HULK EXPLAIN ACTION SCENES! WITH SPECIAL GUEST TOM TOWNEND! – DAY 1 OF 3

September 13, 2011

WHAT MAKES AN ACTION SCENE GOOD?

IT’S RATHER PERTINENT QUESTION NOWADAYS. IT SEEMS ACTION SCENES ARE A COMPONENT OF EVERY KIND OF POPULAR MOVIE. AND WE BUILD HIGH-STAKES SUMMER TENT-POLE MOVIES AROUND NOTHING MORE THAN A VAGUE CONCEPT AND THEN TREAT THE SET-PIECES LIKE THEY’RE ONLY THING THAT MATTER.

FOR SOME REASON, WE CONTINUE TO BELIEVE THIS IS “THE WAY” TO DO THINGS DESPITE THE FACT THAT RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES CURRENTLY HIGHLIGHTING THE FACT THAT A GOOD STORY WELL-TOLD IS THE THING THAT TRULY RESONATES WITH AUDIENCES. BUT BECAUSE ACTION SCENES DOMINATE THE BOTH THE INCEPTION AND PRODUCTION OF FILMMAKING, HULK WORRIES THAT THE EFFECTS NOW TOO DEEPLY-ROOTED IN THE FOUNDATION OF MOVIE CULTURE. MEANING HULK THINKS OF ALL THE THOUSANDS OF YOUNG KIDS WHO ARE TOTALLY INTO MOVIES AND TRYING TO REPLICATE THEIR FAVORITE ACTION SCENES AT HOME. WHAT ARE THEY TAKING AWAY FROM WHAT THEY’RE SEEING? CHANCES ARE IT’S NOT THE GOOD THINGS.

THIS PROBLEM RAISES A REALLY GOOD QUESTION: IF ACTION IS SO IMPORTANT AND INGRAINED INTO OUR CONSCIOUSNESS… WHY AREN’T ACTION SCENES BETTER? (i)

IT’S SURELY NOT A QUESTION OF RESOURCES. TODAY’S MOVIES HAVE EXORBITANT BUDGETS. INCREDIBLE PRODUCTION TOOLS. ARMIES OF CGI MAGICIANS. EVERYTHING AT THEIR DISPOSAL… SO WHAT’S MISSING HERE? HOW ARE THESE OH-SO-CRITICAL ACTION SET-PIECES NOT WORKING BETTER? ESPECIALLY IF THEY ARE THE ONLY THING WE SUPPOSEDLY CARE ABOUT?

HULK THINK THERE A SIMPLE ANSWER:  MOST PEOPLE HAVE ABSOLUTELY NO UNDERSTANDING OF HOW BASIC ACTION WORKS ON SCREEN.

LET’S START ON A CULTURAL LEVEL. HULK GOING TO ASK YOU TO THINK OF THE WORD MOST OFTEN USED BY PEOPLE TO DESCRIBE GOOD ACTION. GOT ONE? WHILE THERE LIKELY NO SINGULAR ANSWER, HULK ARGUE THE MOST POPULAR WORD USED WOULD BE “COOL.”

HULK FIND THAT WORD VERY TELLING. FOR ONE, THE MEANING OF THE WORD ACTUALLY SUPER-VAGUE. THIS IS PARTIALLY BECAUSE “COOL” IS THE DEFAULT, LONG-RUNNING ADOLESCENT-NONSENSE WORD. BUT EVEN IF IT’S VAGUE EVERYONE KNOW WHAT AT LEAST MEANT BY IT. MORE SIGNIFICANTLY, HOWEVER, IS THE FACT THAT COOLNESS IS SOMETHING THAT IS INHERENTLY EVASIVE. MARKETING EXECUTIVES SPEND MILLIONS EVERY YEAR TRYING TO FIGURE OUT WHAT’S “COOL” AND SO THE VERY  IDEA THAT ONE CAN TRY CAPITALIZE ON IT AND SHOWCASE WITH ACTION IS LIKE TRYING TO BOTTLE LIGHTNING. REMEMBER, COOL CAN ONLY BE AN ABSTRACT CONCEPT, NOTHING MORE THAN A VIBE. WORSE, IT WHOLLY DEPENDS ON THE VIEWER’S TASTE.

THE MOST IMPORTANT PART OF THIS BAD WORD CHOICE IS THAT DETERMINING WHAT’S “COOL” IS NOT AN EMOTIONAL REACTION, BUT A CEREBRAL ONE.  EVEN IF IT’S LARGELY SUBCONSCIOUS, CALLING SOMETHING COOL IS MORE OF AN EVALUATION THAN A REACTION. IN ORDER FOR SOMETHING TO BE COOL IT HAVE TO IMPLIES THAT ONE HAS TO UNENGAGED, DISCONNECTED, AND DETACHED.

… AND THAT IS NOT WHAT YOU WANT IN A MOVIE.

YOU WANT BE ENGAGED. CONNECTED. ATTACHED.

ENTHRALLED.

WHICH MEANS ACTION SHOULD NEVER SOLELY BE COOL. AND IT SHOULD NEVER, EVER, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES JUST BE THOUGHT OF AS JUST A BUNCH OF COOL SHIT HAPPENING ON SCREEN. THE BELIEF IN SUCH A THING SHOULD BE CONSIDERED A VIAL MYTH. MUCH LIKE HULK’S HATRED OF 3 ACT STRUCTURE, THE MAIN PROBLEM OF CALLING THINGS COOL STEMS FROM  THE FACT THAT OUR CULTURAL USE OF THE WORD NOT INSTRUCTIONAL OR DESCRIPTIVE ENOUGH WAY TO CATEGORIZE HOW ACTION WORKS. AND SINCE WE CANNOT DESCRIBE IT RIGHT, PEOPLE TAKE AWAY THE WRONG LESSONS.

PICTURED: WRONGNESS

SO WHAT MAKES ACTION WORK?

THE BEST PHRASE TO NARROW IT DOWN = AUDIENCE PARTICIPATION.

THE AUDIENCE DOES NOT SIMPLY “WATCH” ACTION. EVERY SINGLE BEAT SHOULD IDEALLY WORK AS A 4 PART PROCESS: AN AUDIENCE MUST FIRST ANTICIPATE THE ACTION, THEN THE AUDIENCE MUST UNDERSTAND THE ACTION (WHAT THEY ACTUALLY SEEING), THEN THE AUDIENCE MUST FEEL THE ACTION, AND ULTIMATELY REACT TO THE ACTION. AND WHEN YOU DO THAT? THE ACTION BEAT WILL WORK LIKE FREAKIN’ GANGBUSTERS.(1)

NOW, HOW ACTUALLY DO THAT? ONE CAN ACHIEVE THAT KIND OF REACTION BY STICKING TO FEW BASIC TENETS OF ACTION: “CAUSE AND EFFECT“, “HAVING OBJECTIVES“, “UNDERSTANDING GEOGRAPHY“, AND “TONE AND SUSPENSE.” AFTER THAT IT ABOUT “PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER“, “UNDERSTANDING WHEN AND HOW TO GO AGAINST THE RULES“, KNOWING “PRODUCTION LOGISTICS“, AND ULTIMATELY “NOT BEING MICHAEL BAY” (YES THAT GET’S IT’S OWN PART).

SO RIGHT NOW, HULK GOING TO START DIVING INTO EXPLAINING ALL THOSE TENETS USING ALL OF HULK’S FAVORITE ACTION SCENES, WHICH EXEMPLIFY HOW THOSE CONCEPTS WORK.

HULK PRESENTING THIS ESSAY IN A NINE-PART, 70 PAGE, 20,000 WORD EVALUATION OF HOW ACTION WORKS, BUT DON’T WORRY THOUGH! TODAY’S “DAY ONE” COLUMN WILL JUST COVER THE FIRST TWO TENETS (CAUSE + EFFECT AND OBJECTIVES) AND THE REST WILL FOLLOW WEDNESDAY AND THURSDAY. YES, IT’S TRUE! HULK ACTUALLY BREAKING UP ONE OF HULK’S HULK-SIZED COLUMNS! IT WILL BE BETTER FOR YOUR PUNY HUMAN-SIZED EYEBALLS.

BUT THE BEST PART OF THIS IS HULK NOT GOING DOING IT ALONE!

HULK HAVE A SPECIAL GUEST FOR YA’LL AND HE KNOWS ABOUT THIS STUFF WAY, WAY MORE THAN HULK DOES.  SO EVERYONE PLEASE WELCOME MR. PRARIE OYSTERS HIMSELF, TOM TOWNEND!

SOME OF YOU MAY KNOW ALREADY KNOW HIM, BUT IF NOT, YOU MAY INDEED KNOW HIS WORK. FOR STARTERS HE THE FREAKIN’ CINEMATOGRAPHER OF ATTACK THE BLOCK AS WELL AS SEVERAL DOCUMENTARIES, TV SHOWS, AND SHORTS. HE’S ALSO WORKED AS A CAMERA OPERATOR AND SECOND UNIT D.P.  FOR DOZENS OF AMAZING PROJECTS, SUCH AS 28 DAYS LATER, PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, MILLIONS, PROOF, HARRY BROWN, WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN AND ALL OF LYNN RAMSAY’S FILMS TO BOOT. THE RANGE OF GENRE HERE STAGGERING, AND IF YOU EVER SEEN ANY OF THOSE MOVIES THE YOU’VE SEEN EXCELLENT CINEMATOGRAPHY AND A SURE-HANDED DEMONSTRATION AND THOROUGH UNDERSTANDING OF TONE.

HE ALSO SHOT THIS RECENT AWARD-WINNING VIDEO… YOU KNOW… THE CRAZY-UBER-FAMOUS ONE:

THE VAST MAJORITY OF WHAT APPEARS IN THIS ARTICLE WAS BORN OUT OF OUR DISCUSSIONS AND HULK ABSOLUTELY DELIGHTED TO HAVE HIS CONTRIBUTIONS.(2)

YOU WILL BE TOO.

TOM: I had no idea I was going to be popping up as some sort of Jiminy Cricket character.

HULK LAUGH. THIS REALLY GOING BE A LOT OF FUN AND HULK ACTUALLY REALLY HAPPY WITH HOW INFORMATIVE AND INSTRUCTIONAL THIS PIECE HAS COME OUT.  SO MANY OF THESE HULK COLUMNS ABOUT HOW MUCH CERTAIN THINGS SUCK, SO IT NICE TO BE WRITING SOMETHING ABOUT HOW STUFF WORKS AND HOW TO DO BETTER.

HULK & TOM CERTAINLY REALIZED/LEARNED A LOT WHILE WRITING IT, SO WE HOPE YOU DO TOO.

SO NOW THEN …

PART 1 – CAUSE + EFFECT: ONLY THE MOST IMPORTANT THING EVER

SO THIS ENTIRE ARTICLE ACTUALLY INSPIRED BY HULK’S RECENT VIEWING OF CAPTAIN AMERICA.

WHILE HULK LOVED THE MOVIE FOR WHOLE BUNCH OF REASONS, HULK THOUGHT THE ACTION ALTERNATED BETWEEN MOMENTS OF GENUINE FUN, BEING SERVICEABLE, AND A BUNCH OF SOMEWHAT-LACKING MOMENTS. STUDIO HEADS MAY BE AGHAST TO LEARN THEIR PRECIOUS SET-PIECES NOTHING COMPARED TO THE MOVIE’S WELL-WRITTEN CENTRAL RELATIONSHIPS, BUT PERHAPS IT A LESSON THEY SHOULD TAKE HEED FROM. BUT IN TRYING TO FIGURE OUT WHY CERTAIN SCENES WORK AND OTHERS DO NOT, IT THE PERFECT MOVIE TO ANALYZE, EVEN IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN IT. IN FACT, THE LACK OF CLIPS ALLOWS US TO TALK ABOUT THE ACTION AND ESTABLISH A LANGUAGE TO USE THAT WILL BE VERY IMPORTANT GOING FORWARD. AND DON’T WORRY BECAUSE WE’LL HAVE MORE THAN ENOUGH CLIPS AND VISUAL AIDS TO EXPLAIN THINGS LATER ANYWAY.

BUT REALLY, CAPTAIN AMERICA IS THE BEST MOVIE TO USE BECAUSE IT’S PROBLEMS/SUCCESS ARE DEPENDENT ON THE SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT ASPECT OF ACTION: CAUSE + EFFECT.

TOM: Hulk, you set this one up for now, I’ll come back once we get to that guy with the whip.

SOUNDS GOOD.

LET’S START WITH ONE OF THE MOST BASIC PROBLEMS OF THE ACTION IN CAPTAIN AMERICA: THERE ARE A LARGE NUMBER OF ACTION BEATS (BEATS MEANING MOMENTS/SHORT SEQUENCES) THAT SEEM TO OPERATE WITHOUT STORY CONTEXT. IN CASE IT’S NOT OBVIOUS, PROVIDING CONTEXT IS CRITICAL TO ACTION. THE MOST OBVIOUS SANS-CONTEXT SCENE INVOLVES AN EXTENDED MONTAGE IN THE MIDDLE OF THE MOVIE WHERE CAP AND HIS BUDDIES ESSENTIALLY SWEEPING THROUGH THE RANKS OF HYDRA FACTORIES. NOW HULK UNDERSTAND THE PREMISE: GOOD GUYS TAKING DOWN BAD GUYS. AND WE ALSO UNDERSTAND THE IMPETUS TO CONDENSE THE INFORMATION/SCALE INTO MONTAGE (IN TERMS OF NARRATIVE IT’S DEFINITELY THE RIGHT CALL), BUT THAT DOESN’T MEAN IT’S HANDLED WELL IN TERMS OF EXECUTION. IN ALL HONESTLY, HULK THOUGHT IT ACTUALLY MOST BORING SCENE IN MOVIE. WHY? BECAUSE THE BEATS THEMSELVES HAVE NO SEQUENCING OR CONTEXT AND SADLY, THEY ARE MOSTLY IMAGE-BASED, MEANING THEIR SOLE GOAL IS TO STRIVE FOR “COOL.”

FOR EXAMPLE, SEVERAL OF THE QUICK IMAGES THE MONTAGE DISPLAYS ARE: CAP BURSTING IN SHIELD-FIRST AND FIRING A HANDGUN. CAP LEAPS AND HANGS ON TO A CHAIN. CAP JUMPS OFF A GIANT TANK AS IT EXPLODES BEHIND HIM… THEY ALL GREAT IMAGES BUT SINCE THE PROBLEM IS THAT THEY GO ON JUST LONG ENOUGH TO TREATED AS LIVING, BREATHING “BEATS” AND NOT JUST A SUCCESSION OF IMAGES, IT MAKES THINGS PROBLEMATIC. THEY END UP FEELING LIKE INTROS/CLIMAXES TO SOMETHING WITH NO BUILDUP. WHY? BECAUSE THEY’RE LONG ENOUGH TO DEMAND CONTEXT YET OFFER NO CONTEXT.

IN THE SAME SEQUENCE THERE’S SHOT WHERE THE FRENCH GUY LIES DOWN AS A TANK DRIVES OVER HIM AND HE STRAPS A BOMB TO IT. AGAIN, IT’S COOL, BUT IS WEIGHTLESS BECAUSE THERE IS NO CONTEXT. AND THE MONTAGE’S MOST EGREGIOUS SCENE OCCURS WHEN CAP STRIDES ATOP A TANK MAKES SOME WEIRD, CONFUSING MOTION AS SOME OTHER GUY SUDDENLY COMES BY AND THROWS GRENADES UP AND CAP THEN AWKWARDLY DUMPS THEM IN.  THE SCENE NOT ONLY CLUNKY, BUT EVERYTHING IS ALREADY HAPPENING A STEP BEFORE THE AUDIENCE CAN REGISTER WHAT THEY’RE SUPPOSED TO BE PROCESSING. THERE IS NO LOGIC. IT IS NOT ONLY CONFUSING, BUT IT REMOVES THE DRAMA FROM EVERYTHING. THERE’S NO STORY. IT SIMPLY COOL SHIT HAPPENING ON SCREEN.

IT NOT COMPELLING AND, YES, EVEN MONTAGES HAVE BE COMPELLING.

TO BE FAIR, MOST OF THE OTHER SCENES IN CAP NOT NEARLY AS DETACHED AS THIS SEQUENCE, BUT THEY STILL FEATURE LOTS OF SAME PROBLEMS. THEY FOCUS ON COOL/IMAGERY AND UNINTENTIONALLY RENDER THE A LOT OF ACTUAL ACTION BEATS BORING. SOMETIMES IT SI BECAUSE THERE NO CONTEXT AND SOMETIMES IT IS BECAUSE THERE AREBASIC FAILURES IN LOGIC…

NEAT, BUT WHY THEY NOT JUST BURNING HIM? HE RIGHT THERE.

SO WHEN AND HOW DOES CAPTAIN AMERICA DO ACTION RIGHT? WELL, THE BEST ACTION BEAT IN THE FILM IS ACTUALLY VERY, VERY  SIMPLE.

THEY INTRODUCE A SITUATION WHERE CAP AND BUCKY (HIS FELLOW SOLDIER) ARE SEPARATED BETWEEN TWO TRAIN CARS. CAP IS IN THE FRONT CAR FIGHTING ONE BIG BAD HYDRA GUY AND BUCKY IS IN THE HIND-CAR SHOOTING THE OTHER BAD GUYS. THEN BUCKY RUNS OUT OF BULLETS AND THERE’S STILL ONE LAST HYDRA BAD GUY  STALKING HIM FROM BEHIND A SHELF. CAP TAKES CARE OF HIS BIG GUY IN THE FRONT CAR AND COMES BACK TO BUCKY’S CAR AND SEES THE SITUATION AT HAND. CAP THEN LOOKS UP AND SEES A SHELF IN BETWEEN HIM AND HYDRA BAD GUY. THEN, IN A SERIES OF QUICK BUT DELIBERATE MOVEMENTS: CAP OPEN THE DOOR, THROWS BUCKY HIS GUN, THEN RUNS FORWARD AND PUSHES A BEAM ON THE SHELF FORWARD. THE BEAM KNOCKS THE HYDRA SOLDIER BACKWARD, RIGHT INTO VIEW OF BUCKY, WHO IMMEDIATELY SHOOTS HIM. BING. BANG. BOOM. BAD GUY TAKEN CARE OF AND IT TOTALLY THE BEST ACTION “BEAT” IN THE MOVIE.

IT’S COMPELLING. IT’S FUN. IT’S THRILLING.

IT’S A LITTLE STORY.

OBVIOUSLY, THERE ARE OTHER ELEMENTS THAT HELP EXECUTE THE BEAT (GREAT TIMING, ANGLES, ETC), BUT THING THAT MAKE IT SO STRONG THAT A PERFECTLY UTILIZES WHAT WE CALL “CAUSE + EFFECT.”

IF ACTION IS NOTHING MORE THAN THE PHYSICAL MANIFESTATION OF CONFLICT THEN IT MUST UTILIZE THE SAME RULES AS DRAMATIC CONFLICT, MEANING ONE MUST ESTABLISH A CREDIBLE THREAT. THE ACTION BEAT DESCRIBED ABOVE CREATES A FAMILIAR, EVEN CLICHE SITUATION OF CONFLICT (“OH NOES, I AM OUT OF BULLETS!”), BUT IT IS STILL ONE THAT PERFECTLY ESTABLISHES A REAL THREAT: BUCKY IS CORNERED AND HE HAS NO WAY OF DEFENDING HIMSELF. IT GIVES URGENCY TO CAP WHO IS USUALLY JUST THE “INFALLIBLE HERO” AND NOW PUTS HIM IN WHAT WE CALL DANGER BY ASSOCIATION. THE SCENE THEN ESTABLISHES THAT CAP SEES THE SAME EXACT PROBLEM THAT THE AUDIENCE DOES. IT THEN ESTABLISHES THE SHELF AS A POTENTIAL SOLUTION. IT THEN EXECUTES THE FALLOUT SWIFTLY AND WITH CARE. THE ACTION BEAT ESTABLISHES A CONFLICT AND THEN QUICKLY SEEKS TO SOLVE THAT CONFLICT, USING ALL THE INFORMATION IT HAS PREVIOUSLY ESTABLISHED.

YUP, LIKE A GEOMETRIC PROOF, GREAT ACTION ABOUT PROBLEM SOLVING.

NOW GO BACK TO HULK’S FOUR POINTS IN THE INTRO AND THINK ABOUT THIS ACTION BEAT ONE LAST TIME: 1) ANTICIPATION 2) UNDERSTANDING 3) FEELING 4) REACTING.

WE ANTICIPATE THE PROBLEM BY ESTABLISHING CREDIBLE THREAT (NO BULLETS).

WE UNDERSTAND (THE CAMERA SHOWS CAP SEEING THE PROBLEM, TELLING THE AUDIENCE TO REGISTER AS WELL).

WE FEEL THE MOMENT (THE ACTUAL GUN TOSSING THEN CAP HITTING THE SHELF AND BUCKY SHOOTING HIM VERY WELL PUT TOGETHER. IT NOT SO FAST THAT WE NO UNDERSTAND THE GEOGRAPHY, BUT IT STILL FAST ENOUGH THAT WE FEEL THE IMPACT. THAT BECAUSE THEY JUST .01 SECONDS AHEAD OF AUDIENCE, WHICH GIVE IT SENSE OF BEING “FELT” BEFORE IT PROCESSED).

LASTLY, WE REACT WITH ELATION.(3)

PICTURED: ELATION

ACTION IS ABOUT SETTING UP SERIES OF STEPS THAT THE AUDIENCE CAN FOLLOW AND REACT TO. WHEN YOU ANTICIPATE THE PROBLEM, THE CONFLICT BECOMES PALPABLE. THE AUDIENCE EXPERIENCES DRAMA. WE CALL IT “CAUSE + EFFECT” BUT REALLY IT’S THE MOST BASIC DEVICE OF ALL KINDS OF STORY TELLING, NOT JUST ACTION.

THING ABOUT IT. IT’S THE BASIS OF COMEDY (SET UP: PUNCHLINE), THE BASIS OF HORROR (SET UP: SCARE), AND YES, THE BASIS OF ACTION (SET-UP: PAYOFF). AND THE MORE YOU CAN STRING TOGETHER A SERIES OF GOOD ACTION BEATS (MULTIPLE SET-UPS + PAYOFFS) THE MORE YOU CAN CREATE MEMORABLE ACTION SCENE. ESPECIALLY IF YOU CAN IMBUE THE BEATS WITH MEANING OF CHARACTER AND NARRATIVE, OR MAYBE EVEN A LITTLE HUMOR IF SO DESIRED.

GOING BACK TO OUR EARLIER PROBLEM WITH THE MONTAGE, REMEMBER THAT THE CONTEXT MATTERS.

THE TRAIN SCENE COMES HOT OFF THE HEALS OF THAT BORING MONTAGE SEQUENCE AND IT STARTS WITH CAP AND COMPANY STAND ATOP A MOUNTAIN OVERLOOKING THE HIGH SPEED TRAIN. THEY THEN ALL SIT AROUND AND PROVIDE CONTEXT, EXPLAINING THE INCREDIBLE DANGER OR RIP-LINING ONTO A MOVING TRAIN AND ESTABLISHING THE THREAT OF REAL DANGER. THEN WHEN THEY ACTUALLY RIP-LINE, THEY ALMOST DON’T MAKE IT (PEOPLE DOING THINGS WITH EASE IS “COOL” BUT BORING AND NOT INVOLVING, RIGHT MATRIX SEQUELS?). FROM THE TOP OF THE TRAIN, OUR HEROES THEN SNEAK ON BOARD AND THE SEQUENCE TURNS INTO THE BEST ACTION BEAT HULK EXPLAINED ABOVE. WHICH MEANS THE BEAT HAS SUBSTANTIAL RESONANCE BECAUSE THEY ALREADY ESTABLISHED MUCH HIGHER STAKES, CONTEXT, AND DRAMA.

THE AUDIENCE WAS PRIMED FOR IT.

BUT BEST PART OF THE ACTION SCENE REALLY COMES AFTER THE BEAT MENTIONED ABOVE. THE VERY SECOND AFTER BUCKY SHOOTS THE “SHELFED” BAD-GUY WITH CAP’S GUN, RIGHT WHEN THE AUDIENCE HAS THAT GREAT MOMENT OF RELIEF, THE ANGLE CHANGES AND REVEALS THERE ANOTHER BIG SOLDIER RIGHT BEHIND THEM. OUR ELATION NOW UNDERCUT BY ANOTHER THREAT.

MEANING THE ACTION BEATS ARE LINKED.

WHAT HAPPENS AFTER IS FANTASTIC (BIG SPOILERS TIL THE NEXT NOTICE) THE SNEAKY BIG SOLDIER FIRES AND CAP BARELY BLOCKS IT. CAP FALLS OVER AND BUCKY PICKS UP THE SHIELD TO PROTECT HIMSELF. THE BIG SOLDIER FIRES AGAIN, DISLODGING THE SHIELD AND KNOCKING BUCKY BACK OFF THE TRAIN. BUCKY GRABS THE SIDE, BARELY HOLDING ON. CAP REALIZES HIS BEST FRIEND IS IN TROUBLE, SO HE QUICKLY GRABS THE SHIELD DISPOSES OF SOLDIER AND GOES TO SAVE BUCKY… BUT CAP ISN’T IN TIME. BUCKY FALLS TO DEATH. WE’VE SEEN THIS KIND OF SCENE SO MANY TIMES, BUT BECAUSE OF THE CONTEXT AND SET UP IT WORKS. AND THEN IT DOESN’T STOP THERE. SEVERELY DISTRAUGHT, CAP TRUDGES ON TO CAPTURE THE RED SKULL’S SECOND IN COMMAND; A BITTERSWEET TRIUMPH. (END SPOILERS) THEN THE VERY NEXT SCENE LINKS THE BITTERSWEET EMOTION OF THAT MOMENT BY SHOWING CAP IN A BAR AND HAVING A NICELY-OBSERVED EMOTIONAL SCENE WITH PEGGY.(4) THIS IS WHAT A GREAT ACTION SCENE DOES. IT HAS MEANING BEYOND THE PHYSICAL ACTION AND THE EFFECTS GO WAY BEYOND WHAT “COOL.”

NOOOO! LOOKING COOL IS ALL THAT MATTERS!

THAT’S THE REAL KEY TO CINEMA, RIGHT? TO INTEGRATE ALL THE ASPECTS OF A MOVIE SO YOU CONSTANTLY HANDLING MULTIPLE THINGS AT ONCE: THRILLING ACTION, CHARACTER ARCS, HUMOR, WIT, DRAMA. YOU REALLY CAN PUT THEM ALL ON DISPLAY IN THE SAME SCENE IF YOU KNOW HOW TO GIVE EACH ASPECT RESONANCE, ESPECIALLY IF YOU UNDERSTAND CAUSE + EFFECT.

THERE’S AN EARLIER SEQUENCE IN CAPTAIN AMERICA THAT DOES THIS SPECTACULARLY AND IT OCCURS RIGHT AFTER CAP’S TRANSFORMATION. NOT ONLY DOES THE SCENE BEGIN WITH A HUGE CHARACTER BEAT (THE ONE INVOLVING PROFESSOR ERKLINE) BUT THE SCENE IS FULL OF CHARACTER-FOCUSED ACTION. STEVE ROGERS LEARNS HOW TO RUN, JUMP, FIGHT AND EVEN DEFENDS HIMSELF WITH A STAR-ENCRUSTED CAR-DOOR. THAT’S RIGHT, THE FILM’S FIRST REAL ACTION SCENE GIVES US A VISUAL SHOWCASE OF HIM LEARNING HOW TO BE CAPTAIN AMERICA ON THE FLY. AND IT WORKS SO WELL BECAUSE IT COMBINES SO MANY DIFFERENT ELEMENTS TOGETHER WITH DIRECT CAUSE + EFFECT.

THE MOMENT THAT BEST HIGHLIGHTS THIS VERSATILITY COMES AT THE END OF THE SEQUENCE. CAP PURSUES THE HYDRA AGENT TO THE DOCKS, WHERE HE GRABS A YOUNG CHILD AND THROWS HIM IN THE WATER TO GET CAP OFF HIS TAIL. IT A FAMILIAR MOMENT THAT WE’VE SEEN MANY, MANY TIMES BEFORE AND WE KNOW EXACTLY WHAT TO EXPECT: CAP NOW HAS TO SAVE THE CHILD FROM DROWNING. BUT INSTEAD OF THE FAMILIAR WE GET SOMETHING ELSE INSTEAD. CAP LOOKS DOWN TO SEE THE KID TREADING WATER JUST FINE AND DANDY. THE KID SHOUTS BACK “I CAN SWIM MISTER, GO GET HIM!” NOT ONLY IS THE LINE READING PRETTY HILARIOUS, BUT THE AUDIENCE COMPLETELY ATE THAT SHIT UP. WHY? BECAUSE JOHNSTON SET UP THE MOMENT PERFECTLY. HE KNEW THAT THE AUDIENCE WAS EXPECTING SOME LAME AND DRAMATIC. HE KNEW THAT CAUSE + EFFECT WITH ACTION WORKS THE EXACT SAME WAY WITH COMEDY. HE KNEW YOU COULD USE THE EXACT SAME SET-UPS.

THIS SCENE FROM CAPTAIN AMERICA HAS SO MANY THINGS GOING ON WITH CHARACTER, ARCS, HUMOR, AND DRAMA THAT IT SCENE CAN SUCCEED REGARDLESS OF WHAT YOU THINK OF THE ACTUAL AESTHETICS OF THE ACTION. IT IS ALWAYS THE EMOTIONAL STUFF, MEANING THE CONTENT, THAT COMPELS YOU. BUT WHEN YOU CAN COMBINE EVERYTHING TOGETHER WITH A WELL-COMPOSED ACTION SCENE THEN THE SKY’S THE LIMIT. THAT’S WHAT JOHNSTON’S  “I CAN SWIM MISTER!” MOMENT DOES, IT ELEVATES THE ACTION.HULK WOULD EVEN CALL THAT MOMENT DOWNRIGHT SPIELBERG-IAN.

OH SNAP.

THAT’S RIGHT. HULK JUST REFERENCED THE BEST CAUSE + EFFECT FILMMAKER ON THE PLANET.

THIS GUY

OKAY, SO FIRST HULK SHOULD QUALIFY WHAT MAKES SPIELBERG DISTINCT. HIS PLACE IN THE PANTHEON IS ASSURED NO MATTER WHAT HULK THINKS, BUT HULK REALLY SHOULD EXPLAIN HIM CAREFULLY SO WE KNOW HOW HE “WORKS.” HULK FEEL LIKE SPIELBERG IS BOTH UNFAIRLY HERALDED AS GREATEST AMERICAN DIRECTOR, AND YET AT THE EXACT SAME TIME, HULK FEEL LIKE HE IS ALSO UNFAIRLY LAMBASTED AS NOT BEING ARTISTIC/CEREBRAL ENOUGH. IT’S NOT THAT HIS MAINSTREAM-INCLINED DISPOSITION IS HOLDING HIM BACK (THAT IMPLIES HULK IS ESOTERIC), BUT INSTEAD IT’S THE FACT THAT THAT VERY THE THING THAT MAKE SPIELBERG SO DAMN GOOD IS ALSO THE VERY THING THAT LIMITS HIM:

SPIELBERG IS ALWAYS ABLE TO SHOW HIS EXACT INTENTION IN A SCENE.

MEANING THERE IS NEVER A SINGLE DOUBT TO WHAT SPIELBERG MEANS IN A GIVEN MOMENT. THERE IS NO AMBIGUITY TO ANYTHING HE EVER DOES.(5) TO PROVIDE COUNTERPOINT WHICH HIGHLIGHTS THE PROBLEMS OF SPIELBERG’S DEAFENING SINGULARITY, HULK THINK THE GREATEST AMERICAN DIRECTOR =  STANLEY KUBRICK. IN ANY GIVEN KUBRICK SCENE THERE LIKE 90 INTERESTING THINGS GOING ON. IN A GIVEN SPIELBERG SCENE THERE USUALLY JUST ONE INTERESTING THING GOING ON, BUT IT IS REALLY, REALLY, REALLY WELL-EXECUTED (THIS CRUCIAL DIFFERENCE IS THE ABSOLUTE REASON A.I. IS FASCINATING, BUT DEEPLY FLAWED).

SPIELBERG MAKE SENSE NOW? OKAY COOL.

THE REASON FOR THIS EVALUATION IS BECAUSE IT IS IMPORTANT TO HIGHLIGHT SPIELBERG’S SINGULARITY WHEN DISCUSSING THE UNQUESTIONABLE FACT THAT HE IS THE ABSOLUTE MASTER OF CAUSE + EFFECT FILMMAKING. AND IF CAUSE + EFFECT IS THE MOST CENTRAL TENET OF ACTION, DRAMA, AND COMEDY, THEN IT’S ALSO NOT AN ACCIDENT THE SPIELBERG IS THE MOST POPULAR MAINSTREAM FILMMAKER IN AMERICA AND MAYBE THE WORLD.

THINK ABOUT ALL THE BEST SCENES FROM SPIELBERG’S MOVIES AND THINK ABOUT THEM IN TERMS OF CAUSE + EFFECT AND SET UP + DELIVERY: THE PULSING OF THE WATER CUPS AND THE ENSUING T-REX SEQUENCE FROM JURASSIC PARK. THERE ARE NO “KINETIC” MOMENTS IN THAT SEQUENCE, BUT INSTEAD IT RELIES ON A SUCCESSION OF MOMENTS OF DREAD AND SUDDEN IMPACT, EACH LINKING TO THE NEXT HORRIBLE SITUATION. THE PERFECT CAUSE + EFFECT SEQUENCE. THINK OF THE SHARK REVEALS/SCARES IN JAWS. IT NOT ONLY FREAKS YOU OUT WITH A SUCCESSION OF HORROR BEATS, BUT MANAGES TO CAPITALIZE ON A NICE CAT-AND-MOUSE-CHASE THROUGHOUT THE NARRATIVE. THE MOVIE HAS A DISTINCT TETE-E-TETE (READ: CAUSE +EFFECT) ALL BUILDING TO EPIC “SMILE YOU SON OF A BITCH.” THINK ABOUT E.T. WITH ELLIOT ON THE BIKE DROPPING INTO THE RAVINE THEN LIFTING UP AND FLYING INTO THE SKY. THINK ABOUT THE IMAGES HE USED TO SET UP THAT MOMENT.

WITH SPIELBERG, IT’S NEVER JUST A TACTIC THAT IS SOMETHING THAT’S FOR MERE ADVENTURE FILMS. THINK ABOUT SAVING PRIVATE RYAN. EVEN WHEN THOUGH THE FILM WAS FOR IT’S INVENTIVE USE OF THE DOCU-STYLE, THE REASON IT REALLY SUCCEEDED WAS BECAUSE IT WAS STILL FUNDAMENTALLY ROOTED IN AUDIENCE PARTICIPATION AND CAUSE + EFFECT. YOU PROBABLY REMEMBER THE CRAZINESS/FEELING OF THE OPENING D-DAY SCENE, BUT THINK ABOUT THE CONTENT. HOW DOES THAT  SEQUENCE BEGIN? WITH A BOAT PREPPING FOR DEPLOYMENT ON D-DAY, THE DOOR GOES DOWN, BUT EVERY SINGLE SOLDIER IN FRONT SHOT INSTANTLY. SET UP + DELIVERY. LATER A SOLDIER CLIPPED IN THE HELMET SO HE TAKES OFF THE HELMET AND EXAMINE IT, THEN GETS SHOT IN THE HEAD. CAUSE + EFFECT. LATER, TOM HANK’S CHARACTER TALKS TO A PERSON ON THE PHONE LINE, TURNS AWAY, TURNS BACK AND THEY’RE DEAD. SAME THING. THE SCENE FEELS CHAOTIC BUT IT NOT JUST “STUFF HAPPENING.” IT’S JUST THE STYLE OF THE SCENE IMPLIES CHAOS, BUT THE ACTUAL SEQUENCE IS STRAIGHT-UP ACTION BEATS AND CAUSE + EFFECT. EVEN SCHINDLER’S LIST USES THE SAME TENET CONSTANTLY, ONLY TO HIGHLIGHT TRAGEDY AND ATROCITY.(6)

NOW, LET’S TIE THIS EVALUATION INTO EARLIER HULK POINT. THINK ABOUT HOW OFTEN YOU COULD DESCRIBE SPEILBERG’S WORK AS “COOL”… YEAH, YOU NOT FIRST DESCRIBE IT THAT WAY AT ALL. AS INVENTIVE AND THRILLING AS IT IS, HIS WORK IS RARELY “COOL” IN THE WAY WE THINK OF COOL … ACTUALLY, IT’S MAYBE EVEN A LITTLE SQUARE. BUT IT DOESN’T MATTER ONE IOTA BECAUSE YOU ARE SURE AS HELL INVESTED.

SPEILBERG’S ACTION GENIUS HAS ABSOLUTELY NOTHING TO DO WITH COHERENT DIRECTION OR MISE EN SCENE. IT HAS TO DO WITH BEING SURE YOU INVESTING THE AUDIENCE ABOVE ALL ELSE. SPIELBERG IS EVEN INFAMOUS FOR “CHEATING LOGISTICS” CONSTANTLY. HE CHEAT SPACE, TIME, PROXIMITY, GEOGRAPHY AND HE GETS AWAY WITH IT BECAUSE HE SO GOOD AT USING THOSE CHEATS TO MANIPULATE TENSION AND DRAMA OF SCENE AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE. IT IS THE LOGIC OF SUSPENSE, NOT THE LOGIC OF LOGIC. AND IT’S WHAT HE CARES ABOUT MORE THAN ANYTHING. HE ALWAYS CREATES A VISUAL “STORY” THAT IS SO DISTINCT AND YOU THEREFORE REMEMBER HIS ACTION MORE THAN ANY OTHER FILMMAKER.

SO IF WE GOING TO EXAMINE SOME SPIELBERG THAN YOU MAY HAVE NOTICED THAT HULK LEFT OFF THE BEST EXAMPLE OF CAUSE + EFFECT ACTION IN HIS OEUVRE: THE INDIANA JONES TRILOGY. (7)

STATEMENT OF FACT: INDIANA JONES = THE PERFECT ACTION HERO.

FUCKING A.

AS TOTALLY FUCKING COOL AS ABOVE PICTURE IS, INDIANA JONES DOES IS NOT FIGHT  “COOL.” HE DOES NOT ACT LIKE HE IS INVINCIBLE. HE DOES NOT HAVE AN ENDLESS SUPPLY OF AMMO. HE DOES NOT BRUSH ASIDE ANY THREATS AGAINST HIS PERSON LIKE THEY ARE NOTHING. WE NEVER MARVEL AT HIS FEATS OF ABILITY. AND FOR YOU FELLOW GAMING NERDS, HE NEVER, EVER IN “GOD-MODE.”

NO, THE THING THAT IS AWESOME ABOUT INDY IS THAT HE IS DISTINCTLY HUMAN. HE ALTERNATES BETWEEN FALSE CONFIDENCE/BRAVADO AND ABJECT TERROR. HE IS PROFESSOR-LEVEL INTELLIGENT, BUT ALSO ON OCCASION PRETTY DUMB. HE IS COCKSURE IN CONVERSATION AND YET BUMBLING AT THE MOST CRUCIAL MOMENTS. BUT NEVER DOES HIS FEAR OR INABILITY TRANSLATE TO ACTUAL COWARDICE, JUST THE SHEER HUMAN AND EMOTIONAL RECOGNITION OF BEING IN OVER ONE’S HEAD.

HE IS BOTH WHAT WE WANT TO BE AND ALSO WHAT WE ARE AT EXACT SAME TIME.

AND SINCE HE IS SO HUMAN, WHAT INDY DOES BETTER THAN ANYONE IS GET HIMSELF INTO JAMS AND THEN BARELY GET OUT OF THEM.

TOM: Ah yes, lovable Indy. I’ve often considered where the modern action scene was born and I have to say that Raiders impressed back in the day. It does exactly what you say, right from the beginning: multiple strands of action beautifully balanced in the edit, clear character stakes, cause & effect, etc.

EXACTLY. YOU KNOW WHAT?

LET’S WATCH THE SUPER-DUPER FAMOUS OPENING OF RAIDERS AGAIN AND THINK ABOUT EVERYTHING HULK & TOM TALKIN’ BOUT. AS THE AUDIENCE JOURNEYS TOWARD THE IDOL, THEY SET UP EVERY SINGLE THING THAT GOING TO LATER HAPPEN DURING THE ESCAPE: THE PIT, THE ARROWS, THE STEPS. IT ALL THERE. THE LINK BELOW HAS NO SOUND (DAMN COPYRIGHT, THIS FOR EDUCATION PURPOSES!) BUT THIS IS ACTUALLY A GOOD THING BECAUSE IT ACTUALLY HIGHLIGHTS HOW VISUAL AN ENTIRE ACTION SCENE CAN BE:

THIS SEQUENCE, WITH ALL OF THE SET-UPS, PAYOFFS, AND IMMEDIATE LINKING, IS ABSOLUTELY THE HEART OF ACTION. HULK MEAN HOW GREAT IS THIS? INDY IS ALWAYS ABOUT FINDING HIMSELF IN A NEW AND FAR WORSE JAM: OUT OF THE FRYING PAN, INTO THE FIRE, INTO A VOLCANO, AND INTO HELL. AND IT IS BY FAR THE MOST EFFECTIVE MANNER OF ACTION-STORYTELLING AND THEREFORE THE MOST EXCITING WAY TO INVOLVE AND THRILL AN AUDIENCE.

BUT NOTICE  THAT IT SURE AS HELL ISN’T COHESIVE OR “REALISTIC” EDITING. SEE HOW OFTEN SPIELBERG CHEATED? HOW THE LAST SECONDS OF THE DOOR FALLING TAKES FOREVER? HOW NONE OF THE BOULDER SHOTS CUT TOGETHER? BUT NONE OF IT MATTER!

TOM: That’s nothing. The truck chase in Raiders cheats like hell and gets away with it. Trees, buildings, open desert, 1000′ cliffs – all appear and disappear as serves the mechanics of the action.

EXACTLY. SPEILBERG’S ENTIRE OEUVRE SEEMS TO VIOLATE THE VERY NOTION COHESION, BUT IT DOESN’T MATTER BECAUSE HE’S SIMPLY TRYING TO PUT THE SCENE PERFECTLY IN TUNE WITH CAUSE + EFFECT.

BUT PERHAPS THE BEST THING ABOUT SPIELBERG IS HE KNOWS BETTER THAN ANYONE THAT A  SET-UP FOR DANGER CAN BE PLAYED FOR A LAUGH (THUS INFORMING THE “I CAN SWIM MISTER!” MOMENT FROM CAP). HULK CAN’T FIND A VIABLE LINK TO IT, BUT THE OPENING OF TEMPLE OF DOOM JUST AS STRONG WITH CAUSE + EFFECT DEVICES, BUT SPIELBERG USES HALF OF THE “DELIVERIES” TO GO FOR LAUGHS. WOMEN GETTING PUNCHED, THE ICE MIXING WITH THE DIAMONDS, AND THE EXTRAORDINARY CAPPER WITH INDY SAYING “SO LONG LAO CHE!” THEN CLOSING THE DOOR WHICH READS “LAO CHE AIR FREIGHT.” AGAIN, IT THE SAME EXACT SAME NOTION SET-UPS, BUT THE REACTION/RELIEF COMES IN FORM OF LAUGHTER. BUT MORE IMPORTANTLY IT SHOWS THAT THE TWO CAN MIX WONDERFULLY. AND FROM THAT POINT ON, THE MOVIE REALLY NEVER STOPS LINKING ALL THEIR BEATS TOGETHER. IF YOU PUT IT SOLELY IN THOSE TERMS, THEN TEMPLE IS A CAUSE + EFFECT MASTERPIECE.

TOM, HULK TRYING THINK, THERE ANY OTHER GREAT ACTION SET-UPS THAT BRING COMEDY MOMENTS YOU CAN THINK OF OUTSIDE OF SPEILBERG?

TOM:  Outside of Spielberg? Great, well that disqualifies two of the greatest moments ever, which are both in, of course, Raiders of the Lost Ark.

HULK LAUGH.

TOM: The first is the shoot out in Marion’s bar in Nepal, which is a perfect Swiss clock of a sequence with all sorts of unexpected twists and turns – all set against the perfect hourglass device in the form of a fire which threatens to engulf  proceedings.  A dark laugh is elicited when it seems Major Anold Toht (I confess, I looked that up) has chanced upon the vital medallion in all the confusion, only to discover that it’s literally too hot to handle.  Then, when it looks like it’s all over for Indy, pinned by the last man standing who has a gun aimed at him at point blank range, the shot that rings out comes from Marion’s gun.  A deus ex machina of sorts since we’ve been led to believe that Marion is stupefied at this point but a permissible one given that she’s established her ability to drink giants under the table already.

AND NO FORGET, THAT SCENE OPENS WITH ONE OF THE BEST LEFT-FIELD SCARE-TO-LAUGH DEVICES EVER, WHAT CAN ONLY BE CALLED, “TOHT’S COAT-HANGER.”

TOM: Out of nowhere indeed. The other great moment is, of course, this:

TOM: On reflection the laugh elicited from Indy shooting the showboating swordsman is at the expense of his true characterisation.  It’s a callous and ‘ungentlemanly’ action and displays an unfair advantage in a film which revels in usually stacking the odds heavily against the protagonist. But that’s also what makes the moment work.

RIGHT, IT PLAY RIGHT INTO SET UP/DELIVER. EVERYONE OUTRIGHT EXPECTS THE BATTLE. AND HOPEFULLY EVERYONE KNOWS THE FAMOUS STORY OF HOW IT WAS ACTUALLY PLANNED AS A BIG FIGHT SCENE, BUT HARRISON HAD THE RUNS AND SOMEONE SUGGESTED THAT GETTING THE SCENE WOULD BE SO MUCH EASIER IF HE JUST TOOK OUT HIS GUN AND SHOT HIM. PURE SERENDIPITY AND PROOF A CAUSE + EFFECT LAUGH CAN BE 1000 TIMES MORE EFFECTIVE THAN ANY COMPLICATED “COOL” SEQUENCE. PLUS IT DIRECTLY ANSWERS THOSE PESTERING MOVIE-LOGIC QUESTIONS: “YEAH, WHY WOULDN’T HE JUST TAKE OUT HIS GUN AND SHOOT HIM?” BUT REALLY IT MORE THAN THAT. IT ABOUT THE DUALITY OF INDY/US AND GETS TO THE HEART OF THE MOVIE’S IDENTITY.

TOM:  Spielberg abounds in stacking the odds against Indy and therein lies the charm of the series.

The famous punch into the propeller wing executes this idea perfectly, all with a steady escalation of perils that impede a simple objective – stop the ark from leaving by plane.  First the giant Nazi boxer, then Marion inadvertently locking herself in the plane and the concussed pilot forcing the controls, then a fuel spill that threatens to ignite – which in turn awakens another poleaxed Nazi, etc, etc.  Spielberg’s mastery at this point in his career was not just his confidence with cause and effect but his ability to have so many elements running in parallel.  The effect on an audience is one of almost unbearable tension as the problems that face the protagonists have no one clear solution and again, with the path of flammable liquid pouring towards a naked flame there’s an in built time limit to proceedings.  I always liken this device to watching an escapology act; a clear demonstration of the hurdles that have to be overcome as we see the escapologist being demonstrably cuffed and bound then a knowable time limit imposed when they’re dumped into a tank of water.

HULK LOVE THAT IDEA. AN ESCAPOLOGIST, WORKING ON ALL THE DIFFERENT PARALLELS. THAT PERFECT AND VERY “SPIELBERGIAN.”

TOM: And I can’t honestly think of an action set-up that confounds audience expectations in the manner that your Captain America example does, but I hold dearly the clock tower sequence from Back to The Future, which successfully fuses genuine action stakes with humorous misadventure.

OOOH, OOOH. HULK FOUND SUPER CRAPPY LINK, BUT IT WAS THE ONLY ONE NOT REMIXED WITH, LIKE, GTA OR THE SIMPSONS. STILL, IT AT LEAST SHOWS EVERYTHING TO JOG YOUR MEMORY:

TOM: Again the geography to this moment has been previously illustrated in perhaps the most pedantically diagrammatic fashion in film history; we’re treated to a scale model demonstration of exactly how the sequence is supposed to go down later in the story; only for a massive spanner to be thrown into the works when a falling tree disconnects the vital power line from the improvised lightening rod on the clock tower. Here we have a literal ticking clock device as the countdown to 10.04pm begins and we have a very Spielbergian escalation policy in effect as first a section of the tower ledge gives way, then Doc Brown’s turn ups start to rip, the DeLorean stalls at the starting line and once plugged back in to the lightening rod the cable is still fatally foreshortened by the felled tree and disconnects at ground level…  With all this in effect the viewer is knotted up in hernia inducing tension by the time the lightening bolt finally lets rip.

Despite a smattering of action throughout the film, this moment has been earned through far less kinetic means though.  In fact the entire plot is driven by a need to undo all the potentially disastrous consequences of Marty McFly’s accidental time travel; harnessing a lightening bolt at a precise time being the ultimate conclusion to that quest and established an hour earlier in the story.  Of course the humour in this scene is derived by entirely different means than the Captain America example.  Firstly the two protagonists (who unconventionally are battling the march of time and forces of nature, rather than a bad guy) put in overtly comic performances and the stakes are so phantasmagorically high and absurd they play more convincingly in a humourous arena.  However, for that to be compelling, the laws of cause and effect are still religiously adhered to.

LOVE IT. PERFECT EXAMPLE. AND IT IS NO MISTAKE THAT SPIELBERG, ZEMEKIS, AND JOHNSTON ALL ARE FRIENDS/WORK TOGETHER/LOVE EACH OTHERS WORK.

ALL THEIR “SUMMER” MOVIES  ARE FUN, THRILLING, AND FOR EVERYONE (IN THE BEST POSSIBLE WAY). STILL, THE LESSONS TO TAKE AWAY FROM THEM IS NOT “BE EXACTLY LIKE THESE GUYS” BUT TO RECOGNIZE THE PRINCIPALS THEY USE TO INFORM YOUR OWN ACTION.

HULK NOT ARGUING THAT HEAVILY TELEGRAPHING ALL YOUR SETS UPS OR USING TONGUE AND CHEEK TONE THE WAY TO GO WITH EVERYTHING. HULK JUST SAYING THAT IT’S IMPORTANT TO REMEMBER THAT THESE DEVICES ARE THE HEART OF ACTION. EVEN IF YOU’RE PLAYING YOUR ACTION SUPER-DEADLY-SERIOUS, THE APPROACH OF CAUSE + EFFECT SHOULD BE EXACT SAME. THE ONLY THING THAT WILL BE DIFFERENT IS THE TONE (WE’LL GET TO HOW TONE WORK LATER THOUGH). AND REMEMBER THAT INJECTING A MOMENT OF LEVITY INTO YOUR MOVIE NOT SOMETHING TO FEAR.

WAIT, DID NICKY KATT MAKE THIS SCENE WORK?

NEVER FORGET THAT TEMPLE OF DOOM, FOR ALL IT’S SILLINESS, HAS JUST AS MANY UBER-DARK MOMENTS IN IT TOO (THE SEMI-BIRTH OF PG-13!). HULK ARGUES THAT IT IS ACTUALLY THE LIGHT-HEARTED SILLINESS THAT SETS UP THE GRAVITAS OF THOSE DARK SCENES. AND IT ALL CULMINATES WITH THE GRAND AUDACITY OF THE  “PREPARE TO MEET KALI… IN HELL!” MOMENT WHICH ENDS THE MOVIE. IT’S ALL ABOUT BALANCE, BUT HULK ARGUE YOU SHOULD NEVER BE AFRAID TO PLAY WITH IT OUT OF FEAR.(8)

HULK GOING JUST KEEP HAMMERING THIS WHOLE CAUSE + EFFECT MANTRA. NOTHING MATTERS MORE THAN AUDIENCE PARTICIPATION.

SPIELBERG KNOWS THIS.  AND THAT’S WHY HE’S SPIELBERG.

HE ALSO PRODUCED THE MONEY PIT

BRINGING IT HOME, LET’S ROUND OUT OUR CAUSE + EFFECT ANALYSIS BY LOOKING AT A VERY PARTICULAR FILM OUR SPECIAL GUEST INVOLVED WITH: ATTACK THE BLOCK (IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN YET AND IT’S IN A THEATER NEAR YOU, GO SEE IT! BUT ALSO FEEL FREE SKIP DOWN TO NEXT PART IF WANT TO AVOID ALL DETAILS BEFORE YOU DO).

THE FILM WAS BUDGETED FOR A MEASLY 9 MILLION DOLLARS AND YET IT THRILLING MOVIE ABOUT AN LONDON-CENTRIC ALIEN INVASION.  HOW DID THE FILMMAKERS ACCOMPLISH THIS FEAT? WELL FOR STARTERS IT HAS TEXTURED CHARACTERS, A TIGHT/ECONOMIZING PLOT, AND RESONANT THEMES, BUT FUCK THAT SMARTY-PANTS FROU-FROU NONSENSE, LET’S TALK ACTION!

OF COURSE THE FILM MAKES GOOD USE OF  CAUSE + EFFECT. NOTICE HOW OFTEN THE FILM’S OPENING CONSTANTLY SET UP LOCATIONS/ITEMS IT WILL USE LATER: THE UNION JACK ON THE SIDE OF THE BUILDING, THE STREET WHERE THE POLICE WAGON WILL BE ASSAULTED, THE TWO CONNECTING WALKWAYS WHERE A CHARACTER SETS PRECEDENCE FOR A JUMP THAT HAPPENS LATER. THE ENTIRE FIRST ACT TAKES GREAT CARE TO CUT TO INSERT SHOTS OF LOCATIONS THAT WILL FEATURE THROUGHOUT FILM.

ATTACK THE BLOCK HAS NO DESCENDING BOULDERS OR CRAZY SET-PIECES TO UTILIZE, SO IN ORDER TO MAKE THE PERFECTLY NORMAL SETTING “POP” THEY TAKE EXTRA CARE TO FEATURE SHOW THESE ORDINARY PLACES. THEY MAKE THEM DISTINCT. IT BASIC SET-UP AND DELIVERY. EVEN THE FILM’S CHASE SCENES KEEP THE CAUSE + EFFECT CONCEPT VERY SIMPLE. SHOW ALIEN CHASING, SHOW KID TRYING HARDER TO GET AWAY, SHOW BOTH IN RELATIVE DISTANCE WITH ALIEN GAINING. PUNCTUATE WITH NARROW ESCAPES. THEN LINK THEM ALL TOGETHER (AND REMEMBER JUST CAUSE THE CONCEPT SIMPLE NOT MEAN IT SIMPLE TO EXECUTE, BUT MORE ON THAT LATER). IT GREAT. AND IT ALL CAUSE + EFFECT.

TOM: The first thing to say  about Attack The Block is that all the action ‘beats’ in the finished film are all in the draft of the screenplay that I first read.  It was massaged and molded every step of the way of course, but Joe had clearly thought everything through while putting pen to paper and this made the script an invaluable document to fall back on.

Brainstorming and story-boarding led to further embellishment then the realities of  what the locations, schedule and post production budget could afford reined things back in, but always one knew what was vital and what wasn’t.

The most taxing sequence was the chase back to the block simply because it featured moving vehicles.  Wisely Joe had decided that the best way to handle this was to split the gang up.  That way each character got their own ‘moment’, which seemed democratic, and the physical task of organising things on screen became manageable ‘sub’ set pieces.  The vehicles each character had were picked as an extension of their characterisation and the proficiency with which they tackled various perils were also meant to reflect who they were.  Knowing all this in advance of drilling stunt performers and fretting over visually effective camera angles and all the other things that become preoccupations on set is I’m sure why we rarely missed the wood for the trees.

Further to all this Joe had an iron clad formula that he wanted to apply to every moment.  Fearing that we lacked the resources to do lots of ‘really cool shit’ (and the desire to do ‘really cool shit’ is always there) Joe was adamant that every stunt was sandwiched by a legible close-up of the relevant character.  I guess, going on the principle that at any given moment the viewer is (hopefully) sharing the characters sensations the best a film can do to enforce that is to act as a virtual mirror.  Close-up shots of people’s faces reacting to a threat, expressing fear or triumph, is something cinema offers that other mediums can’t.  [as an aside, the 1st person point of view shot that tops the trailer for the Amazing Spiderman is COOL AS SHIT but the very best moments in the Raimi Spiderman films were always when Peter Perker had lost the mask and we saw him reacting to things with a look of apprehension or physical strain.  That's when we 'feel' the stakes]. It sounds like obvious stuff but I think it’s often forgotten or marginalised in edits and it’s the easiest way to keep the sense that ‘crazy stuff’ is grounded in some sort of relatable real world setting.  It also took some of the pressure off the so called ‘money shots’ since we knew we wouldn’t be blowing up aircraft carriers, crashing 18 wheelers through plate glass buildings or any of the usual $100m ‘shizzle’.

HOLY CRAP. HULK DID NOT PICK UP ON THE CLOSE-UP SHOTS TECHNIQUE, BUT GODDAMN IF THAT NOT PERFECT. HULK CAN’T GET OVER HOW SMART AND SIMPLE THAT IS…. IRONCLAD INDEED.

TOM: Of course Hulk, one still has to be careful how one handles the cast in situations like these:


TRUST.

PART 2 – THE IMPORTANCE OF OBJECTIVES (AND DON’T WORRY THIS PART WAY, WAY SHORTER)

CONSIDER THE FOLLOWING: HOW MANY TIMES HAVE YOU SEEN THE GOOD GUYS RUNNING FROM ENCROACHING BAD GUYS AND YOU HAVE NO CLUE WHERE THEY ARE GOING? THEY’RE JUST RUNNING AWAY.

IT HAPPENS CONSTANTLY. NOW THERE’S NOTHING WRONG WITH WANTING TO ESCAPE CLUTCHES OF BAD GUYS, HULK MEAN, FUCK, THAT’S A FUNDAMENTAL ASPECT OF ALL ACTION CINEMA. BUT IT’S JUST THAT SO OFTEN MODERN MOVIES DON’T GIVE THE A DISTINCTION OF HOW THEY SHOULD GO ABOUT IT. IT MERELY, “QUICK, RUN!” BUT REALLY IT SPEAKS TO A MUCH LARGER POINT: HOLLYWOOD DOES NOT UTILIZE THE “TANGIBLE OBJECTIVE” NEARLY ENOUGH.

AND IN CASE IT’S NOT OBVIOUS, OBJECTIVES = SO DAMN IMPORTANT.

WHY? BECAUSE THEY ESTABLISHE THE GOAL FOR AUDIENCE. BECAUSE IT CREATES A RALLYING POINT FOR THE CONFLICT. BECAUSE IT ALLOWS THE AUDIENCE AN EASY AND CLEAR WAY TO PARTICIPATE. AND WITHOUT AN OBJECTIVE THE AUDIENCE ONLY WATCHES. WITHOUT AN OBJECTIVE, THERE IS ONLY THE CHAOS OF INTENT. (9) THE OBJECTIVE GIVES ACTION A NARRATIVE. IT FACILITATES AN ARC. IT BEGS A CONCLUSION.

CONSIDER ALL THE GREAT OBJECTIVES OF FILM HISTORY: A PROTON TORPEDO IN THE EXHAUST PORT (JUST BELOW THE MAIN PORT!), DRIVE 88 MPH RIGHT AS THE CLOCK STRIKES MIDNIGHT AND IGNITE THE FLUX CAPACITOR,  FIND THE WIZARD AND JUST FOLLOW THE YELLOW BRICK ROAD, STEAL THE ENTIRE CASH DEPOSIT IN THE VAULT OF THE BELLAGIO, GET THE WARRIORS BACK TO CONEY ISLAND,  ESCAPE THE NAZI PRISONER CAMP, FIND THE ARK OF THE COVENANT, WHAT IS ROSEBUD?, WHO STOLE MY BICYCLE? I NEED THAT BICYCLE!, GET RID OF THE GUY IN THE CAR WITH NO FACE BEFORE BONNIE GETS HOME, FIND BUFFALO BILL AND HERE USE THESE DISTINGUISHED CANNIBAL TO HELP YOU, FIND PRIVATE RYAN,WHO MURDERED LAURA PALMER? (AN OBJECTIVE SO GOOD IT KEPT NORMAL PEOPLE AROUND THROUGH ABSTRACT-CRAZINESS),  AND, OF COURSE, GET REIMBURSEMENT AFTER SOMEONE PEED ON YOUR FUCKING RUG.

NOW NOT EVERY MOVIE NEEDS A GREAT OVER-ARCHING OBJECTIVE TO SEE THE PLOT THROUGH, BUT LET’S NOT FORGET, IT CAN CERTAINLY FREAKING HELP. AND NOTICE HOW MANY OF THE MOVIES HULK LISTED NOT EVEN TRADITIONAL ACTION MOVIES. IT’S JUST THAT OUTLINING GREAT OBJECTIVES FROM THE ONSET PROVIDES IMMEDIATE CONTEXT AND CAN CREATE INSTANTLY SCENES OF TENSION AND CONFLICT IN TRYING TO RESOLVE THAT GOAL. OBJECTIVES IMBUE ACTION SCENES (AND REALLY ALL SCENES) WITH MEANING.

TOM: All this objectives talk got me back to pondering where the modern action scene was born. Clouzot’s ‘Wages of Fear‘ is one of the earliest films I can think of that has ‘modern’ feeling action beats, editing, shot design. But really it uses objectives better than any film I can think of…

PERFECT STARTING POINT! IF YOU NEVER SEEN WAGES OF FEAR(1953) DO YOUR SELF FAVOR AND GO SEE.

THE PLOT IS FAIRLY VERY DIRECT AND YET COMPLETELY INGENIOUS. A GROUP OF POOR, DESPERATE SOUTH AMERICAN MEN ARE HIRED FOR A SUICIDE MISSION IN WHICH THEY HAVE TO DELIVER  TRUCK LOADS OF NITROGLYCERINE TO OIL FIELDS FAR AWAY. THE JOURNEY IS PERILOUS AND THE SLIGHTEST BUMP CAN EXPLODE THE CARGO AND KILL THEM INSTANTLY… SO YUP, THAT’LL CREATE SOME F’ING TENSION.

BUT NO MISTAKE THE FILM THE FILM FOR REPLAYING THAT SINGULAR DANGER OVER AND OVER AGAIN. THE MOVIE SPENDS FIRST HALF SETTING UP THE CHARACTERS AND DESPERATION OF THE SITUATION, ALLOWING THE LAST HALF OF THE MOVIE TO PLAY WITH REAL CONSEQUENCES (SINCE WE KNOW THE CHARACTERS SO WELL). AND WHILE THE SUSPENSE HANGS OVER THE ENTIRE JOURNEY, CLOUZOT INTEGRATES THAT SUSPENSE WITH SEVERAL OTHER PLOT-LINES/DEVICES. SIMPLE AUGMENTATIONS LIKE HAVING A BOULDER FALL INTO THE ROAD AND NOW THEY HAVE TO USE SOME OF THE NITRO TO BLOW IT UP (ALSO AT THEIR OWN RISK). IT ALSO TAKE GREAT CARE TO LET THE TENSION GET THE BEST OF PEOPLE SO THAT THE CONFLICTS BECOME CHARACTER-BASED, SEWING DISTRUST AND EVENTUAL RIVALRY BETWEEN THE TWO CARGO TRUCKS.

THE AV CLUB ACTUALLY WROTE A GREAT PIECE ON WAGES OF FEAR AND THEY HAVE A VIDEO ON THIS PAGE YOU SHOULD DEFINITELY WATCH (IT UN-EMBEDDABLE). IT SHOWS THE AFOREMENTIONED BOULDER SCENE:

http://www.avclub.com/articles/the-wages-of-fear,47047/

NOTICE THE EFFECT OF THE OBJECTIVE? HULK KNOW THAT IT SOUNDS OBVIOUS, BUT IMAGINE WHAT THIS SCENE WOULD BE LIKE WITHOUT A CLEARLY EXPRESSED OBJECTIVE. IMAGINE IF IT JUST THE OPENING OF THE MOVIE AND WE HAD NO IDEA WHAT GOING ON. OF COURSE YOU SAY THAT RIDICULOUS SUGGESTION, BUT THINK ABOUT HOW MANY MOVIES PRESENT ACTION SCENES WITHOUT THE OBJECTIVES BEING KNOWN. SERIOUSLY, YOU’D BE AMAZED HOW MANY BITS OF ACTION WILL BE PRESENTED SANS OBJECTIVE IN THE NAME OF… UM… MYSTERY? HULK DUNNO. BUT BE ON THE LOOKOUT FOR IT.

OF COURSE WHEN DEALING WITH THE FACT THAT THEIR ACTION SCENE IS PURPOSELESS, SOME FILMMAKER’S SOLUTION TO THE ENSUING LACK OF AUDIENCE PARTICIPATION IS JUST TO FILL IN THE “BORING” WITH AS MUCH WHIZZ-BANGS AND BUSY-FRAMES, AS POSSIBLE (HULK SOUNDS LIKE OLD-FART). BUT THAT REALLY A WHOLE OTHER PROBLEM. JUST REMEMBER THAT OBVIOUS OBJECTIVES, AS DUMB AS THEY MAY SEEM, CAN COMPLETELY CHANGE THE DYNAMIC OF WHAT YOU SEE ON SCREEN. (NOTE: WE GOING REVISIT WAGES OF FEAR IN ANOTHER PART OF THIS PIECE BUT IF WANT SEE IT ALL THE ENTIRE MOVIE ON HULU PLUS).

HULK JUST CAN’T STATE IT ENOUGH: NEVER BE AFRAID TO CLEARLY OUTLINE WHAT YOU ABOUT TO DO IN ACTION SCENE.

HERE’S A SUPER-SIMPLE EXAMPLE OF THE TOP OF HULK’S HEAD:  PRETEND WE WANT HAVE A SCENE OF PEOPLE DEFENDING A MEDIEVAL FORTRESS. AS THE BAD GUYS SWARM, WE THEREFORE MAKE THE DECISION TO HAVE THE LEAD CHARACTER TELL TWO OTHER CHARTERS TO “HOLD THE GATE! DON’T LET THEIR HORSES THROUGH OR WE’RE DEAD!” NOW IS THIS DIALOGUE INSTRUCTIONAL AND ON THE NOSE? FOR SURE. BUT NOW THE AUDIENCE GOING INTO THAT FIRST MOMENT OF ACTION AND THERE ARE HIGHER STAKES TO THEIR SIMPLE ROOTING INTERESTED. NOW THEY PARTICIPATING INSTEAD OF JUST WATCHING. AND IF THE SCENE DIDN’T HAVE THAT OBJECTIVE CLEARLY EXPRESSED? IF THE BAD GUYS SWARMED AND IT JUST CUT TO THE TWO CHARACTERS RANDOMLY RUNNING TO THE GATE AS BAD GUYS IN HORSES CAME THROUGH? QUITE FRANKLY, IT WOULDN’T WORK AS WELL. THERE WOULD BE A WAY IN WHICH THE AUDIENCE STILL CLEARLY “GETS IT” BUT THERE IS A LOST OPPORTUNITY TO RAISE THE STAKES AND GIVE THE SCENE STRONGER MEANING.

HOW ABOUT REAL-LIFE EXAMPLES? THINK ABOUT HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON, WHICH IS A MOVIE THAT DOES NOTHING BUT CONSTANTLY ESTABLISH THE NEXT OBJECTIVE.

AIM FOR THE EXHAUST PORT! JUST BELOW THE MAIN PORT!

IT’S NOT LIKE DRAGON IS JUST USING NONSENSE MACGUFFINS EITHER. FOR EXAMPLE, ONE OF THE EARLY OBJECTIVES IS HOW HICCUP WANTS TO FIX TOOTHLESS’ WING AND THEN THERE IS A SERIES OF TRIAL + ERROR BEFORE ACCOMPLISHING THEIR GOAL. THE USE THE OVERARCHING OBJECTIVE NOT TO BUILD TENSION, BUT TO SEW THE SEEDS OF THEIR RELATIONSHIP AND GAINING TRUST. THEY USE THIS “ACTION” AS STORY. JUST LIKE THE ROCKY TRAINING MONTAGES.

THEN THERE ARE A NUMBER OF SCENES WHERE HICCUP HAS TO TRY AND BEAT THE CAPTURED “TRAINING DRAGONS” AND IT IS ALL VERY INSTRUCTIONAL/SPECIFIC IN HOW TO DO THAT (ALL OF WHICH SET UP ACTION BEATS LATER IN THE MOVIE TOO). BETTER YET, THEIR METHODS OF INSTRUCTION OFTEN CONTRAST WITH THE KNOWLEDGE THAT HICCUP GAINED FROM HIS TIME WITH TOOTHLESS. MEANING THE OBJECTIVES REFLECT PERSONALITY AND THEME. IT USES THE ACTION CONFLICT TO CREATE CHARACTER ARC.

AND EVEN WHEN IT’S OBVIOUS STUFF LIKE THE BATTLE AT THE FILM’S CONCLUSION, ALL THE CHARACTERS ARE BARKING ORDERS AT EACH OTHER TO BE SUPER-CLEAR ABOUT EVERY SINGLE OBJECTIVE. AS A RESULT? ALL THIS CLARITY GIVES WEIGHT TO EVERY SINGLE ACTION BEAT ON DISPLAY.

NOW MAYBE THE FILMMAKERS TOOK THE CARE TO EXPLAIN EVERYTHING BECAUSE IT’S “JUST A KID’S MOVIE” AND THEY WANTED TO BE SURE EVERYONE UNDERSTOOD, BUT GUESS WHAT? SOMETIMES UNDERSTANDING NOT ABOUT “PLACATING LITTLE IDIOTS” AND INSTEAD ABOUT KEEPING THE AUDIENCE INVESTED.(9B)

YUP, IT’S DEFINITELY NOT JUST FOR FAMILY FARE. FOR INSTANCE, FUCKING INCEPTION.

BWAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAM

HULK LOVE HOW THERE A SMALL SEGMENT OF PEOPLE WHO CLAIMED THAT MOVIE WAS SIMPLY A “MIND-FUCK,” BECAUSE IT’S NOT EVEN CLOSE TO TRUE. ONCE IT DROPS OUT OF THE INITIAL DREAM HEIST, THE FILM TAKES AS MUCH TIME AS POSSIBLE TO CLARIFY, WELL, EVERYTHING. THE LOGISTICS OF EXTRACTION, DREAMS, PSYCHOANALYSIS AND THE PLOT OF THE MOVIE ARE, WHILE CERTAINLY COMPLICATED AND INVOLVED, STILL EXPLAINED TO YOU VERBATIM RIGHT BEFORE ALMOST EVERYTHING HAPPENS. EVEN IT’S DONE SO IN A RATHER WORDY/ON-THE-FLY MANNER, THE OBJECTIVES ARE CONSTANTLY LAID OUT BEFORE THE ACTION. THE EFFECT WORKS BEAUTIFULLY AND IT IS NOT AFRAID TO EXPLAIN EVERYTHING IN O.C.D.-LEVEL DETAIL:

IMAGINE IF YOU WERE SITTING AT TABLE FOR LUNCH AND SOME PRODUCER WAS EXPLAINING INCEPTION’S APPROACH TO EXPOSITION/OBJECTIVES TO YOU: A MOVIE THAT JUST CONSTANTLY EXPLAINS EVERYTHING. IT WOULD SOUND AWFUL, RIGHT? BUT THAT’S ONLY BECAUSE WE HAVE THIS WEIRD BELIEF THAT IT IS THE EXPOSITION ITSELF THAT IS THE PROBLEM AND NOT HOW IT IS USED. INCEPTION HANDLES ITS INFORMATION IN A KINETIC, FAST-PACED WAY AND IT’S MAIN NARRATIVE STRENGTH COMES FROM THE FACT IT STRIVES FOR CLARITY ABOVE ALL ELSE (WITH A FEW MYSTERIES INTENTIONALLY HELD BACK OF COURSE). AND IT EVEN MANAGES TO BE CLEAR ABOUT SOME REALLY COMPLICATED THINGS. AS LONG AS YOU TREAT YOUR OBJECTIVES CINEMATICALLY, EXPLAINING SOMETHING CAN BE MOVIE-GOING JOY. ALL IT TAKES IS SOME GOOD MUSIC, CROSS-PURPOSE EDITING, OR EVEN A WELL-TIMED JOKE.

TOM: But never forget it doesn’t have to be on the nose either. The great thing about objectives and exposition is that you can integrate them right into characterisation. An old tutor of mine always gave an (obscure) example from ‘Silkwood‘:  Meryl Streep is on a the plane to NYC and when offered her in-flight meal asks the air hostess “how much?”  In one misunderstanding – that the meal is gratis – we know that she has never flown before.  Another example is in Jaws when Chief Brody wakes up and complains that the sun never used to come in through the bedroom window.  Straight away we know that this is his first summer season at the Amity police dept and by extension that he’s an outsider and not a seafarer.

What I like about a certain type of exposition is when we, the audience, understand something implicitly without it being overtly stated, either through dialogue or action.  It just seems more subtle and deft that way.  At the beginning of Die Hard John McClane goes to meet his wife at her office Christmas party, checking in at the security desk he discovers that she’s reverted to using her maiden name, Holly Gennaro.  This tells us all we need to know about the state of their marriage.

My criticism of Inception would be that Ellen Paige’s character has no function other than to be a conduit for the audiences questions.  She’s the ‘new girl’ and has to have everything explained to her at length to keep the viewer up to speed.  This would be more acceptable if her ability to create fiendish mazes – the talent she was allegedly recruited for – had any great bearing in the final (5th, right?) act.  But it doesn’t.  She’s really just the pipsqueak who asks pertinent questions.

HMMM. HULK DIDN’T MIND HER IF ONLY FOR THE FACT SHE LENDS THE NECESSARY HUMANITY TO THE OPERATION, AND THEN SPECIFICALLY COBB. NOW IS THIS HUMANITY JUST AS SHOE-HORNED FOR NECESSITY PURPOSES AS HER EXPOSITION ROLE? WITHOUT A DOUBT. BUT HULK FORGAVE BECAUSE HULK STILL FELT LIKE A PERSON TO HULK. OR MAYBE IT JUST THAT HULK STILL LIKE ELLEN PAGE. ANYCRAP, MORE IMPORTANT STUFF:

ONCE AGAIN LET’S GO BACK TO ATTACK THE BLOCK, WHERE THE USE OF OBJECTIVES CRITICAL. BEFORE EVERY ACTION BEAT IT SEEMS THE KIDS ALL MAKE SURE TO AGREE WHAT THEY ARE ABOUT TO DO: “LET’S GET BACK TO THE BLOCK” OR  “LET’S GET TO RON’S WEED ROOM.” FOR THOSE WORRYING THAT ALL THIS CONSTANT INFORMATION CAN BE REDUNDANT, OR WORSE, BORING. DON’T WORRY. GOOD WRITERS AND FILMMAKERS KNOW HOW MAKE IT WORK. IN ATTACK IT PLAYED FOR A JOKE.:”WHAT’S RON’S WEED ROOM?” / “IT’S A BIG ROOM FULL OF WEED… AND IT’S RON’S.”

TOM: [Nods happily]

SWEET. OBJECTIVES CLEARED! DAY ONE IN THE BOOKS!

SO JOIN US AGAIN TOMORROW FOR DAY TWO OF THREE, WHEN HULK & TOM COVER PARTS 3, 4, AND 5 OF THE SERIES, WHICH WILL COVER SUCH WONDERFUL TOPICS SUCH AS: GEOGRAPHY, KUNG-FU, TONE, SUSPENSE, SOUND DESIGN, TAUT FILMMAKING, CINEMATOGRAPHY, AND “PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER” WITH THE BEST ACTION SCENE OF ALL TIME.

THINGS ARE REALLY GOING TO START COMING TOGETHER THEN AND WE’LL HAVE A MORE COMPLETE PICTURE OF HOW THINGS WORK IN TOTALITY. TODAY WAS JUST THE STARTER KIT!

ENJOY AND SEE YOU THEN!

<3 HULK & TOM

ENDNOTES!

(i) PLEASE NOTE: HULK STARTED THE FOLLOWING LONG-FORM ARTICLE WELL OVER TWO MONTHS AGO. TWO WEEKS A WEB VIDEO SURFACED AND WENT VIRAL AND IT APPARENTLY TACKLE LOTS OF SAME CONCEPTS. HULK YET TO WATCH IT, BUT THIS SORT OF DISHEARTENING AND HULK NOT WANT YOU THINK HULK COPYING. THIS MAY SEEM OVERLY-CAUTIOUS, BUT SOMETIMES IT IMPORTANT TO MAKE DISTINCTIONS IN THIS MEDIA CULTURE GLUT WE GOT FOR OURSELVES.  AND TO QUOTE FERRAN ADRIA: “CREATIVITY MEANS NOT COPYING.” MOVING ON…

(1) CONCERNING THIS PROCESS THERE IS A REASON HORROR MOVIES ARE SORT OF THE PERFECT PURE GENRE. THESE RULES ARE SO CLEAR AND EFFECTIVE THAT THE VAST MAJORITY OF FILMMAKERS UNDERSTAND THESE CORE CONCEPTS AND HOW TO EXECUTE THEM. SPECIFICALLY, THE HORROR MOVIE “SCARE” INHERENTLY DESIGNED TO WORK WITH THESE 4  PARTS OF THIS AUDIENCE PARTICIPATION SEQUENCE BETTER THAN ANYTHING ELSE ON THE PLANET.

(2) SOME OF YOU MAY BE SUSPICIOUS THAT HULK ABSOLUTELY PIMPED ATTACK THE BLOCK WHEN HULK SAW IT AND NOW HULK WRITING CHUMMY ARTICLE WITH THE CINEMATOGRAPHER. THERE NO FUNNY BUSINESS OR ULTERIOR MOTIVES. THE TRUTH THAT MR. TOWNEND SIMPLY READ HULK’S MUCH-DESERVED LAUDING OF THE MOVIE AND THEN SENT ALONG A KIND NOTE OF APPRECIATION. SINCE THEN, HULK AND MR. TOWNEND STRUCK UP FAIRLY NICE CORRESPONDENCE ABOUT MOVIES AND SUCH. WHEN HULK WAS THINKING ABOUT WRITING THIS ARTICLE, HULK ASKED MR. TOWNEND IF WILLING TO CONTRIBUTE. HE KINDLY SAY YES. WHICH, YOU KNOW, IS SUPER AWESOME AND KIND OF HIM. ANYWHO, THAT WHAT HAPPENED SO NO NEED FOR MISTRUSTING HULK’S TAKE ON ATB . AND AGAIN, FOLLOW TOM ON TWITTER!

(3) AGAIN, HULK UNDERSTAND THE POINT OF THE MONTAGE SEQUENCE AND IT GET ACROSS LOTS INFORMATION. BUT COMPARE AGAIN WITH THIS ACTION BEAT. SO WHAT’S ANOTHER REASON THE THE MONTAGE ACTION NOT AS COMPELLING? THERE NEVER ANY THREAT. IT JUST TAKING CARE OF BUSINESS. THINK ABOUT THE GREAT ROCKY MONTAGES. EVEN IF THEY WERE PREDICTABLE, EVEN IF THE MUSIC DID THE HEAVY LIFTING, WHAT MADE THEM WORK DRAMATICALLY IS THERE WAS ALWAYS SOME KIND OF STORY TO THEM. ROCKY WOULD GET BETTER AT WHATEVER THINGS HE WAS DOING AND THEY WOULD USUALLY CULMINATED WITH SUCCESS AND AWKWARD MAN HUGS.

(4) HULK ALSO LOVED THAT SCENE DIDN’T TAKE ADVANTAGE OF GOOD-WILL AND HAVE PEGGY AND CAP CONSUMMATE THEIR RELATIONSHIP IN THAT MOMENT OF SADNESS. NOT ONLY WOULD IT BE CHEAP. IT WOULD SAY ALL THE WRONG THINGS. SOMETIMES THE BEST WRITING IS KNOWING WHAT NOT TO DO.

(5) THOSE WHO CITE “MUNICH” AS A THEMATICALLY COMPLEX FILM YOU ARE CORRECT IN TERMS OF THE SUM OF THE IDEAS PROVIDING CONFLICTING THEMES, BUT THE MOVIE APPROACHES IT WITH BI-POLARITY. ONE SCENE SUPPORTS ONE THOUGHT WITH ABJECT CLARITY. THE NEXT SUPPORTS THE OPPOSITE WITH ABJECT CLARITY. THE COMPLEXITY COMES FROM SIMPLE JUXTAPOSITION OF NON-SUBTLE TERMS. BUT RARELY IS ANYTHING ACTUALLY AMBIGUOUS… ACTUALLY, THE ONLY TIMES THAT ARE IS WHEN A CHARACTER JUST TELLS THE MAIN CHARACTER “IT’S AMBIGUOUS.”

(6) NO EXAMPLE PERHAPS MORE TELLING OF SPIELBERG’S OVERT COMMITMENT TO THE CLARITY OF CAUSE + EFFECT THAN THE LITTLE GIRL WITH THE RED COAT IN SCHINDLER’S LIST. IT BEYOND CLEAR. IT OVER-CLEAR IF SUCH A THING EXIST.

(7) THAT RIGHT. HULK SAID TRILOGY.

(8) UNDERSTANDING WHEN EXACTLY TO PLAY LAUGHS AND WHEN TO BE SERIOUS NOT A “BASICS” DISCUSSION THOUGH. THAT ACTION 102 ARTICLE, MAYBE. FOR EXAMPLE, HOW MANY MOVIES DEPEND ON STOCK WITTY BANTER (ESPECIALLY 90’S MOVIES) OR STICK IN THAT OBLIGATORY AND SUPER TELEGRAPHED SERIOUS MOMENT IN 3RD ACT WHERE HERO MIGHT ACTUALLY BE IN TROUBLE FOR A SPLIT SECOND? THESE STOCK DEVICES NOT NECESSARILY THE ENEMY, BUT IT JUST EASY TO MAKE THEM FEEL ROTE IF THEY USED FOR THE WRONG REASONS. IF THEY JUST SHOE-HORNED IN THE AUDIENCE CAN FEEL IT. AND VICE-VERSA, DEFYING EXPECTATION CAN BE VERY TRICKY BECAUSE YOU CAN GET LOT OF CRAZINESS-FOR-SAKE-OF-CRAZINESS. SOME OF THE MASTERS KNOW HOW TO PLAY WITH EXPECTATION BRILLIANTLY. GUYS LIKE KUBRICK, KAUFFMAN, TARANTINO AND WHEDON… AND FOR THE RECORD DON’T MISTAKE TARANTINO’S MASTERY OF EXPECTATION AS BEING MERE BYPRODUCT OF HIS OUT-OF-SEQUENCE STORYTELLING. IT REALLY BECAUSE HE JUST KNOWS STORYTELLING.

(9) WHICH, OF COURSE, IS NOT TO SAY CHAOS CAN’T BE VALUABLE. A FEW SECONDS OF WELL-TIMED CHAOS CAN BE VERY EFFECTIVE. BUT IT CANNOT GO ON FOR EXTENDED PERIODS OF TIME. AND EVEN AT THAT, IT SHOULD NOT BE USED AS OFTEN AS IT IS USED.

(9B) THIS ACTUALLY ONE OF HULK’S MAIN ARGUMENTS AGAINST JJ ABRAMS. HE SO UNBELIEVABLY TALENTED AT CREATING THE AIR OF MYSTERY, BUT PERHAPS NO DIRECTOR LOSES MORE AUDIENCE PARTICIPATION BY REFUSING TO CLARIFY THE INTENT OF HIS CHARACTERS OR THE MOTIVE OF ANY OF THE ACTION. WHAT HELPS THE MYSTERY OFTEN HURTS THE ACTUAL DRAMATIZATION… IF HE COULD REALLY FIGURE OUT WHEN TO GO MYSTERY AND WHEN TO SET UP OBJECTIVES IT WILL BE AMAZING. HE HAS AN INCREDIBLE SET OF TOOLS AND HE’S JUST ONE SIMPLE REALIZATION AWAY FROM PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER.

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52 Responses to “HULK EXPLAIN ACTION SCENES! WITH SPECIAL GUEST TOM TOWNEND! – DAY 1 OF 3”

  1. NATE said

    SPIELBERG USES HALF OF THE “DELIVERIES” TO GO FOR LAUGHS.

    Also, “Dad, we’re well out of rage.”

  2. avaglass said

    http://kfmonkey.blogspot.com/2005/12/writing-action-scenes.html

    Here’s an old but good post about action scenes for further reading.

    In a nutshell:

    *”Would you ever intentionally write a scene in which your protagonist was completely reactive, and the outcome of the scene was a foregone conclusion?”

    *”…make sure every action sequence has a separate goal within the sequence which might legitimately succeed or fail with derailing the movie. Slap a little suspense beat down as your seed, then let your action sequence arrive from the a.) circumstances surrounding the goal or b.) choices of the character.”

    *”…if you make pipe the objective of an action sequence, or a by-product, it all goes down much more smoothly.”

    *”Don’t write action scenes. Write suspense scenes that require action to resolve.”

  3. Hi Hulk, wondering what you thought of the way Nolan crafted the action scenes between Begins and TDK. Did he improve?

    I remember thinking during Begins that the fight scenes were so close-up, it was impossible to tell who was delivering what punches, kicks, etc. TDK seemed to make a simple adjustment by simply pulling back a little and letting us watch the fights at a wider angle.

    Also, geography was mentioned in your piece and I think that might be the most crucial design in any action sequence, or movie, for that matter.

    • FILMCRITHULK said

      HULK TOUCHES ON NOLAN IN THE DAY 3 PART, BUT BASICALLY HULK’S PROBLEM WITH NOLAN THAT AN ENTIRE SEQUENCE NOT PUT TOGETHER INTO COHESIVE, LINKING WAY. BUT THEN WHEN MOST IMPORTANT COMES HE SAVES THE SEQUENCE (THE BATMOBILE RAMMING THE GARBAGE TRUCK, THE BAT POD “CARWHEEL” FOLLOWED BY FLIPPING 18 WHEELER).

      THINK OF A HOLE OF GOLF. AFTER 3 BAD SHOTS YOU CAN STILL MAKE PAR WITH AN AMAZING ONE. THAT SORT OF WHAT HE LIKE.

      • Maybe that’s my problem. I’m not differentiating (sp?) between a fight scene and an action scene.

        Also, no one ever seems to mention it, but doesn’t Gotham look vastly different between the two flicks? It seemed he changed the geography entirely. Begins looks like sets while TDK, obviously, looks like Chicago. Its like Nolan cheated or something.

  4. FILMCRITHULK said

    NAH, FIGHT/ACTION SCENES ARE SAME THING. BUT DIFFERENCES IN HOW APPROACH WILL MAKE MORE SENSE TOMORROW.

    AND YES, HE DID SWITCH TO REAL LOCATIONS BECAUSE IT “GROUNDED” THE MOVIE IN REALISM. CALL IT A CORRECTION BECAUSE HE REALIZED THE FIRST ONE DIDN’T LOOK RIGHT. DARK KNIGHT RISES WILL BE DIFFERENT ONCE AGAIN AS IT FILMED IN PITTSBURGH. BUT IT WILL STILL LOOK LIKE TDK INSTEAD OF BEGINS.

  5. Harry said

    Oh my God, a huge Hulk post about action scenes with additional commentary from someone involved in Attack the Block? What a wonderful way to cheer up an otherwise gloomy week!

    Can I ask you a comprehensively irrelevant question? What does Hulk think of the more story-driven webcomics (things like MS Paint Adventures, Dr McNinja, Gunnerkrigg Court, etc)? Obviously you’re a big fan of conventional comic books, I just wondered if you’d ever looked into webcomics and if so, what you thought of them?

    Sorry for the off-topic randomness, I just felt like asking as a big webcomic fan myself.

    • FILMCRITHULK said

      HULK READ TONS WEBCOMICS BUT NOT REALLY STORY DRIVEN ONES AND MORE HUMOR ONES. HULK’S FAVORITE KATE BEATON AT HARKAVAGRANT.COM. BUT ALSO HISTORICALLY NATALEE DEE AND CHAINSAW SUIT. AND PERRY BIBLE FELLOWSHIP WAS THE FUNNIEST THING EVER.

      WILL CHECK THOSE OUT

      • Christopher said

        You like Hark! A Vagrant and the Perry Bible Fellowship?! Gosh, I’ve been a fan of your stuff since the Eat, Pray, Love analysis but now I might be falling in love. Single Green Female style.

        And thanks for doing all this film writing and that. I’m studying film at uni and your stuff is frequently more helpful. Especially the myth of three act structure post.

        (Oh and if you like Hark! A Vagrant maybe you’d like Three Word Phrase. I think Kate Beaton said she liked it. It’s a bit like Hark! with more penis jokes.)

      • FILMCRITHULK said

        HAHA, HULK THANK! WILL DEFINITELY CHECK OUT THREE WORD PHRASE.

  6. Joon Kim said

    Dammit HULK! I love that forest fight in Transformers 2! It’s so cool!!!

    (honestly, it’s the one action sequence, stupidly base as it is, that has some ‘drama’ and objective to it)

  7. [...] Earnings Disclaimer Email Policy Privacy policy Terms of Use ©2011 MartialArtsAnswers.com HULK EXPLAIN ACTION SCENES! WITH SPECIAL GUEST TOM TOWNEND! – DAY 1 OF 3SHRSB_Settings = [...]

  8. Bevin said

    I feel like I should print these out and take my highlighter to them. So much information to take in all at once. Thanks, gentlemen, for pouring so much effort into this; it’s been enlightening and entertaining. Very much looking forward to the next two parts.

    • Bevin said

      One quibble about “Inception,” though: when I watched it I felt like it was taking too much time explaining things. I get that it’s a very involved concept and there was a lot going on since it’s a heist film taking place in different layers of the subconscious, but my dreams are never that logical. “Mullholland Drive” is the closest thing I’ve ever seen to dream logic realized in a film because it uses visceral stimuli to inform us instead of a straight-up logic-based cause and effect chain. “Inception” kept me locked out of getting too invested in what was happening, in part because of this fundamental issue I had with them over-explaining things that I didn’t think needed explaining at all, or at least as much.

  9. [...] PREAMBLE: YESTERDAY, HULK PUBLISHED THE FASTEST CLIMBING ARTICLE IN THIS BLOG’S HISTORY.  IF YOU DIDN’T READ IT, YOU CAN DO SO BY CLICKING RIGHT HERE. [...]

  10. [...] human gestation period. Worthy of note is how it was brought to my attention by Film Crit Hulk in a must-read three part series on action film editing written in tandem with the Cinematographer behind “Rolling in the Deep”, Tom Townend. And if [...]

  11. [...] that takes a closer look at the action in the Angelina Jolie thriller.  I also recommend Film Critic Hulk’s explanation of action scenes (particularly Raiders of the Lost Ark) with special guest [...]

  12. [...] FILM CRITIC HULK EXPLAIN ACTION SCENES! – Lisää:  Kaikki Aiheet: elokuva, film+crit+hulk, käsikirjoittaminen, kuva, musiikkivideo, toimintaelokuva, vfx, walter+hill [...]

  13. [...] DAY 1 HULK & TOM TALKED ABOUT HOW ONE GOES ABOUT THE INCEPTION OF ACTION SCENES, HOW IT WORKS FOR AUDIENCES, AND WHAT [...]

  14. [...] essay, which I will link to here and the end of the blog post, is essential reading for any movie goer. At least any movie goer who [...]

  15. SR said

    Overall I found part 1 informative and enlightening. Yet I have to respectfully disagree with Hulk on one point: the CAPTAIN AMERICA montage sequence didn’t strike me as an “action” sequence per se. Rather, I feel it served to advance the myth of Captain America and the (poorly explained) Howling Commandos while at the same time providing the fans with, essentially, living comic book covers. Watching those admittedly random feats of derring-do, you can feel Jack Kirby’s “Mighty Marvel” style bleeding through, lacking only Stan Lee’s hyperbolic headlines.

    I recognize the irony inherent in making this observation to the Hulk…

    • FILMCRITHULK said

      TO TRY AND PUT IT SIMPLY AS POSSIBLE, WHAT YOUR DESCRIBING WORKS IN A META CINEMATIC WAY (IN THAT YOU FOUND WHAT THEY WERE TRYING TO DO NEAT) BUT NOT IN A CINEMATIC-CINEMATIC WAY. HULK REALLY LIKE THE WAY YOU PUT IT “LIVING COMIC BOOK COVERS” AND THINKS THAT SOUNDS LIKE INTERESTING IDEA… BUT THINK ABOUT IT FOR A SECOND… THINK ABOUT WHAT A LIVING COMIC BOOK COVER IS… IT’S AN INERT SNAPSHOT… IT NOT A STORY, JUST AN IMAGE. AND AGAIN MONTAGES HAVE TO JUST BE VISUAL STORYTELLING (HECK THE REASON WE USE THEM IS THEY’RE ECONOMICAL). AND BESIDES THE PROBLEM IS THAT CINEMA DEMANDS STORY, A SO CALLED “SCULPTING IN TIME” SO WHEN YOU DO ANYTHING THAT GOES THAT LONG THEY ARE NO LONGER COMIC BOOK COVERS BUT ACONEXTUAL SHOTS OF “COOL.” THINK ABOUT COMIC COVERS THEY’RE THERE TO SELL AN IMAGE. NOT TELL A STORY. AND SO WHILE THE SCENE SUCCEEDS AT THAT, IT FAILS AT STORYTELLING.

      AND MAYBE THAT OKAY, HULK GLAD IT WORKS ON A META LEVEL AND HULK HAS LIKED PLENTY OF SCENES ON META LEVELS BEFORE. HULK JUST THOUGHT THE SCENE DIDN’T INCLUDE ENOUGH STORYTELLING, BOTH IN IT’S ACTUAL PLOT AND STORY, AND SPECIFICALLY NO STORY THROUGH IT’S ACTION.

      BUT HULK GLAD YOU ENJOYED,

      CHEERS!

      • So basically you’re saying Hulk that that montage could have worked if it had a purpose other than being “Living comic book covers”. Say for example we saw Captain America over time learning things about his shield and what it could do, or some aspect of the super soldier formula, so that by the end of the montage he would truly be Captain America.

  16. [...] the shit out of it. You can read this piece, written by frequent BAD commenter @FilmCritHulk here: Part 1, Part 2 and Part [...]

  17. [...] video popped up at Devin Faraci’s BadassDigest, and the comments there led me to a fabulous three-part mega essay by Film Critic Hulk about the proper cutting of action [...]

  18. Nicholas said

    Hulk,
    Thanks for the great blog, I’m really enjoying everything you’ve written so far, and your measured and well-thought-out essays. I’m curious though, what was the similar video that surfaced recently?

    • Josh said

      I’d like to second this question.

      Also: Amazing, amazing blog, Hulk. I got here from the New Yorker article (linked on io9) and have spent many insomniac nights absorbing your posts since. I’m currently a film student. Hulk should make a small book: “Hulk’s 1st Day at Film School”. If I’d read this blog when I’d started the program, it would have saved my whole class a lot of bad films!

  19. [...] et enfin les 3 articles de HULK, que je lirais en entier un jour [...]

  20. Erica said

    I know this is an old (and awesome!) post, but I want to submit Tangled as filling a lot of the Spielbergian qualities of action scenes that blend in humor by playing with audience expectations. (I don’t think quite as spot-on as the Cap moment you reference, but still good). So here, have a way-too-long comment with visual aids where possible (spoilers for )Tangled.

    Example 1: The chase scene
    Link here

    Flynn sees his face on a wanted poster, gasps. We think: he’s panicking because he’s on a wanted poster. It’s actually because his nose is badly drawn, and it’s even funnier because he says, a few seconds later “you guys look amazing” about the much-uglier thugs with him, who are accurately drawn. Also, this is a nice moment establishing Flynn’s character, AND increases the peril because oh look, here come the guards. This also sets up a sequence of recurring “Flynn’s nose” jokes, and if that’s not enough for you, Flynn grabbing the wanted poster sets up a plot point much later in the movie (it allows the witch to find Rapunzel, basically).

    Flynn and thugs are confronted with a cliff (nice pullback shot establishing the geography) they need to climb. “Give me a boost, and I’ll pull you up,” plays into audience expectations nicely, with the little variation that actually, the thugs DON’T trust Flynn to do this while he has the satchel, lampshaded by Flynn for another funny moment—and then whaddaya know, Flynn’s actually snagged the satchel and doesn’t pull them up. And actually, he’s “escaped” right into the path of the pursuing guards.

    A few moments later, we get an expected “Retrieve that satchel at any costs” from the head guard, which is echoed by an unexpected (and for my money, hilarious) command from Maximus the horse whinnying in the exact same cadence, with the exact same movement and facial expression.

    Next moment of note: Flynn vine-swings onto Maximus’s back, knocking off the head guard. He’s home free, right? No, because Maximus is a Disney horse, not a real horse, and he’s trying to retrieve the satchel, too. Cue the unexpected horse-vs-man tug of war over the satchel…and then the laws of physics kick in…

    And finally, the kicker (alas, the clip cuts before this). Flynn climbs the tower, he’s safe. Or is he? KLONK, he’s hit on the head with a frying pan. (This may not be totally subverting audience expectations, since we know it’s Rapunzel’s tower. However, I’ve seen this movie way too many times, I KNOW what’s going to happen, and despite all logic I still find this bit funny. I think it’s because the narrative of safe-after-the-chase-is-over overrides the knowledge that Rapunzel is there, and also because a petite blond girl whacking someone in the head with a frying pan is unexpected anyway. And that, and her little aah! After doing it, is a great character moment, too.)

    This is a cool sequence because what it accomplishes becomes more than just the basic objective of getting Flynn from Point A to Point B. We learn a lot about Flynn, Maximus, and Rapunzel. The antagonism between Flynn/the two thugs and Flynn/Maximus, which drives conflict for the rest of the movie, is established. We get the thrill of the chase, some cool-looking things thrown in there, and it’s funny. Each little mini-escape moment sets up the next moment of peril. I think it’s a great action sequence.

    Example 2: Yes, another chase.

    (All the scenes in this movie are really well-linked, too. This one starts right after a fun sing-along, so we go from oh-yay-we’re-all-having-fun to peril, and it’s great because the guards arriving is not random, but was set up before the singalong, when the tavern owner sent someone off to get them. It’s part of a larger peril-resolution which then leads into peril chain.)

    Everything starts out pretty typically: tavern’s being searched, escape down a secret passage, but then subversion! The “person” who actually figures out where R+F went is…the horse. (The lead guard does a funny “stand back and let Sherlock work” thing, here).

    And just to make things fun, it’s set up so that there are three groups (guards, the thugs, and the witch) pursuing R+F at once.

    More neat sequencing—the guards in pursuit nicely cut off Rapunzel and Flynn’s what’s-your-story conversation.

    Quick geography establishing shots (pull-out, focus on the exit routes) and then pursuing group #2 shows up.

    Link for the next little bit here

    Subversion: the frying pan, specifically, that a character wielding a frying pan defeats numerous guards with swords. Just when he’s celebrating, another blade pokes into the frame, and it’s wielded by…

    The horse. So our epic battle (and it actually is pretty neat) is guy-with-pan versus horse-with-knife.

    And the horse wins (just as our hero is engaging in some banter).

    Some great “out of the frying pan” (ha!) moments in really quick sequence: Flynn is rescued by Rapunzel’s prehensile hair, only to swing right at the thugs below. He swings above them, only to crash right into an overhanging beam. Rapunzel just evades Maximus (thoughts on the slow-mo here? I think it works, but only because nothing in this fight scene or this movie is meant to be taken too seriously. So it’s kind of on the nose over the top) only to just evade the thugs, Flynn slides down a collapsing chute, and they seem to be getting away. Then, the dam breaks. F+R just make it out from beneath a falling rock (catch the Indy moment with the pan!) only to be trapped in a chamber filling with water.

    Nothing seems to be working, and so our characters engage in a little pre-death bonding. Flynn shares his real name, Rapunzel shares that she has magic glowing hair—which leads to them finding a way out of the chamber.

    I don’t think the Indy call-out was just coincidence: this is a pretty Spielbergian sequence.

    Example 3: Escape from jail

    This one I think is neat mainly in that it pays off, humor and character-wise, on set-up from early in the movie.

    Flynn’s being dragged to the gallows, when he notices (and cues us to notice) a tiny unicorn on the ledge—callback to the bad guys turned good from the tavern all the way back at the beginning of the movie. Doors start closing, guards start disappearing.

    And a mime distracts the pursuing guards for long enough for the big Viking to run in and smash ‘em.

    So now thousands of guards are pouring into the courtyard, upping the peril ante. Flynn escapes (calling back to similar gymnastics in the earlier tavern scene) by being flipped over the wall onto…Maximus, who it turns out has orchestrated this whole thing. It’s a perfect mirror to the earlier chase scene when Flynn vaulted onto Maximus’s back, only now Maximus is helping Flynn escape.

    Then there’s a little “the rule of cool does sometimes work” as Max vaults over rooftops to escape (kind of like the earlier slo-mo moment, I argue this works only because it is so unashamedly ridiculous). And we’re off, paralleling Flynn’s first arrival at Rapunzel’s tower the whole way.

    • FILMCRITHULK said

      ALL GREAT STUFF.

      TO HULK IT REALLY SPEAKS TO HOW MUCH ANIMATION DEMANDS LOGISTIC SEQUENCING. THEIR IS ONLY ONE SHOT BEING BUILT, SO NOT ONLY DOES IT HAVE TO CUT TOGETHER BU T THEY HAVE TO GET MAXIMUM EFFECT.

      LIVE ACTION FILMING, HOWEVER, INVOLVES MULTIPLE CAMERA SETUPS TRYING TO CAPTURE WHAT’S OCCURRING AS BEST AS POSSIBLE AND OFTEN GETTING LOST IN A HAZE OF CHAOS.

  21. [...] editing action movies. since I’m interested in editing & action movies started in on the essay. little did I know that it would be 120 pages of ALL CAPS HULK [...]

  22. [...] due to a retweet from Edgar Wright every once in a while. It wasn’t until his now-legendary 3-part exploration of action scenes (featuring guest comments from Attack the Block cinematographer Tom Townend) that he really grabbed [...]

  23. [...] cinema (which, for several reasons, happen to be all-caps and in the voice of the Incredible Hulk). One such article describes how you make good action scenes, including an explanation of one very interesting [...]

  24. [...] this happens” style of filming. I’m going to try not to turn this into a retread of the Hulk Explains Action article, but what he says about geography and logic really stood out for me in these scenes. [...]

  25. [...] EXPLAIN ACTION SCENES! (WITH TOM TOWNEND!) – DAY 1, DAY 2, DAY 3 – A GIANT WRITE UP ON HOW TO APPROACH ACTION IN CINEMA AS “VISUAL [...]

  26. TheUniverse said

    I watched the The Avengers and it was FREAKING AWESOME! I like them all but the Hulk/Bruce Banner STANDOUT among the rest. Mark Ruffalo did an AMAZING job and he gave JUSTICE to Hulk/Bruce Banner compared to the other 2 Hulk movies. Marvel and Disney made an EXCELLENT decision for giving the role to Mark Ruffalo. We NEED a new Hulk movie of Mark Ruffalo! WE NEED MORE!

  27. [...] more importantly: director Len Wisemen simply has no understanding of what makes action work. As Film Crit Hulk points out in his excellent 3-part series, great action depends on a number of things including audience 1) [...]

  28. OmegaLazarus said

    This (like your other posts) is great informative writing. I am eager to use these tips to check my interactive writing to make sure it leaves control in hands at proper times and also leaves me in control for proper times.

    Also, Schinlder’s List was the first movie that made me tear up (as an adult). As a big military guy, that was pretty awesome. For me, it is the end monolouge that gets me every time, especially about his gold lapel pin.

  29. hamvvar said

    Hulk like ‘duel’ by spielberg?

  30. Where do these guys get their misguided info from? I know this is an old post, but it’s still “out there,” and people are still reading it. For clarification–and as a HUGE Indy fan, I’m going to set the record straight. About halfway through this, when discussing Raiders of the Lost Ark, they are talking about Toht and the Raven Bar shootout. They clearly stated, “AND NO FORGET, THAT SCENE OPENS WITH ONE OF THE BEST LEFT-FIELD SCARE-TO-LAUGH DEVICES EVER, WHAT CAN ONLY BE CALLED, “TOHT’S COAT-HANGER.” This is NOT true! The coat hanger scene was much later in the film, when Inday and Marion were in Cairo. Marion had already been captured and was in Rene Belloq’s tent drinking. Toht came into the tent, and that is when that coat hanger scene happened–not at the Raven Bar in Nepal.
    Next, they talk about the infamous Indy vs. Cairo swordsman scene. They state, “HARRISON HAD THE RUNS AND SOMEONE SUGGESTED THAT GETTING THE SCENE WOULD BE SO MUCH EASIER IF HE JUST TOOK OUT HIS GUN AND SHOT HIM.”
    Again–NOT TRUE! Harrison did not have “the runs,” nor did anyone suggest this alternate action to him. He actually had food poisoning and dysentery, and this is one of the most famous ad-lib scenes in film history.
    Now–get your facts straights, fellas!
    You said you had to look up Toht’s name, why couldn’t you look up the other details?
    I haven’t even bothered to read the rest of your commentary–don’t know if I can take it.

    • FILMCRITHULK said

      1. THANK YOU FOR THE CORRECTIONS. REALLY.

      2. DON’T WORRY. THESE ARE ERRORS, TRUE INDEED. BUT THEY ARE NOT THE KIND OR ERRORS THAT IMPAIR THE MEANING OF THE WRITING BEHIND IT. SERIOUSLY, FRIEND. THIS IS AN ARTICLE ABOUT THE FUNCTION OF ACTION SCENES. THE SCARE-TO-LAUGH DEVICE IS STILL IMPORTANT NO MATTER WHAT SCENE IT COMES BEFORE. AND YOU REALLY SHOULDN’T BE GOING DOWN THE “I haven’t even bothered to read the rest of your commentary–don’t know if I can take it” PATH, BECAUSE THAT’S NOT A GOOD WAY TO DIGEST ANY KIND OF WRITING.

      3. AGAIN, HULK ISN’T SAYING ACCURACY ISN’T IMPORTANT. IT’S VERY IMPORTANT. BUT IT’S NOT WORTH BEING THIS KIND OF DISMISSIVE OVER. IF YOU DO THAT, YOU’LL MISS A LOT OF GOOD STUFF.

      CHEERS FRIEND.

  31. […] what constitutes good action scenes. It’s an interesting read if you have 1-2 hours to spare Part 1 – Part 2 – Part […]

  32. My comment is about a photo caption! When you’re wondering if Nicky Katt made a scene work… is he the guy in The Dark Knight who says, “Uh-oh, that’s not good” when the helicopter gets tangled up and crashes? Because if I had to remove a single moment from that entire film, that would be it. If that dialogue was written (as opposed to improvised), then it’s not his fault. But it’s a horrible use of humour in the midst of action because no one would ever say that when watching people – colleagues, even! – die. It made me wince and took me out of the movie for a moment.

    One of my biggest movie pet peeves is the misuse of humour in action and science fiction films. Thankfully, one of the worst offenders – Batman & Robin – seems to have mostly cured Hollywood of that trend.

    On another note, I love your writing, Hulk. I have your pieces on Lost and Mulholland Drive permanently bookmarked so I can go back to them when I want to.

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