Sunday, April 12, 2009

Movies and the Shaky Cam

I watched a couple of movies this weekend while off for Easter: Lakeview Terrace and Quarantine. Both were sadly flawed. Lakeview Terrace had some interesting characterizations and I thought it had the makings of a pretty good movie, but it was very slow to develop. The model for this kind of urban thriller to me is Pacific Heights, and this one had nowhere near the suspense of that movie, although to be fair it didn't have as clear cut of a bad guy either.

Quarantine's flaws were of a different sort. The premise and setting were interesting, although not terribly original, and there were some cool gory sections, as when a badly injured man tries to walk on a broken leg. The problem was the shaky cam. The premise was that a TV night show crew consisting of a woman reporter and a camerman ride along with a fire crew who are called out to treat a sick woman. Once the firemen and camera crew are inside the building, along with a couple of cops, the feds lock the building down because of the disease, which seems to develop into uncontrollable rage.

Unfortunately, all we see of the events is the "camera eye," (Shaky cam) view. I suspect that someone somewhere thinks the shaky cam adds realism to a movie. The opposite is the case. Whether shaky cam or not, we all know at the beginning of a movie that we're just watching a movie. With the regular camera set up, we only have to suspend our disbelief once, and then we're into the movie. With the shaky cam we are constantly bombarded with the realization that this is only a movie, and, unfortunately, we're only seeing bits and pieces of that movie. In Quarantine, for example, I could not suspend my disbelief over and over as to the fact that a "real person" was supposed to be filming all this, and I could not get past my irritation that at times the movie I paid for consisted of running feet. Had I known it was shaky cam I'd never have rented it.

Just say "no" to shaky cam.


pattinase (abbott) said...

I detest the shaky cam. It actually makes me physically ill-vertigo, I guess. It doesn't make a movie more real either.


I actually like shaky cam when done correctly and I do think it adds that touch of realism. But when not done well it sticks out like a sore thumb.

Sidney said...

I haven't seen Lakeivew Terrace yet. I was hopeful it would be pretty good.

Cullen Gallagher said...

I was having this discussion a little while ago even about documentaries. Someone was criticizing the film because the shots were too well composed and beautiful, whereas they thought a shaky hand-held camera would have been more "realistic." I disagreed, and rather admired the director's attention to detail, and that he didn't take the typical approach.

A few decades ago handheld cameras were certainly not common and were more effective. Now they just seem kind of cliched and don't surprise audiences like they used to.

And I'm with you Patti - I definitely get nauseous in certain movies. It doesn't make for a pleasurable evening at the movies at all.

Shauna Roberts said...

I don't like shaky cams either. And I detest the grainy film quality that often is used with them for greater "reality."

Travis said...

Good points about the shaky cam. I would also add that, for me, I don't really care for the motion of the shots.

David Cranmer said...

Add me to the list of those that hate the shaky cam and the super fast Jason Bourne style editing. Also, I'm having a hard time watching Sam Jackson in anything these days.

Erik Donald France said...

The shaky camera is definitely overused. It seems kind of lazy as an effect.

On the other hand (as far as documentaries go a la comments), wouldn't it be cool to see something entirely different but also well done?

Grey Gardens is like that, I suppose. It forces the audience to do some work filling in blanks.

Ello said...

I can't watch shaky cam because it actually makes me sick. And Lakeview just didn't look like a good movie to me. Now if you tell me the ending, I'll never have to rent it!

Scott said...


I saw Quarantine a while back...I thought it was OK...I still want to see the original Spanish film that it was remade from , REC.

I don't mind the 'shakycam' style of film as long as it's wel done..Cloverfield comes to mind. I didn't like Blair Witch , however.

Merisi said...

Shaky cams are not for me.

I passed through your profile and there was the number 10,000 - any prize for that? ;-)

Happy Easter to you and your loved ones.

Steve Malley said...

Hear HEAR!!


Charles Gramlich said...

pattinase (abbott), I’ve gotten that feeling from it myself.

ARCHAVIST, I guess I’ve never seen it done well then. It’s always distracting to me, and makes it impossible for me to suspend disbelief for any length of time.

Sidney, I think it had potential in the characters but I didn’t really develop a lot of liking for any of them unfortunately.

Cullen Gallagher, I think you’re right on. Maybe at the beginning they suggested a new way of experiencing a film but to me they just seem distracting. I’m not going to reach a point in a film where I am completely unaware of watching a film so a technique like that won’t make it more realistic for me and will lead to problems in presentation.

Shauna Roberts, absolutely. Another pet peeve of mine. I’m not going to suddenly forget I’m watching a film because of grainy film quality or shaky cam. I’m much more likely to forget if what is on the screen is absolutely compelling.

Travis, yes, it can actually be physically disconcerting as well.

David Cranmer, I thought that super fast editing went out with Miami Vice. I want to be able to see what is happening and get a chance to absorb it. Jackson is a pretty good actor, I think, but I’m not really into the material he’s chosen lately.

Erik Donald France, I just don’t want to be so aware of “technique” that I’m not able to relax and release myself to the show’s content. I haven’t seen “Grey Gardens.”

Ello, well, the bad guy dies. That pretty much tells you the ending. ;)

Scott, I didn’t see Cloverfield. I thought Blair Witch sucked and never even watched it all the way through. Quarantine had lots of promise I thought, but it was short circuited for me by the camera technique.

Merisi, wow, 10,000? I had no idea. That’s kind of cool. Happy Easter to you as well.

Steve Malley, I “hear” you!

jodi said...

I can understand the premise of the "shaky cam", but I don't find it realistic or clever--just annoying. Thanks for the heads up, Charles!!

Greg Schwartz said...

sorry to hear neither movie was worth the time. i thought "quarantine" looked good when i saw the previews, but glad i never went to see it. was gonna wait for it on video, but haven't gotten around to it yet.

fyi, i posted a slightly longer version of my review of "wanting the mouth of a lover" on, here:

Inside our hands, outside our hearts said...

I must be lucky in the sense that I have never had to experience a shaky cam. Maybe it is the type of movies that I watch that would mot need such a thing to be happening, I'm not sure. But I can imagine you sitting there damning it each time it did the shaky cam dance.


Soft love,

G said...

Shaky cams drive me batty, no matter whether they're used for a movie, a documentary, or even a t.v. show.

Charles Gramlich said...

Tara, you are indeed blessed.

G., I guess I'm too old. I just don't get it.

Michelle's Spell said...

Hey Charles,

I totally agree about the overuse of the shaky cam! I hate it in most movies -- as you pointed out, I can do that myself. In a short clip, it's fine, but in movies where you want to lose yourself in the story, you don't want to constantly be reminded of the fourth wall.

Heff said...

I can only imagine that "shaky cam" got old really fast.

Middle Ditch said...

They drive me crazy too. Hate them. Spoils everything. Give me a good, well directed, well acted and well written, old fashioned type movie any time.

Charles, Red Dwarf is back on here. A totally new series, same writers, same actors.

The BBC (the idiots) refused to have them back in 2004, so they went somewhere else successfully. BUT I can't get that channel so I'm really cursing the BBC (who still demands a huge license fee!)

Barrie said...

Remember the Blair Witch Project? That was a really shaky cam too. And I was nauseous for the entire movie.

BernardL said...

As you say, we know we're watching a movie. The shaky cam ought to be used sparingly and come with a warning label.

Charles Gramlich said...

Michelle, yes, I could see it being used effectively as an "element" in something. But exactly the problem with the use throughout a movie.

Heff, I wonder if it would work for pornos?

Middle Ditch, Yes, let me be aware of the compelling story and compelling acting, not the technique. I've heard good stuff about Red Dwarf.

Barrie, Yes, that really biased me against shaky cam from the beginning. I could never understand why that movie was so popular.

BernardL, agreed. Like any technqiue, it might have it's uses, but I don't see it as a primary technique to carry a movie.

Miladysa said...


I was disappointed with I Am Legend which I also watched over the weekend. I think that is what it was called. It soooo could have been good!

Lana Gramlich said...

Shaky cam or no, has a decent movie even been MADE in the past 10 or 15 years? I say nay, sir! I say nay!

Anonymous said...

Some of the new, hyper-real (in my opinion, crap) camera techniques really detract from the experience. Like the Battlestar Galactica shake, shake, zoom in thing.

Frank Loose said...

In my opinion anything that draws attention to the craft of movie making is wrong. If "shaky cam" makes a viewer aware of the process and disrupts the story, then it was a bad choice by the filmmakers.

Rachel said...

I do not like the Shaky Cam! No, not at all, Sam I Am. I do not like on a screen. I do not like it though it seems so keen. I do not like it on TV. I do not like it, no not me!

laughingwolf said...

woody allen, master of shaky cam? lol

neither pique my interest, so will avoid both... thx charles

G said...

Charles, there ain't nothing to get.

Shaky camera is just a way for a none-too-good director to make a film.

Kind of like someone winning the "It was a dark and stormy night" writing contest.

Back to back.

Cloudia said...

Agree on shaky-cam!
Even NYPD BLUE moderated it's use...Aloha-

jennifer said...

I prefer not to watch movies that I need Dramamine to get through it. No shaky cam for me, thanks.

Have a great week Charles.

Charles Gramlich said...

Miladysa, Yes, I thought the Omega Man version with Charlton Heston was better. I was all ready to really lose myself in the new one but never managed it.

Lana Gramlich, you have a point my dear. I can hardly argue with that. Maybe Saw, the original. When was that made?

jason evans, agreed. Technique should not get in the way of story telling but it seems to in the movies with all too much frequency.

Frank Loose, my opinion exactly. Some viewers may like it, but it always calls attention to itself rather than the film for me.

Rachel, wow! That was cool. Dr. Rachel strikes.

laughingwolf, hum, maybe it's a technique that lends itself to comedy.

G, ah, this pesky imagination of mine.

Cloudia, I never watched NYPD BLUE. Like I say, a little bit at just the right moment might work. Too much is too much.

Jennifer, that definitely happened to me with Blair Witch Project. Motion sickness sitting in a chair? I prefer not.

JR's Thumbprints said...

Not only is Lakeview Terrace slow to develop, it's slow getting to a place the view already knows about.

As for the shaky cam, someone should do a split screen shaky cam movie -- what do you think?

Charles Gramlich said...

JR, split screen shaky cam? You mean like trying to watch two basketball games simultaneously on the screen? I can't even handle that.

damir said...

I just started a petition about this earlier today. pass it on and get me some sigs. Thanks. And good point. e-mail me back at if you got any questions.

Anonymous said...