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Contemporary Action Cinema

Contemporary Action Cinema

Lisa Purse
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 232
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  • Book Info
    Contemporary Action Cinema
    Book Description:

    Action cinema is a popular and familiar form which reflects the cultural, industrial and historical landscape from which it emerges. Lisa Purse analyses the genre's pleasures and complexities in the light of both its cinematic history and the latest critical debates. Focussing on action cinema of the 2000s, this book explores issues of visual style, narrative, representation and the various contexts of production through a diverse series of case studies including Avatar (2009), Casino Royale (2006), The Hurt Locker (2008) and Banlieue 13 (2004).Providing a groundbreaking account of the way that the spectator engages with the action body and the action narrative, and including analyses of areas of representation that have seldom received sustained attention in the past, this comprehensive study is the perfect companion to modern action cinema.Key Features* Provides wide-ranging analyses and interpretation of action cinema* Discusses representations of heroism, gender and ethnicity* Explores the spectator's embodied engagement with the action film* Examines the effect of 9/11 and changes in US foreign policy

    eISBN: 978-0-7486-4612-8
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. Illustrations
    (pp. vi-vi)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. vii-viii)
  5. Introduction: ‘Where are we, and how did we get here?’
    (pp. 1-20)

    I stand in the lobby of my local multiplex on a summer evening in 2010. I’m in the queue for Predators (2010), but I have the choice to see several other action movies, including action thriller Inception (2010), action fantasy Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010), the vampire themed action romance The Twilight Saga: Eclipse (2010) based on the best-selling Stephenie Meyer Twilight books, or the action romantic comedy Killers (2010). The summer season has already taken in Iron Man 2 (2010), Robin Hood (2010) and Clash of the Titans (2010), with nostalgic fare like The A-Team (2010)...

  6. CHAPTER 1 Narrative and the action film
    (pp. 21-36)

    Action cinema has a reputation for narrative paucity, for giving spectators all action and no plot, a reputation that seems to have gained further traction with the increasingly ubiquitous and frequently exhibitionist use of digital effects in action sequences. The action fantasy Avatar (directed by James Cameron) was released at the end of 2009 to great fanfare, promising a spectacular display of ground-breaking digital 3D and motion capture technologies. However, those same qualities made it vulnerable to the criticism of ‘too much’ spectacle in certain quarters of the media. David Cox’s on-line article for the British newspaper The Guardian, published...

  7. CHAPTER 2 The action body
    (pp. 37-55)

    A man chases another man through a construction site and onto a steel building frame. The pursued climbs a ladder to reach the top of the frame and jumps to an adjacent batch of industrial tubing that is suspended mid-air by a large tower crane. His pursuer takes a more direct route, using speed and grip to scale a vertical steel girder, but misses his target by seconds, leaping onto the tubing while his quarry is already climbing up to the horizontal crane jib.¹ Seeing the opportunity to make up some distance the pursuer disconnects the tubing from the crane...

  8. CHAPTER 3 The action sequence
    (pp. 56-75)

    The action sequence is one of the defining elements of action cinema, displaying dramatic physical action with a dynamism and intensity that marks it out from other sequences. It is perceived by scholars and industry executives alike to be a crucial ingredient in the blockbuster format, and can provide exhilarating and riveting spectacles for audiences. Geoff King (2006) and David Bordwell (2006) have both offered useful accounts of the visual strategies that characterise the modern action sequence, and we will be touching upon some of their ideas in this chapter. However, rather than providing another summary – or indeed an exhaustive...

  9. CHAPTER 4 Action women
    (pp. 76-93)

    Media responses to female heroes occasionally reveal a discomfort about the presence of these powerful women within action cinema. Choosing their words carefully, they describe the female action hero in hesitant terms that betray an underlying conviction that these women are moving in on a territory that should remain male. As I was finishing this study, much was made in the UK and US press of Angelina Jolie taking on a role that was originally to have been played by Tom Cruise, in Phillip Noyce’s action thriller Salt (2010). Despite her previous action roles (the Lara Croft: Tomb Raider films...

  10. CHAPTER 5 Action men
    (pp. 94-111)

    In the Introduction I noted that the approach of the millennium prompted a series of films, including The Truman Show, Fight Club, The Matrix, Dark City and eXistenZ, which depicted a crisis of masculine control. David Bordwell has wryly described this crisis as ‘evidently one of the longest-running crises in history’ (Bordwell 2006: 104), but as Martin Fradley argues, while ‘a rhetorically compelling and suitably angst-filled narrative of white male decentring and decline has become one of the master narratives in post-1960s American culture’ this discourse had become ‘especially pronounced in the 1990s’ (Fradley 2004: 239). Reflecting cultural anxieties that...

  11. CHAPTER 6 Race in the action film
    (pp. 112-130)

    Transformers (Michael Bay, 2007) opens with a racially mixed group of US Special Operations soldiers engaged in lively banter on an air transport over Qatar, reminiscing about their shared homeland which, they reveal, means different things to each of them. The brief scene establishes that the men – an African American, a Latin American and two Anglo Americans from different regions of the US – have a history together as a military unit and have developed a teasing but affectionate camaraderie that transcends their racial and regional differences. This depiction of multiracial harmony reflects the increased racial mix of the urban action...

  12. CHAPTER 7 Homosexuality in the action film
    (pp. 131-149)

    In Bad Boys II (Michael Bay, 2003) two narcotics cops are having a heart to heart on a couch in a deserted side-room of a television store. They have sought refuge there because the shop floor is in uproar: the videotape confiscated from a local criminal that they have been playing on the shop’s televisions (the nearest playback facilities they could find) contained pornographic images which have now been projected onto all of the televisions at once, in front of surprised customers and a very angry shop owner. Marcus (Martin Lawrence) wants to talk: he has been struggling to manage...

  13. CHAPTER 8 Action cinema after 9/11
    (pp. 150-169)

    There has been much debate about whether Hollywood filmmaking changed as a result of the terrorist attacks on 11 September 2001. The images of the attacks on the two towers of the World Trade Center, of impacts, explosions and the scale of destruction captured in bright sunlight by home video and television cameras, were uncomfortably reminiscent of numerous fictional scenes in Hollywood action cinema and disaster movies. The experience of people watching the events unfold in real time on their television sets was one of horror but also of disturbing recognition as they were confronted by images that, in a...

  14. CHAPTER 9 The ‘European connection’
    (pp. 170-188)

    In this final chapter of Contemporary Action Cinema it is worth restating two of the key reasons for the book’s focus on US action movies. The first is my conviction that the contemporary manifestation of this popular form of US filmmaking and its representational and aesthetic strategies, so often taken for granted or dismissed, demand a refreshed critical approach, one I have sought to propose in the preceding chapters. The second is the US form’s global dominance, which flows from and helps to sustain (through its spectacle-driven aspects, as I noted in the Introduction) Hollywood’s own dominance of world film...

  15. Afterword
    (pp. 189-190)

    The trailer for The Other Guys (Adam McKay, 2010) opens in a fairly conventional manner, mid-action sequence. It’s a high-speed chase in which criminals are trading fire with two police detectives: Chris (Dwayne Johnson) is in a typical action pose, hanging onto the roof of a speeding humvee, and P.K. (Samuel L. Jackson) is following close behind in an unmarked police car. They trade quips before Chris leaps from the humvee onto the police car’s bonnet and climbs into the passenger seat. The trailer voice over intones, ‘in the toughest city in the world, nobody fights crime like these guys’,...

  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 191-202)
  17. Filmography
    (pp. 203-210)
  18. Television Series
    (pp. 211-211)
  19. Index
    (pp. 212-224)