Welcome to dot Game’s first Optional Sidequest – extra information about the topic that might not be of interest to all of my readers. The side quest relates to the main quest of Goodwill
Contrast two films with notoriously slow pacing: Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and Sergio Leone’s The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. Both are likely masterpieces of late-’60s cinema. Both used a deliberate pace, an extremely wide aspect ratio, and static framing to set the tones for their narratives and settings. Both are famous for having little dialogue and extended scenes of deathly silence interspersed with intense, iconic music. At 177 minutes, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly tops 2001‘s 144-minute theatrical runtime by over half an hour. At time of writing, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly sits at #5 on IMDb’s top 250, which rankings are calculated from average user (read: audience) reviews; 2001 sits at 93. Also at time of writing, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly rakes in a 97% critical rating at score aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, just a hair above 2001′s 96% Fresh rating. But here again the audience shows a disparity in favor of Il Buonu, il Brutto, il Cattivo: 93% against 86%. Where does this disparity come from? If critics agree (as they seem to) that both are masterpieces, why does Leone’s film enjoy more popular acclaim? While discussing why one film ranks more highly than another can be tricky (and arguing that one is better than another, in such a case is this, is bound only for controversy), I aim here to demonstrate that The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly succeeds where 2001 crucially fails: Leone respects, and does not squander, the viewer’s goodwill.
First impressions are lasting impressions, and the opening scenes of a movie will often serve to set the tone for the film to follow.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly opens with an extreme close-up of a dirty cowboy, baked with Southwestern sweat, looking with steely determination behind the camera. As the subsequent cuts set the scene, many questions are raised: who are these three men? Are they the eponymous good, bad, and ugly? What is their mission? The suspense is allowed to build for a short while (this scene is less than three minutes long) as questions are slowly raised and answered. The men seem to be walking towards each other. Are they about to face off at high noon? What is their quarrel? We try to read their inscrutable faces as increasingly tighter angles demonstrate that they are drawing ever nearer together. Finally, they come together in a single wide shot. They converge outside a door, and one goes for his gun — finally, the shootout! But in few exhilarating seconds, all is revealed. They don’t shoot each other, but rush in to the building; shots are fired, and any ambiguity about whether those men were our title characters is erased as Tuco bursts through the window, and his identity is literally written on the screen. Those men who meant to kill him (probably bounty hunters) are now dead. Our appetites are whetted for what is to come. Our opening scene has masterfully engaged us and satisfied (partially) that engagement.
2001 begins promisingly (the bulk of the opening is here; I could not find the entire segment). We are treated to a grand shot of the earth set to Strauss’s Also Sprach Zarathustra, a scene so stirring (and brilliantly recalled at the film’s denouement) it irrevocably tied the piece to the film. We then find ourselves on prehistoric earth, with the mysterious title THE DAWN OF MAN. Unfortunately, while this sequence is rich with the film’s symbolism, and a fantastic, haunting display of the use of music to build tension, it fails to engage on a narrative level. Our initial vignettes serve to establish a sort-of routine for our proto-man characters, but unfortunately these do not answer our only question currently, Why are we at the dawn of man in a science fiction space movie? Nor is a new question raised until the appearance of the monolith, almost halfway through this nearly ten-minute segment. This new question of the monolith, however, is still never addressed in the sequence. It is hinted that the monolith introduced proto-men to the use of tools; but this does not explain much about the monolith’s origin or purpose. Don’t get me wrong; it would be disastrous to try to answer the question of the monolith at this time. However, in the absence of any other questions, the audience will tend to dwell on this unanswerable one. They will become frustrated and bored. In order to move on and enjoy the sequence for its own artistry, they will have to trust that the filmmaker implicitly will answer their questions, or that the answers are unimportant. Never ask your audience for their trust. Earn it, the way The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly did.
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