Random Film Thoughts

A few unrelated thoughts on film and film-making

The last few years have served as proof that Hollywood can no longer keep pace with popular culture. The World of Warcraft film arrived long after many had forgotten Warcraft existed. The Angry Birds Movie won the Oscar for Film No One Wants Anymore. Eye in the Sky commented on the military use of drones, a conversation everyone else had years ago.

Culture is accelerating. Something becomes part of the zeitgeist and is then forgotten at an ever-quickening pace. But the Hollywood movie-making machine still moves at a similar pace. Which leaves mainstream cinema with three options:

a) Continue to make films about modern culture that become increasingly out-of-date
b) Find a way to streamline and quicken the transition from script to screen
c) Simply give up trying to ride cultural waves

Film studios could (artistically) be better off simply announcing their intent to make timeless, legacy films and quit trying to harness the current cultural darling. Otherwise, they could occasionally hit their target — some seer could predict what will be popular in three years time, when the film finally gets its cinema release. But for every one of those successes, we’d have 10 failures, all trying to cash in on some now-forgotten cultural nugget.

Option B could involve major studios partnering with smaller ones to quicken the film-making process, or adopting more guerrilla-style approaches, or something else above my low understanding
How powerful is too powerful?

In the animated Star Wars series Clone Wars, a single Jedi is powerful enough to hold an entire spaceship in midair.

As the Walking Dead TV show progressed, the show understandably allowed its characters to become better zombie-killers (or whatever you call someone who destroys the undead). Taking out zombies is a frequent occurrence on that show. And, as Denzel Washington said, whatever you practice, you get good at.

What that leads to, though, is problems of scale. If 10 zombies are no longer a problem for the survivors, what about 30? 50? If we don’t worry about those characters during a small scale attack, does  that mean a scene has to feature a huge attack in order to make the viewer think, ‘Uh oh, they might be in trouble here’? What happens when the characters’ kill-skills outstrip the budget, and the show can’t afford to make every battle of apocalyptic scale?

I guess a lot of people watched that Jedi float that ship and thought it was cool. I just thought, ‘If this guy can float a god damn spaceship with his Jedi superpowers, will I be concerned for him when a few stormtroopers arrive?’. I think I might be in the minority here. So much of fiction is suspension of disbelief anyway (or choosing to believe). Does that then mean the average viewer could watch said Jedi throw that ship away, but worry he’ll get hurt by a single wisecracking droid? Or that five seasoned zombie-smashers could be in trouble when two undeads shamble over? I’m unsure if this is a problem a number of people have

Will the long take die?

The last few years have brought some impressive long takes — the muddy prison fight of The Raid 2; following McConaughey through the house in season one of True Detective; La La Land’s opening number; an entire fight in Creed; and even a surprisingly impressive one in London has Fallen. But will occurrences of long takes become too damn high? Will their popularity could lead to overuse, leading to cliche?

While I enjoyed all the scenes mentioned above, as they unfolded I became aware that I was watching a long take. I looked for cuts, or thought about the technicalities of such shots. I presume the point of a long take is to immerse the viewer in the moment. But for me it had the opposite effect — I thought about the film-making instead of the film, created a remove between me and the action.

I guess this point boils down to my answer to the question: how invisible do you want film-making to be? Do you want creators to show these types of technical abilities, even if doing so could potentially detract from being immersed in the film? Or do you want their skills to be of the more invisible type?

In the mid-90s, my favourite sports journalist was Scoop Jackson. I loved his style of writing. When I re-read his articles a few years ago, they didn’t work for me. It was too stylish, his flair too evident. Nowadays, I prefer writers like Chris Ballard, whose talent as a writer is shown in more subtle ways. When I read Scoop I’m aware of reading someone’s writing. With Ballard, I fall into the story. There’s no distance between me, him, and the subject. We’re all there. That’s how I like to feel about films too.


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