The Art of Slow Motion in Film

By  · Published on June 7th, 2016

The good, the bad, and the unique of slow motion.

Modern audiences often regard the use of slow motion in film as a cheap trick. When you think about slow motion today, you may think about the aesthetics of Zack Snyder, Christopher Nolan, or Michael Bay. These are massive mainstream examples of the technique and while they are used to varying degrees of success, they don’t represent the whole of what is possible.

As Julian Palmer of The Discarded Image explores in his most recent video essay, slow motion is a technique that’s been used throughout the history of cinema – from Goddard to Scorsese to Tarantino. As Palmer explains, the technique can be employed to bring the focus of the audience to a detail, to bring us inside the head of a character, or to draw out the emotion of a moment. It’s a fascinating exploration of an oft-maligned cinematic trick:

There are instances when slow motion becomes less about the moment and more about the aesthetic of a film or filmmaker. This is something that’s always fascinated me. Whether it’s Tarantino using slow motion to allow his characters to loom larger than life or the Wachowskis using it to show how cool chaotic violence can be in The Matrix, these are instances that would likely be less memorable if the technique of slow motion were not employed.

Of course, there’s a dark side to the overuse of such a technique. Zack Snyder made his way into the mainstream with the heavily stylized, slow-motion action of 300, then carried the technique with him into Watchmen. By the time he got to Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, it had become a joke of sorts. Look at Zack Snyder and his favorite toy. It’s proof that filmmakers who use slow motion sparingly and/or specifically are the ones often remembered as innovators, rather than those who are viewed as having only one trick up their sleeves.

What are some of your favorite uses of slow motion? Let us know in the Responses below.

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Neil Miller is the persistently-bearded Publisher of Film School Rejects, Nonfics, and One Perfect Shot. He's also the Executive Producer of the One Perfect Shot TV show (currently streaming on HBO Max) and the co-host of Trial By Content on The Ringer Podcast Network. He can be found on Twitter here: @rejects (He/Him)