Narrative and the action film

Lisa Purse

in Contemporary Action Cinema

Published by Edinburgh University Press

Published in print April 2011 | ISBN: 9780748638178
Published online September 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780748670857 | DOI:
Narrative and the action film

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This chapter argues against action cinema's reputation for narrative paucity, by demonstrating the ways in which the action film is highly narratively communicative. Using Avatar and I, Robot as case studies, the chapter shows how narrative information is communicated not just through dialogue and action but through the audio-visual presentation of those elements. Audio-visual presentation can supplement explicit narrative information with thematic detail that then shapes our responses to subsequent narrative developments and action sequences. The chapter elaborates the concept of the action hero's ‘narrative of becoming’ that articulates the protagonist's physical and emotional trajectory towards achieving full occupation of the heroic action body. This narrative of becoming is an integral part of the main narrative thrust that moves the ?lm towards its resolution. In this formulation action sequences display the extraordinary capacities of the action hero, but in a manner that is inextricably linked with narrative process. Rather than being discrete tests of the hero's stamina, agility and ingenuity, action sequences operate developmentally across the action ?lm to construct the hero's ‘becoming-powerful.’

Keywords: Narrative; Action body; Action sequence; Narrative of becoming; Spectacle

Chapter.  7469 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Film

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