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View Full Version : When is story "beside the point?"


SamChen
01-02-2005, 09:48 PM
I just watched "House of Flying Daggers" last night and I'd have to say that it was visually jaw-dropping. Those who've seen Zhang Yimou's previous film "Hero" will be used to his visual finesse. So as I was reading Roger Ebert's review of "Daggers," he writes:
The film is so good to look at and listen to that, as with some operas, the story is almost beside the point, serving primarily to get us from one spectacular scene to another.
Now I'm curious whether this statement can be applied to CG filmmaking as well? Can the images be so great that "the story is almost beside the point?" He makes the analogy to opera. Does this ..or better yet, can this apply to CG or animation in general? Any examples? One that comes to mind is Animatrix "Flight of the Osiris." Any others?

hatran
01-03-2005, 02:43 AM
i think it's possible but very, very difficult because we need a brain like Zhang who can combine all to make the miracle.

saltydogdesign
01-03-2005, 04:11 AM
Eraserhead doesn't have a story at all, as far as I can tell. Yet it's still... oh, wait...

marchermann
01-03-2005, 10:00 AM
Why should CG filmmaking differ from "traditional" filmmaking? Where's the dividing line anyway? So, to answer the question: Yes, you can definitely neglect story and the probability has probably risen with the advent of spectacular CG. Especially since many people approach this kind of filmmaking from the technical side, starting out with "doing 3D", not with an idea or a story of a film in mind that can only be appropriately produced with CG.

Marc

SamChen
01-04-2005, 05:44 AM
Why should CG filmmaking differ from "traditional" filmmaking? Where's the dividing line anyway? So, to answer the question: Yes, you can definitely neglect story and the probability has probably risen with the advent of spectacular CG.
Exactly... but theoretically. As you know, there have been a handful of animated CG films that have the visual pizzazz but weren't enough to sustain the films themselves. Case in point: "Final Fantasy," & "Shark Tale." You can argue that "Matrix 2 & 3" and "Sky Captain" also fall into this category judging by box office and critical reviews. So they all had incredible visuals but their story took a backseat, and the films suffered for it. Then why is "House of Flying Daggers" different? How'bout "Hero" ....assuming you agree w/ Roger Ebert's statement. Perhaps there is a difference between those wire-fu films and the CG ones. Perhaps the bar for visual pizazz is infinitely higher for CG than live action? Those are the questions I'm raising.

Lunatique
01-04-2005, 06:24 AM
I have yet to see a film where visuals alone satisfied every expectation I have for a great film. Cinema is the most prevailing and powerful storytelling medium of the modern age, and to sell it short by only concentrating on the visuals would be a shame. Zhang Yimou's last two films (Hero, HOFD) were total disappointments in terms of storytelling--both concentrated mostly on the visuals. Hard to believe this is the same man that directed films like To Live and Raise the Red Lantern.

dobermunk
01-04-2005, 10:52 AM
Okay, I'll bite.
Maybe its the manner of visualizing a meager story. Films of the ilk of FinalFantasy are "well-lit", inviting logical scrutiny and inviting the viewer tokeep tabs on the elements that fall out of line.
Story-lines like Hero unfold in a fog. And then people start dancing on tree twigs. Its all so dream-like that you feel lulled into enjoying the visual. The whole making invites a dream-oriented encounter, and therefore more forgiveness with those moments that fall out of line.

?

Shayder
01-04-2005, 04:45 PM
Story should never ever, ever.... ever be beside the point.

If it does then it is an FX reel.

Gentrifier
01-04-2005, 05:40 PM
I think contrasting "Hero" and "House of Flying Daggers" is a good way to prove that visuals should never supercede story. I've seen both movies and consider "Hero" a better film in that it's story was more captivating, whereas "House of Flying Daggers" had a more pedestrian, traditional Chinese soap-opera quality about it that visuals alone could not save.

Of course, it's just my opinion that "Hero" is a better film than "House..." but the reason I believe it was better was due to it's compelling story and not it's visuals.

In fact, I'd surmise that the visuals actually hurt "House..." because of the director's reliance upon them and their poor integration into the scenes. Take for instance [possible spoiler] the scene where the characters are trapped by bamboo spears impaled into the ground. Most of that scene was done with CG bamboo on a medium shot. So we sat there with CG bamboo spears flying in periodically, all while the actors are standing around trying to looks scared. The whole buildup of that scene drags.
Without CG, most likely the director would have chosen many quickly cut closeups of bamboo shooting by the characters' faces, then cutting quickly to the spear piercing the ground, and back and forth until we pull back and see that they're enclosed in a prison of bamboo spears.
While this is more of a directorial issue, to me it speaks to the larger issue of reliance on visual effects do the detriment of a concise, well told story.

Oh, wait, there was a point....visuals are good when in support of the story....story is bad when in support of the visuals.

Enough blather from me.

Gentrifier.

SamChen
01-06-2005, 11:11 AM
Okay, I'll bite.
Maybe its the manner of visualizing a meager story. Films of the ilk of FinalFantasy are "well-lit", inviting logical scrutiny and inviting the viewer tokeep tabs on the elements that fall out of line.
Story-lines like Hero unfold in a fog. And then people start dancing on tree twigs. Its all so dream-like that you feel lulled into enjoying the visual. The whole making invites a dream-oriented encounter, and therefore more forgiveness with those moments that fall out of line.

?
Hey dobermunk..
I think you're on to something here. What you're saying kinda reminds me of the previously discussed topic of "Uncanny Valley" which Roger Ebert uses to explain why "Final Fantasy" and "Polar Express" exhibit creepiness. So taking that theory and applying not to human characters and robots, but instead, for discerning the fantastical elements in a live action setting (wire-fu flicks like "Hero" and "HOFD") vs. "elements that fall out of line" (as you put it) in pure CG films like "FF" and "PE". This actually makes sense to me.

The wire-fu films are almost caricaturizing reality .. hence, it's acceptable. In fact, if done convincingly, they plus the film. On the other hand, when CG films have caricatured characters, all's well. But the minute they attempt realistic human characters.. or anything that's not quite physically correct, then these anomalies are all you really seem to notice. Anyone buying this?

dobermunk
01-06-2005, 12:07 PM
imo You're right about the uncanniness, too - closely related. All about the dispension of disbelief.
Hehe, when you see the wire-fu actor or actress prepare to battle, then this power claw punch that sends the oppent(s) flying - I innerly rejoice. And also tremble when the inevitable omnipotent opponent just defies the claw, laughing. Its all ridiculous, but there's nothing in the film that slaps me out of that. I think thats why a scene like Gentrifier mentioned above - cg bamboo stakes not quite in synch with the actors' eyes and movements - damage the sequence's acceptance.

marchermann
01-06-2005, 12:50 PM
I think scenes or elements not matching and thus pushing you out of the film back into the living room or cinema ar one thing. But even if everything fits in perfectly - visually, logically - it can only go so far with out a compelling story, at least for a wider audience.

Some of my favourite films (most notably 2001 and Blow-up) are in fact lacking in the story department. I love them for other reasons, but I can well understand that most of my friends fall asleep or leave during these films.

But if a film sets out to be story based (like most films, especially those with lots of cg in it) no coherent presentation can usually make up for a bad story.

Makes sense?

Marc

PS: Sam, thanks for pointing to the "uncanny valley". An interesting concept that I had not heard about before.

c-g
01-06-2005, 02:21 PM
Now I'm curious whether this statement can be applied to CG filmmaking as well? Can the images be so great that "the story is almost beside the point?" He makes the analogy to opera.

Sounds like he is being a hypocritical lard ass. He always whines about how movies with CG effects and such are used as a crutch to replace storytelling. If a movie uses cg effects and anything seen onscreen looks better because of it it should fall into the same group. On the other hand, just because someone flys through the air beacuse they hold a sword or can kill hundreds of people in asia from a cave in the arctic with one arrow, doesn't mean it is a good story and nothing can make that better. I don't care what Qbert says, some of them are still just a 70's kung fu movie with a bigger budget.

nemirc
01-08-2005, 04:39 AM
Story should never ever, ever.... ever be beside the point.

If it does then it is an FX reel.
I agree. Simple and yet effective comment.

The thing is that I believe that CG films are sometimes the exact opposite to non cg films. On standard filmmaking CG is (often) used to support the story... but in CG films the story is most of the time an excuse to create the visuals... Maybe that's the reason why most CG movies are action or fantasy movies... but I don't see them making a drama like The Hours in full CG... I don't know if anybody else has come up with de idea of making a drama or romance movie using CG characters lol.

Bonedaddy
01-10-2005, 10:33 PM
<puts on his pretentious film student hat>

Strictly speaking, film doesn't have to be narrative. It's just moving pictures with (optionally) sound attached. In fact, many early works with it were not narrative. A lot of people early on argued that it SHOULDN'T be narrative, that to do so would just to imitate the theatre, and thus never give cinema a unique voice. They made movies that were more akin to moving paintings than narratives.

Some find it limiting to think that film must always have a story, and it must adhere to a theatre-inspired curve of tension/drama.

I think that when this is the case, when someone is trying to express something without adhering to the dramatic principles that have basically so glommed onto film that nobody can imagine the medium without them, then you can have visuals that legitimately outweigh story.

Otherwise, I agree, you have a glorified demo reel.

Nigel B
01-11-2005, 04:54 AM
Hi all,

I'll add my bit for what its worth. You can never negate story, but i must admit to sitting and watching some stuff, coming out blown away, and really having no idea what i was just watching. To my mind, as long as it entertains, it has done its job. As a dramatic writing professor once said in class, "never let sfx spoil a good story," and in counter, my brother in law, who is a special effects person, "Never let great Fx be spoiled by the story." Go figure!

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