Monday Jan 30, 2012
Monday Jan 30, 2012
Monday Jan 30, 2012
In the world of screenwriting there are a lot of rules and guides. A lot of them are just basic narrative theory re-branded and given a catchy name so that they can be turned into one of countless books on the subject. There are a metric ton of these books even though they all say basically the same thing.
Basically, a standard, narrative script breaks down like this
Exposition- Introduce the who and the where
Inciting Incident- Something happens that starts our hero on his quest
Rising action- All the stuff that happens as our hero becomes a hero
Climax- The problem introduced in the Inciting Incident is solved
Falling action- How is everything immediately after
Dénouement- How does it all turn out
Now, this is not the only way to tell a story, but it is a very solid guide. You don’t have to follow page counts or anything like that, but if you look at most good movies or novels or stories in general, they follow this basic structure. Not to say that the writers are hacks or unoriginal or formulaic or anything like that, but stories do have a structure that makes them work.
There are some other rules like…
Don’t have voiceover that tells us what we just saw or are about to see.
Don’t use voiceover in place of actual plot or character development. Let us see things develop, don’t just have people talk about it.
Enter every scene as late as possible and leave as early as possible. Basically, don’t waste time.
Each scene and character needs to have meaning to the story.
Don’t have people talk about things that you could show instead.
There are a lot more, but these are just a few of the myriad guidelines for writing a good story. And, the are just a sampling of the guidelines completely ignored by the writers of “Green Lantern.”
I put off seeing this thing for a while because it looked God-awful. Really, did you see the ads for this thing? They reminded me of the Cherry Dr. Pepper ads they did with Fergie from The Black Eyed Peas. I didn’t know if their goal was to entice me to purchase a product, or to completely recoil in horror. But I decided that I couldn’t pass judgment without having seen it.
That being said… it was nowhere near as bad as I thought it would be. Some of the performances were pretty good, some of the visuals were pretty cool, and as a first draft of a script it was passable. I could honestly see this script reworked and honed into a really solid and entertaining movie. Sadly, they didn’t choose to do that. They chose to film a rough first draft. And therein lies the problem.
Were I to teach a class on how not to write a script, I would use “Green Lantern” as my guide.
The story telling is amateurish, poorly developed, and dull. The movie clocks in at 114 minutes, which is not a bad run time, except that there is maybe 80 minutes worth of actual movie in it. I don’t mind longer movies, but there had damned well better be reason for the time. Take “Captain America: The First Avenger,” for example. It was 10 minutes longer, and while it wasn’t great, it used all 124 minutes. Yeah, it had problems, but it didn’t waste your time.
What do I mean? Well, at 114 minutes there is enough time to develop your back story, set up your protagonist, flesh out your antagonist, and get your story rolling. In this film they relegate the entire back story to voiceover, then throw you into the middle of an unclear. And so that I am clear, the scene is unclear BECAUSE of the voice over. How much time has passed since the events of the voice over and the start of the movie? Wouldn’t the story be better served if we saw Parallax become this bad guy? Then we could see him lose to Abin Sur, be imprisoned. Then we could have some real development of the bad guy and he could be something more than “big ball of evil pollution in space.”
Speaking of, why were the Lanterns at his prison in the first place? There was no reason given at all. They showed up and facilitated his escape because the story needed him to escape. Other than that… no reason.
Speaking of no reason, what was the purpose of Hector Hammond? He is set up as being a quasi-antagonist, but he doesn’t serve any real purpose. At the beginning he is completely benign and somewhat of a loser. Then he is infected by the big bad guy and becomes… well kind of grosser and… I am still unsure why he was there. He does some sporadic mind reading, uses his powers for… well, general mayhem, but ultimately he doesn’t serve any real purpose. Were you to remove him from the plot entirely it would have little impact on the plot, except that there would be a few action set pieces missing.
Then there is Hal Jordan. In the world of Green Lantern, this guy is the homecoming king. But in this version there almost no time spent developing him. He is a bit of an asshole who takes unnecessary risks (One of the first things he does is use his wingman as bait in a training exercise, then does nothing to capitalize on the situation. To be clear, he lets his partner get shot out of the sky for no reason at all. Yeah hero!? Then we see him freeze up under pressure and are given to believe it has something to do with his father. Oh, and the father flashback… was it supposed to be funny? Because it was. Not in some, “oh look at me, I’m so cool laughing at an emotional moment” but in a “this is so very earnest and over the top in its attempted emotional manipulation that it is now the most genuinely funny thing I have ever witnessed” way.
For some reason this is followed up with a Jordan family scene that doesn’t really serve any purpose and isn’t referenced in any way at all again.
All this leads to Hal being chosen as a member of The Green Lantern Corps, a sort of intergalactic police force powered by a the force of will. It’s a really cool idea, but it’s handled kind of shoddily.
Incidentally, the first thing Hal does with the ring is to beat up three guys who he got fired earlier in the day by being a bit of a showboating prick. So, he costs these guys their jobs, and then uses the almighty power of “will” to throw a beating on them. I’m oddly ok with this. Oh, and he costs this company a military contract that they later are celebrating getting…. So, there’s that.
Hal is taken to the home planet of the Lanterns where he is told that he isn’t really good enough. They train him for about two hours, then he quits but keeps the ring. This is followed by some more scenes that are unnecessary….
You know what, it’s just bad. Ok. I mean, I could sit here and go on and on about how poorly constructed, unnecessary, convoluted, and full of plot holes it is, but what’s the point. I don’t want to write that, and you don’t want to read it. Actually, read this. He did a much better job than I could. This is an “and then” movie. Scenes start and stop for no reason, events don’t build, motivations aren’t made clear, and there is no attempt made at dramatic tension or personal growth (because you have to have development for there to be growth).
Here’s how it should look. This happens, therefore this has to happen, but then something else happens, therefore this has to happen.
Things build, situations change, people react. This makes for a tight story that moves.
“Green Lantern” looks different. This happens, and then this happens, and then this happens, and then this happens… then it’s over.
Nothing builds, scenes are unnecessary, people act because they have to for the story to move forward. This makes for turgid, boring, and dull filmmaking.
Here’s how it breaks down. If you are interested in the cinematic equivalent of an unemotional fireworks show, you could do worse. Just be warned, there are a lot of really dull talking scenes between the pretty pictures.
This movie is like Ike Turner. Ike was married between 5 and 13 times (depending on your sources) and was known to be an abusive prick. Yet, after Tina, there were still 12 women willing to marry him. Basically, that is Green Lantern. No matter how many bad reviews it gets, there are people who are going to want to see it.
So, embrace the mediocrity and enjoy. Just don’t kid yourself that it’s anything more than a few flashy computer effects, because it isn’t.