Monday, January 4, 2010

Narration: It Almost Never Works


TUCK EVERLASTING - The problem with the narration in this movie is that it’s so noncommittal. It shows up at the beginning and intermittently throughout to give exposition. But exposition is also given in the normal way, and nothing the voice over says is something that couldn’t be done through dialogue, or something we couldn’t figure out for ourselves. The movie is well-directed enough that no extra help is needed, but there it is. Adding to the confusion is the fact that the narration is done in the past tense by the actress who plays the main character, despite the fact that in the only modern-time scene in the movie, her grave is visited by her immortal lover. She died at 100 and he is still 16. (By the way, Twilight, this is how you do it.) An older person narrating would have added to the poignancy. Or maybe it would have made it seem like The Wonder Years, I don’t know.

DARK CITY - This is the only movie I’ve ever seen where the narration seems to have it out for the audience. Or is it have it in? I’m never sure. Anyway, the narration appears only at the beginning of the movie and does nothing except explain the end of the movie. We’re left with a nice, tight mystery-thriller that has no mystery because we already know what’s happening. Also the narrator is William Hurt, who has a lovely voice, but plays the character least qualified to be telling us any of this.

STAR WARS - Oh, yeah. I went there. The opening crawl of Star Wars is intended to resemble the old Flash (Ahhhhh!) Gordon serials, giving information on what happened previously. The only problem with that is that those were intended to be reminders for people who had already seen those, not to just tell you what happened before the movie starts. The viewers of the serials would have actually seen Flash and Dale steal the Death Star plans, not just read about them. In a stand-alone movie (Which is what Star Wars was intended as, no matter what George Lucas says,) an opening like that robs much of the opening suspense. Imagine the opening of Star Wars. Is there anything in the narration that isn’t revealed in Vader’s conversation with Antilles? Only the destructive capability of the Death Star, and wouldn’t it be more dramatic to reveal that at the point where Tarkin first uses it? No and Yes, respectively. Comparatively, the opening crawl of Empire is useful, and sets up the Hoth base and probe droids without tedious exposition. Funny how George Lucas didn’t write or direct that one.

ARABIAN KNIGHT - The Thief and the Cobbler was to be the masterpiece of Oscar-winning animator Richard Williams. He spent 26 years making it, grabbing funding wherever he could. After he built up a huge wad of cred as the animation director of Who Framed Roger Rabbit, he made a deal with Warner Bros to fund and release the film. But masterpieces take time, and Warner pulled out. The film was given to the “Completion Bond Company” and Williams was fired. The finished version the producer made, retitled Arabian Knight, was an atrocity. Remaining animation was shopped out to various hack houses, the film was made into a musical, and several mute characters were given voices. Including the Cobbler. And the Thief. Yes, the two former-title characters, intended to carry the movie only through their actions now have extremely irritating voice overs by Matthew Broderick and Jonathan Winters. And the final moment of the film, where the Cobbler says “I love you,” in the deep and manly voice of 1967 Sean Connery is robbed of its awesomeness by way of never happening.

1 comment:

  1. Seems to me narration only really works when it's kind of meta — The Princess Bride, for example. Or on TV (wait for it) Arrested Development. Anytime the narrator is somehow incorporated into the events of the actual story, rather than serving as a clumsy way to join scenes, it works for me.

    I also think it was at least moderately effective in Fight Club.

    Good piece though. I'd probably enjoy it more if I'd, you know, seen most of these movies. But that's my fault, not yours. I agree with you on Star Wars, anyway.