In Defense Of Low-Stakes Storytelling

Illustration for article titled In Defense Of Low-Stakes Storytelling

Just when did saving the world get so boring? We're living through an age of big movies with big plots, that throw the fate of the world into the mix about as regularly as most people mop their floors — and sometimes it seems just as dull.


After reading our review of Transcendence, a suggestion was raised that offered a way that the troubled, sprawling movie might have been a success: It could have thought smaller.


After watching the trailers I find myself asking "Does it always have to involve the fate of the world?" I mean yeah those are high stakes and in theory give it weight if our heroes fail but really does every story need to be "Good versus evil for the fate of the world?" wouldn't this have worked better as a small personal story? Heck you could do most of the movie in a bottle episode type of way with 99% of the story taking place inside the lab as they work on things and discuss the real issues this story brings up.


I was reading a piece somewhere back around December I think, where a couple screen writers were talking about that. They were lamenting that, yes, studio executives pretty much demand that 'The Fate of the World is on the Line!!!!", if not the universe, in order for them to even look at most scripts that aren't based on a Nicholas Sparks novel.

It would seem that Hollywood has decided that the viewing population has no interest in small stakes for anything anymore, so the only films that get green-lit by production houses with any real resources behind them are the ones where the peril exists on as grand a scale as possible.


That's the issue, I think. A good filmmaker can make two people's problems seem as important as the whole world, but others take the shortcut and just say, the whole world's at stake!! as a shortcut to making us actually care about their world.

Of course, when an epic tale does come together, there's something pretty wonderful about watching the whole densely-written, character-driven thing unspool around solving the problem.

But, going for the world-ending peril is not the shortcut to achieving that, good storytelling is, and — when a small story has that — it can still feel pretty epic.

Image: Looper, per suggestion of CarrerCrytharis


Corpore Metal

Easy. Hollywood spends containerships full of money on movies these days and they expect each to be a blockbuster to recover their investment. So this dumbs down the plot and ups the stakes in the plot to broaden audience appeal.

It can never been a small story anymore. Too much money is riding on the line.