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The Sound of Not-Quite Silence: The Era of Dialogue-Lite Blockbusters

There are several remarkable things about the blockbuster slate for 2017. The most obvious is that the blockbuster slate for 2017 is remarkably strong.

It is definitely the strongest slate of summer releases since at least 2012, if not 2008. Sure, there have been misfires like CHiPs or Baywatch or Transformers: The Last Knight, but there has also been a lot of great stuff. Wonder Woman, Baby Driver, War for the Planet of the Apes, Dunkirk, The Big Sick. Going back to earlier in the year, there is a fine selection of genre material. Get Out, Logan, John Wick: Chapter II. Even the second-tier blockbusters like Kong: Skull Island, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 are relatively solid.

However, there is also an interesting trend in how these stories are being told. In particular, the summer blockbusters of 2017 are quite interesting on a formal level. In particular, these blockbusters are very invested in non-verbal storytelling. While the superhero movies of the summer – Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2, Wonder Woman, Spider-Man: Homecoming – still conform to a familiar structure of dialogue-driven exposition, a lot of the other films tend to be quite light on conventional dialogue, relying on other ways of communicating character, story and theme.

This is most obvious with War for the Planet of the Apes and Dunkirk, impressive blockbusters that feature a number of extended dialogue-light scenes. When the characters do communicate, it is often in unconventional ways; the technical dialogue plays beneath the soundtrack in Dunkirk, while the apes communicate through sign language in War for the Planet of the Apes. In some ways, Baby Driver is also part of this trend. It is a movie that features dialogue, but is largely driven by its soundtrack. It characters often seem to speak in pulp clichés, with movie’s individuality shining on Baby’s iPod.

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35. Baby Driver – This Just In (#127)

Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney host This Just In, a subset of the fortnightly The 250 podcast looking at notable new arrivals on the list of the 250 best movies of all-time as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users.

This time, Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver.

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Non-Review Review: Baby Driver

Baby Driver is largely about keeping the wheels spinning.

Circular imagery recurs throughout the film. At various points, long-take sequences begin and end in the same location, following characters as they move in a literal circle. At other points, the camera remains static while characters leave the frame to one side and enter from the other, creating the impression that they have just lapped their environment. Baby Driver is populated with objects that go all the way around to end up where they started; the clicker on an iPod, the drum of a washing machine, the wheels on a car, the subwoofer on a stereo, the record on a turntable.

Tune in, and cop out.

Even the dialogue and story move in something approaching a circle; recurring patterns of bad behaviour and errors in judgement, repeated lines offering a sense of symmetry to the story. In one of the nicer smaller examples, both the extended opening and closing sequences make a point to place the eponymous getaway driver behind the wheel of a striking red Subaru. Calls and response, echoes and refrains, patterns and sequences. It all comes around, Baby Driver suggests.

There is very little novel or innovative in Baby Driver, which feels very much like an attempt by writer and director Edgar Wright to construct a more conventional crowd-pleasing film than cult hits that defined his earlier efforts. A lot of Baby Driver feels conventional and archetypal, a conscious choice on the part of the director. While the supporting cast features any number of interesting players breathing life into familiar criminal archetypes, Baby Driver suffers from the fact that its two leads are its least satisfying element.

Drive baby.

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