Modern movies are a glorious thing, but they are also rife with problems. Modern movies are falling into a set of weird choices, and odd habits that can make watching movies into a sort of nightmare. Since there are so many problems with movies I decided to tackle two of them here, and we will revisit this issue in another article.
The first problem I have is poor audio mixing. What do I mean by this? Let’s say you open up your mailbox and you have a couple movies from Netflix sitting there (I almost made this example driving to Blockbuster, but then I remembered it was 2016). You pop in the Blu-Ray/ DVD into your player of choice and you sit back and you have to turn the volume down because there a lot of explosions and such. Then people start talking and you have to find the remote because they might as well be whispering! Then another explosion and now you’re deaf because the damn thing was so ear piercingly loud. This can be annoying. Hell it’s one of easiest ways to take me out of a movie, to be honest. So why does this happen? Well when the audio for movies is mixed, they mix it for a 5.1 or 7.1 surround sound setup because that is the optimal way to watch a movie. You see, in 5.1 surround sound each speaker has its own job. The center speaker handles dialogue, the 2 side speakers are for explosions and “bwaam” noises in Christopher Nolan movies, the subwoofer is for “dat bass”, and lastly the 2 (or 4 if you have 7.1) satellite speakers are for the surround effects. That’s really cool and all, but I am not in a position to buy a 5.1 surround sound setup. I am a very poor college student who can only afford to eat ramen noodles 4 times a week (The other times I eat the cardboard the ramen came in. I have a sad life). I set up my dad’s stereo from like the 80’s to be my “hi-fi” audio setup which replaces my TV’s stereo sound with a slightly less awful stereo sound. So when the DVD/Blu-Ray player outputs a 5.1 signal, my poor stereo speakers can only replicate the 2 front side speakers. This is why explosions are so loud. The dialogue is going to a non-existent center speaker, which is why it comes out so quiet.
So what’s the solution? Add two dialogue tracks. One mixed in good super old fashioned stereo and the other mixed in the fancy pants 5.1/7.1 goodness. This way I can set the volume to a comfortable volume, and leave it there. This may sound like a super easy solution, but I would hazard a guess that mixing audio is a very difficult task, and not one easily undertaken. However I think that it’s well worth it and shows that movie studios are willing to go the extra mile for those who still want to watch their favorite movies, but maybe aren’t the most well off.
Well, we have done an audio problem, So let’s finish this article with a visual problem. This is probably the two biggest problems I have modern movies today. Shaky Cam and jump cuts. For those unfamiliar with shaky cam as a concept, I am sorry that I have to be the one who has to tell you about it. Basically it’s the worst form of visual storytelling imaginable. That’s not the most telling description, is it? OK, so shaky cam is exactly what it sounds like. It’s basically the director telling the cameraman to shake the camera as hard as they can. This is in order to make the action look frantic. Sounds stupid right, but it’s a real thing. The problem with shaky cam is that it is made worse by terrible, quick, jumpy editing. This is also just what it sounds like. It is the use of a million and a half different cuts in order to convey frantic action. However in reality, it often make it so that the scene is impossible to understand. These are just the tools of the incredibly lazy. The use of these two tools in conjunction makes a movie’s action scenes a chore to watch, and impossible to understand. You have to actively try to piece together when the actors are being hit, because the shot never actually shows it. You hear a flurry of sound effects, and you see a blurry mess of hands and faces, but it’s just audio and visual garbage that the director is trying to pass off as incredible action.
The solution to this problem is actually pretty simple. Hire better directors. Directors that are good at their jobs will make the action look good without the use of cheap tricks and quick editing. There are fantastic directors when it comes to filming action. Take the Wachowski siblings. Sure, they have made a couple stinkers in the last couple years, but the first Matrix movie is incredibly well directed. There are uses of wide shots, so we so exactly what is going on, there’s just the right amount of slow motion so we really feel it when characters get hit. The score is used perfectly, so when the hero gets hit hard, the music slows down and gets quieter. The Subway scene in the matrix encapsulates all of that.
Contrast this from Alex Cross. The camera is literally just shaking. You don’t see the hits connect. You see the main character hit the villain and then after a cut you see the villain react. This is probably to cover up the fact that the actors were not properly choreographed.
If you can get a director who knows how to film an action scenes, as well as who knows what he wants the actors to do, and how to choreograph them to do that, then you don’t need terrible shaky cam to cover up anything. You don’t need jump edits because you’ll want the audience to see your work.