We have abandoned human stories for ever more extreme situations. Everything seems to be based on superheroes lifted from 1950s comic books for 15 year old white boys. To attribute left or right wing political expressions to these setups is a bit of a stretch ... But Biskind successfully makes the case that films exhibit these properties, consistently and thoroughly, intentionally or not. And he has great fun doing it. Peter Biskind is very entertaining himself. He swerves in and out of Trump, Bush, Reagan and Nixon criticism. This is not mere Hollywood gossip. Biskind references the likes of Chomsky, Locke and Shakespeare in his comparisons and analyses. He describes films in loving detail so that even though I have not seen many of them (to my own satisfaction after reading this), I have a total handle on the plot and the characters (without having to sit through 11 years of the tv series). The book never sags, but there isn’t a crying need for so much reconfirmation. I got it, early on ... I particularly like Biskind’s habit of changing endings. If a film is centrist, the character in question would necessarily end up a certain way, but if the same film were extremist, his/her fate would have been much different, and Biskind describes it perfectly.
We’re in the middle of an upheaval. The paranoid, extremist politics that Biskind wants to trace back to franchise and comic-book properties are far too chaotic and changeable to withstand his schematic dot-connecting ... Biskind’s book is as shaky as a set of surveyor’s tools in the middle of a hurricane. It’s too soon ... For those who agree to take it, the journey in The Sky Is Falling isn’t as propulsive or as fun as in Biskind’s other books ... After a while it feels like being led through plodding, 4/4 time dance steps ... Biskind, despite his journalistic élan, is not as sure-footed a guide through 21st-century nerd culture as he was through the fascinating minefield of cocaine, conflict and creativity in Easy Riders. It’s alarming how many things he flat-out whiffs in these pages ... There are glaring, misremembered details of scenes and plots, which force the reader to go back or, worse, muddle Biskind’s larger argument ... As a country and a culture, we aren’t on the 'other side' of the extremist upheaval we’re seeing now. To bring flowers before the funeral’s even started feels pointless ... I’d love to see a man of his insights return for a rematch in, say, 10 years. Things should have calmed down by then.
Because The Sky Is Falling deals in large part with the superhero franchises and fantasy spectaculars that have pretty much taken over the moviegoing world...you might expect Biskind to serve up a similar—albeit more cynical—mix of deal porn and entertainingly rendered filmland personalities. But a handful of interview quotes aside, there’s basically no reportage in the book, and not a single juicy, behind-the-scenes anecdote ... He’s obviously right that traditional pop culture’s most reliable and often only message—'Everything’s fantastic,' more or less—has been replaced by its pulp counterpart, 'Everything’s drastic.' (My words, not his.) ... Enlightened fellow though he may be, he nonetheless belongs to the demographic whose once-unchallenged status and cultural sway are being earmarked for the glue factory—and it shows. He correctly spots this transformation-exalting stuff’s origins in stories, beloved by liberals eager to atone for their genocidal forebears, about white men turning against their fellow invaders to adopt Native American ways. Yet the recognition only triggers the most unhinged passage in the book ... It’s hard not to conclude that, in this book, labels like 'mainstream' and 'centrist' simply mean whatever validates its seventy-eight-year-old author’s own crankily beleaguered place in the cultural food chain. 'Extremist' means whatever threatens or demotes it ... the book’s ultimate failure is one of empathy—i.e., any detectable desire to understand why contemporary moviegoers and TV viewers thrive on this stuff, which may require a susceptibility to its attractions he doesn’t share.