I was watching the new IMAX trailer for the colossal monster movie Pacific Rim: Uprising (video) the other day when I was struck by an intense feeling of déjà vu. I had never seen the trailer before, nor had I watched the first Pacific Rim movie. So what felt so familiar? Was it resurfaced memories of the Zords, the similarly gigantic fighting machines from the hit 1990s children’s series Mighty Morphin Power Rangers?
Perhaps. Or perhaps it was the dialogue.
“This is our chance to make a difference,” John Boyega tells his team, his voice rising. “Now let’s get it done!”
“There’s something you need to see,” intones one concerned-looking character.
“That’s what I’m talking about!” yells another, wild-eyed.
Each of these lines has appeared in dozens, if not hundreds of other films. This is a problem that extends far beyond Pacific Rim: Besieged with schlocky cinematic clichés, every mainstream Hollywood movie sounds like a pastiche of the greatest hits in stock phrases. The most recent trailer for Ready Player One provides another sterling example. “This isn’t just a game,” one character growls forebodingly.
Isn’t it, though? Isn’t it just a game? If Hollywood executives want to figure out why most of the industry’s reboots and sequels underperform with audiences, perhaps they should first examine the scripts, and their litany of clichés that make every purported blockbuster sound just like the last.
A clever mashup of one of Hollywood’s worst offenders resurfaced on Reddit today. Allow me to introduce “You just don’t get it, do you?”:
(The mashup was made by video editor Jeff Smith for FilmDrunk in 2011.)
Who actually speaks this way? If you hear someone say this phrase in real life, you may want to consider administering a Voight-Kampff test. And yet a total of 102 films, mostly from the last two decades, appear in Smith’s super-cut of the cringeworthy line. Some otherwise great films, like Platoon and The Prestige, are guilty of this affront to writing.
The video prompted Reddit users to post their favorite Hollywood dialogue clichés, which ranged from “In English, please,” to “We’re not so different, you and I,” to the laziest trope of them all: “We’ve got company.”
To use a bad writing cliché, there’s a whole lot more where that came from. TV Tropes, an online resource that catalogs common tropes in media and entertainment, contains an incredible resource of the most popular stock phrases. My favorite is “This is not what I signed up for,” a line almost always said by a movie character who did indeed sign up for the thing they’re claiming they didn’t sign up for. Another particularly villainous one: “I should have killed you when I had the chance” (and its common variant, “You should have killed me when you had the chance”).
If Hollywood’s recent spate of films is any indication, I have a bad feeling about the future of dialogue. Or maybe I’m just getting too old for this shit. Why are you looking at me like that? What have I become?!