‘Lucy’—Asking the Wrong Question

Photo Courtesy of IMDb
[‘Lucy’ Poster]Lucy’ (2014)
Directed by Luc Besson
Screenplay by Luc Besson
Action | Sci-Fi
Stars Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freeman, Min-sik Choi
Universal
Rated R
Log Line: A woman, accidentally caught in a dark deal, turns the tables on her captors and transforms into a merciless warrior evolved beyond human logic.

 

SPOILER ALERT!

I saw the much-anticipated ‘Lucy’ last weekend and, before going into my review, I’d like to make a few preliminary comments. First, I am a huge fan of Luc Besson. Ever since ‘La Femme Nikita,’ I was convinced this guy could do no wrong. Second, I am in love with Scarlett Johansson—don’t tell my wife. Third, I’m very aware that no matter what I say here, this movie will make a ton of money. So that said, what’s my take?

I was disappointed.

This Was Two Movies
Apparently, ‘Lucy’ couldn’t decide what it wanted to be. On the one hand, it is a smart, funny, bloody sci-fi thriller that doesn’t skimp on the action. On the other, it’s an vfx-laden treatise on the history of man and his ability to utilize the untapped potential of his brain. Judging by the official trailer, I was promised the former. And I was getting it in all its Luc Besson glory until Lucy finally meets Morgan Freeman’s Professor Norman in Paris.

There was an upside to the mindy, spacey stuff that takes us from man’s beginnings with the original Lucy to the wonders of the universe. I enjoyed the visual effects—especially when Lucy stops Time with a wave of her hand. Sure, that’s cool. And the movie came in at ninety minutes, which meant we weren’t saddled with a slow-moving second act. But when the screenwriter stops caring that Lucy is on the lam and an evil Korean guy is after her, and opts instead to focus on her morphing into a frickin’ computer made of giant Nutella-like tendrils, that’s when you lose me.

Every Hero Needs an Arc
This is a basic tenet of screenwriting. As we’ve learned over the years, it’s the Hero’s Journey, people. The hero—or the protagonist—reluctantly sets off on a journey where a bunch of stuff happens. Whether it’s good or bad stuff doesn’t really matter. In the end it’s life changing. And there’s always a final battle, which the hero must win. Then he returns home changed and tells the others what he learned. The model may be old, going all the way back to Gilgamesh, but it works.

So what happened to Lucy? Well, she didn’t come back! Instead of an arc, we got a trajectory. She never gets to have the final battle with Mr. Jang—that’s left to the battle-weary French cop Pierre Del Rio. Once Lucy’s brain reaches a hundred percent utilization, she trips off somewhere beyond Time and Space, probably meeting up with an alternate universe version of herself, which is the OS from ‘Her.’ Seriously? What am I supposed to do with pure energy? I invested a lot of my emotions in this woman, and now she just disappears? And just like Professor Norman, I am left with nothing but a thumb drive with a bunch of ones and zeroes on it. Great. I guess I should start that backup now. Oh wait, she melted all the computers.

How Might This Have Worked?
The movie already has the elements of a great sci-fi action thriller—bad guys, experimental drugs, exotic locations and a woman who, though she graduated Phi Beta Kappa, starts out dumb as spit when it comes to choosing men. Speaking of bad guys, the only thing better than a Korean bad guy is pairing him with an English bad guy. Bravo, Luc!

As I said before, I was good with everything until the fateful meeting with Professor Norman. Previously, she had only spoken to him by phone or video screen. He was becoming her Alfred. But once she meets with the good professor and other scientists, we’re transported to the Science Channel as Lucy’s brain utilization increases and everyone discusses the nature of Time and Space. At this point, I wouldn’t have been surprised if everyone adjourned to a nice restaurant and spent the next five hours discussing Sartre or the symbolism behind clowns in horror movies.

Here’s my idea for a third act. When Mr. Jang and his army arrive at the university to kill Lucy, she is already starting to lose her powers because the drug is wearing off. That, coupled with a blinding headache and other side effects from the drug, it’s a question of whether she can still take out the bad guys before they can kill her. A massive final battle ensues where everything—the university, everything—is destroyed as Lucy battles with Mr. Jang and his men while becoming weaker and weaker.

At a critical moment, Mr. Jang shoots Lucy. Weak and bloody she still manages to send him to hell. Then she collapses as the professor makes his way to her. As the professor examines her, he realizes that she is once again human. How? Well, her irises appear normal. Working fast, he and Del Rio get her to the hospital, where surgeons operate on her and she recovers.

Epilogue. Lucy is standing outside the airport with Del Rio. She’s going home to see her parents. He says, “I guess we’ll never know what would have happened had you hit a hundred percent.” Just then, a toddler drifts into the path of an oncoming taxi, his mother running after him and screaming in French. Suddenly, the taxi stops completely, as if Time itself had stopped. The crying mother retrieves her child as Del Rio stares at Lucy in amazement. “What?” she says, smiling. Then she kisses the cop on the cheek and walks into the terminal. Setup for a sequel? You bet.

The Wrong Question
Every great movie asks a question at the beginning that must be answered at the end. In ‘Lucy,’ the question appears to be “what would happen if we could access our whole brain instead of just ten percent?” To me, that’s the wrong question. It has nothing to do with a hero’s life. What happened to Lucy could have happened to anyone—the conniving boyfriend, the French cop or Professor Norman.

I think a better question is, “Will Lucy become the person she is meant to be?” With my ending, I think the movie would have answered that. It still would have been a kick-ass story and we would have left the theatre satisfied that Lucy completed the hero’s journey.

The Loneliness of the One-Armed Marketer

Photo Courtesy of Andrew Malone via Creative Commons
[One-Man Band]There’s a wonderful English film called ‘The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner,’ released in 1962, directed by Tony Richardson and starring Tom Courtenay. Yeah, so this post has nothing to do with that movie, but I was inspired by the title. The idea came to me while preparing to release the sequel to last year’s horror-thriller Tell Me When I’m Dead. And it all has to do with independent authors who don’t have enough time to market their work.

Not that I’m complaining.

Life is Good
I have been blessed with the ability to make a living. Not at writing, mind you. At least, not yet. But I do have a steady income that allows me to support my family. And that is truly something to be thankful for. When I’m not engaged in my profession or spending time with my family, though, I write. Not as fast as some, but I manage to crank out some work now and then.

And although everything is fine income-wise, you can’t just write a book, hit the publish button and move on to the next one. You have to market yourself and your work. Constantly. Otherwise no one will be able to find you in the sea of books out there—unless Oprah gets a copy somehow and offers up some free publicity. And the last time I checked, she wasn’t recommending books about zombies.

Good, Better, Best
So what’s a good way to get my name out there? Well, this website, of course. And Facebook. I created a Facebook page some time ago and I have built up a small but faithful group of followers. And I try not to pummel them with pleas to buy my book. That’s just cheesy.

I tried paying for Facebook ads, and that was a bust. It’s hard to draw a correlation between click-throughs and sales from Facebook, mainly because I don’t have access to the right analytics. But I never saw a real jump in sales when I ran my campaigns. I guess people would click through to the Amazon page, read the blurb, then bail. I tried targeting my ad appropriately, only going after people eighteen or older who like horror. Whatever …

What’s also effective is Goodreads. I have an author page over there too. I have run Goodreads campaigns in the past without a lot of success. But I did notice that I had slightly better sales than I did with Facebook. It makes sense, since Goodreads is about nothing but books.

Overall, a better approach is Twitter. And it’s free—unless you want to pay for sponsored tweets. Twitter is a great way to reach a lot of people through amplification. Here again, though, you shouldn’t only tweet things telling people why they should buy your book. You should offer up helpful links—or promote others’ books—in order to be a solid member of the community. That’s what I try to do. Have a look and see if you think I am behaving appropriately.

The best thing—the thing authors crave most—is word-of-mouth. That’s the best kind of advertising. People telling other people how good your book is and why they should buy it too. Remember Oprah? She is the empress of word-of-mouth. And people listen to her.

Did I Forget Anything?
I signed up for Pinterest, and for a while I was faithfully posting all kinds of pictures. Some people engaged with me there, but I never really saw the point of it all. My plan is to abandon Pinterest—and all the other social media sites I’ve signed up with over the years—and focus on Facebook, Goodreads and Twitter. What about Google+? Sure, I use it. But I don’t feel like anyone ever really reads what people post there. I know I don’t. But, hey, if that’s where you like to hang out, you can easily find me there.

It’s lonely out here, let me tell you. I wish I had an intern. Too little time and too much untapped potential. But I do the best I can. We all do.