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You Need a Story to Sell a Movie

Posted by GayPatriotWest at 12:33 pm - December 15, 2008.
Filed under: Post 9-11 America

Like many film buffs, I’m a fan of Robert Wise‘s 1951 flick The Day the Earth Stood Still.  While it has some clunky moments and some weird plot points, it is on the whole a solid flick, made particularly strong by the quality of Wise’s direction and the acting of Patricia Neal and Michael Rennie.

Importantly, he succeeds in creating drama in potraying human relationships, with Rennie’s Klaatu arrival on earth creates tension between Helen Benson (Neal) and her boyfriend and that alien serving as a kind of father figure to Bobby Benson (played by Billy Gray), son to Helen.  The human drama gives Klaatu’s visit more meaning.

From watching the peviews to the remake, released on Friday, it seemed the filmmakers eschewed human drama for special effects and a political message (on the environment).  No wonder the film’s opening did not meet expectations.  No matter how great the special effects, if a movie lacks story and relationships, it won’t resonate with the public.

With its tendentious story line, it’s much more likely to alienate its potential audience.  As Brandon Gray put it at BoxOfficeMojo:

The marketing campaign for The Day the Earth Stood Still eschewed the human drama of the original and focused on the swarming destruction of buildings and trucks, making the picture look like a generic alien invasion or disaster movie. In bold print, ads declared the end of humanity, yet showed no humanity to begin with, such as relatable characters or storylines. Even the famous robot Gort received no play, just fleeting glimpses. The remake’s environmentalist propaganda (that man is destroying earth and must stop or be wiped out) was a different message from the original’s plea for peace and was obfuscated amidst the special effects chaos, contradicting the contemplative nature of the movie’s title. All told, few compelling reasons to see Day were offered to potential moviegoers beyond the vague spectacle and the promise of the new trailer for X-Men Origins: Wolverine.

The bottom line is: cool special effects alone do not sell movie tickets. Nor does political propaganda.

Still, I may just see the new release if only because Kathy Bates is in it.