Wednesday, July 21, 2010
Wednesday, July 7, 2010
I was watching television when an advertisement for Disney's upcoming cinematic abomination The Sorcerer's Apprentice(that high-pitched turbine sound you hear in the middle distance would be Johann Wolfgang von Goethe spinning in his grave at a bastardization of his work created solely as a Harry Potter cash grab) and in those moments as the white-hot haze of contempt and rage worked their magic over me I experienced a moment of sublime clarity: I am rapidly coming to hate the concept of the Chosen One.
It's a staple almost as old as fiction itself: the one boy/girl/man/woman/dog/cat/pineapple who can save the world and defeat the Evil One, thus restoring peace to the land and blah, blather, bleh. The coming of this hero is usually foretold, most likely via a prophecy or an oracle or even an urban legend spread via word of mouth. He'll be meek an unassuming at first, maybe even an outright child, but gradually he levels up in badassery until he finally slays the Big Bad, the music swells and the credits roll and etc, etc, etc. . .Joseph Campbell noted the similarities between myths across various cultures and eventually created a term for this kind of story: The Hero's Journey. Basically, it breaks down as follows:
'A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.'
Within this pattern everything from Beowulf to Braveheart, from Gilgamesh to John McClane can be encapsulated. Which can be a double-edged sword when it comes to attempting to win over an increasingly genre-savvy audience.
Don't get me wrong, in the hands of a master storyteller this formula can be as gripping and engaging as anything you've ever heard but it seems of late that this story is the only one that can be told. As a result what was once a seemingly shock-proof, indestructible example of story is now beginning to show telltale signs of wear.
I've no issue with a hero being the last hope. Hell, it worked out just fine for my favorite non-kryptonian hero Luke Skywalker(and yes, I realize a lot of my bile from the earlier paragraph could easily be applied to Luke. Kinda. Maybe. Shut up) in his rise from whiny farmboy to the first of the Returned Jedi. The whole notion of one chosen throughout the world to battle the demons, the vampires, and the forces of darkness didn't bother me either, as Buffy Summers was part of a continuum of Slayers whose legacy spanned the centuries. These variants on the classic Hero's Journey work for me, as they worked for legions of Star Wars and Buffy fans the world over(and even Star Wars and Buffy took that formula and turned it completely on it's head: Anakin Skywalker may have been the Chosen One, but look how he went about it. Buffy took Destiny by the throat and shook it until the Chosen One became the Chosen Many).
No, it's the repetition of this cycle over and over in the wake of Pottermania that's making my teeth grind together, as Hollywood throws whatever it can up on screen in the hopes of squeezing a tired premise one more time in hopes of wringing blood from a stone. While The Sorcerer's Apprentice might actually be a decent film, and Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief may well have rocked on toast, it's this continued reuse of a tired formula again and again that is a surefire kiss of death to your film, comic, or novel. Simply put, your audience knows the score. Give them some credit, and throw them the occasional twist to keep them amused and entertained(Deep Blue Sea contains my favorite example of this, as the Heroic Leader archetype in the form of Sam Jackson is suddenly and rather graphically cut off mid-sentence. Stone silence in the theatre save for me busting out laughing and thanking the screenwriter mentally for tipping his hat to me so jauntily).
If a story is well-told with passion then whether or not it's structure is familiar won't matter at all. But if it's just in it for the money, we're going to see the emperor's new clothes exactly for what they are. Nothing at all.