| drew davidson |
 

 

 

Big Bang Boom:
Post-Linguistic Storytelling in Films and Games

Drew Davidson

 

Just the other day I watched an international trailer for the upcoming Avengers movie. The dialogue was dubbed in German, and while I don't speak German I was easily able to comprehend and understand what was going on throughout the trailer.  Actually, I was struck by how easy it was. The consistent visual tropes of the action sequences and the intense character emoting (through their facial expressions and inflections in the dialogue) communicated the story loud and clear.

In fact, I believe we've seen the development of a post-linguistic style of storytelling in the blockbuster adventure genre of films (and we can also see this in the action genre of games); they are big bang boom storytelling experiences.  Big bang boom conveys story through explosive action with easy to identify heroes and villains and extraordinary situations in which the day must be saved.

Focusing on film for a moment, I believe Hollywood summer blockbuster flicks have always flirted with post-linguistic storytelling, but that it has recently reached an apex with its foremost practitioners being directors like Michael Bay and Brett Rattner, and actors like Keanu Reeves and Vin Diesel. These movies all play out very similarly, hitting the main beats of the Hero' Journey, and they all emphasize and use kinetic and frenetic action to propel the story forward.

The third Transformers movie is a great example of this, the action set pieces are the raison d'etre of the story, and everything else is just a way to move to the next action sequence. The characters just need to emote broadly on how they feel (hurt, determined, scared, triumphant, etc.) and then we're off to the next explosion around the bend. 

And these are not just any old explosions, they're always topping the previous one, trying to show explosions as they've never been seen before. There is a rube goldberg complexity to the crescendo of explosive expression found in big bang boom experiences that streamlines the story.

It's so clear cut that I wonder if you really need language at all in order to understand what's going on. The story is painted with such broad strokes, words aren't even needed, just the emotional articulations (whether it be grunting, screaming, cheering or sighing). This is different from classic silent movies (from which these big bang boom movies borrow), although I do find it interesting that The Artist, a contemporary silent film, is currently in theaters as I write this.

Big bang boom movies definitely need audio; from the soaring soundtracks to the seat-rumbling explosions (and amazingly cool sound effects for robotic transformations) as well as the actors' paralinguistic expression and inflections of their emotions. But words aren't necessary. It all flows through the action, the set pieces, the explosions and the running and jumping. It looks a lot like a great video game that you'd want to play.

Speaking of which, the action-adventure genre of video games also has some great examples of big bang boom storytelling.  In essence, I think this style is even more fundamental to games. Throughout the modern history of video games, many an action shooter or platformer is made up of a streamlined barebones narrative framework within which all the adventure occurs. And like big bang boom films, these games are filled with great set pieces and sequences full of running, jumping, shooting and lots and lots of explosions.

And like with movies, there are some games that have little or no language, but aren't big bang boom.  Ico is an example of a game without language, but it doesn't emphasize the explosive action that drives the storytelling in big bang boom games. These games are full of hi-octane gameplay and have an easy to follow story through all the action that makes for a big bang boom experience.

That said, I believe big bang boom storytelling is a way in which films and games provide similar narrative experiences for viewers and players.  In both media, big bang boom furnishes a post-linguistic experience where the storytelling is conveyed through generic tropes and broad strokes full of action and explosions galore.

Often these types of experiences (whether it's a film or a game) are criticized for not really having a story, or having a senseless story. Whereas they really just have the simplest of stories, and I wonder if words just get in the way. You don't need language, you just run and jump, and defeat the villain, and save the girl (or the boy) and the day. All amid the big bang boom.


 

| drew davidson |