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Why Can't They Make a Good Action Movie Anymore?
Published on August 25, 2011 by Sara Foss

Occasionally a good action movie gets made - the summer hit "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" is one such example. But as a whole the genre has gotten worse and worse, and I fear that someday I'll be asking the same sorts of questions about action movies that I currently ask about romantic comedies. Such as: Is it possible to make a good action movie?

Anyway, in a video essay over on Press Play, Matthias Stork explains how the action genre devolved into something he calls Chaos Cinema. He argues that while directors once strove to keep viewers oriented during action sequences, today's action films are hyperactive and overstuffed. He writes:

"Contemporary blockbusters, particularly action movies, trade visual intelligibility for sensory overload, and the result is a film style marked by excess, exaggeration and overindulgence: chaos cinema.

Chaos cinema apes the illiteracy of the modern movie trailer. It consists of a barrage of high-voltage scenes. Every single frame runs on adrenaline. Every shot feels like the hysterical climax of a scene which an earlier movie might have spent several minutes building toward. Chaos cinema is a never-ending crescendo of flair and spectacle. It’s a shotgun aesthetic, firing a wide swath of sensationalistic technique that tears the old classical filmmaking style to bits.  Directors who work in this mode aren’t interested in spatial clarity. It doesn’t matter where you are, and it barely matters if you know what’s happening onscreen. The new action films are fast, florid, volatile audiovisual war zones.

Even attentive spectators may have trouble finding their bearings in a film like this. Trying to orient yourself in the work of chaos cinema is like trying to find your way out of a maze, only to discover that your map has been replaced by a reproduction of a Jackson Pollock painting, except the only art here is the art of confusion."

Critic Matt Zoller Seitz offers his take on the essay here, and Jim Emerson offers his take here. Here's an excerpt from Emerson's essay that I really like:

"It seems to me that these movies are attempting a kind of shortcut to the viewer's autonomic nervous system, providing direct stimulus to generate excitement rather than simulate any comprehensible experience. In that sense, they're more like drugs that (ostensibly) trigger the release of adrenaline or dopamine while bypassing the middleman, that part of the brain that interprets real or imagined situations and then generates appropriate emotional/physiological responses to them. The reason they don't work for many of us is because, in reality, they give us nothing to respond to -- just a blur of incomprehensible images and sounds, without spatial context or allowing for emotional investment."

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