More Writing Lessons Learned While Watching Bad Movies

I wrapped up editing and publishing work on People on the Highway Volume 2 last week.  It took a bit of time to put it all out there (it’s free through Friday right here:  I am quite pleased with the final product, more excited to not be editing anymore.

At the end of a project I enjoy a bit of time not working.  What I should write there is “making poor decisions.”  This end of project reward to self, like a guy that buys a bag of Doritos to reward himself for the basket full of fresh vegetables in the grocery cart, has been a whole bunch of Civilization and one particularly bad Netflix movie.

Here are writing lessons learned from Congo.

Lesson One:  There can be too much to a plot.

Talking gorilla? Sure.  Political Unrest? Good plot device.  Paranoid rich guy? Might as well.  Arms dealer with all the connections? Ok.  Tim Curry with hidden motives that we won’t find out about until way later in the movie? Yep.  Bruce Campbell dying ten minutes in sparking one paranoid rich guy’s firm to send Bruce’s fiance to the jungle where she some how meets the talking gorilla team, who put on a seminar to show off a cool new tech, but now they need to worry about the gorilla’s well being and TIm  Curry was in the audience and happened to be taking his box of secret jungle stuff with him at all times? It isn’t that confusing, but it isn’t that worthwhile either.  Paranoid Rich Guy is Bruce Campbell’s dad? I’ll buy anything at this point.  And there’s more! The Paranoid Rich Guy’s son’s fiance is a former CIA operative!  Because that suits the tale.

The movie Congo was based on a Michael Crichton book.  I am sure most of these plot point work well within a book, but in the time constraints of a movie it was like seeing an overstuffed sausage casing explode.  We were an hour into the movie before the main cast even made it to the jungle.  Too much set-up, not enough story.


Lesson two: One genre is boring.

My wife had never seen Congo.  Seeing the 1995 film grade, obvious sets and Bruce Campbell on the screen her first question was, “is this a comedy?”  Not intentionally.

Congo’s director also made Arachnophobia.  Laura Linney, Ernie Hudson, Dylan Walsh, Tim Curry, all amazing actors.  The writer wrote Moonstruck; it was produced by Kathleen friggin’ Kennedy.  Like most bad movies, there were talented people involved and stuff just got out of hand.

For Congo, I think the problem was a complete dedication to making a dramatic action movie.  There’s no humor, no romance, no real explanation for why the precious diamonds make good laser rifles.  It is just an action/adventure movie.  There’s no opportunity for characters to show their heart or move beyond their first seen behavioral trait.   There’s nothing wrong with throwing in comedy or sci-fi to make a story more interesting.

Lesson Three: Let outside sources influence the piece, but don’t let them dictate the piece.

Congo was an action/adventure movie with a huge 1995 budget.  1995 action/adventure movies had the shadow of Jurassic Park looming over them.  “Be like Park!” I imagine a producer saying during initial meetings.  Such a huge culturally important movie as Jurassic Park  will certainly have an impact on other movies.  Congo feels like an Asylum film in how it uses Jurassic Park.  Congo also had the unfortunate timing of coming out just after The Lion King and went a really offensive direction with that influence.

There’s no way to escape the influence of things we read, watch, listen to, see, or hear about. Those influences should not be the only thing the audience ever sees.


I would still re-watch Congo though.  Not any time soon. Oh golly no. Maybe as a “hey kids, want to do our own Mystery Science Theater?” sort of thing one day.  Watching it last night was done because I had laundry to fold and my wife took some NyQuil to combat a good ol’ late fall cold, so watching anything of substance was out of the question.  It wound up being the sort of bad that has to be watched.  So…good job, Congo?


Thanks for reading!


4 thoughts on “More Writing Lessons Learned While Watching Bad Movies

  1. As I recall, in the book the action and battle with the apes is very short as well. It’s kind of an early Michael Crichton thing. Jurassic Park is the same way, bombards you with science and background for way too long, before finally getting to the action. I was a kid when I read both books, so I just skipped the boring first half (first third for JP). Congo was also a pretty small book. Maybe even half the size of Jurassic Park.

    Liked by 1 person

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