Reflections Of The Shadow by Jeffrey Hirschberg (book review).

November 13, 2014 | By | 1 Reply More

‘Reflections Of The Shadow’ is the oddly titled book by Jeffrey Hirschberg that explores, through examples, what makes compelling film heroes and villains. The title actually does make more sense when Hirschberg reveals that the villain is the shadow image of the hero, a reference from ‘Raiders Of The Lost Ark’ of opposites. It does make me wonder if that is true all the time, though. I mean, how many of you have played mix and match and changed opponents and see how the heroes coped? If you’re coming up with a villain then you’re going to make them a challenge for the hero and what can be worse than someone like them only with nastier rationales.


There are some interesting observations about film villains that the hero doesn’t actually kill them but often fall by their own devices. I suppose having the hero commit the deed, whatever the circumstances where it is forced on him or her would make them no better than the villain in some people’s eyes. We see that a lot with the recent super-hero films but it happens in the other genres as well although I’m surprised that Hirschberg doesn’t include war movies.

Hirschberg does take a lot of examples from our genre and it’s interesting that how many reveals happens by the 17th minute, which tends to follow the pattern given in one of Michel Wiese’s other books ‘Something Startling Happens’ by Todd Klick. I’m not sure if I altogether agree that the marines in ‘Aliens’ were dysfunctional as it was mostly Hudson who was the most rebellious. When they landed, they were all professional.

His analysis of ‘The Dark Knight’s ‘Joker’ and the explanations for his scarred grin fails to acknowledge that the felon doesn’t have to tell the truth about himself. Villains do lie more than heroes after all..

There are three interviews with scriptwriters which gives insight into three films that they were famous for. Steve de Souza gives the most insight with ‘Die Hard’ and how being given a tight deadline because of a set release date reduces studio interference. He also points out that it is curiosity that ensures the viewer’s interest in the villain as to what happens next. David Koepp who wrote the Tobey Maguire ‘Spider-Man’ was also responsible for minimalising the wisecracks. Comparing the two recent versions, I think the latest has a better balance. I mean who wants a super-hero who says nothing? There’s still a problem of other people hearing them above city noise but it is part of the genre.

The end section of the book focuses on what makes a great screenplay or rather how to sell it. Some aspects of this can make sense to prose as well and worth paying attention to. After all, when you approach a publisher, it isn’t the editor you have to convince that the story is any good but the low paid reader who has to wade through a slush pile looking for something special that might be worth showing his or her boss. Getting that first arm or leg through the door and become a person of interest should never be under-estimated. If you learn nothing else from this book but to give comedy to a comedy story and horror to a horror story, then you’ve learnt something.

I do find it slightly contradictory when Hirschberg says try to avoid having heroes come from a privileged background when so many Hollywood films are more white than blue collar. I’m not sure if I would go into as much detail in creating background detail for characters as much as Hirschberg points out. This is mostly because if you’re not careful, you can end up with a lot of sameness that can be associated with your own upbringing. For prose, it would be easier to broadstroke and only detail the areas you need for the story and do a page of dialogue to get the speech pattern.

There is a lot to learn from this book, especially if you’re starting writing in any format. A lot of it relates to avoiding bad habits and remembering you’re supposed to be selling a product, whether as a script or prose. If you come away with just that, anything else is a bonus.

GF Willmetts

November 2014

(pub: Michael Wiese Productions. 260 page indexed small enlarged paperback. Price: $26.95 (US), £13.53 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-93907-61-2)

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Category: Books, Culture, Films

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About UncleGeoff

Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’
If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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  1. Jim Taylor says:

    Ellery Queen coined the term “Player on the Other Side”. The villain is the equal but opposite of the hero. The hero should think when meeting the villain “There but for the grace of God could go I.”

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