Learning from Failure – Mom & Dad save the World

Sometimes a really bad movie, can teach you a lot.

So I recently watched this movie:

I exaggerated a little. It’s not “really” bad, it is – at worst – just below mediocre. It does have an impressive cast which gives their all in performances. The production design is also quite impressive with its sets and costumes.

So, as a writer/storyteller, you know how people will always tell you “show, don’t tell”? Now I understand this can be confusing sometimes if you’re not sure what “showing” vs “telling” means. In a movie is it just about what’s on screen vs what’s told?

Well watch this movie, and you will (hopefully) finally grasp the difference.

See, the movie has a central premise. A boring, ordinary middle-class couple from America is kidnapped and taken up to an alien planet. It’s stated in the trailer and at least three times throughout the film: “Everyone on the [alien] planet is an idiot.” Save for one scene involving a light grenade (which I won’t spoil for you because it is the one great laugh in the film – but you can look it up on youtube if you want), this is never PROVED in the film.

Let’s examine one example where the hero of the film meets the prince and princess of the planet living in exile. When he meets them, they look like this:

They are literally mocked for this later as [if there are no birds this size on your planet] “Why would it fool anyone when you wear the mask?”

But if the planet is full of idiots, then it would absolutely fool those people. It doesn’t even work well as a joke because we the audience have seen fish people and dog people previously in the film, so for all we know, bird people could absolutely exist on the planet. The movie has to stop in its tracks and explain to the audience that no, bird people do not exist, so isn’t it stupid that they are pretending to be bird people? (Even though we’ve established earlier their enemies are dumb enough they could be fooled by this.)

Compare this to a moment from the brilliantly written Blazing Saddles:

Again, there is NO need to explain how dumb the bad guys are here. Plus it also makes our hero of the film look clever and crafty for coming up with such a tactic.

Save for the light grenade bit and a trojan horse ruse, the protagonists in this film do not get such a moment demonstrating their wit and outsmarting the alien idiots. And there’s so many places where it would have been really easy to put moments like the toll booth in this film. Instead, the thing seems to run on “smuggery” – where the audience is supposed to engage in smug laughter at how silly and not like “us” the aliens are. But that just plays into the ugly American stereotype of going to a foreign country and laughing at how not-like-America they are. (“Silly people don’t even speak English!”)

I could probably rant about this movie for awhile – for one thing idiots never see themselves as idiots, the line really should have been “Everyone ELSE on this planet is an idiot.” – but I do recommend it to writers to watch to learn how the writing and execution of a story can sabotage itself. If you want to have a planet full of idiots, have them be idiots (easy method: you put in big letters on every door “push” or “pull” and then have every character do the wrong action when trying to go through said doors). And have your protagonists actually do things and use their greater intellect to accomplish goals rather than coming off as barely smarter than the “idiot” aliens.

(At least the movie had Kathy Ireland in a fur bikini for half of it.)

One thought on “Learning from Failure – Mom & Dad save the World

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.