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That's Show Biz

This is a page from the original version of Pagan Vigil. There are some formatting differences. Originally published at

A few thoughts on the big summer films and declining box office revenues

I just got back from watching War of the Worlds. Technically it is a brilliant film. The story is a classic, and the adaptation was pretty good. The acting was above average, with the cute kid stealing almost every scene she's in. But as I am watching the previews (WAY too many previews) and the one for Jackson's King Kong comes up. I'm sure that will be another great film.

But where the heck is the originality?

We've got sequels out the kazoo. We have remakes and maybe-not remakes. We have films that have been market-researched to death. Just as an example, apparently superhero films are great money makers, and then the studios spend millions of dollars making a film that is almost but not quite entirely unlike the source material (with apologies to Douglas Adams).

It's not just the superhero films of course. Not all science fiction has to have a battle with ray guns between man and machine. Not every relationship film needs to have a strategically placed glimpse of a partially undressed woman.

The effects are brilliant. The acting ranges from the tolerable to the fabulous. The marketing tie-ins and cross promotions hype the film beyond toleration.

And yet, for all the technical skill both in front of the camera and behind it, I keep remembering one thing.

Way back when in the early days of television, there was a magician. He had spent years on the vaudeville circuit perfecting his act. In one town, he would add a new illusion, and he would spend the next couple of months refining the delivery. His act and his showmanship had given him a great reputation, so he was invited to do a television show. Carefully he prepared, and for the show he did the act that he had built gradually. When it was over, he asked the producer what he thought.

"Great," said the producer. "Absolutely great. The audience loved it. The sponsor is swooning. Now what have you got for us next week?"

A film can have all the effects and spectacular camera moves possible. It can push the state of the art well beyond anything ever seen before. But if it doesn't have decent writing, people won't watch it if they have to pay for it. Even if it has good writing, people need to relate to it. Otherwise all you have is eye candy, and people are already bombarded with that nearly every second of every day.

Good writing doesn't happen because of market research. It usually doesn't happen in committee. Take out the voice of the writer and you rob the audience of much of the film's character. Audiences are more interested in story than spectacle, and they will pay for it if given a choice.

Posted: Sun - July 10, 2005 at 09:44 PM

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