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Category: Movies

Glass – Expectations vs. Disappointments

Every time I sit down with a story of any kind – book, movie, game, etc. – I have expectations. Everyone does. Those expectations will be based on things we heard, read, or saw about the story before beginning it.

In the case of the movie Glass, I needed no hype. Unbreakable has always been one of my favorite movies ever. The Lord of the Rings trilogy tops all, of course, but if I’m going to sit down and watch one single movie in my collection, it’s probably going to be Unbreakable. (I could write another lengthy explanation for why that is true, but that’s not the point of this blog post, so just accept it and we’ll move on.) So when I heard about the ending of Split, and then that a new movie was coming that was the long-awaited-and-dreamed-of actual sequel to Unbreakable… I needed no hype. I was ready.
1547016882803.jpegI saw that the critics hated it. No big news there. Critics have hated everything Shyamalan has directed since The Sixth Sense. Even Unbreakable got mixed reviews. I ignored them and went to see for myself.

My expectations were not met. The movie had two big flaws – one excusable, and one… not. The first one is a movie problem. But the second is a storytelling problem. Without delving into deep spoilers, here are my problems:

  1. The music. James Newton Howard’s original score for Unbreakable is beautiful. I listen to it all the time. When the familiar theme started playing at the end of Split, I got excited. I love the music almost as much as I love the story itself. Sadly, Howard did not compose the music for Glass. Was he not available? Does he cost too much now? Instead, the music was done by West Dylan Thordson, completely unknown to me. And after reviewing his credits on IMDB… he remains completely unknown to me. The Unbreakable music did show up in the movie a couple of times, but only in flashback scenes (which were actually deleted scenes from the first movie).Howard’s score for Unbreakable is moody, yet quietly uplifting. In the climax, it swells to triumphant, yet still maintaining an element of melancholy. It’s brilliant. The Glass score is… not. It’s filled with standard horror music tropes in a misguided attempt to build tension and sound creepy. When the Unbreakable music slips in, it’s so, so much better.

    Ultimately, I can forgive the music if the story is brilliant. But that brings me to the second problem.

  2. The missing character arc. I’m talking about David Dunn. You know, the hero of Unbreakable? The protagonist? The new movie seems to be primarily about him at first. (In fact, it’s kind of odd that a movie titled Glass doesn’t give its title character a single line of dialogue until at least halfway through!) It seems to be setting him up for a big, important thing at the end… and then it doesn’t. Without giving away the ending, let’s just say that David doesn’t get a satisfying conclusion to his character arc. He really doesn’t even have a character arc. He’s just there to look confused and fight the bad guys. Bruce Willis may have had more acting to do in his cameo appearance in The Lego Movie 2. Since I so loved his character development in Unbreakable, I was very disappointed in this.

    Now to be clear – character arcs are not always necessary, despite what Peter Jackson says. Some characters are intended to be icons, unchanging. And that’s okay, when done right. But this movie repeatedly hints at a character arc for David, then never follows up on it.

    By necessity, David is much older in this movie. His son Joseph is all grown up. So he’s been sort of a hidden superhero for many, many years. And we didn’t get to see any of that. There are some brief references to it, but that’s all. Going from Unbreakable to Glass is like reading the first issue of a comic book series, and then the final issue of that same series… without reading anything in between! Or imagine reading the first few chapters of Harry Potter… and then skipping to the last few chapters of the seventh book, without reading anything in between. A lot has changed, but you don’t know why. Glass tries to throw in explanations of those changes, but they feel forced.

They’re forced because ultimately, it seems that the continuation of David Dunn’s story isn’t the story that M. Night Shyamalan wanted to tell. He wanted to conclude the story he began in Split, drag in the connection to Unbreakable, and point out the brilliance of mastermind Mr. Glass. He accomplished all of that. But for those of us who wanted a real sequel to the original story of Unbreakable, it feels less than acceptable.

I could be wrong. I’ll watch it again when it’s finished its theatrical run. Maybe it’s better than I’m thinking right now. We’ll see whether I end up being satisfied at this conclusion to one of my favorite stories, or whether I decide to stick with my own head canon and ignore this movie altogether.

When a Story Isn't Enough – Filling in the Gaps

Most of the time, when a book is adapted into a movie, time is “sped up.” In other words, what takes a long time in the book takes a very short time in the movie, so as to keep things moving for an impatient visual audience. Action scene jumps to action scene as rapidly as possible.

As a storyteller, my mind usually works in the opposite direction. I fill in the gaps, expanding the story in my head. Obviously, this doesn’t happen all at once, but I’ve found that the longer something remains in my mind, the lengthier it gets.

For example, when I was a child in the 1980s, I saw Transformers, the movie (the animated one, AKA the good one). I did not see it again for decades. 
hotrod1400x700.jpgTransformers had some truly epic moments – the death of Optimus Prime, Starscream’s final betrayal of Megatron, the coming of Unicron, and of course, “Light our darkest hour!” But when I watched the movie for only the second time, decades after the first… I was shocked to discover that these epic moments came quickly, with almost no downtime between them, connected only by more rapid-fire action scenes.

I was confused. This wasn’t how I remembered it. I remembered a sprawling epic story that contained soaring emotional moments. Had the movie been edited heavily before its release on home video? No. My memories were wrong. Or, rather, my mind had been adding to them over the years.

As best as I can tell, my story-loving and story-telling mind loved the great moments of the movie, and loved even more the greater types of story moments that the animated movie was attempting to replicate. So over the years, my memory of the movie became expanded, as I “remembered” how I wanted the movie to be.

What does this mean? I believe that deep down, we all long for epic stories. We all want to read/see stories that move us, that inspire us, that thrill our hearts. Some of us just take it a step further – by coming up with those stories ourselves. Or, when an existing story isn’t quite good enough… expanding it in our imaginations, making it become the story we wanted all along.

Pete’s Dragon and Recovery of the Real World

When I wrote my blog post about dragons yesterday, I had no idea that my children would ask to spend the evening watching the new version of Pete’s Dragon on Netflix. I also had no idea that I would be moved by one scene in particular, and catch the subtle references to one of my favorite writings of J.R.R. Tolkien.
In the movie, Robert Reau_movie_poster_petesdragon_3f223dac.jpegdford’s character Meachum describes the time when, as a young man, he had a brief encounter with a dragon. He talks about being scared and almost shooting it, but then deciding not to, because… there was magic. He couldn’t find any other word to describe it but magic. He tells his daughter how this magic affects him: “It changes the way I see the world – the way I see trees, the way I see sunshine, the way, even, I see you.”
Meachum is speaking of what Tolkien called “recovery” or “a re-gaining – regaining of a clear view.” Tolkien said this was not seeing things as they are, but as we are meant to see them. He elaborated on this very extensively in his famous essay “On Fairy-Stories.” I highly recommend reading the entire thing.
Meachum’s daughter, Grace, is a forest ranger. In her first appearance in the movie, we see clearly that she loves the forest. She tells Pete that she grew up loving it and so took a job to help protect it. But she scoffs at her father’s dragon stories. When the evidence of a dragon mounts, she tells her boyfriend, “I know this forest like I know the back of my hand! How could I have missed a dragon?”
This is exactly what Tolkien was talking about. He spoke of appropriating things that are familiar to us, so that they become trite: “We say we know them. They have become like the things which once attracted us by their glitter, or their color, or their shape, and we laid hands on them, and then locked them in our hoard, acquired them, and acquiring ceased to look at them.” This was Grace’s problem. Even though she still loved the forest, it had become “known” to her, to the point that she was missing the true beauty and wonder hidden within it.
A couple of weeks ago, my family was at Carlsbad Caverns. We wandered slowly through the majestic rooms, in awe of everything around us. Only one thing perplexed us: there were constantly people rushing past us. They weren’t just moving at a more rapid pace – they were literally rushing to get through, barely even glancing at things around them. They were missing out on extraordinary beauty.
Tolkien speaks eloquently of how fairy stories or fantasy can help us recover the seeing of things the way we should. “Creative fantasy, because it is mainly trying to do something else (make something new), may open your hoard and let all the locked things fly away like cage-birds.”
I’d love to quote pages of the essay, but I’ll leave off with one more: “It was in fairy-stories that I first discovered the potency of the words, and the wonder of the things, such as stone, and wood, and iron; tree and grass; house and fire; bread and wine.”
It is through the fairy stories, the magic in the woods, and yes, the dragons, that we truly see the world around us. We recover the way we are meant to see it – as something magnificent and powerful, not trite and boring.
In The Two Towers, Eomer* asks,

“Do we walk in legends or on the green earth in the daylight?”

“A man may do both,’” said Aragorn. “For not we but those who come after will make the legends of our time. The green earth, say you? That is a mighty matter of legend, though you tread it under the light of day!”

IMG_0081.JPG*Fun tidbit: in the movies, Eomer was played by Karl Urban, who also starred in Pete’s Dragon.

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