The Big Picture

Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
on entertainment and media

« Previous Post | The Big Picture Home | Next Post »

Summer-movie screenwriting: 'I'm the only hope you have'

April 30, 2009 |  5:46 pm


Dozens upon dozens of highly paid Hollywood screenwriters have all been cashing big checks for their marvelous work on this summer's upcoming studio extravaganzas (the joke of course being that some of those dozens of writers all probably worked rewriting the same film).

But what is the sum total of all that writerly craftsmanship and storytelling acumen? Each year at this time, I corral a bunch of teenagers -- known as the Summer Movie Posse -- and have them watch trailers from 10 or 15 of the most anticipated summer movies.

I'm meeting with the kids tomorrow to hear their take on how well the trailers work. Will they make them want to see "Angels & Demons" or "Star Trek" or "The Hangover"? Or will they view them as absolute musts to avoid. As I've been watching the trailers myself, I've noticed that there is a certain kind of brisk, staccato dialogue that always makes it into the summer-movie trailers. (Although some trailers, like the one for Michael Bay's "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen," are so crammed with explosions and special effects shots that they are virtually dialogue-free.) 

But usually someone offers a brief, declarative remark that captures the tone of the film. Sometimes it's a quip or a joke, for the comedies; sometimes it's a menacing threat or a terse, breathless warning, for the supernatural thrillers and horror films. But it's almost always short and to the point -- screenwriting as Hollywood haiku.

Here are some of the juicy snatches of dialogue from this year's summer movie trailers that I have a feeling will be sadly overlooked at Oscar time:

"Angels & Demons": "They've come for their revenge."

"Star Trek": "Buckle up!"

"Public Enemies": "I'm John Dillinger. I rob banks."

"Harry Potter & the Half Blood Prince": "These girls, they're gonna kill me, Harry."

"Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen": "We're all going together!"

"Land of the Lost" (with a shot of a huge dinosaur): "It's OK, he's not what you'd call an athlete."

"I Love You Beth Cooper": "Don't be so nervous -- he can smell fear."

"Bruno": "I gave him a traditional African name -- O.J."

"Funny People": "There is always the one girl out there that got away. Guys have that ... and serial killers have that."

"The Taking of Pelham 123": "What is the price for New York City hostages this morning?" 

"Drag Me to Hell": "Soon it will be you who comes begging to me."

"Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian": "This is the United States of 'Don't Touch That Thing Right in Front of You.' "

"Terminator: Salvation": "I'm the only hope you have."

"The Year One": "I'd like to see how big you are without that whip.... Ugh, same basic size."

"Inglourious Basterds": "Each and every man under my command owes me 100 Nazi scalps. And I want my scalps."

"The Ugly Truth": "For men, self-improvement ends at toilet training."

Photo of Zachary Quinto in "Star Trek" from ILM/Paramount Pictures