Monday, May 16, 2011

It's the story, stupid

I'm gonna go ahead and tick off a lot of people...assuming a lot of people read this blog, an assumption which can easily be proven more myth than fact, but go with me here.  We saw Thor last night.  I figured it would be an interesting diversion from a weekend of writing, especially important since the young lady of the house had a bit of a personal issue going on.  So we went.

I didn't like it.

Now, I really don't have a lot of credibility upon which to critique the movie.  If the report I read is to be believed, the movie has made $119 million in a couple of weeks, which is somewhere around $118 million more than I've earned in my life, give or take a few hundred thou.  As a commercial enterprise, then, it's successful.  To me, it was less so.  I mean, the visuals were great.  I admit that if I were into guy's physiques, that would have been great as well.  It just felt...flat.  And wrong.  Flatly wrong, wrongly flat. 

Reading over the user reviews on Yahoo, I see there are a few people who agree with me.  Most reviews are comprised of such words as pretty and awesome and lightning and Stephenisgreat.  Well, not so much the last; I'm just checking for attentiveness.  Clearly, though, people were impressed by everything a movie is supposed to impress us with: powerful visual effects, stunning scenery, and pretty people.  Most folks, in fact--at least, most folks who took the time to write a review--were impressed by those things.  I was, too, to a limited extent, but I like a story to back them up, and I didn't feel like I got one this time. 

Others didn't, either.  Here were some of the comments others wrote that could just as easily have come from my own keyboard:

"The worst was the dialogue between him and Natalie Portman. It wasn't romantic, it wasn't funny, it was just cheesy."
"Thor kills giants - not mutant Smurfy NBA stars." (a disadvantage of movies that books don't share)
"Thor's big humility scene is that he serves people pancakes. Really, I'm not making this up."
"Odin's horse, Sleinir, only has four legs. This is a big problem for me, because in the myths he has eight legs."
"Natalie Portman's character (Jane) is surrounded by two cardboard cutouts for characters who have no right being in the movie."

And the one that had me ranting all the way home:
"And why mess with the Norse God storyline at all?? Loki is not Thor's brother and didn't need to be for this story."

Yes, all those were true.  The movie never let us get to know most of the characters in it.  Sif, Frigga, Natalie Portman's other two accomplices, the rest of Thor's merry band...undeveloped, except for the big redhaired guy who we now know likes to eat a lot.  Yes, I know they only have a certain amount of time in a movie, unlike a novel, but I agree with the commenter who suggested that if you're not going to develop a character, don't give them a role to play.  To do so leaves me wondering what I missed, as if somehow I had fallen asleep during the movie and they had given all the info about them during that time. 

The playing fast and furious with mythology is, to me, a problem.  I mean, it's OK to make changes; after all, some of my main plot points are due to changes I've made to Greek mythos.  But when I do that, I try to explain it.  I know that Norse mythology--at least, the part that came to us in written form--was written down a thousand years ago by a drunk dude.  OK, to be more precise, I know it was written down a thousand years ago; I suspect by a drunk dude.  There are bound to be points of incorrectness.  But when lore says Loki and Thor were unrelated, and a movie puts them as brothers (with an admitted bloodline twist at the end that aligned it slightly more with lore), and you show the movie to a group of people who may know what the lore says without even a nod toward the difference, it gains a ring of falseness. 

To make the movie even more "meh" in my case, the story just didn't make sense sometimes.  A guy that nobody knew beat his way into a government agency's camp, and they let him walk away because a scientist asked them to.  Huh?  Loki, who is truly the trickster of Norse mythology, played a trick on his brother's coronation day; that, I get.  But his later machinations really didn't make any sense.  That goes back to my previous post about characters' actions and reactions.  It's OK to give a person irrational reasons for doing what he does, but the irrationality needs to be rational, if that makes sense.  "I've always wanted to be your equal, so now I'm destroying the realm of the frost giants (a realm that gained importance due to a plot twist I'm not gonna spoil)," doesn't make sense. 

So what can I take away to make myself a better writer?  Simply put: develop the characters.  Watch the story for things that make the reader go "Huh?".  Because, in the end, it's the story, stupid. 

Word Count: 65,381

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