Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Wanted: Coherent Narrative

I went to the drive-in this past weekend (yes, we have a drive-in! It's awesome!) to see Pirates of the Caribbean: World's End. We had seen Dead Man's Chest the year before, so we thought it was fitting.

The movie was awful. It was made tolerable by quantities of Jack Sparrow's favorite beverage. Parts of it were certainly entertaining, but we kept asking each other, "What just happened?" and declaring "I don't understand what's going on!"*

I don't normally delve into the world of film (not my expertise), but the third film brought something to mind that I wanted to explore: the power of good storytelling. Good storytelling (visually or verbally) is more than just shiny flashy pretty things and catchy words. It requires a coherent narrative. And that coherent narrative was something that the third Pirates film was lacking. The first film was fun, had a fun story, and was thoroughly entertaining. The second and third? A ploy for more money because the structure broke down somewhere in the second one.

Let us compare it to another famous series: Harry Potter. It comes easily to mind because for one, I'm rereading them, and for another, they are one of the bestselling series of all time. Each novel has a self-contained narrative arc, but the series works together to form a whole, coherent narrative. Little things that showed up in one book return later. J.K. Rowling doesn't just randomly spring twists on her reader; she carefully sets them up so that the reader says to herself, "Ah! I remember Mrs. Figg now! That's why she's there!" Rowling is clever with her storytelling, and she is a master of the art of storytelling.

When creating a good story, remember: you can't just spring things randomly on your viewer/reader--if you want to surprise them really well, you set it up before hand so that the surprise is even better because the evidence was right under their noses. And it doesn't come from nowhere and entail the characters acting in ways that the reader/viewer doesn't expect.

*What was up with the random wedding in the middle of the battle? And how many times did each character double-cross the other characters? And WHY did Calypso turn into a bunch of crabs?


g-girl said...

you make me glad that I didn't want to see this one. This seems to be the summer of sequels/series. I'm wondering when Hollywood is going to have an original thought again (is that even possible?) and not just take something from tv or use the same exact formula and just call it oceans 13 or pirates 3.

Justin Ray said...

I enjoyed pretty much everything about the first Pirates movie. I found the second so thrillingly funny and full of swashbuckling suspense that I could forgive anything else. I was expecting something like a disorganized, teenage-like climax with the third film, and that is what I got.

The thing that disappointed me the most about the third movie was the recycled music. The score and Johnny Depp made this franchise. The first score was phenomenal, the second score was even better, but the third score was just the second one again. I had music expectations that were left hanging.

I have more to say, but this comment is getting cut short by supper. Tata.

the secret knitter said...

I see more than my share of films. POTC: AWE is one of the more bloated examples of the problems Hollywood is having telling stories.

I think part of the confusion with the last two films is that the viewers are assumed to be well versed in the films' lore. I kept getting confused who some people were.

Of course, these are essentially noise and light machines, so who cares about story, right? My biggest problem with the third is that it's so mechanical and pushes the characters to the side.

I could go on all day. So, in summation, I agree. :)

Justin Ray said...

To finish my comment, I was going to say that the second and third films took the franchise to a level of silliness that was beneficially absent from the first film. The first film was quirky (relatively believable aside from the whole cursed corpses thing). The second was silly (repeater cannons, crackens, and seashell-heads?). The third was downright absurd (ship-carrying crabs, Calypso, sailing in an impossible maelstrom, and Shipweck freakin' Cove?).

It reminds me of the roleplay games we've had on the forum. Things start out normal. Then the upstaging begins. We go from people to superheroes to demigods to omnipotent divine forces and things get just plain ridiculous.