A few days ago, someone on Twitter made the mistake of telling me they could listen to me rant about something for an hour. Which is both bad for my ego and provides the false notion that I am funny. Recently, I watched the Netflix movie, Bright, and as much as I love deconstructing a movie or book for some snark, I’m not going to do that, because I just… can’t with this one. It wasn’t Merry Kissmas bad, but it wasn’t good either. I always peruse IMBD after watching any movie to get the behind the scenes details and read reviews, but I’ve avoided that on purpose to not be swayed by opinions until I can put these words on a page.
I know people HATED this movie, and I can see why. It certainly has some issues. One of my twitter friends complained that it was just 90 minutes of shooting in the dark without much of a plot. I’ve also read that some of the SFX/makeup crew didn’t receive credit, and the effects were pretty incredible in this movie. It seemed like they were trying to do too much in too little space, tackling social issues alongside fantasy tropes. I admit, I was a little suspicious of the underlying message in that movie, and I saw that plot twist coming from a thousand miles away. Honestly though, it’s okay. It’s not great. I’ll never watch it again. And I probably won’t encourage anyone to watch it, either. But this movie got me thinking about two things as a storyteller: setting and entertainment.
I’m not a fan of high fantasy with elves and fairies and other mythical creatures. I like just a taste of magic, enough to be believable and yet allow me to dive into the world without distraction. When I come across novels with characters names that have at least one (or two) apostrophes in them and look like Avoni’balthazar’macgillicutty, I tend to run away screaming. What I found most interesting about Bright was that it was a fantasy with mythical creatures set in a modern context, and I wonder if maybe that was something that threw people. It seems nearly all fantasies of this nature are set in a place that looks a little like the moors of Ireland, distant in time and untouchable. Characters wear cloaks and capes and have trade skills like blacksmithing. Weapons are generally swords and the mode of transportation is horseback. Apply the same “protect the sacred object at all costs” storyline to police officers in 2017 Los Angeles and, well, it’s a little more difficult to imagine.
Maybe it’s because it’s too close. Maybe its because recent events in our culture make it hard to be empathetic to the characters. Maybe it’s because we can’t place orcs and magic in a recognizable metropolitan area without scoffing and saying “that’s impossible, that can’t happen here.” It does make me wonder why we are all pretty cool with most of these types of stories being set in the middle ages, but we never see a quest saga set in, say, the 1940s. (PS, someone please write that because I would read the hell out of it.) As writers, we are always challenged to subvert tropes, and this is what Bright did. It was a little heavy-handed in metaphor and the character motivation was sometimes unclear, but I thought the change up in the setting actually made it more enjoyable, and far more interesting.
The second thing that came to mind after watching this movie was the value of entertainment. We are in a golden age of visual entertainment right now. Bright had a budget of 90 million dollars with an A-list actor lead. The options we have to escape the world are seemingly endless, but I think it’s made us into snobs. We have high standards now. Award shows delegate what the industry deems as worthy, and good. Comedies are incredibly difficult, and I’m not talking bro comedies full of fart jokes and general grossness, but they’re never recognized with high artistic merit. It’s not enough to just be entertained by a movie or a book, it has to be flawless.
I find the same to be true about books. As a writer, I’m often crippled by the fear that I have to get everything correct. Walking into a Barnes and Noble gives me painful anxiety. There are a million books in that store. How will mine ever survive, if I’m even that fortunate to be on a bookshelf? Goodreads is full of reviews that are so pretentious I can’t help but roll my eyes. I sometimes fall into the same trap, making mental edits as I read, desiring more from a book, and then I have to stop and ask myself if I was entertained by the words on the page. Were the words perfect? Of course not. Was the story worth reading? The answer is usually yes. There are a few books that are unforgivable and extremely problematic and I will not mention them here, but in general, most of the books I’ve read fall into that middle category, like Bright.
Like it, hate it, I’m not judging. I completely understand why people don’t like this movie. It has downfalls worth a broader discussion. Art is subjective, ruled by gatekeepers, and often exclusive. We can always do better in 2018.