Link Dump – Action in Movies Edition

Some interesting movie-related links I’ve run across of late:

  • In the Cut, Part I: Shots in the Dark (Knight) – Jim Emerson’s very long but fantastic video takedown of the convoy chase action sequence in the The Dark Knight may come off as overly harsh and gloriously nitpicky, but I don’t really have any issues with the complaints he points out either. Sure, in some cases he’s just not giving the benefit of the doubt, but most of his complaints have merit. I’ve always said that Christopher Nolan wasn’t as impressive as a director as he was as a writer and, perhaps to a lesser extent, editor (of course, some of Emerson’s complaints are with the cuts, so there is that). In the comments at Badass Digest, I also learned that Nolan apparently doesn’t use a second-unit or any sort of pre-visualization. If this is true, I think it goes a long way in explaining most of the problems that Emerson points out. On the other hand, Emerson’s article at Press Play shows what look like storyboards, so who knows. He also seems to cut Nolan a little more slack in the text, acknowledging some of the constraints that Nolan was working under, but his ultimate opinion is still pretty harsh. But I have to say that I really appreciate this video. A lot of critics say that Nolan’s action is incomprehensible and hard to follow, but few take the time to explain in detail what they’re talking about. All that being said, I still love The Dark Knight.
  • In the Cut, Part II: A Dash of Salt – Well, if Dark Knight fans weren’t incensed enough by Emerson’s complaints about that movie, they might be driven insane when they see him hold up the middling thriller Salt as an example of a movie that gets action right. That being said, you really can see how much clearer and streamlined the action is in that sequence. I’m really glad that I got to see this video because watching just the part 1 video makes it seem like Emerson is just a stuffy critic making too much of too little, but in this case, he shows how even a mediocre movie (which I did enjoy) can get things right. We need more videos dissecting movies, shot-by-shot, like this.
  • Hulk Explain Action Scenes! – So this is an excellent, and very long article about what makes action scenes work. I have one major complaint though, and it has nothing to do with what Film Crit Hulk is actually saying. I realize this is a very usability-nerd complaint, but for fuck’s sake man, drop the ALL CAPS schtick. Look, it works in small doses and is indeed perfect for Twitter, but reading an long article in all caps is simply excruciating. I couldn’t read the whole thing in one sitting and indeed haven’t finished it yet, despite the fact that I really like what I’m reading. What’s more is that he’s not using CSS or other means to create the all caps effect, he’s actually typing this in all caps (meaning that there’s no easy way to convert this into normal, readable text). The grammar schtick isn’t nearly as bad, but if you’re going to be writing long pieces of analysis, it’s really unnecessary to spend the entire article in the Hulk’s voice. Anyway, this proves to be a nice complement to Emerson’s videos.

Both Emerson and Film Crit Hulk are planning additional parts to their respective series, so look out for them. They are well worth while.

4 thoughts on “Link Dump – Action in Movies Edition”

  1. I’m no high-falutin’ movie critic or nuthin’, but I had absolutely no problem following TDK’s convoy chase sequence. While he makes a valid point regarding the “SWAT van in the river” bit, Emerson lost me as a viewer when he started complaining about not knowing what side of the police van Dent was sitting on.

    Look, it’s simple. We see Dent sit on the passenger side of the van. We see a cop get in and sit down… and the camera angle is the opposite of that used when we see Dent in the van. Ergo, that puts the cop on the driver’s side. But Emerson goes on and on about how it feels like the cop is on the passenger side due to some “reverse camera angle”… which turns out to be totally incorrect… and how the sequence needed an establishing shot showing exactly where the two of them were sitting. No, Mr Emerson, I think it was totally clear, and only a film critic trying to be clever could be confused by it.

    Yes, the little continuity errors (two cop cars or three?) are a problem, but it all happens so quickly you don’t notice them. One could probably sit down with any film and find problems like that.

    But then, I’m just a duck, not a film critic.

  2. I certainly don’t think it’s as big a deal as he makes it out to be, nor is it “incomprehensible”, but it’s not a perfect action sequence either. As you say, it happens pretty quickly, and one could make an argument that this sort of stuff contributes to the sort of discord that the Joker sows, etc… But I don’t think you can completely write off some of his complaints.

    Ultimately, I love the movie and I think a lot of Emerson’s complaints could be mitigated if he was willing to give Nolan the benefit of the doubt (particularly minor continuity errors). But while I didn’t have any problem understanding what was going on in the sequence, it’s not really a sequence I’d hold up as a gold standard for action either – and I think Emerson points out many of the nitpicky reasons why. And there are some scenes later in the movie that aren’t particularly clear (in particular, I think the whole sonar-vision thing didn’t work particularly well – though again, I didn’t really have a problem figuring out what was happening)

    Of course, I wouldn’t hold the Salt action sequence up as a gold standard either, but watching that video, you can see how it works. I’m interested enough that I’m looking forward to the third (and apparently last) video in the series.

  3. I don’t think it’s a gold standard for action sequences either (The Lobby scene from the Matrix, or maybe the motorcycle chase from the first sequel, yes… not this one), and I’m not writing off his complaints. I’m writing off his bloody pedantic method of voicing his complaints.

    I haven’t watched the Salt clip, and honestly I doubt that I will. He’s too much the film critic for me to take him seriously.

  4. “I’m writing off his bloody pedantic method of voicing his complaints.”

    Indeed, I’m not a fan of that either.

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