Thursday, March 17, 2011

Herr Wozzeck Muses: On Creative Bankruptcy

Warning: this musing may contain spoilers for Battle: Los Angeles. You have been warned.

Okay, we're going back to Battle: Los Angeles. Why? It offers a good example of today's musing on when unoriginality can be a bad thing.

So before I go off, I don't think that people retreading the same ground is an inherently bad thing. For example, there was last year's Megamind. While most of the enterprise wasn't all that original, it benefitted from parodizing everything about itself that we felt we had seen before. So by virtue of the fact that it plays around with what makes it unoriginal, it feels fresh.

By the same token, I'm one of many people who enjoyed Avatar. Storywise, it left a bit to be desired, but I felt that in terms of visual storytelling Cameron succeeded in making me care about most of the characters, even if it is a retread of Pocahontas with giant blue cats. I remember when I reviewed it that I attribute it to the wonders of Pandora as we experience them from Jake Sully's side of things, and it gave a fresh look as we too were watching the same wonders he was watching unfold for the first time. So for that, it made the rest of the enterprise worth something. For me, anyway: the less I say about the hatedom it's amassed on the internet, the better.

But there's a particularly bad sign of creative bankruptcy that can take you out of a movie. If the whole enterprise feels like we've seen it before, I believe there is a way that the filmmakers can get away with unoriginality if they make us invested in what's going on.

This was not the case with Battle: Los Angeles. In this case, I was able to pinpoint specific things where something in the movie reminded me of something else. The sound design of the aliens reminded me a little too much of the sound design for the Collectors from Mass Effect 2. A lot of the antics of the soldiers' infighting and insecurity on the chain of command when they weren't trying to kill aliens rang a little too close to certain scenes from Saving Private Ryan. The design of the alien command center reminded me a little too much of the design of things like the mothership from District 9. And the aliens themselves (as well as some of their aircraft) looked like they were ripped straight out of Independence Day. (Any comparisons to Skyline in terms of what is similar is unfair to Battle, given that there was a whole lawsuit from Sony Pictures about how the Brothers Strause may or may not have stolen intellectual property with that. So I won't go there.)

This breaks involvement with the story. I say this mainly because I feel that the plot and universe of a film have to draw us in if we're to enjoy it. If we can pinpoint individual places where we can say 'okay, that was taken from this property', it draws us away from everything that is happening, and as was in my case we think about other, better things. And this means that we can't be as involved in the story as we want to be.

And that is where I draw the line. I'm fine with people who will retread old ground, so long as they do it well or try to bring a new twist to everything. But when I'm pulled out of the story because something is so obviously inspired-very similar to something else, that is when I stop being invested in the story.

This is Herr Wozzeck Reviews. I'll see you guys next time.

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