plot v character

By now you’ve probably heard someone say that Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen either (a) has no plot or (b) has a way too convoluted plot — they probably both amount to the same thing.

But when Natalie and I finally got around to seeing it, we were struck by how straightforward its basic plot actually is. (It’s a version of the ‘quest’ in which what the heroes are searching for is only imperfectly grasped early on). Even better it seems relatively self-aware about its clunkier moments: e.g., one character memorably demands that a piece of exposition be delivered with a coherent plot — ‘beginning, middle and end’.

I mention this because as I continue to think about composition, I’ve been struck by the way lots of storytelling — especially in movies — struggles to strike the right balance between plot on the one hand and character on the other.

Sorry to labour the Sci-Fi thing, but Terminator: Salvation (another much-maligned movie) provides a great example. Sam Worthington’s show-stealing performance almost strikes the right balance. As the movie unfolds, his character learns about himself and the post-apocalyptic world he finds himself in. This allows for exposition to happen reasonably naturally — rather than in a contrived way (Transformers falls down here). Better, you genuinely like him and identify with his plight and struggle.

Terminator-salvation-posterThe only flaw is the way he greets every new discovery by shouting ‘Nooooooooo!’, which ends up feeling more like a plot-device than something a person would actually do — sort of like the director’s said, ‘If I show him getting more and more angry about his situation as its full dimensions come to light, we can keep things moving forward’.

As a result, key moments of self-discovery end up as wasted opportunities for character development.

Plot trumps character. And, ironically, the movie opts for a sort of deus ex machina where the resolution feels imposed on the plot rather than something that arises ‘naturally’ from internal considerations…


One comment

  1. The things I found most frustrating about Tranformers ROTF were the character inconsistencies, e.g.: Mikaela was fiesty in the first film and completely vaccuous in this one; Sam completely bonded with Bumblebee in the first film, but leaves him behind very easily at the start of ROTF

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