Saturday, May 10, 2008

On Voices

The other day, I was digging around the internet to see if there was any way I could see Shane Acker's brilliant short 9. While I wasn't able to find anything about a DVD release or a festival in the near future in my area, I found some new information about the feature film that gave me some mixed feelings.

Now I knew for a while that a studio offered to finance/distribute a feature-length version of the movie, but what was news to me was that they're going to use voices.

I'd been a bit confused/conflicted for a while on the subject of dialogue in films, particularly animation. One of the things I love about the medium is that it lends itself so well to communicating ideas visually. Live-action filmmakers only have so much control over the non-actor elements of their film, and real people can only go so far in physical acting, so in the age of "talkies", dialogue-less films are often placed in the realm of quirky comedies like Mr. Bean and... not much else, maybe some student shorts. Animation is, meanwhile, almost expected to lack words. Animators construct their own reality, so they can make anything the way they need to in order to communicate something. Characters are virtually limitless as far as physical acting, and because lip-syncing is such a pain in the ass, it's fairly common to see silent animated characters.

So what I'd been conflicted about is that I was under the impression that our society/viewership had become largely visually oriented. Doesn't the lowest common denominator prefer to see a bunch of guns, monsters, and tits than sit through 90 minutes of talking? These are obviously extremely... extreme examples I pose, but the point is that it confused me that the masses would beg "Stop the action! Talk about things!".

This isn't to say I have some sort of personal vendetta against dialogue. It's my favorite part of writing, because oftentimes it's the best way to make a character who they are. And of course, there are obviously plenty of animated movies where dialogue genuinely adds a new dimension to the film. It's the necessity of dialogue that I take issue with. The Coen brothers have written some of the most brilliant dialogue I've ever heard on film, yet they knew how to stop when No Country for Old Men came around, and let the film speak for itself.

Which, really, is what I realized. The populous wants voices in their animated movies because we need everything spoon-fed to us. If a plot point or communication to another character can't easily be conveyed using gestures or expressions, they damn well better straight-up tell us lest we resort to thinking and constructing our own interpretations. So even if it's a beautiful movie whose plot is driven by something as subtle as a Tyrannosaurus Goddamned Rex (The Land Before Time was on my mind throughout writing this, which didn't have the kiddy voices until Michael Eisner said so), or a surreal, suspenseful CG thriller (9), we apparently can't be trusted to understand a movie unless a celebrity's voice outright tells us what's going on.

But at any rate, I can't complain that 9 is becoming a feature. Sure, it will have celebrity voices, but I would hardly consider Elijah Wood, Martin Landau, or Crispin Glover to be among the Pixar/Dreamworks crowd. If my previous post is any indication, it just makes me happy enough to think that if a relatively mature and surreal animated feature like this becomes popular enough, it can open the doors for a load of other animation that doesn't fit the Disney mold, not to mention independent animation period.

I have no doubt in my mind that WALL-E will one of, if not the best, movies I see this year. Pixar is one of the few things that truly gives me hope about the state of the industry, but if that damned little cute-bot beats 9 for Best Animated Feature, I will break things.

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