Setups Are Critical

One huge difference between a good movie and a bad one is that a good movie properly sets up story elements while bad movies do not. You can often spot a bad movie by how many screenwriters worked on the script. When too many people work on the same script, it’s only inevitable that certain story elements get forgotten.

First, consider “The Jungle Book,” which has gotten rave reviews. The script sets up the story in multiple ways. First, the beginning sets up the end. In the beginning, the hero is running from a predator and gets caught when he jumps on a broken tree limb of a dead tree. Because the tree was dead, the branch was weak and wasn’t able to hold the hero’s weight.┬áIn the end, the hero remembers the dead tree and uses it to lure the villain on to a tree limb so the limb breaks, plunging the villain to his death.

That ending only makes sense because the beginning set it up so we understand how and why the hero could triumph over the villain. Now consider a bad movie like “London Has Fallen.” The hero is a Secret Service agent protecting the President of the United States. As the hero leads the President through the streets of London, he conveniently remembers the location of a British MI6 safe house where he takes the President.

Huh?

Since this information comes out of nowhere, it seems contrived and forced simply to advance the plot along. Through “London Has Fallen,” we meet characters who conveniently appear then die before we can even understand who they are or why we should care about them. At one point the British discover a mole (a secret agent working for someone else) within their organization. This mole turns out to be a minor character who we barely know and then he gets killed at the end by another minor character who we barely know.

If you watch the trailer for “London Has Fallen,” you’ve already seen the best parts of the movie. Everything else is just filler that makes little sense because nothing is properly set up. In “The Jungle Book,” everything is set up ahead of time from the snake skin the hero finds on the jungle floor before running into the actual snake herself, to the use of “the red flower” that the animals fear, which is their name for fire. The hero learns from the snake that his father used fire to burn the villain (a tiger) before getting killed himself. Earlier the tiger explains his motive for wanting to kill the hero because a man burned him with fire. At the end, the animals cringe in fear when the hero carries a torch bearing fire and accidentally lights the jungle on fire. So fire is set up multiple times and finally pays off in the end.

To put out the fire, the elephants divert water from the river, which was also set up earlier when the hero spots elephants and his panther friend explains how elephants made the rivers with their tusks. Then the hero later saves a baby elephant, which gives the elephants motivation to help the hero in the end.

Everything in “The Jungle Book” is set up ahead of time where each set up seems trivial and innocent at the time of its introduction, but which proves crucial later in the story. Everything in “London Has Fallen” is not set up ahead of time so when it’s used at a critical plot point, it seems forced, artificial, and contrived. “London Has Fallen” shows how to make a bad movie by failing to set up information ahead of time. “The Jungle Book” shows how to make a good movie by setting up everything important ahead of time.

So if you want to make a good movie, make sure your story sets up crucial plot points early. If you want to make a bad movie, just ignore set ups and rely on explosions and special effects instead.

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