Thursday, December 28, 2006

Hollywood's Love Affair with the Hero's Journey (pt 1): Night at the Museum

I don't intend for this site to become a massive list of reviews. In fact, I despise those sites.

However, I am ramping up to do a massive dissection of the Hero's Journey in an attempt to discover why Hollywood has married itself to this singular convention.

is a great example of strictly adhering to the Hero's Journey at the expense of the content.

NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM is not a bad movie. It's not a good movie either. It's merely luke-warm. For today's standards, that's about par. For mine, it's a triple bogey.

It does have an interesting hook: A man takes a job as a museum security guard only to discover that the attractions come to life at night.

As a comedy and a family film I can picture this. I also have a good idea of who the protagonist is going to be.

Add a little plot: When thieves steal the amulet responsible for bringing the museum to life, the security guard must return it before daylight to save the museum attractions and his job.

Now I can picture the antagonist and the conflict. Maybe this sounds a little hokey, but in the context of the hook, a comedy, and a family film it seems to be shaking out to be a nice popcorn movie.

But there's a hitch. Someone saw the need to mess things up. What could have been wall to wall laughs and fun, instead had to drag and make children yawn. No joke.

Why does this story have anything to do with a father/son relationship?

It is the injection of the son (and ex-wife) into the story that really screws it up.

It's a big problem, I've been seeing in many current movies. The INNER CONFLICT of the character is non-existent. And I believe, producers and execs think that including a loved one automatically gives a character INNER CONFLICT. It does not. Case and point: NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM.

The story thread of the son is actually an OUTER CONFLICT for the protagonist. His son wants him to get a job. The protagonist goes out to find one because...? We assume it's because he wants to spend more time with his son. He has also been hopping around from job to job... maybe he's just doing it for a sense of his own security. The point is, we really don't know.

The dilemma with expanding the son's story is that it has absolutely nothing to do with the hook or the plot. It is simply the drive for the protagonist to get a job. That's pretty shallow, if you ask me.

SON: Dad, will you get a job for me?
DAD: For you son, I'd move mountains.
SON: I said, get a job.
DAD: Oh. I'm not sure I can do that...

If the movie really wanted to incorporate the son into the story, it should have done so by including the son into the hook and plot. Instead he is merely a static outsider, observing and as a result can be cut from the film with little to no change in the overall film. In fact, it'd probably be a less boring movie to do so.

In NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM, Ben Stiller actually has two separate Hero's Journeys neither of which include INNER CONFLICT. This is why the movie misses its target, even with its strict adherence to the Hero's Journey. There are hints to what each INNER CONFLICT should be, but they are never explored in any satisfactory manner.

To use STAR WARS as a good example:

I want to be a Jedi Knight (OUTER CONFLICT) like my father (INNER CONFLICT).

Just because Luke's INNER CONFLICT deals with his father, is not what makes it a good INNER CONFLICT. It's the fact that his journey to becoming a Jedi Knight incorporates his INNER CONFLICT. He is trying to live up to an ideal, both in becoming a follower of the "Force" and in wanting to be like his father (a universal theme). So he follows in his footsteps to become a Jedi Knight.

It isn't until the second movie that Luke's world is shattered when he discovers that the ideal he thought his father to be is really his arch nemesis (another universal theme). What he thought was his OUTER CONFLICT has now been put to the test. In terms of the trilogy as a singular Hero's Journey, this would be THE ORDEAL. And it is.

In the third movie, Luke must face his father to prove that he is not like his father (a third universal theme). He starts the movie RESURRECTED as a pseudo Jedi Knight, to show that despite the end of the second movie, Luke will continue on his journey towards becoming a Jedi. Yoda informs Luke that his journey to becoming a full fledged Jedi Knight will not be over until he confronts his father. A great strategy of tying the INNER and OUTER CONFLICTS together, as well as ending a trilogy.

On the other hand, NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM is two halves of OUTER CONFLICT coming together to form a singular Hero's Journey (which doesn't work). With no INNER CONFLICT, the movie falls flat despite a good hook, workable plot, and a handful of genuinely funny moments.

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