Saturday, October 24, 2009

I want to play a game: It's called 'stop whining about the Saw series'.

So the very early estimates are in, and the wide-release debut of Paranormal Activity (1,945 screens) appears to have defeated the opening weekend of Saw VI. Ironically, the long-running series has appeared to have fallen victim to the 'Tomb Raider trap', as the sixth chapter is allegedly a marked improvement over the last two sequels (my wife and I usually see these on opening day as a tradition, but real life got in the way). Frankly I was shocked that Saw V opened at near $31 million last year, as pretty much everyone detested the fourth chapter. So Saw VI opened with only $7 million (about 50% down from the $14 million opening days of Saw IV and Saw V) while Paranormal Activity added another $7.6 million to its stunning run. Unless Paranormal Activity collapses after Halloween (a reasonable possibility), it will have a solid shot at crossing the $100 million mark. The Saw series, while wounded (this will likely be the smallest opening weekend in franchise history), is still a relatively low-budget tentpole series that can more than weather a hit or two. I'd be shocked if Saw VI cost even $15 million, so even a quick-collapse and $35 million final gross will still be quite profitable, especially when overseas and home video is counted in. Theoretically, the fewer fans who went to a theater meant that the more who will rent it on DVD in January.

So fine, the series has finally shed a little blood six films in. About $3-4 million of that lost $7 million can be directly attributed to demographic and genre competition, something that the Saw series has not faced since 2004. But can we please stop whining about how the Saw franchise is somehow contributing to the destruction of modern society? First of all, it's not actually torture porn. Not a single person actually gets tortured in a Saw picture. Yes, some characters suffer for a few minutes before death in any given Saw film, but that's not torture and that's commonplace in any number of horror films (by that definition, Alfred Hitchcock's Frenzy or Psycho are torture porn films). You want true torture porn? Rent the 'adult and sophisticated' Diane Lane vehicle Untraceable. That film revels in long, painful death scenes where victims are slowly bled, burned, or electrocuted for hours and then tells us that we're evil for wanting to watch.

As far as rotting society's fabric, let's look at a quick list of things that the Saw series is not responsible for... Jigsaw did not tell us that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, resulting in a years-long foreign occupation that has perhaps permanently destroyed the moral character of an entire country. He did not coerce people to buy varying-rate interest mortgages that they could not afford, he did not drive up the price of oil via speculative trading, he did not deregulate the entire financial industry, he didn't loosen the rules for media ownership, he did not create or enforce Don't Ask Don't Tell, he did not out an undercover CIA agent for political gain, he did not subsidize corn products to the point where nearly every single manufactured food has some form of corn, he did not commit white collar crimes that cost Americans billions in financial devastation, and he did not delay the federal response to hurricane Katrina in the hopes that the press would blame the sitting state and local government. Oh, and John Kramer didn't kill the Lindbergh baby, Chandra Levy, or Jonbenet Ramsey. And he absolutely did not leak a DVD work-print of X-Men Origins: Wolverine a month before the release.

Now here are some positive things that the massive profits of the Saw franchise have brought us - consistent work and unimaginable fame for Tobin Bell, several years of successful blood drives each October, and the production and/or distribution of 3:10 To Yuma, Akeelah and the Bee, Away From Her, The Bank Job, Battle For Terra, Bug, The Cove, Crash, The Descent, Lord of War, Sicko, The US vs John Lennon, and W. And those are just my favorites. The Saw series is a flawed but ambitious horror franchise with a somewhat conflicted moral compass. Period. It does not teach kids to kill, it does not warp impressionable minds, it does not contribute to any real suffering that goes on in the world. So stop whining because in thirty-years film scholars will be discussing Saw with the same adulteration that we now discuss A Nightmare On Elm Street and/or Halloween.

Scott Mendelson

10 comments:

Deaf Indian Muslim Anarchist! said...

great post ! That's why I enjoy your blog, for a healthy dose of reality and politics that you throw in sometimes.

SAW movies do make me cringe (but that's the whole point of a horror movie), but as strange as it sounds, sometimes SAW makes me *thankful* to be alive. Does that sound weird?

Kyle Leaman said...

"Jigsaw did not tell us that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, resulting in a years-long foreign occupation that has perhaps permanently destroyed the moral character of an entire country."

and they say that Limbaugh uses hyperbole. Not looking to debate the whole 'failed' intelligence aspect of the run-up to the Iraq War, but to think that Iraq (or even Afhganistan) has perhaps 'permanently destroyed the moral character of an entire country is ludicrous. Nazism and Stalinism were things that ruin moral character of a country, and those countries emerged from those periods. Yet, America has never looked to rule either Iraq or Afhganistan, and only entered either of them after a series of international law violations.

I'm not arguing that Iraq was justified, thats another argument, but to think it's a war without any moral grounding that has destroyed America's moral character, is just not true.

I love reading you, but sometimes your bias is clearly showing. So in running down the things that destroy American's moral fabric, you could go any number of places. One of those you picked was the response to Hurrican Katrina, and any number of areas to focus on. Somehow, out of all the bad things to come out of Katrina, you decided to focus not on the slow response at all levels and its effect on people; no you single out Bush and claim his delay was an attempt to not get blamed.

So out of everything to focus on in this country, it's Bushss desire to not get blamed for slow response that is destroying moral character? Right...thats the first thing I thought of too. Outing a CIA agent destroying America's moral character? Corn in nearly all products, eroding America's moral character?

How does this laundry list even remotely engage those arguing that the Saw series erodes moral character? I don't agree with those arguing it, but isn't this just a straw man attack here. It's like saying, "Shut up about the little things, because I can name bigger things". Couldn't one just as easily (and wrongly) flip your response in a conservative direction. "The real thing destroying moral character in America is the non-response to those being repressed in Iran during the last election, the lack of appropriate troops to keep the Afghani people safe from a repressive and resurgent Taliban, the murder of millions of unborn children, etc."

Scott Mendelson said...

Of course I have bias, I'm a lefty and make no bones about it. And yes, it was a random laundry list of things that actually did damage, while we hem and haw over a pointless film franchise. As for my bias, I specifically included several things that can be squarely blamed on Clinton or Carter (Regan gets the blame to deregulation, but it actually started under Carter as a response to Thatcher's electoral wins in the UK), and some have nothing to do with right/left politics.


How does this laundry list even remotely engage those arguing that the Saw series erodes moral character? I don't agree with those arguing it, but isn't this just a straw man attack here. It's like saying, "Shut up about the little things, because I can name bigger things". Couldn't one just as easily (and wrongly) flip your response in a conservative direction.


"The real thing destroying moral character in America is the non-response to those being repressed in Iran during the last election, the lack of appropriate troops to keep the Afghani people safe from a repressive and resurgent Taliban, the murder of millions of unborn children, etc."


On the first two we agree (but we must remember that Ahmadinejad is basically a powerless straw man to represent Iran, a Darth Vader if you will). Although I'd be more comfortable committing more troops to Afghanistan if their own recent election hadn't been mired in alleged fraud. It's tough to justify a counter-insurgency when the acting government is relatively corrupt. I'd just assume wait until that election runoff gets sorted out so we know who are supposed to be supporting.

Scott Mendelson

oreowriter said...

I did watch untraceable and I totally agree! I thought it was odd to have such long, sad death scenes coupled with the message that watching those scenes were bad.

Also, what was to be the final death scene would have only take like 1 second...I thought it was odd that the bad guy didn't figure that one out.

And now, I kind of want to watch the Saw series. And then go destroy some moral fiber.

R. H. said...

By your definition, which seems to be based mostly on time, waterboarding (which lasts seconds) isn't torture. The Geneva Convention thinks otherwise. Those devices the Shah had that rip all ten fingernails out at once... also not torture. Most would disagree.

I saw SAW V. There was a scene in it where, in order to escape one "trap" the characters had to put their arms into a box of circular saws and let them cut at them until ten pints of blood were drained in a rather gradual process.

Torture.

I think the word you need to redefine for the SAW films isn't torture, it's "horror." The reason these films are torture porn is because they're only about people tormenting people, and because they use devices Torquemada would have killed for. No creatures. No monsters from the id. Just an ongoing gruesome reality show for the people who miss FEAR FACTOR and wish it were about homicide. They're junk. And they're torture porn.

Thou dost protest too much said...

Thought experiment: let's say terrorists (pick your favorite, right-wing nutjobs or Islamic nutjobs) decide to release a decapitation video. Except that, instead of cutting a hostage's head off, they put the hostage in a device such that he has to rip out his own toenails and eat them, or else his head will be cut off.

Is that "ambitious"? Is that indicative of a "somewhat conflicted moral compass? Or is it a sign that those terrorists are completely depraved, and anyone who enjoys watching the video is likewise depraved?

Thou dost protest too much said...

Thought experiment: let's say terrorists (pick your favorite, right-wing nutjobs or Islamic nutjobs) decide to release a decapitation video. Except that, instead of cutting a hostage's head off, they put the hostage in a device such that he has to rip out his own toenails and eat them, or else his head will be cut off.

Is that "ambitious"? Is that indicative of a "somewhat conflicted moral compass? Or is it a sign that those terrorists are completely depraved, and anyone who enjoys watching the video is likewise depraved?

oreowriter said...

I did watch untraceable and I totally agree! I thought it was odd to have such long, sad death scenes coupled with the message that watching those scenes were bad.

Also, what was to be the final death scene would have only take like 1 second...I thought it was odd that the bad guy didn't figure that one out.

And now, I kind of want to watch the Saw series. And then go destroy some moral fiber.

R. H. said...

By your definition, which seems to be based mostly on time, waterboarding (which lasts seconds) isn't torture. The Geneva Convention thinks otherwise. Those devices the Shah had that rip all ten fingernails out at once... also not torture. Most would disagree.

I saw SAW V. There was a scene in it where, in order to escape one "trap" the characters had to put their arms into a box of circular saws and let them cut at them until ten pints of blood were drained in a rather gradual process.

Torture.

I think the word you need to redefine for the SAW films isn't torture, it's "horror." The reason these films are torture porn is because they're only about people tormenting people, and because they use devices Torquemada would have killed for. No creatures. No monsters from the id. Just an ongoing gruesome reality show for the people who miss FEAR FACTOR and wish it were about homicide. They're junk. And they're torture porn.

Kyle Leaman said...

"Jigsaw did not tell us that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, resulting in a years-long foreign occupation that has perhaps permanently destroyed the moral character of an entire country."

and they say that Limbaugh uses hyperbole. Not looking to debate the whole 'failed' intelligence aspect of the run-up to the Iraq War, but to think that Iraq (or even Afhganistan) has perhaps 'permanently destroyed the moral character of an entire country is ludicrous. Nazism and Stalinism were things that ruin moral character of a country, and those countries emerged from those periods. Yet, America has never looked to rule either Iraq or Afhganistan, and only entered either of them after a series of international law violations.

I'm not arguing that Iraq was justified, thats another argument, but to think it's a war without any moral grounding that has destroyed America's moral character, is just not true.

I love reading you, but sometimes your bias is clearly showing. So in running down the things that destroy American's moral fabric, you could go any number of places. One of those you picked was the response to Hurrican Katrina, and any number of areas to focus on. Somehow, out of all the bad things to come out of Katrina, you decided to focus not on the slow response at all levels and its effect on people; no you single out Bush and claim his delay was an attempt to not get blamed.

So out of everything to focus on in this country, it's Bushss desire to not get blamed for slow response that is destroying moral character? Right...thats the first thing I thought of too. Outing a CIA agent destroying America's moral character? Corn in nearly all products, eroding America's moral character?

How does this laundry list even remotely engage those arguing that the Saw series erodes moral character? I don't agree with those arguing it, but isn't this just a straw man attack here. It's like saying, "Shut up about the little things, because I can name bigger things". Couldn't one just as easily (and wrongly) flip your response in a conservative direction. "The real thing destroying moral character in America is the non-response to those being repressed in Iran during the last election, the lack of appropriate troops to keep the Afghani people safe from a repressive and resurgent Taliban, the murder of millions of unborn children, etc."

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