by D.W. Lundberg

Wednesday, July 31, 2013


Making movies is hard. In fact, with so many factors at play - script, acting, editing, costume and set design, cinematography, not to mention escalating budgets and ever-tightening production schedules - it's a wonder studios manage to churn out coherent films at all. It takes an enormous amount of talent and patience and all-around singularity of vision to pull off what most directors do; that much is to be admired. Like the rest of us, though - those burdened by countless responsibilities throughout the course of our days - they are only human, and prone to make mistakes. Continuity errors, say - the placement of objects or actors mismatched from one camera shot to the next. Or repeated auditory motifs, which not only hearken back to Hollywood's long and illustrious past but also take us out of the movie itself - so that, when we hear them, we are self-consciously aware that what is unfolding before us is, in fact, only a movie.

The process of editing a film might also pinpoint mistakes not evident during actual production. A missing close-up or establishing shot, for instance, which would otherwise clarify narrative action. A director is then faced with a number of choices: one, he can rustle up the necessary approvals and crew to travel back and get that shot; two, he can skip the shot entirely, and risk confusing his audience; or three, he can find a suitable replacement shot, preferably of something already filmed. Most directors, because of time and money constraints, will often re-use or alter specific shots to suit their particular needs. Let's call this the mystery of the recycled camera angle - a repeated shot, used twice within the same film, to cover up a piece of missing footage.

Some examples of this. Everyone knows Star Wars. Or they've seen it at least once in their lives, just to fit in with the rest of the crowd. (I speak, of course, of George Lucas's 1977 original, aka Episode IV: A New Hope. But for the sake of this article "Star Wars" will do just fine.) You will recall a scene, early in the film, when Luke Skywalker and his uncle Owen purchase C-3P0 and R2- D2 from a pack of traveling Jawas:

Note the shot of R2-D2 turning its head at 00:18. You can clearly see the red R5-D4 unit to Artoo's immediate left. But later, after the R5 has broken down on its way to the homestead, Lucas repeats the exact same shot at 01:37, and the R5 is somehow back at its original position, completely intact:

Either Lucas was lacking a proper reaction shot of Artoo (after Threepio suggests they take his plucky blue friend instead), or he felt the shot as used a second time fit better in the context of the moment. Either way, it's a flub, and Lucas cuts away from R2-D2 a little more quickly so that, hopefully, the audience won't see it.

Next up: Die Hard 2 from 1990, directed by Renny Harlin. In a sequel already full of glaring mistakes and continuity errors (my favorite: this shot of John McClane calling his wife from a Pacific Bell pay phone, when he's supposed to be in Washington, D.C.), Harlin repeats a single shot - once at 00:32, and again at 01:15 - of a hand reaching down to grab a Christmas present:

Which wouldn't be a problem, normally, except that the first guy to grab a gift box is clearly a black man, while his hand, obviously, is not:

Disney's Home On The Range (2004), meanwhile, pulls an interesting flash-forward-to-the-future trick. Here, Maggie the Cow reveals to Grace and Mrs. Calloway that the dastardly Alameda Slim is the man behind her current predicament:

Note the machine-gun succession of shots, which include, among others, glimpses of confused cattle, Alameda Slim swooping down and wrapping his arms around their necks, and even a googly green-and- blue hypnotized eye:

These same exact frames will return again during Slim's show-stopping song-and-dance number ("Yodle-Adle-Eedle-Idle-Oo") which takes place mere minutes later:

Did you spot them? It's a strange recycling of shots which nevertheless raises a few philosophical questions, namely: Did the filmmakers add Maggie's nightmare psychic flashes as an afterthought, after their animation budget had run out? Are they suggesting that cows may, in fact, be clairvoyant? We already know they can practice kung fu and carry a tune, but do their bovine brains also have the power to transcend time and space?

Finally, a scene from Michael Bay's spit-upon 2009 sequel, Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen. Here, a clueless Washington bureaucrat chides Optimus Prime and his fellow Autobots for their reckless waste of government resources (I've split the clip in two for time compression and also to eliminate some of the needless claptrap in between): 

In clip one, starting around 00:15, the camera pans behind Mr. Bureaucrat as Prime listens intently, slightly shifting his feet. Then, at 00:27 into clip two, the shot comes again, but with different dialogue (it helps that Mr. Bureaucrat has his back turned to us, so his voice can be easily dubbed). Note, too, the position of the actors, background movement, and hand gestures; they are exactly the same.

Also common is the use of stock footage - archived shots of military vehicles, wildlife, historical landmarks and the like, used again and again between films and television shows. (Examples of stock TV footage include the exterior shots of the FBI Building in The X-Files, the bar from Cheers, or the Central Perk coffee house from Friends.) Some film series, though, have been known to re-use footage already shot for previous installments. The Star Trek movies are notorious for this, in order to shave a few additional dollars off their budget. Footage of the Enterprise leaving space dock in Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979), for example, is recycled for The Wrath Of Khan (1982):

Or check out these corresponding shots from Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991) and its crossover sequel, Star Trek Generations (1994). A spectacular shot of an exploding Bird Of Prey is repeated for both, and even the actions leading up to it (Enterprise captains giving the command to "Fire!", photon torpedoes ejecting, enemy Klingons reacting to their imminent death) are basically the same:

Not to be outdone, Michael Bay takes specific car crash footage from his 2005 box-office dud The Island and adds hulking CGI robots to them, for Transformers: Dark Of The Moon (2011). Perhaps he thought no one would notice, or that Transformer fans would be too enamored by the destruction to care:

And the debate rages on. What say you, oh Faithful Reader? Are these recycled shots and blatant use of stock footage something you've encountered on your movie-watching travels before? If so, what do you think of them? Can you cite any other examples of films or television series which recycle footage to such extremes?

For previous articles highlighting other films flubs and movie maxims (or, as we like to call them, Staples of the Cinema), head o over here, here, here, and also here.

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