Among the highest of the high praise received so far by Gravity (which I see as well deserved) is that it has the potential to be a game-changer for movies. Reasons for this include its use of sound, a simple storyline for the audience to follow through, subtle but effective characterization, and some of the best use of 3D we have seen to date.
One of the chief reasons its action sequences have drawn accolades is its use of what are typically referred to as “long takes,” although the label may not be entirely suitable for this film since rather than the traditional method of having to capture every aspect of a sequence in one continuous go-round, CGI allows for a little more dexterity and precision than the mayhem of getting everything right all at once. The way of achieving this effect, of giving us one long, interrupted shot with no cutting is markedly different, but the effect itself and the degree of difficulty in achieving it are likely quite similar.
Gravity’s very limited use of cutting is a remarkable achievement by director Alfonso Cuarón. It makes many of the film’s effects seem far more realistic simply because they all occur so fluidly. It’s also a stark contrast to what’s been branded as “Chaos Cinema,” the trend in action movies since the 1980s or so where rapid cutting is used to give exciting sequences more of a frantic pace. I am a fan of the use of chaos cinema when a movie calls for chaos, which action movies almost always do. But I also like variety. What the long take does is generate the sense that, instead of the frantic shifting of gaze from one thing to the next, we’re almost just staring at what’s unfolding before us, eyes and mouths hanging open, unable to look away. It’s a different experience, and given Gravity’s early success, potentially one that more action directors will look to recreate in their own future sequences.
Here are 10 examples of movies from recent and not-so-recent history that have made great use of the long take.
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