The Disaster of “Jonah Hex”

“Jonah Hex” was supposed to be a blockbuster based on a comic book hero with Megan Fox co-starring in a skimpy outfit. What went wrong? The usual — poor story structure.

Last year at Comic-Con, Josh Brolin and Megan Fox were promoting “Jonah Hex” to throngs of eager fans. This year at the same time, “Jonah Hex” has dropped off the top ten movies and will likely lose millions of dollars. What went wrong?

Here’s one theory. Megan Fox is box office poison. Everyone assumes that she can’t act so they have little desire to see any movie with her in it. Here’s a more likely culprit. The movie’s story structure sucked to begin with.

In an earlier interview, Josh Brolin said when he first read the script to “Jonah Hex,” he couldn’t believe how bad it was. Yet he signed up to do it anyway and Hollywood went ahead and made the bad script anyway. When you start with a bad foundation and use it anyway, you wind up with a wreck.

To fix “Jonah Hex,” the studio chopped up the footage and reshot new footage to plug in the gaps. Yet the movie still sucked, barely making it past the 60 minute mark. The problem is simply filming a movie without making sure you have a solid story first.

No amount of reshooting after the fact can rescue a poor movie. The real solution is to refuse to start filming until you get a solid story down in the first place. That’s how Pixar makes their hit movies. Before they start drawing or animating their characters, they make sure they have a compelling story. Then they start production.

Hollywood does it differently. They make a movie first and then worry about telling a good story. And most of the time they fail.

Watch “Jonah Hex” to see an example of choppy editing, meaningless characters, and pointless action. Seeing Megan Fox trying to fight seems unrealistic and pointless. She doesn’t come close to creating a realistic illusion of being someone who can fight. Megan Fox’s job is to stand around and look pretty. Ask anything else of her and the illusion wears off in a hurry.

Of course, Megan Fox is the least of “Jonah Hex”’s problems. With a murky plot, the story has no chance of going anywhere. As an exercise, watch your favorite bad movie (think “Jonah Hex,” “The Last Airbender,” or “Clash of the Titans”) and ask yourself what’s missing and how you would fix it. While this exercise will never lead to a script sale, it’s just one more way of spotting problems in the scripts of others and making sure you don’t repeat those mistakes in your own work.

That by itself can make watching bad movies educational and enjoyable as a screenwriter. In fact, watching bad movies to study them may be the only reason to keep bad movies around.

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