What is a blockbuster, and why are we predisposed to believe that any movie so designated sucks? Tom Shone’s smart, observant Blockbuster is a warts-and-all portrait of the term and the films it describes. The book starts off as a sort of counterpoint to Peter Biskind’s 1999 Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, which argued that the work of men like Steven Spielberg and George Lucas disallowed the continuance of American cinema’s most interesting period, the auteur-driven ’70s. But as it progresses, Shone’s argument becomes more nuanced and original, a conversation between the kid who saw Star Wars a couple dozen times and the adult who’s starting to think that a handful might have sufficed.
Blockbuster‘s strength lies in the fact that its argument can balance the two influential factors in the genre’s emerging prominence: creativity and commerce. While Shone admiringly points out the subtler, more artful moments in Jaws, for example—Brody’s son mimicking Dad’s pensive finger-steepling from across the dinner table, Hooper crushing his Styrofoam cup after Quint’s beer can—he laments the producers’ shortsightedness in crediting the shark with the film’s bank, despite only two on-screen appearances. The book builds to its greatest insight: The fast-paced sensationalism of the blockbuster hasn’t replaced auteurism’s more patient craftsmanship, only widened the gap between the two.