IT—A Story Analysis

IT—A Story Analysis

Drake’s Brutal Breakdown

In Drake’s Brutal Breakdown, I dissect an aspect or two of a movie or TV show as a way for you to see how I see stories. I’m assuming you’ve already seen whatever it is I’m about to discuss. If you haven’t, what I say in this breakdown won’t make as much sense—arguably you can still learn from reading it, just not as much.

If you read on, don’t blame me for ruining whatever this is—I may not be kind.

Warning-spoilers ahead

Warning-this post is Rated R

Because this movie is Rated R, I’m not going to hold back on my language during this post. If that sounds offensive to you, be the adult here and stop reading now.

Warning—this post is gonna be long.

Because there is SO MUCH WRONG with this story, and I’m really, really pissed that they did such a crappy job of storytelling here, I’m gonna rant! A lot!

Okay, here we go… Let’s talk about IT.

Or, more specifically, let’s talk about the importance of Benchmarks.

More than $123 million dollars earned in its opening weekend. Average critic rating of 7.2 with an 87% score on Rotten Tomatoes. Even Stephan King loved the movie. Bulbous red hair flying in the air, running over green fields, singing and fancy free.

I’m not here to rain on such a commercial success. I mean, good on you writers and directors. Bravo. You made a product that people are giving you money for. Lots of fucking money. I’m not jealous one bit.

Okay, now that I’ve done the obligatory, “you made money, so you must be better at your job than me” pat on the back, let me explain why this movie fails so miserably for me.

What I Thought

I could not have hated this movie more unless Pennywise himself had literally jumped off the screen and ripped one of my arms off. And since I left the theater feeling as if 12 hard-earned dollars had been violently ripped from my wallet, I still felt violated.

Every scary scene in this movie was in the trailer. Yea! I said it! They fit ALL the horror scenes from a horror move into its 60-second trailer. In fact, the trailer was not only scarier, it was more entertaining to watch. I have more connection with the sandwich I ate yesterday than most of the characters in this film. Also, CHAPTER FUCKING ONE?!?! Oh… so pissed about that… More on that later.

Okay, okay. Let me back up. Speaking of sandwiches, my assistants have been prodding me to try out this new thing they call a “compliment sandwich”. Let me attempt to practice that right now.

(Compliment) The trailer was really great, and made me want to spend money to see this film.

(Criticism) Nearly everything from the start of the movie to its end sucked.

(Compliment) You saved me $12 because there’s no way in Hell I’m watching “Chapter Two”.

O.K., so that last line was more of a backhanded compliment.

Fine! I’ll try again.

(Compliment) If you can overlook that this was a horror film without any real horror in it, the fact that they failed miserably to tell any compelling or complete story of any type (because of failing to setup their Benchmarks), and the fact that they tried to cram WAY too many stories into one film, I’d agree with the statement that this was a terribly done, poor-man’s version of Stand by Me.

I know, not a real compliment either. Fine! Fuck sandwiches! Let’s get to the meat.

Story Analysis

So, not a Horror flick, which is fine, as it doesn’t follow any of the normal Horror conventions when it comes to Structure. So, what is IT? This story could definitely fall under the category of Coming of Age/Maturation Story Arc. Or, to be more accurate, this was SEVEN Coming of Age/Maturation Story Arcs, all crammed together in the worst way possible, with no attempt to viscerally connect the reader to any of them! But since they failed so spectacularly at all of them, this isn’t really the Structure the film hangs its meat on.

So, what is the Structure? Well, let’s look deeper at the story itself and see if we can figure it out.

Basically, a bunch of kids are in this town that’s cursed by a monster who eats children. Since all of their parents have given into fear in one way or another, these kids are left to fend for themselves. This is what gives us the playground for the Coming of Age/Maturation Arcs.

But the main thrust of the story follows a character whose little brother is BRUTALLY MURDERED AND EATEN ALIVE by this monster/evil spirit/dancing clown called Pennywise. (They never actually explain what Pennywise really is during the move, so if you haven’t read the book, you’re shit out of luck in understanding this part of the story.) Still, this main thrust sets up the only “real” Structure used—The Closure Story Arc. Cue children screaming and crazy eyed monster/evil spirit/dancing clown laughter.

Yeah. Not about growth. Not about becoming a hero. Not about making the world a better place. Not even about killing the crazy clown-demon that ate his little brother. Just a simple story about a simple child who needs to find some closure after the disappearance of his kid brother.

“Wait, what?” you say. “No, this is about that little boy getting revenge on Pennywise for killing his brother.”

Oh, I agree that’s what this SHOULD be about. But, it’s not. Poor little Bill Denbrough is never out for blood, never out to kill the demon that killed his brother. Nope. Not once does he state this, nor does his actions show this. He’s just out to find his brother, either alive (so he can bring him home), or dead (so he can bring his body home). That’s it. And I KNOW this because at the end, after he gains this closure by killing the illusion of his brother, little Bill gives up. He is more than willing to let Pennywise kill him as well. (More on this in a moment.)

And since the Closure Story Arc is kinda counterintuitive to a Horror film (which should be more about redemption, or revenge, or at the least survival), can ya see why this movie left me so frustrated?

But it was WAY more than that… oh, so much more than that. Let’s talk about…

Benchmarks

Alright, so, in order to talk about IT, I’m gonna have to break down Benchmarks—what they are and why they are so important if you plan on telling a story that’s worth a shit. In fact, you’re gonna get about 500% of the government’s daily recommended allotment of Benchmarks in this one post alone. Let’s hope it’s water soluble.

Benchmarks are all those wonderful moments in a story that create that vitally important visceral bond between the reader and the story. Basically, these are the things you need to put into a story so the reader actually cares about whatever it is they’re reading. Benchmarks are unique to each different type of story arc, each character, and each unique situation. So, unfortunately for you, I can’t just give you a list of ‘em.

I can tell you that Benchmarks are the HOOKS that connect the reader to the story. The HOOKS that makes the reader care about whatever it is you want them to care about. And without these HOOKS, the reader won’t care. Let’s look at a few examples, so hopefully you can get my meaning.

You’re gonna write a love story? Fine! You need some Benchmarks that viscerally connect the reader to HOW the main character feels about Love, WHY they need to find Love, WHAT that character will lose if they don’t get Love, and HOW either finding or not finding Love AFFECTS their life in the end.

An Action/Adventure story? Great! You need some Benchmarks that viscerally connect the reader as to HOW the main character is personally affected by the conflict of the story, WHAT that character has lost/is going to lose if they don’t get involved in attempting to stop the conflict of the story, WHY, once they are dragged into the story, do they keep moving forward toward the end of the story, and HOW either overcoming the world-destroying event or not overcoming it will AFFECT their life in the end.

Coming of Age story? Spectacular! You need some Benchmarks that viscerally connect the reader to WHAT the main character is missing by being a youth, WHY they need to mature, WHAT they will lose if they don’t mature, and HOW gaining or not gaining this maturity will AFFECT their life in the end.

I could go on, but hopefully you’re starting to see the big picture here.

You do all this Benchmark stuff because, as your story continues, your scenes can build upon these Benchmarks, letting your readers FEEL the increased intensity in tension, character development, or really anything that your reader needs on an emotional level in order to enjoy your story. Without setting up your Benchmarks, the reader will never give a shit about the story, because they will never give a shit about the characters moving through said story. Period. It’s that simple.

Let’s take a look at one of the Benchmarks that was setup in IT, so you can see why it should have worked, but in reality, went a LONG way in ruining this movie for me.

When Bill Denbrough’s little brother, Georgie, meets Pennywise for the first time, it’s breathtaking. Seriously, I’m not sure there is a single better-written scene in a horror film. The tension is raised as he follows his boat in the rain. The cinematography is wonderful. The gloom, the rain, the subtle music. Even the little moment where poor Georgie hits his head on the warning sign—all wonderful at building the tension to a moment you can FEEL coming. You even dread it. You want to say, “Don’t go that way, Georgie!” but you know it’s useless. You KNOW Georgie is going to die. You KNOW he has to, so the story can begin. You’re not happy with his sacrifice on one level, but on another, you NEED to see him die so you can be viscerally connected to the story (Benchmark so you HATE the villain). Viscerally connected so that you will enjoy seeing Pennywise suffer and die for his crimes.

You KNOW all this is about to happen, and it’s AWESOME! It’s a Benchmark that’s NEEDED so the audience will enjoy the rest of the story. The rest of the HORROR story, that is.

Sure enough, once the boat disappears into the underworld, and little Georgie starts peering into the sewers, that fucking clown pops up, perfectly clean in the bowels of that nasty storm drain.

They have an unsettling conversation and all you can think is, “GET THE FUCK OUT OF THERE, GEORGIE!” even though you know that’s not going to happen. In fact, on a subconscious level, you NEED that creepy clown to kill that small, innocent child. It’s where your emotional connection to the story will come from. It’s the BENCHMARK that you can then build upon so you get your emotional satisfaction throughout the rest of the HORROR film.

I mean, think how you would feel if all that happened, but then, Pennywise just handed little Georgie back his boat, wished him a good day, and waved as he skipped home. It wouldn’t have been the same.

So, as expected, it happens. Cute little Georgie is reaching for the boat, reaching for the boat, reaching for the boat, and…

I want to take a moment here and talk about one of the golden rules of storytelling. You should never do terrible things to kids or dogs. This is something that can really bite the hand that feeds it. I.E., do terrible things to kids or dogs in a story and the audience can turn on you quicker that a pack of rabid badgers who just realized you pissed in their cornflakes. It can get ugly fast, and ruin your career.

Still, on those few occasions when it’s done well, it’s breathtaking… simply awe-inspiring.

And that’s what they did in this scene. You KNOW they are going to break this golden rule and kill little George. But you THINK they are at least going to leave most of it to your imagination. There’s no way they’re going to make this a terribly graphic scene. Perhaps the camera is going to pan up, and the audience will simply see the small form of Georgie being sucked into the sewer. Perhaps even accompanied by a high-pitched scream that’s abruptly cut off. Plenty to let us know the poor child is dead, but we wouldn’t be forced to live the horror of it.

That’s not what they did at all.

NOPE! The audience gets to see this poor little 7-year-old child get his arm bitten right off in full gory spender! Even more impressive, they continue to film him as he turns away, whimpering as his little nub of an arm spurts blood onto the rain-drenched street. He’s in agony, and the audience gets to suffer right along with him for what seems like an eternity. He falls, screams for help that everyone knows isn’t coming, and feebly tries to use his one remaining arm to pull tiny body away from an even worse fate.

And you sit there, dumbfounded at the horror of it, waiting for the axe to drop and finally end both the child’s and your suffering.

Just… incredibly… amazingly… terrifyingly… disturbing!

Now, what we have here is a very powerful Benchmark. This story came to a knife fight with a gun, and just shot a small innocent child in the face! And you best believe, it’s gonna do it again! It’s making you the promise that kids will be murdered, it will be bloody and horrible, and you are gonna suffer right along with them.

Except… that never happens. It never delivers on that promise. Seriously, for the rest of the fucking movie, Pennywise appears, dances around, does creepy shit, and then vanishes. Even when the kids were at their lowest points, when fear was at its highest (like Georgie was just before he was eaten), Pennywise simply dances away. That single scene sets such a tone for the movie that they NEVER do again. And even when the opportunity to match that level of intensity arises later (talking about the teenager in the sewer who was a part of the bully squad), they pan away! Leave the horror to the audience’s imagination. We never get that level of graphic horror again. The story made a promise to the viewer, then didn’t maintain that level of intensity or ramp it up for the rest of the film.

A Benchmark was set, then never supported.

In doing this they take away all the power of that scene, and turn it into nothing more than a pathetic gimmick. Basically, it felt like they made the first scene really terrifying just so they could use it as the movie trailer and trick people into purchasing tickets. Knowing damn good and well that the rest of the movie didn’t follow suit!

Pathetic! You can’t have the most tension-filled scene be the first scene of the movie. That just means that for the rest of the story, we are in a downward spiral.

And don’t give me that bullshit about, “But the bloody bathroom scene! It was at that level!” No. It wasn’t. I mean, it was good. In fact, it was great. Wonderful. But on the tension meter, it was slightly less than the Georgie being eaten scene. And since it came AFTER, it doesn’t raise the bar. Now, had they not been so graphic with that opening scene, and been more graphic with the teen boy in the sewer scene, then had the bloody bathroom scene, that would have worked fine. But the one bloody bathroom scene by itself is not enough to carry the rest of that movie.

Another example of this type of mistake is during this year’s Wonder Woman film. The trench scene that’s at the end of Act II is way more action-packed and exciting than the climactic battle at the end. That. Can’t. Happen. In the case of Wonder Woman, I’m not saying change the trench scene in any way. It was amazing. But it raises the bar, and so the climax has to top it. Which it didn’t. So, to fix this, you have to have a more climatic end to that movie.

Same with IT. They set a bar with the Georgie scene. From there on out, they must continue to raise that bar until they reach the climax, and then whatever the climax is better damn-well blow that opening scene away!!!

And because of this erroneous information given to me at the start of this story, is it any wonder why I was disappointed when the movie lessened in tension the further we moved? Which is one of the reasons why I, like so many other movie goers, left feeling unfulfilled.

IT not only failed with this intensity Benchmark, the movie failed to deliver all the Benchmarks needed to viscerally connect the reader to any of the (way too numerous) plot arcs it shoved down the reader’s throat.

For instance, let’s talk about the Benchmarks that need to be set so the audience understands how something that’s “special” to your fictitious world works. When you have something “special” or “magical”, say like a demented clown who sleeps in the sewers, only surfacing every so often to snack on terrified children, you MUST set Benchmarks so the audience can start to understand this “special” thing. If the audience doesn’t understand it, they will be confused. And a confused reader is NOT an engaged reader. That confusion simply turns into frustration that causes them to stop reading your book.

In IT, it wasn’t until the end of Act II that the audience starts to learn even the basics of some of the rules that govern this demonic clown. (The Library scene with Ben Hanscom reading about the history of the town, you know, over an hour into the movie, yea, that’s the first time you start to learn anything.) Things like, Pennywise comes around only every 27 years, Pennywise eats more children than adults, Pennywise is more interested in eating your terror that your actual body, if you don’t fear Pennywise (yeah, good luck with that), he can’t eat you.

And since they don’t start giving you this information until the end, it all feels rushed. More like an afterthought. It’s like they made 2/3rds of the movie and some intern said, “Hey? Isn’t this supposed to be a horror movie?” And everyone was like, “Shit! Totally forgot about all that. Eeh… let’s just shove it all in at the end. No one will notice.”

Unfortunately, by the time I start gaining some of this information, I’m already past the point of caring. I have lost all interest in the stupid clown, his reason for being in the story, and the desire to see him come to justice. All that powerful emotional attachment I had when I watched poor Georgie get ruthlessly slaughtered is gone by that point. Now, the Pennywise story has become a distraction, because they spent more time setting up some other Benchmarks for some other story arcs. Now, because of them doing this, I’m more interested in these other characters’ stories. It’s why so many people have said they liked the kids’ story WAY more than the Pennywise story. And for IT, that’s bad. IT is a horror movie for crying out loud, not some crappy redo of Stand by Me that has some horror elements thrown in as an afterthought!

But let’s look at all those kids’ Character Arcs. All fucking seven of them!!! Seven! You can’t flesh out seven major fucking story arcs in one movie. (And keep in mind, there’s also an EIGHTH major story arc when you add in the Pennywise horror story arc!) (Really, there’s more even than that, as you will soon see.)

Having so many story arcs in the limited medium that is film means you’ll never have time to setup the Benchmarks needed to viscerally connect the reader to all the arcs. Period. And IT didn’t fail to disappoint in being disappointingly bad at delivering this.

So, let’s count ‘em down.

  1. The Pennywise Arc. This should have been a no-brainer. I mean, a creepy fucking clown who lives in a sewer and eats children. How bad do you have to fuck this up to make it NOT scary? Nuff said.
  2. The Bill Denbrough Closure arc. This one is the only one they almost succeeded at. There are several Benchmark scenes that set this up, more scenes that build upon this, and it does get resolved when Bill kills the illusion of his little brother, which is his way of coming to terms with the loss of his little brother and finally being able to let that go. But with just a bit more, they really could’ve hit a homerun with this story arc. They just needed a few more scenes to really hook the reader into this. As an example; a scene to show me how much Bill blamed himself for his little brother’s death. They never did this, and that’s a shame. I mean, they showed that Bill was “probably” faking his illness when George went to play in the rain. But they never allowed Bill to explore that decision. That remorse he must have felt. That guilt that would have been a wonderful tool to allow the reader to understand WHY Bill was so driven to find closure. That’s a hook right in the reader’s heart they totally missed. So, I’ll be generous and say they got 80% of the emotional hooks (Benchmarks) needed to pull off this story arc. Which is why, for most people, this is the only part of the story they found satisfying.
  3. The Beverly Marsh Overcoming Oppression arc. Well, pretty sure this is what that was. I mean, I “think” her dad was having sex with her. They elude to it enough to have me make that leap. But since they never took the time to really show it to me, really make me loath her father, in the end she just straight up murdered the man for no justifiable reason. Was she justified? Perhaps? Not sure? I mean, her father was definitely overly controlling, but is that justification for murdering your own father? Plus, without any Benchmarks to start this story, as they did with the Pennywise and Bill arcs, this just felt rushed. Shoved in. I mean, in one scene daddy’s all like, “You’re still my little girl, right?” Which is creepy. But the next he’s tackling her? That seems like a strange, rushed transition, right? And then BAM!, he’s dead on the bathroom floor? Did he really deserve that? Maybe. We didn’t get enough information to make that determination. If they had more time, like giving Beverly her own standalone movie, this could have been interesting. But as it sat, it just felt awkward and rushed.
  4. The Ben Hanscom Finding Acceptance arc. Again, since this cute little pudgy guy kinda came out of nowhere, the entire arc is rushed. It’s almost like they shoehorned him in as the Messenger–a Plot Device in the story that brings information the hero needs just when he needs it most—more than an actual flesh-and-blood character. So, this entire character just felt… awkward… like being forced to take your kid brother along with you on a date where you’re trying to get laid. Kinda kills the mood for all concerned.
  5. The Eddie Kaspbrak Overcoming Oppression arc. I mean, a story about a mother who smothers her child and keeps him at home with placebo drugs and imaginary illnesses is fascinating. But they only scratched the surface of this one, so it was more like an annoying itch than a fulfilling story. If they had more time, say, like giving Eddie his own standalone movie, they could have turned this into something interesting.
  6. The Stanley Uris Overcoming Personal Fear arc. This one they showed more than the others, but showing the fear does not viscerally connect the reader to this story. You must setup Benchmarks that make the reader give a shit that this little boy succeeds in overcoming his fear. The “WHY is it so important to him to overcome his fears?” that will make the reader cheer for his success. Since they didn’t, this arc simply feels like it’s included purely for its shock value, which is not satisfying to the reader. Again, had they had more time, say, like giving Stanley his own standalone movie, they could really turn this into something interesting.
  7. The Mike Hanlon Overcoming Prejudice arc. Yes, we get a scene of him getting beat up by some racist asshats, we even get a scene about him learning that you are either the one holding the gun, or the one being shot by the gun. Both of these are important Benchmarks the reader needs so they understand HOW and WHY the overcome happens. But by themselves, these are not enough. They do nothing to viscerally connect the reader to this character. Yeah, as an afterthought in Act III we learn that his parents were killed in a fire, but again, by that point, it’s too late. I don’t care. Mike came out of nowhere, and no attempt was made to viscerally connect me to him. Again, had they had more time, say, like giving Mike his own standalone movie, they could really turn this into something interesting.
  8. The Henry Bowers Slip into Darkness arc. Sure, intro this character as a secondary character who’s the racist asshole who beats up children, great. I’ll buy that without any Benchmarks at all… because he’s a secondary character. These types of characters can be a little 2-demintional without hurting the story. Unfortunately, they didn’t leave him as a secondary character. Oh, hell no! The more plot arcs the better, right?!?! So, let’s also show his slip into darkness. Only, let’s not actually show it at all. Let’s just intro him as a secondary 2-dimensional character (Racist Bully), but then escalate that without any rhyme or reason to where he slits his own father’s throat. Yea! Audiences will love it!

Keep in mind, those are just the MAIN plot arcs they tried to cram into this story.

9. There’s also the Love Triangle story arc between Beverly, Bill, and Ben.

10. There’s also Henry’s own little Overcoming Oppression story with his police officer father. Though that failed even worse, because sure, shooting live rounds at your child’s feet is probably not the best example of good parenting, but the dad never did anything that would convince the audience he deserved to die.

11. 12. 13. 14. 15. 16. & 17. Add in that ALL seven of the “hero” kids are also following Coming of Age story arcs, so we have to deal with each of their individual paths of growth on topics like parents, sex, the world around them, and their place within it.

Final score… IT… SEVENTEEEEEN! Drake’s emotional satisfaction… ZEEEEEROOOO!!!!

Um… IT… wins?

Because they shoved so many story arcs into one film means they couldn’t give any of them the attention they needed to make them emotionally satisfying at the end.

To bring home this point about why including too many story arcs is so bad, let me close with this. The struggle IT had with viscerally connecting me to any of the numerous stories they tried to shove down my throat is, because there are so many, I only got a few pieces of each. Not enough to connect me to any of them, and made MOST of them feel rushed.

Worse, the addition of all these story arcs only goes to destroy the main thrust of what the story is supposed to be about—a group of kids dealing with the terror that is a demonic clown who eats children. That’s the promise they made to me, remember? A promise that started with the movie trailer, and then was reinforced by the opening scene. Reader expectations are REAL! If you fail to meet these expectations, you will fail as a storyteller.

The equivalent to this type of horrible overreaching in Prose is when a writer Head Hops. You shove so many perspectives at the reader that they end up not caring about anyone in the story. It’s why I preach so fervently against Head Hopping.

One last gripe. And this isn’t really a Benchmark, per se. More on the topic of expectations. Still, as Benchmarks are about setting up your reader’s expectations, I’m gonna include this one here.

How fucking dare you not tell me this was Chapter One!?!?!?! This is totally unforgivable. Seriously. If the title of the movie was: IT – Chapter One, then when I got to the end, and I was unsatisfied because they didn’t actually tell me a complete, fulfilling story, I would have been (at least a little) more comfortable with things. I’d have the EXPECTATION that this movie was not going to tie everything up for me, because I would’ve KNOWN there was at least one more movie coming my way.

Instead, here’s a little reenactment of how NOT knowing this was only part one affected me as a fan.

Drake sits staring in disbelief as the movie comes to an end. What the fuck? He thinks. That’s not an end. That’s not even a story. That’s just poor writing. He then notices something has appeared on the screen. Big words draw his eye, so he reads them. END OF CHAPTER ONE. “Oh, you motherfuckers! What a cheap fucking gimmick!” Fuming, Drake gets up and leaves the theater, promising he won’t spend a fucking penny on CHAPTER TWO of this piece of shit.

So, thanks to them deciding to keep it a secret that this was just part one of the story, they won’t get a dime out of me, and they probably could have, had they just put “part one” in the title!

Believe it or not, a reader’s expectations are real. It’s why Obligatory Scenes are so important to Genre fiction. I mean, if I pick up a book that’s a part of the Murder Mystery genre, and there’s no murder in the book, I’m not going to be happy with the writer, no matter how good the story is.

Now, if you’re a clever reader, and I know you are, you might have noticed that I left out one of the “hero” kids in my plot arc breakdown. Why? Because the Richie Tozier character is the ONLY one who DOESN’T have his own personal story arc. And, he shouldn’t. Nor should any of the other kids outside of Bill, and perhaps, at the most, the Beverly Marsh character.

Let me take you down a path of possibility, the road of what might have been, and discuss…

Secondary Characters

So, Richie Tozier doesn’t have a story arc. Nor should he have. Why? Because he’s a Secondary Character. A supporting cast member there to help the main character through the story. And that’s EXACTLY how they used him. Richie pushes Bill, sometimes in harsh ways, like what he said about that missing girl being dead, and that it was stupid for her family to even look for her. This forced Bill to face the follow of his own quest. Sometimes, Richie pushes Bill in good ways, like being there for him when he enters a creepy sewer or a scary abandoned house. Sometimes in a Tough-Love way, when he confronts him for being an asshole in his pigheadedness in almost leading the gang to their deaths. But best of all, in a loving and supportive way when Bill is in the clutches of Pennywise and has given up. Bill tells the others to leave, that he is willing to now die (because his Closure Story arc is done, and so he has no other reason for living). It’s the Richie character that shows Bill he can still fight with that wonderfully written line about beating a clown to death with a baseball bat.

This is the quintessential Sidekick Character, and he’s played perfectly. Richie pushes the main character to be better, adds humor when needed, forces the main character to stay grounded, etc.

You see, you can have secondary characters that are important to the story, and become loved by the readers WITHOUT giving them their own FUCKING STORY ARCS THAT RUIN THE ENTIRE STORY!!!!

Because they never try and give Richie anything more than the comedic sidekick role, he never detracts from the story. He only ADDS to it.

Had they done this with the Ben Hanscom, Eddie Kaspbrak, Stanley Uris, Mike Hanlon, and Henry Bowers characters, keeping them as Secondary Characters without their own story arcs, they would not have wasted time trying to develop each of their respective story arcs, and instead could have spent that screen time better developing either just the Pennywise and Bill stories, or, again, they could probably have gotten away with adding in the Beverly story.

Bottom Line

Without setting up the proper Benchmarks, and trying to force too many Story Arcs into one story, what this story is asking its readers to do is fill in the blanks for it. Unfortunately, not everyone is going to infer the same things as you intended. In fact, most people probably won’t, because we’re all different people with different ideas of the world. But a worse tragedy, IMnsHO, is IT’S NOT THE READERS JOB TO FILL IN THE BLANKS OF YOUR STORY!!! That’s the writer’s fucking job!

And understanding how setting the proper Benchmarks will viscerally connect the reader to the characters/plot/conflict/etc. is paramount to your story’s success. Sometimes Benchmarks are as little as beats, sometimes they are as big as a creepy clown horrifically ripping off a small child’s arm. But without these Benchmark scenes setting things up, and all the other scenes building upon those initial scenes, you’ll fail to satisfy the reader’s unknown emotional expectations.

Hate me yet? Good.

 

Leave your thoughts and questions in the comments

The Hitman’s Bodyguard: A Story Analysis

The Hitman’s Bodyguard: A Story Analysis

Drake’s Brutal Breakdown

In Drake’s Brutal Breakdown, I dissect an aspect or two of a movie or TV show as a way for you to see how I see stories. I’m assuming you’ve already seen whatever it is I’m about to discuss. If you haven’t, what I say in this breakdown won’t make as much sense—arguably you can still learn from reading it, just not as much.

If you read on, don’t blame me for ruining whatever this is—I may not be kind.

WARNING—spoilers ahead

WARNING—this post is Rated R

Because this movie is Rated R, I’m not going to hold back on my language during this post. If that sounds offensive to you, be the adult and stop reading now.

So… The Hitman’s Bodyguard.

With just a 30-million-dollar budget, The Hitman’s Bodyguard has already made back all its cash, and then some. With the success of Deadpool, Ryan Reynolds now has the Midas touch. Samuel L. Jackson is no slouch at selling tickets, either. Still, fancy names do not always guarantee box office success. From where I sit, it’s all about the writing.

Fancy names do not always guarantee box office success. From where I sit, it’s all about the writing.Click To Tweet

Want to dig deeper into the finacials? Here’s the site I use for insights into the business side of movies: The Hitman’s Bodyguard.

Enough business, what about the critic/fan take on it?

As per what I expected, “professional” critic opinions of this flick are less than stellar. Most trash it. That’s because “professional” film critics are all stuck-up ass-hats filled with bitterness over their own failed abilities to create anything of any entertainment, cultural, or artistic value. So, my advice: never listen to a professional critic.

One the other hand, also as I expected, fans seem pretty damn happy spending their hard-earned money for this 111-minute action film.

Why? Because it was a fun movie. Nuff said.

What I Thought

As for this fan? I fucking loved it.

Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson fit these two characters like form-fitting spandex superhero suits—and this movie really shows off their tight asses… figuratively… obviously… since neither are wearing spandex in this flick. Both men acted the shit out of these characters. Wonderful acting, spectacular action, and a story that was beautifully written.

Which leads us to the reason we’re all here—the story.

Story Analysis

First, this story is structured on top the very timeworn Redemption Story Arc. However, I’m happy to state, Tom O’Connor (Writer) did an amazing job of turning this trope upside-down. Because this is not simple one Redemption Story Arc, but two, both skillfully woven together in an amazing and interesting manner.

And THAT really makes my webbed-toes twitter!

We start out focused on Michael Bryce (Ryan Reynolds). He’s our Hero, obviously. He’s a bodyguard—one of the good guys—protecting a client. And he’s damn good at his job… all the way up until said client takes a bullet through the head. There’s so much yummy goodness to this film’s start from a story structure standpoint, it’s crazy.

Let’s look at a bit of it.

State of Perfection

First, the story starts in a State of Perfection—Michael lives in a beautiful house, has a beautiful woman lying in his bed, wears beautiful clothes, drives a beautiful car, etc. When we meet him, he’s clean shaven, well dressed, and in total control. He’s at the top of his game. It’s obvious he’s planned everything, leaving nothing to chance. This is the part of the story that sets up some very important Benchmarks our readers need. Michael is proficient at his job (Skill Level). He likes nice things (what’s important to him). He has a woman in his life (what’s important to him). He’s very proud of how well he does his job (what’s important to him). All of these are things the reader needs to know so they can understand what he loses when his story moves into the State of Imperfection. (Remember that client? Remember that bullet that made sweet, sweet love to his brain? Yeah, that’s the moment Michael’s story shifts from the SOP to the SOI.)

Best part, all that takes like 90 seconds of screen time to show. Then, BAM! Client is dead. Fade to black.

Fade in, and we see an unshaven Michael sitting behind the wheel of a beat-up, crappy-looking car, and he’s holding… is that a broken windshield wiper in his hand!? Why the fuck is he holding that? (This, by the way, is a Plot Device called a Chekhov’s Gun. Normally, this is a bad thing. You never want to have a Plot Device that’s left unexplained. And they never really explain what the fuck this windshield wiper has to do with anything. However, this Chekhov’s Gun works really well here, because it’s funny as hell.)

The beauty of this scene is that with a quick glance, the reader knows that Michael has lost EVERYTHING. Wham, bam, thank you ma’am. What an amazingly efficient way to transition from the State of Perfection to the State of Imperfection.

But wait!

Remember, I said that’s just one of the two characters who are traveling their own Redemption Story Arcs.

State of Imperfection

So, intro Darius Kincaid (Samuel L. Jackson). He’s also amazingly proficient at his job… but unlike Michael, whose job it is to keep people alive, Darius is really, really good at making people dead. And because of this, when we meet him, he’s in prison. A.K.A. starting in a State of Imperfection.

Now, I’m not gonna tell you they did an amazing job at tricking the audience into thinking Darius is a bad guy. It’s as obvious as it could be that he’s an Anti-Hero.  (For you kids playing along at home, an Anti-Hero is someone who does good deeds in a morally bankrupt way. As in, their solution to a murder problem is to murder the murderer. Screw the Legal System!) Still, while it was obvious what role Darius was playing, they didn’t even try to hide this fact. In fact, by flaunting the fact that Darius is an Anti-Hero right in the reader’s face, it actually makes the Darius character even MORE interesting for the reader, because now the reader is going to try and figure out how this seemingly irredeemable character is going to become redeemed. A great example of how trying to NOT be clever is very fucking clever indeed.

So, these are redemption stories. Trite. Done to death. Why can’t writers be more creative? (I want to punch people in the face who say things like that. Most of them are critics, who have never created anything, so shut the fuck up.)

The Redemption Story

What is a Redemption Story?

Well, it can mean different things. Traditionally, the trope follows a character who failed spectacularly at something (killed someone accidentally, let someone down, etc.) and then spends the story trying to make up for that. And both characters do follow suit. Michael needs to regain his professional status after the death of his client, and Darius needs to take down an evil dictator to make up for some of the blood he’s spilt—over 250 people killed, by his own admission.

The amazing moment, however, and the impressive thing Tom O’Conner did with these supposedly worn out tropes, was to flip the script between the “Good Guy” and the “Bad”. Pay attention to the scene when our “hero” (Michael) makes the realization that he’s not, in fact, the hero. Darius is the real hero. Though, admittedly, in the very morally bankrupt way of the Anti-Hero.

Mind. Blown.

It really is a beautifully crafted scene. Study it!

But none of these things are Themes. I.E., none of that is the Invisible Layer. It’s all Physical Layer elements. Important, to be sure, since the Physical Layer is the Transportation Device of the Invisible Layer. But as I always say, “The only thing that matters to a story is the Invisible Layer.” So, what are the Themes?

Well, as per how it should be done, since we have two main characters, we have two Major Themes.

Themes

For Michael, it’s about understanding what’s really important in life.

In the beginning, he thinks the only thing that matters is his professional success. It’s what got him all those wonderful toys. But that’s all nothing. Worthless. Something that can be lost in a flash, leaving you unshaven, sitting in a beat-up car holding a broken windshield wiper. Meaning, his Theme is about coming to understand what’s really important in life—Love. Remember, stories are ALWAYS about Transformation, and Michael does that. He starts as a man who only cares about tangible things, and ends as one who realizes Love is the only thing that’s important in life. Transformation at its finest.

Remember, stories are ALWAYS about Transformation.Click To Tweet

And Darius? Well, he’s lost his humanity.

Nothing matters to him, because life’s just a random series of fucked-up events (his words, not mine). Now, he had humanity at one point—it’s what drove him to become an Anti-Hero. Also, he does have his wife, Sonia Kincaid (Selma Hayek). And he loves her more than anything in the world. More so even than himself. But she’s an anomaly. Outside of her, he’s lost faith in the world and those he shares it with. Meaning, his Transformation is from a person who has lost his faith in others, to one willing to trust in, and care for, someone else (outside of his wife).

RANT

If I have one gripe about this movie’s structure, it’s the Sonia Kincaid character.

Not that she’s bad. She’s not. Her inclusion, however, does weaken the Transformation of the Darius character. I think his story would have been stronger if he’d had no one he loved. That way, you could let the Michael character fill that void completely. No, not in a sexual way. Get your head out of the gutter. Though now, I’m kinda thinking about how awesome a slash fic version of that would be.

Takers?

Back on track…

My point is, had Darius started this story having lost ALL his humanity (I.E., no wife to love), the Transformation would have been so much stronger at the end. Think back to that wonderful 1994 film, The Professional. Léon (Jean Reno), the assassin in that story, had ZERO humanity. Only after Mathilda (Natalie Portman) comes into his life is he able to regain his humanity. Clean. Strong. Wonderful. And better, impactful upon the reader.

Having the Sonia character included in this story simply isn’t needed, and weakens Darius’ Transformation. Now, I know why she’s included. But I’ll just keep my mouth shut on that issue lest my lips get me into hot water.

 Quirky side note: Gary Oldman was the villain in both The Professional as well as The Hitman’s Bodyguard.

The Power of Transformation

The best part is, both story arcs are reliant on the other to succeed in their personal Transformations. Michael could not have Transformed without the help of Darius, and Darius Transformed BECAUSE OF Michael. Spectacular story telling. Tight. Brilliant. Awesome!

In the end, all I can say is, bravo Tom O’Connor. Wonderfully written script. Tom has only written one other movie that was produced, Fire with Fire starring Bruce Willis. Now, I haven’t seen this one yet, but you can bet I will have before you’ve even read this blog post. I just love a screenplay writer who can actually tell a compelling story! And I’m now totally a fan of Tom O’Connor!

A Solid Flashback Scene

But WAIT! There’s more! There this AMAZING Flash Back scene that was so expertly done, I nearly cried hot fat tears of joy.

Why?

Because you don’t even REALIZE it’s a Flash Back scene until it’s over. I’m talking about the scene where the bad guy, Vladislav Dukhovich (Gary Oldman), kills that teacher’s wife and child. Breathtakingly executed (pardon the pun). It starts in the now, rolls through the now, continues in the now, and only once it’s all over does it dissolve into the courtroom and the reader discovers that what they just witnessed was a man’s testimony about an event that happened in the past. I can’t even express how impressive this scene was.

I’ve never seen a Flash Back done better.

Bottom Line

This movie serves up some wonderful examples of why stories work. Amazing look at how to use the Redemption Story Arc as your structure. Great examples of both starting a story in a State of Perfection, as well as starting a story in the State of Imperfection. Lots of yummy examples of how to correctly setup your Benchmarks.  And a Flash Back scene that’s masterfully done.

It also shows you a good example of how muddying the waters of a character’s Transformation by including the wrong elements can weaken your Theme.

Watch it. Dissect it. Learn from it.

Hate me yet? Good.

Leave your thoughts and questions in the comments.

Introducing Drakes Brutal Analysis

Introducing Drakes Brutal Analysis

The time has come.
With the explosive fall season approaching for both movies and TV, I’m bringing you my opinion.
I know. You’re shocked.
I’m taking current media and putting my own spin on it. We’re going to brutally take these stories apart and look at them from all angles so you can learn from their mistakes. (And then not make them yourself.)

Introducing Drake’s Brutal Analysis

These will get your brain juices flowing on critical analyses and give more visibility into how the Drake
Brutal Writing Advice series works in practice, not just in theory.
Preaching all this stuff to you is great, but if you can’t apply it, my job is pointless.
The format will be a little different. I’ll be having these discussions with members of the DrakeU team so you (those crazy enough to try to learn the DrakeU curriculum) will have a voice in these examinations. We’ll drill down into the shows and movies we choose (or you request) and tease out one concept from DBWA that I feel the piece of media demonstrates well.
Or doesn’t.
You know how this is—I don’t call it Drake’s Brutal Analysis for nothing. Stay tuned.
These are coming at you once a week.

Tell me what you want in the comments.

Hate me yet? Good.
—Drake