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How (not) to slow-mo?

Zack Snyder's "Rebel Moon" has ignited discussions about the use (or abuse) of slow motion in films. Known for his stylistic, extra-slow-motion sequences, Snyder has faced criticism for employing this technique excessively in both parts of his latest epic sci-fi movies, with many going so far as to say he has "ruined it".

Why do filmmakers use slow motion?
Rebel Moon - part 2 | ©Netflix

Let's not mince words: the director has disappointed his Snyder-cult (us included), prompting reflection on where things went wrong. With "Rebel Moon", Snyder has shown that impressive visuals alone cannot compensate for a lack of compelling story and character development.


To avoid repeating his mistakes, we've decided to dig deeper into the technique: what exactly is slow motion and how can it be used effectively?


WHAT IS SLOW MOTION?

Slow motion, often abbreviated as slow-mo, is a technique that creates the illusion of time moving slower than normal. This effect is achieved by recording footage at a higher frame rate than it is played back. For example, filming at 120 frames per second (fps) and then playing it back at 24 fps results in a scene appearing five times slower than real-time. In fact, some cameras are specifically designed for capturing high-frame-rate footage, such as the iconic Phantom camera.

The technique was pioneered by August Musger, an Austrian priest and physicist. Initially designed to mitigate flickering in early cinema projectors, his invention unintentionally introduced the concept of slow motion. Musger patented his device in 1904, laying the foundation for what would eventually become a fundamental tool in filmmaking.


WHEN TO USE SLOW-MO AND WHY?

Enhancing visual impact might seem the primary role of slow motion, yet its potential extends beyond this initial function. It allows viewers to immerse themselves in intricate details, amplifying the drama, action, or thematic elements of a scene. However, like any cinematic technique, moderation is key to maintaining its effectiveness. Overuse can diminish its impact. Therefore, select carefully specific moments where this effect serves a purpose beyond mere visual appeal.


Here are a few instances where employing slow motion can give that extra “umph” to your movie:

 

Enhance Emotional Impact

Slow motion enhances emotional impact by enabling the audience to absorb every detail of a powerful moment. It is particularly effective in capturing the subtle expressions and reactions of characters during pivotal scenes, such as death scenes like Gwen's in "The Amazing Spider-Man 2”. Yeah… that one.

Highlight Action

Create Suspense

Surreal and Narrative Moments

Visual Aesthetics

300 VS. REBEL MOON

In "300", Zack Snyder's use of slow motion was sparingly employed to enhance storytelling, particularly in battle scenes where it underscored the Spartans' skill and bravery. Each slow-mo shot had a clear purpose, contributing to the film's epic and stylized tone, reminiscent of the graphic novel it portrayed.


Conversely, "Rebel Moon" utilizes slow motion excessively, seemingly because it aligns with Snyder's stylistic preferences. Unfortunately, this overuse diminishes pacing and narrative cohesion (not that there is much to begin with, but that’s another story) and actually disconnects the audience. Instead of accentuating pivotal moments, the frequent slow-mo scenes make nothing feel truly significant.


They lacked narrative justification.



This highlights two crucial lessons from Snyder on how not to use slow-mo:

  1. Visual spectacle alone cannot compensate for weak dialogue and underdeveloped characters.

  2. Redundancy makes it feel boring and takes away the excitement.


In conclusion, slow motion is a potent tool in filmmaking when applied judiciously. It has the potential to heighten emotional and visual impact when used purposefully and precisely. However, as seen in "Rebel Moon", excessive reliance on this effect can detract from the overall experience.

 

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