Watching “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” the latest DC Comics epic from director Zack Snyder, it’s hard not to feel a sense of deja vu regarding its predecessor, “Man of Steel.” Specifically, while the overlong, big-budget feature at times felt numbing in the theater, it likely will play better when consumed in bite-sized bits once it lands on HBO — enabling one to appreciate individual scenes more than the movie as a whole.
Obviously, nobody would give Snyder $250 million to make a TV movie. But the irony of the giant blockbusters that now dominate the movie business is that they are frequently more satisfying when broken down into their component blocks, from YouTube clips (authorized or otherwise) to portions idly watched after they make their way to pay TV.
Snyder might be a poster child for this phenomenon, as directors go. That’s because he has a beautiful way of framing and constructing action shots — there are moments in “Watchmen” that practically look lifted off the pages of a comic book — while surrounding them with material that can feel leaden, as if you have to slog through exposition to reach the juicy parts.
The idea of dissecting movies in this fashion is hardly confined to the recent DC films. Indeed, a quick trip around YouTube reveals all sorts of helpful time-saving presentations, such as clips that feature every light-saber duel from the first six “Star Wars” movies, conveniently assembled chronologically or rated from one to 10. Those who gritted their teeth through portions of “The Phantom Menace,” in other words, can niftily avoid Jar Jar Binks and the talk about trade federations, and get down to the fight pitting Obi-Wan Kenobi and Qui-Gon Jinn against Darth Maul.
For many, of course, there’s still no substitute for luxuriating in the oversized images of movies on the big screen, as filmmakers labor to deliver eye-popping experiences that justify higher ticket prices amid the grandeur of Imax and plush reclining seats. Yet the pressure to meet those expectations — to make such films feel bigger, as only they can — has come at a price in terms of storytelling, yielding legitimate grumbling about “Man of Steel” or “The Avengers: Age of Ultron” devolving into protracted, CGI-dependent climactic battles that can start with considerable promise and grow tedious well before the shouting’s over.
Conversely, the Burger King “Have it your way” approach to movie viewing may not be new, but technology has refined the various means of easily selecting that portion of a movie one wishes to see, from chapters on a DVD to simply DVR-ing what you’re inclined to view again and zapping to the good stuff.
Admittedly, slicing and dicing movies into appetizer-sized portions might not be an especially good thing, either for the industry’s financial health (at least, until they find more reliable methods to monetize it) or for consumers’ attention spans, which, studies indicate, have fallen sharply during what might be called the smartphone era. Just try watching TV with a child these days, and witness how impatient and demanding they can be about cutting directly to the moments they enjoy most; as those kids mature, concerns must be raised about the future of storytelling that needs room to breathe.
Yet what this second-chance viewing can do, oddly, is alter one’s perceptions of a film, unearthing — or highlighting — parts to savor that might have been overwhelmed in a theatrical venue. It also reduces these movies, even more than they have been already, from a cohesive story to a collection of moments.
From that perspective, a “Man of Steel” or “Batman v Superman” might not measure up as the cinematic equivalent of a seven-course feast. But it can go down more smoothly, and be judged less harshly, when consumed cafeteria-style.