Was reminded of a pet hate today. As a wannabe writer, I cannot abide the lazy plot device in films that consists of a few minor characters having what we are expected to believe is a normal conversation but which is obviously a way of quickly filling in the background story line and character development.
Character 1: Hey Dave, how’s things? I haven’t seen you since you got accepted to that private boys only college out of state. How’s your Ma and your disabled sister doing? Has your Ma got her licence back yet or is she still drinking heavily?
Character 2: Oh yeah she’s fine since she met up with Steve the ex special ops marine. Sure he beats her when he has flash backs but underneath they love each other.
There it is in a nutshell, a writers first thousand pages compressed into half a dozen sentences. We all know about a picture painting a thousand words but in film making, a four second pan across a scene counts for six chapters of character development and scene setting apparently.
Writers also know how to allow the reader to interpret moods and give access to a characters inner thoughts and emotions which lesser directors struggle to portray. Famously Peter Benchley’s Jaws concentrated on the slow collapse of Chief Brody’s relationship with his family, the depression he feels and the general down turn of the local economy which makes the popularity of the beach so essential to the Mayor and the reason why he refuses to do what any sane person would do and close the area to the public when a large white shark is spotted in the bay.
In the film? A huge killer shark goes on a feeding frenzy and lots of teens run out of the surf in bikinis.
In the book the battle between the shark symbolises the darkness of depression and the social decay that the Sheriff is battling.
In the film, “We need a bigger boat”
Likewise, Louis de Bernieres book Captain Corelli’s Mandolin spends the first few chapters describing the history of the village, the home life and medical practice of Doctor Iannis and introduces us to his daughter. In the film, we are meeting the army and Nic Cage within minutes. Almost fifty years of back story dismissed. Why not start the story halfway through Mr. Madden?
On a separate note, the merchandising of films is getting beyond control now. The original Batman films (Tim Burton) made more profit from merchandise than from the box office. The recent resurrection of the Transformers franchise brings up the fact that the characters were created as toys first, the adverts for them were full length feature cartoon series’ and not the other way around.
And finally, what about those theme park rides based on characters from films and the films themselves? Fancy a trip to Universal Studios Harry Potter World? How about a ride on the Disney Pirates of The Caribbean swinging ship? Sure the Wizard books came before the film and then the theme tour but the whole Disney and Johnny Depp success started out as a ride which became the basis for a four film (so far) franchise.
It doesn’t get better does it?