Or should I say: the devolution of language…
I watched AVATAR the other day. I saw it in IMAX 3D and I have to say, it was astounding. The visuals are truly breath-taking. But I, like many others, was struck by the script… yes it was long, yes it was derivative, but mostly, by how incredibly poor and banal the dialogue was. The moment where I felt this most acutely was late in the film, when the Nav’i are about to be lead into battle against by our hero and he delivers this speech:
With your permission, I will Speak now. You would honor me by translating.
Tsu’tey gestures assent, and they face the clan together.
JAKE SPEAKS, the pain of Grace’s death in the passion and fury of his voice. Tsu’tey TRANSLATES beside him.
The Sky People have sent a message that they can take whatever they want, and no one can stop them. But we will send them a message. Ride out, as fast as the wind can carry you, tell the other clans to come. Tell them Toruk Macto calls to them. Fly now with me brothers and sisters! Fly! And we will show the Sky People that this is our land!
It struck me that that speech, the ‘hero prepares the troops for battle’ is a mainstay of epic filmmaking. It’s the essential rallying cry, that evokes something primal in the masses to want to rise up, face death, “be men”, and enter combat. Unfortunately, it seems like this speech is on a devolving path. Look at the same speech, as offered iconically in BRAVEHEART:
Sons of Scotland, I am William Wallace.
William Wallace is 7 feet tall.
Yes, I’ve heard. Kills men by the hundreds, and if he were here he’d consume the English with fireballs from his eyes and bolts of lightning from his ass. I am William Wallace, and I see before me an army of my countrymen here in defiance of tyranny. You have come to fight as free men, and free men you are. What would you do without freedom? Will you fight?
Fight against that? No, we will run, and we will live.
Ay, fight and you may die, run and you’ll live. At least a while. And dying in your beds many years from now, would you be willing to trade all the days from this day to that for one chance, just one chance to come back here and tell our enemies that they may take our lives, but they’ll never take our freedom.
The BRAVEHEART speech is really drawn from the father of all hero speeches. The St. Crispin’s Day speech from Shakespeare’s HENRY V. It is the speech that coined the phrase “Band of Brothers”. Henry is preparing to lead the English in the battle of Agincourt. They are scared, they are hungry, they are cold, they would rather leave and head home. Henry has one chance to make his troops see a reason to fight this battle. The whole speech is mesmerizing, but here is the climax:
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remember’d;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.
400 years later and we still can’t do it better. Frankly, I fear we’re getting worse.