Monthly Archives: December 2012

Why I love The Hobbit (despite the critics)

Yesterday I saw Peter Jackson & Co’s much-anticipated movie. I have to confess I didn’t want to go. Having seen so many negative reviews in print, on the Internet, and on TV, I was convinced it would be a let down, especially after the previous trilogy set new standards in blockbuster fare.

I was astonished and delighted by what I saw. Here were three hours of solid entertainment, not padding. The special effects were even better than the Lord of the Rings. Some critics had described it as unconvincing. I’d love to know what they were comparing it to. The live action, visual effects, and make-up blended seamlessly. The action set-pieces were among the best I’d ever seen. What was described as a “bloated mess” of a movie was anything but. I defy even the most die-hard action enthusiast not to be impressed by the chase through the goblin kingdom.

But what set this film apart from the LOTR, for me anyway, was the comedy. The script was very funny, with plenty of one-liners that made the audience laugh out loud. Martin Freeman showed the same genius comic timing that helped make The Office such a hit. But plenty of the other characters contributed to the humour (the scene with the Trolls being particulary funny), making The Hobbit a much warmer and friendlier film than expected. Many times the audience laughed out loud, while at other times the theater was unusually quiet. Not even the rustling of a crisp packet could be heard in the serious talking parts. The filmmakers succeeded in doing the impossible – holding the rapt attention of a theatre half-full of children for three hours!

In case this is starting to sound like a review, I should say why I think so many critics disliked the film. Maybe it’s the dirth of misery-inducing dramas recently. Films that deal with contagious diseases, hideous crimes, sadistic torture and the like have dominated our screens for so long. Sometimes I wonder whether unpleasant thrillers, tasteless shocks, humourless assassins, and bizarre human behaviour have become so ingrained in our culture that some people can no longer recognize a great piece of fantasy and adventure.

Alfred Hitchcock once noted that a man who comes home from work to find his wife washing dishes does not want to go to the movies to see a man coming from home from work and finding his wife washing dishes. Although the expression is dated, the idea remains true. It is no coincidence that the Golden Age of cinema occurred in the 1930s and 1940s, a time when ordinary people longed for an escape from the hardship of everyday life. These times of great recession demand inspiraton and escapism from movies, not more misery.

The Hobbit is a masterpiece. Although not perfect (I spotted a few gaping plot holes), the film was anything but long. The warm tone of the film and the action set-pieces that did not involve graphic violence, sex, gross toilet humour, or tastelessness, reminded me if anything of the heyday of action movies in the early 1980s.

The Hobbit deserves to be on the same par with movies such as Raiders of the Lost Ark and Superman II. It is full of iconic scenes (Bilbo and Gollum swapping riddles), memorable characters (Radaghast the brown), fantastic action sequences, and gentle humour.

Go see it, and be surprised.

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The Black List and Plato

Well, the 2012 Black List is out, and I for one am surprised by the number of low-concept movies in there.

Maybe it’s because many of those writers are already established in Hollywood and feel they have no need to create “hi-concept” pitches. Maybe it’s because so many of them are based on true stories. I dunno.

Other trends I have noticed is the lack of horror, the prevalance of Mexican crime stories, and the use of “soft” sci-fi like time travel. On the whole there’s nothing in there that makes me go “Wow!  What a great story!”, unlike the last couple of Black Lists.

On the other hand, maybe this is a welcome change from some of the sillier “high-concept” movies of the past few years.

On a side note, have you noticed how “hi-concept” works much better for comedy than for other genres? Probably because it produces so many absurd composite ideas.

Anyway, 2012’s list makes me think there is hope for us all, if we can find the right story.

My final note to this somewhat rambling post concerns Plato.  I will tie this in to the black list, I promise.

Plato believed that every form had an “everyday” form and an “ideal” form. The ideal form is the ultimate natural expression of whatever thing we are thinking about.

It made me think about screenwriting. Isn’t that we do? We find a great idea and then try to unlock the ideal expression of that idea.

The trick is in unlocking the various levels of the idea. Sure, we can find the perfect logline, but can we translate the logline into the perfect structure? Can we fill it with the perfect turning points to do justice to that logline? And then can we find the perfect scenes to express the turning points? And so on.

So perhaps we too can end up with the likes of the Black List writers (and beyond) if we find a great idea, and then tell it how it wants to be told.

 

 

 

 

Check it out for yourself at http://www.blcklst.com

 

 

 

Ten books I dare Hollywood to make into movies

Hello, True Believers!

Today I thought I woud share a list of ten books that should be made into movies. Okay, so some of them are actually comic books. But these are the properties I think would reinvigorate the motion picture industry.

Some background first. Hollywood is in dire need of franchise material. Jack Reacher and The Hobbit just won’t cut it. Where are the iconic films for the Y2K generation? Where are the Indiana Joneses, the Dirty Harries and the Star Warses (How do you pluralize “Star Wars” anyway?)

What we need is a new approach, something more daring and edgy than conventional blockbuster fare with its cookie cutter plots and bloated CGI (remember Green Lantern?)

Here are my choices for breathing fresh life into the film industry:

1. THE ELFSTONES OF SHANNARA

Terry Brooks’ finest book. This epic fantasy has enough originality to give the Lord of the Rings a run for its money. But it’s a much more human story, with an unforgettable twist ending.2. BATTLE OF THE PLANETS

Based on the 1970s Japanese cartoon and the father of modern anime. Superpowered teens in a cool ship do battle with giant monsters from outer space. I’m not seeing the downside. Just don’t let Jerry Bruckheimer near it!3. THE WITCHING HOUR

Anne Rice is best known for her Vampire Chorincles, but this multi-generational tale of witchcraft in New Orleans ranks among her best work. Very dark and gothic, with a rich sense of history. This is the “Gone With the Wind” of horror stories. Neil Jordan to direct please!4. STRONTIUM DOG

Mutant bounty-hunters from the future hop across planets to collect bounties from the humans who despise them. If it sounds like X-Men in space, it isn’t. More like some insane Speghetti Western. Created by 200A.D. writer John Wagner (“A History of Violence”) and artist Carlos Ezquerra, mutant “Strontium Dog” Johnny Aplha has a host of cool gadgets and ways to kill you. Backed up by some truly wonderful supporting characters like Norse bounty-hunter Wulf Sternhammer and lumpy-headed Middenface McNulty.5. THE RATS

A Canadian company attempted this once and came badly unstuck. But with modern SFX this horror classic is screaming to be made into a major motion picture. It has two sequels, the third of which takes place after a nuclear holocaust! “The Walking Dead”‘s Andrew Lincoln would be perfect for the lead!6. THE CALL OF CTHULHU

This is the project Guillermo Del Toror should have tackled after Hellboy. HP Lovecraft’s cosmic tale of a conspiracy to revive an immortal extradimensional demon from his ages-old slumber in a buried city under the Pacific Ocean. Comes with its own built-in fanboy audience!7. MIKE HAMMER

Mickey Spillance wrote numerous Mike Hammer books, many of which have been filmed, with the most memorable being “Kiss Me Deadly” with Ralph Meeker. Hammer is the uber-detective. A World War II veteran transplanted into post-1940s America, he is politically incorrect (he promises to murder his friends murderer), mysoginistic (he pimps out his secretary to solve a case), but with a sense of purpose that is at times terrifying, Hammer is Dirty Harry on steroids. The only problem could be getting someone who is gritty and believable enough to play him. Imagine Kirk Douglas fused with Clint Eastwood and you’re about halfway there.8. EON

Intelligent and epic sci-fi novel from Greg Bear. A team of astronauts investigate a hollow asteroid orbiting Earth and find… well, you’ll have to read the book. But it has a vision of the future of humanity that’s slowly coming true. Could be the next Stargate. One for director Alex Proyas, perhaps, who filmed the excellent “Dark City”.9. NORSTRILIA

A bewilderingly exotic sci-fi, so rich and strange that it outrivals even Frank Herbert’s “Dune”. Cordwainer Smith’s stories of the far, far future include the anti-ageing drug “Stroon”, uplifted animals that carry out slave labour, a humanity so interwoven with technology that it has forgotten happiness, and the weirdest planetary defence system known to man. Together with his short stories, Smith’s sci-fi is almost poetic in beauty and would present moviegoers with images never before seen on film. But who could direct such divine madness? Kubrick perhaps, were he still alive, or maybe David Lynch. But nowadays my money would be on “Tron Legacy” director Joseph Kosinski.10. ALAN MOORE’S SWAMP THING.

Comics legend Moore managed to revive this flagging minor  DC book and turn it into one the greatest works of comic art in the 1980s. Swamp Thing is a kind of existential Everyman. Rather than perform the usual superheroics, the eonymous hero explores the nature of good and evil, travels from Heaven to Hell, and meets a young John Constantine.  In a fantastic series of stories titled “American Gothic”, Moore reinvents horror staples such as vampires, werewolves, ghosts and zombies,  giving them fresh social relevance and deaing with issues such as racism, gun laws, family ties, veganism, and feminism! Never one to offer us easy answers, Moore leaves many of these debates open-ended. This resulted in some fierce debates with readers and fans at the time. Forget Green Lantern, give us Swamp Thing!

Happy Holidays and Seasons Greetings from The Hard Way

Hi All,

Seasons Greetings to everyone out there, whatever your creed may be.

Yesterday on TV I noticed there were seven different versions of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” showing. The best in my opinion starred the immortal Alistair Sims as Scrooge. But other Scrooges included Albert Finney, Patrick Stewart, Jim Carey, Bill Murray, Michael Caine, and Simon Callow. On even had Nicholas Cage as Marley’s ghost.

Not bad for a one hundred plus year-old literary story about an old man’s spiritual redemption.

Happy holidays.

And now for something completely different….

The new horror novel from yours truly

The new horror novel from yours truly

What? You’re bored with screenwriting already?

That’s the trouble with the Internet generation, I suppose.

If you’re wondering what I’ve already written that you can actually read, then you may ant to check this out. “PROJECT NINE” is my only novel to date. At the moment it’s available on http://www.smashwords.com for the far-too-cheap price of $2.99. Get your e-book before they run out, folks. Roll up, roll up!

Introducing… The Hard Way

Hello, my name is Eric Steele.

I know the title sounds like something Dirk Diggler might star in, but I hope this will be an informative blog about the struggles of screenwriting when you live on the other side of the galaxy from Hollywood (and that I won’t have to resort to writing films that would normally star Dirk Diggler).

If, by chance, you lost your way somewhere while wandering around Planet Internet and ended up here, don’t panic. You’re among friends. Sit down, and we’ll share our stories about this bizarre industry. If you’re lucky, you might avoid some of the traps and pitfalls that I fell into while traversing the Screenwriting Jungle.

Are you comfortable? Then I’ll begin…

A long, long time ago, in a very rainy place called Manchester, England, a small boy had an idea. The idea was that he would be able to make a living by doing what he loved, which happened to be making up stories about imaginary people who never existed.

Nobody knows whether that idea was inspired by a fever-dream, or whether he misoverheard an old joke about an actress and a screenwriter. But for whatever reason, he decided to embark upon writing for a living.

Now as any story-teller knows, the path to true love never runs smooth. Twenty-three years later, that small boy has grown up, but he still tries to make a living by writing fiction.

In case you hadn’t guessed, that small boy was me.

I’ve had some successes and some failures. A few years back, my sci-fi action feature screenplay “Clonehunter” was produced and filmed in New York by a talented bunch of people calling themselves Pandora Machine. As word builds about the movie (which is far better than some movies with a lot more money behind them, in my opinion) surely Oscar nominations and general adulation will follow.

Until then, this is my blog. I hope you enjoy it.

Best,

Eric Steele