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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Determined to Declutter (or: The Stuff That Matters)

Posted: 4 March 2014

Sooty likes my stuff, as long as it's comfortable.
Sooty likes my stuff, as long as it’s comfortable.

“Stuff is everything” – Malcolm Lee Bradford.  

It wasn’t until we moved house last year that Bradscribe realised how much stuff had amassed after a whole decade living and working in Southeast Asia. The wife groaned, not hesitating to admit that it would bring great pleasure to set it all alight.

Years to build – seconds to burn…  

Even the removal men complained about the sheer weight of my stuff. Typical, lesser mortals such as these do not comprehend or appreciate the value of our stuff. Stuff is powerful; stuff is relentless. It can gather and multiply unexpectedly, like an expanding and amorphous malevolent thing from a sci-fi/horror B-movie.

Naturally, those of you writers like me who revel in research will understand that when we collect our sources in various forms, it causes a seemingly insurmountable amount of stuff to just build up at an alarming rate.

No need to fret about your stuff on your own, my friend.

Determined to conquer the curse of my clutter, it was tackled systematically, so gradually the volume of stuff has been significantly reduced. Too good to be true? Not at all; if my stuff can be controlled, so can yours! Read on…

My former office; not my stuff. My stuff is more attractively laid out.
My former office; not my stuff. My stuff is more attractively laid out.

“Every time I have moved house, those first few days  – when the space is empty… are intoxicating. But… the clutter returns with all the vigour of a virulent strain of mould” – Emma Beddington.   

Of all the most incredible remarks this blogger has ever heard is: “Why do you have so much stuff?”

Yes, my jaw hit the floor when that preposterous statement was uttered. Honestly, how can anyone begin to explain this question, let alone answer it?

Everyone has stuff: such is the rich tapestry of life, different people have different types of stuff. After all, the only reason we buy/rent houses is so that we can have somewhere safe and spacious to store our stuff. When we go out, we usually end up buying more stuff. When we visit friends’ storage areas homes, we judge their stuff; and the only reason we go on vacation is, invariably, to accumulate more stuff… isn’t it? This seems to be quite obvious.

However, there comes a time when we all have to step back (if there is room amongst all that stuff) and assess how to reduce some of it. For starters, there is never enough time to read everything we have; realistically, if you have not looked at a certain item in the last four years, then you probably never will. In other words, it wasn’t that inportant; discard it pronto.

This stock photo reassures me no end; my office will NEVER look like this. Honest.
This stock photo reassures me no end; my office will NEVER look like this. Honest.

“You can’t have everything. Where would you put it?” – Steven Wright.  

Looking for answers on how to manage your stuff? This blogger can help.

The moment when Bradscribe noticed the sheer stuff overload came when he was annoyed to find… that nothing could be found. The most satisfying strategy to take was to halve the number of book projects in progress. Wherever possible, notes and papers no longer relevant could be discarded; some data had taken ages and lots of time and energy to acquire, so it was agonising to let go… but let go you must. Be strict.        

Don’t abandon your work for a day endeavouring to attack all those piles and pillars, mountains and mounds of stuff. Believe me: you will get nowhere; after hours of sorting, sifting and scrutinizing stuff, nothing will look like it’s been sorted out! Most importantly, the office will certainly end up in a messier state than when you started!  

But do not fret, Dear Reader (and Fellow Writer/Researcher), here is a handy tip on how you can declutter effectively:

Just take one hour a day (two if need be) to deal with a little bit of stuff at a time. Select a pile: deliberately sift through the tatty yellowed morsels at the bottom of it; chances are you will find items you thought were lost/forgotten forever. Stay sane. Enjoy the clear-out in gradual stages…

Every little helps.

The Midnight Special

Posted: 12 February 2014.

On with the Nightshift
On with the Nightshift

“I often think that the night is more alive and more richly coloured than the day” – Vincent Van Gogh.  

The clock strikes Midnight, and yet Bradscribe is still at his desk hammering the keys on his sturdy laptop. The early hours of the morning have always held a very special appeal.

During those three memorable years at university, studying by day and thinking twice about venturing out to the dangerous city centre at night just hindered my progress, and had to be rectified. When this routine was reversed – thankfully for the better – the rate of productivity miraculously increased. Long after university this habit has joyously continued.

This writer takes pride in being a Night-Owl. Whether in the east or the west, gradually the lights of the other houses in the street go out, leaving me to revel in the solitude. With a purring laptop, some dishevelled notes and the pleasant addition of ambient music, the night becomes a most magical time. 

Sometimes it’s amazing to just slink away from the desk, wander onto the quiet balcony, be fanned by a comforting cool breeze and just gaze at the stars…

Great solace can be attained from nocturnal graft.

The Desktop Companion
The Desktop Companion

“Sometimes I lie awake at night, and ask: ‘Where have I gone wrong?’ and a voice says to me: ‘This is going to take more than one night'” – Charles M. Schulz. 

In countless Q&As, writers state that they prefer to spring to their desk at the crack of dawn and work out a cache of pages before midday, then carry out chores during the afternoon.

In my case though, the exact opposite applies; a replenishing afternoon nap and then my mind will function splendidly after dark. This writer has tried – Good Lord, has he tried! – to conform to this so-called conventional day-time formula, but has struggled to produce decent material; not even a good flow can be worked up before lunch. The trouble with writing during the day is the noise, business that can only be sorted out during daylight hours, and other needless distractions.

Sooty, our cat, likes to be with us wherever we go in the house; in the evening, she prefers to stay in and curl up at the foot of the bed, rather than mingle with the local alley cats. At some point during the early hours, she will wander in, just to spend time with me. Usually she will jump onto the desk and rearrange the papers to use as a pillow; as long as she doesn’t go mental and “file” my papers with her teeth, then she can be quite a lovely companion.

Somewhere in another street, a stray dog starts howling; Sooty sits up and glances anxiously out of the mosquito screen, her tail flailing from side to side. Quickly realising that there is no danger, she settles down to dream once more…

Let the Midnight Special shine a light on me
Let the Midnight Special shine a light on me

“I’m a night owl… My goal as a writer is more to comfort, than to disturb” – Joni Mitchell.   

The nightshift has become an irresistible part of my life in Southeast Asia. The early hours of any day out here are pleasantly cool (in surprising contrast to the humidity at high noon), and apart from the obstreperous bin-collectors or a speeding nocturnal motorcyclist, the peace to be attained here is really conducive to sometimes lengthy creative sessions.

Being in this particularly captivating part of the world, if you listen carefully at 4am, a monk in a nearby wat (temple) clangs a big bell, calling all his brethren to start their Buddhist routine for the new day.

When the heavens open up and the torrents lash against my office window, it’s always so inspirational. In September & October, the monsoons are fairly frequent, and thunder always invigorates an atmospheric session.

As the roosters over the road start their shrill hollering, heralding the imminent dawn, this writer does feel his inner data bank shutting down…

Time to get some well-earned napping in before lunch, then start the new Blog during the afternoon.