Like just about everyone else (EXCEPT YOU), I saw THE DARK KNIGHT RISES this weekend. I really liked the film and for the most part felt it was a quality movie and a well-done end to a superb trilogy.
But, it wasn't without its flaws.
Most of its flaws came at the cost of character. The movie--hell, the series--takes its time setting up aspects of Batman and his surrounding characters and then in the last ten minutes of the movie ignores them. It was enough to set off alarm bells in my brain, and knocks the movie from AWESOME HOLY CRAP SPECTACULAR down to well, I really enjoyed that.
But the problem is even bigger than the Batman series, it's a film problem.
It strikes me that film is more about the moment. Whenever people talk about movies they always talk about "that scene." "REMEMBER THAT PART WHERE?" Ignoring the fact that that part is only so cool because it ignores everything that came before it for the sake of the scene. Character motivation doesn't matter. Reality doesn't matter.
All that matters is the shot, the scene.
Head of a horse in movie producer's bed? Nevermind that Tom Hagen had to sneak back into the estate, chop off the head of a horse without anyone noticing, then sneak back into the mansion... WITH A BLOODY HORSE'S HEAD.. and put it in the bed without the movie producer waking up.
But come on, everyone remembers that point and points to it as cool.
And we're used to it. The scene outweighs the character. It's so cool, that you can get into years long arguments because there are a clues in a scene that make no sense in to the character or even the plot.
Take, for example, the end of THE SOPRANOS.
There are a lot of people who think Tony dies at the very end. That when the screen goes blank, it's because Tony does. They point to a painting on the back wall of Holsten's (which is 3 minutes from my house... great ice cream... painting isn't really there though). They point to the communion style way the Soprano family eats their onion rings. They point to Members Only jacket. Tony dies, they say. There's no other answer.
No other answer?
Did you listen to the entire episode before that? Did you pay any attention to the fact that Tony and crew take place of all family business? That everyone is either dead or struck a deal with Tony to end the mob war? That no one is left to kill Tony? That hired killers do things for money, not revenge...? That the Russian didn't know Tony existed? That the two hired guns from season 1 were taken care of? That we didn't even know Frank Vincent had a brother, so how could Members Only be Frank Vincent's brother out for revenge? If you look at the end of 90% of all the other episodes, the theme of the series, and what the characters, believe... LIFE GOES ON?
But that doesn't make the scene cool.
So he has to die. That's a cool scene.
Movies... TV (which is changing as it's becoming more of a writer driven medium) have to become about more that a shot, an angle, or a scene. Reviewers need to focus on the whole picture. Directors need to sacrifice their wonderful shot if it doesn't fit who the characters are.
Focus on story.
Focus on character.
It will be better off.
The example I always point to is the one that has now ruined a movie for me. Jurassic Park.
There are certain things Spielberg is amazing at, and one of them is laying ground rules. He trains is like Pavlovian viewers- it all goes back to the clock in Peter Pan (and is it any wonder he made HOOK?) When that clock is ticking, we know a beastie is coming.
In JP we are given the rules. Impact tremors. We see and hear the T Rex coming. Half of the fear that the creature instills is in the anticipation. And it's laid out by the actors, "impact tremors" is pointed out more than once by Jeff Goldblum.
Then in the final few minutes the film decides. pfffffft, screw that.
The T Rex can sneak up behind four human beings INSIDE A BUILDING. What's more it manages to sneak up on two Velociraptors who...are facing the direction it comes from. Did I mention INSIDE A BUILDING?
Why did this happen? They had a whole different ending in mind, but they decided this was cooler. This was be the ending that people would remember, and would set up that cool shot of the "when dinsosaurs rules the earth" banner falling on a roaring T Rex. INSIDE A BUILDING.
They decided, screw story, this is COOL. And destroyed the film.
There are moments when COOL matches character, such as the swordfighter scene in RAIDERS, but they seem few and far between.
Jurassic Park has many more questionable scenes.
Really, you want to know how they got the head in the bed for the Godfather?
Some things don't need to be told. The guy lives in a mansion. The stable is not under the bedroom. Do we need to see the beaten servants, the trail of blood, and the careful placement? Maybe if it was a heist.
The JP scene is a better example of breaking your rules for a "memorable scene."
But don't knock these scenes. A good mix of solid characters- like Tom Hagen, for example, Sonny and Michael and Fredo- and horse heads here and there, and you have something great.
As for the Sopranos, I loved the ending. The tension in that banal scene, when Meadow is parallel parking... that is what Tony will feel for the rest of his life. Waiting for the other shoe to drop.
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