Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Emails #50: Jean Reno - A Magician's Trick

RICK: Ben, thanks for the conversation. That ten minutes sure seems to fly right by... I was happy to discuss the overuse of special effects as a crutch in storytelling. Repeating any trick fifty times in a movie will make the audience not care. Look at a scene from Mission Impossible. You know the one. Tom Cruise is hanging from a wire. Jean Reno is holding the cable. It is like a magician's trick. Show all the details of an impossible situation and let the audience see that it is impossible. Next, find a way to put your characters in that situation. Up the stakes by having things go wrong. Rat appears. Sweat. Add in a tight time frame. Mix. Stir. Enjoy. This scene is so much more suspenseful (which is the intent) than the helicopter vs. train nonsense at the climax of the film. The helicopter sequence is much more visually intricate and stimulating than suspending Tom Cruise from a wire. But tell me which one feels like the characters are in real danger? Which scene conveys a sense of risk and consequence? Now combine the two. Put Tom Cruise, suspended from a helicopter trying to get inside a room inside a train. Now you have a masterpiece. I am sure Hitchcock would have disdained all the ILM trickery and explosions if he had access to them. He wanted to get inside people's heads and he did. Although the man loved cameras.

Cap is hanging by a wire. Jean Reno is from the French Resistance and he is holding the cable...

BEN: Subtext: Bird on a wire. Hehe.

Very interesting points. I think movies have become like video games and the action movies they were modeled after. Start out weak, get to the end of the level and beat the weak boss. Gain experience and power ups, beat bigger boss... repeat until the end where you fight with massive powers against an uber-boss. Most of the time, the last boss fight is kind of a joke. All flash and no substance. With movies, the climax seems to require some huge stunt instead of real tension. The end of Hulk is a kind of abstract fight that you don't really understand against Bruce's father who really doesn't have the motivation to be a such a jerk face. Why wasn't his dad a drinking asshole who beat him? What does his dad return instead of another villain who represents his dad? The tragedy in the comic seems to be it was his dad that Bruce never got to make pay. No matter how smart he was or how powerful, he'd never be able to get back at his dad. Anyhoo... :-)

In the James Bond franchise, the repetition of certain elements has taken all the suspense out of them. Bond is in a death trap and the villain walks away leaving Bond just seconds to avoid certain doom. Since he breaks free every single time and sometimes a few times in a single movie the sense of danger no longer becomes real for the character. The viewer no longer has that pulse pounding feeling of suspense. Is Bond in jeopardy? No. Not really. So if he always escapes, the only way to ratchet up the excitement is to make the traps more elaborate. I make a similar case for Indiana Jones. Since he always escapes, there can be no real suspense, no sense of danger for the character. The traps he finds himself in must get more complex as he goes along, more flashy. Harrison Ford does his level best but can not inject suspense into the proceedings.

In an environment where there is no suspense and the only way to hold the audience's attention is by layering on the effects, film takes on the grotesque dimension of being a live action cartoon replete with overdone soundtrack. Look at current films like The A-Team— a tank falling from the sky? Really? I am pretty sure Wiley Coyote had something to do with it. The feeling is not one of suspense but rather an amusement park ride— one which had better entertain or else.

We have spent a lot of time delving into the character of Captain America. The next three posts will look at some of his pals from The Avengers. Iron Man— developed out of a conversation which predates any material in this blog but is still highly relevant. Thor— some thoughts before his movie came out. Hulk— a quick glimpse of the man/monster. Interesting, unique looks at characters who will share screen time with Cap.

The girl doesn't, it seems to me, have a special perception or feeling which would lift that book above the ''curiosity'' level.
-Rejection slip for The Diary of Anne Frank

As a writer, I need an enormous amount of time alone. Writing is 90 percent procrastination: reading magazines, eating cereal out of the box, watching infomercials. It's a matter of doing everything you can to avoid writing, until it is about four in the morning and you reach the point where you have to write. Having anybody watching that or attempting to share it with me would be grisly.
-Paul Rudnick

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