On the same weekend in May, the much-maligned Star Wars: Episode I—The Phantom Menace celebrated its 20th anniversary, and Game Of Thrones aired the final episode of its divisive final season—both events resulting in major disappointment for some fans. So this week we’re asking:
What is your biggest pop culture disappointment?
My answer to this question, I must admit, is informed as much by my experience watching the film as the film itself, so perhaps my aggressive disdain for Kevin Smith’s Clerks 2 is unjust. I was in college, broke beyond belief, and, despite having spent the day lugging my possessions down and up multiple sets of stairs in sweltering heat, homeless. See, I moved my possessions to a new apartment building only to discover my unit was, for reasons beyond my control, not ready. As such, I moved my couch, desk, and 36 boxes of books up another flight of stairs to a friend’s apartment to sit for three days. And, with the last 15 bucks in my bank account, I went to the movies to escape the heat, eat a dinner of warmed-over nachos, and, for 90 minutes, laugh. That’s all. A few laughs, a pleasant story; the stakes could not have been lower. Alas, there were no laughs to be had in this horrible, unnecessary sequel, which had all the crassness of Smith’s original and none of the homespun charm that so tickled me when I discovered it as a preteen. Cloaked in dried sweat, I slumped in my seat, annoyed and exhausted, loudly declaring to the two other people there that “this is stupid!” I was shushed, rightfully, and, delirious in my dehydrated tantrum, came this close to jumping ship. Then I remembered what was waiting for me outside—heat, a sticky recliner, and an empty bank account—and grimaced through to the ending. I haven’t rewatched it since then—the mere prospect brings sweat to my brow—but I have considered how this story would be different if I’d seen another movie that opened on that same day: M. Night Shyamalan’s Lady In The Water. Folks, it could’ve been worse.
I was hyped for The Hobbit adaptation, singular, and was disappointed in every single aspect of the adaptations, plural. Treating The Hobbit like a prequel to The Lord Of The Rings and contorting Bilbo’s adventure to fit the mold of Frodo’s was a misguided approach, but it’s not just the needless three-film redux that got my goat. It’s the sheer heaviness of the adaptation that disappointed me, from the Necromancer subplot to the presence of Sauron’s eye in the ring, like Jackson and company sought with every change and addition to turn The Hobbit—a delightful, mirthful, warm book—into a ponderous slog. And I’m not talking about the length of the films; I sat through The Lord Of The Rings adaptations more times than I can count, often opting for the extended versions, to the point I had to stop because I realized the repeated viewing was sapping the joy of the films for me. And I grew up reading and rereading The Hobbit. So it’s kind of astonishing just how thoroughly Jackson lost someone like me, and avid fan of the source material and his previous adaptations, with a product so dreary, so tedious, so cumbersome that I can’t even remember if I saw the third installment at all. My strongest memory of the films is one of my husband’s douchy coworkers, who happened to be seated behind us in theater, saying loudly, “That was a dragon” before Balin did in the film.
I’ll step up and take the big double-bladed lightsaber hit: As a 15-year-old geek—the obnoxiously self-declared kind, who wore his sci-fi tastes as an unearned badge of pride—my expectations for Star Wars: Episode I—The Phantom Menace almost literally could not have been higher. Raised on the doctrine of the original trilogy as a sort of nerdy ur-text, I was expecting no less than a transformative, religious experience out of George Lucas’ return to the galaxy so long and far away. And here’s the thing: I actually rather liked Episode I when I saw it on opening weekend, allowing myself to be dazzled by the groundbreaking effects, thrilled by the acrobatic duels, and intrigued by its revelations about the inner workings of the Force. (Midi-chlorians and virgin births? Sign me up!) But as I walked out of the theater, I was also struck by a grim notion that’s colored my experience with this series (and, really, every big blockbuster franchise) ever since: It was just a movie, not a revelation. And while the prequels certainly have their faults, that loss of grace really isn’t on them; it was a disappointment I was going to have to internalize one way or another, and it’s not Jar Jar’s fault that he was the harbinger of my loss of blind cinematic faith.
My disappointment in Metal Gear Solid V is only partially about the game itself. It’s a masterpiece for more than half of its lengthy runtime, with a smart modernization of the sneaky gameplay that the series has always done so well and an elegant implementation of the lovably melodramatic storytelling that it’s sort of infamous for, and then it just… stops. Thanks to corporate bullshit running up against a visionary creator stubbornly testing just how much he was allowed to get away with, the developers never got a chance to actually implement a real ending. That’s an especially noticeable issue here because MGSV is a prequel, meaning it leaves huge and obvious plot holes with no resolution, and that stuff will probably never get addressed since the aforementioned creator got fired/quit and the aforementioned corporate bullshit has completely consumed publisher Konami. Leaving so much story untold is a brutal end for a series that often put its narrative ahead of gameplay, but barring a video game miracle, that’s just how Metal Gear ends now.
I can’t say I’m shocked to see another Kevin Smith film on this list, but I also kind of can’t believe that any experience with a different movie from his oeuvre would have as crushing a disappointed impact on someone as Jay And Silent Bob Strike Back did for me back when I was in college. As someone who had spent the late ’90s thinking that Chasing Amy and Dogma were the peak of cool mainstream cinema—we all love what we love, especially when we’re younger—when I heard the amiable Jersey auteur was crafting a fuck-it-all thank you to his fans, it made me incredibly excited. “The verbose poet laureate of scatological nerdery is making a movie just for me!” I thought at the time, and eagerly settled in opening weekend to treat myself to what I assumed would be one long massage to my neural pleasure centers. Imagine, then, what happened as I realized that the experience was nothing more than one long series of dick and fart jokes, neither of which seemed quite so funny to me as they once had. The unfolding picture slowly cured me of my fascination with Smith’s simplistic method of filmmaking; I think it was around the time that a plot point revolved around Eliza Dushku’s character farting that I realized just how much I not only wasn’t enjoying the proceedings, but actively wishing for the reel to break and bring an early end to the ordeal. True, I finally got something approaching enjoyment thanks to Ben Affleck and Matt Damon’s cameo as themselves on the set of Good Will Hunting 2: Hunting Season, but by then the damage was done, and the rose tint had fully come off my glasses.
It’s been several years now, and I am still not over Gilmore Girls’ April storyline in season six. It took my favorite show down a path of plotline pestilence and plague, ultimately resulting in (shudder) the Lorelai/Christopher marriage. I rewatched all those seasons a few years ago for TV Club Classic, and the unholy hell of it is that Luke and Lorelai were on their way to being one of those rare will-they/won’t-they TV couples that had a promising chance of working out. They were cute during their home renovations, and even had seemed to get past Lorelai’s parent’s disapproval of their relationship. Then April showed up, and Luke, for some reason, decided to keep his daughter’s existence from his fiancé a secret, even though being a mother was the defining force in her life. It made no sense except from a soap-opera fake-drama standpoint, and I expected more from the show I loved so much. On second watch, I realized that it wasn’t really April’s fault (or Vanessa Marano, who played her), but the nonsensical plot twist. I’m not saying the remaining Gilmore Girls episodes didn’t have any high points, but the series never really recovered.
I stood by bewildered as my friends gave up on Weezer after “The Green Album” (a serviceable comeback record) and Maladroit (underrated). But my time to jump ship would come, too: It arrived in the spring of 2005, with a numbskull riff, Jock Rock shuffle, and a video shot at the Playboy Mansion. It was easy to brush off “Beverly Hills” as first-single nonsense; “Hash Pipe” and “Dope Nose” weren’t particularly representative of the albums they came from, either. Unfortunately, “Beverly Hills” turned out to be one of the better tracks on Make Believe, a full-length attempt at getting back to the melodic vulnerability of “The Blue Album” and Pinkerton that somehow resulted in songs as dopey as “We Are All On Drugs.” No memes, no internet-courting Top 40 covers—Make Believe was a disappointment born of Weezer trying to be Weezer. I used to knock the album’s one true triumph, “Perfect Situation,” for having a wordless chorus, but when I listen to it now, I’m grateful there are no “This Is Such A Pity”-level lyrical blunders muddying the emotional content.
I don’t suffer from a ton of major pop culture disappointments, but that’s mostly because I tend to involuntarily perform a series of mental gymnastics to convince myself I enjoyed something, only to have the disappointment slowly seep in through the poor insulation of my false positivity. The Legend Of Zelda was the first video game I fell in love with. Due to that childhood mixture of ample free time and lack of alternatives, I memorized every pixel of that game. So naturally, I was extremely excited for the sequel. But, man, I did not enjoy Zelda II: The Adventure Of Link. It diverged from the first by emphasizing a more conventional left-to-right scrolling side view. That change itself didn’t bother me as much as how much of the first’s charm was lost in the transition. Also, it was hard as hell, and unintuitive. Zelda 2 was groundbreaking in how it added role-playing game leveling-up elements, an addition that would subsequently become incorporated into all action games—though it would never return to another Zelda title. Many games that went underappreciated in their time receive a more loving retrospective, but few people seem to be able to muster that level of enthusiasm for ol’ Zelda 2.