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The Action Genre – Jason Li

A short introduction to the film genre ‘Action’ and a comparison for the movies ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ and ‘The Bourne Identity’ (Spoilers)

The Action Genre *Spoiler Alert*

The word genre didn’t appear until film historians looked back at films which had been created and found certain patterns and similar traits. Genres are films which can be grouped together because of their similarities. Films of the same genre will usually share similar storyline, and the same symbolic and technical codes. There are many reasons why a filmmaker would choose to make a film. Two main reasons are as a form of art and the other is to create revenue and gain profits. If for example a type or genre of film is put on sale and it attracts large amounts of revenue, other filmmakers who wish to generate similar or more amounts of revenue will be more inclined to follow the same patterns of the genre in hope of achieving same success. An example would be movie sequels, usually the original creates much revenue so a choice is made to continue the story; sequels are usually in the same genre.

One genre which has been of much success and popularity is the Action Genre. Like all genres, action films will usually share similar patterns and conventions. Many sub-genres have appeared within the Action Genre such as spy films and action comedy-Most films classified as action try to keep the audience engaged with many things going on such as car chases, situations in which the hero is thrown in which are almost impossible to escape from, extended fight scenes and large explosions. Some other common traits and conventions of the characters and locations include: Not realistic but still believable storylines, a protagonist who is a fairly ordinary person but discovers or has incredible powers, innocent people being dragged into the conflicts, plot twists, exotic locations to further ‘spice up’ the film which are all techniques to keep the audience excited and interested.

The two films viewed in class which were Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Bourne Identity are classified and fit well into the Action Genre. The two films both share most of the common patterns and conventions of an action film and examples will be further provided in the following paragraphs.

Raiders of the Lost Ark was a film which was released in the 1980s period which was a big time for films especially action. The film features a college professor and archaeologist by the name of Indiana Jones who is forced to find the ‘Lost Ark’ before the Nazis and is forced to travel from locations such as Nepal all the way to Egypt. This Indiana Jones film follows almost all of the common action film traits. Raiders of the Lost Ark like most action films have fast paced chase scenes. Indiana Jones is a fairly ordinary person and a professor in a college but is able to pull of incredible feats of strength and succeed in seemingly impossible situations (one man versus the Nazis or hanging onto a moving truck and accomplishing feats which would be extremely difficult or dangerous in our modern world). In the film, towards the end of the movie, Indiana Jones is forced to climb onto a moving truck and try to wrench control from the original owners to try take back the Ark. This scene includes fast paced cuts and Indiana is even able to be thrown underneath the truck, climb out from the back and is even shot but he still survives. His former girlfriend who was originally not willing to help Indiana is also dragged into the action and is placed in many life threatening situations but she and the antagonists always come back in plot twists. A majority of the film is also set in Cairo which being in Egypt, not much was known about Egypt at the time so it seemed like a distant and exotic location, ideal for a fast paced action film. Raiders of the Lost Ark is also not short of unarmed and armed fights and in one the classical ‘tough bad guy’ appears and Indiana Jones is forced to use other methods to finish him.

Bourne Identity was a film which was released much later than the Indiana Jones film. Even though the film was released in 2002, it still follows all the conventions and patterns that Action Films follow. The plot is not exactly realistic but still believable such as the secret agency. It allows us to suspend our disbelief that an organization would actually do the things they do, or if they actually will. Jason Bourne who is a government agent and Marie who is a seemingly innocent person who is also pulled into the fray also find that there is much more to what first seems through plot twists and is also not short of car chase scenes and extended armed and unarmed fights. Bourne Identity also features exotic locations such as Zürich and France.

The protagonists and antagonists of action films usually also share similar traits. Protagonists in action films are usually able to perform tremendous feats of strength sometimes without themselves knowing they could. They tend to be able to survive situations where many would otherwise be unable to such as the protagonist Jason Bourne surviving being shot and thrown around in the ocean and Indiana Jones taking several beatings and almost run over but survives the ordeal. A protagonists’ main role is to keep the action moving and trying to not bore the audience by accomplishing such actions. They also tend to not come out on top from the start but eventually through luck or outsmarting their opponent, defeat them (Indiana Jones being able to outsmart a Nazi mechanic and after being almost beat, Indiana finishes off the mechanic. Antagonists however, are to pose as a hindrance and obstacle to the protagonist. Antagonists in action films tent to return from the dead many times or somehow always manage to keep the protagonist distracted from their original goal by forcing the protagonist to battle them. In Raiders, the antagonist can be the Nazis in general, the rival archaeologist or the German agent who tries to steal the vital medallion. All of these as a whole attempt to hold back Indiana’s original task of trying to find the Lost Ark. Although Indiana is able to accomplish his goal in the end, he encounters the antagonists many times which keep returning. In Bourne Identity however, the antagonist is primarily the CIA which sends its agents to eliminate Bourne. Jason’s objective is to discover his true identity and how he lost his memory but the CIA keeps attempting to finish off Jason for his earlier failure. In both films, the antagonists are fairly similar in their roles to slow down the goal of the protagonist. The protagonists however, have similar traits but in Raiders, Indiana is more of a classical ‘hero’ who has humour and is less complicated in his backstory. A character like Jason Bourne from Bourne Identity is more common in modern action films. He has a complicated backstory and he tends to be more serious and less willing to talk things over. Indiana propels the action forward through his personality and the situations he is thrown into. Jason propels the action forward through the mystery of this character and how he reacts to more realistic situations.

Both films fit into the Action Genre well but they still have many differences whilst both having the patterns of an action film. Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark is more of a classic action film. It ‘spoon feeds’ information and the storyline follows a straightforward arc. The events are in chronological order and there are not many areas in the story where something is ambiguous (early scene with the government agents talking with Indiana, what the Ark is told to the audience directly. In Bourne Identity however, the plot assumes that you have prior knowledge of the environment and organisations. The Bourne film doesn’t spoon feed information and events are not necessarily in chronological order forcing you to think over what just happened in more detail such as the flash backs and why he has the traits he does such as his martial arts knowledge. Both films fit well into the Action Genre but still have their differences. Both are a unique in their own way and perfect representatives of an action film.