There are several ways a movie can tank in a big way, but the dialogue has to be one of the most irritating of them all since it can take a great movie premise and toss it on the ground and stomp on it a few times to make certain that it’s going to come out as a linguistic mess. Then there are those moments when the actors somehow don’t feel natural in their delivery when they stumble or stutter over the words, and the whole thing just sounds like a giant mess. It’s hard to know who to blame in this instance, especially since the writers are usually those that are handling the lines to start with, and revisions are likely a good thing in some cases, even if the writers don’t appreciate having their work critiqued so harshly. Hey, it’s a part of the job, and it can keep a movie from sounding like a halting and uncertain mess that is best left on the cutting room floor rather than being released to the public. There are plenty of moments in movies when the dialogue just doesn’t flow or is so needlessly complicated that it’s bound to confuse at least half of the audience. I’m looking at you Matrix trilogy and the needless exposition that was given in every other scene that was to be had in the three movies. Machines bad, humans trying to survive, constant war, got it. Was that so hard? Of course there would need to be enough explanation of how reality was warped and life within the Matrix was the only way to strike back, but holy hell, there are times when the talking just needs to stop and the action has to take over.
Some folks would state that there’s no such thing as bad dialogue, only the perspective of those that don’t fully understand what’s going on in the movie. Personally, I would love to have these people read the Dark Tower series by Stephen King, and then watch the movie, and then try to say the same thing after all is said and done. The Dark Tower was another movie where the dialogue was simply too horrible for words, ironically, and apart from the mishmash that was made of the movie, that Stephen King approved of somehow, it was painful to hear each line delivered in such a horrible fashion. And this is from someone that happens to like Idris Elba, Jackie Earle Haley, and Matthew McConaughey.
Good dialogue flows, it has a back and forth dynamic that feels natural, and it’s usually between two or more people in a setting that allows for the type of dialogue that’s going on. A good example would be Jules and Vincent in Pulp Fiction when they’re sitting in the cafe enjoying their breakfast after a long and arduous morning. Jules obviously has a lot on his mind, while Vincent is just as oblivious as ever in his own way. The conversation they have over breakfast before Vincent goes to relieve himself is one that just about anyone could believe since they’re speaking in even, normal tones, and they’re not putting too much or too little emotion into their words for the given conversation. Vincent doesn’t understand Jules’ need to tell their boss that he’s going to quit, and Jules is simply contemplative, a perfect match for the growing agitation that Vincent is feeling. It’s this back and forth dynamic that helps to make a great bit of dialogue since it feels natural, it’s something that people can listen to and think that it could be happening in real life. Like it or not, people do want to be able to connect with the characters in a movie, and if the dialogue isn’t going to help then something else needs to be done in order to make sure that happens. When dialogue doesn’t click then a big part of the story has been lost since people pay greater attention when everything comes together as the elements of a movie are important to the enjoyment of the audience. It’s kind of evident that some directors don’t really care since their vision is everything that matters, and the audience will simply have to accept what they’re given.
But when the dialogue in a movie such as Sharknado can beat out the dialogue in any other movie…huh boy. This is what’s frustrating sometimes when it comes to being a writer and someone that hopes to get into screenwriting when those that are in charge of the writing don’t appear to realize that their dialogue is not working and that it sounds about as realistic as fake crab meat. At that moment one would hope that a writer would ask someone to read through the lines with them just to see if it works. Obviously, that’s not always a priority.