Stop It, Hollywood: Cathartic Crane Shots

Certain actions (some of them completely absurd and unfounded in anything resembling real human behavior) have become so overused in movies and television that they’ve actually transcended being cliches to become parodies of cliches, which is just all sorts of weird. Even if a cease and desist can’t be issued against these incidents, the least we can do is complain about them. Here is an example of the kind of foolishness we never want to see on the big and/or small screen ever again.

Wolverine Origins Crane Shot

The writers of SCTV understood the absurdity, the excess and the more-often-than-not sheer pointlessness of the camera angle most used and abused to convey some sort of high emotion: the crane shot. They understood it, as they had one of John Candy’s characters, the put-upon would-be celebrity Johnny LaRue, have only one wish for Christmas as he walked the icy streets of Canada on Christmas Eve, desperately looking for someone to participate in his man-on-the-street segment, “Street Beef”: a crane shot. And has he lay exhausted on the sidewalk, alone on Christmas Eve, crying in self-loathing as the snow silently falls on him, we suddenly hear, “Ho, ho, ho – Merry Christmas, Johnny!” And the camera pulls back, and up, and Johnny LaRue raises his arms in triumph. “Yes! Thank you, Santa!”

Crane shots. It takes a lot to earn a crane shot, as Johnny LaRue certainly did with his humiliating Christmas plight. Yeah, when it’s used correctly, and sparingly, and with some sort of sense of film language and emotion, it can be the greatest thing ever. But it’s rarely treated with such insight and intelligence. For the love of God, it was used three times in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, the first one being barely five minutes into the movie, when a young Logan kills a bunch of grownups while still in his pajamas. Wolverine does a lot of yelling to the heavens in Wolverine, and the damn crane shot catches him every time. You can just picture director Gavin Hood closely watching Hugh Jackman in every scene: “Is he gonna do it? Is he gonna freak the hell out? Get ready with the crane shot!” See? Something about Canada…

Mystic River Crane Shot

But it’s misused here in America, too. Clint Eastwood, usually a smart and efficient director, made an already overblown scene in Mystic River even more over-the-top when he used a crane shot as Sean Penn freaked the hell out with the discovery of his dead daughter, being restrained by what seems like the entire population of Boston: “Is that my daughter in there? IS THAT MY DAUGHTER IN THERE? Oh GOOOOODDDD!!!” and cue the crane shot. The music swelled like a son of a bitch, too, and we were barely out of Act One at that point. Clint! You old softie. You can picture Clint, squinting as they rehearse the scene, then growling to his DP, “Get the crane ready – we’re gonna pull back and up all the way to hell and gone as Penn hits this bastard out of the park. You understand me?”

The crane shot. You must earn it.

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