Where strange fact and stranger fiction collide
In general the voice over in a movie is seen as a bad thing. I am one of about four people likes the Blade Runner version with Harrison Ford’s dead pan monologue better than the many cuts without it. Recently one of the reasons Henry Weinstein, limited the release of the movie Snowpiercer was because director Bong June-ho, refused to begin and end the American version with a voice over. And despite Mr. June-ho’s artistic sensitivity, I am on the monologue side of most arguments. I love it when noir detective shifts the brim of his fedora and look out in to the dark alley covered with rain and tells you what’s on his mind.
I get why some people aren’t big fans of the voiceover. When reading a book, we can see what is in a characters mind without changing the pace or it feeling out of place. In a movie it leads to a credibility issue by leaning on the fourth wall. It also can take away form a nuanced actor’s interpolation of a chachter by just blurting out what is on his mind. And I do have to admit that even when it works, it is a lazy way to write as opposed using other tools of story like innuendo and dialog to reveal events.
What I do not agree with is the reasoning most studios put voice overs in, that the audience is just not smart enough to know what’s going on without them. That is pretty much the reason that the studio forced Ridley Scott add the voiceover in Blade Runner. No one liked it, not Scott, not Ford, not even the execs who made them do it in the first place.
But to me it ties the movie to its spiritual roots in the noir movie. Given I am more willing to accept a voice over in a detective movie whether it be The Big Sleep, Blade Runner. Memento or Dylan Dog. The internal detective monologue has even become a cliché and used in SLN and parody movies, but to me it works. The detective, be he Sherlock Holmes, Bat Man, Odd Thomas or Rick Deckard has skills and experiences that we don’t have, so I love this access to their insights.
The ultimate voiceover movie is the original Sin City. To me this showcases the skills that Frank Miller once possessed, as well as tying the yarns to its origin. We get to know what the three main protagonists are thinking. In Basin City everyone lies, but here we get the truth. Hartigan, Marv and Dwight may have their faults but at least they are honest to themselves. (Well after Dwight got out form Eva Lord’s clutches that is). Beautiful seductive lips might lie but at least we get the strait dope from the ‘heroes.’
So here are some of my favorite voice over lines.
Leonard Shelby : We all lie to ourselves to be happy. (Momento:2000)
Dwight: Most people think Marv is crazy. He just had the rotten luck of being born in the wrong century. He’d be right at home on some ancient battlefield swinging an axe into somebody’s face. Or in a Roman arena, taking his sword to other gladiators like him. They woulda tossed him girls like Nancy back then. (Sin City: 2005)
Deckard: [narrating] Sushi. That’s what my ex-wife called me – cold fish (Blade Runner: 1986)
Dylan Dog: Dead of Night: See? That’s just what this case needed. A seven-foot tall, flesh-eating zombie. Which begs the question, are there any actual people left in New Orleans? (Dylan Dog: Dead of Night:2010)
Sweet Pea: Everyone has an Angel. A Guardian who watches over us. We can’t know what form they’ll take. One day, old man. Next day, little girl. But don’t let appearances fool you, they can be as fierce as any dragon. Yet they’re not here to fight our battles, but to whisper from our heart. Reminding that it’s us. It’s everyone of us who holds power over the world we create. (Suckerpunch: 2011)
John Hartigan: When it comes to reassuring a traumatized 19-year-old, I’m about as expert as a palsy victim doing brain surgery with a pipe wrench. (Sin City:2005)
Narrator: “In one of the countless billions of galaxies in the universe lies a medium-sized star. And one of its satellites, a green and insignificant planet, is now dead.” (Battle Beneath the Planet of the Apes: 1970)
Lester: “My name is Lester Burnham. This is my neighborhood. This is my street. This is my life. I’m 42 years old. In less than a year, I’ll be dead. Of course, I don’t know that yet. And in a way, I’m dead already. Look at me: jerking off in the shower. This will be the high point of my day. It’s all downhill from here. ” (American Beauty: 1999)
Narator: “We had such potential, such promise. But we squandered our gifts, our intelligence. Our blind pursuit of technology only sped us quicker to our doom. Our world is ending. But life must go on.” (9: 2009)
[last lines] Erica: [closing narration] I never saw the Eckert Brothers again. In time, this war – like every other war – ended. But I never forgot. And I come to this place often, when no one else does. [we see “Partisan Rock,” with its memorial plaque, which she reads for us]Erica “… In the early days of World War 3, guerillas – mostly children – placed the names of their lost upon this rock. They fought here alone and gave up their lives, so that this nation should not perish from the earth.” (Red Dawn:1984)
Sarah Connor: [narrating] Three billion human lives ended on August 29th, 1997. The survivors of the nuclear fire called the war Judgment Day. They lived only to face a new nightmare: the war against the machines. The computer which controlled the machines, Skynet, sent two Terminators back through time. Their mission: to destroy the leader of the human resistance, John Connor, my son. The first Terminator was programmed to strike at me in the year 1984, before John was born. It failed. The second was set to strike at John himself when he was still a child. As before, the resistance was able to send a lone warrior, a protector for John. It was just a question of which one of them would reach him first. (Terminator 2: Judgment Day:1997)
Dwight: [while being rescued from the Tar Pits] Miho. You’re an angel. You’re a saint. You’re Mother Teresa. You’re Elvis. You’re God. And if you’d shown up about ten minutes earlier, we’d still have Jackie-Boy’s head. (Sin City:2005)
Rorschach: [reading from journal] Rorschach’s Journal. October 12th, 1985: Dog carcass in alley this morning, tire tread on burst stomach. This city is afraid of me. I have seen its true face. The streets are extended gutters and the gutters are full of blood and when the drains finally scab over, all the vermin will drown. The accumulated filth of all their sex and murder will foam up about their waists and all the whores and politicians will look up and shout “Save us!”… and I’ll whisper “no.” (Watchmen: 2009)
From a ghost telling you how he died, a warning about World War III, to a quote about the memorial for the Third World Wars survivors, to a futuristic detective describing his life, I love these voice over quotes.