Wednesday, April 09, 2014

I Sometimes Notice Odd Things

(Contains very minor spoilers for Captain America: The Winter Soldier.)

On Monday, DeeAnn and I saw the latest addition to the Marvel Comics film universe: the second Captain America movie—which, in my humble opinion, would have worked better as a more personal story for either Steve Rogers (who had a strong connection to the title villain) or Natasha Romanoff (who had an even stronger connection to the "A" plot), but it was still enjoyable. The story is not what I want to talk about.

What I want to talk about is the vending machine.

See, there's one particular scene, right around the end of act one, which finds Rogers standing in a hospital corridor, momentarily dumbfounded. And in that shot, there's also a guy in a service uniform kneeling to one side, restocking a vending machine. I was hugely distracted by this, because the moment I saw the vending machine guy there, I knew the vending machine was going to be an important plot point. It couldn't have been more obvious if there had been huge neon arrows pointing to it, underneath a sign saying THIS WILL BE IMPORTANT LATER ON.

The directors, Anthony and Joe Russo—brothers, and they're also attached to direct Captain America 3, so good for them—have mostly done TV work in the past. I don't know how much that has influenced their visual style or sensibilities, but I suspect they're pretty good at getting things done on a tight schedule. Deadlines are great motivators.

Now, I'm not saying there was anything in particular wrong with that shot. It did its job perfectly well, conveyed all the necessary information to the viewer: "Captain America is thinking about doing something, and there's a vending machine right here." No fancy camera angles or complicated blocking required. All I'm saying is, there was something about the way that shot was framed, something about how the scene was set up, that communicated the directorial intent to me with complete transparency.

I can't quite put my finger on exactly what it was. Maybe the vending machine was a little too close to Cap, and there was no reason for that other than to get it onscreen and foreshadow its later involvement. Maybe the service person restocking it was a bit too much in the foreground, emphasizing the fact that he didn't need to be there unless... well, you'll see if you watch the movie. It could have been a combination of subtle cues which I can't fully explain.

Back when I was a kid, and cartoons were still hand-drawn and cel-animated, I could tell which objects or parts of the image were going to move in most scenes because the foreground elements were always painted differently than the background plates. (I've heard other people talk about seeing this too, and I'm glad it wasn't just me.) And often when I watch movies or TV shows, I'll recognize cameo appearances not because I have any idea who the celebrity is, but because I can tell the shot was framed to feature them especially prominently.

I sometimes notice odd things. That's all.


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