Yeah, About That Video Trashing The Dark Knight’s Editing…

By: 09.15.11  •  19 Comments

It’s pretty much crap.

As regular readers know, I’m a graduate student in a film production program. I’ve also edited four feature-length films, and, no, you haven’t heard of any of them and yes, for excellent reason. Point is, I know my way around editing. And so does Jim Emerson. He’s just willfully ignoring a lot of rules because he wants to cry about the death of film and troll for attention.

Also because he doesn’t like “The Dark Knight.” Take a look at his blog: his attempts to whale on it go back to the time of release, and he’s intermittently returned occasionally, to, well, be a whiny pedant.

Here’s the thing: this video genuinely forces me to question Emerson’s talents as a critic and a filmmaker. And, yeah, that’s harsh. Honestly, I don’t like saying it: he’s a critic I at least enjoy reading a lot of the time. And I’m not saying that because he hates “The Dark Knight”. I’m saying it because everything I’m about to say about what he got wrong is stuff he should know.

Here’s the video:

In the Cut, Part I: Shots in the Dark (Knight) from Jim Emerson on Vimeo.

If you want the TL;DR: About 20% of his complaints can be summed up by The Dude, the rest by Lex Luthor. This whole video is just a hissy fit about a movie he doesn’t like, and his complaints are about his issues as a viewer, not the film itself.

First, let’s get a few things straight: yes, Emerson is absolutely right about the continuity errors.

Here’s my first response to that: so what? Yeah, there are goofs, but most of them are incredibly minor. The magically appearing police car is not something you’re really going to notice unless you’ve seen the film repeatedly, and Emerson obviously has. Secondly, it doesn’t ruin the movie unless you let it.

Now on to all the technical stuff he got wrong.

The most important thing about any action scene is geography: you need to know where everybody is at all times. And “The Dark Knight” easily passes this. Take his complaints about Harvey Dent in the van. First, he complains we don’t know where Harvey is in the van…except that’s not true. We know exactly where Harvey is in the van. How?

Because of the shot where he gets in the van. All the “confusing” close-up is, is a tighter and more elevated shot of where we saw him in the van. We have that mesh window as a geographical marker. We even see what is obviously a corner in one shot. Emerson wants a two shot. Why, I don’t know. It’s a cramped space, it’d be an ass-ugly shot, and the cross-cuts establish that the space is cramped and isolated from the rest of the action quite nicely.

The same goes for the cab of the van: we know who’s in it, and there’s some dialogue to establish “OK, we’re in the front of the van.” His whining about the 180 degree rule has no validity because we’re in completely different spaces where the geography is very clearly established. Even the color palette is completely different. There is literally no way to get confused unless you are not paying attention or are willfully ignoring the setup to complain.

Emerson really seems to have a weak grasp of geography in general, actually, because a lot of his complaints are a matter of his lack of comprehension, not anything the film does. Leaving aside his complaint about the semi creaming one van while leaving another intact, which we’ll get to, he whines about how somehow the semi pulls into the opposite side of traffic. Well, yeah. The movie pretty clearly establishes the semi makes a wide arc. Where was it going to go? Alaska? We’ve already established there’s two lanes of traffic going the opposite direction in the scene.

Next, let’s talk about storytelling. Emerson complains repeatedly about how the “reveal” of the Joker is ruined, which is probably the most asinine complaint in this entire video. Mr. Emerson, if you’re reading, this chase occurs, what, an hour and change into the movie? We’ve pretty firmly established who the Joker is and his methods. There’s no suspense in saying “Hey, the Joker is going to attack this convoy.” The audience knows that. The suspense comes from when the other shoe is going to drop.

This is why we have that shot which “ruins” the angle in the opening: Emerson is right in that it disrupts the flow of the scene a little, but it establishes that the Joker is waiting. This is a consistent problem: Emerson wants a two-shot in the Harvey van, either not remembering or not caring that close-ups carry more of a sense of urgency to audiences. Humans like faces; we see a concerned face up close with serious music playing, we get tense, we want to know what’s going to happen.

Similarly, all those cuts of people in cars Emerson whines about, he knows exactly why they’re there: to establish there are people in those cars, to put faces on the carnage.

Finally, there’s suspension of disbelief. Yeah, that semi would probably have at least clipped the Harvey van, but you know what? There is a point where you have to stop analyzing an action movie. It’s not something gleefully idiotic, it’s something they ask you to accept so they can continue with the story. Seriously, it’s like showing up to “It’s a Wonderful Life” and griping about how you don’t believe angels exist, so worst movie evar. You can’t get into it, OK, but that’s not the fault of the filmmakers.

Now, let’s talk for a moment about the one thing about this video that really, really ticks me off: Emerson’s near-constant attempts to appeal to authority.

First, he opens with a quote from “The Dark Knight”‘s editor, which comes off as a bit, well, jerky. It gives the entire video a tone of “Oh yeah? Oh yeah?! Well, YOU SUCK!” The next quote? Martin Scorsese.

Not that I hate Scorsese; the man is brilliant. But he’s the film world’s version of Jesus Christ: martyred, misunderstood, and his name is often taken in vain. If you see a quote from Martin Scorsese about something that doesn’t involve him, you’re about to witness a film nerd throwing a huge overintellectualized hissy fit.

Then, about halfway through, Emerson stops the video to justify his whining by saying “See, see, these people agree with me!”…leaving out entirely he’s in the minority. What really sticks in my craw is that Emerson whined at length about how he was catching hell from everybody for not liking this movie three years ago…and then turns around and tries to pretend it’s a critics-vs.-audiences argument when that’s not the case. He’s granting himself an authority he doesn’t have and praying no one notices.

In short, it shows all the comprehension of film and storytelling that you’d expect from the screenwriter of “It’s Pat!”

[ via Topless Robot ]

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