Monthly Archives: August 2014

Showing Emotional Pain

Here be spoilers to Guardians of the Galaxy. Turn back if you don’t wish to have things ruined. Onto the post!

Part of things you need to do when you’re writing a movie is to watch current movies–
especially movies that fit the genre you’re writing for so you can do the things that people will like, and don’t do anything that Battlefield Earth did.  So, I guess that puts Scientology out of the picture?

Anyway, if you don’t know, everyone is still fawning over Guardians of the Galaxy, Marvel’s latest sci-fi superhero movie on their disturbingly fast movie release schedule.  And, you might be aware, I’m trying to write a sci-fi Disney film.  I saw Guardians, and came back with, well, questions.  So, I decided to go see it twice to see if anything made more sense on a repeat watching.

Also, I wanted to see it in 3D because I have a weakness for eye candy.

And now I’m gonna write about it, because Disney owns Marvel.  Boom.

So, lets kill the most important elephant in the room– the 3D was excellent.  I have gone on record having said that 3D sucks and will always suck, but if you have even a little bit of cash to spare for the more expensive ticket, I highly recommend it.  Yep, eating my words.  There are times when it gets flashy (I winced from exploding debris, in actual surprise and fear, not cheese), but there is actually a touch of subtly to it, and it turns out that makes the whole experience way better.

With that out of the way, lets talk about why I felt the need to re-watch the film.  Namely, my spirit animal, Rocket Raccoon.

No, not a regular raccoon.  Regular raccoons suck.
No, not a regular raccoon. Regular raccoons are the worst.

I know that everyone loves Groot, but my favorite character is Rocket.  Groot makes a close second (but more on that in a bit).  There is a problem with this.  Rocket (at the very least, maybe also Groot) is entirely CGI– not even supported with motion capture work ala Andy Serkis in The Lord of the Rings.

I was not ok with this revelation.  There are three Guardians that are played by real people, and I found the talking raccoon to be the best character?  That can’t be right.  Better re-watch.

And on re-watch, Rocket is still the best.

In an old draft on this post, I spent many, many paragraphs talking about acting and CG in acting and all sorts of things that are very much not writing.  I’m a writer.  This blog is about writing.  So, lets just say that Rocket (and Groot) are just as well acted as the rest of the cast and just look at the writing.

When it comes to characters in GotG, everyone gets what I’m going to term as a ‘heroic beat’.  One of the underlying themes is that this is, indeed, a ragtag group of A-holes, but in each character there lies something heroic.  Perhaps its deep down, but it’s there.  Everyone gets a scene where they find that bit of heroism in themselves, and react accordingly.

And these beats are not all written equally.

Of particular weakness is Drax’s beat, which somehow violates “show, don’t tell” in a movie, which feels impossible.  It’s when he realizes that all his actions were really just a mask for the loss he felt– and just sorta announces this to Rocket and Groot.  Yes, it fits Drax’s character to make this announcement.  Yes, the movie points out why it’s stupid a second later.

Gamora has her heroic beat while a lot of other things are happening.  She goes into the Collector’s place ready to sell whatever the orb is (and she knows it’s a weapon) for all the money so she can escape her shitty past. She comes out of the Collector’s place after the Infinity Stone does its ‘wreck the shit out of everything’ thing, ready to go back and get thrown in prison to put the Infinity Stone in safe keeping.  It’s not really shown– she goes in, purple sparkles (more on that in a bit as well)– and comes out heroic.

Quill’s beat is kinda cliched.  He makes the choice to sacrifice his life to keep Gamora alive, and the whole thing is set up the exact same way it’s been set up hundreds of times before.  We see the emotional turmoil as he realizes he can’t just sit there and watch Gamora die.  Yes, it slots in with his character nicely, and the movie makes fun of it later, but still.  

Now, lets look at Rocket and Groot’s beats.  Rocket’s beat is the “beating up a tuft of grass” line.  He wants to let go of these people he sees as a liability, but he can’t.  We actually see him emotionally deal with the consequences of realizing he can’t walk out on this one– with rage.  He hates this new-found compassion in him.  It totally sucks to be a hero.

Groot gets the best beat out of everyone– Groot’s heroic beat comes right as the big black bad ship is falling out of the sky.  The ‘We Are Groot’ line.  The discovery of something heroic to enable his sacrifice.  It’s still a painful moment for him– he starts to cry, after all, being a hero is hard.

It all comes down to seeing the emotional crucible required to go from jackass to hero.  In only two characters do we really see that emotion played out (pssst.  It’s Rocket and Groot.  If you didn’t know.  pssst).  And, part of that is the scenes that were supposed to show a lot of the emotion in two of the three other characters aren’t really written to focus on that.

I might just be too jaded for Quill’s scene.

Could we have seen this emotional turmoil if the characters had been acted better?  Yeah.  The fix could go either way.  This relates back to our Disney film because all of our protagonist’s barriers are emotional ones.  All of the rough stuff we want to throw them through is about making hard choices and living with consequences.

Not that movie doesn’t do cool things with the fact that each character hits the heroic crucible at a different time.  Gamora totally judges the hell out of Quill when he wants to sell the Infinity Stone for money because she’s become heroic and he’s not there yet.  Her moral indignation is actually rather neat.

Now, why do I like Rocket over Groot?  That’s entirely subjective, but mostly because Rocket drinks.

I really don’t want to continue this post, so I’m gonna end it here for now. Perhaps next week I’ll talk about the ending and how GotG’s popularity is a testament to theme trumping logic (because that movie doesn’t even follow its own internal logic).  Or I’ll write some actual script some more and talk about animated Disney things.

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What is love? Baby don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me, no more…

Romance, man.  I don’t even.

Look, maybe I’m playing up to the lonely writer stereotype (is that a thing?  is it an attractive thing?…. la…ladies?), but I’m not a huge fan of the typical romance plot you see in movies/books/comics/pretty much everywhere.  It just feels shallow and very, very fake these days.  I guess this means I’m not romantic?

Eh, never had the dreamy eyes for it anyway.

Now, the obvious counter argument is, “Seriously?  You’re writing a story where one of your main characters is the hologram of a castle’s AI system, and you’re going to lose your suspension of disbelief on true love?  What kind of monster are you?”

Well, when you put it that way… yes, actually.  One of the reasons why I want to write this screenplay is because the typical Disney love plot drives me up a wall, hissing like the meanest member of your grandmother’s 30 cats.  I can point to two reasons why:

1) Speed.  Oh, you met someone two days ago and want to get married?  Yeah, that’s gonna be good.  Because when people pull those kinds of shenanigans in real life, it’s totally sane and always works out.  Sure.

2) Characterization.  What about Eric gets Ariel feeling all tingly?  We never find out.  Was it his skill at dancing that drew her gaze?  The fact that he was royalty?  The mysterious allure of something forbidden?  The fact that her cave was running out of space and there was no way a merman would ever let her hoard her stuff?  Why did Snow White fall for Prince Charming?  Outside of his name, of course.  Falling love could be a huge character moment– what the protagonists see in each other can be powerful and really lends credibility and believability to who they are.

Now, recent trends in Disney movies have abated these problems somewhat– both Tangled and Frozen end with their protagonists not getting married, but with a kiss and the vague promises of a future date.  Yes, Rapunzel eventually marries Eugene, but we get the important line at the end of the film– “And after asking, and asking, and asking, [she] finally said yes.” (Replacement mine, I don’t want to write extra to spell out the joke).

However, both these films still don’t satisfy me on the characterization side of things.   We get vague hints of it in Tangled, but it still kinda feels like the love by default sort of Disney standard.  Flynn gets characterization through his emerging love for Rapunzel (he finds that what he was looking for was more than just money, freedom or adventure), but, honestly to this day, I’m not really sure why she falls for him.

I think most of her ‘falling in love’ is wrapped up in the kingdom montage, after all, her line to Mother Gothel is, “And… I think he likes me.” (Emphasis mine). Very importantly, it’s not “I think I like him.”  She takes longer to come around, and that’s probably why I like the movie so much.  But we still never really learn why.

See previous posts about my rant on Frozen— it’s very love by default.

Now, enter in the most commonly associated animal with love– the frog.
The_Princess_and_the_Frog_poster
I feel like I might have made that reference wrong.

Anyway, despite the fact that it might be racist, I’m a pretty big fan of the film overall.  Yes, I know that the action slows to a crawl when they get to the swamp.  Yes, Randy Newman is not my favorite composer.

How can I still really like it?  Because Tiana and Prince Naveen have one of the most character driven love stories in all of Disney’s cannon.  I mean, their love plot still moves way to fast (I think it’s a three day meet-greet-marriage?  Certainly no longer than a week).  Both of them are willing to do far, far too much for someone they just met.  I know.

But, Prince Naveen mincing random bullshit he found for Tiana is a more touching moment than anything in Frozen.  Tiana looking at the Shadowman’s vision of her father and realizing what he truly stood for is chilling just to write about.

Both characters have flaws, and it’s only seeing someone else without those flaws do they realize what they’re missing in themselves.  Tiana is not only a strong character in her own right, but it’s her hard work that foils Naveen’s carefree lifestyle.  It’s Naveen’s focus on actually smelling the roses that shows how Tiana is missing out on so much more in the world.

That’s brilliant characterization!  And the movie sticks it in front and center, so you know it was the intent.  By falling in love with each other, the pair learns something about themselves– Naveen is able to find someone that makes him truly happy and Tiana realizes what her father’s dream truly was.

The movie eventually trips on it’s own feet and gets rather sappy towards the end, and again, the fact that it ends in frog marriage makes me facepalm, but in the middle?  That is a love story for the ages.  That’s what love is all about.

That’s how Luna and Ivan should fall in love.  Both characters are both on the run– Luna is running from her future and Ivan is running from his past.  Its their falling in love that drives the character change that lets them find the courage to face their problems and make the hard choices.

Hold on, writing about my screenplay is inspiring me to write my screenplay.  Brb.