Rewind: What Makes a Movie Re-Watchable?

My son hates the fact that I never want to watch new movies or TV shows. He’s almost seventeen, and just beginning to learn about the incredibly wide world of music and film that exists out there – and relishing in the exploration of that world. From nu metal to jazz, and old classic films to brand new TV shows like The Witcher, he’s a devourer of entertainment (and a creator, too, inspired by what he hears and sees). I love to see that in him, but for myself … I feel like I’m too old to learn new tricks. I don’t actually believe that to be the case, but there’s something about the comfort of rewatching a beloved movie or TV show that deeply appeals to me.

My wife is more in line with my son – always on the lookout for new shows and movies to watch. But every once in a while, even she will want to rewatch something (this is rare), and it makes me wonder – outside of my own personal experience, what actually makes a movie or show worth rewatching? After all, the novelty of the first experience won’t be there, so why watch it a second – or third, or fourth – time at all?

I think there are a few elements to explore here, so I’ll lay them out below.

Emotional Connection

I think – for me, at least – one of the strongest reasons to re-watch something is if there’s a deep emotional connection between the content and the viewer. This could be an empathetic connection, of course – you understand innately what the characters are going through – or it could be a feeling that the movie inspires in you, but emotion is one of the core reasons to consume entertainment at all, and if the media triggers an emotional response in you, then you’re likely to want to re-experience that same emotion again (assuming it wasn’t a deeply negative or triggering emotion).

I remember the first time(s) I watched what is perhaps my favorite single film of all time: The Crow. It’s cheesy, full of bad lines and bad acting, but at the same time there’s a rawness to the characters and the story that connected with me deeply at that time of my life, being as I was severely depressed. Many moments within the movie made me literally cry, and the ability to feel anything, never mind the ability to feel a deep sadness that was inspired from deep within me, was incredible. I probably watched that movie once a day for a month.

Another movie that connected with me at an important developmental time in my life is Donnie Darko; also a movie I could re-watch any time, I felt very connected to the main character’s confusion, nihilistic depression, and deepening instability as the movie progresses. Never mind that the movie is also deeply confusing in and of itself (an element I’ll address momentarily).

Re-watching these movies today allows me to revisit and relive those emotions from when I first watched them, and for me, at least – being as I am typically very emotionally reserved – that’s a good thing.

Complexity & World-Building

Sometimes you come across a movie or TV show (often based on a book, being more capable of winding complexity than film in general) that is so deep in its lore, world-building and complexity, that you simply can’t take it all in in one viewing. This could be anything from tiny references to much larger elements through to seemingly-innocuous plot elements that turn out to be incredibly important later on, but movies like this typically require multiple viewings to truly appreciate the depth of storytelling that went into them.

Perhaps the best example of deep lore and world-building I can think of is my old staple, The Lord of the Rings. If The Crow is my favorite single movie, The Lord of the Rings is hands-down my favorite trilogy, ever. Much of this has to do with the epic grandeur of both the scenery, the story, and Howard Shore’s incredible score, but a larger part of it has to do with Peter Jackson’s intense attention to detail, and faithfulness to Tolkien’s original books. From moments such as Théoden crying “Forth Eorlingas!” – a phrase that, without context, is unintelligible and meaningless – to the importance of pipe-weed threaded through the entire trilogy, there are references, nods and entire points lifted straight from the book that, to the average viewer, make little to no sense without having read the books in the first place.

Then there are movies that are complex and intricate in their plot, to the point where it is almost impossible to know what to pay attention to during the first viewing. Time travel movies are often my favorite example of this, and a great example of this genre that to this day I struggle to grasp in its entirely (I’ve actually only seen it once) is Predestination, starring Ethan Hawke. An absolutely bonkers tale of pre-empting crimes through a time-traveling police agency, it slowly unravels a mystery that includes insane paradoxes, whilst still somehow at the end of it all seeming to make sense (can someone be their own mother and father?). I really want to watch this movie again, just to see the hints and details that I would have missed the first time around.

Nostalgia & Comfort

Lastly (for tonight), there are movies whose merits are in nothing more than the comfort of a well-worn sweater, or a favorite stuffed animal: simple nostalgia, and the comfort of the familiar. These movies are not always high art, nor revered as great bouts of acting or storytelling, but hold a special place in our hearts as individuals, either because of the associations we make with when we first came across them, or even just because, for some reason, we find them deeply relatable.

One of my favorite movies to watch over and over again, to the point where I can probably reiterate almost every line in the film, is Wayne’s World. This Mike Myers vehicle is a virtually plot-less comedy romp through 90s alternative rock culture, and whilst the film has virtually no artistic merit whatsoever, I simply adore it. It no longer makes me laugh out loud (the comedy is too expected after the thousandth viewing), but still manages to draw a smile and Wayne and Garth’s overgrown childish antics. The appearance of an in-his-heyday Alice Cooper is merely an added bonus.

What are your favorite movies to watch again and again? Are you the kind of person who doesn’t like to watch something twice, or are there films or TV shows that you could watch endlessly without getting bored? Let me know in the comments!

Writing in the Film Generation

If I’m to be brutally honest, I don’t really read that much – particularly not as much as I think I should, as a writer. This isn’t a new problem for me, but I haven’t always been this way – in my youth and young adulthood, I used to read voraciously, devouring book after book with gusto. In fact, I would argue that I stopped reading so much around when I started writing (an odd coincidence, to be sure), but it also occurs to me that I stopped reading quite so much when I started watching.

I’ve always loved movies, film and TV, and there was a time when I would be excited about all the newest movies in theaters, or the latest TV show to grace cable networks (I’ve also come to realize that, as I get older, I kind of just want to watch the same stuff over and over again, a kind of comfort in familiarity). And if I’ve never said as much outright, I find that film and literature are really two sides of the same coin – namely, storytelling.

I think that’s what I really enjoy more than anything – a good story. Something that triggers the imagination, that gets the creative juices flowing, or simply makes you feel. And I don’t particularly think that any given story ‘needs’ to be told through any particular medium; the core essence of the story can be just as valid as a book, a poem, a photograph or a full-length movie. However, the way in which the story is told is more important to the medium, and this is where I think that, as I write more and more, I’m slowly realizing the influences that are guiding my storytelling.

You see, reading in the past – wonderful books like To Kill a Mockingbird, or Great Expectations, or even Salem’s Lot – got me feeling in a way that, in my experience, only a book could. When Scout and her brother are being stalked through the dark, or when Magwitch is waiting in the staircase for Pip, I remember feeling a deep unease, a fright and terror that no movie could ever instill in me – something that came from a deep caring of lovingly crafted characters, and the words on the page painted emotion as much as they did images.

Film, on the other hand, is (obviously) a heavily visual medium. And whilst some films don’t necessarily explore this in depth, others manage to convey the story in a way only visual imagery could. The Lord of the Rings, Lawrence of Arabia, or even the manufactured but highly enjoyable Marvel movies … these are all prime examples of stories that, I feel, are absolutely best told through film. The grandeur, spectacle, and beautiful blending of sound and light simply wouldn’t work as words on paper (ironic, that all of these would have started life as scripts – or in some cases, actual books).

But as I delve deeper into writing my own novels, I’ve come to realize that I’ve become more influenced by these visual stories even as I put digital ink onto screen. When I write The Redemption of Erâth, I see the story in my head, almost as a film playing before my eyes; I write it as if I were describing a movie. And the more I think about it, the more I realize that I’m really writing movies – 400-page movies, to be sure, but movies nonetheless. My inspirations aren’t the books of my past, but the films I’ve watched and adored.

It’s interesting, because in some of the reviews I’ve read, people have actually said that they would make great movies – perhaps because of the visual element I’m trying to instill into black and white text (not always successfully, of course). And it makes me wonder – is there room for a different kind of story in me? Can I even write a book that toys with emotions and thoughts in a way that film can’t do justice to?

In any case, I enjoy writing these stories – whether they’re primarily visual in my head or not – and I suppose I’ll carry on for now in the way I always have; after all, I don’t particularly want to see a great change of style halfway through the Redemption of Erâth series. But as I continue through my literary journey, perhaps I can try to include a little more of the written story in my books, as well.

What do you think? What books have made you feel things that you couldn’t imagine from a film? Or vice versa?

Welcome to Sci-Fi and Fantasy Wednesdays

As I wrote on Monday, one of my commitments for this year to is to start writing on here on a more frequent, regular basis. Given that I literally write fantasy (in the form of my ongoing series, The Redemption of Erâth), and I have a deep love for all things science-fiction, I thought it might be an idea to start a section on this blog dedicated to discussions of all things sci-fi and fantasy-related! I’ll be putting up a new post each Wednesday with something related to these topics, and we’ll see if it catches on!

To start with some background, I owe my love of sci-fi almost wholly to Gene Roddenberry, growing up as I did on a full-fat diet of Star Trek: The Next Generation (I’m not quite old enough to have experienced the original series as it aired, though I certainly watched plenty of re-runs). I absolutely adored the adventures of Captain Jean-Luc Picard and co. as they traveled the galaxy, exploring new worlds and fighting off Romulans and the Borg. I would re-enact episodes constantly in our back yard, and my very first ever original story was actually Star Trek fan fiction!

As I grew older, I had an uncle who also loved science fiction, and introduced me to some of the harder sci-fi stories out there, including Dune (to this day, remaining one of my favorite science-fiction franchises), and countless other books about aliens, spaceships and intergalactic travel. Oddly enough, Star Wars never really took over too much for me – although I remember the old VHS tapes of Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader fondly, Star Trek was always my go-to – perhaps because it handled the ‘science’ portion of sci-fi somewhat more accurately.

I was never as much into fantasy, oddly, as a child; I don’t know if this is because there wasn’t any good fantasy on TV, or if it’s because fantasy tends to deal with the past (or fictional past, anyway) whilst I was always dreaming of the future, but it wasn’t really until Peter Jackson’s magnificent rendition of The Lord of the Rings that fantasy truly came to cross my radar as something not only enjoyable, but absolutely worth my time. I hadn’t even read the books by the time I saw the films, although I have since and enjoyed them immensely (dense as they are).

I think that, in some ways, sci-fi and fantasy are two sides of the same coin, which is perhaps why they are so often thrown together on the bookshelves. I don’t think that they necessarily mix terribly well (I suppose there are some examples, such as A Wrinkle in Time), but both – at their best – deal with human conflict in unimaginable settings. For me, the key distinction is really that sci-fi deals with what might one day be possible, whereas fantasy deals more with what might once have been. Whether it’s stories such as The Chronicles of Narnia, set in entirely alternate universes, or Harry Potter, set in an alternate version of modern-day society, fantasy often uses magic as a way of explaining things that are, to our current understanding, impossible; science fiction uses science to do exactly the same thing. And to many, magic is simply a way of describing that which we don’t yet understand – leaving science fiction to simply be rationalized magic.

Of course, the world in which the stories take place – be it galaxies far, far away or the house next door – must serve as the setting for human-driven tales. In Star Wars, despite the often-unrealistic portrayals of space travel and what essentially amounts to magic in the explanations of ‘the force’, we are really seeing a very human story of emotional manipulation, love, death, triumph and tragedy. In Harry Potter, we see … well, almost exactly the same thing.

For me, the best stories are human ones, and the removal of reality from the setting – whether by setting it in space or in Middle-Earth – in some ways simply allows us to focus more strongly on those human traits, characteristics and conflicts, detaching it from reality and giving us an opportunity to wonder – what would I do, in a similar situation?

What are your favorite sci-fi and fantasy stories, books and films? What makes them so great to you? Is it the setting, or is it the human connection? Let me know in the comments!