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#068. Bullet Time

What is faster than a speeding bullet? No, I’m not referring to Superman. I’m referring to the special effect known as “Bullet Time”. While this effect is by no means a new effect, it has gained popularity in recent years due to its artful use in film. In fact, the movie that coined the term is this week’s second film (the first being influenced by its use of the effect). But you may be asking yourself, “What is Bullet Time?” Well, even though a lot of Bullet Time is done with computers nowadays, the idea behind it is to create a slow-motion sequence involving individual frames that are taken from a long string of cameras (since the speed to obtain the shot with a single camera is unreasonable). When these shots are strung together, a slow-motion effect is created on the screen, but with the camera’s point of view moving in real-time with the action. As a result, a gun battle can be slowed down and shown at such a speed that individual bullets can be seen. This week’s two films are the best examples of “Bullet Time”.

Max PayneMax Payne
Year: 2008
Rating: R
Length: 100 minutes / 1.67 hours

Almost immediately after the use of Bullet Time became a pop culture phenomenon, it was parodied, recreated, and adapted to other media. One such adaptation was to a video game in 2001 called Max Payne. In the game, the player can slow down time to the point where bullets can be seen, and therefore dodged. Of course, in this slow-motion environment, Max can only move so fast, but the extra time does give him the opportunity to aim at those who are shooting at him and return fire. When the film adaptation was made seven years later, Bullet Time was included due to its pivotal role in the gameplay of its source material. Even though the effect is used sparingly in the film, it still provides that impressive visual spectacle that was popularized around the turn of the century.

Thematically, Max Payne feels dark and cold, which reflects the emotions left in the main character’s heart. The New York City of this film is monochromatic, sticking to drab black, white and brown, thereby accentuating any color that would occasionally appear. In attempting to find his family’s killer, Max stumbles upon a world of drugs fueled by the hallucinogen known as “Valkyr” (just short of hearing Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” in the background). And while there doesn’t seem to be a sunny day in Max Payne‘s New York, the motif of precipitation mixes well with the embers of the Valkyrie filled hallucinations, but almost to an extreme point of creating rain indoors, just to keep the motif alive. Needless to say, even though Max is a cop, that’s not going to stop him from dispensing justice, one slow-motion bullet at a time.

The MatrixThe Matrix
Year: 1999
Rating: R
Length: 136 minutes / 2.26 hours

As was mentioned in the first part of this post, Bullet Time has been around for a while before The Matrix, but this futuristic sci-fi action flick definitely coined the term. Because the effect was enhanced with computers (but still shot with actual cameras), it was much more impressive than any previous application had managed. Since the effect was used so well, it was immediately popularized by the film and was seen in its two sequels, as well as other movies as well (even being parodied in Shrek, among others). And while the effect is almost entirely done virtually now, it managed to get to this point due to the advancements in the effect that The Matrix had developed. If you get a chance to watch the behind the scenes video on how they pulled off Bullet Time, I would highly recommend it.

Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves) lives his life in a world that just doesn’t seem to fit for some reason. When he comes across Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) and Morpheus (Lawrence Fishburne), they tell him that his world is not reality, but instead a virtual reality known as “The Matrix”. Mr. Anderson makes the decision to break out of the virtual reality and arrives in the real world under the new name of “Neo”. Unfortunately, the program that once housed Neo doesn’t like people leaving, so it sends Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving) after the group of rebels when they re-enter the Matrix to have Neo’s future read by an Oracle. Members of their rag-tag group start being killed off as they try to escape after a trap is sprung on them. Will Neo make it out alive, or will his awakening all be for naught?

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 slow-mo gun battles

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2 responses to “#068. Bullet Time

  1. Pingback: End of Act Two | Cinema Connections

  2. Pingback: #246. The Price of Simulation | Cinema Connections

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