Film Crit Hulk Smash: HULK SMASHES THE PUNY PARADIGMS OF FILM CRITICISM WITH HULK-SIZED SEMIOTICAL ESSAYS ON STORYTELLING, CINEMATIC PRINCIPLES, AND MEDIA THEORY! HULK EVEN MAKE PRACTICAL HOW-TO GUIDES! See More...

Film Crit Hulk Smash: THE AGE OF THE CONVOLUTED BLOCKBUSTER

Hulk's latest target of smashing: blockbusters that get so so convoluted, so byzantine in their reveals that they alienate story-seeking audiences.

Film Crit Hulk Smash: THE AGE OF THE CONVOLUTED BLOCKBUSTER

ONE OF HULK'S FAVORITE FILMS OF LAST YEAR WAS THE RAID.

ADMITTEDLY, A GOOD DEAL OF THIS LOVE IS DUE TO THE FACT THAT HULK'S A LONG-TIME FAN OF MARTIAL ARTS CHOPSOCKY AND GOOD GOLLY DID THAT FILM DELIVER SOME STUNNING, EXPERTLY FILMED ACTION. BUT THE QUALITY HULK MOST APPRECIATED WAS THE FILM'S NAKEDLY KEEN SENSE OF NARRATIVE ECONOMY AND APPRECIATION OF TRADITIONAL DRAMA. FOR INSTANCE, THE RAID IMMEDIATELY INTRODUCES US TO FOUR MAIN CHARACTERS: A HERO COP WITH A BABY ON THE WAY. HIS BOSS, WHO HAS SOME QUESTIONABLE ETHICS. THE HERO’S BROTHER, WHO HAS FALLEN FROM GRACE. AND THE INSANE CRIME BOSS WHO EMPLOYS SAID BROTHER. ALL OF THIS INFORMATION IS ESTABLISHED IN A FEW QUICK OPENING SCENES. WHILE IT IS UNFLINCHINGLY DIRECT IN ITS AIMS, IT IS ALSO WHAT ALLOWS FOR A COMPLETELY FUNCTIONAL MOVIE. WE UNDERSTAND THE CAPABILITIES OF EACH CHARACTER. WE UNDERSTAND THEIR OBJECTIVES. WE UNDERSTAND HOW THOSE OBJECTIVES FUNDAMENTALLY CLASH WITH ONE ANOTHER. AND SO FOR THE NEXT 90 MINUTES WE ARE COMPLETELY INVESTED AS THOSE INHERENT CONFLICTS PLAY OUT IN COMPELLING MARTIAL ARTS FASHION. EVEN THE GEOGRAPHY OF THE FIGHTING IS LITERAL AS THEY HAVE TO WORK UP EACH FLOOR OF AN APARTMENT BUILDING TO MAKE IT TO THE CRIME BOSS. HULK ARGUES THAT THIS ALL REVEALS A BASIC TRUTH OF STORYTELLING: WHILE NOT AS SHOWY, THE HEART OF DRAMA HAS ALWAYS BEEN ROOTED IN CLARITY. FOR CLARITY IS NOT ONLY THE KEY TO UNDERSTANDING THE WANTS AND STAKES OF YOUR CHARACTERS AND NARRATIVE, BUT TO FEELING THEM IN A MEANINGFUL WAY.

AND HULK WOULD ARGUE THAT ANY FILM THAT UPHOLDS THE VALUE OF CLARITY AND DRAMA HAS SUBSTANTIAL MERIT IN THIS MODERN AGE, WHERE ALL OUR BIGGEST POPCORN MOVIES SEEM DESPERATE TO STRIVE FOR OBFUSCATION. AND AS HULK RECENTLY WALKED OUT OF A SCREENING OF STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS, THE DEPTHS OF THIS REALITY HIT HULK DEAD ON…

WE LIVE IN THE AGE OF THE CONVOLUTED BLOCKBUSTER.

* * *

J.J. ABRAMS IS AN OUTRAGEOUSLY TALENTED FILMMAKER.

HIS CAMERA SWOOPS AND SWOONS AND SPLASHES WITH COLOR AND LIGHT, ALL BUILDING A KIND OF INNATE KINETICISM. THE EFFECT OF WHICH IS OFTEN THRILLING. MORE TO HIS CREDIT, HE CAN IMBUE A SCENE WITH SUCH ENERGY AND MOMENTARY PURPOSE. THIS CHARACTER IS ANGRY RIGHT NOW! THAT CHARACTER IS SAD! HIS CINEMA HYPER-EXPRESSES THAT EMOTION SO CLEARLY THAT THESE BEATS FEEL AS IF THEY WERE STAMPED WITH AN EXCLAMATION POINT. AND LUCKILY FOR US, HE ACTUALLY UNDERSTANDS HOW THESE MOMENTS AFFECT AN AUDIENCE, HOW TO BALANCE THEM, AND JUST WHEN TO TIME THEM FOR MAXIMUM EFFECT. WE CALL THIS ABILITY “UNDERSTANDING TONE” AND IT’S ONE OF THE MOST CRITICAL ELEMENTS TO BEING A GOOD DIRECTOR. FOR IF A SCENE IS TONALLY OFF, THE AUDIENCE MAY NOT UNDERSTAND WHY, BUT THEY PRACTICALLY REVOLT IN THEIR SEAT. BUT WHILE ABRAMS HAS ALL THESE WONDERFUL, POSITIVE QUALITIES, HE CAN'T HELP BUT GET INTO TROUBLE WHEN HE TRIES TO TRANSLATE THESE SAME EXACT QUALITIES TO THE PLOT.

NOW, IT’S NOT THAT HIS FILMS ARE IMPOSSIBLE TO FOLLOW OR EVEN THAT THEY ARE ILLOGICAL (THOUGHT SOMETIMES THEY'VE TIPPED IN THOSE DIRECTIONS). IT’S JUST THAT VIRTUALLY EVERY SINGLE FILM HE HAS MADE HAS BEEN... HOW TO SAY... OVERTLY PLOTTY. AND THAT LAST WORD IS CHOSEN MORE CAREFULLY THAN YOU MIGHT THINK, AS HARMONY KORINE RECENTLY MADE A FEW INTRIGUING STATEMENTS ABOUT THE WORD ITSELF, PLOT. WHEN THE WORD IS VIEWED BY ITS LONESOME IT SUDDENLY TAKES ON A MORE DEVIOUS MEANING, I.E. “IT’S A PLOT!” BY “PEOPLE WHO PLOT THINGS!” AND IF YOU ACCEPT THAT MEANING THAN IT SEEMS NO ACCIDENT THAT SO MANY MODERN BLOCKBUSTER PLOTS SEEM TO BE "PLOTS!" MEANING THEY ARE ALL BUILT FROM PREMEDITATED, COLD ACTIONS, WHICH THEN UNFOLD IN A SERIES OF INTERLOCKING FATALISTIC EVENTS. MEANING A PLOT IS SO OBVIOUSLY CONSTRUCTED THAT IT’S RENDERED INTO SOMETHING MECHANICAL.

AND WHEN ONE THINKS ABOUT “STORY,” WELL, ONE THINKS OF SOMETHING INNATELY MORE HUMAN. WE THINK OF EVENTS THAT MERELY UNFOLD AS NATURAL REACTIONS TO THE PROTAGONISTS EMOTIONS AND WANTS AND THE WAY THOSE PLAY OFF THE EMOTIONS OF OTHER CHARACTERS. AND THE GRADUAL BUILDING OF THESE EMOTIONS LEAD US TO AN EVOLUTION OF STAKES AND PERSONAL IMPORT. THE BEST STORIES DON’T EVEN MAKE US THINK ABOUT PLOT, THEY JUST SEEM TO EXIST. AND IT IS THIS INVISIBLE MODE OF  STORYTELLING WITHOUT ALL THE CLAWING-AT-YOU TWISTS AND TURNS THAT ALLOWS US TO ORGANICALLY FALL RIGHT INTO THE STORY ITSELF. WE DON’T JUST WATCH THE FILM, WE MANAGE TO LIVE IN THE WORLD OF THOSE CHARACTERS. WE EMPATHIZE WITH THEM. WE BELIEVE THE GRAND AND BEST POSSIBLE LIE OF MOVIES: WE BELIEVE WE'RE IN IT.

AND SO WHEN WE LOOK AT THE STORIES IN ABRAMS’ WORK WE DON’T FIND MUCH IN THE WAY OF STORY AT ALL. WE FIND PLOTS. IT’S ALL MASTER SECRETIVE PLANS BUILT ON REVEALS UPON REVEALS UPON REVEALS. WE WATCH AS BRILLIANT CHARACTERS PLAY A HIGH-STAKES GAME OF TRYING TO OUTSMART EACH OTHER. WE WATCH THOSE PLANS GET TEASED OUT IN INCOMPREHENSIBLE WAYS. WE WATCH THEM UNRAVEL A STORY WITHOUT A HINT OF ORGANIC DISCOVERY. WE WATCH FILMS WHERE THE MECHANICAL PLOT DICTATES CHARACTER REACTIONS, RATHER THAN CHARACTER’S ACTIONS DICTATING THE STORY. AND WHILE THE MOST OBVIOUS TEMPTATION IS TO JUDGE THE MERITS OF THESE FILMS ON WHETHER OR NOT THESE CONVOLUTED PLOTS HAVE LOGICAL RESOLUTIONS (AND THE INTERNET DID INDEED GO NUTS DISMANTLING THE LOGIC OF STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS), HULK ARGUES THAT THE FUZZY LOGIC ITSELF DOESN’T REALLY MATTER. THE TRUTH IS THAT THE REAL VICTIM OF THIS CONVOLUTED PLOTTING IS TRADITIONAL DRAMA. BY OBFUSCATING CLARITY IN THE NAME OF A GRANDIOSE PUZZLE, WE CAN’T HELP BUT GET IN THE WAY OF THE OPTIMAL EMOTIONAL RESONANCE IN OUR STORIES. WE MAKE THEM FEEL LIKE CONSTRUCTIONS. WE SHOW ALL THE STRINGS. AND IT'S GOTTEN TO SUCH AN OBLIVIOUS STATE THAT THIS IS BAD THAT WE NOT ONLY SHOW THESE STRINGS, BUT THEN TURN TO THE AUDIENCE AND SAY "Hey! Look at all those strings I tied! Don't they look complicated!?!?! I did that!"

SIGH.

BELIEVE IT OR NOT, MOST POPCORN MOVIES ONCE TYPICALLY AVOIDED THIS (FOR THE MOST PART). THEY WORSHIPPED AT THE ALTAR OF BASIC FUNCTIONALITY, BUT SINCE THE LATE 90’S THIS PURPOSEFUL OBFUSCATION HAS BECOME AN INCREASINGLY COMMON PHENOMENON. AND ABRAMS, RIDICULOUSLY TALENTED AS HE MAY BE, HAS PERHAPS WITTINGLY STOOD AS THE POSTER BOY FOR THE AGE OF CONVOLUTION. THERE'S A LOT OF REASONS HE'S GONE IN THIS DIRECTION, BUT THE MAIN CAUSE OF THIS MAY BE HIS NEAR-WORSHIP OF THE NOW INFAMOUS “MYSTERY BOX” (A THEORY FROM A PRESENTATION HE MADE AT A TED CONFERENCE SOME YEARS BACK). NOW, SETTING ASIDE THE FACT THAT YOU CAN HIGHLIGHT THE COMPLETE EMPTINESS OF THE CONCEPT WITH ONE GOOD SIMPSONS REFERENCE (“THE BOX! THE BOX!!!”), IT’S ADMITTEDLY A GREAT WAY TO SELL STUFF. A STORY WITH A WELL-PRESENTED AIR OF MYSTERY JUST HAS THIS NATURAL ALLURE, DOESN'T IT? IT CAN ALWAYS DRAW PEOPLE’S CURIOSITY… BUT IN REALITY? THE MYSTERY BOX HAS NO REAL DRAMATIC FUNCTION WITHIN ACTUAL STORYTELLING.

SERIOUSLY. IT'S NOT AN ACTUAL STORYTELLING CONSTRUCT. IT'S ABOUT MAKING PEOPLE WONDER WHAT'S GOING ON OR WHAT SOMETHING IS AND THEN JUST REVEALING IT AT THE MOMENT ONE HAS TO. IT'S NOT INHERENTLY BUILT AROUND CHARACTER, DRAMA, ARCS, AND ALL THE GOOD STUFF, BUT PURPOSEFUL TEASING. AND PLEASE UNDERSTAND THAT HULK'S NOT JUST TALKING ABOUT STRAIGHTFORWARD TENT-POLE MOVIES, BUT EVEN MYSTERIES TOO. HULK'S BEEN READING CRIME AND DETECTIVE FICTION ALL HULK'S LIFE AND TRADITIONAL MYSTERY IS QUITE OFTEN GROUNDED IN A CLEAR PICTURE OF THE CENTRAL CONFLICT (IT'S JUST THE NATURE OF THAT CONFLICT WILL CHANGE AND EXPAND IN SCOPE THE LONGER IT GOES). THERE'S CAUSE. THERE'S EFFECT. AND THOSE TWO THINGS ARE  GROUNDED IN A THROUGH-LINE OF TRANSPARENCY BECAUSE IT STEMS FROM LASER-FOCUSED OBJECTIVES THAT GUIDE THE SHIFTING NARRATIVE. AND MORE IMPORTANTLY, THERE’S ALWAYS A POINT TO ALL OF IT, AS THE ENDGAME OF ANY GOOD MYSTERY HAS TO RESONATE. WHICH MAKES YOU REALIZE ABRAMS ISN'T REALLY CONSTRUCTING A MYSTERY AT ALL. INSTEAD, WE'RE SIMPLY ASKED TO LOOK AT SCENE AFTER SCENE AND SAY "I wonder what that person is doing?!?" (LET ALONE WONDER ABOUT THOSE PESKY THINGS LIKE CHARACTER MOTIVATION). THAT'S NOT MYSTERY. THAT'S NOT KNOWING WHAT'S GOING ON. AND IT LASTS UNTIL THE INEVITABLE POINT COMES ALONG WHERE SOMEONE VERBALLY EXPLAINS JUST WHAT IN THE HELL HIS GOING ON. WHICH ALL JUST MEANS THAT ABRAMS IS ACTUALLY MISTAKING THE AFFECTATION OF “BEING MYSTERIOUS” FOR MYSTERY ITSELF, WHICH IS NOTHING MORE THAN THE PERPETUAL HABIT OF MISTAKING STORY FORM FOR STORY FUNCTION.

AND STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS SUFFERS FROM THIS KEY MISUNDERSTANDING PERHAPS MORE THAN ANY OTHER OF HIS PREVIOUS EFFORTS. THOUGH EQUALLY CONVOLUTED, THE FIRST STAR TREK WORKS MORE OR LESS BECAUSE IT'S A CHARACTER-CENTRIC MOVIE ABOUT A GROUP OF PEOPLE COMING TOGETHER IN MEANINGFUL CHARACTER-CENTRIC WAYS. AND STAR TREK NTO DARKNESS FAILS BECAUSE IT IS PURELY A PLOT-CENTRIC MOVIE WHERE CHARACTERS COME TOGETHER IN PLOT-CENTRIC MECHANICAL WAYS. THE FILM’S FIRST HALF CRACKLES AT A BLISTERING PACE, UNFOLDING WRINKLE AFTER WRINKLE OF THOSE SAME "WONDER WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON" SCENES,  ATTEMPTING TO DRAW US IN, BUT IT'S ONLY BASED ON THE ALLURE OF MYSTERIOUSNESS (I.E. THE DESIRE CLARITY AND THEREFORE TRADITIONAL DRAMA) NOT THE ACTUAL DRIVING QUESTIONS OF THE MYSTERY ITSELF. THE DISASTROUS EFFECTS OF WHICH ARE FELT THE MOMENT IT ALL TURNS AND ACTUALLY TRIES ANSWER THOSE QUESTIONS. WHEN YOU CONSTRUCT A GOOD MYSTERY IT SHOULD BE GIVING FURTHER WEIGHT TO THE CONFLICT AND BECAUSE IT DOES NOT, THIS FILM COMPLETELY FLIES OFF THE RAILS. IT FORCES US TO REACT "WAIT?! THAT WAS THE POINT OF THAT?!?" IT IS THE COMPLETE FAILURE TO REALIZE THAT WHATEVER IS ACTUALLY IN THE OLE MYSTERY BOX ACTUALLY HAS TO FUNCTION, DRAMATIZE, AND ULTIMATELY LIVE UP TO THE PROMISE (AND INTENTION) OF THE INITIAL ALLURE.

WHILE THE MYSTERY BOX MAY BE ABRAMS’ PET THEORY, ONE HAS TO WONDER HOW MUCH OF THIS HABIT COULD BE DUE TO HIS STABLE OF COLLABORATORS. TIME AND TIME AGAIN HE WORKS WITH LINDELOF, ORCI, AND KURTZMAN, ALL WRITERS WITH THE SAME OBVIOUS TALENTS WHO FALL IN LINE WITH THE SAME PENCHANT FOR MYSTERIOUSNESS, BUT THEY ARE ALSO WRITERS WHO SEEM HAMPERED BY THE DESIRE TO WRITE AN OVERLY-CONVOLUTED PLOT. WHEN ONE LOOKS ACROSS THE SPECTRUM OF ALL THEIR COMBINED WORK: ALIAS. THE ISLAND. LOST. MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE III. FRINGE. STAR TREK. COWBOYS AND ALIENS. PROMETHEUS AND NOW WITH STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS IT IS EASY TO SEE THE CURIOUS OVERLAP. ALL THOSE FILMS TRY TO WORK OF ATTENTION-GRABBING MYSTERIOUSNESS. THERE UNKNOWN OR CONFUSED CHARACTER MOTIVATIONS. CHARACTERS WHO LITERALLY DON'T KNOW WHO THEY ARE. PEOPLE GUARDING SECRETS. PEOPLE GUARDING MOTIVATIONS. CENTRAL DRIVING QUESTIONS THAT ARE INHERENTLY UNANSWERABLE. LATE ACT REVEALS. AND MOST IMPORTANTLY, THE ONLY WAY THESE STORIES SEEM TO MANIFEST IS WITH A SERIES OF BACK AND FORTH MOMENTARY CONFLICTS THAT ALWAYS SEEM TO BE SERVING NOTHING MORE THAN COLD MECHANISMS OF FATALISM... WOW, SORRY THAT WAS WORDED IN A CONFUSING MANNER. BASICALLY, HULK MEANS THAT THEY'RE ALL FILLED WITH CHARACTERS DOING THINGS NOT OUT OF AN ORGANIC NEED DEFINED BY THEIR WANTS AND NEEDS, BUT MERELY BECAUSE THEY ARE THE ONES WHO ARE SUPPOSED TO DO THEM (BECAUSE THE STORY DEMANDS IT).

DO YOU THINK IT’S AN ACCIDENT THAT “DESTINY” ALWAYS SEEMS TO BE SUCH A PREVALENT PART OF THESE PROJECTS AND OTHER HOLLYWOOD BLOCKBUSTERS THESE DAYS? CHARACTERS MEET AND JOIN OR DO A CERTAIN ACTION BECAUSE THAT'S WHAT IS SUPPOSED TO HAPPEN. AS INDIVIDUALS, THE CHARACTERS ALWAYS START AS PREFORMED CLAY WITH A INTENDED PURPOSE, BUT THEY OFTEN REJECT IT CAUSE THEY WANT TO REFUSE THE CALL OR WHATEVER. THEN THEY ONLY COMMIT TO SAID ACTION AS PART OF A PREMEDITATED, GODLY PLAN (OR BECAUSE OF A SECRET FATALISTIC PAST ABSENT OF DEITY). HEROISM? SACRIFICE? THESE NOTIONS ARE NOT CHOICE BUT THE PREORDAINED FULFILLING OF A PROMISE OR INNATE BELIEF… IT’S ALSO A BRUTAL MISUSE OF DESTINY AS A DRAMATIC DEVICE. GO BACK OVER EVERYTHING IN THE LAST 3,000 YEARS AND THE THEMATIC USE OF DESTINY WAS ALWAYS ABOUT FOREWARNING AND CONSEQUENCE AS A GRAND LESSON ABOUT MORTALITY. ACT SELFISHLY? TRY TO AVOID INEVITABLE DEATH? LISTEN TO THREE WITCHES SAY YOU’LL KILL THE KING? THE ECHOES OF DESTINY WERE ALWAYS GEARED AROUND SIN AND THE INEVITABLE SUFFERING OF A SAD FATE. MEANING THE NOTION OF DESTINY WAS MEANT AS A LESSON THAT COULD HELP THE AUDIENCE COME TO GRIPS THEIR OWN MORTALITY… AND NOW? THE THEMATIC USE OF DESTINY SEEMS NOT FOR PUNISHMENT, BUT FOR GLORIOUS REWARD. WE UPHOLD HEROISM AS NOTHING MORE THAN A PRE-ORDAINED FATE, NOT A HUMANE CHOICE. IT'S BECAUSE WE'RE "SPECIAL" (OR SOME OTHER RANDIAN BULLSHIT). AND BECAUSE OF ALL THIS WE UNIFORMLY REJECT THE NOTION OF DEATH AND USHER IN CINEMATIC RESURRECTIONS AT A MOMENTS NOTICE. WE'VE REMOVED THE HUMANE INCLINATION THAT'S SO VITAL AND REPLACED IT WITH THIS WEIRD GOD-GIVEN SUPERHEROISM THAT COULD BE TAKEN FOR SOME SORT OF GROSS UBERMENSCH PHILOSOPHY. BUT HULK WOULD LIKE TO SUGGEST IT’S A BIT MORE LAZY THAN THAT. FOR DESTINY ONLY SEEMS TO EXIST IN THESE FILMS AS AN EASY WAY OF CONNECTING “THE PLOT DOTS” IF YOU WILL. MEANING IT FULFILLS THE APPEARANCE OF ROUNDED START-TO-FINISH JOURNEY WITHOUT REALLY HAVING TO MAKE IT AN ORGANIC CHOICE THAT’S GROUNDED IN THE CHARACTER’S PERSONALITY, OBJECTIVE, ETHOS OR ANYTHING ELSE THAT'S ACTUALLY IMPORTANT. IT IS SIMPLY DONE BECAUSE THAT'S WHAT IT IS SUPPOSED TO DO... ONCE AGAIN, FORM OVER FUNCTION.

AGAIN, NONE OF THIS IS MEANT TO PICK ON ABRAMS SPECIFICALLY. HULK REALLY MEANS THAT. HE IS INSANELY TALENTED AND BRILLIANT IN COUNTLESS OTHER WAYS, IT IS JUST THAT HIS WORK SO CLEARLY TYPIFIES THE ONGOING TREND OF PLOT CONVOLUTION, FOR WHICH HE IS ANYTHING BUT ALONE IN HIS OFFENSE. IN FACT, IT SEEMS LIKE MOST SUMMER MOVIES THESE DAYS FALL VICTIM TO THE WORSHIP OF FORM OVER FUNCTION.

FOR INSTANCE, WE HAVE BIG DEAL STUDIO EXECS PUBLICLY EXCLAIMING THAT AUDIENCES JUST WANT WHIZ-BANG ACTION AND DON’T CARE ABOUT STORY AT ALL. WE HAVE BIG MOVIES GOING INTO PRODUCTION WITH COMPLETELY UNFINISHED SCRIPTS. WE HAVE A WHOLE GROUP OF CYNICAL FILMMAKERS FEELING CONFIDENT THAT THEY CAN MAKE A MOVIE THAT JUST “LOOKS LIKE THE THING” THEY’RE SUPPOSED TO LOOK LIKE AND THAT’S GOOD ENOUGH. BUT THE SPECIFIC PROBLEM OF CONVOLUTION THAT HULK'S TALKING ABOUT HERE TODAY IS ACTUALLY A PROBLEM WITH SOME OF OUR BEST FILMMAKERS AND THAT IS WHY HULK WANTS TO SPEAK UP. IT IS AS IF THESE GREAT FILMMAKERS WANT TO PLAY THE PART OF "THE MOVIE MAGICIAN," BUT THAT INSTINCT IS LEADING THEM TO A PLACE WHERE THEY ARE TRYING TO PULL THE RABBIT OUT OF THE HAT WITH EVERY SINGLE PLOT TURN AND REVEAL. TAKE JOHN CARTER, A FILM IN WHICH ANDREW STANTON SEEMS TO HOLD ONTO EVERY REVEAL UNTIL THE LAST POSSIBLE SECOND OF MATTERING. NOW, DOES THE STORY ALL PIECE TOGETHER LOGICALLY BY THE FILM'S END? SURE! BUT IN HOARDING THE STORY’S LOGICAL INFORMATION FOR AS MUCH OF THE MOVIE AS IT CAN, IT COMPLETELY DESTROYS THE DRAMATIC FUNCTION (AND INTENTION) OF THAT INFORMATION. WE WATCH OUR TITULAR HERO WALLOW IN DISAFFECTION FOR 2/3 THE RUNNING TIME, ONLY TO FINALLY BE GIVEN THE GOOD REASON FOR HIS BEHAVIOR AT A POINT WHEN IT DOESN’T REALLY MATTER. WOULD IT NOT HAVE BEEN SO MUCH MORE CLEAR AND EASY-TO-RELATE TO HIM IF WE WENT THROUGH THAT JOURNEY UNDERSTANDING THE TRAGEDIES HE HAS EXPERIENCED AND WHY HE WAS SO DISAFFECTED AND DISTANT? WOULD THAT HAVE NOT ALLOWED US TO EMPATHIZE WITH HIM ALONG THE WAY? ISN'T THAT MORE USEFUL THAN "OH, HULK GETS IT NOW"?

TO BEST EXPLAIN WHY THIS MATTERS, LET’S GET HYPOTHETICAL: IF YOU (THE REAL YOU READING THIS NOW) WERE WALKING DOWN THE STREET AND SOMEONE CAME UP TO YOU AND YELLED, “Quick! I'm your long-lost brother you never knew you had! Someone's after me! We have to run!!!!"  YOU WOULD BE COMPLETELY TAKEN OFF-GUARD, WOULDN'T YOU? NOW, WOULD YOU BE CURIOUS? WOULD IT BE CRAZY? WOULD IT BE EXCITING? SURE! BUT YOU WOULDN’T EXACTLY BE INVESTED. YOU WOULD BE SUSPICIOUS. YOU WOULD DISTANCE YOURSELF. MEANWHILE, IF YOUR ACTUAL BROTHER THAT YOU'VE KNOWN AND LOVED YOUR WHOLE LIFE SHOWED UP AND SAID “Quick! Someone's after me! We have to run!"  YOU WOULD BE MUCH MORE INVESTED! IT’S YOUR BROTHER, AFTER ALL. BOTH ARE YOUR "BROTHERS" BUT ONE IS A PERSON WITH WHOM YOU HAVE A SHARED HISTORY AND LOVE. YOU HAVE ALL THE RELEVANT INFORMATION TO YOUR BOND THUS THERE WOULD BE A SUBSTANTIAL ROOTING INTEREST. AND BETWEEN THESE TWO SCENARIOS, THE MORE DRAMATIC AND COMPELLING SITUATION SHOULD BE OBVIOUS, RIGHT?

SO WHY DO SO MANY MODERN BLOCKBUSTERS OPT FOR THE FIRST OPTION?

IT IS THE FAILURE TO UNDERSTAND THAT STORYTELLING WORKS THE SAME WAY AS ANY HUMAN RELATIONSHIP: IT REQUIRES TIME AND UNDERSTANDING AND A PREHISTORY OF REASONS TO DO THINGS. THE AUDIENCE NEEDS TO NOT JUST SEE THAT THE TWO ARE BROTHERS, BUT ESSENTIALLY "HAVE" THE SAME EXPERIENCES AND AFFECTION THAT LEAD THEM UP TO THAT POINT IN ORDER FOR IT TO PROPERLY RESONATE WITH THEM. WHICH MEANS THE AUDIENCE UNDERSTANDING THIS INFORMATION IS FAR MORE IMPORTANT THAN TWO PEOPLE SECRETLY KNOWING IT ON SCREEN. BUT FILMMAKERS KEEP MISSING THAT. THEY ASSUME EMPATHY IS JUST THERE. THEY STRIVE TO REVEAL. AND THEN THEY TRY TO OVERCOME THIS LACK OF RESONANCE BY SOAKING EMOTIONAL MOMENTS WITH ALL THE CINEMATIC BOMBAST AND GUSTO THEY CAN, BUT WITHOUT PRE-EXISTING CLARITY IT’S UTTERLY WITHOUT IMPORT. WE SIMPLY NEED THE NECESSARY CONTEXT.  AND WITHOUT IT, ALL OF TODAY’S BLOCKBUSTERS ARE NOTHING BUT THE CRAZY, RANDOM STRANGER RUNNING UP TO YOU ON THE STREET AND DEMANDING THAT YOU COME ALONG ON A WILD ADVENTURE.

IT'S A SHAME BECAUSE ALL A WRITER NEEDS TO MAKE A REVEAL WORK IS TO ASK TWO SIMPLE QUESTIONS: “WHAT IS THE SPECIFIC CONFLICT BEING CREATED BY NOT KNOWING THIS INFORMATION?” AND “WHAT IS THE SPECIFIC CONFLICT CREATED BY NOW KNOWING THIS INFORMATION?” AND DEPENDING ON THE STRENGTH AND VIABILITY OF THAT CONFLICT YOU HAVE YOUR ANSWER ON WHEN TO REVEAL. FOR INSTANCE, WHY WOULD GARETH EVANS WANT TO WAIT UNTIL TO THE END OF THE RAID TO REVEAL THAT THE HERO’S WIFE IS PREGNANT WHEN WE GAIN SO MUCH TENSION AND DRAMA KNOWING THIS FATHER-TO-BE IS IN HARMS WAY? THUS, THE INFORMATION BEST SERVES THE STORY BEING OFFERED UP FRONT. THE SAME IS TRUE WITH STANTON'S EARLIER FILM FINDING NEMO, WHEREIN THE MAIN CHARACTER OF MARLIN SUFFERS A TRAUMATIC LOSS IN THE OPENING, WHICH PERFECTLY JUSTIFIES HIS OVER-PROTECTIVE AND FEARFUL BEHAVIOR THROUGHOUT THE MOVIE. WE JUST FELT FOR HIM. AND WITHOUT THAT INFORMATION WE WOULD THINK HE'S JUST A JERK. RATHER TELLING IS THE FACT THAT STANTON ORIGINALLY WANTED TO HANG ONTO THAT TRAGEDY REVEAL (EXACTLY LIKE HE DID IN JOHN CARTER). WHICH HULK HONESTLY BELIEVES IS JUST A HUGE FAILURE TO UNDERSTAND THE FUNCTION OF CHARACTERIZATION. IT MEANS THE STORYTELLER WOULD PREFER TO SAY "Aha! I knew what I was doing all along with this story and you doubted me! INSTEAD OF EXPERIENCING THE BEST FUNCTIONING STORY. WHICH MEANS YOU ARE MAKING YOUR AUDIENCE SUFFER FOR YOUR WANTING TO SEEM SMART. BUT FOR A GOOD EXAMPLE OF HOW TO ACTUALLY WAIT ON A REVEAL, HULK ALWAYS LIKES TO TURN TO PLANES, TRAINS, AND AUTOMOBILES. THE DRAMATIC / COMEDIC FUNCTION OF THE FILM IS PURELY BASED A SIMPLE DYNAMIC: YOU IDENTIFY WITH STEVE MARTIN’S AUDIENCE SURROGATE AND THUS YOU ARE COMEDICALLY-STRESSED-OUT BY THE ANNOYING JOHN CANDY CHARACTER. AND SO IT IS NOT UNTIL THE RECONCILIATION BETWEEN THE TWO IS FINALLY REQUIRED THAT JOHN CANDY’S CHARACTER REVEALS HIS WIFE HAS DIED AND HE’S JUST A LONELY SOUL. AND IF WE KNEW THIS INFORMATION BEFOREHAND? THEN WE WOULD NOT HAVE BEEN ABLE TO ACHIEVE THE SAME SPECIFIC COMEDIC CONFLICT. STEVE MARTIN’S ANNOYANCE WOULD JUST HAVE MADE HIM SEEM LIKE A JERK. THIS IS SIMPLE STUFF, BUT IT’S LIKE WE’VE LOST OUR SENSE OF BASIC FUNCTIONALITY. WANTING TO BE THE MAGICIAN IS A FINE ENOUGH INSTINCT FOR A STORYTELLER, BUT IT CAN'T HAPPEN AT THE BEHEST OF THE DRAMA. OTHERWISE YOU ARE JUST GOING TO PERFORM A WELL-ORCHESTRATED SHELL GAME.

PERHAPS IT’S NO ACCIDENT THAT CHRISTOPHER NOLAN IS THE KING OF THE MODERN BLOCKBUSTER, FOR HE SEEMS TO BEST UNDERSTAND THE FUNCTION OF A CONVOLUTED PLOT. YES, ALL HIS FILMS TAKE THE FORM OF INTERLOCKING, OFTEN-NONSENSICAL PUZZLES, BUT NOLAN’S ADVANTAGE IS THAT HE CAN WRINGS THE MOST GENUINE DRAMA FROM THAT CONVOLUTION BY ENGINEERING HIS FILMS AROUND THE PUZZLE ITSELF. HE THEN DOES HIS BEST TO MAKE THE CONFLICT A METAPHOR FOR A LARGER HUMAN THEME. SURE, THE DARK KNIGHT DOESN’T MAKE A LICK OF SENSE WHEN YOU PUT IT ALL TOGETHER, BUT NOLAN SUCCEEDS BY IMBUING HIS CHARACTERS WITH DEEP-TISSUE ABSTRACT CONCEPTS AND THEN BRINGING THEM TO LIFE. THE NONSENSICAL PLOTS OF THE JOKER ACTUALLY RING TRUE TO US BECAUSE HE PERFECTLY EMBODIES THE GENUINE HUMANE FEARS OF TERROR AND ANARCHY. LIKE WHEN HULK DEFINED STORY AS COMING FROM CHARACTER, THE CONVOLUTED CHAOS OF THOSE EVIL PLOTS COMES SO NATURALLY FROM THE JOKER (AND DIDN'T SO MUCH FROM BANE BECAUSE IT WAS OBFUSCATED). BETTER YET, THE JOKER'S ENDGAME OF PERPETUAL ANARCHY IS BEYOND CLEAR AND THAT’S WHAT ACTUALLY RESONATES WITH US. NOLAN AMAZINGLY TURNED CONVOLUTION INTO TRADITIONAL STORYTELLING. IN CONTRAST, THE VILLAINS IN STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS DON’T REALLY STAND FOR ANY LARGER PHILOSOPHIES. SURE, THEY HAVE PREDISPOSITIONS AND STUFF, BUT THERE ARE NO DRAMATIC ATTEMPTS TO MAKE US REALLY UNDERSTAND WHAT THEY WANT IN A LARGER PHILOSOPHICAL SENSE. WORSE, THEIR ACTIONS BARELY SEEM TO CONNECT TO THOSE WANTS. THEY’RE MOTIVES ARE MERE LIP SERVICE, REFERENTIAL SOLILOQUIES LACKING ANY IN-MOVIE CONTEXT. THE END RESULT IS "PLOT" AND NOT STORY THAT COMES FROM CHARACTER.

COMPARE THAT WITH THE STAR TREK CANON’S GREATEST VILLAIN, THE TITULAR KHAN FROM WRATH OF KHAN, WHO NOT ONLY HAD A PHILOSOPHY THAT MADE SENSE AND WAS DRAMATICALLY EXECUTED IN THE INITIAL ACT, BUT WAS ALSO SOMEONE CONSUMED BY A PERSONAL VENDETTA OF KILLING KIRK. SURE, IT WAS JUST SIMPLE REVENGE, BUT THAT MAKES FOR A REAL, FUNCTIONAL THREAT. MORE IMPORTANTLY, THE FILM USED THAT CONSTANT THREAT TO MAXIMIZE THE DRAMA OF EVERY MOMENT OF SUSPENSE. WE’RE MADE TO INTRINSICALLY FEAR AND FEEL EVERY OUNCE OF KHAN’S HATRED. BUT STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS ONLY SEEMS TO SEE VILLAINY PURELY IN TERMS OF FORM. CUMBERBATCH'S VILLAIN IS A FRANKENSTEIN AMALGAMATION OF SEMI-RELEVANT FEARS: PART TERRORIST, PART DEMI-GOD, PART ANTI-HERO, AND PART EVIL GENIUS, BUT NONE OF THOSE THINGS IN WHOLE. AND AT THIS POINT YOU MAY GET THE JOKE OF HULK NOT CALLING HIM BY HIS NAME EITHER BECAUSE THE TWO CHARACTERS COULD NOT BE MORE DIFFERENT IN TERMS OF FUNCTION. THE MODERN INCARNATION IS ALL TEXTURE. AND QUITE HONESTLY, NOWHERE IS THE FILM’S MISUNDERSTANDING OF PURPOSE MORE APPARENT THAN IN A SERIES OF CHEAP NOSTALGIA PLAYS AT WRATH OF KHAN, BY OUTRIGHT RECREATING SCENES WITH MINOR INVERSIONS… HULK ASKS YOU A SIMPLE QUESTION REGARDING THIS: WHAT’S THE CEILING ON THESE KINDS OF EMOTIONAL EXPERIENCES? WHY DIVORCE THE EMOTION OF THE MOMENT BY TURNING IT INTO REFERENCE? BY TRYING TO FEED OFF AN ASSOCIATIVE MEMORY, IT INHERENTLY ROBS THE SCENE OF ANY SINCERITY BY INVITING THE DIRECT COMPARISON. IT IS “COVER BAND” FILMMAKING AND IT’S THE PERFECT METAPHOR FOR A FILM MIMICKING THE THING IT WANTS TO BE, INSTEAD OF ACTING LIKE THE THINGS THAT INSPIRED IT.

STILL, THERE IS AN INHERENT PROBLEM WITH EVERY SINGLE COMPLAINT AND RESERVATION THAT HULK HAS ISSUED SO FAR. AND THAT PROBLEM IS THAT IT ALSO SEEMS TO BE SUCCESSFUL.

AFTER 235 REVIEWS STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS IS HOVERING AROUND 87 PERCENT ON ROTTEN TOMATOES. NOW, THIS IS NOT TO IMPLY ROTTEN TOMATOES IS THE BAROMETER OF TASTE OR ANYTHING, BUT THE SITE DOES OFTEN WORK AS A GOOD BAROMETER OF ACCESSIBILITY (IE, DO MOST PEOPLE THING IT'S GOODISH OR BADISH). AND THOSE STATS SEEM TO INDICATE THAT PEOPLE ARE MORE OR LESS SATISFIED WITH A FEIGNING EFFORT OF DRAMA AND EMPTY GESTURES OF CHARACTERS BELLOWING WITH BOMBAST. FOR THEM, IF IT APPEARS TO BE THE THING THEN IT IS THE THING. AND ANY ATTEMPTS TO BRING UP THESE PROBLEMS OF DRAMATIC FUNCTIONALITY ELICIT NOTHING MORE THAN A SHRUG IN RESPONSE. IT'S THE KIND OF THING THAT WILL MAKE DRAMATIST QUESTION EVERYTHING. WHY DO WE FALL FOR THE RUSE SO EASILY? WHY DO WE MISTAKE CONVOLUTED PLOT COMPLEXITY OR TEXTURAL COMPLEXITY FOR ACTUAL COMPLEXITY?

AND IF WE DO, IS IT REALLY SO BAD?

AT FIRST, IT SEEMS LIKE IT ISN'T THAT BAD AT ALL. FOR MOST PEOPLE, MOVIE-GOING IS A PASSIVE EXERCISE AND THEY'LL GLADLY TAKE A WHIRLWIND EXERCISE THAT'S IN ONE EAR AND OUT THE OTHER. BUT HULK ARGUE THE REAL EFFECT OF THESE MOVIES LIES IN HOW THEY EFFECT PEOPLE ON A SUBCONSCIOUS LEVEL AND THE WAY THAT MANIFESTS THROUGH TIME. FOR INSTANCE, YOU EVER NOTICE HOW THESE CONVOLUTED BLOCKBUSTERS NEVER SEEM TO LAST? STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS CAN CRAFT SYNTHETIC MOMENTS OF HIGH URGENCY, BUT CAN NEVER SUSTAIN IT TERMS OF LARGER MEANING TO THE CHARACTERS. DID YOU NOTICE HOW LITTLE ACTUALLY HAPPENED OF LASTING CONSEQUENCE? HOW LITTLE OF A CHARACTERS EMOTION EVER CARRIES INTO THE NEXT SCENE? THINGS HAPPEN AND THEN THEY DON'T MATTER MOMENTS LATER. OUR DR. MARCUS CAN WATCH HER FATHER GET KILLED IN GRUESOME FASHION AND SCREAM HER LUNGS OUT, BUT IT DOESN'T EVEN HAVE A SINGLE BIT OF IMPACT ONCE IT'S OVER, FOR HER OR ANYONE ELSE. EVEN DEATH IS IMPERMANENT. EVERYTHING IS EXECUTED WITH EXCLAMATION POINTS BUT BECAUSE IS MOMENTARY AND THE END RESULT IS A SURPRISINGLY WEIGHTLESS AND MEANINGLESS FILM; ALL SOUND AND FURY SYMBOLIZING NOTHING. BY FAILING TO ENGAGE IN CLARITY AND CONVENTIONAL DRAMA THESE FILMS RARELY SEEM TO GET THEIR HOOKS INTO PEOPLE LONG TERM. THEY DON'T BECOME WORLDS THAT THE AUDIENCES WANT TO REVISIT. EVEN IF THESE CONVOLUTED FILMS THAT GET A SOFT PASS BECAUSE OF THEIR DELIGHTFUL SHELL-GAME AESTHETICS, HULK ARGUES THEY NEVER GO ON TO BECOME THE KIND OF MOVIES THAT NEVER GET A REVIVAL SCREENING 30 YEAR FROM NOW. AGAIN, OUR DEAR MR. ABRAMS IS INSANELY TALENTED, BUT HULK ALWAYS ASKS HIS FANS HOW OFTEN THEY REVISIT OR THINK ABOUT HIS PREVIOUS WORK. THE ANSWER OF "NOT REALLY" IS UNSURPRISING. HE EXEMPLIFIES A THOROUGHLY MODERN ABILITY TO DAZZLE AND THEN FAIL TO AMOUNT TO ANYTHING MORE THAN MOMENTARY, ENTERTAINING DISTRACTIONS.

AND HULK'S ONLY PROBLEM IS THAT HE CAN DO SO MUCH BETTER THAN THAT.

THERE’S A REASON WE STILL TALK ABOUT LUKE, LEIA, AND HAN ALL THESE YEARS LATER. IT IS ONE OF THE MOST WELL-CHARACTERIZED, OBJECTIVE-LADEN, DRAMATICALLY CLEAR BLOCKBUSTERS EVER MADE. LOOK JAMES CAMERON TOO. FOR ALL HIS FAULTS HE IS A TESTAMENT TO THE POWER OF "THE BASICS" AND BEING STRAIGHTFORWARD ABOUT AND OBVIOUS WITH JUST ABOUT EVERYTHING. SO FOR ANYONE CONCERNED WITH HOLLYWOOD’S ABILITY TO MAKE THE BEST POSSIBLE POPCORN MOVIES (NOT TO MENTION THE ONES THAT WILL MAKE THE MOST MONEY IN THE LONG PLAY), IT ALL AMOUNTS TO A MATTER OF FRUSTRATION. OUR MOST TALENTED NEW GROUP OF FILMMAKERS HAVE THE MOST INCREDIBLE CAPACITY TO DELIGHT AUDIENCES TIME IN THE MOMENT, BUT THEY'RE STORYTELLING INSTINCTS HAVE GIVEN RISE TO THE AGE OF THE CONVOLUTED BLOCKBUSTER. AND THUS WE ARE TREATED TO ABSOLUTELY NEEDLESS 2 AND 1/2 HOUR RUNNING TIMES, LAYERS OF MEANINGLESS MANIPULATIONS, AND THE COMPLETELY OBFUSCATION OF PURPOSE.

IT’S THE KIND OF THING THAT MAKES HULK APPRECIATE SPIELBERG WITH EVERY FIBER OF HULK'S BEING (A NOTEWORTHY STATEMENT GIVEN THAT JJ ABRAMS IS HIS HEIR APPARENT). SPIELBERG, FOR ALL HIS MANY TALENTS, HAS BEEN THE MOST CLEAR AND TRANSPARENT FILMMAKER OF THE LAST FOUR DECADES. SOME GO SO FAR AS TO CALL THIS UNBLINKING TRADITIONALISM A DETRIMENT (PROCLAIMING THAT IT SOMEHOW LACKS NUANCE), BUT SPIELBERG’S BEST WEAPON IS HIS UNCANNY ABILITY TO CONVEY HIS EXACT INTENTION, ALONG WITH THE EXACT INTENTION OF HIS CHARACTERS. AND IT’S UNDOUBTEDLY THE REASON HE’S THE MOST POPULAR FILMMAKER OF ALL TIME.

WHY ISN’T THAT SPIRIT ALIVE IN THE MODERN BLOCKBUSTER? WHY DOES ABRAMS IDOLIZE SPIELBERG AND MAKE A FILM LIKE SUPER 8, A COMPLETE ODE TO THE TEXTURE OF SPIELBERG FILMS AND THEN FILL IT WITH MYSTERIOUS, CONVOLUTED MOTIVE? WHY FILL IT WITH DISPARATE ELEMENTS (ALIEN STORY VS. KID STORY) THAT NEVER MAKE SENSE TOGETHER? HULK ARGUES THAT IF YOU’RE LOOKING FOR THE SPIRIT OF THAT CLARITY YOU HAVE TO FIND IT ON THE FRINGE OF LOWER-BUDGET, NON-HOLLYWOOD GENRE EFFORTS LIKE THE RAID OR ATTACK THE BLOCK. THESE FILMS HAVE ALL THE DNA OF POPCORN MOVIES AND AVOID ALL THE PRATFALLS OF MODERN BLOCKBUSTER’S CONVOLUTION. THEY THRIVE ON REAL STAKES AND IMPORT. AND WHILE DANNY BOYLE MAY RELENT THE “PIXAR-IFICATION” OF MOVIES, IT’S STILL HARD TO ARGUE THAT THERE IS ANY MAINSTREAM PRODUCTION COMPANY THAT IS ACTUALLY MORE CONCERNED WITH FUNCTION OVER FORM.

AND THAT MEANS SOMETHING. AUDIENCES AND FILMMAKERS ALIKE WATCH ON IN AWE AS PIXAR DELIVER THE MOST CONSISTENTLY GREAT MOVIES. EVERYONE WONDERS HOW THE HECK THEY DO IT. LIKE MOST GOOD ARTISTS, THEY ACHIEVE IT BY UNDERSTANDING THEIR PURPOSE. THEIR STORIES ARE SIMPLE, CLEAR, AND PERFECTLY FUNCTIONAL. THEY UNDERSTAND THAT IT'S BAD TO SAVE THE RELEVANT INFORMATION ABOUT NEMO’S DAD FOR THE END OF THE FILM. THEY UNDERSTAND THAT YOU HAVE TO SEE WALL-E'S LIFE OF SOLITARY FOR QUITE A LONG WHILE TO REALLY UNDERSTAND WHAT HIS MEETING EVA WILL MEAN (AND WHY HE'LL GO TO HELL AND BACK TO CHASE HER). THEY UNDERSTAND YOU HAVE TO SHOW A LIFE-WELL-LIVED BETWEEN CARL AND ELLIE AND THEIR INABILITY TO HAVE KIDS FOR HIS CURMUDGEONLY WAYS TOWARD RUSSELL TO MAKE SENSE (AND FOR HIS LATER ADVENTURE TO HAVE ANY MEANING AND AN ARC). REALLY, IS IT ANY ACCIDENT THAT THE BEST AND MOST RESONANT FILMS BEING MADE BY ANY STUDIO TODAY ARE THE ONES THAT HAVE A POLICY OF LAYING THEIR CHARACTER MOTIVATION CARDS OUT ON THE TABLE FROM THE BEGINNING? BY BEING THE ONE STUDIO THAT DOESN'T LAYER THEIR STORIES IN OBFUSCATING MYSTERY AND PLOT CONVOLUTION? THAT DON'T RESERVE THEIR BIGGEST INFORMATION MOMENTS FOR ICKY TELL-DON’T-SHOW MONOLOGUES? INSTEAD, THEY DRAMATIZE. THEY CRAFT MOMENTS THAT GO ON TO HAVE REAL CONSEQUENCE THROUGH OUT THE FILM AND FOR THE AUDIENCE AS WELL. THESE ARE THE REASONS THAT THESE PIXAR MOVIES GO ONE TO RESONATE FOR YEARS.

AND THESE ARE THE SAME REASONS THAT CONVOLUTED BLOCKBUSTERS DISAPPEAR FROM OUR CONSCIOUSNESS A FEW WEEKS LATER.

* * *

BUT THE BIGGEST QUESTION REMAINS: WHY ARE THESE TALENTED STORYTELLERS SO AFRAID TO BE CLEAR?

DAVID FOSTER WALLACE WAS ONCE ASKED “WHAT IS THE GREATEST OBSTACLE FACING YOUNG WRITERS TODAY?” AND HIS ANSWER SURPRISED PEOPLE. PERHAPS THEY WERE EXPECTING SOME DIEGESIS ON THE STATE OF THE BOOK INDUSTRY OR SOMETHING, BUT INSTEAD HE ARGUED THAT THE GREATEST OBSTACLE FOR TALENTED YOUNG WRITERS WAS “THE FEAR;” THE FEAR THAT SOMEHOW SOMEONE WOULD READ WHAT THEY HAD TO SAY AND THEY WOULD NOT FIND IT INTELLIGENT. THE FEAR THAT IT WOULD NOT INSTANTLY RADIATE CHARM AND / OR THE DESIRED EMOTIONAL RESPONSE. THE FEAR THAT THEIR VOICE WOULD NOT BE HEARD OR MADE DISTINCT. THE FEAR THAT THEY WOULD TUNE OUT. THE FEAR THAT THEY WOULD SIMPLY BE REGARDED AS ORDINARY.

AND OF COURSE THIS FEAR ALL LEAD TO A LITANY OF YOUNG WRITERS DELIVERING OSTENTATIOUS PROSE, OVERWROUGHT EMOTION, EXCLAMATORY DICTION, AND A COMPLETE LACK OF BEING PLAINSPOKEN. SURE, THEY COULD GUSSY UP THEIR WRITING WITH VIBRANT MOMENTS AND SPECTACULAR LYRICISM AND YET THERE WASN’T A SINGLE DROP OF CLARITY OR ACTUAL MEANING TO ANY OF IT. THEY OBFUSCATED AND IT NEVER ADDED UP TO ANYTHING (AND FOR ALL OF DFW'S EXTREME VOCAB USE, HIS PROSE WAS REMARKABLY DIRECT AND HELL-BENT ON COMMUNICATING EXACTLY WHAT HE MEANT). AND WHAT THE YOUNG WRITERS ALL FAILED TO REALIZE IS THAT THE WAY YOU BEST CONNECT TO THE READER IS NOT BY CRAFTING THE MOST LYRICAL AND DAZZLING ARRAY OF WORDS, NOT BY BEING UNCLEAR AND HINTING AT YOUR MUDDLED MEANING THROUGH PLEASANT-SOUNDING VAGUERY, BUT BY COMMUNICATING A SEQUENCE OF MEANINGFUL IDEAS IN A WAY THE READER CAN ACTUALLY UNDERSTAND.

AND IT SEEMS OUR BLOCKBUSTERS HAVE SUFFERED FROM THE SAME FATE.

THE MOVIES THEMSELVES JUST FEEL SO DESPERATE TO IMPRESS. ON THE LEVEL OF TECHNICAL ARTISTRY THAT'S TO BE COMMENDED, BUT NOT WHEN IT COMES TO STORY. AND YET THESE PLOTS AIM TO EXCLAIM. TO DAZZLE. TO REVEAL. TO PACK EVERY MOMENT OF STORY TO THE BRIM WITH TWISTING, OUTSMARTING PLOTTING THAT JUST ENDS UP HURLING THE STORIES INTO THE WATERS OF CONVOLUTION. PERHAPS IT’S SYMPTOMATIC OF THE ETERNAL NOTES-DRIVEN DEVELOPMENT PROCESS, BUT PART OF HULK SUSPECTS IT’S MORE SYMPTOMATIC OF THE AFOREMENTIONED FEAR. SO PERHAPS WE SHOULD ALL BREATHE FOR A SECOND AND REMEMBER THE OLD ADAGE OF FILMMAKING THAT GOES BACK TO THE GOLDEN AGE OF HOLLYWOOD:

“Don't impress me. Convince me.”

AS THE RAID HOPEFULLY PROVES, CONVINCING SOMEONE OF A CINEMATIC REALITY CAN BE SURPRISINGLY EASY (AND HEY WE HAVE ENTIRE MILLENNIA OF TRADITIONAL DRAMA TO DRAW ON IN CASE YOU’RE LOST), BUT THAT CLARITY IS ALL THAT TRULY MATTERS. AS AUDIENCE MEMBERS, ALL WE EVER REALLY WANT TO DO CONNECT AND UNDERSTAND THOSE BIG PEOPLE ON THE SCREEN IN FRONT OF US. WE WANT THAT MOVIE SCREEN TO ACT LIKE A PORTAL TO ANOTHER WORLD, ONE WE CAN SIMPLY DRIFT INTO AND BE A PART OF. SURE, YOU NEED VIBRANT VISUALS AND VISCERAL FILMMAKING TO ACHIEVE THAT, BUT YOU REALLY NEED CLARITY TO UNDERSTAND AND EXPERIENCE IT. TO FEEL EXACTLY LIKE THE PEOPLE ON SCREEN. THAT’S ALWAYS THE ENDGAME OF THE STORYTELLING: THE DESIRE TO REACH OUT AND TOUCH OTHER HUMANS IS THE CENTERPIECE OF ARTISTIC INCLINATION, BOTH FOR THE ARTIST AND THE AUDIENCE. IT'S ALL PART AND PARCEL OF THE INNATE DESIRE NOT TO FEEL ALONE IN THIS UNIVERSE. AND TO DO THAT…

WE REALLY NEED TO QUIT IT WITH THE CONVOLUTION.

<3 HULK

Film Crit Hulk's photo About the Author: FILM CRIT HULK WAS CREATED IN A CHAOTIC LAB EXPERIMENT INVOLVING GAMMA RADIATION, TELEPODS, AND THE GHOST OF PAULINE KAEL. NOW HULK HAVE DEEP AND ABIDING LOVE CINEMA.
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