Tuesday, 15 September 2009
If you browsed print criticism of Paul W S Anderson's Death Race, you'll have noted repeated assurances from critics that the film's aesthetic resembled a video game. It does not. Likening a motion picture to a video game has become lazy shorthand for stressing a shallow artificiality. Death Race is thrash-cut to the point were geography and character are unintelligible. It's superficial, mindless, and designed to elicit maximum gratification from a pubescent, predominantly male audience, hence it resembles a 'lower' art. Comparing a film to a video game is seen as the absolute lowest kind of slight. The filmmakers are so inept they've accidentally made something subterranean. There's an arts class system in place, video games are at the absolute bottom of the heap.
Games are explicitly built from technology in an office setting, a crucible antithetical to most people's idea of art - the sort of people who believe films and music are simply wished into being by magical 'creatives'. Video games are a horrifying example of incomprehensible modernity. They're mass-produced, and largely based on the ability to express urges most adults would deem embarrassing. They're artless simulation. Even with all of this in mind, Death Race does not resemble a video game. More specifically, Death Race does not resemble a racing game. Video games are about play. They're about feedback led choices. Accurate feedback means a static viewpoint, and Death Race is viewed from hundreds of brief, contrary vantages. In video games there is a choice - you are usually either the driver, a child playing, or literally the vehicle. You are never the audience. Death Race is constructed out of tiny disconnected impressions, the crowd's version of events. There is no overall sequence. This is the problem; if you can't understand what is going on, you can't play. Interactive viewpoints for racing games have long been patterned after Claude Lelouch's 1976 short C'etait un rendez-vous. This exhilarating piece is one unbroken eight-minute take, shot through the eyes of a speeding car. This sustained perspective paying dividends in immersion. You're there for the duration, rather than just selected highlights.
Death Race is about a simulated excitement, and perhaps this is were these critics falter. Presumably, nothing genuinely spectacular was captured on film during the making of Death Race, or rather, nothing spectacular enough. No sequences so arresting that whoever directed the film's assembly felt emboldened enough to hold on a particular shot, and allow the audience to take in an overall sense of space. Instead the film is viewed in fragments, the perspective repeatedly juggled in the hopes of suggesting wonder. There is no sense of speed in the film. Rapidly cutting on fast moving cars kills any sensation of speed. There is no propulsion. Cars move by the same bare-dressed warehouse set again and again. They may as well be still. Death Race resembles nothing.