Yesterday I spent the better part of a beautiful afternoon in Southern California indoors at 20th Century Fox checking out clips from Josh Trank’s directorial debut ”Chronicle”. Normally I hate being inside on insanely warm days in the dead of Winter but this was more than worth it. “Chronicle” tells the story of three teenagers and their discovery and subsequent understanding of their new found telekinetic powers. It fits nicely into both superhero and found-footage subgenres but seems poised to rid them both of their stigmas. Director Josh Trank doesn’t seem to be a fan of shaky cams that generally come with found-footage films. He stated during the presentation that most of us have friends that can hold a camera steady and, with tech where it is, most of these cameras have 1080p and image stabilization capabilities built-in. So the camera doesn’t have to look like a vhs tape during an earthquake. What audiences get to see is a film that won’t make you nauseas and frustrated that you can’t see anything. The practical and CG effects will be right up there on the screen for all to see. Right off the bat I really dug everything I saw during the hour long presentation. We were shown a total of 6 clips from the film (one of which we put up earlier today). Some of them were extended scenes from the trailer that offer a bit more context and a few totally new shots that really impressed.
The film really begs the question; “What would you do if you found out you had superpowers?” It approaches that question and deals with the post-power actions of our characters in human 21st Century terms. Would you immediately run out and stitch a cape to your shirt and start saving people? I’m going to say no. I was a teenager not so long ago and as an adult I never go anywhere without a camera in my pocket. So, like the guys in the film, I would probably spend the better part of the discovery period showing my friends my awesome new tricks. The film speaks directly to a YouTube generation of people who film everything. We live in the world of Jackass and cell phone cameras and I think this film is grounded in a reality that makes total sense.
Besides the whole, “look what we can do” aspect of the film, there does seem to be a good amount of drama built in to this stitched narrative that seems to vaguely run through the film. Our three main characters all seem to deal with their powers very differently. At the forefront of the film is Andrew (Dane DeHaan), an introverted adolescent with a pretty awful home life. I mean, we all know what it’s like being a teenager at home. No one understands you and now you have super powers. This is the Peter Parker story if he joined the dark side. (Josh Trank doesn’t mind comparisons so there are going to be a few in this piece) Josh seems to be the center of the film if only because he’s got the camera. I assume he hides behind them as a coping mechanism for being antisocial but soon he turns the camera on himself, filming his exploits as he begins to lose touch with reality and spin out of control. Three of the new clips we were shown were primarily Andrew moments.
Once Andrew learns to control his powers he doesn’t seem to hold much back. In this first clip you’ll see Andrew breaking one of the rules the three guy’s set-up from the very beginning. You start to understand where Andrews mind is. From Machinima:
In a similar clip, Andrew enters a gas station convenience store dressed as a fireman, for identity protection I assume, and quickly punches the clerk behind the counter. With his mind he opens up the cash register and mentally pulls the cash into his backpack. As he walks out of the store the clerk, armed with a shotgun, follows him outside. Just as the clerk pulls the trigger Andrew turns around and swipes away the gun into a large propane tank that explodes and sets fire to not only the storefront but the two characters in the scene. End Scene. The scene plays out with both CCTV Security cameras being utilized AND Andrews new ability to control his camera with his mind. Steady shots folks, steady shots.
One of the last pieces of new footage we haven’t yet seen in trailers is taken straight from the climax of the film. At this point Andrew is in full sith lord mode and has begun wreaking havoc on Seattle and its citizens. Andrew seems to be in the fight for his life as police have targeted his position atop Seattle’s famed Space Needle. However, he has telekinetic powers and they don’t. The scene plays out on camera in the car of Andrews other super friend, and Cousin, Matt, who is on his way to Andrew to try and help or stop him. In the scene Matt and an unseen female passenger speed towards the Space Needle as a helicopter is careening out of the sky towards their vehicle. Matt forces the helicopter in a different direction to avoid collision. Just then a cop appears on the passenger window to warn them to vacate the area immediately. Before he can complete his sentence he is ripped away from the car and thrown through the air. At this point Andrew grabs onto Matts car, lifts it up in the air and pulls it towards him on top of the Space Needle. As the car comes to a floating point just over the Needle, Andrew appears floating above the top of the deck. He smashes out the front window and pulls Matt from the car leaving the woman and the car to fall back down to earth. End Scene. The scene is incredibly chaotic but really well executed as an edge-of-your-seat moment. In all the chaos you can still see everything really clearly but the film still maintains that amateur camera look. I was really pissed when the lights went up on that scene. I wanted to see more.
However, one of my favorite clips, not shown in any detail in the trailers, showcases our three characters and their first brush with learning to fly. It plays out a bit like Tobey Maguires web shooting attempts in the first Spiderman film. However, there’s a unique dynamic as they are friends filming each other and making fun of one another’s failed attempts. You also get to see the moment from a unique first-person perspective. The clip jumps from floating to all three speeding through the clouds like Superman. However, unlike a Superman movie when you’d normally hear an epic film score accompaniment, you hear wind whipping through the mic on the camera. It’s loud and fast and honest in it’s depiction of what three young men would do while flying through the air. It’s an exhilaration moment that brings my teenage daydreams to life.
Trank and screenwriter Max Landis have done a great job shaping a unique idea and bringing it to the masses. I think “Chronicle” is positioned to add a bit of spice to both the found-footage and superhero genre and I can’t wait to see it 1st February (Feb 3rd in the US). It looks like I’ll be attending the films press junket so you’ll no doubt be hearing more about this film from me. Stay Tuned.