Monday, April 07, 2014

Sexy Tears

After four rainy days off, I go back to my day job ... on a spectacular sunny day. I think my work schedule is more accurate than the weather man as far as predicting sun and rain.

On to today's topic.

I rewatched Star Trek: Into Darkness, and I have some observations that I hope will be useful. Forgive my wee preamble, please: I actually like this movie a lot, and I'm sure I'll watch it many times. I don't want anyone getting the idea that I thought it was painfully bad and in dire need of shredding.

Uniformity of reaction:
One of the tougher things to do as a writer is to characterize. I mean seriously characterize, as in define and express character. To use a great example of characterization, every one of the Avengers has their own way about that. Part of that is great acting, but acting is restricted by dialogue, the situation, and correction–which means that some of the fault falls onto the shoulders of the writers and director. Into Darkness had characterization problems.
Writers are people (I know, I know, that's just crazy talk but let me finish) and have their own personal reactions to situations. They have verbal tics, like saying "this rocks!" when they like something (or "awesome" or whatever) and they may cry readily ... or stifle sobs rather than go into full cry mode whenever possible. Their own responses are what they know at gut level. The difficulty is to then write characters who react in imagined ways to imagined situations who are not only different from oneself, but different from each other, but still fall into what the writers and director classify as worthy of admiration. In Star Trek: Into Darkness, there's a monotone. Just about every major cast member sheds a sexy tear, including Khan. Khan? Really? Khan the Ice Rage Machine? This very specific, fairly rare, delicate emotion becomes so repetitive that it could be turned into a drinking game.
Characters need to react to emotional situations differently from each other, especially in film where it's all visual and the internal stuff is harder to define and differentiate between characters. In writing, the difference between characters should be crystal clear. Which means, if a writer wants to have any range to her or his cast of sympathetic, admirable characters, that writer has to imagine, before a word is written, how a hothead can express grief and passion in an admirable way, how a genius creative can express grief and passion in a different way, how a cunning, savage mastermind can express grief and passion ... you get the idea. And that's true for every emotion characters express.

The homage:
I was on board with the re-envisioning of the original Spock/Kirk death scene from Wrath of Khan, right up until Spock cried out Khan's name. The original Kirk, yes. New Spock, no. Spock could have gone animal (and I loved how the actor went into enraged gorilla mode on Khan's ass in the following fight scene) right there, total predator. He could have lost it in any number of ways. But the Kirk echo didn't work for me. Wrong character. Not the way Spock would have expressed rage ... with a word. Howl? Maybe. Or total silence, or a growl .... lots of choices. None of them taken. I'm not sure why. Because they went a different route with the New Kirk. I'm scared? Gorgeous. Beautiful. Human. Very unlike the composed and calm Old Spock in the same situation. So why not give New Spock the same option–to be Vulcan-ish, but in the way we don't see Vulcans very often because it's so rare for that primitive side of them to escape? And what is a primitive Vulcan? I propose it's the mindless gorilla with the looping fist strikes that will smash an enemy to unrecognizable pulp before it gets its mind back, and that sort of critter doesn't have words. Yes, yes, Spock is half-human, but that's not what makes him different from Kirk and the other characters. It's his Vulcan nature, a nature so volatile that as-a-race they have tied themselves up and caged themselves because they fear it so much. So, writers and directors of Star Trek–show us why they're scared of it. Maybe there's something even scarier, something truly alien in there that Spock would have revealed. Lost opportunity.

The take-away:
Working out who characters are is something writers like me, who don't outline, discover as we go along (and then sometimes we have to go back and make changes, which is annoying! but necessary.) During the formative period, characters may sound and act the same. Usually they sound and act like whatever idealized heroes we have in our heads. If the writer has been at the game a long time, they may have their go-to archetypes and have some variety in the beginning. Some writers rely on what they've seen and read, so they'll have a cast that strongly resembles, say, the Avengers, or the Fellowship, or Griffindors .... I think that's better than having characters that are all Dirty Harry, but still. Characters are the heart of great stories, and some attention ought to be paid to the important details. Those details aren't in hair and eye color, or shallow details like whether they're a clothes horse or like curry (unless they take it to radical extremes–then it becomes really important!) The details are in the devils, and angels, inside of them. Every scene that evokes powerful emotions in characters is an opportunity to express the uniqueness and beauty of living creatures when they're at their best, or their worst. I hope more writers take advantage of those opportunities, because I want to see what happens when they do.

No comments: