Pacing: Then and Now

Recently, one of my friends invited some guys over to watch a movie on his big screen. We picked out Bullitt with Steve McQueen because of its reputation as a tense detective movie and the iconic car chase. As Roger Ebert said in 1968 (no spoiler alert for a movie review published before I was born):

McQueen is great in Bullitt, and the movie is great, because director Peter Yates understands the McQueen image and works within it. He winds up with about the best action movie of recent years… McQueen plays a San Francisco cop assigned as bodyguard to a syndicate witness. The witness gets shotgunned — in the most brutally direct 10 seconds of film I can remember.

As cool as cool gets.
As cool as cool gets.

One problem though. As the movie progressed, we found that the 1968 standards had changed. What was once the best action movie of its time now moved along glacially. What was a brutal shotgunning can’t hold a candle to what we see today. What appeared to be tense close ups of Steve McQueen appeared like holes in the script with no dialogue. The car chases are now amped up to Fast and Furious levels and every scene needs to be fully orchestrated with constant motion.

Does this mean that it was a horrible movie? Of course not. It means that our taste and expectations have changed with time. Many “reboots” today flop or don’t hold up. Some shine. Some depend on the audience. For example, my wife and I love the modern Thomas Crown Affair with Pierce Brosnan and Rene Russo while my parents far prefer the original McQueen – Dunaway show. We just watched the most tense ten minute dinner scene ever in Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (which was followed by a car chase). It really blew away the meal we’d just eaten. I also remember back to my childhood and what entertained me. I loved Ultraman on Saturday mornings and, of course, have written about Pacific Rim. What used to be accomplished by a couple guys in rubber suits among toy buildings now takes actual engineering to think out.

Then - And it was awesome then!
Then – And it was awesome then!

Now – A lot more work for even more expected awesomeness.

Again, this doesn’t mean that what’s older has no merit and that the new is always better. What it does mean is that you need to know your audience. Not just old/new, but the level of detail and subject matter needed to engage with them. Pacing and subject matter need to match. You need to think about expectations and match or exceed them in the right way.

You can certainly have your peanut butter and chocolate together. Just the other day, I took my dad out to lunch and streamed Johnny Cash over Spotify into the car on the way. You don’t need to know how it get there to sing along to Ring of Fire. Combining the right elements of both just made sense at the right time.

Does Edna Mode from The Incredibles have it right?edna_mode
“I never look back, darling! It distracts from the now.”
-Thanks to @KarenNaide for that one

2 thoughts on “Pacing: Then and Now

  1. This is so true! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve told my kids, “OMG, this is such a great movie… I LOVED it when I was a kid!” Only to sit there and watch their faces during the movie. And their faces tell me one thing: our movies (or our taste) sucked when we were a kid. But it’s not that our taste or movies really did suck when we were younger… it’s just that times have changed and movie making has (for better or worse) advanced with the times.

    Edna has it right. And by the way, one of the things I love about “The Incredibles” is that it’s still a great movie and doesn’t look dated. Inventions and “high tech gadgets” from this movie (made in 2004) still look pretty cool and high tech.

    Glad you enjoyed Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit!


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