Well, the opening weekend of Spider-Man 3 is history, and it appears that the blasting out onto 12,000 screens this weekend is great news for box office, but bad news for storytelling.
I am thrilled when Hollywood makes money, but from the sound of it, this marketing approach was based on trying to get all the money they could before reaction to the movie itself set in.
This is one of several techniques producers use when they know their product isn’t up to snuff:
1. A huge opening day blowout on as many screens as possible…
2. The holding back of a movie from reviewers until after the movie premieres…
3. An ad campaign that reports the status of actors in it as either a winner of or nominated for an Academy Award (a wag of a producer once told me that when they roll out a long list of “Starring Academy Award winner ____” it’s akin to saying bring a pillow, it’s naptime.)
Why? Because if the story were good, they wouldn’t need these tricks.
I am a Spider-Man 2 fan. Didn’t like 1 all that much, loved 2. Why? Because 2 is a great story. They only introduced one bit of mumbo-jumbo — the accident that turns Dr. Otto Octavius (Alfred Molina- yay!) into Dr. Octopus. And thereafter they concentrated on what it’s about: the conflict Peter Parker wrestles with about whether or not to be a superhero — the essence of what the Superhero genre is all about. But apparently that was not enough for S-M 3. No less than four bits of magic (Quadruple Mumbo Jumbo — for those who have read my book) are employed in the film, including a random meteor that just happens to cross Tobey Maguire’s path and turn him “evil.” What’s missing when we do this is: story. More stories doesn’t mean a better movie.
By coincidence I was teaching a FANTASTIC workshop this weekend with 9 writers who all have great, saleable movie ideas. One problem several of the writers had was the tendency to not stick to their story. What they replaced it with was: more stories. We get insecure that our tale isn’t enough sometimes and we tend to “fix it” by running away from it and building up B, C, D, and E stories, more characters — all with fascinating characteristics — and all off the topic! Tell one story well, I keep insisting. And ironically this weekend, we coined a term for veering from the main line of the story: we called it “spidering.” Look for a discussion of this and other bad habits in the next Save the Cat! book I am tentatively calling Save the Cat! Strikes Back: The Final Word on Overcoming Screenwriter’s Block.
As for me, I am off to see S-M 3 today (I hope to squeeze it in before I go to fabulous Toronto on Wednesday) and will report back on the Mumbo Factor and its effect.
But gee, when they put S-M 4 out there and start advertising that it stars “Academy Award winner Anthony Hopkins,” watch out!