What has gone wrong with summer this year? Depending on your interests (political immolation, untrammelled doping in sport, insect-borne viruses), you may feel the answer is obvious. For those of us who prefer films to real life, it’s more opaque. Usually, the summer months offer cinema-goers an array of big-budget extravaganzas, in which assorted superheroes do battle for the city/planet/universe, the themed merchandise flies off the shelves and everyone is happy, apart from a few last, straggling cheerleaders for nuance.
But this year has seen the wheels come off the Batmobile. Audiences haven’t flocked to see Suicide Squad (or Star Trek Beyond, or Bourne; it’s not just the superheroes who have looked vulnerable). Blame has been laid on the sheer quantity of big-budget films released this year: you can’t release a tent-pole movie every week, or you end up with 52 poles in your tent and nowhere to unfurl your sleeping bag. And the weather has actually been quite nice, so plenty of us have chosen to spend evenings away from the multiplexes.
I wonder if studios have forgotten that summer films used to feel summery: Jaws was released on June 20th, 1975, and the central tension of the early part of the movie is between those who want to keep the whole killer-shark thing quiet in case it upsets the tourists at the start of the summer season, and those who think that the tourists will be pretty upset anyway when they see a disembodied head bob out of a boat. Amity (in real life, Martha’s Vineyard) offers us the holiday of our dreams and nightmares at once.
Would the film have been as successful if Spielberg had been able to use more footage of the mechanically temperamental shark? Probably not: it’s the fact that we scarcely see it that gives it such a terrible menace. If we can’t see it, it could be anywhere. Worse, it feels like it’s everywhere. And perhaps that also explains the recent doldrums at the movies: CGI has made all special effects possible in ever-increasing quantities.
It’s hard to dispute the wisdom of Aristotle (maybe on human biology). In The Poetics, he lists the elements a drama requires, in order of importance. Plot is first, then character, then dialogue, right the way through to the least important element: spectacle. This is the opposite way round to the priorities of film studios, who routinely specify the action-sequences they require (for merchandising purposes) before the script is even begun. In other words, spectacle dictates plot. No wonder the blockbuster needs a reboot.
A new study has suggested that the WHO’s exercise guidelines are way too low to fight chronic disease. We should be doing five to seven times the amount previously recommended, which was 150 minutes of walking per week, or 75 minutes of running. And although those numbers seem pretty conservative (22 minutes of walking a day isn’t much), a lot of people don’t get anywhere near them. Multiply them by five, and in spite of your best efforts to encourage people, you might end up doing the opposite.
I love to walk, and run: I cover 50 – 60 miles a week. But I’m self-employed, so I can afford to allow myself 90 minutes to commute on foot, or give myself a couple of hours off for a long run. Most people don’t have that luxury. And telling people that they’ll do little to combat heart disease or diabetes if they exercise for less than two hours a day seems risky: what if they conclude that they’re wasting their time doing a mere hour?
Once, long ago, I used to work in a video store, just before the introduction of the minimum wage. The single most crushing part of my day was selling Haagen Dazs for £3.99 a tub, knowing it was worth (considerably) more than an hour of my life. And today, I have had that feeling again, after discovering that the owners of Peppa Pig have just turned down a £1bn takeover offer, because it undervalues the company. No-one should have to begin their day by finding out a pig is worth more than a billion pounds. So I’m sorry if that’s just happened to you.