Posts Tagged Movie review

A Writer Reviews: Super 8

Let’s start by saying I liked Super 8.  It’s fantastic to see a movie come out that’s a purely original story, not an adaptation, not a sequel, but something new and different.  It’s also why I really loved Source Code.  It’s why I was disappointed that Darren Aronofsky was briefly tied to the next Wolverine movie.  And it’s why those three filmmakers, Aronosky, Duncan Jones, and JJ Abrams, are easily my three favorites right now.  Alright, yes, Abrams does the occasional adaptation like Star Trek, or adaptation-and-sequel like Mission: Impossible, but he also comes up with fantastic new ideas and is able to get them very successfully onto film.

Alright, this is turning into way too much of a love letter to Abrams.  That’s not what this is about.  This is about looking at Super 8 and seeing what lessons can be taken from it and applied to all types of writing.  And there are really two.

Lesson one: Horror is never enough.

Borders Books became infamous among my writing group when the decision was made to scrap the horror section and divide the books between fiction (if written by Stephen King) and science fiction (if written by anyone else).  The thing is, there’s a very small part of that decision that I can understand.  Horror should never be just horror.  Horror is a theme or a mood that should be applied to other genres of stories.  When Blake Snyder wrote Save the Cat, he looked to define genres that movies fall into, but he didn’t pick the standards like comedy, horror, or science fiction.  Instead, the genres that he went for were story arcs.  There’s Buddy Love, Golden Fleece, Dude with a Problem, Monster in the House.

And so we’ve got Super 8, which is a Coming of Age story.  It just so happens to be a coming of age story with a giant monster from outer space rampaging through the middle of it.  And that’s where the power of the story is.  Even while the main characters are trying to survive as the town around them is being destroyed by both the monster and the military trying to capture it, the elements of the story are ultimately about a boy trying to come to grips with being himself, falling in love, bonding with his father, and discovering the voice to stand up for himself.  All while trying to avoid getting stabbed in the chest by a rogue bit of lens flair.

So much lens flair.

Anyway, that’s not the point.  The point is that while this gets classified largely as horror (though I could make an entire other post, and may later today in Unleaded, about whether monster stories should all be horror), that’s not all the movie is.  Perhaps there was a day back with Godzilla was first destroying Tokyo where that was enough for the movie, but it’s not anymore.  The audience typically wants more.  They want the story of the people.  That’s why Cloverfield was so popular, and it explains the popularity of Super 8.

Lesson two: Ending everything.

I’m going to talk about the ending.  So you know what, I’m going to put a handy little break right after this paragraph.  Don’t keep reading after the break if you haven’t seen the movie and don’t want spoilers.  If you linked directly in, or are reading on RSS, stop now.  Come back after you’ve seen it.  It’s not my fault if you get spoiled.  Though if you are about to leave and haven’t seen the movie yet, let me just say: hang out for the credits.

Read the rest of this entry »

, , , , ,

No Comments

A Writer Reviews: Thor

Recently I read Blake Snyder’s classic screenwriting instruction manual Save The Cat.  The book is perhaps best known for introducing the Blake Snyder Beat Sheet, or BSBS for short, a formulaic approach to writing screenplays that can be used to analyze the seemingly most unformulaic of movies.  Even Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is given a Beat Sheet breakdown in the sequel Save The Cat Goes to the Movies.  These books have been revitalizing my interest in screenwriting, and I’ve been trying to get into the right mindset for going through the Beat Sheet.  However, it takes a lot of concentrating on a movie, which is something I’m not very good at.  Oh, I’ll catch all the plot elements and am usually not the person wandering out blinking into the sun asking what a character’s motivation was.  No, when I mean concentrating on a movie, I mean being able to break it down to base elements, run it through the beat sheet, and start recognizing where the act breaks are, where the midpoint is.  I have to see a movie several times so that I can turn off the part of my brain attempting to be entertained and turn on the part that can look at plot.

And therein lies the problem with Thor.  I went to see it over the weekend, and was able to start Beat Sheeting the movie, especially using two of Blake Snyder’s favorites the “Whiff of Death” moment and the “Break Into Three”.  There was something that was simply failing to engage me about the movie.

And it all started to come back to writing, and the fact that there are some universals when it comes to writing, whether it be for the page or for the screen.  The first and foremost of these is “show, don’t tell.”  Throughout the movie we are constantly being told what a brilliant scientist Natalie Portman’s character is.  But that’s really it.  We’re being told this without there being any moment in the movie where her knowledge is called on to solve a problem.  She is allowed absolutely no chance to participate in the story other than being Thor’s chauffeur and love interest.  This is, mind, the biggest name actor that the movie had going for it, and the clear number two character in the work, but she’s not given anything to actually work with to prove that she earned that Oscar she won a few years ago.  Now I’m not going to say that Oscar winners are never allowed to do fluff pieces after bringing home their trophies, but it’s a clear disappointment when an actress recognized for her talent is given such a one dimensional character.  And all because we’re only told she is such a great scientist without ever being shown it.

Character development.  Characters have to grow and change over the course of any narrative.  Hopefully all of them, but at the very least the protagonist.  And this is not one of the failings of Thor.  Through the movie Thor transitions from being a head-strong warrior who doesn’t care about consequences to being a more level headed and caring leader.  Which is great, and it’s the transition that the character needs to make.  However, the problem comes in when the impetus for change feels insufficient.  The path that he takes is such a short one that, as an audience member, I don’t feel like I’ve journeyed it with him.  And this is a problem with a lot of super hero movies, the films have to try extra hard to make the audience identify with a character so much different than they are.  It’s why Superman never really works on the screen, because he can’t be made as compelling as an audience wants.  And it’s part of what happens for Thor.  There’s nothing about the transition he makes that’s compelling, because it all has to be done so quickly because the movie has to fit in all the required elements as well.

Ah, the required elements.  It felt like no one had their heart in the necessary “I’ll join The Avengers” scene that got tacked into the movie, as Thor walks up to a guy who had spent a good part of the movie holding him hostage and tormenting him and saying what amounted to, “hey, if you guys are forming some super hero team that I would have no way of knowing about count me in!”  I could almost hear Kenneth Branagh gritting his teeth through the filming of that.

In the end the movie simply suffers.  It suffers from telling not showing.  It suffers from poorly laid out character growth.  It suffers from being filmed as an obligation towards The Avengers.  It’s fun to watch, certainly.  But it doesn’t really hold up in any way, and will probably go down as the weak link in the build-up to next year’s The Avengers, barring some complete collapse on the part of Captain America.

, , ,

1 Comment

%d bloggers like this: