The Mystery of the Meh Film: Nature Or Nurture?

I bet every one of you have a seen a movie or television show that was ok (with meh overtones) but could’ve been great if it’d had better writing. You know the ones I’m talking about – the shows that get brought up with an “if only” (either in a grumble or a sigh, possibly over alcohol).

I can think of a few that are visual treats: the world, characters, and effects all look great. The scores are decent or even pretty strong. And to top it off, the actors and actresses do a good job and portray believable, interesting characters.

At least, as believable as they can be when the plot has issues. Because, let’s face it, if the movie is meh, it probably has plot issues (if the rest is bad, too, it’s generally much worse than meh).

In a lot of these movies, the pacing is off, or tangent scenes detract from the buildup. Sometimes, the goal is so muddled that it’s hard to tell what it was supposed to build up to. At other times, the climax doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the rest of the movie as if the plot not only took an abrupt turn but also teleported over a few light years. Even worse, we can tell from seeing it once that if they’d taken this out or added that, it would’ve been a better movie. It would’ve made more sense.

It would’ve gone somewhere.

Of course, in other meh films, the plot is predictable but not really bad; however, the dialogue is so bland that it sucks the life out of the story. Everything about the story gets your hopes up (the looks, the plot so far) – and the characters are on screen going blah, blah, blah. Like the adults in Peanuts. Their lines are more fluff than anything else, and you’d have a hard time remembering even one by the end of the film (unless you can make fun of it in a memorable way), which makes the characters less memorable, as well.

The saddest part about all of this to me is that these issues are all problems with the script more than the execution. They’re problems with the writing that could’ve been fixed before the movie ever started. So why weren’t they? Why didn’t the studio/director/producer/whoever hire a writer to fix the plot and spice up the dialogue?

When I think of these questions, two potential answers come to mind that scare me.

  1. They don’t care. They know that they can pretty it up with CGI, throw a few famous names in, and get enough money back in sales to make the movie worth the investment without bothering to improve the script and make it really good (and the mere idea of that breaks my heart both as an artist and as a viewer).
  2. It started out as a good script, and at some point during the making of the film, they broke it. They added scenes that they thought would look cool but that don’t make sense, or they deleted scenes that were vital to the plot because they were too expensive/time-consuming/difficult to make. Or that the director didn’t like. Or worse, maybe, they let the actors ad-lib their lines instead of saying wonderfully witty and well-written dialogue. (If the other idea breaks my heart, this one horrifies me and makes my soul shrivel and die a little.)

The Naive Idealist in me wants to believe that neither of these is ever true.

“No,” it says, “the filmmakers wouldn’t do that. They simply got caught up and didn’t realize these flaws were there. In hundreds of hours of work and with a multitude of people checking the final product, no one noticed this. Or they noticed them too late to fix it. It was an oversight. Or, no, I’ve got it. They think it’s fine as it is. Yeah, that’s it! They just don’t see any problems with it.”

Thanks, NI. That makes me feel a lot better.

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