Saturday, October 8, 2011

Slap upside the head

On Thursday night the Australian drama series The Slap premiered on the ABC to much hype. I was at a function and missed the pilot episode but caught up with it later on iView. I have never read the book. Didn't know much about it. But wanted to give a new Aussie drama a go.

It opens with extreme close ups, slightly out of focus, of a young woman smoking. Faded in and out of 'to black' which was mildly annoying until Cut To:

An older man waking up in bed to the sound of children's voices in the background... then a woman's voice, undoubtedly his wife.

Okay, got it! He's married. He's dreaming about an as yet unknown (to us) young woman. He has kids. Nice set-up, economically done, with the prospect of conflict on any number of levels.

All shown VISUALLY. Nicely done.

Then THIS happens in voice-over:

"On the day before his fortieth birthday, Hector awoke with one thing in mind - Connie. For a moment he luxuriated in the memory of her... but then he made his resolve... to sort things out."

We SEE him thinking about the dream. We have SEEN that dream, what was on his mind. Why is someone telling me EXACTLY what I can see on screen? Who is this third person narrator - God? The neighbour? The guy in the surveillance van manning the webcam? And who the hell uses words like 'luxuriated' and phrases like 'made his resolve'? I assume they are lifted from the book???

It is such TERRIBLE writing! Why? Because it treats me, the viewer, as if I was a moron. After showing me all this visually, the writer decides he has to make sure I get it with a clunky, disembodied voice. If all the voice-over does is tell you what you can already see it is REDUNDANT. This is why I think Underbelly is so poorly written - the damn cricket bat to the head voice-over.

Please, Please, PLEASE - have faith in your material; have faith in the audience; have faith in your actors who can communicate more with a look than paragraphs of tacky voice-over ever can.

It took me out of the story within the first two minutes. I lost faith in the writer in that moment. I watched maybe 2-3 more minutes then tabled it to do other things. Yes, I will go back and watch the full episode. But I thought it was an instructive example of how a contrived writers' device can kill a scene or set-up.

What do you think?


  1. I wasn't blown away by the Slap, either. Which is a shame because I think an adaptation of a an Australian best-seller, with this calibre of cast on the national broadcaster is the VERY THING that should be made.

    I wonder if the voiceover was an attempt to give readers of The Slap more of the flavour of the original novel? Obviously they are a part of the audience. However for those of us who haven't read the book, it's quite an intrusive story telling device.

    Having said that, Richard, I don't believe audiences hate voice over as much as writers and directors and other screen creatives do. I don't have any proof of this, though.

  2. I'll try and watch the rest of it, probably tonight. I audibly groaned when the voice-over descended from on high to question my intelligence.

    But you may be right - from the ratings for Underbelly, a constant source of mystery to me, Australians love nothing better than someone telling them exactly what's happening on screen.

    Perhaps that's why Richie Benaud is such a national treasure?

  3. Despite my best intentions and loading the pilot episode on iViews at least 3 times, I simply couldn't bring myself to watch this. I saw parts of episode 2 as it aired and was underwhelmed. Just not my kind of story I think.

  4. So the director I am working with on several projects, including our conspiracy-thriller The Pilbara Imperative tells me I simply must watch The Slap. That after a shaky first episode it's very good.

    That being the case, I am hoping he buys me the box-set for Xmas! :-)

  5. Given The Slap continues to garner awards and accolades I shall have to revisit it after been cruelled by that opening...