“OH EM GEE! That was totally epic! #rekt!!!” We’ve all seen a film that had us respond in such a manner, although maybe not in such sickeningly modern terms. The magic of cinema can show us some truly awesome things, but the problem is, since real life is a mercilessly grey dirge that never seems to end, it’s hard to make something that’s both awesome and totally realistic. So why even bother? That’s why films often decide to take the awesome:realistic ratio and ratchet it way, waaaay over towards the awesome side.
Sometimes, this approach works. Take the Indiana Jones Quadrilogy for example, and yes, I’m counting Crystal Skull in this equation, too, because I’m assuming anyone who hadn’t gotten over the fridge thing has long since clawed their own wrists out with their fingernails in a desperate attempt to escape their miserable existence. You see, Indy was always based on the classic adventure serials of the 30s – tales of high adventure, with a swashbuckling hero who’d leap off a moving train and look damn cool doing it (instead of looking like someone with shattered shin bones poking out from the back of his calves), all while wooing an attractive young lady. That’s awesome, but hardly realistic, because come on. No one could do that, least of all you, with your pasty, flabby arms, cellulite and yellowed teeth. However, we go with it because you can always believe that somewhere out there, this chiselled superman does exist. Of course he exists, you’re watching him! If you’re invested in characters by good writing and acting, you relate enough to them that you can also relate to the action, even if it starts to get a little extravagant at times. Think about the wit, the charm, and the seamless exposition woven into the dialogue in all the Indy films – it all means that you completely buy this guy as being better than you, mentally and physically. Why shouldn’t he be able to outrun a massive boulder, or ride an insane minecart track, or survive a nuke by getting in the fridge? It’s not like it’s you that’s doing it, you waster.
Of course, this also means the inverse is true: it’s hard to care about characters who give you no reason to care about them, and as a result no amount of quote-unquote ‘awesome’ action will save it. Herein lies a quandary: writing fun, engaging characters to take part in equally fun and engaging action is hard. So, what do you do? Well, you ratchet up the awesome-ometer (awes-ometer?) to self-parodying levels and hope that enough stoner chuckleheads post it on Facebook with ironic “Best. Film. Ever” comments to make you an instant smash hit. Exhibit A: Sharknado. I know it might be a little unfair to start slating a film before it even comes out, but let’s be real here, we all know the score with Sharknado. It’s an Asylum movie, and I’m guessing the pitch went down much the same way that their pitch of Mega Shark Vs Giant Octopus did, with a bunch of goofy laughter and “dude, AWESOME”-s before they finally realised they also had to write a script and that ironically-bad, deliberately-stupid joke title of theirs would probably be a lot less fun when it’s stretched over 90 minutes of meaningless twaddle.
And that’s seriously all it is; just the one joke that this is kind of a shit film with a stupid, B-movie-parodying title that’s suckered you in based on the guffaws and your stupid sense of humour, numbed by years of overexposure to Family Guy, that means anything ironically bad and unfunny must automatically become funny. There is very little actually “awesome” about Mega Shark Vs Giant Octopus, and I’ve never been more confident in saying there won’t be anything “awesome” in Sharknado, either. These sort of films are usually surprisingly boring, because they miss the point that being awesome isn’t a right, it’s a privilege, and as such it has to be earned. You can’t just throw something like a tornado made of sharks at me, and literally nothing else (yes, Tara Reid does count as nothing else) and expect it to hold up for 90 minutes unless I’m really, really high, and in that event I’ll probably be too busy trying to dig out the ants from under my skin with chopsticks anyway. You have to give me something, anything, to care about, whether it’s a bit of a laugh – not counting the one laugh I’ll get from the title, which I can get for free by looking at the box – or a genuine connection to the characters. You want to make a cool movie? Then make it cool. Don’t throw your quirky title at me and then stand back waiting for me to laugh. There’s nothing worse than being prompted to laugh at an awful joke, and that’s what all this Sharknado hype feels like to me. Ask yourself, for all the Facebook liking and sharing and LOLSOEPIC banter you’ll be doing about Sharknado, will you actually bother to see it? I doubt it, because you’ve already got as many laughs as you’re going to get out of that one minute of trailer. And that, my friends, is definitely not awesome.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to add the finishing touches to my script about a shark who is also a revolutionary Roman slave leader. I call it Sharktacus. Tell your friends.