What do the Lone Ranger and a cartoon snail have in common? Well, the answer, other than they might be able to share some foundational Joseph Campbellesque hero archetype role, should be this: “Not much.” But in contemporary cinema, they have a more specific kinship. Both of them, in recent movies (The Lone Ranger and Turbo), when faced with a/the challenge, say the exact same thing: “Let’s do this.” That’s where we are in the world of modern cinema, boring cookie-cutter characters saying stupid, clichéd phrases. Thus, we now have this equation: The Lone Ranger = A cartoon snail.
We, the moviegoers, just keep lapping it up. We’ll live with unimaginative plots and cliched dialogue. Show us an explosion. Point a gun at us. Have someone fall in slow motion while tossing a bomb. Yeah! Give us cartoon characters slobbering, boogers dripping. Boogers in 3D! Boogers in 4D! Yeah! We munch on our overpriced popcorn (boogers do nothing to dampen the modern movie-goer’s appetite), slurp down a barrel of soda and feel all… well, what?
What do viewers feel when the characters say these things? The comfort of familiarity? I’m supposing in scientifically conducted movie screenings that cinema moguls monitor test viewers who have electrodes strapped all over them. We must get all tingly in anticipation of the next cinematic punch to the jaw, explosion, or double-back-flip-with-handguns-blazing move. This stuff must work, because we’re bitching about the economy yet spending our dough on these movies that barely qualify as entertainment.
I sat through a half-dozen (at least!) numbing trailers when I went to a kids’ movie recently. I felt glazed, then violated. They all melded into one giant bad movie. Some slapped-together hero overcomes contrived adversity — marked by predictably scowling, shadowy bad guys — until he/she reaches the major challenge or obstacle. That moment, in case we’re too amped and addled from our popcorn and gallon o’ soda to notice, will be carefully marked for us by the film’s creators. They will say, “Let’s do this.” (Maybe it should be the one obligatory subtitle in movies.)
We, dummy movie viewers, will then know we are approaching the denouement: “Oboyoboyoboy. Somethin’s gonna happen!”
Of course, heroes follow archetypal stages. But it is the creative rendering of these challenges that make stories worth re-crafting and re-telling. Otherwise, why bother? I’m picturing Hamlet, deciding to avenge his father: “Let’s do this.” I’m picturing Frodo staring at Mount Doom: “Let’s do this.” I’m picturing Luke Skywalker getting ready to go into the Death Star trough one last time. “Let’s do this.”
Movies and narratives have replaced what really makes a story great – the story! — with special effects and other visual pap. But we are all to blame, because we can’t get enough of these one-dimensional renditions of the hero. We want it simple and will pay good money in what is in essence a vote to keep it that way.
But we could demand better. If Hollywood can’t give us more original dialogue, a better representation of the character’s heroic turn, then I say we don’t give them any more of our money. C’mon everyone! “Let’s…” Aw, I don’t have to say it, do I? You’re smart enough to know what I mean.