Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Bourne Syndrome

I am a fan of the first Bourne movie. Particularly so since I didn't much care for the Robert Ludlum book and was able to watch the movie without bemoaning that the movie had exactly one blessed thing to do with said aforementioned book.

One of the reasons I did enjoy that movie were the fight scenes.

A good fight scene is every bit as beautiful as a dance. Matter-of-fact -- given the circumstances that Hollywood must necessarily work under -- a good fight scene
is a dance between professional performers.

Plus, the techniques used during the movie were ones that I'm familiar with -- more-or-less. There's nothing quite like seeing the kali drill you've been working on done on the big-screen.

Then along came the third Bourne movie and it all just went to hell.

Somebody, somewhere in Hollywood has decided that movie fight scenes must be filmed by fourteen different cameras, each one only filming for three micro-seconds before switching to the next camera.

Plus, each camera must be moving past, or through, the action sequence at a dead sprint during that three micro-seconds -- and Steadicams are apparently passé, because every step and bobble is displayed in all its amplified glory on the screen.

Between the sudden view switching, the high-speed swooping and the constant waggle, wobble and jiggle of the screen -- I found the third Bourne film to be unwatchable.

One should not feel the need for Dramamine during a featured film you paid money for. Mal de mer belongs out on the open sea -- not in a $8.00 theatre seat.

I bring this up because my brother took me to see
Quantum of Solace this afternoon -- and it suffers from a terminal case of The Bourne Syndrome.

Not only were the fight-scenes filmed in high-speed, multiple angle, diving, zooming snips, but so were the car chases, the boat chases and the foot chases.

I suppose this is supposed to add ... something ... to the cinematic experience, but if so, it is lost in the feelings of nausea, visual confusion and the sodding headache that it give me.

Unless, of course, sea-sickness
is the effect the director was going for -- in which case, Bravo, old chap! Well done, indeed.

Fight scenes are intricate, beautiful choreography. It would kind of be nice to be able -- you know -- SEE IT. Particularly when somebody ponies up some hard-earned dosh to see it.

Daniel Craig is becoming my favourite Bond, but if someone doesn't find a Steadicam for the next movie and lay-off the bloody camera-on-a-bungee-cord filming style, I'll probably not watch the next one.

The headache simply isn't worth it.



Old NFO said...

Thanks, I won't waste my money.

Anonymous said...

And I thought I was the only one.

Justin Buist said...

*nods head in agreement*

I haven't seen the latest Bond flick, but have noticed more films catering to folks with the attention span of a fly.

Anonymous said...

I can definitely sympathize with the sickness induced by the lack of a steady camera. Coincidentally it was the third Bourne movie which made me vow never to return to the movie theater again; I only saw the first half, as I spent the second half hunched in my seat, eyes jammed closed, trying to control my motion sickness. Oddly, I find myself perfectly at ease in an Imax theater...

Zundfolge said...

Apparently there's more reasons NOT to see the new Bourne..er..Bond movie than the Bournesque camera work.


In general, y'all can trust Dirty Harry's reviews.

Shell said...

I blame MTV. When music video directors became the darlings of filmdom their fast-cut/intercut/"realism" ("unsteady-cam", I call it) style became the last word in creative film-making. Meh.

For well-done fight scenes, I highly recommend Jason Statham in the first two "Transporter" films. I haven't seen the third one so can't recommend it, but me likey the others. And I don't need to tell 'dog about the waaaay cool fight scenes in Equilibrium.

Anonymous said...

I was talking to a friend about this and he said that it comes from (I think) a Japanese idea that a fight scene should convey the panic and intensity of a fight, usually by changing camera angles a lot and filming it extremely close up. The second Transporter movie suffered from this (as well as countless other movies), as there was a fight scene on a bus that I don't recall being able to make out a single action. Happens a lot in Jet Li movies too nowadays, it seems.

I agree with it being annoying, there's no point in choreographing an intricate fight scene if no one can tell what the hell is going on.

Sarah said...

I hate movie theaters anyway, for various reasons. Having to spend a bunch of bucks on a movie that I probably won't like anyway is at the top of the list. (I'm just not much of a film kind of person. It's hard to get me excited about a movie.)

Aesop said...

I loved the recent Bond movie, though I understand your distress at the camera work.

I wouldn't go so far in condemnming it on that basis, but I genuinely understand the complaint.

First things first: it was an excellent movie; by which I mean it had high production values, a recognizable plot line, and characters to both root for and jeer, contained within a script penned by literates, rather than by gibbering baboons.

We can work on the finer points of art later, but compared to most of the drivel recently available from Hollywood, this quibble is fixable.

The reason for the jerky-cam technique's overuse in the Bourne series was easily explained:
Matt Damon can't fight, and in normal focus with a steady Steadicam, his combat scenes look like a spastic mime trying to get out of an imaginary wet paper bag.

We can't be having any of that now, can we?

EgregiousCharles said...

I disliked the even the first Bourne movie because the cuts were too fast during the fight scenes. I like kung-fu movies where the actors do six or seven moves per cut.

Anonymous said...

I was going to suggest to my wife that we go see it, since she's a serious Bond fan... until you mentioned that it has my biggest peeve about modern "cinematography".

Thanks for the warning.

The only thing I dislike nearly as much is the stupidity that started in the Matrix films of having actors freeze during the fight while you see the camera shifting positions. Makes me want to scream...

Robert Langham said...

We were going to see Solace and went to see the Chihuahua movie instead. Action scenes sound about the same, but the acting is better.

Anonymous said...

know this filming technique you speak of, and I can say with certainty 'it can be worse'. Imagine said camera filming as you described, but then add the strobe effect of lightning. This is the final fight scene in the final Matrix movie. It was physically painful on my eyes to watch, and not because of the movie's content.

I don't mind the lack of Steadicam shots, as long as they're used sparingly.

Anonymous said...

I first noticed this in Batman Begins and chalked it up to Nolan learning the action genre. Now I see it everywhere and it's damn annoying.

Anonymous said...

I hear you. I was "this" close to walking out of that 3rd Bourne movie I was so put-off by the camera work. Maybe I'll wait for Quantum on video. Besides, these days I get more a bigger thrill out of denying Hollywood my money than I get out of their product.

Anonymous said...

The same techniques have been used to film television shows and it's annoying as hell. I can't watch half of the home shows on HGTV because of this. The fast changes and zooming effects are nauseating.

Peter said...

Note to mobile camera operators:

"The name is Bondo. James Bondo."

Anonymous said...

I have concluded that we, as a group, are all probably too old to be going to action movies. They are being built and directed for the young crowd.

Anonymous said...

So, are we supposed to be feeling "panic and intensity" watching the time-consuming zooms and snips of buildings and general landscaping in such programs as Boston Legal, CSI Miami, etc.? I totally appreciate the reappearance of color tints in the CSI series; that's a nice, unobtrusive mood-inducing technique, but this 3-second overlay crap is as bad as the media's focus on peoples' hands when interviewing.
Idiotic, but someone did it, and it was touted as the mod thing, so now, boringly, everyone does it.
It probably wasn't boring when Alfred Eisenstadt did it, but him these people aren't.
Someone ought to tell them that not only is the lack of originality boring, repetition is monotonous, and what's worse, so far as these techniques go, they aren't good at it.

Rorschach said...

You can all blame Bruckheimer, he started the whole mess.

Rorschach said...

Oh, and John Woo.

Michael said...

Said something close after I saw the movie: http://www.fromwhereisit.org/?p=4249

Just looks like bad editing to me.

Anonymous said...

Doesn't it bother anyone to note the Mr. Craig publicly stated the it make's him physically ill to pick up a gun? Even a prop gun?
I notice that when paid enough, he is able to overcome his tummy ache.

Anonymous said...

Actually greybeard, since I don't like Daniel Craig, the idea of his barfing behind the scenes all during the filming of the movie is rather satisfactory.

Mad Jack said...

I inadvertently walked in about five minutes into this film and thought I was watching a trailer. Straight money. I watched for a few minutes and made a note to see the film because of the excellent locations, and left.

I saw the film and just ignored what ever plot was supposed to be there. The locations and scenery are excellent, but that's it.

If anyone has read the books by Ian Fleming, they will know what is wrong with the films. If not, the balance of my comments won't mean a thing.

My complaints begin with the portrayal of Bond's boss, M. M. was a man. Bond lived in a man's world, as did Ian Fleming. I suppose my long list would finish with the notion that some group of people can go around tearing everything up, destroying property left, right and centre whilst throwing more lead than Winchester can make and not attract a SWAT team or a nationwide man hunt.

Bertha said...

I'm totally with 'Dog on this one. I have a fairly extreme reaction to the non-steady cams; I actually get a little queasy just watching a long, fast pan. I rented Cloverfield for my son but I literally could not watch it myself.

I think the next time I go to the movies and encounter the non-steadicam in a feature I paid eight bucks to see, I'm going to leave and ask for a refund. Like the man said, I don't pay good money to get seasick in a theatre.

X_LA_Native said...

Can't stand the rapid cut, nanosecond framing of the current action scene school of thought. As LawMom mentioned, once it's hip, slick, and cool, everyone does it. Much like the "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" slo-mo-while-flying meme.
And here I'd thought (a LONG time ago) "it's already been done" was something to avoid in Hollywood.

The last time I was made nauseous in a theater was watching the final Coliseum scene in "Gladiator". Someone on the CGI team made one clean spot in the back row of the crowd, and decided to carry it throughout that back row...and there just ain't that degree of focus for that depth of field.

ibex said...

I completely, totally, wholeheartedly agree with you LawDog.

Matt G said...

I mirror your comments almost word-for-word, LD, including my feelings about Ludlum's books. But I have to say that I felt this way watching the very firstBourne movie. The fight scenes all include rapidly-changing camera views with lots of camera movement and even zoom, to attempt to give the viewer a bewilderment and perception of how fast things are going. But it reminds me of how Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers complained in their later movies that the director had the camera zoom in on their faces, so that the viewers couldn't see their feet.

Wanna see. Can't?

Well then, I won't see any of it. Bah.

Panday said...


I practice Pekiti-Tirsia Kali. I have a good video clip of some knifework in my last post:

Medic(three) said...

It reminded me of the god damn Blair witch project--with a 100 million dollar budget. Atleast the blair witch project had an excuse!

Captain Tightpants said...


Tagged you with a book meme sir, hope you don't mind.

TheBronze said...

This is the BEST Bourne Movie EVER!


Anonymous said...

I agree.

The style of filming and editing you describe is really annoying.

Your analysis is dead accurate.

I'll wait for the DVD.

The movie makers probably do not realize that they are losing ticket sales because of the way they shoot and cut the fight scenes.

Someone needs to explain to them that shooting and editing the fights scenes in this "B.S." style is about as appealing to the audience as it would be if a sex scene was shot and cut that way.

For those of us who relish a good fight scene, watching these choppy, oddly cut and badly filmed scenes takes the fun out of the whole movie for us.



Anonymous said...

See, it's all a conspiracy. They have to chop the scene up so the younger crowd can't learn how to fight. (Because nothing's better for fight training than a Hollywood movie, right? Right.) As the older generation dies off, the transformation of the populace to defenseless sheeple will be complete -- even if they WANT to fight back, all they'll be able to do is flail about like Matt Damon....

Anonymous said...

While I also find the constant cutting style of film editing rather annoying don't put it on the MTV generation.
Paul Greengass (iirc) is definately not a 'MTV' ad director or whatever. His first film 'Sunday, Bloody Sunday' is damn good. Bourne 2 was highly enjoyable (and frankly I rather enjoyed Bourne 3 as well) and United 93 was supposdly a good piece of film-making, even if I personally have no interest in seeing the film.

Tom B said...

I study Kali myself. Are you familiar with Bobbe Edmonds over at the Thick as Thieves blog?


He's an incredible instructor of Kali and Pencak Silat. His YouTube channel is here:


Unknown said...

Here may be a reason...

"Dan Bradley was hired as the film's second unit director on the basis of his work on the Jason Bourne trilogy, so the film would continue the contemporary gritty action style begun in Casino Royale (2006)."

Kevin said...

My wife has actually been given cause to spew over the current rage for hand-held cameras apparently inspired by "The Blair Witch Project." It's gotten to the point that we don't know if a film is going to be "safe" for her to watch anymore.

And at $9 a ticket, that means we pass on a lot of movies we might otherwise have seen.

Julie said...

totally agree with you - i do however want to watch it again - on DVD with the remote handy ... so i can stop it, slow it down, and rewind - oh, and i paid $16.50 for my ticket!

Anonymous said...

That's the reason I can watch "Last of the Mohicans" over and over - there is an art to the violence, a purpose.

Kim du Toit said...

You've hot on one of my pet peeves, there. Too many modern movies have been screwed up by this jumpy-camera cinema-verité nonsense, especially when it makes no sense to the storyline or even to the specific action.

I suggest a re-watching of Frankenheimer's Ronin to steady the queasiness, and for a lesson in how fast-moving action should be filmed.

Anonymous said...

If I may offer an opinion from the future, the relatively new John Wick movies do not suffer from this malady.