Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Technically-Correct Failure


I was channel-surfing last night and I came across a spy-thriller, that looked promising.

Couple-years old, I vaguely recalled hearing something about it when it came out. A lot of movies go by without me seeing 'em.

The picture featured a female lead,  kind of a La Femme Nikita operative, who worked for a private company that contracted to governments for assorted skullduggery. Had a stellar cast, mostly doing small parts, and it started out with a Jason-Bourne-like fight sequence between the girl and an ex-boyfriend the firm had sent to fetch her.

The firm wanted to get rid of her for some reason, probably she Knew Too Much About Something She Wasn't Supposed to Know About, but ... I didn't get that far ...

There wasn't anything particularly bad I could point at. The writing was okay, the acting not bad, though I kind of got the feeling the Big Name Actors doing small parts were phoning it in.

I could hear the dialog between the director and actors: Hey, c'mon, you have a few lines, couple days, you collect a nice check, you're gone. Besides, you owe me one ... 

The locations were exotic, the directing competent, the camerawork looked fine. Pacing was mostly okay. It had all the elements of a good spy thriller, but it wasn't working for me. Ho-hum, I didn't care about the protagonist and her backstory, and after a few minutes of waiting for it to get better, I turned it off.

Back when I first started writing, I got some advice somewhere about creating stories that were technically fine, they had all the elements they were supposed to have, but that failed nonetheless. Yeah, yeah, all the beats are there, but there's something ... off.

What I came to realize was that the missing element was usually passion. If the writer wasn't having a good time, if it wasn't fun, that showed, and such would not so much turn off an audience as never turn them on in the first place.

I wrote a few of those, and the rejections were always along the lines of, "Yeah, there's nothing particularly wrong with it, it just doesn't float my boat."

Kind of like the old joke about surgery: The operation was a success, but the patient died ...

Before I went to bed, I logged onto Rotten Tomatoes to check the reviews. Maybe it was me, and when I first saw the critics comments, I blinked: 80% approval.

Great acting, directing, good action, yadda-yadda.

Really? Wow. I must be missing something.

Then I read the Audience reviews, and the numbers there?

40% ...

Ah.

When there is that much of a gap between the critics and audience, somebody is missing something. (Usually, it's the critics who savage a movie and that audiences love I find more likely to be the case, as happened when the first Star Wars movie came out.)

So, in this case, critics liked it but audiences didn't.

Not that I absolutely needed that confirmation for my own opinion, but it doesn't hurt ...


7 comments:

considerphlebas said...

What you missed out on later, and what the critics probably loved because they hadn't seen it before, were some gritty, "real" (as in not at all real but clearly made by people who have hit people and been hit and were having fun) fight scenes starring a female lead who was doing her own stunts. The rest of the movie was bland but serviceable, but the passion went into the fights.

Steve Perry said...

I saw the first couple of fight scenes, including the big betrayal in the hotel room, and while I thought the stylized look of them was fun, Bourn did it better, and it seemed to me they were using the Bourn stuff almost beat-for-beat.

Good fight scenes aren't enough ...


Daniel Keys Moran said...

Passion, but lack of self consciousness. George Lucas thought he was doing something important, with "Star Wars." It was a ludicrous idea -- but his raw conviction (and a good bit of luck with his actors) made it so.

By the time he got to the prequel trilogy, he knew better. And nothing worked any more.

Daniel Keys Moran said...

"Passion *plus* lack of self-consciousnes"

Tracy and Dave said...

I think you hit on it almost accidentally. "Ho-hum, I didn't care about the protagonist and her backstory." Gina Carano is not an actress, which is why the director cast her. He saw her fight in an MMA bout and decided he was tired of casting actors who couldn't convincingly fight. The problem is what you saw; for movies, even if the action requires suspension of disbelief, the story and actors are what keep our attention.

Steve Perry said...

Bourne ...

Steve Perry said...

I dunno, I think the prequel trilogy was terrible because everybody wanted it to be Deep and Important, and there was no there there. Wasn't fun, and suffered from a serious lack of Han Solo.