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Comment Re:It's all about a dead cat (Score 1) 1029

The issue discussed at the Slate story, and by extension the problem with _Save the Cat,_ is that in an attempt to replicate blockbusters like _Star Wars_ an extremely rigid page-by-page screenwriting forumla has emerged which sucks any creativity out of the process. As a result, deep characterization has been eschewed for flimsy plot elements that are shoehorned in to fit formulaic concerns, rather than crafting organic work that fits character and situation. Which doesn't negate your lament about storytelling by committee as far too common in commercial Hollywood filmmaking. However the work is diluted, whether by committee or by adhering to rigid formula, we're seeing the same damn story repeated again and again with nothing more than the flattest of cardboard cutouts for characters and absurd situations papered over by fast pacing, loud noises and flashy explosions.

I've read Campbell, though not the poem Parzival. Campbell has plenty of dissenters in the litcrit scene as one who's work is overly reductionist. But that's a side issue to the point of my top comment.

Comment Re:Here's an idea (Score 1) 1029

So, are you going to buy a copy of Pacific Rim when it comes out on DVD? Are you going to buy the soundtrack? Are you going to watch it again at least every year or so? Ten years from now are you going to nag your friends who haven't seen it?

"Mediocre" is often used as a nice way of saying bad, but I'm not using it that way. I really mean "mediocre", in the sense of "adequate". You go to a summer blockbuster movie to be entertained, and if you are entertained, then it is at least mediocre.

As for nostalgia, that doesn't apply here. As I said I've been going back and reading the classics *critically*, and finding numerous craft problems in them. I can tell you a lot of things that are technically wrong with the writing in Lord of the Rings, a book that I love and have re-read every year or two for the last thirty years. My point is that greatness and not making mistakes are two different things.

As for Forbidden Planet, this makes my point. In production values and special effects it can't hold a candle to Pacific Rim, a movie which spares no expense and uses cutting edge technology. But ten years from now I guarantee I won't remember Pacific Rim, yet if I discover one of my friends hasn't seen Forbidden Planet I will pester him until he watches it. And it won't be because I've forgotten how cheesy Forbidden Planet was.

Comment Re:Here's an idea (Score 1) 1029

I dunno about survivorship bias. Some of the books I've been re-reading are out of print and hard to find. In any case, I'm not saying the best books today can't hold a candle to what was published forty year ago. Not at all. The remains as it was. But you have to understand the changes that have gone on in traditional publishing. Yes, ebooks are a big deal, but an even bigger deal is print on demand.

It used to be that publishers had to take a big risk publishing anyone who wasn't an A-list author. The way it worked is that the publisher would do a big print run. They'd send cases of the book to bookstores, who'd put them on the shelves. After awhile if all the copies didn't sell, the bookstores would ship back the unsold copies and the publisher would pulp them. All very expensive.

It doesn't work that way any longer. It's now feasible and affordable to do much smaller print runs, and bookstores can order a few copies of a book, then if those copies sell order a few more copies. This has two big effects. First, it's a lot less *intrinsically* risky to publish an author than it was ten or twenty years ago. This means you don't need balls to be a publisher these days. You still make money on the blockbusters that fly off the shelves, but you can also make money on a mediocre, me-too book.

The second big effect is that bookstores can stock more authors. All things being equal, that should mean there's a lot more diversity in books on bookstore shelves -- but there isn't. Instead there's more authors doing more of the same. And these second tier authors are not by any means *bad*. The craft standard for these stories is very high, probably higher than run-of-the-mill stories forty years ago. It's just that as a whole it's more of the same old thing.

This isn't the author's fault; an author writes whatever appeals to him, then tries to get an editor to pick it up. It's the agents, editors and booksellers who selectwhat the public finally sees, and by in large that is well-crafted stories that bear a striking resemblance to some blockbuster franchise. This is not because anyone expects to duplicate the success of the Sookie Stackhouse or Twilight stories. They know quite well that's not going to happen with a "me too" story. What they're looking for is something that can sell a modest number of copies to fans of the big franchises and turn a small but reliable profit. That's a strategy that wasn't possible twenty years ago.

Movies of course are looking for blockbusters, but the essential similarity is that the producers are often combining well-known elements in an attempt to generate sure-fire profits.

Comment It's all about a dead cat (Score 5, Insightful) 1029

The problem with Hollywood films right now can be summed up by they're killing the cat in an attempt to save it. What do I mean?

There's a popular screenwriting book called Save The Cat - The Last Screenwriting Book You'll Ever Need that sets a page by page forumla for events within a typical movie. Things like, an opening image, setting the theme, introducing the hero, start of a B plot at the beginning of Act II, cross points for A and B plots, the great False Defeat, leading up to a Crisis of Self Confidence, and then the Big Payoff.

Blah blah blah blah.

Slate has a good article on how this book as turned movies into showdown of formulaic familiarity.

It's not like the forumla is bad, per se. But if every film had been made this way we'd never have classics like Bridge Over The River Kwai, Laurence of Arabia, 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Godfather, Apocalypse Now, yada yada yada. Because the formula is limited. At its heart, it harkens back to Campbell's Hero With a Thousand Faces thesis (which every /. nerd into Star Wars should have heard about). A fine way to tell the Great Hero story, but terrible for deep character studies. And that's what's missing in Hollywood film and why good television like The Sopranos, The Wire, Game of Thrones and Mad Men have become so popular (and let's not forget the first few seasons of Battlestar Galactica, which were fantastic).

In fact, George R. R. Martin's entire Song of Ice and Fire series eschews the whole Great Hero narrative and offers flawed characters with conflicting motivations told from multiple points of view, and - sorry to bring this word in on a tech site but... - that's why it's art. Which is also why Transformers isn't.

A lot of people have been discussing issues with the blockbuster cycle and financing, and that's all part of it too. But there is a serious dearth of experimental writing involved too. The whole Hollywood system is screwed up. But let's at least Thank God for HBO and other cable network financing of long form multi-episodic storytelling.


Comment Re:The boring truth (Score 1) 668

Right, when I see BMO, I think credibility.

I am not anti-vaccine. I am anti-Thimerosal.

I don't have kids, so I don't have to worry about what's in their injections. But I'm against unnecessary use of mercury. Even if there's no risk to humans whatsoever, ethylmercury is turned into methylmercury in the environment by bacteria.

You are an anti-fact douchewaffle.

Comment Re:lower the ticket price (Score 1) 1029

This argument is getting tiring. I'm not sure what prices are in your neck of the woods, but according to the Toledo Blade on 7/22/1983 ( it showed tickets as going $2.75-$3.50, non-matinee pricing. In 2013 dollars, that's right around $7.50 - exactly where a ticket for a non-matinee show is in this area.

This argument is getting tiring. The minimum wage hasn't kept up with inflation in approximately forever, and neither has the average wage. Unemployment is at levels not seen since the great depression. So the price might be the same, but it's a larger percentage of the average disposable income.

Comment Re:Here's an idea (Score 5, Insightful) 1029

Well, I saw "Pacific Rim", and it wan't a shitty movie. It wasn't a great movie, either. It was mediocre, in a particular way that seems to be becoming more common as businesses begin to feel more confident crunching the numbers on a work of art. It's happening in publishing too, as second tier authors churn out clones of The Dresden Files, Sookie Stackhouse, The Hunger Games, and of course, Twilight. The formula is "Like X but with Y" -- e.g. "Like Twilight, but with zombies." Some literary agents are even asking for this kind of summation in query letters.

I think this is because on a spreadsheet at least, it looks like you can make money without risk these days, if you just get the formula right. Usually these mediocre "me-too" books and movies aren't bad; in fact they often display a high degree of a certain kind of perfection -- the kind of perfection that consists of not making too many major mistakes.

Take "Pacific Rim". It's high-concept -- giant monsters vs. giant robots -- and the script and director work hard to deliver exactly what is promised. No time is wasted on back story or set-up; the exposition is somewhat crude and artless, but it is calculated to take the minimum time possible to get the viewer to the giant robot action. You have to admire the high level of artistic discipline required to predictably churn out something serviceably mediocre, but it means that you won't get something great. If *all* you're looking for in a movie is CGI battles between giant robots and monsters, it'd be hard to improve on "Pacific Rim"; it's just that most of us, even mecha-loving geeks, kind of appreciate a story that has a bit more creative excitement in it.

I've made something of an effort over the last couple of years to go back and re-read many classic sci-fi novels from the 40s - 80s, and almost without exception the great stories break some canons of taste. If you read a great novel critically, you'll almost always see that it has structural or artistic flaws; rules are broken, but so that the story can reach levels you can't get to by adhering strictly to a formula. I don't know as much about cinema as I do about books, but I bet it's much the same: you've got to be willing to try some things that are wrong, or questionable at least, to rise above mediocrity.

Comment Re:Summary, someone? (Score 1) 1029

It's a well-developed universe with something like consistency. That is terrible for hollywood. They'll want to pick out the prettiest 'mech designs, and then make them do whatever they wannt them to do.

Battletech is fertile ground for Machinima. Go forth and create before something like this actually happens.

Comment Re:No wonder ... (Score 1) 384

It can be, doesn't have to.

"Fallen" is a good example. It has a nice atmosphere and storytelling, but the real kicker that made it a memorable movie is in the structure of the story and how the end loops back to the beginning and makes you re-visit the entire movie in your head. I don't want to go into more detail because it would ruin the movie for everyone who hasn't seen it.

The structure of the story is one element of the whole, and like every other element, you can creatively play with it. If people stop doing that, it's a loss in variety. Same as for everything else.

Comment theories (Score 3, Insightful) 1029

but the bulk of box-office success ultimately comes down to the most elusive and unquantifiable of things: knowing what the audience wants before it does, and a whole lot of luck.

My personal pet theory is a lot simpler:

Not overfeeding them on the same stuff.

There are only so many times you can see the same movie and enjoy it. Hollywood blockbusters have largely turned into remixes of the same movie. If you know anything about storywriting, you've long realized that almost all Hollywood movies have the same script. Not just similarities the way most stories have, say, a beginning, a middle and an end, or a dramatic curve with a typical shape, but actually the same fucking script. Replace specifics like names, locations or technologies/species/etc. (giant robots/aliens/monsters/whatever) with placeholders and you'll see that they're pretty much all telling the same story.

And you can only hear the same story so often before it gets boring.

Comment Re:Can't see there being a shortage of fighter pil (Score 1) 270

But you're basically right. The fighter jocks are usually easy to fill. It's finding drone pilots that is hard. No one wants to fly a video game once they've learned how to soar with eagles.

Nah. They're relaxing physical requirements so that they can hire people to do that job that would never pass an exam to be an actual pilot. Or possibly even make it through basic. If you're going to be piloting a drone from U.S. soil, you don't really have to meet more than a basic qualification which suggests that you will be able to crawl out of the middle of the hallway in a disaster situation.

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