The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Downhill Fast

Tananarive and I did a full read-through on the "Good House" script last night. Two of Nicki's friends came by including Lizzie Welles, who I've known since she was about five. Great to see them, and it was terrific for them to take their time to help out. It really helped us isolate problems, and hear the dialog through new ears, see the description through new eyes.


I bought Mushtaq a copy of Jeff Martone's H2H Intervals DVD. I wanted some insight into what I was seeing there, and his opinion is that the DVD is the best expression of the entire kettlebell community. I know that I love Steve Maxwell's videos, but they are "exercise" whereas H2H is "play" or "skill." You're not going to reach your VO2 Max--for that, you'd have to use a simpler movement pattern: coordination degrades with fatigue, so no complex movement is gonna get you close to your limit. However, you CAN approach the edge of your USEFUL endurance, that is, endurance that can actually be used in complex motion. One thing for certain, you can't do H2H drills without total mental focus. When a 16-36lb. steel ball is hovering at about the level of your head, it sharpens the mind marvelously.


Dark Knight is now the #2 film of all time, beating out Star Wars. That's definitely higher ticket prices and saturation bookings and showings. No denigration of a terrific film, but there is no way it's having the cultural impact Star Wars had. But then again, neither is the new Star Wars anime. I probably won't see it until DVD, but heard it was pretty bad. Maybe Lucas went to the well once too often. Some would say that he went there four times too often. The general opinion is that "Empire Strikes Back" is the best of the lot. I agree--thematically, writing, SFX (especially the unbelievable, pre-CGI asteroid mote sequence.) and one of the niftiest plot revelations ever ("Luke, I AM your father!") make it exceptionally tasty.


Question of the Day: What were the most and least rewarding sequels in your memory? Personally, I thought "The Matrix" went downhill so fast you'd think it was shot in flight. Yuck. You?


Steve Perry said...

I thought Godfather II was better than the original. DItto, Spider Man II, X-men II, and The Empire Strikes Back.

Terminator II was better than T1. Aliens II way better than Aliens I. Predator II, not as good as the original.

Some of an original movie, especially fantasy or SF, is spent establishing the sensawunda; once that has been done, there's more room for story. A New Hope (SW Ep. 4, the first movie) created the universe and you only get to do that the first time, but Empire was written better. Hard to call it a sequel though, like LoTR -- it was one of a trilogy.

None of the subsequent SW's movies were as good, even though the last one did pay off what it had to, the actors' chemistry just wasn't there.

I thought the first Indiana Jones movie was the most fun. I4 was, too, because these days, I like rooting for the old guy.

I wasn't impressed by how original The Matrix was, because it wasn't at all. The sequels were worse.

Men in Black was fun. MiB II sucked. Superman (Chris Reeve) did it for me. None of the sequels has.

Bats IV was the best of the bunch, save for the animated movie, which is still the best-written one of the bunch.

Some movies hit their marks first time out and should be left unmolested by sequels.

wraith808 said...

Steve Perry said...

Aliens II way better than Aliens I.

I don't really view Aliens as a sequel to Alien. They both happen in the same universe, and one of the same characters is there. The whole feel of them is different though... Alien was a horror flick, and Aliens was an action flick.

Just wanted to toss those thoughts into the ring...

Bennett said...

I certainly agree on the Matrix trilogy (which admittedly isn't groundbreakingly original, but it is what it is, and it's quite good at it). I treat them like I do the Rage Against the Machine disks that came out after that same time period. Just act like they didn't exist, and the story ended on a bright note. Sort of like stopping Ol' Yeller early.

On the side of better sequels, what about the Star Trek films? I think it's generally agreed that the even-numbered ones-- II, IV, and VI were far superior The Motion Picture and films III and V. Wouldn't that mean that, in a certain admittedly-taking-liberties-here sense, you had /three/ superior sequels in a series?

Bennett said...

And this reminds me, while I'm musing. Mr. Barnes has often remarked that all creative work is 'One Step Down' from the original. That is, you're bound to be at least a level inferior to whomever you studied. Wouldn't that mean that all creative work is in an inevitable decline after some hypothetical masterwork brought itself into being as if wholly formed from the sea foam? Where's the room for improvement? Or is it more a general rule of thumb for a journeyman artist who hasn't become a master just yet?

Anonymous said...

I agree that the Star Wars saga reached its zenith with The Empire Strikes Back. I still remember fondly the impression those enormous star destroyers and walkers made on the 13 kid in 1980. And of course revelation about Luke's paternity..Solo mummified in carbonate..Leia's declaration of love..
By contrast, Return of the Jedi was a huge anti-climax. To go from Space Slugs to ambling Teddy Bears. At least Jedi's watchable, unlike the prequels..

Godfather II is a magnificent sequel. I love the gory bindungsroman showing Vito Androlini's maturation into Don Corleoni, how he essentially emulates the murderer of his family. The assassination during mass is theatrically beautiful!!

I also liked Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Jones I and III contain some of the most memorable and profound movie dialog: "We're just passing through history; The Ark IS history"; "I bought this cheap watch from a second-hand vendor in Cairo; I bury it for a thousand years, it becomes priceless"; "Hitler can have the world, but he can't take it with him"; "Illumination".

I think Star Trek 4: The Voyage Home is the best of the Star Trek theatrical series, largely because of the its humorous look at our times and the chemistry between Shatner and Nimoy.

Mike R said...

The semi joke that he uses on the Lifelong Writing CD's, goes, IIRC, "And if you want to write classics, choose your grandparents very carefully."

It's not that those rare new classics or rare new breakthrough works can't happen, it's that they are _rare_. Even many popular authors who were huge 100 years ago are forgotten today.
Think of all the works that have ever been written in the English language. Now think how many works from 100, 200, 300, 400 years ago are still wildly read today. It's tiny. Minuscule. Classics are essentially black swans.

They happen, and they change things when they do happen, but they can not be reliably predicted or brought about by sheer will or even sheer work.

Steve's program is to turn people into competent professional writers. No program on Earth could reliably turn out writers capable of producing classics.

Shady_Grady said...

I thought Godfather 2 was probably the best sequel every made (and one of the best films ever). Other good sequels were Kill Bill Vol 2, Evil Dead 2(which is admittedly more of a remake) and Road Warrior.

I was really disappointed by the Matrix sequels....

Daniel Keys Moran said...

Mr. Barnes has often remarked that all creative work is 'One Step Down' from the original. That is, you're bound to be at least a level inferior to whomever you studied.

I've missed him saying that. I suppose it's true, at the level of people whose craft is entirely an adaptation of other artists work -- certainly describes lots of television. But it's still possible to work from life.

Steve Perry said...

Technically, there wasn't a roman numeral after the title, but Aliens continued Ripley's adventures in the same universe. No, it wasn't the same genre -- Alien was certainly a horror movie dressed in science fiction clothing, and Aliens was science fiction straight across, but even so, when you have a second movie with the same star, the same universe, the same monster, you have to do some fine hair-splitting to make a case that it isn't a sequel.

In any event it was a better movie -- better written and much less of an idiot-plot.

As for Trek, yeah, the even-numbered ones are better, but none of them really rise above a good solid episode of the series. Killing Spock and then bringing him back were great feel sad'n'glad moments. The first Trek movie was so awful that they'd have had to really work at it to make the next one worse ...

Anonymous said...

all creative work is 'One Step Down' from the original.

I don't recollect Steve saying this either
and whether he did or not
I disagree with it


eric said...

Ditto Godfather II. I also loved the French Connection II.

Steven Barnes said...

What I say is that on average, the work you produce will be a step down from the input material. If you want to write good SF, you'd better be reading GREAT SF. If you want to write Great should have a strong diet of great books--plus great art in other disciplines, plus a keen eye for life itself. I see people thinking they can create something great, but you look at their input, and it is crap. Doesn't work that way. The "One Step Down" is a rule of thumb designed to protect people from their own laziness.

Nancy Lebovitz said...

I don't expect to live to see anything else that has as much general impact as Star Wars, and if I do, it won't be an sf special effects movie.

Lucas found a completely neglected blind spot (that ambitious sf/fantasy had become technologically possible) and made good use of it.

In art, it's much harder to find a frontier than to develop it.

Nancy Lebovitz said...

I don't remember what Steve said about creative work being one step down from the original, but I took it to mean that whatever you make isn't as rich as the real world. I just found this about what happens if you make copies of copies. I'm linking to my lj because that's a handy way of both giving the quote and a link to the discussion it's from.

Mike R said...

Once you adjust for inflation, Dark Night is 37th, behind Independence Day and Home Alone.

Angie said...

I thought Toy Story 2 was better than the original, despite the fact that the original was great. It's easy enough to better a bad original, as with the Trak movies, but putting out a great movie and then doing a better sequel takes mad skills and a lot of luck.


Kami said...

The Highlander sequels (movies, not the show) were so bad that they made the first Highlander movie bad retroactively if you accepted the world building. Yuck!

Also casting my vote for Empire being the best of the SW movies, with the original coming in second place. The writing in the prequels was so poor that even my kids, the supposed audience for the movies that Lucas uses as his excuse for bad writing, were bored and disgusted. The action sequences were mostly splash fights instead of interesting action mini-stories. Don't even get me started about the first you say it, then you do it dialogue. Thank goodness there wasn't any on-screen sex!
"Let's take off our Corellian undies!"
My mind quietly boggles.

I contrast it to other kid movies, like Toy Story and The Lion King, which had excellent writing. Imagine if the SW prequel scripts could have matched the special effects? What's interesting to me is that storytelling has been around a long time and there are plenty of very talented writers. So, if I was a frontier-pushing guy who did really fine special effects, things people are blown away by, and the feedback I got on my third film was great special effects, story not so much, wouldn't it behoove me to employ, with my vast resources, some really excellent writers to cowrite with me? My thought would be, better to share the glory and $$ than get panned. Or at least find a writing buddy who gives me feedback/suggestions? Assuming the reviews of Return didn't bother me that much, I'd think by the second prequel I'd be scrambling to find a way, any way to elevate the story, fast. No matter what the SW franchise will make money through toys, movie sales, books, etc. but man oh man. I don't think my artistic integrity would allow me to put just anything I want, screw the audience, and take the money and run. Of course, major disclaimer--that may not be at all what's going on. As disappointed as I am by SW compared to the potential, I shouldn't presume to weekend quarterback.

What say you, the two high profile writing Steves (and anyone else high in the public eye with the arts out there reading this.) Are there too many ownership issues to get into a critique group situation? Is SW maintaining consistent, artistic integrity (following an original vision of the creator) or is it sloppy and/or amateurish storytelling that serves as an excuse to showcase special effects?

Nancy Lebovitz said...

I don't know if Lucas lost his artistic integrity in the sense of more or less consciously doing something sloppy or (as I suspect) he somehow lost his judgment.

I knew something had gone wrong at the beginning of the first prequel. "A long time ago in a galaxy far far away" is brilliant. Starting a movie with rolling unmemorable prose about tax policy is so unbrilliant it's hard to believe it was done by the same person.

Kami said...

I think he had the voices of storytellers in the early works.

Here's an interesting short interview:

Wikipedia has interesting info on Star Wars. I skimmed most of it but the writing/development portion I looked at to try to get some clues as to what happened opened my eyes. There were other writers involved, and in too complex of ways to explain here. But I do think that Lucas has made a classic writing error. By making it too much of his baby, he's clinging instead of growing. Or so it seems from my comfy chair.

Pagan Topologist said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Steve Perry said...

If you are the goose that laid the golden egg, nobody with half a brain wants to kill you, or even run the risk of pissing you off.

I think there were a number of reasons that SW's went the way it did. Expectations for the second series were higher than the moon -- it had gone from being fun to being IMPORTANT! There are religions spawned by SW's out there.

I think nobody expected it to do as well as it did originally, and they didn't know what to do to follow it up.

It was -- and is GL's baby -- and when you come up with something that huge, you tend to get nervous about messing it up. Being over-protective of your child can be as damaging as not caring about her at all.

The sequencing was off -- starting in the middle and working backward is tricky -- the last movie had a bunch of stuff it had to pay off, and anybody paying attention could have sussed out the plot long before it hit the screens. It was gonna be dark by its nature.

A lucky happenstance of casting gave us the original crew. Too much worry over the actors for the next batch came up lacking chemistry. They suffered from a serious lack of Han Solo, (and Luke, Leia, Chewy, Lando, Obi-wan, et al.)

Other reasons, but none of them were intentionally done to make anything worse.