It is what it is – Intro

So, the protagonist makes the choice, they’ll become a better person because of it, and their journey is complete. But that doesn’t really happen with Indiana Jones. There’s the scene when he attempts to save his love interest, Marion, by threatening to blow up the Ark with a rocket launcher, but it doesn’t resolve in any sort of climatic character change. The inspiration for Jones, James Bond (pre-Daniel Craig), didn’t have an arc, either; both characters were established quickly and don’t transform at any point. The James Bond villain has become a parodied archetype, but the villains of these types of films can play an important role that serves as a proxy for the lack of a character arc with the protagonist. Jones and Bond are ruthless men—they kill people, they’re standoffish with their romantic interests, and they’ll do anything to get the job done. But the villains are always worse. Belloq is an educated archaeologist who exploits tribes and whose greed leads him to work with the Nazis. Belloq is essentially a dark refection of Jones; they share similarities, but both the protagonist’s and the antagonist’s characteristics are really highlighted by how they contrast. Villains are always more ruthless, committing acts of undeserved cruelty and violence to weaker characters; they’ll also usually have more manpower, financial capital and resources and/or will be intellectually superior to the hero. Be it Jones, Bond, Batman or any other character in these mould of films, they’re always at a disadvantage in one way or another, and the character has to remain consistent to even keep up with the overbearing antagonist. The villains also show how disastrous change could be for the hero; with a few wrong decisions, Jones could wind up far closer to Belloq’s side than anyone would want.

Characterisation is massively important to how Hollywood films like the  Indiana Jones series function, but it really comes in second to narrative structure. There’s many differing opinions on how many acts are needed within a story, but for simplicities sake I’m going to focus on the most commonly known: the three-act-structure. So every film has a beginning, middle and an end, which can be split into three separate acts.

  • The first act might take up a quarter or a third of the film’s runtime, and basically sets up the plot and the main characters and ends with them setting out on their adventure. In Raiders, Jones is introduced, told about the Ark, and travels in an attempt to recover it.
  • The second act is usually the longest, with the protagonist meeting their allies and villains and being tested throughout. Jones meets Marion, Belloq is further established along with the Nazi presence, and the stakes are raised as Marion is kidnapped and the Ark falls into the villains’ hands.
  • Then, in the third act, the pressure will rise, the main character will complete their character arc (if they have one) and all the loose plot ends should theoretically be tied up. Jones wins, gets the girl and world is safe again. Granted, this is a formulaic way to approach narrative, but it works and at the very least gives a film a sense of structure.

Twilight director Catherine Hardwicke stated that the film followed a traditional three-act structure. So, everybody knows the premise of Twilight right? It’s a story of an innocent romance between a young girl and a 108-year-old vampire who masquerades as a teenager. The runtime of the film is just over an hour and 50 minutes, so you’d expect the first act to play out the premise: the young girl Bella meets Edward, she discovers that he’s a vampire, and falls in love with him. Well, it does, but it takes almost an hour to do it. The act that should take no more than a third of the film’s length takes half of it, and this in turn condenses the second act to about half an hour, leaving slightly less for the finale. Each beginning of act is signposted by having a Bella voice over, which seems to me a pretty strong signifier that this was the director’s intended structure. I’m not exactly the target demographic for the teenage dark fantasy genre, but Twilight was a struggle for me to watch; it feels too long and dragged out and it’s the careless narrative that causes it. There’s an ongoing subplot about a group of nomadic vampires that serve as the film’s villains, but they get pretty much zero screen time until the third act. If you haven’t seen Twilight, with about thirty-five minutes left, when the film should really be ramping up the romantic conflict and the threat of the murderous evil vampires, this happens.

Nothing says impending danger like a joyful two and a half minute baseball montage, right? So, the evil vampires turn up out of the blue and the villain subplot is squashed into the finale part of the film. The length of the first act kills this film before it even has a chance to get going; there’s no time for any other characters to be fleshed out, no time for the villain subplot to be established or satisfactory concluded—there’s not even that much time for Bella and Edward’s romance to develop. This film is almost two hours long, so there’s no reason why it can’t deliver all of these things. If you cut out every shot of Edward looking like he’s about to cry you’d save like forty-five minutes, for a start. Twilight is a perfect example of someone trying to make a predictably structured film and completely failing. So why is that? Hardwicke didn’t set out to make a confrontational Avant-garde piece that goes against conventional storytelling. It’s because the assumption is that nobody will give a shit: it’s got Robert Pattinson covered in rhinestones and an obligatory vampire fight—deal with it.

So, you’ve just wrapped on set, your fifty million dollar plus film has no plot, no character depth, nothing at all, so what do you do? You probably spend millions on the best CGI digital effects company you can find, spend more on marketing the shit out of it, then you close your eyes and hope for the best. These are the exact films I want to look at, the ones that you spend your money on and you want to nudge your friend so hard all the way through, because he thought the poster looked cool and made you come, and you know if you tried to tell him how bad it was he’d just shrug and say “it is what it is,” and you’d have nothing to say.

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Sean was born and continues to live in Edinburgh, Scotland. He spends his spare time watching terrible films and then complaining about them to anyone present, regardless of their interest.

You can reach Sean via email, he doesn't have time for Twitter.

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