What We Can Learn From The Biggest Plot Hole In ‘Titanic’ (And No, It’s Not That Hunk Of Wood)

No matter how careful or methodical a director or writer may be, mistakes and plot holes will always sneak into movies and books, and 1997’s ‘Titanic’ is no exception; despite being the most historically accurate film about the famed ship at the time, fans and viewers have long pointed out about how Jack describes Lake Wissota before it was created, about extras bouncing off foam capstans as the stern rises into the sky , and have gone on and on about how Jack could have fit on that hunk of wood after the Titanic sank, letting him and Rose survive the freezing waters of the Atlantic.

Yet, despite being out for over twenty years, one plot hole seems to have escaped notice, one that, if taken to its logical conclusion, would make the events of the film impossible.

In ‘Titanic’s opening scene, treasure hunter Brock Lovett and his motley crew retrieve a safe from the ship and bring it to the surface in search of the Heart of the Ocean, but find only random artifacts, including Jack’s drawings of Rose, which eventually leads to her coming out to the salvage ship and captivating them (and us) with her tale of love, loss, and survival. It’s a great start to the story, but there’s just one problem:

How did the salvage crew get the safe to the surface?

Now, this question seem silly, but the longer you think about it, the more apparent it becomes that getting the safe out of the ship is nearly impossible because of two factors:

1. The weight of the safe.

2. The safe’s location.

Let’s begin with the weight issue: I was unable to find any information online about the safe’s weight, the manufacturer, or the model used in the film, but a search on other safes of similar size from the early 1900’s revealed that they typically weigh around two to three hundred pounds, so we can assume the safe in the film has roughly the same weight (it’s telling that the only time we see the safe being moved in 1912 is when it’s been wheeled into Cal’s suite on a dolly).

Next, let’s look at the safe’s location: The safe is still inside of Cal’s suite on B deck, and within a fairly short distance to the remains of the grand staircase. To get to it, Brock has to dispatch his rover down two decks, go down a hallway, then go through two doors to reach the safe and then pull it out the same way.

Now, at first glance, that sounds difficult, but not insurmountable. But remember that Brock is trying to retrieve a safe that weighs a minimum of two hundred pounds. And unlike in real life, where a safe was retrieved from Titanic’s debris field, Brock can’t just attach the safe to a cable and pull the safe straight up. He has to somehow drag that heavy safe out of the suite, across B deck, and get it to the stairwell. Complicating matters further is that the only tool he has at his disposal is a rover that is not capable of moving heavy objects, much less a two hundred pound safe.

A potential solution to this problem might be to have the control ship Keldysh attach a net to the tow cable on the stern, lower it directly into the stairwell, and then have the rover maneuver the net into the cabin, put said net over the safe, and then winch it out of the ship. But this wouldn’t work: First of all, the end of the cable looks like this:

How is that big, bulky thing supposed to be dragged into B deck and through two staterooms by a tiny robot?

Second, imagine a helicopter hovering five hundred feet above a rotting two story house; it lowers a thick, bulky hook on a cable down the chimney and uses a tiny drone to try and maneuver that hook into a bedroom twenty feet away from the chimney, and then into a closet, then have the rover drape the net over a safe. What do you think will happen when the helicopter tries to winch the safe out of the closet? That’s right: the hook’s housing is going to get caught on the roof, the door frame, or any other number of obstacles. Applying more pressure will just damage the house, make the cable get caught on something else, or even fray it to the point of snapping, and that’s also assuming the net would even stay on the safe and not just slide off.

Now, if Brock wants to do something simpler, a more logical way would be to have the hook snaked in through the windows of the suite’s promenade deck and attach it to the safe, then drag it out through the window. The main advantage of this route is that the distance the safe needs to travel is much shorter, but I don’t think it would work, either; again, the end of the cable is much too big and can’t be maneuvered through the windows. Even if it was, it would get stuck on the window when it was being retracted. Secondly, considering how the metal has been rusting underwater for over 80 years, there’s a reasonable chance that it could break or shatter, creating sharp edges that could cut the cable, and that’s assuming that the safe doesn’t get stuck on debris on the suite’s floors while it’s being dragged about.

When we add in the factors of the safe’s weight, the distance it has to travel, the limited tools at Brock’s disposal, and the difficulty of getting such a heavy object out of a shipwreck, we are faced with one inescapable conclusion: there is no logical way to get the safe out of Titanic. And if there’s no safe, there’s no drawings, and there’s no movie. It would end with Brock being forced to give up his quest, Rose dying in her bed at home, and the movie being only eight minutes long.

And yet, even with all that in mind, this plot hole really doesn’t matter in the long run. At this point in the story, the point is to have the safe retrieved and Jack’s drawings be discovered. How that happens really isn’t important from a story perspective. And while that may sound like a cheat, consider other similar situations from other movies and TV shows:

1. King Kong: The crew of the Venture needs to get Kong from Skull Island to New York City. The story has two options:

Option A: Show Driscoll and the others constructing a raft, tying Kong to it, and sailing hundreds of miles while constantly trying to keep Kong unconscious and unable to break free.

Option B: Just cut to New York a week or two later.

2. Star Wars: A New Hope: Luke, Leia, Han, and Chewbacca are separated deep in the bowels of the Death Star, a moon-sized fortress they’ve never been in before and are unfamiliar with, and they have to get back to the Millennium Falcon to escape. The story has two options:

Option A: Show the four trying to find maps, read directions, and otherwise stumble around until they finally meet up again and find a way to the Falcon.

Option B: Just show them meeting up and seeing the Falcon.

3. The Last Ship: A small squad attacks a Russian warship that’s a long distance away from their own ship and need to be picked up.

Option A: Have the protagonist’s group mount a rescue operation and somehow retrieve the strike team from such a long distance without being blown up or captured by the Russians.

Option B: Cut to the protagonists sailing away from the battlezone with everyone onboard while discussing their next plan of action.

4. Godzilla vs Kong: Kong has to climb from the center of the Earth to the surface to fight Godzilla, a distance of over 12,000 miles, in less than ten minutes.

Option A: Have Kong struggle to reach the surface, taking frequent breaks to try and regain some of his strength from having to climb 1,200 miles a minute, finally reaching the surface so exhausted and so worn out that he has a heart attack and dies.

Option B: Ignore physics and have the giant gorilla get to the surface with no problem and with plenty of strength to fight the radioactive lizard.

In all of these examples, the problems they pose to the story are considerable, and in some cases logically impossible. And yet, they aren’t a problem because it isn’t necessary to see all the steps needed to move a story forward. With a limited runtime or amount of pages, a movie or book has to be choosy about what to focus on and what to show the audience (when was the last time you saw characters stopping to take a bathroom break?).

I think the ultimate takeaway from all this is that a plot hole can sometimes be ignored if it isn’t absolutely required to move the story forward. While writers can and should try to make a story as logical and airtight as possible, we should focus more on telling a good story with engaging characters, keep the momentum moving, and focusing on important details instead of explaining each and every detail. If we do our jobs well, our audiences will either be willing to overlook a problem, or not even notice them at all.

PS: If any readers have a good explanation about how the safe was pulled out of the wreck, please leave a comment and I’ll be happy to update this article with said information.

What We Can Learn From ‘The Flowers of Robert Mapplethorpe’

Super Mario Brothers. The Legend of Zelda. Doom. Metal Gear Solid: throughout the history of video games, certain titles have risen to the top as the titans of the field, champions who will be immortalized forevermore by history. But one title has long been forgotten, one that deserves to be remembered among the likes of Super Mario 64, Duke Nukem, and Grand Theft Auto:

The Flowers of Robert Mapplethorpe.

Released for the Philips CD-i in 1992, The Flowers of Robert Mapplethorpe is a boring, barely-interactive wondrous experience that catalogs Robert Mapplethorpe’s flower photography, allowing us, the unlucky viewers, to admire them at our leisure. After all, after a long, hard, day at work in a soul-crushing job, who wouldn’t want to come home, turn on a video game console, and watch pictures of flowers for hours on end?

So relax, settle down, and join me as we contemplate and admire the virtues of one of the greatest video games ever created by mankind, and what its blessings can do to enrich our efforts to craft stories of beauty and wisdom.

What does the story do well?

It’s simple and focused

The mark of a great story is that it can be summed up in one sentence. The Flowers of Robert Mapplethorpe can be described as, “Enter a virtual museum to learn about and admire a collection of flower photographs.” It’s not flashy, it’s not complex, but it’s a streamlined story that’s easy to understand follow with no fat or unnecessary subplots that need to be trimmed.

It shows the timeless partnership of rock and elegant music

There are many different types of museums around the world – bare ones, colorful ones, and ones decorated to match a certain period in history. The Flowers of Robert Mapplethorpe takes the timeless combination of grey rock with the eternal grace of classical music. If we, as writers, are looking to create a memorable museum for our characters to wander through, we should remember that a simple venue of stone and music can be the most effective, rather than something over-designed that takes away from the priceless art and artifacts on display.

It takes a comedic subject with the utmost seriousness

The Flowers of Robert Mapplethorpe’s greatest virtue is that treats photographs of flowers with the utmost seriousness. From the classical music to the curator trying his hardest to make photographs of flowers interesting instructing us in Mapplethorpe’s use of color and light, the whole game is insane a delight. Yet, this formula of a museum, classical music, and serious curators can be applied to any number of silly subjects to great effect. Consider the sequels we never got:

The mops of Robert Mapplethorpe

The toilet plungers of Robert Mapplethorpe

The flaming oil drums of Robert Mapplethorpe

Now, visualize people in a story wandering the sacred halls of exhibits and admiring these subjects with Beethoven playing softly through the speakers. The image is delightfully absurd and plays with the cliched-but-fun trope of fine art being incomprehensible and/or ludicrous.

What could have been done to improve the story?

Mention Mapplethorpe’s extensive BDSM photography

If you’ve never heard of Mr. Mapplethorpe, you’d be forgiven for thinking that his career consisted entirely of flower photographs. But in reality, most of his work was focused on BDSM pictures, many of which included himself. For obvious reasons, The Flowers of Robert Mapplethorpe doesn’t mention this, but it makes the whole game funnier when you think that the photographer spent most of his time photographing gay men wearing bondage gear. The contrast between such different subjects (with classical music, no less) is hilarious. Too bad the Phillips CD-i was never blessed with The BDSM photographs of Robert Mapplethorpe

Include some sort of action involving the flowers

While the elegance, beauty, and grace of the game cannot be denied, it also cannot be denied that it’s… well, not the most engrossing of video games to play as you click from one photograph to the next. This could have been avoided if there had been a campaign mode where you sent Mr. Mapplethorpe’s flowers into battle against giant robots, or something. That alone would have turned this into the greatest video game ever.

Conclusion

Though it is one of the most ludicrous videogames ever made not the most exciting videogame, The Flowers of Robert Mapplethorpe is a shining example of how taking the most boring mundane subjects with the respect and seriousness you’d find in a fine art gallery is comedic gold. Yet, we must not also forget there there needs to be some sort of context or reason for people to pursue instead of the simple pleasure of looking at pictures when playing a videogame. If the game was about, say, a highly-trained operative traveling the world to rescue the stolen photographs of Robert Mapplethorpe from North Korea, Al-Qaeda, escaped Nazis, and other nefarious forces to return them to the museum, it would have been much more interesting to play.

Perhaps one day, The Flowers of Robert Mapplethorpe will be given a high-definition treatment to upgrade the graphics, the presentation, and finally allow a new generation of gamers to experience the beauty of flowers. But until that day comes, we can be content with the lessons it teaches storytellers… and admire the flowers, too.

Try A Roadside Chat

Has the following ever happened to you? You’re outlining your next masterpiece, the script/book that will take the country by storm and cement your legacy as one of the finest writers of all time. You know how the plot will unfold and fit together, and how it will end in a way that will leave your readers and viewers in awe at your command of the written word.

Then you start to work on your characters, and realize that you have no idea who these people are.

Desperate, you try a few exercises: you write out incredibly detailed backstories that detail your character’s childhoods, their outlook on life, and their favorite flavor of chicken nuggets. When that fails, you try writing out an interview with your characters to know them better. You imagine that they’re a minute away from being eaten by a giant lobster, and find what it is they regret the most from their lives, and what they’re the most proud of.

Yet, nothing works. Your characters remain elusive; they’re shadowy forms within the ether of your imagination, blobs that are just out of sight. What do you do?

How about talking to them in the middle of the forest?

Lately, I watched an episode of Jim Henson’s ‘The Storyteller,’ where a princess’ brothers are turned into ravens by a wicked witch, and the only thing that can change them back is if she doesn’t speak a word for three years, three months, three weeks, and three days. While living in the woods, she eventually meets a handsome prince traveling through, who spends some time talking with her and introducing himself. In a little under thirty seconds, we learn that he’s a prince, and that despite only knowing her for a few minutes, he’s madly in love (are we sure this isn’t a Disney story?), and that their love is true.

There’s more to the story, like how the princess keeps popping out babies despite having them get swiped away within a day, how she’s almost burned as a witch herself, and how one of her brothers becomes a half-raven, half-human mutant, but I was ruminating about how the prince had introduced himself. Not because it was a beautifully written scene or featured lovely acting, but because it was an interesting idea for writing:

If you want to figure out what the core of a character is, pretend that you only just met them besides a forest path while they’re on a journey. Have lunch with them, during which time they introduce themselves to you, explain who they are, and where they’re going before they resume their quest.

Think about this: If you’re having lunch with a stranger, the two of you likely aren’t going to stay together for long before going your separate ways. No matter how riveting you find each other, you’re not going to spend your brief time together giving each other your life’s story, your dreams, or how many Pokemon you’ve caught in the forest while playing Pokemon Go. You’re going to stick with the big stuff: your names, your professions, where you’re going, and what you hope to accomplish. Let’s try a few examples:

“I’m Roger, junior deputy from the nearby town of Windy Willow. A prisoner escaped on my watch and ran through here recently; since this is my first assignment, I need to catch him before he escapes into the wilds, because if he gets away I’ll be fired and have no way to feed my family.”

“My name is Ser Galbadon, royal knight of his Majesty King Arthur. A fearsome dragon has taken up residence in a nearby mountain; as his Majesty’s most experienced knight, I am on my way to slay the foul beast, even though I’m old and not as strong as I once was. Still, I shall see my task through to the end; would you care to join me? Our country and our king needs you!”

“Look, I’m Sarah and I’m in sort of a rush; a meteor is racing towards Earth and I have to get my family into my underground bunker. Problem is, they’re fifty miles away, and I only have a day to get to them! No, I can’t help you capture Pikachu! I’m sorry you and your folks are going to die, but there’s nothing I can do to help you. Now, I have to go! Good day!”

In less than a paragraph, we learn what each character wants, the obstacles in their way, and what will happen if they fail, far more useful information than what their childhood was like, their hobbies, and the like. Those are extras, bonuses that can revealed during the story; what you have here is the core of them, the thing that drives them, and that can be invaluable when it comes to learning who your characters are.

The next time you’re stuck trying to figure out who your characters are, try chatting with them during a break in their journey; you never know what new things you might learn about them!

The Murderer Made It In?!: The Importance of Avoiding an Afterlife Only For The Elites

If you were like most kids who watched Star Wars growing up, you fantasized about going on adventures with Luke, Han and Leia, exploring the galaxy’s many worlds, and chilling out in Han and Chewie’s sky house (or was that just me?). And at the end of your days, you would pass from the physical world and become a force spirit, where you could hang out with your best friends forever and become super sparkly!

But would you, really?

While kids (and many adults) fantasize about living in the Star Wars universe, a strong case can be made that it’s a terrible place to live, especially since it’s in a state of constant warfare, ensuring that you have a high chance of dying a terrible death, but there’s one aspect that’s rarely discussed:

The afterlife in Star Wars is unfair.

Don’t believe me? Let’s try a thought experiment and pretend that you’ve a typical person in the Star Wars galaxy who has just died:

Opening your eyes, you realize that you’re dead. That sucks, but you were prepared for it; after all, you lived a nice, long life. While it wasn’t exemplary and didn’t have any impact on the galaxy at large, or even the planet you lived on, you were still a good person who tried not to hurt anyone, admitted when you made mistakes and tried to make amends, and were generally someone who enriched the lives of the beings that knew you.

Now you find yourself standing before a great, multi-colored ocean. Without anyone telling you, you realize that this is a physical manifestation of the Force, a place where everyone goes after death. That sounds pretty fair… but then you hear the Force itself telling you that your ultimate fate is to enter and become one with it… but in the process, you will lose your personality, your memories, your sentience, and essentially cease to exist.

Wait a minute! You say, That’s not fair!

The Force doesn’t care. You’re just one being out of untold trillions. Tens of trillions of beings have entered the Force before you, and tens of trillions more will come after you. It’s a fate that has already affected your parents, your deceased relatives, friends, and your beloved childhood pets. By becoming one with the Force, they no longer exist.

You scream that it isn’t fair! Isn’t there any chance of not being dissolved?

Yes, the Force says. About ten beings have died but preserved their consciousness and become immortal.

TEN?! You yell.

Yep. And all of them were members of a religious order that was barely known by the galaxy at large… Oh, wait. Another one has just arrived!

You turn around to see someone at the edge of the ocean, but they’re being embraced by a beautiful, glorious light shining down from above. But who is it? You squint, trying to see who had earned immortality when you didn’t. And then you see that person’s face, and all your faith in justice and mercy is shattered forever, for it’s Kylo Ren, leader of the First Order, the monster who killed your parents and family when he raided a planet two years ago.

Why does he get to be immortal and not me?! You scream.

Because I made him force sensitive, the Force says, and he was very sorry at the end of his life that he murdered billions of beings.

Before you can say anything more, the Force suddenly drags you into itself, where you dissolve into cosmic goo and are erased forever.

Meanwhile, Kylo Ren high-fives Anakin Skywalker, Luke Skywalker, Leia Organa, Yoda, Obi-Wan, Qui-Gon Jinn, and the other lucky immortals.

None of them pay you any heed.

Harsh? Yes, but what you’ve just read is an accurate summary of how the afterlife in Star Wars works. If we only go by what we see in the movies, everyone who dies in the Star Wars universe becomes one with the Force. Exactly what happens to the individual themselves is not specified, but they apparently become part of a larger whole, like a drop of water entering an ocean, losing their personality, their memories, and everything that makes them, ‘them.’ However, there is one way to avoid that fate, and not get turned into non-sentient cosmic go. How does that happen?

1. Be born force-sensitive.

2. Be fortunate enough to join the Jedi Order.

3. Be fortunate enough to learn secret teachings that only a few Jedi know.

4. Spend the rest of your life not turning to the Dark Side.

4B. If you do turn to the Dark Side, repent at the very last minute.

5. Become a Force spirit when you die.

6. ???

7. Profit!

That sounds easy enough, doesn’t it? But there’s just one problem:

If you’re not born with the ability to use the Force, you’re screwed.

It doesn’t matter how you live your life. It doesn’t matter if you were devoted to destroying evil, helping space-orphans, or blowing up space-orphans in space-orphanages with their space-doggies mookas; you’ll be absorbed into the Force upon your death and cease to exist. And it’s not just you who suffers this fate, but all of your loved ones, and everyone who wasn’t chosen by the force to have the ability to sense it. Think being eaten by a sarlacc was bad? Imagine spending a thousand years being digested alive in unimaginable agony before finally dying, only to immediately be erased from existence instead of being reunited with your loved ones who have passed on before you, meaning that being tortured every moment of every day for a thousand years was all for nothing.

The longer you think about the implications of this, the more horrifying it becomes: Luke, Leia, and Anakin may have achieved immortality after their deaths, but they will never see their non-force sensitive friends or relatives again. Shmi Skywalker, Padme, Han, Lando, Chewie, Bail Organa, Uncle Owen, and Aunt Beru are doomed to be dissolved, or have already been dissolved. It’s amazing that Leia and Luke didn’t have a complete mental breakdown upon realizing that Han had died, and it’s no wonder Anakin was so desperate to save his wife after losing his mother.

And then, to twist the knife even further, ‘The Rise of Skywalker’ ends with Ben Solo, the leader of a fascist empire, a mass murderer, emotional abuser, and willing follower of the Dark Side, gain immortality. In a truly rage-inducing moment for everyone who believes in decency and justice, the official novelization of the film has a line where Ben feels the Force reaching for him in welcome as he dies, all because he felt sorry for being the worst human in the galaxy since Palpatine and Anakin. The Force will happily grant a mass murderer immortality while consigning everyone he slaughtered to oblivion. It’s a disgusting perversion of justice and turns the Star Wars universe into a hellhole where only a chosen few who were gifted at birth have any chance at immortality, and everyone else have no chance of achieving the same thing, no matter how hard they try. And this isn’t wishful thinking; according to the Star Wars wiki, only force-sensitive individuals can become spirits:

“Not only was preserving one’s consciousness reserved for the Jedi, but also for users of the light side not affiliated with the Order.”

Damn.

When you realize how horrifying and unfair the Star Wars afterlife is, it becomes obvious that writers shouldn’t make their fictional afterlives favor elites and those with advantages they didn’t earn, condemning everyday people to oblivion or worse, all through no fault of their own. It’s cruel, sadistic, and once your audience realizes that, their view of your fictional universe will forever be tainted. After all, who would want to lose themselves in such a place, much less read about it? (though to be fair, an exception could be made for the purpose of social commentary, but that still won’t be enjoyable reading).

We must be fair when creating our fictional hereafters; If they must be grim, where the possibility of being dissolved or erased exists, then make sure that everyone has an equal chance of avoiding such a fate. If our characters have to earn their eternal existence, have them all know what must be done, make that information readily available, or make it so that the process is fair and applies to everyone (such as making immortality available to the compassionate and kind, but not the cruel and sadistic). Someone’s social standing or membership in an obscure organization with only a few hundred members should have no bearing on if they get to have a happy afterlife or not.

If writers make our afterlives fair, our audiences will be more willing to endure the trials and tribulations our characters will go through if there’s a chance they will make it to the great beyond, than if that possibility is denied to them. And to that end, let’s take another look at what the afterlife of the Star Wars universe might be like if it were fair:

Opening your eyes, you realize that you’re dead. That sucks, but you were prepared for it; after all, you lived a nice, long life. While it wasn’t exemplary and didn’t have any impact on the galaxy at large, or even the planet you lived on, you were still a good person who tried not to hurt anyone, admitted when you made mistakes and tried to make amends, and were generally someone who enriched the lives of the beings that knew you.

Now you find yourself standing before a great, multi-colored ocean. Without anyone telling you, you realize that this is a physical manifestation of the Force, a place where everyone goes after death. That sounds pretty fair… but what comes next?

That’s up to you, a voice tells you. It’s a voice you recognize as the Force itself. You may become one with me, or you may remain an individual as long as you wish.

What happens then? You ask.

You’ll become a force spirit and can visit the physical realm, you’re told. You can interact with your loved ones, as well as go anywhere and see everything. Nothing can harm you, and if you ever tire of such an existence, you may join with me and become part of a greater whole. And if you tire of that, you may live again.

Sweet! You say. I think I’ll become a force spirit for now.

As you wish, the Force says.

Good choice, someone tells you. Turning, you find yourself face to face with the legendary Anakin Skywalker. And not only him, but his son and daughter, his mother, and many others you’ve heard about: Han Solo, Lando Calrissian, Chewbacca, and so many others, all welcoming you to your new existence as a force spirit.

Hey guys, can I join?

You turn and scowl. Kylo Ren, the murderous tyrant and leader of the First Order, walks up, having recently died. But before he can say another word, he’s suddenly yanked into the ocean and dissolved; while he was sorry for being a genocidal egomaniac with self-esteem issues, and did bring one girl back to life, that wasn’t enough to grant him the right to choose how he wants to spend his afterlife. Thus, he becomes one with the Force, much to the relief and satisfaction of his billions of victims, all of whom are now spirits who go spend time with their families in the world of the living.

Glad to see that little twerp get what’s coming to him, you head off back to the physical world to see how things are going. Watching the sunrise on Coruscant seems like a good place to start. And as you materialize on the top of the planet’s tallest skyscraper, a nice spirit named Beru appears beside you, offering you a glass of spectral blue milk to welcome the day.

As we can see, this scenario seems much more fair and just. Death is supposed to be the great equalizer, which pays no heed to one’s wealth, social class, or beliefs. We shouldn’t be afraid to make that true when it’s time for our characters to head to their final rest.

No Explosions, No Gun battles, and No Multi-Million Dollar VFX budget: Writing Your Book Like It’s A TV Episode

Recently, I came across an article on io9 about the future of Star Trek films, and a comment written by was a lengthy discussion on what course a hypothetical film should take. The whole comment is a great read, but these two parts jumped out at me:

‘2) follow ST:IVs “no gunfights, no explosions” rule, and that forces the story to find ways to challenge our characters in ways that let them express their character…

6) No gunfights, no explosions. I really want to stress this, because Star Trek doesn’t generally do action well. Even when the effects are great, you have to come up with weird contrivances to explain why Kirk needs to skydive or why Picard needs to take the dune-buggy out. TWOK, arguably the most “action oriented” of original films, doesn’t have much action, and the space battles are very much in the vein of Horatio Hornblower in spaaaaaaace: they’re slow, they’re about positioning and about the crew working together, about tricks and strategy. Which isn’t what audiences really expect, so hell, for our first outing, just don’t. Sci-fi action these days is supposed to look like Marvel movies, and you aren’t making a Marvel movie. Don’t try. Minimize the action beats, to make room for character and wonder.’

Can you imagine that? Writing a science fiction movie that doesn’t rely on explosions, actions, or gunfights? Such films are so common these days that it’s sometimes hard to find ones that don’t feature them. And the longer I thought about it, the more genius the idea became.

Picture this: You’ve been chosen by a major entertainment corporation to write the screenplay for your dream story. Even better? It’s your favorite genre! You finally have the chance to tell that war story, that monster movie, or finally bring your grade school masterpiece, ‘The Rainbow Unicorn Saga Chapter 1: Sparkle Forest Massacre’ to the big screen!

But then the studio tells you that you have a tiny budget. Like, really tiny. Think, ‘TV Budget’ tiny. Because of that, you can’t have any explosions, any gunfights, or fancy visual effects in your story (a few miniatures and matte paintings are okay, but that’s it).

Can you write your movie under those constraints?

Now, take that same principle and apply it to a novel: Can you tell your story without explosions, gunfights, or sequences that, if adapted into a television show, would cost too much to make?

Looking at our work with this mindset may seem like a disadvantage, but it can work out in our favor: We’ll have to focus on characters, their motivations, and their relationships with each other. They’ll have to use their wits to overcome the obstacles in their path. They’ll have to talk more. Any fights will be with their fists and melee weapons, and not with miniguns and plasma rifles. Battles will be limited to maybe a dozen people, and everything takes place in apartment buildings, deserts, and parks conveniently located within ten miles of the LA area.

While it’s easy and fun to write scenes that would be impossible to film, there’s just one problem with that: if your magnum opus is ever published, Hollywood might pass on turning it into the next big blockbuster movie if the price tag is going to be over $300 million. But if your magnum opus could be turned into a movie that could be made for under $50 million, they just might give it a shot.

Consider the following:

*Instead of your epic space saga about aliens destroying the universe with massive fleets that engage in battles that destroy entire solar systems with a single blast, it’s now about an unarmed scout ship trying to find a way to stop the alien fleet before it arrives.

*Your epic, alternate-universe 1940’s WW2 movie that involves giant monsters and robots is now about two soldiers sneaking behind enemy lines to escape hostile territory and only face one monster at the end (that could be portrayed by a guy in a suit on a green-screen set).

*Instead of ‘The Rainbow Unicorn Saga Chapter 1: Sparkle Forest Massacre’ following an epic war of thousands of Unicorns slaughtering armies hired by evil corporations who want to bulldoze Sparkle Forest and turn it into a sewage refinery, it’s now about two villagers trying to find the one unicorn (who turns out to be an anthropomorphic unicorn that could be portrayed by someone in robes and a mask) who could stop the evil corporations, and have to fight their mercenaries using bows, arrows, and knives in sneak attacks at night.

These three scenarios take unfilmable movies and instead turn them into focused character studies. Any action or big events happen sporadically and briefly, and aren’t the main focus of the story, giving our characters more time to grow, interact, and endear themselves to our audiences, who will become more emotionally invested in their adventures.

For all the fun it is to write books and stories about impossibly huge armies, futuristic societies, apocalyptic scenarios, creatures that defy description, and Michael Bay explosionfests, it might be worth trying to write on a budget. Books let our readers use their imagination to bring the impossible to life, but sometimes having limits can help us narrow, focus, and zero in on what’s really important in a story, and help it reach its full potential.

‘The Force Awakens,’ ‘Underwater,’ and the power of Expanded Universes To Enrich Your Story

Note: This post contains spoilers for the 2020 thriller, ‘Underwater’

The year is 2015, and the end credits have just started rolling on ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens.’ I sit back in my seat, mulling over the first live-action Star Wars film in over a decade, my mind full of questions, so many questions, and few of them good:

*Where did the First Order come from? How did this group that’s supposed to be smaller than the Empire (and possessing a fraction of their resources) get more advanced ships, weapons, and a galaxy-killing planet?

*What’s the political state of the galaxy? How has it changed in the thirty years since the end of ‘The Return of the Jedi?’ Is the New Republic struggling? Has it been successful? Is it on the verge of becoming an empire itself?

*How did Maz somehow get a lightsaber that tumbled into a gas giant, ensuring that no one could possibly retrieve it?

*Why, when faced with a new fleet of space-Nazis, does the New Republic dispatch such a pitifully tiny group to fight it? What happened to all the battleships, cruisers, and destroyers we saw in ‘Return of the Jedi’? Shouldn’t a galactic government have the means to defend itself?

These questions left me frustrated because the film had no interest in answering them. Even more frustrating was that to get answers to many of these questions, I would had to buy tie-in novels, visual dictionaries, and encyclopedias to get answers that should have been in the movie in the first place.

Fast forward to 2020, and the end credits have just started rolling on ‘Underwater,’ an underwater horror-thriller (and the final film released by 20th Century Fox before being rebranded by Disney) in which drillers and researchers struggle to escape from the bottom of the Marianas trench while being attacked by fearsome underwater critters. While you won’t be able to remember the character’s names or any witty dialogue a week later, it’s still a satisfying and enjoyable way to spend 95 minutes. Later, I look online to satisfy my curiosity at any interesting behind-the-scenes trivia and read a few articles, including one promising a major revelation about the big monster who shows up at the end.

A few minutes later, and I’m blown away: It turns out that the big monster in ‘Underwater’ is none other than Cthulhu himself, the most famous character from HP Lovecraft’s fictional mythologies. In an instant, ‘Underwater’ goes from a generic creature flick to a movie about humanity’s first encounter with unspeakably powerful gods who could easily wipe humanity out without any effort.

Since reading that Cthulhu is the main monster of ‘Underwater,’ I’ve come to realize that the movie does one thing ‘The Force Awakens’ failed to do: use its expanded universe not to explain an incomplete story, but to enrich it.

For those who are unaware, expanded universe material is any secondary publication outside of a movie, television, book, or video game that further explores the world and characters of that story. Star Wars is the most famous example, with hundreds of novels, video games, and comics released over the decades that explores its fictional universe, but it’s now common for blockbusters and other big franchises to get expanded universe material of their own.

However, there’s one important thing to remember: Expanded Universe material is meant to enrich and enhance the franchise it’s a part of, not explain away problems that should have been addressed in the original movie, book, video game, comic, or TV show. ‘The Force Awakens,’ tells a story with a beginning, middle, and end, but there are substantial gaps (such as the ones mentioned earlier) that require reading said dictionaries and novels to understand.

Conversely, ‘Underwater,’ is a complete, self-contained movie that uses its expanded universe material to add another layer of depth that’s not in the film. The first time you see it, ‘Underwater’ is about scientists and drillers trying to escape underwater monsters. The second time you see it, it’s a movie about scientists and drillers trying to escape from a demigod, who’s just one of hundreds who have come from a place outside of time and space, all created by an insane god who could destroy everything if it wakes up. Our protagonists live in a world where gods are real, and none of them are our friends.

Yikes.

What does that mean for writers? When we write our stories, our audiences should get all the information they need from following our works instead of having to consult a wiki to understand what’s going on. While it’s fine to leave some mysteries and teases of a larger world in our stories, it’s important that those mysteries don’t come at the expense of the main story, and when a viewer has to do research to understand a story, that story needs help.

Try looking at it another way: Your story is a gourmet dish, and the expanded material is the sauce. If your dish is missing several ingredients, the sauce can’t salvage it. But if your dish is well-made, the sauce enriches and adds onto it, elevating the dish to something truly magnificent.

Great Quotes About Writing: Taking A Journey

There are a lot of great quotes about writing out there; these are some of the most insightful, thought-provoking, or ‘ah ha!’ ones I’ve come across.

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‘great story telling takes you on a journey WITH the character. You feel like you are on that journey with them because you see all the highs and lows. You see them when at their worst and grow with them. When a character is developed in this way, you have an emotional attachment to them and want them to win. Not only that but you remember that journey and want to see it again.

When watching the original Star Wars films now, the Special effects that are 30+ years old dont even bother me in the slightest because you want to be part of that characters journey again.

Making a film look good, with loads of amazing action makes it visually impressive the first time you see it. But a good story gets burned into your brain and you take it with you for ever.’

-Jameznash, commenting on ‘Why Jyn Erso is a better Rey than Rey is.

Regardless of how you may feel about Rey and the Star Wars sequel trilogy, this is a great quote about the importance of following a character in a story and seeing them grow from who they were to who they end up being. While the big choices and decisions they make are important, it’s also the little things that count, if not more so: Seeing them cry in private over how hard their journey may be, what hobbies they have to try and relax when they have a break from their responsibilities, and so on.  In other words, seeing their failures and the quirks that make them feel real, alive, and human.

This Time, It’s Ridiculous: The merits of ‘Jaws: The Revenge’

Of all the bad sequels Hollywood has released over the years, few have reached the level of contempt and scorn as 1987’s ‘Jaws: The Revenge,’ a film so poorly received that Universal hasn’t tried to make another Jaws movie in over thirty years. If you go by its pop-culture reputation alone, you’d think that ‘Revenge’ could be used as a legal means of torture.

Judge: For the crime of blowing up several orphanages and passenger planes, this court finds you guilty.

Terrorist: Haha! Do your worst!

Judge: I sentence you watch ‘Jaws the Revenge’ twenty four hours a day for the rest of your life.

Terrorist: Noooooooooooooooo!

But is ‘Revenge’ really that bad?

Well… kinda.

When compared to the original ‘Jaws,’ ‘Revenge’ is an inferior followup with more than its fair share of problems (it can’t decide if Ellen or Michael is the protagonist, the premise of a shark seeking revenge is silly, the nonsensical ‘shark explodes’ ending, etc.). However, I wouldn’t say that ‘Revenge’ is one of the worst films Hollywood’s ever put out; there are many that are objectively worse, and dozens, if not hundreds of shark films that are far more inept. (linked video has language that’s NSFW)

I think one reason ‘Revenge’ gets knocked about so much is because the premise – of a shark that’s out for revenge – inevitably sounds goofy no matter how you try to sell it. But unlike a Sci-Fi original movie, ‘Revenge’ takes its premise seriously and tries to make it work. There’s no self-aware winks at the audience or inside jokes that say, ‘Yeah, we know this is dumb; just roll with it.’ And while the end result may not have been the blockbuster Universal was hoping for, there are many – myself included – who like ‘Revenge’ as a guilty pleasure: the cast makes their characters likable and enjoyable to watch (did you know that Ms. Kitner – Alex’s mother from the first film – makes a cameo in the Brody’s living room when Michael arrives after Sean’s death?), the tropical scenery is a refreshing change of pace from Amity, the pacing is quick, and the music is surprisingly good, managing to elevate otherwise mediocre material to watchable.

As with the previous ‘Jaws’ sequels, we’re not here to bash on ‘Revenge’ for what it does wrong, but to instead take a look at what it does well. So let’s dive in and show that even the worst-received movies have their merits.

9. Academy Award winner Michael Caine plays a man named after a hoagie sandwich.

‘Nuff said.

8. Sean’s Death is appropriately disturbing

While the scene itself may be unpleasant, Sean’s death scene in the first act is surprisingly effective. Much like poor Chrissie in the first film, Sean’s alone and defenseless against a shark hell-bent on killing him, and worse yet, help is within reach, but no one can hear his calls for help over the sound of Christmas carols. Hearing such comforting music play while he screams and is eventually pulled down to his death is sobering. While the scene may come across as mean-spirited, there’s no denying how unsettling and attention-grabbing it is.

7. This chase scene

Easily the most engaging part of ‘Revenge’ is the underwater chase scene, where Michael has to outrace the shark as it chases him down.

While the technical merits of the scene are dubious (the shark’s inner machinery and gear are clearly visible multiple times), it’s still an engaging scene for three reasons:

      1. Michael is out of his element: He’s a human in SCUBA gear in the ocean trying to outrace a shark that’s faster than him, is stronger, has more stamina, and doesn’t need air.

      2. Michael has to head into the tight confines of a shipwreck to survive, but as any diver will tell you, entering an enclosed space underwater is extraordinarily dangerous, as there can be no quick way to get to safety if something happens. If Michael makes a wrong turn or a single mistake, he could end up trapped and either eaten by the shark or drown when his air inevitably runs out.

      3. He has to take a huge risk to escape to safety. In order to outrace the shark and reach the surface, Michael risks getting the bends by rocketing to the surface so fast, risking an extremely painful death.

6. Both Ellen and Michael recognize their paranoia

These two moments are similar and quite short, but at different points in the film, Ellen recognizes her paranoia about sharks coming after her family, and Michael acknowledges his fear of being attacked whenever he goes into the water after being chased by the shark. They’re small moments, but it’s refreshing to see characters acknowledge their weaknesses and desire to overcome them instead of refusing to talk about them or pretending they’ll go away.

5. Ellen has a good reason to go after the shark at the climax

Perhaps the most frequent problem in horror/thriller sequels is the idea that survivors of one traumatic event willingly go back or get close to what caused them trauma in the first place. In real life, reasonable people do everything they can to stay away from what nearly killed them. ‘Revenge’’s third act begins with Ellen taking Michael and Jake’s boat and sailing out to face the shark by herself after watching her granddaughter nearly be killed by the shark. Thus, Ellen falls back on the two universal desires that everyone can relate to:

      1. The desire for revenge.

      2. The desire to protect our loved ones.

Thus, ‘Revenge’ finds a credible reason for Ellen to go out and face the shark instead of, say, getting the hell out of the Bahamas and moving to the deserts of Arizona. Much like Ellen Ripley in ‘Aliens’, both head out to face their demons to protect those they love, something that anyone can understand and get behind.

4. Jake is comic relief done right

Unlike most comic relief characters found in horror and thriller films, Jake is a rare example of such a character done right (in my opinion, at least. Your mileage may vary). Yes, he’s essentially a walking Jamaican cliché, but while he cracks jokes and plays up his accent, Jake is still an intelligent guy who immediately stops joking around when things get serious and is willing to risk himself to save others. Jake’s a great example of a comic relief character you can easily see yourself hanging around with for a drink at a nice restaurant. Could you say the same for Wesley Crusher or Jar Jar Binks?

3. The film puts a greater emphasis on characters

Although it doesn’t entirely succeed, ‘Revenge’ makes an effort to focus on its characters instead of focusing on non-stop shark action. The latter would have been more satisfying to the audience, but I appreciate that the movie takes the time to show Ellen starting a new relationship with Hoagie, or Michael and Jake arguing about finances. This makes the characters feel more like people than inevitable shark snacks, and ‘Revenge’ deserves credit for trying to give more depth to its characters instead of going for shallow thrills.

2. The film doesn’t try to copy the previous entries:

There comes a point in any franchise when the main conflict inevitably reaches its logical end. For franchises that elect to keep going in the hopes of raking in more money, it will inevitably start to copy moments from earlier movies to try and sustain the viewer’s interest. Surprisingly, ‘Revenge’ doesn’t fall into this trap. It’s story of a widow trying to emotionally heal from the loss of her husband and son while protecting her surviving family is quite different from the previous films. Furthermore, callbacks are used sparingly, with the biggest example being Michael’s daughter copying his movements as Sean did with Brody many years before. It’s a sweet little moment, and the film smartly doesn’t draw it out any longer than it should.

Regardless of how much its bashed, ‘Revenge’ has to be commended for trying to do new things with its story and not just copying what worked in the past.

1. The film makes its main character an older widow

It’s one of the most common cliches in sequels: Your main actor or actress doesn’t want to come back for the sequel to a hit movie? Make their kids the protagonist! But ‘Revenge’ tries something different: while both Sean and Michael Brody make appearances, Ellen – Brody’s now-widowed wife – takes center stage. How many movies can you recall where the main character in a horror/thriller sequel is a middle-aged widow instead of a young, hot 20something? Ellen’s not the physically strongest character, and she struggles to deal with grief, but seeing her working to overcome those problems is more engaging than seeing someone with chiseled abs and a beefy beach body who hasn’t been exposed to the traumas and challenges that come with a long life.

While I would have liked if Ellen took a more active role in taking on the shark (Michael has more direct interaction with it), I’m grateful that ‘Revenge’ took a chance on having an unconventional character be the lead. In a way, it was ahead of its time; 2018’s ‘Halloween’ and 2019’s ‘Terminator: Dark Fate’ proved that older women can take the lead role in films just as easily as their male counterparts, and Ellen Brody could be seen as one of the first to take up the mantle.

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While ‘Revenge’ is undeniably flawed, and perhaps the least in the Jaws series, it still has its merits: It does try something new with the story, it takes a refreshing chance in giving the lead role to an older character, and has generally likable characters all around. While it is a subpar film, I personally don’t think it belongs on lists of the worst films of all time. It has its flaws, and it has the unenviable position of being the third unnecessary sequel to one of the best films in history, but it at least tries to create something unique instead of copying what came before, and for that, it should be commended.

Tune in next time, where we’ll take a look at the ‘Jaws’ franchise as a whole, and see what lessons all four films can impart to writers.

What we can learn from the many deaths of Jar Jar Binks

NOTE: This post contains videos that feature Jar Jar getting parts of his body ripped off, and depictions of blood.

‘Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker’ comes out in 17 days, and ends a storyline that’s been going for over 40 years. While much of that story has been embraced by fans of the saga, there are a few elements that most would like to forget, like Ewoks, the holiday special (if you value your sanity, don’t click that link) and Jar Jar Binks, infamous comic relief (and possible Sith lord). With the advent of computer editing, some fans take it upon themselves to rid the galaxy of the infamous gungan; one such video is ‘Han Solo VS Jar Jar Binks’ by Darren Wallace on Youtube:

For many fans out there, this is the catharsis they’ve dreamed of since 1999 (doesn’t hurt that the CGI is impressive, and the rotoscoping on Harrison Ford is top-notch), but at the risk of incurring the wrath of the Star Wars Fandom, I think this video is a good example of how not to kill off an annoying character. Yes, Jar Jar is smashed into paste, thus fulfilling the dreams of millions, but in the process, Han Solo is turned into a cold-blooded murderer.

Consider what happens: Jar Jar lands on the Millenium Falcon while searching for Anakin, briefly struggles with Han (who attacks him first) before having an ear ripped off, and is then thrown into the void of space before being smashed into bloody paste on the Falcon’s windshield. He’s not attacking Han, he’s not trying to hurt anyone, and he doesn’t dance, goof around, or do any of his usual antics; heck, he even surrenders before being killed! Your mileage may vary on how annoying Jar Jar was in ‘The Phantom Menace,’ (personally, I don’t find him annoying), but in this situation, Jar Jar doesn’t do anything to merit such a painful death. It feels heartless and senselessly cruel, like Zara’s death in ‘Jurassic World’

For the crime of being annoyed at having to babysit a teenager and her younger brother, Zara is eaten alive and drowns in the lightless void of a mosassaur’s stomach. It’s cruel, ghastly, and grotesque, feeling completely unearned for someone who isn’t the main antagonist. Jar Jar’s death here feels the same way: He may be despised by many in the Star Wars fandom, but does he deserve to have such a cruel death? In my opinion, no.

Now, let’s look at another example of a fan-made Jar Jar demise:

This version, while not as cruel as the first, still features Jar Jar being killed despite not doing anything offensive. However, in this version, his tone of voice at the beginning can be interpreted as being sarcastic, so in this video, he at least antagonizes the main character, making his death feel a little more earned, for who doesn’t like to see bullies and sarcastic thugs get their comeuppance?

Here’s a third death, edited together from a deleted scene from ‘The Phantom Menace’

This one features Jar Jar being smashed to pieces against rocks while doing his best impersonation of the Hamburglar. Here, Jar Jar doesn’t die from the actions of others (who, in their defense, try to save him), but from his own mistakes. Thus, this is a neutral death: He dies by own faults, not from being murdered.

And now, a fourth and final death:

This version of Jar Jar’s death goes for comedy and succeds admirably. Here, Jar Jar irritates Vader to no end, refusing to listen to his orders to leave him alone. It’s easy to imagine ourselves being annoyed by someone who’s as bothersome and pestering as Jar Jar, so it’s easy to side with Vader when Jar Jar is ejected into space… only to come back as an even more-annoying force ghost. Yet, despite Jar Jar being murdered, having it played for laughs and with no long-term consequences makes it easy to accept and fun to watch.

When comparing all four of these deaths, a common thread appears: The ones where the Jar Jar is annoying or antagonizing someone else makes his deaths feel more justified. The ones where he’s not trying to harm or do anything evil make his deaths feel less justified. Therein lies the an important lesson:

If an annoying character is going to be killed off, make their death be earned by being annoying, antagonistic, or playing it for comedy.

While it may be cathartic to see a reviled character bite the dust in a bloody manner, and tempting to write such a demise, doing so risks making those deaths feel sadistic. The most satisfying deaths are the ones that are deserved, not the ones that are cruel.

BONUS DEATH SCENE: Minutes after posting this article, I found out that Jar Jar has actually been blown up in an official Disney cartoon! (he gets better, but good grief, the poor guy just can’t catch a break).

Favorite Moments: The Passion of the Christ in 5 Seconds

We all have our favorite moments in movies, books, and games, moments that stay with us long after the story is over. This column is my attempt to examine my favorite moments and see why they stick with me.

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The Video

Why it’s great

It’s been said that the mark of a tight, focused story is that it can be summed up in one sentence (aka, the logline). Occasionally, such a fact can be used for comedic effect, such as if a two hour movie can be accurately summed up in a one and a half second clip of a guy screaming.