Sunday, January 25, 2009

Curious Case of Benjamin Gump

Let me be plain. Posting this video is not a criticism of Eric Roth on my part. It's a funny observation and it makes a point. Artists have signatures. Even writers.

When my son and I went to see Legend of Zorro, I knew Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman had the screenplay credit and Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio received story credit. Still, I was expecting to see T&T's fingerprints all over the film.

I didn't.

First act came and went. Hmm. Nothing struck me as T&T's work.

Second act. Odd. Nothing stood out there either.

Finally, toward the end of the film, there's a horse on a train. A horse on train! Now, THAT is something T&T would write!

As soon as I got home, I emailed Terry and told him the film just didn't feel like something he'd touched except for the horse on the train. Terry replied that he hadn't seen the film but had recently received his obligatory copy of the screenplay and flipped through it. He really didn't see anything of his own except -- you guessed it -- the horse on the train.

You see, once you get to know an artist's work, it's relatively simple to feel the familiarity. You'd be surprised how much Pirates of the Caribbean has in common with Mask of Zorro and Shrek and Road to El Dorado or how much National Treasure has in common with Aladdin. They all have the same writers' fingerprints.

James Horner, one of my all time favorite film score composers, almost always uses some kind of haunting oboe solo in his soundtracks. You wouldn't think Cocoon and An American Tale would be similar enough films to have common denominators in the soundtracks. They aren't. But, they do. Danny Elfman has a genius for weaving darkness with whimsy. That's his signature. Just listen to Nightmare Before Christmas, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Batman, and the theme from the Simpsons. The similarity is there even though the music is decidedly different.

Producers have signatures, too. Is there any mistaking Ridley Scott's herky jerky camera-on-a-tether ball scene transitions?

So yeah, filmmakers have signatures. Now watch this -- good stuff.