Part IV of a multi-part series on why movies fail at the box office
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In Pan, an ill-conceived attempt at a 1st act plot point is when Peter is kidnapped and then locked away in a prison.
It’s not a viable 1st act plot point because being kidnapped and put in prison doesn’t create a problem for him.
The logical physical goal when someone is imprisoned is to escape and return home. But this isn’t what Peter wants to do. Of course not. Why would he want to go back to the orphanage? To another prison?
Instead, he suddenly decides to find his mother.
So rather than creating a problem for him, the kidnapping frees him to go searching for his mother.
35 minutes into the movie and already the story lacks forward momentum, lacks dramatic conflict and urgency because the main character doesn’t have a problem with severe consequences if the problem isn’t solved.
Hook gets Peter out of prison, so that minor problem is easily solved and there’s no dramatic conflict in Peter’s quest to find his mother either because there are no severe consequences if he fails. He’s simply back where he started: without a mother.
He does have an antagonist though: Blackbeard. But the antagonist isn’t going to try to stop him from achieving his physical goal because he knows Peter’s mother is dead. He killed her.
Blackbeard wants to stop Peter from bringing about his downfall – but Peter doesn’t even know about that, so how can there be a continuous series of obstacles, conflict and jeopardy when the main character is trying to achieve one thing and the antagonist is trying to stop him from doing something else?
To succeed at the box office a movie has to have a main character who strives to achieve a physical goal in order to solve a problem that has severe consequences if it isn’t solved while antagonistic forces create obstacles, conflict and jeopardy.
Dramatic conflict is the heart of the storytelling process and is generated by a clash of opposing forces: the main character tries to achieve a physical goal to solve a problem and the antagonist puts up some kind of opposition.
For every action there has to be an equal and opposite reaction: Peter does something, Blackbeard undermines it. Action/Reaction.
In Pan, the main character does one thing and the antagonist tries to stop him doing something else. No dramatic conflict.
Blackbeard wants to stop Peter from mounting a rebellion against him and saving Neverland but Peter doesn’t even think about saving Neverland until almost the end of the movie.
Which is why the movie lacks a forward moving drive, lacks dramatic conflict, and why it failed at the box office.
A viable 1st act plot point would have given him that problem and that physical goal right from the get-go.
The overarching concept of the movie is this:
An evil tyrant is destroying a land and its people by mining it for the fairy dust that keeps him rejuvenated.
That’s the concept. What the filmmakers didn’t do was condense it into a simple idea that could function as a 1st act plot point. Like this:
A boy’s home is being destroyed by a tyrant.
That’s a viable 1st act plot point because Neverland is Peter’s adopted home. His natural physical goal from the outset would be to stop Blackbeard from destroying Neverland.
That idea gives Peter a problem with severe consequences (he will lose his adopted home and family); it gives him a physical goal (he has to save Neverland); it gives him an antagonist (the tyrant, Blackbeard); and it gives him the emotional goal of having to overcome the loss of his mother, accept that he’s the Chosen One and getting on with the job at hand.
It takes 82 minutes of screen time in a movie that runs for 112 minutes before Peter has a problem, a physical goal to solve it, an antagonist to stop him and an emotional goal to drive him forward. Those four story elements should have locked into place at the end of the first act – around 35 minutes.
The 1st act plot point in Run All Night is also flawed, but in a very different way.
Next up: Run All Night.
This is a multi-part series on why movies fail at the box office:
Part I: Warner Bros 2015
Part III: Jupiter Ascending
Part IV: Pan
Part V: Run All Night
Part VI: In the Heart of the Sea
Part VII: Our Brand Is Crisis