Thursday, February 21, 2013

Two for Last Action Hero (1993)

I finally catch up with what could be my last McTiernan. As the space between me and the film grew wider and more daunting in the years since I started taking note of this director, I too grew more and more anxious of finally seeing it. Now I can only roast myself for not looking at this gem sooner.

This is one of McTiernan's most fully realised films. His visual style correlates seamlessly with the elasticity of the subject matter without sacrificing his unique sense of rhythm in editing and space.

A few stray observations for now:

1. Echoes:

It's the same hand gesture that appears again and again in McTiernan's films, the distinct W-like helix to which Jake alluded in his notes on Rollerball from a few years ago. In Last Action Hero the gesture is no longer the same worried clasp, but a quick diversion for a magic trick.

High-up falls plague this director. They turn up twice in the Die Hard movies, always from the same angle: looking down, catching that final appearance of dread appear behind the eyes. 

It's perhaps the most famous image in Die Hard — Hans Gruber with a mask of fear plummeting downwards out of the tower — yet here, as with McClane and Carver's drop from the high-up wire in Die Hard With A Vengeance, the fall has a comic edge, like Wile E. Coyote realising his mistake those few precious moments too late.

2. Space:

Linking spaces with pans and zooms, the same discipline and geometry applied to each set-up. Certain maneuvers leap out and surprise us, like the whip pan between Danny and the crane he's operating, which plays out vice-versa.


Like Minnelli or Carpenter, here is an artist with an acute feeling and deep respect for even the slightest movement within the frame. There is a scene towards the end of the movie where Danny enters the kitchen, the camera tight on the back of his head. It tracks slowly behind him, past a poster for Fellini's Roma, and into the tiny kitchen area. Slater and Danny's mother have been awake all night, talking away. "I've never just talked to a woman before... it's neat", says Arnie.

The camera, still behind Danny, shuffles one way and another, altering perspectives, and then glides backwards to frame him in the doorway.

This film is a suite of small, intuitive movements with the camera. His images anticipate action and movement. "Emotion becomes motion", as Tag Gallagher says.

Even what seems like the most negligible of backward dollies takes on the most profound meaning of simplicity and astuteness: