Action Movies Now and Then

Published on December 1st, 2013 by gchen. Filed under Film & Movies

The advancing of technology and more specifically computer graphics has allowed the film industry to make more spectacular movies with more astonishing effects every year. The technology impacts not only the sophistication of the effects, but also the process and form of film making. Even though these advances have impacted the entire industry, it has been of particular benefit to action movies. Action movies often benefit from faster paced scenes, amazing digital effects, and effective manipulation of space. To explored how action movies have evolved, we will be comparing three original movies from the late 20th century to their 21st century remakes. Between the two sets, original and remakes, we will be analyzing the usage of the camera, scene editing, and special effects.


We have chosen trailers of three action movies which fall into very distinct subtypes to cover a breadth of movies within the action genre. Total Recall is a film on making fake memories of lives people wish they could have led. This can be considered a typical action packed movie with lots of fight scenes, explosions and weapons. Karate Kid is a coming of age movie that describes how a bullied boy builds resilience by learning from a martial arts master. Finally, I am Legend is a post-apocalyptic film on how one survivor of a plague struggles to find a cure. We hope that the analysis of three distinct types of action movies and their original counterparts will illustrate the way they have evolved.


Camera Movements

The power and flexibility of the modern camera creates an enormous difference in the types of shots we can achieve. This is accentutated in action movies. Generally, the camera has become more dynamic and quick creating more large and small movements. In the new trailer of Total Recall, many quick camera rotations are used in fighting scenes to render streaks of light. This method is also used to transition from one shot to another, instead of just doing a standard cut. Within each shot, the camera is also never steady. In other words, there is almost always a panning, zooming, or subtle shake, depending on the shot. These devices are used to make the shots more lively and less stale. These, combined with quick editing, which we will discuss later, makes the trailer more engaging and fast paced, two very important features of action movies. In the original Total Recall trailer, all of the cuts are very explicit and discrete from one scene to the next. There are very few subtle camera movements because most of them are still shots of the scene. It is clear that the editing speed is also much slower. Another usage of the camera that is evident in all three remake trailers is the usage of flyover angles. This is used to show sets and cities from a top-down angle. This is not used in any of the original trailers and gives the new trailers a more spectacular big screen effect.



Overall, the editing speed of modern trailers, especially of action movies, is much faster. However, there are many other smaller differences in the editing that complement this fast editing. For example, the fast editing is juxtaposed against flashes of short text or phrases with a dark background that reveal to the users a bit about the movie. Furthermore, the shots from the movies fade to the black background, but pop right back into the next shot without a fade. This mimics a heartbeat style animation, giving the trailer a more intense rhythm. These abrupt pauses make the fast action scenes look like they are moving even more quickly due to their contrast. Moreover, the original trailers use voice overs instead of these flashes of text, so they do not contain the contrast between fast and slow editing. Combined with the generally slower editing, the original trailers feel less urgent or rhythmic, which can be a drawback for action movies. Instead of the dialogues, the new trailers use short bursts of dialogue in many of their shots to give the user a sense of what's happening in the movie. The other flexibility fast editing enables the trailers to show are scenes in a non-linear fashion. Sometimes a different sequencing makes the trailer more exciting. This is evident particularly in Total Recall, but is also used lightly in Karate Kid and I am Legend.


Special Effects

The special effects may be the most obvious evolution between the original and new trailers. The most gaping improvement is the set rendering. In the original movies, all the sets were small in scale. This is because all of them actually existed in real life. It is hard to make the scenes look big screen spectacular with small, local sets. The new remakes of the movie, especially I am Legend and Total Recall, have sets constructed entirely in digital 3D. Examples of this include the futuristic cities and torn cities infested by zombies. Despite those, there are also very large real sets like the Great Wall of China and famous Chinese temples in Karate Kid (The original Karate Kid was filmed almost entirely in a school setting). Because our technology in computer graphics has taken such a huge leap forward, movies like Total Recall can do all of its special effects in post. Every special effect in the new Total Recall was composited in post-production. These are contrasted with the original versions of all three movies in which many of the special effects were done using makeup and costumes to deform characters.


Our technology and its improvements have allowed the film industry to improve on their camera movements, editing, and special effects, among others. Specifically, the three film forms discussed are of particular importance to action films. They make action films more dynamic, engaging, and spectacular. All of these significant changes are derived from new technology, enabling the film industry to create effects unseen before.



Reference Trailers

Total Recall (2012)

Total Recall (1990)

Karate Kid (2010)

Karate Kid (1984)

I am Legend (2007)

The Last Man on Earth (1964)



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