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Watching Notion, Tristesse, and Vikings so close together has spoiled me. In the last few weeks I've entered every new wide-screen movie I've seen with outsize expectations, only to be severely disappointed by those that take the format for granted. I'm still stewing over the lack of visual sophistication in two upcoming studio releases I previewed last week, The Conjuring and We're the Millers. One was a horror film and the other was a comedy, yet they were very much alike in their abuse of the format—at one time the most exciting new innovation in movies. Whenever there was a dialogue scene in either one, the filmmakers seemed unsure of what to do with all the space. As opposed to the older films I mentioned above, Conjuring and Millers presented most of their conversations in close-up or medium close-up, rarely considering the characters much lower than the shoulders or within a playing space of more than a few feet.
During the medium close-ups, these films feel like nothing more than wide TV shows; during the extreme close-ups, they look even worse. Since nobody's face is that much broader than it is tall, close-ups in wide-screen result in lots of empty space. The problem tends to be augmented by digital cinematography (both Conjuring and Millers were shot digitally). In that medium, backgrounds appear as undefined blobs of color in shallow depth-of-field shots, which means the images don't give your eyes very much to do.