Cameramensch Dept.


I'm normally not a fan of Jim Emerson, but this one nails it.

Why the Enterprise matters (and the rest is anti-matter) - scanners

When showing opticals, miniatures or CGI — especially when they are supposed to exist within the gravitational fields of planetary atmospheres — do not, DO NOT program complex twisty-turny "camera movements" that no actual camera would or could ever make. It just calls attention to the shot's inherent phoniness. In other words, just because you can send the camera hurtling through the air, upside down or sideways, is — in and of itself — not a good reason to do so. All it accomplishes is to make the more attentive members of your audience notice the shot, and perhaps the labor that went into it, rather than what they're supposed to be looking at, which is whatever's happening in the world of the movie. There's a shot of a Starfleet ship leaving Iowa in broad daylight that is so needlessly complex you forget what the shot is about. All that effort just to make plain old earthbound Iowa look unconvincing.

If, in the middle of an action sequence (or, god forbid, what ought to be a simple establishing shot), the viewer is thinking, "Look at those special visual effects," then the effects are badly done. You want them to accept the reality of what's on the screen — "Look out for that Romulan ship!" — not to be sitting back and thinking, "Why is the camera upside down?" or, even worse, "Oh, look, we're back to CGI again," like that Monty Python "Exterminating Angel" sketch where the characters are trapped on video inside a house and surrounded by film outside. Somebody needs to go back and look at "2001: A Space Odyssey" or "Blade Runner" or "Alien" or "Terminator 2" to see how to build a believable world that incorporates visual effects.

I've been thinking much the same thing myself for a long time, and in fact I said as much when I reviewed FFVII:AC and Shinobi. Just because you can make the camera do the impossible doesn't mean it's a good idea — in fact, it's usually a terrible idea, because most of us by now have a good idea of what the camera can and cannot do when you're actually holding one and using it. It's not just that such tactics "call attention to themselves" (everything in a work of visual art calls attention to itself; that's why it's visual); it's that they are to the vocabulary of filmmaking what l33tsp33k and txt msgs are to the vocabulary of storytelling.

I confess I like the first-person-POV shaky-cam look, but only when it's mitigated by the storytelling. It worked in Bourne, because it put us in Bourne's shoes: it made us feel what he felt. It doesn't work for a battle between spaceships, where you have no idea what the real embodiment of your POV is, and so you fall back on being dumped back into "oh, it's only a movie — er, a bunch of CGI".

On a related note, I hate Michael Bay.


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