We had a family outing to the cinema last weekend, and saw The Hunger Games at last. My stepson has read the first book and was most anxious to see it, and of course we’ve read all the hype, so we were curious.
I couldn’t even watch the first several minutes of the film. The scenes where Katniss is walking through town, and where the citizens are making their way to the Reaping, were such egregious examples of Queasy Cam abuse that I could not look at the screen. It didn’t improve much as the film progressed. Even scenes where two characters are standing motionless, doing nothing more than talking to each other, are filmed with the camera jerking all over. Seriously, have directors ever watched the footage they produce with this overused, overabused technique? Is there anyone other than 22-year-old graduates of Film Techniques 101 who thinks that inducing motion sickness in audiences is desirable?
I found myself agreeing fervently with the film critic who wrote that she wished Katniss would turn her bow and arrow on the camera operator. Hear, hear!
To soothe my heaving stomach, I headed to YouTube to watch a real film artist demonstrate his mastery. Modern directors need to study a bit harder. Do they want to create a sense of menace? Of stress and impending danger? This is how it’s done.
(Note: the sound doesn’t kick in right away.)
I don’t think there’s a person in the world who can watch this scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s Suspicion and look anywhere other than that glass of milk…which surely must be poisoned. The menace is overwhelming, and the stress and dread in the perfectly steady camera shot of the heroine’s eyes and face are impossible to miss. Hey, directors — why not try letting your actors act? I bet they’d be happy to.
But perhaps they’ll say, “That’s an old film. Modern audiences want more action.” Okay, let’s try a more modern, active film. How about this one?
Plenty of action here — a light saber fight and a jump to certain death, even! — and yet the camera stays perfectly still, letting the viewers actually watch, rather than clutch their stomachs. Why, we can even see who is hitting whom, which makes following a fight much more exciting.
I’m not sure when it all went wrong, but I live in hope that we will someday get back to films where directors take pride in carefully planned, artful camera work, rather than their ability to confuse and nauseate the viewer. But I’m not holding my breath. This trend has already gone on far longer than it deserved, despite the noticeable lack of viewers and critics saying, “Wow, I loved how the camera jerked all over and I couldn’t actually see anything!” The only explanation is that it’s a masturbatory exercise for directors. And if that’s the case, we’re stuck with it for the foreseeable future. Nothing takes longer to wear out than self-gratification.