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Shake, rattle, and Bourne!

We here at the website have received so many letters about the editing style of the Bourne movies that we felt obligated to share a sampling.

David J Swift, Jackson WY: Is there a cinematographer's joke in “The Bourne Ultimatum” (2007)? The entire movie shake-a-shakes with an incessant Queasy-Cam affectation -- except for one shot. This shot is a POV of Jason peering through a hand-held zillion-power scope to read 12-point type on a document a few hundred feet distant. If there was one shot in the movie should realistically vibrate, it's this one. Care to ask the powers-that-be if this is an inside joke?


Bill Holm, Westford MA: My son (home for Hollywood, he's a film editor, and a huge film buff) and I saw “The Bourne Ultimatum” last night. While we liked the story line, and the acting was great, the constant cuts every few seconds, herky-jerky hand held camera work, and pointless pans and zooms were all a terrible distraction. Somewhere in that movie were some great action scenes, but one could barely make out what was going on. You should warn your viewers about movies like this. They should be rated MS, for motion sickness.

Chris Howard, Fort Collins CO: The latest Bourne movie, “Bourne Ultimatum,” was OK but not as good as the first one. The biggest problem was the shaky-camera gimmick. In the first movie everything was clear and I could tell that they were really driving that poor little car down some stairs, or the fighting guys were really swinging their arms. It felt like, if I could just slow it down I would see some amazing stuff, like Jackie Chan's quick hands stuff. This last movie, they could have been doing jumping jacks while the camera jerked all around, and I would never have known. It seems to me they were just lazy and didn't want to learn all of the fancy moves so they just stood around and made the camera do all the moving. I had to sit about 4 rows back from the front of the theatre. Maybe if I had been further back the shaky camera wouldn't have been so annoying. I may give the movie another try when it comes out on DVD. Maybe.

Zoran Simic, Pleasant Hill CA: Why did your review of "The Bourne Supremacy" not point out the gross exaggeration of hand-camera shakiness? The movie is great, I did enjoy it despite the fact that all that shakiness and amateurish editing. I went out of the theater wondering how a professional critic can disregard that fact, or subtly present it as an artistic effect. I'm trying to understand, but can't see an ounce of artistry in the movie editing. I think it's simply plain wrong, a major director should not be able to get away with this. Loved the story, loves the acting, but god next time I'll think twice before going to see a Greengrass movie!


Craig Sikurinec, Johnstown PA: The "Bourne" films are praised as great action movies with strong story and characters. The latter may be true, but I think they cheat when it comes to the action. Watch again some of the great action films of all time, "Raiders of the Lost Ark" or "Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior." These masterworks of choreography have extended shots that let the viewer actually appreciate the situations unfolding. It seems to me the "Bourne" makers don't have the skill to put together a well-designed action sequence. They make up for it by splicing shots so quickly that it creates the illusion of intense action. Frankly, it just gives me a headache. How frustrating to not truly understand what is happening on the screen.

Greg Rothman, Los Angeles CA: I loved all three movies, the story and the action. But after the last two installments, I left with such a headache. Is it really necessary to shake the camera so violently during those fighting sequences and action scenes? It made it nearly impossible to follow. It would have been more impressive to actually watch the choreography in the scenes. I just don't see the artistic merit here. I can't accept the reason that the camera represents Bourne's situation and state of mind. Let the camera represent the audience and the great storyline, acting, and choreography can tell that story. What is your take?

Don Kalish, Springfield MA: When did they start teaching in film school that the shakier the camera, the more artistic the film? It's hard to believe that you can watch a movie such as the Bourne movie with Matt Damon and not be annoyed, or mention in your review that it might be in your best interest to take Dramamine beforehand or risk walking into a wall on your way out of the theater. How about having the talent to film an action scene instead of just running behind with a camera? For all I could tell, Jason Bourne might have been working out to "Sweating with the Oldies". Please help stop this madness.


Bruce Barnhart, Fremont CA: "Bourne Ultimatum" had action scenes that were unwatchable. The intentionally shaky filming of the action scenes was excessive, to the point of being abusive toward the audience. It's a shame, because already the plot situations are becoming hackneyed (though who would have guessed Matt Damon could be so believable).

Tony Winick, Minneapolis MN: I just saw “Bourne Ultimatum" at the cheap theaters with a friend. I had seen it before, she was seeing it for the first time. Both times I was brought close to nausea by the incessant shaking from the camera. And it was the same for my friend who had to close her eyes a couple times to get back on an even keel. I can see why it may be used in the action sequences but even in the slower sequences they kept the camera moving. I know the theory is that it simulates how the human eye will move around, but my eyes will still move anyway so why do they feel it necessary to do it for me? Close-ups make it worse.

Dan Fox, Raleigh NC: Why do so many of the new directors of action movies come out with films with such choppy, jumpy camera work? I found “The Bourne Ultimatum" unwatchable. Would John Ford or Sam Peckinpah have employed this trendy camera work that left all action in a dizzy blur rather than celebrating the action scene (with precise camera shots) and the contributions of stunt men? I think not. How can we stop this growing trend of vertigo-provoking camera work?

Z. Delanchian, Glendale, CA: Having just gotten home from a second viewing of "The Bourne Ultimatum" and seeing the letters of complaint from other viewers, I feel it necessary to defend the cinematography of a stunning action movie. "Ultimatum" works so well because of the documentary hand held camera style and the pinpoint fast editing.

We are meant to constantly follow Bourne through his adventure. The movie is primarily about motion: when to run, when to stay put, jumping, attacking, defending-Bourne thinks through physical exertion. We as an audience have to feel his adreneline, his sweat, his obsessions. The editing and the camera by the actor's side hurl us through the action of the film and make that action action. It is not unlike the opening of a far different film, "Saving Private Ryan." In both cases the camera becomes the audience's eyes as we are right next to the hero going through hell.

Footnote from Ebert: The above discussion provoked the famous film scholar David Bordwell to write what is the most insightful and helpful piece I've read on the fast-cutting, hand-held style. If you're at all interested, I strongly urge you to have a look at:


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