The Art of Scifi
The Art of Scifi:
We are in a very strange stage of American society where there are filmmakers who say, “there’s no story” or “I can’t make a script that’s just what’s happening” or, even, “I’m a filmmaker and no matter how far down the line I go, I will never make the perfect movie.” As if making something perfect is the point. But it’s not. And to make something perfect has little to do with the art of storytelling or the art of making a movie.
When I was a kid, this was an unfortunate notion that was taught to kids like me, who said, “I have to watch all the movies in order, otherwise I’ll never have a story of my own.” But what a horrible way to make someone feel. I remember watching ET and believing it was the first movie I had ever seen. Sure, it was a good movie, but it had not made me feel anything about being a kid. The Big Lebowski had been around, and it was hilarious and awesome, but it still didn’t make me feel any sort of thrill. Maybe my movie of choice was Silent Movie, which had a good story but was a damn funny movie, too, and made me laugh all the way through. All of these movies gave me a great story but I didn’t get a thrill.
Why do we need a great story? I don’t know if the movies we have right now are necessarily the most well-made movies we’ve had, but they’re still movies, not magic. We’re so used to not telling a great story that we take the rush we get from having a great story and forget to think about storytelling, which is no simple thing. It’s not as if movies were made entirely without stories and they worked, either. There’s still some of that. But movies weren’t made perfectly through a narrative structure that was not just what was happening in the world. Movies weren’t made by people who were afraid to make the wrong decision. But because those decisions could have made the story perfect, we seem to have a desire to skip that altogether. And it’s still getting worse.
A few of the most recent movies I’ve seen have taken everything that I like about movies but were neither great stories or well-made movies. I’m not necessarily saying that one should skip any story that isn’t a perfectly formed story. It can be a great story, and it can be well-made, but there have been movies lately that haven’t been great stories, and the story is usually just a weird detour or minor character move or some sight gag, and it doesn’t make a great movie. Movies have to make you feel something to be truly great. If the story is nothing, it’s just another movie. And no matter what kind of movies you make, it seems like the goal to some filmmakers, when they make a movie, is not to make a great movie. The goal is not to make a movie that will go down as one of the best movies of all time. The goal is to make something that makes people say, “That movie was the best movie I saw.”
Movie makers like this think that making a movie that people will be talking about and telling their friends about forever will allow them to continue to make great movies, no matter what the last film was. And there is probably some truth to that. But it’s mostly like anything else. You can make the best movie you’ve ever made and not feel like it was amazing, and it can be just another great movie.
There are a lot of ways a good movie can go wrong, but what you probably wouldn’t be saying, were you the filmmaker making the movie, is that you were only trying to make something that will be talked about. Or, at least, you would be telling yourself a different story than the story you’re telling everyone else.