It’s no secret that I’m a fan of Zero Punctuation and the above entry has a particularly good point about originality and creativeness around 1:00 in that applies to entertainment other than gaming. It seems to me that an increasing number of films, tv series and novels are falling into somewhat disturbing if not self-destructive patterns that I’d like to discuss, if only to remind myself of things not to do when trying to write something creative and original that might see the light of day outside of this blog.

Trying To Do Everything

An action movie nowadays can’t satisfy itself with just being an action movie. There has to be humor and romance, too. Sometimes it can be pulled off with snappy writing and interesting, well-rounded characters – Star Trek comes to mind – but more often than not the explosions, laughs and heartstring-tugging live in separate cubicles in the same creative space. The first Transformers film wasn’t necessarily bad, in that there are impressive action sequences and a fresh perspective on beloved characters that offend just as many people as they delight, but that’s a point I’ll revisit later. Here we see the problem I’m discussing at the moment, in that the mood of the film is rather schizophrenic. We’re jolted from mysterious to heartwarming to pulse-pounding to funny and back again without any sort of warning that there’s a track change imminent. The end result is that the overall experience isn’t as good as it could have been, and tends to feel more mediocre than innovative. This isn’t to say that Transformers is necessarily a bad film, it just suffers from some of the problems that are beginning to permeate the entire entertainment industry.

Dropping Plot Threads

This is related to trying to do everything or please everybody. As a story grows and develops, it’s possible that an aspect of the story might fall by the wayside. It’s possible to become fixated on one aspect of your creation, or be told that a storyline is more important than another, and focus all of your energy on that while other plot threads which may or may not be more interesting wither and die. More often than not in a film, a character will make a reference to something ominous or foreboding, and either the terrible thing never occurs or we catch a glimpse of it and it’s never seen again, like the skeletal hand we see for just a moment in Van Helsing.

Watering Down Themes & Characters

Here I’d like to bring up Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Indiana Jones is a nearly mythic figure of adventure and machismo, whose escapades into the fables and stories of various faiths made for classic examples of good cinematic storytelling. He’d been in three films that featured artifacts of untold power with long, storied histories, all of which were terrestrial in nature. Then he jumps into a fridge. It’s not a bad analogy, in point of fact. The character I remember from my childhood is in here, but he’s surrounded on all sides by face-melting agony that rivals the Ark of the Covenant’s power, and what’s worse is that this horror is indiscriminate, targeting more than just Nazi’s. Maybe my taste for what can laughably be considered George Lucas’ writing skills has been dulled by the utter banality of the Star Wars prequels, and maybe Indy simply hasn’t aged well despite Harrison Ford being in great shape. But in order to appeal to a mainstream audience with little time or interest in “older” movies, a character who used to drive an entire film on his own now has to share the screen with sub-par CGI sequences, hot young male action star du jour, and the aforementioned schizophrenic shifts in mood and theme. Despite the mythological and supernatural touches here and there in the first three films, for the most part they feel like pure high adventure and nothing else. The latest entry tries to recapture that magic while heading into science fiction territory and reminding us how devastating and horrible nuclear weapons are. Apart from the viewer, the biggest victim is Indiana Jones himself.

The Fan Problem

I know that my last paragraph began to ramble a bit because I’m a fan of the original Indiana Jones movies. I can admit that there were things I liked about Crystal Skull, in that there are glimpses of the old sparkle behind the haggard appearance of an aging Indy, but there are some who decry it as the rape of their childhoods. A lot of people see the Transformers films in a similar light because they bear no resemblance whatsoever to the original cartoon. The offended parties are the same kind of people who live in their mothers’ basements whining on Conan forums how “the depiction of Daisy McSwordboobs from page 74 paragraph 3 in Conan Gets A Fixed-Rate Mortgage” isn’t the same as it is within the MMOG Age of Conan, to paraphrase Yahtzee again. You’re not going to please the most hardcore of hardcore fans no matter what you do. There are some who consider Star Trek to be an utter pile of excrement painted in gold, blue and red and shaped like the USS Enterprise, and they tend to whine on and on like an under-oiled ceiling fan about how it messes up the canon or violates this or that. It’s important to keep in mind that entertainment is a form of art and art is utterly and completely subjective. True, there is good art and there is bad art, but opinions on which is which are going to vary from person to person, sometimes wildly. I think most people can agree, however, that trying something new and different regardless of its quality is a tad more respectable than simply rehashing the same ideas over and over again just to appease a fan base or appeal to a certain demographic or keep the flow of cocaine and hookers going.

In short, it seems best to focus on one thing and try to do it better than everybody else than trying to do everything at once. Don’t be afraid to try something new and different even if the experiment blows up in your face. And no matter what some money-grubbing executive might say, telling a good story has little or nothing to do with what surveys or sales figures have to say. Go somewhere nobody’s ever been before, even if it’s slightly to one side or another.

I might be seeing Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen this weekend, and if I do, I’m going to do my utmost to judge it for myself, without preconceived notions from either those who loved it or those who hated it. We are all entitled to our own opinions. And if we all thought the same about this sort of thing, the Internet would be a lot less entertaining. If nothing else, it will be another opportunity for me to mentally not how to write, or perhaps how not to write, in order to avoid swimming in that filth-infested body of water people call the mainstream.