Thursday, May 11, 2006

That Shit is Real, Yo

Unlike my man Bill, who seems to have it in for the Mission: Impossible flicks (and, if you check out his blog, he's got some good reasons), I kinda liked this latest installment. It holds together a damned sight better than M:I-2—which, when watching today, is a structural mess. There's no reason for an action/spy thriller to be completely devoid of action for the entire first hour. And even the John Woo-ness, which I loved when I first saw it, hasn't aged very well. Totally untethered to reality, that movie is.

But there's a moment in M:I-3 that really resonated with me. Ethan Hunt has just escaped from the Big Bad's clutches and learns that his wife is being held in a building almost a mile from his current location. So, easily-GPS-trackable cell phone in hand, Ethan takes off down a riverside road in Shanghai, in full sprint, and the camera tracks him almost the entire way. In one shot. And, say what you will about Tom Cruise, that fucker can run.

It reminded me of what I love about old Jackie Chan movies: That those incredible stunts were actually being done by Jackie himself. He was willing to sacrifice his body—and sanity, more often than not—for my ten bucks. There's an incredible verisimilitude to seeing reality on screen, and never more so than during a moment when you usually don't.

I recently went to go see Lawrence of Arabia at the Ziegfeld theater in Manhattan. (If you've never been, I highly recommend it. One of my favorite NYC activities is sneaking out of work early and catching a matinee at the Ziegfeld, preferably of a film late in its run. There is nothing like sitting in that glorious, red-velvet, single-screen movie palace BY YOURSELF. For those two hours, I have the greatest private screening room in the world.)

Anyway, Lawrence. I'd never seen it on a big screen before, so it was something of a new experience. Besides being blown away, once more, by the strength of that cast (can you imagine being the casting director who got to say to Lean, "I found this kid named Peter; he's a little slight, but he might be good for the lead"?), you just gasp at the magnitude of that production. The scene where Auda's (Anthony Quinn, who inhabits the screen with a bigness that's extinct in today's Hollywood) cavalry storms the fort at Aqaba is, for the most part, a long, sweeping single shot with hundreds of horsemen decending on, and laying waste to, a desert installation.

And it was all done...for real. No CGI. No fake horses. No camera tricks. What you see is what they had. And there's a weight to that scene, to every scene in Lawrence, that can't be replicated.

It makes every film made today look like it's cheating.


Stephen Benson said...

yep, that shit is real. this is one of my absolute favorites. big screen? the best way. my favorite shot is the one where sharif ali comes riding out of the mirage . . . o'toole's lawrence is more of a hero because we are allowed to see his doubts, concerns, ambition, allowed to see him as human. i loves me this here movie. i was too young to play on this one but the sound track was genius too.

Bill Cunningham said...

Don't get me wrong, Marc. There's some great moments in M:I3...

Of course, I've already seen them in ALIAS.

Thanks for the shout out. I'm revamping the Mad Pulp Bastard pad this weekend and setting you up on my bar.

Ken Lowery said...

M:I3 was indeed a lot sharper than M:I2, but then so are pieces of my stool.

At least all the "wacky" was taken out of it.. and now I have a burning urge to go back and watch the first M:I, because it's De Palma, and because I remember that clear sense of a greater conspiracy at work just outside of Ethan's (and our) grasp.

And I agree about CGI re: cheating. A director who has to deal with the reality of thousands of extras, the construction of huge sets, and all the rigamarole of creating an epic setting has truly earned that setting. It takes no great skill or artistry to hire some computer geek straight out of college and tell him to whip up a replica of the Colisseum for you.

Now, anyone can be an epic filmmaker. And as they (sorta) said in the Incredibles, when everyone's epic, nobody is...