What happened to the magic? Why are characters so unengaging? (1 reply)
I watched 'The Lady and The Tramp' recently. Properly. With a Bugs Bunny cartoon as the opening film. And on a proper projection screen with 7.1 sound. None of that squinting into a little box in the corner of the room. Was it as magic as I remembered from when I saw it for the first time as a child?
It drew me in. We were emotionally involved in those dogs. The film spends acres of footage establishing their characters before the bad guys close in. By the time bad things start to happen, they really mean something to us.
I have not seen many films made in the past ten years that draw one in and take time to establish character. The roles seem to have been plonked down in the middle of the action without thought. Without backstory. Without a B story. They do not 'Save the Cat' as the saying goes. We have absolutely no reason to even like them.
If I go back to the better films of past ages, The Third Man, The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane, or go as far forward as The Road to Perdition and then BR-2049 and of course so many films in between. Those films take time to establish character before the action begins and so they mean something to us.
Elsewhere someone asked 'What makes a film cinematic?' and that question inspired me here - perhaps that feeling of becoming immersed in a film can only come if we are first emotionally engaged.
Perhaps because we are thrown into the action without first getting to know and like the characters, we remain outside the action and are mere observers and are never asked to invest any emotional capital in the film.
"Oh look! Another space monkey has exploded!"
Personally, my dear, I don't give a damn!
Maybe this is too commercial of an example, but just compare "Die Hard" to "Die Hard 3"... the first movie took its time to set-up the character and the situation, the third movie begins with a bunch of people we don't know getting killed. But I guess with a sequel, you can assume that the character set-up was in the earlier movie -- it works for "The Road Warrrior" (Mad Max 2) to jump into the action quickly after the prologue. I guess I am citing action/suspense genre movies because setting up the story and characters are essential to creating and sustaining tension later; it has to be a well-built, like a clockwork mechanism. "North by Northwest" is by design, a lightweight exercise in charm and suspense, but even there, the action and the main character are tied together despite everything hinging on coincidence -- he's an ad man who lies for a living getting caught up in a huge lie, he's a commitment-avoiding divorced man who becomes emotionally committed to the woman in the story. Same goes for the script to "Rear Window", action and character are linked.