Friday, July 13, 2007

Off the grid

I went off the grid this afternoon: I delivered all the copy I had to and then snuck off to see Die Hard 4. There's something about nipping into a cinema in the daytime; although you can have your phone and you could walk out at any time, you don't and you don't. You agree to stay there for two hours and in more ways than just your phone, you switch off.

I love thrillers. I also love character and I know that if your dialogue isn't there, you don't have any characters. I might relish the plots of someone like Steven Moffat but even his intricacies and cleverness don't work if the characters aren't right or if what they're saying is just telling me the plot.

There's a bit of that in Die Hard 4. There's an awful lot of it in most thrillers and it's why I doubt I could name you five great ones. At least not without handing over two of the places to the Bourne flms. Similarly, how many great detective stories are there? I can think of 122 of them but they're all episodes of Homicide: Life on the Street.

But I go to thrillers and I go to detective films really wanting them to work. Er, that sounds like I go to comedies hoping they'll flop. I mean, I really want thrillers to work. There is something exultant about characters and a story that burn up the screen and that seem to really move, to scoop you up and carry you into mayhem. That seem to do what writers have trademarked as going on a journey.

I was exhausted at the end of Die Hard 4 but it didn't seem like John McClane had gone anywhere. He was still the man he was at the top and that was disappointing. It's also a mawkish film at times and it also uses a lot of the apparently hip thriller terms du jour, most prominently this "off the grid" rubbish. It wasn't rubbish when we heard it in The Bourne Identity, but it is is now.

Yet if I don't think Die Hard was 100% great, I seem to be thinking it was 70% good. I am unforgiving, usually, and if there's a moment or eight that reek of the-writer-couldn't-do-any-better or, worse, that the filmmakers think I want a pat the dog scene, I'm gone for good. Last time I nipped out to a cinema on a working day was to see Superman and I strolled out of there about half an hour in.

Die Hard 4 definitely has moments and it had momentum, I did want to see what happened next. I'm arguing three sides here, the two obvious rivals that it hasn't got great characters and it does have big thrills, and then the third side that the thrills don't work.

Some do. Actually, many do. But if I'm to forgive characterisation and wallow in spectacle, I have to believe it. It doesn't have to be believable, I just have to buy it. So a film can end with the most almighty impossibility and I'll be there if the film has carried me to it. The ending of DIe Hard works well - at least, the very end does; there's a hugely convenient leap right before it that disappoints me - and a lot of the start does too. As long as I can believe the hero could get out the way he does, I'll take anything. When Die Hard goes wrong, it's because the escape isn't believable.

This won't spoil the film because it's in the trailer anyway, but at one early point John McClane sends a car flying up into the air and into a helicopter.

I buy the destruction of the helicopter. I buy the car going through it. I just can't buy it taking off into the air.

It supposedly happens because he sends it hurtling into a ticket booth or somesuch and I can't make that connection, I can't make that work. Whereas moments before there is a scene with a fire hydrant and the helicopter which I do buy even though according to the people who write up goofs on IMDb, it's physically impossible.

I think what I'm slowly realising is that believability is skin deep. It's a very delicate line and it must also be personal taste. Like a pain threshold.

Now will I please get to work on my ten pages of script?



Jason Arnopp said...

Ten pages done yet, sir? Are they? Hmmmm?

Not sure if I've yet forgiven you for your abrupt exit at Cheltenham. I felt somehow betrayed and deprived, like a man promised a screening of Die Hard 4 and instead shown a Jean Claude Van-Damme flick from the 80s. Or Balamory.

Good day to you.

William Gallagher said...

You've got a nerve, showing your face here after what you did.

How's that for the start of my ten pages, then? Got you going, admit it.

But actually, no, no ten pages. Instead, I'm doing a folly. A script I'll never be able to use, a script I'll probably never be able to show anyone, but also a story that I cannot get out of my head. It's like my own private sound of drums and if I told you what it was about, I'd have drumming and laughter in my noggin.

But I figure that writing an entire screenplay is a brilliantly masochistic way of postponing the moment when I have to start writing ten pages. Fantastic, eh?

And as for the exit stage left, they'd cancelled an event I was waiting for plus a friend who lives near me was leaving so I toddled off. In some ways I think the nights were the best bit of the festival so I may have failed to think that one through there. And she may not have wanted to leave, she could just've been trying to get away from me, in which case I'm going to stop analysing things.

Unless I finish this folly early and need to ponder something, anything before the ten pages.

But go on, I have to know: are you done and dusted with yours?

Good to meet you there,

Jason Arnopp said...

So you partly left in protest at an event's cancellation? Churlish, sir. Churlish. ;-)

I'm not exactly done and dusted, no. But I've written the first draft of a 30-minute TV drama, which will hopefully end up a Red Planet contender. 'Hopefully' being the operative word, as always.

There's a school of thought which suggests we should get our Red Planet entries in asap, rather than rush the readers en masse, come August 31. So why not let your Folly outline simmer and brood for a bit and get stuck in? Come on, sir, do it for Satan*!

* Jason Arnopp's vision of Satan may or may not correspond to your own vision of Satan, including but not limited to visions of Satan you may have had in the past, are having right now or will ever have. Your statutory rights are a source of bafflement.

William Gallagher said...

Churlish! Artistic temperament!

No criticism of the festival intended: I'd been very thorough planning out what I wanted to see and also brilliantly leaving me two long, long gaps in which I planned to finish a rewrite I needed to do. Unexpectedly, I finished that in the first gap and was thumb-twiddling for the rest. My fault, but still thumbs akimbo.

As for sending in early to Red, um, yes, I see the point. Rats. Any chance you'd take an analogy with auditions? I've often heard that even when the very first actor through the door is brilliant and in all ways perfect, producers invariably still audition everybody because they can't believe their luck.

Besides, I have two cunning plans. One is that I'm reading a lot of screenplays and writing this one to get me up to speed and in a rhythm. Second is that when Folly is done, I'll just do a search and replace on the names Michael Knight and KITT.


Not sure I meant to reveal that.

Good luck with the half-hour,

Piers said...

Oh, please tell me that's true.


William Gallagher said...


MICHAEL is driving - well, actually KITT is, but Mikey's there at the wheel, pressing the Pursuit button and trying to control his iPod.

KITT: (To Michael) Michael!
MICHAEL (To KITT): Who else?
KITT: What's the number for the AA?


INT. TARDIS - DAY (2179)

THE DOCTOR is driving - well, THE TARDIS is but THE DOCTOR's there at the CONSOLE, pressing his TIME ROTOR button and trying to control his IPHONE.

THE DOCTOR (To TARDIS): Since when did you talk?

Hmm. I see some problems now.


Dan Sette said...

I liked Die Hard 4.0

(mustn't forget the "point nought" as it makes me sound tech savvy)

But what do I know. I like a good explosion.

You think it improbable that a ticket booth could launch a car into the air.

You've obviously not triedgoing through the barrier after forgetting your Oyster Card at Goodge Street.