I was giving a talk about blockbuster films at an Apple Store the night before my class and I asked people what they loved about the HUGEly successul films - Star Wars, Titanic, Spider Man, Finding Nemo, etc. - and suprisingly I got one person who said "the action" and then the other responded with these facets: character, theme, good conquering evil, clever set ups, dialogue, likeability of characters. And it was like I expected: the huge spectacle aspect is not the first thing people remember about these films.
And taking that as a cue... I think it's important to remember that what some teachers teach about the blockbusters is sort of irrelevant. Why? I will answer it in much greater detail and with supporting data in an upcoming blog but you, the aspiring writer with no major credits, aren't going to be the one to write them. (Two specs in top 40 US all-time box office: Hangover (pre-packaged with successful director) and Sixth Sense) And you aren't going to sell a script that could only be made for $200,000,000. So from a practical career perspective, it doesn't make sense to write an unmakeable and unsellable script other than as a writing sample or maybe to win contests. Or because you just want to.
However, there is a boat- (or butt-) load of talented filmmakers and great storytelling in that top 40. So I think writers would be alot better off learning some of the principles behind this storytelling without trying to emulate all aspects of it. Here is an exanple. Check out one of the coolest action scenes in a long time and a set-piece of a movie that cost 2 jillion dollars to make. Here is the scene in LOTR:ROTK where Legolas single-handedly takes down the elephant-like beastie...
- Counting their kills. A bit of humor
- Someone calls upon Legolas, raising suspense...why is he the one to deal with this beast?
- Mario Bros, way of getting on the beast
- Swinging to back legs.
- Using arrows as ladder
- Swinging from rope
- Cutting rope
- Riding up as the thing falls
- Watching the people discover that they are going overboard and then watching them go
- Deftly avoids attackers and arrows while perched on beast's back and even shoots some enemies
- Since we already saw him use arrows....he reaches into quiver and SURPRISE his bow has THREE arrows in it....kills the beast
- Skateboards down the trunk as it collapses
- Dwarf says that only counts as one. Downplaying the awesomness of what we just witnessed.
- Did I miss any?