Tuesday, March 1, 2011

First Person Films: Doom and Enter the Void

The "point of view" shot is ubiquitous in movies -- an actor glares at something off-frame, then the next shot is an eyeline match to the thing they're glaring at, mimicking their point of view -- but full, sustained sequences with substantial camera movement that doesn't break the rules of first person navigation? Pretty rare, I think. (Please leave a comment if you know of any other films.)

Doom (2005) is an obvious example, and probably the most immediately consumable: you see the gun at the bottom of the screen, bobbing and swaying with the movement of the camera, as it seems to glide up stairs and through metal corridors.

The problem with this (occasionally cool, I guess) scene from Doom is that it confines itself to the boring commonplace parts of the FPS game tropes (reloading a gun that many times?) and ignores what playing Doom 2 was actually like: strafing like mad, back-pedaling like a lunatic -- firing, always firing! -- in a linear, confined metal corridor instead of a non-linear open plan layout.

Or maybe the problem was that they were adapting the powerful sedative that was Doom 3? That's right, I said it.

Gaspar Noe's Enter the Void (2009) does it better, mostly because it does stuff with the first person view that we can't do very well in first person games. Here's the first 10 minutes, omitting the crazy nauseating opening credits:

Blinking! Imagine blinking in an FPS; you would hate it. But here? You can kind of tolerate it. It's more of a cute gimmick than an entirely annoying one.

And the way the camera lingers on his sister like that? Fantastic. FPS games currently don't do anything with "the gaze" that, so you can ogle at Alyx (or Barney) all you want without feeling like a creep.

A bit later in the film, the first person view continues with the protagonist walking down a stairwell, talking with his friend for 5 minutes about something boring. Floor after floor, stair after stair. It's obscenely repetitive, and perhaps representative of how we play first person games with occasional long lulls of nothing in between those whiz-bang scripted sequences.

Compare this naturalistic (?) and meditative approach against Doom's style, where there's something happening every few seconds with imps popping out of monster closets.

"But really, what's the point of comparing these two rather different films?" you might be thinking. "Doom is going for B-movie camp, and Enter the Void is, um... yeah. Apples and oranges, mate."

And you might be right. But isn't it fun to think about?