Screenplays are hard. So much so that “scriptreader” is a real job, one that involves separating written wheat from so much poorly-written chaff. So much so that one particular scriptreader compiled a giant list of everything wrong with a year’s worth of screenplays, and converted it into one convenient (and massive) infographic.
Check it out below, thanks to i09, but be warned: it is not small.
Amongst other tidbits, like common screenplay settings, the gender of screenplay writers, and how many of the year’s screenplays were actually worth reading, this infographic also has a long and detailed list about the common problems facing your average movie script. These flaws are universal — common enough to pop up on a regular basis for an entire year, and even common enough to plague the films everyone likes. Films that are successful. Films that are, for lack of a better word, good.
So naturally, here’s a breakdown of some of the biggest problems this particular scriptreader had to wade through, and the universally beloved films that suffer from the very same flaws. Not to nitpick and not to convince anyone that his or her favorite movie is actually a steaming pile of refuse, but to show how even the toppest of top scripts can still fall prey to simple mistakes. And to demonstrate how a truly masterful film overcomes its accidental missteps.
Script Problem: “The Story Begins Too Late in the Script”
Cinematic Offender: Jurassic Park
It’s hard not to love Jurassic Park. After twenty years of advancements in technology and paleontology, you’d think it would have grown at least a little obsolete, yet it remains the unchallenged king of the dinosaur movie. But so much of Jurassic Park‘s success hangs on its special effects, and once you’ve seen that T-Rex head explode through the men’s room door for the umpteenth time, a problem presents itself. The one primary conflict in Jurassic Park is man vs. nature- dinos want to munch humans, while humans would prefer very much to remain un-munched. And in Jurassic Park, it takes a full hour of the two hour running time before the dinosaurs actually escape and the opportunity for munching presents itself. So for that first hour, Jurassic Park is content to stand around and repeatedly proclaim, “Yes, that’s correct — these are dinosaurs.”
Why don’t we care? Because the dinosaurs are so pretty to look at. The first time seeing Jurassic Park is time spent gawking at all the cool dinosaurs brought to life. Even today, when the occasional CGI brachiosaurus hasn’t aged quite right, the average park denizen still looks tremendous. And by the time you’ve seen Jurassic Park enough times for the magic to fade, the film’s become habit. Sitting through an hour of exposition isn’t such a big deal when the exposition in question is already well-worn and well-loved.
Script Problem: “The Scenes Are Void of Meaningful Conflict”
Cinematic Offender: The Godfather Part II
The keyword here is “meaningful.” The Godfather Part II overflows with various conflicts. People want to kill Michael, Michael wants to kill people, Kay loses the baby, etc. But so little of it carries the weight that one normally associates with The Godfather. The Corleones’ lives are stories of fate, of characters being pulled from point A to point B no matter what the circumstances. Michael was destined to follow the family business no matter how much he doth protest; Kay was destined to be shut out; Vito was destined to die from an orange-related mishap, etc. In the second Godfather, the distance between A and B is made very, very short. Part I saw Michael transition from straight-laced military man to cold, heartless mobster. Part II begins with a cold, distant Michael, and ends with a colder, slightly more distant Michael. And on the way, he’ll make pit stops in Havana and Senate Committee hearings to pass the time.
Why don’t we care? Plenty of reasons. Partly, because even as the script starts to sag, The Godfather Part II is still as well-acted as a film will ever be. Partly because Robert De Niro‘s side story as a young Vito is everything the main story isn’t: a character hurtling inevitably towards a very different future, going from underdog immigrant boy to mumbly and terrifying Marlon Brando. And partly because it’s The Godfather. So long as Michael Corleone doesn’t buddy up with the future Pope, no one’s going to complain that much.
Script Problem: “The Script Has a By-the-Numbers Execution”
Cinematic Offender: Avatar
Avatar might not be a darling on the level of The Godfather, but it did make several billion dollars at the box office, so somewhere, someone had to like it. And so did a hundred million of that person’s friends. But that success doesn’t make Avatar safe from giant, glaring errors; in fact, it’s just the opposite. Avatar is as by-the-numbers as by-the-numbers can be. Anyone who saw the trailer could guess every major story beat in the story of Jake Sully: Jungle Hero, and the film never tries to divert from that easily-guessable path Avatar lays out. There’s a reason the film was compared unfavorably to Dances With Wolves and Pocahontas, and it’s because Avatar stays forever glued to the same “noble savage” concept that so many other works have already used.
Why don’t we care? Because Avatar is by-the-numbers as by-the-numbers can be. Like “Romeo and Juliet,” the play where the opening monologue spoils every aspect of the story, sometimes you just want to see a simple, lovey-dovey star-crossed romance. Avatar is a simple movie, but more importantly, it’s a simple movie where every single aspect of its simpleness — the villains lack any redeeming qualities whatsoever, the noble aliens have big goo-goo Disney eyes and the end credits blast a “My Heart Will Go On” rip-off — has been intricately crafted to appeal to the widest audience possible. Infographic-compiling script readers might break out the red ink, but they were never the target audience anyway.
Script Problem: “The Villains Are Cartoonish, Evil-for-the-Sake-of-Evil”
Cinematic Offender: The Avengers
Was there actually a reason why Loki wanted to take over the Earth? A reason that was plainly stated in the film, and not just “power is great, I think I’d like some more of it?” Loki just sort of popped into SHIELD headquarters and began brainwashing, subjugating and causing general mayhem.
As our intrepid script reader so elegantly puts it, “the best villains are those who think they’re the hero of their own story.” Loki has no delusions of grandeur. He just likes causing mischief 00 yes, he may literally be the god of mischief, but Loki has relationships and real feelings hidden under those giant horns. A prank that balloons up to “hey, let’s kickstart an alien invasion of Earth” needs at least a little bit of motive behind it.
Why don’t we care? Two words: Tom Hiddleston. There’s a reason entire Comic-Cons of people leap to their feet and start screaming as soon as Hiddleston shows up. As Loki, he’s so charming and so convincingly, condescendingly menacing that his performance can prop up Loki all on its own. It also doesn’t hurt that The Avengers pushed Loki aside while it was making sure all six of its lead superheroes got a fair shake. In a film called The Avengers, the Avengers probably deserve the most attention.