William Martell’s article “Blockbuster Brilliance!” from the September/October edition of Script, perfectly outlines my final, winning rebuttal to an argument I’ve been having with a writer friend mine who thinks Avatar shouldn’t be on my 2009 top ten list. (After all, we’re screenwriters, not just “average moviegoers.”)
In the article, Martell calls on us writers to stop bitching about what doesn’t work in these blockbuster movies we love to hate, and start thinking about what does work. Sure, there were things I could critique about the Avatar script, but the way Martell breaks down how well the writers interwove theme throughout the screenplay, makes me realize how much the screenplay truly did contribute to the film’s success. Well…and those blue people were pretty freaking cool, too.
Even more importantly, the article reminds me that I need to stay in touch with the audience. My audience. I’ve noticed that aside from comedies, all my buddies back in North Carolina and I are watching less and less of the same films. I recall back when 300 came out, I called my friend ready to blast the film for everything that was wrong with it, but before I got a word in, he said excitedly, “That movie ruled!” My guess at that point was that we had a different take on the doggy-style sex scene, so I just let it go.
Last week, my other buddy said he was going to see The Expendables, so I got online and watched the trailer and disappointedly cringed at its cheesiness – I was already picking apart the story’s flaws halfway through it. But after reading Martell’s article, I got online to check out the user feedback. On Yahoo at least, of 5,000 user ratings: A-. They start out, “MAN-GASM!” “The BEST and GREATEST Ultimate Action Movie!” “Most Bad A$$ Movie of Bad A$$ Movies!” And if you actually read the posts, the users go on to complain about how critics never get it right and don’t really understand what audiences like. “Sure the story is straightforward, but if you enjoy blowing shit up and seeing people get fucked up…” And so on.
Now, Martell’s article wasn’t written to defend the merits of The Expendables, but I think it’d be foolish of us not to examine what works in these scripts that are made into movies that people flock to. I’m the last person to suggest to a writer that he or she bang out a formulaic, beat-by-beat “Hollywood” script (execs will toss them in the trash). But perhaps it might be wise to actually see and study some of these movies that lots of people really think are good and figure out why people think they are good. If you can sprinkle some of that fairy dust into your already unique, funny, touching script, maybe you have something brilliant on your hands. But what we don’t want to do is completely ignore these movies that audiences love to see just because we think “they suck.”