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The Morgan Freeman System: Films with Unnecessary Narration

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Aug 18, 2011 | 7:26am EDT

This summer's Conan the Barbarian is receiving a lot of attention, primarily for its ultra-violent action-heavy sequences. However, there is one aspect of the movie that is not being talked about: its unusual, out-of-place and plausibly unnecessary use of a narrator (who sounds an awful lot like Morgan Freeman).

Film professors, critics and arrogant website writers have long accosted the use of narration in films. It is considered artless, cheap and detrimental to legitimate character and story development. Surely, however, there are exceptions to this: no one seems to mind the voiceover work in The Shawshank Redemption, Forrest Gump, Fight Club, American Beauty... but other movies have taken a less admirable approach to the narrating device.

Hollywood.com has compiled a list of such examples, with a rating system of "unnecessariness" that we have deemed "The Morgan Freeman System." The more Freemans, the less necessary. Got that? Here we go!

Clueless

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It makes sense why Clueless might be narrated—a Jane Austen novel adaptation taking the form of a teen comedy must have a lot of subtext that wouldn’t really make it to the surface in any ostensible way. But unfortunately, they sort of overdid it in the Alicia Silverstone modern classic. Heroine Cher spells out her every (eloquently ignorant) thought that would have easily been represented otherwise. In all fairness, the narration didn’t really seem to take away from anyone’s enjoyment of the film—specifically my sister, who actually forced me to watch this movie once a week through 1997. So, Clueless, We award you two Freemans with fond nostalgia.

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Big Fish

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The whole argument against voiceover is the age-old dictum: “Show, don’t tell.” The entire purpose of Big Fish was to paint a vivid world of imagination. But, instead of amping up the creativity visually, developing the relationships of the characters succinctly and making the dialogue at all memorable, Big Fish opted to just slather on the, “So here’s what happened.” If I were his son, I might have stopped listening, too. Three Freemans.

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Anchorman

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It’s not easy to take an analytical stance on any facet of Anchorman—but the part of the film that really didn’t contribute much in the way of story development, or even much humor, was the narration. In fact, at the end, the narrator claims to have chosen Ron Burgundy and Veronica Corningstone “as his replacements.” Where the hell did that come from? Even once I figured out that the guy who narrated the movie was actually Bill Kurtis, former CBS morning news anchor, it didn’t seem to be that much of a payoff. Strange choice, movie. Three Freemans.

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Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

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I feel a little guilty putting two Tim Burton movies on the list, but I thought one of the odder aspects of his Willy Wonka remake was the reliance on narration. The first movie proved (among so many other wonderful things) that the story is strong enough to tell itself. Although there is a propensity, when adapting novels, to maintain the author's voice, it is not necessary to take that so literally. Still, the narration in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory acted more as a bookend than it did as a consistent pull of the story, so this Burton fiasco only gets two Freemans.

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The Sandlot

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If I badmouth The Sandlot at all, I’ll be beaten to a pulp by angry readers. So let’s just leave this one as a hypothetical: The Sandlot had no narration. Let’s just roll with the idea that maybe they’d let the scenes carry themselves—maybe we’d identify more with the anxious kid in the moment than with the well-adjusted man he has clearly grown up to be? Just supposing. Only one Freeman, because I’m terrified of the ramifications of anything more.

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. But at best, his narration here is overt exposition… and at worst, it’s pretty much Steve just reading the stage direction.

STEVE

It isn't easy being the Father of the Bride.

(Steve sits down and has a drink)

So I sat down, and had a drink.

Granted, that's an exaggeration, but not a big one. For such a simple concept, with scenes that were already beyond self-explanatory, why did they need to stock the entire freaking movie with Martin telling us not only spelling out every plotpoint that was taking place, but also revealing every already completely discernible (it’s not like he’s a bad actor) emotion the character was having! So, to Father of the Bride, I award you six Freemans, three Pompeos and a Funnie.

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