03 August, 2010

Let's see what you can do

So here's the thing.

I'm looking at the Stuff website, and I come across this article. Now, I realise this is just an entertainment article, and we can't expect too much from such articles, but still, I was shocked at just how appalling it was. An extraordinarily pointless article lacking in any focus at all, jumping from topic to topic, seemingly just throwing any vaguely-relevant information into the text in order to pad the word-count out.

Here's what I mean:

'Hit Girl' in killer new role
By NATALIE HAMBLY - Sydney Morning Herald

Chloe Moretz, the young teen famous for playing a foul-mouthed assassin in Kick-Ass, will next appear on our screens as a vampire.

Okay, first question - how is this news? It's been several months since Kick-Ass was released, it's been ten months since her casting in Let Me In was announced, and it's several months until the film is actually released. And really, reading through the rest of the article, there is almost nothing that I can find in this article that could not have been written four months ago. So why is this supposed news article being written now? I read this thinking it was going to be about a new piece of casting, not one that happened last year.

The 13-year-old actress is starring in the Hollywood remake of the Swedish horror hit Let The Right One In.

I'll just say right now, Let The Right One In is a phenomenal film. It's chilling and haunting, and sweet in a disturbing way. It's also an interesting example in how a story changes between book and film, even when the film tries to stay close to the book (as Let The Right One In does). I finished the film with a very clear understanding of the story being told. But then I read the book by John Ajvide Lindqvist (which is also very good), and it completely changed my interpretation of what happens in the story. While the original film stays very close to the book in relation to the actual events during the main timeframe (albeit with one major subplot omitted), it does leave out pretty much all of of the backstory, particularly in relation to the vampire's 'father,' and that backstory actually meant that I interpreted the entire story differently to how I'd interpreted the film. Anyway, back to the article.

Based on a novel, the film follows the relationship between a bullied and lonely boy and his unusual new neighbour (Moretz). Around the same time the young pair meet, their quiet neighbourhood is reeling from a spate of grisly murders.

Now, I have two points to make about this paragraph. Firstly, note the first four words: "Based on a novel." I ask you, what does that vague generic barely-informative phrase actually have to do with anything? The original novel never gets mentioned anywhere else in the article - the rest of the article focuses solely on the remake and the original film. Now, the fact of the novel could have been relevant to the article - they could have mentioned, for instance, the fact that the remake's director defends the film by talking about it as a new adaptation of the book rather than a remake of a film. But they don't. The novel is irrelevant to anything else in the article, but still it's mentioned. And as you'll see, that's one of my problems with the article - the article, at least initially, appears to be about Chloe Moretz playing this role, but there's so little substance in that article idea that the writer starts throwing every piece of available information into the text to pad it out without considering what that information has to do with anything else in the article.

Secondly, pay attention to that paragraph. We're definitely talking about the remake right now - notice the reference in this paragraph to Moretz playing the neighbour. Now, watch what happens next.

The movie, described as dark, atmospheric and cold garnered rave reviews. The Sydney Morning Herald said: "At once quietly complex and profoundly creepy, this extraordinarily resonant work ... manages ... to breathe life into the oversaturated subset of the horror genre, the vampire film."

Wait - how are there reviews of this film already? It's several months away from release. I'm confused.

In David Stratton's review for At The Movies, he was dismayed that it was getting the Hollywood treatment.

But this film is the Hollywood treatment, so how... ohhh, he's talking about the Swedish film now. So when exactly did we make the transition from the Hollywood to the Swedish film? Can anyone point me to the place where they clearly and unambiguously switch from discussing the remake to the original?

"I'm horrified that they're going to make a Hollywood remake, because they're going to complete ruin it ... but it's really worth seeing," he said.

Okay, let's be generous and overlook the "completeLY ruin it" typo. Let's just ask, what does this sentence actually contribute? It's a Hollywood remake of an excellent foreign film, so we can all just assume the critics are, at this stage, against the remake. But the key point is, they haven't actually seen the film. It's just an assumption that the remake will be inferior - a justified one, because most remakes are. But there are occasionally good remakes of foreign films - Infernal Affairs became The Departed, Seven Samurai became The Magnificent Seven, Christopher Nolan's remake of Insomnia, all come to mind. So it's possible that this may actually prove to be a good film. The key point is that, right now, the critics have no idea whether this will actually be good or not. It's just speculation on David Stratton's part that they will ruin the film. And besides, what does any of this discussion about the merits of remakes have to do with Chloe Moretz, who I thought was supposed to be the subject of the article?

The Hollywood version has been renamed Let Me In and is directed by Cloverfield's Matt Reeves.

Young Australian actor Kodi Smit-McPhee (Romulus, My Father) will star opposite Moretz as the ostracised boy.

"Hey, we haven't mentioned the name of the remake, who directed it, or who plays the other main character. Find somewhere to cram that information into the article."
"Should we mention the Oscar-nominated actor playing the girl's 'father'?"
"Who? Richard Jenkins? Who cares about him? Besides, we don't want to have too much pointless information in this article. It'll lose its focus."
"Wait, this article has a focus?"
"Yeah, it's about Chloe Moretz."
"You mean the actress we haven't mentioned in four paragraphs, because we've been discussing how good the original was and how bad a remake will be?"
"Yeah. Actually, throw in a reference to her so that we can get the article back on track."

Moretz became famous for playing Mindy Macready, aka Hit Girl, in the film Kick-Ass.

Okay, the first sentence of the article already said that she was famous for her role in Kick-Ass, so we already know that. The only thing this sentence adds is her character's name, but if you've seen Kick-Ass you know who she played (there's only one foul-mouthed 11-year-old girl in the film), and if you haven't seen the film, knowing that the character's name was "Mindy Macready, aka Hit Girl" is useless information. So why is this paragraph needed again?

She was the subject of much controversy because her character was an 11-year-old skilled assassin who was prone to profanity - notably the f- and c-words.

My favourite story about Kick-Ass is that the original comic had the line with the c-word, but the script omitted the c-word (presumably because it would involve an 11-year-old actually saying the word). Moretz's mother was apparently reading the comic, thought the line played better with the c-word (which is probably true) and so talked the director into including the word. I repeat: the girl's mother had the c-word put into the film. Nothing to do with the article - I just find that amusing.

Parents were warned against taking their children to the film and questions were raised about whether a young actor should be asked to perform such a role.

Moretz is now 13 but there has so far been no controversy about her playing a murderous vampire.

And now we can see the point of the article. They're trying to draw people's attention to this film in order to create controversy about her playing a murderous vampire. The question is, what is the controversy they're trying to create? Is it (as with the alleged controversy around Kick-Ass) about a young girl like Moretz playing this more-adult role? If so, having made it through Kick-Ass seemingly well-adjusted, the role of the vampire is by comparison rather tame. Is the controversy over concerns that parents may need to be warned so that they don't accidentally take their young kids to see "that film where that nice girl from Kick-Ass plays a vampire," and are then shocked to discover that she does vampirey stuff? Or is it a controversy over the general audience being harmed by seeing a young girl doing scary stuff in a horror? If so, we'll just have to hope no-one in Hollywood ever reads The Exorcist, because that would really be a disturbing film.

And incidentally, the saddest part of the article is the fact that they now have to explicitly state that she's playing "a murderous vampire". I remember a time before Twilight when the word "murderous" didn't need to be used as a descriptor of vampires, because it was pretty much taken as read.

Let Me In is due for release in October. A trailer has been leaked on YouTube.

Strangely enough, this may actually be the part of the article that annoys me most. A trailer has NOT been leaked on YouTube. The trailer was officially released by the studio, and then posted onto YouTube. This is not some cloak-and-dagger surreptitious action of someone trying to release secret information. This was part of the official promotional campaign of the film, and to say that it was "leaked" is a patently transparent and pathetic attempt to add a little bit of excitement to a nothing story.

Look, I'm aware that it's silly of me to hold Stuff to any standards in its entertainment section. By definition, pretty much any article that ends up there is almost certainly not going to be news by any objective standard. Right now, the site is featuring articles about how Jennifer Aniston is enjoying single life, or how Zac Efron went to a strip club but didn't like it. And I realise that, as someone who probably went into journalism with dreams of being the next Woodward or Bernstein, it must be dispiriting work for the reporter to have to write articles about the career choices of a 13-year-old actress. So I realise how strange it is that I would be made so angry by this by such a small unimportant article. But that's exactly why it maks me so angry. This article wasn't tucked away in the Entertainment section of the website. It was given prominence on the front page of the website - you know, where real news is supposed to be posted. And yet, when I finished the article, my response was "why does this even exist?" And that's not a good thing.

Listen, Stuff, I've complained about your website before, and to your credit, you have thankfully stopped highlighting the CuteStuff articles on the front page. (It's still there on the site, and it's still pointless, but at least these days it takes several deliberate clicks to find.) [EDIT 4 August 2010: I spoke too soon. I hadn't seen it in a while, but guess what was up on the Stuff website today. Sigh.] But if you're going to claim to be a news website, the one thing you need to do when highlighting an article on the front page of your news website is ask yourself "Is this article news, or are we just publishing it to make it seem like there's something new on the site." If it's the latter, by all means use it to pad out the Entertainment section, but don't waste perfectly good, and limited, space on the front page of your website drawing attention to it.

And one last thing. I know last time I said how much I hated your "if our team don't break stories first, there are consequences" campaign. I take it all back. Please please please bring back the campaign, if only because I desperately need to know what you would do to the person responsible for posting a news article ten months after it took place.

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