Elevate Difference

Action Speaks Louder: Violence, Spectacle, and the American Action Movie

In Action Speaks Louder, Eric Lichtenfeld's illuminating history of the action film genre, the author claims that “the action film has deserved the right to be discussed in the same terms as those used to qualify other more established genres.” This idea, while not brought up until the book’s conclusion, forms the basis of Lichtenfeld’s study, which traces action film trends from the early hard-bodied heroes and martial arts stars like Stallone and Seagal all the way through recent comic book adaptations. Along the way, he covers post-apocalyptic action films, modern disaster movies, and the concept of “terror and the confined arena” originated by Die Hard and continued by a large number of films, including Speed and Air Force One.

As he discusses each film, Lichtenfeld traces the progression of common plotlines and hero and villain archetypes, keeping in mind the given time period, both in terms of available special effects and political and social concerns. Quotes from publicity materials and film reviews help to place each film in the content of how it was originally presented and received. Also discussed are the technical aspects of filmmaking, including editing, cinematography and production design.

Lichtenfeld makes a number interesting points about masculinity in action films, in relation to both physicality and weapons. Unfortunately, one major topic he barely touches on is the role of women in these films. While there are few action films that feature female heroes, he could have easily engaged in an ongoing discussion of the genre's stereotypical female characters, including “the victim” and “the prize.”

Overall, Action Speaks Louder accomplishes two things: it establishes action films as legitimate creative endeavors undertaken with the same considerations as other types of films, and it shows how action films are a window into the politics of the time at which they are made. Whether you're an action fanatic, casual fan or someone who always equated the genre with mindless entertainment, Action Speaks Louder will surely change the way you think about, and watch, action films.

Written by: Kiri Oliver, July 24th 2007

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