Hunger Shaky-Cam Games
I have just returned from watching a film about an epic romantic triangle between a director, his editing suite, and the shaky-cam that he couldn’t resist. It was a passionate, torrid tale that exploded across the screen like a lens-flare, but unfortunately it was the only thing that was passionate in this cold, lifeless big-budget film.
As you might guess, I didn’t like the Hunger Games film much. I know this seems to put me in the minority at the moment (I suspect not as much once the overwhelming hype-bubble wears off) but I’m used to being there so that’s okay. It wasn’t a bad film, but it wasn’t an especially good film either- coming squarely down somewhere in between.
Why didn’t I like it? Well, I’d say there were three reasons I can directly pinpoint. First, the way it was filmed and edited. Second, the characterization, or lack thereof. And the third can be summed up in two words- Battle Royale.
I don’t think I was five minutes into this film before I wanted to shoot the cameraman with extreme prejudice, pry the camera rig from his cold dead hands and stick it on a steadycam mount where it belonged. Now, I have never made a secret of my dislike for the shaky-cam approach, but I know it can (like any cinematic technique) be an effective way to tell a story visually. I have in fact seen it done well, and used to great effect to represent action, disorientation, and telling a story from a character’s point of view.
It’s a good technique in moderation, and like any spice can really bring out the flavour of the film it’s used in. But, just like ginger or pepper, if you use too much of it, the receiver won’t be able to taste anything except the spice in question. The Hunger Games for me was a prime example of this. I was dizzy within the first five minutes, annoyed within ten, and outright annoyed after fifteen minutes of non-stop quick-cuts and shaky-cam. It was like this director was afraid that if the film stopped moving for more than half a second that the audience would suddenly start paying attention to the quality of the film and story.
Or maybe he was afraid we’d get attached to the characters, or god forbid, actually care about them. Well, no worries there, the majority of characters were as flat as flat could be and so thinly sketched I don’t even think they could qualify as “archetypes”. There’s only one character in the film who actually changes and grows through it- Woody Harrelson’s character if Haymitch Abernathy. He starts out as a disillusioned drunk, but through the inspiration of the lead characters Katniss redeems himself and changes his ways. Too bad the lead character of Katniss doesn’t change, she becomes a little more manipulative, but that’s about it. Same for her wannabe boyfriend, who (spoiler) actually tries to help the villains kill her at one point, but then gets forgiven just because.
The rest of the competitors aren’t even thinly sketched characters, they’re just blips that appear and die quickly- which like the camera-work I think was intentional. This is a film that was using every trick in the book to keep itself at a PG rating, so the last thing they wanted was any kind of emotional resonance or consequences for the audience. They wanted to keep things nice and level, so they produced a film that looked gorgeous, but was shallow and unemotional enough that it wouldn’t actually stimulate anyone or anything except on a surface level.
It’s Coke Zero, in movie form!
Which is probably why I was so seriously unimpressed by it.
That, and I’ve already seen this story with a tenth of the budget, and ten times better.
It’s a Japanese film called Battle Royale.
Based on a novel from the mid-Ninties, BR tells the story of a dystopian setting where the worst high-school class in a dystopian alternate Japan is placed on an island together to be made an example of by the totalitarian government. Each student has an explosive collar on their neck, and at the end of three days if there is more than one person from the class alive, they will all die. Then they are let loose on the island with weapons to deal with the situation. The whole thing is televised, of course, and is treated as a reality show. (Interestingly enough, this was written BEFORE Survivor or start of the American reality show boom.)
BR is a touching story about love, friendship, trust and the human spirit. The film is one of my favourites, despite being dark and at times a little bloody, exactly because it makes you care about the characters and takes you on the dark journey with them. You know the villains, and you know the heroes, and you experience the tragedy of the whole thing. (Yeah, the movie version goes a little gonzo near the end, but I can forgive it because of the rest of the story.)
It’s everything Hunger Games pretends to be, but with heart instead of glam. Mostly because the producers wanted you to care about the characters, and didn’t care about what kind of rating they’d get or how much money they’d make.
Avatar: The Legend of Korra– a friend sent me a link to a slightly grainy copy of the pilot episode of the new Avatar series. I have to confess, I’ve only watched a handful of episodes of the original series. I’ve tried to watch it a couple times, but it always failed to keep my attention despite being very well done. Korra seems a bit more up my alley, and is extremely well all around. I found myself entranced by the pilot and enjoyed it greatly, although I do wonder what exactly it is they’re setting up. It almost seems like Korra is to be Republic City’s resident superhero or something, which could be an interesting twist. I adore the setting they’ve created with it too, an odd mix of 1920’s American culture with a heaping dose of Chinese culture thrown in, a bit like the legendary city Shanghai was during the early part of the 20th century. A+
GoBuster– Each year Toei puts out a new Sentai series, and each year I watch the pilot hoping that it won’t be awful out of a sense of nostalgia for series like Timeranger, Bioman and Jetman. Pretty much every year they disappoint me, especially recently, so I was shocked to discover that this year’s sentai is actually pretty good! It’s a Spy-Themed Sentai this year, and they’re going out of their way to try to be more like a superspy series instead of a generic sentai series. The production values are great, they have a good (if typical) premise as to why the badguys are showing up, and they actually did something different with the badguy giant monsters for once. (The bad guys seem to actually attack in pairs, a human-sized monster of the week backed up by a slightly customized giant robot.) A lot of thought was also put into how (at least the pilot) is filmed as well. I might not watch it for long, but I will definitely give it a couple episodes. You can find it on Youtube subbed in English. B
PRIEST– This is a movie based on a Korean comic of the same name about a post-apocalyptic future where humans fought a great war with vampires and the remaining surviving humans live in giant walled cities. The Priests (read: Jedi) are the supersoldiers who won the war for humanity, and are now treated like crap since the vampries are gone. (or are they….? Dun Dun DUN!) This is an odd movie, which like Korra is a weird fusion of Asian and American aethestics that produce something visually unique in its own way. Of course, the things that aren’t unique are the plot or the writing, which are fair, but neither especially good or bad. Actually, the writing style did remind me of Korean Manhua (comics) I’ve read, and had all the poor elements I associate with them as well- stilted uneven storytelling, odd dialogue, and weird moments of comedy. (They produce fricken amazing Historical Dramas, why can’t they produce good comics?) The fights were fairly well done, and the odd thing is that the acting wasn’t bad, in fact it was pretty good! The movie’s cast are all A-List and B-List American actors! They just have really mediocre material to work with. It’s showing on the Movie Channels here in Canada right now. C+
Justice League: DOOM– This is such an odd animated movie. It’s based on a comic by Grant Morrison, voiced by the cast of the old Justice League animated series (together one last time!), and produced by the team doing the current Young Justice TV show who even use the Young Justice character designs for the League. Considering all of these elements were A-List, you’d think it would be an amazing film, but the result is a little underwhelming. It’s not a bad story or premise, and the presentation is good, but its a little too action-oriented for its own good and loses most of its depth in favor of- “and they fight!”. The only one who gets any characterization in it is Vandal Savage, who is oddly the main badguy in the Young Justice TV series as well. (I think the current producer guy adores him, which is kinda refreshing in a way since he’s a really underused villain.) It looks great, and if you’re a fan its worth seeing, but I can only give it a B+.
Well that’s unusual. I’d like to know what Herbs this guy was taking! 🙂
When Chinese herbalist Li Ching-Yun died in 1933, newspapers were hard pressed to write his obituary. Li had contended that he had been born in 1736, which would have made him 197 years old.
In 1930, Wu Chung-Chien of Minkuo University had reported finding records showing that Li had been even older, born in 1677 and congratulated by the imperial Chinese government on his 150th and 200th birthdays.
Read more here:
Wow, amazing production work on so many levels. I’m thoroughly impressed.
Came across this today, interesting reading:
The OODA Loop
Boyd’s key concept was that of the decision cycle or OODA Loop, the process by which an entity (either an individual or an organization) reacts to an event. According to this idea, the key to victory is to be able to create situations wherein one can make appropriate decisions more quickly than one’s opponent. The construct was originally a theory of achieving success in air-to-air combat, developed out of Boyd’s Energy-Maneuverability theory and his observations on air combat between MiGs and F-86s in Korea. Harry Hillaker (chief designer of the F-16) said of the OODA theory, “Time is the dominant parameter. The pilot who goes through the OODA cycle in the shortest time prevails because his opponent is caught responding to situations that have already changed.”
Boyd hypothesized that all intelligent organisms and organizations undergo a continuous cycle of interaction with their environment. Boyd breaks this cycle down to four interrelated and overlapping processes through which one cycles continuously:
Observation: the collection of data by means of the senses
Orientation: the analysis and synthesis of data to form one’s current mental perspective
Decision: the determination of a course of action based on one’s current mental perspective
Action: the physical playing-out of decisions
Of course, while this is taking place, the situation may be changing. It is sometimes necessary to cancel a planned action in order to meet the changes.
This decision cycle is thus known as the OODA loop. Boyd emphasized that this decision cycle is the central mechanism enabling adaptation (apart from natural selection) and is therefore critical to survival.
Boyd theorized that large organizations such as corporations, governments, or militaries possessed a hierarchy of OODA loops at tactical, grand-tactical (operational art), and strategic levels. In addition, he stated that most effective organizations have a highly decentralized chain of command that utilizes objective-driven orders, or directive control, rather than method-driven orders in order to harness the mental capacity and creative abilities of individual commanders at each level. In 2003, this power to the edge concept took the form of a DOD publication “Power to the Edge: Command…Control…in the Information Age” by Dr. David S. Alberts and Richard E. Hayes. Boyd argued that such a structure creates a flexible “organic whole” that is quicker to adapt to rapidly changing situations. He noted, however, that any such highly decentralized organization would necessitate a high degree of mutual trust and a common outlook that came from prior shared experiences. Headquarters needs to know that the troops are perfectly capable of forming a good plan for taking a specific objective, and the troops need to know that Headquarters does not direct them to achieve certain objectives without good reason.
In 2007, strategy writer Robert Greene discussed the loop in a post called “OODA and You”. He insisted that it was “deeply relevant to any kind of competitive environment: business, politics, sports, even the struggle of organisms to survive”, and claimed to have been initially “struck by its brilliance”.
Also worth noting from the entry:
Boyd divided warfare into three distinct elements:
- Moral Warfare: the destruction of the enemy’s will to win, disruption of alliances (or potential allies) and induction of internal fragmentation. Ideally resulting in the “dissolution of the moral bonds that permit an organic whole [organization] to exist.” (i.e., breaking down the mutual trust and common outlook mentioned in the paragraph above.)
- Mental Warfare: the distortion of the enemy’s perception of reality through disinformation, ambiguous posturing, and/or severing of the communication/information infrastructure.
- Physical Warfare: the abilities of physical resources such as weapons, people, and logistical assets.
Here’s a blast from the past! I’d forgotten that Marvel did a companion video to their classic How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way book. It looks like it was done sometime in the late ’80s or perhaps early ’90s. The book itself is a must-read for anyone intending to do comics, if for no other reason than it teaches many of the fundamentals of the American comics style.
This week’s Fox Cycle story is accompanied by my most ambitious digital art image yet. Not only was this the most complex image I’ve put together in Daz Studio yet, with five characters and props to co-ordinate, but it was also my first attempt at doing postwork on a rendered image. I used GiMP to blur the forground characters to give it more of a sense of depth of field (which is possible but difficult for me in Daz Studio) and to add the muck to Marlon’s face and neck. I’m really quite proud of how it turned out.
In other art-related news, I’ve created my own DeviantArt page to start sticking my renders on, so I won’t clutter my blog with everything I’m doing. You can find me at ultrarob.deviantart.com.
For those who might not be familiar with it, there is a free alternative to Photoshop called GIMP – The GNU Image Manipulation Program which is surprisingly powerful and useful, and has a tonne of plugins and tutorials out there. I’ve been using it in lieu of Photoshop recently (since I can’t afford the $600 for Photoshop at the moment just to do some minor photo editing) and so far I’ve found it quite easy to use and well documented.