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Posts Tagged ‘not a review’

Charlie Hunnam says he feels Pacific Rim sacrified character development for spectacle: but when you decide to focus your big budget kaiju movie on “character development” instead, you get Godzilla, a muddled mess of a monster movie featuring barely any monsters and, despite lots of screen time devoted to humans, barely any characters either.

 

Mr Hunnam, I think, is falling prey to a pretty common error, equating number of lines delivered with character development. Now, it is no secret that I think Pacific Rim is basically a perfect movie, divinely inspired, without significant flaw, and with a whole lot more than eleven measly minutes of bravura kaiju versus robot fisticuffs. But here’s the thing about film that people seem to forget: it’s a visual medium, with spoken dialogue and music where necessary to support the visuals. Practically all of PR‘s character development is visual, without a word being spoken. (I would argue that next in importance, at least in PR, is the score, and dialogue is actually the least important component, but I am getting myself distracted here.)

 

Character development. CHARACTER!

Character development. CHARACTER!

 

KAIJU-SIZED SPOILERS for Pacific Rim and Godzilla ahead.*

So then there’s Godzilla, which proves (in case there was doubt) that time spent does not equal depth. Godzilla spends loads of time with its characters, especially the military bomb disposal tech played with all the depth and range of a cardboard cutout by Aaron Taylor-Johnson. This is not Taylor-Johnson’s fault, but the material’s. There is simply nothing there for him to work with (and we know, from Avengers: Age of Ultron, that the man can act, if he’s given something to do). The rest of the excellent cast is equally wasted. Me, I would have liked a movie in which Ken Watanabe and Bryan Cranston’s scientist characters teamed up to do something awesome re: Godzilla, King of the Kaiju, but both of these men mostly grimace and scowl and mug, and at the end of the movie we know no more about them than we did at the beginning.

 

The audience learns more about Raleigh Beckett in the first few minutes of Pacific Rim than we learn about … sorry, I can’t remember Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s character’s name … in the entire two-hour run time of Godzilla. I haven’t the time to do a full analysis (nor do you have time to read one, probably!), but much of this difference comes from the visuals: not only how the character talks, what he says, how he says it, but how he moves, his facial expressions, the lighting and the colors of the surrounding environment, how he is framed in relation to the other characters and to his environment.

 

In a written work, one of course has narration, and can show the character’s inner life through words. In a film, the visuals must do the job instead, with the support of the musical score to give the audience aural cues on what the character is feeling or what aspects of the story the audience should be focusing on right now.

 

The visual language of Godzilla is pretty de rigeur Serious Action Movie these days, down to the predictability of the shots used to try to convey the emotional beats.

 

 

It’s all pretty paint-by-numbers stuff; this viewer, who gets emotionally invested in cat food commercials, didn’t get much more than a vague lift when Soldier Boy is inevitably reunited with Nurse Wife and Cute Moppet. (I was relived that Gojira was okay, though. Three cheers for Gojira! … Hey, if they really do a Pacific Rim/Godzilla crossover, will the King of Kaiju team up with the Jaegers? Cause that would be rad.)

 

Compare and contrast with the end of Pacific Rim, which contains characters rejoicing, and gives a sense of the heroism and sacrifice necessary to earn their celebration. In Godzilla, almost no named characters die (and the one who does is so pointless, one wonders why he was in the film at all), and despite loving shots of wrecked cities, one never really feels there was a cost to all the mayhem. With two wordless shots–not of wreckage but of characters–PacRim brings home the feels.

 

 

Keep an eye on Marshall Hercules Hanson (at about 1:54 if you don’t want to watch the whole thing), whose brave boy did not come back from the final battle. We get two shots: of his son’s bulldog, and then of Herc’s face, and in those two shots, without any words being spoken, we understand Herc’s grief in the midst of the general rejoicing. See how everyone around him is cheering and hugging and smiling? His stillness, contrasting with all the movement around him, underscores the pain he carries, in spite of the victory.

 

Now, I’m not hating on Godzilla; it had a lot of good things going for it. The kaiju looked cool, a lot of the shots were well framed, and it had a heck of a cast. But I do think it proves without a doubt that how much time you spend with your characters is less important than how well you spend it.

That said, I still would have preferred about ten times as much Godzilla in the GODZILLA MOVIE

That said, I still would have preferred about ten times as much Godzilla in the GODZILLA MOVIE


 

*I know, one is two years old and the other a year, but still. I hadn’t seen Godzilla until yesterday.

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The Viking Prince loves robots. Loves them. It kinda doesn’t matter what the story is about, so long as there are robots in it: Pacific Rim, Big Hero 6, Earth’s Mightiest Heroes (which has both Ultron and Vision, plus assorted bad guys’ mechas), Voltron, Transformers, I’m not kidding. So when the movie Earth to Echo, featuring an adorable little robot from outer space, showed up on Netflix, of course we had to watch it.

echo_picThe movie was decent. In it, the kids have to help the little robot, who crash-landed on our planet, evade shady government agents and get back to its ship so that it can go home. Of course this requires all manner of crazy, definitely not parentally-approved, shenanigans, including but not limited to riding their bikes into the desert at night, stealing the shady government agents’ truck, and getting into a car chase with said truck. (The kids, I should add, are about 13.)

All of which got me thinking about the virtue of prudence.

Now, Prudence is not how most people imagine her: a fussy-faced old maid with her iron hair pulled back in a tight bun and her grey dress buttoned up to her pointy chin, scowling and shaking her bony finger at you whenever you think about doing something fun. Yes, she wants you to eat your vegetables (carrots are good for your eyes!) and brush your teeth (cavities are no fun, and dentist visits are expensive), but if you need to steal (borrow! with every intention of giving it back!) a truck to save the space robot from the shady government agents, then by God grab the keys.

In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis defines prudence this way:

Prudence means practical common sense, taking the trouble to think out what you are doing and what is likely to come of it. Nowadays most people hardly think of Prudence as one of the ‘virtues’. In fact, because Christ said we could only get into His world by being like children, many Christians have the idea that, provided you are ‘good’, it does not matter being a fool. But that is a misunderstanding. In the first place, most children show plenty of ‘prudence’ about doing the things they are really interested in, and think them out quite sensibly. In the second place, as St Paul points out, Christ never meant that we were to remain children in intelligence: on the contrary. He told us to be not only ‘as harmless as doves’, but also ‘as wise as serpents’. He wants a child’s heart, but a grown-up’s head. He wants us to be simple, single- minded, affectionate, and teachable, as good children are; but He also wants every bit of intelligence we have to be alert at its job, and in first-class fighting trim….

Right action at the right time, that’s Prudence.

Of course that means if the apparently-crazy-by-worldly-standards path, the slim-chance-but-also-the-only-chance path, is the best path, then you must take it. Prudence doesn’t mean hanging back and not taking risks.

Jumping off a cliff to escape angry natives? Prudent!

Jumping off a cliff to escape angry natives? Prudent!

Dressing your giant in a holocaust cloak and lighting him on fire to intimidate the guards? Totally prudent!

Dressing your giant in a holocaust cloak and lighting him on fire to intimidate the guards? Totally prudent!

A diminutive psychic ninja locking herself in with space zombies in order to save her crew?  The prudent-est!

A diminutive psychic ninja locking herself in with space zombies in order to save her crew? The prudent-est!

Or, take another view.

I knew a dude whose philosophy of life was basically this: do what makes the best story.

Now, we could spend a lot of time hammering out the details of this philosophy, the ethics and morality and what makes a story “good”, but the basic premise is actually a pretty good starting point. Our lives are stories we are given to write. We’re handed the basic setup: home, family, place of birth, social status, and so on. But from there it’s up to us.

And what does make the best story? Think of your favorite tales, the ones that speak to your soul, the ones you return to again and again. Do they contain marvels, adventures, strange sights and interesting characters, risk-taking and romance, courage and daring deeds? Or do they contain … I don’t know. Lots of television watching, commuting, maybe a 401K and a well-diversified stock portfolio.* (And if the latter, what are you doing at this blog?)

All the virtues are interconnected; prudence requires courage: the courage to stand up for one’s convictions, to jump off a cliff if necessary, even just the courage to say hello to that attractive someone and see what happens next. The kids in Earth to Echo displayed magnificent prudence (and courage, and love, and other virtues too), doing what was right and necessary to save their newfound alien friend. And maybe kids are better at prudence, true prudence, because life has not yet battered over-caution and self-preservation-above-all-else into their souls? Part of that whole “be like little children” thing.

We are given only one life, one story to live–all the more reason to take risks, to be bold, to make it a tale of romance and brotherhood and battling against evil, doing the right thing even when it is hard and dangerous and terrifying.

You know, prudently. 😀


*Not knocking a well-diversified stock portfolio, BTW. Just hinting that if your stock portfolio is the focus of your story, you might want to diversify your life a bit too.

**P.S. I just want you to know I had to watch bits of The Princess Bride, Star Trek: Into Darkness and Serenity to get the screencaptures I wanted for this post. The things I do for you people! 😀

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