The tip of an iceberg is the smallest part of the iceberg. What you don’t see is the massive chunk of ice that makes up the bulk of an iceberg, but which remains hidden underwater. That’s a perfect metaphor for movies. What you see is just part of the story. What you don’t see is what really makes the movie worth watching.
If you’ve watched any action/thriller film like “2012,” “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen,” or “Independence Day,” you’ll find yourself bombarded by massive special effects that act like cotton candy for your mind. It’s fun to see things blow up and collapse, but just showing massive scenes of destruction is actually as boring as seeing a train arriving at a station like the early films used to show.
Back when film was new, people were excited about watching anything that moved, even something as mundane as a train. Unfortunately, too many movies mistake special effects and explosions for a compelling story line. While movies like “Tranformers” or “Independence Day” may deliver the exciting visual scenes of carnage and destruction that you like, they really need to give you something more so all the exciting action on the screen actually has some supporting base for why you should care in the first place.
This story is the stuff that you don’t see in a movie, but it’s there. “Titanic” wasn’t just about a luxury ocean liner sinking. It was about a woman feeling trapped and being freed from her life towards exploring the world on her terms. That’s what made people go back to see “Titanic” over and over again. The story resonated with our hearts. Nobody cared about seeing the Titanic sink more than once, but under the context of the story, which we do care about, people did want to see the Titanic sink again because now the sinking had meaning.
That’s what’s lacking in movies like “Transformers.” Sure there are plenty of explosions and military equipment shooting and blowing things up. But is there really a story underneath all these special effects? Sort of, but it’s not a very emotional story. Even “Independence Day” was really about a man trying to prove himself as both a President and a father. He just needed to blow up flying saucers and save the world to do it.
“Titanic” wasn’t about a sinking ship disaster movie. It was about leaving behind your fears and being willing to embrace a new world. The sinking ship just happened to be the obstacle that threatened to keep the woman from truly mastering her life.
The tip of the iceberg is what you see in the trailers to get you all excited about watching skyscrapers falling apart or seeing an ocean liner sink. But a movie still needs to tell you a compelling story that relates to your emotions.
When watching “Titanic,” everyone can relate to the feeling of being trapped in life and wanting something better. When watching “Transformers,” everyone can see a lot of special effects and that’s about it.
Think of every great movie. What made it great? Was it the special effects or was it the story? Once you decide for yourself what the answer might be, the answer should help you decide what’s most important for your screenplay.