Assuming the overall quality was okay, I’d say the main reason we get that ‘Not bad, but I don’t expect I’ll read/watch it again’ reaction is because none of the main characters changed as a result of the story.
Last week, mtlawson posted an interesting entry in which he asked how much the events in a story should change the people in it (if at all).
My own feeling is that the difference between a great story and a good one is directly related to the amount of change the main character(s) go through as a result of what happens to and around them.
The change can be internal or external, or both. Sometimes an external change forces an internal change which helps bring about another external change (often it’s a change back). Here are some examples:
A mean old miser learns to take joy in helping others, but only after he’s forced to confront his past mistakes and see what others think of him (Scrooge).
The tragic and forbidden love of two people from feuding factions ends in death, but brings both sides together (I’m thinking West Side Story here, not that Shakespeare bloke’s obvious rip-off – see Who does that Shakespeare bloke think he is? – The scene at the end of the movie when both sides help to carry off Tony’s body always brings a lump to my throat.
In the movie, Groundhog Day, Bill Murray’s character gets stuck in a time loop and is forced to relive the same day again and again. Over the course of the movie he comes to realize the error of his previously shallow ways and turns his focus to helping others. When he finally achieves that perfect, selfless day the curse is lifted. He comes out of it a better and happier person (not to mention skilled at playing the piano and ice sculpting).
I believe our opinion of the ‘greatness’ of a story or movie is directly related to the amount of empathy induced by a believable change in one or more of the main characters of a story.
If you don’t see that empathy-inducing change in one of the characters, you probably don’t think of that story as ‘great’.
That’s why so many blockbusters make megabucks at the movies, but end up with relatively poor DVD sales. It’s also why we have a great many ‘Watched/read it once, don’t think I’ll bother again’ books and films on our shelves at home (and why, imo, the second and fourth Indiana Jones movies were nowhere near as good as the first and third).
Of course, I could be wrong. Still, with your help, I’d like to put my theory to the test.
Is a believable change in one or more of the main characters essential to a great story?
Do you have a favorite story or movie in which none of the main characters change?
ETA: Hehe, I really should wear my glasses when I'm typing. I voted 'Yes' when I should have voted 'No'