My evening with Independence Day: Resurgence

4:16 pm

I have the house to myself tonight. My wife is going to her work Christmas party. Okay, more specifically, I have some time to myself after I have fed my boys, supervised their nightly ablutions and put them to bed. Then I can watch a movie I’ve been meaning to see: Independence Day: Resurgence!

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Honestly, I meant to see it at theatres when it came out a couple of years back, as I have a lot of fond memories of the first movie. But, eh, I never quite got around to it. Babysitters not being forthcoming, my wife and I knew we’d only get one shot at seeing a movie together at the cinema that year. Resurgence was the fifth choice in 2016 after Finding Dory, Rogue One, The Jungle Book and Warcraft. I had seen the trailer for Resurgence on YouTube and didn’t really care that much, but maybe it might recapture some of the feels from the first movie. And I was kind of curious what had happened after the alien invasion. Kind of.

Yet somehow, Finding Dory won out as the date movie of choice that year, and I eventually snuck out to see Rogue One on my own. I managed to pick up a second-hand blu-ray of Warcraft really cheap last year and watched it when I was home sick from work, and it was the definition of okay. I did enjoy The Jungle Book, but don’t recall when I saw it. Anyway. I wasn’t exactly going to burst into flames if I didn’t see Resurgence, as the story was pretty much done in the first film. But on a whim this afternoon I picked up Resurgence along with the first film at supermarket for 10 bucks. This seems like a fair price and not a terrible way to spend an evening.

Should be okay. I have vague memories that this is an alternate history where the alien tech has been retrofitted to 90s tech and spun off from there. That actually could be cool. And, hey, they managed to bring back the original director.

How bad could it be?

8:56pm

Okay, the boys are asleep and I’ve finally managed to put my phone down. Time to movie!

9:05pm

Sort of weird that the world is now united. Something tells me that’s not how it would go down if there was some kind of global disaster or alien invasion. Also, there are third world countries that now have access to vastly superior alien tech. How would that affect the balance of power? What would capitalist societies do with the technology? Actually the world looks pretty much as it does today, only with more flying stuff and ray guns. Didn’t the aliens have biomechanical armour? Didn’t they control their technology telepathically? Didn’t their ships have shields? Why haven’t humans exploited that technology? No sense of wonder. So many missed opportunities.

9:06pm

The moon has earth-like gravity. Huh.

Oh, stop it Julian. You’re over-thinking it. The first was a big, dumb action blockbuster and so is this. You’re not normally this nit-picky these days. Just sit back and enjoy it! The effects are pretty at least.

9:16pm

Wait. Will Smith isn’t in this one, is he? That’s, um, oh. Okay. There’re a few characters from the original, but mostly new characters. Hang on. They’re meant to be the kids from the first movie. My bad. They are still pretty much new characters though. And no Will Smith. Apparently, his character died on a test flight. Hmm.

9:18pm

The new characters… Who ARE these people? I don’t just mean in terms of their bios—who are they as characters? I don’t really have any sense of what they are like? There’s the hotshot pilot, his wise-cracking sidekick, the first daughter (is that the term? Probably not), the son of the hotshot pilot from the first film… But they’re all kind of cardboard cut outs I’ve met a million times before. It isn’t necessarily a problem that it’s formulaic—but formulaic and lacking personality is criminal. The first film is formulaic and cliché, but the actors brought a lot of energy and charm to the parts. The characters shared a chemistry. You knew who they were in the very first scenes—the characters don’t need to do super heroic deeds to be memorable. It can be something as simple as a shared joke or a way of walking. Everyone here looks tired. Like they don’t really want to be in the movie. Everybody is world-weary, even the young players. That isn’t a good sign.

9:34pm

Oh good, the aliens are here! Time for the movie to start.

9:36 pm

My wife is home! Gosh, that wrapped up early. I happily hit pause and we chat about the Christmas party.

9:45pm

Back to movie. The aliens’ new gravity weapon is actually pretty cool. Weaponised gravity is a genuinely terrifying concept. But couldn’t they just wipe out the entire planet in one shot? Actually one of the characters makes the point that this gigantic ship could just smash through the planet. But, erm, it doesn’t for inexplicable reasons.

10:12pm

I’m sleepy. That’s kind of interesting—the other night I watched Die Hard and despite being physically exhausted the film was so engaging that I didn’t feel like sleeping at all.

Resurgence is not great. I didn’t really think it would be– I went in with low expectations. It’s not terrible either. It’s just not a whole lot of fun.

There are aliens smashing stuff and humans scrambling to survive and I just am not feeling it because there’s no one character to care about. There’s Jeff Goldblum, I guess. We are halfway through the movie and nobody has really done anything.

I could stay up, I suppose. Is this movie worth being tired tomorrow? Is it worth sacrificing a bit of sleep to see how this turns out?

10:15pm

I put the remote down and stagger to bed. I’ll finish watching it tomorrow.

Probably.

It’s okay, I think as I pull back the covers. I got the first movie on DVD at least. And it comes with the second film as a bonus feature I’ll probably never watch again.

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Literary purgatory

Perhaps there is a literary purgatory where characters from early drafts wind up. They’re sent there when they are rewritten beyond recognition, replaced, or written out entirely.

Here you’ll find Bilbo’s son Bingo Baggins as well as his friends Odo Bolger, Frodo Took, and Marmaduke Brandybuck. They dolefully gaze down upon Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin. The warrior-hobbit Trotter glares enviously at Strider. It’s so unfair that they shall miss out on their adventure. All of them give the evil Treebeard a wide berth, though they are perfectly friendly to the sweet-natured imp, Gollum.

Beside them sit Hermione’s parents, who are deep in conversation with a ghostly figure called Pyrites. They wonder aloud why they lifted so cleanly from Harry’s backstory.

And oh, here are twelve-year old Ashla Starkiller and her little brother Luke. Their loving father, Mace Windu, chats with a green-skinned alien by the name of Han Solo.

It’s a strange place.

Movie confessions

Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned. It has been… a while since my last confession.’
‘Speak on, my child.’
‘I have never seen one of the Die Hard movies.’
‘I see.’
‘Nor have I seen Ghostbusters. Or the Alien films.’
‘That is quite the confession.’
‘Nor have I seen the Godfather movies.’
‘My word.’
‘But Father, it gets worse. I have seen The Amazing Spider-Man… And I liked it. Well, the first one, anyhow. And not even in an ironic way. It was just a fun movie, especially if you could pretend it wasn’t a soulless reboot.’
‘I have not had to perform an exorcism in many years…’
‘That’s another one I haven’t seen. The Exorcist.’

 

A lesson from Star Wars

Salvete, readers!

Just a short post tonight, as I’m juggling a couple of deadlines and need to focus more on writing.

A few weeks ago, I watched Star Wars with my boys for the first time. This was a big moment for me, as I’ve loved Star Wars since I was seven years old. The kids were enthralled right up until the medal ceremony at the end. It went like this:

Master N: Do the good guys get medals, Daddy?
Me: Yep!
Master T: Even that guy? (Points at Han) But he’s a scaredy cat who ran away!
Me: Yeah, but he did come back at the end.
Master N: But the robots didn’t run away and they don’t get medals. That’s not fair. They all helped.
Master T: The princess should get a medal too, and she’s definitely not a scaredy cat!
Master N: I’m Luke.
Master T: That’s okay, I’m Chewie. He’s my favourite, except I can talk. RaaaAAAAAaargh!

There are a few important lessons here for a children’s author.

  • Kids will usually identify with the marginalised characters and the dorks, rather than the suave ones.
  • They also have a strong sense of justice and will call out unfairness if their favourite characters get short shrift.
  • Children can spot nonsense a mile away. Han is a scaredy-cat in Act 3. He’s willing to let his friends die to save his own hide—I think he mostly comes back out of guilt. But he’s uber-cool, so most of us still cheer for him.
  • Boys will absolutely identify with a female heroine until some idiot tells them they can’t. Kids are less worried about the gender of the character than their achievements.

Until next time,

Valete

The essence of the story

Salvete, readers!

Last weekend I watched Moana again with my kids. This was no hardship, as I love this movie. Heck, I love the direction Disney is going right now—they really seem to have figured out what makes a story tick. As the credits rolled, my oldest son turned to me.

‘Dad, I think I know what this movie’s about.’

‘Oh, aye? What?’ Now, my son’s not long grown out of Thomas the Tank Engine, so I’m not expecting a particularly sophisticated answer. Probably he’s going to tell me it’s about a girl who goes on an adventure with a shapeshifter and fights a giant lava monster at the end. Nope. His next words staggered me.

‘It’s about being who you are.’

I blinked. ‘That’s interesting. What makes you say that, buddy?’

‘Well…’ He frowned. ‘They talk about it lots. Especially in the songs. Moana loves the ocean, and that’s who she is. But she needs to be brave to be a sailor, because the ocean’s scary and her dad doesn’t want her to go. So she has to be brave to be who she is.’

I smiled. ‘Go on.’

‘Maui, he’s really nice, and that’s who he is, but he acts mean and tough because he thinks that’s how everybody will like him. And the island lady at the end…’

‘Yes?’

He shrugs. ‘That’s what it’s about. Being who you are.’

‘Yes,’ I said. ‘I would agree with you. That’s what it’s all about. Well done.’

He gets it. At heart, whatever the details of plot or character, stories are about something. And when you’re writing, that something isn’t always clear. Sometimes you don’t figure out the theme until you’re deep in the editing phase. But once you realise it, you hold onto it and never let go.

I’d say it’s really important to know what your story is really about before you start trying to sell it—to the reading public, agents, publishers, whatever. It should be implicit in your elevator pitch, even if you don’t beat readers over the head with it. Once you can distil the essence of your story into a simple phrase, it’s your first step toward getting others to understand what it’s really about.

Until next time,

Valete