Crash and Kingdom of Heaven.

Reviews of the latest films.
May 5 2005 8:45 PM

Crash and Fizzle

Good intentions, lousy delivery in Crash and Kingdom of Heaven.

(Continued from Page 1)

I'd have a lot more respect for Scott if he were actually the virtuoso he pretends to be. Gladiator had lousy, disjunctive action, and Kingdom of Heaven is even more maladroit. Scott uses a strange, accelerated (rotoscoped?) look for his battle scenes, which he mixes with tacky slow motion—for those moments when the audience really needs to know what's going on. Without the splatter—or, more precisely, the jets of bejeweled blood—the battles would be totally incoherent. Where Scott excels is in single, hot-dog shots, and he has two long-lens desert dillies here: a sunlit cross around which a vast Christian army materializes, and its moonlit Muslim equivalent. Out of such compositions are reputations made.

Some people will see Crash and Kingdom of Heaven and like the politics and, therefore, like the movies, too. But the real politics here are the politics of audience manipulation, which is demagoguery, which is deeply boring, on both sides of the aisle.

Advertisement

Update/Illumination: Having raised the issue of Ridley Scott's combat scenes (tacky at any speed), I am grateful to Theodore Witcher for the explication. (Of course Scott does not use rotoscoping, an ancient—in cinema terms—process; I was fishing for some modern way of achieving a similar effect.)

Witcher: "Though I haven't yet seen Kingdom of Heaven, if it looks anything like Gladiator, it's probably a combination of two things: changing the shutter angle from the standard 180 degrees to 90 or even 45 degrees (for the most pronounced effect) and some form of step-printing.

"Narrowing the shutter angle decreases the amount of time a single frame is exposed to light, which tends to isolate movement more sharply with less blur. In still photography terms (which is referred to in increments of time, like thousandths of a second), this is like the sports photographers who shoot NASCAR and basketball and such and you only see crystal-clear shots of action on the cover of Sports Illustrated. In movie terms, this becomes something of a "staccato" look... think the individual bits of dirt and debris flying up in the opening battle of Saving Private Ryan.

"Step-printing is merely manipulating the formula of twenty-four frames per second.  Every other frame, shot at 24 FPS, might be then printed twice, which will yield a "slow-motion" type effect equivalent to shooting at 48 FPS. This is done if a director wants to slow down a shot that was not originally captured in slow-motion, which is an in-camera technique; it will not, however, have the smoothness associated with slow-motion. To achieve an odd look that still runs at 24 FPS, and thus takes the same amount of time to complete, a shot might be made at 12 FPS and then step-printed (every other frame) to 24 FPS. Perhaps this last one is what Scott does in the movie.

"Why he does it, of course, is another matter entirely."

Why he does it in Kingdom of Heaven: Aye, there's the rub. Whatever Sir Ridley's compositional talents, he has always struck me as an inept director of action—that is, until Black Hawk Down, in which the combat was staged and shot in a terrifying, streaky, subjective style that was suited to both the director's strengths and the material. (The material, of course, is another matter entirely.) The return to the objective—and objectively jumbled—style of Gladiator (albeit on an even larger scale) is positively mystifying.

TODAY IN SLATE

Foreigners

The World’s Politest Protesters

The Occupy Central demonstrators are courteous. That’s actually what makes them so dangerous.

The Religious Right Is Not Happy With Republicans  

The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 4:58 PM The Religious Right Is Not Happy With Republicans  

The Feds Have Declared War on Encryption—and the New Privacy Measures From Apple and Google

You Might Not Be Crazy if You Think You Can Hear the Earth Humming

These “Dark” Lego Masterpieces Are Delightful and Evocative

Crime

Operation Backbone

How White Boy Rick, a legendary Detroit cocaine dealer, helped the FBI uncover brazen police corruption.

Politics

Talking White

Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.

Activists Are Trying to Save an Iranian Woman Sentenced to Death for Killing Her Alleged Rapist

Piper Kerman on Why She Dressed Like a Hitchcock Heroine for Her Prison Sentencing

  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 1 2014 7:26 PM Talking White Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 1 2014 2:16 PM Wall Street Tackles Chat Services, Shies Away From Diversity Issues 
  Life
Outward
Oct. 1 2014 6:02 PM Facebook Relaxes Its “Real Name” Policy; Drag Queens Celebrate
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 5:11 PM Celebrity Feminist Identification Has Reached Peak Meaninglessness
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 1 2014 3:24 PM Revelry (and Business) at Mohonk Photos and highlights from Slate’s annual retreat.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 1 2014 9:39 PM Tom Cruise Dies Over and Over Again in This Edge of Tomorrow Supercut
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 1 2014 6:59 PM EU’s Next Digital Commissioner Thinks Keeping Nude Celeb Photos in the Cloud Is “Stupid”
  Health & Science
Science
Oct. 1 2014 4:03 PM Does the Earth Really Have a “Hum”? Yes, but probably not the one you’re thinking.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 1 2014 5:19 PM Bunt-a-Palooza! How bad was the Kansas City Royals’ bunt-all-the-time strategy in the American League wild-card game?