COWBOYS AND ALIENS AND TERRIBLE SCREENPLAYS

July 29, 2011

(NOTE: AT THIS POINT HULK HOPE IT CLEAR THAT HULK’S “REVIEWS” NOT REALLY TRADITIONAL WAY IN SENSE THAT ONE WOULD READ BEFORE TRYING DECIDE IF WANT SEE MOVIE OR NOT… THOUGH THEY COULD EASILY SERVE THAT PURPOSE. HULK JUST TAKING LOOK AT ONE CENTRAL ASPECT THAT HULK THINK MAKE THE MOVIE SUCCEED OR FAIL AND EXPLORING THAT CENTRAL CONCEPT FULLY. THIS SORT OF WHAT REGULAR REVIEWS SUPPOSED TO DO, BUT HULK GIVEN THE FREEDOM TO DO WHATEVER WANT SO HULK DOES SO.)

HULK WANT TO MAKE ONE THING CLEAR TO EVERY POTENTIAL STORYTELLER OUT THERE:

THERE A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN SOMETHING BEING A MYSTERY AND HAVING ABSOLUTELY NO CLUE WHO ANYONE IS ON SCREEN.

GOT IT? GOOD.

PLEASE UNDERSTAND HULK NOT TALKING ABOUT NOT BEING ABLE FOLLOW A PLOT. THAT SOMETHING ELSE ENTIRELY… AND NOT BE A DICK OR ANYTHING, BUT HULK CAN FIGURE OUT PLOTS JUST FINE.(1)

NO, HULK TALKING ABOUT CHARACTER MOTIVATION.

WHAT THAT? IT SOMETHING VERY SIMPLE: IT A CHARACTER’S TANGIBLE GOAL/POINT OF VIEW WITHIN ANY GIVEN SCENE, AND USUALLY SPEAKS TO WHO THAT PERSON IS IN THE OVERALL CONTEXT OF FILM. THEIR MOTIVATION SOMETHING YOU INNATELY SUPPOSED TO UNDERSTAND, MADE CLEAR BY THE SIMPLEST OF CHARACTER INTERACTIONS. FLIRTATION (“I WANT TO SLEEP WITH YOU”), FEAR (“STAY AWAY MISTER!”), ETC. IT MEANS THAT WHEN TWO CHARACTERS TALK YOU UNDERSTAND WHAT ONE PERSON WANT AND WHAT ANOTHER WANTS. THEN YOU TEND TO ROOT FOR THE  ONE YOU LIKE. AND GUESS WHAT? THIS PERSON OFTEN WANT SOMETHING YOU AS THE AUDIENCE WANT TOO. AS FOR THE ONE YOU DON’T LIKE? YOU ROOT AGAINST THEM . THIS SIMPLE INTERACTION OF CHARACTER MOTIVATIONS THE ENTIRE BASIS OF CONFLICT. AND IN CASE UNAWARE, TANGIBLE CONFLICT = THE ENTIRE BASIS OF STORYTELLING.

COWBOYS AND ALIENS HAVE, LIKE, NO CLEAR CHARACTER MOTIVATION… EVER.

THE PROBLEM STARTS WITH FACT THAT THE MOVIE TAKE THEIR MAIN CHARACTER (DANIEL CRAIG) AND SMUSH TOGETHER TWO VERY BASIC ARCHETYPES: THE BAD-ASS POSTURING HERO AND THE MAN WITH NO MEMORY. IT MISCALCULATION ON THE MOST BASIC UNDERSTANDING OF CHARACTER AND STORYTELLING. THE BAD-ASS POSTURING HERO SOMEONE WHO “COOL.” TO BE SO SIMPLE AND COOL THEY MADE UP OF VERY SIMPLE MOTIVATIONS. THEY HAVE HONOR CODES AND YET TEETER ON THE EDGE OF GOOD AND BAD. AND THAT CLEARLY WHO THEY WANT THEIR MAIN DANIEL CRAIG CHARACTER TO BE. THE PROBLEM THAT HE ALSO “THE MAN WITH NO MEMORY” WHICH INNATELY A VERY DIFFERENT KIND OF PERSONALITY. THEY HAVE TO BE A DETECTIVE. A VERBALIZING CONDUIT OF EXPLANATION-AS-THEY-EXPERIENCE IT. HULK CAN THINK OF ONE OBVIOUS EXAMPLE, BUT IT AN ABSOLUTELY FIXTURE OF ANY STORYTELLING WHEN OUR MAIN CHARACTER HAVE TO UNRAVEL THE MYSTERY… BUT THE BAD-ASS HERO DOESN’T DO THAT. THEY BROOD. AND THEY WANDER.

THE NET RESULT OF THIS SMUSHING = A CHARACTER WHO WALKING AROUND WITH ABSOLUTELY NO CLEAR MOTIVATION. IT ABSOLUTELY KILLS ALL MOMENTUM AND NARRATIVE PROPULSION. MOST OF HIS INTERACTIONS INVOLVE FIGHTING PEOPLE THINGS AND HE/WE HAVE NO IDEA WHY HE DOING THAT. HE RESPONDING TO INSTINCTS OF A PERSONA WE NO TRULY UNDERSTAND UNTIL WAY, WAY, TOO LATE. AND THE WAY THESE BITS OF PERSONALITY DRIBBLED OUT COME OFF SO LIMP AND UN-REVEAL-LIKE. WHY? THE IN NAME OF… AMBIGUITY? AND ULTIMATELY, THE DETAILS FINALLY DELIVERED AS MERE LIP-SERVICE TO RENDER THEM SO TRITE AND OBVIOUS THAT THEY NOT WORTH THE MYSTERY WHATSOEVER. THE WRITERS MANAGED TO TURN THE MAN WITH NO MEMORY INTO A WASTED, AIR-LESS PURSUIT AND TURN THE BAD-ASS INTO AN EMPTY VESSEL OF POSTURE.

THIS POSING THE EXTENT OF HIS CHARACTERIZATION

HULK HOPE THAT THIS MOVIE PROVES THAT THIS SPECIFIC CHARACTER SMUSHING SHOULD NEVER, EVER HAPPEN AGAIN.

BUT HEY, IT WOULDN’T BE SUCH PROBLEM IF ALL THE OTHER CHARACTERS AROUND HIM WERE RIFE WITH MOTIVATION AND INPUT TO DRIVE THE NARRATIVE FORWARD, RIGHT? THEORETICALLY IT COULD BE THE BLANK NARRATOR WITH A COMMUNITY DRIVING THE STORY, RIGHT? PLEASE! RIGHT!??! I WANT TO LIKE THIS MOVIE!!!!!

TOO BAD THE OTHER MAIN LEAD AN INTENTIONALLY-ETHEREAL AND SOMEWHAT VACUOUS OLIVIA WILDE WHO SIMPLY SHOW UP AND DO MYSTERIOUS THINGS FOR THE VAST MAJORITY OF THE RUNNING TIME. FOR ALL HULK KNOW SHE COULD HAVE BEEN PRETTY GOOD IN THIS MOVIE, BUT THERE ABSOLUTELY NOTHING THERE FOR HER TO DO. SHE MEANT TO BE A MYSTERY BUT THERE NOTHING THERE TO BOUNCE OFF OF! MYSTERY HAS TO HAVE A CONTEXT AND THERE IS NONE. THEREFORE THERE ZERO CHARACTER MOTIVATION BETWEEN THEM. SERIOUSLY, WE MOSTLY JUST WATCH THESE TWO GRUMBLE BACK AND FORTH AND MAYBE RUN FROM ALIENS WITH THIS MYSTERIOUS AIR ABOUT THEM, NOT TALKING ABOUT ANYTHING. IT COMPLETELY, TOTALLY, INESCAPABLY POINTLESS. WORSE THAN THAT, IT’S BORING.

THERE A HUGE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN NOT KNOWING WHAT A CHARACTER UP TO AND NOT KNOWING WHO A CHARACTER IS.

THIS PERFECTLY CAPTURES THEIR DYNAMIC... SERIOUSLY

EVEN ON THE MOST STRUCTURAL LEVEL, THE PROBLEM WITH STAGING THIS MOVIE AS A MYSTERY THAT WE ALREADY KNOW WHAT IT ABOUT:  IT ABOUT ALIENS VERSUS-ING PEOPLE FROM THE WILD WEST. THAT IT. THE SPECIFICS ARE ONLY INTERESTING SO FAR AS TO DRIVE THE PLOT FORWARD. AND THE SPECIFICS NOT THAT INTERESTING.

CINEMA HAVE TO HAVE PURPOSE. IT JUST DOES. IF THERE A MYSTERY, WE HAVE TO BE WITH THE CHARACTERS ON THAT TRIP INTO MYSTERY. IT MOST REQUIRE INTRIGUE AND INTRIGUE BORN NOT OUT OF “NOT KNOWING WHAT GOING ON” BUT INSTEAD THE CONFLUENCE OF CONFLICTS. AND MYSTERY DEEPENS NOT JUST BY “LASTING A REALLY LONG TIME” (FOR FUCKS SAKE THIS MOVIE TAKES FOREVER TO GET TO THE ACTUAL CONCEIT) BUT IT DEEPENS WITH REVERSALS OF CHARACTER MOTIVATION AND INTENTION! EVEN WITH BIG CHARACTER TWISTS, THE REAL TWIST NOT THAT SOMETHING/SOMEONE DIFFERENT, IT THAT THERE A TWIST IN MOTIVATION. AS FOR COWBOYS? THE CHARACTER TWIST NOT AFFECT MOTIVATION WHATSOFUCKINGEVER, JUST IDENTITY. THE WHOLE MYSTERY/TWIST/STORYTELLING SCENARIO JUST A MOST BASIC FAILURE OF WRITING ON EVERY LEVEL.

SERIOUSLY, TWO OF THE LEADS ARE MOTIVATION-ZOMBIES.

ONE GOT THE SENSE THE FILMMAKERS REALIZED THIS AND TRIED TO CREATE A HUMAN DYNAMIC THAT MAKE IT ALL WORK.

ENTER: HARRISON FORD AS COLONEL SOMETHING-OR-OTHER. HE THE GRIMY, MEAN-AS-ALL-HELL RICH LANDOWNER WITH A SHIT-FOR-BRAINS SON. HE CRASS. HE MEAN. HE ALMOST DRAWS A MAN IN HALF BUT JUST HAS HIM DRAGGED INSTEAD. HE A SON-OF-A-BITCH FOR SURE. AND AT FIRST IT GREAT. FORD CHEWING SCENERY AND HULK COULDN’T WAIT FOR HIM TO BE AN OLD BASTARD THROUGHOUT THIS THING. MAYBE HE’LL HAVE A LITTLE TURN HERE AND THERE, BUT THIS THE CHARACTER WE GIVEN AND THE AUDIENCE READY TO GO ON A RIDE WITH THIS GUY.

… THEN HE GETS THIS BIG OLE’ GOOFY CHARACTER ARC. HULK IMAGINE WE SUPPOSED TO CARE BUT UNFORTUNATELY IT ONE OF THE MOST HAPHAZARDLY WRITTEN TRANSFORMATIONS HULK CAN REMEMBER. SURE ALL THE PIECES THERE, THEY JUST REVEALED IN A COMPLETELY BAT SHIT CONTEXT AND SCENE ORDER. HE SORT OF JUST SHOWS UP AND IS A COMPLETELY DIFFERENT PERSON DEPENDING ON THE SCENE. EVENTUALLY ONE CAN JUST USE THE PIECES TO SORT OF MAKE SENSE WHAT HE DOING, BUT IT TAKE A LOT OF FORGIVING ON AUDIENCE’S PART. MOSTLY IT JUST STRANGE.

WHY THIS HAPHAZARDNESS IMPORTANT? BECAUSE IT GO BACK TO WHAT HULK SAID BEFORE: CHARACTER MOTIVATION. IT SHOULD BE A JOURNEY. SOMETHING THE AUDIENCE UNDERSTAND AND EVOLVES WITH. AND THAT NOT THE CASE HERE. IT SHOWCASE A COMPLETE LACK OF UNDERSTANDING. THEY HAD AN IDEA WHO THIS PERSON WAS AND WHO THEY WANTED HIM TO EVENTUALLY BE, BUT HAD NO IDEA HOW TO GET THERE. IT LIKE THROWING ALL THE INGREDIENTS IN A BOWL AND CALLING IT A CAKE (THE AUDIENCE WOULD KILL FOR HIS CHARACTER TO BE MERELY CONSIDERED HALF-BAKED). AND IT BEAR MENTIONING THAT FORD AT LEAST GIVING IT HIS ALL. HIS SNARLING BADASS THE MOST FUN HULK HAD WITH HIM SINCE 1993 (AT LEAST UNTIL THIS CLIP). AND EVEN BY THE END HIS CHEESE-BALL TAKE ON THINGS STILL PRETTY DECENT IN TERMS OF PERFORMANCE. THE WRITING JUST MAKE IT ALL A WASTE AND THAT A SHAME.

NOT THIS BIG OF A SHAME THOUGH

SO THE THREE LEADS STRIKE OUT IN TERMS OF WRITING, SO WHAT ABOUT THE REST?

OH YEAH, THERE’S A “THE REST.”

ONE COULD TELL THE AIM OF THE MOVIE TO SET UP THAT STAGECOACH-LIKE CAST OF CHARACTERS THAT WE CARE ABOUT AND MAKE UP A BIG OLE’ GANG. USUALLY THE PURPOSE OF THIS TO GIVE THE MAIN CHARACTER A CONTEXT WITHIN LARGER STORY, SHOW THE FULL RANGE OF THE HUMAN EXPERIENCE AND PERSPECTIVE, AND POSSIBLY PROVIDE THE AUDIENCE WITH A FEW MOMENTS TO WELL UP AND FEEL SAD WHEN ONE OR MORE OF THEM DIES. BUT THE TRUE JOY OF ANY ENSEMBLE TO SEE THEM INTERACT AS A GROUP AND THEN GIVE THEM ALL MOMENTS WITH EACH OTHER THAT DEFINE THEM IN DIFFERENT LIGHT. IT THE VERY PURPOSE OF AN ENSEMBLE.

COWBOYS, MEANWHILE, JUST DECIDES TO PAIR THEM OFF AND GIVE THEM ALL THE SAME EXACT PLOT MOTIVATIONS. THREE MAIN CHARACTERS EACH LOSE SOME SIGNIFICANT OTHER AND THEN COME ALONG ON THE HUNT TO GET THEM BACK. SURE, THEY ALL SLIGHTLY DIFFERENT PEOPLE BUT THEY ALL HAVE TO MAN UP AND FIND SOME SORT OF COURAGE IN A VERY, VERY SIMILAR WAY. IN FACT, THE MOVIE LOVE TO DOUBLE UP ON THE SAME PLOT-LINES CONSTANTLY. THERE’S THE AFOREMENTIONED CRAIG AND WILDE MYSTERY DYNAMIC. AND HARRISON NOT JUST HAVE ONE BROKEN FATHER/SON RELATIONSHIP, BUT APPARENTLY THIS COMPLETE LACK OF DEPTH DESERVING OF TWO BAD FATHER/SON RELATIONSHIPS! NATURALLY, THE MOVIE MAKES THE MISTAKE OF WAITING WAY TOO LONG TO CLARIFY THAT THIS WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENING AND HULK GUESS THE TWO ARE SUPPOSED TO COMMENT ON EACH OTHER BUT IT NOT WORK LIKE THAT WHATSOEVER. IT JUST REPETITIVE SURROGACY DUE TO THE FACT HIS SON NOT AROUND AT MOMENT. THIS KIND OF STUFF AMATEUR HOUR BY THE WAY, IN THE MOST BASIC OF SCREENWRITING CLASSES ONE LEARNS THAT WHEN YOU HAVE MULTIPLE, SIMILAR PLOT-LINES AND CHARACTER MOTIVATIONS YOU JUST ASSIMILATE THEM INTO ONE ROUNDED CHARACTER WHO HANDLES IT. UNFORTUNATELY, THESE WRITES WERE SICK THAT DAY.

AND FOR FUCK’S SAKE THERE LIKE ONE ACTUAL GROUP SCENE WHERE THEY INTERACT IN THAT WONDERFUL ENSEMBLE-Y WAY AND IT LASTS, LIKE,  FIVE SECONDS. HULK SPEAKING OF COURSE OF THE SUPER BRIEF CAMPFIRE SCENE, AND GOLLY GEE, IT HAPPENS TO BE THE VERY SCENE WHERE EVERYONE CLEARLY EXPRESSING THEIR CHARACTER MOTIVATIONS FOR ONCE! AS RESULT? BASIC CHARACTER CONFLICT! HURRAY! THEY INTERACT. THEY BOUNCE OF EACH OTHER.THE CAN FINALLY CRACK JOKES. AND IT NOT THAT THE PLOT MAKING SENSE IT THAT THE CHARACTERS FINALLY MAKING SENSE.

UGH. IT JUST MAKE HULK SMASHY. THIS STUFF NOT THAT HARD. IT REALLY NOT. IT STUFF THAT JUST GETS PASSED ALONG THE CRAZY CONFUSION OF GREEN-LIGHTING A MOVIE WITHOUT A SCRIPT.

THE RESULT JUST AN ABSOLUTE DEBACLE OF A SCREENPLAY.

EVEN THIS PART SUCKS

… SO WHO ACTUALLY RESPONSIBLE? THAT WHAT MATTERS, RIGHT? ACCREDITED BLAME?

FIRST OFF, THIS MOVIE HAD LIKE 19 WRITERS (OKAY 5 CREDITED PLUS ONE EXTRA FOR STORY) BUT THAT MEAN ONE OF TWO THINGS. EITHER SOMEONE FUCKED UP WHAT ALREADY THERE OR NO ONE COULD EVER FIGURE IT OUT… HULK LEANING TO THE LATTER. ESPECIALLY GIVEN THAT THE PRIMARY FAILURE AT THE MOMENTUM-KILLING SMUSHING OF CRAIG’S TWO ARCHETYPES.

THE BIGGEST “NAME” WRITER ATTACHED TO THIS MOVIE = DAMON LINDELOF. HULK LOVED LOST AS MUCH NEXT HULK (ALBEIT SOME PROBLEMS WITH THE FINALE). BUT USUALLY HE MUCH MORE CAPABLE THAN THIS. HE NOT HAPHAZARD. HIS CHARACTERIZATION SO DAMN FUCKING STRONG. SURE, HE INDULGE IN “MYSTERY” FAR TOO MUCH FOR OWN GOOD AND PERHAPS THAT WHY THIS SCRIPT HEADED THAT WAY, BUT IT ALWAYS GROUNDED. BUT WHO KNOWS. MAYBE HE THE CULPRIT WHO TRIED TO IMBUE THESE MAIN CHARACTERS IN THE UNKNOWN WHEN THAT PRECISELY WHAT ROB THE MOVIE OF MOMENTUM INSTEAD OF ADDING INTRIGUE. HULK NOT KNOW.

THEN THERE THE WRITING TEAM OF MARK FERGUS AND HAWK OSTBY, WHO RESPONSIBLE FOR THE AWESOMELY-WRITTEN IRON MAN (JUST THE FIRST ONE), A GREAT LITTLE FIRST MOVIE CALLED FIRST SNOW, AND THEN A MOTHER-FUCKING STRAIGHT UP MASTERPIECE IN CHILDREN OF MEN. WHERE ARE THEY IN THIS MOVIE? HULK HAVE NO IDEA. THE WHOLE THING COULD HAVE BEEN THEIR FAULT, IT JUST THAT HULK CAN NO IMAGINE ALL THE PROBLEMS IN THIS THEIR FAULT. THEIR TRACK-RECORD TOO GOOD. THIS EDUCATED-BIAS? SURE. BUT THAT THE INFORMATION AT HAND.

WHICH LEAVES ROBERT ORCI AND ALEX KURTZMAN.

HULK THINK THEY SHOULD JUST GO AWAY… NOW.

HOW THESE TWO SOME OF THE MOST SOUGHT AFTER BLOCKBUSTER WRITERS AROUND? THEY NOT WRITTEN ONE GOOD SCREENPLAY THAT SHOW ANY SORT OF COMPETENT WRITING. AT ALL.

THEY JUST SEEM HAVE TWO GREAT CENTRAL RELATIONSHIPS (JJ ABRAMS AND MICHAEL BAY) AND INCREDIBLE PENCHANT FOR FINDING PEOPLE TO CINEMATICALLY-POLISH THEIR TURD-LADEN SCRIPTS. IN ORDER: STAR TREK (GREAT DIRECTION) AND MISSION IMPOSSIBLE III (SOLID DIRECTION) THE FIRST TRANSFORMERS (MEH). BUT EVERYTHING ELSE A FESTERING SHIT-PILE OF METRICALLY-QUANTIFIABLE ASS-RAPE: TRANSFORMERS 2 REVENGE OF THE FALLEN, THE ISLAND, THE LEGEND OF ZORRO (THE TERRIBLE 2005 SEQUEL) AND A LOT OF REALLY BAD TV RANGING FROM HAWAII 5-0 TO HERCULES: THE LEGENDARY JOURNEYS. (2)

WELL HOW ABOUT THAT? WHAT THE CENTRAL THROUGH-LINE OF PRETTY MUCH ALL THESE MOVIES?

TERRIBLE PLOTTING AROUND THE AIR OF “MYSTERY” AND LACK OF TANGIBLE CHARACTER MOTIVATION CAUSING IT.

DING. DING. DING WE HAVE OUR WINNERS IN THE WHO-RUINED-COWBOYS-AND-ALIENS-SWEEPSTAKES!

OKAY, AGAIN, THIS TOTALLY UNFAIR. HULK NOT KNOW THE REAL STORY. NONE OF US WILL WITHOUT INSIDE INFO AND ALL THIS JUST HULK GOING OFF EDUCATED BIAS. NOTHING MORE. THE FINISHED SCRIPT COULD HAVE EASILY JUST THE RESULT OF GOOD INTENTIONS BUT TOO MANY COOKS IN THE KITCHEN. BUT THE AUDIENCE STILL PAY THE PRICE ON END RESULT: IT A BADLY WRITTEN MOVIE NO MATTER WHAT FUCKED IT UP.

WHICH MAKE IT UNFORTUNATE THAT MOST OF THE REPERCUSSIONS GOING TO GO TO JON FAVREAU ON THIS. HULK PRETTY SURE THIS MOVIE WILL NO BE HIT. HULK LIKE JON FAVREAU AS DIRECTOR A LOT. HE NOT EXACTLY TONE DEAF WITH COWBOYS, BUT HE TRYING TO WRANGLE ATMOSPHERE OUT OF A SCRIPT THAT HAVE NO PURPOSE. SOMETIMES HE AIR ON THE SIDE OF WESTERN VISTAS, OR TOUGH GUY ACTION, OR BROAD COMEDY, OR WTF IS HAPPENING-LEVEL-MYSTERY. BUT ULTIMATELY NONE OF THOSE THINGS HIS STRONG SUIT. HIS STRONG SUIT = CHARACTERIZATION.  LOOK AT THE CAREER: THE IRON MAN MOVIES, ELF, SWINGERS, ZATHURA(3) THE STRONGEST PART OF EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THOSE MOVES THE CHARACTERIZATION. SO WHAT HAPPENS WHEN HE GIVEN A SCRIPT WITH ABSOLUTELY NO CLEAR CHARACTER MOTIVATION? IT PROVES THAT ANYONE TALENTED CAN HAVE THE RUG TAKEN OUT FROM THEM.

IT JUST MAKE HULK SAD…

OH AND BY THE WAY. IT 2011. AS MUCH AS WE NEED MOVIES ABOUT THE COMPLEXITY OR RACE RELATIONS IN THE MODERN WORLD, IT NO LONGER 1996. WE CAN DO AWAY WITH THE OBLIGATORY “RACISM IS BAD” PLOT-LINES. OKAY? GOOD.

GO SEE ATTACK THE BLOCK INSTEAD.

TRUST

ENDNOTES:

(1) HULK THINK HULK HAVE PRIMER FIGURED OUT… MOSTLY.

(2) HULK SORRY IF YOU OFFENDED BY ASS-RAPE TERM. HULK TALKING MORE ABOUT THE CONCEPT OF VIOLATION HERE. BESIDES, IT A JOKE. BUT SERIOUSLY, THEIR MOVIES HAVE TERRIBLE, TERRIBLE SCRIPTS.

(3) ZATHURA GETS REMEMBERED AS THE THROWAWAY JUMANJI SEQUEL THAT STARRED DAX SHEPARD BUT IT REALLY WELL MADE FAMILY FILM… SERIOUSLY.

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21 Responses to “COWBOYS AND ALIENS AND TERRIBLE SCREENPLAYS”

  1. Great article Hulk, except… it not 2010 anymore :)

  2. Jeff Shain said

    Does the director have any power to address what he perceives to be a bad script? Was Favreau aware of them when he read the script, you think? If so, why continue with production and if not, what does that say about his prowess as a director?

  3. FILMCRITHULK said

    THE DIRECTOR ALWAYS DOES HAVE POWER TO ADDRESS, IT JUST THAT ADDRESSING ALWAYS IN CONSTANT STATE OF FLUX. IN PRE-PRODUCTION THE PRESSURES BECOME IMMENSE, SETS BEING BUILT, LOCATIONS ALREADY SCOUTED, ACTORS LOCKED IN. THERE NO GOING BACK ON SOME OF THAT STUFF WITHOUT INCURRING MASSIVE COSTS. AND THE MOVIE ALREADY HAS TARGET DATE SO THERE NO PRODUCTION DELAYS SOLELY ON ACCOUNT OF SCRIPT PROBLEMS. THE STUDIO JUST ASSUMES YOU’LL “FIGURE IT OUT” CAUSE THEY THINK SCRIPTS JUST BLUEPRINTS. THE TRUTH THAT SCRIPT DECIDE YOUR PROVERBIAL “CEILING” FOR MOVIE.

    ALSO SORRY ABOUT SPELLING. HULK WROTE THIS BETWEEN 4-5 AM IN MORNING. :(

    • I’m talking about Favreau’s script selection process as it relates to the building of his career. I’m wondering how someone that talented could read this script and say, “I can make this work, it doesn’t need a thing”. Probably a question best posted to Mr. Favreau himself, I guess, but I doubt I’ll get an answer until he retires. Can you speculate, though?

      • FILMCRITHULK said

        FAVREAU COMMITTED TO PROJECT LONG TIME AGO (WHEN DOWNEY JR WAS STILL IN TOO!) WHEN IT WAS JUST A COMIC AND THERE WAS NO SCRIPT. IT WAS A “COOL IDEA.” AND THE SCRIPT WENT BACK AND FORTH IN MULTIPLE PASSES AND THEY FIGURED IT GET THERE, AND IT NEVER REALLY DID. MOSTLY CAUSE NO ONE EVER, EVER REALIZED THAT COMBINING THE SILENT BAD ASS WITH THE MAN WITH NO MEMORY WOULD STOP ALL NARRATIVE MOMENTUM COMPLETELY. INSTEAD THEY CAME UP WITH SEVERAL CONFLICTING NARRATIVE CHOICES THAT DID NOTHING TO FIX THAT MAIN PROBLEM. AND ONCE PRE-PRODUCTION START AND ALL THE TALENT ATTACHED, THERE NO STOPPIN IT. IT’S RELEASE DATE OR BUST. IT HAPPEN ALL THE TIME.

        HERE THE KICKER: IT WOULD LITERALLY BE BETTER FOR FAVREAU’S CAREER TO RELEASE A BAD MOVIE THAT COMPLETED ON TIME THAN TO DELAY A PRODUCTION AND COST THE STUDIO ADDITIONAL MONEY (THE BIGGEST DANGER IS LOSING YOUR STARS. THEY HEAVILY SCHEDULED FOR THREE YEARS. YOU CAN NO CHANGE THEIR DATES). HULK COMPLETELY SERIOUS. THINK ABOUT ALL THE DIRECTORS WHO PULL OR DELAY THEIR MOVIES IN PRE-PRODUCTION… IT HAVE DISASTROUS EFFECTS ON CAREER.

  4. Bevin said

    So where in the process of greenlighting a script does this sort of thing happen? I keep hearing about how hard it is to even get your script read, let alone picked up, and while I’m sure it’s different for established writers you’d still think at some point someone would go “hold on, this doesn’t make any sense, maybe we should fix it before we throw a gazillion dollars at it.” Clearly I have no idea how this process works, but I’m still baffled by the number of movies like this that get made.

    • FILMCRITHULK said

      WELL THERE TWO SIDES TO COIN. THE PROCESS FOR UPSTART WRITER INVOLVE MAKING CONTACTS, GETTING REPRESENTATION, GETTING READ, AND THEN PROBABLY NEVER GETTING SOMETHING MADE.THIS PROCESS RARELY LEAD TO SOMETHING GETTING MADE, BUT INSTEAD GETTING A JOB ON SOMETHING ELSE YOU NO WRITE AT ALL. AND IT INCREDIBLY DIFFICULT EVEN GET THAT FAR. ONCE SHOWCASED, COMPETENCY THEN CAN START ACTUALLY GETTING SCRIPTS MADE. THEN THERE OTHER SIDE OF COIN WHICH THE PROCESS FOR ESTABLISHED WRITERS, WHICH OFTEN INVOLVE PITCHING IDEA FIRST AND AND THE PRODUCERS CONSTRUCTING THE MOMENTUM FOR VEHICLE FROM THERE. THE MORE POWERFUL YOU ARE, THE MORE YOU CAN PUSH IT THROUGH WITHOUT FINISHED SCRIPT (WHICH MAKE IT DANGEROUS). AND SOMETIMES THE WRITERS NOT EVEN INVOLVED AT FIRST IT JUST THE DIRECTORS/PRODUCERS GOING FULL STEAM AHEAD WITH RELEASE DATE AND BRINGING WRITERS IN TO WORK ON IT AND JUST ASSUMING THEIR “NEAT IDEA” WILL TOTALLY WORK. IT THE PROVERBIAL PUTTING CART BEFORE THE HORSE. OH YEAH AND IT STILL EVEN REALLY DIFFICULT FOR THESE POWERFUL FOLKS GET THEIR FILMS MADE BECAUSE THEY HAVE TO CONVINCE THE STUDIO ON THE MARKETABILITY OF THE IDEA FIRST.

      • Ian said

        But how do bad things and writers get into this momentum vehicle in the first place? All the stuff you mentioned of the last two writers was barely mediocre until the Star Trek reboot, but they got there and got things made. So how do the bad writers and bad things get there?

  5. Lara said

    Interesting, everything you said about Olivia Wilde’s character just sounds so much like most of the other characters she’s played. I’ve never seen her give an interesting performance. I’m not sure if I’d go as far as to say she’s a bad actress because she’s generally believeable but the characters she plays always end up to be really boring and unrelateable and I’m thinking it’s mostly her fault.
    I mean look at her in House MD. They wrote this very cool character for her and then she makes her so boring and unlikable. So they decide to make her this tomboish character (up to the point where she’s bisexual). Surely this will make her more interesting.But nope, she’s still a bore. So they give her Huntington’s: now she’s this tragic, tortured person with dark family past. And guess what? She’s still boring and difficult to relate to.

    Now she wasn’t all that boring in TRON: Legacy but she never seemed genuine (at least to me). And there was a CGI Jeff Bridges in that film so it should be near impossible to look “fake” next to him.

    I guess what I’m saying with it is this: a film is the result of a collective work. I think it’s unfair to try and pin down the person(s) responsible. It’s apparent from your post that there are some (huge) problems with the script but with the right direction and good actors it still could’ve worked. We all now how good actors can elevate the shitty material the film is based on. The same goes for direction etc. The film has to fail on more than one production level in order for it to be the massive failure you’re describing.

    • FILMCRITHULK said

      IN THIS SPECIFIC CASE HULK NO THINK ANYTHING COULD HAVE REALLY SAVED IT. IT THAT MASSIVE A MISCALCULATION. THE ACTORS ACTUALLY DO EVERYTHING THE SUPPOSED TO BE DOING ACCORDING TO WHAT THE SCENE WANT FROM THEM. THE RIGHT DIRECTION WOULD HAVE MEANT A FUNDAMENTAL CHANGE IN APPROACH TO TWO MAIN CHARACTERS, WHICH AMOUNT TO ESSENTIALLY RE-WRITING THE SCRIPT. IN OTHER WORDS, THERE NOTHING TO “MAKE WORK” IF THAT MAKE SENSE. IT A FILM COMPLETELY DEVOID OF ANYTHING TO WORK WITH AND CHARACTER ARCHETYPES THAT DO NOT PUSH IT ALONG.

      HULK AGREE WITH YOU IN CONTEXT OF MANY OTHER FILMS. LOTS OF SCRIPTS HAVE WEAKNESSES, BUT THE DIRECTOR WILL PLAY THE STRENGTHS SO WELL IT OUTSHINES THE PROBLEMS. HULK MENTIONED ORCI AND KURTZMAN’S WORK WITH JJ ABRAMS AND IN HIS STAR TREK FOR EXAMPLE, THE CHARACTERIZATION SO ON POINT THAT IT COMPLETELY ELEVATES THE SHITTY NARRATIVE (OF COURSE IT HELPS THEY ALREADY HAD FANTASTIC WELL-KNOWN CHARACTERS ALREADY IN PLACE).

      BUT WITH COWBOYS, THERE JUST NOTHING THERE. IT A NON-STORY. THE MOVIE NEVER HAD A CHANCE. KUBRICK COULD NOT HAVE MADE THIS SCRIPT COMPELLING.

      NOW IS IT THE DIRECTORS JOB TO KNOW WHEN THERE A BAD SCRIPT? ABSOLUTELY. THE BLAME = COLLECTIVE. BUT WHEN DIAGNOSING WHY THE FILM FAIL, IT CAUSE OF SCRIPT.

      ALSO, HULK NEVER SEEN OLIVIA WILDE IN ANYTHING ELSE SO HULK HAVE NO IDEA. WILL LOOK INTO.

  6. not eb said

    “THE BAD-ASS POSTURING HERO AND THE MAN WITH NO MEMORY. ”

    Isn’t a successful example of this combo working your Avengers-buddy Wolverine? (Maybe you haven’t actually been on an Avengers team with him. Come to think of it, you guys may not actually like each other.) He a badass with no memory, but maybe where C&A fails and Wolverine succeeds is that Wolverine is a bad-ass towards the ends of finding out who he is. He uses the former for the latter. He’s also typically surrounded by a wonderful supporting cast, so there’s also that.

    • FILMCRITHULK said

      REALLY GOOD SUGGESTION AND THAT AS CLOSE AS IT’LL COME, BUT THERE KEY DIFFERENCE: WOLVIE GOT PERSONALITY COMING OUT DA BUTT. SURE THE GROWLING AND SILENT BROODING PART OF IT, BUT THE OTHER HALF DISMISSIVE ONE LINERS AND SOME SERIOUS GRUFF ENERGY. LOSING HIS MEMORY DIDN’T MEAN LOSING HIS PERSONALITY TOO. AND FOR SURE HE WAS A BIT MORE OF A DETECTIVE + HE HAD WHOLE CAST AROUND HIM THAT SPURRED ON THE INTEREST IN HIS PAST. MEANWHIL COWBOYS AND ALIENS WAS MORE PUTTING THE MAN WITH NO MEMORY WITH CLINT EASTWOODS LONE DRIFTER FIGURES.

  7. Zathura is an excellent film! so glad to see it get some love. it’s ten times better than Jumanjii. I work with kids and every couple of years I pulll that movie out and it always blow their minds. and it’s all because of screenwriting 101 and competent direction. oh please write that movie up. it would be so fun to hear your distinctive and insightful style applied to that almost always over looked bit of wonderful.

  8. Ian said

    I’d like to point out that the little kid probably had the most solid motivations. He just wanted the only person who was left alive in his life back. The only other good character was the preacher who died.

    However badass the Daniel Craig character was, the trailer and title gave away all the mystery – Cowboys vs Aliens, Olivia Wilde is an alien so don’t worry when she dies, there is a wanted poster for Daniel Craig so he’s probably also a jerk. So it was enjoyable because I got to see a bad ass be a jerk and blow up aliens, but it didn’t deliver anywhere else. At all. I thought Harrison Ford was especially weak – a super characiture of some mutant John Ford version of John Wayne from The Searchers, hating Indians and then accepting one; the scene where he tells his Indian manservant “I don’t remember telling you those stories.” and then gives a knife to the kid was so incongruous that I about got whiplash. And Olivia Wilde’s character was just there, and Mr. Hammer from Iron Man was just whiny.

    So mainly, I found the movie to be a bag of stereotypes thrown together. And that can work, but it didn’t here because they used a couple of the wrong stereotypes as you mentioned (mainly the amnesia shtyck). HOWEVER, man, I enjoyed the parts where Daniel Craig beat the tar out of everyone so much!

    It almost felt like a Bond movie in parts – he had the swagger, he had the skills, and he had the gadget. And like the last Bond movie, it wasn’t impressive when taken as a whole.

  9. Oliver Holloway said

    Meh, on your review. The movie was still fun. The structure of the Jake Longergan character was damaged, sure, but so are most folks in real life.

    The movie was good enough to earn a solid B. It held my interest more than Crazy Stupid Love did.

  10. prairie_oysters said

    I waited until Dec 27th to watch this. I’ve been busy, ALRIGHT.

    All of the above stated problems rang true and the result is a deafeningly boring film. However another textual problem occurred to me whilst watching it and that’s that there is absolutely zero benefit to the 1873 setting. Surely the gimmick of taking two established cinema genres – the invading marauders/alien monsters trope and the Fordian ‘oater’ – and slamming the two together should synthesise something new and entertaining, right? This one notion was the genesis of the whole film and yet it’s as flawed an idea as everything subsequently penned in it’s service.

    In a contemporary setting what weapon would most people equip themselves with? Er… guns. Revolvers. Shotguns. Maybe a grenade or two. Which is exactly what people had to play with in 1873. In fact, since this lot are all gold prospectors they’ve got a shit load of dynamite to hand which is even more fun. So all this film has done is swap cars for horses and flack jackets for waistcoats with pocket watches. These people are no less technologically advanced (where it matters – weaponry) than our good selves. In fact they’re swifter on the draw since every last one of them is packing heat. There was potential there for some level of humour – every last man has a piece – that was never lighted on.
    Then there was the opposite tack which would be that despite the technological upper hand of the aliens good ol’ Apache bows and arrows, spears and cowpoke ropin’ skills might confound a race that could vaporise metal and gunpowder but again, little is made of this angle except for some throwaway skirmish moments in the melee at the end.

    Apart from one line from Craig after he’s downed the whirlybird, “We were flying. I don’t ever want to do that again” (and he doesn’t, boringly – if ever an action beat was set up then not deployed…), there is next to no acknowledgement of how phantasmically weird aliens would seem to people in a rural setting in the late 19th century. These were God fearing people of rude education and yet the priest’s one supposition that they were facing demons was laughed off in a very contemporary fashion. I guess a concern was that if these people reacted like they were in The Crucible then an audience of 15-25yr olds would laugh at them, rather than identify with their plight. Which is a shame since characters in a contemporary setting are no longer allowed to be weirded out by alien comings and goings because 50yrs of cinema has educated away any surprise in a contemporary audience as to the behaviour, abilities, origin or appearance of alien monsters.

    And lastly, despite looking fairly convincingly like a 1950s horse opera with acres of dust, dubious facial hair on secondary characters, battered hats, chewin’ tobacco, gloomy saloons, etc, etc nobody seems to have realised that classic westerns were rarely, if ever ‘action movies’ in any 21st century sense. They relied plot mechanics quite other than sequences of sustained action set pieces to make them tick. So the inevitable action sequences in this film were hamstrung by having no real precedent to riff off. The point about Cowboys an INDIANS was that the odds were better matched with superior numbers on one side (and the blood lust that comes with the desecration of an ancestral birthright) being balanced with repeat action rifles and the need to defend the honour of corset wearing womenfolk.

    Give one side flying machines, lasers and hologram gizmos and the equation never adds up.

    And so I could go on. Flaw upon flaw upon flaw.

  11. [...] COWBOYS AND ALIENS AND TERRIBLE SCREENPLAYS [...]

  12. Oz Guttman said

    A point on emphasis on some of the writers you mentioned. The two writers you credited with writing Children of Men, didn’t actually write Children of Men. They did have a draft of the film, but according to a podcast interview with Tim Sexton on the Creative Screenwriting old podcast, he says that he and Alfonso Cuaron did a complete page 1 rewrite on the script, and those other two got screenplay credits because of WGA regulations i guess.
    Not 100% certain on the details, but that’s the gist of the story.
    Not that it contrast with any of the points you made
    Good read!

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