Yesterday I posted a list of 130-plus scripts (“What Does This List Tell You?“) that have some kind of heat or momentum in the theatrical realm. Some have attracted positive attention but haven’t been produced yet, others have gone before cameras but have yet to open, some are buzzy but still waiting for a green light. The list contains a small sliver of titles that represent original stories; the rest are sequels, prequels, remakes and reboots.
The comment thread was appropriately despairing. At one point (and you knew this was coming) HE commenter Patrick Murtha reminded that “there’s this episodic art form that I think is superior…you may have heard of it…it’s called television.” While movies bang out sequels, remakes and rehashings, television “is superior for telling multi-part stories.” Except, of course, when these multi-part stories devolve into narcotizing, soul-draining puzzleboxing a la Westworld.
To which I replied: “Agreed — high-grade entertainment or profound absorption within a smart, above-average cable/streaming longform is in many ways superior and preferable to what movies are doing now for the most part. Hell, with the presumed-sequel mentality so fully embedded in the theatrical realm, movies themselves have almost become longform in a sense.
“But for those films that still play by the classic rules (a one-off delivering a strong, efficiently constructed story with a satisfying third-act payoff and a haunting thematic undertow within 100 to 160 minutes and sometimes only 85 or 90), a higher bar applies. It’s much harder to deliver the whole bull’s-eye package in a single sitting, but when that happens there’s really nothing better, and in this sense movies will sometimes leave longform cable/streaming in the dust. Every year between 5% and 10% of theatrical movies accomplish this.”
In the same sense it’s a harder and finer thing to write a truly effective 5,000-word short story than a long, elephantine novel running 1200 pages. Which is the more satisfying East of Eden narrative — the long, sprawling, Biblically-infused tale of the Trask and Hamilton families in John Steinbeck’s 1952 novel, or Elia Kazan‘s pared-down screen version that concentrated on the Trasks (the focus of the novel’s second half) and primarily on Cal or Caleb (James Dean‘s character)?