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June 24, 2017

Saturday Evening Movie Thread 06-24-2017 [Hosted By: TheJamesMadison]

Starting at Zero

theater interior.jpg

When the lights go down and the movie comes up, the audience is opening up to new experiences, new adventures, and new connections. Most of the time, these new things are fake, but the audience is willing to suspend disbelief and try to connect with what's happening on the 60-foot screen before them.

But no matter how successful or abysmal the effort on the part of the artists is, the audience always starts at zero. They have no emotional connection with any of the characters. Because of the artifice of fiction in general, there's a wall between the audience and the film on basic things like setting even if it's set in a familiar place.

What happens next is the movie tries to convince the audience of its authenticity. It's not always an authenticity around placing the events in a real world context, but an authenticity that creates an emotional connection of some kind.

You can take this a bit more granularly and say that individual sequences need to build up to specific emotional payoffs. Without the buildup, the emotions meant to derive from the payoff never really materialize. Think of it like a punchline without a joke. That drumbeat and clash of symbols without any humor before it.

What I show next is three examples of payoff. Two have, in my opinion, well established buildups, and the third does…not.

Ride for Ruin

LOTR - before the battle.jpg

Say what you want about the Peter Jackson's work on The Lord of the Rings as an adaptation, but the man certainly showed that he knows how to put together a tension filled moment in those movies. One of the first things I remember hearing about the quality of The Return of the King movie before its release at the end of 2004 was a story that Steven Spielberg had gotten to see some sections of the movie including the below clip, the Ride of the Rohirrim. He saw that and said, "Nothing's going to stop this movie from winning Best Picture."

What that sequence does (it's actually from the Extended Edition. The bit with Gandalf facing the Nazgul is not in the Theatrical Cut) is to simply build tension until the charge. The orcs in Minas Tirith, the breaking of Gandalf's staff, the quiet as the Rohirrim take the hill, the steady escalation of music, and the speech from King Theoden all work together to take the audience from the emotional low of a seeming defeat to the high of surprise victory. Without that build up, just starting with the cavalry starting its charge would be far less effective a moment.

Moscow Windup

bourne car.jpg

I think that The Bourne Supremacy is one of the best spy thrillers ever made. I find its technique effective and its emotional connection oddly affective. Hell, the below sequence takes place after the actual plot of the movie has been wrapped up. It only happens because Jason Bourne is wracked with guilt over a murder he committed in his previous life, and he needs to make amends to his victim's daughter. The chase only happens because Bourne has to go to Moscow to seek forgiveness.

But aside from that, the whole sequence from his arrival in Moscow to the police beginning their search to Karl Urban tracking him down to the bit in the grocery store and Bourne actually getting his hands on a car is done in a rather understated manner. The music is there, but it's relatively soft and mostly just a pulse. Once the actual car chase begins, though, the build of tension isn't over. The chase itself evolves and changes, making it increasingly difficult to guess where it will end. Again, without the bit building it up, though, the chase wouldn't feel as exciting, I think.

Below is the buildup. If you want the actual car chase, click here (for some reason it's not embeddable).

Ugh…Sausage Party

Okay, I'll admit it. I thought the trailer for Sausage Party looked funny. Just for reference, here it is:

There's a very specific reason I thought it was funny, and I bet you can guess why. There's buildup. It feels like a cheap Disney knockoff with innocence and a cheery atmosphere, until the truth of the food's plight is revealed in a violent action of the Irish Potato getting skinned. That violence forces a change from innocence to something far more sinister, and that sudden change makes everything that happens after it feel very funny.

Except…that's not how the movie actually works. Before we go any further, here's the opening musical number:

Yeah, it's vulgar from the opening scene. Now, I'm not a guy who turns off things because they're vulgar (I just finished playing South Park: The Stick of Truth and laughed the whole way through), but the humor of the situation the food finds itself in should stem from the juxtaposition between the innocence of the early stuff with the very different feel of the later stuff. The trailer does that. The movie doesn't. There's no great change in the feel of the movie from before the reveal to after it. The movie pretty obviously mistakes vulgarity for humor instead.

See? There's no buildup to the joke. It'd be like the drums and cymbals being hit constantly through a standup routine without any regard to whether a joke was actually playing or not. The vulgarity has just become a signal that something is supposed to be funny. Whether it's actually funny or not isn't really important because so many people have been conditioned to simply laugh at the sound of "naughty" words.


Without a proper buildup to emotional highs, the audience has a much harder time connecting with a movie. This is one reason why certain movies seem to have very large impacts on their first release and then largely forgotten later. Many movies end up being all about payoff without the requisite work in making that payoff mean something. The Transformers movies are largely like this. With just constant drumbeats of giant robots hitting each other for twenty to thirty minutes straight, it's hard to maintain interest, especially when we don't care about the puny humans running around in the background.

Movies of Today

Opening in Theaters:

Transformers: The Last Knight
The Beguiled

Next in my Netflix Queue:

Love on the Run

Movies I Saw This Week:

Bed & Board (Netflix Rating 5/5 | Quality Rating 3.5/4) Poster Blurb: "Another light but touching slice of life about Antoine Doinel."

Alien: Resurrection [Rewatch] (Netflix Rating 3/5 | Quality Rating 2.5/4) "Better than I think people remember it. It's surprisingly funny, and on purpose, too."

The Invitation (Netflix Rating 2/5 | Quality Rating 1.5/4) "One good scene and the rest bad scenes is not quite how John Ford put it."

Paddington (Netflix Rating 4/5 | Quality Rating 3/4) "Sweet and easy to enjoy family fare."


Email any suggestions or questions to thejamesmadison.aos at symbol gmail dot com.

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posted by OregonMuse at 08:02 PM

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