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October 19 2012

Joss Whedon responds to "appalling" Avengers comments. When asked about the negative remarks made by The Dark Knight Rises' cinematographer Wally Pfister, Joss replied "I'm sorry to hear it, I'm a fan."

Joss is a class act.
Good for Joss, taking the high road...
Well, this guy doesn't sound at all pretentious and full of himself. Bravo to Joss for staying classy, though.
Gah. I thought we were done with this TDK vs. Avengers nonsense. They were both great movies, both based on comic properties, and insanely different films. As a superhero fan, I love them both for different reasons. I wish people would just get over it.
Joss staying classy -- no surprises there.
Yeah, I lost a bit of respect for Pfister when I heard about this; good to see Joss deflect so effortlessly.
Giles_314 I think most people are over it. With the exception of a cinematographer who made a movie almost everyone thinks is great but for some reason feels he needs to badmouth another movie almost everyone thinks is great.
Well, there is a different approach cinematographically. In a way, Avengers is sort of "motion diorama", if that makes sense to anyone. But then in many ways all the MCU movies have been that way, so maybe it's just become something of the in-house MCU style? There's a lot more texture in the way TDKR is shot and lit, but I'm not sure how Avengers would have been served, say, by being shot the way TDKR was.
and that is what classy looks like!

- then again, we already knew that didn't we?
As someone in the industry, and specifically in the camera department, I get flack for not being a fan of Pfister's work in general, and not being a fan of TDK and TDKR in general. But people often mistake "not like" for "hate." Whereas I have massive respect for the care Nolan and Pfister put into their movies, I just don't tend to enjoy the product as a whole nearly as much as the masses. (Love The Prestige though!)

I try to always speak with respect of entertainment I do not enjoy (if I speak of it at all). Nolan and Pfister do not owe me anything, I have no cause to be harsh about their work. Joss and Seamus don't owe Pfister anything either. So while I've no problem he didn't enjoy the movie, I don't respect that he was so harsh.

He could've just said, "I didn't like it, I don't think the cinematography worked for the story. I felt many of the camera angles were unnecessary. I would've done it differently."

Except, he'd of said it better and stuff. Honest without being harsh. Inciteful even, if he went into detail about where he felt the camera angles failed.

FWIW, I didn't love the cinematography in Avengers. Save for a few choice shots I thought it was rather meh. Though i commend the excellent sense of geography I had at all times, especially the final battle, which could have been a confused mess but was instead excellently designed and executed.

B!X, I would relate Pfister's work more to a motion diorama, Conrad Hall being a top example (Road to Perdition, OMG). Transformers 1-3 are more of a motion collage, and Avengers and the other Marvel movies are more along those lines (with much better execution). My disagreement with you may simply be semantics, but there ya go.

Shoot, I really can go on... too bad no one can interrupt me here. At least you can all stop reading at your desire.

[ edited by bobw1o on 2012-10-19 09:04 ]
Smack talking in Hollywood never seems to go well unless you're an actual big wig.
Typical excellent answer from Joss. Good for him. On another tact, people think This last Dark Knit movie was great? Really? I have not been following anything about it and am very surprised. My son and I both thought it was awful on multiple levels. When I told my son that people "agreed it was great" he said, "People just love Batman." I don't know. I'm kind of stunned.
Given that the biggest movie of the year is one that he considers gave no heed for his particular craft, perhaps the reason he is expressing this view is that he feels it puts his own line of work under threat.

In which case I don't think it's "un-classy", it's a call to arms of the kind that Joss himself has made on numerous occasions, be it with regards to writer rights, "torture porn", or the "middle movie".

Pretty unclassy of EW to put the quote directly to Joss though.

Personally I thought a lot of the cinematography in Avengers was a mess. Terribly inconsistent. There was one shot of Thor inside the helicarrier that stuck out like a sore thumb, looked like it was shot using a handhold cam. The first ten minutes or so were so murky I didn't know what was going on. It detracted from the movie a little. But I watched it knowing the whole thing was done almost on the fly so I could forgive it.

Perhaps Joss could hire Pfister for Avengers 2, given he seems to think he knows how it should be done...

[ edited by daylight on 2012-10-19 11:33 ]
I love Avengers, and don't know enough about shooting to know if the made any bad calls angle wise, but I don't thionk average movie goers will be disapointed in seeing the sets in all their glory. I never thought the characters or plot suffered. I actually think the sets are one of the things that made this movie work. But, I'm not a expert. And the guy could have put it better.
I don't know anything about cinematography professionally, but speaking as a reader of Marvel comics, in particular of things like Chris Claremont-era X-Men, I thought some of those angles that I would guess other people might find odd gave a true comic book feel to the movie. I often felt like I was looking at a panel brought to life.

Haven't seen the latest Batman but I really enjoyed the other two. Batman and The Avengers need different things. I wouldn't want them to look like one another.
Loved the cinematography of the Avengers. At times it was magnificent. Pure narrative. Very thoughtfull. Always thought Joss was a great director. Dont love, dont hate Pfister. He has done some good work. Classy answer by Joss. An opinion is an opinion; Pfister has his, good for him.
May we all endeavor to be so classy in the face of instigation. You go, Joss Whedon.
Yeah, that's the way to make yourself liked in the business. Slam other artists' work in a completely obnoxious and off-putting way. Maybe some day if Pfister becomes down and out, Joss will give him a second chance by hiring him as a Best Boy on a film.
I certainly don't agree with his comments about "The Avengers" (although what a DP sees and what I see aren't the same, but as a layperson, I don't know to be "appalled"), but in fairness to Pfister, I don't think he's really an up and comer who still needs to work to get people to like and respect him at this point. He already has cache; he's just spending some unwisely tweeking Joss.
Eh, everyone's entitled to an opinion but there's a big difference between saying something like "I didn't like some of the decisions, and I would have done it differently" and saying what he said.

If he wanted to be insightful (bobw1o - you meant insightful, not inciteful, btw) he could have talked about how he thought skewing the camera distracted from the scene. But instead, he was rude and didn't need to slam someone else's work. There's work for everyone; it's not as if he's struggling.

[ edited by the ninja report on 2012-10-19 15:27 ]
The only shot that took me out of it was the argument into the upside down scepter shot. From a story telling perspective it worked, because I completely got the idea that it was the scepter/Loki/cube was influencing them. I didn't get when Banner took his glasses off in a headachey, tired eyes way when Loki 1st came on board that was caused by Loki until that upside down shot. The start of the flip shot took me out of the story briefly, but then immediately pulled me back in when I got that it was scepter/Loki/cube was influencing them. But I'm not a cinematographer, I'm sure he saw things I didn't. But props to Joss for being a class act.
Jim Emerson, who blogs on Ebert's website, has weighed in. Jim is not a fan of Nolan, and thinks that the Batman films suffer a lot from illogical camera placement that pull you out of the story.

[ edited by bivith on 2012-10-19 16:54 ]
So you're saying an artistic type has something bad to say about another artist's work? Tell me more.
I agree with Pfister that "What's really important is storytelling." But for me 'Avengers' was very well told: I always had a clear sense of where each characters was, and what they were doing (and why they were doing it) throughout the film. The story was clear and easy to follow even during the most heated battle scenes.

Now I'll admit I haven't seen this latest Dark Knight film yet because (in my opinion) they have gotten too long, and too into car chases (which I find tedious to the point of wanting to walk out of the theater). So I only watch those films on DVD where I can fast forward through car chase scenes (shortening the movie a lot!). But I will rent it eventually because I heard that Ann Hathaway was very good.

I think Joss' response was gracious, of course having had the biggest hit of the... ever, he can well afford to be gracious!
True, it's easy for Joss to be gracious when audiences (see, e.g., box office returns) and critics (see, e.g., rotten tomatoes) both like Avengers better than DKR. But I'm confident that Joss would have been the bigger man even if he hadn't made the greatest superhero movie of all time.
Others have worded my stance on this better than I can, for the most part. I think Avengers felt like a comic book, and I didn't get that from TDK. That isn't necessarily good or bad for either of them, just a style difference. It doesn't sound like many untrained people picked up on much more than that about the camera angles.
Course Joss could be referring to that he's a fan of The Avengers.
Class: Whedon has it, Pfister do not.
I'm always interested to hear what practitioners in a particular art or craft have to say about other people's work, but am often disappointed because what you usually get are kind platitudes. Pfister's comments in this case are simply the flipside of the norm rather than being particularly insightful. The link from bivith tells me more about what the creative differences are, or might be, about, but, obviously, it would have been better coming from the original source of the criticism (started with "critique" but did not think the interview merited the word).
All of this coming from the guy who shot the craptastically overrated TDKR. I actually enjoyed watching a comic-book movie that was shot to look like a comic-book for once.

You know what's an illogical form of storytelling? Not seeing what the hell is going on during a fight and having lots of close-up shots of unnamed characters reacting to stuff. For further info: https://vimeo.com/28792404 (not mine, btw, something I found and thought was REALLY interesting).

Good for Joss for staying classy, as always.
Superboy13, that video is by Jim Emerson mentioned earlier in the thread.
Pfister's just upset that Avengers is by far the superior film. The "fight" scenes in The Dark Knight Rises are awful.... That Bane v Batman fight at the end of the film was the most anticlimactic, poorly choreographed fight scene I've ever seen... Who else to blame but the director and the cinematographer? If the direction was bad, a good DP would know how to shoot it in an interesting way.

Ugh. Anyway, go Joss. Regardless if he's talking to Pfister or McGarvey, you're the man.
One GREAT GREAT GREAT thing about Avengers is you could actually follow the action during the entire final battle scene. Think of how very many movies (Transformers, for example) where the action is a muddled mess. Whatever else you say about the Avengers cinematography, good or ill, being able to actually see the movie is a big plus.
@bivith: HA! Look at that! I didn't know it was him who did the video (nor did I care to actually read the vimeo page I linked, apparently... silly me!).
So... he hated the cinematography, therefore the film is "appalling"? I didn't think the cinematography in the Avengers was outstandingly memorable, but it certainly did what it was supposed to - make everything make sense and look nice. And that's something Pfister never really does. The Italian Job, Memento and the Batman films have some of the most unpleasant cinematography I've ever seen - dark, drab and... icky. Many people love that kind of thing, and that's fine. But McGarvey's work - Kevin, Atonement, Anna Karenina - in my view is gorgeous.

And my personal taste aside, insulting another film like that is just unprofessional.
As a cinema goer with no background in film-making, I personally don't have the first-hand understanding of what Wally Pfister's gripes are in relation to how Joss and Seamus McGarvey filmed The Avengers. I personally loved both The Avengers and the Dark Knight Trilogy for what they individually brought to the table, though I'm sure that the Nolan/Pfister and Whedon/McGarvey duos each made choices that other cinematographers might balk at, simply due to the nature of artists to have certain "visions" of how specific material should be shot.

Do I wish Pfister had been more professional in his expression of his dislike for a competing film's cinematography? Somewhat, yes, but only in taking an edge or two off while still being critical. Really, Pfister has a right to express himself and I doubt he's gonna suffer from a lack of work, but I guess he didn't remember any rhetoric he may have learned ;P
The cinematography of the scene where the Hulk pushes Thor's vertebrae back in was really appalling. Other than that I have no idea what the guy is talking about.
I'm always gonna cry foul a little on the straight up Avengers/TDKR box office show down... the midnight premiere numbers indicated that there was a very good chance that record was going to have stood for about 10 weeks. That particular tape measuring contest was called on account of rain, as it were.

I really thought "Avengers" worked very well as visual storytelling, though, I thought it was all much more "cinematic" in scale than, for instance, "Serenity" was (although I love it, it often -- mostly -- felt like it was more television than popcorn chomping movie). Of course, like I know where the hell to say where the DP stops and the director begins, editing, etc.
I honestly don't see any odd camera angles or positioning in "The Avengers", the scenes feel appropriately blocked and never took me out of the film. Granted, Seamus McGarvey's work wasn't his best yet, but it worked and looked great in some places. Pfister's work on the Batman films are more polished and beautiful, but for both movies, their look was creative decisions on both the DOP and director.

Pfister has every right to criticize his peer's work, but he should've been more tactful and insightful. I agree with the earlier post someone made, that if Pfister wants to show Whedon how to do it 'right', he could hire him for "Avengers 2" (which I highly doubt for a number of reasons).

Whedon, kudos for not letting Pfister get to you. Classy reply.
If he was appalled by it (the cinematography, I think , rather than the film as a whole) why shouldn't he say so? He's talking about the work. He's an artist responding to art; I'm sure his reactions to cinematography tend to be much more intense than mine. It is a shame if honest and open, frank discussion of art by artists is considered unprofessional. Generally, however, I find that artists make poor critics; if you have a very strong aesthetic sense of what works and what doesn't, it can be easy to overpraise what accords with your vision and overblame that which doesn't.

There is a lot of debate that could be had over particular shots and angles and how they worked; but I would just say that even showing off the set can be a part of good story telling. The set can be part of the story in the way that spectacular secret bases are part of the story and tone of James Bond films. Or in the way that space ship can be a character.

Oddly, if I hadn't been so confident of his sincerity, Joss's comment would have struck me as passive aggressive. I must be getting cynical for that thought to even occur to me.
Joss handled that the better than Michael Bay's response to Hugo Weaving the day before.

[ edited by Buffyfantic on 2012-10-20 15:04 ]
Course Joss could be referring to that he's a fan of The Avengers.

Haha, that was my first thought. Probably not, though.

superboy13 Thanks for the video link--those were interesting. (Not that any of Emerson's problems with the TDK chase scene bothered me--but interesting to see the breakdown.)
We all know that Joss is a class act. We wouldn't love him as much if he wasn't.

As for TDK movies, I admire the cinematography, and I get "the look" of the movie, but as a chronic pain sufferer, watching a movie that is so visually morose feels like a chore. I need to leave a movie feeling better than I did when I went in. I saw the first two DK movies once each, and that was enough for me.

I saw "The Avengers" 5 times in the theater, and never came out in more pain than I went in with. In fact, I generally felt better after watching it. Some of it was just the fact that it was Joss's movie, but some of it had to do with the brightness and visual appeal of the movie. (I had a similar reaction to "Avatar." I think it has something to do with the brain's/nervous system's production of serotonin.)

So, from a strictly health-related standpoint, Joss's approach to the movie was better for me.

[ edited by Nebula1400 on 2012-10-21 21:50 ]
Just reading emotional tones - as opposed to the differences in cinematic visual style, about which I have no opinion - I thought Pfister was being a Drama Llama (it sucks to be out of the spotlight) and Joss' answer just signified Homey wasn't playing, which is classy.

Opinion is one thing, fighting words are another, and I think appalling is pretty much a fighting word - you can differ or dislike without going to that place. You know, the insulting place. I'm glad (but not surprised) that Joss didn't get sucked in, and boo for Pfister. The echo chamber has been trying to make something happen with this, but they didn't know the Jossir.

So, it reads to me like pique, or as I say, drama, and I think actual grown-up professionals tend to prefer not to slug it out so crudely in public, so good for Joss.
I thought Joss tied the cinematography of Avengers to the story tightly. The spatial relationships of the heroes in the frame expressed the emotional relationships of the heroes--their isolation, then their antagonism, then their unity. The camera was where it needed to be to show what was going on inside the characters emotionally.
I haven't laught that hard in 20 years! Thank you (wipes tears from eyes). So...what's next! I'm so evil!
For me, he's a cinematographer commenting on cinematography. He did not engage in any ad hominem attacks on people. Not everyone loves The Avengers; I don't. I could tell you why. But so what? It's my opinion, and this was Pfister's. His comment would have passed without us amplifying it. Sort of like what happens when someone's political candidate gets criticized.
I don't mean this as an insult, but Joss isn't beloved for being a great visual stylist. That said, he knows how to string a sequence together just fine, better than many in fact, and is certainly known for things like character development, dialogue and plotting more than, say, Christopher Nolan. He also knows how to throw in more than his fair share of "casually iconic" imagery, and there's plenty of that in The Avengers. At the end of the day, the film works, and that's all that's important. Pfister, knowledgeable crafstman that he is (and, like Joss, I'm a fan), sounds VERY sour grapes here, and hopefully looks up our man in Sunnydale to offer a private apology. There's absolutely no place for the Batman crew to point fingers when it comes to assembling sequences as all three of those movies have come under various levels of fire for their incoherent editing in spots.
A little while ago, a New Yorker blog was posted as a topic on the main page and deleted (The Dark Knight Rises vs. The Avengers), along with the comment I tried to post in the interim, so I'll try to recreate it here.

Sometimes I think a director's films are "made" by the actors they cast. For instance, would Hitchcock's films have been as effective or lauded if he had not had the prodigious talents of actors like Tippi Hedren, Jimmy Stewart, Janet Leigh, Tony Perkins, et al? Or the director has a very distinctive aesthetic, like Stanley Kubrick, or yes, Chris Nolan, or tells odd, yet effective ensemble films like Paul Thomas Anderson, or an actor with a sharp eye and real writing skill, like George Clooney enters the arena to direct. But very few are the full Monty, if you will, that I perceive Joss to be: a visional director who combines uber writing skills with high-resonance emotional realism, compelling storylines and oftentimes stunning visuals and set pieces (how many episodes of Buffy look like a film, not television; then came Serenity).

I've been a fan of Nolan much longer than Joss, but I would never spit on Nolan because a project Joss did, resonated more with me in some aspect. Memento will always live in my heart as a rather creepy yet soulful experience, and I have such huge respect for Michael Caine, Christian Bale and Heath Ledger in the Batman films (have not seen TDKR yet) who took their oh, so well known characters to heights not seen before - they exemplified utter dedication to the material.

I do not agree with this New Yorker blog. For me, Chris and Joss' work is apples/oranges and I just find Pfister's remarks so inexplicable, to publically call out a fellow professional most of us here love and respect, in such an unkind fashion. I would like to see Chris Nolan comment on the situation, but maybe he's thinking to himself, "Damn. Apples/Oranges. Keep mouth shut".

[ edited by Tonya J on 2012-10-24 04:16 ]

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