Every week, Landon Palmer and Cole Abaius log on to their favorite chat client of 1996 as WaitingForGodard and FincherFan1984 in order to discuss some topical topic of interest.
This week, the alleged story crisis in Hollywood. James Cameron thinks it exists, and the presence of a half dozen board game-based movies supports his theory, but are the studios really at a loss for words when it comes to infusing their spectacles with good stories?
Cole: So there’s a story crisis going on. We should be panicked, right?
Landon: Yes…um, maybe? Is it tyrannical?
Cole: I don’t think it’s destroying the Lebanese government or anything, but it is really annoying.
I took Cameron’s comment to mean that when Hollywood is turning to pieces of plastic for inspiration, we should be worried about the lack of creativity floating around.
Landon: It’s funny that James Cameron of all people should say that. For a guy who privileges spectacle over original storytelling, it’s definitely saying something that he observes a story crisis.
Cole: Okay, and people have given him hell for Avatar, but even if it follows the blue prints closely, at least it’s an original. Not based off a book, not a remake, not a reboot, not a sequel.
And maybe he’s close enough to the story crisis to feel it himself…
Landon: Very true. It reminds me of that scene in that South Park episode where M. Night Shyamalan, Michael Bay, and Mel Gibson are all pitching story ideas, and Gibson (despite his craziness) is the only one who can tell a coherent filmic story. Except now we can’t even rely on bad original stories being badly told, everything has to have its origination elsewhere.
Could you imagine, for instance, a superhero movie where the superhero was made up for the movie only? Why can’t that happen?
Cole: That has happened (like for Paper Man), but the movies weren’t seen by anyone (or they weren’t very good).
The question is this: are movie producers in the big studios afraid of “complexifying” their productions by adding story and rounded characters, or are they incapable of doing so after years of avoiding it?
Also, I now own the copyright on the word “complexifying.”
Landon: Well, I think this type of conversation inevitably leads to Inception because so many people heralded its financial success as proof that audiences can enjoyify (TM) a film that requires some thought and concentration. But my fear is nothing will change because movies like Inception aren’t viewed as the standard for good entertainment. It’s exceptionalized (I don’t think I own that one).
Cole: But, come on, you think Inception can really BE the standard?
Landon: Not necessarily a movie of that complexity no, but a movie with that degree of entertainment value. I wouldn’t much like a Hollywood in which every movie was like Inception, but then again I wouldn’t like a Hollywood in which every movie was like any one movie.
It’s true, Hollywood has been successful because its output always negotiate between sameness and difference. We’re drawn to a movie because of both familiarity with a certain type of movie (like genre), but also because of a new twist on that familiarity (like Inception as a heist movie).
Cole: I’d settle for the exact same movies we’ve had with the addition of better dialog.
Landon: How so?
Cole: I’m sure structure would help too, but dialog is the foundation of creating great characters.
Take True Grit and Jonah Hex for example. Both are Westerns, both have simple Men (or Young Girl) on a Mission premises. The difference besides the stupid make up? Dialog.
Landon: Also casting. I’d don’t know about Megan Fox as Mattie Ross, except I think most people would look at that twig spanking scene a bit differently
Cole: See? You’ve instantly improved that movie by a letter grade.
This might be over-simplifying it (the opposite of complexifying), but giving characters interesting and meaningful and entertaining things to say is the bedrock of performance.
Landon: So it seems the focus itself has strayed so far away from what’s on the page, and is instead on…what exactly?
Also, I wonder why great – or, more importantly, just plain decent – scripts aren’t written despite the Hollywood machine. I’m not sure if the problem is that screenwriters don’t have the time to perfect a screenplay (in classic Hollywood films, which have a greater focus on dialogue, production was much faster), or if they just have a lowered standard of expectation.
Cole: You’re asking way too many questions way too fast.
Landon: And by “they,” I mean those in charge of greenlighting, and by “lowered standard of expectation” I think I mean, “Ooo…how many robots in that scene?”
Cole: You, like a movie with good characters, have confused me.
But in a roundabout way, you’ve come back to the original question and hit the nail on the head. There might not be a story crisis. Hollywood is just using High Concept as the base for their biggest films instead of a Character.
Instead of Indiana Jones, we get a logline.
Landon: And I think that’s why there aren’t movie stars like Harrison Ford who after Indiana Jones could sell nearly any film with his name alone. If the focus is on concept and not character, then what does it matter who plays these roles as long as they do something that passes for acting?
Not to beat a dead horse, but I think Twilight is a good example of this. Robert Pattinson is a “star,” yes, but who saw Remember Me?
Cole: So maybe there’s a story crisis. Maybe there’s a lack of good actors out there. Maybe the good ones are shoved out of work by the faces on the magazine covers. Either way, a towering director gets his feathers ruffled over this?
It’s just a board game.
OR IS IT?
“OR IS IT?” is how every conversation should end, BTW. Not that I’m stopping our conversation
Cole: Actually, here’s where you say that we can save our talk about the Ouija board movie for another time.
Landon: But I think it’s wrong to say there aren’t enough creative, talented people out there. I think Cameron was observing a large institutional shift that is a bit harder to put a name on. Priorities, for some reason, have changed for both audiences and studios.
But, what exactly are we comparing today to? When was this wonderful era of flourishing creativity that’s been lost?
In all seriousness, that’s a great point. Raiders of the Lost Ark was an exception to the rule, not the standard of its day either. We’re making more huge adventures, but not making more of them with iconic characters saying sharp dialog.
Still, it’s great to have an Inception come around, but Christopher Nolan is not the only director out there that can make an interesting big budget movie. I don’t know what the solution is, though. Hiring green talent and hack writers for these empty spectacles is one problem, but what legitimate writer wants to get the latest Hasbro toy movie as an assignment?
Landon: I would love to see Sorkin do the Barbie movie.
Cole: Wouldn’t we all.
What’s your take?