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The general film critique thread Technical aspects, cliches, characterisation... the works.

#1 User is offline   Just your average movie goer Icon

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Posted 12 February 2010 - 08:53 AM

All right. If you're reading this, this is a general discussion about movie related issues.

Why is it here, you ask? A fair question. Basically, there are a lot of issues that come up again and again in our discussions on a number of movies. For instance, I have written about the issue of character degradation recently in two separate threads - and there are more examples. So this is a place where we can discuss all these sorts things in the one thread. You can pick apart things in movies that you dislike of course but you can also discuss things that you like as well.

Fine. Now, what is this thread not? Well, I'm glad you asked that. To put it simply, this thread is not a thread for individual movie reviews. If you want to write pages about a single movie, put it in a separate thread. Having said that however, drawing on different movies to give examples of points you are making is of course all well and good... and if everyone else knows the movies you're talking about, it will no doubt help people to understand what you're driving at too.

In this thread, feel free to discuss any point about movies you wish. As the subheading suggests, you can discuss technical aspects, cliches, characterisation... the works. So if you want to write half a post about putting third acts on what are essentially two-act movies and then half a post about certain editing techniques that really tick you off, then go right ahead.

Hopefully, this thread will allow us to have some interesting discussion and more to the point, to enjoy ourselves - because really, that's why we all come here, right? Also, as it's not focusing on any single movie, then it should be a thread in which everyone can feel free to participate.

One last thing before we begin. We're a rather fiesty group of characters and I should know as I've been one of the worst offenders over the years. We like to argue until either the other side gives in or both sides collapse from exhaustion (whichever comes first). Let's be honest with ourselves; we get a kick out of it. Now, while I wouldn't want us to disregard that fine tradition in this thread, I do ask that when refuting points we disagree with that we stick to the point:

For instance, let's say I hate choppy editing with lots of fast cuts (it's easy to say this because I do - it gives me a freakin' headache). Now, for the sake of this example, let's say I refer to the action scenes in the 2nd and 3rd Bourne movies to explain what I mean. Now, if someone thinks that the 2nd and 3rd Bourne movies were hard done by in that example and they want to argue that these are really great films, superior to the first (which would most likely goad me into arguing with you), then they're welcome to. I'd just ask that they make a new thread and write their argument there. However, if someone were to disagree with my assertion that choppy editing is bad practice, then this would be the place to post their own views on the subject.



To get the ball rolling, I'd like to discuss points from several different catagories. To keep this thread clear and easy to follow, I'm going to use a system of headings with the catagory and the particular point being discussed.


Story: Disaster movie cliches

I know a lot of movies borrow from what has come before. After you've watched a few, you tend to expect it. Usually, they have the decency though to either borrow from several sources to make something appear new, borrow just a little bit or put a new twist on an old idea.

However, not so with disaster movies. This is one pathetic genre. In fact, I'd go as far as to argue that all disaster movies are the same movie. Every disaster movie I've come across appears to have most of the following (and in some cases, all of it):

A character who doesn't appreciate his wife/girlfriend who then loses said wife/girlfriend in the disaster and at the end of the movie, realises what he has lost, what a jerk he has been and then regretting this, goes on to become a better person.

A character who, when trapped with no hope of survival, calls their child to tell them how much they love them, while the child listens helplessly (bawling their eyes out to mournful music of course), knowing that they'll never see this particular parent again.

A character who gives their life so that other characters can live. It is also standard practice that the other characters are close to this character and scream out things like "No!", while the character who's sacrificing themselves acts all stoic and tries to reassure them with lines about how they've got to go on living without them and how this makes them stronger. Thankfully, "Save yourselves!" is going out of fashion but it still comes up occasionally.

A family or a couple that have relationship troubles that are solved throughout the movie as they work together to survive, bringing them closer so that at the end of the movie, they have a deep bond between each other. This one really annoys me. Are we supposed to feel good at the end of a movie in which countless thousands have died horribly - because one crazy little couple or family got it together? That's a pretty costly form of family therapy. I'd be far happier if they worked out their issues with a counsellor.

A character who looks like he or she is dead for certain who turns up unharmed at the end of the movie. You know the ones. They're on a hillside that gets blown up by aliens, smashed by a meteorite, swamped by a tidal wave or some other catastrophic event happens to it - and then when the rest of the characters get to the unaffected area (see below), they find this character waiting for them without so much as a scratch.

An area that is miraculously unaffected by the disaster in any way. There's always one.


In fact, I feel very confident in saying if you've seen one disaster movie, you've seen them all.


Technical: Blurred foregrounds/blurred backgrounds

I don't know about anyone else but I dislike the deliberate blurring of areas of a frame in order to bring the person, animal, object that is being focused on into sharper relief. I especially dislike it when, without changing camera angles, the blurred area alternates between the foreground and the background.

I don't like it because it feels very manipulative. By blurring out one area of the frame so you can't see what's there, the director's forcing you to look where they want; and forcing people to see what you want them to see really seems like cheating to me.

I think it is far better to frame people, animals and objects in such a way that the audience instinctively knows what they're supposed to be looking at. If a director can't trust the audience to know where they want them to look, then that suggests that that director is not confident about how they've positioned everything in the frame.

Another solution is to avoid cluttering the frame with too much stuff. For instance, maybe you want to show that your main characters are at a party with many people. Well, show them entering the party. Then have a shot showing the audience how crowded it is. Once you've done that, it's covered. The audience knows there are many people there. So if you want to show a conversation between two of your main characters, move them close to the frame and position the camera so you can only see a few of the revellers in the background: but don't blur the revellers out. Trust me. The audience will follow.

Basically, I understand that when you're telling a story, a certain amount of manipulation is needed to get the audience to see the story the way you do. However, I'd just like to make two points about that. Firstly, regardless of how hard you try, you don't know what background knowledge, values, views and ideas your audience is going to bring to the experience - so the chances are, they will never see the story exactly the way you intend them to. You might make a movie about a heroic king who liberates the land from a great evil but your audience might approach it from a social perspective and take issue with the fact that you're making the king seem more important than other people and perpetrating ideas of class. That alone should make directors realise that they shouldn't go overboard trying to manipulate people into viewing movies their way. The second point I'd like to make is that I believe one thing that sets a good filmmaker apart from the rank and file is that their manipulation techniques aren't blatantly obvious. The blurry background/blurry foreground trick is.

This post has been edited by Just your average movie goer: 12 February 2010 - 09:01 AM

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Posted 12 February 2010 - 12:04 PM

Ok, I'll add my two cents.

Demise of filmmaking, TV is the new movies now

And I can tell you precisely where I think it happened. It happened between th release of LOTR:FOTR and first series of LOST in 2004. It is my opinion that LOTR:FORT was the last truly interesting film I saw at a theater. ALmost everything ever since, was a rather forgettable and disappointment.

The culmination of my disappointment was Terminator 4 : the rise of the machines or something, and I had trouble remembering what it was that I saw, because it seems like the Transformer trailer that I saw before.

Not to mention Avatar.

The only film that I am looking forward is the Robin Hood that is supposed to come out this spring. I wonder if it is going to be any good.

In the meantime, if I want drama, emotions, good storytelling with twists and some meaningful action, I'll go and watch CSI, Lost, Sons OF Anarchy, Grey's Anatomy or Bones, to name but a few.
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Posted 12 February 2010 - 03:47 PM

Quote

The only film that I am looking forward is the Robin Hood that is supposed to come out this spring. I wonder if it is going to be any good.


http://www.youtube.c...h?v=2w7ALMIUy74

(Although I can't really see Russel Crowe riding by to this one :) )
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Posted 13 February 2010 - 05:53 AM

Technical: Blurred foregrounds/blurred backgrounds

MG ... really? I know what you're trying to say about audience manipulation, etc, but the same could be achieved simply by setting up the blocking so that everything appears in a separate shot. Shallow depth of field, and specifically the task of "racking focus" you decry is a matter of lenses. In order to get a close-up of a person or thing, generally a long lens will be used. A long lens will allow less depth of field, so objects or people outside a shallow range will not be in focus. In order to focus on those other things without changing the shot, the focus must change within the duration of the take.

Much of what you like about the look of a movie has to do with the lenses chosen and how the action is blocked and filmed. If you want everything shot with the same wide lens, Wes Anderson is your guy. He has almost exclusively used a wide angle lens on every shot in every movie he has made to date. There are some exceptions, the odd close-up insert, but more than 95% of the content is deep-focus. That's his style, and yeah, it has a theatrical appearance, and much can be said for and much can be said against it. For another example, look at Napoleon Dynamite and some or the works of Roman Polanski. Moving on, you want a movie that is all static and separate shots, well, I give you the works of Ed Wood. You want lots and lots of cutting so everyone and everything gets their/its own separate close-up (or at least medium close-up), then I give you Michael Bay.

I prefer rack focus to the alternatives posed by those directors. I don't mind that long lenses have what you feel are limitations, and in fact applaud the directors of the past who turned those "limitations" into a standard of film grammar.

This post has been edited by civilian_number_two: 13 February 2010 - 06:06 AM

"I had a lot of different ideas. At one point, Luke, Leia and Ben were all going to be little people, and we did screen tests to see if we could do that." -George Lucas, in STAR WARS: the Annotated Screenplays (p197).
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#5 User is offline   Just your average movie goer Icon

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Posted 13 February 2010 - 08:27 AM

Maybe I haven't explained myself clearly. I'll try again. If I could remember examples in which I've seen this, it'd probably help. However, none come to mind. Perhaps it is because the movies that used this tacky camera work were bland and forgettable anyway.

However, whatever these films were, I remember seeing serious blurring. When they blurred the background, you couldn't see anything. I'm not talking about a few people or items in the background being out of focus - I'm talking about the deliberate kind of all concealing blurring that they use in the news to hide people's faces, blurring to that extent... okay, they don't do the pixelation but I'm sure you know what I mean.

Also, you mentioned my point about changing the focus within the frame without cutting to a new shot. Again, done normally, that's fine but it shouldn't be so obvious that the viewer can picture the cameraman tweaking the focus as it happens.

Anyway, these things don't happen in the movies I like - and I believe there's enough diversity in film-making styles incorporated in them to say that I'm not stuck on a single style. However, it's something I remember seeing and disliking.

Hopefully, that's a little clearer for you. Having things out of focus because you're focusing on something else is fine. Deliberately blurring them out altogether looks tacky. Although maybe I'm being unnecessarily harsh and what I perceive to be a poor gimmick might be the result of a cash-strapped film-maker using cheap cameras. If that's the case, then I apologise to the people who made those films that I can't remember for the life of me.

Concepts: Overly long action sequences

I like action scenes. They're exciting. However, there's a fine line between generating excitement and derailing the story (kind of like the constant song and dance numbers in musicals. Seriously, musicals would be so much more bearable if you took out all the songs). This occasionally happened in the past. For instance, the boat chase in Live and Let Die does this. It goes on and on until the audience is completely bored out of their minds and have forgotten what they were watching in the first place. Thankfully though, for the most part, action scenes were short and sweet. I don't know whether that was down to budget reasons, good sense or a little of both but that was usually the way. Actually, sometimes it was down to luck - like the scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark where Indy shoots the swordman. That was originally going to be a long fight scene but Mr Ford was suffering from - er, let's call it digestion problems - and it was cut short. And aren't we glad it was?

However, these days, it is happening all the time and the result is that rather than being exhilarating, these action sequences are exhausting assaults on the senses. Sometimes, you almost feel like waving a white flag at the director. Take the battle scenes in the last Lord of the Rings movie. Take the airport scene in Casino Royale. Are they fun? To begin with, sure. However, they outstay their welcome very quickly.

Now why am I catagorising this under "concepts", you ask. Well, it's because the point I want to make is not solely about story nor the technical aspects of creating an action sequence. The point I want to make relates to both. The thing is that action sequences are big deals. They usually require stunts, they often involve the destruction of props and even in the most carefully planned ones, there can be dangers to the people involved. They're generally expensive too and often when you watch behind-the-scenes features, you find that alongside things like sets and location shoots, action sequences account for some of the larger dents in the budget.

Now when film-makers go overboard and make those action scenes that drag on far too long, they're also wasting their own time and money. The multiple explosions and car flips that we fast forward through when we want to get on with the movie are often the fruit of considerable labour - considerable time, expense and effort. If film-makers are including all of this stuff for all of us in the audience, then speaking for myself, I'd like to say don't bother on my account.

I'd also suggest that film-makers who think more is always a good thing should look at some of the set pieces of great films from the past. They're not that long. Sometimes less is more.

Also, these days, movies are getting far too long for their own good. If a movie goes well over two hours, then there ought to be a damn good reason - and a twenty five minute car chase doesn't cut it.


PS. Madam Corvax, you seriously haven't seen a good movie in the cinema since The Fellowship of the Ring came out? I can't believe it. Take 2008 for instance. I had a blast at the cinema that year - Iron Man, The Dark Knight, Hellboy II, Burn After Reading and Quantum of Solace all in the space of twelve months? Rock on!

This post has been edited by Just your average movie goer: 13 February 2010 - 08:42 AM

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Posted 19 February 2010 - 04:48 AM

Wow. This thread has really taken off, hasn't it? Anyway, I'll still post this.

Story telling technique - Brevity

This may come as a surprise to some who know me but even though some of my favourite films include The Fellowship of the Ring and Lawrence of Arabia, one thing I really admire in film-making is brevity: the ability to tell a story without unnecessary detail. Although, perhaps also surprising, is the fact that the two examples I gave, while both exceeding three hours in their running times, demonstrate this to a large extent. I will allow the concession that they include several sweeping shots of landscapes but I don't have a problem with that as these are epic films and as such, these shots are essential ingredients in giving these movies the atmosphere that they require.

However, when it comes to covering events, they don't muck around. Lawrence of Arabia isn't 218 minutes because it drags on and on. It's 218 minutes because it covers a hell of a lot of material.

Then on the other side of the coin, you get movies like The Pirates of the Caribbean (I don't know about parts I and II though as part I was more than enough for me). This thing dragged on for nearly two and half hours - yet, I only saw about ninety minutes worth of material in it. The rest of it was extended action sequences - and you can see my thoughts on that topic in my last post. If you want another example, look at the second and the third Lord of the Rings movies, where there are multiple extraneous sub-plots that add nothing to the story and could be ommitted without any loss (and lots of and lots of dragged out scenes of Frodo staring).

Anyway, what I want to say about all this is that sitting down to watch a movie for more than two hours is actually more demanding of people's time than film-makers think. In fact, I would argue that for a lot of films, even two hours is too long. Most films would feel much tighter if they were trimmed down to ninety minutes - and I sincerely believe that if a movie runs over two hours, there had better be a good reason for it.

Now, what are the effects of dragging things out? Firstly, you can dilute a film by doing this. Let's say the film has x number of amazing scenes, incredible moments - moments that make the audience believe it is worth the price they paid for their ticket. If you pad your movie out with extraneous subplots and pointless details that don't add to the story, then those moments are going to be further apart from each other - and when they are far enough apart, it's hard for the audience to remember the last great moment in the movie... so at the end of it, they walk away feeling gypped.

Another point is that by dragging things out too long, the audience becomes tired and therefore can't give your conclusion the attention it deserves. I felt that was one of the weaknesses of The Dark Knight. I was exhausted by the final scene with Harvey Dent and so I found it much harder to care about how the scene turned out. Instead, I was just waiting for the credits to roll so I could leave the cinema.

Now, what are film-makers to do? Well, first of all, I think more film-makers could benefit from thinking harder about how much footage they're going to end up with before they do shooting. With some movies I've watched, I get the impression that a lot of the extraneous stuff is left in because the film-makers worked really hard on shooting it and preparing it - and so, they just couldn't bear to leave it out of the movie. Now, if they thought more carefully about this beforehand, then maybe they could save themselves from that mistake - and from wasting a lot of effort too. OR if they've already shot all this extra material and they can't bear to cut it out, they could bring in an objective third party to do it for them.

What things should be left out? Well, basically, a movie is not a novel. When making a movie, you don't have the luxury of going off on tangents and exploring things in the kind of depth that novels can. A movie has to keep a good pace, move towards its climax and wrap itself up in about ninety minutes (for an average film), two hours (for something that's got a bit more going on) or three hours (for an epic*). That means everything in the movie must advance the story. If it does not, then it shouldn't be there. For lovers of Casino Royale, I am sorry but that whole bit with Bond playing cards against Dimitrios in the Bahamas and then flirting with his Mrs should have been chopped. He was already following Dimitrios. He should have just observed him and then followed him when he went to the airport. The end result would be the same - except you'd have Bond in the casino twenty minutes earlier, which would help the pace of that movie a lot. I would have axed that 'other' scene as well or reworked the third act somehow - but that's another issue.


*A word on epics. Some movie makers try to make epics where they are not warranted. Making a movie three hours long for the sake of it does not imbue it with more importance than other films at the box office. Too many films are exceedingly long these days. Film-makers need to really ask themselves why they are doing this.


The other thing that film-makers can consider is that they don't always need to show everything to tell the story. Things can be inferred, things can be shown in unconventional ways. I really like Burn After Reading for this. Everything you need to know to follow the story is given to you throughout the course of the film but it isn't beaten around your head repeatedly. It's a wonderful example of less being more. Actually, it's a little odd as the Coen brothers are guilty of putting pointless rubbish in some of their other movies... but those guys seem to have a hit and miss approach to their movies in general.

One of my favourite examples of this however is a French movie called Tais Toi!. It almost should be compulsory viewing for film-makers so they can see smart narration at its best. For instance, early in the movie, a criminal is involved in a heist. It fails and he is arrested. Now, if it were Michael Bay, that might have been a twenty minute incomprehensible action scene with lots of fast edits designed to induce headaches and dizziness. However, in Tais Toi!, it was a beautiful example of a story well told. Jean Reno jumps into a van and the sounds of sirens are heard in the distance. We then cut to the next scene where Jean Reno enters his cell in the local jail. The story's all there and it all makes sense... and that is smart film-making.

This post has been edited by Just your average movie goer: 19 February 2010 - 04:55 AM

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Posted 03 June 2011 - 09:53 AM

It's been a long time since I posted in this thread, I've noticed. I looked at the previous post and saw that it was written prior to my 180 degree turnaround on The Lord of the Rings films.

The forum seems to be pretty much a ghost town now but I kind of like writing on movies and I'm not too concerned whether or not anyone reads this stuff or not. Anyway, I was thinking recently about something related to movies that encompasses movies themselves as well as movie critiques these days.

If you are reading this and happen to be a professional movie reviewer or someone involved in the film making process, take note. When talking about movies, do not use the term "Post-9/11" ever for any reason whatsoever. I have come across so much rubbish over the past few years about how films need to be made differently now because of our so-called post-9/11 worldview and what it comes down to is that filmmakers want to have excessive violence and nastiness in their movies these days and they think that somehow, they can throw this term around and justify it. I remember for instance hearing it used to justify the brutality of certain scenes in Casino Royale. I've even heard it bandied around when people have discussing some of the new vile horror films these days - that I don't want to think about.

Filmmakers are guilty of this. Reviewers are guilty of trying to make something sound more profound than it is by referencing this event. I suppose they think it sounds like some kind of update from post-modern, but it is not.

Trends come and go. Tastes are fickle. What audiences like at one period of time may be different from another period of time. Real world events can affect the public consciousness, no doubt about it. However, I cannot believe that large scale tragedies would evoke a desire in anyone to watch excessive violence in a movie. Most movies serve as escapism. Some serve to educate but what the masses want is to be entertained. If we are to be logic about this, excessive violence would probably be the last thing anyone would want to see after a real-life tragedy occurs.

If directors want to put excessive violence in their films, then we certainly cannot stop them. However, they should stop trying to justify it by referring to an event that has no bearing on it.

Also, while we're at it, directors and filmmakers may also want to drop the term 'gritty realism' as well and say what they really mean: downbeat tone and excessive violence.

The term 'gritty realism' was thrown around like confetti for The Dark Knight. Gritty it may have been but realistic, it was not. You can see my article about that here in The Dark Knight thread but here's an excerpt related to what I'm talking about:

Quote

Then there is the Jokerís escape from the prison. Why, WHY do Gothamís finest leave this highly dangerous criminal under the guard of an unarmed man? Why is he not taken back to his holding cell? Why is he not put in cuffs? Or if they wish him to remain uncuffed in the interrogation room, why do they not lock the door? The only answer to these questions that the film provides is that this mental lapse on the part of the Gotham police was necessary to allow the third act of the film to take place. Also, just before the explosion goes off that the Joker uses to mask his escape, he is surrounded by armed police officers. After the explosion, all of these men and women are mysteriously absent. However, if the Joker was standing unscathed, then the officers around him would have been fine too Ė but if they climbed back up, one would suppose that would stop the Joker from escaping and we couldnít have that.


So filmmakers, reviewers... talk about your violence as you will but don't use irrelevant terminology to justify it or attempt to manipulate audiences into thinking that realism equals violence; because it doesn't. You want gritty realism? Have a character fill out a tax return. I guarantee it'd have audiences wincing in their seats.
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Posted 03 June 2011 - 02:40 PM

All this talk of realism puts an idea in my head.

I could be completely wrong about this, but the thing that has been growing on me ever since the days of the Matrix sequels is that movies are becoming more and more about experiences. Directors today have tools available to them that they didn't have 15 years ago and perhaps that is the reason. Sometimes I have the feeling that techniques like 3D and shaky cam and dark night scenes and fast zooms and others are used to make it an immersive experience to watch a movie. This creates a peculiar distinction between getting immersed in the story and getting immersed in the experience. This has probably been the case ever since they started making movies but today with 3D and CGI I cant help feeling that the story side is loosing out, and often the director will place story second to make his direction and use of these techniques be the main experience of the movie. I am not very fond of this development, perhaps getting up in the ages I have had all experience of that kind that I can take. Ideally a movie can be made that combines both of these qualities. I maintain that the first Star Wars movie was such a movie. A story that immersed you, and, a thrilling ride down the trenches of the Death Star. Again of course I was young and much more impressionable when I first saw Star wars, but I still take it as an example that it can be done. And with the tools available to them today I am waiting for them to do better. Waiting for that genius to emerge who can figure out how to truly use these techniques to complement a solid story. Because I think realism and even gritty realism by itself can never be as succesfull as the real world. But if they can use these techniques to give a sense of real excitement in a fictional story, a good one, then maybe something good can come from it.
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Posted 03 June 2011 - 09:23 PM

Absolutely - a lot of the movie experience these days revolves around gimmicks. It's not a new concept (Jaws 3D anyone?) but it seems to be one that's becoming increasingly more popular. Now, shaky cam is an example of one of these things. However, again, you're right that if such a technique is used correctly, it can be effective. Shaky cam is actually used briefly in Alien to show what Kane, Dallas and Lambert's cameras were recording for Ash when they were walking towards the derelict craft. It works there but it is brief and this is the important thing. It's not used again.

Now, if it shaky cam had been used for the entire movie, I doubt we'd be talking about Alien today. Or to use an example from the other franchise, imagine if every last frame in Predator were rotoscoped to look like infrared images. It'd be unwatchable. Yet, people do these things. I remember having the unfortunate experience of seeing Paranormal Activity once. Basically, in the context, I couldn't get out of it. The entire movie, I was waiting for the home video footage section to end and the movie to start. When I saw the first few minutes of home camera footage, I thought it was just a prelude to the main part of the movie. However, eventually I realised that we were going to be stuck with this crappy uninteresting method of framing scenes - a method that for the most part cannot properly frame the environment and the actors at the same time. Actors are usually too far back in the frame or if one of them is closer, they're usually too close and the other actor they're talking to is behind the bloody camera. Awful. I was glad when it was over that I hadn't spent any of my own hard earned money to watch the silly thing - and a bit annoyed with the people who had suggested the movie because they hadn't been forthcoming with main plot details. They also told me it was a Steven Spielberg film so I thought I was in for some science fiction type movie. Disappointing.

Actually, recently, we've had a very big example of the gimmick taking over the story in Inception. This movie is literally The Emperor's New Clothes of cinema. First of all, they stirred up a big fuss before releasing it by advertising how complicated and overly clever it was, with a few hints that you had to be pretty sharp to figure it out. Brilliant. Then nobody wanted to feel as though they weren't sharp enough so everyone rushed to see it so they could prove to their friends that, despite its complexity, they could unravel the thing. So they all watched it, they unravelled it and then they felt ecstatic because they could do it. They loved the movie because they enjoyed unravelling the plot and they enjoyed unravelling the plot so much that they didn't stop long enough to realise that apart from the unravel-the-plot gimmick, there wasn't anything else to the movie. It was a bigger con than anything any of the characters within the story were trying to pull off.

The dreams within the dreams (sorry, I can't help but think of the impressive clergyman in The Princess Bride when I write about this movie)... Anyway, the dreams within the dreams is tiresome. It goes on for far too long, especially with all the cutting back between levels. I reckon if you got all the footage of the van going back over the bridge and put it together, you'd have twenty minutes of film in your hands. Ditto for Joseph Gordon Levitt's hallway fight. The film is also utterly meaningless. For a movie about dreams, it doesn't have anything interesting to say about them - and everything it does say is entirely fictional so it doesn't speak to us. We all know what dreams are like - but I have a feeling that Christopher Nolan doesn't. The movie makes it seem as though he heard about the concept of dreams from someone else and decided to cash in on them. Who dreams of such sterile landscapes as an endlessly expansive empty city? No one. That's who.

Now, let's get to Star Wars as you've raised a great example of how one can immerse an audience into the experience. It's not by using gimmicks. It's by deciding on the best camera angles to establish the wide shots of the Tatooine landscapes, the shots that show you the sheer scope of the Death Star. The point of view shots in the trench (which are still filmed with steady cam - because ironically, our heads do not shake anywhere near as much as our hands when we're trying to hold cameras steady). It's all about clever use of camera angles and directions. Tilting the camera up to Darth Vader from under him makes him seem larger and more impressive. Tilting the camera down makes something or someone look smaller. Putting two objects in a shot demonstrates their scale more effectively. Consider the first impressive shot of the star destroyer in the movie as the whole ship soars over the camera and we see its vast length and then the massive engines that propel it through space. Showing another star destroyer later looking as though it's almost swallowed up by the Death Star drives home just how huge the latter is.

For comparison, consider the Death Star in Return of the Jedi. The opening scrawl told us that it was a bigger battle station than the original one - but the movie never successfully conveys this and it is entirely because the direction and camera angles weren't as well done. The model makers did their job well but the guys in charge of framing everything to make it as exciting as possible didn't.

So it's not gimmicks that make a film work. It's skill in determining the best way to show people and objects in a frame.

The only gimmick that really interests me in terms of how it can change the movie going experience is IMAX because of the size of the screen and the way the chairs can move to convey a sensation of motion and speed when combined with the images on the screen. Unfortunately though the effects can only be enjoyed in just one environment and one environment only - an IMAX theatre. That would mean that filmmakers would have to make sure that their work is still thrilling and exciting in conventional movie theatres and on home TV. Maybe during the filming process, they should watch the dailies twice - once from a projection booth and once on a little screen - so they can see if everything holds up in both formats.

It's funny actually - and more than a little odd - that one of the extras on The Dark Knight special features DVD was that you could watch several scenes in IMAX format because without the towering screen and the moving seats, it basically just means that the black bars on the top and bottom of your screen move to the left and the right. Thrilling. Actually for one of the most anticipated DVD releases of the past few years, it had a pretty lame set of special features.

This post has been edited by Just your average movie goer: 03 June 2011 - 09:25 PM

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Posted 06 June 2011 - 11:54 AM

A quick note for Inception: While I still think the film was pretty good, you make a good point. For a movie that's about dreaming, those are some pretty boring dreams. I've had many wild, crazy, and exciting dreams in my life, and those are just the ones that I can remember. Not once have I ever dreamed up boring "endless" cityscapes. The bottum level of dreaming, the third one or whatever just looked like an endless expanse of drab apartment builings on a beach. How interesting. Its like all of those unimaginative movies about imagination.
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Posted 06 June 2011 - 08:03 PM

Ah, Nolan's dreamscapes. You can just imagine what kind of crazy dreams he gets in real life, can't you?

Nolan: I remember my dream from last night actually.
Nolan's friend: Oh, yes. What happened?
Nolan: I went into a cafe and ordered a coffee.
Nolan's friend: Okay. And then I suppose you met some beautiful woman?
Nolan: No, I had my coffee and then I left. Then I got a taxi to my apartment.
Nolan's friend: But the taxi didn't go to your apartment, did it?
Nolan: No. It went there.
Nolan's friend: Fascinating.


Now, for something different.

Concept - Action - Blow by blow hand to hand combat scenes

I remember enjoying The Bourne Identity when I first saw it. Later, I discovered the books and realised that it was a simplified, dumbed down, abridged and far less interesting version of a far better story but it was entertaining enough in its own right. Under subsequent viewings, it hasn't held up that well though. Also, by removing the Carlos the Jackal plot thread from the book, killing Conklin off and updating the time and setting, it made it impossible to make movies for The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum...

... or so I thought. However, Hollywood thought they could just make these movies by just using the names and making up everything else. I didn't like the sound of that but I checked out The Bourne Supremacy anyway... and it was awful. The story was dreary, joyless and uninteresting and the character had become that cliche of the superspy who can think up complicated plans while fighting ten guys at once - the guy who can do no wrong. Also, anyone who's read the books can tell you that killing off the character of Marie was the most stupid move imaginable. Bourne by himself is a taciturn character who is deep within a shell. Marie is the character in the stories who can draw him out of it. She's basically his lifeline to humanity and also gives him someone to talk to and someone to care about it. Without her, Bourne basically would become lost... which is exactly what happens in the movies. And, surprise surprise, we're left with numerous scenes of a taciturn character who conveys very little of what he's thinking and rarely talks to anyone. We basically get uninteresting action movies with almost no dialogue. Also, Abbott was a cool guy in the first movie but the second movie made him a villain. Irritating.

So, after this, I wasn't too keen to see The Bourne Ultimatum. However, I'd been told that it was good so I gave it a go. On its own merits, it definitely holds up better than its immediate predecessor and there are some visually well-staged scenes like the Waterloo station sequence... even if the superspy business has become obnoxious by the time it's over. However, for me, everything really fell apart with the rooftop chase through Tangiers. First, it was an absolutely shameless ripoff of James Bond in The Living Daylights and secondly, it went on... and on... and on... and on...

I was getting quite restless through this sequence, wondering if the damn thing would ever end, when finally Bourne catches up with his target and takes him out. Oh, I'm sorry, that's what would have happened if a kinder director had filmed it, someone who was more sympathetic to the audience's need for the next scene to get started. Instead, what we got was a long brutal blow by blow sequence of hand to hand combat.

It was not exciting. It was tedious. I don't need to see these types of long fights. Show me how they start, show me how they end and move on. What's in it for the audience, really? This particular fight wasn't on a clifftop or in the cabin of an out-of-control airplane with no pilot. It was in a freakin' bathroom. It was not entertainment.

After that, I realised these things were everywhere. There's a dumb example in The Bourne Identity and several more, I think, in The Bourne Supremacy. There are at least two in Casino Royale - the pre-credit one and the stairwell fight. Neither of these are fun to watch and they both outstay their welcome. There's even one in Quantum of Solace (but the movie is still A Tonne of Awesomeness). I noticed one in Goldeneye at the end with Bond and Trevelyan inside a room that looks about as exciting as a garden shed. Once they go outside and they're suspended over nothingness, it's okay - because now it is interesting - but while they're inside, it's just a boring round of fisticuffs.

It's too much. If filmmakers want to put action in their movies, then they really ought to try to make it exciting. After all, that's the whole point. If they want to throw in boring action, then they may as well have no action.

This post has been edited by Just your average movie goer: 06 June 2011 - 08:09 PM

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Posted 07 June 2011 - 12:33 AM

You just clearly don't like choreographed fights. You like over-the-top staged action like a fight on a cliffside, or maybe a knife fight underwater, or two guys throwing things at one another while free-falling from outer space, but a credible display of martial arts will bore you.

Fair enough. I liked the fights in Casino Royale and also the fights in the Bourne movies. To each his own.
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Posted 29 June 2011 - 01:32 AM

Choreography or gritty realism is kind of an interesting question. I've seen fights in some movies that were so over-choreographed as to look like dancing. Others are clearly just throwing in fighting and blood to look realistic and gritty, and then failing at that for it. Some fight scenes are really well done and give you a sense of the chaos and terror of battle. Oddly enough, my favorite example isnt even technically a war/fighty movie, it's Gangs of New York. Look at the opening scene there. There's a massive fuckbattle on the lines of Braveheart. Stuff gets pretty gritty in there, but it's all very realistic and down to earth, and it isn't gratuitous - that violence sets the tone and the scene flawlessly, and provides a literally moving backdrop for the characters that are traveling through this battle on various sides.

That's how you do an epic battle sequence. Two Towers is another notable for that, and they were good enough to splice the fight sequences with footage of the occupants of Edoras huddling in fear behind the battle lines to underscore what was riding on the battle, showing rather than telling that this fight was important. There's also usually going to be some kind of strategic element going on here, though not necessary in smaller scale or non military battles, excusing Gangs.

I think this has evolved into a tangent more on epic battles than on general movie duels, but whatever, I'll go on that route. The movies that fail at an epic battle do so absolutely miserably. Consider the box office stinker First Knight. This movie could have been great if not for horrible casting, and a run time that both managed to last too long and still feel as though it accomplished nothing. The battle sequences were largely what made it feel too long. Firstly we had the stock villain burns peasants village scene. YAAAAAAAAAAAWN. That scene was made even worse because it has precisely zero consequences. The peasants dutifully report to Guinevere and she feeds them and houses them by magic, so theres no worry about their burned homes or crops. They don't even seem all that troubled by this chain of events afterward, which isnt surprising since that opening is essential to every shitty medieval "epic" ever made. They got it right in Robin Hood Men In Tights: "LEAVE US ALONE, MEL BROOKS!"

And the actual battles aren't any better. It's all a bunch of anonymous assholes fighting another bunch of anonymous assholes, and one guy named Malagant. I can only hope that name was produced when their writers doctor failed to use spell check while describing their tumor. And also, the emotions amid the fight are entirely non existant, due to a ridiculous lack of character motivation, (there are 2 throughout the movie: "I want to fuck Guinevere", and "I want to fuck Guinevere and then maybe kill people". That's it. That's the whole war. There are some very, very dubious "political" statements about freedom or equality (ever so poignant in these feudal-monarchic societies!), half of these statements made by the villain who at some point starts talking like Ayn Rand, but you never get the impression that any of this has any purpose except getting someone laid. There were also some editing and cinematography issues here, it never, ever looked like we were in the middle of a battle, or that the battle was large. One of the film's 2 clashes between armies was done at night with horrible lighting and nonsense. Music is also a pretty big issue, it needs to be stirring and fitting, but not feel forced or theatrical.

And for another example of what not to do in an action sequence, look at the space battle in Star Wars Episode 3: 2 characters we're (ideally) interested in, and a host of confusing nonsense going on behind them. This does have some degree of that realistic confusion of battle to it, but it fails in making it human. There are only 2 characters there in a space battle that likely has tens of thousands of participants. We don't get a view from opposing or allied ships, I think there are a few shots of some anonymous clones dying, but that's about it. And the reason for this giant space battle? They want to rescue one guy. And apparently they needed an entire fleet to do that...? There's also no appearance of any sort of strategy, clever or otherwise.

So there you have it, epic battles can be done right or wrong, and I prefer mine done right. There are probably a lot more differences lurking out there that I could point out, but here's a list of right and wrong from my point of view:

Right:
Braveheart
Lion Witch Wardrobe part 1
Gangs of New York
Lord of the Rings Trilogy
(I may catch some flack for this, let's see) Star Wars episodes 4,5,6, and episodes 1 and 2. OK, just to explain, the battle in the Petranaki arena was actually well done, and seemed to have some respectable dramatic elements to it. The battle in episode 1, aside from the fact that Anakin was involved in it at all, was also well done.
Order of the Phoenix
Pirates of the Caribbean curse of the Black Pearl

Wrong:
Star Wars Episode 3
First Knight
Battlefield Earth
The other Narnia movies
Gladiator
King Arthur

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