The Complicated Art of Adventure Filmmaking

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Film has and will always be a constantly changing form of art and media that goes through tremendous adaptation starting in the early centuries. ‘Film genre has become an increasingly contested concept in film scholarship, the ‘genre film’ continues to dominate much of Hollywood’s annual output” (Landrum). One of the most critical genres of films that has a very broad horizon of stories and plots is adventure films. An adventure film is an exciting story with diverse characters, long dangerous journeys, and engaging storytelling. The adventure film genre can be easily mixed with other genres and always has been. The adventure genre was originally created to appeal to men with a lead character exhibiting masculine and heroic behavior. How has the art of filmmaking and the genre of adventure films changed in the United States, and throughout the world, over the decades?

History of Film

The first form that most resembles that of movies was the ancient Greek amphitheaters showing plays and musicals. During the Victorian Era new inventions for cinema began to show up, each one building from the short comings of the one before, adding new ideas and effects to create a better viewing experience. One of the first inventions to start this wave of new film was the thaumatrope, which included disks that you would twist, and two images would be combined as one. A decade later Joseph Plateau created the fantascope, which required user to spin disk to change pictures rapidly. Other renditions of this were created shortly after. In 1839 French painter Louis-Jacques-Mande Daguerre created the daguerreotype (Hale). By copying still images on copper plates, it became the first commercially successful photographic process. In 1878, Eadweard Muybridge wondered if all four horse legs came off the ground when it was running. He conducted an experiment to capture pictures at one-thousandth of a second, the cameras were arranged on the side of the horse track, and as the horses passed, they tripped a wire to set off the cameras, Muybridge not only proved that all four legs came off the ground at once, but also created a new form of film. “As the evolution of film has progressed, the catalogue of cinematic formal elements has grown, enabling filmmakers to, at their discretion, make more complex films” (Piccirillo). This led filmmaking and the population intrigued by films to grow to all new standards creating even more possibilities of advancement in this field. All of the inventions prior to the chronophotographic gun, which took pictures at 12 frames per second, were used to trick the audience or viewer into seeing a short film. The chronophotographic gun marked a huge change in early film making. Charles Francis Jenkins created the first film projector called the phantoscope. The Lumiere brothers of France created the first portable projector called the cinematographe, the word cinema was created from this invention, also marking the first time in history a group of people could get together and all view the same film at once. (Piccirillo) For thirty years silent films were all that was viewed until 1923 when narration and dialogue were used. The first movie that changed the direction of filmmaking that also included a great plot was “The Great Train Robbery”, which was a ten-minute-long story that greatly differed from the actions of previous films such as dancing, greeting, or kissing. In the 1900s nickelodeons became an escape for the middle-class population creating a new activity to spend money on. Nickelodeons would be open from dusk till dawn, but soon got a bad reputation for their showings. Ten years later the film industry began to release longer, more plot driven films such as Dantes Inferno, Oliver Twist, and Queen Elizabeth. (Action). In the 1920s the public began to recognize film stars and actors, as movie going became the norm in society. During the 1940s Nazi directors, hired by Hitler, created Nazi propaganda called “Triumph of the Will” to aid the war against the American and Ally forces. America responds with a propaganda film of their own, called “Why we fight.” (Boland). In the 1950s television began to out root cinema because people were able to view in their own home. In the 1960s film makers started to film in other countries as foreign films became more popular around the world. In the 1970s film characters became more interesting, plot twist became more common, and flashbacks were made to add detail and information to the film. (Action). In the 21st century documentary films and 3D films have become very popular and IMAX technology is widely used. Now movies can be streamed, viewed on cellphones and laptops. The history of filmmaking has changed significantly over the years and we can only expect even more change in the future.

The Beginning of Adventure Films In U.S.

The genre of adventure films first became popular during the silent film era when viewers would go every Saturday to watch the weekly serials, which were running short films that ended on cliff hangers and often encouraged viewers to come back next week and see what happens next. The Perils of Pauline was the first major show of the silent serials. Other serial adventure heroes included, Flash Gorden, Buck Rodgers, played by Buster Crabbe, who was the most famous serial hero of the time. (Action). Adventure films depict a hero journeying or traveling through a foreign or unknown landscape fighting internal and external conflicts to reach a certain goal. The first major full-length adventure film were swashbuckler films, these films included, Hollywood super stars, expensive costume design, historically accurate weapons of the 18th and 19th century, and were based on sea battles, castle raids, sword fighting, and rescuing a princess or woman in distress. Douglas Fairbanks was the star of many adventure films for a long time in the early 1900s, including Zoro, Robin Hood, and the Three Musketeers. After the silent film era died out, Fairbanks was succeeded by Errol Flynn, an Australian actor who was popular during the 30s and 40s. His first major film was “Captain Blood.” (Action). Eventually historic swashbuckler films were all the buzz and all the public wanted to see. They wanted to visually see historic events for the first time as opposed to reading. A visual retelling of classic war stories, pirate fights, and glorious heroes is what people wanted to see, and still enjoy seeing. The historical swashbuckler films were booming in the 1950s as well, Warner Bros studio was the most popular movie studio and contributed tremendously to the production of films.

Change of U.S. Films in the 70s

In 1922 William Hays created the Motion Production Code that set moral codes for filmmakers to follow. This code lasted until 1968 when it finally collapsed, directors were able to produce at their own pace and direct what they wanted. (Bodroghkozy). This led to a shift in the filmmaking industry. “American culture was simply unstoppable and alive, constantly changing and growing toward a more open society. However, though there was a shift in American values toward openness in addressing sexuality and violence as well as other societal issues, it was in direct conflict with the conservative government currently in power.” (Boland). With this new freedom, directors were able to expand the movie experience creating character architypes and create different kinds of films altogether. (Action). Screen violence became a norm in a new wave of crime, mob, and war films. Dramatic blood and horrific deaths differentiated children’s films from adult films. In Don Siegals Dirty Harry films showed graphic violence and had new chase sequences made possible by new mobile cameras that could capture fast movement and car chases. In this period protagonists of the films would find themselves in very extensive plots and extensive conspiracies. “By the end of the decade, the wooing of youth viewers had turned into a full-scale campaign to capture this lucrative but politically and culturally unstable sector of the population” (Bodroghkozy). This led to the beginning of the 1970s creating a culture of youth activism, and new freedom of filmmaking. Cinema also at this time, saw a new wave of film, the black action cinema, or often called blaxploitation. This type of film had both black male and female roles that influenced violence, gun power, and martial arts against a number of enemies. (Action). “Significantly, though, black action films of the 1970s strongly evince the influence of Hong Kong filmmaking on American cinema. In particular, the international stardom achieved by the Hong Kong cinema martial arts icon Bruce Lee.” (Action) Critics at the time saw this new style of film problematic to cinema as a whole, as it suggested racial, and sexual prejudice. Although some of the films during the blaxploitation had cult status and some praise, they caused a problem in the new wave of cinema. Although had low budget production phases, and were restricted to some cinemas, they also were highly profitable and highly promoted. (Bodroghkozy). While adventure films took on a difficult change during the 70s causing a lot of uproar, it also brought to life some of the best and most critically acclaimed adventure series and films of all time. Including George Lucas’s Star Wars series, Jaws series, Superman, Alien, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Apocalypse Now, and many more. During the 1970s cinema underwent many changes, some for the better and some for the worse. Overall the changes would follow over into the 80s, and the 90s. As adventure films began to be a part of other genres, they would create some of the best movies of all time, mixing with fantasy, romance, comedy, and of course action.

U.S. Films of the 80s

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Adventure films were reimagined in the 80s, special effects were starting to be used in the 80s, making a 3D image from a computer. This changed the entire filmmaking process. Editors spend hours on end creating something from nothing. The special effects put in films took the attention of the audience immediately in films like Star Wars (late 70s), Looker, Tron, Akira, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and countless others. (Action). Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger were two male actors who met tremendous success acting in adventure films during 80s with the Rambo and Terminator series. These stars stood out in cinema for their fitness and depicting of what a hero should look like to viewers. “These stars’ muscular bodies have stood in for the general excess with which 1980s action is associated. Shifting this emphasis onto bodily display, a new group of male action stars came to prominence during the 1980s and 1990s,” (Action). Schwarzenegger and Stallone both are still acting in adventure and action movies and have cameos in popular films to this day. During this period the action and adventure genres were more open to other races playing the hero, which is a notable landmark in film history in the United States, such as Danny Glover, Will Smith, and Eddie Murphy. As the 1970s created blaxploitation the 1980s did the exact opposite, pairing black and white actors to reach a wider audience, thus creating great action and adventure duos and films such as, Lethal Weapon, Die Hard, 48 hours, and others. Multi-ethnic stars such as Vin Diesel and Keanu Reeves became very popular in the late 80s and 90s. (Action). The 80s was a large leap in terms of film, and adventure film expectation of the American public, introducing timeless movies, actors, and widely using 3D special effects. (Action). The 80s also giving birth to possibly the biggest homage to the original adventure movies, the Indiana Jones movie series, first being released in 1981.

International Adventure

European cinemas exhibit the same style of American cinema. The European films were westerns. Often European films meet local success, but some have reached international praise such as Nikita, and Lola rennt. (Action). Both films feature female leads, which became a staple to European cinema up to the 1990s. Hong Kong cinema also followed in the steps of European cinema with a strong female lead. Hong Kong film became popular in the United States, a number of movies attempted to incorporate Chinese movie stars with Americans stars, including Jackie Chan, Jet Li, and Pat Morita from Karate Kid. With the new influence of Hong Kong cinema in United States cinema, new patterns and styles became notable. John Woo became a successful Hollywood director, working on films such as Face/Off and Windtalkers. One clear influence drawn from Hong Kong adventure films was the martial arts aspect. Films like The Matrix trilogy, Charlies Angles, which included three female lead roles, one of them being Asian, and Quentin Tarantinos Kill Bill series all heavily drew from martial arts and Hong Kong cinema. (Action). Over the decades international cinema has grown from one country to another learning from each other’s mistakes and taking positive points to build off of one another’s success.

U.S. 1990S Cinema

One of the most popular eras of cinema, and for good reason, the 90s gave birth to better and more advanced special effects, actors who still are very popular in modern films, timeless characters, and some of the best movies in made. “A lot of these films were written by baby boomers, so even if someone had a dead-end job, they were still able to afford accommodation, they lived in a nice neighborhood. Even if they were struggling, their problems were quite superficial,” (Nicholson). With the use of special effects new shots and exciting sequences were created out of the magic of editing and computer animation. The 1990s were a big time for adventure and action actors such as Tom Cruise, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Tom Hanks. Movies in this time were higher budget then any other decade because actors wanted more perks and money for their work, and production companies and directors were pressured to create masterpieces with the turn of the decade and new technology to work with. Big changes were seen in directors during the 90s, black directors such as John Singleton, and Spike Lee, and female directors became a large influence by showing off their skills by having more of an understanding of the industry than most of the male directors. (Nicholson). Clint Eastwood, Kevin Costner, and Mel Gibson were all once major actors in adventure films and took the reins of becoming a director during the 90s, and all three actors/directors won awards for best pictures throughout the 90s. Clint directed Unforgiven, Kevin directed Dances with the Wolves, and Mel Gibson directed Braveheart. The 90s also introduced the indie film scene. Studios created special art programs to create a different, less mainstream cinema for the viewers who didn’t enjoy the high budget films being made. Companies like Sony Pictures, Miramax, Lionsgate, and New Line Cinema were made to fill this void of movie goers with something different they had been seeing the past few decades. The indie films of the 90s were made to appeal to the youth, often the adventure and action films were dark and reflected back on society, for example Hackers, True Romance, Empire Records, and Clerks. Movies of the 90s were either failures, or humongous hits, much of the films included extensive CGI work that viewers enjoyed now more than any time before. Some major adventure films that were released during this decade were Jurassic Park, Forrest Gump, Independence Day, Titanic, and Men in Black. (Nicholson). The 1990s was a decade of exploration of new ideas and techniques of filmmaking, also creating some of the most memorable and nostalgic moments to the youth of today.

2000s To Now

At the turn of the century adventure films had already transformed from past learnings and mistakes that now directors and production companies have made some of the best moments in cinema history in 19 years. The 2000s saw the rebirth of comic book adventure heroes with X-Men, and Spider-Man. Gladiator revamped the epic adventure films genre. “Within the last decade, superhero popularity has flourished once again, with the releases of blockbuster films, action-based television shows, and a multitude of other products including apparel, toys, and videogames.” (Smart). The most popular films from the 2000s to now are Avatar, The Lord of the Rings series, The Dark Knight series, Harry Potter series, the Star Wars series once again, and countless others as cinema is more popular now and more accessible than ever. With every year, adventure movies surpass the films prior to them from every decade due to endless advancements in technology, making the world of cinema practically endless, opening the imagination of the viewers to a bottomless pit that movie lovers do not mind falling down. From watching nostalgic classics to experiencing brand new art never before seen in a movie theater is something a movie buff lives for to see how much film has changed due to sociocultural trends and technology.

Adventure films have changed drastically over the decades considering it was one of the first genres to be transformed into film. As adventure films can mend with all other genres. That is why it has undergone the most change, because it is the basis of an entertaining, inspiring, and gripping story, and that is what makes a film great. I believe every aspect of adventure filmmaking has to do with art. From the writing, storyboards, costume design, acting, set design, filming of scenes, music, lighting, editing, and lastly the most important part of a piece of art, is showing it to the public, allowing them to take from it what they need, and enjoy it for themselves.

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