Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Great storytelling - I wanna do that!

Last night I saw a great movie, and I was reminded again of how magical great storytelling can be.

Go ahead and feel jealous because I got to see “Super 8” before its release date…and for free. Oh, the perks of working for a media outlet. Yes, I am a movie aficionado, but for some reason, I just wasn’t feeling this one after seeing the previews, so I was especially digging the free price tag. Of course, I would have gone to see it anyway, being the sci-fi geek I am. They pretty much had me at J.J. Abrams and Steven Spielberg. I mean, wow.

Set in 1979, “Super 8” is the story of a group of tweenage friends who are making a zombie movie on a Super 8 camera when they witness a train derailment. It doesn’t take long before you realize something is amiss in their sleepy little Ohio town. Dogs go missing. People disappear. And the Air Force invades to clean up the train wreck and claim the little white rubix-cube looking things that are scattered everywhere.

If you are a child of the 80s, you should go see this movie. You really should. It reminded me of an “E.T.” and “The Goonies” mashup that was both nostalgic and ridiculously fun to watch.

The movie hasn’t even released yet, so I won’t spoil much and I certainly won’t mention exactly what was in the train that wrecked (hmmm). I will say, however, that J.J. Abrams has compiled an amazing story here that is fun, heart-warming and that carries a great message no matter if you’re 8 or 80. I bow down to you, J.J. Abrams. After that failed mishap “Undercovers,” you have renewed my faith in you!

The main character in the movie is arguably Joe, a young boy whose mother has just died in a work accident when the movie begins. I was 12 when I lost my mother, so when I see movies that feature kids who are experiencing that same grief, I always start squirming in my seat a little bit. Joe’s father is a cop. So was mine. As the movie progressed, I felt more and more in awe at the realism displayed by those two characters. Their interaction was oh-so familiar. I am 99 percent certain my father said some of the exact same things to me, in the exact same manner, as Joe’s dad did to him. There were quite a few scenes where I was reliving that pain and grief and confusion, which leads me to the point of this post.

When I left that theater, I felt raw. I also felt uplifted by the story itself. I was attached to the characters I had just met as if they were old friends. I had made a connection on an emotional level, both to the amazing story and to the characters. And that, my friends, is great storytelling.

I doubt everyone leaving this movie will have the same connection I did, but the best storytellers are able to bring their stories to vivid life through characters that are easily relatable and startingly realistic — at least to the majority of readers or viewers. That is also extremely hard to do, as most writers will readily admit.

I’ve always been convinced that you can tell a good story with characters that aren’t fleshed out, but to tell a truly great story, you need to dig down deep and really develop your characters. Those are the stories — at least in my opinion — that stay with readers the longest.

Who doesn’t remember that Indiana Jones hated snakes more than anything? Ask just about anyone nowadays and they can tell you what happened to Harry Potter when he was a young lad. Who does Katniss Everdeen love more than life itself? Her little sister, Prim, of course.

There are many great storytellers among us today. I’m working at becoming one of them, but even I admit, I’m not there yet. I’m working on it though. Most of all, I’m grateful to have good examples to draw inspiration from.

Go see “Super 8.” If you don’t enjoy it, there’s probably something wrong with you. I’m just sayin’.

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