First Impressions: 6 Films With Great Premises That Didn’t Deliver

AnotherEarth First Impressions: 6 Films With Great Premises That Didnt Deliver

Everyone is saying that the film industry is dying, well, more like the heart of the film industry is dying. Long gone are the days of original movies taking the box office by storm. Now, sequels, re-imaginings, and remakes dominate the ever-greedy industry by finding the most obscure and irrelevant token of days past in hopes that the feeling of nostalgia will make hundreds of millions in profit. So far, the only type of movie this has worked with is the superhero movie, something that Marvel – Disney, now, I guess – has found the most success in chasing.

I personally disagree with this statement. I don’t believe the heart of the film industry is dying. Instead, I believe the human mind has seen it all, making us tired and jaded. As a society, we strive for “what’s new” and currently, very little is. So when a spectacular film comes along – like The Hurt Locker - it is often ignored due to the derivative premise, even when said film achieves critical acclaim. Our thirst for innovation overrules our thirst for emotion.

But there are always those films that seep through the crack, and attempt to seduce us with an ingenious premise sure to kick start our minds again, and eventually our hearts. Hearsay spreads the news of the film like wildfire as people flock to the theaters to feed their addiction. Sometimes, a risk like this works (Looper) and other times…well, that’s what this article is for. The following films left trailer viewers and film buffs in awe with their great premises, but when the credits rolled, a premise was all these films were.

Spoilers ahead!

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6) In the Fog

inthefog First Impressions: 6 Films With Great Premises That Didnt Deliver

The Premise: A man, Sushenya, is believed to be in collaboration with the Nazis. He is caught by two Resistance members and is led to the forest where they intend to execute him. The Germans ambush the three, but to their surprise, Sushenya rescues the two Partisans and escapes with them. At a loss of where to go, the three tell their stories while suspicion lingers and haunts the air.

The Failure: This was the film I could not wait to see at the San Francisco International Film Festival. The small blurb that was attached to it included the phrases “dream-like” and “fairy tale quality.” That, coupled with the dark theme of the film meant I opened my wallet and threw my money at it. When the film ended, I was in awe of how gosh darn boring it was. People around me were asleep and someone even asked “if they were serving breakfast since the movie seemed to last 12 hours.” That comment was the most exciting part of the night.

So what went wrong? Well, to be frank, with a premise like that, you’d think something would happen. Nothing did. Instead, it was a dreadfully slow two hour film that could have been much more effective had it been cut in half. I’m sorry, I can’t watch people watch each other for two straight hours.

The Fix: Have something happen. Seriously. Anything.

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5) The Happening

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The Premise: Without any explanation, massive amounts of people are committing suicide. A family tries to escape this happening or figure it out before it gets to them.

The Failure: I was one of them. Watching the trailer (which you can see below), I knew M. Night Shyamalan was back! There was no way he could turn this masterpiece of a premise into Lady in the Water. Then, like millions of others, I groaned. Plants? Really? The thing with Shyamalan is that he has these great ideas, but fails to make them believable.  His command over “suspension of disbelief” is downright awful, which is a pivotal factor when making a sci-fi film. Because of this, his films end up being silly, breaking our focus, and bringing us to tears with laughter. He barely got away with it in Signs, but he couldn’t get away with it this time. Killer plants. Wow.

The Fix: The reason why killer plants is so ridiculous is because it’s such a cop-out. If self-aware plants is the way Shyamalan wanted to go, he should have found a way to seamlessly tie it in with the rest of the story by explaining how the plants became self-aware instead of people randomly running away from trees. Make it believable!

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4) The Prestige

The Prestige 542x360 First Impressions: 6 Films With Great Premises That Didnt Deliver

The Premise: Two rival magicians attempt to outdo the other in various tricks that end in sabotage and disaster. When one is sentenced to death for seemingly murdering the other, their secrets are unraveled, and their true obsessions are revealed.

The Failure: I should start by saying that I found this film very thought-provoking and thoroughly enjoyed it, but I may be a little biased as I’ve always been drawn to the “so obsessive, they go crazy” films. My mind was flying in all different directions trying to piece together each magician’s tricks and oh how jaw-dropping they were, but there was one trick that I just could not believe.

Once again, it comes down to suspension of disbelief. The trick in question is the abrupt introduction of actual magic. In other words, this film about drama, zeal, and real-life tricks threw all that out of the window and became a sci-fi film. If this particular trick wasn’t related to the story, I would have been content, but the fact of the matter is that the electric transporter played an extremely significant role in progressing the story. The Prestige was a beautifully crafted detective-like film that threw it all away when it decided it wanted to be sci-fi. It was that moment when I rolled my eyes and yelled “cop out.”

The Fix: Real magic doesn’t belong. Take it out. Find a better way to explain his grand master trick. Yes, I know it’s based off a book – I have it – but films change the content all the time.

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3) The Invention of Lying

invention of lying header First Impressions: 6 Films With Great Premises That Didnt Deliver

The Premise: Imagine a world where lying did not exist, where we would blurt out our deepest thoughts and secrets, resulting in a very blunt and quite dull society. Even movies, books, and all sorts of creative media show actual events as imagining a story would be lying itself.

The Failure: It wasn’t nearly as witty as it thought it was. Once again, I did enjoy this film, and was dazzled by the premise, but I ended up only chuckling a few times. When it comes to making an effective comedy, the one real rule is to twist the expected. The Invention of Lying twisted the perspective in the concept, but nothing else. Everything that was done was what any normal person would have done under the same situation. We would lie to get what we want. In fact, we already lie to get what we want. So what’s new with the story? Nothing.

The Fix: Unfortunately, I don’t think there is a fix. The film is the premise and without the premise, there wouldn’t be a film.

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2) Another Earth

%name First Impressions: 6 Films With Great Premises That Didnt Deliver

The Premise: Another Earth appears in the sky, resulting in an obsession by the general public in determining what it actually is. It is revealed to be a mirrored and identical version of our earth, complete with an identical copy of ourselves.

The Failure: No real failure here, but much like The Prestige, it had a severe case of multiple personality disorder. While The Prestige was a drama film that turned into a sci-fi film, Another Earth was a sci-fi film that turned into a romance film. As we all know, genres always blend together in every single film, but when something is marketed so heavily as an exploration of this other Earth, it becomes quite disappointing when this other Earth is trivialized into a plot device that only serves to save the two protagonists from an unhappy ending. Granted, the relationship between Rhoda and John was crafted perfectly with both characters undergoing extreme obstacles to find themselves in that happy ending, but when the title of the film signifies that this sci-fi element will be the focal point, I expect it to be the focal point.

The Fix: I think the film would be just as effective if the entirety of it was cut to even just two-thirds the length, then the last third would be an actual audience interaction with this other Earth. Leaving something implied or open-ended is fine, but in this case, it feels lazy. Let us see this Earth, let us explore it, even if just for a bit. Isn’t that what sci-fi is all about?

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1) Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace

star wars episode i the phantom menace original 640x360 First Impressions: 6 Films With Great Premises That Didnt Deliver

The Premise: Do I even have to with this one? It’s how one of the most iconic villains of all time succumbed to the darkness.

The Failure: Darth Vader turned from being a simple villain to arguably the most complex character in the whole saga. With a twist that put seeing dead people to shame, his status humanized and ultimately immortalized him. With the prequels to the original saga being devoted to explaining Vader’s fall, all our hearts were on the verge of shattering at the thought of having to witness this innocent and gifted child turn so monstrous. I couldn’t wait for it, but I dreaded it.

What ultimately killed this film wasn’t so much how often it coasted without ever peaking, it was due to the insurmountable hype of such an epic saga. People were expecting to be blown into a new galaxy, but instead were delivered a very familiar and quite formulaic story. It wasn’t bad by any means, but it also didn’t tread into any new waters. In retrospect, we as the audience got what we should have expected – except Jar Jar Binks, who is another issue entirely. We yearned for something innovative, yet quickly threw this film under the bus when it didn’t give us that spark.

The Fix: I won’t attempt to fix Star Wars, as one change would affect ten more things that I could not possibly comprehend. Either way, the following two films wrapped up Anakin’s journey quite well, and solidified him as the true protagonist of Star Wars.

Do you agree with my choices? Think I missed something? Let me know!

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  • TheConciseStatement

    Disagree with your call on The Prestige. I’ll be the first to admit that, like ‘The Dark Knight’ and ‘Inception’ it’s in Nolan’s second tier of movies reducing character motivations to chess pieces. BUT the idea of playing with genre expectations merely as a red herring ,when the answer to the film’s riddle lies in a good old fashioned real world magic trick is simply ingenious.

    • madattorney

      wait, the dark knight and inception are in nolan’s second tier of movies? those are some of his best works!

      • TheConciseStatement

        I refer you to my response to La Guardia but as an aside, I definitely consider Inception among his weakest. A fun heist movie with lovely visuals if I was mean about it – really The Prestige with explosions, but lacking that film’s great suffering, obsessive artist theme. Props to Marion Cotillard though – she made me want to watch a much smaller domestic drama just about the destruction of her and Cobb’s marriage. Everyone else was merely an expositional cipher.

    • Edward La Guardia

      Yea, if those three are in his second tier than what is his first? Batman Begins (hell no!) or Memento? (not hardly)…oh wait, I forgot, Insomnia must be in the top tier right? Sheesh…

      • TheConciseStatement

        Yep, you named the big three! It’s a pleasure to disagree with the consensus. All Nolan’s best films are where he focuses on the disintegration of a single character. When he spreads himself over a large ensemble, his cast simply become plot threads, and his films end up somewhat impersonal – great spectacle but clinical.

  • talhamid

    Disagree on The Prestige as well. It is an amazing movie with some amazing performances, and no, its story does NOT progress based on that sci fi trick but as it turned out , literally the oldest trick in the book (twins). The sci fi was used to demonstrate the lengths to which a rivalry can go, uncovering a world changing technology and failing to see it as anything but a device to supplement a sleight of hand

  • ojfishman

    Adjustment bureau. A great premise wasted on a romcom.

  • Arjun

    Sorry dude. Completely disagree with with you in regards to The Prestige, The Invention of Lying and Another Earth.

  • Arjun

    @theconcisestatement:disqus Looks like we will have to agree to disagree about Inception. Its not just my 2nd favourite Nolan film but one of my favourite. The idea was completely fresh with an open-ended climax, something that we dont get to see that often in Hollywood.

  • GotChewZ

    The Happening also didn’t work, because Wahlberg was cast as a science teacher…

  • faust

    Um, the sci-fi reveal was supposed to be disappointing. In fact they had dialogue to that effect in the film. It was why the twins were much better magicians then Hugh Jackmans character could ever hope to be.