Is it just me or has the standard in radio drama taken a dive lately?
First off there is what seems to be the ubiquitous narrator. It sometimes seems that the majority of radio plays these days have a narrator. Someone who tells the story when the characters don’t seem to be able to. Sometimes the narrator is an omni-present entity that never appears in the story; sometimes it is one of the characters that is relating the story after the event.
My thoughts wander to theatre at this point. When was the last time you saw or heard a narrator in a stageplay? Can you even name a stageplay with a narrator? Blood Brothers springs immediately to mind and then there’s Public Opinion in Orpheus and the Underworld (which is cheating because that’s an operetta). I’m really hard pushed to think of another one without Googling.
Not quite so rare, but still not that common, is the narrator in films. Many of the Film Noir productions of the forties and fifties effectively utilised the narrator; Deckard’s narration in the original Blade Runner, I felt, was particularly effective despite Ridley Scott’s later insistence on its removal (but, let’s admit it, it was a great example of film noir sci-fi); Morgan Freeman’s beautiful vocals on Shawshank Redemption made it an unforgettable film.
Now there is a reason that narrators are seldom used in film and rarely used in theatre – it doesn’t work and (he says, donning a bullet proof vest), it is lazy writing. There, I said it. Lazy, lazy, lazy! If the characters can’t tell the story, then the writer should find another story. I read somewhere that the rule for the narrator in a script should be – if it doesn’t work without the narration, then get rid of the narrator and re-write the script. The narrator should add to the story not tell the story – unless you’re writing in film noir style, where it is part of the art.
Take a look at Blade Runner. This was a very film noir style of sci-fi (neo-noir?). It had the constant rain, the almost permanent night time, the down-in-the-dumps detective, the femme fatale, etc. It also had a narrator who told the story very much in the style of Raymond Chandler and the ilk. However, Ridley Scott showed that it worked without the narrator by releasing the film a second time sans narration. Admittedly it was a different film without but it still worked; it still told the same story. Thus, the narration should have stayed.
Don’t even let me get started on the On-the-Nose dialogue.
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