Everything that I write on here is completely opinionated and backed up with the smallest amount of substance, but sometimes I think that what I have to say has enough knowledge behind it to be sort of valid. This could be one of those times, because the art of ruining or ‘defusing’ drama is a part of storytelling that I have been noticing more and more recently. And by this I mean that in a film or a TV show (a Netflix show will become my prime example), where there is a sudden break in the drama. In which you are quickly disengaged with the details on screen and you return back to the real world.
My main case study for this will be the Netflix programme The Crown, which I have recently started watching. Now, some things to get out of the way: I am only 3 episodes in, so far I’m really enjoying it and this is a tiny critique from a small segment of episode 2. The segment being the part where a young Queen Elizabeth (then Princess) and Prince Phillip are on a Commonwealth tour in Kenya. Before this scene there has been a tension brewing, because the Kings death is drawing closer, meaning of course that Elizabeth will soon take the throne. The series is in its early stages so it is delicately spinning the narrative web and carefully introducing its characters. It is richly shot, with a high density of field (I use this phrase to describe that there is a lot to be drawn visually from each scene). Then, the defusing comes, and in the shape of an Elephant.
If you have seen the show you will know instantly what I mean, but there is effectively a few minutes in the episode where Phillip and Elizabeth have to evade an Elephant. Firstly, I don’t quite understand the point of this scene, is it to foreshadow dangers to come? Is it to show Prince Phillip as some sort of hero for Elizabeth to rely on? It’s certainly not to show the wonder of the animal because they pretty much play that out later in the episode. Whatever it was there for, it felt completely out of place. There was no colouring in of the characters gained from this scene, nor a real sense of suspense or danger. It did not work for me on any level, and I found it all a bit silly. The CGI was not particularly well done and I’m uneasy about the movements taken by the actors present in the scene. So, from this, all the drama had been killed. I was taken out of the world and thrown into some weird voyeuristic safari park. Hence, a massive defuse drama.
I’m afraid that this has made me come across as some angry broadsheet film critic, but it really highlights what I mean when I’m taken out of the drama. It is the main reason I can never get fully invested in a superhero or big budget movie, because they are usually full of these moments. They are put in there as either time fillers, or a feeling that they have to put in some form of action scene at certain time stamps. Yet, scenes of action or heightened situations can work well in drama. For example, in the 2014 film A Most Violent Year pretty much nothing happens in its entire run time. The drama and intrigue comes, like in The Crown, with its interesting characters and dense scenery. However, when the small parts of excitement come, they blend rhythmically with the rest of the drama. There is a chase scene in the film that is equally gripping as it is dramatic, because it feels like it is meant to be there. It is clearly hard to balance those moments in, but when it doesn’t work, it is so so obvious.
Side-note: This is probably the most stupid thing I have ever written because it is nitpicking at the highest degree. The Crown so far is really great and I bet if I went through some of my favourite things of all time they would all have little things that really annoyed me. Mostly I think it is like in my mind every filmmaker has to play by my own sick rules. Though I guess that’s what an opinion is.
ALSO, the director of A Most Violent Year (J. C. Chandor) directed Margin Call, where again nothing happens, but it’s still so bloody tense.