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Course Syllabus

ENGL 486: Film History—the Summer Blockbuster

Course Syllabus

ONLINE—Summer 2011

Instructor: Dr. Allen H. Redmon

Office: North Campus, Room 206

Phone: 254.519.5750


Office Hours: regularly available by email or by appointment

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1.0 Course Prerequisite:

Freshman composition I and II; six hours Sophomore Literature;

Recommend ENGL 435 Film Studies

2.0 Course Description:

This course situates a particular period of film production and reception within an equally particular span of history.

  1. Course Objectives:

By the end of the semester, successful students will be able to:

  • Identify narrative and stylistic traits shared by films from one particular point in history

  • Discuss the social and economic forces that influence film’s production and reception

  • Evaluate the literary and sociological merit of popular film

  • Consider the uses to which popular films may be put

  • Unpack the symptomatic meanings popular films possess

  • Measure critical, popular, and personal reception of film

  • Produce an argument using critical thinking skills to read and write about film

^ 4.0 Required Readings:

This course takes as its text a seven popular films and a number of scholarly articles. The films are widely available; the articles have been uploaded to Blackboard. The specifics are as follows:

Films: Jaws (Steven Spielberg, 1975), Universal

Star Wars (George Lucas, 1977), Fox

E.T.: the Extra-Terrestrial (Steven Spielberg,1982), Universal

Terminator 2 (James Cameron, 1991), TriStar

Forrest Gump (Robert Zemeckis, 1994), Paramount

Independence Day (Roland Emmerich, 1996), Fox

Pirates of the Caribbean: the Curse of the Black Pearl (Gore Verbinski, 2003),

Buena Vista

Additionally, students will elect to watch and complete three assignments (Box Office Mojo Report, Review Synopsis, and Long Paper) over one of three 2010 summer movies: ^ Toy Story 3, Inception, or The Twilight Saga: Eclipse.


  • Lavik, Erland (2009). “Not the Obstacle but the means: Film History and the Postmodern Challenge,” in Rethinking History, 13:3, 371-394

  • Cucco, Marco (2009). “The Promise is Great: the Blockbuster and the Hollywood Economy,” in Media Culture Society, 31:2, 215-230

  • Sutton, David and Peter Wogan (2010). “Jaws: Knowing the Shark,” in Hollywood Blockbusters: an Anthropology of Popular Movies, Berg Publishers: New York, 119-138

  • Gordon, Andrew (1978). “Star Wars: a Myth of Our Time,” in Literature/Film Quarterly, 6:4, 314-326

  • Tomasulo, Frank P. (2001). “The Gospel According to Spielberg in E.T.: the Extra-Terrestrial,” in Quarterly Review of Film and Video, 18:3, 273-282

  • Baudrillard, Jean (1981). “from The Precession of Simulacra,” in Vincent B. Leitch (ed.), The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism, 2001, W.W. Norton & Co.: New York, 1732-1741

  • Telotte, J.P. (1992). “The Terminator, Terminator 2, & the Exposed Body,” in Journal of Popular Film & Television, 20:2, 26-34

  • Chumo II, Peter (1995). “You’ve Got to Put the Past behind You before You Can Move on,” in Journal of Popular Film & Television, 23:1, 2-8

  • Friedman, Michael D. (2000). “Independence Day: The American Henry V and the Myth of David,” in Literature/Film Quarterly, 28 (2), 140-48

  • Petersen, Anne (2007). “You Believe in Pirates, of Course…: Disney’s Commodification and ‘Closure’ vs. Johnny Depp’s Aesthetic Piracy of Pirates of the Caribbean,” in Studies in Popular Culture, 29:2, 64-81

Additional supplementary readings may be recommended throughout the semester

^ 5.0 Course Requirements:

This course asks students to 1) complete all assigned reading assignments, 2) present the prescribed number of posts for each of the ten threads on the discussion board, 3) complete the Box Office Mojo Report over one of the three 2010 summer films above mentioned, 4) complete the Review Synopsis over one of the three 2010 summer films above mentioned, 5) complete a mid-term and final, and 6) complete an original research paper over one of the three 2010 summer films above mentioned. A discussion of each assignment follows:

^ Regular Reading Assignments (the starting point for 100% of the course grade)

This course expects students to read all required readings, all prompts on the discussion board, and all of the posts placed on that discussion board. The readings introduce and develop the critical ideas we must consider this semester. The discussion board frames these ideas and initiates discussion from them. Each post provides an example of how these ideas can be put to use. Students should go beyond simply letting their eyes move across the pages of these materials. The most successful students will struggle with the text until the terms, ideas, and concepts introduced therein make sense and, above all, can be put to use. Students unable to meet this expectation should not expect to develop the attention to detail necessary to accomplish the assignments in this course.

^ Discussion Board (worth up to 20 points of the final grade)

The discussion board is the primary site of negotiation for all content in this course. As such, students should expect to participate regularly in this space. I have spent a great deal of time preparing these prompts so that they reveal the nature and context of the ideas they entertain. I hope that you will spend time equal time preparing meaningful responses to these prompts able to demonstrate genuine engagement.

There are ten discussion threads. Each section accounts for up to 2 points of the final grade. To earn both points in any given section, students must produce a formal response to 2 prompts in the thread before that thread ends. All posts must adhere to the expectations of academic paragraphs to earn credit (clear topic sentence, explanation, definition, or concession when necessary, textual evidence to support your argument, and a statement that reorients or directs the reader of how to use this information or what to think next). All posts must also address the subject of the prompt. Posts that fail to meet these expectations will not earn points.

Students would do well to respond to one another’s posts. These responses do not need to be as formal as the official posts. I am not grading them. That said I have found that those who discuss the ideas introduced by the formal posts typically do better on the exams and longer papers than those who do not. As such, I hope that you will enter into the discussions that critical thought and honest reflection will enact.

^ Midterm and Final (20 points each for up to 40 points of the final grade)

The midterm and final are both essay tests that allow students to demonstrate a command of the issues discussed in that half of the semester. Exams will be graded quantitatively (up to 10 points) and qualitatively (up to ten points). All ten quantitative points will be awarded to students who successfully utilize the concepts introduced on the assignment sheet. The basis of qualitative points will be distributed as follows:

^ Essays earning 7 points tend to

Meet the objectives of the assignments and the minimal expectations of academic writing. The argument/purpose of the document is clear. Support statements accomplish their purpose. Some organizing principle for both the document and individual sections guides the reader. The style is clear and free of major errors.

^ Essays earning 8 points tend to

Meet the objectives of the assignment with some critical, rhetorical, or logical sophistication. The argument/purpose of the document is clear and effective. Supporting statements are convincing. A strong organizing principle motivates arrangement of the document and the sections in it. The style creates an easily accessible document.

^ Essays earning 9-10 points tend to

Meet the objectives of the assignment with critical, rhetorical, and logical sophistication. The argument/purpose of the document is clear and effective. Supporting statements are compelling. A strong organizing principle motivates arrangement of the document and the sections in it. The style creates an easily accessible document. A ten would do all of this superiorly

^ Essays earning 6 points tend to

Approximate the objectives of the assignment by making a clear attempt to meet the objectives of the assignment. The document has an argument or objective, but not one that falls within the scope of the assignment or situation motivating the assignment. Support statements are present but generally disconnected from the arguments they mean to aid. A relatively ineffectual organizing principle is employed. The style is cumbersome.

^ Box Office Mojo Report (up to 10 points of the final grade)

The Box Office asks students to give an account for a number of the indicators of the film’s intended and realized popularity. Students can look at any number of sources to complete this assignment, but I developed it around the information provided at Box Office Mojo or Internet Movie Database in mind (see “Web Links” in Blackboard for the specific URLs).

While the overall clarity and structure of this assignment is important (20% of the grade), the greatest part of the evaluation (the remaining 80%) will be given to how meaningfully students discuss 1) the information in the “domestic summary” section on Box Office Mojo, 2) production matters found at both sites, 3) promotional materials found across the internet (namely, a reading of the original trailers and posters), and 4) the “reader polls” and “grades” found, again, at Box Office Mojo.

The goal of this assignment is to introduce as a summer blockbuster one of the three 2010 summer movies above mentioned. Each section ought to report the data in support of a specific justification for calling the film being discussed a blockbuster. The best reports will identify useful details, arrange those details around an argument, and present the whole through a clear argument. Documents that read like a bulleted list will not fare well.

This document need not be “long.” Each section should be around 150 words. The document as a whole has a hard cap of 600 words. Documents that exceed this hard cap limit (not counting the MLA mandated heading, title, and bibliography) will forfeit all ten points.

^ Review Synopsis (up to 10 points of the final grade)

The Review Synopsis asks students to read and report on five credible reviews. Students can find a list of such reviews at the Movie Review Query Engine (see “Web Links” in Blackboard for the specific URL). Each synopsis will have five sections. Each section must meet the following word and content guidelines:

^ Section One—provide in 50 words or less the film’s title, release date, director, genre, and key characters (and actors names).

Section Two—provide in 100 words or less a key-point summary of the plot of the film (the beginning, middle, and end of the movie without giving away the exact ending).

^ Section Three—provide in 200 words or less a discussion of what the reviews you read must appreciated about the film. Be sure you use some of the words from your sources. You want it to be clear that you are summarizing, paraphrasing, and quoting a source and not writing your own words.

^ Section Four—provide in 200 words or less a discussion of what the reviews seemed most suspicious of about your movie (or flat-out rejected). Again, you want to use some of the words from your sources; you want it to be clear that you are summarizing, paraphrasing, and quoting a source and not writing your own words.

^ Section Five—provide in 50 words or less an evaluation of whether or not reviewers deemed this particular film a “successful” summer blockbuster.

It is very important that you keep to the prescribed word limits. If one section requires more words than allotted, that section will need to borrow from some other section. Any review that exceeds the 600 word limit (not counting the MLA mandated heading, title, and bibliography) will forfeit all ten points.

^ Original Research Paper (up to 20 points of the final grade)

The original research paper asks students to produce a full length research paper (no more than 2400 words not including MLA prescribed heading, title, and bibliography) driven by some argument over one of the three 2010 summer movies above mentioned. The goal of the original paper is two-fold: one, the paper should measure the extent to which the film can be called a summer blockbuster; two, the paper should give some explanation for the popularity of the film.

Students can accomplish these goals in almost any way they want so long as the entire paper is help together by an argument that 1) approximates the sorts of arguments found in the secondary sources this semester and 2) allows for some discussion of the particulars of the film and industry practices of the film in keeping with summer releases.

I suspect that at least some part of the Box Office Mojo Report part and Review Synopsis will find its way into the final paper. I also suspect that you will either explicitly borrow one of the arguments made in one of the secondary sources, on the discussion board, or in some other source found in some other academically acceptable format. The best papers will make use of the concepts and methodologies negotiated throughout the semester.

As with the exams, each paper will be graded quantitatively (up to 10 points) and qualitatively (up to ten points). Students can earn all ten quantitative points by providing a meaningful discussion of the narrative, stylistic, technical, economic, and social issues that influenced the production or reception of the film. Qualitative points will be awarded as above described.

^ 6.0 Grading Criteria Rubric

Final Grades will adhere to the following grading rubric:

Discussion Board 20 points

Midterm Essay Exam 20 points

Final Essay Exam 20 points

Box Office Mojo Report 10 points

Review Synopsis 10 points

^ Original Research Paper 20 points

TOTAL 100 points

Final grades reflect the accumulation of points from these assignments in the following way:

90-100 cumulative points earns an A

80-89 cumulative points earns a B

70-79 cumulative points earns a C

60-69 cumulative points earns a D

0-59 cumulative points equals an F

A point system of this sort does not yield “borderline” grades. To assure yourself the frustration of “just missing” a desired grade, be sure to capitalize on every opportunity to earn points.

NOTE: I will not grade anything from any student until I have received from that student an Email of Understanding. An Email of Understanding is an email that you write to my Blackboard email account that states that you have read the syllabus, understand its contents, and accept its policies and procedures. You must provide your first and last name at the end of this email for it to count. If you read the syllabus, and have questions that need to be answered before you submit your email of understanding, than please post those on the discussion board under “Default Topic.”

^ 7.0 Complete Course Calendar

The table below offers a snapshot of all of the deadlines in the course. All items must be submitted by the date corresponding to each deliverable to be included in the final grade.

Due Date



Read Syllabus and Submit Email of Understanding


Discussion Posts over History and Postmodern article due


Discussion Posts over Blockbuster and Economy due


Discussion Posts over Jaws and Sutton and Wogan chapter due


Discussion over Star Wars and Gordon article due


Discussion over E.T. and Tomasulo article due


Midterm due


Box Office Mojo Report due


Review Synopsis due


Discussion over Simulacra chapter due


Discussion over Terminator 2 and Telotte article due


Discussion over ^ Forrest Gump and Chutto article due


Discussion over Independence Day and Friedman article due


Discussion over ^ Pirates of the Caribbean and Peterson article due


Final Exam due


Original Paper due


8.0 Late-work/Make-up Policy

Late work WILL NOT exist in this course. Assignments that fail to be submitted in an approved manner (as attachments to my Blackboard email account that I can open) or on the discussion board in Blackboard by the deadline posted on Blackboard will not be accepted.

There are no exceptions to this policy.

^ 9.0 Drop Policy

If you discover that you need to drop this class, you must go to the Records Office and ask for the necessary paperwork. Professors cannot drop students; this is always the responsibility of the student. The record’s office will provide a deadline for which the form must be returned, completed and signed. Return the signed form to the records office, wait 24 hours, go into Duck Trax and confirm that you are no longer enrolled. If you are still enrolled, FOLLOW-UP with the records office immediately. You are to attend class until the procedure is complete to avoid penalty for absence. Should you miss the deadline or fail to follow the procedure, you will receive an F in the course.

^ 10.0 Academic Integrity

Texas A&M University - Central Texas expects all students to maintain high standards of personal and scholarly conduct. Students guilty of academic dishonestly are subject to disciplinary action. Academic dishonesty includes, but is not limited to, cheating on an examination or other academic work, plagiarism, collusion, and the abuse of resource materials. The faculty member is responsible for initiating action for each case of academic dishonestly. More information can be found at

Depending on the severity of a student’s act of academic dishonesty, a student found to have committed any of the above infractions will receive nothing less than a zero on the assignment on which the infraction occurred and nothing more than expulsion from the university. A minor infraction includes but is not limited to improper citations or allusions to a source never cited. A major infraction includes but is not limited to the undocumented lifting of a phrase from a source that finds its inspiration some place other than the student.

  1. ^ Disability Support Services

If you have or believe you have a disability, may wish to self-identify. You can do so by providing documentation to the Academic Support Programs Coordinator. Students are encouraged to seek information about accommodations to help assure success in this class.  Please contact Ryan Thompson at (254) 519-5796 or Main Building Room 114. Additional information can be found at

12.0 Smarthinking

Online tutoring platform that enables TAMU-CT students to log-in and receive FREE online tutoring and writing support. This tool provides tutoring in Mathematics, Writing, General and Organic Chemistry, Physics, Biology, Introduction to Human Anatomy and Physiology, Accounting, Economics, Introductory Finance, Spanish, and Statistics.

Access: Students will have access after 5:00pm on the 4th class day. Students may gain access by going to and entering in their University Student ID as their username and Birthday (mmddyyyy) as their password. Once you log-in, you have the option to change your log-in information. If you have difficulties contact Student Affairs at 254-519-572110.

^ 13.0 Library Services

INFORMATION LITERACY focuses on research skills which prepare individuals to live and work in an information-centered society. Librarians will work with students in the development of critical reasoning, ethical use of information, and the appropriate use of secondary research techniques. Help may include, yet is not limited to: exploration of information resources such as library collections and services, identification of subject databases and scholarly journals, and execution of effective search strategies. Library Resources are outlined and accessed at.

14.0 Graduation Reminder

The deadline to apply for Summer 2011 Graduation is June 20th. Please see your advisor or the Registrar’s office immediately if you plan on graduating at the end of this semester.

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