Friday, August 2, 2013


Zorro:A hero with a great story

Hollywood needs a hero.  Or at least it needs saving.  Most of the muscular, big-fisted adrenaline junkies the movie moguls hoped would produce the mega-bucks this summer have failed to bring home the bacon.  Despite entire fortunes being expended on special effects (destroying the White House and Metropolis, building shiny robots to throw neo-Godzillas around the coastal cities of the Pacific Rim, riding horses through trains/driving trains into canyons), audiences are yawning—and staying away in droves.

Disney’s THE LONE RANGER is the most talked about loser of the summer, made for a reported $215 million, but garnering only $86 million so far, despite the star presence of Johnny Depp.  That was almost enough to make everyone forget Will Smith’s disastrous foray into SF, AFTER EARTH, which has earned a paltry $60 million to date.  PACIFIC RIM may make back some of its high production cost overseas (the Japanese love their robots vs. monsters), but so far has seen lackluster results of $87 million here in the U.S.

The highly anticipated WOLVERINE debuted last weekend and, predictably, fanboys were excited enough to pack the theaters.  But what was the highest-grossing film of the weekend?  A low-budget horror flick with minimal gore and special effects right out of the Seventies, THE CONJURING. 

You can hear the agonizing from the Left Coast all the way over here:  What does this mean?

The film executives have their theories, of course, all of them wrong.  Take their rationalization of the failure of THE LONE RANGER:  No one under the age of 60 recognizes the character, so no one went to the movie.  Even if that were true—and I’m not buying it (my 11-year-old grandson knows the character because I have the old TV shows on DVD and we’ve watched them)—the year-long promotion of the film in theaters and on TV ahead of its release would have been enough to overcome that problem.   

The real problem was the writing in the film itself.  The script reduced the Lone Ranger to a bumbling idiot, Tonto to a smart-ass weirdo, and the very idea of heroism to a cynical smirk.  This was supposed to be “edgy” and “cool”.  No.  Antonio Banderas as Zorro (another “old” character everyone was supposed to have forgotten about) was cool, and he was still a hero.  He could still beat the bad guy, win the woman and save the day without making anyone cringe.  In fact, he could make the audience cheer without irony.  

Changing one scene in THE LONE RANGER might have saved it.  Allowing the good guys—the Indians—to win in their fight against the evil miners and giving them (and the audience) a moment of triumph might have lifted the film out of its slough of despair.  But, no.  The filmmakers opted for, what?  A history lesson?  Well, the audiences left and told their neighbors, resulting in what should have been a lesson for the movie moguls.  Not that they’re listening.

PACIFIC RIM suffers from the same problem—poor writing.  The monsters are beautiful in their own awful way.  The robots are shiny and wonderfully articulated.  There is no one better than Guillermo del Toro for envisioning and creating such movie magic.  But the actors and their characters are lost in the middle of all this vast clash of the Titans.  The story is one we have seen played out on screen literally hundreds of times (and in books and plays many times more before that).  Hero loses brother to monsters and retreats; world situation grows more dire; ailing leader calls him back to service; newbie recruit with tragic past becomes his new partner/lover; sacrifices are made, etc., etc.  At least heroism is treated without irony in this film, and it has an uplifting ending.  But the battling 'bots are just not enough to engage the interest of a thinking audience, and the fangirl audience has seen plenty of destruction this summer.  Just how many mangled bridges and twisted skyscrapers can one tolerate?  

Seriously.  I’ve been to all of these movies, from IRONMAN 3 and SUPERMAN to WHITE HOUSE DOWN, PACIFIC RIM and WOLVERINE.  Whole forests have been destroyed to make these films.  Warehouses of TNT.  Enough old vehicles to transport half the population of the Southern United States to work.  Can’t we use these forces for good?

The movie execs and their analysts are fond of blaming the many distractions of cable television, home theater, video games, Netflix and a dozen other things for their troubles, so they keep upping the ante to bring people into the theater:  bigger explosions, louder sound, wilder stunts, 3D.  But the truth is, there is a limit to what can be done on the screen with such things before audiences grow tired of them.  People will never grow tired of a well-told story.  If the story is told compellingly, with characters that we can believe in, the effects won’t matter.

This is why people still pay good money to take their kids to see movies like MONSTER UNIVERSITY or DESPICABLE ME 2.  Yes, the animation is great, but without the story, sensible parents could wait for the video.  Their kids are clamoring to see the film in the theater because they fell in love with the characters the first time around.  Good writing does that, not special effects.  Good story does that, not 3D.  And if it’s true of animation, it’s ten times truer of live action.

Why is this so hard to understand?  WOLVERINE is full of entertaining fight scenes and plenty of eye candy for both sexes, but the story might as well be constructed of fishnet.  I understand that we are adapting the story from a medium in which words are not the primary form of communication, but, come on.  I think the original comic was probably better.

I don’t mind that the hero is full of angst for one reason or another, but let him fight for the good and win.  I actually think a heroine is better if she is flawed, but let her overcome her self-doubt, get her guy and achieve her goals.  Let the two of them save the world together.  Let the audience cheer and clap without having to hide behind their popcorn as they do it.  Give us a story we can believe in, Hollywood, and we’ll be there, like we’ve always been.

Congratulations to Pippa for finaling in the RWA Aspen Gold Contest P/TT/F category with Keir.  Good luck in the final round!

Also Happy Birthday, Pippa, tomorrow, August 3!  Hope your little ones stay healthy long enough for you to enjoy it!  :-)

Cheers, Donna


  1. I'm so behind in the films. I've only just watched John Carter and the Immortals! Looks like the Lone Ranger is to be avoided.

  2. I *am* old enough to know the Lone Ranger from reruns of the old B&W series when I was younger, but I had no intention of seeing the film - I'd heard too many bad things about it already. The clips just seem to show Depp as doing his usual kooky self in a different costume. Hubs took middle child (8) to see Pacific Rim and I had planned to see it myself - like Transformers, I don't expect something that will make me think, just lots of action and special effects. Which, sadly, seems to be the best we can expect now. Boy thought it was awesome. And as you say about Despicable Me - my three all fell in love with the Minions, so the sequel was one of the 'must see straight away' films. Eldest wants to see the 2nd Percy Jackson for her birthday. Can't say the first blew me away like Harry Potter, but the trailer for Sea of Monsters looks intriguing enough for me to give it a second chance. Honestly, I despair with the film industry. I haven't really watched the 'new' X-men/Wolverine films because I felt the storylines started to fall apart after the trilogy and The Wolverine.

    Aww, thanks Donna! Well, we're 7 hours into my birthday and no screaming yet. ;)

  3. Yeah, sorry, I can't recommend THE LONE RANGER, though I enjoyed parts of it. And, as a movie lover, I'm suffering through this adolescent phase and hoping the grown-ups one day wrest control of the reins again.

  4. As much as I love mindless action flicks, a deployed husband and 3 kids have kept me out of theaters this summer. *sigh*

    As to The Lone Ranger, no amount of begging or pleading from Hollywood could make me go see that. The first time I saw the preview I was cringing ALMOST as hard as I had at the preview for Dark Shadows. Almost. I just can't tolerate these supposed humorous retellings of stories from bygone ages that are little more than last-ditch attempts to draw in the crowds looking to reminisce about old favorites. They aren't done well and they completely fail to capture anything we loved about whatever they're remaking. The world desperately needs more films like Safety Not Guaranteed, which was maybe the best thing I watched last year. Stories and characters like that stick with you and show the potential power movies have when it's about more than flash and bang.

  5. I've been saying this for years - it's the story that matters, not the FX. You can still have big explosions and great FX, but without good characters and a compelling story, you've got just a bunch of explosions. I love action, but I also want a story that at least keeps me a little immersed. I loved the A-Team movie because it delivered on the promise of the tv show and then kicked it up a notch.

    I haven't seen any of the recent movies because I figure they'll land on Netflix soon enough and then I can wander off when I get bored by mindless violence.

  6. Ditto the story, story, story. It's so frustrating, because a movie does well and they stampeded to make the same thing instead of realizing it was a great story told a NEW way. All these remakes and remakes of remakes...I know there are good script writers. I met a bunch of them when I stuck my toe in Hollywood. I guess the good news is that good books seem to be rising to the top now that authors have more control over their careers. :-)

  7. Oy. I love Depp, but Pippa is exactly right. As of late it seems like the "usual kooky self in a different costume" is emphasized over storytelling.

    I heard awful things about about Pacific Rim as well. (Also cringed every time I heard the tagline. How do you destroy the "Earth's existence"?)

    There is a new, lower-budget space-set sci-fi out soon that I'm hearing great things about: Europa Report. Fingers crossed on that one!

  8. I so agree.

    So you take a great story and great characters first AND then add amazing special effects and what do you get? Well, maybe something like Avatar. And Avatar made HOW much money?

    When will Hollywood learn the story is the root and the special effects just a few layers of magic. There are so many great books out there, why don't they look to print more often for inspiration, instead of bringing back the same story ideas again and again as remake after remake after remake?

    Give us fresh! Give us vision! Give us a great story! That's what will earn the public's loyalty and the desire to dish out the high price of theater tickets.

    Happy belated birthday, Pippa. Hope you had a fun day.


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