So What’s With the Shouting?

by wjw on June 1, 2008

I’ve been watching movies about heroism this week. We caught Iron Man this afternoon, and during the course of the week I watched last year’s Beowulf.

There was a lot not to like about Beowulf. The CGI gave the players’ faces an immobility that was distracting and annoying. (At times I thought I’d wandered into a Shrek film by accident.) Beowulf’s stolid face had me longing for the thespian stylings of Arnold Schwartzenegger. Robin Wright Penn was about at sexy as a turnip, which is a downright criminal way to treat Robin Wright Penn. The ending just went on and on, with one unbelievable piece of action after another. (I know I’m supposed to be excited by these things, but I find complete detachment from reality to be pretty dull.)

I watched it on my old-school television, not in its 3D version, so I was not thrilled, and was sometimes puzzled, by the 3D effects.

Naked Angelina Jolie, it has to be said, I liked. We need more of that sort of thing in cinema.

Despite the fact that I really disliked this movie, I found myself liking the script, by Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary. The script was for a subtler film than the one I saw, and made on about a third of the budget— one that would have to depend on acting chops and not CGI.

The thing I disliked most about the movie was the shouting. Almost everyone, Beowulf in particular, delivered their dialog at the top of their lungs. I noticed this in 300 also. Only villains speak in a normal tone of voice. People who talk in normal tones are creepy and sneaky. Heroes are loud, blustering, rude, boastful, and bodybuilders. Are bodybuilders more manly if they shout louder than anyone else? Is it the steroids?

If you’re a bodybuilder with a sword, and you shout down everyone else, are you a leader or just an asshole?

Is shouting the new heroic?

(Note to action directors: shouting removes subtlety of expression from dialog. You’re stealing the actors’ best chance to interpret their lines in interesting ways. Just a tip, y’know, from a complete amateur.)

The shouting also hurts the ears.

Iron Man, it should be noted, does not shout. Nor did it have loud music in the action scenes to tell you how excited you should be. It broke all the rules of summer blockbuster movies, especially the ones that state that all the acting should be wretched and the characterization nonexistent and that the plot should make no sense.

It was a fine film, with interesting characters and situations, and when the hero said “I am /B/e/o/w/u/l/f/ Iron Man,” he didn’t shout and in fact he sort of mumbled.

The final confrontation went on and on, the way they do, but I’ve got used to that (while quietly longing for the days when Bogart would just shoot the villain, and the bad guy would clutch his chest and die, and that would be that).

Y’know, it occurs to me that if you’re a hero, you shouldn’t have to shout. If you’re a hero, people listen to you even if you whisper.

If only Hollywood knew that.

mushroom7b June 1, 2008 at 2:03 pm

Wow, someone else that doesn’t think CGI hung the moon? What are the odds? I’m lucky, I’m from the last generation before Nintendo, and when it comes to movies I still like acting, actors, and scenery more than ones and zeros. I know,I sound stuck up, but I don’t care. I like to watch black and white movies, because those people had to ACT.

Alyx June 1, 2008 at 9:50 pm

We liked IRON MAN an awful lot–Kelly and I have seen it three times now, and our in the theater movie-going has shrunk so much; it’ll probably double the number of times we see a film in 2008.

The guys who made it clearly got what’s cool about the source material, and stuck to it. It’s a nifty, layered superhero film, and restored my faith in the ability of Hollywood to occasionally make a good movie.

S.M. Stirling June 2, 2008 at 8:10 am

To be fair, Migration Period Germanic heroes were -supposed- to boast and shout a lot. It was part of the schtick.

Modesty is a Christian virtue and these guys didn’t believe in it. What was looked down on was boasting you couldn’t make good on.

Much of the Beowulfian chest-thumping in the movie is taken directly from the original material.

John Goodrich June 2, 2008 at 12:34 pm

Apparently, people tend to overact when presented with a microphone and no one else to interact with. This was rather clear in Beowulf. Ray Winstone has done well-nuanced work in the past.

And not to disagree with the esteemed SM Stirling, but there was a time for Anglo-Saxon boasting, and there was a time for being deep-minded and close-mouthed.

Michael Grosberg June 2, 2008 at 4:11 pm

What killed the movie for me The near-perfect (but not quite) realism of the CGI. Without wishing to, I kept looking for telltale signs that it was not real, to the point I was oblivious to the actual goings on of the plot.
This is something I don’t do in non-realistic CGI such as Ratatouille.

This is one of hose movies which are made to prove a point, not to entertain an audience.

Kelly June 2, 2008 at 7:00 pm

Lack of shouting, yes. I adore it when a movie/TV show/whatever takes the tone down a notch or two in tense situations, instead of making the characters get loud.

The late lamented tv show Boomtown did this a lot. Often just when you thought the cops were about to get macho and screamy, they’d go unexpectedly mellow and gentle. One of my favourite scenes has two characters in a patrol car slowly and gently driving around a park, waiting for the hobbled junkie they’re pursuing to run out of breath and give up.

dubjay June 2, 2008 at 9:42 pm

Steve, you can boast without shouting at the top of your lungs.

One of the things heroes should spare, along with the lives of innocents, is one’s ears.

Derryl Murphy June 7, 2008 at 12:48 am

Kelly, I was thinking “Boomtown fan? I could love this woman.” And then I realized I already know and love you (shh. Don’t tell Alyx).

Jo and I couldn’t make it all the way through Beowulf. I think what killed it for me, aside from the CGI ripping me out of the moment, was the whole Austin-Powers-cover-up-the-nudity when our hero was running to confront Grendel. When the sword stuck in such a way to cover his privates I just rolled my eyes and the movie had lost me.


maryturzillo June 17, 2008 at 8:31 pm

I had the same take on both Iron Man and Beowulf. What I liked about Beowulf was the naked men (their fun portions cleverly obscured by pieces of architecture). And yes, the script made an interesting 21st century interpretation of the facts as we knew them.

I loved Iron Man, not that it’s great literature, but I loved the idea of a hero who wins by being clever and brave and also I am fascinated by that glowing hole in Tony Sharp’s chest, which was soooo symbolic and linked up to all sort of glowing holes in people’s chests like the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Alien chest-burster and also maybe Aztec human sacrifice. I mean, when Sharp gets Pepper to disconnect the fusion reactor inside his chest, wasn’t that sexy? Or maybe just disgusting, but it was, you know, something. And the MIT brass rats, which appeared twice and which Geoff had to point out to me. And the icing thing. And especially the 3-D holographic CAD. My friend Marie Vibbert, who is very keen on these things, said she was turned on by the suit.

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