There Will Be Blood
Way back when I was still in school working on my degree in English, I had a particular English professor. There was one pretty sure way to do well in his class and that was to have "huge... tracts of land." True story: One day after class a female friend and I were waiting to ask him a question. We were both English students and in the same year, so we had a lot of classes together, and this wasn't the first time we'd been in this professor's class together. So, finally, he turns to us and before whichever of us could ask whatever question it was, he looked at her and said, "You don't happen to play volleyball, do you?" It wasn't until much later that we realized what he'd meant by that question. Huge tracts of land.
Being male, I didn't have huge tracts of land, so I had to rely on the alternative method of doing well in his class. In actuality, I'd accomplished that the first semester I'd had him. It's going to sound easy, but, really, it wasn't. The way to be even more assured of doing well than having huge tracts of land was to write a paper that was beyond his grasp. Scores of kids went into his classes with the assumption that that was an easy thing to do. Easy A. Just write a "deep" paper that the professor couldn't "get," and he'd give you an "A." And this was true. But it took a lot more to be able to do that than most students had in them. I did it with my very first paper before I'd heard about that "trick." I sort of became his prized student and everyone always wanted my help with their papers.
Several years ago, my wife and I decided we were going to watch all the "Oscar" movies. Mostly, this means we're watching the best picture winners, but we also branch into the ones nominated for best picture and some with best actor and actress wins. The idea here is that these should be the best movies of each year. However, sometimes, movies win not because they are good but because the professor just couldn't understand the paper. Because the critics or the panel or whomever didn't understand the movie, they assume it must be "deep" and decide it's great. Mostly so as not to look like they didn't get it.
We recently watched There Will Be Blood, and this was just such a movie. Now, I'm not going to say that Daniel Day-Lewis didn't deserve the best actor Oscar for the movie; he certainly did. He was tremendous and scary. But the movie was also nominated for best picture, and I have no choice but to believe that it was nominated because people just didn't understand it and decided, because of that, that it must be great and deep. It was based on an Upton Sinclair novel, so that must be true, right?
I haven't read Oil!, so I can't speak for the novel, but I was extremely disappointed with the movie. It wasn't about anything. Which is not to say that it wasn't about anything except that it wasn't. It was only about something in that it was about the life of Daniel Plainview, but it wasn't anymore about anything than the life of someone off the street is about something. Things happened. Lots of things happened, but none of them were about anything. You get to the end of the movie and look back and the only thing to say about it is, "what was that about?" and there's no answer for that question. I suppose, maybe, some people may consider that deep, but I call that not being about anything, so, really, what's the point?
[Note: I looked up some stuff about the book, and it backs up my assumption that the movie isn't about anything. The movie switches the main character to a supporting character and focuses on one of the supporting characters. A character which does not make it all the way through the book and a character without an actual plot arc. Basically, the movie ends at around the point where the book is really getting into whatever is going on. This would be kind of like making an adaptation of The Three Musketeers with Porthos as the main character and ending the movie when he gets wounded and has to stay behind.]
Related to that was the music. The music was... well, I have no good word for it. The music was the kind of music that makes you think something bad is about to happen except that it played that way throughout the entire movie. It made my wife tense so that she kept actually talking about what could be about to happen, and it (the music) was very distracting from the whole experience of watching the movie because nothing was ever about to happen. Well, except for a few times, but, mostly, no, nothing was about to happen.
The best part of the movie, the most artistic section, was the first 10 minutes or so. At first, there's no sound. Then, there's no dialogue, just Plainview doing his thing. Just a solitary man without sound in his life because he's alone. The movie descended from there, and I felt like I'd wasted my time after it was over; although, the conversation my wife and I had about it the next morning at breakfast made it worth watching, I suppose. Neither of us liked it, though, which is saying something.
My biggest issue, I think, is that the character ends up just as he started. He undergoes no change. No change means no story. When it comes down to it, this is a man vs himself story, but Plainview not only didn't win, he didn't even bother to show up for the conflict.
Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children
I wanted to like this book. I expected to like this book. I mean, it has a great title. It also has a great cover. And it has a novel idea, the idea of using photographs as part of the story. I'd heard so many good things about this one from people posting about it and such, I figured it must be good. Plus, it was recommended to my wife by people she knows. And, well, it is a best seller, but, maybe, that should have served as a warning. I mean, I really know better than to trust that best seller=good book. It can mean that, but, more often than not, it's a signal to be wary.
All of that said, I didn't enjoy Peculiar Children. The first thing that really bothered me, and I mean it really bothered me, was that the Jacob went on and on about how he must be losing his mind. It was just annoying. The constantly trying to convince himself that he was crazy. Even when he was past the point of finding things unbelievable, he continued to tell himself that he must be going crazy and couldn't have seen or experienced what he did see and experience. If the author wanted to cast doubt on whether Jacob's experiences were real or not, he should have found some better way to do it, because the audience is never in a position to doubt Jacob's experiences, so the fact that Jacob doubts them is completely unrealistic. Especially since it's told 1st person.
The next issue I have with the book is that Jacob makes grand, sweeping, general statements about things fairly frequently early on in the book and, then, immediately contradicts them with more specific examples. And this is more of an editing issue, but the story occasionally slips into present tense. It's told past tense but every so often there will be a few sentences in present tense. It makes me wonder if it was written present tense and the author's editor or published wanted it changed, and they missed some passages. It was very disconcerting every time it happened, though. (And it was probably heightened for me, because one of my creative writing students has this problem of switching back and forth between past and present tense, so I'm hyper aware of it, right now.)
But my biggest issue with the book by far is that, out of nowhere, there is time travel. What the heck? Seriously? In general, authors should just stay away from time travel. Especially when the author is trying to pass of magic as science. [There will be a post about this at some time.] Everything in Peculiar Children is told from a very modern, scientific perspective, but, then, there are all of these stupid things the author throws in because he wants it to be that way although there is no scientific reason for it. Like technology from the present not working in the past. Why? Were the laws of physics different 60 years ago? I don't think so. It's just DUMB! Also, if people from the past come to the present, the weight of all of their years catch up with them, they age super fast, and they wither and die. Why? Because the author wants it to be that way not because there is any scientific rationale for it. It's a STUPID idea! Not just in this book, either. This is something I see trotted out a lot, and it's just DUMB! From a scientific point of view, at any rate. If you want it to be that way, just write a fantasy story and make it magic so that you don't have to explain it. If time travel was possible, scientifically, there is no reason why anyone should suddenly age by jumping into the future. That, by definition, would mean that time travel is not possible. At least not in a way that anyone would want to do it. Oh, and he conveniently forgets about all of this at the end of the book, because it suits his plot. None of the time travel stuff is even consistent within his own world, and that is something that screams bad writing at me. When you make up a world, be consistent to your own rules!
There are other issues and inconsistencies, too, but, even if there weren't the time travel thing would be enough for me to not like the book. The hollowgasts, the big bad in the book, are freaky early on when they're just being talked about, but the actual thing in the book doesn't fit the image of what is created early on, and what they end up being is really rather dumb, beings that crawl around on their tongues. >insert eye roll here<
All of that said, there were some spots where the writing really took over and pulled me in. I could actually get immersed in the story from time to time. Until something new and stupid popped up, then, I would sigh and wonder how I'd forgotten how dumb the book was overall. The worst part is that I still want to like the book. I want to like it in that I wish the author hadn't decided to throw in time travel and all of the other stuff he did that makes me not like it. I wish someone had been there to say, "hey, this time travel stuff is inconsistent at best. You need to tighten this up if you want it in the book."
There are two lessons to learn here:
1. Don't use magic as science. Just don't do it. If you don't have good science to go with what you want to happen, don't present it that way.
2. Be consistent to your own world. One of the biggest issues with, well, all stories are authors doing whatever they want under the umbrella of "magic" (or whatever) and losing all consistency. If you have a rule, follow it. (So, if you're characters can't leave their time loop at one point in the book because they will age 80+ years and die within a matter of hours, don't decide at the end of the book that this is no longer an issue.)
Both of these works were disappointments, which is unfortunate since I wanted to like them both.
[Note: "The Evil That Men Do" is now available for the Kindle. And only the Kindle. Yeah, sorry about that for you Nook people, but I've put it in the new Kindle only program, so that's where it will be for the next few months. Lucky for you all that there is a free Kindle app for the PC (which is what I use), and it's a fairly short work that won't chain you to your PC for several days. See the link at the right to purchase "The Evil That Men Do," or click on the Tiberius tab for more information.]