When Sally met Pascal

Valentine’s Day didn’t use to be a thing in Denmark, but it is becoming one, helped by florists, chocolatiers and everyone else eyeing opportunity. Fine with me – February is a cold and dark month that can do with a holiday (as is October and November, which is why I support reinstating All Hallows Eve as a public holiday, never mind the pumpkins and trick-or-treating).

This year, with two little kids and following a busy week we didn’t prepare a romantic evening, but once there was quiet, we watched Casablanca for the first time in many years, remembering it as one romantic movie. It still is, as well as many other things. It is a movie with many qualities, which must be the reason why it is still talked about. One particular quality that I noted this time was the tight script and story. It is a dramatic film full of love and emotion and the movie manages to tell that story without adding syrup.

The next movie we watched was When Harry met Sally… (we got inspired by watching Casablanca, which is referenced several times in When Harry… I really liked that movie and back in the 90s it was among my favorites because of its great, entertaining dialogue. Watching it again after many years’ pause was great. The dialogue is as sharp as ever (and it is also a great movie to recall New York). Every word matters, and not a word said that isn’t necessary.

It is great contrast to another recent movie memory of mine: the Hobbit trilogy. Those are movies with a different sort of script, where it seems that extra content has been entered to make a relatively short book fill up 8 hours of movie trilogy. Maybe I just wasn’t in the right mood when watching it – I actually felt bored (but I have great memories with other Peter Jackson movies: for example, some of his earlier movies like Bad Taste and Heavenly Creatures were eye openers when I first saw them – in each their own way).

There are many ways to write a good script. When Harry Met Sally’s won the 1989 BAFTA and was nominated for an Academy award (the winner was Dead Poet’s Society) and Casablanca won the 1942 Oscar for screenplay; whereas Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh won both BAFTA and Oscar for best adapted screenplay with The Return of the King (script less bloated than the Hobbit movies). Of course, original and adapted screenplays are two different things – means to different ends – and should be compared as much as apples and bananas should – just like different movies have different purposes and audiences and shouldn’t be compared either. (It is worth noting that Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh also received an academy award nomination for best original screenplay in 1994 with Heavenly Creatures).

I like the idea of crisp writing and recognize it take effort to write. Like mathematician Blaise Pascal wrote about a letter: “I have made this [letter] longer than usual because I have not had time to make it shorter (link). Or, anyone can stand up and speak about some topic for an hour without preparation, whereas speaking about it for a few minutes only, requires thought and preparation (link).

Another script I recently enjoyed for being crisp and not dragging things out unnecessarily was Rambo, First Blood Part 2 – that one also avoids unnecessary talk and gets the plot underway fast. Of course, Sylvester Stallone may not have been thinking along the lines of Blaise Pascal when writing that script, but instead focused on telling a story of a hero doing heroic things (and rehabilitating Vietnam war veterans). Actually, the script won a Razzie award for worst screenplay, while receiving an academy award nomination for best sound editing (the 3rd Hobbit movie got nominated in that category too)

There are many ways to enjoy a movie. Great special effects, breathtaking action, deep emotions. There are different movies for different moods, and sometimes it is just as enjoyable to watch how a movie is made, as actually watching the movie itself.

For the next while I will pay extra attention to the script of the movies I watch. Is it crisp? Dialogue or scenery focused? I will stay with Peter Jackson – next up is Meet the Feebles.