The lowdown on a word beloved by film executives, loathed by film critics, and not quite understood by anybody.
Adding to the prodigious shelf of recent general-interest Hollywood titles, British-born critic Shone’s first book traces the history of the modern event movie from its widely acknowledged beginnings in the long summers of 1975 and 1977, when Jaws and Star Wars were seen multiple times by most Americans, to the moment last February when Steven Spielberg announced the Best Film Oscar for The Return of the King. The author follows the Biskind/Bart model, mixing trenchant film analysis and history with a practical understanding of the industry itself. What makes Shone’s text so much more approachable and enlightening is that he doesn’t pretend to be able to apply a grand unifying theory to the whole chaotic, gazillion-dollar business (à la Variety editor Peter Bart). Nor does he pass over the intervening blockbusters between Jaws and The Return of the King in order to focus (à la Peter Biskind’s Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, 1998) on the ways in which Spielberg and George Lucas supposedly almost destroyed the more intimate, avant-garde work of 1970s auteurs like Robert Altman, Hal Ashby, Martin Scorsese, and Francis Coppola, consigning movie audiences to decades of Bang! Pow! Boom! Shone sketches a more complicated scenario, arguing that the ’70s auteurs had already run out of steam by the time Spielberg/Lucas showed up, and that audiences were sick of “all those unhappy endings, fractured narratives, and scuzzy exterior shoots.” Indeed, the author’s running counterattack on Biskind’s pro-auteur thesis gives a nice sting to this impressively learned narrative. Shone evinces an intuitive knowledge of what makes audiences respond, but he also admits that there’s an exception to every rule, and no sooner is an industry trend started, than something turns it on its head. In a word, nobody could ever replicate Titanic.
One of those rare film books that walks the fine line between populist tub-thumping and sky-is-falling, Sontag-esque screed.