Spoiled by storytelling

Looking back at the last handful of movie reviews I’ve written makes me wonder if I’m turning into an old grouch who just can’t turn his brain off and enjoy a popcorn film any more.  Hang on a second, I see some kids playing in my yard, I’ve got to go yell at them.

Okay, I’m back.  With all due allowances for changing tastes as a result of advancing age, I really don’t think it’s entirely due to my attitudes shifting.  Movies are just getting dumber.  Good writing is a complete afterthought in productions that take years to mount, and cost upwards of a hundred million dollars.  To paraphrase Nora Desmond, I’m still young-ish; it’s the pictures that got infantile.

I think I’ve grown spoiled from the outstanding storytelling we get on television these days.  We’ve got stuff like “Breaking Bad” and “Game of Thrones” (which has actually improved on the already great writing of the bestselling books, with some very shrewd decisions about pacing, plot consolidation, and additional scenes to flesh out certain characters.)

But our movie scripts can’t even be bothered to make sense within the context of their own fantasy worlds.  I’m not asking for every sci-fi movie to be written at the level of Clarke or Asimov; I just don’t want to see spaceships instantly flipping over and nose-diving toward Earth from near-Lunar orbit because their power plants shut down, as if they were high-flying biplanes.

And I want the behavior of the characters to make sense, with all due allowance for poor decisions made in high-stress situations.  I happened across last summer’s “Prometheus” on cable recently, having seen it once before in theaters, and it’s the rare film that actually gets worse on repeat viewings.  It’s one of the dumbest scripts ever written for an A-list production, truly Mystery Science Theater-worthy.  The first time I saw it, I was making some unconscious allowances for the bizarre behavior of the crew, because I thought maybe the alien planet had some sinister power that was driving them mad, a la “Forbidden Planet.”  

But no, they’re just a crew of drug-addled bumbling idiots who somehow got recruited for the most important space mission in human history.  Within a few hours of responding to an ancient invitation from the creators of the human race, and touching down on alien soil, the lead scientist has crawled into a bottle of gin; the guy who runs the high-tech 3D real-time laser mapping drone system has panicked at the sight of a hologram, gotten lost in the building he’s been mapping, and taken up doing bong hits in his space helmet; and the chief biologist, also scared into pell-mell flight by the sight of an ancient recording, responds to the discovery of a horrifying alien monster by petting it like a stray cat.  The one and only person monitoring the misadventures of the two idiots who ran away from the expedition, and got trapped inside an alien building by a monster storm, abandons his post to get laid.  And he’s the captain of the ship.

But abject stupidity is on display even before the ship lands and everyone freaks out at the sight of some old bones, because an early scene I had forgotten about involves the corporate bitch overseer of the space mission, played by Charlize Theron, sternly instructing one of the head scientists that she’s not to attempt any contact with the super-advanced aliens they came to visit.  As it turns out, they’re all dead (all but one of them, anyway) having blown themselves away with a bio-weapon under murky circumstances 2000 years ago, but nobody in the expedition knows that.  They’re responding to an invitation painted on cave walls up to 35,000 years ago, which showed the giant alien Engineers pointing at the planet they wanted humanity to visit.  In other words, only a couple of hundred years into its career of manned spaceflight, the humans think they’re going to control the terms of an encounter with an alien race that mastered interstellar travel at least 35,000 years ago?  A person who would say such a thing is a moron, and the scientist she was dressing down should have laughed in her face.

I just can’t help choking on nonsensical behavior, the utter ignorance of basic grade-school science, convoluted Evil Plots that don’t make any sense… not when there are tons of hard-working novelists out there who can do so much better.  Hollywoood could at least hire some of those folks as consultants and pay them to do script reviews.  But instead, it seems like everything is written by the same little band of increasingly careless screenwriters, whose work only has to be good enough to put asses in seats while pre-sold prequels, sequels, remakes, and reboots harvest a basket of cash during a big opening weekend.  The new “Star Trek” movie is a partial remake that serves as the sequel to a reboot.  Never has so much money been spent on “art” that has so little to say.