Monday, October 3, 2011

Mission tactics: The opening chase in Rollerball (2002)

The camera circles around mapping out the action; every cut and shot delineates the space, links people and objects together in our heads. In other words, when he moves from a close-up of one rider to a long shot of another in a single upward pan, then cuts across to their field of vision, with the first rider racing forward in plain sight, and then pulls out to a longer shot, we understand a certain relationship the two bodies share. It's only a simple technique, but the genius of McTiernan is that he uses this aesthetic geometry to the advantage of a scene: he's the genuine article, not just a great showman.

Composition that is not restricted to within the confines of an image, but between multiple images --in the utilisation of the tempo and flow of editing to communicate a specific understanding about, say, how we move in the world, or how an environment becomes territorial in the presence of a group of bodies. A minor but specific rhythm builds...

The editing and the camera ape the intensity of the movement on screen, almost to the point that the images seem like they might come unhinged. There are a couple of minutes of manic montage, as Cross and the other racer speed down the streets, gliding past huddles of photographers, leaping over the bizarre geometric design of San Francsico's roadways and under oncoming trucks, moments and movements which, as well as remaining totally fresh, hark back to a couple of old tactics he deploys in these kinds of situations (whip-pans to police pursuers, aerial shots - both tracking and static - and Daniel's beloved telescopic zoom, which here isn't quite as magnificent, and is half as brief, as the one in Die Hard With A Vengeance - but it's McTiernan, and, heck, we should be grateful for it). McT shapes, divides, handles the material like a conductor, in total control, even when what he conducts is under constant threat of unravelling. Immaculate as ever, the framing remains perfect: the images are banjaxed but they are never unclear.

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