The Danger of Needless Script Rewrites

Film poster for Gravity (2013)

With Gravity soon to hit bluray in what I have read is an impeccable and remarkable transfer, I figured in lieu of writing another piece about why this film is so great (since everybody has been doing that lately), I’d instead approach the film from a different angle, that of responding to its critics who attack the film for what they perceive as insurmountable flaws in the film (since everybody has been doing that lately, too).

Several months ago a man wrote to me describing his issues with the plot of Gravity, and enthusiastically offered me what he believed to be an improved rewrite. As an immense fan of the film, I was suspicious, but was nonetheless taken with his bravado. Reading his version I wanted to be positive, I wanted to agree with his central premise that his version was inherently superior, but as his specious claims mounted, my enthusiasm waned. I knew immediately that I was reading the ravings of one indoctrinated by devastatingly useless ideas, lost on a vainglorious crusade for the formula of the perfect script. To be clear, the ideas were sound in and of themselves, but troubling when proffered as the “improved” version of what was an already sufficiently realized plot. It amounted to a subjective opinion being passed off as incontrovertible objectivity. It completely overlooked the merits of the film as it was to describe a completely different version of the plot as it should have been according to the tastes of one man, bearing as much semblance to Cuaron’s vision of the film as Lindelof’s version of Prometheus did for Jon Spaits original script. Though, to be fair, his was more complete than Lindelof’s hack efforts. By the time I finished I contemplated turning off my computer and never penning a reply. I had almost nothing positive to offer in my criticism. But he had asked me for my thoughts, and I had never maintained any illusions with my readers about my affability.

The problem with the rewrite was that it sought to rewrite what was already a cogent film into something approaching the vast majority of other works produced these days. The rewrite argued for a seven-step process to improve the quality of the movie, ranging from features such as infusing moments of “weakness and need” to “self-revelation” (nevermind that the latter point requires we casually overlook such moments already present in Cuaron’s version). One of his fundamental claims was that the film’s plot as-is left him emotionally uninvolved without any sufficient reasoning. Continue reading

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Romantic Movies as Couples’ Therapy?

In the December issue of the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, Researchers at the Relationship Institute at UCLA published findings that the divorce rate decreased by half in couples that discussed one relationship movie per week. At the risk of coming off as an insufferable gloater, have I not argued ad nauseum the structuring capacity of film?

Reporting on the study, MDConnects.com explained that “The findings show that an inexpensive, fun, and relatively simple movie-and-talk approach can be just as effective as other more intensive therapist-led methods-reducing the divorce or separation rate from 24 to 11 percent after three years.”

After attending a ten minute lecture on the nature of relationships, participants “then watched Two for the Road, a 1967 romantic comedy about the joys and strains of young love, infidelity, and professional pressures across 12 years of a marriage. Afterward, each couple met separately to discuss a list of 12 questions about the screen couple’s interactions.”

In historical context, essentially this study confirms what the Romantics insisted in every scrap of poetry they ever penned, every apologia produced, or idea expressed (and which the ancient Greeks would have found surprising it even needed mentioning). Take the poetry of Wordsworth’s for instance, which announced in the Preface to the Lyrical Ballads with immolating candor the desire to produce a humanist literature that would remind humans what it took to earn that title of ‘human’. Film, hailed as it was the necessary extension of that idealistic (dare I say, romantic) impulse by theorists like Eisenstein, enables this potential for any who might seek its power.

In this new study we have something approaching proof of film’s humanizing potential. This new study ought to give filmmakers pause then, so that they may reflect on the potential of their art, and to consider what its continued cultivation may bring. One way to achieve this, I have already argued (indeed, this entire blog stands as testament), is by reflecting on the very methods and conditions which anticipated and produced this effect. This accountability may sound laughably idealistic, but it bears considering that to whom much has been given, much will be expected; and the more entrusted, the more demanded. Filmmakers, I entreat you.