The Pastiche Trap

Do you remember Sky Captain and The World of Tomorrow?  The Jude Law movie from 2004 that was ground-breaking in that it was all shot on green screen?  The one with the awesome, retro cool designs?

Yeah. That's the one.

It's terrible.  Just straight up awful.

But it's not the acting, the design, or the overall idea that are bad, instead it's all the way it's presented.  It's clear that the director/writer Kerry Conran really and truly loved all those film serials from the 30s and 40s and just wanted to make one of his own.  As they say, "Imitation is the highest form of flattery," so I'm sure he had the best intentions in mind when he went out to make his opus.  And that's what made the movie so terrible.

If you break Sky Captain down and look at it as a 1940s serial, it actually does a pretty good job imitating what it's trying to be.  But in Conran's ardent adherence to the formula of what makes a serial, he forgot to make an enjoyable movie for today's audience.  He fell into the Pastiche Trap.

It's a common occurrence among filmmakers, especially student filmmakers, with only the odd few being able to climb out of it's clutches (See Quentin Tarantino).  In the beginning it seems innocent enough: You want to make a badass noir film, like the ones from the 40s.  So you run out and cast a fast talking dame, a lady in red, and a whiskey-fueled detective, you know because you can't have a noir without those archetypes, that'd be sacrilege.

Ideas and actors in hand, you move on to visuals.  You're thinking of those great high contrast, stark shadows of Double Indemnity, but you don't have the budget to make it a period piece.  It doesn't matter, you think you can give the classic tropes a modern setting and things will work out fine.

Spoilers, they won't.

After shooting, you add in the voice over and a morally ambiguous ending.  "This is great," you think, "A true modern noir classic."  I have news for you, it's not.  Instead of creating something groundbreaking and original, like Double Indemnity, you've created a pale shadow that will be mocked until the end of time, like Deadfall.

The reason why Chris Coppola now makes wine

Making a movie that evokes the same feelings you had when you watched those types as a kid is one thing - as is putting in plenty of references to shit you like ala Kevin Smith (NOTE: this is also not a good route to take) - it's when you try to imitate those movies you saw as a kid that things become problematic.  What's past is past, it's time to push on to new territory and make new classics.

Me, I'm a huge fan of 80s genre films.  I love the big insane ideas, the goofy set pieces, and the larger than life characters, and it's that love that drives me while visualizing Love in the Time of Monsters.  However, I know that today's audience isn't as forgiving as it once was, so you can't get away with half that shit.  Today's characters have to be well-rounded people, the monsters have to have a decent motive, and those awesome set pieces have to be grounded if you want them to work.

If I was going to make an 80s Genre movie, I'd do best to build a time machine first because here in the early 20-teens an audience wants something more.

Here's hoping I don't fall into the same trap.  But that's what Andy and Mike are for, right?

3 Responses

  1. Mike Skvarla

    “Here’s hoping I don’t into the same trap.”

    Are you trying to start a new meme? “I accidentally the same trap” … “when you someone the same trap” … “it’s a the same trap!”

    • Matt

      Fix’d to make you look all dumb. Way to go look stupid, dumb mcdumberson.

      • Mike Skvarla

        I take offense to that … you know I’m not Scottish

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