Hollywood is packed with aspiring screenwriters. After paying their dues, some find themselves rising to the top of the industry. Others still never make it big. It’s tough to nail down the one magic bullet for what makes or breaks a successful writer. Damon Lindelof though seems to have found it, having made a career in sci-fi and fantasy at the exact moment audiences want it most. Partially due to escalating and dire global crises, as well as the surge in Marvel’s cinematic empire have all made Lindelof’s subject matter worth its weight in gold.
That being so, his career has been one punctuated by sloppily-written great ideas. Virtually every project he’s been attached to has massive thematic problems tied directly into the DNA of the story. His filmography is spotted with hugely successful TV shows and movies, but those same properties have made a habit of confusing audiences. His work is defined by gaping plot-holes and hastily fleshed-out storytelling that, while on the surface is entertaining, is in many ways patently lazy.
That’s not to say Lindelof doesn’t play a key role in Hollywood. His credits include two Star Trek movies, Prometheus, and the aforementioned Lost, so there’s no debating that he’s been a successful screenwriter. But is he a careful screenwriter? Based on even his most popular work, the glaringly obvious answer is a resounding “no.” Take one look at the way Lost spun into a series of unintelligible twists and side-plots and we see the quintessential Lindelof style: Flashy, intriguing, but unsubstantial. He’s amazingly skilled at drawing an audience in, but once he’s hooked you, more often than not he writes himself into a corner.
It’s not just Lost either. Prometheus was widely criticized for playing fast and loose with its timeline and story, while Star Trek, expertly directed by J.J. Abrams, featured some confusing alternate dimension/time travel plot points that never really made much sense. Look at Lindelof’s latest work as a co-writer with Brad Bird on Tomorrowland and we see those same touch-points: A fascinating universe that never gets properly explained.
Tomorrowland itself is a fascinating concept, positing that the greatest minds of humanity had escaped to an alternate dimension free of bureaucracy to advance science and technology hundreds of years ahead of Earth’s own. But rather than explore that idea, Lindelof’s script glossed over anything that resembled an explanation, and never really fully delved into what made his world interesting to begin with. Instead, we had a Hollywood-ready tale of a “chosen one” character saving the world. The simple story infused in the complex universe told us one thing: That while the universe itself was fascinating, its creator lacked the skill to fully realize its potential.
Odds are, Lindelof will continue to get work in Hollywood. He’s been attached to enough moneymaking projects now to where he’s seen as someone who can put butts in seats regardless of how confusing his movies are. But one has to wonder just how successful he would be if his writing wasn’t attached to time-honored franchises like Star Trek and Prometheus. So far, Tomorrowland is floundering at the box office, a similar fate to his last original story, Cowboys & Aliens. Someday perhaps, the franchise sheen will rub off, forcing Lindelof to truly learn what it is to be more thorough than flashy.
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