Another Slice of SciFi editorial contribution: Steady There, Fella

Another Slice of SciFi opinion piece from a number of years ago.  This one maintained its relevance since the whole “shaky cam” trend in motion pictures has retained its appeal for many misguided directors.

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Steady There, Fella

In the olden days, when a camera had to follow an actor as he or she moved across a set, cinematographers relied on various techniques to ensure minimal camera shake. Until the advent of the steady-cam, complicated shots were difficult to execute because of the limitation of the camera having to be mounted on a stable platform.  Once the steady-cam was invented, it freed cinematographers to be very innovative in shooting action sequences.  Long, continuous, and dynamic scenes could be shot despite varying terrain and changing elevation.  The camera operator could literally be in the midst of the action, moving from one actor to the other, capturing various details, all without any telltale shaking.  The audience got immersed in the action as if they themselves were in the middle of it all.  Life was good; all was well; movies were great. 

Then came someone obviously suffering from a vision disorder.  “That is not how the world is.  Things are not sharp and in focus; everything is blurry, the action too quick for anyone to follow!”  And so came the invention of the hand-cam.  That is the cinematographic equivalent of Uncle Ernie’s filming the BBQ party in the backyard.  The audience is still immersed in the action, but now everyone is bumping into them.  And this was deemed good, and everybody followed suit, striving for the mythical realism of an observer on crack.

I am here to set things straight.  Or should I say “steady”?  Most people’s brains have a fair amount of their capacity assigned to the sole task of interpreting the world as if viewed through a steady cam.  Ask any athlete; ask any hunter; ask any person walking through a crowd . . . they don’t see the world as if they sported a bobblehead.  Our bodies are geared to holding one’s head relatively steady as one walks or runs.  This provides a stable platform for our eyes. 

Our brain filters out what little shake is imparted by our movements so as to give us a steady image of the world around us.  It is what enables us to discern small movements, say those of a potential prey.  It is what allows us to predict trajectories so we can throw a rock and have a reasonable chance of hitting something even if it’s moving in an erratic way.  It allows us to plot an intercept course so we can tackle the idiot who is trying to get a pigskin ball past us.  It allows us to swing a piece of wood at an oncoming projectile with the intent of knocking said projectile as far away as possible.  You never see a batter hopping up and down in an attempt to get a better look at the ball that is being hurled at him.  We don’t see a hunter shaking his head side to side in an attempt to get a better bead on his target.  You get the idea.

I am a big fan of the Bourne Identity series.  I bought the first one, and have watched it many times; I bought the second one, and have watched it a couple of times; I’m not buying the third one, and it’s not likely I will watch it again.  It is not because I get motion sickness.  It’s because it annoys the crap out of me when I cannot see exactly what is happening in any given action shot.  What is the point of setting up complicated stunts with extended action sequences, and then film them in such a way the audience can’t tell what’s really going on? 

Now I know there are fans of this kind of filming, but since I don’t drink or do drugs I can’t really relate to them.  After watching the Bourne Ultimatum I resolved not to watch any of the so-called “hand-cam” movies. 

I’ve been told the invisible monster movie, you know the one that eats New York, is a good movie.  I’ve seen the previews; I could not even tell who the actors are, and I am pretty good at recognizing faces (another evolutionary trait; much better, in my opinion, at recognizing others of your species than the method employed by dogs).  Perhaps if I jumped up and down, and shook all about, I could eventually hit upon a combination of movements counteracting the erratic movements on the screen, thus allowing me to see what the heck was going on. 

That seems like too much of an effort just to watch a movie . . .  I’ll wait instead for someone to invent the equivalent of the noise cancellation headphones; that is, I’m waiting for someone to invent the hand-cam cancellation glasses.  I think ultimately that is more likely to happen than for Hollywood to abandon its infatuation with their “don’t let them see what’s happening” style of filming . . . unless someone goes over there and shakes the crap out of them.