The following essay was for my Cultural Studies class, therefore it’s not of the same quality as my other material. Read it anyway lol.
I see a few newly released films each year and sadly most are of average quality. Last Summer, I saw two movies in particular that stood out; one was quite exceptional and the other was pure garbage with some mild entertainment. The former was Quentin Tarantino’s war film, Inglourious Basterds and the latter was Michael Bay’s Science Fiction film, Transformers: The Revenge of the Fallen. Both pictures are similar in some ways and at the same time, there is a world of difference between them. In terms of culture, Inglourious Basterds is of much higher art than it’s counterpart, Transformers because director Quentin Tarantino has far more “cultural capital” than his rival, Michael Bay.
Both Inglourious Basterds and Transformers are action films in their own unique ways, but Basterds does not rely solely on special effects and fun filled mayhem to dazzle it’s audience. There are various similarities between the two movies and it should be noted that each obtained well beyond it’s fair share of box office/commercial success. Both had gun shots, explosions, “good guys, “bad guys,” gorgeous females in leading roles, and a healthy chunk of humor. Without seeing both features, a cultural theorist may rush to rule both films as equally “mass art,” merely manufactured products to be gobbled up by millions of dumb Americans as Matthew Arnold would contend. Of course major corporations financed both films and as I previously mentioned each profited quite well at the box office, but it seems clear that there is much more to IB than simply “action” that makes up most of Transformers. IB focuses on World War II and particularly the fall of the Third Reich at the hands of the “Basterds,” a band of Jewish American soldiers. Of course this is not historically accurate at all, but it still gives the film more depth than a light hearted flick about robots. IB also features various references to older, spaghetti western films and obscure war films as well as other aspects of both American and European culture. Tarantino’s cultural capital certainly adds to the “higher quality” of the film.
As I previously explained, both movies can fall under the action genre, but the styles of action displayed in each film makes one high art/culture and the other low art/culture. In Inglourious Basterds, scenes are built up with suspense and clever dialogue. This suspense then erupts into bloody battles and shoot outs and so on. In contrast, in Transformers, the action is not stylized and is mostly non-stop, relying on special effects and very little suspense. The film utilizes most of the conventional techniques Hollywood blockbuster/popcorn movies usually employ, but no substance to balance out the mindless mess. The old phrase, ” a spoon full of sugar makes the medicine go down” comes to mind. In this case, there is no medicine and moviegoers are being inundated with pounds and pounds of sugar, mentally consuming as much junk as they purchase in movie snacks. Clearly, if Arnold was alive today he would use Transformers as a chief example of low/mass art.
In short, although both films, Inglourious Basterds and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen can be seen as action movies and worthy of commercial success, Basterds definitely is of higher art/culture than Transformers. Writer/Director, Quentin Tarantino effectively used his cultural capital of historical and cinematic knowledge to make a greater film. The action was entertaining, but carefully balanced with extraordinary acting, memorable dialogue, and superb character development. Michael Bay, on the other hand, merely made a big special effects movie, he knew people would rush to the theaters to see, enjoy, and never ponder over anything meaningful to the human experience.