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Post-Matrix, April 29th, 2001 :: Ben Turner's Soapbox

 

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archived soapbox: April 29th, 2001
"Post-Matrix" [permalink]
    keywords: writing, life, personality, movies, Matrix, Swordfish, projects
    soapbox #: 291
    written: April 29th, 2001
    words: 1086

"Post-Matrix", an Essay

When I was at the big family reunion (my father's side) a couple weeks ago, my aunt told me I should write a play. She was trying to pump up my confidence and motivation by saying that I can write well. I responded in full honesty, that I have neither the background nor the experience to write a proper play.

When I got back, I went to go see Swordfish, that new hax0ring movie with John Travolta and Halle Berry's breasts. It was pretty bad. And I thought to myself, after listening more to its Paul Oakie Oakenfold soundtrack that if I were to try to write a screenplay for a cool movie, Swordfish would be the result.

Why? Well, I was talking about this with some people I know, and I started with the beginning of the movie, which has John Travolta giving a whole anti-Hollywood rant about how movies don't "push the envelope", along with a whole pithy reference to an old Al Pacino movie. The setting is Travolta and his crew inside a building waiting for the rest of the guys to finish strapping bombs to civilians while the coppers can do nothing except keep their weapons pointed at them.

They're trying to set up the movie as one that will break the mold, where the villain is cold and calculating and always in control, and hey buster, they're not gonna fuck around with cliched action movie developments.

Using John Travolta, Mr. Hollywood, to give an anti-Hollywood speech to set up a film is pretty bad. It only works when you're making fun of yourself, like Trey Parker's "it's UCS for me!" short film on ifilm.com. Maybe all Swordfish needed was a porcelain deer.

Sadly, Swordfish is entirely serious about itself. To the point where it's so overt it's annoying. And this is how I tend to write when I'm trying to make a point. A good example is this short story I wrote a long time ago. I read it now and it seems so contrived and immaturely written. Then again at the time, I thought I was writing a fucking Pulitzer. There's something to be said about restraint, self-control, and subtlety. Great directors and writers know how to make a point without you even knowing it until you're long past it, or if you think long and hard about it. Or that you notice it subconsciously so that it registers immediately, like an old memory of days long past.

Swordfish tries to drive the whole cool badass hax0r fonerwall lunix thing with its slick trance soundtrack (of course done by the most over-hyped^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^Hpopular DJ in the world, Oakie), haxer fantasies (being blown by a hot chick while hacking government computers), and hackers being taken seriously by important, rich, indulgent socialites.

Actually, you know what Swordfish was like? Swordfish was like a William Gibson adaptation. (Johnny Mnemonic, or that corny episode of X-Files with the rebellious AI) You're familiar with the background of the director/screenwriter, and you know what he was trying to do, and you see how lousy it ended up being.

Which is why I don't feel I'm ready to try writing a script yet. On one hand I can look back at my work and see the faults in it with crystal clear clarity, but on the other hand, I never see that while I write it. Maybe it's okay to do twenty rewrites, if this is how most people do it. I guess I kinda feel that the best people do it right the first time, but I also guess there's no way that can really be how it works.

I mean, at least John Travolta gets away scot-free at the end of the movie, like any decent villain would. I know most people are trying to be all moralistic and crap, with the whole hubris/hamartia/look-I-know-Greek-tragedy one weakness that ends up killing the fearless, calculating badass bad guy. Never mind that the most powerful guy in the city/country/world/universe always ends up falling off a cliff or something equally humiliating by some bumblefuck hero of the normal guy Johnny Good-Looking.

Now I'm not saying it's one of the best films ever made, but at least Austin Powers knows what I'm talking about. They created Dr. Evil, gave him an alienated angstful teenage son, made them go to therapy classes, and even showed in outtakes from the movie the effects on henchmen's families when they get killed "at work". Too many times people gloss over the villains, or nullify any badassitude they may have had by nerfing them at the end. Oftentimes, the villain is far more fascinating than the hero. Which is sad when writers/directors fail to realize it. The best mix of course is having both sides being fascinating, a nearly impossible task. There's Sherlock and Moriarty, Frank Black and Avatar in Millennium, Frankenstein and his monster, and most recently, David Dunn and Mr. Glass in Unbreakable.

My final bone to pick with Swordfish is that it's one of the first offspring of The Matrix, which pretty much universally ooh'd and aah'd everyone, even the most jaded of computer geeks/comic book freeks/action movie buffs. Now that movie was well-directed. It could have easily digressed into a cheesy action flick, but the final product showed control, maturity, and good craftsmanship. I wish I could write stuff like that. I look forward to the sequels.

So if I WERE to write something, I don't really think I'd try to do something with action. I don't think that's where my strengths lie. What I'm interested in most is character motivation. I love finding out or imagining how someone gets from point A to B in his life, how he went from being a momma's boy to robbing an international bank in Zurich. Or how she went from being a cheerleader in school in Wyoming to being a crackwhore in Amsterdam. Shit like that.

Anyway...yeah. Swordfish is bad, and not really because the movie itself is bad, but because it's so obvious to everyone what it was trying to do, and it failed badly. And I feel that I fail in exactly the same way.

Maybe it's time to be less predictable and more spontaneous?


 
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