IN THE CUT: The Dark Knight by Christopher Nolan

IN THE CUT: The Dark Knight by Christopher Nolan






EDITOR’S NOTE: Today, Press Play debuts a new genre of video essay we are calling In The Cut. These video essays will zero in on a crucial scene in a film and they will deconstruct, study and evaluate it for its technical merits and its cinematic effectiveness. Given the recent arguments emanating from this site and others about the state of action filmmaking, Press Play contributor Jim Emerson felt compelled to produce a series of three In The Cut video essays. When taken cumulatively, these commentaries explain once and for all what a successful action sequence looks like and how such a scene should influence the viewer. His forensic analysis of the truck chase from Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight is Part I of these essays. Part II is Phillip Noyce’s Salt and Part III is Don Siegel’s The Line Up. We have included the full uninterrupted sequence from The Dark Knight so the viewer can compare Jim’s analysis with the finished product.

By Jim Emerson
Press Play Contributor

There are plenty of ways to make a movie. There are plenty of ways to make a mess, too. But sometimes when I and fellow critics and moviegoers complain of “incoherence” in modern “snatch-and-grab” movies (particularly action sequences), some people say they don’t know what we’re talking about. This is an attempt to be very, very specific about why some of us get confused. What it boils down to this: we’re actually watching the movie.

When, for example, we’re shown someone gazing intently offscreen and there’s a cutaway to something else (that appears to be in the vicinity), we assume (having familiarized ourselves with basic cinematic grammar over the years) that we are seeing what they are looking at. But that’s not always the case. Why? I don’t know. I find many directorial choices in contemporary commercial movies to be sloppy, random, incomprehensible — and indefensible.

This essay takes a long, hard look at roughly the first half of the big car and truck chase sequence from Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, set on the lower level streets by the Chicago River. It stops, starts, reverses, repeats, slows down… taking the sequence apart shot by shot. The idea is to look at it the way an editor would — but also as a moviegoer does. We notice lapses in visual logic whether our brains register them consciously or not. I found this sequence utterly baffling the first time I saw it, and every subsequent time. At last, I now know exactly why.

Anyone who has participated in the making of a movie, whether a D.I.Y. project or a Hollywood studio picture (I’ve been involved in both kinds of productions), can tell you about the seemingly insurmountable difficulties of planning, shooting and editing a movie. Surely the use of large IMAX cameras for this segment of The Dark Knight made the filming more of a challenge. Problems that could have been easily fixed on a film with such a huge budget (removing that phantom extra police car with CGI, perhaps) were also no doubt complicated by the IMAX process. And to the filmmakers’ credit, they decided against using CGI for the actual stunts, using real vehicles, miniatures and explosions instead.

In the end, however, all that matters, to paraphrase Martin Scorsese, is which pieces of film wind up in the picture and which are left out (intentionally or otherwise). And then, to quote the great actor Sir Edwin (John Cleese) on all those words in Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” you’ve got to get them in the right order.

P.S. If you want to see how this part of the chase sequence appeared in the “Dark Knight” script, click to view these .pdf pages.

In the Cut is presented by Press Play, Scanners and RogerEbert.com. Parts II and III will examine two terrific action sequences — one recent, one older.

– – – – –

Jim Emerson is a Seattle-based writer, critic, editor, blogger, video essayist, gardener and pedant. He is the founding editor of RogerEbert.com, where he also maintains his blog, Scanners.

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Comments

Ian Grey

Hey Jim. With all due respect, while I agree with your findings I totally disagree with your conclusions.

I don't think cinema is just about the edit and composition–there's also extreme short term memory of what just happened a millisecond prior coloring perception of the ever-shifting now and what I call 'the blur'–the shock of something we didn't expect. This can play within trad rules or not.

I do not believe something, by definition, is better because it plays within traditional rules. It's just more elegant by certain ways of looking at elegance.

What's happening when the semi hits the SWAT truck is pretty obvious–it's like a hand-through-mirror shock in a horror film. Nolan flips perception POV and the the truck seems to come out of nowhere and in the theater we kind of jump a bit. Which is the point, elegance be damned.

Also, the argument seems to be that, in one film, Nolan is a director who can direct action until he isn't: how does that work? Why?

Maybe it's more like this: Sometimes he cares about trad film style and sometimes he cares about other things.

Here, multiple levels of poetic chaos are being summoned–Dent's, the cops', the quiet of the sleeping city–it all explodes.

I think Nolan's high impact, ultra-blur, anarcho-punk machine-gun aesthetic works great. I never have any confusion what's going on: the cops and Dent are SWAT car–I know where they are. And I know where The Joker is. I agree with the philosophy at work here: rules are made to be blown up and run over with a semi. :)

Brian

There were a couple of points I agree on, like the Jokers reveal was a big one. But personally i did not find the overall use of space confusing. In action I have no problem with the 180 rule going out the window it give a sense of disorientation which I believe was Nolan's intention. I'd also like to point out (as an editor myself) that its not the editors fault how it was shot and what angels were chosen. He may have actually saved the geography of this sequence by rejigging the shot a little to make the best possible sequence. Sometimes in editing you have to make the best of what your given. People always think it was cut badly…. not nesicarily the case!!!

Poosh

A few observations you make are a little over-the-top I feel, but generally you are totally right. I remember having an ill feeling during this sequence – and some of the other Batman Begins/Dark Knight action scenes. Nolan is quite lacking in some areas. Makes you respect other film makers who, while not getting the critical respect Nolan gets, certainly know how to use the "language" of film with greater skill and care.

Alex

Why be blogging when you could be Nolan, even better than Nolan. Any movie ever filmed can be dissected to a point in which commentary stops being analytical and becomes personal “I would have done it like this” annoying. I agree there are mistakes, the sequence of speed in Batman’s pod could be better but you really are wasting time criticizing. Get off your blogging chair and do a better Batman, seriously, there’s more money to be made, better women to be met and best of all, better movies to be filmed!

Charles

I was wondering what in the movie (asside Ledger’s playing) was making the Joker so scary. These explanations seems to give some serious hints.

As you mentionned in the video, all those fast angle changes makes the scene slightly confusing for the viewer. I think that it has been carefully calculated to make the Joker bigger than life. Because while we get confused, lost and even vulnerable, he’s the only one who seems to have real control over the situation. And it is quite nightmarished to be controlled by such an evil man. Until the arrival of Batman’s car, the viewer could not figure out a way to solve the situation.
In most conventional films, the viewer has the best overview of the situation and it’s certainly not the case here. Confusion increases tension and fear. Christopher Nolan seems to have infused his film with just the right amount of these elements.
Let’s not forget that this is not a football game but a piece of art. Technical considerations and logic does not apply above all.

Caleb

HOW DARE YOU CRITICIZE THE NOLAN!!!!!

Jacob

I really like the idea behind this “in the cut” thing, but for this particular sequence it’s ineffectual. The sequence is made to be unsettling, confusing, and seemingly random, that’s the theme of the movie, and of the Joker himself. The only part of this sequence I still don’t get is after the truck T-bones the SWAT van and somehow misses the second van entirely, but then a simple application of the brakes by Jim Gordon is all that is needed there, so perhaps a quick shot of him squealing and swerving right a bit would have cleared that up for me at first.
In regards to the “Why don’t they change lanes to get away from the RPG-carrying Joker” question, it’s a lot harder to time the shot of the RPG whilst paying attention to the pillars that are flying past if you’re closer, and the RPG shot wouldn’t have destroyed the van, much like it didn’t instantly destroy the cop car, so Gordon was probably planning on being hit, slowing down and giving Joker a reason to come closer.

Robert

Author has obviously never cut a film before OR sat in an edit room. The idealistic tone is the furthest realm in the universe away from how films are shot and cut.

It was no surprise to read that author isn’t a filmmaker, but a blogger.

Jon

One thing I didn’t realize before watching this little demo is how detached Nolan’s film-making feels. The overhead (helicopter) shots of the buildings with the caravan crawling down on the road almost look like an alien’s POV. The fact that there is nothing else happening in this huge scene is pretty telling: Nolan is really only making one point at a time. There is no real poetry going on, just filming of events. (Though I still believe the hallway sequence in Inception is one of the best poetic pieces of pure film-making in recent memory.) So, one realization this led me to is I think Nolan would make a really fantastic alien invasion movie. I’ve always felt his characters were paper-thin and his set-ups very literal. So, essentially perfect for an invade-the-world alien mentality. The challenge for him would be to give us humans to root for, since he seems to be blind to the humanity of humans. It could still make for an exciting and subversive take on the genre though.

Andrew

The most confusing thing about the SWAT van going into the river:
If you watch the Focus Points on the TDK Blu-Ray, you see that they actually shot it the other way around, with the van going from right to left. Which means they flopped it in post (which would mean some digital effects work to reverse the letters on the van too)… I have no idea why they did that.

That is the only thing that’s ever bugged me about that action scene though. Everything else you mention is pretty inconsequential IMO. Would only bug the eagle-eyed nitpicky experts like you, not the average movie-goer, who is the target audience for this movie.

MH
bettaum

I have to disagree.
It’s perfectly clear which directions each vehicle is going and where each character is seated – at least until the 11:44 mark on the video, when I decided to comment.

Andrew

I’m not following this claim of a disappearing cop car. There’s three cop cars. The garbage truck takes out two of them, sideswiping one and spinning out the other from behind, and The Joker blows up the third one. Where’s the inconsistency?

Simphil

I find it strange that the story telling side of the scene is only analysed in a kinetic action way. The only comment about the Joker drawing Batman is the closest to a real understanding of the story.

I believe the tension of the sequence is suspense based on the audience knowing the Joker will appear. But isn’t the point of much of the framing of characters and costume to create the possibility that the Joker may reveal himself to be one of the police. So for example, the armed man in the back and the driver of the truck with masked face who doesn’t speak could turn out to be the Joker.

This is a tension through out the film (that is how the Joker was introduced in the first scene). Of course this is strangely undermined by the Joker appearing with the shotgun at an early stage.

GConvex

A bunch of pseudo-intellectual crap. There are so many things about this movie that deserve criticism. But what is the point of attempting a breakdown of one of the most memorable action set pieces of the last five or more years? I have a hard time believing that anyone who enjoys action movies had a hard time following this sequence when they originally saw it. For example, introducing random extras (usually cops or bad guys) in quick close ups is actually basic vocabulary of the action scene that signals to the audience “shit is about to get crazy.” If this confused you, you are not the intended audience (which would explain a lot). This movie has many faults but its editing is not one of them. You might as well be criticizing Heath Ledger’s performance – though you would probably do so by taking a scene out of context. The film is a masterpiece of (little else than) ever-escalating tension, intensity building on intensity, stakes that grow scene after scene, defying expectation at every turn. In short, it is a film of rhythm. The rhythm of this movie is insane. Once it begins, it does not let up until the end. That effect, which is in large part why the movie was so successful, is created by the editing. This scene you chose to examine in a negative light is actually a perfect microcosm of the film’s success and this intensifying rhythm that defines it. So I was baffled watching this. Confused by something that was never confusing before. Which is the opposite of what criticism should strive for and achieve. How can you not follow the cuts that launch the van into the river? The semi hits it on the passenger side, pushes it across the next lane, turning its front away from the semi as it does so, the semi takes a hard right while the van has flipped all the way around until its going the opposite direction by the time it explodes through the barrier into the water. Its actually very carefully staged and epic as fuck. More importantly, its not hard to follow. So what was the point of this video? Nothing. This is subjectifying observations rather than contextualizing them in a way that applies to a greater body of knowledge. It is thinking only of the personal, rather than the academic or objective. Confusing rather than enlightening. The opposite of critical thinking. Textbook pseudo-intellectualism.

jim emerson

Satish: Thank you for your thoughtful, detailed contributions. Regarding the phantom third police car: As you see, it remains in the action for a long time after the two police cars (the only ones that we saw enter “Lower Fifth”) are eliminated. And if that’s the camera car, then somebody should have been fired for including it in shots where it should not appear.

I understand what you mean about the Expendables, but I use that term deliberately because I think that’s exactly the way the film treats them. We get only a glimpse of them in the seconds before something happens to them. Significantly, we NEVER return to see how/if they have survived a crash or an explosion. If the movie had done that, it might indicate some compassion or concern with their fate. (For an extreme example of this kind of empathy, see “Y Tu Mama Tambien,” in which the narrator pauses for digressions and tells short stories about people the main characters pass by on the road…)

jim emerson

Matt: For more than 30 years, at the Conference on World Affairs in Boulder, CO, Roger Ebert guided an audience through an intense, four-day (two-hours per) shot-by-shot, and sometimes frame-by-frame, examination of a whole feature film. Titles ranged from “La Dolce Vita” to “Citizen Kane” to “Fight Club” to “The Long Goodbye.” Anyone in the audience can yell “Stop!” and make an observation or ask a question about what is on the screen. The process is exhausting and exhilarating, yielding a deeper understanding of the films under scrutiny that could not be achieved any other way. Roger asked me to sit in with him for a few years, and then since his illness took away his voice, I have conducted sessions on my own with the audience (“Chinatown,” “No Country for Old Men,” “A Serious Man”). My point is this: Such a rigorous approach is not for everybody. It drives some people batty. But my academic background is in English literature — I love to study individual word choices, sentence structures, etc., and how they create meaning and beauty. Same with film.

The irony is that I’m not trying to tell anybody else that there’s only one way of looking at movies; it’s the people who say, “Stop looking so closely and watch movies the way I do!” who are doing that.

Satish Naidu

A bit of a diversion here.
As I’ve commented on your blog entry down at Scanners as well, Mr. Expendable is not, well, Mr. Expendable. I’ve recently watched The Yellow Sea and doing a simple thing as giving a reaction shot of a cop chasing the protagonist can go so much in us bringing the human aspect of the whole enterprise, and not just be a standard establishment versus subject stuff. I mean, the cops are flesh and blood too.

These medium shots before the farewell is putting a face to the death. I think it is highly moral for an action film to do that, Jim. I mean, there’ve been cars in supposedly harmless and supposedly-concerned-for-human-toll movies like Speed where I the fate of some of the cars has bothered me. Whether they were parked or was there somebody inside.

Having a face in a movie that is actually concerned with collateral damage as one of its themes. I guess therein lies the explanation.

GeoffH

Oh and a fascinating analysis, very well done!

GeoffH

The Int. Rear Of Truck shots with Harvey and the guard are indeed displaced and could have been in another movie, another country! This is disorientating. However, action in movies is more about spectacle – noise, pace, speed, flashing. Indeed the disorientation of crossing the line – the 180 rule, adds to this.

You’re probably right that they shot a whole lot of stuff with a whole lot of cameras and threw it all together to get from one end of the chase to the other. Little setting up of peril for anyone, highly predictable and cliched setting up of the semi which is always the bad guy.

I often sink into my seat when the action sequence begins as I know what’s going to happen, there’s nothing and no one to care about. Even Harvey in the van from another movie, doesn’t get my attention for that very reason. He doesn’t appear to be in peril. Just in a box in a studio. Even some light flashing across his face would have put him in the chase.

Indianna Jones springs to mind, worked perfectly, rooting for Indie. Here, not really rooting for anyone in a scene saved by the appearance of the Joker.

But that’s modern Hollywood movies for modern multiplex audiences, for lovers of action, just feed them speed, noise, flashing, disorientation and gunfire.

Otherwise, a very good movie.

Matthew Seitz

I don’t think the chase is quite as badly done as Jim makes it out to be — I’ve seen a lot worse — but it is sloppy. The mere fact that it can inspire a highly contention and very long comments thread, much of which is consumed by debates about what exactly happened, or concocting elaborate excuses/justifications/explanations for the parts that are confusing, says to me that the film has some basic, severe and rather embarrassing deficiencies.

It ain’t the Zapruder film, people. It’s a vehicle chase in a Batman movie. It should not be the audience’s job to figure out what’s happening by poring over clues. That’s Christopher Nolan’s job, and to put it politely, he could done it a lot better.

We’re not talking about the end of “Blow Up” or “The Conversation” or “The Passenger” or “Picnic at Hanging Rock” where you’re supposed to wonder what exactly happened. Action scenes should be about clarity even when they’re trying to create a feeling of incredible immediacy and confusion. There should never be any doubt about how many cars there were, how many gunmen there were, who lived and died, where people are in relation to each other. The only exception to this is a scene where the entire point is to create some unresolved narrative issues — a bunch of people get lost during a riot, one disappears and you never see him again, you think you know what happened but you can’t get closure on it, that sort of thing.

This chase scene is not that kind of scene.

It’s not even a “Black Hawk Down” or “Saving Private Ryan” kind of scene where you’re supposed to be experiencing something like the trauma and confusion of war.

There is no way that we could have similar arguments about what exactly happened in the truck chase in “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” or the finale of “North by Northwest,” or the police helicopter attack sequence in the original “Die Hard,” or the final chase in “The Road Warrior.”

Those films are made by commercial artists with a very strong sense of basic film craft. Nothing had to be faked or fudged to make the scenes work. They thought a long time about what shots they needed for those action scenes, and they made damn sure they got those shots and that they fit together as they envisioned.

The Bourne films are shot in a pretty herky-jerky style, and there are many points where you aren’t entirely sure what’s going on at the moment that it happens, but you can always sort it out in your head a few moments later, and if you run the scenes back, there’s not a lot of obvious cheating, like that unmotivated shot of the semi that is mean to convince us that the SWAT van changed direction before its plunge into the river. That’s three-card-monte cutting. Sleight-of-hand, the kind of thing a magician or a hustler would do.

As an editor I’ve had to do that kind of thing myself to make a scene work, and it’s always because the director (sometimes somebody else, sometimes me!) fucked up during shooting and either (1) did not think through the scene before shooting it or (2) failed to get all the shots he needed to tell the story of the scene, for whatever reason.

It really doesn’t matter if you love the film enough to excuse the problems in this sequence or in other major sequences. There are plenty of people in my life that I love dearly, but I am keenly aware of their flaws, and if somebody pointed them out to me I might get a bit defensive at first but I would ultimately conceded, graciously, that the flaws exist.

Basic cinematic craft is not something you can grade on a curve. Nolan has always had problems at the craft level and has never entirely overcome them. “Inception” was a quantum leap forward for him conceptually, and had one or two brilliant action sequences, but there was a lot of cut-cut-cut shake-the-camera make-it-seem-exciting who-cares-what’s-going-on stuff in there, too.

Pointing out failures of craft is one of the functions of serious criticism. In fact it’s one of the most important jobs a critic can do, because the integrity of the medium itself rests on precisely these sorts of issues.

The people who whine that Jim is somehow spoiling the movie for them, or tell him he is wasting his time, or caring about things that are not important, or that he is just coming up with dumb reasons not to like a film he mysteriously decided in advance not to like anyway, are themselves a huge part of the reason why most movies are terrible. They have no standards and no taste.

Satish Naidu

5. It’s the first car, no it’s the second car: Let us remember the layout here of point 1. And wonder how the two cars at the rear end of the convoy suddenly turn into three cars. I guess it is the third car that is actually housing the camera for the rear-end shots, and it should probably count as a gaffe at this moment rather than editing error (sort of like the ones of movie-mistakes.com). The shot lasts for barely a moment, and it is the movement that catches the eye (as David Bordwell mentioned in one of his blogs on There Will be Blood,/em>), and I would bet that the immediate vision concentrates on the first car. Point be noted here that the subconscious somewhere registers a third car as well in the memory, but we can’t put a point. The confusion from hereon is probably subjective, because it is quite a simple reading from the previous frames where the cars first come into picture and then the garbage truck shows up, and then the cop (the one you refer to as Mr. Expendable guy and a touch of smirk, I might add) sees the truck in his rear view mirror. When it rams itself into a car, it is the second one, because no way it accelerated to be the first one. So when the Mr. Expendable shows up again, you are confused although there’s no need to be. He was always there. The problem is that the gaffe, the movie-mistake, now blows into the logistic problem you mention, and it is because of this third car, we’re disoriented and questions start popping in our head. But the action is so relentless and so much audio-visual information is being pumped into us that we focus on the immediate task of watching the images, lest we start lagging, and quell those doubts.
(Further points in the subsequent comment)

Satish Naidu

Jim, I have just watched this sequence after a long time, and here’s how I read it frame by frame. Since I do not have the video handy, I would like to post this link, and by help of time I can provide for a commentary, and also provide for my reading of those moments you comment upon here.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x4dzCXiCWzs&feature=related
(Please excuse the title of the video, and is no way part of this argument.)

1. The layout – Cop car, Black SWAT van, Van having Harvey, and two cop cars.
2. SHOT-REVERSE SHOT of Harvey and Cop: It is not a two shot but two static shots, “confronting” each other. Had it been a two-shot, it would’ve provided for a sort of harmony between Harvey and the Cop, since they’re in the same image, and towards the same side. Two static shots with two human figures looking at each other strikes a classis confrontational position, and this is how I felt even when I watched the movie for the first time. Now, as for the orientation, Jim, I think the windows are a dead giveaway. I don’t know much about a SWAT/Car van, but as much as I have seen police vehicles, a window is towards the center, and the positioning of the windows within the frame tells us exactly where the cop and Harvey are sitting with respect to the vehicle. In fact, the windows serve the same function as what you expect from the backdoor.
3. The Joker Cutaway: To me, this shot is one of the most memorable edits of the film, literally and figuratively becoming a shot, a little punch, a “spike” in the calm rhythm, and it excites me every time. It is like say a man walking calmly on the street, and suddenly does a little jiggle, and then resumes his walk. Or like say a calm phase of shots exchanged between two players, and suddenly one of them unleashes a brutal forehand. There’s a certain beauty, a certain say breath of fresh air, a little childish sense that is mostly likable. So I guess for some of us (if I may) it does work and work brilliantly.
4. The sardonically lit Fire-truck: It is a very valid point, but also, Nolan didn’t have much coverage here. I don’t remember the special features entirely (if someone would correct me), and I wouldn’t put figures here. The thing is the sequence is in IMAX, and to have one of those heavy cameras mounted on to the vehicle, or have a re-take, might have not been possible. I understand the logistic problems (not the ones you mention, but the film crew’s), and I also like how they jump over it so clean. As you say, it is minor, and yet it provides for a fantastic image.
(Further points in the subsequent comment)

Satish Naidu

Steven Santos: I posted this comment on Matt Schneider’s wonderful essay at
http://catecinem.wordpress.com/2011/09/12/malick-v-nolan/
, and since I was writing my analysis of the video here, I thought I would provide for a little set up too.

“One of the more curious aspects of my movie-watching has been the accumulation of memory, and as a result, I have been able to make, albeit a very rough one, a sort of segregation between two kinds of films – one that write themselves “verbatim” on your memory, and one that take some sort of shape that is somewhat different to the one on film. I like to believe in my romantic notion that movies belong more in our personal and collective memories than on film stock or electronic media.
So, when we say, Terence Malick’s film is evolution of narrative through reverie (I very much like that phrase and its usage by Keith Uhlich in his argument on Reverse Shot), and as we know, Christopher Nolan’s preoccupation is memory, it is interesting to see that most viewers, when remembering a movie, often seem to remember it in terms of images and moments, and even the movements as moments (say GIFs). Or if I cut down on the generalization, at least I do.
I remember watching Inception for the first time, and remembering it to write my review, and my mind kept playing a medium shot of Cobb tied to his chair (opening sequence) from a ceiling-fan’s angle, with the fan blades moving slowly and cutting through the frame. I loved that scene, and when I watched it a second time, there was no such thing. Now I don’t remember if there was even a fan to begin with.

The thing is Nolan’s movies, and especially the way they are cut and “assembled” together as comic-panels and not as one image leading to the other probably makes them conducive to this kind of “audience-contribution”, wherein some part of the film is actually ours.

Oh yeah, in that video of Fincher and Nolan lauding Malick, the latter did cite him as an influence. Of course, it was all rhetoric, but just saying.”

jim emerson

P.S. I forgot to add: The reason the direction of movement from shot to shot is not quite incidental is that, while the vehicles may remain relatively stationary in the frame (as the camera is moving alongside them most of the time), the foreground (posts) and background (through the side windows of the van and through the open door of the truck behind the Joker) switch back and forth rapidly. That’s what I found confusing — and, since there are many ways to shoot and cut so as to maintain the directional flow of action for more than a second or two at a time, I assume it was a deliberate choice to immerse the audience in the chaos. Personally, I think it was a less-than-engaging decision.

Icarus Arts

Great work for the most part. A wonderful and very useful exercise. I think you’re plain wrong about the spacial configuration in two of your main points, but I suppose that is Nolan’s fault as well. can’t wait to see more!

jim emerson

Seacam: Very good point about what I said about the axis of action (not the 180-degree-rule, exactly). You’re right — these are mostly reverse angles at high speeds, and it’s the speed and the rapid cutting that make them disorienting — especially when there are cuts to shots from the outside lanes as well, that reverse the direction of action of the police van, for example. I would love to shoot three people walking down the street — one slightly apart from the other two, who are engaged in conversation — and cut it together exactly like this chase. Would it be any more intelligible at the slower speed? Probably, unless the cuts came just as quickly..

Volante

I think a more interesting dissection would be finding an action scene you liked in a movie you otherwise disliked, and comparing it to one you disliked in a movie you otherwise liked, because having viewed the Salt piece now, I can confidently say my theory was confirmed.

You were more than willing to overlook Salt’s X-Ray vision seeing the blue truck (in fact making an explicit point saying you gladly overlooked the impossible), and yet are incredibly critical of the Semi twist in TDK. Both omit information that could clarify the scenes if the viewer chose not to fill in the gaps themselves.

You liked Salt. Forest beat tree.
You disliked TDK. Tree beat forest.

C’est la vie, non?

jim emerson

Me: I’m going to use part of an action scene in “TDK” to demonstrate techniques of composition, editing and stunt-planning that confused me, and try to be as specific as I can about exactly why — with the stated proviso (in the essay itself) that this cannot, by its very specificity, be construed as a judgment of the movie as a whole, since it consists of much more than just this one part of one action sequence. In Parts II and III, I will look at other examples from other movies I thought were successful and examine why.

Certain Commenters: You didn’t like “TDK” before and now you don’t like it again! I don’t care what you have to say!

Me: You have adequately demonstrated your lack of interest in your comments. For what it’s worth, I truly believe you. You don’t care to discuss the subject. Thank you for letting us know.

Jared M

Besides the fact that Nolan probably didn’t direct this scene himself. Probably a second unit doing at least 90% of the shots in this scene.
Also, to many of you who keep saying “Nolan’s editing”: Nolan didn’t edit this movie. Lee Smith did. Also, the Director of Photography (the guy who set up these “confusing” shots) was Wally Pfister. Chris Nolan, the director, works with the actors, not the camera.
A lot of people were responsible for this movie. Give admiration or admonition where it belongs. Just sayin’.

Volante

Ahh, Jim Emerson attacks The Dark Knight… AGAIN!

What, http://blogs.suntimes.com/scanners/2008/12/critics_better_love_the_dark_k.html wasn’t enough for you?

I couldn’t watch your alleged dissection for more than three to four minutes at a time. I bet you miss the days where opening night would include a little crib sheet. I’m sure the comments I list below will simply repeat others, but…frankly…there’s a lot of comments and if it was worth saying once, it’s worth saying it again.

You wonder what the point is of the cutaway to the Joker’s semi as the convoy starts. It’s called an establishing shot. (Oh, and a random cop getting shot in Gotham and no one reacts? Do you even follow Batman lore?)

You express dissatisfaction with the constant breaking of the “180 degree rule” between the semi and the van. Except you can’t follow the 180 degree rule. There’s a median in the middle with concrete barriers and pillars. Since the action is established flowing left to right, you know where the van is, you know where the semi is.

You point out that you cannot get oriented with Harvey and the cop inside the van, yet you point out at the beginning Harvey is on the passenger side. As he looks at the cop, it is implied the cop is on the driver’s side. Then, when the Joker shoots at the van, on the driver’s side, the impacts inside the van are… behind the cop!! EXACTLY where you would expect if you didn’t get “confused” by their orientation when Harvey goes in the van.

Then you mock the Joker’s aiming, he can shoot the van just fine with small arms but shoots the lead cop car with an RPG. Of course, had you been following the movie, the Joker does not want Harvey Dent dead. He assaults the convoy to…lure out Batman. Again, had you been paying attention, you’d…oh never mind.

You’ve been attacking The Dark Knight since it came out. Ok, so Nolan loses a cop car. I’ll give you that. But I find someone else mentioned Bullitt as a “comprehensible” car chase except manages to gloss over the car losing, what was it, 5 hubcaps? 6? Does this make Bullitt more comprehensible now? Or are foibles like this overlooked as we enjoy a film more?

Are we more likely to nitpick the trees in a forest we dislike? Perhaps even invent flaws that weren’t there to keep justifying our hate of the forest?

Are we more forgiving of the trees in a forest we do like?

I leave you with the words of Ratatouille’s Anton Ego:

>> In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face, is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so.

Jared M

You made a couple of good points in the first half, but for the most part I felt as though you were TOO concerned with the directional axis. You spoke as though, for a while, it is the only thing that provides a sense of direction in a movement-heavy scene, when it really isn’t. I agree that the van taking a dive into the river from the wrong side and the disappearing cop car, which I didn’t notice the first time around, was annoying (perhaps the 3rd car’s demise had to be left on the cutting room floor for time’s sake?) but the other points you made about how to compose an action scene felt more like “How to make an action scene for a 90s Arnold Schwazeneggar popcorn flick”. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I wasn’t at all confused by the chase scene the first time I saw “The Dark Knight”.
Also, The Joker’s mini entrance at the beginning was not at all unnecessary, it was both a great “jump-in-your-seat” surprise, as well as an homage to a scene from one of the incredible Batman graphic novel on which this interpretation of The Joker was based on (“Hush”) wherein the Joker, rather pull some elaborate prank or go on a winded rant, simply pulls out a shotgun and shoots a man square in the chest. I felt it was a brilliant unscripted addition.

You provided a good analysis, but not a great one. Maybe it’s simply a matter of younger audiences being able to keep up with the ever increasing pace of action in film (I mean, that study of kids who watch fast-paced toons like Spongebob Squarpants vs slower-moving Caillou that just appeared in the news shows a bit of a correlation to this), but younger audiences don’t take issue with trivialities like “it’s too hard to tell which side of the van that guy is now sitting on.”

Kplan

This was brilliant.

I was not a fan of TDK, b/c of the numerous plot contrivances. This scene is a great example. I certainly never looked at it this closely, but the shots of Harvey always bugged me as did other moments – it never sat right with me, and I now see why.

As another poster said — one who was annoyed w/this educational film for some reason — there IS a door by Harvey and the fact he’s moving left to right when he’s hit from the opposite end of the door is VERY odd. And I noticed that too.

The fanatic defenses of this movie on this board (and others) are by people who are being closed-minded for the sake of being closed-minded. And that’s ridiculous.

There are a lot of plot contrivances in this movie — at the end of this scene, if I recall, doesn’t Gordon pop out and capture the Joker? And doesn’t he say that this was the plan all along? Sooo, wait, the plan was to send a dozen SWAT cops to a watery grave, blow up several cars and several miles of roadway and hope that the Joker (who’s proven to be brilliant by now) would be stupid enough to get SO close to the action that he can be taken in?

And then, once he’s in custody, you leave this manipulative genius in the care of one cop. And the stupidest plain clothes cop on the force? Sure. That makes sense.

And let’s not forget the that movie’s premise starts with the idea that the Joker has been on the loose FOR A YEAR without Batman having even met him, let alone trying to stop him. A YEAR according to the movie’s own dialogue!

Oy. What a horrible mess this movie was.

Secam

Generally a good analysis, but I would like to point out that you are defining the 180 line wrong when you point out the confusion of “hopscotching” the highway between the swat van and the Joker’s truck. You do claim that this breaking of the line may be unavoidable, and that is for a good reason–the dividing line in this sequence is defined by the characters’ line of attention, and runs from the van drivers to the Joker and his henchmen, not between the vehicles.

The vehicles themselves are merely a platform, and their motion is largely incidental to the line of action. Forget for a moment that the SWAT men and the Joker are in vehicles. Imagine they are walking side by side down the street (a walk-and-talk like we’ve seen many times over). The camera may be between the characters as they interact, because the line now follows their interaction, and runs from one to the other. Therefore the literal motion of their walk can be crossed in reverse shots without it being any less intelligible, and without being an “improper” edit.

I agree that the speed of the scene’s cutting does muddle the works a bit, and there are certainly continuity errors in vehicle placement. However, I think it’s important to acknowledge that, particularly in complicated scenes, the line of action may change frequently, mainly to accommodate a change in character’s attention, irrespective of the direction their body may be moving.

Arvind Sond

Fantastic analysis, and its great tot find someone else who felt the same. Two years ago when the film came out I actually re-edited the whole chase sequence and added in some previz footage for the scenes I would have had in the film.
I was annoyed not only at the cuts and editing mentioned in the above article but also because story wise it felt a little weak. The joker has Batman at every turn throughout the movie and this is the one time The Dark Knight is doing ‘his thing’ and for me it needed the grand music and better action set pieces….. I mean in Batman Begins we had the huge batmobile flying off rooftops.
Anyways check it out here, it’s not finalized just a r ought cut of what I would have liked to have seen with the ‘Like a Dog Chasing Cars’ music track from the soundtrack:

Arvind Sond

Fantastic analysis, and its great tot find someone else who felt the same. Two years ago when the film came out I actually re-edited the whole chase sequence and added in some previz footage for the scenes I would have had in the film.
I was annoyed not only at the cuts and editing mentioned in the above article but also because story wise it felt a little weak. The joker has Batman at every turn throughout the movie and this is the one time The Dark Knight is doing ‘his thing’ and for me it needed the grand music and better action set pieces….. I mean in Batman Begins we had the huge batmobile flying off rooftops.
Anyways check it out here, it’s not finalized just a r ought cut of what I would have liked to have seen with the ‘Like a Dog Chasing Cars’ music track from the soundtrack:

GCD

Wonderful essay! This should be the future of film criticism.
I totally agree with you about the spatial coherence of this sequence. It’s a great action sequence and it’s emotionally effective but it’s definitely not a classical “polished” sequence. Even if take you by the guts a lot, it can draws you out in the end.
Nolan once said he was a Michael Bay fan. I think he inherits a lot of Bay’s style of shooting action sequences: instead of taking a lot of takes of the same shot, they shoot more different shots from different angles, and they shoot fast so they can put more money on effects (i.e. explosions & stunts). This result in a lot of shots from a lot of different angles that show a lot of blows and crashes and accelerating cars in a lot of directions, with intercuts of characters yelling from nowhere and everywhere. Or at least it sometimes look like that.
My point, though, would be to say that ultimately, it is not a complete misunderstanding of the classical rules of continuity editing.
We have to remember those sequences are really staged and choregraphed, and overall, whether it be for Nolan, for Bay, for Tony Scott or Paul Greengrass, we can’t say “we don’t understand” what’s happening. It’s not such a chaos. It’s a contained chaos.
Generally, if those directors don’t follow the 180 degrees and the axis of action by the book, they use other strategies, like showing at some point where the characters are in a medium shot, and then using close ups. That’s what Nolan do with Dent in the SWAT truck: once he was shown in the truck at the beginning of the sequence, we know he’s there, and even if we are a bit “brutalized” with the axis of action, we still understand where he is narratively. Bordwell, I think, talked of this problem when he wrote about intensified continuity: even if some directors let some rules aside from time to time, they still use other rules of continuity. That means, even if some rules are not totally respected on one side, some will compensated for the misses on another side, because those directors “know the rules” – they learned them.
Now if sometimes the rules are botched, it is because Nolan relay on fast editing, and instead of the axis of action, he goes through a schema of “action/reaction” between the shots: you see a truck going through a car, better show the car hit by the truck after, and then where the car goes, and finally where the truck goes. Sure, the logic of movement and the axis of action doesn’t match, but the overall action match and in the end, that’s what it counts.
I think it’s different for the Batmobile coming from the wrong lane: it looks more like a clear editing choice. The creators of the movie (editor + director + who knows who) wanted us to be confused, deliberately, so we think for a second Batman is going in front of the truck with the Joker while he is on the other lane, going in front of the SWAT and the garbage trucks. It creates surprise in the end, and plays with tension. It privileges more the guts than the logics, sure. But it works.
It’s even a way to announce the best editing choice of the movie: later, when Batman will try to save Rachel, he will actually go for Dent, and the editing will cheat us about it all the way long, using the classical technique of cross cutting.
So what we’re arguing about is a “conscious style”. Like everybody said already, you can like it or not. My point is more: they wanted that. They wanted confusion, but not “overall confusion”, a sort of calculated confusion.
This is different from a total confusion, a “real chaos”, resulting in a more complex misunderstanding of the rules of continuity, where the creators just don’t get it. That will be the case with directors like Ed Wood or Uwe Boll. There, you’re confused at so much level, it’s difficult to understand the overall schema of the action. The orientation is too often too loose, and the schema of action/reaction between the shots is too vague that it’s just boring.
Sorry for the long post. Thanks for you essay again. Will you read you again.

Andrew

I’m not a big movie buff by any means (or writer of any sort), but I admit I was surprised by how many legitimate points are made in this video. Luckily for me, none of this bothered me when I originally watched this movie.

I would argue that the film was possibly cut this way for effect—trying to confuse us on a subconscious level to help us feel what the characters in the movie were feeling. On the other hand, even if this weren’t the case, this scene would still have worked fine for me. I know cars go in one direction in very narrow tunnels. So when the camera throws all the 180s—it’s still pretty apparent that the vehicles are going forward. Like if I jumped out of a plane. No matter how many times that camera moves around and cuts away. You still know I’m going down.

To be fair though, maybe the rest of the movie is even more of a “mess.” I can’t remember. It’s been awhile. But all this video really made me do is want to go and watch it again. Because even through all these poorly edited scenes—I still thoroughly enjoyed this movie.

John G. Hill

Read all of the responses here. The action scene described here, worked for me. I expect some lapses in judgment in complicated action sequences. What I didn’t buy was a key moment in the film and the whole philosophy of Batman’s thinking that people are essentially good. In the scene with the two ferrys with bombs on board. Human beings NOT wanting to kill others to save themselves? Not going to happen. Where were the crazed emotions of panic? Spielburg did much better in War of the Worlds.

Matthew Seitz

Shorter Go Fuck Yourself: “Mentally I am nine years old.”

Go fuck yourself

This was the biggest waste of time I’ve ever been a part of. I’ve seen this movie countless times, and always enjoyed it. I never noticed a single thing that was mentioned here. I’m really pissed off now. Thanks for nothing, please die.

Jeffrey

I have to agree with what Brendon wrote above, these quibbles about confusing the viewer in terms of where the character exists in 3-dimensional space are the least of this scene’s problems, not to mention the movie. How about “Uh, okay we got trouble guys” uttered calmly and casually by a flak-jacketed and helmeted driver in a high security convoy, which gives the impression that he’s talking about a having detected that they need to stop for gas, rather than the fact that they’re being rammed by an attacker in a giant semi truck.

The adrenaline such a situation would generate is absent, judging by the way he says it, not to mention even any excitement. Watch that part again: “Uh, okay we got trouble guys” is said in roughly the same tone as “Oh great, there’s that damn cat again in our garbage cans, sigh.”

These kinds of movies are made with such mindless disregard for any emotional or dramatic logic, or even just common sense about what might actually happen in a situation such as the one being shown on the screen that arcane details about camera angles and editing are the least of its problems.

Dan

Going to change my statement a little bit. Your right about how bad Chris Nolan did edit that sequence but we most remember, were not the standard masses. I went to film school for only 6 months due to cost in College. I did film school also in High School but that is a different story. A couple of key things we need to remember is that you and I and maybe less then .01% of the people watching this will understand what is wrong with the scene while others will watch it and say its amazing and needs an award.

I can see the difference between a $20 HDMI vs a $600 HDMI but I am one of the few. As you are one of the few in the film industry or blog industry, i don’t know what you do for a living, that notice horrible edit and filming jobs.

Dan

You over analyzed the truck where Harvey is to the point where your missing many small details about the vehicle itself. If you look back at previous scenes where you can see the back of the truck and passenger side, you will notice that there is some sort of door on the passenger side and you clearly see this same door while they are in the truck. If you were to get hit by the garbage truck from behind then you would be pushed forward or left based on the camera angle. Why he looked left and right is just disorientation.

As for the rest I started to stop listening because all this video started sounding like was bash Chris Nolan. Now, I don’t like Chris Nolan as a editor but I do like him as a story teller, no matter how bad the story may be (AVATAR), and he does a very good job at it except when he makes small mistakes, example being the third magical cop car.

Eric

Excellent analysis Jim. I think Nolan’s biggest problem in filming this scene came from shooting with an IMAX camera in such a strict location with a need for momentum. That might explain why the scene starts to look better once they get back to the surface. It doesn’t excuse everything, but it helps understand some of the restrictions involved here when using a camera that’s so huge and needs its own generator to operate.

However I do disagree with you about the lack of momentum. I think they sacrificed some of the laws of spatial reasoning in the editing in order to create momentum, because I honestly have the feeling that it would have looked clunky had they followed these laws in such a strict location (although I also have the feeling that an 80s Spielberg would have found a way to turn it into an exciting set piece without breaking these laws).

Jesse M

When I dissect the scene for continuity, I start to get frustrated by the problems you point out… however, I also get frustrated by the activity itself, so it might not be my ideal critical position. On the other hand, when I just watch it through (i.e. simulating my initial uncritical viewing), the scene doesn’t make me feel confused or bothered, or feel that I missed anything. I think a lot of the discontinuities you point out, while they are fairly obvious on a re-watch (especially the SWAT van flying out of the wrong side of the tunnel — how annoying), they’re easy to overlook in the moment. I think they’re definitely a product of a sloppy action filmmaker, which is a caveat I’ll now apply to Nolan whenever I articulate an opinion of him.

However, I think Nolan succeeds dramatically by achieving his objectives, which are as follows:

1) establish the dangerous escalation of the Joker’s tactics by keeping that whole pistol-to-bazooka sequence, and by focusing on the weight and power of the huge trucks involved here.

2) establish and maintain the viewer’s understanding that the semi is on the driver’s side of the SWAT van, moving alongside it — this is the point that allows the actual conflict to play out

3) keep clear where the Batmobile is, in terms of front/back: that it approaches in a sort of playing-chicken/collision role, and then that it turns around and catches up with the semi and the SWAT van (still in parallel) from behind

I’d venture (though I haven’t reviewed the footage enough to be sure) that Nolan basically stuck to two POV’s: inside/between the trucks to focus on the firefight between the Joker and the SWAT guys, and somewhat longer fast-moving follow shots to establish the forward momentum and front/back relationships between the vehicles. He might have skipped some transitions that would have made the interactions more explicit, but that may have started to confuse or distract from those three primary goals, above.

… Maybe sometimes the best way to be clear is to just leave out some information and let some continuity slide?

Brian

You make a lot of strange assumptions here in a scene that plays very clearly. Your break down actually helped show me how clear and realistic that scene is. The van going into the river has quite clearly spun around. Not sure how you didn’t catch that. This is a great idea but you seem so focused on dismissing a part of the movie you didn’t admire you miss what’s actually going on here and have created a lot of nonexistent problems. Better luck next time.

jim emerson

Brendon: The goal of this approach is to avoid vague generalizations like “we’re totally disinvested from these characters and thus are emotionally distanced from the action.” You could no doubt make a good case for that, but that isn’t what this analysis of an action sequence is meant to demonstrate. Of course there are lots of other things that go on in the editing room. This is about one segment of an action sequence.

And I don’t know what you thought you heard around the 12-minute mark but the narration actually says this at that point: “One of the things that makes this chase so discombobulating is that it plays hopscotch all over the axis of action, which is basically the old 180-degree axis but with both parties in constant parallel motion. So, every time there’s a cut from one side to the other, the direction of the action is reversed. And that’s OK — maybe even unavoidable — but when it happens so fast and so often it can get not only confusing, but all the jumbled-up movement can cancel out any sense of momentum.” It’s not that the cutting skips back and forth across the axis of action (although even that isn’t necessary with careful camera placement between and alongside the trucks) it’s that the shots come so fast and are so disjointed that they don’t create momentum. “The Dark Knight” may have many other flaws, but that might take a seven-hour video essay to detail shot by shot. I chose to concentrate on a few minutes of action, and not to judge the entire movie by it.

winstonsmith

Unfortunately don’t have time to contribute much to the discussion other than saying: Awesome job, Jim. I wish more people would look at current cinema as analytically as you (and Bordwell, Zoller Seitz, et al.) are doing. Can’t wait for the next installment!!

John Armstrong

Oh, and as one (of the few, it seems, to read these comments) person who loved Salt, I’m looking forward to your next installment.

John Armstrong

This is just great. I think I see how the truck flipping around was supposed to work in a coherent 3-D model, but even then it’s still less than plausible.

It’s analyses and explanations like this that make me wish I could get a job as a real professional critic with a stipend to go back and take some film classes to understand more deeply the “language”.

TD

This was a really great piece and a great learning tool for people who are starting out with filmmaking and/or editing.
When is part 2 and 3 coming out?

Brendon

Also, the ‘direction of action’ described around the twelve minute mark is not ‘going forward’ – the axis of action is between the Joker in the truck and the van — that’s the essential on-screen relationship we’re negotiating, not ‘moving forward,’ whatever the fuck that means. In this regard, having reestablished his axis of action (which IS something that filmmakers can and do do), he simply cuts — it’s simple shot-reverse shot.

Stop trying to overtheorize this movie’s very real failings — it’s murkily shot and cut too fast, and because we aren’t invested in these characters (because our protagonist is not involved) we are apt to notice these things, but it really has very little to do with axis of action.

Brendon

Read Walter Murch’s book on editing and you’ll see that all this talk of three-dimensional continuity and two dimensional continuity and the 180 degree rule are kinda beside the point. They make up such a small component of what truly goes on in the editing room.

The reason why this sequence fails isn’t that we aren’t sure what side of the line we’re on — it’s because we’re totally disinvested from these characters and thus are emotionally distanced from the action. Thus we can pick apart this sort of stuff.

The failings of this movie begin with the script, not with intensified-continuity editing.

Ben

Considering “Salt” was a doggedly boring throughout, I’m interested to see a scene from it possibly redeemed.

But perhaps it will be an exercise of something making sense in editing simply coming off as a scripted and uninteresting dance.

tmack

Well, thanks a lot. This is really insightful. I recall some confusion when I watched this action sequence for the first time (especially being from Chicago), but I couldn’t explain why. These scenes go by way too fast to analyze them & if you stop to question it, you’ve lost a chunk of the film. However, I appreciate being given the editor’s eye and wonder if most editors see these flaws upon first viewing.

I also wonder how the film’s editor feels about being called out for these errors. Did the editor realize it and think most viewers won’t notice this; did the director push the editor to edit it a certain way–what happened?

jim emerson

Peter: I honestly felt exasperated the first time I saw this sequence (though it gets better once they’re back on surface streets). It wasn’t that I had absolutely no idea of what was going on, it’s that the filmmaking wasn’t even trying to convey it. I felt like the filmmakers were saying: “Oh, it doesn’t matter what’s happening — it’s just action. People will accept it.” And lots of people did. But that didn’t change my experience of it. Your suggestion of the POV shot is an excellent solution — and there are many others that would have worked, if anybody had thought it mattered. (There are strangely few head-on or driver POV shots in this sequence, which is shot almost entirely parallel to the action in the outside or inside lanes. Shots looking forward or backward could have been used effectively to bridge those sometimes awkward changes in the direction of action.

Here’s something I posted in a comment elsewhere a few hours ago:

I was hoping to demonstrate the cumulative effect of ALL these ambiguous directorial/editorial choices. Sure, you expect to have some in any action sequence, but this one is riddled with them and it’s so unnecessary. I understand what is supposed to have happened (like when the truck gets twirled around and plunges into the water moving in the opposite direction from which it had been going at high speed). But in bridging the crash with the splash with nothing but those two insert shots — of the driver being thrown against the window, and the close view of the semi making a turn from left to right — the movie doesn’t find a way to actually show us. I would also argue that it’s not possible (momentum would still be carrying the truck ahead, unless the driver made a U-turn and hit the gas before going into the river), but that doesn’t really matter. If we’d seen it, we’d believe it.

I hope to get into this more in the next installment, focusing on a sequence in Phillip Noyce’s “Salt” (2010)

Cory

The video above is an exemplification of what I perceive to be some of the most intelligent and yet accessible film criticism available. Compared to capsules and reviews, with, inherent to their form, a preoccupation with synopsis and evaluation, writing and video essays, like this one, are far more didactic and interactive.

Indirectly lauding Jim and this awesome generation of film criticism aside, it is such a shame that some people, some film goers, concrete in their assumptions, perceive acumen, as is obviously substantiated in the video above, to be something “superfluous” when it comes to cinema.

In my opinion, this all boils down to literacy. The illiterate or perhaps just infantile filmgoer prefers pop-up-book movies, while the literate film goer on the other hand inquisitively ascertains information from frame to frame.

Angelo:

You are quite mistaken in your feeling that Jim doesn’t know how to watch movies. I think it is fair to say that the inception of his qualms over The Dark Knight came about under the same conditions you experienced the film: at its chosen, high-speed rate. The impression of intelligibility of such a sequence is made possible, as is usually the case we’ve come to learn (hint: Matt Stork’s vid), through aural compensation. For me, even with the compensating sfx and score, and even with the rate of editing, I could tell, the first time I watched the film, that discontinuities were rife. For the critically literate film goer, the jettisoning of visual grammar is destructive to a film’s value and potential for expression.

Peter Labuza

This is an excellent piece, Jim, and I have a question more than a criticism. I’ve seen THE DARK KNIGHT a couple times and I have had issues with Nolan’s editing in action scenes in this, BATMAN BEGINS, and especially that whole snow complex thing in INCEPTION. However, this is a sequence that I always felt I followed more or less pretty strongly. When we are able to break it down shot by shot like you are I think it’s also pretty obvious why certain edits don’t work (How simple would it have been to show a shot from the POV of the 2nd van seeing the 1st van rotate as the semi crashes into it—I feel that shot could save that issue). This scene is different from the now deemed “chaos cinema,” as you suggest, because it is trying to follow some rules of continuity—it’s not trying to simply overwhelm us, it wants us to be able to follow the action.

However, when I first saw, this, at least with this sequence in particular, I never felt I got particularly lost, and I’m curious if you felt this on a first viewing or only later when you saw it on DVD. Obviously if you took something like the final sequence in the tower it would have been like shooting fish in a barrel, but is this a case of something that if we only break it down slowly we can see the flaws? I don’t think this makes your points less valid, but I guess our goal is that we can all train our eyes to watch cinema as best as we can, and for you even to communicate the points we need to slow this down as much as possible. So I’m just more or less curious in your process in working out the issues in this sequence.

Craig Simpson

Superb piece, Jim. I found”The Dark Knight” compelling on an elemental pulp level — the same way certain novels are compelling, if indefensible as literature — but I always respected you and the other anti-Nolanites that you cite for taking a stand. Admittedly, I do wish all of you hadn’t gone on to form a Committee-of-Admiration for a dreary snooze like “Salt,” but perhaps your next video essay will convince me otherwise.

Matthias

Jim, thank you for this enlightening moment-by-moment dissection of this sequence. The choice of the truck chase from THE DARK KNGHT is particularly laudable, for two reasons. First of all, it is not as ‘chaotically’ conceived and shot as more extreme examples of chaos cinema (comparatively long ASL, rather calculated cuts, a mixture of shot scales). You demonstrate quite convincingly that it is easy to miss the editorial inconsistencies. The sound design, specifically the gunfire and roaring engines, is instrumental in concealing the editorial flaws. And second, your analysis proves that minor editing mishaps can ruin (or salvage, depending on the perspective) the overall architecture of a sequence. Spatial integrity is not comparable to trivial continuity errors but the foundation effective action choregraphy is based upon. Great work!

jim emerson

Steven: Thanks for those observations. My approach to this was to mention just about every thing that gave me pause in a sequence that confused me, as I say, from the first time I saw it shortly after the picture opened in theaters. (I agree with you that it gets better once it gets to surface streets — and I especially dig the climactic truck flip.) I certainly don’t expect every one of these choices to bother everybody, but I wanted to show how there is room for unnecessary misinterpretation — which could have been so easily alleviated with more judiciously chosen angles and cuts. (I also wonder why there are so few shots directly in front of or behind the vehicles, or from drivers’ POVs, which would have helped stitch together those shots from the sides…) In Part II I’ll look at a sequence from “Salt” that begins with something as bizarre as anything in “The Dark Knight” — but that is simply more bold and confident in the way it sells it.

Jeremy: One thing I didn’t articulate in this piece (I just couldn’t squeeze it in) is the bizarrely flat choice of angles inside the van. No, I don’t expect this to bug others as much as it bugged me, but it’s another instance of Nolan choosing a deliberately ambiguous, flat perspective rather than a more dimensional one that provides greater visual information. You’re right: you don’t want to be thinking about where the camera is placed, and you shouldn’t have to. But when it’s in a not-very-advantageous place, then it calls attention to itself. As I said, a simple two shot — just a second of film — could have alleviated all my feelings of disorientation inside the van. (And I’m by no means the only one who felt this way.) Cutting inside the van and clearly showing TWO sides — a side and the front or back, with the appropriate grating — would not only have given us a better feel that we were actually inside this metal box. There’s nothing inherently “wrong” with shooting from the back corner (though the way it’s done here convinces me that there actually is no back to the “van” and that the camera is probably really outside the “walls,” looking at a partial/flat set on a soundstage somewhere), but it seems more natural to me to shoot front to back (reverse angle) when first entering the van.

But, as I say, these things either bother you or they don’t, and I appreciate hearing from people like you guys who can articulate how they interpreted them. That’s the main purpose of this critical exercise…

Steven Boone

Time for the crackpot to weigh in. More later, but for now I just want to respond to Steven Santos: Amen to the assertion that an editor should go for what works dramatically over most every other consideration, in a pinch. That’s the essence of Dmytryk’s rule #6 Cut for proper values than proper matches and #7 Substance first–then form.

It’s just that the choices that Nolan makes don’t “work,” not in the sense that the great action sequences work, where your excitement flows from clear objectives, dangers, setbacks and victories. Arguments that chalk this sequence’s problems up to the complexities of modern action filmmaking just leave me scratching my head. I figure it has always been tough to wrangle stunt performers, vehicles, safety and support crew, camera cars and various technical professionals with engineering degrees… But the matter of how to cut the heavily covered footage together for suspense and dramatic impact ain’t exactly neuroscience. Or costly.

It’s clear to me that the glancing way Nolan cuts the action in TDK is part of the film’s overall design. He’s experimenting with a faster way of getting through the scenes, including the quiet, contemplative or romantic ones. I sense that he wants this thing to move with the cool, merciless glide of classic Batman graphic novels like Batman: Year One and The Dark Knight Returns. But comic books are a static form that our mind’s eye animates and gives velocity. In a film, inelegant, abrupt cuts between two pieces of action are like speed bumps. That’s what makes TDK often feel like having a double-D tit plopped in your mouth for a hot second before your assailant slips it back in her dress, kidney punches you and goes speeding away on a motorcycle while flipping you the bird. Exciting in a certain kind of awful way.

Nolan knew what he was doing, just as the architects of the Iraq War knew what they were doing. Should we give Cheney and Rumsfeld an Oscar? Charges of incompetence or simply being harried by complex professional demands are a way of ignoring the political dimension of all this Chaos Cinema. To quote my own lost videssay on TDK, it is the film of The Shock Decade.

jim emerson

Jeff: The reason it’s confusing is that it involves another change of direction/camera angle. The semi ends up going left to right with the concrete barrier on its right, which means it had to punch out the SWAT van (traveling right to left), and then swerve back around into the parallel lane it had just crossed in order to wind up going the wrong direction (against traffic) in the opposite lane(s). But the shots show it going left-to-right, reversing the axis of action yet again. It may make sense in theory, but the camera placements make it more difficult to decode than it needs to be.

Jeff McMahon

Overall, good video essay. I have to agree with Jason Bellamy, though, that the section in which the truck punches through the convoy, knocks the SWAT van into the river, and makes a right turn into the oncoming traffic lane makes sense. You can see the river in the background of the previous couple of shots, appropriately oriented, and I have no idea what the idea was about pulling back and swapping lanes or whatever.

That said, I’d say the section of the chase that follows from here is the TRULY incoherent section. There’s a series of shots of the police van, the Joker’s truck, and the Batmobile all doing various things with very poor spatial connection between them. It doesn’t make fluid, facile sense.

I also note that, rather than pick apart Jim’s piece and break up his arguments, the general refrain from the opposing camp is basically a long wail of “stopitstopitstopit”. People hate to have their pleasures trampled upon.

Jason Bellamy

Several thoughts …

* Jim on three cop cars: I guess I misunderstood. I thought in the video you were implying that the action suggests the semi hits the first cop car but that the subsequent shot suggests it was the second car. My bad. Totally agree that the third cop car disappears.

* Jim on the semi’s right turn: See, I think the convoy is moving in the same “left to right” direction of the semi, and that the semi plows through the van in the process of turning right. I agree that with all the shifts in perspective that the action on the screen isn’t always left to right, but I never get the sense the semi comes from a different direction,

* Steven on Indy IV: I completely agree that the jungle chase has at least as many problems as this one. Total mess.

* Steven on Gangs of New York: The perfect example is the initial fight sequence, as the two gangs take their places at the improvised battleground, the shots themselves and the yelling of the characters implies that each gang must be at least 50 yards apart, maybe more like 75. Then each gang takes a single step forward to being charging toward one another and Scorsese cuts to an aerial shot in which, bam, the two gangs are now about 15 yards apart. So either the gangs travel about 20 yards each in half a second, or the leaders of the gangs were yelling unncecessarily.

* Jim on the van: I wanted to close with this one because I found it intesting. You said one of the reasons the van interiors don’t work for you is “If we assume that he’s sitting there on the passenger side, the camera would have to be squeezed into the back corner on the driver’s side, and it doesn’t feel real to me.” I guess that’s as good an example as any about the different ways people watch movies, because the last thing I want to be thinking about is where the camera is. That, in my mind, is putting my attention outside the frame of the film, which isn’t where I think it should be.

michael

i only watched a couple minutes, but you see to assume that its a mistake if the narrative information implied in one shot is complicated or even contradicted in a subsequent shot. This is not really the case and smart directors often make use of these inconsistencies to great effect.

jim emerson

From a coincidental but fortuitous 9/9/11 posting by David Bordwell on the screenwriter (and Bunuel collaborator) Jean-Claude Carriere. This, I think, adds something to our discussion:

http://j.mp/rmThXF

… He believes that there is a language of film that sets it apart from other arts. That language is grounded in the play of meaning and emotion that comes from putting one shot after another.

He explained the point through an example that seems at first to be a restatement of the classic Kuleshov effect. In Shot 1, a man in his apartment looks out the window. Shot 2: The street. A woman is walking with another man. We’ll assume that our man is seeing them. Shot 3: Our man reacts.

But contrary to Kuleshov’s dictum, his facial expression should not be neutral. In fact, his expression tells us how to understand the scene. If the man looks upset, we surmise that he’s jealous. If he’s benevolent, we assume that the woman is a friend, his daughter–or a flirt. The filmmaker needs not only techniques like framing and cutting, but also the performances of actors.

Now cut to the woman in her bedroom brushing her hair. We need to make sure the audience understands that it’s the same woman, so maybe we have to go back and add a shot to the earlier scene, a closer view of her in the street. This constant flow and readjustment of images is based on guiding the spectator discreetly but firmly through the action. The audience isn’t aware of this “secret film,” but it governs everything the viewer thinks and feels….

Harry Belen

It appears that some of the comments taking issue with Jim’s analysis are nothing but strawman arguments more akin to message board trolling: Emotional responses that ignore the matter at hand and take umbrage with something that’s not under discussion. What IS being discussed here is form as it relates to editing. The video clearly demonstrates the way in which Nolan and Lee violate established editing conventions that render the action nonsensical from shot to shot given the geography on hand, even though we comprehend that a chase of sorts is unfolding onscreen.

And this isn’t even delving into the narrative lapses of logic the film suffers from, which we’re supposed to take at face value. Like a Swat van that’s run off the road into a river from left to right even though the action is unfolding in the opposite direction. Some of you may not care. But it matters.

Steven Santos

(Part 2 of 2)

I would suggest this happens all the time, even in films that you may consider to be perfect in technique. Perhaps, because I spend so much time myself trying to figure out how one shot cuts into another, I see mistakes in pretty much every film. One of the aspects of these discussions on technique that bothers me, is that while films or filmmakers you don’t like are subjected to essays about their filmmaking abilities (Unlike others on this thread, I don’t object to the notion of you tackling this subject.), do you ever notice these problems in films you do like? I can name an obvious recent example for myself: “The Tree of Life”. A film which I thought ultimately was emotionally effective, but the more I think about it, the more I feel that film was a bit of a choppy mess in its editing that undercut how good that film could have been.

I would even acknowledge when great directors stumble during moments, as I mentioned with both Spielberg or Mann or, say, Scorsese in the opening and closing battles of “Gangs of New York” which demonstrate he is pretty incapable of staging of large-scale action sequences. Perhaps, what I’m getting at, is wondering why in the critical community filmmakers are criticized for their choices only when the film/director isn’t liked, but sometimes employ contradictory logic to justify the filmmaking of their own favored directors? Filmmaking, despite the thinking amongst auteurist-mad film bloggers (where fimmakers are either treated as deities or anti-christs) these days, is not an exact science with problems needing to be solved from conception all the way to the editing room. So through all of that entire process, why does most criticism seem to fall into the two sides: either the filmmaker is completely incompetent or every single choice they make works brilliantly? While you say that it doesn’t matter except for what’s on the screen, I wonder if it wouldn’t hurt for some to look harder and understand that the filmmaking process is messier and more complicated, which is why directors are equally capable of smart and effective choices, as well as sloppy and miscalculated ones, sometimes in the same film.

Steven Santos

(Part 1 of 2)

Terrific essay and this is from someone who had logical issues about your previous takes on this film, particularly the video essay where you compared scenes of characters falling from other films to the scene in “Dark Knight”. My main issues with the scene, which, oddly enough, is still the best action scene in the film (the 2nd half of it improves), have more to do with the space of the tunnels and relation of the vehicles to one another. Basically, it feels so disorienting that Nolan stages vehicles to emerge out of nowhere or land anywhere if they get hit. Nolan is not an effective director of large scale action sequences, so he tries to piece together small moments while skimming over the logistics of how these vehicles relate to one another.

Having seen “The Road Warrior” recently, the logistics of space and number of vehicles which is more complicated than this, I marvel at how much better someone like George Miller is at these kinds of scenes. Strangely enough, the same summer as “Dark Knight”, one of the best action filmmakers of all time, Steven Spielberg made a complete visual mess of the jungle chase scene in the last Indiana Jones film in ways that were similar but much worse than this: vehicles not in proper relation to each other and screen direction completely obliterated.

Now, here is what I don’t agree with. First of all, like others here, where Harvey Dent is in the back of the armored car is not really hard to follow though, as with many directors these days, I think it relies too much on close-ups for moments when you need to see their bodies being throttled in the back with every hit. You invoke the 180 degree rule, which I’m not the only one who feels this way, in that, it is nice in theory, but ultimately, it gets broken all the time and not just in Chaos Cinema. Granted, how one breaks this rule can lead to sloppiness, but I don’t think that’s the case here. One of the obvious influences on Nolan for this film is Michael Mann, who has been breaking it more and more in recent “snatch and grab style” films in ways that are shockingly sloppy. The final fight scene in the tower in “Dark Knight” is actually a better example of how obliterating the 180 degree rule leads to sloppy filmmaking.

The Joker shooting the cop doesn’t bother me at all either. If you don’t see him, then he and his truck would be yet another thing that just comes out of nowhere later. I feel it’s almost a stylistic device, a jolt cut often used by many filmmakers over the years for often similar violent moments. You may not care for it, but I don’t think it’s an illegitimate style choice.

And the final moment I disagree with you on is the shot/reverse shot of The Joker seeing the Batmobile heading towards the convoy. Yes, the shots don’t match based where his eyes are looking. But this is where I go to what you say at the end of the piece about how all the different factors of a film, something I agree with and have been saying in all comments threads since the Stork video, is how technique and content/context are not disconnected from each other and often inform the filmmaker’s choices. That ultimately, with any artistic endeavor, you try to maintain a balancing act between the two but sometimes one has to override the other for the film to be effective. In that shot, it is important to have those connection of shots between The Joker and the Batmobile because those two characters represent the main dramatic conflict of the film. Now, perhaps one can argue it can be improved in the staging, but, as an editor, given that footage, I would have cut those shots together the same way because the emotion and drama of the story ultimately trumps screen space.

James

Jim,

As much as I wanted to love Nolan’s movie, I kept finding myself being distracted by lapses of narrative logic. Dissections of scenes like this reveal sequences with cinematic incoherence as well. It’s one thing to feel my attention waning; It’s another to know why my emotional investment in a movie diminishes.

Your mention of the point where the soundtrack dropped out brought something to mind. Almost every time Heath Ledger’s Joker appears onscreen the music is replaced by a mechanical sound, something akin to a circular saw being started. This grating metallic whine contributes a lot to the distress and anxiety that Ledger’s character evokes in the other characters and in the audience as well. Is this a dark Lynchian touch in the movie, or is it cheating?

spencername

@ Mike “would love to see you make an action scene on Wacker Drive in Chicago and have the freedom to make a fully-consistent action scene.”

You know what would be *really* difficult? Filming a “fully consistent” chase scene on those crazy curvy streets of San Francisco. Wait a minute, they did a hell of a one in “Bullitt”. Okay, but how about a chase scene along/and under/and around an L-train in Chicago (where I hear it’s hard, on a multi-million dollar budget, to film chase scenes). Wait a minute; gadzooks! That happened–and with mustard–in “The French Connection”.

Ug, I’ve never understood this impulse just to be content to consume things, to “tune out.” Great, you “like” something. And *you* are? …How about using a higher brain function once in awhile to analyze and understand why you “like” the things you “like.” The disdain for a healthy critical faculty is the locust in the wheat field of the world. I mean, without a critical faculty, you’re about as passive as a baby in a high-chair, a chimp in a cage–eating, slobbering, sh*tting, repeating.

I also don’t get the LEAVE IT ALONE ALREADY, IT’S BEEN THREE YEARS people. Is this a good movie or isn’t it? If it is (“the BEST,” you say; “a MASTERPIECE,” you declare”), why *shouldn’t* we still be talking about it? God knows we’re still talking about “The Searchers”. How about taking some responsibility for the things you “like”. How about reaching a little. Look. Really look. That’s all Jim’s doing here. He’s looking. He’s asking questions. Christ, if the world was full of Jim’s we’d have Xanadu.

As for the “get a life, it’s just a movie” people. Those people are hopeless. Those people are flatliners.

JL

Jesus, give it a rest already. I guarantee that if Nolan had done the scene exactly as you described, you’d complain that it was being too literal and spelling things out for you too much. And that the scene needed a shot of the Joker to establish he was there.

You rail against Nolan for spelling things out too much in the rest of the movie and then you want him to do that exact thing here.

You have a bad habit of harping on things that just don’t matter.

jim emerson

I’m sorry: that previous comment is addressed to Mike, not Matt!

jim emerson

Matt: You’ve given your answer to the question I ask in the video: Do these directorial choices make the movie more exciting or just more confusing? For you, the answer is “more exciting.” Fine. And I explain why I find it confusing. But as I say both at the beginning and the ending of the essay, all that really matters is what’s in the movie — and what’s left out. Whether the filmmakers could get the proper permits to shoot on Wacker may provide an excuse, or even an explanation, for why the movie turned out the way it did (and I mention the use of IMAX, too) — but that’s of no concern to the movie’s audience any more than the $180 million budget should be. The filmmakers either got the shots they needed and put them together well… or they didn’t. A few adjustments in cuts and camera placements and we wouldn’t be having this discussion.

Matt McDaniel

Jesse,

You question why reevaluating The Dark Knight’s editing is worthwhile, three years later (which is confusing in and of itself, is there a statute of limitations on film criticism? is three years too late or too soon?). I can think of two reasons:

1. “Is is one of the better movies of recent years and entertaining. Yeah! It’s one of the best superhero movies ever and beyond that genre it’s just a good, fun movie.” – You

This is a common claim. I would argue that superhero movies, being heavily reliant on action, are by necessity heavily reliant on editing. If the editing is lackluster, then perhaps the claim that it is “one of the best superhero movies ever” (I’d even say this is the consensus) deserves questioning, as it has real ramifications for a growing genre.

2. It was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Film Editing.

Eh, that’s pretty self-explanatory.

Hope that makes sense.

Mike

Would love to see you make an action scene on Wacker Drive in Chicago and have the freedom to make a fully-consistent action scene. The scene is perfectly coherent for anybody not wasting their time breaking down every moment like that. I’ve never had an issue and neither has anybody I’ve spoken to. For a scene that takes place in a real environment, Nolan’s execution is nearly flawless. If his focus was on spacial integrity and not the action itself, we would not only have a much more boring film, but he would have shot it on a stage.

Nathan

I enjoyed watching this video, but I also kept hearing Kevin Costner saying over and over again, “Back…. and to the left. Back…. and to the left. Back….. and to the left.”

:)

jim emerson

P.S. to Jason re: three cop cars. When the cars are entering the lower lanes, we see all three. Cut to the driver of one of them. The garbage truck takes out the one in the foreground, but when we cut back again the garbage truck now has one cop car ahead of it and one behind it. Then it takes out the first cop car, and sometime during the chase the final cop car just goes away.

jim emerson

Jason: Maybe it’s just my feeling for space, but when you see somebody get into the back of a van, sitting right next to the back door, I would expect to see that back door in the next shot of him inside the van. If we assume that he’s sitting there on the passenger side, the camera would have to be squeezed into the back corner on the driver’s side, and it doesn’t feel real to me. It feels like somebody’s showing me a cheap, flat set representing the inside of a van rather than putting me inside a van. (Which, I believe, is exactly what we’re looking at — in IMAX!) And, again, there’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but a simple two-shot could have cleared it all up in a second.

Jason Bellamy

Oh, one more: When the semi takes out the Quickly Introduced and Destroyed cop, I indeed read that as the FIRST cop car being taken out and then, while we were watching that cop car shoot into the next lane, the forward momentum of the other cars carried forward (outside the frame) so that the previously second car was now first. That’s the way it looks to me. Again, not clean, but that’s how it plays for me.

M. H.

This is very good.

I do like the sequence, but I think it works largely due to the sound and, eventually, the score. Still, it’s a good analysis and indicative of the larger problems in Nolan’s directing. These little problems can add up to a lot, especially in a sequence like the Snow Fortress in Inception, which is distractingly terrible.

What struck me when I first saw The Dark Knight were shots like the Joker with the shotgun. That quick cutting should be about SHOCK and IMPACT but it feels like frames were removed to keep the rating down to a PG-13, which I guess was never the problem initially. Perhaps it’s because the non-action scenes of the film tend to move in a slower, more considered fashion, that the quickness of these inserts is more jarring. It feels like you’re watching an edited-for-content TV cut of the movie, and it’s something I remember cropping up a number of times in the theatre.

I wonder if American audiences are now trained to accept that kind of cutting as normal because so many people grew up watching edited TV cuts. I lived in the UK for a number of years, where the films are never really edited for TV (after 9pm you can show anything, so if a film is objectionable for content it is generally only aired after that watershed). Returning to the US, I find it incredibly difficult to watch films on FX or AMC or TNT because of these edits just feel that much more jarring, even with the increasingly lax attitude towards violent content on cable. I have no basis for that, I’m just throwing that out there.

Can I just say to the negative commenters: The small critical contingent that has talked badly about The Dark Knight and Nolan in general get a lot of stick because people don’t really understand what they’re talking about. Jim’s just gone through a sequence shot-for-shot to explain his side, and you still call him an idiot? The sequence can work for you or not, and that’s not really the point, but there is a cumulative effect on the subconscious from this stuff.

I think this was really interesting, especially in light of the Chaos Cinema debates that have gone on since Matthias Stork’s series.

Jason Bellamy

Jim: Indeed, you prove what you intend to prove: that it’s accurate to suggest that some of the scenes in The Dark Knight are confusing or incoherent, or whatever word one wants to use, and that Nolan defenders can’t wish away such criticisms or (in all cases) suggest that Nolan is simply going for disorientation as emotional/visceral effect (that latter defense works in terms of the frequent flipping of the axis, but it doesn’t work in shots like the one where the police van that the Batmobile is protecting entirely disappears from the frontal shot).

That said, watching this essay I’m confused as to why you come to some of the conclusions that you do. Most significantly, you show us where Harvey is sitting in the back of the police van and then suggest you think he moved. Why? Your reasoning seems to be based on the shot that precedes it, of the masked cop, but I fail to see enough evidence in that shot that would suggest we should assume we know where the masked cop is. Thus, we’d be uncertain about his location until we see Harvey again, and then the two shots make sense. Later, when the van gets rammed from behind, Harvey indeed first looks to his left, toward where he was hit, and then looks to his right, as if looking up the road to see if there is room to escape. This all makes perfect sense to me: Nolan puts Harvey in the back right of the van and uses him as our axis point, if you will, around which the camera will pivot in the various angles later on. Neat and tidy? Well, no. But I don’t have any trouble following it. Similarly, later on, I watch the semi blast through the van, past the convoy, and into the next lane, where it ends up from there. Is it unrealistic that the entire semi cleared in front of the rest of the convoy? Yes. But I couldn’t follow your argument suggesting that the van ended up in the same lane and then jumped lanes and then turned right, and then whipped back and to the left, or whatever. Lost me there. So far as I can tell, my eyes show the semi blast through the van, across the convoy lane and, with a right turn, into the lane to the left of the convoy.

All that said, indeed, the van spinning into the water has no justification whatsoever, without taking extreme liberties as to what COULD have happened, and even then it’s thoroughly confusing in every way. And I agree with you on the shot in which the van is suddenly between the semi and the oncoming Batmobile, and the scene in which the Batmobile leapfrogs over the car and the van next to it disappears. And any one of those is enough to support your hypothesis.

jim emerson

Angelo and Jesse Pinkman (Jesse: Are you going to kill Gus?): As I say repeatedly in the video, if the things I show you (appearing and disappearing cars, vehicles abruptly reversing directions, ambiguous camera placements, etc.) don’t bother you, then they don’t bother you. They’ve always bothered me, and this clearly shows why. It would have been easy to orient the viewer (with regard to the van interiors, for example), but somebody didn’t think it was important to do so. As a commenter at Scanners wrote (about “Inception”): “I do ‘have a sense of what happened’, but it’s not what I want: I want to see what’s happening, I want to know, I dont want to doubt, I dont want to open an epistemological quest every time I see an action scene…” The point being: When an action sequence is sloppy and ambiguous for no good reason, it’s not engaging the audience’s full attention. That may be fine for most viewers (Nolan’s movies, for example, are quite popular). But as you can see from the reviews I quoted in this piece, not everybody admires their “incomprehensible” approach to action. I admit, my reservations about this sequence began with the cutaway to the “Shotgun SWAT” getting into the cab of the van — when we hadn’t seen the truck yet. Again, a minor thing, but it makes the scene feel flat and choppy. How much more “dimensional” it would have been if we saw the truck during the tracking shot following Harvey and Rachel. All it would have taken was a slight shift in angle to show the spacial relationships. Just a little extra thought and effort could have made the whole sequence more cohesive. But choppiness is trendy now.

As for why I stopped where I did: Hell, the thing was already 19 minutes long, and I think I’d made my points by then!

Joe

I thought it was a brilliant video essay. There was always something that bothered me about that sequence, and I’m glad someone broke it down piece by piece.

Jesse Pinkman

Jim,

Angelo said it a lot nicer than I’m gonna say it.

You’re too dumb to function.

It amazes me that after 3 years you still have such a hard on for ragging on The Dark Knight. It came out in 2008 and you’re still talking about it. I don’t think that you’ve written nearly as many articles about any other film from 2008 including the best pic winner Slumdog. That tells me that TDK is either better than you say it is or you have a vendetta for it.

Is TDK a perfect movie? Certainly not. Is is one of the better movies of recent years and entertaining. Yeah! It’s one of the best superhero movies ever and beyond that genre it’s just a good, fun movie.

Jim, you seem to be the only one that is confused by this movie as well as this action sequence. That should tell you something right there.

You seem to work awful hard at looking foolish.

Angelo

Jim, you seem very confused, very easily. I watched your break down of the chase scene and saw no reason to make any of the assumptions you made, and the chase was perfectly clear to me. I mean, you start off not even thinking that the truck where we first see two drivers is close to Harvey, but it should be obvious since they cut directly to them from a shot of Harvey walking out of the jail with Rachel. The fact that the shots are right after one another shows that they’re linked together.

Your lack of awareness when the movie first shows the convoy in motion and cuts to the guard, which you bafflingly assume is where Harvey should be sitting, isn’t confusing at all. It keeps everything on the same axis as what we were just watching. The front and the back were always clear to me.

Heh. “Why would you cut away from the convoy just when it’s getting going?”

Yeah, Jim. Why cut away from something in a movie when something else is happening? That’s what I’d like to know. Unheard of in a movie! And the Joker’s appearance is so brief it’s not very effective (when he shotguns a cop from the trailer truck)? That’s a non-criticism. An absolute non-sequitur of a statement. It suggests more than it shows-that the Joker is inserting himself into this situation and we can’t control it. He’s taking over the story, just like how his theme plays, and not Batman’s theme, through the beginning of the convoy.

Why stop there? Why not go for broke and demand that the Joker just stop to give a monologue about why it feels good to be bad? That would be every bit as sensible as demanding he be on screen longer.

My goodness, Martin Scorsese uses lots of quick shots like that to suggest violence, and you quote him. I admire your articles, but I get the feeling that you don’t know how to watch movies from this.

Again, why stop where you did? You could have gone so much further in confusing yourself if you really wanted. You could have asked why the movie didn’t display a HUD style map in the corner of the screen with GPS coordinates. Every bit as superfluous and sensible as your criticisms.

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