Killer Year–The Class of 2007

Is There Such A Thing As Too Fast?
June 4, 2007, 4:49 pm
Filed under: Marcus Sakey

Recently, I dragged my wife g.g to see 28 Weeks Later. I’m not particularly a horror fan, but a well-told zombie tale is something different, and the reviews were startlingly positive, praising the political acumen and dark tone. As a general rule, g.g. doesn’t like movies with explosions and blood sprays, but after reading the press, she was willing to give it a chance in the hope that the suspense and intellectual elements would overwhelm the gore.

Suffice it to say, I owe her the chick flick of her choice. That was settled the first time thumbs went through eyeballs. But besides being far bloodier than necessary, to me, the movie had a deeper flaw.

It went too fast.

I don’t mean it started too fast. I’m all about jumping into the middle and trusting the intelligence of the audience. No, what this movie did was press down on the accelerator and then never let up. Ever.

On the surface, that sounds good. But there came a point between escaping fire bombing, stumbling through corpse-strewn tunnels, machine gunning civilians, and endlessly running from incredibly fit zombies (apparently being zombified is a great diet–not a beer belly in sight, and they sprint like entrail-spattered Olympians), when I realized I just didn’t care. I didn’t care if the protagonists made it out. I didn’t care about the wise doctor or the stoic soldier. I didn’t even care if the plucky little boy got his head gnawed. Actually, I was kind of hoping for it, because I figured that would signal the end of the movie.

My friend Joe Konrath and I have an ongoing discussion about this. He’s of the belief that keeping the action unrelenting is a good thing. That you never want to give an audience, or a reader, a point to quit.

But for me, it has to come in waves. I want to care about the characters, to find something in them to relate to. Certain traits can be conveyed well in action scenes–resourcefulness, courage, even a sense of humor–but to my mind, you can’t really get to know anyone if all you do is see them run and shoot and bleed. And if I don’t know ’em, I don’t much want to follow their story.

That very fact is what makes the technique work in a medium like video games. In a video game, I do want to run and shoot and bleed, and I want very little else. Long cutscenes or “get to know you” moments drive me up the wall. But the difference is that I’m controlling the character, so although I’m not moved emotionally, I am physically involved, and the balance is maintained.

My concern is that this “pedal-down” style seems to be a trend. There are an increasing number of novels written this way, books that focus on never letting up. Some work better than others. But the trend is most common in TV and film.

Take 24; while never exactly Tolstoy, in the glory years it featured developed characters, and while there was always an overwhelming threat, much of the tension came from the smaller crises in each episode, often rooted around emotional and personal challenges. In the later years they lost that, and decided that what we wanted was all action, all the time. As a result, this season I gave up by the second episode, when I realized that I wouldn’t save any of the characters if they were drowning in a bathtub.

So what do you think? Is it me? Do you like it when the accelerator never leaves the floor? Or is breathing room a good thing?


4 Comments so far
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Sometimes — if it’s clear there is really nothing more to be said about these characters. But usually, no. That’s what makes The Sopranos and The Wire and Rescue Me great. We care, on some level, about some of them. As sentient beings, we need to finding some breath of humanity in fictional worlds.

Comment by patti abbott

I vote for breathing room, but breathing room that enlarges character and story. If things move too fast, I often feel like I don’t get a chance to know — or care — about the characters on the page (or on the screen). Give me a chance to get to know them. Otherwise, why would I care if their eyeballs get thumbed out?

Comment by Bill Cameron

I love breathing room too. That’s why I really like Robert B. Parker (especially the really good old ones)… there are scenes that are so relaxed, but you’re almost drawn to those scenes because they add to the character.

Comment by killeryear

g.g and I probably have similar tastes in movies, but like her, I love a thriller that offers strong characters, and some depth (like say, The Blade Itself.) I’m hoping the pedal-down trend burns itself out soon. Even the trailers exhaust me.

Comment by patry

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