"Please Turn Off Your Cellphones"

After a discussion with a colleague the other day, I started to really contemplate one of my major plights with modern cinema. Was it the substance of quality performances or the increasing level of tension that films need to achieve to be engaging?

No. It was the usage of technology.

Take this, for example: In Batman Begins, Rachel Dawes (crafted with heartless abandonment by a vapid Katie Holmes) stands before Christian Bale's Bruce Wayne completely engaged in a scuttlebutt fencing match about his growth as a human being, etc. etc. All of a sudden, her cell phone rings, only to alert her of some troubling events at the District Attorney's office that require her immediate attention. Her demeanor shifts, understandably, and she breaks from their conversation with a smug little verbal punch on Wayne.

Now, herein lies the conundrum: what would have happened if her cell phone had been empty of battery power? What if Rachel had been left there to further duke it out verbally with Bruce Wayne? Would they have delved further into a battle of words that would've dismantle their relationship and, consequently, befuddled their close connection that develops as the film progresses? Yes, I understand that it is a minor contrivance; however, technology stepped in the way and changed fate forever in this universe.

For that fact, and that fact alone, I despise modern technology popping up in "realistic" films. Bear with me - yes, I'm discussing a film where a "grown man dressed up as a bat" (gotta love ole' Jack) rectifies the crime situation in a metropolis-esque city for the above example. Technology in true fantasy-based movies doesn't irk me; hell, a movie close to my heart involves a group of guys in jumpsuits running around with nuclear packs on their backs as they zap and wrangle spectral entities for the betterment of New York City. Examples like the above one from Begins, as well as the gadgets in the older James Bond films, usage of a cell-phone "library" in The Da Vinci Code, and even the use of e-mail in Nim's Island act as major weaknesses and, subsequently, glaring crutches that these films lean on to carry the narrative from point A to point B.

The absolute crutch, the one that bothers me worse than all others, is the cellular telephone. Now, if someone answers a cell phone in their house instead of answering their home phone, it doesn't bother me. However, if a cellular telephone bridges a gap in the narrative that otherwise wouldn't have been capable, then it turns me off even moreso than a lackluster acting job in a tour-de-force type of cinematic achievement.

To some, I could see the exact opposite argument arising. Technology can create identifiableness with our modern culture, in that people achieve great things using the same technology that we use on a day-to-day basis. It's a matter of convenience, which is where the divide might occur between others and myself. To me, convenience can be misconstrued with laziness. In essence, using these elements almost reveal the lazy thought processes that filmmakers may have utilized in the scripting process.

Then again, it could also be my undying grasp upon the technology of yesteryear that my aging mind cannot let go of. For example, I thoroughly enjoyed Shutter -- the Thai horror film, not the atrocious Hollywood foible -- and it focused on capturing images of ghosts within Polaroid images. The same can be said for The Ring / Ringu, as they're chained to the VHS-era. Not only did I buy into the usage of those technologies, but I relished in their manipulation. However, the very moment a character reaches into their pocket, flips out their cell phone and construes the demeanor of the film, my eyes roll into the back of my head and I disconnect from the pacing.

It's not a fair bias, I don't think. However, I wish with every fiber of my being that our society wasn't one shackled by the text message or the easily-accessible diversion in the shape of a handheld contact device. Already, I hear arguments popping into my head: "Well, what about ground line phones? Do you hate those in movies as well?" or "What about cars? Should people ride horse and carriage everywhere they go in films?" It's hard to explain, but it's different. There's a balance between technological substance and character developmental substance, one that probably differs in each and every filmgoer more than likely.

In my eyes, a film can still be a great piece of cinema with the use of modern technology's little toys, but it has to muscle passed them in order to achieve greatness. Hence why I mention Batman Begins, a phenomenal reboot and alteration to a classic character. Other great original films, such as Collateral and Oldboy, more than power passed their cellphone "cameos" to achieve vast levels of greatness by doing everything else that they do wonderfully. It almost seems like the humanity, the tangibility of character presence, can overturn and, in essence, make us forget about the fact that they're using these tools.

Maybe I just want to see more internal effort out of the characters on-screen -- maybe because we see, each and every day, people latched to our "leashes" that we must answer to. Maybe it's because I want to refuse that we need these things in order for us to live on a daily basis. Or, maybe, it's just because I don't like it when cinema progresses further than my own personal technological pleasantries do.

But, you've got to admit -- Days of Thunder would be a hell of a lot better if Tom Cruise et al would've been scurrying around in horse-drawn carriages.


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