In the year 2011, it has become very difficult to stay original as filmmaker. Everything has been done before, so it is really difficult for director to come up something that feels fresh. Often, the next big thing may end up just becoming a trendy short-lived gimmick such as the Matrix bullet time camera or the Saving Private Ryan strobe light battle scene effect, unless your name is Ridley Scott in which case ripping off Private Ryan becomes a way of life. However, there is a way to redo ideas that have been done before in a stylish way, which reinvigorates the referenced material so much that the resulting end product feels like a classy homage or a new scene altogether. Director Quentin Tarantino has basically made his career doing this, by taking cheesy cliched scenes from inferior films such as Hong Kong action films or 70’s American exploitation movies and turning them on their heads with a sense of flair and invention. Tarantinos homages tend to make chicken salad out of chicken shit, creating scenes that feel nostalgic and at the same time so inventive that they become something new altogether. Visionaries create. Hacks appropriate.
Case in point, the much-maligned Zach Snyder. Yes, Mr. Synder has become a bit of a whipping boy on our site, but much of this is much deserved as he basically personifies all that is wrong with Hollywood. Outrageously dubbed a “visionary director” by the Hollywood hype machine, Mr. Snyder has served as one of the primary inspirations for the creation of this website. Although well-intentioned, Snyder’s garish brand of hack film-making contains numerous examples of unoriginality, highlighted by the clumsy way he has stolen ideas from superior films in a copycat manner.
One very notable example is the way he lifted numerous concepts and visuals for his 2009 flop WATCHMEN from the outstanding 2003 South Korean film OLDBOY, directed by visionary filmmaker Park Chan-Wook. You could label this as “homage”, but the ineffectiveness and lack of style shown in the implementation of this theft just screams out “HACK”.
Here is the dramatic final fight scene from the end of the movie OLDBOY.
The view from outside of a penthouse apartment shows Choi Min-Shik being tossed around on wires. The way Choi gets tossed around like a rag doll really emphasizes how badly he is getting beaten down by the evil henchman.
And now here is Zach Snyder’s version from the opening scene of WATCHMEN. The Comedian gets attacked in his own apartment by a disguised intruder.
It is essentially the same scene, done less effectively with Snyder’s “trademark” slow-it-down-speed-it up style. By the way, before you label slow-then-fast style as some sort of Snyder-invented style, go back and watch a Guy Ritchie film like LOCK, STOCK, AND TWO SMOKING BARRELS, or a 1970’s Sonny Chiba martial arts film.
A second example comes from the way Snyder tried and failed at ripping off the famous Oldboy hallway fight scene. The original scene immediately made a lasting impact on the cinematic world and has quickly become one of the most famous fight scenes in recent film history. Filmed in one continuous ,long take, the scene simulates the effect from a side-scrolling fighting game using a fluid tracking shot.
This masterpiece of a scene must have been pure hell to shoot. People talk about how beautiful the steadicam sequence in GoodFellas was, but Scorsese did not have to stage a massive four minute fight scene involving dozens of men. Only a master filmmaker would even dare try something so outrageous. Hence, Snyder’s pale imitation of this scene relies upon his tired bag of slow motion tricks and MTV style editing in such a pitiful way that it only enhances the value of the original.
By falling back on his repetitive gimmickry, Snyder attempts to hide the lack artistry in the fight choreography and his own inability to stage a creative fight scene containing the complexity of the Oldboy scene.
These are just a few examples from just one of Snyder’s films. His films are just chock of full of additional examples of such hackery (not a real word). Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but if you are nothing but an unoriginal imitator, I guess that just makes you a sincere hack. Next time, I will show you some examples of effective homage from the works of Quentin Tarantino.
Great post, great points, and I like the new layout too! Where’s the tag cloud?
Thanks. I wanted to try out a layout which will allow us to use article summaries on the homepage. Also, I wanted to see how easy it would be to just paste screenshots into our articles. It’s actually pretty easy using VLC Media player.
Great article, thx. The analyses you’ve provided are spot on and I appreciated your attention to detail. And Tarantino is a perfect example of how a filmmaker can pay tribute to what has come before, while forging something new. It should be amusing to see what Snyder comes up with for his take on Superman. As he puts it, “There’s been no other Superman movies.”
Are you suggesting that Park ChanWook was the first one to use the “thrown through glass window” shot? If not, was Snyder ripping off a visionary director or was he simply re-using what might be a common device? Something that happens everyday in every new film.
I think the contexts of the two glass window scenes are different enough to warrant different criteria. I won’t challenge the brilliance of the Oldboy scene, since, I agree, it was fantastic. But the Watchmen scene was different because it was the first scene in the film, not the last. It’s also a comic book film, therefore had to establish the rules of that world. In that world, “normal” people can sometimes fight with amazing speed and power. And in that case it happened to be the one guy who was “quick enough to catch a bullet”, Ozymandius. Therefore the fast-slow sequence makes sense to exaggerate and accentuate the speed and power these guys are capable of. From that point on, we now understand that the limits to the damage a superhero can do in that world have been raised significantly.
Also, the shot of him being thrown through the window. I could be wrong, but that might be straight from the book? Is that something Snyder should have changed, just to be original? How many different ways are there to shoot a quick scene like that while not being gimmicky?
You make an interesting point about Snyder using “fast-slow-fast” appropriately to portray this particular character’s special powers, but the technique is often overplayed simply because it looks cool… which is not such a bad thing.
I would also argue that the two hallway fight scenes are nothing alike. Not enough to be consider the Watchmen scene a homage/ripoff anyway. One of the signature brilliant characteristics of the Oldboy scene was the fact that it was all one shot. One angle, one take, tracking down the hallway. The Watchmen scene is interspersed with many different shots and angles making it more just a conventional fight scene. (Albeit one with boring choreography and poor physical abilities.)
If Snyder has publicly stated that his prison fight scene was a homage to Oldboy, he should rightly be roasted for screwing it up so awfully, but without that context, just looking at the two scenes on their own, they show very little similarity to me, and that goes way beyond the quality of execution.
What I’m trying to say is: I’m not sure the case is clear that Oldboy was an influence on Watchmen at all.
The outside-the-apartment POV was not in the original comic book by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. Please name another movie that contains a similar scene with the same POV that uses a man-on-wires as he gets thrown around within the interior of an apartment.
nice job, haksnider. i had forgotten about how awesome that oldboy fight scene was. i agree with henryahn, those two scenes aren’t really alike at all.