Looks aren’t everything, but are they enough for movies and video games?

I was thinking of watching the movie Ryan’s Daughter, since it’s St. Patrick’s Day and the movie is set in Ireland. And I usually like David Lean films. But I was reading some reviews of it, and it seems like a lot of people feel it has beautiful cinematography and a gorgeous location, but the story itself is weak. I don’t know if I’ll see it or not, but it did set me thinking about something, especially with this post still on my mind.

To me, for a movie or video game to be art, it has to do more than just look good; it has to have a good story and good characters. I’ve always taken this for granted in my posts on the subject, but I’ve lately realized that some people may not feel the same way. I mean, some people will argue that games like Rage or BioShock are art based on their settings alone. And I can’t argue that both Rage‘s wasteland and BioShock‘s art deco undersea city are beautiful creations.

It’s just that, those game aren’t just about looking at the pretty setting. They also have stories and characters, and I found both lacking in these games. Especially Rage. BioShock definitely had some interesting ideas, but ultimately it just felt forced and too self-consciously weird to me. (That said, I’d still qualify BioShock as art for at least trying, just not great art. Rage is right out.) If you make a game whose art lies solely in its visuals, make a game about going around and looking at all the pretty stuff. Kind of like Pilotwings 64.

Talking of David Lean, consider his movie Lawrence of Arabia. Does it have awesome visuals? Yes, it certainly does. However, without Robert Bolt and Michael Wilson’s script, and the powerful performances by all the actors, it wouldn’t be a great movie. Cool to watch for the “match/sunrise” scene and the scene where Omar Sharif rides up out of the desert, but not a great movie. I’m not passing judgement until I see it, but some reviews make it sound like that’s exactly what happened with Ryan’s Daughter.

Now, of course, Lawrence would also be a lesser film if it had the same script and acting, but shot in black-and-white on one of those laughable “desert” sets that you sometimes see in old Westerns. But still, I think that people sometimes overstress the superficial qualities. Obviously, just having better visuals doesn’t make a film better. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin is not superior to Casablanca, even though the former is in color and the latter in black-and-white.

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