SINGLE LOCATION. SINGLE CHARACTER.
A while back, I reviewed 127 Hours and how much I loved the editing. As a professional editor it made me think about how to be better and more creative when I’m at work. It doesn’t get much more inspiring than that.
A reader then challenged me to watch Buried and compare the two.
The basic complaint was that, given the genre, Danny Boyle’s film “had it easy with all his editing techniques, trippy sequences, and flashbacks.”
When it comes to single location movies featuring one character, you really do face challenges to keep it from becoming stale and boring. In that sense, I think that 127 Hours did a fantastic job inter cutting between different sequences to keep the story moving. On the other hand, a film like Buried managed to pull it off while staying in a six foot box the entire length of the film. In that sense, the reader is completely right. It takes a lot of creativity to create a feature film in such a confined location.
Which film is better?
I’ve created a formula to describe how I feel about both films:
Different filmmakers + Different approaches = We win either way.
However, someone has to officially win I suppose. So let’s take a closer look.
Editor Jon Harris did a fantastic job employing numerous styles and pacing techniques to pull off Danny Boyle’s vision. It can be pretty difficult to mix jump cuts, speed changes, split screens while cutting between hand held and steady shots. Not to mention cutting back and forth between Aron’s camera and ‘our’ camera.
When you factor in all those techniques there were virtually 12.9 billion different decisions that could have been made. (approx.) When you have the ability to edit freely using so many tools it could have been a complete mess that was difficult to follow but they definitely got it right. It takes an incredible amount of skill and precision to pull that style off.
It’s so easy to get caught up when you are editing a fast paced movie like that. It’s also easy to second guess yourself. Their instincts were bang on as the movie runs at a blistering pace. Something the Academy recognized with an Oscar nomination this year.
I’ve never seen pain conveyed so well using clever editing techniques knowing just when to cut away during the final ‘arm’ scene. It was brilliant. It was inspiring.
I loved 127 Hours. It’s a fascinating true story featuring an awesome performance by James Franco.
Director Danny Boyle made an important decision early on not to stay in one location the entire film. I think it was necessary in this case to get a better glimpse into Aron’s life. How do we get into his mind and see the relationships he has with the people he cares about without flashbacks? He doesn’t have a phone or any other outlet into the outside world. We need to see who he misses and what he regrets. That’s the spine of the movie buried deep within one of the most courageous stories you’ll ever see.
He only has a camera to speak into and that can lead to a lot of clumsy exposition that borders on boring. Here James Franco’s character escapes to a happier place and we go with him taking a temporary break from the hellish position he finds himself in.
The strength of this movie was knowing when to cut away from the rocks. Thanks to those decisions, we get a full sense of what it was like to go through that situation.
I’ve since decided never to go climbing by myself.
Here director/editor Rodrigo Cortez takes an entirely different approach by staying put inside a box. Buried is by far one of the most original movies I’ve seen in a while.
When it comes to editing, it’s an entirely different style all together when compared to 127 Hours. Having limitless options and skillfully selecting the best way to tell the story is difficult but doing so much with so little options can be just as challenging.
It makes your editing decisions harder when you are faced with one man, a cell phone and a wooden box. To his credit, I thought the director did an amazing job keeping the shots fresh and varied. In this case, Buried was about piecing together all the carefully orchestrated moments and shots. Without having so many options, you have to truly break the story down to it’s simplest form and make sure your editing elevates an already brilliant performance by Ryan Reynolds.
The one advantage Buried has is the cell phone. This is how they managed to eliminate the flashbacks while still giving us more information about the character. This story HAS to take place in the box. That’s why it’s such a chilling and haunting tale. I think the editing in Buried was more about precise execution rather than creative exploration and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.
Like I said, different styles. Different possibilities.
I was absolutely fascinated by Buried. It’s such an amazing and creative use of a wooden box and a single character. I still think it should have been at least in the running for an Oscar nod this year.
What struck me about the film was the message it conveyed about the politics surrounding Iraq, hostage situations and government policies. The final 10 minutes or so are powerful to say the least and I found myself leaning forward wondering how it will end.
I wasn’t disappointed at all. Buried’s ending made a statement that has stayed with me ever since. A simple story done right can lead to some fantastic and thought provoking moments. Buried was full of them.
I’ve since decided never to drive trucks in Iraq.
127 Hours vs Buried
Winner: 127 Hours
Overall, both movies didn’t disappoint. They each have their own unique styles and executed them perfectly. Both have phenomenal stories and performances but at the end of the day, I think I enjoyed Buried more. I think of it this way:
I love both movies but some day, both films will be a part of my collection. Chances are I’ll watch Buried first.
Special thanks to reader Nastee for inspiring this post.