Why scriptwriters should avoid using the Hero’s Journey.

**Warning – this post contains many spoilers for the movie Wanted which was released in 2008.  Read at your own risk.

At the beginning of a writing course, a student is encouraged to study Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces.  In it he postulates the existence of the mono myth and from that concludes that most, if not all, stories break down into the Hero’s Journey.  Christopher Vogler went further than that in his The Writer’s Journey, a bible for screenwriters which has produced many of the top selling movie scripts of all time.  I’ve heard George Lucas used the Hero’s Journey to write Star Wars (almost step for step) and the scriptwriting software Contour even provides you with a breakdown of certain movies that also use this formula.

It works, which is why people use it.  Again and again and again.  Which brings me to my rant today.  As an Australian, I, along with many of my countrymen (and women – country people just sounded weird), have watched in envy over the past few years at the wonder that is Netflix.  We salivated at the thought of thousands of television episodes available at the touch of a button, no ads, and no trying to pick up a show half way through a season because you missed the starting date.  When Netflix announced they were coming to Australia, I think the shout of joy was heard around the world, and when I found out that my internet service provider was offering a 6 month free trial of Netflix with their new unlimited package, I was sold.  And so were 1.4 million other Australians.  We haven’t adapted to something so quickly since Pirate Bay started.

So in the following orgy of television watching I have come across quite a few shows that Netflix deemed would interest me.  I chortled through Arrested Development, marvelled at Daredevil, and have watched several action movies that i missed at the cinema.  Or so I thought.

That brings me to Wanted.  Angelina Jolie, James Macavoy, Morgan Freeman.  Stellar actors in an action movie, what more could you want?  It was only as I was about half way through the movie that I realised I’d already seen it.  This has happened to me before, but usually it was forgettable telemovies or old tv shows, not kickbutt genre movies where bullets curve around corners and men fly through the air while shooting.  Why would I forget this one?  What was it about this movie that made my brain put it in the category of don’t bother remembering this one?  It isn’t particularly bad, although the levels of suspended disbelief are astronomical (did you see that flippy car bit?), and while the acting isn’t Oscar worthy, it is certainly not Plan 9 from Outer Space bad, or even Razzie bad.

My guess is part of what makes this movie forgettable is that, aside from the weird stunts, there are no real surprises.  This movie follows the Hero’s Journey from beginning to end.  Our hero, Wesley Gibson (James Macavoy), is an office drone who is bullied by his boss, knows his friend is fucking his girlfriend, takes anxiety pills to calm panic attacks and cannot find any mention of himself on Google (apparently the ultimate sign you are a nobody is even Google can’t find you).  This, in Campbell’s book, is known as the Ordinary Everyday Life, phase one of the Hero’s Journey.

The film then progresses to phase two, the Call to Adventure, when hapless Wesley is caught up in a gun fight where he finds out he is the target, and is then taken on one of the craziest car chases I’ve ever seen (and yet, I did not even remember this).  He is brought to the lair of the Fraternity (fairly unoriginal name for a group of assassins, plus there are women in the group too so it doesn’t make a lot of sense) by his rescuer, Fox (Angelina Jolie) who explains that he is being hunted by the man who just killed his father.  Sloan (Morgan Freeman) tells him he must shoot the wings off the flies hovering over the bin.  When he refuses, they put a gun to his head and tell him that he doesn’t really suffer from anxiety, he is special, and then he manages to shoot those wings off.  (still with me?)

Phase three of the Hero’s Journey is the refusal of the call, where the hero rejects the offer for adventure and tries to go back to his normal life.  Of course that never works out, and I know you thought that before I even wrote it.  That’s because an appalling amount of movie script writers use this formula because viewers love familiarity.  Where would the drama be if the hero just went, ‘OK’?  No, they need to be conflicted between the safe and the exciting.

Wanted follows all the phases in sequence: Crossing the Threshold (no going back now); Tests and Helpers (it’s time for a training montage); The Supreme Ordeal (let’s kill that mofo who killed my dad); Receiving the Reward (I guess learning the truth could be considered a reward – oh no, I killed my own father?  Noooooooo. Ok this one doesn’t quite fit the mould); Flight (now everyone’s after the hero); Recrossing the threshold (waking up in an apartment across from your own surrounded by baby pictures of yourself); Return with the elixir (using the unsubtle hint from earlier in the movie to booby trap rats into blowing up the compound of assassins thus killing everyone except the head bad guy who you kill in a remarkably similar fashion to the way the guy at the start was assassinated); and, finally, Back to the Beginning (where the hero breaks the fourth wall and tells the audience “This is me taking back control of my life. What the fuck have you done lately?”  Take that, bitches).

Now that I have written it all out, I still don’t understand why I couldn’t remember any of this movie.  The moment I realised I had seen it is where he walks into the room where the Loom of Fate is weaving out people’s destinies, that is, who the Fraternity are to assassinate next.  That’s it.  That is the only part of the movie I remembered, and it is not the most interesting or exciting part, in fact it made me groan.  I have to conclude that even with its quirky car chases, unreal (and I don’t mean that in the good way) special effects, moderately good acting and suitably attractive cast, there is something in this story that blends it with every other movie out there.  This is why the movies that won’t leave your mind, leave you talking for days, and, even if you only see them once, stay in your memory are the ones that break free from the cookie cutter scripts that are churned out in Hollywood.  This is why it is not always suitable to use the Hero’s Journey as a template for your story.  So, scriptwriters out there, be original and you’ll be remembered.

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The Iron Lady – A review of the movie

Biopics are the darlings of the Oscars.  Never is it more a sure thing when an actor plays a real life character, because everybody knows what they were really like and if the actor can get even close, they are up for an Oscar.  I think Meryl Streep has this in the bag!

The best thing about this movie is the acting and the make-up.  Don’t get me wrong, it was certainly an interesting movie and depicted an interesting woman, but Meryl got that accent perfect, she embodied the Baroness Margaret Thatcher both in her prime and as a doddering old lady reflecting back on her life, missing her deceased husband.

The movie starts off with a withered old lady buying a pint of milk and complaining about the price.  Just like we all do.  Then when she gets back to her home we realise she has snuck out and escaped her detail and that she has become quite the frail old lady.  I think that was the saddest part about this movie is that, we all remember Margaret Thatcher as the, well, Iron Lady, love her or hate her, who changed the face of English politics with her no nonsense policies of getting rid of all the things dragging the government down, whether that was good for England or not was a matter of debate but she certainly made her mark.  What she is now though is a completely different thing and I think the start of this movie demonstrated that in a very poignant way.

Nobody recognised her, nobody cared.  Aside from the occasional mixer with dignitaries, Margaret Thatcher is more in the news when she goes to the doctors for a checkup than for any other reason.  I liked the flashback style of the movie.  It was fitting with the overall feel of an old woman looking back on her life.  She certainly had a lot to look back on, although with the way she was talking to dead Dennis at the start I thought they might even make it a love story but they didn’t.  It was an extrememely personal view of the Thatcher years obviously and it did indeed gloss over several things, I think the IRA bombings certainly didn’t get much of a look in except for where they affected Margaret personally.

This mostly hit home for me because when I was living in England I was looking after a little old lady with dementia.  She had been a prominent member for her local parliament and had been a strong proponent of women in the workforce in her time.  She had been reduded to babbling about the old times and it was extremely sad to see her like this, and I wasn’t even her family.  I think that seeing Margaret Thatcher reduced to someone so impotent after all her power was very sad, I can see why tyrants grip on until their last breath.

All in all it was a good movie, not too political, more about the personal journey of a very strong minded woman, making it in the world of men.  A lot of the visual images were showing that very strongly.  There were a couple that stuck out.  One was of all the members filing into parliament, there was a sea of black suits and one colourful blue suit which was Margaret, and then there was the shot of all the mens shoes sitting in the commons and one single pair of heels.

Whatever you say or think about Thatcher, she was a game changer for women’s rights, she was a proponent of doing it for yourself and she had no patience for slackers and whingers.  It would be interesting to see how long she would stay in government in today’s society.  Certainly not 10 years I don’t think.

Review of Riese Kingdom Falling

Much as I dislike writing negative reviews I felt I had to post this.  I was given an ARC of the DVD of Riese Kingdom Falling to review for Ethel the Aardvark, the MSFC club magazine.  This review will be included in the zine.

Riese: Kingdom Falling was originally a series of Webisodes originally released November 2009.  The creators broadcast them on their website and after popular demand they made several episodes.  Syfy jumped on the band wagon and bought the broadcast rights so all the webisodes we withdrawn from the website.

The episodes were re-cut and a voice over by Amanda Tapping was added.

The basic premise is as follows:

Riese is the last survivor of a royal family whose rule was deposed by a secret religious sect.  She is now on the run, continually hunted by the sect and she is the last hope of the small resistance left fighting for survival.

She is accompanied on her journeys by her wolf Fenrir and she must evade the assassins sent after her while she discovers what their true objectives are.

I never saw the original webisodes so I can’t comment on their quality as opposed to the final product released on DVD.  What I can comment on is that although I saw a lot of potential in these episodes I cannot say that I enjoyed the show at all.

In fact, I lasted maybe 30 minutes and then simply had to turn it off.

I think my main problem with the show was the voice over.  Voice over’s can be very important, indeed, in a show like Dexter for example they are necessary as the character behaves very much differently to what he is thinking so we do need to know what is going on.

But voice over’s can be unnecessary as well and I think that is true in this situation.  I will give you a for example.

The main character Riese, has arrived at a small town to get treated for a wound.  She is in a hospital and notices some oddities about the maternity ward.  She leaves but comes back later to investigate.  As you see her walking down the corridor of the hospital, very obviously sneaking around to see what is going on, the voice over says: ‘Riese returned to the ward as her curiosity was strong’ or some such words to that effect.

It made me so frustrated that they couldn’t trust their audience to figure that out for themselves.  Also the narrator was talking about Riese in the third person.  Third person narration really grates on my nerves.  Perhaps if they had of had Riese actually doing the narration it might have made more sense but really, this sort of story didn’t need any narration at all.

The other thing that bothered me about the show was the constant referrals back to the map of the world.  It was obviously the director’s attempt at showing us that the action was taking place at different part of the country but really, once you have done it the once, you don’t need to keep on doing it.  Every single time the scene changed, the map shows up to remind us that yes, the action is taking place in a different part of the country.

And don’t get me started on the country names.  All ripped off from figures of Norse mythology, countries like Baldur and Freya (I’m guessing on the second one as I gave up reading them after a while) and of course, Reise’s wolf was named Fenrir.  As I stopped watching early I can only hope the Norse influence was of some significance but if the early parts of the show were any indication, was only an indication of the laziness of the writers in trying to come up with some names for a fantasy series.

I’m sure this show would appeal to some, indeed it must have appealed to a whole lot of people as it got produced on that fact, but after watching the wonderful HBO series version of Game of Thrones, and knowing that the quality of fantasy TV out there is of such high standards, where they don’t assume the audience is stupid, I get really frustrated with shows like Riese, where the creators have obviously not researched the genre at all.  This is reminiscent of eighties sword and sorcery and the genre audience is much more sophisticated now.

A lot of reviews that I read mentioned that fact that Riese is steampunk.  I didn’t think that it was at all.  To me Steampunk is set in Victorian times, or at least in the 1800’s.

This was a fantasy setting, on a fantasy world, nothing remotely to do with Earth.  The so called ‘Steampunk’ settings were simply the fact that even though this was supposed to be sword and arrow technology, there was somehow a modern hospital in this country village.  I think that was purely a budgetary consideration as they couldn’t afford to create these sets from scratch.

It didn’t come across as steampunk to me, it cam across as a jarring break in the fantasy setting, something that pulled you out of the story.

I could see the potential for a story there, the lost princess, fighting for her lost throne, the loyal fighters, struggling along without hope, looking for their princess, the evil religious sect leader, hunting down the princess, getting closer and closer.  And of course the loyal wolf, who will bite and rend anyone the princess tells him to.

Then again, if someone wrote this story the publisher would tell them to stop writing clichés and take it back and totally change it up.

I will let you decide as the club will have a copy for loan in the library.  If you disagree with me please feel free to let me know as I am always happy to be proven wrong, but somehow I don’t think I will be in this case.

The reason I posted this is that I felt that the publisher was eager for a review.  I wondered what they really thought of their own product and how on earth they could have thought they would get a positive review just because they gave me a free copy.  I have read mostly negative reviews of this show but there have been some massively positive ones and I can only think either that these people have very different tastes to me, they are very young and don’t have a critical bone in their bodies or they are fixed.  I am not judging as I am sure every artist out there props up their scores with a few reviews from friends and relatives.  That’s why I try to steer clear of reviews for books of friends.  (No relatives at this stage – I am trying to be the first one published in the family – no luck so far)

Anyway, that is my opinion of this very so so series.  No wonder it didn’t actually make it to TV

 

 

 

Review of The Beaver

Image courtesy of Imdb

Walter is a CEO of a failing toy company, depressed, suicidal, and losing his family.  He has tried everything but nothing seems to work.  His family has thrown him out and in a pit of despair he tries to kill himself.  His subconscious creates an alter ego who speaks through a beaver puppet that he found in a dumpster.  Through the puppet he needs to communicate how he is feeling before it is too late.

I was lucky enough to get some free tickets to see an advance screening of this movie tonight and was quietly surprised.  At first I was dubious about the movie simply because Mel Gibson was in it.  Normally if I don’t like an actor in real life I will refuse to see their movies, my little personal protest at a person’s behaviour.  But it was free!  My second reason for being a bit wary about the movie was the subject matter.  Depression is no laughing matter (pardon the pun) and I wasn’t really in the mood for a sad movie (but it was free).  So I gathered a girlfriend and we braved the cold on a mid week screening to see ‘The Beaver’

I must say I was pleasantly surprised with this movie.  I didn’t expect to like it so had no idea what it was really about.  The subject matter of depression and mental illness was handled with humour and pathos and yes I did have a bit of a cry.  There were times that the movie moved a little slowly but overall it was well paced.  I felt for the characters, although Jodi Foster’s character was a little surface, maybe because she was directing it as well she deliberately made her character fade into the background.

I hate to admit this but Mel Gibson definitely proved why he is a famous actor.  He played a difficult role well and made me feel for his character.  The only thing that annoyed me was where the hell did that accent come from?  Why would a middle class American suddenly speak Cockney?  And how the hell would he know how to speak Cockney?  No explanation was made and it continued to bug me all the way through.  Maybe that was the only foreign accent Mel could do?  No that is not right because he can surely do an Australian accent.  Anyway, it made it easy to determine who was speaking, whether it be Walter or the Beaver.

Walter’s relationships with his family and at his work once the beaver was in control provided both funny moments and moments of pure pain as we watch his descent into madness.  The culmination was both shocking and eye opening and made me appreciate the pain families go through when their loved ones have a mental illness.

I recommend this movie, it was thought provoking, entertaining and you can have a bit of a cry.  Also you can check out Jennifer Lawrence who will be starring in the upcoming Hunger Games

 

 

The King’s Speech – The silent version – A review of the cinema not the movie

My parents are from country Victoria and are currently staying with me.  My mother has wanted to see The King’s Speech since it started and she was clutching a couple of Hoyts vouchers that she had yet to use so I (being of noble mein) agreed to go see the movie again.  We chose the 6.30 session because neither of us wanted to go during the day because it was so beautiful but we didn’t want to go the the 8.50 session either as it is a long movie and I have to get up for work tomorrow.

So off we go to Hoyts and once there, we discover that the 6.30 session is only available in Director’s Suite not in the normal cinemas.  After much deliberation, and studying of the other movies on at the same time we decided to pay the money for the Directors Suite and save the vouchers for another time.

For those of you who are not in Australia, Director’s Suite is supposed to be a luxurious way to watch a movie.  You get reclining seats and waiting staff serving you through the movie, but you can buy a cheaper ticket which is just for the movie, no food.  This is the one that we bought.

After we settled in, a little late but not too much, we sat back to enjoy the movie.  Good seats, good position in the cinema, but suddenly the sound goes slightly fuzzy.  I minor glitch I think to myself, but it happens off and on the whole way through the movie.  My irritation is high, but the problem is not bad enough to storm out and demand my money back, yet.  For those of you who haven’t seen the King’s Speech, I won’t spoil it for you but there is a scene right at the end just before he gives his speech where he and Lionel Logue have a great discussion dealing with several issues.

It is a very tense scene, or would have been, if the sound had actually worked.  We sat there watching the picture but no sound came out those speakers.  One of the viewers went out to tell the manager but it was a good 5 minutes later before the sound came back on.  We at least got to hear the Speech at the end.

After it was all over I went out to complain to the manager.  She gave us free tickets, but only to a normal session as we had not forked out the $32 for a full ticket.  Still, would have preferred to just have a good experience at the cinemas, not have to exert my rights as a consumer at the end.

Go see The King’s Speech, please do, it is a wonderful movie, just don’t go see it at Director’s Suite Highpoint.

Review of The Adjustment Bureau

I just went and saw The Adjustment Bureau and loved it.  I thought it was a great story and when I noticed in the credits that it was based upon a Phillip K Dick short story then I knew why.  It was original and the thing that I loved best about it was that although I knew that love would conquer all in the end, I wasn’t quite sure how on earth they would do it.

The story starts with David Norris, a candidate for the position of Senator of New York, meeting the woman of his dreams in the mens room the night of the election.  They instantly click but he doesn’t realise that there is a mysterious organisation that is preventing their romance from happening.

After a couple more coincidental meetings the organisation, The Adjustment Bureau, intervenes and he now knows that if he continues with his romance with Elise then he will ruin his future, that of being President of the United States, and hers, that of being the premiere dancer and choreographer in the country.

What follows is an adventurous and nail biting race to the finish to see who will win, the mysterious (their true nature is hinted at but never fully revealed) organisation or David in his quest for true love.

I liked everything about this movie.  Matt Damon, one of my favourite actors, was a wonderful romantic lead, not a gun or car chase in sight, and Emily Blunt, so snarky in The Devil wears Prada, was absolutely beautiful as the quirky Elise.  Their instant attraction was believable and the chemistry between the actors was sizzling.  The twists and turns created by the Adjustment Bureau as they created the fates of those around them was fascinating.  I was enthralled the whole way through this movie.

Loved it and thoroughly recommend it.

True Grit truly awesome

I know I said when I started this blog that I would throw in the occasional book review, but my first review on this blog is going to be about the truly wonderful movie I just saw.  True Grit is the latest offering from the Cohen brothers and if you have seen any of their other movies you know you are going to be in for a treat.

I haven’t seen the original True Grit with John Wayne (or if I have it was not very memorable) so I cannot compare the two like other reviews.  John Wayne won a best actor Oscar for his part as Rooster Cogburn in the original movie, and Jeff Bridges is up for best actor in this version.  If he wins have there ever been two actors win for the same role in different movies before?  Something to look up in my spare time.

The movie is up for 10 Academy awards in total and while that doesn’t necessarily mean mass appeal, in this case they are certainly earned.  I think what appealed to me the most was the beautiful language used.  I was commenting to my friend after the movie about how even the bad guys were polite and eloquent.  Not a cuss word to be heard.

The setting was beautiful with lots of moonlight shots of forests and plains, with a starkness that showed how lonely life would have been out there back then.

I think the best thing about this movie though was the relationship of the young girl, Mattie Ross with the crusty old US Marshall Rooster Cogburn.  She is a determined young miss who mentions her age (14) at every opportunity.  She wants the murderer of her father hunted down and has hired Cogburn to do it.

They clash at every turn as he is a drunkard and she is an annoying brat.  There are some very funny moments with their encounters with travellers along the way.  I found this movie totally satisfying to watch and it shows how master storytellers can put a beautiful movie together without swearing or too much blood and still make it seem like an action packed western.

 

On another topic, I haven’t written in a while as I have been in a bit of a rut.  It is so easy for a lazy girl to go back to bad habits.  Hot weather makes it worse unfortunately.  I will try to go a bit better this time.