One of the biggest problems I have with getting into contemporary movies is the robotic delivery of the dialogue. It's usually monotone, which also means low monotone (a steady high pitch being too much of a strain), with a kind of husky or mumbling register, and a self-consciously slow-mo tempo. Examples by genre follow a bit further down.
The words in a movie are meant to be spoken and felt, not appreciated more abstractly by reading them from the screenplay. Speech patterns may not be the high point of the overall sensory experience of a movie, but take them away, and it drains the movie of any power. Speech is such a constant presence in a movie, not like if the handful of action sequences are boring or if a couple special effects look dumb.
It's like when you hear contempo pop music, Norah Jones for example, and you want to tell them to wake up before they start recording the song. It smacks of disrespect for the audience, like "I'm too bored and tired to care enough about you all to sound dynamic, pleasing, or exciting." Turn off the fucking microphone then, you retard.
And while 99% of the speech is mumbling, there's that 1% where they go for broke and turn to shouting or shrieking. I guess they're assuming that they've already put you to sleep with their ordinary drone, so they need to launch a full-out assault on your ears to get your attention -- you know, instead of having it all along.
Again that's what contempo singing sounds like -- mostly that quiet flat tone, with the occasional random brief burst of volume. I think Natalie Merchant started that in the '90s, but it wasn't as bad back at the beginning of the trend. Try making your ear swallow a song by Regina Spektor without spitting it back out.
When so much of a person's speech has no sort of natural inflection, and therefore sounds totally careless as to the context (each context calling for its own sort of inflection), the audience gets the message that the speaker is bored by everything and couldn't care less about others. So when they hear that odd random burst of volume, they interpret it as the boy who cried "wolf." Just some egocentric twit who felt a sudden impulse to whore for attention.
I wonder how much today's audiences respond viscerally to their entertainment. It seems like being presented with such cold, distancing, and unlikable vocal delivery, they'd get turned off. But maybe they're all borderline autistic and their brains are filtering out the acoustic/phonetic detail, and extracting only the syntactic/semantic information.
To document what's going on, I'm certainly not going to go through every popular movie from the last 15-20 years. Just one for each genre, since the trend is obvious enough. Mumbling does seem to play different roles in different genres, though, so each case is worth a separate look. I'll also include examples from an '80s counterpart that show normal human inflection, just to show how recent this change is. The clips will be movie trailers, since they include speech from across the entire movie, not just a snippet from one scene only.
Indie movies: Mumbling as outward sign of inner existential drift
Note to artfags: "ennui" is just "boredom" with a college degree, hence no more interesting and equally irritating as a character trait.
Trailer, The Puffy Chair (2005)
Trailer, Heathers (1988)
Action movies: Mumbling as nonchalant invincibility
The occasional flat-toned wisecrack shows stoicism and cockiness from a vulnerable hero in the face of real danger. Always sounding bored and unmoved shows instead that the characters themselves are aware of being written as indestructible faux heroes in a CGI explosion movie.
Trailer, A Good Day to Die Hard (2013)
Trailer, Die Hard (1988)
Comedy movies: Mumbling as makeshift deadpan
Deadpan is the use of an ordinary type of inflection (any of the many types used in ordinary situations), when an unusual type is called for. Mumbling doesn't sound like a familiar example of ordinary inflection, and so defeats the comic contrast between the expected unusual type and the actual ordinary type. It cheats and says, "We know we're supposed to be showing some kind of emotion, but we're showing no emotion at all," instead of showing ordinary emotion A when unusual emotion B is called for.
Trailer, The Hangover (2009)
Trailer, Beverly Hills Cop (1984)
Romance movies: Mumbling as impaired libido
When characters have so little inflection before they find each other, we don't believe they're all that excitable to begin with, and so not really driven as protagonists toward their romantic goal, nor having much long-term promise as a passionate couple -- which is the whole selling point of the movie. Decreased libido also shows up in the mumbling used to broadcast how not boy-crazy the girl is, and how "whatever" the guy feels about girls. And the occasional attempt to resurrect hall of fame mumblers Bogie and Bacall, wielding it as a weapon in a never-ending duel of shit-testing.
Trailer, Mr. & Mrs. Smith (2005)
Clip, L.A. Story (1991)
Drama movies: Mumbling as forced reminder of seriousness
Characters find themselves in a predicament, sometimes a frightening one, that will take some kind of personal growth to get out of. All that minimal inflection achieves is to keep reminding the audience of the seriousness of the predicament -- like, yeah, we get it already. Fatalistic mumbling suggests, though, that the characters will just stay trapped in their troubles. A fuller range of inflection suggests that the characters have personalities that are dynamic enough to work their way through their unfamiliar situation.
Trailer, The Sixth Sense (1999)
Trailer, Big (1988)
...And that takes care of the major genres. The others are more or less a mix of the above uses.
You see basically the same picture by looking at the range of facial expressions. Today it's 99% blank -- vacant, mopey, smug, pouty, etc. -- and 1% kabuki mask, where before people showed a normal range of expressions. Now they look distancing by default, and we don't believe them when they briefly deviate by donning their kabuki masks. Before they were believable from beginning to end; some of them you could even relate to. The functions served by blank-face in each of the genres is the same as for mumble-voice.
Again, it makes you wonder how autistic the audience is today if they don't notice, or don't care, that the faces they're spending the whole movie staring at are completely devoid of normal emotional expressions for 99% of the time, and the other 1% are drawn with all the subtlety of pre-school refrigerator art.
These major failures wouldn't be so bad if we were reading a book, where only our own imagination is responsible for hearing the dialogue and seeing their expressions. But in a medium that you're supposed to have a more visceral response to, it's crucial to have speech and body language that you can connect with.