There’s a new movie coming out shortly that I can’t say what I’m referring to because it’s still embargoed. But in conversations about it with those who have seen it, a recurring theme is that it’s more of a HBO movie than a real theatrical film.
I pretty much agree with that assessment of this particular film and don’t even mean that as a slam. I mostly enjoyed the movie, mildly. But I’ve been trying to figure out what exactly people mean when they say that. They don’t mean it as a slam. It’s not like saying “It’s a made for TV movie” but it’s not a compliment either.
Looking at the list of HBO films, a diverse roster from Band of Brothers to Mildred Pierce, one notices the quality has gone way down in recent years. It’s been a long time since they’ve done a series as universally well regarded as Band of Brothers. More recently, it’s been a lot of critically celebrated, unwatched biofilms like Temple Grandin and the Kevorkian thing.
Closely studying the list, I’ve put my finger on a few things that I think they mean when they call something a HBO movie:
• An intruiging, contemporary topic, like the Loud family, which the film fails to live up to.
• Lots of historical impersonations and period garb.
• Uncinematic. Talky rather than showy.
• Films that you feel like you know exactly what they will be without even seeing them. That is to say, they are - from Mildred Pierce to Temple Grandin - high concept pieces dressed up in highbrow garb, that rarely surprise you.
Why should this be? There’s certainly no reason you can’t make a great movie out of the Kevorkian story or Mildred Pierce? So why do these films telegraph artistic flabyness miles away?
There’s something about these movies, I think, that is too in love with itself, too impressed with itself for being HBO and having the courage to make a movie about Temple Grandin, or to remake Mildred Pierce. Everyone who works at HBO must really be in love with HBO and feel like they are saving the world. And part of that is giving artists a free hand…So perhaps there is no one in the room willing to be the jackass who says, Do we really need this scene? Do we really need these ten scenes? Is there some way we can make these points without having the lead make yet another speech? Is there maybe some visual cue for this? Even if the jackass didn’t get his way he’d make the filmmaker think.
Anyhow this new movie is very much a HBO movie: an intriguing concept, great art design, some fine actors that somehow doesn’t come together as anything special or present any compelling reason why it should be up on a big screen.
And the “TV is better than film” today people need to think about why when what is essentially a TV movie is projected on a big screen it just doesn’t quite cut it.