Nicola Monaghan's news, events and general thoughts about life and writing.

Friday, 8 May 2009

Realism in films

I've been thinking a lot about film recently, and watching lots of new films as well as old faves. This is partly because I'm working on the adaptation of The Killing Jar, partly because I finally have the time to focus on film and TV, but a good deal to with a course I'm teaching in Nottingham: Writing a short film. I sometimes feel a bit of a fraud teaching this. I've not got any short films out there. I have written them, though, but inertia and practical issues have meant I've never tried to go further than the writing. I was so focused on being a novelist for so long, especially when I first discovered screenplay, on my MA course. But, to be honest, it does quite suit my style. Very structured, very visual. I enjoy the challenge of having to break my story down and work it out in pictures.

One of the films I've revisited recently is Swordfish. I think this is an interesting movie, not necessarily that great, but definitely one that I find worth studying. The opening is pretty special and probably holds more promise than the movie as a whole plays out. We've got John Travolta talking for several minutes, delivering the well written lines of dialogue the way only he can. He's talking about Hollywood and its lack of realism. He's suggesting ways that seige situations could be more realistically done, with no mercy on the part of the hostage takers and lots of bloodshed. People are sitting around drinking coffee, commenting on what he says. Then bam: span out and we are actually in a seige situation. Travolta follows up his words, well, I won't say how because some readers might not have seen the film. But he does follow up.

It almost feels like the film writer is setting his premise with Travolta's speech. 'This is going to be a realistic Hollywood film'. Of course, as the film continues, it's really not at all, just as stylised as anything you've seen. There's the longest and most unrealistic car chase I've ever seen. And the computer displays are much more visual than any hacker's screen would ever be. Perhaps it's impossible to be realistic in film, no matter how you set out to be. Maybe that's the point. A couple of views and I'm still not sure.

So I thought to myself, what would happen to some Hollywood storylines if the writer did try to inject some of that realism Travolta talks about?

Starting with Swordfish. Well, I reckon it would have taken the Hacker several hours if not days to get into the department of defense computer. He would have drunk coffee while hacking, not wine, but if he had drunk wine then he would have spilled it on the keyboard, turned the thing upside down to try to empty it out, then started typing again only to find the spacebar didn't work and several other keys had to be bashed quite hard, over and over, to get the letter on the screen, at which point they would stick and the computer send out a mad beep as it filled with bbbbbbbbbbbbs.

Fight Club would be a really short film. Jack would go out and get himself beat up once, then realise that it hurt, and he didn't like it, wasn't very good at it, and retreat to his finely Ikead apartment with his tail between his legs.

Pulp Fiction, I don't even know where to start, except that Uma Thurman would have died, John Travolta got shot by the big boss, and Bruce Willis would have won the fight and taken the money.

I'm going away to think of a few more examples and will post them when I do.


Mark Bolton said...

If you'd like to get talking about the world of film then you are firmly in my territory.
To me there are a very limited number of Hollywood pictures that bare any resemblance to reality. This is particularly so at the moment with a general economic malaise and impending SAG strike causing the few studios doing anything to be super conservative with Star Trek 11s and Night at the Muaeum 2s. Worst Hollywood picture of 2008 had to be Vantage Point now showing on Sky Movies. Premise is interesting. Cast is good apart from the entirely forgetable lead whose name I forgot. But the film is a joke.

Rod Duncan said...

Another really interesting article.

"The difference between fiction and reality is that fiction has to be believable" - I think it was Tom Clancy who said that. And I think in The Importance of Being Ernest one of the characters says "The good ended happily, the bad unhappily. That is the meaning of fiction."


As for Swordfish - don't get me started!



Niki M said...

Cheers guys. I think possibly the UK film industry does reality better that the US but maybe a little too often. That said, don't let that get out since I'm writing a 'gritty British drama' Lol. I didn't see Vantage Point but heard it was awful.