A Nerd Rage Rant: Subject… Shaky cameras

Hello world.  It’s me—


—a nerd enraged.

It’s been a while since my last rant.  That’s because I couldn’t find anything worth ranting about.  Our little Earth is oh, so perfect.  And here was perfect, little ‘ol, six-foot-five-inches me, going to the movies to watch the newest sci-fi flick Lock Out.  It’s about this dude named Sno (or Snow… not really sure) who goes to save the president’s daughter.  She got herself stuck on a prison, during a prison break… in space.  Is he a bad enough dude?

The flick itself was fun to watch… I just can’t remember half of what was going on because SHAKE SHAKE SHAKE I couldn’t see the SHAKE SHAKE SHAKE and then the scene with the Tron-looking motorcycle and SHAKE SHAKE SHAKE he’s throwing something in the subway and a few shakes later… um… the good guy wins… I guess?

Am I missing something here?  Do movie theaters spike their sodas now?  Or perhaps, we’re just living in a time when it’s considered high-quality cinema to show frantic scenes with ThE cAmErA MoViNg EvErY dIrEcTiOn but strait.  See what I did there.  It gives my blog post more edge.  And that’s what these movies are after… they want to look kewl and EdGy.

Back in my days (the 90s) cool meant sunglasses and hot pink (early 90s).  Now it means messing with the means in which we view things.  It all goes back to how we perceive the media.

Take, for intense, the first tale ever told .  Cave man Ugg spoke to his cave friend Boogu about this mammoth he killed last moon day.  Ugg used the spoken media to spread this tale.  Boogu used his auditory senses to hear the words and his imagination to bring the story to life.

When Ugg described the Mammoth as a, “Big furry bolder with buck-tooth and snake nose”, Boogu imagined a tall furry beast with two, sharp teeth and a long snout.

If Ugg were to mess with how he spoke… you know sort of slur his words into a jumbled mess, speak them too quickly, or ignore any sense of a dramatic pause, then Boogu would be confused about what happened.  That is why when you’re telling a story, it’s important to know your timing.  It is the means by which you speak.  Comedians deal with this all the time.

If someone were to write the mammoth story down they should punctuate the book with markings that indicate to the reader when to pause if the author were to ignore these punctuations then the story would become incoherent and trail off into the distance until the reader got bored and stopped re

That is why we have written in pauses (period)  If (comma) for example (comma) the author wanted to elaborate on the mammoth’s scarred right eye (semicolon) he would put that detail in a brand new sentence (period)  This would focus the reader’s thoughts on the next bit of detail (period)

You shouldn’t mess with the means in which people perceive your art, unless it makes artistic sense.  You don’t give patrons blurry glasses to see realistic paintings; you show them a Van Gogh.

Movies tell stories with sights and sounds.  If you have no artistic reason to mess with how a movie is perceived, then keep the sounds lined up properly and keep the camera steady.  Wanting to show a scene with high action is fine and dandy, but there’s already a lot of chaos on the screen (i.e. dudes punching and kicking, jet planes dog-fighting over the Atlantic).  Keep the camera still so we can take it all in.

I’m reminded of a scene in Shakespeare’s King Lear.  The king is angry and takes it out on a thunderstorm.  In the play, the spoken words are so stormy that an audience can imagine this large thunderstorm pouring and pounding about.  In movie adaptations of the play, the scene is often drowned out with a visual and auditory reminder of this storm.  The storm sounds so loud in fact that it drowns out King Lear words.  It makes him sound like a raving lunatic, speaking incoherent sentences all over the place.  You can’t hear a thing he is saying, which takes away from why you watch anything by Shakespeare.  (Pss, it’s all about the words).

It is the same with modern action movies.  The Bourne Supremacy comes to mind.  There is a riveting scene with Mr. Bourne fighting another agent of equal prowess.  I heard that they spent a month choreographing this fight scene.  They wanted it to be raw and brutal, and it was… I think.  But Mr. Camera man had a little too many doughnuts that morning.  His sugar high was shuffling the screen about this way and that!

“What’s a treepod?”

This fight could have been viewed as one of the best, but compared to the clear precision of the camera work in Matrix… it doesn’t come close.  All that work by the actors and choreographer went out the window because the camera man decided to add an EARTHQUAKE feel about it.  It doesn’t need an earthquake to be edgy and cool.  It was better off with stable camera work.  It’s called a tripod.

Here’s the problem, our eyes are already having trouble focusing on the two men fighting.  A stable camera allows us to take the action in.  But with the camera shaking about… we have no anchor to what is going on.  The camera man knows where he is moving the camera so from his perspective it looks eDgY.  We can’t predict when and where it’s moving so from our end… it’s all juembld up.  Just try and watch someone playing a first person shooter video game like Call of Duty and you’ll understand what I mean.  Playing and controlling the camera is different from watching another do it.

The Blair Witch Project has ruined the movie industry.  At least in that film there was an artistic reasoning behind all the shaking.  With everything else… it’s just dumb.

5 thoughts on “A Nerd Rage Rant: Subject… Shaky cameras

  1. I have to admit while this technique usually makes me want to spit fire, a shaky camera was used in The Hunger Games to present chaos while avoiding showing massive violence and upping the rating. I thought it was used effectively in that case. … But generally, I can’t agree more. It’s not artful. It’s obnoxious.

    • That’s a good point Slytherclawchica.

      I have no problem with it as a technique for showing a visceral shot. As long as they don’t use it too much. Haven’t seen the Hunger Games yet. The book was good though.

      Another good use of this as a technique would be in the show Firefly. In a space shot, the camera would often times zoom in imperfectly. It was a subtle accented moment that worked out just fine.

    • J. J. Abrams is one of the best directors in Hollywood. I loved LOST (the first few seasons), loved Missions Impossible 3, and I loved what he did with the new Star Trek. I was looking forward to Cloverfield until I found out it was going to be all shaky… I can’t watch it… It makes me sad:(

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