Wednesday, August 17, 2011

I Did The Unthinkable...

Yes, it pains me to admit it, but I actually went to see Cowboys and Aliens last weekend. My gut told me not to do it, but I didn’t listen. I am ashamed of myself. You have my confession and now I will attempt to make amends, to warn others of the pitfalls of this movie, and on a larger level, of failing to follow your own gut feelings. I have learned my lesson, now I hope to share it with you…

When I first saw the trailer for Cowboys and Aliens in the theater months ago, I laughed out loud. I was embarrassed by the volume of my laugh so I looked around, hoping no one noticed. But I was confused. I thought it was a joke because it sounded so absurd and the trailer was pure corn, but I was the only one laughing. (Click here to see my blog post about bad titles) Woops. Lesson learned. But I tucked away in my little brain the thought that I would NEVER see that movie because it would be a pure waste of time and an utter humiliation if anyone knew I had seen it. My trusty gut told me not to do it, but I didn’t listen.

Over time I read a couple of interesting reviews and saw some new trailers that made the premise of the movie seem more appealing. I was gradually being boiled in a pot of water and I wasn’t smart enough to jump out and eventually I succumbed to the pressure.
Here are a couple of my problems with the movie…

1) It was stupid (My first impression was correct- the title was lame, the action cheesy, the writing was weak and the acting questionable at best)
2) The movie was one giant cliché
a. Aliens invade earth to steal our resources (Wow, never heard that one before)
b. A band of mismatched heroes try to save the day (We’ve got the tough guy, the preacher, the ethically challenged tycoon, a kid, a dog and a good looking chick)
c. They made a half-baked attempt to answer deep philosophical questions about redemption and race relations (Seriously? It’s Cowboys and Aliens)
3) The movie was too long. In its defense, I would probably say the movie was too long if it were only 1 ½ hours. I just wanted it to end. As is, it ran a full 2 hours. (Literally, as the very last frame faded to black I found myself wishing it would fade more quickly)
4) There were too many distracting inconsistencies (I was about to share some examples but found it too frustrating)

In short (I know…too late) the only thing redeeming about this movie was the large pile of candy wrappers at my feet when it concluded. Mmm Candy!

So why mention this on a writing blog? Because from a storytelling point of view, these problems I had with the movie can also be problems in our writing.

1) Does our concept pass the smell test?
2) Is our action and dialogue realistic?
3) Do we write using clichés?
4) Are our characters original?
5) Is the length appropriate for the genre?
6) Is the story consistent within the framework we’ve established?

At the end of the day, we have to love what we’ve written. If we find inconsistencies that cause confusion we must assume that others will have an even bigger problem with it. Go with your gut. If you like it, write it. If you write it and it doesn’t turn out as you envisioned, rewrite it or maybe even scrap it.

When you are satisfied with your work, let test readers have a go. What are their honest feelings about the chapter, scene or book? Then ultimately you make the decision about what remains. Go with your gut. It’s your decision and you are the one to live with it.


  1. I may not have laughed out loud when I saw the trailer but I certainly screwed my nose up and said out loud "That sounds stupid!"

    I have not gone against my 'gut feelings' and haven't seen the movie. My husband and teenage sons have it on their 'must see' list. I have it on my 'they can see it without me' list. :)


  2. When we first saw the trailer, the first thing my husband said was, "Not another propaganda-filled alien movie!" We never planned to see it, but I read your post to my husband and his opinion is now vindicated:-)

  3. Nope, not gonna see it either. Although, Steve, Stephen King says that we learn as much if not more from bad writing (or bad storytelling as the case may be). So take what you learned about how NOT to tell a story and make sure you don't do that in yours. Glad you enjoyed the candy.

  4. This is one of my pet peeves:
    I'm really, really tired of people thrusting chars into a story they really have no reason to be in just to make their movie/story PC. I am not a person to say that women shouldn't be in movies, or Asians or Blacks or whatever. But a black Saracen has no business being in Robin Hood, for instance. It was contrived. I'm sure there must be loads of stories out of Africa that need to be told, full of wonderful hero chars. In those, the white guy would be way out of place. (I remember enjoying Shaka Zulu when it was on.)
    If the char has a legitimate reason for being there, great. But unless the movie is ABOUT one of the four or five girls who dressed up like a guy and went to fight rebels, there shouldn't be a girl in a Civil War movie fighting battles. It just didn't happen much. I can think of maybe two instances where that would fly.
    To put Guinivere in what amounts to a couple of leather swaddling bands and some woad, hand her a bow and have her run charging into battle is just uncomfortably contrived. Don't get me wrong. I fight in medieval-type wars, but it's a fairly modern concept (at least it is except for the Celts). You need to have your chars be true to the story too or it feels like you're at the dentist for a root canal and he's got no Novocain.

    By the way, Steve, do you have kin in Eugene, Oregon? My mom used to work for Westover Realty there...:o)