Everyone’s a critic – my turn. Having just seen one of this summer’s blockbuster movies—Star Trek—I thought I would weigh in. Besides, it takes my mind off what’s coming next week.
The key element that makes for a good movie is the same thing that makes for a good book or play—or life for that matter: a powerful story. One that involves characters you care about.
A telltale sign of weak storytelling is sloppy segues. A segue is a transition that moves the plot from one necessary scene to the next. Poor movies resort to speed and special effects instead of forging believable links.
The transitions in Star Trek were inane and unbelievable, even for science fiction, which to me evinces lazy writing. A few of the more egregious examples:
Fateful meeting – Kirk has to meet up with the future Spock, but for Kirk to be summarily marooned on an obscure planet instead of being sent to the brig seems a bit harsh. And then to escape from a few monsters in a sequence lifted whole from The Phantom Menace, only to wind up in the very cave where the future Spock has gone into self-exile? Way too serendipitous. (One way to explain the coincidence would have been for Spock to say he remembered where his younger self had ejected Kirk and that he’d come here to wait for him.)
Beam me up – When Scottie and Kirk beam aboard the Enterprise, Scottie winds up in a water pipe, which conveniently has windows, and, inconveniently for him, a turbine at the top. What’s a turbine in a glass box doing in the water system? (Put Scottie in danger—fine. But why not an air duct where a circulating fan makes sense?)
Nemo and Kirk – Nemo is choking Kirk but our hero obviously can’t die; so how does he escape? Nemo gets a call from the bridge. He doesn’t shoot, stab, strangle or even give a wedgie to his sworn enemy; instead he just dashes off, leaving behind a guard with the IQ of cheese (and not the good French kind). The same flaw appears in the early James Bond movies.
Like many “blockbusters” Stark Trek suffers from undue reliance on over-the-top special effects. CGI (computer generated imagery) and special effects aren’t bad, except when employed to mask a weak plot or shallow characters. Recent examples of where they have been properly and powerfully used are the Lord of the Rings trilogy and the first Matrix movie.
If sloppy segues and superfluous special effects are signs of a mediocre movie, what are the hallmarks of memorable ones? I thought you’d never ask. In addition to an engaging story, I enjoy:
Smart dialogue, especially when laced with double entendres. Layers of meaning add depth and pleasure to a tale. One of my favorite films of all time has this in abundance: Princess Bride. So does Shrek.
Surprise endings, which are very hard to come by these days but are unforgettable when pulled off. Remember the first time you saw Sixth Sense or The Usual Suspects? Michael Clayton also had a powerful closing.
What are some of your favorite movies?