I really, really like bad movies. Mindless fun (most of the time), cheap plots and such little commitment needed on the viewer’s part make for a unique experience that is at once wondrous and so very pointless. It’s amazing and I’m very thankful to have the opportunity to spend some time just absolutely wasting my time. I’m writing a book right now, really. Just…sometimes Netflix is better than work.
Netflix had a doozy of a bad movie suggestion for our profile called “For Watching Bad Movies” (so the main account doesn’t constantly have terrible recommendations). This installment of Writing Lessons from Bad Movies comes from none other the baddest of the bads:
Lesson one: Don’t take yourself so seriously.
The opening credit roll of Catwoman let’s you know right off the bat this is going to be a movie completely devoid of self awareness. The movie opens with pictures of cats through history and images that mean nothing until later in the movie. This sort of thing can be forgiven in a movie like Godfather or, say, Ernest Goes to Camp, a movie that will require much from the audience. It just felt out of place in a movie where the characters wear shirts that have trumpet flare outs around the arms. It was the “Directed by Pitof”, bigger, bolder and way, way more pretentious than the other credits that really tipped me over the edge though. No one on set ever said, “Hey, remember the campy fun of the 60s show? Remember how cool, but fun and humorous that Catwoman was? Yeah, that was good times.” Someone on set said, “Pfieffer’s Catwoman really needed to yell at her boss at some point. Let’s make that happen.”
I get wanting to make serious things. My current book features labor rights at points. A serious issue that affects us all. My current project also has an alchemist who can only think aloud and is modeled slightly after my four year old. Being too serious about the work just turns off the audience
Lesson two: Setting is a Character
This movie featured lots of CGI. Not good CGI either. It looked like someone loved those clay-mation Rudolph and Frosty movies that show every night in December on various basic cable networks, said “I want to recreate that,” tried to recreate it, had their budget slashed by the studio heads, felt bitter about the funding problems and decided to make green screen backgrounds with tech I used in a middle school video production class. Then they let their cat pee on the DVD just to clear things up that Catwoman was in no way representative of the cat community.
With CGI being bad, and most scenes done obviously in front of green screen, the characters did not interact with their surroundings, unless the CGI Catwoman model was bouncing off a wall to hit who was it….Sharon Stone? No that can’t be right. Oh good golly they got Sharon Stone to be in this? Wow. Guess we know where the CGI budget went.
I thought of Firefly, Stargate, the Avengers; all shows where the good guys’ home base is a character right up there with the leads. In Catwoman, there’s an apartment, a jewelry store, a water causeway, a police station; all vibrant locations that are barely used. Setting maters for more than just background. Setting is used by a character to advance their arch, setting helps create the situation, setting defines what can and cannot be done to solve the problem.
Lesson Three: Oh Goodness, Stop it with the cliches
Here’s a quick list of things in the movie that were basically just lifted straight from other things.
*Catwoman loses something while running out of her apartment after being saved by a cop. She just drops it right in the hallway , right infront of the cop as she runs out to go to work. The cop uses the dropped item to find her again that afternoon. If I wanted to see Cinderella, I’d watch Cinderella.
*The big bad boss has an accent, to let us viewers at home know that he is an outsider and therefore evil. If the bad guy is not Hans Gruber, this is lazy.
*A game of street basketball sets up the male and female leads to begin a romantic relationship. I don’t recall this from any DC property, so I can only assume someone watched a late 90s rom-com and reworked the basics.
*The old lady who lives alone with a ton of cats knows all the secrets and has a spiritual side. This character type is just bad. If it wasn’t the Six Feet Under mom in the role, I’d have skipped the whole scene.
*-spoilers, but like anyone cares- Sharon Stone is secretly the bad guy the whole time! What a completely foreseen twist that was set up since pretty much frame 1.
*Alex Borstein in the sex crazed bestie role is funny, but at some point she gives Catwoman a personalized leather ‘dating emergency’ outfit. If a friend gave me custom tailored S&M outfits for ‘just in case’ situations, that friend gets removed from contact lists.
*The first hero trial is stopping a bunch of noisy neighbors from being noisy. This movie was boring beyond belief.
Cliches exist for a reason and can have great purpose in moving a plot along. If cliches are the only plot device in use the movie is going to suck.
Lesson four: I am a sucker for calling back to previous moments
When Catwoman first meets the cop love-interest she is standing on a swamp cooler in a window and is about to plunge violently to her doom. The cop sees what is happening, stands at the ground below and pleads with Catwoman not to jump and reassures her that she has plenty to live for. I thought this was setting up the cop to be the most jaded “I’ve seen everything” cop in movie history. Who drives up to an obviously dangerous situation and assumes jumper? Sure it looked bad, but what happened to this guy that he goes straight to “oh man, not another jumper?” I chalked it up to bad writing and laughed it off.
It wasn’t bad writing though! Later in the movie Catwoman is arrested! (Spoilers, but again, does it matter? This is a crazy old movie). During interrogation (with the Cop she’s sleeping with, which seems a bit unethical, but if the budget didn’t provide enough cash for good green screen it sure as heck did not provide for a second speaking cop character), Catwoman references the moment. She says something about what the cop saw in her and she needed that again to beat the murder wrap (spoilers?). It was great and presented in a way that made sense. The pictures during the opening credits made no sense because the audience did not know they were to be paying attention. Callbacks are great if done properly.
There’s plenty of things to take away from Catwoman. We could talk about how every single cat stereotype was used to really sell the fact that she is now part cat; eating tuna, going ape over cat nip, walking on furniture, mood swings, hissing at dogs….oh golly it is so, so bad. I don’t mean to say go watch it. It is a terrible bit of film that does nothing for the genre and may even hurt it, but at least Alex Borstein is funny. You know what, do go watch it. It has a video from The Ring quality to it; you want others to see it so you are not hurting alone.
Thanks for reading! Happy writing.