When One Cut Isn’t Enough: The Blockbuster Action Scene Dilemma

Movies, Uncategorized

Most modern action films don’t have long tracking shot action scenes, we know that. It’s perfectly fine to not use tracking shots, or do long takes, it’s not easy. But, when it takes four cuts to do a simple takedown (“Captain America: Civil War”) or sixty cuts for a one minute fight scene (“Captain America: The Winter Soldier”), something is wrong. But why use so many cuts? Why does it take four cuts to show Matt Damon kicking a guy into a desk (“The Bourne Identity”). Let’s discuss.


Firstly, let’s identify the problem at hand. Nowadays, it’s hard to keep up with the action in most blockbusters. Modern action is usually choppy and lazily edited. And choppily edited action usually gives me a headache too. But, nothing feels real anymore. There are so many cuts for such simple things that you don’t get the impact that you do when something is done in one cut.

Look at this single take hallway fight from “Oldboy” (2003). The magnificent sound editing and mixing makes you feel every punch. Along with the impactful sound editing, the whole scene is a one single take tracking shot. It makes you feel like your in the scene. It’s also one of the best fight scenes in the history of cinema, you know why? Well, it’s partially because you can actually tell who’s hitting who and it doesn’t make your head hurt. But it’s also brilliantly choreographed, and didn’t take a hundred cuts to do it.
I’m not saying every fight scene has to be like the hallway fight from “Oldboy”, but it shouldn’t take six cuts to show Liam Neeson climbing a fence (“Taken 3”).
But why do these directors of blockbusters use so many cuts in their action scenes? Two reasons: Stunt doubles and realism. Stunt doubles can pose a problem with directors – especially when you have A-listers in your film – because some actors don’t want to do anything risky. Then the stunt doubles come in and do all the hard work. Also, it does have to look realistic. You shouldn’t be able to tell that a stunt double is being used in a scene, or that a punch is fake. Using a lot of cuts during hand-to-hand combat scenes is also something directors do to make a fight feel more intense. Now, I’m not at all opposed to using cuts as a stylistic approach to action scenes, but directors shouldn’t go overboard with it like a lot of them do. Still, none of this excuses the three cuts it takes for Black Panther to do a take down on Bucky (“Civil War”).
Another disappointing this is that I don’t think blockbuster directors think anyone really cares. Everyone raved about the elevator scene from “The Winter Soldier” – which as I pointed out contains sixty cuts – but no one really cared about the single take, tracking shot action scene from “Batman v Superman” because they were too focused on Batman using a gun. You can watch them both below.

The entire point of this is to say that we need more unique action in blockbusters. Directors should use less cuts and shaky cam and focus more on choreography and cinematography. Using shaky cam and a thousand cuts is just taking the easy way out rather than caring more about the quality of an action scene.

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