10 Huge Factors That Can Ruin A Film

God, I love films. I mean, a good old-fashioned novel is still to this day the purest and most effective way to tell a story; a TV series can be similarly pleasing, because viewers are more likely to invest themselves in main characters over multiple episodes; experiencing a story through theatre can also be incredibly immersive and fulfilling; even modern gaming has matured over the years and brought storytelling to the forefront. Yet, with all that said, I would still go with film as my favourite medium.

When a film is perfectly executed, it can be anything from an enjoyable flick to an undisputed masterpiece. The problem, however, is that films can only be as good as the people piecing things together behind the scenes. Sadly, there are just too many subtle ways that a film can go wrong. A film idea that could initially have been mind-blowing can be tainted by the slightest shortcoming. Here before you, I’ve collected what I think are the biggest deal-breakers in the film-going experience. I’m not saying any movies showing the following traits are necessarily bad, but in numerous cases, they can be what determines a loyal fan from a discouraged critic.

 

The Deus Ex Machina

In the context of a movie, the Deus Ex Machina refers to ‘a person or thing that appears, or is introduced suddenly and unexpectedly, and provides a contrived solution to an apparently insoluble difficulty.’ [1] Put simply, it’s the moment where the hero is saved at the very last second by something beyond his or her control. I witness this device all the time. I admit, sometimes it can be necessary and even satisfying; but other times, it’s just a lazy and inexcusable way to wrap up a story or sequence.

In War of the Worlds with Tom Cruise, the Deus Ex Machina is the bacteria that kills all the aliens in the climax. In James Cameron’s Avatar, it’s the wildlife that springs into action and takes out all the enemy soldiers, just when everything seems lost. In Michael Bay’s Transformers, it’s the unprecedented bundle of game-changing abilities that Optimus Prime uses to defeat Megatron (which, it turns out, he had all along). And in Jurassic Park, it’s the Tyrannosaurus Rex that (somehow) silently sneaks up from offscreen and saves the group from the rampant raptors. While the latter example is still an amazing movie, this particular scene still irritates me. Screenwriter and producer, Blake Snyder, has humorously dubbed this moment as the ‘Deus “Rex” Machina.’ [2] That’s worth a hearty chuckle.

 

A Boring or Unlikable Protagonist

Nothing quite soddens the film experience like a main character that you couldn’t care less about. A plot can be thrilling and engaging; the stakes could be sky high and threaten life on Earth as we know it; but if the person going up against it all is soulless and unrelatable, then why should you care? The same goes for a movie’s antagonist. If the villain has no understandable motive for their actions, then the audience won’t give a damn if and when the hero foils their plan.

Take Spectre, for example – the 24th outing of the James Bond saga. This film was met with mixed reviews – and I’m afraid I fall on the negative side of the spectrum. Director Sam Mendes, who proved his worth with Skyfall, this time round had the brilliant Christoph Waltz at the helm, an actor who was born to play a Bond villain. Yet in Spectre, he’s utterly wasted. Instead of coming off as a genuine threat to the MI6 agent, he becomes more of an overdramatic joke, performing elaborate lectures about how he “caused all of Bond’s pain”, with little to no motive as to why. Maybe he’s just a bit of a knob? Although, saying that, Bond himself isn’t much better.

Daniel Craig openly admitted last year to his lack of enthusiasm for the iconic role, saying he would rather ‘slash his wrists’ than reprise the character again. [3] And this is blatantly clear in Spectre. While in previous entries like Casino Royale he’s often witty and mesmerising, in this film he’s devoid of charisma and does little more than look the part – leaving little room for fans to care about what happens to him and his undeveloped “love” interest. Other films with loathsome protagonists include the likes of Hancock, After Earth and The Twilight Saga – but don’t get me started on the latter! We’ll be here forever.

 

Rehashed Storylines

This issue is especially typical with reboots and sequels – a breed of film that has become far too popular. All production companies tend to do today is take an idea that was successful upon its release, plaster it in a new coat of paint and go out of their way to present the exact same story with a different title. It’s all an obnoxious attempt to squeeze money out of fan bases. And for someone who truly enjoyed the original, it can be a real kick in the nuts.

The Hangover: Part 2 is a perfect example of this. Three dudes black out after a crazy night in the big city and spend the following day trying to work out what happened … again. Then there’s Die Hard 2. John McClane’s misadventures are by no means unwelcome entertainment, but the only difference between this movie and its predecessor is that it’s set in an airport rather than a skyscraper.

And let’s not forget every single Rocky film that followed the original. As popular as the formula may be, each storyline is simply a carbon copy of the last, with a few new twists thrown in to compensate. This, for me, is what ruined the latest entry, Creed. Don’t get me wrong, it’s watchable. But despite having a completely new character to focus on, we’re presented with the same underdog story all over again. Everyone loves to watch a no-namer overcome the odds, after seven near identical films, though, maybe it’s time to switch it up a bit.

 

CGI and Special Effects

This is a common complaint among filmgoers. Now that directors like Christopher Nolan have proven how stunning and captivating practical effects can be with films like Inception and Interstellar, it’s baffling to think why other big directors would ever choose to opt for CGI effects instead. But the reality is that CGI is an essential part of modern day movie making – and when it’s done right, it can make the experience positively unforgettable. Unfortunately, all too often, these special effects can just be … well, shoddy.

In The Mummy Returns, 2003’s Hulk, Spy Kids and Green Lantern, it’s hard to take pivotal scenes seriously when the locations, creatures or main characters themselves offer nothing in terms of realism. For many people, this is what ruined the re-releases of the original Star Wars Trilogy in the 1990s. Classic scenes throughout A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi were injected with some of the worse CGI effects put to screen, even by that decade’s standards.

Although fans have begged for creator George Lucas to release unaltered editions of the three films – something that may finally become a reality [4] – Lucas has refused to do so, claiming ‘the edited versions accurately represent his artistic vision.’ [5] At the time that a film is made, if directors don’t have sufficient CGI technology to fulfil aesthetic needs, that’s understandable, but when the scenes in question don’t need special effects in the first place – or could just as easily be perfected with practical effects – then there’s no excuse.

 

Little Justice to Source Material

If you’re like me and prefer to read a book before going to watch its film adaptation, you’ll be all too familiar with this frustration. Making a film is a huge undertaking in itself – and that feat is made even more challenging when you’re adapting from one medium to another. Ultimately, if you’re being tasked with bringing a beloved novel to the big-screen, what you’re really doing is telling the same story with considerably less ground to work with. It’s a difficult thing to achieve and because of this, many film adaptations have fallen short of their source material throughout the years.

Cloud Atlas is one of them. What was originally an ambitious and thought-provoking concept devolved into a convoluted mess thanks to Hollywood’s misguided take on the tale. Even the most vigilant of viewers are left baffled and irritated by this movie, which has put to shame David Mitchell’s novel of the same name. I Am Legend is another example. While this Will Smith post-apocalyptic thriller is still a respectable effort, it’s so unfaithful to it’s source material (which is brilliant, by the way) that there seems little point in it sharing the same title.

The worst offender by far, however, has to be M. Night Shyamalan’s The Last Airbender. Aside from the unfathomable casting, ludicrous special effects and hilariously bad acting (we’ll get to that in a bit), the film tries to cram an entire season’s worth of content into a 100-minute flick, resulting in an incomprehensible plot that effectively spits on the charming animated TV series it’s based on. After this movie, it’s a wonder that Shyamalan still has a career in the industry.

 

Poor casting

This should be a given. To be fair, casting is by no means an easy process – yet it’s vital to get spot on before the film is released. If the actor or actress doesn’t fit the role they’re playing, then the audience isn’t going to take that character seriously. It’s as simple as that. Sometimes, even the best actors can be miscast in a movie. Batman and Robin, 1998’s Godzilla and Alexander the Great all feature accomplished actors like George Clooney, Uma Thurman, Matthew Broderick, Colin Farrell and Angelina Jolie; yet it’s plain to see that none of them belong in these movies. The Happening and The Purge are also films which originally had great promise thanks to an intriguing premise, but then were spoiled by mediocre acting from Mark Walberg and Ethan Hawke.

On some occasions, however, it seems as though the casting department for blockbusters barely even try. Just look at Hayden Christenson in Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones. For many die-hard fans, this casting choice alone is what ruined the Star Wars prequels. Christenson’s melodramatic and borderline creepy take on Anakin Skywalker failed to capture the affection of filmgoers and, by extension, turned one of the greatest villains in cinematic history (Darth Vader) into an aggravating, whiny brat. I’m not saying these pictures would suddenly cease to be bad if different actors had played the roles, but lazy casting for major characters certainly doesn’t help.

 

Uneven Pacing

On the flip side of things, it doesn’t matter how good the actors in your movie are or how great your plot twist is, if it takes ages for anything to happen, the viewer will switch off. Speaking from experience, it’s all too easy when writing to get caught up in setting up the story, without realising that nothing is happening to engage your audience. This is plainly what occurred in the writing process for Exodus: Gods and Kings starring Christian Bale. With a run time of 150 minutes, this film is a sheer chore to sit through, simply because it doesn’t get going until at least a third of the way through.

Peter Jackson’s King Kong is even worse in this department. The vast majority of the movie is centred around a prehistoric island inhabited by colossal monsters; which makes it rather annoying when you realise you have to sit through approximately 45 minutes of tedious preamble before the characters even reach the island. The most recent example for me, however, is The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1. When Harry Potter split J.K. Rowling’s final book into two parts for the film adaptation and went on to enjoy great success, every other YA franchise jumped on the bandwagon – and The Hunger Games was no exception.

As Matt Singer from Screen Crush rightly says, ‘You can’t judge a book by its cover, but you can certainly judge a movie by its title, at least when that title includes the phrase “Part 1”.’ [6] The problem with Mockingjay was that there wasn’t nearly enough action in the first half of the book to fill a big-budget movie; so, as a result, the third film in the saga single-handedly became one of the dullest films I personally have ever seen. Silent filler; awkward filming scenes; non-stop whining about Peeta … Word of advice, Hollywood: if you want to make a successful movie that people will enjoy, stuff actually has to happen in it first!

 

Plot Holes

Plot holes are, more than anything, a nuisance. When it comes to crafting a complex world and narrative, you can think through every single aspect of the movie from every angle and believe the plot is flawless – but it won’t matter. Because the chances are someone will come along and notice a colossal gap in logic upon the film’s release, at which point it’s too late to turn back. The truth of the matter is that even some of the greatest films of all time have holes or paradoxes in their story. Independence Day, for instance, has a massive plot hole that very few people pick up on.

After the alien invaders launch their first devastating attack on the world, the film’s protagonists hatch a plan to sneak into the mothership, upload a computer virus, take out their defences and then, in doing so, destroy their fleet in a valiant, last-ditch showdown in the skies. But, hang on. This film was made in 1996. Are we seriously expected to believe that any kind of computer virus humans cook up will be compatible with that of an extra-terrestrial race? [7] The aliens’ technology is clearly far more advanced, yet what are they defeated by in the film’s climax? Windows 95. Brilliant.

Other films with huge plot holes include Batman Begins (why does the microwave emitter not evaporate everyone in Gotham?), The Matrix (humans are terrible power sources, so why would the machines harvest them as batteries?) and The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (why did Frodo and Sam spend three movies walking to Mordor when they could have just flown there?) All the films mentioned here are utterly amazing in their own right, but these plot holes prove that they’re far from flawless. That’s the thing about plot holes; if you don’t notice them on the first watch, you’ll never look at that film in the same way again.

 

Studio Interference

This is an influential factor that’s not always visible in the final product of a movie, yet probably has much more of an impact than anything else on this list. The creator or director may have the best intentions when bringing their story to the big-screen, but if the studio they approach doesn’t respect that title to begin with, whatever potential it had becomes tarnished. Too many times have studio executives and producers tried to turn a stand-alone film into a full-blown franchise, only for it to fall flat on its face at the first hurdle. This could be for a number of reasons: the studios get too greedy, or they know nothing about their audience, or they just have a general apathy towards the material.

A prime example of this is The Golden Compass. Based on Philip Pullman’s excellent YA novel Northern Lights and despite having a phenomenal cast on board, this turned out to be a truly atrocious film – and it was all thanks to studio interference. The original script, which was provocative by comparison, was cut significantly on executive orders to attract younger viewers. This transformed what was supposed to be a dark fantasy tale into a cliché, family-friendly train wreck. [8] X-Men Origins: Wolverine, one of the worst superhero flicks of all time, experienced a similar problem when Fox chose to lighten a darker ending and inadvertently ruin what is now one of Marvel’s most likable and hilarious characters: Deadpool. [9]

But the movie that’s been subjected to the most meddling behind the scenes is Alien 3. While it’s nowhere near as bad as the laughable Alien V.S. Predator – with both Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley (quite possibly the best female protagonist in cinema history) and legendary director David Fincher on the credit list – it should have been amazing. However, what we ended up with was a dreary, botched job. Why? Because the studio not only starting shooting Alien 3 with an unfinished script, but constantly clashed with Fincher’s creative vision, leading him to disown his own film upon its release. [10] When it gets to that stage, you know the studio has gone too far.

 

An Unsatisfying Ending

Everything considered, it doesn’t matter how good the first two acts of a film are – because when the audience walks out of the cinema, the ending of the film is what will stick in their minds. Therefore, if there’s one thing a story should perfect above all else, it’s how they wrap things up. Yet there are a great number of promising movies out there that are utterly spoiled by their resolutions.

Sunshine – a story about astronauts attempting to restart a dying sun in the distant future – was a great watch that sported an intriguing concept and a talented cast. But it throws that all away in the final act, when the story takes a sudden and unapologetic turn. Sunshine goes from an intelligent sci-fi to a gory slasher flick – changing the tone and the overall feel of the movie in a critically negative fashion.

Knowing, a sci-fi thriller starring Nicolas Cage, also had great potential. It follows a professor who decodes a series of numbers found in a time capsule, only to discover that they predict impending global disasters. With the right execution and even Cage still in the leading role, Knowing could have been a fantastic watch; but it squandered this promise by including a ridiculous plot twist about aliens – one similar to that of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. A terrible or anti-climactic movie ending can be a lasting insult to viewers and, for many, ruin an otherwise enjoyable experience.

 

There you go. Those were ten huge factors that can ruin a film. Do you agree with my list? What has ruined films for you in the past? If you feel I’ve missed anything out, be sure to leave a comment. Otherwise, thanks for reading! I’ll see you again soon.

 

Sources

[1] https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/deus%20ex%20machina

[2] http://www.savethecat.com/beat-sheets/the-jurassic-park-beat-sheet

[3] https://www.theguardian.com/film/2015/oct/08/daniel-craig-id-rather-slash-my-wrists-than-do-another-bond-movie

[4] http://movieweb.com/star-wars-original-trilogy-unaltered-blu-ray-release-2017/

[5] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/star-wars/11127663/Did-George-Lucas-ruin-Star-Wars.html

[6] http://screencrush.com/splitting-movies-into-parts-1-and-2/

[7] http://movieplotholes.com/independence-day.html

[8] http://www.denofgeek.com/movies/the-golden-compass/35061/the-golden-compass-what-went-wrong

[9] https://disqus.com/home/channel/marvelmania/discussion/channel-marvelmania/tom_rothman_a_history_of_fox_mismanagement/

[10] http://www.gamesradar.com/what-really-happened-doom-alien-3-development/

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