Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Tough Guys

Robert Ellis

I can remember sitting in a movie theater in Universal City waiting for what seemed like twenty minutes worth of film trailers to end so that the film I'd come to see might finally begin. The barrage of ads appeared endless. And then a trailer for a new movie called DIE HARD hit the screen. Everyone in the audience started laughing and booing and throwing popcorn. The movie starred Bruce Willis, an actor who was known for playing a smooth Beverly Hills PI alongside Cybill Shepherd in a popular TV series called MOONLIGHTING. People had forgotten that Willis made his debut on TV as Tony Amato, a ruthless drug dealer on MIAMI VICE. It seemed pretty clear that the light and cozy, too cute for comfort MOONLIGHTING, had poisoned the well.

Bruce Willis' remarkable performance in DIE HARD
But then, much like the detonation of a nuclear weapon, DIE HARD  was released nationwide. Before you could probably say, "I saw the moo- ," everything in the world of film and storytelling changed forever. First and foremost, the screenplay was absolutely perfect. Based on Roderick Thorp's novel NOTHING LASTS FOREVER, and scripted by Jeb Stuart and Steven E. de Souza, we're talking about a written work so exciting that others would try to mimic and rip it off for the next twenty years. (It should be noted that no one ever succeeded.) Just as crucial, the film, directed by John McTiernan and produced by Joel Silver, was perfectly cast. Every single role in the entire film was exactly as it needed to be. Within the first half hour of the film, any memory of Bruce Willis on MOONLIGHTING had burned up in the nuclear fireball. Bruce Willis as NYPD Officer John McClane would be a guy who could take the toughest challenges, the hardest blows, and still carry the full set of human emotions that have made Willis, the actor, so watchable for so many years. Curiously, his opponent in the film is just as tough and just as human. Alan Rickman as Hans Gruber was so much more than just a bad guy. Somehow he made evil delicious, even elegant, yet I couldn't wait to see him die!  (The harder, the better.)
Alan Rickman as Hans Gruber in DIE HARD

And that's the reason why I'm writing this post. So many writers today, no matter what the format, prefer to draw their characters in black and white. So many writers today work with caricatures, exaggerating their personalities and skills, their emotions and minds to the point where both the story and the character lose their meaning and become irrelevant.

Perhaps this is the reason why so many viewers have switched from network television and films on the big screen to series produced and broadcast on cable TV and now as streams over the Internet.

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