Monday, November 14, 2011

Feeling Too Old For the Movies?

"The Hunger Games" just came out with a new trailer, setting its existing fanbase buzzing. With any luck, we're looking at the next big popular movie franchise, aimed at teenagers and young adults. But how on earth is a thirty-something movie lover like myself supposed to approach it? It's no secret that the majority of the films churned out by Hollywood are aimed at the 13-to-25-year-old audience, which loves superheroes, gross-out comedies, vampires, and questionable pop music. If you were appalled that anyone could like the newest Adam Sandler movie, "Jack and Jill," it probably means that you weren't part of its target audience, which doesn't file its own tax returns yet.

Every movie fan has to face the fact that around the time they reach their late twenties, the movie studios aren't regularly targeting them anymore. Most big franchises actually play pretty well to grown-ups, featuring seasoned stars and lots of spectacle, even though the stories are usually dumbed down to be safe for twelve-year-olds. But then you start running across red-hot series like "Twilight," that the mainstream media glorifies, while also making it clear that anyone over twenty-five shouldn't really be watching it. At my age, eyebrows would be raised if I professed any fondness toward "Twilight" - one of my girlfriends likes the books, but also hastily adds that it's because they make her nostalgic for high school.

The problem for any media junkie is, of course, that "Twilight" and "Transformers" and its ilk are so emphatically part of the mainstream culture now, and once you lose connection with the mainstream, you're lost. You're an old fogey, a pretentious artsy fartsy elitist, and totally out of touch. This wasn't so much of a problem in the past, when Hollywood wasn't so doggedly youth-centric, but these days if you don't like CGI cartoons or Marvel superheroes, it's difficult to stay invested in what's going on at the multiplex. I've complained on this blog before that my parents love movies, but it's a constant struggle to find films that fit their sensibilities. Do you have any idea how hard it is to find a comedy with no raunch or cursing in it these days?

But I digress. People approach aging out of the mainstream in different ways. Some embrace it, happy to be in a position where they can write off the worst of the idiot blockbusters as pabulum for undeveloped minds. Some refuse to acknowledge that films like "Twilight" or "Scott Pilgrim" were made for a different audience, and castigate them accordingly. Some try to tiptoe around the fact that they've fallen behind the curve, and do their best refocus their attention on the remaining films aimed at grown ups. And some of us, myself included, are lucky enough to not to really give a damn who a film was made for.

I ran across the aging-out problem very early, because I didn't give up cartoons when I was supposed to. I got used to seeing all the boy heroes and spunky adventure girls get younger and younger compared to me, and eventually I just accepted it as a normal part of the formula. It's the same with other kinds of movies I've supposedly gotten too old for. Tales of young love will almost always feature adolescents. Angry young men are rarely over thirty. Larger-than-life superheroes must always appeal to kids, and the dark, gritty, violent anti-heroes are for the rebellious youth. To cut ourselves off from all these stories would be an awful shame.

And once you start figuring out what the rules are, it's easier to get a handle on viewing these movies objectively, focusing on execution, on innovation, on the little generational quirks that make them different than what came before. It's easier to appreciate them for what they are, and what they're able to do within the limits that mainstream Hollywood demands. The best of these films can transcend the usual age boundaries entirely. "Harry Potter" is the prototypical teen adventure series, but it's so well done, nobody bats an eye if adults like it. Try to suggest a grown-up can't enjoy a PIXAR movie, and you'll be made to regret it quickly.

There is, however, absolutely no denying that adult fans aren't meant to enjoy films for children and teenagers the same way that children and teenagers do. Watching middle-aged women throw themselves at Robert Pattinson with the same gusto as their adolescent daughters is depressing. But that doesn't mean we aren't allowed to enjoy films made for younger people on our own terms. In the case of "The Hunger Games," I'm not too interested in the plot, that's shaping up to be a sanitized version of "Battle Royale." However, I do want to see if Jennifer Lawrence can carry an action film. And I'm dying to get a look at the new animated film based on the Dr. Seuss's "The Lorax," being produced by the people behind "Despicable Me." And good grief, have you seen the list of people who worked on "Tintin"?

On the other hand, it does bother me that films for grown-ups have gotten scarce enough that more and more people are noticing the drop-off in entertainment options once they hit a certain age. True, audiences do tend to shrink as they get older, money is tighter, and they stop going out so often. However, older audiences have proven time and time again to be an important and vital segment of the moviegoing population, and the studios ignore them at their own peril.

A huge part of the problem of aging out of the 13-to-25 audience, after all, is that it can be difficult to find a comparable adult-oriented media sphere to move on to from there - well, at the movie theaters anyway. Television is a different story, but that's a post for another time.

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