Over the last day FX has been running quite the movie marathon – Doomsday, XF:I Want To Believe and Cloverfield – today’s the second run for them.
And as I’ve watched these for the n’th time I’ve figured out why I hate some movies and love others.
If I don’t CARE about the characters I don’t like the movie.
Example: Cloverfield. Stop here if you haven’t seen this monster movie. Okay, let’s continue… The movie starts off slowly enough with the dumb buddy videotaping a long drawn-out memorial film for his buddy who’s relocating to Japan (insert kaiju joke here) including the bud’s ex who shows up with a new boyfriend, yatta yatta yatta.
This goes on for a good 15-20 minutes until the creature attacks. And by this time I not only hate the guy with the camera I don’t CARE about any of these people. When they die, one by one in relatively nasty ways, I really can’t sympathize with any of them. Especially not with the ex-girlfriend who gets pulled off jagged rebar and somehow limps through a majority of the film with the same pain as if she’d stubbed her toe. And camera boy deserves to get chomped by Cloverfield when he never, NEVER has a thought about tossing the camera to one side and running for his life. Not to mention that I figured out within the first ten minutes of the monster showing up that I’d be heading for the nearest surplus store to get a rubber raft and get the heck off the island instead of waiting to be eaten by monster fleas or nuked by the government.
But I just couldn’t bring myself to care about any of these characters. Indulged, rich bratty young people who seem to have the common sense of a cucumber among them. And if I end up rooting for the monster.. well, you’ve lost me as a customer.
Let me contrast that with the British flick, Doomsday. It’s a niche film and I sort of like it though it didn’t go over well in the theaters. In a nutshell Scotland gets sealed off due to major plague. 35 years later government sends in team to find and retrieve cure due to new outbreak in London. Leading the team is a woman whose mother literally threw her over the wall at the last minute to get her out of Scotland, leaving her with nothing but an envelope with her old address and one eye.
Typical doomsday scenarios – cannibals, nasty evil knights and the cure is to bring one of the survivors back to the Wall where double-crossing government nasty admits he’s going to hold onto cure until maximum political profit can be realized – but, aha! Sinclair has a false eye with a recorder and she tapes scumbag’s bragging and hands it off to police friend who will bring down government with tape while she stays in Scotland and rebuilds.
It’s not a great flick but you care about Sinclair – especially at the end where she finds her old house and her old bedroom – cobwebs on the crib and a picture of a mother she never knew. Right there you get a sense of what she’s about and why she’s going to stay.
As an author it’s my job to make you care about the characters, not the flash and smoke and mirrors of the plot. I can give you kaiju up the wazoo but if you don’t care about the people, if you don’t care if they survive the plague or worry that there’s no happy ending… I’ve failed in doing my job.
When people think of good movies or books they tend to remember characters. Luke Skywalker, Deckard, Indiana Jones, Eve Dallas, Roake. *Not* the names of the books or the settings, IMO.
I want to make you remember my peeps.
Remember Jo Tanis, Hunter Dillon, Rebecca Desjardin and Brandon Hanover. I’d much rather have you remember them than the cool covers or the plots, beyond how it brings the characters along in their lives and makes them more complete.
I hope I succeed.