Tag Archives: Middlemarch

In The Heart of The Sea – a script adrift that ignores the classic story structure

InTheHeartOfTheSeaI really wanted to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens, because JJ Abrams makes great action films – Mission Impossible III is one of my favourite movies – but it’s all a case of balancing going early to Star Wars and facing a cinema overcrowded with people who don’t normally go to the cinema and who think they are watching TV… against going late in the run and risk reading or hearing ‘spoilers’.

So, instead, last night, I went to see In The Heart of The Sea because I could not really believe that director Ron Howard could make a bad film and to try to figure out why the reviews/box office returns have not been good.

Even my local cinema, which you might have thought would try to encourage people to see it, billed In The Heart of The Sea as “Watchable but doldrum-prone”.

I have tended to avoid reviews in this blog, but…

…having sat through In The Heart of The Sea, this could be Ron Howard’s Romola.

George Eliot was/is arguably the greatest writer in the English language. Reading Middlemarch is almost enough to persuade any aspiring novelist to give up, because you could never write anything better.

She is a great writer.

But having to plough through her novel Romola is like eating sawdust. It recreates life in 15th century Florence so exactly, in such highly, over-researched, dreary detail that all life is sucked out of the characters, the plot, everything.

No-one is interested in detail at the expense of a single, unified central plot.

In The Heart of The Sea is much the same. It is about the true incident that inspired Herman Melville to write Moby-Dick and, I imagine, it is a fine recreation of whaling and of 19th century Nantucket but it is all detail to the detriment of actual interest.

My trite, superficial eight-word review would be: It is a fishy tale with no hook.

The classic story structure is to present an unresolved problem or mystery at the beginning. The story then explores the problem and attempts to resolve it. And the end has a resolution to the problem or mystery established at the start.

Basically, In The Heart of The Sea has no central hook at the start and is low on any single ongoing plot because it flounders around.  Every word and phrase has to push the plot forward, not just add colour and atmosphere. The movie is filled with atmosphere – visual and verbal – but no strong ongoing hooks, no single central thrust – and the whale does not appear until an hour in.

Presumably the elevator pitch was: The real story of Moby-Dick.

But there are two problems here.

One is that the story is bookended by Herman Melville, years later, being told the original story by a survivor.

Framing devices are always risky things in movies – especially when they are not simple bookends with a top-and-tail addition. When, as here, it is not just a framing/flashback device but constantly interrupts the narrative flow and is partly used to narrate the story, you are in trouble. If you have to have one person sitting at a desk narrating the story or filling in the gaps to another person sitting at the same desk, telling him what happened next, then the basic concept of your script is not strong enough and any rising flow your ‘adventure’ film has is completely buggered.

The second problem is that, in the original book and the original 1956 film, Moby-Dick is the monster, the villain.

But, nowadays, hunting whales is not a heroic act. There is no sympathy for the whalers. The audience’s sympathy goes to the hunted whales. So the human protagonists are inherently unsympathetic. The monster/villain is not a monster/villain. There is no ‘evil’ antagonist and no protagonist to identify with. The villain is not a villain; the hero is not heroic.

It is a bit like being expected to sympathise and empathise and identify with a group of men hunting down, harpooning and cutting up a kitten or a group of small children.

Like George Eliot with Romola, Ron Howard seems to have been mesmerised by the complication and difficulties of production.

Immensely detailed.

No audience sympathy or involvement.

No heroes or villain or clear central hook.

Dead in the water.

Abandon hope all ye who abandon meticulously-plotted story structure.

An awful lot of detail In The Heart of the Sea

An awful lot of detail disguising a fundamentally weak script structure

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Toothache and George Eliot, writer of the best novel in the English language

I just can’t be bothered to write a blog this morning. I have not recovered from what, in effect, was my day trip to Kiev – despite the fact I slept for a lot of that.

And I have to go to the dentist at midday today.

He is treating me for problems with a top right tooth and a bottom right tooth.

And, six days ago, an entire filling fell out a top left tooth. No immediate pain, but I could not get an appointment until today and went to Kiev with six different types of painkiller and a temporary tooth filling kit.

Now I just want to go to sleep before seeing the dentist.

GeorgeEliot_WikipediaSo this blog is just going to be quotes from my favourite author before I stopped being able to read books after being hit by an articulated truck in 1991 – Look, you should have read my previous blogs. Now you will have to wait for the book of the blogs.

The writer Julian Barnes called Middlemarch by George Eliotprobably the greatest English novel”. Virginia Woolf said it was “one of the few English novels written for grown-up people” and Martin Amis called George Eliot “the greatest writer in the English language”.

All three are right.

GEORGE ELIOT
RIP Mary Ann Evans
born 22nd November 1819
died 22nd December 1880

So it goes.

  • I like trying to get pregnant. I’m not so sure about childbirth.
  • Different taste in jokes is a great strain on the affections.
  • It is never too late to be what you might have been.
  • Failure after long perseverance is much grander than never to have a striving good enough to be called a failure.
  • Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together.
  • The golden moments in the stream of life rush past us, and we see nothing but sand; the angels come to visit us, and we only know them when they are gone.
  • Our deeds still travel with us from afar, and what we have been makes us what we are.
  • Blessed is the man, who having nothing to say, abstains from giving wordy evidence of the fact.

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I am surrounded by people with newly-born pigs’ arses for faces

At school, my English teacher once talked to our class about the poet W.H. Auden.

“Just look at the lines on his face!” he told us in awe. “All that character! All that experience!”

Sometimes, for a while after that – still in my early teens – I would sit in a tube train on my way home after school and look at my reflection in the window opposite and raise my eyebrows to try to create wrinkles on my forehead… to absolutely no effect at all. I could not insert lasting wrinkles in my forehead.

I was very disappointed.

Of course, back then, I was too young to realise most lines are caused by emotional strain or pain and one single incident of strain or pain doth not a single line cause – it’s pain and strain repeated and repeated in various incidents in your life at different times that cause a single line and multiple lines are the result of… well, you know what I mean.

I was and am a great admirer of the writer Mary Anne Evans aka George Eliot.

That godawful writer Virginia Woolf once said she thought George Eliot’s Middlemarch was “one of the few English novels written for grown-up people.”

In my opinion, it’s the greatest novel ever written in the English language.

So at least Virginia Woolf wrote something sensible on that one occasion.

George Eliot had a brilliant mind and somewhere along the way, I think in Middlemarch, she said something to the effect that suffering was never wasted because it led to sympathy for other people’s suffering. That’s not altogether true, as it can also lead to extreme callousness, of course.

Hitler, Stalin, Saddam Hussein and Colonel Gaddafi had lines on their forehead and they were perhaps just a wee bit unsympathetic to others’ suffering. I’m not sure whether to talk of Colonel Gaddafi in the present tense or the past tense. He’s present at the moment but this blog may soon be over-taken by events.

Anyway… we are talking in generalities here and, as always, I may be talking bollocks.

But I have always been wary of women over a certain age – basically over their mid-twenties – with no lines at all on their forehead, because it means they have had little experience of the shittyness that is life and therefore no understanding of or sympathy with other people’s problems. So they are even more dangerous than other women. (Men, as we know, are all shits without exception, so that distinction does not exist in the male of the species.)

A friend of mine has had lines on her forehead for as long as I have known her. I met her when she was 21; she is now 56. Some time, I guess when she was in her thirties, she told me she wished she hadn’t got them. I told her, perfectly truthfully, that I had always found them attractive because they showed she had a genuine, real, likable character; she wasn’t some mindless bimbo with a face like a newly-born pig’s arse.

Perhaps I could have chosen my words better. She didn’t take this compliment well.

But we are still friends.

Now I have lines on my forehead, my face and around my eyes – I even have old man clefts at the sides of my mouth so sometimes I leak spittle out onto the pillow when I sleep. It is not the most endearing of traits. I can’t get rid of the lines nor the old man clefts. But I don’t want to.

Well, maybe oozing spittle is not really ideal. Maybe I wish I didn’t do that.

But it’s an age thing.

When I was younger, the Carry On actor Sid James seemed to have an incredibly lined face. Now when I see his face on TV or in movies, I see personality engraved in his face, not lines.

To me, schoolchildren, who are all character-filled individuals to each other, now look like Invasion of The Body Snatchers type pod clones. They all look the same to me – like babies with newly-born pig’s arse faces.

A friend of mine (not the one previously mentioned) tells me that, in her teens and early twenties, she used to stick strips of Sellotape onto her forehead overnight to stop wrinkles forming.

“Once, I forgot to take them off,” she told me yesterday. “I was opening the front door before i remembered. I don’t know what people would have thought.”

A couple of days ago, a comedian’s wife told me that, in her teens, she used to sleep with a clothes peg on the bridge of her nose because she thought it was too wide. She too told me: “I cared what people thought about the way I looked.”

There’s not a lot I can do about the way I look and, about ten years ago, I gave up caring what people think of me in general. Not that I much cared what people thought about me before then anyway.

It was not and is not a positive character trait and it never proved to be any help in career advancement.

But scum always rises and the people with no lines on their forehead – the shallow bullshit artists – very often triumph.

The comic Martin Soan – admittedly drunk at the time – told me last week that my blogs sometimes show a cynical streak.

Streak? Streak? I would have said it was a six-lane super-highway.

I am surrounded by people with newly-born pigs’ arses for faces!

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