Over the past couple of days I’ve talked about The Lego Movie and why it works, when a quick description – it’s a movie about a toy Lego(TM) guy who has adventures! – would make you think it couldn’t possibly. But nearly every aspect of the production is done so well, that it adds up to an entertaining and surprisingly satisfying movie.
I’ve talked about the plot and characters. Today I’m thinking about the script.
I’m astonished at how often both movies and television studios hire high-priced talent, get great plot ideas, spend huge amounts on visual effects, but forget that the whole things starts with the script. If you don’t have a terrific one, the effort is doomed from the start. Since a script is mostly made up dialogue with some narration, that’s what I’m talking about today.
Don’t believe me on the doomed start? Consider the second wave of Star Wars movies, particularly the second and third. Fabulous special effects, terrific cast, lots of money thrown at it, even a good plot idea. Yet none of that compensates for terrible scripts that feature logical inconsistencies and some of the clunkiest dialogue ever. Even excellent actors like Ewan McGregor and Natalie Portman couldn’t sell some of the awful lines they were given. There are scenes where you can practically see them struggling with it.
The dialogue in The Lego Movie sounds so easy and natural, it seriously contributes to the illusion that these are real people. As any writer knows, dialogue is not as easy as it sounds. It has to sound natural without being really natural. It mimics the speech patterns of people like the person in the story it’s coming from, while leaving out much of the normal day-to-day interactions that would be excruciatingly boring on screen or in the book. It needs to be believable on both the personal and the social levels (would that person really say that in those circumstances?) yet move the story ahead at the same time. It also has to make your characters interesting and intriguing. That’s a tall order and the movie does it extremely well.
The script also has to movie the story forward, through both the dialogue, narration and action. Again the writers succeeded quite well. In a movie like this, the temptation to narrate parts would be almost overwhelming, but in fact, there’s very little and nearly all of it is done through realistic dialogue. Virtually every bit of the story is dramatized on screen, including back story. The script also maintains the tension through every scene, which includes admittedly a great number of chases of various sorts and lots of explosions.
And finally, it manages to include a wonderful bunch of delightful surprises, which I’ll talk about later.