Character matters

Character matters. Yes, we heard that a lot during the Bill Clinton
presidency. I preached on it at the OWFI conference this past weekend.
Today on the Shocklines message board, though, somebody posted a thread
about last year’s remake of Dawn of the Dead and several people jumped on board to talk about how much they enjoyed it.

I use the original and remake of Dawn of the Dead
to illustrate my point when giving my “Making Dead Babies Count”
lecture. Romero’s 1978 classic film develops its characters over the
course of a long movie. We see these people from different backgrounds
come together, battle zombies, battle one another, but eventually
become a cohesive foursome that works together. When two of them die,
we feel their deaths. We feel the agony they feel as they slip toward
death, knowing that they will come back as the flesh-eating zombies
they’ve been fighting. We cheer for the surviving two heroes as they
flee the shopping mall at the end of the film. They’ve come a long way
and survived a lot of turmoil.

In the remake, there is no believable character development. The only
character who changes is the badass mall security captain, and his
transformation is so sudden that it is in no way believable. We know
instantly it is because he will become a martyr later. And he does.
Rather than telling us a story of a few people facing horrific odds,
the remake gives us a bigger group of people simply so many of them can
be killed off in the non-stop action sequences that replace any
semblance of plot.

And, unfortunately, that works for a lot of people nowadays. The remake
is an hour and a half of mindless, violent entertainment. The original
is about two and a half hours of character study punctuated by
brutality that is all the more terrifying because we care about the
people involved.

This is the problem with so many of the horror movies today. Well, two
problems. First, most of them are simply bad remakes of older films.
But second, they rely on special effects and lots of action instead of
plot and character. Can you say Van Helsing?
What was that? Some hot chicks and unbelievable action scenes. So what?
Give me people to care about. I remember, once upon a time, George
Lucas said that a special effect without characters was boring. Judging
by the last two Star Wars movies, it seems even he has forgotten that.

End of rant. In other news, my interview with is up now. You can read it here.

Angeline Hawkes-Craig won my April Yahoo Groups drawing. She had the
choice of claiming a first edition hardcover of Ramsey Campbell’s The Midnight Sun or my Call to the Hunt … and she actually chose my book. Coincidentally, Angie won the drawing on her birthday. Visit her Web site and tell her happy birthday.

One quick work gripe and I’m done for the night. I’m expected to get
the media to cover our commencement speakers. Now, if we were having
big-name people, that wouldn’t be an issue. But our speakers are people
already associated with the university. But the president and the VP I
answer to think this is newsworthy. It’s not. But our alumni director
made me a bet today. She said if I could get a stand-alone piece in The
Oklahoman she would kiss my butt. I suspect the best we’ll get is named
in a list of commencements … but I’d love to win that bet. Yeah, it
sounds sick and I wouldn’t make her do it, but I’d love to hand her the
article and watch her expression.

0 responses to “Character matters”

  1. I loathed Van Helsing. Oversaturated. By the merciful end I felt like I’d watched the equivalent of a sugar rush. I think I actually had a stomach ache.

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