Simon Pegg: Big budget blockbusters are infantilizing us

Simon Pegg is tasked with writing the third outing in the Star Trek reboot, but he doesn’t seem particularly happy about it.  Earlier this week the geek/nerd culture icon found himself in hot water with fans when he complained that big budget spectacles like the one he has to create are “dumbing down” people and distracting them from real world issues.

Speaking with the Radio Times he had initially had this to say:

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.

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.

When the Internet’s reaction was less than positive, he then took to his personal blog with a mea culpa:

The ‘dumbing down’ comment came off as a huge generalisation by an A-grade asshorn. I did not mean that science fiction or fantasy are dumb, far from it. How could I say that? In the words of Han Solo, “Hey, it’s me!”

While he goes on at great length about the rise of the summer blockbuster essentially keeping his generation from growing up to deal with the real world, ultimately he boils his point down to this:

I guess what I meant was, the more spectacle becomes the driving creative priority, the less thoughtful or challenging the films can become.

Sure, modern blockbusters often lose sight of story and character development as they focus on delivering bigger and better spectacles, but they don’t crush the box office because everyone suddenly got stupid; they do it because spectacle has universal appeal.  Hulk fighting a robot needs neither explanation nor translation, so anyone can enjoy it.

Frankly Pegg’s looking back at older Hollywood with rose-colored glasses.  The second highest grossing movie in 1972 when The Godfather came out was The Poseidon Adventure, a disaster film about a cruise ship capsizing.  The truth is that for every Godfather there were a dozen goofy Westerns and a thousand script notes that read “Can we put a dog in this? Everybody loves dogs.”


The difference between then and now is that now people like superheroes more than cowboys, and CGI makes creating this kind of stuff much more efficient.  Meanwhile most moviegoers still appreciate a thought-provoking story to go with their spectacle.  Last year’s superhero hit Captain America: The Winter Soldier revolved entirely around the exact same security vs. freedom debate we’re having right now over the Patriot Act.

And yes, Batman v Superman gets far more discussion than a British election, but Superman vs. Batman has been a topic of debate since the dawn of superheroes in the 1940s, and most of these arguments serve as gateways into deeper moral and philosophical discussions, like how much responsibility Superman bears for all the destruction in Man of Steel.  Or they might get into theoretical physics with questions like “how does Thor’s hammer work?”

In the end, if Pegg wants smarter cinema, then he just has to make it.  Not only is reboot Star Trek 3 within his grasp, but making movies has never been cheaper or easier.  The same can be said for conservatives sick of Hollywood maligning them.  While the studios are busy chasing that billion dollar dragon, go make the movies you want to see.

*Big thanks to HotAir’s artist-in-residence Sarjex for the post artwork. Check out more of her stuff in her store.