by Marcus Sakey
Recently, I dragged my wife g.g to see 28 Weeks Later. I'm not particularly a horror fan, but a well-told zombie tale is something different, and the reviews were startlingly positive, praising the political acumen and dark tone. As a general rule, g.g. doesn't like movies with explosions and blood sprays, but after reading the press, she was willing to give it a chance in the hope that the suspense and intellectual elements would overwhelm the gore.
Suffice it to say, I owe her the chick flick of her choice. That was settled the first time thumbs went through eyeballs. But besides being far bloodier than necessary, to me, the movie had a deeper flaw.
It went too fast.
I don't mean it started too fast. I'm all about jumping into the middle and trusting the intelligence of the audience. No, what this movie did was press down on the accelerator and then never let up. Ever.
On the surface, that sounds good. But there came a point between escaping fire bombing, stumbling through corpse-strewn tunnels, machine gunning civilians, and endlessly running from incredibly fit zombies (apparently being zombified is a great diet--not a beer belly in sight, and they sprint like entrail-spattered Olympians), when I realized I just didn't care. I didn't care if the protagonists made it out. I didn't care about the wise doctor or the stoic soldier. I didn't even care if the plucky little boy got his head gnawed. Actually, I was kind of hoping for it, because I figured that would signal the end of the movie.
My friend Joe Konrath and I have an ongoing discussion about this. He's of the belief that keeping the action unrelenting is a good thing. That you never want to give an audience, or a reader, a point to quit.
But for me, it has to come in waves. I want to care about the characters, to find something in them to relate to. Certain traits can be conveyed well in action scenes--resourcefulness, courage, even a sense of humor--but to my mind, you can't really get to know anyone if all you do is see them run and shoot and bleed. And if I don't know 'em, I don't much want to follow their story.
That very fact is what makes the technique work in a medium like video games. In a video game, I do want to run and shoot and bleed, and I want very little else. Long cutscenes or "get to know you" moments drive me up the wall. But the difference is that I'm controlling the character, so although I'm not moved emotionally, I am physically involved, and the balance is maintained.
My concern is that "pedal-down" style seems to be a trend. There are an increasing number of novels written this way, books that focus on never letting up. Some work better than others. But the trend is most common in TV and film.
Take 24; while never exactly Tolstoy, in the glory years it featured developed characters, and while there was always an overwhelming threat, much of the tension came from the smaller crises in each episode, often rooted around emotional and personal challenges. In the later years they lost that, and decided that what we wanted was all action, all the time. As a result, this season I gave up by the second episode, when I realized that I wouldn't save any of the characters if they were drowning in a bathtub.
So what do you think? Is it me? Do you like it when the accelerator never leaves the floor? Or is breathing room a good thing?