Bourne Ultimatum, madness editing or perfect sense? #1
The average Hollywood feature film has around 1500 to 2000 cuts made in the editing. The well-known Bourne movies, famous for their high-speed action, have more than double the amount of cuts made in the edit. The shaky camera and super fast editing is a real signature for these movies. Lets take a look at this clip:
source: Universal Pictures - source Youtube: movieclips channel
Almost every scene was shot with three camera’s at once, giving editors plenty of footage to choose from. The usage of holding the camera’s handheld, gives you the feeling of watching a documentary making it more real. It creates the experience as if everything happens around you. It’s almost too fast to keep up with, and therefor gives you feelings of anxiety. Not every scene is this hectic, though. The shakiness of the shots and fast editing is mostly used in action heavy scenes, to increase the drama. The objective of the three cameramen was to make it look like if the action was captured by mistake and you weren’t expecting anything. (source:theasc.com)
So, in all the chaos of documentary/reality style footage, something in the editing has to make it comprehendible for audiences. Or else, with a lot of shaky shots one after another, it would make them dizzy. Back to the to the movieclip. I counted the cuts in this 3:24 minute during video, 129 in total. In comparison, the famous “run Forest run” scene has less then half the cuts made in the same time.
- Forest Gump “run Forest run” action scene: 40 cuts in 2:11 minutes
- the Bourne Ultimatum action scene: 92 cuts in 2:11 minutes
At first, this scene looks like a mess. The movement of everything is so fast it appears there is no logic at all, just super fast shots one after another. This doesn’t appeal to a certain audience. My parents wouldn’t enjoy this movie due to the fast editing. It’s clearly targeted to a younger audience that’s used to fast editing and is able to follow along without problem. But It’s not only the young brain that makes understandable. Let’s take a look at these four shots grabbed out of the clip:
The camera is shaky, and the action in this clip is very fast paced, but there has been serious consideration in the editing process behind this clip to make everything comprehensive for the viewer. The way they did this was by keeping the main point of interest roughly on the same spot in the frame. As you can see, it's on the left side. As a viewer, you don’t get dizzy watching the chaotic scene because you can focus on a certain point on the screen. So watching this feels kind of natural.
Another example: in the next few shots the focus point is shifted. There is a suspicious garbage man coming towards the guy on the phone.
You can see, again, the point of interest in these shots stays on one side of the screen: the right side, in this case. Besides it is an ‘easy’ way to give the audience a point to focus on to and makes it easier for your brain to follow along, it also makes the flow of the scene much more natural. Simple, but very effective.
Now there is something interesting going on in the last five shots. Let’s take a look. The focus point is on the right all the time, except for the last picture.
The garbage man is coming towards the man on the phone. Frightened that the garbage man is actually an assassin and he is the main target. The man on the phone is very nervous and he is only still alive because of Jason (Jason is a one man army), and Jason is the last thing he can hold onto in this situation. The garbage man is reaching for something. You can’t see what it is he’s grabbing because there are a lot of people blocking the view now. The guy on the phone panics: “Oh Jesus, Jesus he is reaching for something. Oh god he’s got a gun, he’s got a gun!”
And then there is this last shot. All the way you are focused on the right side of the screen, and suddenly the focus point is shifted. The guy on the phone is panicking, scared as hell and looking for Jason, but Jason is not there, Jason is not in the place the man thought he would be, even the audience lost Jason for a split second. Run is the only thing he can do! Jason: "Stay on the line you're on. Do not deviate." But it is to late, he starts running.
And that is exactly what the makers of this film where aiming for. For these few seconds, it is just a small fragment in the whole movie, let you feel the same panic and tension as the guy on the phone feels. Because of the sudden shift of focus, we all lost Jason there for a split second. Simple, super fast, and effective. Goal reached. It is a perfect sequence that will go on and on. Story, photography and the editing all comes together in a beautiful mess. No madness, but perfect sense.