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