Destroying The Earth Is Hard

I’m working on a big science fiction idea at the moment – a terrible enemy has taken over the planet and mankind must fight back – and I’ve run up against a bit of a problem. The ending.

I’m starting to think that in post-apocalyptic stories is it’s very hard to convey victory to the audience.

If you’re writing a movie about terrorists trying to blow up the Statue of Liberty, then if at the end she’s still standing – victory. If it’s about a man trying to get back together with his wife, and they don’t divorce at the end – victory.

But if the world we know and love is already gone, what does victory even look like? Okay, you defeated the alien invaders, or the killer robots, or whatever – but half the planet is a smoking wasteland and mankind’s sliding back into the Stone Age, so where’s the cause for celebration? Things aren’t going to get any more shit – but they’re not getting any less shit either…

And that’s the problem with destroying the earth. It’s hard to believe that your plucky hero’s victory, however much good he’s done for mankind, actually means anything in the grand scheme of things.

There are ways round this. Alien invasion movies like Independence Day often leave enough standing to suggest that the world can get back on its feet without too much difficulty. Or you can suggest a new future for mankind – a restored Earth, or perhaps a new world (though I find the ‘starting again on another planet’ approach is viewed very negatively by producers and execs. Again, it feels like defeat, not victory.)

But if you’ve genuinely pushed mankind to it’s limits and there’s nowhere else to go – how do you convey the sense of victory and triumph that the end of any good movie has to deliver?

Things I Learned From… The Hobbit

Tons to do this week, so not much time for blogging, but I just wanted to offer a short observation on The Hobbit (see what I did there? Go on, laugh. Go on. Please…?)

Always end with a bang.

A lot of screenwriters spend a lot of time on the first thirty pages of their script. And so they should: if the first thirty pages aren’t spectacular, the chances of the rest ever getting read are pretty damn poor. But if the first thirty pages are the ones getting all the love and attention at script stage –

Then the last thirty are the pages that should get the attention at the plotting, planning and prepping stage.

If you don’t end with a bang, you don’t really have a movie.

And even if you don’t really have a movie, ending with a bang might save your backside.

The Hobbit is pretty slow and pretty meandering for the first ninety minutes plus. Part of that is down to stretching the story to three movies, part is down to the largely episodic nature of the original material. Neither of those is really an excuse for the movie as delivered, by the way. Adaption is a process of fixing problems, not causing or replicating them. But that’s not what I’m here to talk about.

Because, despite the languid ramble through the history of Middle Earth, despite the unnecessary rock giants and the heavy-handed attempt to model the structure on The Fellowship Of The Ring, something sent me out of that cinema with a big grin on my face and eager to see it again ASAP.

And that something was the last 45 – 60 minutes.

Ever been to a film or a children’s stage play with a five-year-old? Chances are they’ll be shuffling, muttering and looking in random directions for 90% of the event. But at the end, they’ll insist it was brilliant and they had the best time ever – because the only bits they remember are the two or three scenes that genuinely gripped them. They’ve totally forgotten that they were ever bored, because the experience of the good bits massively outweighs the bad.

Well, adult cinema audiences aren’t that much different. Their mood as they leave the cinema will be largely dictated by the ending. Give them an upbeat ending where the hero comes into his own and triumphs, at least in part; where plot points pay off and surprises are delivered; send them out saying “Wow, wasn’t that final bit brilliant?” and they’ll be happy.

Of course, send them out saying “Wasn’t the whole thing brilliant?”, and then you’ve really got something…