What do these movies have in common: Alien, Fatal Attraction, and Godzilla? How about these: Star Wars, The Bad News Bears, and Lord of the Rings? The first trio belong to the genre that Blake Snyder called “Monster in the House.” The second set are “Golden Fleece” films in Snyder’s terminology.
He assigned distinctive genre names to help us think about films in a different manner and see connections we might miss with more familiar and less specific tags. Some of the names came from Snyder’s love of the roots of our story traditions. The Golden Fleece, for example, was the object of Jason’s quest in the myth of the Argonauts, while Theseus and the Minotaur is a “monster in the house” tale that is thousands of years old.
Snyder described his approach in Save the Cat, where he presented his top-down approach to writing a movie script, from idea to logline to pitch to outline to finished screenplay. He presented a model of 10 movie genres and 15 critical plot points. Save the Cat Goes to the Movies rounds out these concepts with detailed discussions of 50 well known and well respected movies – a valuable addition. Here’s an example:
“Monster in the House” stories have three three key elements, a monster, a house, and a sin. The monster often has seemingly “supernatural” powers: Jaws is an uber-shark, while insanity lends a lot of power to human monsters. The house may be a literal house, a spaceship, a town, or a planet, as long as escape from the monster is not an option. The sin is often greed (closing the beaches would hurt the tourist economy) or lust in a teenage slasher film. In the case of Victor Frankenstein and the atomic tests that spawned Godzilla, it is scientific hubris. Sometimes ignorance is the “sin.”
“Golden Fleece” movies are quest stories that span the millennia between Homer’s Odyssey and Bob Hope road movies. The elements Snyder identifies are a road, a team, and a prize. These movies run the gamut from comic (Planes, Trains, and Automobiles) to deadly serious (Saving Private Ryan), but in every case, winning the prize is less important to the story than the lessons the (surviving) team members learn.
In my previous post, I discussed Snyder’s “Fool Triumphant” genre. His remaining seven categories also reveal unexpected similarities between movies where we don’t expect to find them. It is also illuminating to look for his plot points in our favorite films. Some of them are familiar through the names he assigns – “The bad guys close in,” “All is lost,” “Dark night of the soul.” Others require explanation, which this second book in the Cat series provides.
A map is not a territory, as an outline is not the gripping story our hearts and minds crave. That doesn’t mean a map isn’t useful in helping us reach our destination. Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat Goes to the Movies is a useful and stimulating map to help us navigate the wilderness of a stack of blank paper.