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New Film Term Alert! "HDTV Porn"

Criticwire By Matt Singer | Criticwire April 24, 2012 at 2:39PM

We need something to describe movies you only watch because they look amazing on your HDTV.
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"The Last Airbender."
"The Last Airbender."

While I was waiting for some friends to come over on Saturday night I started flipping through my Netflix Instant queue.  It was my first time using Netflix streaming on a new HDTV, so I wanted a relatively recent movie to test my set's picture quality.  In the new releases section, I happened across "The Last Airbender," M. Night Shyamalan's poorly received adaptation of the popular Nickelodeon animated series.  I saw "The Last Airbender" in the theater -- it was a miserable experience.  The plot was nonsensical, the storytelling was awkward, the lead child actor was painfully bad, and the post-converted 3D effects turned most of the final act into a dim, incomprehensible blur.  M. Night Shyamalan has become something of a punchline in Hollywood, but "The Last Airbender" wasn't even uniquely terrible like most of his other recent flops.  This was just mass-produced dreck.  Thank God he was the last airbender.  I couldn't bear to imagine watching another one.

Still, I needed to put my TV through its paces.  Nothing else leapt off my queue as a good test case candidate.  So I put on "The Last Airbender."  And then a funny thing happened.

I kind of got sucked into the movie.

Beyond the fact that the horrible 3D was now mercifully removed, nothing about "The Last AIrbender" had changed.  Even after the lengthy opening text crawl, I still couldn't follow the plot (and this was my second viewing!).  All of the story-condensing montages were still present, and still painful.  Noah Ringer remains a talented martial artists and an untalented actor.  But the movie looked so amazing -- as well it should, since Paramount reportedly spent $150 million on it -- that it was entertaining to watch purely on the level of visual spectacle.  Without the murkifying layer of bad 3D, you could really admire the craftsmanship that went into the special effects.  The imagery was so bright and detailed and imaginative that it didn't really matter to me that everything coming out of the characters' mouths sound liked the adults in "A Charlie Brown's Last Airbender."  I just turned down the volume so I could focus on what I was seeing and tune out what I was hearing.

As a movie, "The Last Airbender" is kind of horrible.  As eye candy -- even as a streaming title on the Internet -- it's kind of remarkable.  Suddenly the movie had a purpose: it exists to be ogled on high-definition televisions.  Taking my thoughts to Twitter, I heard from people who agreed with my assessment, and who offered other movies they watch on HDTVs for the pure visual pleasure of the experience.  They cited titles like "Tron: Legacy," "Speed Racer," and the TV series "CSI: Miami."  Clearly this is a growing cinematic phenomenon, and as a growing cinematic phenomenon, it needs its own term:  "HDTV porn"  (I was originally just going to call this "HD porn," but that could get confused with porny HD porn).

So what are the components of HDTV porn?  Here are three crucial aspects:

1) The film must contain astoundingly spectacular visuals.

2) The film must not contain anything of redeeming value beyond its astoundingly spectacular visuals.

3) The film must not look appealing on standard definition televisions.

That last one is very important.  It means that the dazzling visuals aren't necessarily impressive camera movements or ingenious uses of montage.  This is all about big, expensive, cutting-edge digital cinematography.  For example, "Hot Fuzz" is a movie with a great deal of visual appeal; it's layered with flashy editing, camera angles, and big action sequences.  But while it may look better on my big HDTV, it's still fun to watch -- and still viscerally exciting -- on my tiny MacBook computer screen.  "The Last Airbender" on my laptop, on the other hand, is a nightmare.

Likewise if a movie has merit beyond its imagery, it can't be HDTV porn.  J.J. Abrams' "Star Trek" looks spectacular on my new television, but in the past I've enjoyed that movie on an iPod; the characters and dialogue are so rich that the incredible space vistas are just one part of an overall package.  In the case of HDTV porn, the visuals are the entire package and the wrapping paper and the haphazardly selected greeting card.

What do you think?  Do you have any other HDTV porn titles to recommend?  Is there a better term for these films that doesn't involve invoking actual pornography?

This article is related to: The Last Airbender, New Film Terms


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