Monday, June 15, 2015

What makes a film a film?

This might be a moot point for some of you, but do you believe there is a difference between a film and a movie?

I do. And for me, the difference is huge. So what is the difference, you ask? Let me tell you how I see it. Perhaps Billy Walsh from Entourage put it best:


A movie has one or more of the following aspects:
  • Shallow theme or message
  • Created for entertainment value and any deeper meaning was tacked on as an afterthought
  • Low production value/quality
  • Goes for cheap laughs or scares
  • Something you would throw in the blu-ray player when you wanted something on in the background or as a distraction so you didn't have to think.
  • Nobody's lives are changed because of it....except the actors and crew who got paid.
Some movies I would pile into this category include:
  • Paul Blart: Mall Cop and Mall Cop 2
  • Anything starring Adam Sandler
  • Anything starring Will Ferrell
  • Most (but not all!!!) cartoons -this is my weakest example, so spare me the vitriol
  • The Transformers franchise
A film, on the other hand, displays one or more of these characteristics:
  • Makes you think
  • Contains several messages/morals
  • Demands an emotional reaction
  • Leaves you speechless
  • Makes you want to take action for or against something
  • Makes you ask questions
  • Sometimes you are afraid to answer those questions
Because of its deep nature, my list of films is much shorter than my list of movies. My list of films include:
  • It's a Wonderful Life
  • Practically any Capra film
  • American Sniper
  • Juno
  • The Best Years of Our Lives
  • Philadelphia Story
  • Cool Hand Luke
Do you notice anything special about my list of films? They all have something in common. None of them have extensive special effects. In fact, American Sniper is about the only film on that list with special effects, and those are fairly minimal.

Old films didn't have CGI and computer-generated explosions. They were filmed on set with props, and sometimes there were painted backgrounds. But there wasn't a green screen behind them and a computer geek controlling the action and setting behind them. The older films depended on the ability of the actors and actresses to carry a scene and build the emotion. Newer movies rely more on the special effects to carry them. For an example, I will point to the Twilight series, in which it has been widely noted that Kristen Stewart could have been replaced by a cardboard cutout with the same flat, a-tonal, emotionless acting.

And that puts other works in this strange in-between section of film vs. movie. The best example I can come up with is the first six Star Wars movies. The original 3 (A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi) were filmed with physical props and relied very little on special effects. The light sabers and laser guns were about the extent of it. The rest was physical props and actual acting. The second trilogy (Episodes 1 2 and 3) made heavy use of green screens and CGI. The result? Very cool graphics, but again cardboard acting by Hayden Christensen.

Maybe it's the homophonic names: Kristen/Christensen. Maybe not.

But the point is that I consider the original trilogy (few special effects) to be films, while the second trilogy (heavy on computer animation) consisted of movies. Revenge of the Sith *almost* redeemed itself. We will see if the third trilogy will do any better.

For clarity:

Movie:


Film:



So what do you think? Is there a difference between films and movies? Is there something that separates the two that I didn't talk about? Or am I all wet?