Dramatic moments: they are the stuff, not just of great plays, but of great films and great novels. As writers, we are always looking for ways to heighten emotions and pump up the drama in our work in realistic and compelling ways. That’s one reason why rewriting can be so helpful: it gives you a chance to look for moments in your story that you can make bigger and more exciting.
But sometimes, we miss the boat and those opportunities slip away. Even a seasoned film director like Martin Scorsese can fall short when it comes to making the most of big moments. At least that’s what a review of Scorsese’s new children’s film, Hugo contends. According to the reviewer, Kyle Smith, “Hugo features many of the trappings of great storytelling — lavish sets, amusingly oddball characters, a stately pace.” But these “trappings” can’t hide the fact that the film lacks emotional punch.
As Kyle puts it: Scorsese “misses several early opportunities to make the audience fall in love with Hugo,” who is an orphan forced to live by his wits. “Missed opportunity #1: Hugo is being raised by a nasty uncle, but the film barely features him, so he doesn’t really register on Hugo’s radar screen or the audience’s. Missed opportunity #2: The boy’s father, who dies and leaves him alone, only appears for a few minutes, so we don’t see him and Hugo bonding, which is important because the film is largely about the boy trying to discover a coded message from him. Missed opportunity #3: Hugo’s main opponent in the film is cartoonish, so he never poses much of a threat. Missed opportunity #4: Hugo teams up with a young girl, but their relationship doesn’t have much warmth.
All these moments says the reviewer, “are ones that Dickens would have made blossom with emotion.” This review really intrigued me, because it identifies the dramatic gaps in Hugo so clearly.
It can be very instructive to analyze a film from your perspective as a writer and look for moments where emotional connections could have been made and weren’t. This kind of exercise can teach you a lot about how to write more dramatically. On the flip side, it’s also great to take a film you love and ask yourself: What are the big moments of drama here and how did the director use them to connect emotionally with viewers?