It’s nothing that a good hero can’t fix

World Exploding

It all started with ‘The Towering Inferno’ and ‘Airport’. My love of disaster movies. I remember watching them on TV with my Dad, probably in the late 70s, and I was gripped. I appreciate the greater sophistication of modern disaster movies, but I still like the old cheesy ones too. It’s not that I enjoy watching other people’s misery…although for that matter, I’m hard pressed to think of ANY movie of ANY genre that doesn’t involve misery for somebody. But there are specific things I Iike about disaster films:

1) They are exciting and dramatic. They build up tension and get the adrenalin going, but I’m not left too scared to go and get a glass of water in the middle of the night after watching them like I am with horrors, or some thrillers.

2) I can follow the plot. I have a bit of trouble following the plot with a lot of movies. I don’t have that problem with books, but with movies I’m not always sure what’s going on in them. I ask lots of annoying questions to whoever I’m watching them with. Or I’ll read a review afterwards and think “Oh, so THAT’S what it was about.” But with disaster movies, let’s face it, the plots are pretty simple. In fact the plot is pretty much the same in all of them – a disaster of some kind is looming, we can see it coming, the hero/ine can see it coming too and they try to warn people but nobody really takes them seriously until it’s too late, it comes, it’s disastrous, everything seems hopeless, but thanks to the heroic hero/ine it’s all ok in the end.

What I don’t like about disaster films:

1) People always die in them. It makes the happy ending less happy when you know that people have died along the way. I don’t want people to die in them. Even the selfish obnoxious jerk who flips out and refuses to do what the hero has told him to do, and instead breaks away from the group to go off and do his own really stupid thing. Even him, I don’t want him to die either. I don’t mind if he gets a little broken toe or a nasty graze or something, but he doesn’t have to die.

2) I don’t like it when they’re based on real disasters that have happened because then I worry that it might be upsetting for the people who really went through it. But on the other hand maybe those people are glad that it has been shown rather than being forgotten about. I can’t possibly know, and there won’t be a one-size-fits-all answer to that one. But my instinct is to prefer the more fabricated ones like ‘The Day After Tomorrow’.

I’m thinking I might like to write my own disaster movie. I’m pretty sure it can be just as exciting and perilous without any deaths. We don’t have to see people die to know that there’s a high risk that they could.

Of course I’d have to include all the classic lines in it:

“We’ll be perfectly safe here.”

“In case we don’t make it out of here alive, I want you to know (blah blah some mushy stuff)…”

“All we can do now is wait.”

I will be sure to include the obligatory gorgeous model-like female who is much tougher than she looks, because as we all know, it’s practically impossible for a woman to be both beautiful and tough, so that aspect is always a real shocker in these films. Any difficulties that the hero/ine has with their spouse or children will be resolved when they discover what’s REALLY important. And there will be an elderly person who is willing to sacrifice himself if it can save others because he’s had a good life (but of course he won’t actually be required to do so because nobody is going to die in my film, but it will be heartwarming just to know that he was willing).

Yep, I think I’ve pretty much got the main elements sorted. Now I just need a story…

photo credit: Rufus Gefangenen via photopin cc

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51 responses to “It’s nothing that a good hero can’t fix

  1. No!

    A disaster movie without deaths is like a Disney Princess Movie with out an adorable animal sidekick. It cannot be done. Or, at the very least, it cannot be done very well.

    Disaster movies work because the stakes are high — and nothing indicates high stakes quite like having one of the cast members perish.

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  2. Just because this has never really been accomplished before doesn’t mean you can’t do it. You should at least give it a try. I have a similar problem. I love tragedies but I can’t seem to write one because I hate to kill my characters. It’s tragic.

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  3. Sounds like fun! I’m inclined to think you need to kill a few people, though. My protagonist in The Man Who Found Birds among the Stars, during the ceremony during which he is given Earth’s highest honor for his heroism during a spaceship disaster, defines a hero as “somebody who reacts with courage in an impossible situation so that a positive outcome is produced. … But there’s a downside to any definition of a hero – it has a corollary, so to speak. It’s not enough that a hero win – a hero inevitably has to lose something. He has to lose something and react nobly in the face of that loss.” It could be his life, but it also be someone he loves or members of his crew or a limb or his sanity. So if a hero loses nothing in his victory, his heroism is not complete.

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  4. I’ve got a story for you–a real one, too. I heard about a man being swallowed up (his whole house I think) in a huge sink-hole in Florida. I don’t think they found him yet, but, of course, you could write a different ending!

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  5. So funny to read this now because just the other day I said to my husband, “We should track down some of those old films like ‘Airport’ and ‘Poseidon Adventure’.” (Our mental telepathy in action again…) I loved those movies, too. And they did such a good job back then of building up the characters before killing them off. That way, we really felt sorry for them.

    But I look forward to your film, too. I hope it features your uvula during a blood-curdling scream.

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  6. I envision your disaster movie to be more like “Airplane” than “Airport.” You always work in humor!

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  7. I cringe in disaster movies, but still eat them up. That’s the scariest I can go. And I hate people to die…but they always do. Write your disaster, and throw in some light humor to make me laugh as well between people dying. I just made it pretty hard, didn’t I? You can ignore me.

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  8. I’m not much of a fan of disaster movies and my suggestion for a story was the Florida sink hole which swallowed up the man. I hear the house has been demolished. The missing man’s brother tried to save him, but could not. How about the surviving brother goes down the hole and finds a tunnel and a whole different world into which the swallowed man has been kidnapped. Ha. Maybe there’s your story…

    Anyway, I see someone ahead of me already made the suggestion about this news item.

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  9. I think you have the talent and skill to pull it off, gorgeous!
    Go for it!

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  10. The story shouldn’t be too hard. You just need a disaster that hasn’t been covered in another movie. Er, there must still be a few of those left, right? 😉

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    • Well a couple of people have suggested the sink hole which I don’t think has been covered, but it’s not gripping me as an idea. Of course I don’t have to go for a completely original disaster, I just have to give it an original spin!

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  11. I’ve watched quite a few disaster movies and I agree that they don’t have such longlasting effects as a horror. My mother used to love vampire movies and used to make me watch them with her as she was too scared to watch them on her own. Even now when I am back at my parents’ house on my own and I hear a strange creak I think: vampire!!
    As for the shmuck that always dies, I used to have fun guessing, which one it would be because usually he starts off quite likeable, and then he does something to make you hate him – and then he always has a really unattractive expression on his face when the boulder lands on him, or the beam falls from the roof and splices him etc.
    And yes, the sacrificial OAP – that made me laugh – although I’m sure that’s not politically correct…
    Nice post, as always.

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    • Thanks G. I used to watch Hammer House of Horror as a child in my bedroom and would be absolutely terrified, don’t know why I kept watching! I think I thought it was cool and sneaky to watch it. I don’t really like horrors at all now. I’ve seen a couple that I’ve liked over the years, but I generally avoid them.

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  12. Poseidon Adventure was another one from that era …. with Shelly Winters heartbreaking death.

    Meanwhile, just wanted to stop by to say hello … after all, I’m hoping my self-imposed exile due to a project will be over soon.

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    • Yes, I’ve seen Poseidon Adventure, but it’s not one that particularly stuck in my mind from those early days of watching them with my Dad.

      Thanks for taking a break from your self-imposed exile to stop by here!

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  13. Kill ’em. Go on.

    If no-one dies then it suggests the danger wasn’t really that, err, dangerous. You need a few to perish so your hero/ine can rescue the others from the burning building/planet/alienship before the bomb/alienship/fire consumes everything.

    I’d like to read your script though. I think it would definitely be entertaining. 🙂

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  14. To give the hero the scars he needs (the losses) to rise up, you would have to write anything into your script that happens “real time,” you could allude to past losses without actually showing them… a montage of newspaper articles or news reals leading into the film that give the audience the characters background.

    Now we just need to come up with “new” disaster movie plot… aliens invading? been done. earth self-destructing? been done. natural disasters? been done. falling while rock climbing and forced to make a terrible decision? been done.

    Hmm… we might need some sort of combination disaster movie: falling while rock climbing and discovering an alien invasion? incidents of tornadoes, hurricanes, and earthquakes make the sea, which is rising from melting ice caps, the only hospitable place to live?

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    • I like the way you’re thinking here dj, not so much thinking outside of the box as trying to cram everything into the box! The alluding to past losses might work too, that way I don’t have to kill anyone and I can’t be held responsible for any deaths that took place before I started writing the story…right?

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  15. I was going to suggest that you already had the title covered but ‘Disaster Movie’ has already been made (2008). Perhaps ‘Disaster No-Death Movie?’

    Each of the heroes/heroines doesn’t die but has a hideous disaster happen to them – their mother-in-law comes to visit and stays forever; they have to pay back taxes; plastic surgery goes bad; the hero/heroine is tied to a chair and has to listen to the accumulated speeches of Sara Palin (liberal bad ending) or Joe Biden (conservative bad ending). Only one hero/heroine escapes disaster and you have to guess who.

    As to a story line, you don’t need no stinkin’ story line if you have enough trite phrases:

    Character One: “I’m going in and don’t try to stop me.”
    Character Two: “But you’ll get killed.”
    Character One: “Remember me to the family.”
    [Off stage, a blood curdling scream.]
    Character One: “Okay, so I’m not going in.”

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    • Thank you for commenting. I’m not sure that ‘Disaster No-Death Movie’ is going to work because I don’t want the viewers to necessarily know that there isn’t going to be a death because that removes the suspense. I mean obviously you guys on here will know because I’ve told you, but the other viewers will need to believe that the Sara Palin speeches might literally bore the person to death, that kind of thing. So maybe a nice catchy title like ‘Disaster Where People Might Die But You Won’t Know Until You Watch It Movie’. Yep, I think that’ll work.

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  16. I feel some of the same feelings as you do about disaster movies, Vanessa. I love that they’re so simple, but the stakes are always so high (sometimes ludicrously so, as in Armageddon).

    I don’t doubt you could do a disaster movie without death, though you’d have to tip the scales enough to make it at least be a possibility. That said, a great death scene can be awesome, no matter the genre in which it takes place. I guess because everybody dies, so we either want to pass peacefully in our sleep…or go out in a blaze of glory. No one wants their death to be meaningless.

    It does beg the question: have you ever killed a character in one of your stories? If you haven’t, do you think you would do it?

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    • Maybe we could think some people have died in it, so that we can really see how high the stakes are, but then later we discover that they were alright after all – I’d have to make sure it wasn’t done in a way that make the viewer feel cheated though. In disaster movies, as in horror movies, when someone dies in what is usually a pretty gruesome death, people are shocked for about 10 seconds and then they just seem to get over it really quickly – maybe you have to do that in those extreme situations to concentrate on your own survival, but it always seems so wrong!

      I killed someone in my NaNo story last November, but they weren’t a character that we cared about because they had only just entered the story in order to get killed! I just needed to show how dangerous someone was!

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  17. What is your disaster of choice? Flood, fire, water, killer disease, meteorite, or demolition to make way for an inter-galactic bypass?

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  18. At least it wouldn’t be that predictable, if you don’t kill anyone. I mean, you’d have to set it up as though many people will die, but shock all your viewers by keeping them alive. That would really knock our socks off. Oh! You could probably maim them, rather than killing them. What about that? Just lop legs off and such.

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  19. Pingback: I never meant to kill her. | Even More BonusParts!

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