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NUM-INOUS COMICS PT. 2

This essay is a very belated response to a " part 1 " published in February 2015. The gist of that essay was a response to a corre...

Sunday, July 14, 2013

PASSION FOR THE CLIMAX

I've just finished a review of the 2002 film MINORITY REPORT.  Not having seen the movie since it played in theatres, I had no clear memory of its status as a combative film, though I remembered a certain amount of spectacular stunt-work.  This raised the possibility that it, unlike the source material, might be a work in the combative mode, since I've indicated that it's impossible to convey the significant value of combative sublimity without the use of spectacle.

However, MINORITY REPORT's only important scene in this regard occurs less than halfway through the film. Prior to this scene, John Anderton (Tom Cruise) finds himself accused of being guilty of murder, albeit a murder than hasn't happened yet.  Though Anderton is a cop himself, he goes on the run from the authorities to prove his innocence.  This is a science-fiction twist on a venerable trope from the genre of mundane crime, and within crime movies there's usually no need for spectacle as such.  In this type of story, it's most desirable to show the protagonist as overmatched by the united might of the police tracking him. Rarely if ever does a protagonist in this sort of story become involved in a spectacular fight with police.

Viewers of cinematic science-fiction, however, expect some degree of spectacle, and so it would appear that director Spielberg and his scripters crafted a couple of major FX-scenes-- only one of which involves direct combat-- both of which occur early in the film and which may serve to assuage audience-expectations.  Following Anderton's escape from the police on a vertical freeway and his big fight with a half dozen armed police, the film then eschews showy spectacle for low-key suspense, after the fashion of the classic films noirs from which Spielberg claimed to have copied.  Anderton eventually uncovers the villain who framed him-- or, to be specific, his wife, acting on his behalf, does so-- but though there is a final confrontation between hero and villain, they do not fight.  The villain threatens the hero with a gun and is shot down by police; also a familiar trope out of crime films, which often take the execution of justice out of the hands of individual heroes and utilize the legal authorities to provide such violence.

So the question occurs: how important is it to the mode of the combative that there should be a literal combat near the climax, rather than at any other point in the narrative?

Though it's possible that I'll encounter some exceptions, there seems no way to demonstrate the persistence of the narrative combative value unless there is some sort of spectacle-oriented struggle at or very near the climax. On occasion there may be scenarios in which the central protagonist throws down with an apparent antagonist, only to break off the fight because he realizes it's all a big misunderstanding. Another variation is seen in my review of the 2012 DARK SHADOWS,
wherein vampire protagonist Barnabas Collins has a violent conflict with the villain but is taken out of the fight, after which the villain is destroyed by the main character's allies. But as long as there has been some narrative plot-thread to leads inevitably to some sort of spectacular combat, it doesn't matter if the combat follows the dominant pattern of the main hero overcoming the villain.  In fact, though it's rare for a combative film to end in the defeat of the hero, it does happen, most memorably in 1982's BLADE RUNNER.

Despite Spielberg's attempt to give Tom Cruise's fans some of the same thrills they enjoyed in his MISSION; IMPOSSIBLE success (even using the same stunt-team), MINORITY REPORT is a subcombative work, most comparable in structure to other works that depict violence at early points in the story, as I demonstrated here with regard to Shakespeare's subcombative drama CORIOLANUS.  This would also be another illustration of my concept of a narrative "diffuse force," as discussed here with regard to the 1953 film WAR OF THE WORLDS-- and which I've also discerned in a recent re-read of the Wells source novel, as well.

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