As much as I love the movies, I’ve hoarded enough cinematic pet peeves over the years for TLC to make an uneducational reality series about me. One cliché of late, due to its extreme overuse, is the intercutting of phony “news reports” to tell, repeat and re-repeat crucial plot points.
My first SN&R article was a 1999 essay in which I argued that the ludicrous prevalence of voice-over narration was a narrative crutch for lazy writers and distracted audiences. Always striving to undermine its own low standards, Hollywood turned this narrative crutch into a narrative wheelchair in the ensuing decade, and the newscaster narrator became a storytelling staple.
This cliché is the bastard grandchild of a spinning newspaper hurtling story notes toward the screen. And, like that hoary device, the newsman narrator should be ridiculed and discontinued. Instead, its use is spreading—2012, Takers, The Green Hornet, Secretariat, Salt, The Town, Battle: Los Angeles and others have all employed it to some extent. It’s also a favorite script gimmick of M. Night Shyamalan, which pretty much says it all.
Tony Scott’s Ritalin-deprived style has put him at the vanguard of this unfortunate movement—his Unstoppable jump-cuts incessantly between different TV reporters underlining the same plot developments ad infinitum. Scott’s newsmen narrators also display supernatural journalistic skills, at one point reporting on a change in the two heroes’ plan the moment it happens, even though they were alone on a train. Was Denzel the leak?
That’s what makes this cliché especially annoying: Unless the film is intentionally satirizing or demonizing the media, the newscaster narrator’s role in explaining the story necessitates their infallibility. They deliver the information accurately and instantaneously, even as our real-life news media repeatedly displays a tendency toward misinformation and conjecture in crisis situations.