As a submarine sailor, I regularly counted on others of the crew to keep me alive by their attentiveness to duty. We all trusted our lives to shipbuilders and engineers whose meticulous efforts gave the crew confidence in their vessel, enough to spend extended periods beneath the waves. Our bunks rested within a forest of ordnance and we dined within a stone’s throw of torpedoes. A radioactive rock, tamed to our purpose provided electricity for every daily function. But times were few and far between that I pondered the dangers of my profession. Confidence in training, constant activity, and the camaraderie of the crew kept my mind on the task at hand. Confidence only faltered when we experienced a gap in the foundation of our trust. Only then did I count the many ways we all might die.
So too must the ship of fiction keep its passengers minds focused on the destination and away from examining the hull. And when those cursory inspections occur, crew and passenger alike must be comforted by what they see. Most movies I see today fail to keep me focused on the journey. I find myself examining the plot as presented, the hull of our vessel, and I shudder. Nervous at the patchwork plating, I search further and find more unsettling news. Certain scenes only make sense from a cinematographers viewpoint. The rudder, though pretty, won’t keep the ship on course through the treacherous waters of the movie’s premise. Before long, I’m reaching for a life ring of popcorn and eager to jump ship.
All metaphors aside, I just don’t understand why I look at movies like Ironman 3, Prometheus, Star Trek: Into Darkness and feel I’m in the minority. Have I become too old to fit the target audience? Or are these films really as flimsily slapped together as they seem? Granted, they offer dazzling visuals and earsplitting explosions, but the plots, dialogue, and characters all seem underwhelming and fail to survive the slightest scrutiny.
I’ve watched some cheesy, silly, whacked out stuff; but my favorites amongst that lineup never failed to keep my entertained mind afloat and cutting through the turbulent seas of their story. Never in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory did my critical mind speak up and turn my focus to the underpinning of the story. They shot for fantastical and whimsy and hit their mark. Enough made sense for me to follow and the characters submerged me in the movie enough that I didn’t ponder how deep we’d go.
A friend with whom I shared these opinions with asked me, “Do you want people to pick apart your books like you do these movies?”
Short answer? Yes. If my stories fail to keep readers engaged, I need to know.