GREGORY PECK ONCE SAID that actors do their best work with the worst material. That is why, ladies and gentlemen, we should applaud this summer’s crop of films: They provide a master class in screen acting.
Novices can study the work of terrific actors as they overcome dialogue that would make a lesser talent weep. Try saying the following lines out loud and making them convincing.
Here they are: a salute to the summer movies. Keep ’em comin’, Hollywood.
OUR PLUCKY PROTAGONISTS
“We Transylvanians always look on the brighter side of death.” — Kate Beckinsale (“Van Helsing”)
“I know now all the blood I’ve shed, all the lives I’ve taken, have led me to this moment.” — Clive Owen (“King Arthur”)
“Unpack the snowshoes! We’re walking from here!” — Dennis Quaid to colleagues after their snowmobile crashes in Philadelphia as they were heading toward Manhattan (“The Day After Tomorrow”)
OSCAR-WORTHY STRAIGHT LINES
“Nano wires feed directly into my cerebellum!” — Alfred Molina (“Spider-Man 2”)
“The Underverse will be reached only by those who have embraced the Necromonger faith!” — Linus Roache (“The Chronicles of Riddick”)
“Mr. Filch, round up the ghosts and ask them to search every painting in the castle until they find the fat lady!” — Michael Gambon (“Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban”)
IT’S EXCITING TO SPEAK EXCITING DIALOGUE
“We should get out of here! Should we run?” — Nicole Kidman (“The Stepford Wives”)
“Run!” — Hugh Jackman (“Van Helsing”)
“Run!” — Emma Watson (“Harry Potter”)
“Keep moving!” — Vin Diesel (“Chronicles of Riddick”)
“We have to get out of here now!” — Jake Gyllenhaal (“Day After Tomorrow”)
LOVE THAT TECH TALK
“I think we’ve hit a critical desalination point!” — Dennis Quaid (“Day After Tomorrow”)
“Are you sure you can stabilize the fusion reaction?” — Tobey Maguire (“Spider-Man 2”)
“When does the perceptual schematic become consciousness?” — James Cromwell (“I, Robot”)
DIALOGUE HELPS ESTABLISH TENSION
“A vast, terrible enemy is coming this way! They will show no mercy, spare no one!” — Clive Owen (“King Arthur”)
“Don’t try me, Aereon! I could plow you under with the rest of Helion Prime!” — Colm Feore (“Chronicles of Riddick”)
“I can’t live with turning people into monsters! You’ve got to let me pull the plug!” — Peter Wingfield (“Catwoman”)
SUMMING UP THE MOVIE’S MESSAGE
“I believe there is a hero in all of us.” — Rosemary Harris (“Spider-Man 2”)
“Catwomen are not contained by the rules of society. … By accepting who you are, all of who you are, you can be free. And freedom is power!” — Frances Conroy (“Catwoman”)
“Alas, we are all but players in an ever-changing world!” — Ivano Marescotti (“King Arthur”)
CONVEYING SO MUCH WITH A SINGLE WORD
“Aaaaghhhhhhhh!” — Emma Watson (“Harry Potter”)
“Hnnnnghhh!” — Woad warrior (“King Arthur”)
“Aiiiieeeee!” — Kirsten Dunst (“Spider-Man 2”)
“Nooooooooooo!” — Thandie Newton, in slo-mo (“Chronicles of Riddick”)
BUT ACTING REQUIRES more than dialogue. An actor has to find the inner logic of the scene, to discover what his character wants. Here are questions actors might ask themselves:
- Even though her co-workers evacuate the area, doctor Sela Ward in “Day After Tomorrow” remains with a sick little boy, waiting for the ambulance to arrive. But where is the ambulance gonna take him, since she and the kid are already in a hospital?
- When Hugh Jackman (“Van Helsing”) grows into an oversized werewolf, the transformation rips off all his clothes — except his trousers. So does he buy his pants at the same place as the Hulk?
- In “The Terminal,” Tom Hanks becomes a folk hero to the airport employees. But if they care so much about him, why doesn’t somebody put him in touch with an immigration attorney?
- “King Arthur” is narrated by Lancelot. Then Lancelot dies. And he’s reincarnated as a horse. Then he continues the narration. So was he reincarnated as a talking horse?