Saturday, January 27, 2007

Children of Men and other wasted premises

I read Children of Men by PD James about 15 years ago because of its cool premise--sudden worldwide infertility. It takes place in the near future. Years pass. The world's youngest person is a reluctant celebrity at age 18. Then, a girl is pregnant...

I saw the movie recently. Terry Gross on Fresh Air interviewed the director Alphonso CuarĂ³n. They spend a lot of time talking about the technical difficulty and resulting fabulousness of a continuous shot of Clive Owen dashing through a street in mid-battle between British security forces and revolutionaries, on his way to delivering the pregnant girl to...well I never understood to whom.

The movie and the book both waste the premise by using it as a mere backdrop to a chase movie. The mechanics of getting two persons from Point A to Point A may make for movie thrills, but are not interesting. What is interesting are the social implications of no kids. The loss of hope for a society with no future. But books and especially movies have to personalize whatever issue they bring up, for the sake of "story".

Two other movies that likewise wasted a premise:

Jurassic Park, in which the cool concept of smart, small dinosaurs wreaking havoc on an island off the coast of South America, was wasted by keeping them on the island and having them chase half a dozen humans around. Yawn. Imagine the movie, in which they get loose into the mainland, and are too quick and small to be defeated by any conventional means. The typical movie of this type focuses on a large threat but large creatures are easy targets. These are more akin to supersmart carnivorous rats--hard to kill! Societies break down as these invaders breed and spread, while the world is slow to react to this new threat.

The Day After Tomorrow, a dreadful flick in which a new Ice Age is used as the backdrop for intrepid Dennis Quaid schlepping through bad weather from Washington DC to New York, to reunite with his teen-aged son Jake Gyllenhaal. Millions perish while we are expected to care whether Dennis gets to give Jake a huggie at the end.

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