For the love of God, would you stop fucking up fairytale movies?

Fairytale Hell. It’s a place where cinema goers have found themselves trapped many a time over the past few years. But, like Orpheus, it’s only those of us unfortunate enough to look back that seem to notice the darkness. It’s a long, twisting, macabre line of unashamedly bad acting and cringeworthy dialogue wearing a mask of glorious CG and promising concepts. Way back when, there was Snow White: A Tale of Terror. The Brothers Grimm arrived a little later on, then Red Riding Hood. Then last year we had the titanic competition between Mirror Mirror and Snow White and the Huntsman to see who could suck the most. And finally, this year, we have that paragon of senselessness Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters and Jack the Giant Slayer, which looks to be a badly-written mess abounding with stereotypes and awful one-liners (but it’s not out yet, so I shouldn’t judge). So hello Hollywood: will somebody please explain to me what the fuck is going on?

The worst thing about these movies is that each one of them could have been good. Spectacular, even. Each one of them was born of a brilliant idea. All three Snow White concepts could have worked exceptionally well through the presence of great themes, like the fear of ageing, as well as the refreshing potential for genuinely strong and complex female principal characters. The same fact is true of Red Riding Hood; the sexually-charged/coming of age atmosphere of the original fairytale only increasing its prospects as great cinematic material. The concept of The Brothers Grimm has everything you need for a terrific origins movie and Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters everything you need in a mash-up movie. All these films already have great cinematography, and we could talk for years about the wisdom/madness of some of the casting decisions. So what exactly is my problem? My problem is script.

Acting apart, every single problem with each of these films ultimately stems from the producers spending so much time acquiring trending actors and seeing how much money they can blow on CG, that script, which was never foremost in their minds to begin with, gradually begins to decline in importance until their attitude becomes ‘Well, everyone’s gonna go and see it anyway, so…’

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So. You think up a bunch of characters that are glaring stereotypes. There’ll be the persecuted royal who wants to have an adventure; the yawn-inducing bad guy who wants…something; two pretty boys with chests bared in a sub-zero climate who are after the same girl and most complex of all, the chick with the sword, complex because nobody seems to know what they want out of putting that sword in her hand. Either she makes a fuck-up of it so she can be rescued by some punchable alpha-male, or she proves a pro at it despite there being no evidence of such a thing being the norm in her family life, culture or social milieu. So is this stereotype a commendable reversal of gender roles, or isn’t it?

Once you’ve finished not-deciding about this, you then proceed to write the script, which you will then saturate with as many nauseating clichés as possible so that your film resembles deep-fried Mars Bars covered in gold glitter glue: ‘I’ll do anything to be with you,’; ‘I’ll wait for you,’; ‘I’m so sorry I failed you,’; ‘I want you to believe in me,’; ‘I hate to break this to you, but – ’; and the worst culprit of all ‘if you love her, you’ll let her go.’ Having at last acquired something for the actors to say, no matter how ridiculous and predictable it may be, you get down to the business of shooting and the infliction of sub-standard work on fee-paying audiences.

But, we shall not rant and rave without proposing a solution to this gigantesque problem, so let’s load our lemons into our thinking caps and mull it over together. The most obvious solution is to simply hire writers who can actually…you know…write, and if you have 250 million dollars to blow on everything else, it is not an unreasonable thing to take some of that money to spend on a writer, award-winning or not, who knows what they’re doing. If ‘taking some of that money’ is out of the question, then hire somebody completely unknown to do it. Keep a sharp eye on the blogosphere. Pick a top film school or university out of a hat and ask for their most promising screenwriter. Chances are the kid will blow all the shitty writers you guys usually hire completely out of the water, win tons of awards, and, best of all for greedy studios, you can pay students peanuts. If you’re feeling particularly ambitious, found a project out of it. Do competitions, organise mentorships. It’s a great way to get the best young writers onto the market, and thus to ensure that the quality of scripts stays high. And yes, I know fairytale movies are just a passing trend and you can’t start an entire movement because of a trend (says who?), but when they’re out of fashion, there’ll be another genre that needs saving from the crap that people write.

'The Bloody Chamber' artwork by Chiara on Le Projet d'Amour

‘The Bloody Chamber’ artwork by Chiara on Le Projet d’Amour

Then, of course, there’s the possibility of changing direction entirely and treating fairytale movies as serious material. Why not revive the vividly psychological, gruesome and grotesque features of the stories these movies are adapted from? Create fairytale worlds like those of Angela Carter in The Bloody Chamber (or better still, make a film of The Bloody Chamber); worlds in which you can taste the earth; feel human nature at its most primal. But perhaps I’m being idealistic. Most people don’t watch fairytale movies to think. They don’t even watch movies to think.

That being said, you might argue that having a good script is not the point of this type of movie. It is a good argument. But just think for a second about other movies in which ‘a good script is not the point’ that have been significantly enriched by an above-average script. Quantum of Solace (screenwriters Paul Haggis, Neal Purvis and Robert Wade) is an art movie disguised as an action movie, in large part thanks to a surprisingly poignant script on the nature of loss and the futility of vengeance. The same holds true for Underworld: Awakening (screenwriters Len Wiseman, John Hlavin, J. Michael Straczynski and Allison Burnett), possibly the last film in the world you’d expect to have a good script, but which nevertheless, apart from the cop-out ending, boasts some spectacular writing gems on love, loneliness and the fear of extinction, as well as an unexpectedly strong storyline. Both of these films could have had the worst script in the world and still have made a lot of money. But they don’t have bad scripts. And look how good they are.

In the meantime, let us continue to walk the long, dirt road of Fairytale Hell and pray that a prince or princess of words will someday come to our rescue, bearing gifts.

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Literary playlist for mildly eclectic bookworms.

For those of us who like to listen to our books, but don’t really like audiobooks.

A Song of Ice and Fire (George R.R. Martin) – The Howling (Within Temptation)

Fallen asleep from our vanity, might cost us our lives
I hear they’re getting closer
Their howls are sending chills down my spine
And time is running out now
They’re coming down the hills from behind

When we start killing
It’s all coming down right now
From the nightmare we’ve created,
I want to be awakened somehow

When we start killing it all will be falling down
From the Hell that we’re in
All we are is fading away
When we start killing…

a-song-of-ice-and-fire-al_b33dfThis song is great as being evocative of any kind of battle scene, but the way it captures each aspect of the infinite number of titanic battles that take place in GRRM’s monumental saga is so dazzling you can almost believe the song had been written with these books in mind. The lyrics, as well as the beautiful, warped battle cries that constitute its refrain, perfectly capture the red mist that descends on those possessed by bloodlust, as well as those unfortunate enough to witness the fields of blood, and the smell and the sound of men dying without the comfort of this primal state, so that something inside them shrivels and dies as well (‘all we are is fading away’). The song creates a world saturated with mistrust and the howls of both men and wolves, two things that readers of A Song of Ice and Fire understand all too well.

Gormenghast (Mervyn Peake) – One of a kind (Placebo)

The back of the class is where I was
Keeping quiet, playing dumb
Can’t you see these skies are breaking?
Cos the back of the class is where I’m from

0156This book is an allegory of society as it was between the two world wars: hierarchical, monarchist, rigid, dying, and Peake’s villain Steerpike comes straight from the gutter, but has ambitions for the top. To accomplish this, he will deceive, humiliate, kiss an infinite number of asses and ultimately, murder (an awful lot of this), all without once getting his hands dirty. He prefers torture of a more psychological sort, long, drawn-out, agonizing, the assassination of each region of a person’s mind, isolation, or just plain old starvation, each time remembering that he’s better than all of them, but would never have been allowed to be if he had chosen a different life. So in a way, his life is murdered by society, and in revenge, he murders society back, dismantling it one bloody gash at a time. When you listen to this song you can almost hear the monstrous little demon scurrying from one roof of the castle to the other (he’s a climber), being everywhere at once, a kitchen boy in the midst of the powerful people and taking such a perverse pleasure in the game till he has to run somewhere private to scream with delight, since ‘on top of the world, you get nothing done.’

Jane Eyre (Charlotte Brontë) – Fire and Ice (Within Temptation)

You run away
You hide away
To the other side of the universe
Where you’re safe from all that hunts you down

But the world has gone
Where you belong
And it feels too late so you’re moving on
Can you find your way back home?

Mar11a5This is a song for a fugitive, for the underscore of her life. Jane succeeds in making a new life for herself when her irresponsible but completely justified departure from Thornfield ends in that little squid St John offering her a job as a teacher. But let’s be serious now: while Jane does manage to make a new life for herself and even to prosper, she still has a specter chasing her and bursting through the door at night and during quiet moments (I will not say ‘calling across the moors,’ even under torture). She is far from Rochester and there’s no chance of him finding her, but while her whole life is now her pupils and her new life keeps her safe, she wants to return to him, even though she thinks she never will, because going to him is the same as going home.

North and South (Elizabeth Gaskell) – The Enemy (Mumford and Sons)

Give me hope in silence, it’s easier, it’s kinder
And tell me not of heartbreak, it plagues my soul, it plagues my soul
We will meet back on this road
Nothing gaining, truth be told
But I’m not the enemy, it isn’t me, the enemy.

north-and-south1In its incessant repetitions of the word ‘nothing’, we see the kind of self-effacement that Mr. Thornton feels after Margaret rejects his proposal of marriage: he’s angry and heartbroken, and Margaret acted with uncharacteristic unfairness and lack of intelligence, but he still believes that in spite of it all this, he was rejected because he was not good enough. He has spent his life trying to better himself, studying the classics, paying his workers better, looking after their health, and yet because he is brusque towards them, and a tradesman, she believes he is capable of no emotion but greed and cruelty. Worst of all, the poor man keeps coming back for punishment and in the first line quoted here ‘Give me hope in silence, it’s easier, it’s kinder’, there are echoed the whispered words of a lone dark figure watching a carriage drive away in the snow: ‘Look back.’* The song’s primitive instrumentals and raw vocals show someone trying to master a medium of expression he half knows, without realizing that it isn’t him who has to change – it’s her.

Northern Lights (Philip Pullman) – Adiemus (Adiemus)

Northern-Lights_novelLyra rides Iorek Byrnisson across the ice – above them is a sky so complex, so beautiful and so deep that this majestic praise song could have been written for it. In its intervals Iorek tells Lyra to look up, and dotting the landscape of the northern lights are witches riding to war. It’s a glorious, shouted out hymn to the beauty of the world about to be torn asunder by the wings of angels.

Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen) – All this and heaven too (Florence + the Machine)

Words were never so useful
So I was screaming out a language that I never knew existed before.

13182844_225x225-75In this case, I will take the liberty of using an excellent ad that ITV ran a few years back for their Jane Austen season that explains this better than I could ever hope to do:

‘There is an honesty behind a glance, a meaning behind a touch, and faith cried with a tear. There are lies behind a pass, importance in a whim, and deceit sealed with a kiss. There is hope behind a gesture, value in a token, and unspoken love delivered with a smile.’

The Bloody Chamber (Angela Carter) – Haunted (Evanescence)

Watching me, wanting me
I can feel you pull me down
Fearing you, loving you
I won’t let you pull me down

img072smThis collection of short stories abounds with women conscious of the sexual danger they place themselves in. In some of them (The Earl King), the narrator knowingly risks both her life and her freedom by giving herself to the person most capable of taking them from her, in a place where no one will come to help, the Earl King’s forest resembling a rustling, independent-thinking labyrinth with no structure and no walls, all wildness and darkness, like being indoors. In others (The Bloody Chamber), the narrator could have run ages ago: now that she can’t, she discovers her own predilection for the more horrific aspects of sex and disgusts herself because of it. With twisted, gothic voices as contradictory as the narrator’s attitude to her own trap, Evanescence gives us the sound of darkness both natural and manmade, the desire to run, the desire to stay.

The Millenium Trilogy (Stieg Larsson) – Thoughtless (Korn)

All of my hate cannot be bound.
I will not be drowned by your thoughtless scheming.
So, you can try to tear me down,
Beat me to the ground,
I will see you screaming.

IMG_5523This song should be Lisbeth Salander’s anthem. Closer to the fearless cry of a human voice than a tune, this song is as dedicated to righteous vengeance as Larsson’s avenging angel who maims, kills and terrifies not just for herself but for the whole of her sex. Korn surf wave after wave of brief calms and intense storms, of deadpan stares and small smiles. Lisbeth’s life.