What if three young high school students became more than just ordinary teenagers, and what if an action-packed blockbuster movie was about more than it seemed? I just got back from watching Chronicle, the debut screenplay from Max Landis (son of famous director John Landis). For those who haven't seen the trailer (included below), Chronicle is the story of three high school boys who develop super powers after finding a glowing... thing... inside a cave outside of Seattle. It feels like a well done comic book movie, with a little bit more character development than one would expect with such fare. I could write an entire article (or two) on the psychology of the characters, the assumptions about power, and the movie's message about humanity, but instead I want to talk about cameras.
*Warning: Some spoilers are contained below, but nothing you couldn't guess from the official Chronicle trailer:*
Besides working the whole "high schoolers as super heroes" angle, Chronicle has generated buzz largely around its filming style - the sort of cinéma vérité/“found footage” approach made popular by the Blair Witch Project, and seen later in blockbusters like Cloverfield. Every scene shot in Chronicle is from the point of view of a camera that is native to the fictional environment. In other words, the audience only sees things that are being recorded by characters in the movie. Mostly we watch through the home video camera of Andrew, the main protagonist.
Now, the found footage style of filming is nothing new, and it's really come into vogue in the last decade or two, mostly with suspense or horror films like Paranormal Activity, or The Troll Hunter. Chronicle, however, takes a slightly different approach to the concept than with other movies because we aren't looking simply through one camera, but several. Andrew's lens is by far the most prevalent, but there's also a video blogging classmate whose footage is seamlessly blended in. Add to that some security tapes, news crews, and police surveillance and you get a medley of points of view that really flesh out the world in which Chronicle takes place.
That world, like ours, is constantly being taped, and Chronicle is (perhaps intentionally considering the title of the film) commenting on that. Andrew is recording his life, not necessarily because he hopes to share the footage, but because recording his life seems natural...perhaps even a personal goal. How many young people today feel the same way as evidenced by the vlogging seen on YouTube? This character is close to being a lifelogger, not quite filming 24/7, but certainly keeping a record of the most important parts of his day. He does this even before he develops super powers. It's a part of who he is. Not only does Andrew's obsession with filming allow the audience to get a personal (and disturbing) view into his life, it also affects how he relates to other characters. In fact, in some ways the video camera, and the psychological barrier it creates for him, is partly responsible for setting Andrew down the destructive path he chooses to tread.
But Chronicle continues past that autobiographical angle and shows how the rest of the modern world is also recording us. It never feels unnatural when Chronicle switches from Andrew's camera to another, perhaps because we, as the audience, know that cameras would really be around us in real life as well. In fact, the film does such a good job weaving in this 'atmospheric' video that you really get the sense that there is tons of this footage that didn't get included. The final climatic scene is not only packed with action, it's packed with these shifts in POV. It made me realize that any strange occurrence, be it super heroes or tsunamis, that happens in the real world is going to happen in high definition, and it's going to happen from hundreds of POVs and it's going to be available for anyone to watch on YouTube.
Chronicle is ostensibly a movie about kids with supernatural power, but it's also a movie about the hidden power that surrounds us every day. Our modern world sees everything, records everything, shares everything. All of us already live in the reality that Chronicle suggests.
Now only if we could get some super powers to go with that...
*This article has been adapted from an earlier post to Singularity Hub's Members Group. If you want to read discussions like this as they happen,or gain access to some of the wonderful new features of our membership including exclusive Hangouts and videos, become a Member today!
[image and video credits: Chronicle (Film Afrika Worldwide, Adam Schroeder Productions, Davis Entertainment)]