To boldly go where no plot has gone before.
There is a monster lurking in Hollywood. It’s clever. Very clever. It gets its evil way by controlling the innocent minds of Hollywood executives and directors. And these poor, simple folk are easily fooled. Even those brave and clever freedom fighters, the writers, are caught and forced to its will, for it is all-powerful. And what is this terrible monster? This evil, all-controlling beast that almost certainly should be numbered 666?
It’s a plot called the Hero’s Journey. (cue dramatic music).
No, this plot really is bad. Honest. Let me explain.
Like all evil villains it has a number of aliases but the one that gives it away is “Overcoming the Monster”. It can described using the following 3 acts which are forced into every blockbuster:
- Act 1: the hero demonstrates that she, he or it is powerful by defeating a lesser monster but the hero has a flaw as well as being a cocky smart arse;
- Act 2: and it is that flaw that is the hero’s undoing when a greater and more evil monster – probably with an English accent – appears and steals something of immense value to the hero. It might be a treasure, a loved one (girl, boy, robot, alien of irrelevant gender) or even a spaceship. The baddie is unlikely to disfigure or serious abuse any beautiful woman or any main character – isn’t that strange? – and that is why there are bit players (probably wearing red shirts). But something that can be rebuilt, like a starship? Now that can be treated really badly. The hero fights back, but the monster is very powerful and totally amoral so it defeats the hero. The situation is clearly hopeless, everyone is suffering, the hero cannot win and should just give up, forget the stolen treasure and preferably die.
- Act 3: the hero finds new depths, or new ideas, or a new Star Trek metaphor which enables her (or him, or it or whatever noun applies to asexual aliens) to meet the monster in a final cataclysmic battle. Due to incredible heroism, appalling shooting by the bad guys and amazing CGI effects the hero defeats the monster, wins the final long drawn-out fight and regains what was lost in act 2, even if this means rebuilding a beloved starship or having Spock get a girlfriend (what?).
This plot is very clever. Even it’s name distracts you, it suggests “use me to overcome the dangerous monster of a flopped blockbuster.” It is so clever it doesn’t even have an English accent so it’s not easy to spot that it’s evil. It’s only when an executive reviews some poor writer’s hard labour behind tightly closed doors and asks “where is the end of the second act?” that its true evil is revealed. The writer must now add a scene where some innocent bit player is tortured horribly or an entire planet of unknown faceless people is trashed. And the risk to the characters we do know is clearly shown. The evil plot has won again.
Alice through the Looking Glass shows just how insidious this monster can become. The Alice stories were written around another plot that I like to call “Journey into a Strange Land”. Its structure should be obvious from the name. Lewis Carroll used this plot to create the whimsical humour we all love but the top priest of Overcoming the Monster, Disney Studios, subverted the story, tortured it until it gave in and adopted the standard Overcoming plot. And we had yet more reliance on CGI and tricks in the storyline to hide a predictable ending.
Even Deadpool with all its humour, irreverence and breaking of the rules of cinema did not dare break this plot from the initial fight scene right through to the final titanic battle.
This plot is holding Hollywood funding in its insubstantial claws. A blockbuster action movie with incredible effects is extremely expensive to make and they don’t want to take risks, so they stick to something that works.
Once upon a time, Star Trek was sometimes written around this alternative plot. The original series was the ultimate road movie as the Enterprise Journeyed into the Strange Land of space. The Enterprise and its crew boldly sought out new worlds and civilisations, finding new and interesting situations that reflected the human condition. Eventually, it too succumbed to the allure of fighting a monster. And it is now lost to battles with Klingons, Romulans, Khan, the Borg and so on. Did you notice that Idris Elba (Krall in Star Trek Beyond) has an English accent?
Don’t say this too loudly near Hollywood but there are other plots as described in his book by Christopher Booker. Here’s the full list:
- Overcoming the monster
- Voyage and Return (I call it Journey into a Strange Land)
- The Quest
- Rags to riches
- Tragedy (Star Wars 3 was a tragedy and look what Overcoming the Monster did to it)
I am going to make an insignificant and pointless fight against the plot monster. I am going to write stories using the other six plots. Based on my history so far my battle will be literally worthless as no one will pay for them, but at least I’ll have tried. I ask your support as I go into the battle against obscurity, but I know, that, if I succeed and overcome the plot, I will have followed the plot of Overcoming the Monster and it will still win at the end.
Still I won’t be obscure anymore so it won’t be all bad 🙂