Christmas? Again? The Yuletide obsession of Shane Black

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Exploring what this time of the year means to the legendary Shane Black and his movies.

Shane Black was one of the most highly paid screenwriters in Hollywood during the late 80s and early 90s. With credits including Lethal Weapon, The Last Boy Scout and The Long Kiss Goodnight, Black’s wildly inventive action and snappy dialogue fast became his trademark. Black’s recent move into directing, with the brilliant black comedy Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and the Marvel sequel Iron Man 3, has proven he is just as adept at directing action as writing it, but there is one more similarity that his directorial efforts share with almost all of his previous writing credits: Christmas.

Not every film Shane Black’s made has a Christmas flavour, but it does seem more than just a coincidence – so why the Yuletide obsession? Christmas offers an interesting backdrop, not just visually but in all the emotions and thematic resonance this time of year engenders in the average viewer and Black, as an established and very talented Hollywood screenwriter, is well aware of this.

Christmas offers an interesting backdrop, both visually and in all the thematic resonance this time of year engenders in the viewer

Christmas represents many things to many different people – whether that is family, friends, love and excitement, something more negative like fear, obligation and depression, or all of the above. It is a maelstrom of emotions, like a big Hollywood action blockbuster, except without the explosions. In film, Christmas is great for establishing a lot of character work in a short amount of time. Everyone has their own thoughts and opinions about Christmas, so positioning a character for, against or somewhere in between immediately communicates to the audience the kind of story that can be expected.

the long kiss goodnight

Shane Black’s characters are perfect archetypes: Lethal Weapon has Riggs, emotionally unstable, and Murtaugh, who has been put out to pasture, but they must learn to work together in order to stop the bad guys. This sort of character set-up is not specifically Christmassy, but it is specifically Hollywoody. Christmas is only used in order to amplify these tropes.

Iron Man 3 is from the It’s A Wonderful Life school of Christmas moviemaking

Iron Man 3 is a great example of not only a Shane Black film, but the Hollywood Christmas story. Tony Stark’s world is brought down around him and he must struggle in order to re-establish it, but becomes a different, better man in the end. This is basically the It’s A Wonderful Life school of Christmas moviemaking. That film is such a classic that the reason it has been re-written and adapted almost ad nauseum since its release is because it works.

Audiences respond to the underdog: the man or woman down on their luck, who must fight against insurmountable odds in order to succeed against whatever may be holding them down. This trope is far more powerful at Christmas time when everyone wants to know they have somewhere to go, someone to be with and the thought of that being wrenched away is terrifying. On the other side of the coin, if you are unfortunate enough to be down and out, there is a sense of empowerment seeing someone in a similar position come out on top.

iron man 3 christmas

In an interview with Slash Film, Shane Black spoke about the reasons for setting Iron Man 3 during Christmas. He says: “There’s something at Christmas that unites everybody and it already sets a stage within the stage, that wherever you are, you’re experiencing this world together. I think that also there’s something just pleasing about it to me.”

Black went further into some of the deeper reasons why Tony Stark was to go up against The Mandarin amongst the mistletoe, which speaks a little more to the possible reasons as to why he has set so many of his films over Christmas: “It’s a time of reckoning for a lot of people, when you take stock of how you got to where you are now and lonely people are lonelier at Christmas and you tend to notice things more acutely, I think.”

Shane Black is aware of how Christmas can intensify the emotions to create a more fulfilling cinematic experience

As a screenwriter, Shane Black is aware of the archetypes and narrative systems to which audiences subconsciously respond. And he is even more aware of how Christmas can intensify the emotions connected to these archetypes to potentially create a more fulfilling cinematic experience. Perhaps the constant use of the Yuletide season can come off as a bit of writer’s laziness. An Iron Man film set during Christmas released mid-year is more than a little weird, but Black’s writing process seems to bring it all through the finish line, more often than not with a very satisfying conclusion. Just please, for the love of God, don’t put him in the same room as Tim Burton.


Featured image: Warner Bros

Inset images: New Line Cinema; Marvel

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