Children of Men
This was a fairly frustrating experience. It’s a crackerjack thriller based on a pretty stupid idea. Suddenly, globally, and without explanation, women stopped being capable of fertilization in the year 2008. Twenty years later, all is chaos, with only the UK having a semblance of civilization. (Why the UK? Why, because that’s where the author of the book, PD James, lives, I guess. Stiff upper lip and all that, what?) Desperate refugees try to get in, and are rounded up and shipped back out. (I wonder if this is some sort of deep atavistic urge to get rid of all those Pakis and wogs and camel-jockeys and bloody Pathans that have overrun the island in the last century?)
Whatever … the movie is brilliantly designed and executed on a technical level, but the story is quite muddled. I didn’t know why certain people were killing others, or who did what to whom and why.
The really good stuff: Two scenes. One takes place in a crowded car in motion, and the camera does things a camera can’t do! I still have no idea how it was done, though I know it involved computers and stitching, because it could not have been one long shot, as it appears to be. The second is a 9-minute action scene that is one of the most impressive bits of planning ever done for a film, because it was taken in one shot. (There’s been a lot of discussion of this on the Net.) The shot took two weeks to prepare, and was completed on the third try, and it was a miracle it was done at all. In fact, about halfway through, the blood-bag of an extra aboard a burned-out bus burst at the wrong time and sprayed fake gore on the camera lens. The director, Alfonso Cuarón, said he yelled “Cut!” but no one heard him, and that was a bit of luck. Because it actually helped the scene … until it got too distracting, at which point Cuarón hired someone to digitally fade the blood, frame by frame, until it’s gone. If I hadn’t been looking for it I’d never have realized it had been done. Just try to estimate the number of explosive squibs that go off during this scene, the number of blood bags bursting onto costumes, and then imagine how long it took to replace and re-wire them all after the first two tries got screwed up. There are hundreds and hundreds of extras in the scene, each having to hit the right mark at the right time, and for every extra I’ll bet there were two technical people hiding in the rubble cueing up the practical SFX.
One more thing. This bothered Lee more than it did me, but it did bother me. Every single shot, no matter how static, has a bit of shakiness in it. This is a trend that has alienated a large part of the theater-going audience, and that part is old farts like me and Lee. We often wait for the video and the smaller screen, where the motion isn’t so distracting. Yes, I understand the “documentary” feel that directors are going for, and I don’t object to shakycams when they enhance the scene. But it is stupid to have a static shot of two people talking, and you look at the edge of the frame and see that someone is jiggling the camera. And it’s a bit ironic that, for 100 years, tech people have labored to steady the camera with increasingly ingenious machines, only to arrive in the 21st century and have directors throw it all away.
I have a solution. Naturally, it involves computers. I think they should start making two versions of action movies, like they sometimes put out “Full Screen” (meaning the edges chopped off; yuck!) and letterboxed editions on DVD. With virtual sets, as in Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, and with all computer-generated animation, it is now possible to create a 3-D version of the movie simply by shifting the virtual point of view. It’s done in the computer, and it’s easy. Why not have a computer generate a Steady and a Shaky version of a movie? The place we went to today has 14 screens. I’ll bet they could have freed up one to show a steady version, one that doesn’t jump all over the place, for those of us who get slightly seasick at the movies these days. Anybody under 25 who simply cannot watch an image that isn’t jiggling can buy a ticket for the shaky, “edgy” version. See? Simple. Why, they can even start marketing a third version on the DVD, for the video game generation. Casablanca as filmed by a jogger with cerebral palsy! Gone With the Wind as if screened in a theater during the San Francisco earthquake! To Kill a Mockingbird as seen through the bottom of a whiskey glass held by an alcoholic!
Why is it always up to me to think of these brilliant ideas?