Friday, September 15, 2006

Jittervision

Why is it that every movie that comes out of Hollywood nowadays seems to be shot in glorious wobblecam? Can they not afford tripods in LA? OK, so I understand that in an action flick with lots of fighting, chases, explosions and general chaos they use the hand-held camera to give an edgy sense of immediacy and realism to the action. I noticed it first in a film called Paycheck which hit Dubai a couple of years ago, and that was fine. The technique was fresh and interesting then. Now it’s just tiring. Action scenes that jumped around became the standard in every action film I saw until The Bourne Supremacy came out and took the jitters a step further—not just the fight scenes shook, but half the film was shot in a blur. And then Miami Vice came along a couple of weeks ago and hit an all-time jittervision low. Not only did the cameramen wriggle all over the set, but they kept switching to nasty, grainy video tape that they apparently shot with Dad’s old Sony Camcorder. I mean, what is up with Hollywood these days? Is St Vitus’ Dance suddenly endemic in American dolly grips? I came out of the cinema thoroughly nauseated.

I swore off watching action movies unless I was primed with Stugeron, and so went this evening to see The New World. Pocahontas meets John Smith: a little red vs. white tomahawk action maybe, but essentially a love story and therefore safe from wobblecam, right? Wrong.

The New World seems to want to be an art-house flick. There is very little dialogue and very little background music, but it’s dripping with atmosphere all the same: a lot of silence, lots of crickets and rustling trees; the natives don’t even get subtitled when they’re trying to communicate with the settlers. Very arty, with a drive toward realism – war paint, flies, filth, squalor, etc. Instead of dialogue it has voice-overs that perhaps are meant to represent what the two main characters were thinking but did not have the common language to express. That kind of arty. It’s a serious sort of film about the first settlers to go over the waves and colonize the new world. Except the whole damn film pitched and rolled like they shot it on board the Mayflower. And then they had the nerve to list the Steadicam operator in the credits! Don’t know what he actually did, but I hope they didn’t pay him much.

10 Comments:

Blogger halfmanhalfbeer said...

Mme Cyn: When I first watched the Bourne Supremacy at the cinema the final car chase scene actually left me feeling very queasy with all the wobblecam and flickering shots going! Tell me about New World? I was thinking of going to see it but the reviews have absolutely appned it. I also didn't realise that it came out about 18 months ago and is already on DVD.

HMHB

11:09 AM  
Blogger Mme Cyn said...

I'ts very --- arty. There is virtually no dialogue, and though it seemed reserached,I think they got some of it wrong, factually (like Pocahontas's age and function as a go-between). It was very LONG. Interesting, but a DVD and discuss movie, rather than a cinema movie. IMHO.

1:23 PM  
Blogger Grumpy Goat said...

WobbleCam™ is supposed to create the illusion of the viewer actually being there. Televised news reports from a war zone are necessarily shot in this style. This is as close as most of us would wish to be to real live warfare. There’s a similar effect when the investigative journalist bashes on the door of some alleged villain, who duly appears and puts his hand over the lens.

As viewers, we are supposed to buy into the same sense of ‘being there’ when watching fiction. Unfortunately, Hollywood has done the technique to death in recent years. As soon as I see WobbleCam™ activity, far from becoming more involved in the drama I find myself thinking, “Oh dear. The director is doing that ‘quasi-realism’ thing. Why doesn't he go and buy a tripod?”

3:13 PM  
Blogger nzm said...

The best use of WobbleCam™ that I've seen was in The Constant Gardener - not overdone, and used in all the right places.

Miami Vice is one of the worst movies that I've ever seen.

The New World trailers showed in the UAE cinemas for longer than I guarantee that the movie will be showing.

The latter 2 movies both have Colin Farrell in them - and he can't act to save himself.

3:46 PM  
Blogger Mme Cyn said...

Nzm -- Ain't that the truth! I don't know what directors see in him -- he's not even very good looking!

I give New World a week. It will be gone by Ramadan. Not becasue it's a bad film, but you know DXB.

6:23 PM  
Blogger Dani said...

ufff...I didn't like Miami Vice too. I can't believe how much they praised that film! And Gong Li should have stuck on a Geisha role..she just..erm sucks. Wobblecam (I just learned that here! Thanks for the info! - I thought the cameraman of Miami Vice just have some rheumatism or something lol).

Bullet-time effect, anyone?

10:43 PM  
Blogger Mme Cyn said...

Dani: Actually, Gong Li is superb -- just not in this dreadful movie! Try "Raise the Red Lantern" or "Temptress Moon" or "To Live" or "Farewell My Concubine" if you want to judge on whether or not she can act. I loved her in Geisha, but I love her anyway. MV was cr@p, and the best actress on the planet couldn't have done much with that role.

2:59 PM  
Blogger bandicoot said...

Concerning wobblecam effect, one film to use the jittery moving video camera to an extreme (and make it part of the plot) is The Blair Witch Project; it was brilliant and helped it become the most successful indpendant film ever. I think jittery camera techniques became more popular after that...

The worst wobblecam usually happens in films showing earthquake or explosion effects, where the cameras move more than the surroundings!

The New World had potential but was a great disappointment; I can't beleive how it got some raving reviews (e.g. Time Out)...Even the "arty" parts are misconceived. It's not just the bad acting, but the whole thing is flawed.

3:07 PM  
Blogger Gnomad said...

There are really two uses for wobblecam, the first is to give the film an air of reportage, that it is a documetary recording real events and so lend credibility to otherwise less than believable footage, like Blair Witch.

The other, as grumpy goat says, is to add to the sense of 'being there' of actually being in the diegesis (the world of the film). When done subtlely and really well this second one can be very effective, but as soon as the viewer becomes aware of it as a camera technique the viewer is removed from the diegesis and back to mundania.

Great film makers strive to achieve a thing called 'suture' This is when the viewer becomes so involved in the film they completely forget mundania and the willing suspension of disbelief becomes total for the duration of the film.

Wobblecam, unless used really really well destroys suture and the viewer is dropped back into reality again, thus spoiling the viewing experience.

in a nutshell, as a general rule;

for documentary, wobblecam = good

for fiction, wobblecam = bad

it takes a subtle and highly inteligent film making talent to break this second rule and still achieve suture.

hmmm, how many current mainstream film-makers do we know that you could honestly describe as subtle and higly inteligent?

G

6:30 PM  
Blogger Mme Cyn said...

Gnomad: And your mother told you a Film Degree would never come in handy...

12:19 PM  

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