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Action Disease

I use the word “disease” half-seriously to refer to any idea that catches on even though it's bad. I already wrote about one disease, universe-mixing disease; now I'm going to write about another, the only other thing I currently think of as a disease, namely, action disease.

Action disease is a disease of movies. As the name suggests, a movie with the disease has continuous or near-continuous action … and no plot. To put it another way, a movie with action disease is full of visual impact, image, and style, but completely lacking in plot, characterization, and plausibility. (So, suspension of disbelief is difficult.)

A perfect example, which also happens to be fairly recent, is Charlie's Angels. I definitely had low expectations going in—I was going to see cute Cameron Diaz, and figured nothing could go wrong with that. How wrong I was! Too bad I can't find an opposite to “surpassed”, because that would be exactly the right word. The gaps in continuity and plausibility were so huge that they distracted me from admiring a pretty girl—that's how bad it was.

I have a little theory about the source of action disease. Gradually, over the past decade or so, people in Hollywood seem to have gotten the idea that directing commercials and music videos counts as a qualification for directing full-length movies. Should it come as a surprise that the resulting movies, like commercials and music videos, have lots of visual impact and little plot?

Just for reference, the first time I remember hearing that a movie had been made by a director of music videos was when Alien3 came out.

One might argue that the fault lies not with the movies themselves but rather with my expectations—if I went in expecting to see two-hour music videos, I might find perfectly acceptable examples of the form. All I can say to that is that the form is not one I'm interested in. If I were expecting to see a two-hour music video, I wouldn't go in in the first place … and, indeed, now that I'm learning to recognizing the symptoms, I'm getting pretty good at avoiding the disease.

Strangely, one of my favorite movies, the excellent Koyaanisqatsi, also has no plot, and in fact consists entirely of striking images set to music. I'm not sure what to make of that.

* * *

I've been thinking about it, and I've decided I shouldn't pick on Alien3 after all. It was David Fincher's first movie, and he's more than redeemed himself with all the excellent movies he's made since then. And, more to the point, I don't think it was his fault. If you've been making music videos and someone asks you to direct the sequel to Aliens, you probably don't say “no thanks, the script is lousy”.


  See Also

  Review of X-Men 3

@ June (2001)
o June (2004)