The narrative of film has changed over the years. From their inceptions as short, silent moving picture shows to the introduction of sound and then color, movies have been forced to alter their narrative structure. With the rise of digital filmmaking, motion pictures are once again going through a reinvention. In addition, digital technology has altered the traditional conceptions of the film narrative.
On the surface, movies shot on film and those shot on High Definition video are the same. Upon looking at the two from the perspective of narrative a noticeable difference can be seen. First are the stories being told on digital now that were never told on film. A good example of the shift in storytelling resulting from digital filmmaking is the recent movie 300. Before digital filmmaking that film would’ve been exceedingly expensive and would’ve required many months of shooting at a variety of locations. However, digital technology allowed the filmmakers to cut financial corners and shoot the entire film on a green screened soundstage.
Narrative is in flux, because filmmakers can do about anything they want. They can change the structure. They can rethink their heroes and villains. They can increase the level of graphic content. The result from all of this technological flux brings to mind the idea of “just because they can does not mean they should.” Here is an example of a film that might’ve overstepped boundaries, but not for the obvious reasons.
Martin Scorcese’s The Departed was a success in the box office and for Scorsese who took home an Oscar. The film was digitally enhanced throughout with extreme violent content. Instead of addressing the social responsibility of portraying violence, this probe will approach the negative response from the violence toward the film itself.
In one particular scene of the film, a lead character falls from the top of a building to his death. The character hits the pavement and subsequently splatters onto another character. At this moment the audience burst into laughter. The scene was so ludicrous the audience removed themselves from the tension on the screen and laughed. One wonders if Martin Scorsese intended this reaction from one of his leading character’s death scene.
Unfortunately, this scene opened the flood gates for buckets of blood, poor digitally inserted bullet wounds, and even more laughter. By the end of the carnage, the audience had been lost. The narrative no longer held their attention. Digital technology had influenced the storytelling so much that the serious tone had been replaced by comedy. Which reinforces the question; “just because Martin Scorsese could digitally enhance his film, does that mean he should’ve?”
Digital technology has changed traditional conceptions of film narrative in other ways as well. Films that would have never seen the light of day in the old days of the studio system are now being produced with regularity. For instance, the most recent Star Wars films are a testament to this end. Imagine any of those jumbled narratives being produced by film producer David O. Selznick. Instead of those poorly written scripts being tossed out, they were green lit by the same person who wrote them. Digital technology has allowed for a barrage of weak narratives to be made. In fact, this trend could result in an even more serious delusion of the film narrative.
Film is moving away from the traditional checks and balances system. Many filmmakers are now getting free reign on their projects after only limited success. Here are a few examples of this shift. After the tremendous success of his Lord of the Rings trilogy, Peter Jackson was seemingly allowed to do whatever he wanted with King Kong. The film did not live up to anticipations. Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation was applauded and lead to the poorly constructed narrative of Marie Antoinette, which she wrote and directed.
Is digital technology really at fault for the waning narrative in film? Perhaps not entirely, but digital technology has made it cheaper to make movies and therefore has also allowed this trend toward the disregard of structured narrative. If filmmakers no longer need to focus on traditional narrative structures to tell their stories, than in the future there could be an unfortunate shift toward mundane filmmaking becoming commonplace.