Enduring stories

I just got some tickets to see The Princess Bride in my local theater for its 30th anniversary, and it has me wondering, what makes some stories stick around and stay loved over the years, and others fade away to nothing? It’s definitely not the ‘graphics’ or ‘effects’… yet this is what hollywood spends 90% of their money on.

Think back on the movies you watch over and over. Are any of them watched for the really cool explosion or fight scene, or awesome looking aliens or cityscapes? No… they’re watched because you love the characters, or the story is enthralling, or they are funny or scary or heartwarming.

I just read that more ‘Avatar’ movies are coming, at the expense of near 1 billion dollars. I’m sure they will be pretty, with all that money spent on computers… but will it have memorable characters or story? Does anyone remember any of the characters from the first Avatar? I vaguely remember an asshole general, just because I remember being irritated at how obviously I was being manipulated to dislike him. I remember the blue people… but not really anything about their personalities. I never watched it a second time.

The Princess Bride, on the other hand, I can tell you every character’s personality, their goals and desires, and a memorable line from them. I’ve seen it at least a dozen times, probably more.  This is more than nostalgia. This is spending time and effort on having memorable, likable characters with full arcs and motivations and integration into the story, instead of spending all your time and money on making things look cool.

The problem is, looking cool is what makes money. People are attracted to shiny, neat looking things. The 90 second trailer showing explosions and fights and crazy looking things is what draws people into the theater, so that’s what the Hollywood machine produces. It doesn’t matter if you forget it immediately after, or even if you hate it halfway through. You went into the theater, they got their money, and now they can start making another one.

It’s not all bad though. Even if we don’t have good movies anymore, at least we have good TV. TV shows have to be good, because if someone gives up after the first episode, the show is going to fail. So they are forced to make it engaging and addictive, instead of just cool looking enough to get you to start watching.

I only wish some shows were shown on the big screen every week!


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