[Woo Nick Valdez! Nick writes a blog about high school and Jon Stewart's tongue. Don't forget that you can see your blogs on the front page if you participate in our monthly theme and write something stellar. - Kauza]
Some film settings linger whether you are aware of it or not. The really great ones manage to engrave themselves somewhere deep within your consciousness. The question here is, how? Does a film need to be in a faraway land driven by imagination? Does it need to be a gritty, post apocalyptic masterpiece of a world?
Turns out, a truly great setting needs to be neither of these things. It just needs to connect to your own experiences.
High school is relevant to just about everyone. It is the place where most people crafted an identity for themselves, had a close group of friends, dealt with bullies, experimented with things, and dealt with alien invasions.
What? Was that just me? (You should watch The Faculty. It's great. This happens to Jon Stewart).
As a setting, it has the perfect amount of escapism mixed with reality. There has to be an element that connects to the viewer in order to provide substance to the narrative (ideally, the audience will connect to the main character of a film in some way). Without a little reality, the distant world would remain distant.
Take Star Wars for instance, this space opera takes place in the farthest realm of fantasy. There are glorious space battles, magical bacteria, and a constant battle between good and evil. Despite all of that, the viewer is still able to imagine themselves in Luke Skywalker’s shoes as he takes down the Empire. Why are they able to do this, you did not ask? Because Luke looks like a human.
If Luke looked like Admiral Ackbar, then the films would have been nowhere near as popular.
Since high school is realistic, it can only benefit from outrageous fantasy elements. It is a setting that can either be fueled by nostalgia or dreams of things we wished would have happened. We can escape from our boring pasts while we place ourselves in the shoes of the characters.
As I hinted at, I had a run-of-the-mill high school experience. I went to school, went to the occasional school event, went home. Rinse, repeat. As I sat in class, I would dream of greater things, specifically, interesting things.
Watching Grease just makes me wish that my friends and I broke out into song every time we had to get a message across (and those are some adult oriented songs!). Instead of responding to what I wanted for lunch with a simple phrase, “A sandwich,” we could break out into some highly choreographed number about the benefits of eating healthy (or something like that). The Breakfast Club made me realize that I was also a cookie cutter stereotype once, while Fast Times at Ridgemont High made me question how little I went to "the mall" (or how I was not born in the eighties).
When I viewed The Faculty for the first time, I remember pondering how feasible the premise seemed. Were my teachers part of an alien invasion? I thought they were. The film used its setting to tap into my budding individualistic nature as I rebelled against the adult “collective”.
In retrospect, my thoughts may have been a bit delusional.
I was able to place myself within each of these films no matter how ridiculous each premise initially seemed. Mostly because I was physically there. I had either experienced the same things or wished those things had happened.
High school is far more reachable than Tatooine or TARDIS. If I wanted to, I could drive there now.
As a matter of fact...I think I will.