Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Tests and Training Scenes

Not to pick on my friend, Scott, but here I’m going to pick on him. Occasionally he’d run a game of Champions for the rest of us and our superheroes would end up fighting some mildly challenging bad guy, only to later discover that the fight was all set up by some mastermind to test us—so that he could find out if we were suitably heroic for the mission. Of course, somewhere inside our reptilian brain it occurred to us that who else was he going to get for the mission? Recruit the clerk at the Circle K next door, have him write up a character, and send him on the mission?

The superfluous action scene had found its way into the creative arsenal of the next generation.

In Scott’s defense, here’s just a short, trillion dollar or so list, of films with similarly superfluous action scenes:

2 Fast 2 Furious: Drug boss has a test to go to work for him—Paul Walker and Tyrese have to race some yahoos through Florida to pick up a cigar from a car. No, seriously, I was on the edge of my seat thinking that Orange Julius and Slapjack might win and the rest of the movie would be about them.

Paycheck: We see here the strangely common instance of an extended first act scene showing Ben Affleck practicing martial arts. Truly, it's riveting wondering if the dungeon master is sucker enough to give him experience points or a skill check for this. Though in this case I think the idea is that we need to see him doing the kung fu thing so we understand later in the film when this reverse engineering geek kicks ass. I guess just showing a trophy on the mantle wouldn't cut it. Regardless, it's better than:

The Island: Scarlet Johansson engages in some spiffy cyber boxing against some other opponent -- i.e. we get to watch her play a video game. She doesn't really kick enough ass later on to requrie this scene.

xXx: Here the training scenes feel a little less superfluous, they help illustrate Vin's character's cleverness (he's not just an athletic reefer smoking snowboarder) and I think there is some need to show how the character transitions from reefer smoking to world saving. But this is a thankless section to write, and should at least be very brief -- the audience knows it'll be Vin, so there's zero tension, and zero twists in the action, and they don't manage to slip in plot development. Unlike --

The Matrix: We get an extensive training sequence after Neo exits the matrix, and, like xXx, we need some sort of transition. But here the audience also needs the info dump that these training scenes accomplish. That might be enough right there but they take it one step further and even drop some character development on you. We're (sort of) wondering if Neo is the One and his failures to make the jump and beat Morpehus help sustain the worry that maybe Neo actually isn't the One--and help contribute to his own lack of confidence as well.

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