Sunday, October 14, 2007

Sunday flashback movie time

The weekly review is Jean Claude Van Damme in Bloodsport. Here's a old survival guide I wrote for movie characters. Enjoy. I'll be praying for the Cal QB to get healthy.

After spending many years on as a reviewer of movies, film, and cinema, I find I have acquired some knowledge I can - nay, I must - pass on to the future generations. Whether it's an action, sci-fi, horror, or martial arts movie, I've noticed many of these young actors have the life expectancy of a mayfly. So I have compiled this short guide for men and women who want their big breaks to last longer than the opening credits.

Step 1: Identify your risk

Some characters are at an inherently higher risk of premature exit.

Low Risk
High Risk
The hero
The hero's best friend
White people
Women who sleep with the hero in the absence of any long-term commitment
The cook
The wisecracking army specialist
One man who has been pushed too far
People with speech impediments

There are some misconceptions about which characters are at risk. The villain's lieutenant is not high risk, for although (s)he will surely die in the penultimate conflict between good and evil, at least (s)he makes it to within 10 minutes of the ending credits. Missing out on the sequel is a small price to pay. The hero's best friend is sometimes considered a good role, since you get a lot of good face time with the star, but it is all too easy for a hack writer to kill you off in the first fight so the hero can punch the ground in tortured rage while screaming your name into an overhead crane shot.

Your risk level dictates your conduct. If you are at low risk for early death, then these guidelines may be followed in a casual manner. If, on the other hand, you are a black, stuttering, wisecracking munitions expert who has a one night stand with your best friend, the hero of the picture, then you had better follow each of these rules to the letter. Just because you are an easy target for the writers doesn't mean you have to just walk into it.

Step 2: Don't poke things with a stick

I cannot stress this enough. Poking things with a stick is the number one cause of death in science fiction movies. When something has fallen to the earth in a streak of fire, leaving a smoldering object in the bottom of a fresh crater, the natural instinct is to walk up to it and poke it with a stick. Trust me, I know. But being poked with a stick is a universal signal to extraterrestrial life forms to go on a rampage of mass destruction.

Poking the monster with a stick after you're pretty sure you've killed it and want to make sure is also a bad idea. You have usually underestimated the resiliency of the evil creature, which leaves you facing a newly invigorated monster with only a stick to ward it off. I would recommend checking if a monster is still alive from some distance with a gun or, better yet, a flamethrower.

Step 3: Don't enter a dangerous situation without some character development first

This is also known as the Ensign Bobby Effect, from the Star Trek series. Be wary of a commanding officer who suggests you look behind a rock outcropping if your full name is unknown. This can be used to your advantage, however, by securing a little character development early in the film. Writers are lazy people and will not waste a page of exposition just to feed the Frothing Beast of Klarnog. Similarly, in a war movie, make sure you have a chance to tell the audience a little bit about yourself. Nothing fancy, your hometown, a significant other waiting for you (but make sure it wouldn't make it too tragic if you didn't come home). If you can get just a brief flashback, you are set. Think of yourself as a newborn calf on the farm. If you can get Suzie to name you, no worries. If not, you're veal.

Step 4: Be kind to small animals, children, women, and the elderly

There was once a day when you could designate a minor character for early exit by making him/her a different color or creed than everybody else. Now that there are multiple colors and creeds watching movies, a writer has to be concerned about offending people. The solution is to make the differently-colored or creeded individual a complete and utter slimeball.

In an age when it is very difficult to make a character unsavory enough to kill off early without offending anyone, don't give the writers a free one. There is no Anti-Defamation League for abusers.

So please don't kick the puppy.

Step 5: Don't walk backwards

I can't believe I even have to make a point of this. Honestly. Why do you insist on walking backwards in horror movies? Yes, the first time you do it, it's fine because you back into the hero, or your equally stupid buddy. But if you keep doing it, you're going to turn around and it'll be a cut to the axe-wielding maniac, the screen will flash black, and then a cut to the hero saying, "Jenny? Where did you go?"

What the hell were you thinking?

And while we're at it, Step 6: Wear sensible shoes. Ladies, if there is the slightest chance of you being pursued by a psychopath, you need shoes you can run in. If you insist on wearing heels, you can at least wear the shoes from that commercial with the women playing basketball in pumps. They seemed rather mobile.

Step 7: Don't go back in for anything

It is very common in action movies for a character to emerge from a fortress, jungle, or system of underground tunnels, only to realize that something was missing. Often this is as insignficant as important files, or money. Never go back for it. It was taught to you as a child during fire drills, it is no less true today. It doesn't matter if little Timmy has been left behind. By the time you realize little Timmy is gone, little Timmy is probably already decomposing, or being used as bait in an elaborate snare trap. Forget about little Timmy and get the hell out of there. You don't want that little bastard hogging screen time later on talking about how great your character was, and what a shame it was when you got hideously murdered during his rescue.


I hope that you, the young people of America, can benefit from my experience, and that none of your mothers will have to tell their friends, "Yes, my child was in that movie. You know, the one that got decapitated fourteen seconds after the opening credits."


miss kendra said...

this is excellent advice, though if i follow it i should probably never wear heels again, considering the high likelihood of my being chased by psychopaths.

jamwall said...

Why can't we see Steven Segal or Jean Claude Van Damme square off in a fight to the death against a Hollywood screenwriter? That would be awesome.

slappy said...

Kendra: Especially when in Berkeley. If isn't the psychopaths, it's the hills.

Jammer: I would also pay good money to watch Seagal versus Van Damme in a Lincoln-Douglass debate.