Everything Must be Interesting

What makes a movie suck? Look back at the movies you disliked and at some point the movie lost your interest. Here are some of the reasons why.

Movies are an experience. When we watch a good movie, we feel like we’re participating in the story. We know we’re not Indiana Jones or Hans Solo, but we root for them because they’re like our alter egos. We want them to succeed.

In comparison, when we watch a bad movie, we don’t care about the characters or the story. What happens is that a bad movie loses our interest.

The most obvious way a movie can lose our interest is by having nothing happening. This is why Hollywood loves action films because everyone can get interested in seeing someone being pursued by someone or something else. Car chases and crashes, explosions, missiles, and death-defying deeds capture our attention simply because they’re interesting to watch.

Where bad movies fail is that’s all they give us. More explosions, more action, more eye-candy, but no reason to watch it. The latest “Transformers” movie gives its fans exactly what they want to see: giant robots fighting. There’s not much of a story there and if you don’t know about the Transformer storyline, the movie just seems like action for the sake of action since you can’t tell the good robots from the bad ones. But if you know this Transformer story, then you’ll be interested in seeing your favorite characters fight it out.

Although “Transformers” won’t win any Best Picture award, it does what it sets out to do, which is to entertain its fans. If you’re not a fan, you won’t like the movie. So the first lesson is that a good movie makes you care about the action.

Movies based on TV shows or comic books have a built-in audience so it’s easy for that audience to care about a movie. Any movie without a built-in audience must take time to establish its characters to make you care about who they are and what they want. Above all, a good movie also makes you want the hero to succeed because you sympathize with them.

A second reason why bad movies suck is believability. While nobody believes that the Death Star is real, every movie has its rules. The hero can’t be shown saving the day by suddenly showing off his knowledge of plastic explosives unless we learn that earlier in the movie. When a movie lets its hero do something to save the day through some outrageous skill that isn’t believable, we feel cheated.

This is why the first two prequels of Stars Wars suck so badly. In those two movies, the Jedi can do everything, but we’re never shown a hint of these powers until they actually come into play. At that time, these Jedi powers just seem too outrageous to be believed.

In the original Star Wars, Obiwan-Konobi uses the Force to get past the stormtroopers by speaking the words for him. That comes out of the blue, but it just solves a minor problem that we accept it. In “The Phantom Menace,” the opening scene shows a locked room with poisonous gas trying to kill the two Jedis. Suddenly the Force lets them hold their breath and survive in that poisonous gas.

To me, that’s too big of a leap of faith too soon. If the movie had set it up that the Force lets you do this, then I’d believe it, but to suddenly have a life-saving skill come out of nowhere smacks of unbelievability, and hence the movie falls apart by letting Jedis do practically anything that there’s no suspense whatsoever and just mindless action instead.

So the two keys to making a good movie are to make your characters sympathetic so an audience will care about them and to make your story believable so an audience will accept the plot twists. It’s okay to stretch the truth a little, but if you go too far, you’ll lose the audience.

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