On Thor and More – A Mid-Tour Mailbag

You can't tell this just by looking at the type, but the fact is that I'm not writing this from home -- I'm writing this on the road, where I am currently on tour promoting my book. Touring is fun, but it also takes up most of the brain, leaving it incapable of thinking up big meaty column subjects. You know what that means: to the mailbag!

First question:

A couple of weeks ago, you posted a column about upcoming films and whether you were looking forward to them or not. Do you think it's fair to grade films like that, when you haven't seen them yet?

Sure, because I'm not grading the film itself; I'm grading whether, based on what I know about the films, they are ones I think I want to see. These two things are entirely separate. Is it possible that a movie that I'm not looking forward to will surprise me and I'll end up loving it? Sure. Not only is it possible; it's something I'd be happy to have happen. Conversely, there are movies which looking interesting to me that will disappoint when I get around to seeing them. That's the nature of expectation.

It's something everyone does -- and something every movie studio tries to manipulate. All the trailers and posters and advance stories about the films are designed to make you hungry to see it. If a movie studio is going to go out of its way to try to influence my opinion about a picture before I see it, I feel perfectly fine in having an opinion in the first place. Like any opinion, it could be wrong in the long run. But in the meantime, I'm okay having it.

Next question:

When will superhero movies just die? I am so sick of them.

They'll die when people stop going to them, which is something they don't appear to be doing, given Thor's solid $60 million-plus debut and decent hold for a second weekend. Alternately, they'll stop when the movies become too expensive to justify, which is a real possibility, since the budgets regularly top $100 million before marketing. We've already seen the Spider-Man franchise scale back with a cheaper director and star and a (relatively) smaller budget, but not every superhero film will lend itself to downsizing.

There's also another option, which is that we'll see the end of the superhero movies when Hollywood exhausts the A-list stable of both the DC and Marvel universes and starts trying to build blockbusters off of marginal or second-string heroes. It's one thing to aim for a half-billion in box office with Batman; it'll be another thing entirely to try to do it with, say, Nightwing. It's not impossible, but that's not the same thing as saying it'll be a sure bet.

Final question:

Last week, you talked about things film can teach you about writing novels. What doesn't film teach you about writing novels?

Well, lots, actually. Films are visual media, so there's no real need, generally speaking, for films to focus on description. A film can show you in a few frames what an author might take several pages to describe -- the proverbial picture being worth a thousand words. Film's also generally not good at getting into the heads of characters, and, while it offers a form of omniscient narrator, the form takes shape via the placement and use of the camera, not (necessarily) via the skill of the writer. All of these things are useful for a novel writer to know and implement in his or her writing, and film's not going to be a way to learn these things.

None of this is particularly surprising; filmmakers and novelists overlap in terms of their skill sets and focus, but there's lots in each case that is not applicable in the other. It's why being a great author is no guarantee of writing a great (or even good or fair) screenplay and why so many wonderful screenwriters fail badly when they put their hands to long-form prose. They're disciplines that require work and effort to get done, and the more time you spend on one the less time you have to spend on the other. Usually, you have to choose which you like more. There are exceptions (The Princess Bride's William Goldman stands out as one), but they're called "exceptions" for a reason.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.