Friday, December 02, 2005

False Crises

I remember as a child, the frightening scene in Superman where Lois Lane is trapped in a wrecked helicopter, hanging from a slender wire off the side of a building. I recall being terrified that any person would have to face such a situation. Oh, the anxiety of the fraying wire, the ugly stirrings and twistings of the wrecked machine, the gulp of horror as she falls, falls, falls only to be saved by Superman! What luck that he was there. And could fly.

My youthful mind was not sophisticated enough to anticipate this turn of events (or recognize that Margot Kidder’s striking Superman at a hundred miles an hour would hurt at least as much as pavement ever could). But now, to my mind, the hanging-from-a-helicopter-bit is a yawn-inducing cliche.

I get angry at having to sit through such scenes. Must it be so predictable! There is no anxiety, for the characters are in no danger; they will be rescued. Most every crisis is a false one, and viewers with even basic familiarity with the storytelling conventions of film can recognize it.

Do you disagree with me? Have you ever once thought, “Gosh, I wonder if Indy will get out of this one?” Or, “How can Richard Gere and Julia Roberts ever fall in love now?”

Of course Richard and Julia get together. They always do. More than that, when you go see their predictable by-the-numbers romance, you do so on the strength of a guarantee from the filmmakers of a happy and predictable ending. You don’t WANT a surprise. You want to invest emotional energy in interesting and likeable characters that end up just the way you expect them to.

And then you want to curse Hollywood for its dearth of fresh new ideas.

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