Artificially Black and White

Reading yet another spork, I realized that almost every spork I’ve read recently has similar complaints about fairly standard elements of fiction, especially in the fantasy genre.

Let’s be honest: For readers to connect to a story, they have to identify it as a story—something has to be recognizable to the audience. A completely “original” story, if it isn’t built with the constraints of fiction and the human brain in mind, may well be incomprehensible. Which you might say is what happened in the modern era of Literature and is why no one reads anymore. But that’s a different issue.

Ultimately, it’s the execution that counts, that makes the difference that turns a cliché into an imaginative world. Because they may often have two similar plots, ideas, or even scenes.

Compare, for example, the Harry Potter series and the Inheritance Cycle.

A skilled author will convince her readers that they don’t need to question this world; while it doesn’t conform to ours, it has it’s own set of internal laws and limits of ability. I admit I couldn’t finish the later books of Harry Potter and have little interest in doing so, but couldn’t start Eragon with any integrity because so many readers lashed back against the only given law of “it works because I said so”.  And I accept their opinions because they coherently argue this conclusion with textual evidence, I’ve seen their other articles on works I do have familiarity with, and I can understand how their opinions skew—whereas many defenders of cheap, popcorn novels nearly always respond with “U cant say anything bcuz u dont publish” and I am being generous.

Now occasionally perfectly literate fans will confess that they enjoy those works, almost always with the caveat

I know that it isn’t very good objectively, but sometimes I just want to read pulp.

Since that spork, I think of the preview chapters of Bran Hambric: the Farscape Curse, I’ve been thinking about the “tropes” of fantasy fiction, and trying to come up with an argument to prove they aren’t necessarily bad—go back to the difference between idea and execution. Then I watched the newest fantasy-movie-based-on-a-book-so-it-will-be-a-blockbuster-and-make-lots-of-money, Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole—the owl movie.

Whether it’s an issue with the film or it started in the books, I certainly can’t use this movie as an example of what works. First, because Godwin’s Law should not be invoked so easily, which I want to avoid so as not to completely invalidate the rest of my argument, but there’s no denying that the antagonists call themselves the “Pure Ones”.

Then again, even the king and queen of the guardians are snowy owls and the whitest in the movie, much like the queen of the evil empire—who *spoiler* flies off in the end so as to return for the sequels.

But, especially to emphasis this fight is against GOOD and EVIL, the movie relies entirely on tropes (in this case, we can validly call them cliché) to move the plot forward, shoehorning the characters into their roles with effectively no development whatsoever—the mystical blue-tipped Hedgehog even names them: Soren “the leader”, Twilight “the warrior”, the small female who first is spunky-damsel-in-distress but ends up contributing nothing including getting kidnapped “the token girl who isn’t a mother figure”. The nursemaid snake gets to be “the heart”. Also a snake as a nursemaid to owl kids? And they are to be the Nine Walkers—wait, “Five Flyers” to save the world.

And then poor Clyde (at least that’s what it sounded like and I missed the credits). He is the designated EVIL because he is OMG!JELUZ!1!!111! of his super-talented GOOD brother, Soren. Not that Soren ever seemed particularly concerned about what his brother was actually feeling or thinking—he’s completely oblivious. Clyde evilly tells him *spoilers* at the end “Then you don’t know me at all” (paraphrased). That’s never been said before, right? But he’s right…from this movie, Soren has never had the faintest interest in getting to know his brother.

Just as Clyde’s “you don’t know me” speech might ring just slightly familiar, so does much of the dialogue. There were a few gems; inauspiciously, none of which I can remember—and even more revealing is that I can write this review in the theater while actually watching the movie, I can follow so easily the characters and story because they are so familiar. Like a fill in the blank.

I will grant most of these issues are probably the medium. Not having read the books, I don’t know how much ground is being covered (too much). It’s more a summary than a story on its own terms—critical failure for a standalone movie.

Since the movie is never as good as the book, the creators should think of it as such.

It is a beautiful movie. If you don’t have a brain that automatically analyses everything to death, more power to you. Most everything is well-rendered (if the snake looked a bit odd) and the owls are gorgeously and generously detailed. They paid full price for every feather, and it works. Even I have to admit the fight scenes were actually cool, and fun to watch—and unlike the rest of the movie, how owls might fight (even with armor), because like Alpha & Omega, it was mostly a story about humans who happen to superficially look like animals. The fighting however was in “3D” and not just in terms of having to wear special glasses because I watched it in 2D and it still worked (movie-wise instead of story-wise). But the owls used right and left and up and down when fighting and not limiting themselves to one plane. That was fun to watch.

Also, I the soundtrack was generally strong, if at times it got a little generic. They also had the odd idea of using Owl City music for a scene and for credits. Beyond the word, one of these things is not like the other. This is a dark movie, with very dark themes and the sudden intrusion of Owl City’s cheerful optimism jarred. Keep your theme in mind next time.

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