Monday, 14 March 2011

Cinemaniacal: Stop The Shaking!!!

Welcome to the show folks...

Film critic Christian Toto has raised an interesting question. That question is "Does anyone actually like that shaky cam?"

You know what I mean, you're watching an action movie and the goddamn camera won't stay at any one place for longer than a single frame. The camera's constantly swinging and swooping and wobbling to the point where you manage to get motion sickness and headaches without wearing 3D goggles.

I don't know anyone who goes to movies that actually likes it. I've never seen anyone say anything complimentary of shaky camera work, but I've heard and seen hundreds, if not thousands of complaints. People have actually walked out of movies because of the shaky cam.

So why does Hollywood do it?

Because Hollywood is lazy, loves imitation, and can't see past the surface of anything.

Christian Toto mentions that one of the earliest major films to use the shaky cam was the second Bourne movie directed by Paul Greengrass. The effect was impressive making the 4 foot 9 inch star Matt Damon look fast as a scorpion in the fight scenes and distracted from the narrative shortcomings, specifically the fact that all three Bourne films had pretty much the same plot.

When Hollywood saw the movie make money they looked at its surface, saw the deliberately shaky camerawork, and thought: "That must be it!" but this revelation came with gravy to appeal to their lazy side.

You see, the shaky cam is also shortcut, an easy way out. Where one used to create urgency through writing a suspenseful plot, choreographing elaborate stunts, and carefully constructing action montages in the editing suite, now all you have to do is shake the camera a lot. That means every director with either laziness or the slightest doubt in their own abilities chickens out and start jerking at the camera. And not just during the actions, because if it works in an action scene, then it's bound to liven up a simple dialogue scene, because it's kind of energetic, or at least it sort of looks like it.

So it goes from being new and novel and original to cliche overnight.

How do you get rid of it? Hollywood loves cliches and never lets one go without a fight.

Well, you have to make it an object of parody.

Remember slo-mo? Sam Peckinpah masterfully mixed regular speed and slow motion camera work in The Wild Bunch to recreate the mad chaotic cognitive dissonance of combat. Hollywood saw the slo-mo and said "That must be it!" to themselves and soon you saw slo-mo shots in all sorts of action scenes.

Very few, if any, of these imitators handled slo-mo with the brilliance of Peckinpah, but that didn't stop them, because they thought it looked cool. It was only until it became an object of parody, or mockery, inspiring more laughs than awe that it was finally put to rest.

Then, maybe, Hollywood can learn to leave the camera alone to take the shot, because it's making a lot of people motion sick.


  1. Blast Hardcheese14/3/11 10:38 pm

    I agree, it's a lazy out. The funny thing is, the explanation Christian gives for the second Bourne movie (make Matt Damon look good) is demolished by the first movie. The first Bourne movie had a great fight in the Paris apartment. It was exciting and fast but you could still tell what the heck was going on. Choreographing an good action scene is becoming a lost art, I fear. The best ones I've seen recently are by FreddieW on YouTube - and he's doing them on the super-cheap.

    The only action scene I can think of that actually used shaky-cam well was the Normandy invasion in Saving Private Ryan. Even then, it was still used sparingly and you could still tell where people were and what they were doing.

  2. Dirty McDingus Sezs:
    Sorry there buddy~ "~Ryan" used it in pretty much Every stinking action scene!
    Furious D- Sorry also to you and your off the range remarks in regards to shaky cam starting in "the bourne~". It actually started in Die Hard THREE! I know it's been a few decades now, but I still remembered the nausea felt when I watched that movie (outside of the lousy story!) as they shook the sh@t out the camera~~~~ had to leave the theater room for a few minutes to collect myself.
    'battle la riots' is the newest annoyance to come out and it's a da&n shame since the stories decent. Still liked 'Skyline' better for the reasons behind the alien invasion.. i.e. You never truly knew Why they came to Earth! The new movies' alien objective is balls to the ceilings NUTS.. also: hollyweird did that angle in 'V' already! Nothing nu comes out of those rotten hills.

  3. Oh yes, Freddie Wong's action scenes are amazing:

    Chrono Trigger
    Time Crisis

    It is astounding that the vast majority of movies with millions of dollars of money and an army of professionals can't approach that level of quality.

    Wong & co have a making-of feature for almost everything they do, and in the one for Chrono Trigger they talk about why many action scenes are confusing and why they don't like shaky cam.

  4. Thanks for the nit-picking of my off the cuff blog post. Though I do notice that no one has noticed that I claimed Matt Damon is only 4 feet 9 inches tall.

    Maybe I've stumbled onto Damon's dark secret!!


  5. Blast Hardcheese15/3/11 3:02 pm

    He's sort of like the Shadow, eh? He has the ability to cloud men's minds so that they think he's taller than he really is.

    Hmmm...I wonder if there's a basis for a story there...the world's lamest superhero!

  6. I don't know anyone who actually likes it either. To quote one of the friends I saw "Battle: LA" with this weekend: With that budget you'd think they could have afforded a tripod.

    Shaky cam can be effective if it's purposeful and done well. For example, I was one of the people who got motion sick watching "The Blair Witch Project," but I forgave it because it was essential to the storytelling conceit. However, count me among the legions fed up with shaky cam as the default, especially in action movies.