When You Just Can’t Suspend Anymore

I was chatting with a friend about the increasing escalation in movies of spectacle and action, and realizing that it’s cheapening the sense of a hero’s accomplishment.  If nothing can hurt these people then their struggles are meaningless.   This started over a discussion of the fight in Goblin town in the HOBBIT.  I really despised that whole sequence.  If felt like an amusement park ride, and the idea that people could fall vast distances and just jump up and run off made me crazy.  Bilbo would have broken every bone in his body with that fall.  It was this lack of realism that made me walk out of KING KONG.  When the heroine is bouncing on top of dinosaurs, and then Kong holds her and shakes her hard I knew he brain was applesauce at that point.  I just gave up.  Same thing in VAN HELSING  when Kate Beckinsale falls off a roof, and bounces off every branch on a tree, then jumpt up and runs off to fight more vampires.  At that moment hatred of the film set in.

Contrast this with DIE HARD, probably the best action movie ever made.  John McClane gets beat to hell over the course of those two hours.  He’s scared, and dirty and tired and bleeding.  He’s a human being fighting for his life and the lives of his wife and her co-workers.  You hurt with him.  He’s not a superhero he’s a man who pushes past his limits because he has to, and the cost is etched on his body and spirit.  McClane’s victory makes me want to stand up and cheer.  I don’t have that feeling in these modern action movies.  I’ll probably go see the new Die Hard movie out of a sense of prurient interest, but I bet it forgets all the lesson of the original and has explosions inside of explosions, and Energizer Bunny characters rather than real people.

Truthfully I’m longing for a human story where ordinary people dig deep and find the courage to go on.  I want the first half of CAPTAIN AMERICA before he obtained powers.  The story of an essentially decent man who longs to serve and will sacrifice his own life for others.  Bottom line.  No amount of action can substitute for story, and the basis for all good stories is the human heart in conflict with itself.  Not humans in conflict with monsters, explosions, cliffs, fists, swords, etc.  Ultimately here is more drama to be found in a man saying farewell to his love then a thousand battles.

7 Responses to When You Just Can’t Suspend Anymore

  • Georgino Ludwig says:

    To an extent I see your point about realistic violence in movies. There is something awe inspiring watching the hero overcome his challenges and struggle and bleed for those he loves. Yes the original Die Hard is a great example for the hero out of his depth but going on because he must. The problem in part stems from the influx of influence from the hong long action films. Still there are interesting action films that while extreme in violence don’t have that comic cartoonish quality to them. Hanah staring saoirse Ronan and Eric bana, Dredd staring Karl Urban, and Haywire all come to my mind. If you haven’t seen those you should. If you have I’d like to know your thoughts on those

  • Melinda Snodgrass says:

    I missed all of the films you’ve mentioned. I wanted to see Dredd, but it played for a very short time here in Santa Fe. There’s a good deal of violence in the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and because it’s so real it’s quite visceral and powerful. Kick Ass is another that depicts violence in a very powerful way.

    I guess I’m objecting to sanitized violence and when characters can survive anything it cheapens their story. Heroes have to earn their victory.

    • Have you seen the Swedish version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, with Noomi Rapace in the title role? I found it more intense and more rewarding than the American version. (Ironically, I’ve since learned that some of what I liked about it was a result of its taking more liberties with the novel. . . .)

  • Georgino Ludwig says:

    I was lucky to see Hanah in at the movies. It was a birthday treat for myself. And while I’m no professional movie critic nor a film maker I must say it was one of the best films I saw that year. There is a deliberate fairy tale lime quality to it. However the violence of it is not sanitized. Which I think is a good way to put it when the hero can just shrug off what happens and keep going.

    Dredd on the other hand is extremely violent. It is very stylized yet the violence of it conforms to the story and it is in no way something that is cliche or sanitized.

    The other problem I have with some action movies is the violence is treated with comedy

  • Laurie Mann says:

    Completely agree with you on The Hobbit. Parts of it are quite lovely, but when a movie screams “theme park ride” for more than a minute or two, I really lose interest. Jack Reacher was, generally, a pretty reasonable action movie, except for a fight or two (well, and that finale).

  • I found The Hobbit, Part 1 really unsatisfying in a lot of ways. Too much purely physical action, too much gross humor, and way too much of Jackson’s favorite trope of falling=danger. (Wouldn’t it have been enough to show Thorin and Company at risk of being burned to death in those firtrees, without having them fall off a cliff too?)

    The sad thing is that Jackson used to know better, part of the time. The scenes of Boromir being shot, and struggling up to strike one more blow, or of the boys and old men being led out to fight at Helm’s Deep, were emotionally powerful.

  • Melinda Snodgrass says:

    I liked both the American and the Swedish versions for different reasons. I preferred then end of the American version. The whole going to Australia thing was better lost and just have the woman in London be the lost girl. The basic problem is that the books end with the stuff about the lawsuit, and truthfully nobody gives a damn about the lawsuit. The murders are far more interesting. And yes, we change books for a reason when we turn them into screenplays, and too faithful an adaptation is usually stultifying. Look at the first 2 Harry Potter movies, or Watchman.

    It was so annoying to see some of the Hobbit changes. Bilbo grabbing up a sword to protect Thorin. The whole point of Bilbo is that he’s not a fighter and a killer. If they’d had him do something clever to help Thorin I would have been much happier.

    Jackson has great gifts, but he’s become “too big to edit” as we say in the book biz so his worst habits can no longer be contained.

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