WAR GAMES (1983, Badham)

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Happy thanksgiving, everyone. Here’s a movie I’m thankful for, WarGames; the clever script and direction just manage to stay on the believable side of far-fetched, no easy task. Matthew Broderick, Dabney Coleman, the hilarious Barry “I’d piss on the spark plug” Corbin are all at their prime, while nothing says 80’s flick like the adorable Ally Sheedy.

Today’s post is about a very little moment that I think has big implications. But first, let’s get some technical things cleared-up: When making his compositions on set, director John Badham shot this film open matte, which allows for presentation in both 1.85 (the movie-theater version of our modern TV’s 16:9 rectangle) and a square 4:3 image for 1980’s TV’s. That is, he kept the lights and boom way out of frame so he could just show more above and below the rectangular movie theater composition when the film would be presented on the square, ye olde fashioned TV.  He did this to avoid the horrible “pan and scan” process that wide films had to go through to fit onto the old 4:3 square TV’s. This means there are actually two different versions of the movie (much like Touch of EvilThe Shining and Empire of the Sun) – you see more in one than the other which is nominal, but somehow still great, fun.

All that being said, this youtube version is the 4:3 square, old TV version. So you have to imagine that in the theaters and on HBO & DVD you see even less of what I’m about to point out, making the sound effect all that more important and effective. This all goes back to my previous post on E.T. about the reliability and power of sound in a film and this is a very simple, subtle, but I think important, example. So many directors, particularly in television, I feel, don’t trust or value sound and feel the need to over-cover moments to death with the camera. But check out this beat in WarGames which was atypical enough to make me post about it.

Moment in question is at 4:18, but please do start at 3:03.

At 4:18, David (Broderick), totally frightened & unnerved that the computer is not only still playing the “game” but is actually phoning him, hangs up on it. But it calls back, and we learn the machine is not going to stop playing until it’s won. Now understand, the scene is all about the relentless computer stalking him via the phone lines and refusing to end the game. So the beat of the phone being hung up is an important one.

Badham’s Sound Choice

When seeing this in the theater, and even in this 4:3 youtube clip, the phone being hung up is off camera (way off camera in 16:9). But we hear the tell-tale sound of that action, followed by another ominous ring. I can’t tell you how many directors and especially execs now-a-days wouldn’t have the nerve to trust the audience to understand a beat such is this without showing it. I crap you negative. They’d fret or get/give notes from above and sooner or later every moment that might, on the slightest outside chance, be missed is shot so obviously and blatantly that before we know it, there’s nothing left to discover, nothing to figure out for ourselves, leaving us with a literal, flat presentation.

Okay, this is all. Carry on and enjoy your Thanksgiving holiday. Today I’m thankful for John Badham letting me get a beat through sound and my brain!

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THE SHINING (1980, Kubrick)

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I can’t get enough of The Shining right now – Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall‘s kabuki performances included – so much so that today’s shot isn’t even from the movie. I wanted to make a case study of it, so I recently read the novel, then watched the movie twice, which then led me to the fascinating wiki article on the film (click above photo for that article). All in all, I have a whole new level of appreciation and understanding of the film, if one can actually have the latter. But it was a commercial for British television’s channel 4 that has my mind blown today.

From Vivian & Stanley Kubrick’s Camera

In researching The Shining on youtube, for today’s post, I happened upon this absolutely incredible tribute to the film, in the form of a :65 ad for Channel 4’s “Kubrick Season.” There is so much crazy, loving detail in this single oner that it’s almost hard to believe – complete with behind-the-scenes beats from Vivian Kubrick’s making-of documentary: recognize the ‘bowing man’ at :41 in video below? Check out Vivian’s documentary at 3:32!

According to this brief article on the making of the promo, “The spot, which was shot over two days at London’s Bray Studios, was filmed using a 25mm Cooke lens – a favourite of Kubrick’s.” So cool. Even more so because ‘favourite’ has a ‘u’ in it.

I tell you, I would totally redrum to see a making-of of this shot!

CASINO ROYALE (2006, Campbell)

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All this talk recently of the new James Bond film, Skyfall, photos here, starting production with Sam Mendes at the helm, has me craving Casino Royale. That movie made me really fall in love with the Bond universe again. To me, not since I was a kid was the series this dramatic, exotic or fun. (The old films, being so dated now, don’t carry the old magic anymore for me.) The weighty new take was just what was needed to revitalize a franchise that had been growing stale. Then there was a bit of a misstep with Quantum, which I’d like to critically discuss in an effort to further explain what I love so much about Royale. It has to do with camera and cutting styles, and ultimately one shot that I think exemplifies what Royale does right and Quantum does wrong.

First, here is the opening action sequence from Royale – the thrilling parkour/free running chase. Note especially the very first establishing shot of the snake/mongoose fight. Then check out the sweeping, craning shots, most awesomely at 4:42, which are as electrifying as they are incredibly useful in laying out clear geography and action.

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Rewatching Royale, I was taken by just how impeccably crafted, detailed and elegant director Martin Campbell‘s action sequences are (the film’s clunky love story is another topic, but I forgive it on the strength of everything else, I have no choice), and it made me dislike its sequel Quantum of Solace all the more. The former film’s action has a grand elegance to it, a coherent visual language, which was so sorely missing from its sequel Quantum of Solace .

Compare those gorgeous craning shots of Daniel Craig and the bomb-maker duking it out on the construction crane (in video above) — that both take your breath and allow you to breathe — with the chaotic and random shots of the opening sequence of Quantum (video below), which in itself not a bad thing. I mean it’s a really hectic, life-and-death, violent car chase – going subjective I can dig; that’s precisely how you’d actually experience it. However, it’s when that aesthetic doesn’t let up, but takes first seat in the story’s continued telling that makes me utter “uh-oh” I don’t like what this director, Marc Forster, is up to this go around (and he’s a filmmaker that I otherwise greatly admire).

And I think I finally figured out the very shot where it goes wrong: the crane shot at 3:36 (in the Quantum video below) broke this camel’s back. After that frenetic car chase sequence, Bond then drives his beat up car into the picturesque Italian town. The camera booms up from the car to reveal the gorgeous locale. BUT, it doesn’t even let us breathe to appreciate the stunning beauty of the town – the very frame the city is even barely established – it CUTS. And I was like, okay, jerkface, you’re not about the content, you’re about the flashy camera work and editing, which served its purpose in the last scene, but now, no. I mean, a beautiful vista like that, after such a frantic sequence, the eye just wants to swim in it, it wants a break. What’s more, the world of the Bond films is about really feeling a part of those gorgeous locales. How could Forster be denying us a core element that makes the Bond films so satisfying?

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While I get that the difference between the films could be all about the themes they were working with, a ‘royal casino’ must be a very smooth and  elegant place and perhaps a ‘quantum’ of solace is a tiny, tiny amount, which surely must frazzle the nerves, I’m guessing, but at the expense of all dynamics goes a bit far.

Finally, seeing it last night, I had to chuckle at this shot (1:20 in above Royale video), one of my faves in Casino Royale, which is another great example of a grand visual clearly establishing setting and geography while not vanishing in a blink. When the free-running bomb-maker first flees, the camera cuts to an incredibly graphic (in the ‘design’ sense) and expensive looking “high and wide,” POV-of-God shot. It’s included for 3 seconds, never to be heard from again, and moves elegantly enough to raise the question, what the hell was supporting that camera? All this just to throw a big ol’ loving “F’ you” to anyone doubting whether or not this movie had a budget equal or greater to the GDP of the country it was filming in! But it lasts for a full 3 seconds, an eternity by Quantum‘s clock, and I’m all for it.

Fingers crossed for Skyfall.

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INDIANA JONES AND TEMPLE OF DOOM (1984, Spielberg)

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UPDATE: 12/9/11 – Youtube yanked the sample video, so I was inspired to create my own, hosted by yours truly, to take advantage of Fair Use laws, and to maybe start expanding Shot4Shot into a youtube channel.  Check out the video below and please let me know what you think.

This is just a quick but very fun post, as I’m super pressed for time this week. So I fall back on my Spielberg list – his shots never disappoint – and a Behind-The-Scenes-Pic-Of-The-Day from AintItCoolNews.com, a really terrific series the site has been doing for a couple years now(?). Plus, with any post, you can’t go wrong with Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones.  Love or hate the film, today’s shot is a great example of a great practical effect.

In the below Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom still from Industrial Light and Magic (which you can click to see bigger) we see a fantastic reverse angle on the famous plane-crash sequence, specifically just after Kate Capshaw screams seeing the approaching mountain top. In the photo, the craft’s landing gear kisses the jagged peak, blasting bits of snowcap for dramatic punctuation.

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Pre-CGI Spielberg

I never would have suspected this was accomplished with a model (I thought it was a stunt), a true testament, in this day and age, to the use of practical effects over digital whenever appropriate. It works so beautifully in part because a real plane is almost seamlessly intercut with it (for the less dangerous moments), the camera is moving so dramatically, not to mention the fact that the models are so big and well rendered.

The second I saw this peek behind the curtain, I ran, yes, ran, to my DVD player and threw in the DVD, fast-forwarding with sweaty anticipation to see if the shot that had bamboozled me so successfully as a 12 year old still held up. Would I see the seams? There’s definitely a little seam or two, but that’s the magic of movies and practical effects – it doesn’t have to be perfect to work perfectly.

Check it out in this first ever episode of Shot4shot!