When is less action more? In G.I. Joe

Contributed by
Dec 14, 2012, 3:54 PM EST

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra looks like it can compete with the other wall-to-wall action movies of the summer, at least judging from the trailers, but screenwriter Stuart Beattie says the movie has less action than you might think.

"At the very beginning, when I first came on, I said, 'OK, I'm not going to do the standard 10 three-minute action sequences, just be wall-to-wall action,'" Beattie said in an exclusive interview by phone last month. "What I'm going to do is write four 10-minute action sequences. Each action sequence is going to build on the last one, and they're going to get bigger and bigger and better and better, so that by the end it's a real action kind of climax."

If Beattie's plan works, you'll never notice there's any less action in G.I. Joe than there was in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen or Terminator Salvation. "Because there are only four action sequences in the movie, each one will hopefully stay with the audience after they walk out of the theater," Beattie said. "They'll each remember bits from them and enjoy them. That's the kind of action movie that I grew up on when I was a kid. It wasn't these short action sequences, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, the whole way through the movie. It was very much character first, and then really create more meaningful and longer action sequences that kind of stay with you. So that was certainly a thing I certainly set down when I began writing. Fortunately, nobody had time to argue, because we were working against the clock right from the get-go."

Beattie's action street cred includes writing scripts for the first Pirates of the Caribbean film, as well as Collateral and 30 Days of Night. When imagining what kind of action could populate his four G.I. Joe sequences, Beattie just put himself in the audience's place.

"I would just start really trying to think up something new and something different, because I think that's all part of the bargain that you make with the audience when they lay down their 10 bucks," Beattie said. "You try and give them things that they haven't seen before that are exciting, that are new, that are fresh, that are original and that hopefully stay with them. Just try and make the film that you'd like to see."

An audience need only react on a visceral level. As a paid screenwriter, Beattie has learned to study and analyze exactly what appeals to him so he can bring it to his own films. "It's just one of the things that I've discovered about the kind of films that I like," he said. "They're the ones that have fewer but better action sequences. To me, that makes a better movie. I think the more you can identify the kind of films you like and why you like them, then the more you can apply that to your own work. It's just, I guess, your own experience and recognizing that experience and then applying it to the work."

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra opens Friday.