Sci-fi At 30,000': A Cautionary Tale
Greetings all. I'm traveling this week, which gave me the opportunity to watch a couple of movies on planes that I wouldn't normally have expended the effort to see (mostly because the reviews were so bad). During the last two flights I watched the Fantastic Four remake and Tomorrowland. Both movies were pretty bad in their own right, and strangely, for similar reasons. In a way they serve as cautionary tales for those, like myself, who like to write sci-fi. How? Well...
1. The tension doesn't really increase past the first 45 minutes-
In Tomorrowland they defuse the dramatic tension pretty much from the get-go. We see the main characters alive and well in the future before anything else happens. Nothing that occurs in the film is going to threaten them. Sometimes this style of narrative works, but when it does it's because we are given something else to care about or connect with soon after the introduction. In Tomorrowland they make an attempt at that through Athena, but they fail to build any threat around her past a basic level. Pretty soon the chase scenes are monotonous, and as Athena handles most of them pretty handily, her victory becomes pretty much assured.
In the Fantastic Four the tension in the beginning relies on people being mean and/or stupid, which is pretty low-level stuff. There's no threat to life or limb, just to hurt feelings—which again, can work in some context but they fail to build it up. The main characters are given golden opportunities without having to earn them, which they promptly screw up and suffer the consequences... Superpowers! Not only has this been done to death in the last ten years, but FF didn't bring anything new to the table at all. Ben Grimm's character could have been the most interesting of them all, but they failed to concentrate on him. Instead, we see a bunch of gifted kids being given opportunity after opportunity right up until the sudden appearance of the villain almost at the end. The droning tone of the film had me too sleepy to really care by that point anyway.
2. The main action happens too late-
In both films we don't really get to the meat of the story until we're almost at the end. This can work sometimes if the narrative was interesting and/or action packed leading to the climax, but that just wasn't the case for the above reasons. As such by the time the films arrived at their big moments, my reaction was: "Finally! I hope this stays interesting!" But neither movie did, because...
3. The story resolved too quickly-
After having spent so much time on inconsequential or monotonous stuff, the movies didn't have enough time to really showcase what was good. In Tomorrowland's case the climax actually was pretty good, but all it did was wake me up a little after the long path it took to get there. For the Fantastic Four, the end was only mildly more interesting than the bored-to-tears narrative of the previous hour. If I was home watching it I would have changed the channel before the credits for sure.
4. The messages were too heavy handed and didn't really fit-
I suppose Tomorrowland suffered from this more than Fantastic Four. Every five minutes or so the film outright says—through dialogue—"If we don't do something everyone is going to die!" and then repeats the message until I just wanted to scream, "I get it, shut up!" Fantastic Four suffered from this less only because it didn't seem to understand what it was about until almost the end, and when it finally did it felt the need to shout: "Work as a team! Work as a team! Family! WOO!" repeatedly... with a megaphone... for the last 30 minutes. It doesn't help that FF's message was the same as every other ensemble superhero movie, but what really killed it was an overall lack of originality. They should have taken more pages from the Avengers, but alas, it was not to be.
—And that's why both movies were pretty awful, at least in my opinion. The next thing I will be watching is Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I'm very much looking forward to it, so my next post will cover that.
Take care and happy Sci-Fi'ing everyone!