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On May 29 we posted an entry responding to the inevitable badmouthing of sequels that journalistic movie critics tend to indulge in when the summer season starts. “Live with it! There’ll always be movie sequels. Good thing, too. [1]” gathered comments from current and present “filmies” of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. They defended sequels for a wide variety of reasons.

Now another ex-Madisonian, Henry Jenkins, has weighed in with “The Pleasures of Pirates and What It Tells Us about World Building in Branded Entertainment [2].” Despite its somewhat formidable title, this essay jumps into the fray, taking critics to task for their knee-jerk tendency to lump virtually all sequels together into a category fraught with prior expectations and to dismiss the latest entries as mindless, inept films.

Henry takes Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End as his point of defense. Somehow critics seem by telepathy to agree to take the same stance on a particular blockbuster. Here they claimed that AWE is far too complicated and gets bogged down in exposition at the expense of action. (So much for claims that blockbusters are all CGI pyrotechnics and no plot!) They also kvetched that there is too little of Jack Sparrow’s character, apparently their main focus of interest in the film.

Henry takes AWE to be, alongside The Matrix, an example of elaborate world-building, a trait of the best of the big film series. In the age of DVDs and cross-media franchises, such films, he argues, are meant to be watched more than once. They also place a lot of faith in the viewer to be able to follow a complicated plot. Henry, like Steve Johnson in his Everything Bad Is Good for You [3], credits modern media as challenging viewers/readers with dense works that require a lot of figuring out.

Critics assume the opposite, that summer movies are supposed to be mindless entertainment, and they treat them as such. Complexity, which they would hail in an art-house release, becomes a fundamental flaw. Henry has some cogent remarks on the circumstances of reviewers’ screenings and how they handicap the writers’ approach to pop summer movies.

Whether or not one admires AWE, Henry mounts a strong defense of the film and in the process shows how much most reviewers are out of touch with audiences’ tastes and miss the various ways in which summer blockbusters work.

In other news, David’s The Way Hollywood Tells It has just been slated for translation into simplified-form Chinese. He’s now preparing a blog entry paying tribute to the great art theorist Rudolf Arnheim, who died on Monday at the age of 104. The family’s obituary is here [4].

The Cinema Ritrovato, which we’ll be attending in July, has posted a provisional schedule here [5]. David will go on from Bologna to Brussels for research and the annual Cinedecouvertes and L’age d’or festival; films and other info available here [6].