The Jumpy-Cam Grumpies

No, now that you mention it, I haven’t seen the new Star Trek movie.

I’m not actually very fond of movies that are all spitzensparken and blinkenlitzen and make free with the fake-documentary jumpy-cam, which is what the trailers make it look like. I’m not particularly susceptible to motion sickness, but the aggressive use of the jumpy-cam is something I find really difficult to watch. I’m also not partial to having my eardrums blown out, and eardrum-exploding sound is apparently required for damnear every SF movie of the past couple of decades.

I hasten to add that the new Star Trek movie may not actually suffer from this batter-the-audience’s-senses syndrome. But the trailers sure make it look like it does.

When I went to see the first Matrix movie, if I hadn’t been the wheels for half a dozen people, I’d’ve left after half an hour. My ears hurt; and movies that I can recite the dialogue for two scenes in advance kind of bore me; and I appear to be the only person to notice that the maguffin is the VR version of Soylent Green (“Soylent Green is people!”).

SlinkyI honestly can’t figure out why any director would choose the faux-documentary style of camera work. Perhaps this is a failure of my imagination, but I suspect that in ten or twenty years anybody who tries to watch a movie shot in that style will find it instantly dated. It must be hard on the camera operator, too, making the camera do all that jumping around. Is there an add-on motor that creates the effect?

Or do they just hang the camera from a Slinky?

It’s not only movies. Several TV series have adopted the technique, making them nearly unwatchable. There are a couple of series I’m about ready to abandon because watching them is so uncomfortable — Medium, for example, which has not one (jumpy-cam) but two strikes against it, the second one being its basically pernicious thesis. However, it’s also pretty well-written, which is why I’ve hung on this long.

But for the new Star Trek movie, I guess I ought to get over my dislike of the trailers and go and see it.

For old time’s sake.

Besides, my little birds tell me Mr. Sulu has a sword fight.

— Vonda

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The Jumpy-Cam Grumpies — 5 Comments

  1. Excessive volume is one of the reasons I quit going to movie theatres about ten years ago, and instead have contented myself with watching movies at home on video, where I have control over the volume setting. This also means I no longer have to sit through the trailers, which are always 10x louder than the movie that follows them (the studios try to make me watch the trailers, but I have have an unlocked DVD player so their power is limited).

    Jumpy cameras don’t bug me so much, but there are times when I start noticing the artificiality of it — like when the camera is focused on somebody sitting still talking and it keeps on wriggling — and then it bugs me.

    BTW, The jumpy cam got its start with NYPD Blue, I think, and the conceit (according to the DVD extras for the first season of the show) is that it makes the camera into a character in the story, and thus makes the viewer feel that they are there in a more immediate sense and visceral sense than with traditional tripod camera work. Or at least that’s my interpretation of what they were saying. At the time, according to the DVD extras, the producers had to fight hard to get the camera operators to make the camera jiggle, because the operators felt that was a sign of inept camerawork. How times change, and not necessarily for the better.

  2. Do not go to The Taking of Pelham 123 if jumpy-cam bothers you. It works, more or less, in the context of the movie (which is a perfectly fine moves-so-fast-you-can’t-see-the-duct-tape sort of summer action film) but every now and then I wanted to grab the director by the ears and say “Let it rest for a minute, bud!”

    I will note that my daughter, who is very susceptible to motion sickness, had to spend most of the first Spider Man movie out in the lobby with her head in my lap, because we were sitting too close to the screen and she’d gotten horribly nauseated. Not fun.

  3. I understand that the directors are aiming for a more naturalistic, documentary look, but I think they generally miss by a mile. Documentaries don’t have such deliberately (or inadvertently) jumpy camera work.

    I don’t remember Hill Street Blues as being so relentless about it, but I haven’t seen it in years. I tried to find a rerun of it and was kind of surprised not to turn it up at all on any station.

    Obviously I’m in the minority about the jumpicam, but it seems to me that the invention of the steadicam was a great improvement in handheld camera work and it shouldn’t be thrown away lightly for the jumpy-cam. I hates the jumpicam, I does.


  4. Eomer playing Bones McCoy might just make it worth while, but oy, do i agree on the noise levels . . . oh, and all you kids, get off my lawn! (Wait, when did i get old?)

    Seriously, Karl Urban rocks the Doc part, but there is much wrong with the movie. What’s right with the movie (Sulu w/ a sword, etc.) almost balances it out, but i’m not pining to see the next entry the way i was looking forward to this.

    And, (unspoiler), the big Spock Prime line just screams out “We wrote this placeholder piece of dialogue, and by the time we were shooting, no one came up with anything better.” You’ll know what line i mean when it comes up, i am certain.

  5. Hi Jeff,

    I just realized that Star Trek is playing at the theater right around the corner from my house, so I really have no excuse not to go and see it, even if I take my earplugs with me just in case. (I sure wish I’d had some when I went to Matrix…) (But then I could say the same thing about Cirque de Soleil, whose music is beyond dangerously loud.)