Hi gang. Craig with you today. I needed something to post here, and this came to me after watching a specific movie. You all know how I like to study films, then break them down to see if I can learn something.
This is a new movie on Netflix, it’s called “Army of the Dead.” This is your obligatory spoiler warning. If this film is on your horizon, you might want to stop reading now.
I will go on record as not liking this film. There I said it. I checked comments around the Internet and it seems to be split as to how people felt about it. Most of them are either based upon their love or hate for the special effects. Some didn’t like the addition of the helicopter lady whose scenes were all spliced in due to Covid.
I could care less about these issues. I grew up in an era of Ray Harryhausen special effects, and you just kind of go with it.
This is a writing blog, and the topic should be writing based.
The premise of the film is that Las Vegas has been overrun by zombies, then walled in to prevent escape or entry. Inside is a gajillion dollars if anyone is brave enough to recover it. Also, the government is going to nuke the place in three days. Nice use of a ticking clock.
I’m calling Chapter One a scene that happened before the opening credits. Army personnel are transporting some unknown thing across the Nevada desert. There is an accident and some kind of super zombie breaks out. He’s fast, deadly, and spreads the virus to the soldiers. It gives us a glimpse of the real danger.
Chapter Two has to be the opening credits themselves. It involves the worst kind of lounge singer performing “Viva Las Vegas,” while zombie action tears up various casinos. Dumb kind of things happen under the musical score.
This spells dark comedy, and has me completely hooked. I love zombies and comedy.
In Chapter Three we start meeting characters and getting the setup. The characters are kookie enough. There’s a big reward offered for the recovery of the money. The main characters then proceed to recruit a team with ever smaller splits of the reward money. It’s humorous. Some of the characters are charming and entertaining. These are the kind of characters I want to know more about. Props to The Coyote, Dieter, and the helicopter lady.
In a traditional zombie film, we don’t expect everyone to survive. I’m pretty clear on that. I’m okay if they do, like in Zombieland. Although, I expect whatever happens to be part of that dark comedy that was promised.
Here we are, three chapters deep. We’ve got deadly fast zombies, a scheme to recover treasure, and humor. This is exactly like our books. We’ve drawn a line in the sand, and viewers/readers have a right to expect what was promised.
This is where it fell off the rails for me, and I think it’s an important lesson for all fictioneers. It did not deliver on the promise that was made. Every time someone appeared to be a fun character, they died. There was no dark humor involved in the process… none.
They returned to dark humor once, when they used zombies to trigger some traps. That far into the film it felt out of place.
I’m not opposed to straight up horror either. Promote a film that way, stick with it, and I’m there for the ride. The Walking Dead never tried to be a comedy, and I loved it.
Mashups are all the rage right now, and I might be guilty of some of that myself. Comedy and horror can mix well. However, there are basic promises an author has to fulfill. My personal opinion is Army of the Dead failed to deliver.
There is also a hokey bit about the hierarchy of zombies that I didn’t think added anything. It came across like a “darling” that everyone tells us to cut from our stories. I don’t think the overall film would have missed a beat without it.
At the end, the most boring and uninteresting character was the only survivor. I’m even okay with tragedy as a story type, but there was no meaning to what happened. No sacrifice for all mankind type of thing. Dave Bautista’s death had nowhere near the impact that Bruce Willis’ did in Armageddon.
There were some good things here, too. The ticking clock I already mentioned. I also liked a scene with what they called hibernating zombies. It was creepy and built a ton of tension. They also had a more accurate depiction of what machine-gun fire might look like in real life. This is probably because they were zombies and that’s easier to digest than shooting people. I’ve seen a lot of movies where nobody ever gets hit by machine-gun fire even though they unloaded the supersized box of ammo.
Here are my Story Empire type takeaways:
• People form expectations early on. You have to deliver on those expectations. You can do more, but there is a basic pact made early in your story.
• Consider that your blurb could be the time readers form those expectations. (Not quite the same as the film’s opening credits, but similar.)
• Tragedy should have meaning if you’re going to write it.
• Listen to your beta readers about killing your darlings. You don’t have to take everything as gospel, but really consider the feedback.
This was a fairly opinionated post, so feel free to disagree with me. The takeaways are solid even if you felt differently about the film.
Let me hear from you. Do you study everything you read or view? Am I crazy for not liking this film? (Crazy for other reasons is a different issue.)