I watch more movies than I should. Many hours of my life are not coming back. By golly though are bad movies fun to watch though.
Most of the time. This installment of writing lessons from bad movies comes from a hate-watch screening of Deep Impact. This movie. This friggin’ movie.
I feel the viewing of Deep Impact in 2015 needs justification, so we’re prefacing this whole post with said justification. Netflix is wonderful background noise. My wife needed to grade homework assignments, I was folding laundry and trying to write so a completely dumb movie seemed an excellent way to fill the silence. My wife had headphones in, was not paying any attention, had plenty of stuff to do, but at one point removed her headphones and said, “this is a really bad movie,” and went back to work. The following will reflect that.
Here we go. Writing lessons from watching Deep Impact:
Obviously unnecessary dramatic moment is obvious
The movie opens with Frodo and friends discovering the doomsday rock. This is fine, we need to know that amateur astronomers change the world everyday apparently. Frodo sends a message (through the mail, stamps and everything) to the local astronomer who takes one look at the picture and knows he has to study the object in more depth! And by more depth we mean click at a computer type “open mail server” read “mail server offline” say “shucks” and then backup his findings to a floppy disc.
With the mail server offline, he has to race down a mountain in the middle of the night to tell someone, anyone of his discovery! “There’s a big rock in space that I nothing else about, but the computer projected a path that could potentially see it colliding with Earth! We’re doomed!” We are to interpret his mindset as that. All the scientists I know are prone to dramatic over reactions and basing all of their actions on one model/result and one model/result only.
So the astronomer races down the mountain.
Wouldn’t you know it, a big rig truck is coming up the mountain! And the driver is *gasp* not paying attention!
The astronomer is forced off the road, plummeting in his dirty beat up little sedan down the hill and exploding on impact.
Cut to one year later and never talk about why the astronomer had to die. There was no need for it. Absolutely no need. Perhaps it helped in making Frodo’s character’s path a little easier to explain, but Frodo would have been just fine if the astronomer lived too. It was an opening sequence of no value whatsoever. In a movie about an asteroid coming to destroy the earth a meaningless car crash is far from exciting.
Maybe the director owed the actor a favor?
Use the right characters for the right moment
There’s a scene following Iron Man director being farted off the asteroid (a gas bubble bursts or something and the asteroid explodes under Favreau’s feet, sending him into space. I like to think of the moment as a rock fart though because it is what I am watching), Nameless Russian Astronaut tries to compel Robert Freaking Duvall to attempt a space rescue.
This is the only line I can recall Nameless Russian Astronaut saying aside from “warheads are armed.”
There was no build up for why Nameless Russian Astronaut was the only character saying they need to go save the writer and director of Chef. Characters are who they are. The nuke guy does not need to be the one suddenly worried about every body else’s safety.
I like to think that Jon Favreau, one of the best and brightest out there, saw where the movie was going and said, “nah, you know what? Go ahead and let me be space farted off at the end of act two. It’s cool. No, I don’t want to be the one to deliver the “we’ll have high schools named after us” line. Trust me, I’m good.”
If you have “Get the hell out of there!” any where in your manuscript, you’ve messed up.
They know they have to get the hell out of there. They know.
There is such thing as pointless character development.
You are on a spaceship, literally just blinded by the light, and now goodness sake you’re trying to get a bonding moment going with your crew by reading Mark Twain? I think at the end of the world you’re allowed to just not like somebody. No need to bore the consumer with extended “oh they get along after all this” moments. They are getting along because one astronaut is blind and chained to a board and Robert Duvall has a book in his pocket.
I want the characters to do two things in this movie; be good at their jobs, try to save the day. No one cares if Nameless Russian Astronaut can make Chernobyl jokes to meet dates. It is useless to know that Tea Leon’s mother is a drunk and her father is married to a too young partner. There are so many useless character details in this movie. If the viewer does not care about the character to begin with, they don’t care about the backstory.
News anchors are a lazy character.
The audience needs to know background on some portions of the story. It is easy to have an expert character spew details and fill in gaps, it is easy for the journalist to start chatting about their story details and how they’re slowly piecing together the entire tale. There are more natural ways for the reader/viewer to learn this information though. Anchors are lazy.
Pacing is important.
I sneezed, looked up and Iron Man director was dead. And on an asteroid. There was such weird pacing in this movie. They made it two hours long, kept a subplot about Frodo marrying his friend to save her and her family, newsroom jealousy because Tea Leon is the lead anchor now, had the families of the astronauts say goodbye, space farted Jon Favreau, and had Tea Leon repair her relationship with dad, but they didn’t talk at all about how the giant space ship was constructed in space? Amateur astronomers discover doomsday rock, but not one of them noticed a space construction site? We skipped important pieces of information in favor of meaningless bits that are way outside of genre norms and the experience suffered for it.
I have a little bonus section to this installment. About half way through the movie my wife was tired of me talking back to the screen and saying “uuuugggghhh” a lot. So I wrote those thoughts down (and edited out some colorful words, because my grandma might read this). Here it is, my live reactions to Deep Impact.
Oh my goodness why is the newly wed teenager thing in this movie? Shakespeare Armageddon.
Is no one going to talk about the President becoming a dictator? The Executive branch does not really have the power to unilaterally ‘freeze’ pay and prices. Fox News would love that topic.
Martial law? Still not talking about that on the news?
They honestly took two of each animal into the ark. Ugh.
I hate this movie. I hate this movie so much.
Toby and Frodo as father and son is amazeballs though.
“I have to go back for Sarah!” UUUUGGGGHHHHH Who lets Frodo make decisions? Toby stop him.
There’s a handprint smudge from my toddler on the screen. It just lined up with someone’s face to make a mustache. It is the only time I have been amused tonight.
“Oh golly, we have nuclear warheads strapped to this spaceship, we can still save the day!” How do you forget about four nuclear warheads?!
I think the last minute possible rescue thing was put in place to add tension. I feel nothing. I may be dead inside. This movie has killed my already fleeting emotions.
High school married couple subplot is the worst. Two hours this movie is. I write short books for a reason. Attention spaln is moot.
Now he’s (Frodo) a trained motorcyclist?
Walking dead traffic jam!
And of course he just zips through it.
I hate this movie.
This movie loooooves rule of thirds. Everything shot is over framed out the wazoo.
They just used a “wrong car” gag. Too late for humor.
Finally someone uses the shoulder to drive. I once sat in traffic for twenty minutes and was passed by five cars on the shoulder. I doubt rules matter at the end of the world.
Oh they found each other.
Ugh. All of this. Ugh.
Forced ***I wrote this word, looked away and forgot what I was going to write, but the single word works for much of the movie***
NASA took the time to print visitor badges. They are all about to die, but red tap wins out.
The wife makes a last minute arrival! FFS. All of this. How does a Robert Duvall movie suck? Robert Duvall was the conciliary.
And the wife is carrying a baby never before mentioned.
Better explain what is on the screen in vivid detail.
This movie is trying so hard to make the audience feel something other than self loathing.
“Water reached into the Ohio Valley.” No it did not. No. No it did not.
“The water receded” is bascially this movie’s “life, uh, uh, uh, uh, finds a way.” Goldblum owns that motif.
It must feel awful to be the bad Armageddon.