In the past decade or two, action adventure has taken a turn from the threat of violence to actual violence in a lot of film and TV. I think it might be why I like True Blood so much. They have an intriguing mix. There's the scene where Lafayette and others are chained to a wheel. It's all very bloody and nasty. Or when Jason and the weird GF ends up killing that gay vampire. That was violent. But more recent scenes, like the ones in the church, ended up being more about the threat of violence and adventure. Good people held in cages. The threat of Erik owning Sookie from their exchange of blood.
All of which tells me that used properly, action and adventure and violence are a Device. Devices must have purpose, generally to show something. In True Blood's case, I think the earlier actual violence increased the threat and showed the audience what the different characters are capable of. It's certainly true in Sons of Anarchy, too, a favorite show though not appropriate for the panel because its a SF con.
So what does action/adventure/violence show?
- Capability on the part of the antagonist, thereby increasing tension.
- Capability on the part of the protagonist, thereby increasing audience loyalty.
- Contrast with non-violent reaction. I just read Joe Finder's VANISHED, and his protag only fights when attacked. That said, he does sometimes take it a step further. But it works well because you have respect for a guy with restraint in general. He doesn't bully his way through every situation.
- More on tension - Sometimes back-story is enough. On Stargate Universe, one of the soldiers is a loose cannon, already disciplined for violence. So when he starts to lose it, the audience really wonders if this is the time he'll go too far.
- Character, or lack thereof. In THE GHOSTS OF BELFAST, Fegan only knows violence. It's his only real emotional reaction (and sometimes it's not all that emotional). But he has to murder to escape a personal hell, and his true character lies in his efforts to set the ghosts free. In SCAR, Trinidad faces a Christ-like decision after spending years behaving most un-Christ-like. But his personal make-up includes violence, and so will his final battle. Violence is a part of him, from the time he was a small child.
- Combined with powerful motivation and regret, violence can develop a lot of sympathy for the protag. Who doesn't sympathize with Bruce Willis when he's trying to save his daughter from the megalomaniac?
- Action scenes provide momentum for almost any genre plot. What would INDIANA JONES be without a giant ball rolling toward him? And combined with the motivation of a deadline (racing to get the Arc) it provides pacing.
- And again with Indiana, it's proven early on that he's smart. He resorts to violence under pressure, but he's not afraid to use it when needed. That creates a sort of sympathy for the character, right?
What, if anything, do you think action/adventure lends or detracts from plots ? Does it have to equal "mindless," or is there such a thing as "smart" adventure?