Written by A.J.E. Loxton.
With the litany of adaptations, sequels, prequels, remakes, and re-imaginings being made in Hollywood, combined with the myriad of Reality TV programs, it could easily be argued that screenwriting is quickly becoming an antiquated art form, being ushered away by the mechanics of more fiscal film making.
I have no problem with the volume of adapted screenplays, many of my favourite films started life in the pages of novels that adorn my shelves. However it’s becoming increasingly apparent that studios are taking fewer risks with original screenplays. This is a bad thing.
Two of the better, and definitely most daring, original screenplays of the last decade started out as low-budget horror films with a simple idea that spawned into high-budget franchises where hype exceeded execution. I’m talking about Saw and Paranormal Activity.
When the original Saw film (2004) premiered it was unlike anything in mainstream cinema, it was edgy, cunning, deliberate and shocking. By the end of the series it was reductive, formulaic and predictable.
Paranormal Activity (2007) did not suffer the same violent decline, however the films were never as interesting or precise, they couldn’t be; what drove them was the originality.
Did we need Saw 2 through to Saw 7? Probably not. Did the franchise gross over $873 million at the box office? Yes. The same argument could probably be made for Matrix: Reloaded and Matrix: Revolutions, but that’s another article entirely.
Upon winning the Academy Award for best Original Screenplay Tarantino remarked, “I would like to say it’s such an honor to get (an Oscar) this year, because … the writing is just fantastic,” this humility was followed up with the line that intrigued me enough to write this article. “This will be the writer’s year, man. I love the competition.”
I had been locked into the cynicism that I’ve expressed in this article up until now. I had lamented the lack of quantity of original screenplays when I should have been exalting the surplus of quality in original screenplays.
Not to say that the Hollywood machine has developed a more scrupulous filter and we’re left with only the best scripts, but if you look through the films nominated, and not nominated, in both categories you see some real triumphs of screenwriting.
David O. Russell’s adaptation for Silver Linings Playbook fashioned some of the best onscreen chemistry that Cooper and Lawrence were able to bring to life, a skill many fail to understand. Tarantino himself took his own original writing to a new level of sleekness. His characters were as commanding as ever, and his dialogue remains beautifully refined. If anything, the past year belonged not just to the writers, but to the characters they were able to conjure.
Despite my yearning for great new screenplays and fresh ideas in cinema, I can’t help but realise, while feeling terribly self aware, that most of the films I’m looking forward to this year are sequels, adaptations and re-imaginings. I guess I’m part of the problem. I guess that’s why it works.