It’s The Writing, Stupid

The Arts

Jason And The Argonauts has just appeared on a Blu-Ray disc, and I’ve noticed that some comment boards are complaining that the enhanced sharpness of digital transposition has shown up the film’s stop-frame effects and mattes. Although, as one Amazon reviewer points out; ‘The character of Talos moved exactly how you would expect a giant made of bronze to move, rigid, lumbering, and generally slow, compared to the very fluid and animated movements of the winged harpies, or even the multi-headed Hydra creature. It’s the supposition of how the creatures would move, infused with the created models that set Harryhausen apart from his peers, and made him a legend in his own time, influencing so many others that came after him.’

The film remains a peak of achievement for all concerned, and is now regarded as a classic – although it was virtually low budget compared to Hollywood movies. The other real difference – apart from the pitch-perfect melding of the Bernard Herrmann score with the action – is the intelligent script by Jan Read and Beverley Cross. Read wrote the screenplays of The First Men In The Moon and The Roman Spring Of Mrs Stone, while Cross wrote screenplays of The Long Ships and Half A Sixpence. The duo worked from the heroic poems of Apollonios Rhodios, and melded magic and excitement without sacrificing the most important aspect of Greek mythology – that the lives of mortals are the caprice of Gods playing out their own human emotions on an epic scale.

And here, I think, is why certain films remain memorable; it’s simply that they don’t talk down to their audience. If you’re going to make an action film, great – there’s no need to dumb down plot and dialogue, because an intelligent script povides meat for those who want it, and doesn’t stymie the enjoyment of those who don’t.

But I’ve lost count of the number of scripts I’ve worked on where the producer asks me to pace up the opening to get to the action – even though setting up action often requires no more than a few moments of screen time. But of course, displays of intelligence are sometimes seen as dangerous. And now, even Hollywood’s adult-oriented indie films are more concerned with ‘bonding’, ‘closure’ and other displays of pseudo-emotion, rather than opening up genuine dialogue.

Why is this? Well, we’re all careful about what we say now. We speak in public; on social network sites and websites like this, and we watch our words more carefully, policing our emotions, avoiding the controversial. But controversy is simply expressing an opinion, and once we cease to do that in art forms like books and cinema, we might as well all go and watch The Prince Of Persia and read Harry Potter forever.

What keeps us from a state of eternal infantilisation?
The answer is in the column heading.

2 comments on “It’s The Writing, Stupid”

  1. Steve says:

    In my humble opinion, “Politically Correct Art” is an oxymoron, espoused by oxymorons minus the oxy. I WANT art to be outside the box, otherwise what fun is it? Even if I don’t particularly like an outrageous artistic statement, I’ll damn well respect it!

  2. Rick Drew says:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2010/jun/17/ray-harryhausen-special-effects-john-landis

    could not agree more about this classic film and your comments on producers. See the link above in case you missed John Landis’ comments on Harryhausen. I am a screenwriter (5 movies so far, two watchable ones) and it’s always a battle to give a script breathing room! Now if we could only do something about this latest rash of pop-up movies — i mean pointless 3-D.

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