. They were going to make a movie out of them, even though movies had already been made out of them in Europe. I read all three, and I’m still confused about why everyone is so gaga over them. I mean, all I really got from those books was that men are pigs, Europeans think women cheating on their husbands is just fine, and Swedes drink a lot of coffee. I mean, really, what’s with all the coffee? I like coffee, I drink coffee every day, but seriously, all anyone ever drinks in those novels is coffee (okay, twice someone drank mineral water and I think I recall a couple of scenes where someone had a beer but wished they were drinking coffee). The majority of scenes are literally defined by the presence or lack of a coffee maker, whether someone turns it off when they leave the room, and by what type of coffee cup the people in the scene are drinking their coffee out of. And the first book, seriously? The climax is the discovery that the ‘murder’ being investigated never actually happened, but no worries, there is a murderer to be apprehended anyway. I give up.
Jason McClain: I have to agree with Elizabeth: hype is the most dangerous thing to my possible enjoyment of a movie. I often wonder how my opinion of The Blair Witch Project would have changed if I would have seen it three weeks later. It goes beyond hype, though. If I know I want to see a movie, I avoid everything about it. I learned this trait from Entertainment Weekly when Seven came out. I had no clue Kevin Spacey was going to be in the movie until I read an Entertainment Weekly article. I still remember how upset I was when he came on the screen and that moment of surprise had been ruined. So, I avoid trailers. (Yes, I will put my head down and hum to myself while in a theater.) I avoid commercials. I avoid everything if it is a movie that I know I want to see. If it isn’t, I don’t care. If it isn’t, I will listen to people, watch all the funny moments in a trailer, get excited when a commercial comes on the TV and probably try to go opening weekend. I may as well cover the movie in bacon grease and throw it in a pen of tigers, because at that point the movie is doomed to fail in my eyes. When I started to think about the movies I remember being ruined by hype, I thought about movies that I don’t find funny (Shrek 2, Old School or The Hangover) but comedy is subjective and it is possible I was in a bad mood the day I saw these. (A bad mood, after hype, is the second most dangerous filter with which to view a movie.) I could mention an overly long nature documentary that anthropomorphizes animals that live in the furthest south region possible, but these aquatic birds can’t defend themselves. Only one movie made me throw things in anger and yell at the TV screen during the Academy Awards, Gladiator.
That movie still makes me angry to this day. Sure, it was a crappy year for movies when it won (except for Almost Famous), but that doesn’t excuse it. I have no clue how anyone ever in the history of all recorded time found this movie to be anything but awful. Because my jaw is clenching right now and I want to punch a CGI tiger in the mouth, I think I’m going to sign off. I’ll just say this one last thing: Gladiator made me laugh more than Shrek 2, Old School and The Hangover combined. I’m not too sure which side that reflects poorly on (or if it is on me) but only one of those things won Best Freaking Picture of the year.
C.J. Bunce: There are so many over-hyped films that grate on me to this day that I’ve mentioned here before, like 2001: A Space Odyssey and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011), then there are so-so movies that critics rave about, like almost all the Coen Brothers movies (Raising Arizona excluded). I have wanted to like The Big Lebowski, but I don’t know what it is supposed to be. Funny? Nope. Serious? Nope. But to force myself to choose one big hit that everyone liked except me–I ultimately land at the Coen Brothers’ Fargo as my biggest hype disappointment. Why? Some background on how I think: Part of the test the U.S. courts used to determine whether something qualified as obscene included a test referred to as the Miller test. Basically, the work would be shown to have no socially redeeming value if it lacked “any serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value” (I’m leaving out a bit but this is the main part). Fargo has none of this, at least for me.
Is it supposed to be funny? I’ve known people from Minnesota and Wisconsin and the Dakotas and they never talked with such an overdone, obnoxious accent as the actors in this movie. Innocent people in a wood chipper as entertaining? Bad acting, bad story, absurd antics, preposterous murder plot, a film that left me wanting my money back. And the movie claims it is based on a true story, but that’s nonsense other than a guy once really put his his wife in a woodchipper. Macy and McDormand have done better. Seven Academy Award nominations and a win for McDormand for her acting in this film? The National Film Registry and American Film Institute Lists? Oh, Coen Brothers, make a film I like, please. At least Wes Anderson had The Fantastic Mr. Fox.