I’ve been trying to figure out what makes a story work (or not). Joey and I regularly dissect movies we watch together (usually after the film – we’re both sticklers about not talking during). Buy a ticket for a roller coaster, and you want a ride worth the price of a ticket. This goes for any entertainment, right? My standards for movies, for example, go: on TV or streaming with commercials, premium TV or streaming, matinee, and full-price. By the time you get to “full price,” I expect to be very entertained. We usually (but not always) agree on what was a very good, or so-so experience. There seem to be some basic areas where an idea has a chance to go right (or wrong):
AUDIENCE – Who did they think was watching the romance tacked on to the thriller or action-adventure movie, where it’s clear somebody said, “We need a romantic interest!” but nobody asked “Why?” and nobody gave any more thought to that part of the story, so there it is, begging to be fast-forwarded through. Or the goofball comedy that all of a sudden grinds to a halt for The Message, leaving you rolling your eyes. Did the people putting the movie together have a clear picture of who they’re trying to entertain?
GENRE – Maybe I just wasn’t the right audience for Helen Hunt’s “then she found me” (based on the novel by Elinor Lipman). We saw it because we both like Helen Hunt, and still do, but was it a comedy? It said it was (well, they used the term “dramedy,” but doesn’t that mean you get comedy with your drama?). It wasn’t. I don’t mean “I didn’t get it.” I got it – there were no gags, no jokes, no funny situations. It was a drama. The DVD included interviews with the cast trying to sell me on the idea that what I’d just seen was a comedy. Some really fine actors couldn’t convince me this movie was funny.
HOOK – In all genres, there’s something akin to the blood-soaked corpse as a way to hook your audience. I still remember seeing the 1970 film “Mark of the Devil” when it first came out. (I know, I’m dating myself – I’ll date myself further by telling you Mom dropped me off at the theater and had no idea what I was going to see. I remember my friend wondering how I could continue to eat my Good & Plentys as the fake blood was squirting all over. Hey, it was fake blood.) I’ve been hooked on horror ever since. (Remember, it was fake blood. Don’t try to make me sit through the nature show where the lion kills the zebra. Yuck.)
THE “WOW” FACTOR – Bathing beauties or train wreck, a visual appeal is a big plus. I’ll go with the train wreck every time. Joey likes animals, especially dogs. Oh! Maybe nude dog-trainers on the circus train. Or not. (“The Greatest Show on Earth” with Charlton Heston, Betty Hutton and Jimmy Stewart includes a great train wreck. It works even though you can see the crashing trains are little models.)
RESOLUTION – Tie me a bow on this package. I want to feel that I’ve fully experienced the trip. Which isn’t to say I really wanted to see what Harry Potter looked like 19 years later (although the second time they shot the scene, it worked fairly well).
TAKEAWAY – In a (good) comedy or drama, there’s usually a scene or character you’re still talking about on the way to the car. In musical comedy, there’s usually a song you’re still humming on the way out the door. I definitely hum the tunes from Andrew Lloyd Webber shows when leaving the theater – he’s hit the same theme time and time again, all evening long. (Hey, if you’ve got it, flaunt it. He does write some good stuff.) At least there’s a new theme with each show.
ADDED VALUE – One word. Easter egg. OK, that’s two words, but you know what I’m talking about. Who hasn’t spent a few minutes (or more) playing the Perry Platypult game Disney developed for the Phineas and Ferb movie. I know I have. Go ahead, you know you want to. Here it is: Perry Platypult Game
(Warning: This link will take you to a Disney site where you will have to watch a brief commercial before you can play the game.)
Also, I’m a sucker for those stingers at the end of the movie, that added bonus for sitting through the credits. Tuck in that little bit of “extra,” like the roller coaster that seems to reach the end of its journey, only to take off again (Sea World’s “Journey to Atlantis” ride does this right. A great ride, you think you’re reaching the end, then… yes!).
So now we try to put all this to work, and try to make the ride worth the price of the ticket.