In the last few years, every time a film director dares to shoot a first person scene we instantly start talking about videogames, as if they all used only that perspective and Lady in the Lake never existed. Subjective camera (or POV for the pornography lovers) is basic film lexicon, or didn’t Ozu use it for his dialogue scenes? Leaving the tantrum aside, it’s true that, lately, this resource is linked in our minds to videogames and that’s why it would be handy to know what it means and the uses it’s being given by cinema.
Let’s remember the trite affirmation by Moullet that says morals are a question of travelling (or Godard’s inversion of it: “travelling is a moral question”). Camera angles are not only meant to be dramatic, but also a way of giving the audience a place in the world (being in) and a distance towards characters (being with). Videogames, apart from framing, use rules and actions: doing. Morals, thus, are also a question of mechanics, of doing in and doing with.
The first mistake, then, is thinking that because something looks like a videogame it is using the same codes. Let’s take as an example the adaptation of Doom, the end of which has 5 final subjective minutes of running around corridors and shooting creatures. The director even grants himself the pleasure of opening the scene with the main character looking at the mirror (“hey, you’re using his eyes!”) with a mental face. Who cares that the camera work is artificial or the staging is nothing more than a cheap tunnel of terror: many praised the set piece saying that the rest of the movie was rubbish, but, hey, that last scene was really a recreation of a videogame for the cinema.
The problem is that the sequence is nothing more than a meaningless exercise of style that doesn’t go beyond the surface. First-person for a videogame is, above all, a tool, a way of allowing us to do in: if Doom is a game in which you must point and shoot, the quickest way to adapt this would have been with a virtual camera and a hand in front of it holding a gun. First make things work, and then worry about what they signify.
POV changes our relationship with space and experience with doing in, but doesn’t necessarily put us in the shoes of (doing with). It tries to draw you to that world, not to the character. Some people even question the first-person thing: if we’re trying the audience to think they’re the character, aren’t we talking about second person? A kind of “choose your own adventure”, let’s say: “you pick up a weapon, you walk, you shoot the creature.”