Thank you for doing the leg work. I agree this suggests that Zemeckis has a greater fondness for the long take than many other contemporary Hollywood directors. But if you look at some other figures that story is nuanced a bit. The median shot lengths of his films (in a sense a better measurement of what a "normal" shot might be) is still a bit higher than average, but not by quite as much. More important, though, is that the standard deviation (the average distance between a shot and the average, if that makes sense) for Zemeckis's films is very high compared to their peers. The SD for Gump is 11.3 seconds; for Cast Away, it's 15.8; for What Lies Beneath, it's 12.8. The SD for other Hollywood millennial films tends to vary between 4 and 6 seconds.The Fanciful Norwegian wrote:Cinemetrics can be useful for this sort of thing. Its database for Zemeckis has some big gaps, but it's not bad -- the BTTF trilogy, Cast Away, What Lies Beneath, Forrest Gump, an excerpt from Roger Rabbit. The BTTF films and the Roger Rabbit segment have pretty typical shot lengths for their time, but Cast Away comes in at 9.5 seconds and What Lies Beneath at 7.1 seconds. None of the other top 10 films from 2000 come in at longer than 4.8s. Meanwhile Forrest Gump has an ASL of 8.9s, compared to around 4.5s for The Lion King, 3.5s for True Lies, 7.5s for Pulp Fiction, and 7.6s for The Shawshank Redemption. (The "Simple" and "Advanced" modes can give very different results -- "Advanced" calculations are usually shorter -- but all of these were calculated with the "Simple" mode, so the playing field should at least be level.) It would be nice to have the animated films in there as well, but from the available data it seems that mid '90s-early 2000s Zemeckis preferred takes not only longer than the blockbuster norm, but longer than what he himself was doing earlier in this career. (Though I suspect the 9.5 seconds for Cast Away is the outlier in his case.)jonah.77 wrote:His films seem to me to be cut nearly as fast (if more intelligently) than your average blockbuster. I'd welcome any empirical evidence to the contrary.
This tells us that Zemeckis tends to vary his shot lengths more: there's a greater mix of quick editing and longer takes (much like his mentor, Steven Spielberg). This seems right to me. It makes more sense than suggesting Zemeckis is a "long-take director" as Preminger was in the 1940s and 1950s (when his average shot lengths ranged from 13.5, for The Court Martial of Billy Mitchell, to 34.2 for Carmen Jones).
I do agree that one near-constant with Zemeckis (well, since Back to the Future and especially Roger Rabbit) is his interest in a kind of manufactured mise-en-scène that ultimately transcends the presence of anything unproblematically profilmic. A simpler way to put this is that Zemeckis is keenly interested in special effects and their ability to allow him to transcend the limitations of traditional shooting. However this seems to me far more interesting on the level of craft (how Zemeckis makes his films) than on the level of an "auteurist" thematics.
In any event, it certainly means that tagging his approach as "Bazinian" (as Dave Kehr has done) is all but meaningless. Bazin's ideas were less programmatic than many assume, but even his defense of an effects-driven movie, The Red Balloon, is grounded in an appreciation that the effects work is integrated into the depiction of a recognizable, everyday Paris (someone, maybe Bazin, called it a "neorealist fantasy"). You can hardly apply the same defense to something like Beowulf.