Films

Simon Pegg is right: Cinema is being dumbed down, but it doesn’t make it any less awesome

The internet lost its collective minds today after super-duper geek maestro Simon Pegg and star of huge blockbuster movies, claimed that modern cinema is getting a bit daft. Here's Sam Rowe on why that's not such a bad thing...

Simon Pegg - actor, high priest of geek culture and sometime-guest editor of this very magazine – has risked the wrath of his loyal subjects this week, by falling on his mint-in-box lightsaber and committing nerdicide.

Yes, the self-proclaimed Nerd Do Well (the title of his autobiography) who gave sci-fi loving, goatee wearing and comic book drawing Tim Bisley to the world, told Radio Times that modern cinema “is kind of dumbing down in a way,” and “taking our focus away from real world issues.”

Pegg went so far as to say he misses “grown-up things” so much that he might actually “retire from geekdom.” Which is all well and good, although he did say this while apparently holding a Star Wars mug and, you know, being committed to co-write the new Star Trek movie.

Though it all could just be a storm in a Death Star-shaped teacup, Pegg’s words have certainly whipped a legion of keyboard-bashers into something of a frenzy.

“If I go that way – SHOOT ME NOW PLEASE” said one nice commenter.

“Don’t throw stones Simon”, warned another.

Or my personal favourite (for politeness alone): “Hollywood has gone to the poor dear’s head”.

And yet, amid the angry stream of bile currently being spat online, I’m actually inclined to agree with him. Cinema is indeed dumbing down.

Unless you're the type that overly indulges in meditation and/or hard drugs, cinema has always been the very  finest form of escapism.

But (be still, keyboard warriors), I’d argue that although Hollywood is sometimes guilty of pressing Ctrl+Alt+CGI at the drop of a green screen hat, who’s to say it’s not a bloody marvellous thing?

Take for example, Simon Pegg. This is the man who, along with Edgar Wright, brought us Shaun of the DeadHot Fuzz and The World’s End – a sort-of trilogy so beautifully absurd that it was affectionately nicknamed after an ice cream (Cornetto, in case you didn't already know).

Most of these weren't big, nor clever, and yet for a generation of comedy fans, these films were essential viewing, being quoted religiously ever since. The Cornetto Trilogy spoke to our inner slacker, the teenage party animal inside that longs to stride out of work at lunchtime and set sail for your Sixth Form local, and even the 0.5% of our brain that craves a zombie apocalypse – just to see how it’d play out.

But, more than that, provided you’re not an individual who indulges in meditation and/or hard drugs, cinema has always presented the very finest mode of escapism.

We live in a dark and scary world. One where natural disasters claim the lives of thousands, where everyday people are forced to use food banks and where terrorist attacks are so commonplace that they’ve almost lost their shock value. So, on the rare occasion you’ve enough left in your wage packet to nip to your local Odeon (then inevitably part exchange your car for the privilege of some popcorn), sometimes you really do just want to watch some computer generated superheros knock the living toffee out each other.

Not big. Not clever. But incredibly cathartic and, lest we forget, enjoyable.

Indeed, though in decades past global paranoia seeped into cinema screens – from Invasion of the Body Snatchers and War of the Worlds to The Blob, the 1950s was rife with Cold War trepidation, for example – since 9/11 it would appear your average movie-goer is not so keen to emerge from a multiplex with tears streaming down their face.

Rife with Cold War trepidation.

Granted, there has been no shortage of films addressing meaty topics like war or terrorism, but with the exception of this year’s American Sniper, the large majority of these were box office wet lettuces. Sometimes you just need to give the people what they want, and Hollywood certainly knows what that is.

Even The Hurt Locker, which famously pipped Avatar to Best Picture at the 2010 Academy Awards, represented the lowest ever returns on a winning film in that category: $18.6 million (adjusted for inflation) or, if you’d rather, around £12m.

And what’s second on this unfortunate list of Oscar-winners-but-box-office-stinkers? Why it’s 2015 Best Picture: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s dark, brooding – and fiercely intelligent – flick, Birdman. It made around $38 million (£24m).

The Avengers: Age of Ultron, on the other hand, has made approximately $372 million (£239m) already. Furious 7? An estimated $343 million (£221m). And The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water? A mighty impressive $162 million (£104m).

So, sorry to break it to you, Simon, but in a modern world filled with hate speech, non-stop tragedy and global terror hiding in plain sight, sometimes we really do just want to unplug our brains, stuff our stupid faces with overpriced nachos and watch a tie-wearing sponge muck around with a dim-witted starfish.

And we’re not even sorry, either.

Follow Sam Rowe on Twitter.