Realizations about “Cookie-Cutter” Films

The great videogame critic/professional troll Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw is one person who loves (a HUGE understatement) videogames immensely. He is one of those who believe that videogames are an exciting new medium for storytelling and that he believes that a good game is one that manages to combine gameplay and story-telling in a very effective way (notable examples being Silent Hill 2, Bastion, and Amnesia: The Dark Descent). He enjoys these games because of how they meld story and gameplay seamlessly, and how these games manages to tell their story without resorting to cheap expository dialogue (namely, how Final Fantasy XIII did it).

He loves the “art of videogames” so much that he slams most mainstream videogames (namely Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, Gears of War 3, Battlefield 3etc) not because they are bad games but because they represent something problematic in the videogame industry. These are games which my good friend, A.g. De Mesa (yes, visit his street-photography blog, he’s really good) calls “cookie-cutter” games. By “cookie-cutter”, it basically means that it is something formulaic. It is something which isn’t new or groundbreaking. It’s not necessarily a bad thing and yet it does what it does: entertain you for the short time you spend together.

Keywords here are “entertain” and “short time spent together”. It’s something specifically made to distract you for awhile before you go back to your lives. It isn’t something life-changing or profound; it just gets your attention for awhile. When it’s over, it’s over. You could either forget about it, or continue devouring it. Either way, it has done its job.

What does this have to do with movies? Simple. I saw Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter over the weekend. Now I have to tell you that I purposely lowered my expectations for this film as I knew that it was going to be a horrible movie. I went in to kill a few brain cells because you have to admit; the occasional brainless activity in the midst of intellectually rigorous work is not entirely a bad thing.

Why did I hate Vampire Hunter? I hated it because right then and there, I finally understood Yahtzee’s disdain for “cookie-cutter” games. Yes, it’s occasionally entertaining and all, but in the end it’s really something disposable. You’ll forget about it after you’re done with it. It’s like toilet paper; sure it’s useful but do you really reuse a soiled-up toilet paper?

Sure, Vampire Hunter’s action sequences are fun (if you can forgive the horrible CGI, that horse stampede sequence had something going for it). Gore fanatics will enjoy the violence. Vampire aficionados will like the treatment of vampires in this film. Alternate history fans will find the vampire aspect of the Civil War interesting. But in the end, Vampire Hunter’s nothing but that: interesting ideas mashed together in an incomprehensible mess of a film.

“Cookie-cutter” filmmaking  is filmmaking at its worst. It’s a filmmaker who’s on auto-pilot. He gets things done in the least amount of time and with the least amount of effort. He comes up with something “okay”; not excellent or mediocre, just “okay.” The cookie-cutter filmmaker makes generic and formulaic films which, though they may not be too bad, do not push the envelope for films.

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