It’s been a while since I talked about a movie here. And it’s not just because I’ve been too busy networking to get out to the cinema much. I did manage to see The Dark Knight a few weeks ago, but it was such a desperately disappointing experience that I decided to keep schtum about it. I’m all about the positive vibes, as you know*, and see little need to mong off about something everyone else is enjoying.
But this week I’ve noticed that several people seem to be coming over to my side on this film. And the discussion that ensued has revealed a few things worth commenting on about why the film is so bad and why it’s simultaneously so successful.
First off, I wanted this film to be good. I loved Batman Begins and I was dead excited about its sequel. But I actually found myself nodding off in a cinema for the first time ever and I only nod off to films on the telly at 2am after a skinful. I don’t do nodding off in cinemas. I had a mate who did it every time. There was something about low light and celluloid that was like opium for him. He was always out cold before the opening titles had finished. But not me, oh no.
Not until The Dark Knight.
Nothing about the film interested me. I didn’t care about a single character or anything that happened to them. An hour before the end my mind was screaming PLEASE! END THIS MADNESS! NOW! But no, it lumbered on into another half-baked ‘set-piece’, none of which I can now remember they were so dull. So dull I found my chin hitting my chest.
The problem is that the hero is a peripheral character in his own story. The problem is that almost everything is told, not shown. The problem is that Harvey has no real relationship with Rachel to make his rage at her loss believable. The problem is that there’s no one in the film to care about.
And yet everyone else in the world seems to think it was the greatest movie ever made.
Welcome to a world without rules.
Incredible box office figures are nothing to be sniffed at, and I’m usually the one who likes to dangle them in the face of tedious industry wannabes who scoff at films that reach out to huge audiences and strike a chord. I’ve had many arguments over the merits of films like Titanic, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill and The Sixth Sense.
In my book, if several hundred million people around the world feel an urgent desire to go to see your story, then you’ve pretty much written a great script.
We screenwriters obsess over structure so much we can forget that movies are largely about an emotional connection. Audiences will flock to films that make them feel a certain way, regardless of plot inconsistencies or two-dimensional characterisation.
Come on, we’ve all got those guilty pleasures in our DVD collection: films that are never going to trouble the jury of the 100 Greatest Films, but films we’ll watch over Citizen Kane on a Sunday afternoon just because they allow us to feel a certain emotion (The Dark Knight is doing such incredible business because of two quite different factors, and they are ones that a first time screenwriter will find difficult to emulate:
1) because Batman Begins was a great film. Its success has given a rocket boost to its sequel, and audiences desperately want to be a part of that world again. All the great writing was done in the first film. It secured the audience for the second.
2) because Heath Ledger died. It’s the Ian Curtis syndrome. Glamorous and tragic death will boost your sales. People want to see his final performance. People want to feed on that emotional energy. They want it to be a memorable performance, they want him to win a posthumous Oscar for it, and they want to feel a part of that triumph over tragedy.
For me, that’s how a really uninspiring sequel has done such amazing business. The emotional connection it is making with audiences is nothing to do with the script or the way it’s filmed. Sad, really, because it’s not even half the film of its predecessor.
* Okay, I do mong about certain things, but only when I’m really, reallypissed off. At all other times I am the model of Buddhist calm, and I will punch anyone who says I’m not.