Simon Pegg Thinks Bad Genre Movies Are 'Dumbing Down' the Movie Industry, but Is Still a 'Proud Nerd'

Tuesday, 19 May 2015 - 2:42PM
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Tuesday, 19 May 2015 - 2:42PM
Simon Pegg Thinks Bad Genre Movies Are 'Dumbing Down' the Movie Industry, but Is Still a 'Proud Nerd'
Star Trek's Simon Pegg has made a lot of comments today, and there's a lot to unpack. First, io9 reported some controversial statements from a radio interview about a possible desire to "retire from geekdom": 

"Before Star Wars, the films that were box-office hits were The Godfather, Taxi Driver, Bonnie And Clyde and The French Connection – gritty, amoral art movies. Then suddenly the onus switched over to spectacle and everything changed … I don't know if that is a good thing.

... Obviously I'm very much a self-confessed fan of science fiction and genre cinema but part of me looks at society as it is now and just thinks we've been infantilised by our own taste. Now we're essentially all consuming very childish things – comic books, superheroes. Adults are watching this stuff, and taking it seriously.

It is a kind of dumbing down, in a way, because it's taking our focus away from real-world issues. Films used to be about challenging, emotional journeys or moral questions that might make you walk away and re-evaluate how you felt about … whatever.

Now we're walking out of the cinema really not thinking about anything, other than the fact that the Hulk just had a fight with a robot.

...Sometimes (I) feel like I miss grown-up things. And I honestly thought the other day that I'm gonna retire from geekdom. I've become the poster child for that generation, and it's not necessarily something I particularly want to be. I'd quite like to go off and do some serious acting."

These statements stirred up many sci-fi fans, and with good reason. He's implying that sci-fi can never be "serious" or truly "adult," and that adults who enjoy sci-fi or comic book movies are in a state of extended adolescence. Many made the point that Pegg has built much of his career off of similar fare (although I would argue that that doesn't invalidate his opinion on the subject). 

But that being said, he did make some valid points, especially when he clarified his comments in a long, thoughtful blog post endearingly titled "Big Mouth Strikes Again." It's obviously a gross overgeneralization that sci-fi and comic book movies are automatically childish and serve only to provide a means to avoid real-world issues, just look at Captain America: Winter Soldier or District 9. Pegg basically admitted that this was mostly trolling, and said, "the 'dumbing down' comment came off as a huge generalisation by an A-grade asshorn," going on to cite Ex Machina and Mad Max: Fury Road as two recent films that were both entertaining and thought-provoking. 

I would agree with his assessment about Ex Machina, and to some extent Mad Max as well. But the provocative ideas of the former were somewhat undermined by its more typical, action-heavy ending, and I would argue that Mad Max's potential for philosophical significance was even more hindered by its desire to fill a two-hour movie with an hour-and-a-half of explosions. And his original example of Avengers: Age of Ultron is even more apt; other than an odd scene here and there, Joss Whedon's intellectual leanings and skill at character development were mostly muzzled by the requirements of the fanbase and the franchise. These movies are well-made, thoughtful, and filled with big ideas, but they simply don't have the time to explore them.

Pegg had the same criticism about one of my favorite movies of all time, The Dark Knight, and I still think he's making some great points:

"I guess what I meant was, the more spectacle becomes the driving creative priority, the less thoughtful or challenging the films can become... The best thing art can do is make you think, make you re-evaluate the opinions you thought were yours. It's interesting to see how a cerebral film maker like Christopher Nolan, took on Batman and made it something more adult, more challenging, chasing Frank Miller's peerless Dark Knight into a slightly less murky world of questionable morality and violence. But even these films are ultimately driven by market forces and somebody somewhere will want to soften the edges, so that toys and lunch boxes can be sold. In that respect, Bruce Wayne's fascistic vigilantism was never really held to account, however interesting Nolan doubtless found that idea."

So essentially, he's not saying that sci-fi and fantasy automatically can't be grown-up, but they're often subject to mandates and requirements that are not necessarily creative, which will inevitably lead to creative concessions. I'm a "proud nerd" as well, but I think that's perfectly reasonable.

Speak of, he finishes up his blog post by clarifying once and for all,

"I love Science Fiction and fantasy and do not think it's all childish.
I do not think it is all generated by dominant forces as a direct means of control… much.
I am still a nerd and proud."
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Simon Pegg: Bad Genre Movies Are 'Dumbing Down' the Movie Industry