When “Raising the Stakes” is a Waste of Time

Richard Lee Byers writes in Astrojive:

In the “Conan” movie, the Cimmerian is out to avenge the murder of his father and the slaughter of his clan. In the “John Carter” film, the hero is a Confederate veteran who lost his wife and child in the war (right, just like the dude in Hell on Wheels) and has come to believe no cause is worth fighting for.

Neither concept comes from the original stories. Howard and Burroughs didn’t weigh the heroes down with emotional baggage. They made Conan and Carter adventurers, and that was that.

Now, I’m a writer, and I understand the conventional storytelling wisdom the screenwriters followed. (In my stuff, I often follow it myself.) Giving the hero a personal stake in the story conflict and/or psychological problems can enrich his characterization and intensify the drama.

But the flipside is that by now, all of us moviegoers have seen the vengeance-driven and/or grieving hero many times. Instead of deepening and individualizing a character, such traits can make him seem clichéd. Maybe movie Conan and movie Carter fall victim to that perception.

Read the rest of the article here.

I haven’t seen the new Conan yet, but we saw John Carter last night, and let me say: the extra junk was annoying.  Did we have to see all that crap with the Army in Arizona?  And what the hell was all that junk about the so-called religious leaders who were really out to destroy planets?  All that crap about Carter having lost his meaning in life got in the way of his Southern Charm, which, in the book, I found charming but here was almost non-existent.

I hate it when I read books where the characters have sufficient motivation to do something–and then the author has to stack up other crap on top of it that add nothing, waste my time, and turn the story from a story into a MESSAGE.  (Not that stories shouldn’t have messages, but any message shouldn’t be in flashing, 150-point font with arrows pointing toward it.)  And that’s what happened with Carter: a perfectly good movie that you have to mentally edit, because parts of it–the parts that were meant to “raise the stakes” for the characters–are just a waste of time.


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