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Debate – Genre-Mixing Vs Pure Genres


Posted May 31, 2014 by

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Genre-Mixing Vs Pure Genres

I’ve been thinking about why I didn’t enjoy The Amazing Spiderman 2 ever since I watched it and I have come to the conclusion that it was more a romantic film with superheroes in it than the other way around. Now, I am not a fan of the romance genre and actively avoid rom-coms, whereas I adore all things related to superheroes and make elaborate plans to watch a superhero film at the cinema. So, as one can imagine, I was not best pleased to have my superhero film turned into a soppy romance.

However, my friends loved it and they loved it because it was more romantic than action-packed. This, I must admit, flummoxed me.

What it really comes down to is genres. I went to the cinema expecting a film from one genre and, though aspects of that genre were clearly visible, I found that another genre had overwhelmed it. For me, this was unforgiveable, mainly because I don’t like romantic films; for my friends who like rom-coms and action films, this was a perfect mix.

So, this brings us to the question – does genre-mixing work? I am reminded of my film studies class at university where we watched Dracula, a favourite of my tutor’s. That film combined horror and romance and according to my tutor’s research, people were divided in enjoyment of the film because the focus was so muddled. As a result of that class, I wrote a paper on The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, which had failed to recapture the young audience that the first film had won. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was a child-friendly film whereas Prince Caspian chose to go into full-on action mode, including some disturbing sequences that children would not have enjoyed. Now, I absolutely love Prince Caspian; I love the battle scenes and the fight for power and the politics. But, I could only appreciate it because I was much older than the intended audience. Unfortunately, this fact ultimately led to the untimely demise of the franchise, which I think is a terrible shame.

The same cannot be said of the Harry Potter films, which got darker with each film and had plenty of war iconography in the final film, but the process was fairly gradual and spread across eight films, giving the audience enough time to grow up.

Similar criticism has been levelled against the new Star Wars trilogy which saw the universally-adored sci-fi series adopt elements from political dramas. People complained about the lack of appeal to young audience members, but to us older fans, this made for compelling cinema.

There really aren’t many pure genres left, when you think of it. Gone are the Westerns, the only pure genre for a long time, with their gunslingers and panoramic deserts. The gangster films died out even before the Westerns, when Hollywood found itself unable to find an anti-hero with the charisma to replace James Cagney. The only pure genres now would be musicals (few and far between, unless they’re Disney films), war films (though these are often diluted within the drama genre), science-fiction and fantasy (why do people lump those two together so often?), but for the most part, films in the 21st century use an amalgamation of genres to reach different audience pools.

This tactic generally works. Not always, of course. A film like Cowboys and Aliens, which coupled Westerns with sci-fi, didn’t work because, frankly, those two genres do not gel well together, even if you have Indiana Jones and James Bond trying their level best to convince you otherwise! However, the romantic-Western Brokeback Mountain worked perfectly, invoking the nostalgia of the Western genre while also making the audience reach for the tissues with the doomed lovers.

Coming back to our friendly, neighbourhood spandex-wearer’s latest outing, I think what irks me most is that everyone is praising the Peter Parker-Gwen Stacy love story whereas just a handful of years ago, they were pillorying Spiderman 3 for the same thing! Double standards, much?

As Steve Neale once said, every new film adds to the existing generic corpus. The rebooted Batman series by Christopher Nolan ensured DC films took on a darker tone (no, we are not counting Green Lantern), which would not have been possible without the X-Men films, which combined grit and humour to usher in a whole new era in the superhero sub-genre. What kind of lasting effect will The Amazing Spiderman 2 have on superhero films? Are we to expect more action films focusing on soppy romances or is this film exception? Because, if more films take their cue from this one, I’m going to have to find a new genre to love!


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Louis Skye
Freelance Contributor

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    Really well written and well thought out piece Louis. Although I’m not sure about the SW1-3 as “political drama.” I might have to go back and look at those again under that consideration.

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