Saturday, June 02, 2007

Access Characters

First of all, who decided “abstruse” is even a word? Did somebody merge “abstract” with “obtuse” and then slip the editors at Websters a few hundred bucks to stick it in the dictionary?

I can make up words, too, ya’ know.


How’s that?

Let’s go with it, shall we?

Some of my favorite characters in film are deceptively stupidiotic.

I’m talking about certain "access characters". For some reason, my favorite access characters are buffoons who save the day. Accidental heroes. But whether nincompoops or brainiacs, access characters exist to ask questions that we would ask if the film could talk back to us. These characters open doors, pry, call attention, snoop, interfere, assist, get in the way, and often launch the entire story. To the untrained eye, access characters often look superfluous when, in fact, they are essential to the story.

Access characters serve a function. They aren't a particular character role or personality type. They have a job to do and the writer decides where, when, and how well or poorly that job is performed. Access characters are facilitators of a sort. Conduits.

The R2D2 and C3PO droids in Star Wars are frequently compared to Laurel and Hardy, Abbott and Costello, or Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Star Wars doesn't work unless the droids are there to provide everyone access to the information about the princess in the first place and, ultimately, the death star plans. These characters are critical to the story and to the other characters. But they're critical to the viewer, too, because they also ask our questions.

C-3PO: Master Luke, sir. Pardon me for asking, but what should R2 and I do if we're discovered here?
Luke: Lock the door.
Han Solo: And hope they don't have blasters.
C-3PO: That isn't very reassuring.

They want to know what we want to know. What are they supposed to do being left behind like that?

Similarly, the Murtogg and Mullroy characters in the Pirates of the Caribbean films, while clown-like and bumbling, give us access to story information (history of the Black Pearl) and they ask the very questions, we're asking.

Murtogg: What we doin' 'ere?
Mullroy: The pirates come out, unprepared and unawares. We catch 'em in a crossfire... send 'em down to see Old Hob.
Murtogg: I know *why* we're here. I mean, why aren't we doin' what - what Mr. Sparrow said? With the cannons and all?
Norrington: Because it was Mr. Sparrow who said it.

But access characters don't necessarily come in pairs and they aren't always fools who accidentally save the day. Those just happen to be my favorite ones to watch.

I have a list of access characters that I had planned to discuss in this post - some more clever than others and some better executed than others - but to "get them" requires the reader to have seen the film and still retain substantial memory of the character.

Or, I would need to write a very long post.

Not gonna happen.

Instead, I challenge you to look for characters serving as conduits in the next few films you watch. What access are they providing between you and the story? Who would you compare them to? They can't all be Rosencrantz and Guildenstern so who are they? What investigating are they doing on your behalf and would the story work without them?

One last example and then you're on your own. This one is from National Treasure:

Powell: How do a bunch of people with hand tools build all this?
Ben Gates: The same way they built the pyramids and the Great Wall of China.
Riley Poole: Yeah. The aliens helped them.

Okay, maybe that one was too abstruse.


esruel said...

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Best Regards

MaryAn Batchellor said...

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esruel said...

Oh, I don't know about that. This is such an Aladdin's cave!
You are added!!!

Eleanor said...

Dude, you lost me at abstruse!
I blame the Romans. ;)

Totally agree with you on the access thing. Can't be bothered to think any further than that though. :)