I feel like I shouldn’t have to warn you about spoilers in any of the movies mentioned below at this point except maybe Jurassic World 2, but here you go. If you haven’t seen Infinity War or Lion King by now, I’m judging the crap outta you...SPOILERS AHEAD! There, are you happy?
Mufasa’s death left me shaken as a child. I could walk into the theater where I saw it 24 years ago and point to where I was sitting. That's how strong the scene was to me. Character death in film is a weird thing. Sometimes it totally blindsides you. Sometimes you see it coming so far in advance you can pick it out in previews. Sometimes the previews straight up tell you. Sometimes the cinematography and storytelling are so good that even though you know it's coming, it still gets you. Regardless, we all have movies that still haunt us because of who was killed off.
We still get those great moments today, but they seem to be in short supply. An entirely new issue has arisen that not only prevents a moment like that from hitting you, but kills any element of suspense in the scene all together. I’m talking about the concept of script armor.
“Script Armor - noun - made up by moviegoers - The guarantee that a character is going to live through even the worst circumstances due to outside knowledge such as upcoming sequel films, choice of actor cast in role, etc. Character often saved by random lucky occurrences or preposterous subplots
See Also: Deus Ex Machina”
You know superhero movies? They sure are cool right? I certainly love them, but I also can’t ignore how formulaic they’ve become. You know damn well that Ant-Man is gonna make it. One line of dialogue and Iron Man is back on his feet. Take that, bad guys! Most of the time it doesn’t phase us because Marvel...oops I mean superhero movies...do such a good job with action and storytelling, that you end up lost in a smorgasbord of special effects spectacles. Basically, the problem is present, and we see it, but it is handled in such a way that most people don’t really care about it.
I think the best example I can use to explain this issue is Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, which was released a couple weeks ago. I do not like this movie, I think it is mostly poop, but more about that on the upcoming podcast. Script armor was a defining fault in this film. Like every Jurassic movie, there is a kid, you know the kid is gonna be fine so when dinosaurs chase the kid or almost step on the kid, there’s zero suspense. The kid will get saved or save themself, this is fact. However, in this film, the kid is sharing her armor with all of the good guys. Chris Pratt? Invincible. Bryce Dallas Howard? Untouchable. There’s even 2 new members joining the team who are both impervious to harm. This is evident through the ENTIRE FILM, so any attempt at suspense with a giant raptor or a tyrannosaurus bearing down on them is lost. Villains have the exact opposite problem. You know they are all gonna die and exactly when. All they gotta do is walk into the room, and you’re like “Ah, this is it for that guy”. Even worse is the cannon-fodder people. Random employees/mercenaries/pedestrians that you can take one look at in their scene and know they have a future as dinosaur poop. As a result, whether you love or hate the movie, it is one of the most predictable movies of all time. They actually got a good director too. J.A. Bayona is great at building suspense and even managed to get a few genuine moments of excitement into this movie. However, at the end of the day, script is law.
The new Star Wars films have also been under fire for their mishandling of script armor. Han Solo’s death was shocking, and in my opinion, worked to the full effect, but it was also the first. Luke Skywalker was benched and virtually absent in Episode 7, almost completely benched again in Episode 8 and then whisked off into the afterlife after one cool Force trick and no real fighting/demonstration of power. You may think I’m whining too much about that one, but even Mark Hamill is upset about that. Finally despite Carrie Fisher’s tragic and sudden passing, her character would be spared in Episode 8, despite the knowledge that they are going into Episode 9 without her, which is monumentally sloppy to me. Episode 9 will probably open with a funeral for Leia or something like that. Admiral Ackbar, a fan-favorite character, is thrown away like a Star Trek Redshirt and we are introduced to a brand new admiral-character who is on screen for about 15 minutes overall and then killed off herself. Why? Why was that even a thing? Ironically, it was revealed just yesterday that Billy Dee Williams will be returning as Lando in Star Wars Episode 9, and if I were him, I’d be very afraid. I don’t think Disney would be that stupid or stupid enough to kill Chewbacca, but I wouldn’t put it past them either. What’s certain is that Rey and Finn and Poe will be fine like they always are and they will likely introduce some brand new characters to kill off in an attempt to balance things out. Fans will continue to be disappointed and Star Wars will lose more of it’s magic.
I get it, I do. Nobody wants the villain to win. We don’t necessarily wanna watch Tom “The Rock” Pratt get beat to death by an overpowered foe or eaten by wolves in the wilderness or whatever, but there needs to be balance. Normally I’d be all smug here and tell you my solution and how I would fix this issue, but I can’t. I don't have a solution. Big, blockbuster movies are hard to do, especially these days. Being innovative is hard in the world of cinema. It’s a big library. Even when you think you’ve been clever, somebody somewhere on the internet will find a movie from 1964 with one vague similarity to what you’ve made and claim that you ripped it off. However, Studios need to stop using the foreign market as an excuse to make money from a bad movie. Wanna know why they keep making Fast and the Furious films, or Transformers or Jurassic Park sequels that are bad? It’s because they know they will make big bucks in places like China. Transformers movies are some of the worst in existence but they are a big hit in China. I don’t know why and I’m not making any insinuations about the Chinese, but studios need to stop using their money as a crutch to make mediocre summer blockbusters.
I’m not going to drop some kinda “Death is a part of life” BS on you guys, but in cinema, when death or near death experiences are done right they charge a film with emotion. The right movies make you fall in love with someone to the point where losing them in the same movie 90 minutes later actually hits you. The right movies will show you a character who falls over and over and over again, but you beg them to persist until you can cry and cheer when they finally get up. The right movies will shock you to the core when the sound of a gunshot or a crash turns everything upside-down. I’m not saying Jurassic Park has a responsibility to do that in their movies, but they can’t be afraid to take risks either. A little shock and awe goes a long way in movies, even when that moment hurts you.
“I am a leaf on the wind”...........I’m still not over that one, Joss…