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Book Review: Blockbuster: How Hollywood learned to stop worrying and love the summer.
by Matthew Bartley

Any vaguely serious fan of film will know that Peter Biskind's book 'Easy Riders, Raging Bulls', has become the standard setting book on 70's cinema. And any vaguely serious fan of film will also know that the 70's is when academics and critics claim cinema was at its peak. Until 'Star Wars' and 'Jaws' came along and ruined the party for everyone, with it's firm emphasis on thrills over dirty aesthetics and it's unashamed playing to the big crowds. Yes, film was never going to be the same again, as studios desperately tried to out-do each other come the summer, and the art of film was lost ever. Although Tom Shone would disagree with that. For Shone, the era of 'Jaws' and 'Star Wars' kickstarted one of the most creative trends that Hollywood has ever seen - the blockbuster.

'Blockbuster' can be seen as merely a blistering and witty riposte to the snooty attitudes of Biskind and co. Shone has very little time for the grubby and grimy soul-searching of a John Cassavettes, he'd much rather strap himself into a TIE fighter and go hunting aliens on LV-4-26.

Because Shone is writing this book from the perspective of a true FAN of cinema, someone whose warmest moments have been when he's huddled down and chewing on popcorn as Roy Scheider takes pot-shots at a big white. Yes, Biskind's work is brilliant and incisive but you never get the sense of joy that comes across in Shone's work.

But this isn't merely the work of someone recounting their favourite multiplex memories, Shone is just as perceptive as Biskind is. He brilliantly elaborates on just why 'Star Wars' far, far outclasses the prequels and just what that says about Lucas as a person. His critique of films such as 'Alien' and its sequels could be the basis for any film student, while his high praise for 'Jaws' contrasted to his general dislike for 'Jurassic Park', makes you re-evaluate just how far Spielbergs standards had slipped when he came to his dino flick. And he exactly nails the moment (or the summer) when summer blockbusters stopped being genuinely thrilling, and turned into ironic, posing, smug mockeries of themselves.

And Shone also stands out from other film writers as his work is very witty. His reports on the making of 'Titanic' and the size of Cameron's ego, is as scathing as anything from Biskind's books, while his retorts to some of the more pretentious film critics of the times are finely-tuned put-downs.

And is there a more perfect description of the difference between Scorcese and Spielberg, as Scorcese's films being lumps of flesh torn from his body while Spielberg's are slam-dunks after slam-dunks?

This may well be the most vital book on film since, well, 'Easy Riders, Raging Bulls' as we need people like Tom Shone. People not afraid to ignore the more accepted train of thought on what constitutes great cinema, and say "You know the final attack on the Death Star in 'Star Wars? That was really fucking cool wasn't it?"

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originally posted: 05/19/05 23:18:41
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