June 16, 2005

Going to the Movies

by psu

The office had a trip to see the new Batman movie. The movie itself, while flawed in some ways, was for the most part enjoyable. However, the whole movie-going experience itself has become tedious in many ways.

First, there was lunch. The theater is actually only close to a bunch of boring box restaurants, and one of the people in our group required gluten free food. So we ended up at P.F. Chang's. I see no reason to amend my previous comments on the place. The food was generic, expensive, too salty and generally completely lacking in any genuine character besides the color brown. Two points missing from my previous rant: they serve brown rice (ewww) and charge a ludicrous amount of money for pots of tea. But, even with all this going against it, it's really no worse than any of the other food down at The Waterfront where the theater is. Why can't someone put a decent place to eat close to the megaplex?

Second, we had the trailers. Of course, the first four trailers are now commercials, two of which must be for Fandango. They do this in France too, but in France I can't understand the dialog in the commercials, which makes them far more interesting. 'Nuff said.

The trailers themselves were for other films that Warner is releasing, and they mostly made you wonder why Warner is releasing the movies. Based on the trailers, I predict that Serenity will be too long, War of the Worlds will be overwrought and Spielbergishly manipulative, and The Dukes of Hazzard, if I watched it, would make me want to claw my eyes out and roll in the aisles of the theater screaming for my mommy. I think there was also a trailer for a cop film or some comedy with Jamie Foxx, but I can't remember it.

By this point in the proceedings, I was already worn out. And the movie hadn't even started.

Oh, the movie. I found the latest Batman to be a lot like the first "serious" Batman film with Michael Keaton, but with less style and higher production values. The film maker was eager to show us how hard he was working to, if nothing else, make a well crafted piece of summer film schlock, rather than just let the visuals carry the experience. These days, you have to be thankful for a film that sets up plot points in the beginning, and actually has them pay off 1.5 hours later. Most movies these days assume that the viewer doesn't have the intellectual capacity to remember three lines of dialog for more than five minutes after the fact. So, kudos there, even though the plot points were pretty obvious.

My main complaint about the film is that for all of its craft, production values, and cost, you would think there would be a single person on the crew who could shoot a fight scene. Every single fight in the film was shot close up, hand held, and with jump cuts every 10 to 15 frames. The result is that instead of a clear view of who is kicking whose ass, all you see is a blur of black, gray and brown along with sound effects that imply the carnage that should be visible.

Compare this with Jackie Chan's magnum opus, Drunken Master 2. The very first fight in this film happens under a train car with two people going after each other with poles (or was it spears). Every single attack, block, counter, jump and punch is perfectly framed and it's always clear who is going in which direction. And this all happens in incredibly close quarters and yet is never confusing. American directors have to go back to film school and learn to shoot fight scenes.

My secondary complaints about the film are that it was too long, and the sound was mixed too loud. Leaving the theater, my bottom was sore and my head was ringing a bit from THX-boosted bass-laden sound effects. If you can live with these things, this is probably as good an adaptation of Batman as you will ever see.

Posted by psu at June 16, 2005 07:34 PM | Bookmark This

I think psu is being unduly hard on Batman Begins. First of all, I must point out that Salon's Stephanie Zacharek despised it, so right off the bat it is, prima facie, a good movie.

Second of all, you have to compare like to like. This is a summer movie. It's a summer _comic book_ movie. I agree with some of the specific criticisms you have. It was a bit too long, and the fight scene choreography suffers from the "what the hell is going on?" camerawork popularized by _Gladiator_. But on the whole, those are pretty minor complaints. Consider watching this movie as compared to being forced to sit through Ang Lee's _The Hulk_, or Ben Affleck's _Daredevil_. Or _Elektra_. Any of which I might gnaw my own leg off in order to escape.

I liked _Batman Begins_ more than the Keaton movies, and certainly more than the Joel Schumacher abortions that Zacharek adores (nipples on the body armor. NIPPLES ON THE BODY ARMOR.) Out of all the Batman movies, this one comes the closest to Frank Miller's bleak vision in _The Dark Knight Returns_, which really has become, through a strange act of transubstantiation, the canonical representation of the Batman archetype.

Posted by peterb at June 16, 2005 08:44 PM

The fight scenes were clipped deliberately. The whole point of the "ninja" action is that the attacker suddenly appears, strikes, and disappears.

That was what the "choppy" editing was attempting to convey. Strange that it's so obvious to me and so non-obvious to most other folks.

Oh well. To each her own.

Posted by Rob at June 16, 2005 09:27 PM

Yeah, that explanation makes sense, especially for an extended sword fight between two people, in a large burning building from which you can't really disappear. Yeah, I get it.

There were a few bits where it made sense for the shots to jump in and out. But for the most part I stand by my opinion. Batman certainly isn't the only film to be guilty of this. I can't think of the last action film I've seen where the fights were well shot. HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS maybe.

Posted by psu at June 16, 2005 10:26 PM

>The fight scenes were clipped deliberately...

Rob, you forgot to finish that sentence. It should have read:

The fight scenes were clipped deliberately to compensate for poor film making (specifically fight filming) skills.

This is getting irratatingly common in recent action movies/TV shows. They generally compound this sin by shooting the scene so dark that you only see flashes of action that I hummingbird would have a hard time catching.


Posted by Mark Denovich at June 17, 2005 03:17 PM

Out in the land you love to loathe, a first-run movie ticket will run you $9.25. Ugh. On the other hand, Century / Cine-Arts Theatres have mitigated the pain by not running commercials (well, other than the slide-show before the posted movive start time). Commercials never really bothered me that bunch, but now that I think about it, it's a bit much to stick me for nearly $10 and then make me watch an ad on top of it.

My local cinemaplex is devoid of big-box restaurants. Of course, it's devoid of *any* restaurants, but at least you aren't tempted to eat at PF Changs. And why on earth did you have to eat in the same place that you saw the movie? You all drove there, right? Why not drive someplace else to eat first?

Posted by Dr. Click at June 17, 2005 07:32 PM

Sounds like it is time for you guys to move to Vancouver (Canada). Movie theatres _downtown_ with places to eat galore, http://local.google.com/local?q=restaurant&hl=en&lr=&safe=off&sa=G&near=900+burrard+st.+vancouver+bc&rl=1&sc=1&radius=1.242742

Posted by Ben Forsyth at June 17, 2005 09:27 PM

I think the sound being mixed wrong is a problem at Loew's Waterfront, not necessarily with the movie itself. I've seen dramas there where I was deafened by inexplicable bass. I just moved to Maryland and saw Batman Begins at the Majestic, and had completely forgotten what it was like to see a movie outside home where the sound was equalized properly.

And I agree with you 100% about the fight scenes.

Posted by Adam Rixey at June 18, 2005 10:34 AM

The majority of fight scenes nowadays fail because they aren't considered part of the narrative. You can see the script in your head for most of the blockbuster films, "[THEY FIGHT. HERO EVENTUALLY WINS]".

Some of the most successful scenes move the narrative along because of their *consequences* - take the bit in Grosse Pointe Blank where Martin fights with hitman at his school, then is discovered standing over the corpse. Action followed by reaction. Compare this with your standard blockbuster film where there is no reason for the fight other than the loser being in the way - cut out the fight and you lose nothing apart from a few minutes of screen time.

When director and fight choreographer work in harmony, the scenes can be breathtaking - even for US-made films. Equilibrium can hold its own against a lot of HK movies with its energetic fight scenes.

Posted by Rob at June 25, 2005 05:59 AM

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