We have all seen it before, action films where the camera shakes and moves with the character in an action sequence. This is further intensified with fast cutting during the sequence and barrage of sound effects. By doing this, it allows us to be where the action is at and shows us how chaotic the situation is at that time. Matthias Stork, a scholar and filmmaker, calls this style of action film as “Chaos Cinema” due to the fast paced hard to see action. Stork makes a simple analogy of the current trend of action films by saying “trying to orient yourself in the work of chaos cinema is like trying to find your way out of a maze, only to discover that your map has been replaced by a reproduction of a Jackson Pollock painting, except the only art here is the art of confusion.”
The most common camera work used is known as the shaky camera. In almost every action film you see today, it is used often. In early times cameras were big and heavy and were mostly rested on tripods for that reason. It was not until the 1960’s when cameras become lighter and were able to become handheld. It is important to know that there is a difference between shaky cam and handheld though. Chris Stuckmann, an author and film critic defines the difference as, “handheld cam is simply a shot that isn’t locked down by a tripod or any other device. Often times the cameraman is physically holding the camera and this creates unpredictability to the camera work. Shaky cam is literally just the cameraman shaking the camera back and forth on purpose.” An example of a handheld camera technique is the famous D-day scene from Saving Private Ryan while an example of a shaky cam is the Cornucopia Bloodbath scene from The Hunger Games. In fact, shaky cameras have the nickname of “queasy cam” because too much of it causes people to feel sick.
There are many recent action films that use the shaky camera technique with the use of fast cutting in between. Many film critic site Paul Greengrass’ work on The Bourne Supremacy as the reason why many action films follow this formula. Josh Spiegel writes in his article Why Shaky-Cam is Ruining Modern Action Movies, “In the decade-plus since The Bourne Supremacy, so many filmmakers have adopted Greengrass’ style, less because it fits a story and more because it sufficiently caught audiences’ attention and studio heads felt it should be replicated ad hominem.” To simply put, filmmakers use shaky cam because it is the current trend and appeals to the audience and not because it matches the story. Filmmakers also use shaky camera because it helps masks the action if the actors do not know how to fight or complete the stunt. Even though it may seem like a winning formula for Hollywood, the issue arises: Can Hollywood break away from the current trend of camerawork in action films?
From the year 1995 to 2016, action films are the third highest grossing genre and in 2015, action films were the top grossing genre. Actions films are on the rise due to the rise of superhero movies from both Marvel and DC, both which fall under “chaos cinema”. As audiences we should expect a good action scene where the action is coherent and not just chaotic camerawork. The camera shouldn’t have to shake and transition in angles throughout the fight sequences constantly. We are paying money to see fight sequences and if the action isn’t clear what is the point? We are just going to be let down.