‘Why Did(n’t) You Like That Story?’

What films, series, and novels do you enjoy that others despise, and which stories do you dislike that others near-unanimously praise? What possible factors lead to such differences?
on Aug 8, 2012 · No comments

Over the weekend I was able to ask Green Lantern himself what he thought of his movie.

This was my third visit to a comic-book store. Before now I have never purchased comics; what drove me to this decision was the so-far-fantastic crossover series Assimilation2, which includes the casts of both Star Trek: The Next Generation and Doctor Who. (Geek-out moment, when The Doctor and Captain Jean-Luc Picard shakes hands.) It happened that this store — about which I have written — was having its grand opening. Green Lantern was there, along with Batgirl, Harley Quinn (no Marvel heroes!), and some Ghostbusters.

While others lambasted details like the CG superhero costume, I enjoyed Green Lantern’s action, fighting-fear themes (though some were arguably overdone), and motifs of miraculous regeneration to serve a cause higher than one’s self.

Knowing most consider Green Lantern an expensive flop, I asked the hero about his view.

“Yeah, it wasn’t that great,” he said (paraphrasing). “I mean, I like it okay; I would watch it again. But it could have been so much better.”

Whereas I thought Green Lantern was a fine, entertaining flick, not the best, but not a “flop.”

In this I seem to be in the minority.

I also enjoy the films Treasure Planet, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, and the oft-maligned series Star Trek: Enterprise (despite its absurd attempts to add Alien Sex Appeal).

I don’t absolutely hate Spider-Man 3, and still see little point to a total reboot of that series.

With novels, even though I’ve come to reject, for now, pre-everything-ism end-times views, and still dislike wandering plots and repetitive rescue missions, to this day I still appreciate the Left Behind series. (I only dislike the final book, Kingdom Come, which has no plot.)

I have no problem with Frank Peretti’s angels-versus-demons novels This Present Darkness and Piercing the Darkness, though I — along with Peretti himself — dislike readers’ abuses.

This will keep happening. A film or novel, and rarely a television program, will release that at first gains mixed reviews. Then a Cultural Consensus seems to appear: Everyone get on board, we should all hate this now. Gradually, everyone does. Except you.

These reasons may explain the difference:

  1. You grew up with the story. Perhaps God even used it to help you, despite its flaws. For me, this helps explain my continuing appreciation for the Left Behind series.
  2. You don’t know the story source, so didn’t expect more (many did of Green Lantern).
  3. For creative or doctrinal reasons, you naturally overlook flaws others can’t stand.

How does this happen to you? What films, series, and novels do you enjoy — or at minimum, think are okay and shouldn’t be reviled — while others despise them?

Conversely, some Supreme Classics that we’re all supposed to love seem plainly awful.

  1. You didn’t grow up with a story, so you have no personal attachment.
  2. You know the story source, and so expect more.
  3. Creatively or doctrinally, errors irritate you that others simply don’t see.

In the non-speculative field, we are all supposed to honor Gone With the Wind as a classic, and I do recognize that — but as Becky recently noted, it’s unorthodox. As a viewer (I have not read the book), I was only able to support the supporting cast: Melanie, Ashley, and all.

For speculative stories, I (gasp!) frankly can’t see the great appeal of Star Wars — even the original trilogy. I know it’s there. Yet I didn’t grow up seeing the films since childhood.

For me, that may also contribute to my recent dislike of A Wrinkle in Time. Several people who say they love it have apparently grown up with the story. It’s “embedded.” Thus, I may argue that, even if adjusted for fantasy-inflation, the ending is shallow and sentimental, but that doesn’t — and shouldn’t — offset readers’ long attachment. In fact, this is like how I feel about the Left Behind series, despite what I know are its doctrinal and story flaws.

This also works for some newer Christian speculative novels. So far I’ve read quite a few of them that, to me, don’t seem all that great. Even if I don’t expect “the next Inkling” (which as A. T. Ross notes can be a silly and misinformed expectation anyway), I’m disappointed.

But maybe the story isn’t intended for me. Maybe it’s meant for another reader, likely a younger  reader. For him or her, it’s not clichéd or dull to read of yet another medieval setting with overt Christian allegories during the tale of another orphan who turns out to be the lost son of royalty about whom there is an ancient prophecy that he will defeat evil and bring peace. To such readers, all that is new and shiny and magical and wonderful.

If that’s true, maybe I shouldn’t complain. I might want different stories for readers like myself. But that’s a genre-based objection, not a particular-story-based objection.

So, which stories do you dislike that others near-unanimously praise?

E. Stephen Burnett explores fantastical stories for God’s glory as publisher of Lorehaven.com and its weekly Fantastical Truth podcast. He coauthored The Pop Culture Parent and creates other resources for fans and families, serving with his wife, Lacy, in their central Texas church. Stephen's first novel, a science-fiction adventure, launches in 2025 from Enclave Publishing.
  1. Jeff Miller says:

    I’ve certainly noticed the whole, “get on board” thing. Everybody likes it — or hates it — so you have to say the same. I’m not a fan of “A Wrinkle in Time,” either; I think Peretti does a better job of what happens in the natural realm rather than the spiritual in his “Darkness” novels; and I am definitely in the minority when I say “Batman Begins” is better than “The Dark Knight.” I also agree that there needn’t be a reboot of Spiderman just yet….but, too late.

    • I think of the Nolan Batman trilogy, The Dark Knight is the most iconic, per the Joker, but for character and story, I like the first and the last the best, with the last the best of all. 

      I picked out the Tale of Two Cities ties throughout the movie, ending with the excerpt read at the end that confirmed the connections I’d spotted earlier. It also kept reminding me of The Last Battle, and like LB, it ended with this sense of the darkness lifted, and the morning after the shadows. Rest and light.

      It really seems to me that the trilogy is an inverted arch — It starts up, then you follow Bruce Wayne down into the darkness, where he meets the Joker and has to confront his own internal darkness. Then, after vanquishing that foe, he has to face those outside himself before he can return to the light. 

  2. “Rise of the Planet of the Apes.”  I’ll admit it is well-acted, has great cinematography, and a decent script.  However, I didn’t see the point in watching it–as I told my husband “we already know the apes win.”  Besides, it had a lot of “people being incredibly stupid/cruel” moments, and while those moments made sense, I can only take so much of it before I want to punch the screen.  If I want to see humankind being horribly and unreasonable, I’ll go read the newspaper or watch a documentary.  Plus, the movie was manipulated to make you go “yay apes!  Down with those dumb humans.”  I hated being forced to think like that.
    Also, the Hunger Games movie.  Beautifully shot, nicely acted, great set and costume design.  And yes,  I read all three books.  But I do not think they translated right to the screen, I don’t like the spectator aspect of watching a movie vs. the in-your-head aspect of reading first-person prose, and I have no intention of seeing the movie again anytime soon. 

  3. I must really be in the minority, where I loved the Spiderman movies 1, 2, and 3. I saw them for the first time really recently, and they just spoke to some stuff I was going through.

    I also like the “Revenge of the Sith” for the interesting way it shows how evil takes over a person, as well as the point toward the end where the cracks show in Lucas’ own worldview regarding evil. The argument between Anikin and Obi-Wan are like puzzle pieces that don’t fit together, and Lucas’ only answer is to shrug, jam them in, and then just start fighting. (There, problem solved — maybe no one will notice.)

    I also love the new “Prince Caspian” movie, where, while I loved the characters, I never really cared for the book. The Caspian I loved was always the one from Dawn Treader. The movie simply replaced wimpy, chivalrous-sounding-nonsense-spouting PC Caspian, and replaced him with the DT Caspian. I also spent years playing Caspian and his many adventures (yeah, I know, I’m a girl. That just didn’t matter when I was 7.) I quickly discovered that PC did not translate well into live action — it was boring. So I took great liberties with the story, and ended up with something that, to my surprise, resembled the movie a lot. I also didn’t object to what they did with Peter’s character.  Really, if you were a 16-year-old guy, who then becomes the high king for years and years, then finds yourself back as 16, with everyone treating you as 16, don’t you think you’d have a few hiccups adjusting back? — It’s hard enough living at home for a month or two after only four years of college.

    On the flip side — I really don’t care for 90 percent of the Disney moves, and 99 percent of the Disney princess movies. 😛 I didn’t watch a lot of them growing up, (per Focus on the Family Disney boycott of the 1990s) and as I’ve started to see them, all I can think is “Great. The, spunky, lovely heroine has an unhappy family situation, meets a perfect (handsome, rich) prince. Wins him with some physical attribue (voice, looks, etc.) he falls madly in love, and so her live is given meaning and a happily ever after.” It bored and annoyed me. The only “princess” movies I like are “Tangled” — that one is just awesome, and “Mullan,” because it breaks with most of the traditions, and presents a more real heroine. Growing up, my one and only favorite Disney cartoon was “Robin Hood.” I despised the rest — I guess that shows what I was interested in — remember, I was pretending to be Prince Caspian at that same time.

    • One more point about the Prince Caspian movie that people love to hate on — THE KISS.

      If he’s the Caspian from the Dawn Treader, then if you remember, he fell in love with the daughter of the star at a glance. Is it really so shocking and horrible that he would fall for the woman kings and princess from all over, including Prince Rabadash, were crazy over when she ruled Narnia? (Rabadash even tried to start a war over her.)

      And that she, the girl who started getting, to paraphrase, “boy crazy,”  in a few year’s time, would initiate a kiss is not that big of a stretch, because Caspian, unsure of how she felt, would not presume to.

    • Nothing wrong, and everything right, with “girls” aspiring to be heroes! Isn’t it interesting, though, that this seems acceptable, while a boy who plays princess and “domestic” activities would seem odd? I am not critiquing this, only commenting.

      Prince Caspian (2008) is a perfect case study about book-to-film adaptation beliefs. (And the third film, … Dawn Treader, is a case study on bad story and adaptation.)

      Most of the Narnia fans I know concede that the book needed some changes to work better as a film. In plot structure, it seems too similar to that of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe; it is very clearly a sequel, and most Narnia fans, if you pressed them hard, would need to admit that Prince Caspian is their least favorite.

      But one significant theme sets the story apart: that of heroes returning from the ancient past, a la King Arthur — as Lewis himself references in the story — and ancient myths and creatures’ existence being proven true and reawakened. That is a theme the film captured very, very well, and even enhanced to some degree — for example, by showing the Narnia creatures in various states of age, from child Centaurs to gray-haired Satyrs, creatures types that we never saw in the first film.

      Where the film made changes, I believe they overall enhanced the story, made it more distinct from LWW, and simply made a better film (apart from adaptation questions). Only a few changes seemed to detract from this trend. For example, Lucy wonders aloud whether Aslan wants the children to prove themselves to him. The “true” Aslan would never do that, and the concept is against Lewis’s views.

      I must put the Susaspian Smooch-A-Rama in that category as well. First, it did not even match the film standing alone (apart from adaptation); there is no indication Susan and Caspian had time to develop such feelings. Second, unlike changes that at least maintained the Narnia books’ themes, “personality” and aesthetic, the Smooth was completely contrary to all of those. It comes out of nowhere and cheapens what would have been an otherwise acceptable, poignant ending. Even the film itself mocks the Smooch-A-Rama, trying to be all postmodern and hip, cooler than itself and trendily Self-Aware, which only demonstrates the absurdity even more.

      In honor of this absurdity, some years ago I had co-written a little song to sing. The original version was by Christian Jaeschke, fellow member of the NarniaWeb forum. I edited some words to maintain meter, and added others. It is set to the tune of the film’s quiet, actually appropriate and poignant end-credits song The Call.

      The Wail

      It started out as a feeling
      And then our annoyance grew and grew —
      As Susan and Caspian locked their lips
      We knew the rumor was sadly true.

      And then our screams grew louder and louder,
      ‘Til they were a banshee cry:
      Don’t let it back
      In the sequel!
      Because it’s not canonical!

      Just because the plot is changing,
      Doesnt mean there wont be a
      Collective fan roar.
      Now we can do what
      We should have done last time:
      Go online and start up a war!

      They wanted their stars to keep rising
      But gave us a fright!
      Well look back
      When its over;
      We’ll need to ask them: WHY?!

      Now we hope they won’t keep sinning
      We were just reeling, and now we suspect
      That because they don’t care much about the books
      It seems they think we will simply forget.

      Don’t let our enemies grow stronger and stronger
      ‘Til we hear the fangirls’ cries:
      “Bring it back
      In the sequel,
      For a love triangle!”

      NO — keep it out
      Of the sequel!
      Because its not canonical!!

  4. Kessie says:

    For him or her, it’s not clichéd or dull to read of yet another medieval setting with overt Christian allegories during the tale of another orphan who turns out to be the lost son of royalty about whom there is an ancient prophecy that he will defeat evil and bring peace.

    Stephen, can I have permission to add that quote to my growing collection of Christian tropes on my website? http://netraptor.org/blog/2012/08/christian-book-tropes

    • See also: The Chosen One. (A Christian trope started by Jesus Christ Himself, imitated by Christian and “secular” authors alike. Not bad, but often repeated without thought.)

      Kessie, I’m fine with that (perhaps with attribution and link)? And also personally, my only offer of “trade” for that is that we could republish that piece as a Speculative Faith feature, with credit to your own site at which it was originally published!

      I think we can laugh at “tropes” even while we respect authors and love the stories.

      • Kessie says:

        Sure, you can post it as an article! I keep getting new suggestions, so this thing is growing like the Evil Overlord List. 🙂 How does one go about submitting an article, anyway? Email? My email is posted on this comment and I imagine the admin can see it. 🙂

  5. Kessie says:

    Well, as I’m building my library of Christian books, I find myself panning book after book.  Either the characters are flat, the plots are predictable, or there is other stuff that go against my personal preferences. I find myself leaving 3 star reviews, and when I’m feeling especially generous, 4-stars. I’m always shocked to go on Amazon and find a zillion 5-star reviews for something I thought was sub-par.
    The only time I’ve really found myself liking something that other people hated is in my videogame fandom circles. Every game has something in it that I like. I also don’t particularly hate any of the characters. So I’m always surprised when people go to war over what games/comics/movies are the best, and which pairings should be official. I think they all have merit.
    One book I love that other people totally pan is Hexwood by Diana Wynne Jones. The story is written out of order. The first couple of chapters actually come toward the end of the story, and so on. As you read, you’re constantly trying to solve the puzzle of where this event goes and where that event goes. Then when you get to the end and everything straightens out, you get to see how close you were to solving it. Not to mention it’s a fantastic science fiction story all mashed together with stereotypical King Arthur fantasy. The reviewers on Amazon HATE Hexwood.

  6. Bainespal says:

    I have a hard time appreciating the superhero genre.  If I didn’t know better, if I didn’t know people who see epic themes in superhero stories, I would dismiss contemporary superhero movies as too light and goofy to make a significant literary impact.  I did not grow up reading superhero comics, but my father did, and he has an abiding love of the genre to this day.

    Recently, The Avengers did indeed strike me as epic; I think can understand the epic camaraderie  and courage that other people see in it.  Still, even The Avengers seemed too light, too eclectic, to fully satisfy me.  I can respect the superhero genre and acknowledge that superhero stories are indeed epic, but they just don’t resonate with me the way high fantasy and space opera stories do.

  7. I actually liked Jar Jar Binks. I missed a lot of what he said (I’m hard of hearing) but he seemed to be like C-3PO to me, the comic relief and running commentary.

    • Me too!!  I was a kid when I saw the movie, so maybe that “excuses” me, but I’ve always thought he was funny.  😀  Then again I don’t have a lot of respect for the prequel trilogy, so of course I don’t feel like he “ruined” those movies because they were bad enough to begin with, in my mind…

    • Kirsty says:

      I really liked him too. Of course, that was the first (and only) Star Wars I ever saw, and I was a uni student at the time. So I didn’t grow up with it.

  8. I missed a lot of what he said

    That’s probably why you liked him! 😀 Even as a non-Star-Wars-fan-since-childhood, I could understand why professional Star Wars fans detested Jar-Jar. Search YouTube videos for “Jar Jar dies” and you’ll find several lovely and gentle renditions. In this case, my view aligns with the majority, though I’m not as passionate about it as the pros.

  9. I really enjoyed “The Green Lantern” too!  Sure, it’s a bit of a “fluffy” film, not incredibly serious, with some silliness.  But I thoroughly enjoyed it.  🙂

    I’m with Jeff Miller in liking “Batman Begins” MUCH better than “The Dark Knight”.  I found it a more exciting film, with higher stakes, a more reasonable villain (the Joker’s “just because” variety of villainy irritates me due to its pointlessness).  I also found TDK darker in a more gross, icky way, and based on my one viewing I feel it lacked the excellent right vs. wrong, justice vs. vengeance themes I enjoyed so much in BB.  Maybe I just need to watch it again, but I have never been motivated to do so.

    This is weird, but I feel like if I hadn’t been introduced to “The Lord of the Rings” at a younger age, I would have little interest in it now, and might even find it dull.  My story tastes have dramatically shifted away from fantasy toward science-fiction in recent years, and I find I have little patience for verbose, rambling text like Tolkien’s anymore.  That is depressing to me, though!  I gobbled up everything Tolkien I could find as a preteen! I’m glad I did, too, because Middle-Earth is irreversibly embedded in my soul now, and I am a deeply nostalgic fan.  🙂

    A book I hate that others seem to revere – “The Giver” by Lois Lowry.  To me, that is a depressing, dull, and horrifying book!  I love the second book in the set, “Gathering Blue”, but “The Giver” and “Messenger” I could easily do without.  But I guess it’s considered a classic for young people…

  10. kim says:

    the movie that has inspired me to this day is STILL Lord of the Rings series.  My novels have the same medieval/fantasy theme so watching them gets my juices boiling.  I’m also inspired by medieval art.  My friend had to wrench medieval paintings from a second hand store from my cold white grip this weekend as they were kinda pricey and she encouraged me to wait until the prices are lower.  But . . . But!!!  Sigh. . . . 

  11. Galadriel says:

    I can’t stand Pride and Prejudice.  I tried reading it–I normally prefer books to movies, but it just didn’t get me. Talking, and dancing, and talking about dancing…that’s the first example that comes to my mind.

What do you think?