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sometimes you want the hero to die
a movie where that was the case
by reem al-omari (@Reemawi)

Every good story has a beginning, middle and most important; a relatively satisfying end.

The same goes for movies.

Stories and movies lacking these three basic things are simply classified as-- something else. Perhaps documentaries or anything non-fiction don't have to follow this format, but that's not what this piece is about.

This piece is about movies, the kind that feature a beginning, middle and end, and somewhere in there try to bring to life extraordinary characters, a little more interesting than the person we're sitting next to watching the movie. All these things are essential for an end product that is good in Hollywood.

I used to get really annoyed when I'd read a book and then see the movie, only to find that the story has been "hollywoodized". It was only recently that I found this strategy to sometimes be the only way to make a movie work, even if the movie is based on "actual events".

Zodiac needed to be hollywoodized, and in a bad way.

Zodiac, based on a book, recounts the events-- the painfully detailed events-- that take place surrounding the infamous Zodiac serial killer of the 70s. The movie begins by setting us up for one heck of a story, as it opens with the black and white statement that it is "based on actual case files".

We are then shown the disturbing murders committed, and the frenzy slowly building up around the mysterious Zodiac killer in California. The viewer is excited instantaneously, mainly because what they're viewing is "based on actual case files." It's as if the director is saying in a conspiratorial tone, "Hey, you gotta' see this... it really happened!"

The real, stripped down Zodiac story is interesting to read on the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle with all the facts and dates listed in detail; sans Hollywood sensationalism, or the everyday Joes with families working on the case as a filler. The story is good enough to keep us interested and hooked if we were watching a documentary, or a simple news story. It's gold for America's Most Wanted.

Not good enough material for a popcorn movie.

For a popcorn movie you need to work a little harder to interest the viewer. You need homo fictuses, who are extraordinary, and do extraordinary things. Homo fictuses do everything in excess... from fornicating to staring, a homo fictus is an exagerated and extraordinary human being.

Also for a popcorn movie, you need a very well-defined set of beginning, middle and end-- a definite, satisfying end that resolves all the issues created in the beginning, nurtured in the middle, and expected to be resolved in the end.

You need a plot that moves... spinning in circles doesn't count. You need a freakin' story with a satisfying end for the viewer... not just the annoying hero or heroine. Zodiac isn't a story, it's a flippin' timeline that spans 21 years of nothing but failures to solve gruesome murders.

The main character, Robert Graysmith played by Jake Gyllenhaal was so annoying, I wanted nothing more than to somehow get inside the movie reel simply to smack him. Robert Downey Jr., my favorite actor, if not one of the top five in my book, did the movie some justice, albeit, he had relatively little screentime... so little he couldn't save the movie from itself, and his character is hardly extraordinary in anything other than his conservative-flamboyant style in dress and cowardice mixed with absolutely no ambition. Inspector David Toschi, Mark Ruffalo's character, was great, but he also couldn't save the movie from itself. It could've been because he was a rich character, all made up and ready for a rich story with a great, moving plot... something Zodiac is not.

Zodiac simply wasn't moving forward, it just kept recounting events, and showing the annoying side of a persevering personality type.

Zodiac's tagline is "There's more than one way to lose your life to a killer." It kind of makes sense, because Gyllenhaal's character does in a way lose his life to the Zodiac killer in the form of becoming obssessed with the book he eventually wrote about the killings.

The trouble with Zodiac is that the viewer reaches a point where they wish Robert Graysmith would really lose his life to the Zodiac killer... in the form of ceasing to exist.


Reem lives and writes about it. She thinks that's what writers do, anyway. If it's not, then she also has a degree in journalism under her belt, along with the titles of reporter, editor (in chief, even) and, of course, opinion columnist.

more about reem al-omari


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topic: film
published: 4.30.08

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please stop shoving it down my throat
by reem al-omari
topic: film
published: 5.11.07


alex b
8.17.07 @ 3:06p

Boy, it's too bad Hollywood botches suspenseful material like Zodiac. But good flicks like Seven are out there, too.

heather millen
8.18.07 @ 2:41p

Zodiac isn't meant to be a popcorn movie.

Zodiac isn't about the killer, it's about the investigation and the obsession surrounding the murders.

Zodiac wasn't botched.

Zodiac reminds me a bit of Sean Penn's amazing flick The Pledge. Which has no closure, no Hollywood ending, but is intense and meaningful as a character study and a truer representation of real life than most movies that feature shoot outs and car crashes and heroes saving the day. Zodiac isn't about heroes and Hollywood, it's about human beings and real life.

I love popcorn movies, but I don't get pissed off that every movie I see doesn't have a happy, climactic ending. You want to see a Hollywood version, watch Bullet or Dirty Harry.

ETA: This was Mike posting, not Heather.


reem al-omari
8.18.07 @ 2:43p

Maybe it's not a Popcorn movie, but it still bored the crap out of me.

sloan bayles
8.24.07 @ 10:45a

I liked Zodiac. I thought the acting was good, the characters were good, etc.

It could also be I liked it because I remember alot of the stuff b/c I lived in SF Bay Area at the time this was happening.


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