Learning From Bad Movies like “Ghost in the Shell”

When you watch a great movie, it can inspire you or make you feel inferior because you might think you could never do anything so wonderful. To wipe out any feelings of inferiority, all you have to do is watch a bad movie and that can inspire you to do much better. My latest favorite bad movie is “Ghost in the Shell.”

Whether you know the original anime story or not doesn’t matter since the 2017 film version of “Ghost in the Shell” makes several huge mistakes in almost every scene. Here’s mistake number one:

  • Make sure we know what’s happening even if we don’t know all the details.

If we don’t know what’s happening, we won’t care about the action. In the opening scene in “Star Wars,” one starship is chasing another one. We don’t know what’s happening or who’s involved, but we do know that one starship wants to catch the other one.

In an early scene in “Ghost in the Shell,” some people are sitting around chatting while drinking tea. Suddenly, some men show up and machine gun their way into the dining area. Right away, we don’t know what these men want other than to shoot everything in sight. There’s no clear goal for anyone so there’s no way for the audience to understand what’s going on. If the audience doesn’t know what’s going on, they won’t care about the action because it’s ultimately meaningless.

So the first key in writing a scene is to make sure we know what’s going on. Then the second key is to surprise us. That means in every scene, someone has a goal and that goal often ends with a surprising twist, even if the goal is achieved.

In the opening scene in “Ghost in the Shell,” the hero is being wheeled through a hospital. We don’t know who the hero is or what anyone in that scene wants. Because there’s no goal, the scene is empty and meaningless.

Later wer see the hero being fitted into a body and we’re told that the body works and she’s now a weapon. The end. No surprise, no twist, no sense of change in any way. The end result is a boring scene.

Now look at a scene from “Django: Unchained” where the hero (Django) is taken inside a bar with a bounty hunter who saved him. The scene appears to be nothing more than just getting a drink, but then the bounty hunter causes trouble so the bar tender rushes off to get the sheriff. That’s an unexpected twist. When the sheriff arrives, the bounty hunger shoots him. That’s a huge unexpected twist and grabs our attention because we want to know what’s going on.

Now let’s remove the excitement from this scene and have Django and the bounty hunter enter a bar to get a drink. The bartender serves them a drink and then they leave to look for the sheriff. How exciting would that be? If that sounds boring, you’ve just experienced the boredom of practically every scene in “Ghost in the Shell.”

The way to write a boring scene is to give someone a goal and then let them get it with no surprises whatsoever. A second way to write a boring scene is to show something happening but without anyone having a goal. Instead of watching to see what happens next, a goal-less scene simply forces us to watch random activity. If watching random activity sounds exciting, watch people in a shopping mall roam around. No goal, no excitement. Boring and dull, and that’s what every scene in “Ghost in the Shell” is like.

Pick apart almost every scene in “Ghost in the Shell” and you’ll see that it creates boredom in one of two ways:

  • Nobody has a goal so we don’t care what happens
  • Someone has a goal and they get it without any surprises

One reason why documentaries are generally dull compared to movies is that documentaries simply show something happening, like a polar bear walking on ice or a hawk flying through the air. Documentaries grab our attention by creating goals. In “March of the Penguins,” we see penguins struggling to protect their eggs and huddle together against the cold. The penguins have a clear goal and we see them fighting to achieve it. Then we see what happens if they fail such as penguins or their eggs freezing to death.

“Ghost in the Shell” is a great movie to watch to examine why it’s so awful. Other than the hero, no one else seems to have any goals and there’s no surprise or twist. More importantly, there’s no sense of meaning that makes a story really interesting. “Ghost in the Shell” hints at how reality is what we remember, but after blandly stating this, the movie ignores it for the rest of the story and just shows more scenes of strange settings that make little sense.

Watch bad movies like “Ghost in the Shell” and you’ll be inspired to believe you can do much better, because you can.

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