How NOT To Engage Your Audience

So over the weekend hubs and I watched the latest incarnation of The Three Musketeers.  We knew it had received poor reviews, but we admit we’re suckers for any adaptations (though the Disney version with Kiefer Sutherland, Oliver Platt, and crazy man Sheen wins every time–because there is no greater Richlieu than Tim Curry).  I readily confess I didn’t know anything about this movie before we watched it other than that I liked the score (which I have a playlist for on Spotify).

It started out well, with a lot of surfing of IMDB to identify folks.  Totally did not recognize Matthew Macfadyen with all that facial hair.  And wait, Percy Jackson isn’t 13 anymore?  There was some confusion when Luke Evans shows up on screen because in the dark he looks a fair amount like Orlando Bloom (who plays the Duke of Buckingham).  Anyway, all a cast I pretty much liked. Even seeing Milla Jovovich kick ass in a dress was pretty fun.

And then the airship showed up.

This was a giant WTF?  Given, of course, that blimps were not invented until 1902.  Things pretty much tanked from there.  It wasn’t until the movie was over that somebody mentioned on Twitter, oh yeah it’s supposed to be a steampunk retelling.  Um, no, sorry it was a fail for me on that front too.  It wasn’t quite “that’s 2 hours of my life I’ll never get back” bad, but it was close.

The whole thing got me thinking about how there are no new stories and we, as creators, have to therefore come up with some kind of awesome twist that makes it new again.  It’s such a fine line to walk, trying to find something that isn’t derivative, something that’s original, and yet not something that’s so different that audiences are gonna go “Say what?” and rebel.

This is particularly salient when you’re taking a well known story (like The Three Musketeers or Shakespeare’s plays or Austen’s novels) and reinventing it.  There is a real danger of departing so far from the original that it is no longer recognizable, no longer has that kernel that makes it what it is.  I confess, I’m one of those who tends to like certain aspects of the classics.  I’m a sucker for reinterpretations, but if you get too wild and crazy with it, I’m probably not gonna be happy.

It’s a hard thing coming up with something new and original.  We’re constantly preached to about high concept, finding that thing that will allow mass audiences to connect with the work on a deeper level.  And people think that it takes novelty to do that.  That novelty is the height of creativity.  And yeah, novelty is a component, but it’s not the be all, end all.  The thing that makes a high concept work, the holy grail we’re seeking with audiences is a thing called empathic resonance.  It happens to be what I did my thesis on.  What this means, in a nutshell, is that we have to find the right alchemy to produce an empathic emotional response in our audience, to make them connect with the characters.  If you don’t manage that, then it doesn’t matter how new and interesting your actual plot concept is, you won’t successfully engage the audience.



10 thoughts on “How NOT To Engage Your Audience

  1. I’m sorry, but what I’m taking away from this is that I went and checked out the Three Musketeers score, and it is delightful (and PAUL HASLINGER), and I have now added it to my wish list. Thank you, K! 😀

  2. Joel Rosenbaum did an interest twist on the “Three Musketeers” in his later Guardian of the Flame novels that did have the resonance

  3. Hmm.. I agree with you, Kait. When it comes to classics, keep it classic. Either that or take 180 degrees in the other direction and smash it up to rebuild it a different way and call it something else.
    I haven’t seen the particular adaptation of The Three Musketeers you speak of, but now I have something to find on NetFlix tonight (I like to see what the hub bub is, bub).

  4. I worried about this when I did the Beast in the Mirror as a free short story on Smashwords. So far, the biggest complaint was that the reader wanted more. But I was really worried because it was based LOOSELY on Beauty and the Beast. How do you know how close to stick to the original story line? I had a twist at the end that has surprised all my readers so far, but it changed the whole story. It’s really iffy to base stories on well known tales. I think you nailed it with Red.

  5. Oh no, I was going to rent The Three Musketeers this weekend. I know it didn’t have great reviews, but my sons and I usually don’t mind sitting through a bad movie if there’s a lot of action or good CG. But I draw the line at the kind of movies that steal 2 hours of our lives, and it sounds like this is borderline. Thanks for the review.

    My sons don’t know the story of The Three Musketeers at all, so maybe this isn’t the one to introduce them to it.

  6. It sounds like another example of “beware of any movie longer than Casablanca.” Casablanca comes in at about 90 minutes. No other movie in history packs more lines, humor, drama and action into 90 minutes.

    And most of my favorite movies fall within a few minutes of this magic number.

    Because if you go past 90 minutes – you suddenly end up with filler and slow things down. The only way to avoid it is to do what Cameron did with Titanic -make 2 90 minute movies and link them together. I’ve realized that’s what he did because it’s the only 3 hour movie I enjoy (and not just because of my undying love for Kate Winslet). Titanic first 90 minute is a traditional love story. Then followed by 90 minute disaster film (though I always laugh at the notion that it sank because the guys on watch were busy watching Kate & Leo make out. ).

    But to draw parallels with your “emotional resonance” – it’s why I totally loved Battle: Los Angeles. And Jason Statham’s Blitz (which was straight to DVD even though it’s by far is best movie).

  7. Oh Kate, I could not agree more. When I saw the trailer advertised I siad, “Not again!” and I thik I actually got sick when I saw the blimp. (Steampunk–really?) Fresh ideas are out there, buried among the masses and I am sure someone will find them. I just wish it would hurry up and happen!

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