We’ve all heard the phrase ‘a picture paints a thousand words’ (a verbal aphorism I’ve always found a little ironic, incidentally) and, as I covered in my blog on ‘Show Don’t Tell’, visual storytelling techniques have a critical history as being considered more effective than their dialogue-oriented counterparts: as somehow ‘pure[r]’ in their signification. In fact, we’re all pretty well-versed as viewers in reading visual grammar: in using seemingly tiny visual cues to receive important (and often very complex) information almost instantaneously.
The problem with writing about visual storytelling, however, is that it’s easy to write about the obvious stuff (even if the obvious stuff is pretty effective). Shadows represent evil (yawn), playing chess hints at a character’s manipulative scheming and ferocious intelligence (yawn). Straightening pencils? He’s a first-rate pedant (yawn). So, starting now, we Nerd Pirates embark on a quest to document some of the weirder, wackier, and ‘wonderfuller’ visual devices movies and films have to offer: techniques which, although popular, are perhaps a little unorthodox. We start with a food-related one…just to, er,whet your appetites (sorry).
There’s an unwritten rule, it seems, that however bad-ass a character (however fist-pump-inducing their crowning moment of awesome), if they’re eating an apple, by god it’s going to be cooler. Something about chowing-down on a ‘granny-smith’ with cocky nonchalance, especially if it’s during a moment of tension, violence or solemnity, communicates badass, heroic (or sometimes villainous) arrogance like nothing else (I mean, eating a banana just wouldn’t have the same effect, right?). It’s difficult, however, to work out why.
Maybe figurative shadows left over from the apple in Genesis (arguably, the most famous symbol of transgression in human history) still cling to the image of apple-eating, lending it just the right amount of danger to provoke our over-awed admiration, or maybe it’s just the fact that apples make a fabulous in-yer-face CRUNCH sound that makes eating one so goddamn cocky. Somethingawful.comeven claims that, because films so often place their actors on apple crates to make them look taller, and ‘since the production and shipping of these crates actually costs more without any apples’, there’s a massive overabundance of apples on set: something which might encourage directors to use them in their films. Whatever the reason, although this might seem like a niche trope, I promise you that it will turn up bloody everywhere once you’ve first clocked it.
Example: Star Trek
IMDB’s trivia, for instance, discusses Captain Kirk’s apple-related incident during the Kobayashi Maru simulator in J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek:
In the scene where Kirk is taking the Kobayashi Maru test, he is eating an apple, which is also what he is eating while recounting his tale of taking the Kobayashi Maru test in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982). According to Director J.J. Abrams in the commentary for the DVD, this was not intended to be a reference to The Wrath of Khan. He was simply told at one point that lead actors seem cocky eating apples.
Plus, Kirk definitely gets extra cool-points for talking with his mouth full after taking a massive chunk out of his apple.
Example: Pirates of the Caribbean
Example: Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
Example: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Example: Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
Honourable Mention: Not limited to the eating of apples, Tim Roth’s character in Lie To Me deserves an honourable mention for never seeming to stop eating (especially ice-cream).
It is our great pleasure to present this article from our good friends over at Nerd Pirates. We hope we’ll see more of them on FTN in the future. Thank you, ladies!