In college I took a screenwriting class where the professor was an ardent disciple of Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat. The premise of this screenwriting method is to follow the formula. The formula is based on the dubious claim that every successful film adheres to the formula, whether consciously or not (a lot of square pegs are pounded into round holes to argue this claim). Despite the intellectual and aesthetic dishonesty of Save the Cat, the formula works to get students high grades in screenwriting classes and it makes moronic producers think a screenplay has been written correctly. Space Sweepers follows the formula.
Adherents of the formula claim that the formula is constant. Only the trappings around it change. If a film deviates from the formula, it is bad. If a film adheres to the formula, the quality of the film can only be judged by the quality of the trappings. Space Sweepers provides a perfect counterargument to Blake Snyder (actually, Blake Snyder’s own crappy screenplays are enough to discredit his attempts to play the aesthete).
Space Sweepers has pretty good trappings. The characters are interesting and the blend of Korean characters with characters of other ethnicities and languages works well for a dystopian space film. The main characters are glorified scrappers, zooming around collecting space junk for scrap metal before it hurls into earth’s atmosphere and wreaks destruction. That’s a pretty cool idea. It also has a really cool robot.
The problem with Space Sweepers is that to propel the formula into the realm of a decent film, you need great trappings. The Fifth Element provides a good example of a movie throwing everything it possibly can at the audience to distract them from the hero’s journey occurring right in front of their face. It partly achieves this by cranking the bizarre up to eleven. But it also makes the journey unique. It colors outside the lines. And despite the immense creativity of that film there’s nothing transcendent about it. The Fifth Element limits itself to being a merely good film.
In many ways, Space Sweepers lifts directly from The Fifth Element. It also employs this trend I’ve noticed in sci-fi movies of employing a future where earth’s environment has been destroyed. That makes sense because it’s highly relevant and taps into our anxieties about what the future may look like as global climate change progresses. However, like most films, Space Sweepers has nothing unique or interesting to say about this crisis.
Good storytelling is similar to making good music. If you polish everything to perfection—use electronic beats that never falter, use a chord progression proven to appeal, implement a predictable number of bars, use a crescendo bridge, etc.—the perfection of the music will make it boring. That’s what happens when you write a screenplay by printing out a Blake Snyder beat sheet and filling in the blanks like a game of Mad Libs. Space Sweepers is a sort of sci-fi Mad Lib. It’s boring.