Characters Entering Vs. Appearing

23Jul13

A quickie, but a possibly importantieeee, and something I first noticed while trying to make myself like “The Dark Knight Rises.” So I’ll start there.

“Dark Knight Rises” contains some of Batman’s least dramatic film entrances, simply because they are simply entrances. Seriously, that’s all they are. Batman just walking into frame. The two that come to mind are his rendezvous with Catwoman before she leads him to Bane (“Don’t be shy”) and his appearance on the frozen water (“Light it up”).

TO BE FAIR, these entrances have the potential to be interesting, and possibly cinematic. The first one because it showed Selina Kyle as his equal; she wasn’t going to be surprised by Batman’s usual M.O. of suddenly appearing. And the second example has a “delayed drop” entrance, where the thugs get some Bat-darts to the neck, and Batman says his line before they actually see him.

But outside of that, you can imagine the stage directions read something like, “Batman just walks up.”

Compare this with a few of Batman’s entrances in “The Dark Knight,” specifically the just-robbed bank safe, where a moment ago we saw the door to the safe was empty, cut to the opposite angle, and when we return… HE’S THERE! It’s more mysterious (and frankly, more cinematic) to have him just BE THERE as opposed to showing him sneak in. Sure, it would be technically impossible for Batman to have gotten past the cops and into the safe without anyone noticing, but Batman movies are made on such impossibilities. The resulting affect is worth the jump in logic.

Especially when you consider the alternative, which is “Batman just walks up.” Regular people “just walk up.” I do it all the time. It’s common. And such common things take the myth out of mythological characters. The “just walk up” is not only lazy, it robs the characters of power. In the recently released DVD of “The Dark Knight Part 2,” there’s a moment where the Joker arrives at Kyle Escorts, surprising an aged Selina, and they show Joker enter the room after speaking. Why didn’t they just do a reveal? He speaks, Selina turns, he’s there already! Everyone’s surprised, and therefore more engaged.

I also believe the Reveal/Appearance Entrance carries power because it ties the character to the world of cinema. It feels as though that character is one with the movie rather than just being another character. It makes him or her (gasp) a more cinematic character. Consider the semi-researched fact that Blondie in “The Good, The Bad & the Ugly” is never seen running anywhere, yet somehow APPEARS suddenly to the surprise of everyone. Recall his graveyard appearance: Tuco has just literally ran around for three minutes looking for the grave containing the gold, and when he finally finds it, we pity him a bit because he is like us. Then this statuesque god of a gunslinger just magically appears, tossing Tuco a shovel. Leone was very interested in myth building, and he knew that the way a character emerges on screen was vital into those creations.

Another subtle, good example of the character’s oneness with the movie comes from “Before Sunset,” the middle of the “Before” trilogy. In the opening book-shop scene, Jessie (Ethan Hawk) is recounting the romantic events of “Before Sunrise,” and we get a series of flashbacks to scenes in that movie. Then after a few, we cut back to the present to reveal modern-times Celine (Julie Delpy) standing in that very bookshop, as if the movie had conjured her into existence. It’s a quietly marvelous maneuver, and it gives her power. It would be very different, indeed, had we seen Celine sneak into the bookstore and find her corner in which to hide. As presented, her first action is watching and thinking about Jessie, which is kind of the point of the whole movie.

OK, that wasn’t that quick. But it’s been on my mind. Bottom line: Big, mythological characters should never “just walk up.” If they appear through cinematic maneuvers, those characters can feel one with the film.

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