All Great Movies Have Unwatchable Lulls

I was thinking about how much of Star Wars IV that I don’t care to rewatch. Like the whole first 1/3. Up until Luke partners with Han and they leave the planet with Obi-Wan and the droids, it’s all exposition.  It’s all setup.  Same shit with Episode VI: Basically, I don’t recall or care to rewatch the entire sequence with Jabba the Hut.  And I don’t much care for the death of Yoda either.  It’s not until the battle of Endor that I really get into the movie. The irony with both films is that the endings were so much fun that I forget how bad the beginnings were and feel good leaving the theater.  That’s exactly where Episode V fails.  It doesn’t end on a high note, so it leaves you with a bad taste in your mouth so there’s nothing to distract you from how dull the entire movie was until then.  In fact, the whole entire movie is as exposition-y as the crappy parts of IV and VI.  That’s why it’s so crappy in my view.  It’ll make more sense as you read on.

When I look back at the Star Wars films, I realize how little I would appreciate them if I saw it as an adult. In fact, I was too young to understand a majority of each Star Wars movie when I saw it the first time.  By the time I could appreciate how movies rely on reveals and twists for hightened drama, I already knew the reveals, thereby neutralizing the drama, thereby neutralizing the entire Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back.

Then I wondered if I’m being too hard on new films as an adult.  If I saw any of my favorite movies, I could be hard pressed to enjoy them, because I might be a little too critical. (Like the video troll here,,  I think when I watch new movies, I’m going to remind myself that all my favorite movies have crappy sequences, even crappy entire acts, but I still appreciate the good in them.  So I might as well look for the good in a movie than expect a perfectly tidy or completely engaging film.

All Great Movies Have Unwatchable Lulls

Like the Matrix, which is just too exposition-y right up until he wakes up in the real world in the human farm.  From then on the movie is engaging. Until then, it was mysterious and at best interesting.

Terminator 2 has the significant lull smack in the middle, but then it reboots itself.

Speed actually is non-stop amazing until the final act, when it gets repetitive. That’s one instance that the beginning and majority of the movie was SO good that the failure of the third act actually pulled away from our memory of the film, reminding me how important it is that you leave the theater on good terms with the audience.

Jurassic Park is actually pretty boring until… Dennis steals the embryos and the nightmare starts, but we were pulled through by the general good feeling of exploring a new world.

Armageddon actually had like 10 minutes before even introducing the miners, then like 20 minutes before they were told about the mission at NASA. Basically, the movie started when they went through the tests (NASA approved). Before that it was exposition, setup.

Same with The Rock. It’s not until the The Chase that the movie comes into its own. Until then, we were being introduced to the threat, and introduced to the heroes, but they hadn’t engaged in the mission. After the chase, the heroes finally engage the threat and the movie begins.

It’s making me wonder if the setup is my least favorite part of every movie, or more clearly, it makes me wonder if I consider a movie to be the action sequences where the characters are actually engaging the threat, and every associated scene.  Everything else is setup – and not yet the movie I come back to see over and over again.   In this sense, “the movie” is the part I remember, the part I’m engaged with, the part I return to watch.  To me, setup is not part of “the movie”, although it is critical.

“I consider a movie to be the action sequences where the characters are actually engaging the threat, and every associated scene.”
–Glenn Duenas

I guess it’s really “characters in conflict”. But not just any conflict. Characters in conflict against a clear threat or clear villain.  It’s Characters in conflict on a mission.  Before that, conflict is just there but there’s no clear mission.  Rather, the characters haven’t engaged that mission.

I guess that’s what makes Terminator 2 work. The mission of the first half is survival, the mission of the second half is “save the future” (and survival).

When does the mission kick in in Avatar? Maybe you can tell me because I wasn’t really watching.  I clocked out mentally like 30 or 40 minutes into the film, some time (maybe a long time) before Jake decides to defend the Navi, which is what I figured (from the start) was gong to be the main mission.  So maybe I was waiting for him to engage his mission for way too long, and mentally clocked out before he did, so by the time it came I didn’t care anymore.

So what I learned today is how to express what I consider “the movie”, and my objective for making a “good” movie.  When I make a film, I have to remember to minimize Act 1 (exposition, the set up) and make sure the rest of the film has a clear mission that the characters are actually actively engaging.  It might be possible to create a movie that narrates the exposition, and starts with the mission, saving me and the audience all of Act 1.  But it might be too jarring.  We’re tuned to ease into a world, and it takes time to come to a liking of the character, so maybe that’s the purpose of the setup.  I’ll be thinking about that, while writing “the movie”.

I wonder if I could re-edit “The Matrix” with a “Previously on: The Matrix” recap of everything before the red pill and the blue pill.  I wonder if I could do the same with Star Wars IV and The Rock.  Could a stranger appreciate the movies as I do if they only had one or two minutes to recap?  I think so.  It would be no different than re-watching Star Wars with the context of already knowing who Luke and Obi-Wan are.  After all, it wasn’t until the second viewing of The Rock that I fell in love with it, and where did I pick up?  At the roach scene.  Maybe 10-15 minutes into the movie.  It’s the rest of the movie that hooked me.  Can I open a movie with a recap?  I think so.  Am I brave enough to try it on my first film?  Probably not, but I’ll keep it in mind for sure!


P.S. Titanic, on the other hand, is an enigma.  It’s about survival (don’t you have any other themes, Jim?) because the opening sequence establishes that it all ends with a sunken ship, so the whole movie we know what will be the character’s objective – to survive.  So we had a mission — but not the real mission.  Because he instead gave us the whole forbidden love story to pull us through the whole movie.  But even so, the lingering threat was there – except in this case, the heroes didn’t engage the threat.  Well… until the last hour of the film as it’s sinking.  Like Jurassic Park it becomes a relentless tour de force for survival until the bitter end.  Which I guess is the part of the movie I remember most.  Interesting.  (Actually, the part I remember most is when she goes below deck and they’re dancing… and later make love… It’s the whole having fun part of the movie).  Or maybe it doesn’t have a clear mission which I why it’s not a movie I return to watch, ever.  But when I have, it’s strikingly gripping for some reason.  I guess it’s the strong characters and inter-personal conflict which heightens and is heightened by the whole ship sinking sequence.

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