Friday, July 29, 2011
The Trap of Being Too Clever
Finger Wag Alert Level: 6
I just saw a trailer for a new Justin Timberlake movie (he's not annoying enough in music and on SNL, now he thinks he's an actor?) that has my head spinning. It's called "In Time" and it also stars Amanda Seyfried. From what I can gather, it's a near-future dystopian film where everyone has a cap put on
their lives of 25 years of age. After that, they kick it. So that people can gauge where they are in their life, each human has a digital-hologram-like countdown clock implanted on their wrist, and the numbers are ever descending. Once you hit 25, you can buy more time if you have the money, or you're dead meat.
Ok, mildly interesting. But here's where it gets dumb real fast.
In the interminable trailer I watched (note to trailer-makers: please keep trailers under 2 minutes; this one lasted a whopping 4 minutes!!), Timberlake (ugh) is a poor man who can't extend his life, and he's on the eve of his death birthday. So he runs away. Then he somehow meets a guy who has bought himself a century of more time, but some other bad guy wants that time, and Timberlake finds himself helping the century guy escape. *Pauses to take a breath* Ok, then the random century guy uploads his time to J.T. and then throws himself off a bridge.
Why? I guess because he doesn't want to be hounded by the bad guy. I don't know; the audio was bad.
Now J.T. has a century to live, but not really, because all these bad guys want to steal his time, including Cillian Murphy (who I happen to like). Did I forget anything? Oh yeah, J. to the T. ends up kidnapping some rich guy's daughter (Mamma Mia Seyfried) for some reason and holding her hostage so that people don't steal his life or whatever.
Ok, timeout. This has already gotten out of hand, and we're just talking about a trailer. Can you imagine sitting through a whole movie of this, trying to keep track of what the hell is going on? To me, this movie seems to have all the makings of the next "Inception", a movie I'm not afraid to say I hated from minute one. I know it makes you sound like you're not smart if you didn't enjoy it, if you didn't just love love love it, but I found Inception incredibly talky and, yes, totally impossible to follow. I felt like I was doing homework the whole time, and it wasn't fun.
As I said in an earlier post, don't be an imagination dictator. There's so much explaining in the "In Time" trailer that I almost fell asleep. "I'm kidnapping you because you'll help me to stay alive," J.T. intones at one point, trying really hard to seem deep and troubled (dude, you were in N'Sync--get over yourself). And there are a bunch of other expository lines like this that made me cringe.
Bottom line: it's too clever for its own good.
Remember "Blade Runner"? Sure there were some talky lines in there, but by-and-large, Ridley Scott trusted enough in the intelligence of his audience that they'd figure out what he was doing. He didn't feel the need to explain every little thing. And the movie is brilliant because of that.
This is a lesson us writers can take away from a pre-tragedy like "In Time": trust your audience. You don't have to explain every little thing. If you do, your reader will hate your guts. Because you're implicitly saying, "You're too dumb to get what my world is all about, so I'm going to run you through all of the bullet points."
Instead, let the drama speak for itself. Instead of Timberlake saying in his narration "I just want to wake up and not have to worry about my life winding down" or whatever dumb line he says, just show the clock on his arm. Show people--young people--dropping dead when their clock expires. Bang! You've just communicated to your audience that once people reach a certain young age, they die. And you didn't tell them. Show, don't tell--remember your third grade teacher telling you that?
Anyway, now I'm getting overly talky, so I'll leave you to the rest of your day. Good luck!