The Movies, from executive producers Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman, is CNN’s newest original documentary series that will explore the history of the film industry and some of the biggest movies to ever come out of Hollywood. Each episode explores an era of film history using clips, archive footage, interviews with prominent filmmakers, and commentary from scholars and critics.
Plenty of documentaries have told the history of film, either by focusing on specific aspects of the art of filmmaking or providing a general survey of its historical context. However, none has been done in a way that is as accessible to casual moviegoers as this. A majority of previous film history documentaries have been geared towards cinephile audiences and film scholars, so it is refreshing to see CNN’s The Movies take an approach that is more entertaining, even if it does come at the expense of depth.
The first episode of the series explores the films of the 1980’s, and although one can’t help but wonder what the exact reason why CNN decided not to air the series in chronological order (each of the episodes cover a ten-to-twenty year period in film history), this was a reasonably good place to start. The first episode covers some of the most widely beloved films ever made, riding the nostalgia train quite well to keep the audience’s interest.
The episode does a very good job of capturing the spirit of 1980’s cinema. Without a doubt, there was enough to talk about to make an entire series out of this period alone, but the filmmakers did a great job of hitting the necessary bases for entertainment and information. Parts of film history that are explored in the episode include the rise of the teen comedy, the revival of the superhero genre, and the importance of some of the decade’s biggest blockbuster.
Additionally, the film discusses some of the most significant figures to work in the decade, like actors Tom Cruise and Meryl Streep, and directors Steven Spielberg and Robert Zemeckis. The Movies will make you admire their artistry and skill or remind you why you already admire them so much by showing some of the best examples of their work.
The film’s interviews are done in a way that maximizes the effect on the audience. There is a good balance between scholars and critics and people who are actually involved in the industry, lending a great deal of credibility to the series. Although some of the people whose careers are explored by the film weren’t interviewed, such as Cruise, others, like Spielberg and Zemeckis, told their own story on camera. Interviews with more contemporary figures, such as Maya Rudolph, Bill Hader, and the late John Singleton, are also very interesting.
On a technical level, the series is relatively strong. The interviews are shot against a plain black background which, admittedly, isn’t the most aesthetically-appealing set-up. However, the use of clips from the films discussed does a majority of the heavy lifting in the storytelling, with the interviews used more as a supplement to the story.
The Movies may not be the most in-depth documentary about the topic, but it is extremely entertaining and a worthwhile watch for any cinephile or casual film fan because, at the very least, it’s an opportunity to hear some of your favorite filmmakers and actors talk about their work.
The Movies debuts on CNN on July 7 at 9pm and airs subsequent Sundays at the same time. (One out of six episodes reviewed.)