Two seminal films in the pantheon of cinematic history, Revenge of the Nerds and The Beastmaster, employ a scene archetype that we see in the climax of many a story — the beat that occurs when the friends that the hero made earlier in the movie, whom we’d forgotten about, return to help save the day, thus facilitating the hero’s triumph over evil. Sometimes, they are former enemies who have become allies out of respect for the protagonist’s actions since they first met.
You know, the Ewoks in Return of the Jedi, the Armies of the Dead and the eagles in LOTR: The Return of the King, Ron Burgundy’s dog Baxter in Anchorman, Phoebe Cates’ breasts in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Like that.
In Revenge of the Nerds, this comes in the form of the indomitable U.N. Jefferson and his finger of justice.
Earlier in the film, you’ll remember how the nerds went searching for a national fraternity to sponsor their local chapter, and the only one they could find to take them was the all-African American fraternity, Lambda Lambda Lambda. That’s called dramatic irony. (Although the guy from “Stuff Black People Don’t Like” disagrees.) U.N. Jefferson had also laughed at the nerds in a previous scene, thus making it a nice surprise when he becomes a crucial ally in the Climax of the movie.
It’s important that the “returning allies” not do all the work. They can’t just sweep in and win the day while your protagonist sits idly by, watching. It is a common beginner mistake to make the protagonist passive in the climax.
Even if they get a little help, we still want to see our hero defeat the villain. In Nerds, U.N. Jefferson and his guys make the jocks back off so that Anthony Edwards can give a heartwarming speech that helps everyone to get in touch with their inner nerds. The nerds have finally won their place at Adams College.
In The Beastmaster, a film that no one has ever claimed was robbed at the Oscars but yet was an absolute revelation for me as a child, you might remember these dudes, affectionately known as The Vore…
They’re really good at turning humans into goop. This was a very marketable skill in the boom-boom Eighties.
In the end, just when the Beastmaster (a never-better Marc Singer!) is on the precipice of annihilation, and all seems lost, the Vore swoop in (literally) and make goop of all the bad guys. Then…something else happens and there’s a happy ending.
Okay, I don’t remember how The Beastmaster ends; what am I, a nerd? (Please do not answer that.)
Ultimately, this kind of device is a great use of Setups and Payoffs, which is one of the strongest tools at your disposal in any kind of narrative writing. So keep it in mind, whilst you keep those reluctant allies in your back pocket.
In closing, many of you have been asking when my cat would make another appearance, so here’s a candid of us in the backyard.
Good Luck and Happy Writing,
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