Modern movie clichés…

Hollywood is built on the back of clichés. It thrives on the familiar, which is why we get endless retreads, reboots, and remakes, not to mention trite pop culture icons (e.g. comics, board games, toys, and theme park rides) rehashed into lame movie franchises. I once joked with a production company executive that the next frontier of such drivel would be breakfast cereals. (“Cap’n Crunch Meets the Flying Dutchman!”, “Snap, Crackle, and Pop: Crime-fighting Triple Threat!”) I was kidding. He said it had already been discussed. You may yet see the horror flick, “Lucky Charms: They’re Magically Deadly!”

But most movies these days are merely collections of individual clichés. The age-old list of classics include such tired bits as:

  • The L-shaped bed sheets that reveal the man’s chest but not the woman’s.
  • Every room in Paris has a view of the Eiffel Tower.
  • All police investigations must have a scene in a strip joint.

There are many more back in the past but this post is about the newer banalities infecting our streams not the antique ones that used to infest our cinemas. The best way to know a movie effect has achieved cliché status (even better than seeing it repeated endlessly in mass-market studio productions) is when it starts to appear in commercials.

I won’t mention the proliferation of vomiting or profanity, which I’ve dealt with already in previous posts. They’re ubiquitous and gratuitous to the point of becoming clichés.

Here are some of the best ones I can think of off the top of my head:

  • The protagonist casually saunters toward the camera, walking away from a huge explosion that he (or she… but let’s face it, it’s usually a guy creating the mayhem) caused. Wondering where you’ve seen this one? Everywhere!
  • A person falls from the sky and lands in a three-point crouch, waiting to spring into action. Typically, the ground where he lands shatters. Yeah, Iron Man and Thor, I’m looking at you. And countless others, including advertisements.
  • Walking unscathed through the middle of a wild firefight, shooting in both directions… sometimes with arms crossed for some inexplicable reason.
  • Speaking of shooting, there’s the person who dives sideways while shooting. Inevitably, even though he’s flying through the air out of control, he hits everything in sight. On the other hand, he’s untouched by anyone shooting at him. You knew this was a cliché when it appeared in a fake trailer in the movie “The Holiday”. Actually, that trailer includes several popular clichés.
  • A person defies gravity by leaning waaaaay back in slooooow motion to avoid a swinging sword. The character is essentially playing sword limbo. They might also be ducking bullets (yeah, right) but only Keanu Reeves can get away with that one.
  • Viewed from inside one car, another car slams into its side, shocking everyone. Well, it shocked everyone when I first saw it in “Adaptation”. Now it shocks nobody.
  • Important character makes dramatic entrance by opening a massive door, backlit as a silhouette. Cool when Aragorn entered Helm’s Deep in “The Two Towers”. Now? Not cool at all.
  • Someone opens a refrigerator door (or other door, but the fridge does this best) and when they close it, someone (or something) is revealed standing behind it. It was cute in “E.T.” It ain’t cute or scary anymore. It’s boring and unoriginal like all the rest of these.

Scenes like those are so hackneyed, I mentally check out of the movie as soon as I see them. It means the director is lazy and unoriginal and I’m no longer interested in what the movie has to say. But it’s not just scenes. An individual line is enough to send me heading for the exit… or the head. Here are a couple of examples:

  • After an atrocious encounter involving intense emotional conflict that unexpectedly blows up in a character’s face, that person looks at another and says with thick sarcasm, “That went well.” It has now become part of everyday parlance. Or maybe it began there. Either way, it keeps coming at us from what used to be called “the big screen” long after it lost any impact.
  • A surprised character declares, “I didn’t see that coming.” Maybe not, but I did. And I’m sick of it.

The saddest part of this is that, somewhere along the line, each of these was original and effective. “The Matrix” was a gold mine of great shots and effects. By now, all those have been hijacked by lesser movies thus making even the original less enjoyable. I’ve already seen one of my favorite action shots, that of Bruce Willis stepping out of a rotating car in “RED”, botched up in some inferior wannabe clone.

And don’t get me started on movies that show one of the final scenes as some sort of “teaser” at the beginning. That might have been clever once or twice (although I doubt it) but it’s reached epidemic levels. There’s almost never a legitimate reason for it either, beyond the director’s conceit.

There are so many more examples, but I’ve run out of time, patience, and energy all at once.

[Side note: One of the primary indications that my life is sweeping by faster than a Delorean with a flux capacitor is how quickly I get behind on these posts. If you’d asked me how long it had been since I posted one, I’d have said 2-3 weeks. Nope. It’s been six weeks. ((sigh)) ]

What’s *your* story?

storyI love Jesus. Not just because He loves me and died for me, although that’s pretty cool and would be enough. I also love the fact that He’s a master storyteller. When people ask Him profound theological questions, He usually tells a story. It’s almost as if He’s trying to evade the question. Rather, I think, He’s getting to the heart of it.

Ask a theologian to tell you what the Kingdom of God is and you’re bound to get a tedious multi-volume treatise on the ins and outs of Jewish culture, a summary of a couple millennia of church history, and a detailed exegesis of Greek New Testament passages. Ask Jesus and you get a story about one of the following:

  • Some sad old woman who spends the whole night looking for her spare change in the sofa.
  • A farmer who’s having mixed success with his crops.
  • A sleazy middle manager who makes good by cheating his old boss.

legoparableThe parables (fancy theological word for stories) of the Prodigal Son and the Good Samaritan are more than tales that have become part of the nerve fiber of our culture. They’re great stories.

Why does He tell stories? Because people listen to stories. Sermons? Not so much. Even those of us who listen to sermons don’t always listen. If you know someone who’s heard a sermon recently, ask her what it was about. You’re more likely to hear about the joke the preacher told or the simple family anecdote that illustrated a forgotten moral lesson.

We’re wired to listen to stories. No matter what the era or the dominant philosophy thereof, people love and crave stories. They used to be told around campfires and now they’re seen on a phone or in a cineplex. No difference. It’s the story, the people, the ups and downs of fortune, the clawing after the goal, the battle of good vs. evil, the boy-meets-girl, the life-and-death struggle.

cleaversOne reason I believe stories resonate so well with us all is that we somehow, without even thinking about it, realize we’re in our own story. You might not be a writer, but you’re writing your life story. You’re the lead, the hero. That doesn’t mean you have to be Indiana Jones or Aragorn. It might be enough to be June or Ward Cleaver.

Most of our stories are pretty boring. They’d make lousy movies. Hitchcock was quoted as saying, “Movies are real life with the boring parts cut out.” By that criteria, most lives would make brief movies indeed, more like music videos or even commercials.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

What if your life was interesting enough to be made into a miniseries? Or a sitcom that runs 20 (or more) seasons? What’s to stop it? You’re the writer. You might have no pen, pencil, laptop, or vintage Underwood, but every day you’re writing the story of your life with your words, your loves, your priorities. Some day this volume of that story will end. (Lord willing, there will be a sequel.) Meanwhile, make it interesting, something worth telling. Something people want to hear.

Including you.