Ending Happily Without The Ever After

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Happy endings and ever after

Fairy Tales have had a profound effect on all human cultures. Not just old fashioned mythology, but rather the archetype of the fairy tale as we have come to know it in the last century or so. Before then tales and myths were often dark and foreboding, showing life in all its shades and complexities. Good was not always good, bad was not always bad and the hero didn’t always get the girl in the end with no harm done. Then somewhere along the way, our stories were sanitised. They became sweet and one dimensional. Good always triumphed, and people always lived happily ever after. This aspect of ultimate romantic triumph has particularly had a straight-jacketing effect on what a writer or story teller can consider acceptable narrative closure.

Recently I watched two pieces of film making on TV. A rare occurrence because I rarely watch TV any more. But these happened to catch me during a lull in my otherwise busy mental schedule, and they held my attention enough for me to sit through them, ugly commercial breaks and all. One was a Sci-Fi disaster extravaganza and the other was yet another 3D Computer Graphic funny flick, but I liked them both to varying degrees. What made me think of them as a cohesive pair to write about together is that both movies didn’t fare very well at the box office, and neither of them ended with a passionate kiss.

The Core was a movie I remember vaguely from when it was released a few years ago. You know how it is. You’re watching the TV, and they’re running one of those marathon trailer sessions that they pass off with a token host as original programming. There’s shiny metal stuff on screen and incomprehensible science talk on the speakers, and you know you’ve stumbled upon what the producers hope is the next big disaster blockbuster. It didn’t have any big known names that I cared for, and it seemed to be another GIJoe meets Einstein gung-ho flick with lots of exploding stuff, so I paid it no attention at the time.

When I spotted it recently on TV it was only a few minutes in from the beginning and they were playing what is often the most interesting part of “team” movies, the introduction of the various players. I started off watching the pawns and pieces of this plot fall into place, and surprising it didn’t all go downhill from there. The film maintained a decent pace and the characters were varied and interesting enough to not dismiss as cliché. Although to be fair, this is a mass market disaster movie we are talking about. It is full of clich and demands a suspension of disbelief well above and beyond the call of audience duty. Get this, the Earth’s core has stopped rotating and so our planet’s magnetism is in jeopardy. Did I mention that we are all going to die? Our team of intrepid scientists, ball-busting women and other regulars is going to travel to “The Core” and start it back up so-to-speak with a nuclear explosion.

With a plot like that you know you’re not in for high art, but then a surprising amount of fun can be had without the supporting hand of logic. The characters are intriguing and the story keeps you going. Obviously it’s a disaster movie, so major members of the cast have to kick the bucket at regular intervals, but The Core seems to take some mathematical pleasure in making the requisite deaths as evenly spaced out as possible. There’s a plan, things go wrong, adventure and thrills ensue. As long as you ignore some of the gaping holes in plot and logic you’re fine. The “hero” and “heroine” even share a moment or two of genuine sexual tension while people are dying and all hell is breaking loose.

From the looks of it this movie was pretty big budget, so it left me wondering why it seems to have gone by unnoticed. For I know, it might have completely tanked and lost the producers a good deal of money. Sure it’s dumb in many spots, like the fact that these people are under hundreds of kilometres of molten magma and they still seem to be able to talk to “Houston” at all times using a radio. But that’s no excuse for people to not like this. After all Independence Day was a huge hit, and in that one geek heroes destroyed the gigantic invading alien armada by sending them a computer virus through a Apple Mac. It’s a MAC for crying out loud! Those things rarely communicate with other Earth computers flawlessly! So, logic is not a stumbling block to box office success. That’s when I realised that the main couple of the plot do not achieve “romantic closure” at the end of the movie. There is no big long kiss to seal the deal at the end. Maybe that’s a factor.

The other flick I caught recently was Flushed Away, which I managed to see completely from beginning to end. I’ve always been a fan of animation and I’ve never real grown out of it. But 3D animation films have started to bore me due to their repetitive subject matter, their a la carte writing style and their general need to please everyone and do everything in 90 minutes that they can. Did I mention furry animals? Those were old the moment the the first one was ever seen, thank you very much. I bothered to give Flushed Away my attention because it was made by Aardman Studios. They are the team behind Wallace and Grommitt and other stop motion classics. This was their first adventure into full length CG so it was worth seeing what they would do with it.

While still trying to remain universal and accessible, I found that Flushed Away took a lot of risks that others in the genre don’t. The humour was often more overtly meant for the adults in the audience, and it took on at mass-market 3D animation from a slightly different angle. The great thing about Aardman doing this is that they brought in their decades of experience with claymation into the CG arena. In fact this film was supposed to be made in their traditional clay methodology but because it involved so much animation of water, they realised it would be essential to utilise computers. So, why not use them for everything. Good choice, I must say, because CG by Aardman looks and moves like claymation by Aardman, and that’s a good thing. The characters have a weight and fluidity that one rarely sees in other 3D animation which tend towards the exaggerated and floaty end of the spectrum.

Flushed Away is about mice in London. The pampered pet mouse protagonist finds himself thrust into the wild and wonderful world of the mice who live in the London sewers. He meets a strong female mouse who captains a boat underground, and we then follow their adventures in trying to get our ineffectual hero back home to the surface world. This movie has a great attention to detail, and the underground mouse city is very well executed complete with incidental characters on the streets that really bring the place to life. The protagonist is hilarious, the heroine is strong and fiesty, and the villains are completely over the top. This is an old fashioned adventure romp starring CG mice who almost look like they were made of clay. Good stuff. Also there are some hilarious song sequences.

Why would this not be a success I wondered? The plot was fine, the characters are as likeable as CG mice can get, it is truly funny in many parts, and everything is generally bright and positive. This is when I made the connection with the previous movie, The Core, because while this has a happy ending and there is inter-mouse romantic tension, that romantic story between the two protagonists isn’t given an overt ending or conclusion. In short, the mice don’t French kiss in the London sewers. I actually liked that part. To me it gave the story a more light-hearted and realistic feel. You know that those two are probably not going to be able to keep their paws of each other at some point, but I don’t need for it to happen within the limited running time of this movie. I’m just happy for the main story to receive its full treatment.

I can’t really say for sure that the lack of romantic closure in these two movies was the only reason for their lacklustre box office figures. But it could certainly be one contributing factor. With our growing dependence on the happy endings and the ever afters, perhaps stories like this which leave the romantic conclusions to your imagination just don’t provide us with the payoff we want. Perhaps it is just one more example of our increasingly short attention span and our need for instant gratification.

For me that slight element of mystery at the end can actually be a positive experience. The more that remains unsaid, the more space is left for my mind to wander and create it’s own scenarios, and I enjoy that freedom. There is always an element of “what if” that remains which I find in all the best books which haunt my thoughts for days and weeks after the initial reading. But maybe that’s just me, and the average movie watching audience does not put stock in mystery, and romance, and yearning, and “what if”. So if you’re setting out to make a main stream hollywood block buster and you don’t want to depend on the tastes of minorities such as myself, just skip to the end and kiss the girl already!

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