11.25.2008

Incoherence: The new Action movie staple


I recently saw Quantum of Solace – and while it was entertaining enough, it wasn’t the mess of a narrative that it inherited from the superior Casino Royale that bothered me as I watching it. I expected that this time around. It was the blanketing incoherence that irked me. You know what I’m talking about. The claustrophobic shooting of all the action sequences that left you wondering what the hell happened within the flurry of movement and noise. It’s like the Tazmanian Devil of filmmaking.

Solace had the same second unit director as The Bourne Supremacy, which is the first film in which I remember noticing this style – so I don’t know if it’s just fashionable, a modern trend, or the particular style of a select group of filmmakers. But the overall effect is that the action is shot in such a way that it’s almost impossible to make sense out of what is happening. The sequences are all close, obscured and/or obstructed. There’s often no physical point of orientation, and all the fight and/or stunt choreography is muddied to the point of haphazard nonsense.

I’m sure there could be some sort of aesthetic argument for this method of shooting: that it’s closer and it makes you feel like you’re immersed in the momentum of the action – or whatever. All I know is that half of the time I couldn’t tell you what happened in a fight scene, which direction a speedboat was going or coming, or how in the hell a car got from point A to point B. I didn’t understand where I was situated or who stabbed whom where, and with what.

It may just be a personal preference, but I find this lack of clarity in the action to be troubling. Aside from valuing flash over substance and confusing the through-line of a scene, it also devalues the content of the scene.

For all I know the fights and stunts were choreographed by my Uncle Jim or the Swedish Chef. It wouldn’t make much of a difference as all of that work is lost in the kinetic shuffle and disjointed whirl of shots and edits. And, unfortunately, this also distances the viewer from the scene. It desensitizes the violence and it encourages some kind of an action-film-lethargy in the theater. Instead of following the action, the viewer is numbed to a state that’s not all that different from watching a movie while high as a kite.

Fiancée: “Whoa, what just happened?”
Me: “I don’t know, dude, but it was awesome.”

In the SAG screening I attended, I was surrounded mainly by a group of 30-to-50-something adults who were seeing the same glossed-over sequences that I was and yet they hooted and hollered like addled adolescents whenever the appropriate action cues were flashed on screen. Stab! Bang! Crash! Bond, you’ve done it again!

This whole direction and style of shooting action films makes me worry that style, skill, and technique are falling by the wayside. Who cares if a star is qualified to lead an action movie? Who cares if they can pull it off? Does it matter if the movie is choreographed within an inch of its life by professionals? Not with this shooting style. You won’t be able to make it out anyway. It really feels like the style was concocted to smooth over poor performances and to aid in an easier and snappier edit.

I guess, for me, Royale was a brief respite from the silliness of the Bond movies.

ps. But, Solace also had the cat-got-your-tongue presence of Gemma Arterton, so....

1 comment:

Josh said...

Blame Spielberg, man. This crazy action style took off with Saving Private Ryan and has been around to varying degrees in lots of movies since then, even in odd places like The Fellowship of the Ring.

Except, you know, confusing claustrophobic action made sense in Ryan.