If I appear to be obsessed with movies, I’m not. I have a few favorites (maybe fifteen), but I’m really too analytical and picky to just relax and enjoy the show. If one little thing doesn’t make sense, it blows the whole thing for me. Also, my mind wanders, so I have a tendency to get lost in the middle of a film and spend the second half wondering which turn I missed. Almost always, I leave with questions, loose ends, contradictions, and other thoughts no one around me really wants to hear.
These personality defects are nothing new, by the way. Even as a young child, I must have been bothering my mother with irritating questions about television programs; I can remember her saying to me, on more than one occasion, “Because then there wouldn’t be a show.” For example, I no doubt had offered numerous suggestions for how Gilligan and his friends could be rescued, and would nearly lose my mind when they blew an opportunity by doing something stupid or simply missing the obvious.
I’ve pretty much left television behind, but have seen quite a few movies since then. My questions now tend to be general, based more on patterns within movie types rather than on specific scenes or even individual films. (I was going to suggest that I’m now more focused on the big picture, but that would be lame, so I won’t say it.)
Here are a few examples of what I’m talking about.
• In martial arts movies, why do the bad guys always take turns attacking the good guy? They all want to take his head off, but they’re so polite about it. It reminds me of the girls who jumped rope when I was a kid, and how they’d line up to get into the jump one at a time. It seems to me that no matter how skilled the hero is at punching and kicking, if eight or nine men piled on and pummeled him, he’d be in big trouble.
• In romantic comedies, why doesn’t anyone ever get upset when a wedding is canceled? Hundreds of people are dressed up, waiting for the ceremony to start, and either the bride or groom backs out because they suddenly realize they love that other person (the one you were rooting for from the beginning). The guests have just wasted days of travel and money on airline tickets, and somebody has spent thousands of dollars on music and food. Yet nobody yells. At our house, if we have to go back home after more than two minutes in the car because someone forgot their wallet, there’s yelling.
• In science fiction films, why do aliens from other galaxies speak English, but the scientists from Russia and Japan don’t?
• In sports movies, how does the really pathetic (but lovable) team suddenly get good? They go from being unable to do anything right to being flawless. The opposing team, meanwhile, is unbeatable at first, but then seems to forget how to play. I sometimes find myself rooting for the unlovable team, out of fear that all of the laws of nature are unraveling before my eyes.
• In horror films, why does the woman, alone at night, always go up to the attic to see what that scary noise was? Shouldn’t she wait for morning, or call the police, or at least turn on all the lights in the house? When I’m alone at night and I hear a strange noise, I get in the car and go for a long drive.
• In gangster films, why are the guys with the machine guns incapable of hitting anything? And why don’t the good guys ever have the machine guns?
• In movies like The Da Vinci Code, why doesn’t anyone say to Tom Hanks, “Hey, aren’t you Forrest Gump?” I mean, Forrest Gump is a famous movie, and if any of the other characters in The Da Vinci Code went into a video store, they’d see Forrest Gump on the shelf, and when they watched it, they’d have to notice that this guy who’s bothering everybody with his nosey questions is really just an actor, and then they could all just go back to whatever they were doing.
• In true stories, the opening title used to say, “Based on a true story.” The phrase seemed to suggest that what you were about to see actually happened. Then they changed the title to “Inspired by a true story.” This broadened things out a bit, so they could mix in truth and fiction in any proportions they wanted. I found this intriguing. I imagined the screenwriter saying to a friend, “Hey, Joey, thanks for telling me about that thing that happened to your uncle. I found it so inspiring that I made up a whole new story of my own.” The latest title, I think, is “Inspired by actual events.” We seem to be moving steadily toward: “Maybe it happened, maybe it didn’t. Whose business is it anyway?”
• In the credits, what does AND mean? It’ll say “Jack Nicholson.” “Sally Field,” followed by the rest of the cast, including “Bank Customer Number 3.” Then at the very end, it’ll say “AND Michael Caine,” almost as though he was an afterthought, even though he plays one of the main characters. Sometimes they use WITH instead of AND, another interesting distinction. Do they have meetings about which to use?
• A final question: On movie posters and DVD covers, why don’t they always make sure to match the names with the pictures? Here, look: