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how video games & DVDs have changed our sensibilities

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Bob Cole
how video games & DVDs have changed our sensibilities
on May 30, 2009 at 2:28:03 pm

Okay, don't tell ANYONE I watch "Lost." But anyway, watching my favorite time-waster last night, it occurred to me that I was watching a video game. Remote island setting (mainly) interspersed with random little puzzles and anomalies - it's "Myst" without the need to solve the puzzle to get ahead.

It's probably overstating the case to say that films are in a new "era of the video game." But with video games long since surpassing theatrical movie showings in revenues, I wonder whether we have to look at film history and appreciation in a different way, now that entertainment has become so thoroughly interactive and non-linear. DVDs, too, have changed the way I look at films. Being able to rewind and replay has made scenes that used to be annoyingly oblique, or too fast, much more rewarding.

Bob C


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Chris Poisson
Re: how video games & DVDs have changed our sensibilities
on May 30, 2009 at 3:26:29 pm

Hey Bob,

While the name of this forum is "Film" history and appreciation, what you say is undeniably true, sad to say. Us oldtimers are probably the hardest hit by the reality of media these days, but then that only makes this forum more valuable.

Thanks for an insightful thread.

Have a wonderful day.


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Bob Cole
Re: how video games & DVDs have changed our sensibilities
on May 30, 2009 at 3:38:08 pm

Thanks Chris - you're right to point out that this is a film forum. I meant, but forgot to add some examples of actual recent "blockbuster" film releases that seem to ape video games. Whereas the old blockbusters were usually linearly plotted widescreen epics ("Longest Day," "Lawrence of Arabia") with long narrative arcs.

You could also make a case that YouTube, and the 8-minute-max unit of tv dramas (EVERY SINGLE ONE with a cliffhanger at end to keep the audience hooked through the commercials) have shortened the narrative span & encouraged multiple (and puerile) storylines. Is that part of the reason that younger folks sometimes have so much trouble with classic films?


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Mark Suszko
Re: how video games & DVDs have changed our sensibilities
on May 30, 2009 at 10:08:30 pm

I know that I've watched old films and thought to myself that certain sequences were just too slow-moving. Certainly, we have picked up the pace of how we watch things, and more often now you see sequences where for budgetary and/or stylistic reasons, how someone moves from one location to the next has been collapsed down to what I call a "radio transition". Like in old radio dramas or comedy skits, when the characters need to go somewhere, they achieve it by just playing a music cue and saying "well, here we are now in xyz". Without having to act out the entire trip to get there. Nowadays you don't show people walking into a building, using the elevator, etc. you just smash-cut to an obviously new location and maybe leave some of the reveal to the Art Director's way of dressing the set to make the new location more obvious. That kind of story-telling contraction has been happening ever since "The Great Train Robbery". The L-cut is basically this taken to a science, and it's become a sort of cliche' that everyone recognizes.

As far as linear story-telling, while there are notable exceptions, Pulp Fiction being one easy example, I think they will remain the exception rather than the rule. Our civilization is built of thousands of years' worth of linear storytelling, since we live linear lives, and I don't foresee that being abandoned for some time. Rather than non-linear, I think what we're seeing is more and more "parallel storytelling", and that's not really NEW. Most soap operas tell parallel threads, skipping between them, but always going forward to some eventual point where they will intersect. Many books do this as well. Making you wait for and anticipate those intersections IS the hook, the point of the form. Being able to skip to the end and watch backwards can be fun, but unless you specifically structured the tale to be told that way (There was a Seinfeld episode like that), I think overall it's something you'd get bored of quickly, since you know how everything turns out.

So no, I think an Aristotelian model for the story is in no immediate danger, even if you have the chance to pop around a narrative in 3-d, so top speak, and follow from different perspectives. The point of any director, writer, or simple shade-tree-teller-of-tales, is to give you ONE UNIQUE path out of all the possible ones. You're paying to get the story as told by a certain someone.


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Jeff Breuer
Re: how video games & DVDs have changed our sensibilities
on Jun 1, 2009 at 4:34:03 pm

When I was a kid those "Choose Your Own Adventure" books were really popular. The ones that would lead you to a choice and based on your decision you would flip to page 62 or 48 or so on and continue down that path until the next decision.

My buddies and I always wanted to translate that into a DVD, because the nonlinear functionality ya'll are talking about just seems to make a lot of sense there. And ,ya, like you said Mark, we are still following a single story in one sitting.

One day I actually found one. They did it as an animation. I guess it didn't take though, which is sad. As a storyteller, I think that challenge would be great fun.

Jeff


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Chris Durham
Re: how video games & DVDs have changed our sensibilities
on Jun 1, 2009 at 5:57:06 pm

It pains me every time I see a creative media professional embracing this "new paradigm of entertainment." Film is not a video game, and every concession made to cater cinema to the video game audience does a disservice to both, and both are valid art forms. And this is not to say that they have nothing to do with one another; they have may elements in common and should borrow liberally from one another. But the narrative form of a video game can't be superimposed on film and it shouldn't be. All this fast paced quickly cut shaky zoomy stuff designed to make the viewer feel immersed isn't what cinema is about.

Film is a linear format. Even when, as in Pulp Fiction, the syntax isn't linear, by the end of the film you've connected everything back into a linear structure in your mind. Trying to make film more like something else - like video games, TV, commercials, or music videos - makes it less special. That's what's hurting theaters. People really aren't getting anything they can't get somewhere else. Movies are made so that the experience in the theater is little different than the experience in your living room, or worse, in front of your monitor.


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Chris Poisson
Re: how video games & DVDs have changed our sensibilities
on Jun 1, 2009 at 6:08:09 pm

Wow, compelling arguments here all around, what a great thread!

Have a wonderful day.


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Mike Cohen
Re: how video games & DVDs have changed our sensibilities
on Jun 1, 2009 at 7:09:16 pm

It is interesting that in the 1980's "quick cuts" were compared to music videos. Now quick cuts are compared to video games. This is especially odd because in the more popular video games, there is not that much cutting. I in fact own an Xbox. My concentration for video games is pretty short - possibly because in 1982 you only got 3 plays from a quarter. But the games I have played such as the first-person shooter, driving games and 3rd person games where you have a God's-eye view of the action, all use very long, often cinematic camera angles. So in a way video games are more cinema-like than cinema these days.

Recently I watched Transporter 3 - very similar to parts 1 and especially 2. I commented to my wife that in the well choreographed fight scenes with Jason Statham, the cuts are so frantic, every kick, punch and karate chop is its own cut, it is difficult to tell exactly what is happening. In the old days (pre-2007) you got a couple of punches into one cut, and the further back you go the fewer cuts there were.

Over the weekend I watched "The Great Escape" - a classic and a fun movie with little action overall but lots of suspense and fun nevertheless. And no quick cuts. For example, when a plane crash lands into a tree, we see it all in one shot, rather than many different angles of the same thing. As I say a lot - give the viewer some credit - we can follow action without being force fed action in tiny pieces. You don't have to over-edit a plane crash. It pretty much speaks for itself.

I'm getting away from my point, which is, that film making inspired by or catering to videos games and the video game generation is in fact doing a disservice to video games, which in many cases are inspired by classic film making(though perhaps not intentionally). Based upon the sweeping crane shots in Grand Theft Auto and Tomb Raider, I wouldn't mind seeing films start emulating video games a bit more closely - as long as they are emulating the emulating of films.

Mike Cohen


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Chris Durham
Re: how video games & DVDs have changed our sensibilities
on Jun 1, 2009 at 8:18:44 pm

Mike,

You've actually echoed a lot that was going on in my head when I was writing my first response. In fact, Music videos were one of the first things that came to mind; but the example of video games is appropriate too because the idea is to be immersive. I think quick cuts and shaky or witness-cam style shooting are designed to do that. This is a departure from classic cinema where you watch the movie unfold before you, you take it in. That doesn't mean you're necessarily a casual observer; it's still experiential, but not framed as though you're actually there - which I think is a lot of what modern movies try to do, but video games do much better. And the irony is that they do this better through careful virtual cinematography. But the better games won't railroad you into a linear plot the way that a film should have a linear plot.

I watched the first two Karate Kid movies this weekend and was astonished by how good the cinematography was. Movies like this, done today - just 25 years later - wouldn't have this level of cinematic splendor. Even in the first one where the subjects and landscape aren't particularly elegant or beautiful had amazing camera work and great, long, very well composed shots. The second installment had some gorgeous stuff. Today, with the target demographic for that film, it'd look like rubbish.

I think that the technological convergence of creative media leads people into a poorly-conceived stylistic convergence. It's not thought out well and, as we've said, it's doing a disservice to the various, valid, forms of media that are what they are for good reason.


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