The Unknown Lyricist at 2009-10-26 16:11:22:
"Bride Wars" -- an enjoyable romcom -- had some cheesy VO by Candace Bergen, who's only a minor character. The VO appears at the beginning and the end and maybe one other part, but it's something the movie makers could have done without. The end is especially gag-inducing.
JamesHutchinson at 2009-10-26 16:59:41:
My hatred of narration knows no limits. Actually, it does - GOODFELLAS has amazing narration, but that's about it. I love how it's integrated into actual scenes. Pause over action to explain something, looking directly at the camera, getting up and walking out to the next scene. Totally works.

I seriously wish you switch off narration on a DVD, like an option in the menu. It would be revelatory. Next time you watch 300 (for instance) imagine there's no narration - it would border on a Kubrick-level genius of sparse storytelling.
Ryan H. at 2009-10-26 17:46:35:
Thanks for this, Scott. As a lover of narration in film--I found its use particularly breathtaking in THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD--I was seeking some helpful boundaries regarding its use.
Scott at 2009-10-26 18:11:48:
@JamesHutchinson: That's an awesome idea! A setting so you could turn off narration in a movie.

Your point is well-taken: Movies are primarily a visual medium.
Nicholas at 2009-10-26 18:47:01:
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button used it in some respects.
Kristen McGregor at 2009-10-26 22:21:06:
One show I really hate the random narration on is "Glee" - it's a fun show in terms of the musical numbers, but I got really upset when Sue Sylvester was writing a letter with v/o-- random and no sense to it at all! Grr!!
Bancroft at 2009-10-26 22:35:28:
My favorite use of voice over is without a doubt Badlands.

Hearing Sissy Spacek's soft voice, almost completely devoid of emotion, being played over the images of that desolate South Dakota landscape, slowly rolling through like a weak breeze going nowhere. It provides so much depth and insight into her character and the world she lives in. It lends such an incredible atmosphere to the film.

The way she describes how her father shot her dog in such a matter of fact way gets to me every time.

Terrence Malick is a master of VO. I couldn't imagine this film without it.
jimdempsey at 2009-10-27 02:18:22:
Actually, Scott, what strikes me about this list of undoubtedly great movies is how many of them are books or short story adaptations - A Clockwork Orange, Forrest Gump, The Shawshank Redemption, Fight Club, Apocalypse Now, Double Indemnity, Trainspotting, Stand By Me, To Kill A Mockingbird, Lolita, Babe, A Christmas Story.

Maybe this also reflects how difficult it is to pack all the information from a book into a movie. A narrator really helps with that.

But as you point out they all make great use of the narrator; that voice has to add something extra to the story. And that's difficult to do too. So even if it is an adaptation, it's definitely not lazy writing, at least in these examples.
Scott at 2009-10-27 08:00:05:
@jimdempsey: That's a good observation re how many adaptations there are in that list. And I think you're right that, in part, the screenwriters used narration to cover as much story material as possible.
Tom at 2009-10-27 09:32:33:
I found this particular post very useful and inspiring. For the last eight months Iíve been working on an outline for a biopic that I researched for more than a year. The story covers roughly 50 years in the life of main character. At one point I estimated that the script might come in at around 300 pages with really tight writing. When I started to cut back, the story just didnít work.

Narration will allow me to tell the whole story. Iíve become so locked into the idea of not using it that I didnít consider it as an option. I even watched Forrest Gump about a month ago!

Thanks to Ryan H. for asking the question and to you for answering!
attatt at 2009-10-27 10:15:01:
I always attach this to the similar issue of having a character talk directly to the audience.
Like v.o., it can be a cheat to force the plot to move forward or add story where they couldnt figure out how to fit it in.
Compare Zombieland and Ferris Bueler's Day Off.
Zombieland would have been terrible with Jesse Eisenberg talking to the camera. The V.o.'s were short and vital, but they could have been worked into dialog or something. Wonder if the writers explored this or wrote v.o. from the start.
Ferris Bueler talking to us mostly works because it was primarily a cheesy movie and Matt Broderick is a charismatic actor who can pull it off. But I always felt like what started out as a how to skip school movie turned into an examination of suburban boredome and never found its way back. The talking to the camera became a gimmick by the end of the movie.
Just_Hiltz at 2009-10-28 20:03:57:
I'm probably one of the FEW people on the planet that does, but, I still prefer the original theatrical version of "Blade Runner" with Harrison Ford's narration. For me it ADDED TENSION.

Another was Howard Hawks' " The Big Sky". Hawks used narration by Arthur Hunnicut to "get inside of the heads" of Kirk Douglas and Dewey Martin and chronicled there "Inner World" with commentary fitting an expedition, which is what they were on. I always found it like READING, but still capable of sitting back and WATCHING the action.
I know these are "old" examples but they are precedents. And they did work...Ultimately I think it depends on "timing"...and how effective the end result IS.
Bala Senthil at 2009-12-02 11:12:35:
Just tell the story, my friend. If if is narration or action, if it flows well enough, and organically enough, if it works, that is, then it will be fine. Don't allow rules to break your storytelling. Screw what other people say. Whatever works best for you, and more power to YOUR storytelling.