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View Full Version : The birth and death of the Action Movie


Mabuse
04-10-12, 06:00 PM
I found this article over in The Raid thread. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/01/magazine/how-the-american-action-movie-went-kablooey.html?_r=2&pagewanted=all

It's from the NY Times and there's a lot right about it and a lot wrong about it. To start with in his very first sentence he asserts that "The action film is an American invention."

I think Hitchcock and Fritz Lang invented the action film in the 1930's.

On the Hollywood side of the pond America invented the Gangster Film (something we rightfully can take credit for as a unique American art form). The Hayes Code forced gangster films to become cop films--films that glorified police work instead of criminals, the cop film begot the detective film, the detective film begot film noir and just as the noir cycle wound to a stop Hitchcock (a Brit) makes North By Northwest (essentially remaking stuff he'd done in the 30's) and sets the template for what would become the James Bond franchise. The James Bond franchise (made by a bunch of Brits), more than anything else, ushered in the kind of “might makes right”, kill and quip, "the explosion can never be too big" type of filmmaking that the author is celebrating. It also ushered in a wave of European action flicks that reacted by imitating the excesses of Bond (Bava) or stripping them away in an attempt to create a different kind of violent “cool” (Melville).

Never mind that Kurosawa was making amazing action films from 1950 on.

I just really think the writer of that piece has a limited understanding (despite the fact that he makes some good points in other places).

Drexl
04-10-12, 06:47 PM
I disagree with his assertion that what he calls the golden age of action movies ended with Last Action Hero. I thought that Speed, released the following year, was a really good action movie, and the third Die Hard movie and The Rock weren't bad either.

Maybe it ended with Speed 2. ;)

Solid Snake
04-10-12, 07:07 PM
Yeah. That's pretty much exactly what I felt on that article I posted in The Raid thread.

What I think in a way happened w/ action films in the US is that we did a lot of them but by the end...we just had a lot of shit in quantity but not quality. Much like we had a shit ton of Westerns but by the end...a good Western was rarity but you had a shit ton of generic ones. Today I'd say that our "major" genre is the Superhero Genre.

A genre hits a note and many make a film off of it. You get your good and your bad but in a stable quantity but then it grows and they just make them for the sake of getting your cash regardless of quality.

Hong Kong had a fucking long ass run w/ their Martial Arts films. Like what? It was late 60s through late 90s? The thing about those was that no matter what the quality of the film was..they had an artistic quality to their action.

once we hit about late 70s and early 80s you got more guns in the mix w/ HK. More "modern era" stories and the whatnot.

Nick Danger
04-11-12, 06:36 AM
He defines action movies as having lots of guns, lots of explosions, and one-liners. I'm pretty sure that when Commando came out, that style of movie was twenty years old.

Mabuse
04-11-12, 12:23 PM
He defines action movies as having lots of guns, lots of explosions, and one-liners. I'm pretty sure that when Commando came out, that style of movie was twenty years old.

Would you say the first was Thunderball? The first Bond film to go unabashedly over the top.

Ash Ketchum
04-12-12, 06:34 AM
Would you say the first was Thunderball? The first Bond film to go unabashedly over the top.

I would argue that FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE is more of a "pure" action movie than THUNDERBALL and had better action setpieces, e.g. the battle with the copter, the boat chase, and, best of all, the slugfest between Bond and Red Grant in the train compartment. It's still one of the very best action movies ever made.

Gerry P.
04-12-12, 06:47 AM
It's from the NY Times and there's a lot right about it and a lot wrong about it. To start with in his very first sentence he asserts that "The action film is an American invention."

I think Hitchcock and Fritz Lang invented the action film in the 1930's. You need to familiarize yourself with Tom Mix. He was making terrific action movies in the 1910s and '20s. Check out The Great K & A Train Robbery sometime.

Ky-Fi
04-12-12, 09:50 AM
Yeah, I think the action movie was already pretty well-established by the mid 30s. Lives of a Bengal Lancer from 1935:

<iframe width="420" height="315" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/qVe9y1en6Kc" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

Mabuse
04-12-12, 11:18 AM
Those are war films and westerns. Gangster films proliferated in the 1930s as well. But for a true and simple "action" movie, the kind the author is talking about, you have to look a little later.

Rypro 525
04-12-12, 06:26 PM
I would argue that FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE is more of a "pure" action movie than THUNDERBALL and had better action setpieces, e.g. the battle with the copter, the boat chase, and, best of all, the slugfest between Bond and Red Grant in the train compartment. It's still one of the very best action movies ever made.

but it takes a good (and long) hour and 15 minutes or so before any of that happens.

PhantomStranger
04-12-12, 06:58 PM
I think a huge problem was the decline and aging of the big action stars from the 80s and 90s. For whatever reason there were few replacements once guys like Stallone couldn't credibly be the main star in an action movie. The new American genre is definitely superheroes.

Jon2
04-12-12, 08:12 PM
"Reports of my demise have been greatly exaggerated."

signed,
Action Movie

DaveyJoe
04-12-12, 08:14 PM
It's clear that you guys aren't true fans of action movies.

The Bus
04-12-12, 10:23 PM
A certain kind of action movie has died, and it's been replaced by superhero films. The actor isn't the primary draw (although it helps to have someone who's good, and not an unknown), the character is.

rw2516
04-13-12, 05:05 AM
I'd consider Resident Evil and Underworld type films as action above any sci-fi/horror elements.

Gerry P.
04-13-12, 06:43 AM
Those are war films and westerns. Gangster films proliferated in the 1930s as well. But for a true and simple "action" movie, the kind the author is talking about, you have to look a little later.A little later, as in the 1980s, as the author states.

He says the "purebred American action film" must have "A loner hero who excels at combat," "A perverse fetishization of firearms," and "Explosions. Big, blossoming, ecstatic, pointless explosions."

None of which have anything to do with Hitchcock or Lang. If you want to push the date back, Tom Mix (as I suggested earlier) fits the bill much more than your suggestions.

The author lists "Aliens" and "Robocop" as examples, even those aren't "true and simple action movies," but genre films with action.

Nick Danger
04-13-12, 08:36 AM
He also specifies a quip after the hero kills someone. I haven't heard that earlier than the Bond movies.

Really, his definition of a purebred American action film is a Bond movie from Pinewood Studios, England.

Mabuse
04-13-12, 11:18 AM
Precisely. The guy's biggest mistake is making a claim that the action film is an American invention. The "loner hero who excels at combat," "A perverse fetishization of firearms," and "Explosions. Big, blossoming, ecstatic, pointless explosions." were all elements of the Bond films of the '60s, at least from Goldfinger on.

And Lang definately fetishized firearms and had big blossoming explosions. Check out the first 5 minutes of Testament of Dr. Mabuse. Hell, his silent classic Spies has everything that James Bond would become. Crashing trains, motorcycle chases, secret agents with numbers instead of names.

rennervision
04-13-12, 07:59 PM
Would you say the first was Thunderball? The first Bond film to go unabashedly over the top.

Although more grounded than TB, I think the first Bond film Dr. No certainly qualifies as an action film. It tapped into something people weren't seeing in movies, which is why it was successful enough to generate around two dozen sequels.

Jon2
04-13-12, 11:47 PM
... "A perverse fetishization of firearms," and "Explosions. Big, blossoming, ecstatic, pointless explosions."...

Just where is it written that this guy gets to define what an action movie is? -ohbfrank-

joliom
04-14-12, 07:28 AM
Well, casting rugged tough guys instead of effete 20-year-olds that look like they just finished up a stint on Gossip Girl, would be a good start. And hiring directors who think Michael Bay is someone to eschew not emulate. Also using special effects as a means of servicing the story instead of the other way around. And enough with all the fantasy. Not every action hero needs to be a sexy vampire, superhuman kung-fu master, or shape-shifting time traveler.

Strevlac
04-14-12, 09:57 AM
Well, casting rugged tough guys instead of effete 20-year-olds that look like they just finished up a stint on Gossip Girl, would be a good start. And hiring directors who think Michael Bay is someone to eschew not emulate. Also using special effects as a means of servicing the story instead of the other way around. And enough with all the fantasy. Not every action hero needs to be a sexy vampire, superhuman kung-fu master, or shape-shifting time traveler.

Agreed.

I'd also say that the "action" films today have too much action. Wall to wall noise and movement and crazy CGI assisted camera moves and stupid "stop-go" bullet time slo-motion gets boring really fast. There needs to be more focus on characterization and the slow burn...a three act film where things start slowly and gradually pick up steam so that when the third act arrives you go balls to the wall and it rocks your world.

Solid Snake
04-14-12, 10:47 AM
Agreed.

I'd also say that the "action" films today have too much action. Wall to wall noise and movement and crazy CGI assisted camera moves and stupid "stop-go" bullet time slo-motion gets boring really fast. There needs to be more focus on characterization and the slow burn...a three act film where things start slowly and gradually pick up steam so that when the third act arrives you go balls to the wall and it rocks your world.

is the bolded area a poke at Total Recall? ;)

I don't think we need focus on characterization or a slow burn. Some characters you get who they are and where they're going very fast and it works at times.

Just depends on what the plot calls for. I'd almost say The Raid was like that.

NIMH Rat
04-14-12, 02:28 PM
I think action and adventure and fantasy are getting confused.

The Hollywood action film was definitely an 80s invention, with the rise of "high concept" and the expansion of foreign markets. That cycle is most definitely over. Now we've got adventure and fantasy. Tons of it.

Rockmjd23
04-14-12, 03:05 PM
The first action movie was Roundhay Garden Scene (1889). Stunts were amazing.

PopcornTreeCt
04-14-12, 03:42 PM
The best action film is Bad Boys 2. So article is wrong.

joliom
04-15-12, 01:30 AM
The Hollywood action film was definitely an 80s invention, with the rise of "high concept" and the expansion of foreign markets. That cycle is most definitely over. Now we've got adventure and fantasy. Tons of it.


I'll grant you that the action genre peaked in the '80s, but it certainly wasn't invented then. There have been action films since the birth of cinema in the late 1880's. And the modern Hollywood action film was probably born sometime in the mid-to-late '60s.