Watching Tarantino’s latest, ‘Inglourious Basterds’, I was reminded of the strength of assumptions. In this case, I’m talking about the assumption that an entertaining film is constant action. Let me rephrase that. An entertaining film is constant movement. Is this necessarily true? Is the dialog-heavy style used by Tarantino a strength or a weakness?
One could make the case that dialog is much less exciting than, say, machine gun fire and screaming unintelligibly. This would be a very tenuous argument indeed. Excitement is relative to the viewer. If all I see is a black screen, let’s say, at the beginning of a film, but I hear dialog that lines up with my expectations — such as “Let’s do this” or “The world is changed…”, any number of hypothetical sayings — it may get me massively pumped for the rest of the experience. It all comes down to what the audience wants out of the movie. Doubtless, a lot of the moviegoing crowd, who may not be as familiar with Tarantino, expected a Nazi-killing adrenaline fueled revenge fantasy, and were thus disappointed when the master of insane dialog spun his familiar webs. Those who were Tarantino fans before viewing the film, however, immediately and patiently bought into the slow burn of the film.
This question of assumptions brings us to general tastes. Obviously, by the huge amount of money that busy, microwave movies such as ‘Transformers 2’ have made, it’s fairly obvious that the modern audience is primarily interested in spectacle and constant violence. It’s a fact, the strong action thriller will win out against the strong drama, unless it’s a sweeping romance, such as ‘Titanic’. There have been exceptions, but it’s not an unreasonable… assumption. Anyway, the general taste seems stacked against dialog-heavy films. We don’t go to watch people, we go to watch characters pushed through a plot. When a character is so well wrought that he/she deserves recognition, the general audience is more apt to pay attention to them, but more often people simply get bored by watching people. This seems to be a symptom of the activity obsessed culture we live in, but the effect it has on cinema is profound. A film with a slow burn, such as ‘Basterds’, is still right up there with the pace of old classics such as ‘North by Northwest’, which is not quite as dialog heavy, but is definitely as long. That is considered one of the great thrillers of all time. Yet many modern viewers are far less than thrilled. I would make the following analogy, building on the microwave idea associated with action movies like ‘Transformers’: Old classic movies, and similar modern films, are cooked in an oven. The overall result is much richer, but requires patience.
Let’s hope that the success of Tarantino’s latest convinces Hollywood to sloooooow down, and let the characters live a little.