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The State of Story 2010

The state of story. If ever there has been a need to reinvestigate the basic fundamentals of story, now would be it. To be fair, though, that’s probably what every generation has said about their films at one point or another.

Still, with this summers onslaught of films, I decided I needed to take a harder and more critical look at story in film in the modern age. While there were definite highs and lows, the end result remains the same: things don’t look good for story. Story is seemingly being sacrificed for every other element of the film.

Let’s start with dialogue. Story has been sacrificed for dialogue for years now, with many films thinking to have characters talk is to develop them. This is never more evident than in comedies like ‘Dinner for Schmucks’ or ‘MaGruber.’ These films, acknowledging both were developed from original shorter works, create one off humor with dialogue. Very little of the film is memorable afterwards because so little time is spent actually developing characters. Some may argue MaGruber is an unfair example as it channels back a Saturday Night Live sketch. I would argue with them that SNL has given us excellent story based feature films before in The Blues Brothers and Wayne’s World. Who can forget the “mission from God” or Wayne’s tireless journey to be with Cassandra? Just because they’re comedies doesn’t mean they should be poorly written.

We also have seen the nostalgia film lately, casting some of our favorite actors and actresses back into familiar roles for ‘one last kick at the cat.’ Star vehicles are not new, but they seem to be letting story slide more and more lately. In the ridiculous Expendables film, it is more important to get name actors on screen than to actually make sense of what is going on. A friend compared the structure of The Expendables to cult classic The Room, and I can’t say he’s far off. Characters and subplots appear and disappear at random and, in the end, we are left not really caring if these characters survive or not. That’s at best, at worst we are still trying to figure out who these people are.

Sequels are another realm of sacrificing story. How many Shrek films are we up to now? It was a long time ago when the lovable ogre was relevant, but he’s a sellable property, so on screen he goes, regardless of the story or lack thereof.

I’m not saying good, story driven films aren’t out there. There will always be niche, indie films that achieve this. What we’re missing is the blockbuster films that actually resonate. The Indiana Jones, the Die Hards and all these films have been replaced by the likes of Transformers and the other big budget, special effects extravaganzas.

So what do you think? Does Hollywood need to take a step back and re-examine it’s stories, or are things just fine as they are?

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