by Steven Cohen
With bookmarking capabilities allowing viewers to save their favorite scenes becoming such a common extra among many Blu-ray releases, we here at High-Def Digest thought it might be fun to take inspiration from this popular feature by spotlighting some of the scenes that we've personally bookmarked and found ourselves revisiting over and over again.
We're talking about the kind of scenes that literally reach out and grab you, that make you forget you're just watching lifeless pixels ignite and fade, that make your house rumble and eyes open wide with wonder. The type of scenes that simply make you smile from the sheer, infectious passion for filmmaking in their images and sounds.
Each month I'll go through an in depth analysis of a few select sequences from a variety of titles and examine what makes the scenes so memorable, cinematically important, impressive on the Blu-ray format, and worthy of your bookmark.
This month I'll be covering an eclectic mix of scenes that include a lovelorn robot, a famous Ferris wheel, an eleven year old "superhero," Don Corleone himself, and some no good Nazis. For those who haven't seen the films featured, be warned that there are of course major spoilers ahead.
'Inglorious Basterds' (Ch.2, 00:01:51 - 00:21:20) - While many are quick to judge Quentin Tarantino for his sometimes liberal cribbing of plot points and shots from other films, for the most part, I find that these loving homages can inject a certain charm and awareness into his movies. At best they can even create an almost instant reference point for the director and audience to build upon, which can then be evolved and taken in interesting and sometimes unexpected ways. The opening of 'Inglorious Basterds' is a perfect example of this and has become a scene that I've found myself revisiting many times on Blu-ray.
The sequence begins with a beautiful wide shot, showcasing a peaceful French farm as a cavalry of Nazis embark upon the territory. The framing immediately evokes the likes of Sergio Leone and the score reinforces this connection with stirring music written by frequent Leone collaborator Ennio Morricone. Tarantino purposefully uses this association to recall the style and mood of past films, but then wisely expands upon it with his own unique cinematic identity. As Col. Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz) interrogates an unimposing dairy farmer, the sequence becomes an expert display of tension, beautifully crafted dialogue, little bits of comedy, and character moments, all wonderfully brought to life on Blu-ray through exquisite video and audio presentations. In just a single conversation, Waltz's performance of sinister, restrained glee, tells us everything we'll ever need to know about the character. Though mostly dialogue driven, Tarantino infuses little visual touches and carefully selected camera movements. As Landa gradually breaks the poor farmer down, we slowly close in on their faces, revealing the sweaty, weathered brow of a man who can no longer hold onto his secrets, and the almost giddy expression of evil itself getting the answers it craves.
When the hiding Jewish family is finally exposed to Landa and the audience, the music starts to quietly build. Soldiers are brought in and once they start to fire, the soundtrack becomes an explosion of bullets flying, displaying an impressive level of dynamic range and immersion that disrupts the once silent atmosphere. The scene ends with Landa seemingly letting the young Shoshanna (Melanie Laurent) escape, bloodied, traumatized, but not defeated, skillfully setting up the remainder of the film through powerful and exciting imagery. While the movie as a whole is filled with great sequences, it's still this opening scene, steeped in both the glory of film history and Tarantino's own trademark stylings, that I feel proves to be among the most memorable and worthy of a bookmark.
'Wall•E' (Ch. 22, 00:58:41 - 01:02:14) - Through their tale of a lonely robot desperate for affection, Pixar pulled off a beautiful, sweet little love story that successfully probed the rather deep and complicated mysteries of the heart. The particular scene bookmarked here is the wonderfully realized "Space Walk" sequence, that sees Wall•E and EVE dance among the stars.
What makes this scene so special and worthy of repeated viewings, is its ability to evoke so much through so little. With almost no dialogue, the filmmakers are able to create a stirring visual metaphor for falling in love. There is a playful innocence to the characters' relationship and an old school comedic charm to Wall•E's actions that instantly endears him to the audience. Even from a visual standpoint alone, this is a more than admirable sequence, displaying an amazing level of detail in the animation. Every particle of the fire extinguisher being expelled and every star shining in the background is perfectly visible, creating a sometimes startling level of depth and precision. The music and sound effects also balance beautifully with the images, coming through with crystal clear fidelity to form a fully encompassing soundscape of cosmic heartstrings.
As the robotic pair waltz and twirl their way through the ship's thrusters, the visuals and sounds on screen take on an almost magical quality, giving form to thoughts and emotions that can't truly be expressed in words alone. The movie as a whole is a praiseworthy accomplishment, but this is certainly a standout scene that shines especially bright on Blu-ray.
'The Third Man' (Ch. 19, 01:15:00 - 01:21:57) - There are many great scenes in Carol Reed's 1949 masterpiece 'The Third Man,' but only one is home to some of the most famous words ever uttered in all of film history. As the mysterious Harry Lime (Orson Welles) finally steps out of the shadows and into the light of day, we see him at first only from a distance. With the film's trademark upbeat zither score ironically playing along, Lime jauntily approaches his old friend Holly Martins (Joseph Cotton) like some sort of happy-go-lucky specter without a care in the world. Going along with the deceptively childlike atmosphere, the two decide to take their serious conversation into the interior of a Ferris wheel, where Martins finally confronts Lime about his nefarious actions.
The directing and acting on display in this scene is simply mesmerizing. As Lime defends himself, Welles is able to imbue an effortless charm into his unsavory character, making him likeable and charismatic, even when behaving like a complete bastard. Little touches, like his constant indigestion hint at more, but Lime's darker aspects always lurk just beneath the surface, and Welles implies so much with just a mere look in his eyes. Lime's equation of human beings to little insignificant dots is chilling, and Holly's slow realization that his friend isn't the man he thought he was is powerful. After literally and figuratively going around in one big circle, the characters end up exactly where they started, unfortunately accomplishing nothing. Before leaving us again, Welles delivers his famous "Cuckoo Clock" speech, and in those brief indelible lines, he distills the very essence of his character's skewed world view. The jaunty zither music returns, and Harry Lime skips off into the distance just as mysteriously as he appeared, showing no remorse for his actions, and leaving Martins with very few options.
The black and white photography in this scene and the film itself look simply stunning on Blu-ray and give the sequence a wonderfully textured quality. The mono audio track respectfully delivers the powerful dialogue without missing a beat. In the end, what makes this scene so worthy of repeated viewings are the tiny nuances in Welles and Cotton's performances. Each time I watch this sequence I notice a fleeting glance here, or a little inflection there, that all add an entirely new layer of subtext to the conversation.
'Kick-Ass' (Ch. 11, 01:26:50 - 01:29:59) - Matthew Vaughn's stylistically explosive action film is home to several standout and demo worthy sequences. The bookmark in question here, is the scene in which Hit-Girl (Chloe Moretz) stages a dramatic attempt to rescue her father (Nicolas Cage). Packed to the brim with just about every visual technique in the book, the sequence starts off with a bang, sending a bullet right through the head of a thug. From there the screen goes black and Vaughn utilizes darkness to create tension and thrills not through what we actually see, but through what the director decides not to show us. Whispers and cries of panic fill the soundscape, as the criminals are picked off one by one by their unseen, pre-teen assailant. A videogame inspired first person perspective is used, placing the audience directly into Hit-Girl's vantage point as she effortlessly takes out her victims. Strobe lights join the fun and the scene becomes a barrage of flashing chaos, freezing specific moments of carnage like panels in a comic book, all while bullets dance about your living room. When the massacre is finally done, the scene ends just as it began, with another gunshot, though this time straight through the camera itself.
While I'm usually not a huge fan of composers repurposing tracks written for previous films (in this case Danny Boyle's 'Sunshine') the music is undeniably effective here, and works great with the images on screen. The power of Vaughn's exciting style and impressive command of tone, somehow manage to create a world in which the audience accepts that it's actually an eleven year old girl behind the trigger. To be honest, I'm still not entirely sure how he pulled that one off. While I could have just as easily singled out any number of other action sequences throughout the film, this scene has one major distinction that sets it high above the rest: Nicolas Cage's insane comic book quoting ramblings as he throws out instructions to his daughter. The sheer awesomeness of hearing Cage yell something like, "Now switch to Kryptonite!" or, "Go to Robin's Revenge!" should never be underestimated.
'The Godfather: Part II' (Ch. 16, 01:59:00 - 02:06:56) - Last but certainly not least, is this amazing sequence from 'The Godfather: Part II.' The scene takes place in 1920 during a parade and religious celebration, and features a young Vito Corleone (Robert De Niro) as he prepares to assassinate Don Fanucci. We watch as the camera tracks with the feared and respected Don, making his way through the rowdy celebration, commanding attention and adoration from all those that he passes. Through these shots, Coppola vividly foreshadows all the power that Vito will soon have for himself. Various religious images from the parade are intercut throughout, evoking symbols of sacrifice and sin. The music swells like a rallying cry to arms, a march toward action. The camera finds Vito high upon the rooftops overlooking the Don. We track with the young Godfather now as he stalks his prey, the framing keeping him all the way to the left, almost as if the camera itself is slightly ahead of his steps, anticipating what is to come. Through Coppola's lens the tracking movement acts as a visual embodiment of the shifting dynamics and the unstoppable current of change that is now set in motion, thrusting the audience forward.
Vito enters a building and prepares himself, hiding in shadow. The marching score fades to silence and with his eyes masked in darkness through flickering lights, he shoots the Don with a bullet straight to the face. The moment offers no romantic thrills and is presented as an almost matter of fact burst of violence. Outside, the crowd celebrates, setting off fireworks, perfectly juxtaposed against Vito's own triumph. Corleone returns to the rooftops, disposes of his weapon and reemerges on the streets as a changed man. The victorious music returns and Vito makes his way against the flowing crowd. Sparks fly behind him, as he eagerly struggles toward something in the distance. And where does he end up? What is he fighting so hard to get back to? Where does Coppola choose to end the scene, and the first half of the film itself? Why, with Vito Corleone in the arms of his loving family, holding baby Michael close, after murdering a man in cold blood, of course. In one scene, in one brilliantly executed sequence, Coppola has essentially summed up the entire core of his saga with violence, sin, love, and above all else, family, cementing it as a sequence which demands to be permanently bookmarked on your player.
We'll be sharing our favorite bookmarks each month, but for now, what do you think of these picks? What are some of your own favorite bookmarks?