Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Construction in Progress

Sorry for being away so long, but Ive been doing a lot of work on your behalf while I'm away:
  • Restructuring the checklist according to your notes.
  • Updating old movies to the new checklist to see if it works better.
  • Totally restructuring the book according to the new checklist.
  • Writing pieces for the book (soon to appear on the blog as well) to correspond with the new questions.
Ill finish that process before I share any of it, so give me a little more time.

In the meantime, I finally saw two of the movies you guys had been asking if Id seen: Frozen, which I loved, and The Bourne Legacy, which was shockingly dull and tone-deaf, given the pedigree of the writer-director.  Interestingly, both break from the checklist a lot, but one gets away with it and the other falls on its face.  I might follow up with some posts on what the first did right and everything the other did wrong.

14 comments:

j.s. said...

Hey, I at least warned you about THE BOURNE LEGACY. I wonder if it's not so convolutedly problematic that you could muster a full scale Meddler...

Shawn Scarber Deggans said...

Second the Meddler version of LEGACY!

Paul Clarke said...

Possible suggestion for a new question:

In reference to the tendency to over-motivate characters.

- Is there a good balance between external and internal motivation. Is there enough external motivation for us to understand their decisions, and is there enough internal motivation that we can understand their character

j.s. said...

I'll second Paul Clarke's suggestion.

Unknown said...

If the book title isn't nailed down yet, I suggest you consider calling it:

The Ultimate Story Checklist

There's no need to hide the lead.

Jessica Cooley said...

Oh, I'm sad you have fallen into the Frozen trap. Please share why you think it was a good movie!! I'm intrigued.

Matt Bird said...

On the contrary, I'd love it if you would share why you didn't like it, Jessica, so that I may attempt to address your objections. I've heard vague misgivings about the movie, but I haven't heard anyone really make the case against it yet!

D3VNT said...

Second the second.

Anonymous said...

I understand that Frozen is a worldwide hit and by disliking and criticizing it I have an unpopular opinion shared by only a small and persecuted resistance... Since you invited Jessica to describe her problems with the movie, allow me to share my humble opinion as well.

While desperately researching on the internet why people like Frozen, I discovered that they thought it was “progressive”, and that it was the “first Disney film to teach girls that they don't need a man to save them“. I found myself respectfully disagreeing. (Not to mention a movie should not be solely judged by its message. The massage I got was love=good, fear=bad, which isn't that insightful to begin with )

First, all the individuals claiming that shit (and I mean “shit” in the most respectful way possible) forget about great Disney movies like Mulan, Lilo & Stitch and Brave (Pixar now officially belonging to Disney). Second, and more importantly, I would argue that innovation is the involvement of a new idea, not the subversion of tropes, as many Frozen fans suggest.

What Frozen does is presenting old ideas in a different light: The writers knew exactly what the audience expected and used it to subvert the princess trope. And by “subvert” I mean repeating exactly those tropes but sarcastically rolling their eyes at them. The characters do not have interesting new traits or strong relationships, in short they are one-dimensional.

Let's take a look at the main character Anna. The movie establishes her as cheerful, fun, silly and clumsy. She is neither resourceful nor does she seem to know what she is doing most of the time. Despite not understanding her sister's problem and thus not having an idea how to fix it, Anna's plan is to save her by simply talking to her.

Above all, she has no conflict. While she does have flaws (she is reckless, somewhat dense and naive ) it is nothing she has to overcome to progress in the plot. She lacks an internal struggle that would drive her development. The problems that she has to face are always external. Ultimately, she does not change. The only time Anna does experience a conflict is at the very end when she has to decide between sacrificing herself or letting her sister die (the fact that jumping in front of Hans saved her sister and herself was not only convenient it but physically impossible). However, that's not a conflict the movie addresses in any way before. It feels more like a spontaneous decision Anna makes than a meaningful struggle that was build up throughout the movie.

Having this in mind, Anna is not fit to be a main character as she is neither interesting nor has any interior conflicts to drive the plot.

Which leads us to her sister Elsa, since it's her that has to change in order for the plot to resolve. Elsa needs to overcome her fear in order to connect with Anna and to melt the ice. However that doesn't make Elsa a better character. Despite her triggering the plot, having the best song in the movie and being the fan favorite we don't know much about her. She is pretty much reduced to her fear since it is the only thing the movie establishes for sure.

Anonymous said...


On top off that you would think that the relationship between Anna and Elsa is the main focus of the movie. Especially if it is the sisters love for each other that saves the day with a beautiful “Love-always-wins” -deus ex machinat in the end.
However Anna gets pushed into romantic relationships to set up the twist at the end of the movie.
You have Annas and Kristoff relationship and I'd argue that theirs is the strongest in the whole movie. After all a girl and a guy, on an adventure, killing wolfs and falling of cliffs. People surely bound over that. It misleads the audience nicely, making the end actually work. But above all, the movie shows us their relationship. Something that can't be said about Anna and her sister .

You get a glimpse of their friendship at the beginning, when they were kids and playing around. However followed by that is a montage which roughly covers ten years , during which Elsa doesn’t even seem to acknowledge Annas existence. Then we cut to the coronation and the two talk about chocolate. And yet we are supposed to believe thy really love each other.


Also the movie is full of minor plot holes and conveniences : Why does Elsa has to hide her powers? Isn't it more dangerous for Anna if she doesn’t know that Elsa might hurt her if she is emotionally unstable? And why does Elsa run a way to begin with? The movie never establishes what reaction the public would have if they found out. What does Elsa eat or do in her ice castle? Her castle, while pretty ,is completely empty and with no furniture or anything else. Also why does the audience has to sit through the troll sequence even though we knew that they are useless? That's not a plot hole, put it still annoyed me .

Besides that the dialog is not very well written either. The characters never hold back when it comes talking about their feelings: Else makes it unmistakeably clear that she is scared by saying (and I quote) “I'm scared” at the beginning of the movie.
Furthermore characters state plot developments and the overall message of the movie. For example the sequence in which Olaf explains in a brief lecture what true love is. Or at the End of the movie when he declares why and what resolved the plot (an act of true love).

But lets move to one of the most praised aspects of Frozen: The the references to previous disney films ( the whole “you can't marry a guy you just met”-business ). People claim it is bold and clever but I think it actually get in the way of the movie.
Someone without the required expectations would completely fail to understand the point in Annas engagement. It would just make her look even more shallow and dump.
While I do somewhat see the appeal in the tongue in cheek self parodying of disney , it is handed so unsubtle that I makes the movie a parody unable to stand on its own.

Which brings me back to the the claim that Frozen is “progressive”. As I mentioned before there is nothing new about subverting tropes. As far as I can tell the illusion of innovation overshadows anything else in the movie.
What I like to know if there is something to brilliant and alternative for my brain to comprehend because thus far the movie has not much going for it.

PS: If you are still not convinced I recommend to watch this video with smarter people saying the exact same thing I said.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wQLhXhf5ZC8

Patrick said...

Thanks for all of your good work. I've been writing unbelievable stuff lately. The scenework has helped me incredibly. I have a boy attempting to rescue an alien from a ufo crash, and instead gets rescued by the alien when everything goes wrong, ironic.

Patrick said...

Thanks for all of your good work. I've been writing unbelievable stuff lately. The scenework has helped me incredibly. I have a boy attempting to rescue an alien from a ufo crash, and instead gets rescued by the alien when everything goes wrong, ironic.

Matt Bird said...

Thanks for the in-depth critique, Anonymous.

I certainly agree that it's a trap for writers to over-estimate the power of subverting previous stories. It's easy to pit yourself against an imaginary straw-man and fail to notice that that ALL stories subvert previous tropes. Those supposedly naive movies that you're supposedly subverting are often more subversive than you realize. It's always better to subvert expectations that YOU create rather than pitting yourself against other movies.

That said, I didn't really have a problem with that in FROZEN. I think that a lot of the contrasting with other Disney movies has come from others, not the movie itself, and a lot of the criticism I've been seeing is along the lines of "I don't agree with the type of praise the movie is getting", which seems unfair to me.

And some of the plot holes, such as "how does she eat", seem to be overly literal-minded (and the whole point is that she's trying and failing to be self-sufficient, so it's good that her situation is clearly unsustainable.)

I do think that there's one big genuine plot hole that I haven't seen anybody mention: why does the evil guy save Elsa's life more than once in the raid on the ice palace, when he's planning on concocting an accidental death for her later? But that's not a sticking point for me, because I can just re-write the raid scene in my head without affecting the rest of the story.

Ultimately, it comes down to subjectives: I liked the dialogue, liked the trolls, liked the plot twists, etc. I can see why other people didn't, but I did.

Jessica Cooley said...

AH! Sorry I've not reasoned about Frozen - I got a new job and it ate me. Now I'm back.

Anyway, Frozen. I should preface this by saying I adore Disney. Lilo and Stitch, Mulan, The Aristocats, Sleeping Beauty...and on and on I could go with my love. Frozen just made me mad.

People claim/claimed it's a feminist film and it's so very much not. (This discussion is all over the internet and I'll just say I agree with Dani Coleman).

Let It Go. This song upset me. Musically it's also catchy but ultimately it feeds into social issues I have with our society.

First - she sings the song after abandoning her kingdom and sister. You know, refusing to take responsibility, leaving her family, acting really selfish. Ok, sure, that's part of the conflict but then the lyrics. Ugh. THE LYRICS. Where she justifies her actions by saying it doesn't matter as long as she's happy. Let it go. Let go of any care for anyone else you have and act like a selfish child.

In the song Let It Go Elsa has an intense costume change. She goes from covered up like a Puritan to a very sexual dress with sex-head hair. Her diva moment is geared for kids about ten years too young. When my niece feel in love with this movie and started singing that song with all the gestures was depressing.

Next issue major issue - the movie is said to turn the typical princess story on its head. It doesn't really. Anna runs away with a boy and saves her sister. Sure, Anna saves her sister instead of the male doing it, but it feel forced. The focus of the film feels like Anna's relationship with her fellow orphan. (Which also sucked. Everyone in the film had a horrible family experience and that issue is just swept under the rug so they can sing and dance and makeout.)The sisters have very little screen time together - they barely pass the Bechdel test. I mean, they barely scrap by because most of the movie is Anna running around with a boy. A boy she ends up kissing and seeming to have a relationship with in the end.

Yes, it's rare for a film to star two females so yeah for Disney. The problem is those characters are shallow, poorly constructed, and misleading.

So that's the VERY quick run-down.