The War Of The Words: Why Does No One Talk Much In SF Films Any More?

Direlogue!

The Quality and Quantity Of Good Movie Dialogue Is Declining! We Need To Talk About It… 

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“…Do I talk first or you talk first? I talk first…?” – Poe Dameron.  

Wouldn’t it be cool to watch SF movies where you can just listen and enjoy good lines instead of being bombarded by noisy, meaningless CGI buffoonery?

As a writer who has dabbled in the art of good chatter – even trying (struggling!) to compile suitable quotes for my Star Trek review last week – it cannot have escaped your attention that there is decidedly less dialogue to get excited over these days.

Any writer of quality fiction/scripts/plays will tell you: there is nothing like good dialogue to drive any scene.

However, it should be pointed out that in  Mad Max: Fury Road – undoubtedly the Best Film of 2015 – the titular Road Warrior himself managed to grunt only 52 lines of dialogue; back in March, this year, Superman in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice seemed to phone in his scenes with a measly 43 lines.

Where can we listen to cool and catchy prattle beyond the stars these days? 

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“George, you can type this shit, but you sure as hell can’t say it” – Harrison Ford.  

On our Third Stone From the Sun, today, about 7000 languages are spoken (Goodness knows how many other thousands of languages have died out in the last few centuries!).

Imagine that!

7000 ways to say: “Hello!” and 7000 ways to ask: “Got any cake?”

And yet…!

An intriguing paradox is lodged at the core of human communication: if language evolved to allow us to exchange information, how come most people cannot understand what most other people are saying?

No matter how globalized the 21st century would appear, there are numerous far-out, obscure – dare one say it: alien – places in this world where a dash of basic local lingo is essential in order to just get by.  

In the realms of science fiction, a dazzling coterie of pseudo-technical jargon has gradually arisen to aid in the hopefully-convincing creation of alien worlds and “futuristic” technologies.

This leads us to the now-legendary quote (above). George Lucas had immersed himself into this far far away sci-fi set-up to such an extent, that an outsider like Harrison Ford was easily stumped by having to spout it.

There is a very telling reason why less dialogue in modern movies is becoming the norm. 

The Chinese sector has taken over the American market as the largest box office territory in the world. Not only does less dialogue mean less subtitles/dubbing for them, but – alarm bells among screenwriters everywhere – Chinese cinema-goers are attracted primarily to the spectacle. 

Apparently, the (Western) world is not enough. 

We have reached the stage (regrettably) where the movie industry is geared towards doing good business, rather than making fine art.

For movies to make a profit (as substantial as poss, of course) they need to do well in Asian cinemas, not just in American. This should go towards explaining why major blockbusters are released in places like Thailand and Singapore (my former stomping grounds) well before the “official” dates in the US and UK…

Dialogue seems to have lost its power to influence – how and where can memorable lines fit into a world where people spend more time sending texts of abbreviated jargon, and emojis and Instagram encourage more image-based communication?

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“Can you speak? Are you programmed to speak?” – Harry Booth.  

How aliens communicate is a source of constant fascination in SF films. Star Trek is synonymous with species which are nearly all carbon-based bipeds. As a result, they invariably speak as humans – for the sake of not bamboozling TV audiences with distracting subtitles! – in perfectly-rendered English (preferably with American accents).

For the movies, the Klingons had their own language – specially created (Trekkies can even get their own Klingon phrasebook for pity’s sake!)

Of increasing concern is the prevalent problem of character under-development. How many times have we complained about that? Dialogue provides an important key to our understanding of a particular protagonist or, for that matter, antagonist. 

With the notable reduction of spoken lines in blockbusters, we are almost forbidden to learn their intentions or directions. Presumably, our attention must(!) be focussed on the digitally-enhanced action and explosions; if we want to learn what they’re thinking, we’ve gotta go and buy the novel/comic book that this spectacle is based on.

Let the cynicism flow through you… 

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“No, no, no, no. You gotta listen to the way people talk. You don’t say “affirmative,” or some shit like that. You say ‘no problemo.’ And if someone comes on to you with an attitude you say ‘eat me.’ And if you want to shine them on it’s ‘hasta la vista, baby’” – John Connor. 

Luke who’s talking…

In Star Wars: the Force Awakens, some fans were disappointed that the pivotal character remained mute in such a climactic, yet brief, screen time. Having been in that incredibly annoying situation myself where the right, poignant words for a crucial character just won’t come together, this is grudgingly possible to understand. 

Honestly, no matter how many alternate approaches or drafts are churned out, saying nothing at all can be the best, (safest) and most effective outcome.

Harrison Ford’s enervated Sam Spadesque narration for the original version of Blade Runner is partly what drew me into that “flawed classic.” After those “explanatory notes” were totally eradicated from the “Final Cut” the film is now regarded as a masterpiece.

My plans of breaking into screenwriting seem to be dwindling to the same extent as the very requirement for fine lines itself!

Judging from the upsurge in quality TV drama serials, good dialogue is allowed to flourish on the small screen, where the action and spectacle of the big screen is diminished, and more hours to fill provides opportunities for developing characters.

There, good scripts still matter.

The power of the spoken word, when crafted well, determines whether the captivated viewer comes back for the next episode(s).

So, rather than look for Brad on the big screen, you’ll be more likely to find my niftiest nuggets on Netflix.  

“To make anything work, you gotta find the right words.”

Now ya talkin’!

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“Come on guys, can we talk this over? …Good talk” – Iron Man. 

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11 thoughts on “The War Of The Words: Why Does No One Talk Much In SF Films Any More?

  1. I do think that Sci-fi is under the spell of awe and spectacle, just wanting to show the next CGI event. Superhero films are like that now where the dialogue seems to be only there to prop up the next explosive scene – they’re getting bad as SyFy flicks. It’s action, action, action, all the time.

    • Thank u for your Comment, Michael.
      I like th way u cover obscure, vintage movies on your blog – an antidote to the upsurge of CGI in modern movie-making! Yes?
      Personally, I like th current wave of superhero movies, but as u say, th action must take precedence over th scripts.
      Th balance needs to b readdressed – surely, if people just crave “action, action, action, all the time” then they’re welcome to get stuck into video games, right?
      Thanks for being th 1st to stop by – always great to see u here!
      Cheers!

  2. This is a brilliant piece. You raise some very important points with horrible implications for where our popular culture is heading. This is yet another, and perhaps the most important, casualty in the endless quest for major blockbuster profits. So I lived the piece…even if it’s bummed me out. Now I’m going to go watch a movie with great banter!

    • Thank u so much for your Comment, Michael!
      V important points… that cld not stay bottled up forever!
      Nowadays, I go to th cinema even less – helping needless reboots/sequels to profit is not my idea of a good time.
      Enjoy your movie with great banter, my friend – even better w nachos 😉
      Cheers!

  3. This is a fascinating article! I hadn’t thought a lot about the nature of dialogue in films, but you’re right about the shift from dialogue to visuals. It’s tricky to get the dialogue just right and have the character say the perfect thing, although I’m actually a fan of the fact that Luke doesn’t say anything at the end of The Force Awakens. 😉 (I thought it made for a good cliffhanger, and I had fun trying to puzzle over Luke’s expression and what it really meant–is he surprised to see Rey, or did he sense her coming, and he’s just evaluating her?) You’re also right about the increasing quality of TV. There’s some really good stuff on the small screen these days, thanks to cable and on-demand providers like Netflix. Downton Abbey is now off the air, but I loved the witty dialogue from that British period drama.

    • Thanks so much, Ashley – u know I aim to fascinate!
      Yeah, even tho I may imply otherwise in this Post, I actually really dig th way in which Luke doesn’t say a word at th end of SW: TFA. Hey, if we’d been thro what he’s been thro (whatever that is! :-0 ) words wldn’t come easy for us either.
      The problem w th increasing quality of TV for me is how inaccessible it is – unavailable in Se Asia and u have to pay for it in th UK… grrr!
      Of course th British make th best period drama – period! 😉
      Cheers!

      • I’m sorry to hear you aren’t able to have easy access to TV. 😦 I feel thankfully I’m able to get a lot of stuff free online here, or through Netflix. Yep, the British are the masters of TV dramas; in fact, most of my favorite TV shows are British!

      • Getting th time to settle down & watch wld b great – I only got to see Arrow and th Flash cos they are available on long-distance flights (funnily enough, th only time I get to watch th really important shows!
        Cheers!

  4. Another question is that why is it when people do talk in SF/comic book movies these days, they are all infected with Basil Exposition-itis. It’s kinda chicken and egg for me, are movies doing this because they think that’s what the public want, or are the public too stupid to say anything else? Probably a bit of both. Nice piece by the way 🙂

    • Thank u for your Comment!
      I’m afraid I’m not sure what u mean by “Basil Exposition-itis”
      Th problem these days is that myself – and quite a few others – are already infected by it; moreover, this “ignorance” has allowed it to spread.
      Yay, it’s chicken and egg for me too today, so bon appetite!
      Cheers!

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