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Originality in films

To encourage students to exercise their creativity, through a survey of this year’s big summer films.

by James Lamont

Suitable for Key Stage 3/4

Aims

To encourage students to exercise their creativity, through a survey of this year’s big summer films.

Preparation and materials

  • Download some of the trailers for the films mentioned, to play as students assemble.

Assembly

  1. Summer is coming, and strangely enough those long hot days, ideal for a beach trip or for spending time in the garden, are also when the biggest film studios release their most expensive films. So what do they have in store for us this summer?
  2. The most noticeable fact about the big summer releases is the lack of originality. Most of the biggest films are sequels or remakes. We have a new X-Men, a new Cars, a new Transformers, a new Planet of the Apes . . .
  3. These films are bound to make money, and in bad economic times it can sometimes pay to play it safe. Innovative films can very easily fall flat if the audience does not understand or accept the plot or characters. A small group will often grow to love the film, but it will not be a resounding critical success. Films such as Donnie Darko or Blade Runner were not a great commercial success but gradually became enormous hits by a type of viral communication as people passed on the message: ‘This is well worth watching.’
  4. Two blockbusters, however, have stood out in the past few years. The first, Avatar, is noticeable for being the highest grossing film of all time. Avatar cost a staggering $237 million to make but took in over $2 billion, a fantastic profit for the studio.

    Much of the budget went on the film’s innovative special effects, which involved motion capturing real actors and replacing them with computer-generated film characters. In addition, it was the first successful modern film to be released in 3D, immersing the audience in a beautifully realized alien landscape. This incredible imagery was, however, lashed to a traditional plot, featuring peaceful natives and aggressive, rapacious invaders, that reflected American feelings of guilt over the conquest of the West from the Native Americans.
  5. The other film, Inception, made significantly less money, though it grossed a still impressive $825 million from a $160 million budget, but was extremely well received critically.

    Inception made its mark by combining thrilling and innovative action scenes (with relatively little computer input) with a complex and philosophical plot that resonated with audiences. The success of this film showed that taking time to work on a script that challenges audiences can pay off.
  6. But we have not seen an Inception or Avatar this year. Both of those films gambled vast amounts of money, putting faith in the audience’s desire for new experiences rather than repeats.

    Originality is always a gamble, but that’s no reason not to try. For those who are tired of seeing the same limited characters and predictable plots, the best advice is not to let yourself be dragged down by the limitations of much of contemporary culture. Be where you want to be, and if that’s ahead of the curve, then that’s fine.

Time for reflection

(Light a candle and let the students take a pause.)

Think about the ‘best’ film that you have seen recently whether a DVD, at home on the TV or at the cinema.

What was it that made this film such a good experience for you?
How challenging was the story within the film?
How lifelike was the plot line?

Now think about your own creativity.
How would you set about making a new event, be it a film, a book, a poem, painting or computer programme?
How do you exercise your creativity?

Prayer
You might like to use these words as a prayer:

Lord God,
thank you for all that makes us creative –
the stories we write
the work we create
the pictures we make.
Help us never to stop using our creativity
for without it, we are lesser people.
Amen.

Music

Download the music from one of the better-known films to play as students assemble and leave.

Publication date: July 2011   (Vol.13 No.7)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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