Super Dialogue

June 13, 2011

Watched Super 8 last night. And again, I’m thinking about dialogue.

The adults in this movie are pretty easy to tell apart. They have very few group scenes, and they all have very clear goals that they’re working toward.

More interesting to me is the kids. You’ve got four boys who make up a pretty big chunk of the movie, and they’re always together. So what do they do? Each of them has a particular characteristic that gets exploited again and again in dialogue. Every line Cary has is about blowing stuff up. Every line Martin has is about being a wimp. Every line Charles has is about his movie, or bossing someone around. It makes it real easy for us to know who’s talking when, and it gets tons of laughs.

The other thing I kept thinking about: I remember reading an article once where the author talked about how patient James Cameron was in Alien; that it was an hour into the film before we saw a full-fledged battle with the monster, and up until that point it’s mostly people peering around dark corners with the knowledge that the threat is there. This kept on showing up for me in Super 8, because it’s literally about two-thirds of the way through the movie before we see a nonblurry shot of the actual threat. I actually feel like Abrams could have been more subtle throughout this process, foregoing the track-in-and-horrified-scream and just leave us wondering at people’s disappearance, but even so, it was a really strong choice to build up suspense in this way.

Overall, great job mixing suspense with humor. IMDb was afraid that Super 8, like some of the other things Abrams has done, wouldn’t deliver. I think it did. Well worth the watch.


Effective Flashbacks

March 30, 2010

This month’s article from Michael Hauge’s Screenplay Mastery website is a great piece about flashbacks, and how to make the best use of them in your screenplays.

The problem I’m having with the article, though, is reconciling the conclusion with the body. Michael’s suggestion to tell, rather than show the backstory to the audience runs antithetical to everything else that’s ever been said about effective writing. And the fact that he spends most of the article giving examples of where these devices have been used effectively completely undercuts the argument at the end that it’s better not to use flashbacks.

Plus, a look at the IMDb Top 250 shows that a significant percentage of the best movies ever made use one of the techniques he highlights in the article, especially at the top of the list: Among the top 10 movies, seven of them, by my count, use one of these techniques, including the top three.

So although I’m certain that there are a million movies that have used the Prologue, for example, to their detriment, I suspect there are far fewer bad movies that use the Parallel Plots device. And it would be interesting to think about what sets those films apart from the likes of The Usual Suspects and Julie & Julia that use it so darn well.

If in Doubt, Add Incest

December 1, 2008

I recently purchased the original Star Wars trilogy.  I somehow managed to miss this cultural phenomenon growing up, and although I must have seen it a few times as a child, I was 18 (and getting ready to watch Episode I) before seeing and remembering any significant part of it. And that was 9 years ago, so I decided, spurred by the need to refer to it in a few things I’m working on, to purchase and watch the trilogy in its entirety.

Then, this past weekend, I rented and watched Chinatown (for the first time) and Not Another Teen Movie (not the first time, but I’ve been trying to get my wife to watch it for eons).  And while at Vulcan Video renting those, I perused the shelf of used DVDs, and couldn’t help but buy one of my all-time favorites from high school, The Crow.

And after watching all four (six) of these movies within a week, I noticed a startling trend: they all have an element of incest in them.  Coincidence?  I think not.  Consider: Luke and Leia kiss in A New Hope and in Empire Strikes Back, but not in Return of the Jedi. And the IMDb rankings of these movies are 12, 9, and 109, respectively.  Notice that Empire – in which they have a full-on mouth kiss – is ranked higher than A New Hope – where they just kiss on the cheek – and far higher than Jedi, where they don’t kiss at all.  The more incestuous the scenario, the higher the ranking!  Here’s another one: Back to the Future is ranked 102, but its sequels don’t even make the top 250. Ha!  If that’s not all the evidence you need, I don’t know what I can say to convince you.

Chinatown is ranked 53rd (AFI has it at 21) and Psycho 22nd (AFI: 14).  Think about how much less awesome movies would have been without their respective incest elements.  And this doesn’t even include great literary classics like Hamlet or Oedipus, TV relationships like that of Arrested Development‘s George Michael and Maeby, nor great but under-acclaimed movies like The Crow, Cruel Intentions, Clueless, Not Another Teen Movie, or that Ron Jeremy film The Blonde Next Door.

This all leads me to the startling conclusion that, when in doubt, you should always add an element of incest to your story.  It makes them all better.

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