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An Open Letter to M. Night Shyamalan

So, um, hey. About your movie "The Happening"...

Look, M (do you mind if I call you M?), I like your movies. "The Sixth Sense" was awesome. I enjoyed "Unbreakable." "Signs" was a fun movie, even though Mel 'Kill All The Jews, They Killed Christ' Gibson was tragically miscast.

I'll even give you "Lady in the Water." I enjoyed it, despite the critical savaging.

But dear God, M, what were you thinking when you wrote "The Happening?"

For starters, there's the title. I really, really wish you'd chosen a different title for this film, something perhaps a bit more appropriate to the story. You see, "The Happening" makes the movie sound like it might be interesting or mysterious, and that's just plain false advertising. I would perhaps recommend a different name, something like "When Maples Attack" or "Poplars Gone Wild." Then perhaps I would have gone into the theater with a clearer sense of what to expect, or more likely given it a miss altogether.

And dude, seriously, Learn something about science. Please. Anything about science. If your main character is a scientist, it helps to know at least a little bit about the field. Knowing what science is might be a good start.

Here's a hint, that I'll give you as a freebie without charging you a script consulting fee because I like you. No scientist would ever say something like "Science doesn't prove anything. At the end of the day, any explanation is just a theory."

See, simply by using phrases like "just a theory," you demonstrate that you don't know what the word "theory" means. Unlike, for example, a character who is, say...a scientist.

And enough with the "camera staring at the actor's face so we can see how they're emoting" schtick. It worked well enough in "The Sixth Sense," but by the time you'd gotten to "The Village" we'd all been clobbered over the head with it enough. We get it, we get it. Your characters Feel Profound Emotions. How 'bout branching out a bit, developing a new visual language, rather than relying on the same tool over and over again, m'kay? We'll all appreciate it. I'm just sayin'.

Oh, and about your characters Feeling Profound Emotions...that's nice, but occasionally we'd like to see them do something, too. Passivity gets annoying after a while, y'know? When every single character in a movie, including extras in the background of the scenes, ends up dead save for three, and those three are saved only by pure luck and not as a consequence of any of their own actions, that's not Bold Storytelling. It's tedious, pointless dreck. The audience likes to see a story unfold as the result of the actions of the characters. Occasionally, it's nice to see characters making decisions and doing things which advance the story arc, too. Again, I'm just sayin'.

And what's with the little old lady in the run-down house? I haven't seen a more pointless and ultimately unsatisfying side plot since the unbearable scene with the psycho pedophile in the basement in the awful film version of "War of the Worlds."

Oh, while we're talking about characters, consistency? Please? Look, M, I know they're your characters and you can do what you want and all, but when the main character keeps alternating randomly between "smart and determined" (as in "He sure is resilient, isn't he?") and "dumb as a box of rocks," with occasional detours through the land of "socially incompetent," "utterly passive," and "freaking out because it's windy," he doesn't really feel like a character. Goddamnit, I've seen 70s porn flicks with greater depth and better character development.

Like I said, M, I don't want to tell you your job, but if you're making a movie that's supposed to be a character study, a good place to start might be with a character.

I really gotta tell you, M, if you want to keep getting my money, you gotta stop with the movies that make me feel like I've just wasted two hours of my life I'll never have back again. Kthx.

Love,
Franklin

PS: You owe me ten bucks.


Comments

( 14 comments — Leave a comment )
madamruppy
Jul. 3rd, 2008 06:03 pm (UTC)
Now, I haven't seen the movie. For some reason it isn't high on my list. But:

I've seen 70s porn flicks with greater depth and better character development.

May be the best single line review I've heard yet.
redhotlips
Jul. 3rd, 2008 06:10 pm (UTC)
When I saw this a couple weeks ago, the audience outright laughed at some of the cornier lines.

I was so bitterly dissapointed that the brilliant idea was delivered in such a crappy manner. This could...should have been a very exciting movie.
cheerilyxmorbid
Jul. 3rd, 2008 06:33 pm (UTC)
Ninja trees. That's all I have to say. Ninja. Trees.

P.S. He owes me ten bucks too.
lance_lake
Jul. 3rd, 2008 06:44 pm (UTC)
Here's a hint, that I'll give you as a freebie without charging you a script consulting fee because I like you. No scientist would ever say something like "Science doesn't prove anything. At the end of the day, any explanation is just a theory."

See, simply by using phrases like "just a theory," you demonstrate that you don't know what the word "theory" means. Unlike, for example, a character who is, say...a scientist.


So... I'm not following.. All explanations by scientists ARE just theories. How is this wrong?
tacit
Jul. 3rd, 2008 06:57 pm (UTC)
The problem is in the "just" part.

Folks who aren't scientists, from movie producers to Creationists, tend to treat the word "theory" as if it means "idea" or "guess." To a scientist, the word "theory" means something very different; it means "model."

So, for example, we have the "theory of gravity," which we use to do things like calculate trajectories that get satellites from here to Pluto, and to predict the position of the various planets. It certainly isn't "just a theory;" the word "theory" in this case means "the models we use to calculate and predict gravitational effects."

A model may be incomplete, but that doesn't mean it's not true--at least not in the sense that a Creationist might think when he says "evolution is just a theory."

The character in The Happening was profoundly unbelievable in part because no scientist I've ever met or heard of would say things like "science doesn't explain anything" (on the contrary, it arguably has more explanatory power than any other human cognitive system), or use the expression "just a theory" as a way to dismiss the truthfulness of a particular explanation for something.
lance_lake
Jul. 3rd, 2008 07:10 pm (UTC)
True... But it also depends on the inflection of the quote..

For example, my father in law is a micro-biologist. He is a scientist, but when I asked him about this 6 months ago or so (why do scientists deal only with theory), he did say things like "Gravity is just a theory, but it's the best one we have right now". I don't believe he was dismissing gravity as not being real. Just saying that the theory we have isn't fact and can't achieve the level of fact ever. Not that it needs to, but perhaps since he was talking to a non-scientist, it slipped.

and personally, I agree that science doesn't explain anything. It can't. It can only give it's best theory to what is happening. Perhaps I am taking "explain" to a higher level you are. Explaining to me means to state fact. Science can never do this because it doesn't deal in fact. It deals in theory.

Then again, that's just my opinion. ;)
red_girl_42
Jul. 3rd, 2008 08:43 pm (UTC)
I gotta go with lance_lake here on this one. I've heard scientists saying this also. The thing that most laypeople don't get is that when a scientist says, "What we know is just a theory" they have a very different meaning than when, say, a Creationist says it. They aren't saying, "It's just a theory therefore we have little reason to believe it's true and it could easily be proven wrong tomorrow." Rather, they are saying, "It's just a theory because we can't prove it as fact, but so far it's the best evidence we have and we will accept it until new evidence convinces us otherwise."

The scientists I work with are extraordinarily reluctant to present any scientific findings as fact, no matter how well-supported.

I would have to say, however, that any scientist who is or wants to be politically savvy these days would avoid ever saying, "just a theory" in any context. But that doesn't mean it doesn't happen.

Also, above you say that you've never met a scientist who would say "science doesn't explain anything" (and I haven't either) but the quote you cite in your OP says "science doesn't prove anything," and lots of scientists will happily agree with that. By its very nature, science can't prove things--only disprove them.
gentleindiff
Jul. 3rd, 2008 07:02 pm (UTC)
I read this to my roommate who saw this movie a few days ago. She couldn't stop laughing. Bravo!
(Deleted comment)
etesla
Jul. 3rd, 2008 10:46 pm (UTC)
You beat me to it.
That review had my entire office rolling for an hour.
ladyoflourdes
Jul. 3rd, 2008 07:17 pm (UTC)
I really gotta tell you, M, if you want to keep getting my money, you gotta stop with the movies that make me feel like I've just wasted two hours of my life I'll never have back again. Kthx.

I saw Blair Witch and Lady of the Lake. I've heard many things about the others. I think he is noted for the head-fuck angle. I don't mean "Whew - Blew my damn mind!" kind of head-fuck, I mean the "Crap, ya got me, wouldna thoughtta that - D'oh!" kind of angle.

So this is what I expect... and why he doesn't get my money... even if I can somewhat appreciate his efforts for what they seem to be.

You want disappointment? I love Kubrik, but "Eyes Wide Shut" was a hell of a lot more like "Mouth Wide Open... And Snoring". Yep, I'll never get those minutes of my life back, and it still annoys me.
griffen
Jul. 3rd, 2008 07:33 pm (UTC)
I have seen exactly one Shyamalan movie: "Signs."

He was so heavy-handed with the plot points, and so wooden with the characters, that I have permanently sworn him off. I'm still irked about the two hours of my life that I lost in that movie theater.
cjhm
Jul. 4th, 2008 02:05 am (UTC)
You have to stop writing so well - I think my husband is in love with you.
He calls me at work to tell me what you've written and read it to me ;-)

Okay - well he's right - you blog well :-D

(This isn't a movie I would ever rent much less pay $30 to see but your critique is amusing)
darkersunshine
Jul. 6th, 2008 03:26 am (UTC)
Wow. I had a friend tell me almost the exact same thing about this movie yesterday!

(Deleted comment)
( 14 comments — Leave a comment )