Sight unseen

I didn’t see Star Wars: The Force Awakens because on the day I planned to see it, it was raining. There was no way I was going to get from my flat to the cinema without ending up with wet jeans which meant I’d have to sit in a full cinema in wet jeans watching a film that, I realised in a moment of epiphany, I had no interest in. I’d booked a ticket in advance like everybody else, swept up in the hype, not because I particularly cared about Star Wars as a franchise, but because of the sense that there would be conversations about the film and I’d want to be involved in them.

I’ve never cared about Star Wars. I can enjoy the original trilogy well enough, in the same way I can enjoy any decent sci-fi film from that era, like Logan’s Run, Soylent Green and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, but I don’t care about the expanded universe and I don’t care about the backstory and I don’t care about Boba Fett’s cape design and like all right-thinking people I don’t care about the prequels. Star Wars just doesn’t move me. I think it’s the character names, which all sound like they’ve been made with a Star Wars name generator like, I don’t know, Median Engosth, Poe Lambshank or Damon Albarn. There’s no rational basis for my disinterest — I’m someone who’ll defend the ludicrous hairstyles of Babylon 5‘s Centauri and the musical episode of Lexx — but here we are. Never cared. Don’t care. Can’t make myself care. Never going to care. Opted out of the conversation.

I think Avatar was the first film I consciously didn’t see out of a sense of making a principled stand against hype and peer pressure. Remember Avatar? It’s ok if you don’t — it had about as much lasting cultural impact on the world as I’ve had. At the time though, it was a big deal. So expensive! James Cameron! Special effects! 3D! IMAX! 3D IMAX! You had to see it in 3D IMAX or you really weren’t getting the full and correct experience, you see.

Avatar was heavily hyped and tremendously successful but I never saw it. Partly it was the insistence that I had to see it in 3D. Fuck 3D. Fuck 3D and its superfluous dimension that nobody ever asked for and nobody ever needed; I like my depth perception in the real world, where it doesn’t make me slightly nauseous and allows me to pick things up and avoid walking into tables. Partly it was because it starred Sam Worthington. Remember Sam Worthington? It’s ok if you don’t — he’s had about as much lasting cultural impact on the world as Avatar had. At the time though, he was suddenly, briefly, in everything, this new Great White Hope for the action film world before he fell off a cable and regenerated into Jai Courtney.

Most of all though, it was just being told over and over by so many voices at once that I had to see this film that put me off so much. I didn’t want to. I didn’t need to be part of the conversation around it. The world was not in need of another middle-aged white man’s opinion on the subject, and it never once felt as if the film would surprise me in any way. This sense, this digging my heels in when there’s a New Film You Absolutely Have To See and In Particular At The Cinema, has only been getting worse. I also didn’t see The Hateful Eight. The Revenant. Spectre.

The Hateful Eight — marketed tediously as Quentin Tarantino’s EIGHTH FILM! You can’t miss Quentin Tarantino’s EIGHTH FILM! It’s his EIGHTH FILM! And don’t see it at just any old cinema — you have to see it As the Director Intended, screened in 70mm with an overture and intermission which meant being obliged to see it at one of the dreadful West End branches of the Odeon, my least favourite cinema chain with their laser-like focus on selling ice-cream and plastic-wrapped sweets instead of the tedious minutia of screening a film or repairing torn seat fabric. So everyone dutifully trudged out to spend the better part of an afternoon having another one of Quentin “peaked in 1997” Tarantino’s epics forced down their throats like some sort of awful film critic fois gras production line, and then pebble-dashed the internet with articles trying to come to terms with how they didn’t have a particularly good time.

What about The Revenant? I’m sure it’s fine! I liked Birdman, and after many difficult years I’ve come to terms with the fact that Leonardo DiCaprio is a decent actor. Do I want to spend three hours watching him battle through an uncharted wilderness breathing heavily? No! Not remotely! And what left me giddy was the realisation that I didn’t have to. So the film featured on the cover of Sight & Sound. So I was bombarded with opinions on how it was a gruelling, entertaining, must-see cinematic tour-de-force. Look at all the hard work Dicaprio put into it, look at the effort he put in to get his Oscar this year. I don’t care. I didn’t care about Robert Redford Vs. the Elements in All Is Lost, either. Nor did I care about Matt Damon Vs. Mars. Tell me a story I haven’t heard before.

Spectre was a similar situation. Reviews for Spectre followed a similar pattern to those for The Hateful Eight and The Revenant: the first ones out of the gate are those from press screenings and tend towards the rapturous, bestowing five stars on anything sufficiently polished and glossy. Later reviews have a slightly confused tone to them, after the reviewer has spent so long — up to a year maybe — being told that the film was A Big Fucking Deal — and then it turning out not to be. “What’s wrong with me?”, they think. After all, if respected Guardian film critic Peter Bradshaw thought Spectre was a five star film, it must be a five star film, right? Because the alternative is that the film is average at best and the press critics are just giving extra marks because they enjoyed the free snacks and the warm glow that comes from feeling important.

I’m exhausted from being told what I have to see, and how I have to see it, and how, if I didn’t see it the prescribed way, I haven’t really seen it at all, this fetishisation of big-screen presentation. Really, I don’t have to see everything. I don’t have to be involved in every conversation and I don’t need to see a film just because I’m being told I should. I’m thoroughly looking forward to not seeing Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice, and if I’ve time left over, I’ll look forward to skipping Deadpool, Star Trek Beyond, Warcraft and Star Wars: Rogue One as well.

By Paul Haine, in