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Saturday June 8, 2013, at 3:05 am

The Importance of Style and Tone

I’ve been thinking a lot about Star Trek into Darkness over the last couple of weeks and I’ve come to one conclusion. Tone and style matter in a movie. In fact in many cases they are what makes a movie, a book, a comic book, music or anything else we consume. But while it sparked my thinking about it I don’t want to spend a lot of time reviewing Star Trek.  I liked the movie, but, fan service aside, not really as a Star Trek movie, because Star Trek at its best does something different than an action movie.

To explain better I’ll point out one of my favorite Star Trek episodes, Measure of a Man. For those of you who aren’t huge nerds the basic premise of the episode was that there was a scientist who wanted to dismantle Data to attempt to replicate him. Data didn’t want to do this, but as a machine does he have the right to leave Star Fleet. I haven’t watched the episode for a while, but I am reasonable certain that at no point does anyone get into a fist fight, pull a phaser and the ship is never fired on. There are plenty of episodes like this in every Star Trek series and not all of them succeeded, but the questions of morality, philosophy and of course science are what Star Trek is about. If you want giant space battles and sword fights in space they happen occasionally, but that’s not what the shows about.

Star Trek into Darkness doesn’t care about any of that. The science is largely ignored. (Cold fusion doesn’t freeze things), there is little to any philosophy even when the moral questions are obvious. (Is it right to not interfere when you can save lives?) and while general tone is a bit harder to touch on I think the idea that this Star Trek is cool is actually an indictment of the tone not a complement. It’s saying this doesn’tfeel like Star Trek to me. Which is fine if you weren’t a fan of Star Trek, but for the people that are it’s a problem because they already liked what was out there.

To try to pull something out of this as a writer I remind myself of just how important these are. In comic books especially tone is often what defines a book, because the stories and even the character change. The easiest example of this is to pick up two books in which the characters leading the book are Wolverine and Deadpool. They both have a healing factor, but you would expect them to have different tones, and the moment that Wolverine breaks the forth wall, even if it’s really funny, would be wrong. And I think we’ve all picked up a comic book expecting one thing and getting something else and usually it’s more about style and tone than anything. (or just a really bad story, but that just happens sometimes.)

When writing your own things it’s a bit more difficult of course. But for me at least the key is to know the tone I’m going for. Is this a realistic story, a fairy tale, a farce or something lighthearted and fun, because mixing tone and making the story isn’t as easy as it might sometimes seem. (That’s why Joss Whedon makes a lot of money doing it).

Again, I would like to say that I liked Star Trek into Darkness, and I think I’ll like it a lot more the next time I watch it, because I won’t be going in expecting something it isn’t going to deliver. And for anyone out there who is going to make something, whether it is a remake or not, try to remember that the tone and style of what you’re making is important because if you get that wrong not much else is going to matter. Speaking of which,  when does Michael Bay’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles come out anyway?


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