Third-person Driving

Sofia Coppola seems to make movies that have a high tendency to ignore the most basic traditional film grammar, which often results in boring and futile scenes thorough the movies. Lost in Translation was watchable and semi-interesting intercultural study, but Coppola’s newest flick, Somewhere, was just a little more than an empty shell of a feature film. Perhaps I’m just too old and not hip enough to enjoy of watching 1,5 hours Stephen Dorff driving around with a Ferrari, watching twin strippers to pole dance, playing Guitar Hero, and chatting nonsensical small talk with his on-screen daughter.

There was, however, one specific scene that caught my eye immediately, in which the camera follows from behind as the protagonist drives uneventfully his car into a highway. Of course, this kind of weird and meaningless scene was intended to contribute to the mystique of Coppola’s craft, but it was also a testament for how recognizable that particular way of portraying a moving vehicle actually is when considering the realm of video games.

Indeed, I couldn’t help but seeing the scene as something taken from a modern driving game, and it makes one wonder if the prevalence of video games did have an effect on Coppola’s vision, at least at an unconscious level. And when I slapped some HUD elements from Test Drive Unlimited on top of the (cropped and adjusted) imagery from the movie, the resemblance became uncanny.

I believe it was Pole Position back in 1982 that really established the “rear-view” paradigm for driving games, although the original OutRun (1986) must be the most iconic case in point by far. Interestingly, back then the rear-view was employed partly due to technological limitations, as the camera couldn’t rotate along the y-axis, so they ended up rotating the car on the screen instead. Now, in the age of fully simulated space, the chase view is obviously nothing but an artistic decision (or an index of laziness to make a decent cockpit.)

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