Why do actors refuse to channel into their performances the spectacular preposterousness of the preponderant, preposterous spectacle surrounding them in Hollywood blockbusters?
Take the latest Star Wars, for example. Despite the (potentially glorious) ridiculousness of serialized space-operas, The Rise of Skywalker‘s acting insists on regurgitating the (laughably) self-serious “naturalism” (*through squinty, bloodshot-glazed eyes* what does naturalism even mean, man?) that’s all the rage nowadays. Maybe to temper the lunacy of what’s going on around them, the thespians uber-commit to playing the real stakes of each and every moment, particularly relishing those that call for manicured emotions.
And yet, why can’t the cast conform to the surreal amplification around them? Instead of counterbalancing its absurdity, how about offsetting the pervasive 0s and 1s with some analog corporeal theatricality, matching the fantasy all around by incorporating the fantastical into the very style of their performative approach. Especially hamstrung by this nonsensical no-nonsense: Richard E. Grant, who’s mere presence usually oozes zany charisma. And yet, like the rest of the ensemble, he’s stuck down deep in the darkness of Cave Mundane, where looking like you’re having fun is forbidden. THERE’S NO ROOM FOR THE OPERATIC IN A SPACE OPERA?!
The sole flares (no, not those flares) of excitement come when the actors get to play around with theatrical vernaculars (which need to appear on the page, too, obviously, but even this exact script could be ratcheted up a few dials), such as:
- C3PO’s deadpan
- Emperor Palpatine (courtesy of Ian McDiarmid, no stranger to London theatre; shout-out The Faith Machine).
- Adam Driver’s sotto sociopathy (which might hew too close to the maniac monotone ripped right out of cinema’s pathology playbook; Silence of the Lambs’ Buffalo Bill, anyone?),
- All the faux screwball banter (John Boyega and Oscar Isaac stand out for trying their darndest, but they can’t rival the original’s wrinkle on the form, with the dialectically screwy ball being passed between Han Solo and Chewbecca … WHO DON’T SPEAK THE SAME LANGUAGE; heck, they’re not even the same species!).
This lack of discernible character is emblematic — symptomatic? — of the filmmaking’s general…well…generality?, devoid of a personal imprint (and no, the aforementioned lens flares ≠ personality, JJ). The Rise of Skywalker being prefaced in theaters by Tenet’s prologue provides a handy — and devastating — comparison; if Chris Nolan’s signature panache are asking for too much, how about even a trace of filmmaking that boasts more than an anemic aesthetic?
Or is the Mouse House scared that pitching anywhere except straight down the middle runs the risk of striking out too many?
P.S. Disney, if more Stars Wars are a given (…that’s a nonexistent if), how about a Chewbacca movie … predominantly in his native tongue! Feel free to add as much action as your insatiable coffers desire. On an artistic level, depriving filmmakers of their go-to means of communicative expression might force them to utilize their other cinematic senses to compensate. (To use Disney’s preferred parlance:) You know, like Daredevil.