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I'm Ready for My Close-up
by Sarah L. Polson

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I like to think that almost every movie has some sort of redeeming quality to it. From big-budget block busters to B-movie horror, there's always something new or interesting in the production of a movie.

This week I decided to challenge myself and picked a big blockbuster movie to watch Armageddon. This was one movie I could almost be assured was made mostly with special affects, actors and music intended to make it a big summer hit. It's much harder to find the little, more artistic magic in a movie like that.

I've watched Armageddon several times in the past, but I've never bothered to really look at it in a technical way before.

One thing that I noticed is there is a lot of use of close-ups. This is the kind of movie where emotional reactions are a big part of building the emotion and suspense for the audience. To get the full affect of those emotions, the director fills the screen with close-ups of the actor's faces.

Right away at the beginning of the movie there are close-ups of Billy Bob Thornton's character's face as he's learning about the asteroid and reacting to the ridiculous plans to avoid disaster that people are bringing to him.

There's an excellent example of close-ups for reaction when Bruce Willis confronts Ben Affleck in his living quarters about a drilling incident from the night before. As they make comments back and forth, the director switches to close-ups of each of their faces both to see the comment and then to gauge the reaction of the other.

In this case, the close-ups also distort reality a little too. Think about a normal conversation, or confrontation as was the case here, between two people. There is less than a split second between one person's comment and the facial expression a person would have in reaction to it. If you were standing watching the two people, you wouldn't be able to watch someone say something and then turn and look at the other person and still catch their reaction.

But in the movie world, it's like that reaction and replies between the characters are slowed down a bit, or the audience has suddenly developed lightning quick neck muscles. Despite distorting time and reality a bit, the technique does help the audience take in the full affect the confrontation is having on the two characters and watch the drama unfold.

On a side note, next time you watch Armageddon, take a look at the drillers who are introduced in that opening sequence when Willis is chasing Affleck all around the rig with a shotgun. The characters Chick, Rock Hound, Bear and AJ are all introduced and they're also the only crew members that survive of the ones that Willis picks to go up into space with him.

A handy bit of foreshadowing there or purely a coincidence?

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Smoke and Mirrors
Every other Wednesday

Movie magic isn't just about special affects. Sarah L. Polson shows you the other tricks and techniques used to manipulate movie goers.

Other Columns
Other columns by Sarah L. Polson:

A Whale of a Tale

Violence with a Purpose

Slo-mo, The Weapon of Choice

In Living Color

Put Your Best Face Forward

All Columns

Sarah L. Polson
As a journalist from the midwest, Sarah L. Polson has a few years under her belt writing in the newspaper world. Having worked mainly in news writing, deviating from "just the facts" is a new experience for her.

If you have a comment, question, or suggestion, you can send a message to Sarah L. Polson by clicking here.

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