Disaster Genre It’s the end of the world...again...
Learning Objectives • To be able to describe and identify codes and conventions, themes and iconography. • To be able to use film language. • To be able to discuss a film.
What is a disaster? • What is a disaster? • A massive event that affects us all, usually with negative consequences (the drama). • An event that makes us feel small, no matter who we are. To be in the presence of these events makes us feel overwhelmed, often physically and almost always mentally. • Cinema of the spectacle = where the audience is attracted to experiences these events from a safe distance (although not so safe that we don’t feel involved!)
Can you think of any examples?Try to group them too e.g. natural disaster. • Natural disasters • Human negligence, arrogance or ignorance. • Real events e.g. terrorism • Personal disasters • Social disasters • Imagined future disasters
Key Ingredients • There are several codes and conventions, which in this genre, are pretty simple. They may vary in the form of sub-genres e.g. the aeroplane disaster movie. • The disaster (what, where and when it occurs depends on narrative structure – see your notes on this). • Stock characters/stereotypes (see your narrative theory notes for more about this too): • (Reluctant) hero • The disposable characters • The survivors • The use of “stars” (actors with their own audience) • The “killing off”
Quick reminder... • Propp‘s 8 main character types: • The hero • The false hero • The princess: “reward” for hero’s endeavours. • The father (of the princess) • The helper: assists the hero by giving them something to help them • The villain • The donor: assists the hero by helping them along their way. • The dispatcher: sends the hero on their “quest”. • Todorov’s narrative structure: • The equilibrium – the state of balance in the narrative, where we get to know the characters and their situation. • The disruption – oppositional characters are introduced and the story moves forward. • The recognition (of the disruption) – where the story develops, different events and characters become involved and more drama occurs. • The attempts to repair the disruption – where there may be a twist or climactic point. • The new equilibrium – the problem is solved and harmony is resolved, although things may have changed.
Disaster Genre Themes • These can vary depending on time in which film is made – why do you think that is? • We can group the various themes into 2 broad categories: • The disaster movie and the individual • The disaster movie and society
The disaster movie and the individual • Common individual themes (usually linked to development of main characters): • Relationships(friendship, emnity, love – romantic and/or family) • Self-sacrifice(sometimes creating a hero – the character who “saves the day”. However, the day is often rather beyond saving, hence the self-sacrifice! One of the most unavoidable, essential and memorable features of the genre – crucial to genre’s success?) • Redemption(Making amends for sins committed – often closely linked to Self-sacrifice) • Teamwork(2 kinds of teams: those who are chosen “by the disaster” – a group of strangers thrown together in their struggle to survive – and those that are chosen “for the disaster”, who are usually experts sent to deal with the impending disaster. In both types of team, the theme is the same: humanity as a group is larger than the sum of its parts. The films explore how each person can contribute to and learn from the process of working together in the face of a disaster. The question is again raised: “Why does it need the end of the world to promote such co-operation and awareness?” This group in the film bridges the gap between the individual and society, perhaps the biggest group to which we all belong.
The disaster movie and the individual • Common themes that affect society are subject to change. Some ideas are constant e.g. corporate change; others have arisen more recently, e.g. environmental disaster, terrorism). • These are probably the most common (can you think of any more?) • Corporate greed. (Can also be a trigger for other themes. In real world, source of this blame often faceless, but disaster movies tend to focus this conveniently on an individual. These characters are one kind of human villain in disaster movies (what other sorts of villain are there in this genre?). Justice is usually handed out – although sometimes in reality-based films, the gap between fictional justice and reality is clear e.g. Titanic. • Science and technology (Particularly since age of nuclear power. Technology may avert disaster, or it may fail and cause it, or it may just not be up to the job, supporting the maxim that we are “two meals and 24 hours away from complete anarchy”. Films more recently, sometimes focus on concern about our scientific and technological impact on the world. In some films, though, technology and science save the day.) • The power of nature or “nature’s revenge” (On a huge scale! One purpose of this theme is to showcase special effects and draw large audiences, but also allows film-maker to use one of the basic responses to any disaster – fear. We are forced to confront our own fragility and role in the world.) • Human complacency (On both a social and individual level – the business of doing nothing and ignoring what appears to be the most obvious. A very important theme in the disaster genre!)
A recurring Hollywood theme... “The Big” vs.“The Small”
Iconography • Objects, images, characters etc strongly associated with a particular genre e.g. spaceships and sci-fi, cowboys and the Western. • Things that tells us where a film “belongs” – a type of visual shorthand. • They also act as symbols , bearing hidden meanings.
Foreshadowing:The film-maker’s way of gradually letting us know that something is going to happen. It builds suspense and gives us clues (which lots of characters will probably ignore). This can produce dramatic irony. We know more than the characters and want to watch to see if we are right about events/outcomes. Sometimes this device is more obvious e.g. a countdown, be that a clock (e.g. Armageddon) or a steadily rising water level (e.g. Titanic).Destruction:The chief icon of any disaster movie. To be truly iconic it must be big and impressive, using as many special effects as the budget will allow. Room for subtlety in selection of “targets” e.g. New York. It can be attached to a judgement or warning.
Technology:Humanity’s answer to the destruction. Technology is iconic in the disaster movie: it is seen as both a positive and a negative force. Often sophisticated e.g. radar systems fair and then more basic technology like pocket knives and ropes become more important. The failure of sophisticated technology is often about our arrogance and over-confidence – the assumption is that we can do what we like (the “God complex”). This signifies how rapid our journey “back to basics” can be.
Aftermath: The minutes, hours, days after the disaster are also iconic. They ask us to reflect and give us time to ask questions. This has its own iconography e.g. survivors in wreckage, floating remains of past. Reality:Disaster movies have become extremely iconic. Reality can draw on this and affect our interpretation of films and vice versa. Arguably, on 9/11, it was the terrorists who were displaying a grasp of iconography.
The task • Think back to Twister and the notes you’ve made. • As a group, collect notes on your focus area. Remember to use examples and explain your ideas. You will be presenting this to the rest of the class so make it good! • Codes and conventions • Themes: The disaster movie and the individual • Themes: The disaster movie and society • Iconography
One more term... • High concept: A film based on a very basic narrative idea. It will often rely on special effects and celebrities to make the concept work.