In Action and Adventure Cinema, talks about how

In this essay, I’m going to discuss how the action genre has changed
over time by comparing examples from Batman
(1989) and Batman Begins (2005). By choosing
two origin Batman movies it enables me to show how the two directors, Tim
Burton (Batman) and Christopher Nolan
(Batman Begins), have chosen to show
the same moments of Batman’s origin using their different cinematic visions whilst
also consequently showing how the action genre has changed over time.

Batman, starring Michael Keaton in the lead role, tells the story of Bruce
Wayne early on in his career as Batman dealing with Jack Napier, who during the
film becomes the antagonist known as The Joker. The film deals with a young
Bruce Wayne witnessing his parent’s deaths as well as his personal life, with
his butler/father figure Alfred and his love interest Vicki Vale. Batman Begins, starring Christian Bale
in the lead role, mirrors the same story in a lot of aspects, by also showing
the story of Bruce Wayne early on in his career as the Batman whilst dealing
with other DC Comics characters known as Scarecrow and Ra’s Al Ghul. At the
same time, showing a young Bruce witnessing his parent’s deaths and his
personal life, with his butler/father figure Alfred and love interest Rachel
Dawes.

Around the time period of Batman, Action as a genre was often paired
with Adventure, forming a genre known as Action-Adventure. Steve Neale in The Action and Adventure Cinema, talks
about how the term has been used ‘to pinpoint a number of obvious
characteristics common to these genres and films: a propensity for spectacular
physical action, a narrative structure involving fights, chases, and
explosions, and in addition to the deployment of state-of-the-art special
effects, an emphasis in performance of athletic feats and stunts.’ (Neale in
Tasker 2004, p.71). As time went by, technology vastly developed and audiences’
interests changed causing the genre itself to shift towards the form of the
genre known in the modern day simply as Action. 
The plots of these action films ‘place the hero in increasingly thorny,
and violent confrontations. Action sequences become the central organizing
feature of the genre and violent spectacle becomes the vehicle for expressing
character development.’ (Pramaggiore 2011, p.394).

‘Action is now a generic descriptor in its own right’ (Tasker 2015, p.1)
and this all began in the 80s around the release of Batman with the release of Rambo:
First Blood. Action-Adventure films which favoured ‘the light-hearted tone
that characterized adventure cinema’ (Tasker 2015, p. 143) began to instead
favour the ‘tough approach delivered in gritty action films.’ (Tasker 2015, p. 143).

An example of this is the light-hearted tone within Batman, in particular the scene that takes place in the Gotham
Museum of Art, in which Jack Napier lures Vicki
Vale to the gallery and proceeds to destroy all the works of art, to the tune
of ‘Partyman’ by Prince. Jack Nicholson, playing the Joker,
brilliantly uses his body language and expressions to dance around the art
gallery whilst his lackeys ‘joker-ify’ the art works until Batman comes and
saves Vicky Vale. With few hand-to-hand combat fight scenes throughout the film,
as well as the Joker’s various attempts to try hinder Batman and the cops, Batman creates a far more light hearted
tone in contrast in the confrontations Batman has in Batman Begins, in which the ‘attention that Nolan’s film pays to constructing a
realistic origin for all of Batman’s abilities and devices’ (Brooker 2012,
p.98) allows Batman to be placed in the ‘increasingly thorny, and violent
confrontations’ (Pramaggiore 2011, p.394) that Pramaggiore refers too. Christopher
Nolan chose to spend a detailed amount of time in the beginning of the film
creating the idea for the audience that all these action scenes are realistic due
to the intense training Bruce Wayne goes through at the hands of the League of
Legends, so ‘when he takes on eight villains at once and overcomes all of them,
we understand where this capacity originates.’ (Brooker 2012, p.98).

This is more important in the modern-day
action film as audiences, especially the younger generations, often contain video
game fans. This is due to the boom in the video game industry meaning these
audience members have a changed perception of what fights and combat should be
like before going into the film compared to the audiences of Action-Adventure
films. With the Batman Begins’ franchise
later inspiring Batman games for the market.

The intense fight scenes in Batman Begins come across as very
realistic due to the major advancements in editing which allow the directors of
modern-day action films to create highly orchestrated scenes as part of their
action aesthetic. This advancement, in not just editing but also through modes
like CGI and special effects, means that the ‘movements of the elements within the frame and the
impression of movement achieved via cutting’ became crucial to the directorial goal
of achieving the gritty realistic action sequences that are ‘the central organizing
feature of the genre’ (Pramaggiore 2011, p.394). Although not necessarily just down
to the technology improving, these action sequences, a frequenter in Batman Begins particularly in the first
half of the movie when he’s training with the League, rely on rapid-fire editing to keep the audience up to pace with
intensity of the scenes. Michael Brandt pointed out how films traditionally had
‘an average shot length of 5.15 seconds, compared to 4.75 seconds’ (Pramaggiore
2011, p.195) in modern movies. This suggests, especially in a modern era where
action movies dominate the box office, that the audiences like the faster paced
scenes now seemingly compulsory in an action movie compared to the slower paced
edits of the past and the improvements in the technology filmmakers use to edit
is key to achieving this. Although in some cases, action movies instead use
slow motion as a way of creating tension for the viewer within the fight
scenes. Originally created for Blade,
special effect artists ‘pioneered a slow-motion technique called by a number of
names, including bullet time and time slicing. The shot is achieved by
surrounding the actors or objects with a ring of still cameras that trigger in
sequences at a rapid rate. When these shots are projected at a normal rate… the
action appears to be slowed down or frozen’ (Pramaggiore 2011, p.179) thus
creating some of the most iconic moments in action history, in particular the
iconic bullet dodge moment in The Matrix.

The improvements in technology also effected how the action movies used
sound within their films. In the time of Batman,
studios would ‘fill their products with pop songs in the hope that the
songs would generate both publicity and income’ (Wierzbicki 2009, p.209) as
shown with the soundtrack for Batman
being created by the huge pop star of the time, Prince. However, these
‘Up-to-date pop songs – or vintage oldies or moody jazz, would hardly
illustrate automobile chases, spaceship fights and the like’ (Wierzbicki 2009,
p.210) that appear in the modern-day Action film, so for this ‘filmmakers en
masse tended to rely on orchestral underscores’ (Wierzbicki 2009, p.210) for
most of the film’s score.

The changes between ‘Action-Adventure’ to ‘Action’
aren’t huge, but subtle. Although the type of film sound within the film has
gone from the pop-song (EG ‘Partyman’ by Prince in Batman) to orchestral underscores (EG ‘Vespertilio’ by Hans Zimmer,
the main theme of Batman Begins), the
common functions that the directors use sound for are still the same. Those
common functions are ‘to establish historical context; to shape the audience’s
perception of space; to define character; to shape the emotional tenor of a
scene; to distance the audience’ (Pramaggiore 2011, p.267). When it comes to the film’s narrative, Action
films still follow the same formula, it’s just the plots being told within the
films that have changed. Filmmakers still use flashbacks and flash-forwards as
a way of manipulating time within the film with flashbacks used in both Batman and Batman Begins as a way of showing a young Bruce Wayne witnessing
his parents get killed. This type of narrative is known as Anachronic and is
one of the four cinematic modular narratives.  The Anachronic narrative
involves ‘the use of flashbacks and/or flash-forwards’ (Cameron 2008, p.6). The
next is known as Forking paths which is when the narrative is ‘invoking
divergent or parallel narrative possibilities’ (Cameron 2008, p.6). The third
is known as Episodic and this is when the film is ‘organized as an abstract series
or narrative anthology’ (Cameron 2008 p.6) and the final narrative is called Split-screen
which is ‘dividing the narrative flow into parallel, spatially juxtaposed
elements’ (Cameron 2008 p.6). All these modular narratives are still used
within Action films having also been narrative forms for the ‘Action-Adventure’
genre.

 

Most
narratives theories still apply to the action films, in particular to the
theories by Todorov and Propp. Tzvetan Todorov broke the narrative process down
to five different stages. The film will firstly begin with a state of the
equilibrium at the offset and then in the second stage, there will be some form
of disruption towards the equilibrium. The film will then show some form of
recognition of the disruption before an attempt to fix the problem and
eventually a reinstatement of the initial equilibrium to end the film. In
simple terms when it comes to applying this, although Batman Begins breaks the mould, its sequel The Dark Knight (2008) matches it perfectly. With Batman keeping
order over all of the crime in the city being the beginning equilibrium and
then it being disrupted by the Joker’s arrival. Eventually after attempts to
fix the problem, the Joker is defeated and the initial equilibrium is restored
with Batman keeping order once again. Vladimir Propp believed that narratives
followed a strict structure which all contained 8 stock characters which are
The Hero, The Villain, The Princess, The Donor, The Helper, The Father, The
Dispatcher and the False Hero. This theory applies to both Batman and Batman Begins
with Batman himself perfectly fitting the roles of The Hero. The Villain being
The Joker in Batman and
Scarecrow/Ra’s Al Ghul in Batman Begins.  The Father being Alfred in both Batman and Batman Begins. The Princess being Vicky Vale in Batman and Rachel Dawes in Batman Begins. The Helper is Alfred
again in Batman and Commissioner
Gordon in Batman Begins. The fact
that both of these narrative theories still apply so accurately to the new form
of Action genre shows that even though time has passed and parts of the genre
have developed, people are still writing the same stories at their core showing
Action as a genre, hasn’t changed completely.

 

In
spite of the fact that you can’t make a full comparison between Batman and Batman Begins due to the two directors having different visions of
how they wanted to create a Batman movie. Both films do however, fulfil their
genre roles, with Batman clearly being an
Action-Adventure film and Batman Begins being
an Action film. Batman has the ‘the light-hearted tone that characterized
adventure cinema’ (Tasker 2015, p. 143) whilst also having the characteristics
Neale talked about to make it an Action-Adventure film with its ‘propensity for
spectacular physical action’ (Neale in Tasker 2004, p.71) and ‘a narrative
structure involving fights, chases, and explosions’. (Neale in Tasker 2004,
p.71). With Batman Begins being an action film, as Nolan often placed ‘the hero
in increasingly thorny, and violent confrontations.’ (Pramaggiore 2011, p.394)
and the violent spectacle being ‘the vehicle for expressing character
development.’ (2011, p.394) as Pramaggiore said was central to the action genre.

In many ways, the Action genre has changed over time, whilst not really
changing at the same time, more merely adapting to the advancements in
technology and the ever-changing interests of their potential audiences, forming
the genre as it is today.