Damien on… The Death Of Fiction
Elsewhere in these columns, this chronicler has detailed the death of original melodies, Pop music, James Bond, etc. So, now – fiction.
The problem is that these entertainments have been with us for a long time – and at some point, the writers simply HAD to run out of ideas.
Films, books, TV – in short, mass entertainment – have used up millions of creative thoughts, over the last century. And now there are few left.
And in fiction, on the rare occasion some scribe DOES have an original notion – it gets done to DEATH in pretty short order. Cases in point…
Anthony Shaffer wrote a play called “Sleuth” in 1970. This writer is not about to ruin it for you by detailing the plot. Suffice to say it is a HONEY – but has a weak third act.
Two years later, the movie emerged, starring Caine and Olivier. Then, in 2007, a remake was tried – this time with Caine playing Olivier’s part and Jude Law playing Caine’s (he played Caine’s part in the remake of “Alfie” too).
And this time, the third act was rewritten – by no less than Harold Pinter – but it still didn’t work.
In the same year, 1970, Richard Matheson wrote a short story called “Button, Button” – named after the child’s game. In it, a woman is given a box with a button in it.
All she has to do is press it and a stranger will DIE – and she will receive a large amount of money.
Inspired, no doubt, by Orson’s “cuckoo-clock” speech in “The Third Man” – this too began a long life.
First, it turned up as a 1986 “Twilight Zone” revival episode, then got expanded to a 2009 Cameron Diaz vehicle called “The Box”.
And it was finally made (WITHOUT attribution) into a British TV movie called “The Reckoning”, with Ricky Gervais’ chum in “Extras” as the woman in question – but this time, she actually has to kill the stranger HERSELF.
But again, the result was a mess – another example of a great idea stretched too thin.
One superb notion that fared better was “12:01 pm” – another short story, this time written by Richard Lupoff, in 1973.
This one concerned a man caught in a “time-bounce” (these days it would be called a time-loop) lasting just one hour.
It first surfaced on the screen in 1990, as a short-story-TV episode, in a latter-day Twilight Zone clone.
The director, Jonathan Heap, saw the potential in the concept and with Lupoff and another, wrote a TV movie based on it – but this time stretching the one-hour loop into twenty-four.
Then the idea got PINCHED and used in the theatrical movie, “Groundhog Day” (although lawyers said the concept was too “general” and a court case would be pointless).
But the point of all the above is this: all THREE plot ideas came from the early Seventies – and got done to DEATH.
And since that time, original “high-concept” story ideas have been as rare as rocking-horse doo-doo.
More recently, a mini-series called “FlashForward” – based on Robert J Sawyer’s 1999 novel – displayed another original idea: the entire population of the World simultaneously collapses for 137 seconds.
And when they come around (those who do not DIE – a two minute, seventeen second “blackout” is DANGEROUS) most recall having had dreams that seem to be a prediction of what will happen to them, six months hence.
So far, it has only hit the small screen as a mini-series – but next…?