The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

Why Danny Boyle is wrong about the pixarification of movies

with 22 comments

dannyboyleDanny Boyle is one of my favourite film makers and I love to listen to him in interviews. But sometimes you find yourself disagreeing with the best of people, and this happened recently when I came across a YouTube clip.

In this interview Boyle sets a new term, “pixarification” of movies. He claims that movies were better in the 70s. Back then they made adult films with adult themes, adult sexuality and adult dilemmas. This has been lost since then and it all started with Star Wars. Nowadays movies are supposed to be “family friendly”. The action movies contain violence that doesn’t hurt. And “adult movie” nowadays is according to Boyle only referring to porn.

I don’t know where Danny Boyle lives, but it must be a very small place indeed if he only has access to family friendly movies and never get the chance to see films with adult themes. I live in a city with 200 000 inhabitants and while I complain sometimes that it takes a long time for foreign movies to open here, I would lie if I said that I never got to watch movies with adult themes.

Yes, the multiplex theatre in my city shows Iron Man 3, Warm Bodies, Olympus Has Fallen and Oblivion. Actually I loved two of those: Warm Bodies and Oblivion. But I guess you could argue that they’re all primarily aiming for a younger audience rather than for those who are 40+.

However there’s no shortage of alternatives for those who want movies with more depth, movies that only get better the more experience you have of life. This week I could watch The Place Beyond the Pines, The Hunt, The Turin Horse and Amour, just to mention a few examples. I agree that those movies don’t top the box office charts, but they’re certainly not helped out by people like Danny Boyle pretending that they don’t exist.

There are movies that aim for and can be enjoyed by an older audience, movies that aren’t anywhere near being “pixarified”. So let’s talk about them, rather than spreading the usual doom and gloom message around!

As to the question if movies were more adult back in the old days, I doubt it. I don’t have any hard facts and statistics to back up my case, but my gut feeling tells me that there always have been different target groups for different movies. A Tarzan matinée could be enjoyable for youngsters as well as their parents, while you probably wanted to leave your kids at home if you went to see a Bergman movie. Are the movies we watch now really that different?

adaptationA rant at Quora
Danny Boyle isn’t the only one to make claims that they don’t make movies for adults. Recently someone published a similar question at Quora (thanks to Sean Hood for bringing it to my attention):

Why doesn’t Hollywood make ambitious films for adults anymore? 

As always at Quora, the question got a number of good answers. But there was one that really got to me, written by Ken Miyamoto, who is a working screenwriter.

It starts off as an angry rant, inspired by a scene from the movie Adaptation:

They don’t make ambitious films for adults anymore? Are you out of your  f***ing mind? People are making great films every year. There’s Zero Dark Thirty, There Will Be Blood, Life of Pi. Every f***ing year, somewhere in the world, somebody is pushing the envelope and risking their careers to bring ambitious films to you. Every f***ing day, someone,  somewhere is making the next Avatar, Titanic, Troy, or Inception. People take risks, like with The Master, and lose because audiences aren’t showing up. For Christ’s sake, a director makes the epic The Impossible and barely anyone goes to see it. Someone produces Silver Linings Playbook or Beasts of the Southern Wild, and yet people still say that great films aren’t being made. Steven Spielberg makes Lincoln! If you can’t find that stuff  in the cinemas, then you, my friend, don’t know crap about films! And why the  F*** are you wasting my two precious minutes with your question? I don’t have any use for it! I don’t have any bloody use for it!

He then moves on and talks about various aspects, ending with a great point about the responsibility of the audience:

My point?

Besides the differing business modules, cinema as a whole is much the same as it was back in the “glory days”, only more people are getting a chance to make great films (and yes, bad ones too).

What cynics see are the multiplexes.  They see television marketing.  They see posters and magazine covers.  All focused on the big ticket event films that audiences go to see in droves.

There are great producers out there.  I don’t even need to name them.  Go find them yourself.  They are out there.  And go see them in the theater because every time the audience doesn’t show up, it makes it all the more harder for such great producers and filmmakers to make great original films.

And don’t worry, the epics are out there and they are being developed and made as we speak.  Take a look at the time spans between the great films you mentioned, and the many more you didn’t.  Such films take time.  Some fail.  Some succeed.  Others are lightning captured in a bottle, groundbreaking, amazing, and decade defining.”

Be constructive
Basically Ken Miyamoto says what I’d like to say to Danny Boyle, but in a much more eloquent way. (I wouldn’t expect anything less considering he’s a professional screenwriter.)

Go and read the whole Quora article! And then stop saying that Hollywood doesn’t make movies for adults anymore (except from porn).

Those movies do exist. And you can help them to make better in the box office, which will lead to more movies with adult themes being made in the future.

Don’t waste any more media space obsessing over the top selling films, complaining about their pixarification. Be constructive. Use your energy to talk about the good movies that still are made, even if they only rarely make the headlines.

Danny Boyle seem to have given up a bit on the chances of quality cinema to survive. The bigger reason that bloggers and other vocal film fans don’t.

Written by Jessica

May 5, 2013 at 9:45 pm

22 Responses

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  1. Well, it depends on if we are using Hollywood to mean the studios or if we are using it for the whole film industry. I do think the tentpole films tend toward a more sanitized approach. The violence is casual and lacking weight (though plenty bloody in the case of mainstream horror) and the sexuality is mere titilation. So if we limit our scope here, maybe Boyle is right, but I’m not sure there’s a reason to limit our scope. There’s never been more options for finding films that are off the beaten path. One might be able to complain that the mass public’s tastes are too safe and so multiplexes tend not to get these films, but one can’t complain that these films don’t exist because they do in multitudes on DVD and streaming services.

    Bondo

    May 5, 2013 at 10:00 pm

    • In the interview Boyle isn’t nailing it down to Hollywood. He begins the interview talking about the decline of British movies, completely forgetting a film maker such as Mike Leigh. Not much of pixarification in his case, is there?

      Jessica

      May 5, 2013 at 10:05 pm

  2. I was going to write an article along a very similar line and you’ve nailed exactly what I was going to say. I don’t understand people who say good movies aren’t being made anymore, or adult movies, or risky movies. They’re all there, we just have to go support them.

    Chris

    May 5, 2013 at 11:22 pm

    • Go ahead and write that article! Spread the word! We need to raise an opinion out there, making people realize that they’re a part of the solution. Support the adult movies that are made and we’ll all be just fine.

      Jessica

      May 5, 2013 at 11:30 pm

  3. As a fan of Danny Boyle I’m saddened to hear him say such things. I think what he’s maybe driving at is the reduction in funding for British movies. It’s not the same as it was 10 years ago and it sounds like (justifiable) sour grapes but his statement is a bit off the mark. There are still many superb adult movies being made. I’d even go as far to say that filmmakers are far more daring now that they were in the 70’s. Don’t get wrong, the 70’s were a great decade for movies and I’ve many favourites from that time but can you honestly see the likes of “The Master”, “The Tree of Life” or the film’s of Lars Von Trier or David Lynch playing well to an audience of that day? I think not. Its a ridiculous statement from Boyle and even though, he says that Mike Leigh is forgotten (which he isn’t) he forgets that Ken Loach is alive and well and still producing adult material like he always has. There is still an emergence of great British talent just now, despite the lack of funding. Ben Wheatley and Shane Meadows are another notable couple of directors that are challenging and exciting and Peter Mullan delivers some strong stuff from Scotland as well.

    Marvellous post Jessica. It’s upset me a little that Boyle feels this way but he’s wrong.

    Mark Walker

    May 5, 2013 at 11:51 pm

    • Thanks Mark. I think it’s a bit thoughtless of him and he probably wasn’t thinking too deeply into what he actually was saying. Sometimes you just let your tongue run you know. My theory is that he said those things as some kind of setup to promote his own movie Trance. If you listen to it carefully you’ll here how he brings up his own movie towards the end of he clip; I think it’s meant to be some kind of exception from the pixarification. Which actually is a little surprising to me considering how this movie has been described to me by those who have seen it.

      Jessica

      May 6, 2013 at 12:00 am

      • I haven’t seen Trance yet Jessica, but it’s one that I’m really looking forward to. I do admire Boyle’s ability to stray from the beaten path but does he really need to take a pop at others to promote himself? He didn’t seem too fussed about collecting his little Golden Baldy for Slumdog Millionare and entering into the vastness of the Hollywood vibe that evening. Thankfully, that doesn’t seem to have influenced his projects as yet but he still took a bite of that apple.

        Mark Walker

        May 6, 2013 at 12:20 am

        • That’s true. As much as I actually loved Slumdog Millionaire, you can’t really say that it’s grown-up and edgy. You might even say its pixarfied.

          Jessica

          May 6, 2013 at 6:58 am

  4. The same complaint was around before Pixar, only it was called “Disneyfication”. Then, as now, it was a complaint without basis.

    Morgan R. Lewis

    May 6, 2013 at 4:08 am

    • Good observation! It says something about the strength of the name Pixar nowadays.

      Jessica

      May 6, 2013 at 6:54 am

  5. My objection to your specific examples of no-porn adult movies would perhaps be that they are all dramas. If I think back to the action movies we have watched with Filmspanarna for example I would largely concur that the violence is sanitized. On the other hand, there is Django Unchained… 😉

    Sofia

    May 6, 2013 at 6:36 am

    • But there’s no lack of really violent movies either, is there? Think of a movie like Drive. It’s not exactly children proof, is it?

      This weekend I watched Lawless and it was way more violent than I had expected. I’m not convince this story would have been told in a more sanitized way if it had been made in the 70s.

      Jessica

      May 6, 2013 at 6:56 am

      • Perhaps I wasn’t clear enough. My point was that for every sanitized movie you probably have at least one not sanitized. There are just more of all of them.

        Sofia

        May 6, 2013 at 10:02 am

  6. I do agree with you that Mr. Boyle is wrong in stating that there are no movies being made with adult themes because their are. However they are not as widely marketable as they once were. If you look at the top grossing movies of last year vs the ones from the past. You will see that mostly family friendly material are in the top spot. This is mainly due to the fact that family films are much more easily marketable. I would love to see an R rated drama get into the top spot, but I doubt that will ever happen now. I think that was what Danny Boyle was trying to say. Great post

    The Vern

    May 6, 2013 at 3:58 pm

    • Thaks Vern! I’m definitely not any expert in the development of the box office, as a matter of fact I know nothing at all. But it sounds reasonable what you say: that the family friendly material has become much more dominating than it used to be. And if that’s the case, it’s fine to say it and argue against it if you think it’s a bad development. What I think is a bit unnecessary is to be so categorical about it. If I was one of the indie movie directors who really make an effort to make movies that deal with adult themes, I would probably feel ignored and a bit miffed about that.

      Jessica

      May 6, 2013 at 7:20 pm

  7. I’m actually not much of a fan of Boyle’s work but I do agree with most of his points. I think the difference between the seventies and today is that in the seventies all films (including the box office hits) were made for adults. Now, none of the major studio pictures are for adults. Yes, there will always be smaller films with a more mature focus, but the multiplexes of late have been glutted with kid-friendly fare.

    Dave Enkosky

    May 7, 2013 at 1:45 am

  8. […] Why Danny Boyle is wrong about the pixarification of movies […]

  9. I think that Boyle is only right in the most limited sense. Yes, the landscape of filmmaking changed after Jaws and Star Wars for mainstream productions. However, I’m totally with you that it’s a very simple description and disregards so many wonderful, interesting films that are being made each year. Maybe Boyle is upset that his films don’t make huge amounts of money (except Slumdog Millionaire). I’m a big fan of his work, but this seems like lazy complaints from a grumpy guy having a rough day.

    Dan Heaton

    May 7, 2013 at 6:54 pm

    • It would have been very easy to make more nuanced statements just by acknowledging the existence of the kind of movies he asks for, adding that it’s a shame they sometimes has a hard time financially. But this came out wrong with its oversimplification. Let’s say it was a rough day. Again: love him as a filmmaker as well as Olympic opening show maker (they should hire him EVERY year). Really one of my favourites in the craft, being interesting and still accessible.

      Jessica

      May 8, 2013 at 7:36 am

  10. I actually live close to Danny Boyle. He does live in a small place but is close to Manchester, quite a large city. Although I think you’re right that there are plenty of adult films around I can see his point. Something which annoys me is that film’s attempt to get a certain rating for their theatrical release, cutting scenes etc, rather than making the best film that they can and allowing the censors to classify it. With so much money at stake, studios are afraid of the ’18’ or ‘NC-17′ and here in the UK, it seems that most movies in the multiplex at least are ’12A’. The films Boyle wants to see are out there, but they are harder to see than they used to be and fewer in number.

    biggreenjelly

    May 11, 2013 at 12:04 pm

    • That is all true, yet I think ignoring the fact that there still are a lot of great, grown-up movies that are made, although for a smaller audience, isn’t doing those films any service.

      Jessica

      May 13, 2013 at 11:37 am

      • That’s a very good point. And I suppose if a well known film maker is saying that there is nothing out there then it might mean that some people wouldn’t try and search them out.

        biggreenjelly

        May 13, 2013 at 12:12 pm


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