I saw “Interstellar” with one of my sons last week. Up until the last 30 minutes I thought it was one of the best movies I’d ever seen. But the ending made my head explode.
Here’s a good line from a review I stumbled upon by Bob Bloom of the Lafayette (Ind.) Journal and Courier: “The movie is complex and maddening, filled with concepts over the heads of most mere mortals, yet grounded in barely enough humanity to stimulate our senses.”
A good test of whether a story works for a mass audience is: How simply can you boil it down? Most good stories involve a sympathetic character who wants something and has to overcome obstacles to get it. Without giving too much away, here’s how “Interstellar” boils down:
Earth is in trouble. An astronaut gets chosen to help find a new home planet, but he has to leave his kids behind. The rest of the movie involves his struggle to return. And a lot of astrophysics.
This is a useful exercise with any story we write, to be sure readers can decipher it quickly. Headline writers do this for a living.
Taken to ridiculous extremes, this also becomes a fun party game. See if you can guess these movies from their oversimplified plots:
- Bored kid who forgot his coat wants some candy. Many die.
- A short guy gets sent to return some jewelry and finds adventure along the way.
- A powerful but unhappy man misses his self-propelled snow vehicle.
- Elderly man who worries about the weather takes extreme measures.
- Brash young man accidentally kills a goose, but gets over it.
Movie plot answers:
- The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
- Lord of the Rings
- Citizen Kane
- Top Gun