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Contextual and Theoretical Studies – OUDF106 Film Studies Essay

Contextual and Theoretical Studies – OUDF106

Film Studies Essay

“Action is the only true cinematic experience” do you agree with this statement? Use action sequences from 3 films of your choice to support your answer.


This essay will argue against the statement: “Action is the only true cinematic experience”. It will provide evidence to support the argument by researching into various sources of media. Action sequences used from the three films to argue against the statement are Inception (Christopher Nolan, 2010), Stardust (Matthew Vaughn, 2007), 2012 (Roland Emmerich, 2009). Books that will be used are Spectacular Bodies: Gender, Genre and The Action Cinema (Tasker, 1993), Action and Adventure Cinema (Tasker, 2004) and Action Speaks Louder: Violence, Spectacle and the American Action Movie (Lichtenfeld, 2007). Whilst making a point, evidence will be provided in the form of quotations from the books, along with an explanation to why the evidence will support the point.

This essay will cover three main points and discuss why and how: (i) cinematic experience can differ upon different genres but can also be equally enjoyable; (ii) cinematic experience is based on self-preference; (iii) genres can be experienced in different forms of media.

Action films are instantly recognised because of their stunts and excellent computer generated imagery (CGI). This encompasses memorable unearthly incidents that usually require “…high energy, big-budget physical stunts and chases, possibly with rescues, battles, fights, escapes, destructive crises (floods, explosions, natural disasters, fires, etc.), non-stop motion, spectacular rhythm and pacing, and adventurous, often two-dimensional ‘good-guy’ heroes (or recently, heroines) battling ‘bad guys’ – all designed for pure audience escapism. Includes the James Bond ‘fantasy’ spy/espionage series, martial arts films, and so-called ‘blaxploitation’ films. A major sub-genre is the disaster film.” (Filmsite, 2008). Lichtenfeld also describes how an action film is defined: ‘…the foundation for defining the action movie must be that the films showcase scenes of the physical action, be they fistfights, gunfights, swordfights, fights against nature, or other derring-do.’ (2007, p. 5).

2012 (Roland Emmerich, 2009) is a disaster film and at an estimated budget of $200,000,000 (IMDB, 2011), Emmerich brings the audience a science fiction disaster experience.  The most memorable part of the film could be the escape scene in the limousine, when the audience is entangled with whether all the characters in the limousine will survive the destruction of buildings, car crashes, the crumbling of the earth etc. If the audience is deeply involved as early as that scene of the film, then they will be expecting much more disastrous and unearthly experiences in the latter.

Another memorable scene could be when Jackson and his daughter Lilly are trying to escape the volcanic eruption in a minivan; the use of a high camera angle riding above the minivan along with the pace of the volcanic ashes, creates a sense of anxiousness for the audience to escape the ashes as well as the characters. This camera angle helps the audience share the experience of ‘needing to escape’ and builds suspense of whether the characters will reach the jet airplane within due time. The audience is excited and worried by the thought of whether the volcanic ashes will swallow Jackson and Lilly. It is quoted that “Though we may ‘know’, generically speaking, we are also involved in a dynamic that encompasses both success and failure.” (Tasker, 1993, p. 153). Action scenes and visual effects used seem to be a technique to capture the audience’s attention, whereas good narrative elements are the reason the audience is interested in the film and camera angles are used to help intensify the narrative, expressions and drama further.

Action is usually perceived as a male dominated genre and often when a female is playing the lead role, “…heroine functions as a central term.” (Tasker, 1993, p. 153) she is not seen the same way as heroes. Action is usually portrayed as the hero saving the innocent or the hero with a mission for a good cause. This thought also provokes the audience to believe ‘a knight in shining armour’ (The Phrase Finder, 1996), a figurative phrase assuming a male lead will save the day. Tasker has said, “…a comic action film found itself judged by the standards of feminist documentary film-making…Thelma and Louise’s refusal to offer up the two women’s dead bodies…” (1993, p. 154), this quote demonstrates that the film Thelma and Louise (Ridley Scott, 1991) is not seen as equally to male role dominant films or there are doubts that the audience might approve of it as a barbaric female slaughter fetish film; either way there is a conclusion that “…consequences of the heroines’ actions, thus revealing the operation of patriarchal logic.” (Tasker, 1993, p. 154). Tasker also explains “…critical debates concerning gendered genre (the idea that action is somehow ‘male’ or ‘masculine’ against melodrama’s ‘female’ or ‘feminine’ status) mapped onto or confused with a rather different history of female participation in the spaces of cinematic action.” (2004, p. 5).

A cinematic experience can differ upon different genres but can also be equally enjoyable. Perhaps action can be enjoyed at its most in cinema but cinematic experiences are not only delivered in the form of action; therefore other genres such as adventure, family, romance, etc also have the capabilities of delivering excellent cinematic experiences. Films are constructed upon similar narrative elements, which are based on the method that define the trend of the film, (Bonney, 2006). Every film is created using many genres giving the film its own persona; action therefore cannot be the only true cinematic experience because films are not created upon a sole genre. “Action presents the story events of adventure in a particular (thrilling) way.” (Tasker, 2004, p. 7). Like almost all film genres, action also has other genres to accompany it in a film, for example films such as TRON: Legacy (Joseph Kosinski, 2010) and Avatar (James Cameron, 2009), as well as action films they are also adventure, fantasy and sci-fi films.

Stardust (Matthew Vaughn, 2007), categorized into the genres such as adventure, fantasy, family and comedy, has several action scenes of which one is when Tristan is having a sword fight with Septimus’ body, which is being controlled through a clay puppet in the hands of Lamia, a witch. When Lamia snatches the puppet out of the water, the camera is focused on a close up of her wavy reflection as she laughs in a demented manner because she has acquired the power to fight Tristan, without the need to fight him herself. An engaging moment such as this, the audience would be fascinated by the diverse (bending in abnormal ways) function of a lifeless body in action, as it is not something an audience would daily see; and the fact that Lamia being a witch, she could do almost anything to cheat her way to success, added to the question: how will Tristan defeat the dead body, is what keeps the audience in suspense. Without the commotion, this scene can equally be as suspenseful as an action scene from Inception (Christopher Nolan, 2010). The difference is that the audience may differ because every person in the audience has individual interests. A film does not always adjust into a single genre as Lichtenfeld states “Not all of the film fits comfortably into just one [genre] category or chapter.” (2007, p. 5).

Cinematic experience is based of self-preference. Although from early teens to adults up to the age of 50 may like action films and would prefer to experience it on the big screen, audience between their mid 50’s to the elderly may enjoy biography films that provide a cast into the past. They might prefer to watch films such as The Kings Speech (Tom Hooper, 2010) or The Duchess (Saul Dibb, 2008) in a cinema along with others that share the same views or at the comfort of their own home. Children may wish to see an animation in cinema; couples may want a romantic cinematic experience on Valentine’s Day, where they might find a secret kiss in the dark exciting whilst being among the rest of the audience who cannot see; or they might choose to watch a romantic film in their home where they can adjust the atmosphere for a romantic evening. Preferences could depend on age and Journal of Media Psychology (1996) demonstrates a table of films by age.

Genres can be experienced in different forms of media but films in the cinema can be slightly more exciting for certain members of the audience whether they are action or other genres, romance for example. “Film and viewer come together in a mutual exchange between two bodies who communicate their desire, not only for the other but for themselves, in the act of touching.” (Barker, 2009, p. 34). The quotation states how the film and the viewer bond and form a relationship where they feed off of each other and relate to each other. A cinematic experience is meant to be a sensual and like a fantasy, almost like an out of body experience. Barker (2009) makes an excellent point because that could be a strong reason to why the audience chooses different sources of media to watch a film. The audience decides what would be the best source of media for them to maintain the relationship with the film. Psychologically, the audience may not want to share this experience with others and use different medias instead of the cinema to maintain this relationship alone with a film or with the company of a partner, whilst others may wish to enjoy a group relationship with the film on a bigger screen to emphasize everything they see and hear, giving them the opportunity to discuss and discover how all of their views relate; this often helps people bond with others and this could also be why certain audiences prefer a cinematic experience.

Inception (Christopher Nolan, 2010) is categorized as an action film even though the film has other genres involved. Lichtenfeld says “In some cases where a film seems to belong to more than one trend, I locate it in one or the other in the interest of clarity.” (2007, p. 5 and 6). Due to action being very successful and in demand, Inception (Christopher Nolan, 2010) has been categorized as action as its main genre; whereas it is clear that more than action it is more of a mystery film. Films are sometimes miss-categorized by accident or on purpose; the genre mystery, over powered the genre action in Inception (Christopher Nolan, 2010), yet action is the main genre because a film has to be located to one genre. A popular genre would give the film a comfortable place in the gross market, so occasionally a cinematic experience might not be up to the expectations of the audience if the film has been miss-categorized. That can also make the audience feel like a cinematic experience has been wasted.

Although Inception (Christopher Nolan, 2010) was a great cinematic experience, it was a mystery throughout the film and the action scenes were not as constant. A particular scene that seems to be very interesting in Inception (Christopher Nolan, 2010) is the part where Cobb tells Ariadne that a person cannot remember the beginning of a dream, which she agrees to. He then asks her “So how did we end up here?” (Inception, 2010) she begins to answer but cannot finish, as she does not remember. The camera angle is at a close up as Cobb repeats his question in a patronizing manner and the close up captures Ariadne’s expression of confusion into more depth. When she comes to realise that she is in fact within a dream, she becomes slightly restless and the architecture of the dream begins to explode. As the glass from the explosion hits Ariadne, the camera instantly changes to an extreme close up of her eyes instantly opening with shock, giving the audience a sense of the shock she felt.

Cinematic experience can differ upon different genres but can also be equally enjoyable. This is because audiences include children, teens, adults, and the elderly and cultural differences that can also influence the audience’s choice of genres and cinematic experiences. Cinematic experience is based on self-preference, which is the decision of the audience even if they are influenced by age differences or culture. Genres can be experienced in different forms of media because the audience includes individuals who might want to share a connection with the film either by themselves or with others. Different media can provide different experiences that could be better, equal or worse to a cinematic experience. Action is not the only true cinematic experience because the audience can enjoy a film through different media’s and genres.




Lichtenfeld, E. (2007) Action Speaks Louder: Violence, Spectacle and the American Action Movie (Revised and Expanded Edition), Middletown: Wesleyan University Press.

Barker, J M. (2009) The Tactile Eye: Touch and the Cinematic Experience, California, University of California Press.

Tasker, Y. (1993). Spectacular Bodies: Gender, Genre and the Action Cinema, Abingdon, Routledge.

Tasker, Y. (2004). The Action and Adventure Cinema. Abingdon, Routledge.


2012, film, directed by Roland Emmerich, California, Columbia, 2009.

Inception, film, directed by Christopher Nolan, California, Warner Bros., 2010.

Stardust, film, directed by Matthew Vaughn, California, Paramount, 2007.

The Duchess, film, directed by Saul Dibb, Somerset, Pathe, 2008.

The Kings Speech, film, directed by Tom Hooper, London, Bedlam Productions, 2010.

Thelma and Louise, film, directed by Ridley Scott, California, Pathe Entertainment, 1991.

Tron: Legacy, film, directed by Joseph Kosinski, California, Walt Disney, 2010.


Bonney, B. (2006) G325 Genre Essay [online] http://www.jcgmedia.co.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=79&Itemid=112 (Accessed 23 March 2011).

Digital Inspiration (2006) Find the Date When a Web Page was First Published on the Internet [online] http://www.labnol.org/internet/search/find-publishing-date-of-web-pages/8410/ (Accessed 25 March 2011).

Journal of Media Psychology (1996) Favorite Films and Film Genres As A Function of Race, Age, and Gender [online] http://www.calstatela.edu/faculty/sfischo/media3.html (Accessed 24 March 2011).

Leeds College of Art (2011) Moodle [online] http://portal.leeds-art.ac.uk/moodle/mod/resource/view.php?id=9149 (Accessed 23 March 2011).

Martin, G. (1996) The Phrase Finder: A knight in shining armour [online] http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/knight-in-shining-armour.html (Accessed 24 March 2011).

Ognjanovic, D. (2008) ‘Film Genre: From Iconography to Ideology (2007) Book Review’ [online] http://www.beyondhollywood.com (Accessed 21 March 2011).

Suite101 (1996) Element of a Narrative: Essential Structures Needed to Develop a Story [online] http://www.suite101.com/content/elements-of-a-narrative-a68404 (Accessed 23 March 2011).

The Open University (2011) Cite References [online] http://library.open.ac.uk/help/howto/citeref/ (Accessed 23 March 2011).

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Online Magazines

Unreality (2008) The Top 10 CGI Characters from Live Action Movies [online] http://unrealitymag.com/index.php/2009/04/01/the-top-10-cgi-characters-from-live-action-movies/ (Accessed 23 March 2011)



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