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Film School 101 - A *Critics-Eye* View Of A Chase Sequence From "The Dark Knight"

Features
by Tambay A. Obenson
December 12, 2011 9:40 PM
14 Comments
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One of the handful of new features I'm working on incorporating into the site in 2012 (some I've already introduced) are short *critics-eye* looks at films we've talked about (old and new), and those that we haven't (old and new), like the one I embedded below.

I certainly won't call myself a master (far from it; I'm still watching, reading, listening... learning); however, that certainly won't stop me from utilizing and applying what I do know. We can always have a discussion afterward.

It's rare that I'm able to sit and watch a film without thinking much about what I'm seeing, hearing and feeling. I tend to look at films with a critical eye when I'm watching, which makes it difficult to really enjoy anything, because my brain is constantly working from frame to frame. I can't help it :)

Not that there aren't movies I enjoy; there are. But the majority of them were made before 1990. A lot of what I see today I find more annoying, and a waste of time - especially what comes out of the dominant studio system.

Anyway... I appreciate the below video from film critic Jim Emerson of the Chicago Sun-Times in which he gives a very detailed look at the first half of the car/truck chase sequence in The Dark Knight, analyzing how Christopher Nolan put it all together and whether the filmmaking grammar makes sense.

It's about 20-minutes long, but worth a watch. And I post it as an intro to what I'm planning to incorporate myself next year (thanks Rob Fields for the link):

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14 Comments

  • CareyCarey | December 14, 2011 11:16 PMReply

    AHHH CURTIS, YOU'RE WALKING A VERY SLIPPERY SLOPE IN WHICH SOME MY VIEW AS A SCRATCH-LINE. I mean granted, it's true, some movies can be and are more than entertainment, in that they teach and educate. But that's definitely not the case nor goal of every movie. And, I do not believe S & A's mission statement is remotely connected to your condescending comments. I mean, you can speak for yourself but it's awfully presumptuous of you to imply that everyone comes here for the same reasons you do, don't you think? I mean, as related to that point, if everyone agreed on and had the same opinions on every issue presented by S & A, it might as well change it's name to Circle Jerk Time: The Home Of The Same Ol Same Ol Thinkers and the proudly ignorant. But in the end, everybody is not going to the movies or visiting this blog to earn a masters in film making, nor are they trying to receive their PhD in "How To Get The Most Pleasure Out Of Your Movie Watching Experience. Consequently you're right, ignorance is truly bliss. And that's a good thang. NO HARM NO FOUL.

  • Curtis | December 14, 2011 10:45 AMReply

    Ignorance truly is bliss. People who don't understand what film criticism is and what it means for the art and technique of it. To read some of your comments it's like some of you are taking this personally. People tend to fear or hate things that they don't understand. Slow down. I agree that this won't appeal to everyone, just like everything else in this world. But to say that it's "pointless" as one person said is sad and tragic. It says a lot about the anti-intellectualism that's destroying this country. Let's dumb everything down. It's all about entertainment. No, it's not. If you agree that cinema is more than just entertainment and that it teaches and educates, which I think most folks who come to S&A believe, otherwise they probably wouldn't read the site, then you have to also agree that there's a science and method to it that makes it a medium for enlightenment. And it's in your best interest to understand the mechanics of it all. And if you don't want to, that's fine. But don't dismiss it as trivial or nonsense just because you have no interest in learning and your thinking challenged or you don't "get it." I bet if this was a film that the people here hated everyone would be agreeing with the critique of it. But because it's the beloved DARK KNIGHT the critique is "pointless" or condescending. Sigh. Welcome to America. I'm looking forward to your own analysis Tambay, and I'm sure a lot of other readers are. The negative folks tend to be the most vocal. Don't let the comments here discourage you (assuming that they are). And by the way, how the heck do you break up sentences here? i don't like how it just lumps everything together.

  • CareyCarey | December 13, 2011 6:04 PMReply

    GOSH, OH HOW I LOVE THIS POST! LET ME COUNT THE WAYS. Well, it's not the post but the comments that spoke to me. ONE, Mike said: | December 13, 2011, "I think from a filmmaker's point of view it is very interesting, but something the AVERAGE FILM AUDIENCE wouldn't really wouldn't notice. TWO... Uncredited Rewrite said: | December 12, 2011, "Yeah I couldn't make it through this, this is just...pointless". THREE... Everything MB said | December 13, 2011, especially this --> But the critic comes across like a recent media studies graduate who's read the dictionary entry for 'continuity' and now thinks he knows "how movies should work" (His tone is superior and knowing - yet he has plainly never worked in a feature film cutting room and seen the less than perfect decisions that nearly always have to be made.)". FOUR... chi guy SAID: | December 13, 2011, "I share the same sentiments as MB in that Emerson's critique was NARROW IN PERSPECTIVE". FIVE... Lastly (because I believe this says it all) Traci R. said: | December 13, 2011. "No one [notta, nobody, zilch, none ] likes a movie--that was largely about an emotional experience {or something THEY ADORE AND LOVE} --to be picked apart like a scientific experiment. This is fine for actual film school, but I think the response you're getting here in the negative is indicative of how the CASUAL MOVIE-GOER takes to such analyses. Trust me, my friends never seem to appreciate my unsolicited "film studies professor {and ARM CHAIR critics}" critique of a film they love and its because their feelings have nothing to do with how precise the chase scene {NOR TECHNICAL QUALITY OR GENRE} was edited or the like". IN SHORT, Last but not least, Jug SAID: | December 12, 2011, "the audience goer-could REALLY CARE LESS. A person who paid $12.50 for a ticket doesn't give a shit-Entertainment Me Damnit! LOL And that is the bottom line. :-D". Yelp, I agree everyone, Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be) and who really cares what Joe Smoo and Sammy Sausages Head has to say? If a person likes what they like...

  • Traci R. | December 13, 2011 4:39 PMReply

    No one likes a movie--that was largely about an emotional experience--to be picked apart like a scientific experiment. This is fine for actual film school, but I think the response you're getting here in the negative is indicative of how the casual movie-goer takes to such analyses. Trust me, my friends never seem to appreciate my unsolicited "film studies professor" critique of a film they love and its because their feelings have nothing to do with how precise the chase scene was edited or the like.

  • Roko | December 13, 2011 2:30 PMReply

    Hope S&A's version doesn't make you sound like an amateur. Breaking down what you like and don't like about a scene in general could be interesting but trying to break down the editor shot for shot is dumb. Me thinks this editor has a lot more experience and has basis for his decisions alot more than the cat from the local newspaper. But I like the new features S&A is doing. What happened to 10 questions?

  • chi guy | December 13, 2011 2:13 PMReply

    I share the same sentiments as MB in that Emerson's critique was narrow in perspective. As a filmmaker things never go as you want them to and you are faced with many decisions that dictate shot selection, coverage, time management etc., but I do like the concept of this "film school"element being added to shadow and act. Posts that can educate and demystify the filmmaking process can only help filmmakers become better filmmakers.

  • Richard | December 13, 2011 11:45 AMReply

    I saw this a couple months ago and I agree with the comment by MB. Emerson is really reaching with this critique. Some of his points are just ridiculous. I was never lost geographically during this chase sequence and was never taken out of the movie by any mistake. I could go through each of his claims and talk about why I disagree, but someone already did it! Here's a great rebuttal article that came out shortly after Emerson's:

    http://josephkahn.blogspot.com/2011/09/analyzing-action.html

  • dee | December 13, 2011 11:32 AMReply

    Didn't Joseph Khan politely tear Emerson a new hole over this 2 months back?

  • other song | December 13, 2011 4:44 AMReply

    I've been saying this for years about Nolan's films. The dude just shoots/creates terrible action scenes. Which isn't his fault specifically - I can't remember the last time I saw a memorable, well-choreographed action sequences. It's that bad these days.

  • mb | December 13, 2011 2:49 AMReply

    Firstly, I didn't think TDK was a great film.
    And I agree that the chase in question is messy in places. Certainly not in the top 10 chase scenes for me! (Especially if you slow it down to a frame by frame analysis and highlight details on the edge of the frame...)

    But the critic comes across like a recent media studies graduate who's read the dictionary entry for 'continuity' and now thinks he knows "how movies should work" (His tone is superior and knowing - yet he has plainly never worked in a feature film cutting room and seen the less than perfect decisions that nearly always have to be made.)

    I would never dream of picking apart another editor's work in such a mocking tone unless I had seen the rushes he had to work with. And been privy to all the other constraints/ last minute meddling that may have been in play. ("Hi Christopher - we've been told by the studio we have to make that scene half the length by picture lock next week") If I did make criticisms of a scene I would be very careful not to imply that the film makers are somehow idiots.

    The critic has no idea what constraints may have been imposed last minute or during shooting.
    Nor does he seem to understand that continuity sometimes has to take second, third or sixth place for the good of the film. You could pick apart many successful movies like this but to what purpose?
    Does it prove the scene is confusing to the audience or that it fails in some way? Not at all.
    The audience may not care exactly where each vehicle is at each moment precise moment if they feel the tension of the scene and understand that the good guy is in the back of the truck and the bad guys are getting closer and more menacing. And if the scene is lacking in some aspects, it may have been a deliberate trade off. A dollar less spent here, a dollar more to spend over there. It may be that in this instance, in order to keep this scene in the movie at all, sacrifices had to be made. The point is we don't have anywhere near enough information to criticise how this scene was shot or put together. We can't even prove it doesn't work. I'm a film editor of 10+ years and I'd have been hard pushed to spot many of the continuity "errors". You can effectively strike out every "look there's only 2 cars in the background" style criticism.

    And the story point critiques are pure opinion. The shot early on of the Joker shooting the cop from the truck's cab sets up the ambush about to happen and raises the tension. Who are you to say it doesn't work?

    Because we don't know these things panned out, we should be a bit more adult in our criticisms and try and understand that real life movie making is sometimes a bit more down and dirty than the ivory tower, film school 101 version. Lose the pompous voice and start talking about what was unfortunate, what confused you on first view (as you did in some places), and if the scene succeeded in communicating what it needed to, before breaking down what film school rules the film makers broke...

    When i'm editing i sometimes have to choose between the accurate cut that takes 5 seconds or the cut that feels good and takes 2 seconds - despite the fact that the continuity is off. If i made all my cuts continuity perfect and explained the spacial context of every detail, i may well have a technically perfect cut, but it would probably be a stupefyingly boring scene. Perhaps that is down to shoddy directing in the end, but none of us have enough information about what Nolan or his editor had to work with on the day. Talking in such a pompous and simplistic way makes you look a bit silly.

  • bondgirl | December 14, 2011 10:04 AM

    Very profound! Might I also add this goes for screenwriters who have only written 11 pages of their own script, but can pull apart Tarantino's work as disastrous. The difference between working with 30 other people on a studio set, and sitting at a Starbuck's churning out your "magnum opus" is momumental.

  • David Fontane | December 13, 2011 9:46 AM

    Good stuff! Same thing I said! I hope to work with you someday because you seem to know the process as well as constraints that must be worked around.

  • Mike | December 13, 2011 12:08 AMReply

    I think from a filmmaker's point of view it is very interesting, but something the average film audience wouldn't really wouldn't notice

  • Uncredited Rewrite | December 12, 2011 10:11 PMReply

    Yeah I couldn't make it through this. Granted Lee Smith is not the great editor (Batman Begins was only aight and it was because of the quick cuts). But this is just...pointless.

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