Thursday, February 22, 2007

Special Effects is No Substitute for a Good Story

The past two nights I've gone to the movies. The first night was to see Ghost Rider, and the second was to see Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark again on the big screen. Wow, what a difference!

Ghost Rider was mildly entertaining, and I liked the nod to the western comic character, but just wasn't as good a movie as it could have been.

Movie Plot Outline:
1. In keeping with the traditional comic book style, the hero must first defeat the big baddies henchmen. Cut!

2. Then he must defeat the big baddie himself. Cut!

3. Then he must make a speech about how he'll always be vigilant should a similar threat arise. And .....Cut! That's A Wrap People!

My 3 chief complaints about the movie:
1. The henchmen were too easy; There just wasn't enough conflict! Ghost Rider took them out one by one with no problem. They could have easily remedied this by either having them gang up on him at first, leaving him for dead, and have him actively go out to take them on individually or have him learn his own limitations and apply them to defeating the villains. Which brings us to point #2.

2. The character didn't "grow." You just didn't know anything about the character so you really didn't care. Wasn't it a curse? He never seems too broken up about it. I believe they tried to cover this by showing how Blaze has stacks of books about the occult but it just didn't stick. You didn't see him as being desperate to find a loop-hole. I know, you can argue that he just wasn't sure the deal he made really happened, but there wasn't any indication that he was actively trying to find out (questioning priests, mediums, etc.) Which brings us to point #3.

3. The "I'll never rest until I stop you" speech at the end was completely out of character. They showed that Blaze had all these books on the occult, and that he enjoyed watching National Geographic, but they never showed that he was intelligent. If the Lady-in-Distress hadn't been named Roxanne, all of Cage's lines might have been mono-syllabic. Once again, easily fixed perhaps by showing him translating the occult text from latin, or by showing that he put on a dumb adrenaline-junkie act for the press.

All-in-all I was disappointed in the movie. The special effects were very cool and well done, Ghost Rider is just a cool looking character and its great that movie technology can do it justice, but there has to be more than just special effects.

Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark

Raiders came out in 1981; that's 26 years ago (I know that's obvious but until I stopped to do the math '81 just didn't seem to be that long ago!) Oddly enough Raiders is also based on a comic book (Disney's Uncle Scrooge comics that had Scrooge, Donald, and the nephews searching for lost treasures) that both George Lucas and Steven Spielberg had read. But the movie has more of a pulp novel feel. I wouldn't be a bit surprised to find out that Lucas and Spielberg applied Lester Dent's Master Plot to the script, particularly the varied fight scenes (sure Indy wins 'em, but he takes a beating in the process: "It's not the years, it's the mileage!") The movie stands on the solidity of the story. In fact the only real special effects are in the last ten minutes of the movie.

Now I'm not in the movie industry, but it seems to me if you take a good story, with good characterization, and good acting and then add to that modern day special effects if you must, you'll be left with a great movie that is long remembered and people will watch over and over when it comes on TV (I've seen Jaws hundreds of times, but when I'm flipping channels and stumble across it I usually stop and watch it to its end, and thats saying something considering how often its on TNT and AMC), and will probably want to own on DVD. Wouldn't that create more residual income for all involved and be a good reason to not rush an unfinished project. Not to mention the added potential for sequels, prequels, re-makes, and franchise options.

I mean, who's not going to watch the forth-coming Indiana Jones movie?

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