Tentpole movies are being cut down to the minimum narrative basics with no room for characterisation or nuance. But why should audiences care?
There are a couple of supporting characters in Clash Of The Titans – two Turkish brothers played by Ashraf Barhom and Mouloud Achour – who accompany the hero, Perseus, on his journey. They are apparently more colourful than other men in the travelling pack and save Perseus’ skin on a couple of occasions. They leave the action at some point and return for a few moments in the finale.
This being a studio tentpole movie in 2010, that’s about all we find out about them. There are no set-up scenes where we discover something of their personalities or the reasons for their loyalty, we don’t witness their growing friendship with Perseus or the others. They seem appealing but we never actually get to care about them.
It almost seems a waste that Barhom and Achour, two talented and experienced actors, should have been employed when they are given no time to create characters that might have added texture and richness to the story.
But these movies, the studios have decided, can do without the narrative richness or character detail that usually gives audiences a better experience. These films are audience thrill-rides and the powers that be, whether they are in marketing or focus groups after test screenings, have determined that a lull in pace or a moment to get to know the characters are easily expendable. It’s the kids, they claim. They don’t have the attention span.
I am not alone in believing that Clash Of The Titans could have been a better film if it had not been so pared down to one action setpiece after another. There is very little human or for that matter divine in the film that we can relate to in amid the flawless CGI work and a parade of underused character actors from Elizabeth McGovern to Danny Huston, who between them say less than ten words. It rings hollow, even as mythical adventure.
I don’t know when this style of ultra-flash storytelling began. We can’t blame every contemporary studio story convention on Star Wars or Raiders Of The Lost Ark, both films which did pay attention to their human characters and got the audience to care about them in spite of the special effects and action sequences. Perhaps Jerry Bruckheimer and his cross-media school of storytelling for dummies that straddles some of the biggest movie and TV franchises this side of 2000 is more responsible.
But I am not so sure that today’s kids are as consumed by attention deficit disorder and insistence on non-stop action that they cannot tolerate a moment of dialogue or a leisurely establishing shot or three. It didn’t hurt Avatar which ran to nearly three hours nor the Harry Potter movies which are routinely 150 minutes or more. Avatar, certainly, built a series of relationships between blue alien creatures which were far more involving than any of those in Clash Of The Titans.
I am not criticizing Clash Of The Titans itself so much as the editorial system which insists that it should be pared down to the basics of story sans flavour, background or attempts at depth. It brings a flatness to these films that ultimately damages their long life in ancillary markets because they aren’t held in much affection by the audience nor revisited as often as they could be.
The box office for Clash Of The Titans has been stellar, that is not in doubt. But perhaps it could have been bigger if the story had been given room to breathe.
Ultimately, the audience won’t abandon the movies because the theatrical experience isn’t big enough, they will lose interest because the storytelling isn’t sophisticated enough.