Dialogue Gripes In Movies And TV

Today’s post is a mix of several things; I recently got into consistently watching movies, I just finished 11.22.63(both the Stephen King book and Hulu miniseries) and I just started The Sun Also Rises by Hemingway.  Maybe it’s Hemingway’s trademark of leaving things out, A Theory of Omission, as suggested by a Hemingway scholar I scoffed at when I was young and edgy, or maybe I expect better from my visual media, because I’ll notice dialogue tropes that infuriate me.  I’m only going to list a couple, but if anyone has other gripes be sure to comment them.

This isn’t an original thought, but expository dialogue drives me up a metaphorical wall.  I can suspend my disbelief to an extent, but when the groundwork is laid out in such a painfully obvious way I get frustrated.  The viewer is not stupid.  We don’t need our hands held to go through this journey.  As mentioned above, I read and watched 11.22.63.  I loved both.  It’s not ‘literary’ to think so, but Stephen King is probably one of my favorite authors.  Most writers would kill to have the story ideas he carries around in his brain.  The miniseries for Hulu, while deviating from the story, did so in a way that made it its own and I was able to enjoy both equally.  What frustrated me was that, in scenes where James Franco was alone, he would talk to himself and it just so happened that he would explain what he was doing or what he was about to do.  In the first episode we get a voiceover about a character that may or may not be crucial to the story.  In this voiceover, his name is said while a scene shows this character entering a car.  The very next scene James Franco, making sure that we caught the voiceover, says the character’s name out loud to himself.  It was already spelled out for us, but clearly not enough.  That said, the book is told in the first person, and I believe the show wanted to convey that this is their story.  On the other hand, we the watcher already know this because we have followed him from the opening shot.

There are great scenes in movies that are absolutely killed by this.  I’m going on the record here by saying that I enjoyed The Dark Knight Rises, regardless of its flaws for which there are many.  I loved Tom Hardy’s Bane and I think, had there been more heart to the movie, he could have been as great a movie villain as Ledger’s Joker.  Alas, we got what could only be described as a preposterous film, albeit some great action scenes.  And while the cops and criminals all dropping their guns for a massive fistfight on the streets of Gotham is ridiculous in its own right, the main focus of that scene was Batman’s final showdown with Bane.  In that scene, Batman and Bane clobber people to get to one another.  Bane locks eyes and says “So, you came back to die with your city?”  It’s an average line at best, but it’s good enough to get Batman fired up for this fight.  And had I been a screenwriter for this one scene, I would have had Batman say nothing and just get to punching.  No words are needed after Bane’s line.  Instead, Batman has enough time to think, and retorts, “No.  I came back to stop you.”   WE KNOW.  We’ve followed Batman this whole time.  We know he came back to Gotham and we know he’s about to fight Bane.   This line is useless and, honestly, it kills that scene for me.  Was this the only thing preventing this movie from being an Oscar contender?  No, but it would have made that action scene cooler.

Why does this happen?  Do we really need our hands held?  Is silence really that uncomfortable?  A picture tells a thousand words, yet we seem to need an extra thousand words anyway to get the point across.  But we don’t.  I recently saw Wall-E, a movie where there are no human characters for half the film.  A movie where most of the dialogue is a robot’s broken English.  It works.  It leaves more time for the filmmakers to flesh out their story, without words.  \

In conclusion, I just wrote an article about my gripes with expository dialogue.  In this little blog post/essay I listed a few examples of where this happened and why it was unnecessary.  I then listed an example supporting my point, Wall-E, to show that we don’t need as many words as we think.  Just in case you guys missed it already.

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3 thoughts on “Dialogue Gripes In Movies And TV

  1. I’m not sure I understand you. Could you flesh this out a bit more, maybe use some examples from movies you’ve seen?
    Okay, just kidding (like I needed to say that, right!?)
    I wonder if it is insecurity that comes down from an office somewhere. Will people get it? You’re right about how often the worst part of Hollywood is how it can be condescending to its audience. This is what is so powerful about short fiction and poetry for me. It’s often what is not said, or what is implied. When I read a piece that tells me volumes in only a few words, I am envious and thrilled at the same time. The screen, big and small, could benefit a lot from not playing to the viewer’s less-interested date who is only paying half attention anyway.

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    • I thought about this after writing, but do you think it’s possible they write to appeal to an international audience that may or may not understand english subtleties? I do agree that they could only benefit from removing expository dialogue. Maybe more people would enjoy books haha.

      Liked by 1 person

      • oh, I hadn’t thought of that–the subtitles, not the books. I don’t know, but one thing I noticed along this theme is that the unnecessary phrases are so often stock phrases, like you can mouth it accurately just a split second before the actor says the line.

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