Saturday, August 22, 2015

Rotgut for Elephants

I’ve written about Gone With The Wind elsewhere on this site, but it bears repeating that I have never understood what all the fuss was about. Oh, yes, it’s a beautiful production, brilliantly mounted… but it’s wrapped around a story that amounts to the shallow end of an empty pool, jam packed with the kind of characters you’d like to punch on the nose if they were real.

Water For Elephants, based on a novel by Sara Gruen, rubs me exactly the same way. Here we have a movie about the Circus that is undeniably well made. It looks fantastic, and is alive with a heady Circus atmosphere that rings authentically true. It features amazing animal work. It really makes you feel as if you have stepped back in time. I can’t stress enough how attractive this movie looks and how much its atmosphere seduces — 

— and it’s all in the service of a Harlequin Romance. 

You’ve seen, heard about, or read this same story about a million times. Boy meets girl, girl is married, mucho “romantic” tension follows, things get really bad before they suddenly get better, the Bad Guys are punished by Divine Providence (so that the Hero doesn’t have to get his hands dirty) and the Boy and Girl live Happily Ever After.

It is trivial. It is insipid. It is painted strictly by the numbers. Worse than that, it is cynical in the way it connects All The Standard Elements. Things happen for no other reason than that you wouldn’t have a story otherwise. It is the worst kind of pandering. And it pisses me off: because Sara Gruen was made into a millionaire by this claptrap. 

This is the story that stayed on the bestseller list for, like, three years? This and Fifty Shades of Grey are what women really want to read? Please tell me that it ain’t so — please!

I wouldn’t object if it really was a Harlequin Romance. There’s a place for that kind of stuff, just as there’s a place for pulp mysteries and comic books. But the publishers gave this book Star Treatment and ginned it up as if it was Great Literature. Readers (most of them women) fell into lock-step to lap up this slop. Book groups adopted it and book group members yammered at each other about it for hours, days, weeks. 

And it’s just a Fucking Harlequin Romance, people. That’s all it is.

Water For Elephants is a Grand Cacophony of Marketing Genius, proving nothing more than that people really are robots if they are willing to consume this tripe and then turn around and say that it’s caviar. The success of the book has nothing to do with its worth. 

I have not been so disgusted with a movie in quite a while. If it was poorly made it could be easily dismissed, and I could write something entertainingly snarky and we could all have a giggle and be done with it. Instead — the only people who are having a giggle are the author, the publishers, the marketers and the movie makers. Indeed, they are all having a jolly good laugh, sipping their champagne and depositing huge checks into their back accounts…

… and the joke is on us.

— Frede. 

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