Motivated Acceleration

I am endlessly fascinated by mediums. No, not people who claim to talk to ghosts; rather the forms that stories can take. Why does this story work better as a novel? Why this a video game? Why that a play?

It’s usually adaptations where you can see the cracks that are the chasms between mediums. Consider the recent comic adaptation of The Last Jedi, which is essentially a beat-for-beat retelling, it doesn’t quite capture all the visual splendor of the movie. BB-8 trying a variety of attempts to fix Poe’s X-Wing is far less interesting on the page. There are other additions that use the strength of comics, though. But point is, there are some things that would only really work on in one medium.

And Infinity War has a fantastic moment that could only have worked on film. Consider this a mild spoiler warning for someone who hasn’t seen any trailers and really doesn’t know what’s going on in that movie.

In the third act, a group of heroes prepare to defend Wakanda from the Black Order and their army. A gap is opened in the shield to funnel in the advancing bad guys, and the heroes prepare to attack. Black Panther gives an order to his soldiers, they ready their weapons, he yells “Wakanda Forever!” and leads the charge. He, Okoye, Captain America, Black Widow, Bucky, War Machine, and the others rush forward together. This is a terrifically epic moment in and of itself, but it’s what comes next that I wanna talk about. As the good guys run towards the advancing Outriders, two people pull ahead of the pack: Captain America and Black Panther. It makes perfect sense within the lore: they’re both extra fast because of the super-soldier serum and heart-shaped herb, respectively; and they’re also two of the bravest characters in the MCU. Seeing these two lead the charge is a delightful visual gag.

And it’s one that only works in film (we’re gonna ignore tv for now because budget constraints).

It wouldn’t work quite as well in prose, given that a strong part of what makes the beat work is the visual of it. Being able to see the scale of it all as well as seeing Cap and T’Challa pull ahead on film. The thrill of it would play out differently, and probably a little less viscerally. This you gotta see for it to work as it does.

So let’s go back to comics, y’know, where these characters came from. As dope a splash page as the beat would look, it doesn’t convey a key part of the gag: acceleration. Everyone starts out together, but it’s only those two who are absolutely racing towards the bad guys. They didn’t get a head start, they’re just that much faster. Ah, but the joy of comics is that they can be sequential panels. The first panel has them all together, second has Cap and T’Challa a little ahead, and in the third they’re attacking Outriders while the others lag behind. Classic three beat structure. But that’s three panels; panels take up space, and space implies importance. What was a quick moment in the film is now made more important than it was. Still cool, but no longer the quick gag.

Video games are visual and those visuals move, so maybe here we have a strong contender. Let’s not imagine this as a cutscene (because what are cutscenes other than short films?) but rather a playable segment. By virtue of games’ interactivity you’re immediately given a leg up on being a visceral thing. You’re part of the charge. But, if you’re playing as Steve Rogers or T’Challa will you notice that you’re ahead? If you’re a foot soldier or Bucky Barnes will you be too preoccupied with your assault to notice? The interactivity of games also means there’s an element of subjectivity. Playing Halo’s The Silent Cartographer on a difficult level is a solo affair, with most of the AI marines being picked off by the Covenant early on, but if you’re playing it on easy you’re part of a small army. Or it could be not getting a certain plot point in a Mass Effect game for not going on a certain sidequest. In essence, there’s no way to guarantee something lands, that the player experiences a certain thing a certain way (without taking control away from the player).

Which I guess is where film shines. Not only does it have visual storytelling, but the fact that the camera is motivated lets us see exactly what the storyteller wants us to see. Consider the shot in question again: we see everyone running forward, then the camera follows Captain America and Black Panther as the pull ahead and lead the way into the fray. The shot lasts barely a couple of seconds (if that), but it’s a fantastic little moment. We take it in and process it instantly. It’s a terrific beat, and one that would only spent the way it does in film.

You could have a similar gag in another medium, but it wouldn’t work quite the same way. A comic’s narration could draw attention to it in one panel, a game could use characters’ stats to similar effect. There are elements to media that really make them unique, and taking advantage of those elements will yield something really special.

Which is a really roundabout to say that guys, Infinity War is a lotta fun and an epic movie.

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