By Stephanie Zacharek
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Charles Taylor
By Melissa Anderson
By Inkoo Kang
By Amy Nicholson
By Sam Weisberg
Humor in action films, especially during action scenes, is tricky, but there's gruesome, surreal humor in both of your films. And it's not always for the sake of being extreme, or giving the audience a basic kind of relief. In Peter's Sudden Death, there's the fight with the penguin mascot, and the mascot's head has cotton come out of it before the woman inside the costume is strangled to death. When is violence surreally funny, and when is it just necessarily extreme?
PH: When you first construct a fight between somebody and another person wearing a penguin costume, there is an implied absurdity in that. If you don't deal with the absurdity in that, you're dumber than I am, and if you're dumber than I am, then you're really dumb! I'm not, and I never have, tried to make a film where the "violence" is only one color. You try to make it more than one color.
JH: Taking Day of Reckoning specifically: The film's tone was the most important thing, and that's a thing we established in a lot of ways. I don't know if it was conscious at the time, but on one level, I was going for a tone Cronenberg has struck very well in his films, where if there's humor, it's incredibly deadpan. But what you're aspiring to is something like The Fly, where he really achieves overt humor. We wanted to be visceral, and a movie that's as much an action film as a horror film. And as you said, you need to create a release. That release was, in the '80s or '90s, one-liners. We wondered, "How do you create a release and humor without really letting on that it's a joke?" I think our goal the whole time was to make a midnight movie, so the violence is going to go to a place where the only thing you can really do is laugh about it.
What do you guys think of hyper-realistic techniques that guys like Tony Scott, Michael Bay, J.J. Abrams, and Paul Greengrass have used to establish urgency in action films, stuff like lens flares, handheld photography, hyper-fast editing?
PH: I will probably get myself in big trouble — and I really don't want to, because Paul Greengrass is somebody I so admire — but I think there is a difference between reality and Parkinson's. I come from a place where you have to show what's going on, and shaking a camera to the point where you don't know who's where kinda negates that necessity. On the other hand, I think the Bourne movies were brilliant, so who am I to say? It's just not the way I do things. I'm trying to make people feel the punches, to fear for the person who's falling. I may succeed, or I may fail, but that is my intent.
JH: I agree with my dad. I'm trying to not be predictable in how I edit action scenes; I sometimes prefer extremely long takes. Any way that you can create the illusion that these things are happening in real time is some of the most exciting action filmmaking I've seen. Those long takes in Children of Men are some of the best action scenes that have ever been done. That being said, people need to be careful of lumping filmmaker together. I love what Greengrass has done with the two Bourne movies he did. The car chases in both films stand up with The French Connection. But there's Greengrass, and there's people that took what he did and saw it as a technique, and it wasn't necessarily consistent with their movies, or they didn't know why they were doing with it. Greengrass did something so much [more powerful] than just shaking a camera.
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