Genres: Zero Dark Thirty vs. Star Trek: Into Darkness

            Everybody seems to have a favorite genre whether it’s horror or romance. A film is defined by its genre; the genre is consistent with the theme and storyline of a film. Kathryn Bigelow’s Oscar winning Zero Dark Thirty is defined as a drama, history and thriller film. J.J Abrams’s blockbuster hit, Star Trek: Into Darkness is known as an action, adventure, sci-fi sequel. Both twenty-first century films exhibit similar traits within their genres and differences. Though both are completely different storylines, Zero Dark Thirty and Star Trek both share elements of action, adventure, war, etc.

            Zero Dark Thirty shares the story of a real event that will forever be remembered in history. Bigelow used extensive research and first hand accounts from CIA agents and members of seal team six to make her film as real as possible. Though she tried to keep it as real as possible, she defined her major motion picture as historical rather than a documentary through actors, a storyline and cinematography. The film is also a thriller with its suspenseful action and constant danger around every corner. Zero Dark Thirty reveals the events of “the greatest manhunt in history”. The decade long search for the terrorist responsible for 9/11, Osama Bin Laden. The true events itself had danger embedded without having to define it. Bigelow successfully portrayed the danger in her movie and it helped define her film as thriller. Another genre Zero Dark Thirty is known for is drama. The hunt for Bin Laden involved plenty of drama along with the danger. Maya, a headstrong CIA agent, ruthlessly pursed leads but her bosses continued to put her down in doubt. Maya’s bosses doubt created drama that stalled the hunt and created drama in the work place.

          J.J Abrams creates an exciting, entertaining and captivating film using several different genres.  Star Trek: Into Darkness exhibits elements of action with several fights, chases, and large-scale space ship battles. The film opens with a fast paced chase and one guy plunging into an active volcano. A reviewer writes: “There’s no denying that Star Trek Into Darkness is fun in the way too many of the ponderous original-cast movies were not. It delivers a succession of high-speed action scenes, from space battles to fistfights, with interspersed character bits for each of the returning cast members, ranging from comic (Kirk in bed with tail-twitching alien twin babes) to emotional (Kirk’s mentor dying in his arms).” As the reviewer mentioned, Star Trek also generates the genre of adventure and science fiction. The movie plays off of the theme of exploration into the unknown and shares the great adventures of Cpt. Kirk and his crew aboard the U.S Enterprise. Furthermore, Star Trek: Into Darkness continues its tradition of being a science- fiction major motion picture.  Cpt. Kirk and his crew of humans and aliens ride around on a space ship using futuristic technology to other planets encountering other intelligent beings.

         Both Zero Dark Thirty and Star Trek: Into Darkness exhibit elements of an action film. An action film is defined as “a visceral thrill…the action film revels in the excitement produced by mayhem and carnage.” Action films “have tremendous impact, continuous high energy, lots of physical stunts and activity, possibly extended chase scenes, race, rescues, battles, martial arts…” In Zero Dark Thirty there are scenes with gunfire and explosions leading up to the thrilling seal team six raid on Bin Laden’s complex.  In Star Trek: Into Darkness there is plenty of shooting beams, high-speed chases, and hand-to-hand combat to recognize the film as an action. Both films utilize elements of the action genre to also emphasize on other similar genres. For instance, both films are also war films with Zero Dark Thirty on the war against terrorism and Star Trek: Into Darkness on another war against terrorism and some alien species. All of the action in both films is fought from two sides in a war setting. Although, both movies have similar war themes, they also differ in context.

         Zero Dark Thirty and Star Trek also contrast in genre. Though it has elements of action, Zero Dark Thirty paradoxes itself by not being an action film.  One film reviewer wrote: “Known as a virtuoso of choreographed action-violence sequences, Kathryn Bigelow is making an anti-action film focusing on cognition, perception, and interpretation. Most startlingly, with this gut-twistingly visceral opening onslaught, Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal are always compelling the viewer to think and reflect about what lies behind—or beyond—the image, directing us to what is not seen, what is excluded, what is beyond the frame, beyond recognition, and ultimately outside the limits of the known and the knowable. Even as we are “sucked in” in the most extreme way, we are at the same time pushed back and made to reflect.” So unlike Star Trek, Zero Dark Thirty looks much further beyond the action to achieve a more political and deeper meaning.  

         Genres don’t just label films; they also help interpret films. They give translation to setting and actions in scenes from terrorists and thrillers to spaceships and action. They give films similarities and differences. Zero Dark Thirty and Star Trek: Into Darkness are mash ups of similar and different recognizable genres. The genre, action, has several different interpretations and is utilized differently in each film. Furthermore, war and adventure is present in both films. While both films meet genre conventions, they utilize them in artistic and entertaining ways, thus making them great films.



Maria Pramaggiore and Tom Wallis, Film: A Critical Introduction (London: Pearson, 2011), 381-405


Kim Newman, “Film of the week: Star Trek Into Darkness”, online, bfi.org.uk, 2013


“Action Films”, online, filmsite.com, 2013, part 1


Larry Gross, “Some Ways Into Zero Dark Thirty”, online, filmsite.com, 18 December 2012 


Inception (2010)

                Option #1


Christopher Nolan’s 2010 blockbuster, Inception, is an action packed, mind bending adventure that takes the audience with the characters into the limitless world of dreams where absolutely anything can happen. My first impression on Inception was that it was great and entertaining. The second and third time watching it gave me a deeper impression than the first; I caught onto a lot more details in the story and in other elements of film.  In a film involving many action twists and turns (both figurative and literal), cinematography is vitally important to compose the film. When the room is tilting and Arthur is at a faceoff with the enemy, Nolan uses wide, full shots to show off the scale of the setting and the danger on both sides. Cinematography also works with sound in order to create a dream state. While in the dreams, the world that they are in is the world they created in their minds. The scale of the setting is lost with the few things seen on screen, but it’s made up by using sound to add more depth for the viewers. Furthermore, jump cuts and close ups make the action in the film more suspenseful and exciting. For instance, whenever there was a race against time, quick shots would reveal time ticking away as the characters’ actions appear delayed; forcing viewers feel the story’s suspense.

After learning about the many details and styles that make up a motion picture, it has become an automatic response to look beyond the surface and notice the editing, mise-en-scene, acting, cinematography, etc. of a film.                                                                                                  


Chicago 10 (2007)

In 2007 Brett Morgen directed the documentary film, Chicago 10 which reflects the theme of counter culture. In 1968, the US government were publicly thought as upper class elites with education, money and control. Their counter, hippies who call themselves Yippies, lead a life of drugs, sex, and rock n roll to achieve peace and freedom. The government fights the Yippies while they protest against the government’s war in Vietnam. In a time of war, the Yippies’s protests are particularly bothersome as the government attempts to keep order. Their disturbances of peace while trying to achieve peace produces nation wide conflicts and calls for drastic measures to stop the undesirables.

Chicago 10 has elements that defines it as a documentary and postmodern film. The film follows real events taken from first hand accounts from both Yippies and government officials. Chicago 10 unravels the truth of real world events. Furthermore, the film’s use of both live action and animation goes against with the modern mainstream major motion picture. It’s conflicting nature goes against modern conventional film making.

The music choices made in Chicago 10 are distracting and inappropriate. Some may argue that the animation is the most distracting and inappropriate element in the film, however they had to resort to animation for logistic reasons. Also, the sound would cover up dialogue so it was difficult to hear. Furthermore, the music should have reflected the past a little more with more 60’s or 70’s music that represented both the rock n roll hippies and the elite government. Instead there was just a blaring of hard core rock that ultimately hindered or ruined the whole movie experience.


Three Avant-Garde Films

Todd Haynes’s unusual flick, Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story reveals rise and fall of 70’s singer, Karen Carpenter. The theme of celebrity illustrates perfection and the never ending road to self satisfaction. Barbie dolls are viewed as flawless with artificially sculpted hair and a spotless plastic surface supported with a tiny, thin build. The movie was shot with Barbies to capture the artificial outlook on celebrities and keep the constant reminder to be perfect. Carpenter rose to fame as a singer but her glory in the spot light was short lived due to the constant demands of being perfect and having the thin beautiful body. She lost her battle with anorexia nervosa and the pop culture that loved her so. Her being a celebrity was ultimately a tragic experience.
Two other avant-garde films, An Andalusian Dog and Meshes of the Afternoon exhibit the unusual to become an artistic invention. Avant-garde films are marketed to a very few select group and typically are very confusing to audiences because they do not follow a story line or clear plot. While confusing and different, avant-grade films are unique in a good way too. They encourage a thorough analysis through different perspectives in order to make some sense to the artistically done scenes. For example, An Andalusian Dog can be interpreted by a Freudian perspective when one scene suggests the oedipus complex.
While avant-garde films are meant to be artistic, they still have an entertaining value to them. Humans tend to attach their attention to things that are more dynamic rather than static. Avant-garde films are always unexpected and have constant changes; they are dynamic. The shots keep changing from one seemingly random event to another disconnected scene. With the dynamic scenes, avant-garde films have the audience always waiting and thinking of ways to make sense of what is happening on screen. They prove that it is not necessary to have a clear story line to have a good, entertaining movie.


Zero Dark Thirty (2012)


Kathryn Bigelow’s 2012 Oscar winning film, Zero Dark Thirty, reveals the story of the greatest man hunt in history for the world’s most dangerous man. Post 9/11, America is set on bringing justice by locating the hidden al Qaeda leader, Osama Bin Laden. The mission, full of danger at a personal and national cost, was successfully accomplished by a female. The film, though an action and thriller, reflects the empowerment and strength of woman. Maya, the CIA agent responsible for the success in finding Bin Laden, is overwhelmed with doubt when she ruthlessly peruses leads on the whereabouts of the terrorist, yet in the end she was successful. The film keeps audiences on the edge with suspense of danger and failure, however Maya’s tough skin and stubborn attitude amazes audiences.

Director Kathryn Bigelow establishes herself as an auteur director with making artistic elements throughout Zero Dark Thirty and her other works. Bigelow turns a suspense/action thriller into a more artistic film by styling it with elements of journalism, history and realism. Furthermore, Bigelow goes beyond by throwing in contriversal torture scenes and the full rade of Bin Laden’s complex, made as realistically as possible. It’s Bigelow’s attention to stlye and detail that allows her to transform an action movie into an Oscar winning film.

Many people talk about the controversy of the torture scenes, however they are not the main focus of the movie. The film is marketed as “the greatest man hunt in history” and tells the story of the decade long hunt for Osama Bin Laden. Torture was merely a method used to advance the search for Bin Laden.  The torture in Zero Dark Thirty has become too distracting from the main topic in the film. There are about 4 or 5 scenes in which torture takes place but then the film moves on to capture the terrorist. Bigelow does depict torture’s horror realistically, but she keeps the film’s focus on finding Bin Laden and more people need to pay attention to that.



The Weekend (1967)

In Juan-Luc Godar’s 1967 French film The Weekend, highlights on the theme of chaos in society. In the bizarre foreign film, a couple embarks on a road trip through the country side and encounter hippies, cannibals, car wreaks, etc. The puzzling and shocking vents forces audiences to question human nature when moral dilemmas are put on screen. The film is unstable and unpredictable making it more of a statement than an entertaining film.

The Weekend challenges the conventional Hollywood film and satires the typical vacation story line. Godard created a downright crazy, unrealistic film to make a statement rather than entertain. Violence was often seen randomly and deaths were far from believable. The Weekend also poked fun at the idea of a perfect weekend away to the countryside. On this vacation there was nothing but traffic, crashes, full out chaos and everything but peace.

The Weekend is meant to be an artistic film that needs an outsiders perspective so with the use of sounds Godard successfully distances the audience from the characters and situation. During what should be emotional scenes, a random noise will be heard, reminding the audience that they are a viewer and not connecting with a character. Furthermore, the music won’t match the dialogue or actions in terms of tone so it forces the viewers to think from a different perspective.


Far From Heaven (2002)

Todd Haynes’s drama, Far From Heaven, highlights on the theme of heterosexuality and homosexuality. United States in the 1950’s was a bright and “traditional” culture. The film’s lead, Cathy, is a typical house wife living a seemingly perfect life. When she discovers her husbands homosexuality, her life is turned upside down. Suddenly, according to the 50’s image of being “perfect”, Cathy’s life is no longer the epitome of ideal. The movie reveals the devastation of homosexuality on the family in the 1950’s and contrasts it to today’s culture where heterosexuality is no longer the only accepted norm and the lines that define perfect are blurred.

Far From Heaven exhibits many 50’s ideologies.  In the 50’s, the “traditionally perfect” family consisted of a hard working father, a beautiful stay-home wife, and well behaved children. Also in the 50’s, there was still segregation, stereotypes and homophobia was a major concern. The film reflects on the impacts that those “problems” had on a “perfect” family in a much different decade from today. The film shows how interaction between Whites and Blacks is frowned upon. Furthermore, the film shows the strain and tension that result from homophobia onto the “perfect” family. While the film sets in 1958 and has 50’s ideology, it is a contrast to today’s more liberal ideology and acts as a look into history and real social problems in the past.

In Far From Heaven, Cathy’s dresses are not only the most fashionable garments of the 50’s, but they also reflected her character in many ways. In most of the film, Cathy is seen in fit-and-flare dresses with large circle skirts. These dresses were more young and immature. They reflected on Cathy’s dizziness and her own perfect little world where everything was perfect for her. But as the movie progresses Cathy matures or develops after life changing events. At the end, Cathy is seen in a more fitted dress that appears more mature and reveals her body more. This is to reflect the change in Cathy; she is no longer in her own perfect world and she has matured to understand real world problems.