Movie critic

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Since movie making began, many films have centered their plot on the social atmosphere of previous time periods. These movies often revisit tragic events that occurred in human history. One such film is Saving Private Ryan; a World War II story about eight U.S. soldiers on a mission in war torn Europe, to find one man and bring him home safely. Most often, the point of such war movies is to give the audience an idea of how people felt during that time period and what they went through as a consequence of those conflicts. In this film, the director uses point-of-view shots during battle scenes to allow the audience to better understand the depth of the characters’ emotions and thoughts.

No matter how a film is narrated it always provides the range and depth of knowledge the audience possesses. Depth can be defined as “how deeply the plot plunges into a character’s psychological state” (Film Art, p.85). Within the depth of the plot, there are two types of narrations objective and perpetual subjectivity. The first comes from seeing the external behavior of actors. We understand what is going on simply from an objective point of view with no insight from the characters. This leads to a limited understanding of the characters’ feelings and thoughts. This often involves a standardized film shot where the camera is kept still, as the audience are only observers. The second type of narration comes from seeing shots that are taken from the character’s optical standpoint, or point-of-view shots. This type of shot offers greater degree of subjectivity by allowing the audience to see exactly what the characters see. This leads to a larger degree of understanding and better identification with the characters. Here the camera shots are angled with the characters eye line, letting us experience things from their perspectives. The general purpose of creating depth is to let us relate more personally to the characters and what they are going through. If we experience what they experience, we can better understand the characters’ emotions.

In the battle scenes I chose, the shots alternated between standard camera shots and point-of-view camera shots. In the first scene, U.S. soldiers have set the groundwork for a surprise attack on oncoming German soldiers. In several parts, we see action shots taken through the U.S. soldiers’ eyes (point-of-view shots). And to make the action more convincing, the camera moves as if the character himself is shooting the footage. For example, when a U.S. soldier is firing a machine gun on Nazi soldiers from a building window, the camera shakes with each shot that is fired, just as the person would be shaking from the force of the gun discharging. This makes the audience feel as if they as actually firing the gun. In another scene, a grenade explodes causing the ground to shake, in which case the camera shakes as well, making the connection with characters all the more real. Because of the graphic images we face in the scene we connect with the look of fear and confusion on the characters’ faces.

In the second scene we see more of the same point-of-view shots taken. Here U.S. soldiers shoot at oncoming Nazis from behind a raised dirt wall. The camera is at eye level with the soldiers so the audience experiences everything from the same angle the characters do. Again the camera moves with the actors. For example, when two soldiers crawl over ditches, the camera stays at eye level and moves up and down with the terrain. It feels as if one of the soldiers was actually carrying the camera with him. The whole purpose of the shot is to make the audience feel as if they are on the battlefield as well; they will experience the same sounds, the same actions, and the same emotional responses as the characters do. This is different from the objective standpoint we see a few shots later. In that shot, U.S. soldiers place a bomb on a tank’s wheels as it rolls by and then run to take cover. While that is going on, the camera simply observes the actions as a bystander and remains perfectly still, making no move to integrate the audience.

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When the audience sees the actions described above from the characters’ view points, they will feel as if they are standing right next to the soldiers on the battlefield. The camera shots draw you in. By experiencing the same things the characters are, the emotional responses elicited are of panic, fear, and chaos; which is exactly the same emotions the soldiers feel. The depth of understanding for the characters’ thoughts and feelings is augmented by the camera shots used. The point-of-view shot allows us to relate to the characters on a deeper level as opposed to the superficial understanding we gain with a standard camera shot.

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