Missed Opportunities

Book blurbs and movie trailers serve the same purpose; to hook the audience. They give you a little taste of what you can expect, just enough to reel you in, then they leave you hanging. Writing a good book blurb or cutting a good trailer are another blog post. For the longest time, it seemed Hollywood had lost the edge; movie trailers grew so cumbersome they included seventy-five percent of the movie plot. I can’t count the number of times I looked at my husband and said, well I don’t have to watch that movie now I’ve seen the trailer.

Maybe I’m at a (dis)advantage. I’m a writer. I spend most of my time dissecting plots, trying to build one free of holes. If a trailer shows more than an intro to the plot, I can often guess what’s going to happen based on what they show. But lately Hollywood seems to have taken the hint; they’re holding back in their trailers again, giving you a taste without revealing the plot. I like that. I prefer not to figure out the movie in the first ten minutes.

The trouble is, some trailers feel misleading. It takes creative editing to cut together a trailer that captures the heart of a movie without giving away the plot. Godzilla did a fabulous job of this, as did Elysium. If you aren’t careful how you paste the pieces together, you end up with a trailer that hints at an unintended narrative. I’ve seen this happen with book blurbs. You pick up a book, skim the back and think, oh that sounds fabulous! But then half the description turns out to be false. The best example I can think of is Magic’s Pawn the first book in the Last Herald Mage trilogy by Mercedes Lackey. The origin for the main character’s abilities listed on the back of the book is flat out lies.

In most cases, for me at least, the misleading blurbs tend not to matter. I enjoyed the Last Herald Mage trilogy even though I scratched my head over the discrepancy in the description. But there does come a point where you realize you’re not experiencing the story you expected. When the story turns out better than you anticipated (as was the case with me during Elysium), it results in a pleasant surprise. But even if the resulting movie or book is wonderful, the false expectations can leave you disappointed. I often experience the same feeling when a movie opens an interesting avenue, but fails to explore it.

I’ve talked a lot about safety in the familiar. People, especially the ones handing money to large productions, seem hesitant to take risks on the untried. But the end result is the same stale plots, redressed and regurgitated countless times. So when a fresh idea comes along, how far can a person really push before they hit the safety buffer? The best works of fiction are the kind that leave you thinking, so unanswered questions aren’t always a bad thing (see Source Code for a good example). You can’t tie up every thread, that would leave nothing to the audience’s imagination. But I do get disappointed when a movie or book – especially in the sci-fi genre- skirts close to an interesting topic without taking the leap. It’s easy to fall back on the tried and true topics of the classics, but it’s the exploration of new concepts that keep any genre fresh.

Going to the edge, then chickening out, especially when a blurb or trailer has me excited for the possibilities makes me mourn missed opportunities. Sometimes a really solid, good story could be fantastically golden if it only went a few steps further. Perhaps that’s me projecting my bias onto a given narrative; we all view things through our own filters. Perhaps it’s even because I prefer the kind of book or movie that engages my mind, rather than viewing for pure entertainment. But I can’t help think of all the really fantastic books and movies that haven’t been made.

Though I suppose that leaves room for me to write some myself.

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