I just got around to watching Peter Berg's film Battleship loosely derived from the Hasbro game in turn based on the pencil and paper pastime many of my peers and I played in study hall or after school (or during boring classes) when I was a kid. A nostalgic element that only ehanced the story for me.
I enjoyed it. A lot. I empathized with the flawed protagonist, felt for him as he disappointed those he loved, and cheered for him as he rose above his failings and personal tragedy to achieve his potential as a hero in overcoming challenges and enemies far greater than he or any human being would ever expect to vanquish. Shame, despair, triumph, joy/satisfaction are elicited ending with catharsis.
Rotten Tomatoes and its list of critics panned the film, calling it disappointingly"formulaic", etc.
And, on reflection, I thought "They're right. It is formulaic." And I found it immensely satisfying. And it is a formula that Man has found satisfying for, well, for as long as there have been stories I will suggest. From Joseph of Genesis, to Jack and the Beanstalk, to The Lord of the Rings, to Star Wars, to The Lion King, etc., the formula (as I outline above) resonates with us on a primal emotional level, harmonizes with the fears and desires of the soul to rise above how we see ourselves.
I believe all our stories contain some fragment of this, or should: a protagonist who overcomes external and internal conflict and is changed by the experience.
Formulaic? Fine. If I'm uplifted by the experience, the formula is just the right temperature for me.
You'd probably like Frank Capra's autobiography "The Name Above the Title". His work, especially his later work, was sometimes downgraded as being "idealistic", "pollyannaish", or that from the "gee-whiz school". But at the heart of it was the idea that there was true nobility in the world and that life itself was larger than life.
My wife and I have been watching a couple of his, Mr. Deeds, Mr. Smith, It happened one night, and if you take out the characters its hard to see how anyone could call them simple. The only thing simple is the resolution, and the resolution hangs upon the protagonists (usually more than one) simply sacrificing their own desires to do something good for someone else. True selflessness, and in the end the story rewards them basically after its clear that the resolution isn't in their hands. Like how the ring is destroyed not because Frodo was so great (though he was) but a confluence of the 'will of good.'
I think we need that sort of thing. I may have to see Battleship.
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Optimism regarding the human potential is part of my heritage, I suspect. "Pollyannish" would suggest this is naive. Ignorance is not the same as naivite, however. And a "Pollyanna" blind faith is not the world view of which I speak.
There is a Jewish concept regarding humanity's purpose (and responsibility) in Life called tikkun olam that translates to "repair/perfect the world." To recognize suffering and what is broken or bad and doing all one can to fix it and make it good. This is true for oneself as for the world around you.
No naivite, only duty. The protagonist (everyman) in the movie Battleship, Luke Skywalker, Frodo Baggins, et al exemplify this.
Respectfully, Dr. Bob (who apologizes for sometimes seemingly using Hatrack as my personal blog--which I should really get around to creating some day)
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Well, I take critics judgement in these matter with a grain of salt, because they aren't necessarily writers and they often don't know how stories are put together.
Screenplays are particularly formulaic in their structure, because films are exercises in massively cooperative creativity. I think "formulaic" movies aren't really any more formula driven, the elaboration of the formula is just a bit more threadbare in their elaboration of the formula.
Critics also watch far more movies than ordinary people. My main sources of entertainment are reading and live theater; I only go to see about three or four movies a year. No doubt I can enjoy a "formulaic" movies that I'd hate if I went to see three or four movies a week.
On the flip side, because I read so much, a lot of books leave me cold, because they feel like they're recycling the same old pop-culture themes from Harry Potter or Sookie Stackhouse.
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As MattLeo suggests, the main difference between a movie that's labeled formulaic vs. not is how visible the formula is to the viewer. I think there is always a formula.
If the story has enough flesh on those bones, we won't see the bones. And if the formula didn't work, we wouldn't be paying to see the movie. The movie "The Fountain" comes to mind as the least formulaic film I've seen, and as a result, the only thing I appreciated about it was the visuals. There was no comprehensible plot, in my experience, and I wouldn't have paid to see that movie.
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