Dragon Con was this weekend, and I had a pretty good time. One of the things that makes Dragon Con different than other comic conventions I’ve attended is that the panels are looser. The biggest ones are usually annual affairs where actors from popular genre TV series like Star Trek get up and do a Q&A with the audience for an hour or so. But there’s plenty of variety; for example, I attended a panel on the particulars of podcasting and another panel about Victorian-era self-defense. I couldn’t even get into the panel for “Adult Origami”.
One of the panels I waivered back-and-forth on attending was called “Most Hated Movies”. On the one hand, it was a fan-panel, which meant it was a free-for-all where people would talk about movies they hated, which I don’t think should be a rallying point. On the other hand, I needed to satisfy my morbid curiosity, and felt I hadn’t attended enough panels. So my friend Brad (who’s the Assistant Director of the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival) and I decided to swing by. It turned out our friend Charles Judson, who’s the Artistic Director of the Atlanta Film Festival, was on the panel. Brad and I went up to say hello, and Charles asked if we wanted to join. So rather than being in the audience, we were now on the panel and had a front-row seat to what was a unique experience. Hit the jump for what I learned from a roomful of people hating movies.
Having been brought up at the last minute and having never even attended a fan panel before, I had no idea what to expect. Brad, Charles, and I were joined by the panel moderator and a random con-goer from the audience. I felt we were off to an already disconcerting tone when the moderator led by giving an example of a movie she hated by talking about how she wanted her money back after seeing The Blair Witch Project, and not understanding why people thought it was so great. Already I was confused for several reasons. First, the program guide indicated that the movies being discussed were big Hollywood productions, and Blair Witch Project was anything but. Also, it wasn’t clear where this was headed (if anywhere). Was the problem marketing? Word of mouth? Or nothing more than personal preference?
From there, the floodgates opened and the panel became a way of airing personal grievances and a lot of disagreement over what was good and bad in individual movies. As the crowd became more raucous, I overheard one attendee astutely comment, “Oh, no. It’s the Internet.” The moderator tried her best to call on all the raised hands in the audience, and also bring it back to the panelists by trying to find out what we thought were bad movies.
For my part, I decided I wanted to be a counterbalance. A room filled with people hating movies is a bit disheartening. I do understand frustrations with particular films, and there are some things that cause me to “hate” certain movies. I joined the chorus when someone mentioned The Last Airbender, and I tried to explain that I also dislike movies that have repulsive subtexts such as the puritanical message of What’s Your Number? (I got a lot of puzzled looks because no one had seen the picture).
However, through all of the individuals’ personal problems with movies, some thoughtful issues did emerge. For instance, there was a scientist in the audience who simply had to give up on any movie involving science because the inaccuracies drove him crazy. There was another person who brought up the worthwhile point that it feels like some filmmakers completely disregard the fanbase or don’t understand the property. A young woman took that sentiment to what I felt was an extreme when she said she hated Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban because director Alfonso Cuaron “didn’t comprehend” the source material. I countered by saying that Cuaron did the best thing for the franchise by not treating the books as holy writ like Chris Columbus did with the first two movies. “Agree to disagree,” she replied.
There was a lot of agreeing to disagree. People were passionate, and that’s good, and in my closing statements, I tried to encourage that passion towards a more positive direction. Hating movies can be fun. I absolutely understand that. But it’s also unproductive. That’s why I stopped doing a year-end “Worst of” list. I give you a list of movies not to see, and if you don’t go see them, then that’s the end of it. Having said that, the passion to hate some movies also means there’s also a deep love for other films. I tried to appeal towards the audience’s better angels, and encouraged them to share their film appreciation instead of just spouting hatred. Yes, it was kind of a hippie message, but I wanted to at least try to bring some positivity into the room.
Perhaps next year, Dragon Con will have a “Most Loved Movies” panel, although I don’t know if it will be as well-attended as the “Most Hated Movies” (at one point, people were standing along the walls because there weren’t enough seats). Either way, I was still happy to be on this year’s panel even if my presence was unintentional and at the end, someone pointed out that when they see movies, they make sure to ignore the critics.