Top 7 reasons why SPECTRE is average while SKYFALL soared

The latest 007 film misses the target—despite having the same ingredients as SKYFALL: great actors, great director, great action scenes.

Here’s why:

7) Biggest fight scene comes in the middle, not the end

Whether it’s a novel, a movie or a speech, one rule is absolute: End things with your strongest punch.

The biggest fight scene in SPECTRE is a train battle between 007 and that green shirtless guy from GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY.

 

So when the climax comes, the final confrontation is between Bond and the supervillain, who’s crippled and crawling away from his burning helicopter.

It’s a non-fight with no tension or suspense. There’s a 0 percent chance the villain will find a way to win and a 100 percent chance Bond is triumphant.

6) Bond goes to the villain’s lair with no plan

If a super villain keeps trying to kill me, and just sent a ginormous assassin on my train to say hi, why would I show up at his secret lair expecting dinner and a drinks?

This is exactly what Bond does. He has no plan other than to rely on the villain’s generosity and stupidity.

In SKYFALL, Bond does travel to Silva’s secret lair, but in that case he does have a plan: find the man, then activate Q’s tracker beacon to bring in special forces in helicopters and capture Silva.

When 007 manages to escape and blow up the entire desert lair in SPECTRE, it feels cheap. It’s also premature. The First Law of Secret Super Villain Lairs is, You can’t blow up the lair until Act 3.

5) 007 doesn’t suffer or sacrifice

In SKYFALL, you saw what happened when Bond gets shot and loses faith in his job. He’s not the same. He’s not even qualified, physically and mentally, to go back in the field.

And when he goes out there, he does suffer and sacrifice to win. Silva destroys his family home and M dies.

In SPECTRE, Bond breaks the rules by breaking half of Mexico City, and getting sacked by M doesn’t affect him at all. Q and Moneypenny help him out. He still gets his cars and gadgets. To win, Bond doesn’t suffer or sacrifice one bit.

4) No femme fatale

There’s a great stinger ending in FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE where the femme fatale, a Russian spy, has to choose between shooting her mentor, the evil woman with the poison-tipped shoe, and shooting Bond.

There’s real suspense there. It matters.

SKYFALL had a wonderful femme fatale, and I’ll always remember the tremble in her lips as she tried to smoke a cigarette and keep it together once Bond asked about Silva.

 

SPECTRE has no femme fatale.

3) The cinematography feels average compared to SKYFALL

Any movie or TV show can have amazing special effects now. What made SKYFALL so good was the beautiful colors and framing of every shot and the mood created. Cinematographer Roger Deakins made that happen.

Deakins is also the cinematographer for THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION and NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN. Check out this story for how Deakins worked magic in ten iconic shots.

Every 007 film costs $250 million or so, right? Spend an extra couple million, every time, to hire Deakins.

Great cinematography is also the secret behind the success of MAD MAX: FURY ROAD.

Great actors + a brilliant cinematographer = a classic film, something you’ll happily watch again and again.

And that’s my acid test for any movie: Would I pay to watch it again?

2) Predictable and boring betrayal from within

Thrillers are about betrayal. Always have been, always will be.

Half the fun is trying to figure out who the traitor is and how the hero will escape the trap.

They stole Moriarity for the betrayer in SPECTRE, and he was great standing up to Benedict Cumberbatch. In this movie, though, he’s obviously a bad guy from the first seconds you see him, and he’s not scary at all.

In the end, Bond doesn’t take him out. Voldemort does. Always a bad story decision, having a sidekick do the work.

1) The best villains are multi-talented

Average 007 movies split up roles: (1) a smart villain with an army of minions, (2) a tough killer and (3) a traitor from within.

Once you watch Bond slay the tough killer, you know it’s a cakewalk to mow through the army of minions, punch out the nerdy super villain and blow up his volcano base.

Bad 007 movies split up those roles and divide them even more, with two villains, three different killers, four femme fatales for Bond to sleep with and two different traitors from within.

Brilliant 007 movies combine those roles into one juicy package for the villain.

Silva from SKYFALL was the criminal mastermind, the deadly assassin and the traitor from within.

006 from GOLDENEYE (Sean Bean dies again!) was the main villain, just as tough as Remington Steele and a traitor you didn’t see coming.

 

Both those movies saved the biggest fight for the end, with Bond versus the villain in an even fight. Doing this right is the difference between ending the film with a shrug or a bang. I believe 007 deserves to end movies in style.

More goodness about 007:

8 reasons why blockbusters are meta-stories instead of Villain of the Week

Name something popular, anything at all, and chances are it’s a series instead of a One Hit Wonder.

This is about why that is, despite a serious quality handicap, and how your favorite series either does it wrong, does it halfway or flat-out nails it.

There are two basic types of series: evergreen and meta-stories.

Evergreen

This includes sitcoms, mysteries, and other shows where things don’t really change … except for the villain or problem, which constantly changes, until the movie series runs out of steam, the novelist gets sick of it or studio execs at NBC look at the dying ratings and pull the plug.

The advantage of an evergreen story is the audience can fire up Netflix and watch any random episode without being lost. You can , buy any of Lee Child’s series at Barnes & Noble and enjoy Reacher beating people up for 325 pages without needing to know anything about the other books.

Star Trek, in all its forms (original, TNG, Voyager) was an evergreen series.

HOWEVER: the best string of movies was a meta-story about Spock, with Spock sacrificing his life to save the Enterprise and crew (Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Corinthian Leather), then Kirk and crew sacrificing to bring Spock’s newborn body back from Planet Crazytown (Star Trek 3: We Stole This Sweet Klingon Warbird) and finally Spock is back with us and directing the movie, which was smart {Star Trek 4: Save the Whales), except it lead to a future movie where Shatner directed, which turned out to be an Achy Breaky Big Mistakey.

 

The disadvantage of an evergreen series is huge: it inevitably grows stale. Also, the lead actor will always be tempted to cash out and bail for the movies. And often, the ratings or sales simply tank, making studio exec or publishers pull the plug, ending the series with a whimper. Continue reading “8 reasons why blockbusters are meta-stories instead of Villain of the Week”

Four killer trailers for the best movies of 2015

tinseltown tuesday meme morpheous

Never have I been this stoked about so many monstrous movies coming at us in a single year.

And I’m skipping a few that look good.

Here are the four biggest films that I would crawl through glass to see three different times.

May 1 = AVENGERS 2: AGE OF ULTRON

May 15 = MAD MAX: FURY ROAD

November 6 = SPECTRE

December 18 = STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS

 

Six easy ways to improve NaNoWriMo

writing meme spiderman dear diary

Writer peeps tell me they’re doing NaNoWriMo, which is Esperanto for “I’m trying to write a novel in a single month, and I’m 10k behind already, so I’ve quit my job and divorced my husband. I vaguely remember that we had some kids. Ready for a sprint?”

God bless all who sign up for this. I believe a novel is the toughest thing a writer can tackle, and the most rewarding.

It’s just that 30 days is a bit insane, and I say that as somebody who writes insanely fast. Related post: Why are all writers lazy bums?

If a friend of mine said they were doing NaNoWriMo, I’d want them to have a good experience and not pull their hair out because they missed two days of writing at that wedding and now they need to write 3,000 words a day and IT’S NOT HAPPENING.

It’s great that there’s a national month encouraging folks to write a novel. I just don’t want new writers to bang their head against the wall and feel like a failure if it doesn’t happen. You’re not a failure. The math is stacked against you for NaNoWriMo.

So here is what I would say to that friend wrestling with word counts and freaking out, or to anyone considering doing NaNoWriMo next year.

1) Spend all of October training for this literary marathon

For writers, a novel is like running a marathon. You don’t pop up off the couch on Nov. 1 and bust out 26.1 miles. You’ve got to train and build up to it.

Ignore the veteran pantsers and their crazy “I never outline” ways. Anybody writing a novel for the first time on Nov. 1 should spend October doing this:

  • Read SAVE THE CAT by Blake Snyder and STORY by Robert McKee
  • Figure out what primal story, per Blake the Snyder, you’re going to write—that’s your genre
  • Watch movies (hey, this homework stuff is tough) or read your favorite books in that genre, and see how those movies and books do setups and payoffs, reversals and revelations
  • Map out a three-act story, using Blake’s spiffy Beat Sheet, and if you want to get technical, he breaks Act 2 in half, so you’re really looking at four Acts
  • Figure out your story on that one-page Beat Sheet, and do whatever research you need for the Writing of Many Words

2) The goal is actually more than 50,000 words

You might say, “Hey, mister, fifty thousand words is a lot to write in a month. Don’t make this any harder.”

Sure, 50k is a lot. We’re talking about 1,667 words per day, every day. Except 50k is a novella, not a novel.

It’s more like half a novel.

Google it. Go on, I’ll wait.

Okay, not really. I’m over there, watching funny cat videos.

So: Literary agents, publishers and book peoples have all these standards for word counts when it comes to novels of different genres, and if you’re going to run a literary marathon, let’s make sure you hit 26.1 miles, not 14 miles and call it a marathon.

Chuck Sambuchino is an editor, author and expert on what agents and publishers want in different genres. Here’s a TL;DR version of his post about word counts for novels: “Between 80,000 and 89,999 words is a good range you should be aiming for. This is a 100% safe range for literary, mainstream, women’s, romance, mystery, suspense, thriller and horror. Anything in this word count won’t scare off any agent anywhere.”

Therefore: you’re really shooting for 80 to 90k. Which leads us to Number 3.

3) Make it NaNoDecemberO to stay sane and married

Trying to hit 50k in 30 days is hard. The math, it doesn’t add up.

I know full-time authors who write one book per year. Maybe two. If they wrote 50,000 words a month, they’d be cranking out six to ten books per year.

Which doesn’t happen.

Not even Stephen King puts out six books a year, and he (a) writes faster than anybody, (b) has decades of experience writing fiction and (c) has the money to spend all day doing nothing else, if he wants.

People doing NaNoWriMo typically are not independently wealthy, retired or able to call on decades of fiction writing experience. I bet most folks have full-time jobs and kids and life. So asking them to write at least 1,667 words a day is asking a lot.

Especially when the real finish line is really 80,000 or 90,000 words.

  • 80k words in 30 days is 2,667 words per day
  • 90k in 30 is 3k a day
  • People expect three bullets, except I don’t have another set of numbers on this point, so here’s the start of an infinite set, just for you: 1 2 4 8 16 32 64 128 256 512 1024 2048

That’s crazy talk. Old school authors like Hemingway would count their words, words printed on these things called typewriters, doing it by hand with a pencil. And they’d call it a day when they hit 500 words, going off to drink bourbon and watch bullfights, because 500 words a day is roughly three books a year.

Let’s make it NaNoDecemberO and give you two months to write a full novel instead of a novella.

  • 80k words in 60 days is 1,334 words per day
  • If you go long at 90k, that’s still only 1,500 words a day, less of a workload than NaNoWriMo’s 1,667
  • That’s right: write fewer words per day and actually have a full novel instead of a novella

Therefore: go ahead and turn it into NaNoDecemberO.

It’s okay. The NaNoWriMo police won’t come to your door and take away your keyboard. You’ll get more sleep and your friends and family will thank you for doing something incredibly hard in 60 days instead of 30.

4) No matter what, don’t set a goal of more than 2k a day

You might think, “Hey, I’ve got a free Sunday coming up, and I’ll spend six hours writing, 2k an hour, so that’s 10 to 16k, easy.” Might happen. Probably not.

It doesn’t matter what kind of writing you do or whether you write an hour a day in the morning or all day as your job. Reporters, screenwriters and authors all seem to hit the wall at 2k a day.

Though you can edit all day. Hmm. Interesting. Write 2k, then edit like a madman. There may be something to that.

HOWEVER: Let’s say you can go all out and hit 3k a day, every day. You’re going to miss days. Weddings, anniversaries, holidays, soccer practice, late nights at work. It’ll happen. If you need 3k a day, and miss a day, now you have to make up for it with 6k tomorrow. Ugh. Even spreading that out over a week would be tough.

Don’t be a literary tough guy and set yourself up for painful falls. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. 2k a day or less is smart.

5) Don’t do it alone

Writers are friendly and helpful. Ask. There’s no such thing as a dumb question.

And find some people to trade chapters with and such. You don’t want vague happy nonsense like “it was great” or vague critical nonsense about how they hated chapter 2 and don’t know why.

Find a few fellow writers who need critique partners. Everybody needs beta readers.

Or omega readers. 🙂

Yes, that’s an inside joke. And a good one. I’d throw down a double-sized happy face, if I knew how.

6) Let’s turn January into NaNoEditMo

The secret to all writing is editing—and the longer a piece of writing is, the more editing love it needs.

Don’t bother with critique groups where people read chapters aloud. Are you really going to read 80,000 words to the group? Might take six days. Not gonna do it. Wouldn’t be prudent.

There are all sorts of books, blogs, web sites and secret societies when it comes to editing fiction. Dive into it. Learn all about editing, and practice on things you steal from the Interwebs or pull down from your shelf.

Because you can’t edit yourself. Not at first. It takes experience bleeding on the pages of others before you can turn your own pages red.

The way to learn is from horrifically beautiful writing and amazingly bad prose. Mediocre stuff doesn’t teach you how to edit.

One thing will pop out fast: story and structure matter more, over the long term, than the quality of the writing. You’ll probably enjoy entertaining trash in the genre you’re writing far more than literary novels where every sentence is a poem, and this is true if the genre novels are insane stuff about a zombie pirate in love with a robot ninja from the future.

Also: Yes, somebody has probably written that exact book. Bonus points if anybody can point me to the cover of that novel. I’ll do a blog about this zombie-pirate/robot-ninja shebang.

Also-also: NaNoScriptMo would actually be fun and practical. A screenplay is about 15,000 words and that’s 500 words a day. Hemingway would approve. Then he’d drink a whiskey and watch a bullfight.

007 villains: Getting rid of incompetent henchmen

Bond villains need all kinds of minions, right?

Somebody has to feed the sharks, build the secret lairs, hide in hotel closets to attack 007 and all that.

HOWEVER: You can’t just fire a henchmen, not when they know all your secrets. That wouldn’t do at all. And you need to send a message about accountability to the remaining employees of your secret shebang.

Out of fairness, I destroy my favorite genre: thrillers

Daniel Craig put the studliness back into James Bond -- no more invisible cars and silly nonsense. Also, he is blond, and can kill you with a spoon.
Daniel Craig put grittiness into James Bond — no more invisible cars and silly nonsense. He makes you believe he could kill you with a spoon.

Top Ten Thriller Clichés

Act I: A wealthy, disfigured foreigner toils late into the night

1. The Villain of the Week is a wealthy, disfigured foreigner who (a) steals a nuclear warhead, (b) plans to kidnap the president or (c) discovers a lock of Hitler’s hair and is busy cloning the Führer.

2. The Standard Hero is tall, dark and deadly. He used to work for the government, wears anything as long as it’s black — wet suit, tuxedo or cat-burglar outfit — and solves every problem by beating it up, blowing it up or sleeping with it.

3. The Villain of the Week has an endless army of faceless minions except for two people: (a) the femme fatale, who has a special bond with our hero because her wardrobe is also exclusively black, just tighter, and (b) a giant, impossibly strong thug who never speaks and has a signature way of killing people.

Act II: The Standard Hero wakes from his slumber to blow things up

4. The hero is out of the business and cares nothing for money, but the state appeals to his patriotism — or the villain kills his wife/girlfriend.

5. Although our hero is a lone wolf, he must now work with a team, including (a) one beautiful young sidekick who knows kung fu almost as well as the Kama Sutra and (b) a science nerd who provides exploding pens and tech support. He will also have (c) a Bureaucratic Boss, who will suspend our hero, then turn out to be a mole working for the Villain of the Week.

6. If the president isn’t involved, the prime minister of Britain shows up, plus a politician involved in the conspiracy, who will either be a slick, greedy senator with a southern accent or an ancient and decadent member of the House of Lords.

7. Between car chases and explosions, the femme fatale tries to kill the hero, who bests her, making her decide to sleep with him. This is how you know she is doomed.

Act III: The Big Showdown ends in a fist fight; never mind all the guns

7. The hero infiltrates the villain’s lair with the help of the femme fatale, who betrays him. The villain doesn’t kill him right off. He delegates death-by-torture to the femme fatale, who sets the hero free, then turns bad again at the last minute so she can have a long catfight with the beautiful sidekick.

8. After our hero kills countless minions, he faces the invincible giant. The hero uses the invincible giant’s signature killing move against him.

9. Despite the carpet of dead thugs clutching AK-47s, the Villain of the Week decides to fight the hero bare handed as the lair self-destructs. The Standard Hero dispatches the villain by (a) tossing him down an endless chasm, (b) impaling him on a massive spike or (c) throwing him down a chasm that ends in a massive spike.

10. Nothing changes. Our hero doesn’t change or grow — he’ll be back for more in the sequel.The world doesn’t change. The average person in Cleveland has no idea anything happened at all.