Saturday, September 15, 2007
Some Criteria for a Good Movie
I have always said that the definition of a good movie is “a good story, well told.” I see this as comprehensive, but vague. Let me try to "put some meat on those bones." By “a good story” I mean one that is worth telling. The story needs to be worth the viewer’s time, in terms of what it gives back. The story should inform the viewer of important realities and offer uplifiting themes. Lord of the Rings certainly does that. While it is pure fantasy, it says real and important things about good and evil, about love, about loyalty, about a host of virtues. A story that gives only the visceral (most “action” films), or only some cheap laughs, is not worth telling. Examples of this kind of movie include Rush Hour, Rush Hour 2, Meet the Fokkers, most action films, and most films starring Whoopi Goldberg or Steve Martin. However, simply being "a good story is not enough. It must also be "well told." “Well Told” covers everything related to the technical side—good directing, acting, cinematography, etc. There are many “bad stories well told” out there. An example might be Meet the Fokkers, which is well acted, and well directed, but the story offers nothing worth keeping. All of this is way too broad. I am hoping that I or others can fill in the details. What are some additional elements of a “good story”? Here are a few tentative suggestions: A good story Has an uplifiting theme. Appeals to the head and perhaps the heart, but to the "belly" hardly at all. Has unity Is a story where characters learn and grow. Has characters who are realistic (Akeelah and the Bee was merely good, not great, partly because some characters were not realistic at all—I mean the local gang leaders who were supporting Akeelah?—Hmmph, let’s get real!) Other merely good--not great--movies might include Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, Beethoven, and The Incredibles. A good story further Offers insight in to real life—(and I don’t mean sex and violence—I mean insight into how people think, what motivates them, their best aspirations). Braveheart, for example pits William Wallace against Longshanks in a conflict in which Wallace is seen as a man who loves goodness, loves his wife, and loves his country. If the movie has a weakness, it is that Longshanks is never shown as anything but evil. Surely the man had some good motivations. I don’t trust the above list completely, because I sometimes think of exceptions. Does my list leave out comedy all together? Can a cartoon ever make it into the great category? What about a movie story told in a shallow, cartoon/fairy tale like manner? That may be appropriate for some stories. What are we to make of Evan Almighty? Most likely it is a good movie, though it is well made. It isn't a great movie, but I would certainly recommend it to anyone.