Not What, but How We Watch

Published on September 2nd, 2011

Alex writes about how the way we watch a movie affects our opinion of it, with a focus on Colmbiana because Zoe Saldana is cool.

When I really like a movie and a friend doesn’t, I don’t immediately accept their review as their true, objective opinion. Generally, when the movie in question is something I loved, I will try to find out what type of situation they were watching the film in. Were you watching Blue Valentine with an ex*? Were you watching Deer Hunter while you were hung over**? Did you look up from your laptop more than every five minutes?

*Why would you do that?

**This never helps anything, ever.

Or perhaps you were watching a movie while trying to hold the pose Ms. Saldana is making to the left. Which seems like a ridiculous idea, but there’s probably some sort of weird contest like this somewhere in the southern United States. Probably Alabama. And if you can watch all 89 minutes of Larry the Cable the Guy: Health Inspector like this, you deserve a prize.







These inquiries are all probably fairly elitist things for a movie watcher to think about; I recognize this reads like I’m writing while drinking a dram of $3600 scotch out of a gold-plated snifter. But I’m continually surprised by how few people realize how important these factors are to how you feel about an actual movie. When directors like Michael Bay and Terrence Malick compose letters to projectionists about how to properly project their films, they are implicitly acknowledging how important outside factors are to how their films get remembered. None of the points I’m making would be a surprise to either of them; I assume they would explicitly agree with them*. That such dramatically different directors each feel their films need to be presented in what they deem the proper way to view each film shows that directors want the viewers to give their movie its rightful chance. Of course, this rarely happens.

*Drop me a line, Terry!

I went to see Colombiana last night with a friend, and we each generally enjoyed it. It was totally absurd, but it was absurd in a way that encouraged my friend and I to sporadically look at each other and make fun of the movie; the magical FBI database that apparently exists in all action movies being the main culprit*. But the thing about it was that there were elements of the movie I genuinely thought were good: Zoe Saldana was trying really hard to get this movie taken somewhat seriously, and her dramatic scenes were occasionally vaguely emotional**. I also thought that it was interesting how the movie appeared to be a quasi-sequel to The Professional, with Saldana replacing the Natalie Portman character, now named Cataleya instead of Mathilda. The Professional sequel is a movie I will always want to happen, but likely never will***, so I was happy to sort of see it here. And for the first half of the movie, I was taking Colombiana kind of seriously. But then an FBI mail-carrier happened to be a flower expert at just the right moment, and then an FBI agent hit one button to find all the information on said flower, and then my friend and I were laughing. It’s hard to win viewers back once that happens.

*You know, the one where you hit the T and J keys on your keyboard and are instantly told exactly where your target is.

**As backhanded a compliment as this reads as, this is a massive achievement, particularly when every character in the movie was underwritten.

***Colombiana writer/producer Luc Besson wrote and directed The Professional, and Besson has apparently co-written a sequel with Colombiana director Oliver Megaton, but this will never happen due to rights issues.












Now, I’m not saying Colombiana is a movie that deserves to be taken seriously; outside of Saldana, I really didn’t think there was anything particularly good about it. There were some cool action sequences in the first half, but the ones in the second half were mostly awful. And while Saldana made me slightly interested in the obligatory love story, Michael Vartan’s character was so poorly underwritten* that it never had a chance. But I do know that walking out of the theatre alone, as opposed to with my friend, I would have remembered the movie a bit differently. Since my friend and I have a friendship that is mostly based on watching absurd movies and making fun of them, we both started talking about all the ridiculous things that occurred in the movie. Had I been by myself, I likely would have spent more time thinking about what I legitimately enjoyed about the movie.

 *“We’ll make him a painter! Just like Cataleya! Okay, next character.”

I rarely actively try to see a movie by myself; I used to always try to find somebody to go see a movie with before my habit got out of hand. I used to go by myself only when I knew it was a movie I really wanted to focus on, and didn’t want my friend pulling 13 McDonald’s parfaits out of his winter coat because he had coupons. Now, most of the time when I go to a movie with a friend, it’s out of chance. Going alone allows me to take everything as seriously as I want to, or to quietly think of unfunny jokes to amuse myself if the movie is terrible. No matter who I had seen Colmbiana with, I probably would not have recommended it to anybody. But there are so many movies I do love, that I do recommend, that kind of need some suspension of disbelief in order to work. And if you’re feeling overly critical, or are with a friend who you tend to rip on movies with, or are only watching this movie on television because you’re waiting for a friend to call and tell you when to go out, then we might not have the same reaction. Movie watching is a personal, lonely habit; you don’t have to watch them alone, but when you truly love a movie it is generally because something in it connected with you. The person next to you might not care about the movie and break your focus on it, which is something that happens all the time but nobody (myself included) really thinks about. When I love a movie, it is generally because I was focused on it, and I probably didn’t have anybody with me to break that. Everybody will have their own personal reaction to a given movie, but to say that reaction is determined strictly by the movie itself is incorrect. We like a movie, or we don’t, but it is probably a good thing to be conscious of all the reasons why or why not.


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