05 July 2010

By all rights, "Knight and Day" should be a thoroughly crappy movie: it's a string of cliche's. The action/romantic-comedy movie opens up in an airport where our heroes meet by accident and and are chased by spies and assasins who want an increadibly-valuable-but-also-highly-portable-object that one of them carries around.
I think someone had a name for that.

The movie includes car chases, and shootouts in exotic locations and it turns out the mysterious stranger was really telling the truth all along. Oh, and I'd hate to spoil the ending, but those crazy kids wind up together.

Thing is, I had a lot of fun watching it, maybe because it starred these guys.In "Illusion of Life" Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston claimed the building blocks for (their) Disney Pictures were Personalities; that the beginning and the end of a good film was interesting characters, as opposed to plot, pacing, the world the story takes place in, research, context or meaning. Granted, Thomas & Johnston's viewpoint was that largely of actors. Also, if such a philosophy produced these profitable and widely beloved franchises, who am I to argue?
From a traditional screenwriting standpoint, "Bambi", "Pooh" and "the Jungle Book" aren't very coherent screen stories.

In Jungle Book, Mowgli doesn't pursue his desire to stay in the Jungle so much as run into one eccentric personality after another. Winnie-the-Pooh's many adventures have little or no relation to each other and are padded out with the Sherman Brothers' Music... well just because. Bambi has no desire or dramatic need throughout his story, and consequently, no goal to challenge or obstruct, making the entire film a cross between a ballet and a tone poem of beautiful, though tenuously related, animated sequences.

But rather like Diaz and Cruz, the characters in these films are fun, interesting to watch, entertaining, even compelling. From cute/obnoxious Thumper to Tiggers that don't like Honey, these are Stars.

Even "bad movies" have their memorable stars.

So is a collection of good characters enough to make a bona-fide good story as Thomas and Johnston seem to claim, or is it enough to persuade an audience to forgive an otherwise dumb or crappy story?


  1. Thompson and Johnston's oversimplification of multiple factors that determine a movie's "good"ness into either/or logical fallacies such as this typical of their work, but not beyond hope.

    False dichotomies need deconstruction. If you haven't read Cholodenko's Illusion of Life 1 (vs. 2), you might find their approaches more conducive to animation that Thomas and Johnston.

    But, ignoring/accepting the either/or fallacy in the question, yes, interesting characters can make a film great for me. Take Jarmusch's Stranger than Paradise, e.g.

  2. I agree with all that. Though it's certainly not just one or the other, film is a great way profiling interesting characters. In my opinion, there are lots of ways of making compelling cinema. Classic storytelling is just the tip of the iceberg.

    But that's why I've always preferred Spider-Man 3, which, though very uneven, gives pretty thorough and interesting profiles of characters and relationships, over Spider-man 2, which relies on more classic storytelling techniques, but ultimately has a plot which is even more uneven. In my humble opinion.

    Film as a medium just isn't explored to its full potential. Storytelling's great, but it's a visual medium first and foremost. I think there's a lot of room for experimentation with abstract and even nonrepresentational film, especially with the help of animation, which easily would allow this to happen.

  3. Josh,
    Absolutely right (though I know people who would want to have words about Spider-Man 3, there's always room to explore the bounds of a chosen medium, especially, as you pointed out, when one finds you aren't bound to a specific format (like narritive).
    Thanks for the tip about Cholodenko, I look forward to reading it. Would you say it's more of a discourse from a critic's standpoint or that of a producer's ("producer" meaning they who actually make the films, not the "Hollywood businessperson" sense of the word)?