Decent Films Mail > Mailbag #3

Re: The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

Great review of The Bourne Ultimatum. I saw it and loved it. I also thought that the Julia Stiles subplot was not fully developed, though it seemed like maybe they left it open for possible future films.

But my reason for writing is actually mostly about a particular filming technique that is more and more prevalent. I personally loathe the super shaky hand-held camera work during action and chase sequences and everyone I talk to seems to agree. Yet, it seems to be worse with every new movie. I was wondering what your thoughts were on that?

The shaky hand-held camera is a trademark effect of director Paul Greengrass, who also uses it, to great effect in my opinion, in his stellar United 93. The original Bourne Identity was directed by Paul Liman, not Greengrass, so it’s not surprising that you found the two sequels more annoying in this regard than the original film.

Whether The Bourne Ultimatum is a worse “offender” in this regard than its predecessor, I can’t say. I did find it occasionally distracting during Supremacy and not during Ultimatum, but perhaps I’ve just gotten used to it.

The effect is meant, first of all, to feel more authentic and less staged than traditionally choreographed and fluidly photographed action scenes. A long, fluid dolly shot can be great to look at, but as soon as it occurs to you how much work and preparation must have gone into setting up the shot, the carefully rehearsed and choreographed nature of the proceedings is impossible to avoid.

By contrast, handheld cameras evoke a documentary authenticity that makes the viewer feel that the action could be unfolding in real life just as we see it, with some guy with a camera standing there and trying to stay out of the way. Also, of course, it creates a choppy, disjointed visceral experience analogous to what you might really experience in, e.g., a brutal hand-to-hand battle.

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