by David Christopher Bell
Technically speaking, a “POV shot” could count anything coupled with a reaction shot, or any over the shoulder shots – but that aside, there’s none better than the straight on, through-the-characters-eyes shot that’s been around almost as long as filmmaking has.
It’s cemented itself in the craft since the 1940s, and has unsurprisingly taken a great array of variations over eight decades.
Let’s look at some of the best, most iconic, uses of the classic POV shot, shall we?
10. The Super-Human Rampage in Doom
Only a Doom movie could require such a shot as a prerequisite. As a fan of the game – this was literally the only box I needed to check off the list while watching this thing. After all, there wasn’t exactly a plotline they had to keep faithful to.
On a list of video game films, Doom would have to be in the top five. That isn’t a compliment to the film, however, as it is a stab at video game movies in general. When Mortal Kombat is the number one film of its kind, you know there’s something inherently cursed about the genre. And yet, we can all look forward to watching Assassin’s Creed, Need For Speed, and freaking Asteroids some time in the not too distant future.
9. Zombie-Vision in V/H/S/2
The V/H/S films did two very important things to the horror genre: they made it fun again, and they made found-footage tolerable. The former was simply done by getting various artists together in an effort to both scare and entertain with outlandish villains and scenarios, and the latter can be attributed to the fact that short film format lends itself to found footage in a big way. By the time you ask yourself why they haven’t put down the camera, they’re dead.
Along with those two things – V/H/S/2 also managed to make zombies interesting again – if only for a few minutes when an extreme biker gets bitten by one, and his GoPro stunt camera gets turned into a hilarious day-in-the-undeath. It’s a pretty brilliant idea for a found footage premise.
8. The T-800 in The Terminator
I wish I had the T-800 with me every time I go clothes shopping. Not only would he be able to pick out the best-fitting clothes, but also generally speaking – mall shopping is just way easier when you have the ability to pick someone up by their hair.
A fun bit of trivia about the Terminator’s vision – according to its boot up screen in the third film, he has a copy of QuickTime Player installed, making him a Mac product. That means all Kyle Reese had to do to was press and hold down on its eye for a few seconds to stop it.
7. Thermal Vision in Predator
Thermal vision seems like overkill when you’re hunting a loud Austrian man the size of a soda machine blasting around the jungle with his friends, and even more so when you’re hanging out in Los Angeles for some reason – shooting anything with a heat signature. Then again, for a hunter race, these guys aren’t very good hunters. They use shoulder-mounted laser guns they don’t have to aim and generally tend to get killed by creatures half their size.
How bored does a race have to be to just hang out in a Central American jungle picking off solders from trees? Don’t they have space wars to fight or something?
6. The Force in The Evil Dead
Formally called The Force, it’s the POV shot in every Evil Dead film – informally referred to as the “shaky cam” because of the rig used to create it. Basically it’s just a camera on a two by four being held by two grips running like madmen through the woods – creating both an oddly dynamic and yet handheld-like jitter to the shot.
Many variations would follow, including a wooden rig for window smashing and best of all, something they called Sam-O-Cam (named after the director) that hung actor Bruce Campbell 15-feet off the ground on a giant rotating steel X-shaped rig. They took a day, shooting 20-minute takes of him flying and spinning through the woods in order to speed up for the end result of the Force pushing him through the woods.
5. Young Michael Myers in Halloween
Little brothers and their pranks.
Obviously, I could have included almost every slasher movie in the world on this list. I decided to pin it down to just the one – and while there were certainly shots like this before and after Halloween, this is the one that stands out for being from the point of view of a seemingly innocent child. The reveal is great – and as Rifftrax pointed out – also a little awkward as his mother and father just kind of stand there silently.
There’s another terrific POV in this film, when Laurie is approaching the house and you can hear the signature Michael Myers mask breathing as he watches from the darkness. Then, suddenly, he steps into the shot revealing that it isn’t a POV after all. It’s a great changeup for a film littered with killer-cam shots.
4. SQUID Recordings in Strange Days
It’s nice to finally see sex in the first-person. In movies, I mean…
Nothing like a 90s movie predicting elaborate future technology mere years later – it’s like when Demolition Man predicted cryogenic technology three years after the movie’s release date.
Strange Days has a opening sequence that can only be described as totally boss. What appears to be a single, uncut, first person view of a robbery gone wrong – ending when the bad guy goes launching into the pavement after a botched rooftop jump. We learn that in the future (1999) we can record and playback experiences in the first person – and we use that ability mostly for creepy sex fantasies. So yeah – pretty much Google Glass without all that checking for directions bullshit.
3. The Beginning Scenes in Dark Passage
As you’ll see in the entry after this one – apparently first-person films were a bit like Armageddon and Deep Impact in the 40s. Specifically 1947.
Dark Passage was the second film noir that year to implement first person shots to convey a story for a long span of time in the film. In this, we follow Humphrey Bogart as he escapes San Quentin prison and hitches a ride with Lauren Bacall, who helps him get a surgical face change. See – while we hear Humphrey for the first third of the film, we never see his face until it is “changed” into the actor. It’s a weird tactic – but also extremely compelling right from the moment the film begins.
2. The Entirety of The Lady In The Lake
While critic Hal Erickson said that Dark Passage was the better of the two – Lady in the Lake really seems like the best first-person noir to come out of 1947. It is, after all, entirely shot in the POV perspective. And even better is the fact that the POV is that of your classic snub-nosed revolver, dame slappin’, private noir dick Phillip Marlowe. And by “dick” I mean, “asshole.”
For a film made in the 40s, they sure were ambitious about allowing the story to dictate the action and not the limitations of the cinematography. Probably the best point is when Marlowe’s car is driven off the road and we watch him drag himself to a phone. The fact that it’s in first person perspective makes the moment that much more agonizing – as well as the terrifying caroling soundtrack, which I sure hope wasn’t meant to be playing inside the characters own head.
1. The Shark in Jaws
It’s amazing what an underwater cam and a couple notes on a tuba can do for a whole generation of swimmers. If you’ve ever wondered, his name was Tommy Johnson and he played those iconic notes you’ve heard all your life.
While that shark looked pretty good, and the actors were amazing, it’s really this shot that drives this entire film. Just imagine what it would have been like without it – if the mechanical shark had worked consistently and Spielberg had no limitations. It was those limitations that gave the film the suspense that made it famous. Not to mention shooting at water level, a cinematic act that proved quite unnerving to watch.
If there were ever a film that shows just how important every component is, it’s Jaws.