Have You Ever Noticed:
We're not talking about movies that have actual documentary elements (aka Cloverfield), but rather little touches designed to make you think what you're seeing was filmed by a fly-on-wall documentarian with a handheld camera, rather than a gigantic film crew on a sound stage. Even when it makes absolutely no sense for that to be the case.
Even worse, they do this by painstakingly inserting elements that used to be considered embarrassing mistakes.
You've no doubt noticed the painfully obvious "shaky cam" that's so popular these days, where they jerk the camera around the action so you can't tell who's punching who (as if we're supposed to think the opening battle in Gladiator was being shot by some time-traveling war correspondent, and one of the side effects of time travel is apparently severe loss of muscular control).
And this was the clearest shot we could get of Quantum of Solace.
But there are more subtle, and sillier ones. For instance, crap landing on the camera lens. District 9, awesome as it was, actually obscures the lens with blood from time to time. But before that you saw it in Braveheart and We Were Soldiers. During the opening battle in Saving Private Ryan you got both blood and water splashing on the lens.
Then you have the, "Whoops, we accidentally pointed the camera into the sun!" lens flare, where the light actually glares off the lens and obscures part of the shot:
Fans complained so much about the lens flare effect in Star Trek that J.J. Abrams had to issue a statement basically apologizing for it.
What's Going On?
The idea is if the shot looks accidental, then that is supposed to subconsciously say "realism" to the audience (rather than "sloppy"). Movies shot the old way (that is, in a way where you could clearly see what was freaking happening) now look too clean and staged. If you want to make the movie look real and gritty, you need to mess it up, so it looks more like a documentary. Though we're not sure how that still works if it's in every movie.
We suppose that's where you draw the line between directors who do it for a reason, versus ones who are just hopping on a bandwagon. For instance, those battle scenes in Saving Private Ryan had an unsettling sharp, almost stuttering effect because Spielberg intentionally messed up the camera's shutter to make it look less like a movie and more like real war footage for newsreels back in the day.
The goal was to bring home the horror of the war. A decade later, you can see the same effect in the fight scenes in Crank: High Voltage.
The ridiculous irony with all of these is that technology has been carefully crafted over time specifically to prevent them. For instance, modern camera lenses have reflective coating and other treatments specifically to prevent lens flares. Virtually every time you see it in a movie, some poor bastard has had to go back in and add it with CGI, or else they had to specifically stage the shot so the sun was in perfect position to give them a shot that used to get cinematographers fired.
Have You Ever Noticed:
There's something weird going on with 3D. On one hand, Avatar was so crisp that it looked like you could jump into the screen. Pixar movies like Up and Toy Story 3 look like dioramas--the depth of field making it seem like you could reach in and grab one of the toys out of the universe.
But then you have these other movies, showing in the same theaters, that you watch with the same glasses, that look like shit. It hasn't gone unnoticed: Clash of the Titans famously was released in 3D and Jeff Katzenberg, the guy pushing 3D heavily, said it looked so bad it was going to kill the format.
But the low point has to be The Last Airbender. Forget about the dialogue and acting for a moment--it had a 3D job so terrible that it looked significantly worse than any of the old-fashioned 2D movies it was being shown alongside. Everything was dark and muddy.
Or maybe we just don't know what genius looks like.
What's Going On?
What they're failing to tell you in the ad campaigns for these films is that not every 3D movie was actually shot in 3D. Most of them weren't, in fact. They were instead converted to 3D after the fact. Not only does it not give you anything like the illusion of depth that 3D is supposed to be used for, but it actually degrades the whole image.
The reason is technical: The 3D conversion darkens the image a lot as a function of the process. You lose light both when converting the film, and then from the glasses, meaning you essentially make a bright film overcast and render a dark film impossible to see. So if a film was dark to begin with, like The Last Airbender, turns into a murky mess.
Why would they do that? Because the converted 3D movies can charge the same ridiculously inflated ticket price as the real 3D movies. We're talking up to a 50 percent markup here.
Do the math: It only costs the studio $10 to $15 million to do this quick and dirty 3D conversion, yet it helps a mediocre movie like Clash of the Titans make $500 million worldwide. The jacked-up 3D ticket prices alone will earn that money back many times over.
So, the same rule applies here as it does everywhere: If it's making them rich, why ever change it?
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