Thursday, July 23, 2009

It's JUST a story? Ah, no.

Yesterday I noticed on the on-screen TV Guide Night at the Museum coming on next. I set TiVo to record. I had not yet seen it and I’d also heard good reports about it.

Enjoyable, yes. Pefect, no.
Yes, I know, perfection is hard to come by.

I’m not actually going to review the film. Rather I wish to use it as platform to make a point.
While watching the movie, I wound up with several questions regarding the logistics.

First off, some of the museum characters/displays/figures could speak English, while others could not. Makes sense, until you consider that some of those who would not know English somehow did. And it seemed to be only for matters of convenience to the plot.

Second, I wondered what happened to some of the museum structures that would normally exist. What I mean is, when a full body Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton is on display, aren’t there support rods? Or wires from the ceiling, perhaps? And what about the fasteners between its own joints? The dinosaur in this film had none such structures and yet stood complete, posed. If it had these restraints on it, it couldn’t get up and walk around. How convenient. (It goes for many other displays, too.)

Said T-Rex also obliterated the front desk. I mean smashed it to hell. And yet, the next day, the front desk is unscathed, as if it didn’t happen. How? You might think this chalks up to the museum reverting back to its normal state. Well, that would work as an answer if not for the fact that other damages and changes do not revert. In fact, things amiss are part of the plot.

Perhaps your reaction to my qualms is: “It’s just a movie, get over it.” This happens to be one of my biggest pet peeves. And yet, I hear this response a lot. Sure, it’s a movie, but it’s not just a movie. It’s a story being told… a story being told about a particular place and time, one that has rules and regulations that should not and cannot be ignored. Especially when dealing with a basis in our own reality. If such details are not paid attention to, then the story is not composed properly. The “movie world” is real, at least for the purposes of the characters and objects within the movie…and by extension for the audience “buying into it.” But it’s difficult to "buy into it" when what’s being sold doesn’t fly.

If you’re still not convinced, I’ve thought of a comparison.
Let’s say you go out to eat. You’ve been looking forward to the restaurant all day, salivating over what delectable tastes will grace your palette. The food arrives. It looks great, smells pretty darn good… but, it’s bland. Someone didn’t cook it properly, perhaps? It doesn’t matter, though. It’s only food, right? Why do you need food to taste good? It’s just food and will still work with your metabolism, so why should you expect it to be prepared well?

Why, then, are we more often than not expected to swallow a half-baked story?

In the case of Night at the Museum, they do handle one of my objections: the speaking of English. It is explained that over the 55 year span that the displays have been coming to life, they picked up on the language from the museum visitors. There! Is that so hard? A quick, catch-all and convincing solution. [Except not ALL of the characters can speak English, so one has to wonder if it’s a matter of convenience for the plot [such as being unable to communicate with Genghis Khan and thus mayhem ensuing] or if we can blame it on lack of caring by some of them to bother to learn the language. Could be, but I'm guessing it's just lack of caring.

As for the other issues, they remain unexplained other than without them being there, the story will fall apart like the dinosaur would.

I think we should be able to expect more of our stories in terms of mental nourishment, don’t you? Even if it’s just “summer entertainment.” If it’s got gaping holes in, don’t present it as entertainment. If an author doesn't care enough to think about the ramifications of his/her own world/story, why should we care about the story at all?

Maybe it’s just me, but I hope not.
ADDENDUM: I have not read the source material by Milan Trenc. My apologies if the book does address the issues stated. Though glancing around on Amazon, it doesn't seem like it would, as the book and movie are apparently not alike other than the premise. (Imagine that.) And it's more of a picture book.


Danielle Mari said...

If you want a nourishing meal, don't go to McDonalds.

Mel said...

It's all about suspension of disbelief. If the movie's "holes" become that distracting, then it has bigger problems. It's a movie about museum displays coming to life; it's not cinema verite. ;)

Anonymous said...

It's NOT just you. That's why I don't watch many movies nowadays. Too many are either boring and annoying cliches of stuff I've seen many times before, or else they're so out of left field that they don't make sense. In neither case are they usually any good--good films are a rare treasure nowadays.

As for Night at the Museum (for a moment I thought you were referring to the sequel, which I don't want to see), plenty bothered me about that: cliched, yes (with the guy and his family, and rising to the occasion--seen it many times), and I thought the stuff coming to life was going to start much later on (almost like a disturbing thriller, akin to The Shining if not as good--or the same genre).

But what bothered me most was its skewed view of history, which seems to be the worst thing about the film. On the surface the point seems to be, "Learn history--it's not boring and dry, it's exciting stuff that really happened once!" Only they forget to point out that the victors wrote the history books.

For example, why did Larry treat the cowboys and Roman soldiers as people, and the Indians (I forgot which tribe, sorry) like wild animals that needed to be caged up? (For that matter, aside from the Romans speaking English, why with an English accent? You'd think they'd sound more Italian....)

Also, this was just one single comment, but it bugged me: "North wins. Slavery's bad." The Civil War was never about slavery, it was about the Southern states seceding from the union, and then the reason for the war was changed DURING the war. Besides, what other country went to war over slavery?

Anyway, sorry for the rambling (I do that sometimes), and I'm not trying to hitch a ride on your blog--long story short, the same kinds of things bother me too.

Peter said...

Danielle - True. I'm questioning why there even is fast food when it comes to storytelling.

Mel - Actually, what you're saying is precisely the point I tried to make. Somehow we've learned that it's acceptable to produce half-assed art.

Anonymous - No problem, I obviously enjoy a good rant.

Sure, I realize it's a "fact of reality" and that the commercial success is the name of the game.

I also realize that I'm a bit crazed when it comes to my expectation. I just find it a dreadful shame that we willing to create and accept subpar material.

Integrity can't be totally dead. Can it?

Anonymous said...

What we need is more directors like Stanley Kubrick (wish he were still alive), people for whom cinema was a labor of love, an art form, something they CARED about, not just some mass-produced thing to be sold at maximum price for minimal effort.

I don't think integrity's dead, it's just in the witness protection program. But you saw what happened with The Incredibles.... ;) It could happen. I mean, we can dream, can't we?