Monday, June 20, 2011

Not Enough of a Good Thing

Yesterday my husband and I celebrated our one year anniversary. They weren't kidding when they said time would fly, because it feels like yesterday we were planning the wedding.

We decided to watch a movie, and I picked out The Brothers Grimm. I'd bought it used a long time ago, but hadn't gotten around to watching it yet. The movie was called things like a "gothic fantasy" and a "Monty Python-esque dark comedy".

This sounded very promising. I LOVE fairy tales, gothic fantasy, and dark comedies. I figured this movie was right up my alley, but I was sorely mistaken.

All of the right elements were there. It was very visually stunning, great actors (Health Ledger (RIP) and Matt Damon), and decent script. But halfway through the movie, I couldn't take it anymore, and shut it off. I've only shut off a few movies in my life, mostly because I need to know what happens. When I realized I could just look up the synopsis on Wikipedia, I shut off the movie. There was literally nothing that made me want to finish the movie. 

So here then is a list, of how avoid some of the problem I saw in The Brothers Grimm and other movies like it.

1. You must bring balance to the force.

Your book, just like a movie, is comprised of many different elements. The characters, the plot, your actual prose. But more than that you have the elements that make up your genre. Even if you're writing regular fantasy, you still have various elements to juggle. Elves or not? Low magic or high? Medieval setting, or something more progressive? Even within the broad expanse of your genre there is plenty of room for error. The trick is to balance all of these elements so they complement each other.  

With the Brothers Grimm, there was too much of slapstick silliness. There was a French torture scene that bordered on ridiculous, and not in a good way. You can't just throw in a bunch of humor and not support it in the characters and the design. The end result just made the characters look really stupid. There was too many elements out of balance in the movie to make it enjoyable.

2. You must represent accurately what the book is about.

Some of this is out of your control (cover art being an example). But most marketing departments are right on par with how to properly market your book. A summer beach read's cover looks completely different than a dark fantasy cover. We can look at the book, read the blurb, and know what to expect. Is the book going to be funny, or serious? Witty or plain? Action packed or a slow methodical journey?

You signal this to potential agents and later on, reader, through your word choice. "The Fantastic Tale of Mr. Gregory Hatchshell" as a title reads totally different than "Dark Moors". Both of them conjure different images in your mind. Match sure the image you are projecting with your book matches the actual content.

3. All the parts must fight together.

Not only do you need to ensure that you've balanced each element of your genre, you need to make sure they fit together. They must compliment each other, like an outfit.

This is tricky. Because there are such things as "dark comedy" that still work. You would think "funny" and "dark" wouldn't fit well together, but there are some instances where it works. Gallows humor comes to mind. It's not just a simple question of "do yetis fit with my alien spacecrafts?". You have to look at the entire book as a whole.

Using The Brothers Grimm as an example, most of the action and characterization was comedic. The characters acted like a bunch of buffoons. They were constantly tripping and stumbling over branches. The French general and guard were similarly acting in a comedic fashion. But most of the other characters acted more serious, which led to a disconnect with the characters. 

Likewise with the setting. The setting was beautiful, and the costumes and props all complemented each other, but not the cast and plot. The setting was "gothic fantasy" and the characters and plot was "slapstick comedy". It was as though they existed as two separate parts. 

The key is blending them together. If you really want your yetis in space, there should be reasons outside of the alien spacecraft that the yetis belong there. It's like a stew of elements, all mixed together. 

Obviously my opinion on the movie is just that: an opinion. But I think it's a good idea to analyze what exactly about a movie we didn't like, so we might avoid it in our own work.

What do you guys think? Did you love the movie? Think it was stupid?


  1. The second half is actually better than the first, IIRC. It certainly isn't a great movie, but it petered out to average by the end.

  2. Yeah, I saw Brother's Grimm a while back, and I have to agree with Joe. It had a ton of potential, and flushed every scrap of it to appeal to a "mainstream" audience.

    though I like your concept of balance. I'll have to look for that when I write.

  3. The odd thing is, this is one of my favoritest movies ever, and everything you mention? Those things bothered me to. But when I think about the movie, those things don't spring to mind. In fact, I'd forgotten about the whole French thing until you mentioned it.

    Of course, I have a thing for Matt Damon, too, so....