Are there any long takes (or what passes for them these days) in "The Bourne Ultimatum"? When in his review of the film Roger Ebert claimed that director Paul Greengrass "not only creates (or seems to create) amazingly long takes but does it without calling attention to them," he was deluged with letters claiming this was a hallucination on Ebert’s part and decrying the shaky camera work and ADD editing. One speculates there’s even a joke hidden in there:
David J Swift, Jackson WY:
Is there a cinematographer’s joke in â€œThe Bourne Ultimatum?â€ The entire movie shake-a-shakes with an incessant Queasy-Cam affectation — except for one shot. This shot is a POV of Jason peering through a hand-held zillion-power scope to read 12-point type on a document a few hundred feet distant. If there was one shot in the movie should realistically vibrate, it’s this one. Care to ask the powers-that-be if this is an inside joke?
David Bordwell uses the fuss as a launching point to declaring "A spectre is haunting contemporary cinema: the shaky shot." He breaks down the editing frequency (where does one find such facts?) and decides that it’s not really the editing that’s to blame for any motion sickness, it’s the camerawork and continuity:
In The Way Hollywood Tells It, I described contemporary films as employing â€œintensified continuity,â€ an amplification and exaggeration of tradition methods of staging, shooting, and cutting. What Greengrass has done is to roughen up intensified continuity, making its conventions a little less easy to take in. Normally, for instance, rack-focus smoothly guides our attention from one plane to another. But in The Bourne Ultimatum, when Jason bursts into a corridor close to the camera, the camera tries but fails to rack focus on his pursuer darting off in the distance. The man never comes into sharp focus. Likewise, most directors fill their scenes with close-ups, and so does Greengrass, but he lets the main figure bounce around the frame or go blurry or slip briefly out of view.
Ultimately, though, this leads to Greengrass being done the disservice of being compared to Tony Scott, which is like comparing an example of precision stunt driving to one of someone flipping their car while fiddling with the radio on the freeway and somehow miraculously ending right-side up.
When he reviewed the film at Entertainment Weekly, Owen Gleiberman referenced what Alfred Hitchcock said about "young Spielberg": "He’s the first one of us who doesn’t see the proscenium arch." "Watching The Bourne Ultimatum," Gleiberman goes on, "with its swervy, headlong, you are there images of a man on the run from forces he senses yet cannot see, I remembered Hitchcock’s words, and I thought: If Spielberg doesn’t see the proscenium arch, then Paul Greengrass barely even sees the stage."
So, terrifying vision of the future of cinema or exhilarating glimpse into hitherto unimagined film freedom? While you decide, soothe your over-edited heart with Michael Atkinson‘s musings on the long take at his blog Zero For Conduct.
+ The Bourne Ultimatum (RogerEbert.com)
+ Shake, rattle, and Bourne! (RogerEbert.com)
+ Unsteadicam chronicles (DavidBordwell.com)
+ The Bourne Ultimatum (2007) (Entertainment Weekly)
+ A Shot in the Dark (Zero For Conduct)