A little update on the post I wrote about formulas a while back.
In the article I linked before, which is about a scriptwriting book that is leading to even more generic Hollywood movies (as if that’s what the world needs), one of the movies referred to multiple times was Star Trek Into Darkness. This weekend I finally watched it.
Hoo-boy, were they right.
Now I’m a bit of an anomaly. I’m a bit too trope savvy for my own good, so I can regularly call out plot points before they happen. This usually doesn’t diminish my enjoyment though, because I enjoy the game of it, and also because when a story is told well it’s still enjoyable even if I see things coming. And when a story does surprise me? Wow. Even better.
Star Trek Into Darkness did none of this. I reliably called every plot “twist” that happened. That alone wouldn’t make me condemn it – and really I don’t, it was decently enjoyable on the whole – but what does is the realization that they forced characters out of character in order to follow the formula. That’s quite possibly a storyteller’s greatest sin.
From Admiral Pike performing a very out of character dressing down of Kirk to Dr. Carol Marcus stripping in an open shuttle, many scenes smacked of the checklist, of the writers going “we need drama here, and fan service here, and an action scene around here.” I never once believed that Kirk would go back to the academy, or that he would die, or any number of other events. The writers surprised me a few times, and the actors and special effects teams all did a bang up job, but the script didn’t support them like it should have.
I think viewers can tell when they’re watching something that isn’t genuine. Predictable isn’t always bad – some stories require it, while others are just better if told in the most predictable way. It’s when the story or characters stop being genuine that predictability kills the story.
Star Trek was always interesting because it was different. The new movies can be entertaining – and they probably gross a lot more money than they would otherwise – but I think the world is diminished for them following a formula instead of staying true to what made their universe popular in the first place.