ALLIGATORS IN A HELICOPTER

a pro script reader ponders movies, reading, writing and the occasional personal flashback

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Excellent or Fun

So I read a post on the blog of Konrad West this morning, in which he reviews "King Kong". In the course of the review, he says that he likes a film if it is "excellent or fun" (he thought that "King Kong" worked much better as the latter).

But this is an idea that is almost perfect in its simplicity. Excellent, or fun.

Exactly.

This is why people go to the movies, on a base level. Either because they think they are going to be entertained (or even scared, which I think "fun" can be stretched to include) or because they think that they are going to see something excellent.

"Brokeback Mountain" doesn't look like much fun. Neither does "Munich". But if people think they are excellent enough, they will go.

And some balance is important, too. Certain movies shouldn't be too much fun; Superman III wasn't improved by the decision to add Richard Pryor and a lot of silly humor, while Superman IV went the other way, trying to be too earnest and excellent. (Not coincidentally, word is that the new Superman movie takes up after Superman II, and pretends that the next two never happened).

The problem with Hollywood is that "fun" is, on many levels, easier to do than "excellent". Because if you're trying to do "excellent" without any "fun" at all, and you fall short of "excellent", you get something like "Memoirs of a Geisha", which doesn't look like it is going to find much of an audience at all.

Or "The Terminal", which worked better in its first half, when it is fun, than in its second, when it goes for "excellent" and just gets gloppy.

So Hollywood tends to err on the side of "fun". Because even if something like "The Dukes of Hazzard" turns out to not have much on the "excellent" scale, audiences will still come to see it, because it has the sheen of "fun", even if it doesn't quite deliver.

So it's something to consider when you are writing your script. Because if you're not writing something that is "fun", or particularly "excellent" (or better yet, the rare combination of the two), you'd better ask yourself where it is falling short.

Opening today is "Fun With Dick and Jane". In case the use of the word "fun" in the title isn't enough of a grabber, the ad also plasters the word "FUN" on top of the ad (at least here, in the LA Times).

Because even if the movie doesn't get good reviews (and the real sign it's a stinker comes from the fact that it quotes the ever-dubious Earl Dittman of Wireless Magazine in the ad), people will go see it, because it looks like it's.... fun. At least until word of mouth tells them that it isn't.

Though who knows? It might be fun enough to survive even that.

13 Comments:

At 2:13 PM, Blogger Matt Waggoner said...

Heh, my roommate and I came up with the same system our second year of college, after seeing From Dusk Till Dawn, which is a maximally non-excellent movie that is also maximally fun. :)

 
At 3:16 PM, Blogger Fun Joel said...

I tend to not write films that are excellent, though I do try to maximize the fun. Must be another reason for my moniker!

 
At 3:19 PM, Blogger Konrad West said...

That's why I *love* MI-2. It's just mindless explosions, kung-fu, and serious frowning action from Tom Cruise. No to mention the ever sexy Thandie Newton. Woohoo!

And thanks for the link!

 
At 9:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"...(and the real sign it's a stinker comes from the fact that it quotes the ever-dubious Earl Dittman of Wireless Magazine in the ad)..."

[in my best Martin Short]

THANKS FOR REMEMBERING!

 
At 10:39 PM, Blogger writebrother said...

Fun or excellent works, but I tend to subscribe more to the Beavis and Butthead theory which states that everything is either cool or it sucks. Fun and excellent both fall into the cool category.

 
At 10:43 PM, Blogger Webs said...

Doesn't this value system work for everything, though?

Everything in life has to be either excellent (read "meaningful") or fun.

Well, everything that you choose to do, anyway....

 
At 11:50 PM, Anonymous chris said...

Ok, I'm going to say that if it's REALLY FUN...

...then isn't that one way to excel, to be excellent? Die Hard, Raiders? Aren't these EXCELLENT films that don't aspire to do anything more than give a rip-roarin' good time -- to give FUN? But HOW they do it, the sheer skill and craft of them...

EXCELLENT...

Now I can't flip it and say that being excellend is just one more way to be fun...but I think providing excellent fun is a noble calling and a profound skill. Wish Speilberg would go back to it...

 
At 7:01 AM, Blogger MaryAn Batchellor said...

Tagging Chris' post (but not necessarily agreeing)... Scott, what are some films that you would consider both excellent AND fun?

 
At 8:43 AM, Blogger Scott the Reader said...

Off the top of my head, a random list that hasn't been thought out at all...

Jaws, Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Ghostbusters, Singing In The Rain, E.T., Pulp Fiction, Almost Famous, High Fidelity, Shrek, My Girl Friday, The African Queen, Young Frankenstein, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Breaking Away, Go, Being John Malkovich, Swingers, Rushmore, Boogie Nights, This Is Spinal Tap, Diner, Tin Men.

I'm sure there are hundreds more.

If there has been a movie this year, however, this is honestly both excellent and fun, I'm not sure what it is yet. I certainly haven't seen it (though I've missed a lot). My list of the best movies I've seen this year (Goodnight and Good Luck, Crash, Cinderella Man, etc) don't include much real fun.

Ideas?

 
At 9:25 AM, Blogger Shawna said...

Toy Story is Excellent and Fun. Actually, let's just extend that to all the Pixar films to date.

For me, the excellent/fun quotient is defined in 'I wanna see it again'. While in the first examining 'The Usual Suspects' may not seem fun, it is, because we want to be 'in the know' the next time we see the film, with different eyes.

This year, I have only seen one movie twice in a theater -- 'Serenity'. It may not rise to the levels of excellent/fun for most, but it did for me. Having just watched it again on DVD, I am most happy with it.

 
At 11:43 PM, Blogger Konrad West said...

Yep. Toy Story definitely rates as both excellent and fun in my book.

Serenity was fun, but I'd say it was good rather than excellent. Still cool though.

As Scott said: Cinderella Man, Crash, Good Night are the excellent ones I've seen so far, though I'm hanging out for Brokeback to come out here.

 
At 6:06 PM, Blogger Dixon Steele said...

Well put re fun & excellent.

GOOD NIGHT & GOOD LUCK wasn't fun. But it was excellent.

 
At 8:25 AM, Blogger Thomas Crymes said...

Can you have an excellent comedy that isn't fun?

 

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