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Gaming In The Clouds

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Time Adventure 5 Seconds Till Climax 1986

A young woman who is prone to romantic dreams involving her supervisor time-travels from 1986 to 2001 and becomes involved with a private investigator who is working on a divorce case and is having his own marital difficulties.

Time Adventure 5 Seconds Till Climax 1986

A young woman who is prone to romantic dreams involving her supervisor time-travels from 1986 to 2001 and becomes involved with a private investigator who is working on a divorce case and is having his own marital difficulties. IMDb

Description: A young woman who is prone to romantic dreams involving her supervisor time-travels from 1986 to 2001 and becomes involved with a private investigator who is working on a divorce case and is having his own marital difficulties.

Film scholars such as Yvonne Tasker, Jennifer Bean, and SteveNeale have suggested a relationship between silent-film melodrama and theaction-adventure genre, pointing especially to serial production in the 1910sas a predecessor to classical and contemporary trends. (20) Significantlytoo, recent scholarship on film melodrama has gestured toward the actionfilm. Linda Williams draws on work by Peter Brooks and Christine Gledhill toargue that melodrama should be considered a cross-genre intermedial"mode" of popular American culture. For Williams, melodrama elicits"sympathy for the virtues of beset victims" and rehearses the"retrieval and staging of virtue through adversity and suffering."(21) The mode is further defined by a mixture of pathos and action, thoughweight can be thrown either toward sentimental (feminine) drama oraction-oriented (masculine) genres. On the "action side" of themelodramatic mode, Williams cites westerns, gangster films, Clint Eastwoodfilms, and Rambo. Following Brooks, Williams finds the mode is popular andculturally important because of its ability to offer moral legibility thatcan "fill the void opened up by the loss of religious certainty."(22) Whether we agree that the action film is defined by Williams'ssocial function, it would seem to accord well with her account. The genreregularly stakes out obvious moral oppositions between heroes and villains,it trades in culturally disreputable but thoroughly popular sensationalmaterial, and its films almost inevitably feature the suspenseful racesdepicted through parallel editing that Williams describes as "thespectacular essence of melodrama" in which '"in the nick oftime' defies 'too late.'" (23)

In his groundbreaking study of the silent serial, Ben Singeroffers a less totalizing definition of melodrama that can be convincinglyapplied to the action film. For Singer, melodrama is best considered a"cluster concept" involving five basic features: pathos, emotionalintensification, moral polarization, sensationalism, and what he calls"nonclassical narrative structure." (24) These constitutiveelements are not all necessary for melodrama, but a combination of two ormore will tend to be sufficient. The cluster concept allows Singer toreconcile such seemingly disparate melodramatic forms as Hollywood familymelodrama (which combines pathos and overwrought emotion) and action serials(which can combine all five), while still delineating melodrama as ahistorically grounded, "highly variable but not utterly amorphousgenre." (25) James Bond films, according to Singer, lack an emphasis onpathos, but like the serial, these films still exhibit moral polarization,emotional intensification, and sensationalism. Arguably, the contemporaryaction film can draw on all five constitutive elements, harkening back totheatrical tradition. Films like Aliens (James Cameron, 1986), Swordfish(Dominic Sena, 2001), Man on Fire (Tony Scott, 2004), and V for Vendetta(James McTeigue, 2006) court pathos by placing young girls in jeopardy, andthus easily qualify as melodrama on all five counts. Singersconceptualization may be especially helpful in tracing the historicaldevelopment of the action genre from other cinematic forms that emphasizedifferent combinations of elements. My emphasis here, however, involves whathe terms sensationalism and "nonclassical" narrative structures.

The sine-qua-non situation of the action film must be the raceagainst time, Williams's "spectacular essence of melodrama,"in which the hero must accomplish a seemingly impossible task to save aninnocent or group of innocents before a firmly emphasized deadline. When thesituation occurs in the final act, contemporary action films often refine therace against time by imposing a double deadline; two threats converge on onetimeline. The screenwriters challenge is to set up a race that appearsentirely unwinnable, and yet still resolve the situation.

The preponderance of this narrative device recommends that it beviewed as the genres staple situation. In Die Hard (John McTiernan, 1988),John McClane (Bruce Willis) must evacuate hostages from the roof before Hans(Alan Rickman) blows it up, and before FBI gunships begin firing on thecrowd. At the cusp of this double deadline, McClane saves himself by leapingfrom the roof of the exploding Nakatomi tower, anchored only by a fire hose.The situation terminates in a spectacular special-effects display. In Aliens(1986), Ellen Ripley has fourteen minutes (rendered in real time) to enterthe queen aliens lair and rescue Newt (Carrie Henn) before she is cocooned,and before the entire planet self-destructs. In The Rock, Stan must disarmHummels missiles before the remaining renegades launch them, and before asquadron of fighter jets incinerates the island. The Matrix (Andy and LarryWachowski, 1999) engages this situation with brio. Trinity (Carrie-AnneMoss), Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne), and Tank (Marcus Chong) must recall Neo(Keanu Reeves) from the computer program before he is destroyed by agents,but they face an additional deadline imposed by approaching sentinel robots,who can be disabled only by an Electro-Magnetic-Pulse that will disrupt theirability to rescue Neo. In this case, the seemingly inescapable situation isresolved, in true melodramatic fashion, by cupid-ex-machina. Trinity admitsher true love for Neo and, with a kiss, resurrects him from death, grantinghim the power to control the matrix. Like the standoff, the race against timeprovides a well-defined formula for launching and elaborating spectacle. Theexploding buildings, islands, and planets are not "attractions"distinct from narrative, but pictorial punctuations of last-minute reversalsand resolutions; spectacle is part and parcel of a kind of narrativeconstruction that favors sensational situations.

In her essay "Classical Hollywood Cinema and ClassicalNarrative," Elizabeth Cowie makes a similar observation. She quotesFrank Borzages 1922 observation that "we have the old melodramaticsituations fitted out decently with true characterizations" in order tosuggest that we rethink the apparent unity of narrative in classicalHollywood cinema. (36) Certainly, situational models persisted into theclassical era in antecedents of the contemporary action film, including thehistorical adventures and the sound serials so beloved by Lucas andSpielberg. Ben Singer has traced the development of the cliff-hanger plotstructure to the 1910s, noting that by late 1914 or early 1915, virtually allserial episodes ended at a point of narrative suspense, with the protagonistfacing apparently certain demise. (37) The format survived well into the1940s and 1950s in the sound serials produced for juvenile audiences byRepublic, Universal, Columbia, and Mascot. Episodes with names like DeathTakes the Wheel, or The Lightning Chamber, leave the hero deadlocked withdeath in a runaway car or an electrical trap, priming the viewer to returnfor next weeks last-minute reversal of fortune. These are situations at theirmost bald, and they are resolved through coincidence and hidden ellipsis. InThe Time Bomb, episode number three of Adventures of Captain Marvel(Republic, 1941), Billy Batsons (Frank Coghlan Jr.) airplane explodes inmidair as his assistants try desperately to warn him of the Scorpions (HarryWorth) bomb, but Billy's radio has been sabotaged by the Scorpion'shenchman. Episode number four replays the situation, revealing a previouslyelided action, in which Billy chances upon a cut wire, repairs his radio,receives the warning, and transforms into Captain Marvel (Tom Tyler), whoflies away from the doomed airplane just before the blast. The causallyoriented viewer would rightly feel cheated by such contrivances, which are asrandom as Sheridan's Beefeater who orders all participants in thestandoff to drop their swords and daggers. For a fan of situationalnarrative, however, the moment constitutes a requisite climax that, oncereached, can be abandoned to clear the way for the next sensation. The soundserials may rely on an especially narrow set of situations, and they mayoffer the same solutions again and again (they are, after all, designed forchildren); but in their very obviousness, these films can help us see howsituational plot construction might work in the action genre. Although amarginal enterprise in the classical era, the sound serial proved highlyinfluential on the two foundational "event films" directed bymovie-brats nostalgic for old Hollywood: Star Wars (George Lucas, 1977) andRaiders of the Lost Ark.

We might trace a similar path from situation to action in thehistorical adventure genre. Borrowing from pulp adventure stories, just asthe serials borrowed from comic strips and radio programs, these films tendedto privilege spectacularly executed rescues and races against time. AlbertParker, director of the Douglas Fairbanks vehicle The Black Pirate (1926),described the film's screenplay as "a story of situations ratherthan plot, the main narrative being a bare thread." (38) WarnerBrothers' 1935 hit Captain Blood (Michael Curtiz) relishes in situation,though with a tongue-in-cheek posture. On the eve of his planned escape fromslavery on a colonial island, Blood (Errol Flynn) is captured, bound, andabout to be executed by Captain Bishop (Lionel Atwell). As the slave masterr