In science fiction cinema and TV, creators need to draw audiences into their world seamlessly. One way to do this is the tracking shot, an immersive one-take journey through a scene. Here are 8 of the best.
(Note: some of these scenes contain spoilers and / or some serious violence. Beware!)
Serenity is Joss Whedon's sort-of-final-chapter for his much beloved television series, Firefly. But it's also a stand-alone story, offering any new viewers a chance to discover the crew and the world of the show anew. And what better way to throw a new audience into the world than a wandering tour of Serenity herself. In the opening shot of the movie, Whedon uses a long-take to fully draw us into his world. You can watch the first minute and a half of the six minute masterpiece here.
X-Files - Triangle
In this episode of the X Files, most of the on-screen action is depicted in a series of long takes and uncut sequences. There are some edits, but they are disguised to make the whole episode feel seamless. And the effect is pretty impressive.
It's not strictly sci-fi, but the action-filled, vengeance-fueled martial arts epic, Oldboy, has garnered a lot of praise for its unflinching take on violence and anger. That's pretty evident in this fight scene. It includes a hallway, a giant gang, and an enraged man with a hammer. And it's visceral impact is heightened by the fact that it all takes place in one seamless take.
Children of Men
Children of Men is a movie that relies on the long single take for a couple of breathtaking scenes, including the particularly moving one from which the picture above comes. But the one that is most impressive is the roadway assault scene. Watching it, its brilliance isn't immediately clear. It's not until you realize that there's no way a camera could fit inside the car that you realize the casual scene took enormous innovation and patience to pull off.
The introduction to Contact serves as a quick reminder that the universe could be an empty place that is entirely indifferent to humanity. It's almost like a counterpoint to the rest of the story that follows. And it's accomplished with a tracking "shot." It's technically a visual effect, but the purpose is clear, and it's accomplished relatively seamlessly.
As with Serenity, Battlestar Galactica needed to find a way to draw in the audience and show them the characters and the world they would be a part of for the rest of the series. In one of the earliest scenes in the miniseries, we get just that: a long tracking shot through the interior of the ship, showing us most of the important players of the rest of the series. A fitting beginning to a show that aimed to do things with space opera that were as-yet untried.
Cloverfield's main conceit was that it was found footage, mostly untouched, from one long night of filming. As a result, most of the film is meant to look like a one-take sequence. You could choose any sequence from the movie, but this one is particularly terrifying, since being confined to one point of view makes the danger seem even more close and real.
Shaun of the Dead
The beauty of the long take in Shaun of the Dead is not the artistry of the camera movement or its length. It's that the same tracking shot was done twice, once before the zombie outbreak and once after. At the :40 mark in this video, you can see the two takes intercut with each other, showing just how carefully the two scenes were constructed.
This list is by no means exhaustive. What are your favorite long-takes in sci-fi cinema in television? Did we forget any greats?