Stories about zombies, vampires, witches, werewolves, and super heroes are getting stale.
Response the first: “But stories about zombie vampire witch werewolf super heroes are fresh!”
Response the second: “Is there a corollary about movies that are comprised almost entirely of extended CG action sequences involving the same?”
Agreed that the dreck Hollywood is churning out is pretty stale – but not because it involves monsters and heroes. Monsters and heroes will always be a part of the poetry of storytelling, as they have been from the beginning.
A big part of the problem is that most writers these days can’t tell the difference between a monster and a hero. Power is considered morally neutral (there are no good or evil powers, just good or evil uses of power), and then any objective basis for moral uses of power are tossed out the window. So the monsters become the most sympathetic characters, the heroes constantly contradict themselves, and the audience leaves pumped up by the SF/X and otherwise confused by the plot. (Most obvious example: Bruce Banner’s “I’m always angry” in last year’s “Avengers”.)
Another major factor – not unrelated to the first – is that the most popular media have become mere tools of the SF/X-advertising complex. I don’t mind someone hawking beer and shampoo, but I do mind if they get their ad in the way of my story. “Burn Notice” has been particularly inept in this area.
Solution: write stories where monsters are monstrous (that is, truly corrupted by evil), heroes are heroic (that is, truly striving for virute and goodness), and SF/X are used as sparingly as Gandalf uses his spells.
^^^What Robert said.
You’re too kind.
Actually, thinking on Peter Jackson’s treatment of the One Ring, I realize that there’s an opposite error in thinking about power: that some power is simply evil, by definition. Its evil is absolute and is the source of all antagonism in the plot – yet the evil has all the depth of a MacGuffin. It is arbitrarily evil, because the movie needs an antagonist powerful enough to justify the SF/X.
I keep returning to Aristotle and Thomas, myself: good is the fulfillment of a thing’s nature; evil is the corruption of it. We pursue corruption because it promises immediate or illusory goods, and because we are weakened by original sin – not because some of us are naturally evil. The fulfillment of human nature is love as defined by Our Lord: laying down one’s life for another. There is no greater heroism than to lay down one’s life for another, and no greater villany than to make others lay down their lives for one’s own gain of corrupt goods.
Wow, Robert, that kind of nails it actually. And because our culture largely rejects the very notion of a thing having a nature (or an end, for that matter) that fundamental Aristotelian/Thomistic concept is never even considered, much less fleshed out into a great story. Hence, empty stories…
I think that last sentence captures why most war movies almost always resonate with people, young men in particular. Since the Truth is always attractive (i.e. Beautiful) ,even when we don’t want it to be, that Truth about true heroism and great villany strikes a chord even in our rapidly de-Christianizing culture (to borrow a phrase from Mark).
No! Because I have a werewolf story that I am in the process of cleaning up so that I can send it out…somewhere. I’m not actually a huge fan of werewolves (more of a zombie gal) but it occurred to me one night, as I was up with my latest infant, that having a newborn and turning into a werewolf have a lot in common…
Seriously, I think these ideas will keep cycling around because they are linked to our deep-rooted knowledge that there is more out there than we can see, and that heights can be reached and horrors endured that are far beyond what seems possible in the day-to-day routine.
I think people will always enjoy good stories, about werewolves or anything else. I say polish it up and send it out.
They’re getting stale because so few writers (and speaking of movies, directors and actors) are interested in exploring the meaning of humanity that these stories used to touch on, e.g. when are humans like zombies? In what way are we tempted to do what witches (claim they can) do? What is it about superheroes that inspires us?
These days they only seem interested in depicting bloodlust and encouraging fantasies of powerfully crushing your enemy with supernatural strength. Seems like the whole horror genre’s been soaking in slasher gore and ennui for so long, these questions barely even get asked anymore.
And yes, CGI almost always sucks.
My pet peeve is that we’ve apparently become incapable of telling a dramatic story that is not structured around people solving crimes.
Is this because we’ve become crime-obsessed? Police-obsessed? Because our imaginations have been flattened; and our awareness of the contours of the very non-crime-solving adult lives that most of us are leading, attenuated?
I suspect this is connected to the monsters/super-heroes storytelling ruts that our culture is also in.
It could be simply that horrible crimes are like Hitler: the only things that people can agree are evil. So if you want to have good defeating evil, you do it in the context of a crime story.
Brilliant. That might indeed have very much to do with it.
I submit the two following reasons: 1) A culture of tepid virtues and tepid vices is going to reflect that across the entire spectrum-including stories. 2) Rather than the exciting story of the Faithful vs. the Enemies of God (albeit in some other guise, as in humans vs. vampires, or the Elendili vs. the King’s Men), we now have the classic misunderstanding story, in which both sides are caught up in an idiotic feud, the protagonist is the “good guy” because he figures out how it’s all a misunderstanding, and the antagonists are the “bad guys” because they’re the fuddy-duddies who refuse enlightenment and wish to continue the fight, because tradition is stupid, or something like that.
There is NO “type” of story that is stale because of its type, be it vampire, werewolf, zombie, super hero, alien invasion, secret agent, etc., etc. Any type of story is stale only because of the poor quality of the storytelling involved.
Books, comics, TV shows, and movies go through cycles. Someone will make a very good zombie movie, for example. Management (who usually knows nothing about story) sees that and says, “Ah-ha! Zombies stories are popular! We shall make some!” They then proceed to church out copycat product with little to no artistic quality. Then people start to say, “Zombies are stale.” They are, but only because good storytelling is not involved, not because of the zombies.
Just because most restaurant hamburgers are pretty blah doesn’t mean I’d say no to a great hamburger.
So don’t demand fewer zombie stories. Demand better zombie stories. Or whatever “type” you like.
I meant “churn out,” not “church out.” Although I do find that typo funny.
As a former Protestant that typo (in the context of the sentence) made me chuckle.
What does it say about a society that cannot tell a story about the strong capacity within humanity and thus must tell stories about the tepid attempts of humanity of monsters?
I definitely agree with respect to Witches, Vampires, Werewolves and Zombies… primarily because Hollywood keeps recycling the exact same story time and again. Here is an idea for Vampires… lets make them evil, just evil again.
As for Super Heros.. I am not entire sure I agree. They tend to be a much more diverse lot than the others on this list.
What I do agree is the current trend of having the good guys always walk on the edge of the Dark Side and having traditional bad guys really be misunderstood is getting awfully tired.
I like complex good & bad guys. People are rarely all good or all bad. It makes for a more compelling story sometimes when you can sort of sympathize with the bad guy, even if you disagree with his actions. Magneto in the 1st X-Men is a good example.
I like a lot of Miyazaki’s works, as the villains there tend to be somewhat more nuanced than what’s normal churned out.
What I can’t abide are perpetually undetermined heroes. I don’t mind a season without conviction, but it had better be had by the end of the third act so that villainy can be checked with resolve.
Agreed. There is nothing more boring than Superman.
@Marcus: There is a difference between nuance and making your bad guy just a misunderstood good guy. Magneto is a good example. Sure his goals might be admirable, but his means are (often — he goes through phases) are evil, therefore he is evil. In contrast, in a lot of these Vampire stories, the Vampires are just misunderstood.
@Jon W: The problem with Superman is that the character is too powerful The writers basically have two choices. They can give him an Earth Destroying menace every week (and leave us wonder why they always attack Metropolis) or they can make the stories about his inner conflicts. Neither approach can really sustain excitement for too long.
Supes has a GREAT origin story. After that … not so much. He is boring.
I’ve never read a Superman story that followed the logical progression of his powers and supposed mission. If his mission is to help people and show them the way of heroism and justice, what is keeping him from becoming a benevolent tyrant? Why not fly to Syria and drop all their tanks and missiles into the Mediterranean? Why not liberate slaves in the Third World? What’s stopping him?
I am not sure I consider him inherently boring. I think he can work rather well for a story… but for a continuing comic book it starts to get difficult.
I think you pose a couple of interesting questions. The first regarding the benevolent tyrant is probably the easiest to answer. Superman is, for all his faults, generally a believer in democracy and law and order. To become a tyrant, even a benevolent one probably would not occur to him.
As for Syria and liberating the slaves of the Third World, perhaps he knows something our government hasn’t figured out yet; using force may fix one problem only to open up a barrel of other problems. Destroy the tanks in Syria, and perhaps they will be replaced by guns, or swords, or sticks. Perhaps he works best in his Universe as an example that Power should be used with restraint; a lesson I wish our government would learn.
“Superman is, for all his faults, generally a believer in democracy and law and order.”
Then how does he excuse his own vigilantism?
All super heroes are vigilantes to one degree or another.
By the late 90s, when Buffy (the TV show) started, vampires were stale. All that Anne Rice crap had played out. Then followed 8 years of Buffy and Angel as 2 of the best tv shows ever. In the same year, Batman and Robin came out, which should have been the final blow for the idea of the superhero; in 2000 Bryan Singer’s X-Men, and then in 2002 Sam Raimi’s Spiderman came out, kicking off the current superhero film golden age.
I don’t think a genre can actually go stale, at least, not for very long.
Cabin In the Woods was a nice reprieve last year, and it sort of featured Zombies.
It’s not the monsters themselves that are the problem, but our culture, and particularly Hollywood elite culture. We’ve become moral nihilists who no longer believe in good and evil, but evil is precisely what used to make those monsters scary and therefore interesting.
Some of you are claiming that we have forgotten how to tell a good story. I hereby invoke Sturgeon’s Law: 90% of everything is crap.
The issue is not that once upon a time every story ever written was just great and we’ve gone downhill from there. Most of the work written and published in the past was garbage, and it has died its rightful death and been forgotten. We only remember and have preserved what was best. Call it natural selection. We are too close to our own writing at this time. There is still good stuff being churned out- a lot of it is done in the new media, such as amazon reviews- but it is hard to see at the moment beyond the 90% of stuff out there that is, y’know, crap.
On the other hand, perhaps 90% is too generous a number.
Exactly. I used to think that old hymns were good and modern hymns were bad because they just knew how to write ’em back in the day. Then I looked through some old books of hymns and saw all the craptastic sentimental shlock my ancestors had to endure in church, and I realized ’twas always thus. I actually feel better knowing that 90% of everything is crap. There were court poets before Homer, and they probably sucked, but Homer didn’t suck, and now we have the Iliad. But if there hadn’t been crappy court poets, there might not have been Homer. And then we wouldn’t have the Iliad.
A tangent dear to my heart. I remember what we had to endure before the 60s-style hymns (which only got to us in the 80s!). Given a choice between mediocre and dreary and mediocre and cheerful, I’ll always take the latter.
The type of protagonist/antagonist is practically irrelevant to telling a powerful, entertaining story. The main problem with Hollywood is that they’ve been telling the same story over and over for years. The superhero origin story is the worst offender. Watch almost any superhero film from the last ten years and keep score as it hits the following beats: likable yet irresponsible/arrogant/ne’er do well protagonist introduced, fate intervenes to bestow power upon/call character to heroics, character refuses call (often inexplicably), character meets with personal tragedy forcing him to take up heroic mantle, character learns responsibility of power (setup for sequel). What I’ve just described boils down to writers’ slavish reliance on Campbell’s hero’s journey theory. It was never intended as a plot structure formula, but too many screenwriters and novelists use it that way. The result is a slew of inorganic, by-the-numbers scripts that read like someone checking off a list. The way to craft an engaging story is to concentrate on characterization and narrative flow. Yes, many stories from prehistory till today follow Campbell’s outline more or less, but that’s because Campbell was describing how humans naturally tell stories; not dictating a hard and fast set of rules. Homer never said, “Odysseus needs to be tempted, so I’ll shoehorn Circe in.” The first rule of storytelling economy: if the only way you can describe the transition between any two beats in your narrative is with the phrase “and then”, you need to rewrite till you can substitute “therefore” or “but”.
The first rule of storytelling economy: if the only way you can describe the transition between any two beats in your narrative is with the phrase “and then”, you need to rewrite till you can substitute “therefore” or “but”.
That’s very well put. Is that part of a larger list of rules of storytelling economy? Can you point me toward the full list?
A couple of the sources I mined to answer Mark’s question can be found here:
And here (coarse language alert!):
Zombie movies got stale from the word “go.” “Serpent and the Rainbow” was the only worthwhile zombie theme story I ever saw, and it was entirely outside of the usual mold of the genre. Seriously, what’s the deal with exponentially spreading mindlessness as true horror? We’ve lived that since the rise of reality television “celebrity” culture and it’s more annoying than scary.
Bram Stoker’s Dracula was the only worthwhile vampire movie, because Gary Oldman is just that damn good (Anthony Hopkins didn’t hurt either). For non-straight guys and women, I can see where Anne Rice’s take has some appeal. Superhero movies are ok for smash-em-up entertainment, but the only one that ever told a worthwhile story, as far as I’m concerned, is Watchmen.
I have yet to read all the good comments but here is my voice….. The recently released ‘Warm Bodies’ is from what I am told is excellent. Richard Rooper gave it a good review over at Ebert’s sight. I read the book and it was good. Walking Dead is really good. World War Z looks good. Avengers was great and so was DK returns. The new superman/Iron Man 3 look great and the hype over the new X-Men looks promising. So the quality of Zombie and superhero movies is good. Harry Potter: Need no more. I read but have not seen Abe Lincoln Vampire Hunter. As a co-worker said “Twilight does to vampires what Brokeback Mt. did to Cowboys’.
My take on things. I am curious to what MS thinks on these things.
The World War Z movie might be good. Might not. But based on the trailers I can tell you that it is NOTHING like that book. Read the book. I’m not into zombies at all, but I thoroughly enjoyed the book. It was less George Romero and more like BAND OF BROTHERS against the undead.
May I suggest Umineko no Naku Koro ni (and the English translation patch)? It’s a story with family politics, intrigue, murder mystery, goat-servants, a conceptual/platonic world where truths and theories can be used as weaponry, myth-battles, and witches who draw their power from titles like “Miracles”, “The Endless”, “Origins”, & “The Absolute” with enough power to smite anything from gardens to multiple universes into non-existence. In the end, the message fell a tad flat, but it was a great kinetic sound novel.
They’re not getting stale. They were getting stale five years ago.
I highly recommend Larry Correia’s “Monster Hunter” series. The first book is written a little too much like an action movie script, but there’s a nice range of monster and human types. It’s not deep literature, but the action flows and “makes sense” in a way that very few other novels seem to achieve lately.
Anybody interested in an alternate-universe vampire story where the vampires are operating under a family curse because their ancestor created mermaids, who are really evil, and the bite of a vampire is the only hope for girls who’ve fallen under the spell of mermaid song? And the plot sort of has Eucharistic themes? Because, if so, it’s about 3/4ths finished…
…yes, I AM that weird.
I’d read that.
And possibly recommend it to my friends. I wasn’t going to make that commitment but WordPress made me do it because my original comment apparently wasn’t verbose enough (not usually a problem for this once upon a time philosophy major).
Basically loathe and detest vampire books/movies/whatever. And I have a real theological problem with the entire concept. The Lord is the Giver of Life. Vampires are dead. What’s pulling their strings? *shudder* Whatever they are, romantic or sympathetic are the last adjectives that come to mind.
I don’t know. People get down on Anne Rice’s Vampire books and well they should for a lot of reasons. I would never recommend that people should read them if they don’t want to be offended by a lot of the things in them. There is another side to the story though! I was raised completely secular in a heavily protestant area. I hated protestants and so I hated Christianity. I thought it was ugly and stupid and judgmental. BUT then I read Anne Rice. When she wrote those Vampire books she was a lapsed Catholic but she still wrote such beautiful things about Catholicism. It made me realize that Christianity wasn’t just stupid, ugly protestantism. I didn’t become Catholic just because of that, but it planted a seed of beauty in my heart. So, some of this stuff may be morally repellent and bad for people…but for people who are already in a bad place in life, it may just bring them light! I don’t mean to condone it…I’m just saying there’s more to it than black and white for some people.
I’m not a horror fan but if someone would make a beautiful and thoughtful but creepy story in the Val Lewton-Jacques Tourneur style (and ix-nay the or-gay) I might go see it. The only zombie movie I’ve ever seen is their “I walked with a Zombie” and despite the title is probably nothing like the zombie stories and movies of today. It’s a beautiful, poetic film I highly recommend everyone to see.
Mark , when I was a wee boy my dad told me that horror was unhealthy, and that kind of stuck.
I emphatically agree with the proposition.
Besides, in my off-time I’m trying to corner a diversity-sensitive niche market on Chupacabras.
I think that the problem is no one remebers how to tell a good story. Riht now I have awesome ideas, awesome plot, awesome characters…. but am tottally at a loss as to how to put it all down and make it understandable. Its a lost art, im stubling in the dark. Hey, ya know Im gonna keep stumblimg on, hope I find a lightswitch, but I really have little hope for moviemakers and writers in general. I have read and seen good stuff, but good is less common.