It’s a four-hour flight to Melbourne and, despite the best efforts of the Purser, the in-flight entertainment wasn’t working so I took the opportunity to finish watching an action thriller Roger Ebert had awarded three stars to.
After about ten minutes, The Goddess, responding to my pained expression, asked, “If it’s so bad, why are you still watching it?”
“I think,” I said slowly, “that it’s good for me.”
“Good for you? It’s making you grumpy.”
She had a point. Sure, I won’t get the two hours (two freaking hours!) back but I’ve been soundly reminded of what I don’t like to see in films, and why I intend to never ever use them in my writing.
1. Kids who don’t listen
The following exhibit is a prime example of why I hate kids in films.
INT. HOUSE – NIGHT
MOTHER and DAUGHTER peer vainly through the windows.
Mommy, I’m scared.
I’m scared too, honeykins.
She snatches up a CRICKET BAT.
You stay right here. Mommy’ll be right back.
EXT. HOUSE – NIGHT
The Mother creeps out onto the FRONT PORCH, cricket bat at port arms. A RUSTLE to her right beckons her over to an inconspicuous BUSH. She approaches it, hands gripping and re-gripping her bat. Ten yards. Five yards. Two yards. The bush rustles innocently.
What is it?
– and she turns to find her Daughter at her side.
I thought I told you –
The bush rustles – and transforms into a giant VENUS HUMANTRAP, its bulbous head SNAPPING FORWARD and neatly beheading the Mother. The Daughter is sprayed in arterial blood as her mother’s headless corpse drops beside her.
Mommy! ... Mommy?
What’d you freakin’ expect, kid? You were freakin’ asked to stay in the house! Why didn’t you bloody listen?!
2. Stupid plot devices.
I’m all for devices to propel the story. Call me picky, but I’d like those devices to be, oh I dunno, naturalistic… characteristic… even logical.
I think Ebert refers to these as idiot plots – y’know,
– BOY meets GIRL,
– Boy asks Girl out on a first date,
– Boy’s MEAN BOSS asks Boy to entertain a client’s HOT DAUGHTER on the same day of his first date with Girl or lose his job,
– Boy asks his BEST MATE for advice,
– Best Mate says If you’re honest with Girl about why you’re breaking your first date, she. Won’t. Understand,
– Boy tells Girl that he’s got an old college friend in town that he has to entertain…
3. Stupid characters
Stupid characters are the human equivalent of idiot plots.
EXT. APARTMENT BLOCK – DAY
In a tired and dented CRUISER, a HOT DOG COP and OLD BULL COP look at the WARRANT they have to serve.
This is just beneath me, old timer –
His whiney bitch-ass rant is cut short when the cops observe a STARK NAKED WOMAN run screaming from the apartment block.
He’s trying to kill me! Help me!
Hot Dog is out of the cruiser and heading straight for the APARTMENT ENTRANCE when his elder partner’s shouts make him pause:
Shouldn’t we wait for backup?
The slap of ceramic on reinforced plastic as Hot Dog draws his GLOCK PISTOL:
This is all the backup I need, old timer.
How will Hot Dog Cop appear in the next scene? Will he be –
A. shot to death by assailant/s unknown;
B. kidnapped then tortured to death at an unspecified location by assailant/s unknown;
C. buried with full honours while his heavily pregnant FRESH-FACED WIFE weeps pathetically; or
D. seduced by SORORITY SISTERS who’ve just sent out a new member (remember shrieking Stark Naked Woman?) on an initiation rite/run.
I feel better now. The bitter taste of that film has begun to fade, and I’ve unloaded onto you, dear reader, for which I’m always grateful.
I suspect however that the above three items are one and the same. Sorry. They reveal a couple of things though: lazy storytelling and a fear of incomprehension. In my next post, I’ll explain how these wonderful chestnuts can be made to work.