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.
The 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…