Scaling up – Zoom in (Part 3)

Zoom-ins may lack the dynamism of truck-ins — as the camera doesn’t move towards the subject — but they have their own secret weapon: speed. Whip, jerky or blurry zoom-ins are storytelling techniques that can thrill or even scare the audience like no other, as well as radically design a shot. Fasten your seatbelt.


Thrilling power

Whip zoom-ins were very popular in the 70’s — especially in martial art movies and Italian westerns — for their ability to thrill their audience. In Kill Bill Vol. 1 (Q. Tarantino, 2003), when Johnny Mo barges in to confront The Bride, his face grabs all her/our attention thanks to a subjective whip zoom-in. A moment earlier, The Bride was suddenly recalling her painful past at the sight of her enemy O-Ren, which was conveyed by a super-fast whip zoom-in on her eyes.


Scaring power

Speed is key to accentuating the scaring effect of zoom-ins. In The Shining (S. Kubrick, 1980), Danny — in a trance — has written an incomprehensible word on the bedroom door. A scary whip zoom-in magnifies Wendy’s facial expression the moment she reads it in a mirror and grasps its dreadful meaning. When combining zoom-ins with characters coming to the foreground, the result looks even more scary. In Lifeforce (T. Hooper, 1985), the typical ‘awakening’ shot is enhanced by a quick zoom-in on Carlsen — waking up from a nightmare — as he rushes towards the camera, screaming.


Design power

Although they contribute to tell the story, some zoom-in techniques are especially efficient at designing shots and imposing a style often found in music videos. In Run Lola Run (T. Tykwer, 1998), a series of reverse zoom-ins relate Lola to a clock as she realizes she has only 20 minutes left to save her boyfriend. The last zoom-in of the series is fragmented in jump cuts, giving the tempo of the long run she’s going to launch herself into. In Wanted (T. Bekmambetov , 2008), a series of zoom adjustments are made at the beginning of the following shot to draw our attention to Fox’s car roaming the streets at night. Far from being invisible, those techniques deliberately make the audience conscious that they are watching a movie.


Documentary style

Erratic zoom-ins give shots the look and feel of cinéma vérité. In Dancer in the Dark (L. von Trier, 2000), the camera zooms in and out on characters depending on their emotional distance to the audience during the entire film (except the dance sequences), which makes Selma’s life look unsteady and insecure on screen, as opposed to her fantasy world. JFK (O. Stone, 1991) is filled with documentary-like footage showing constant zoom adjustments as if the camera was held by an amateur videographer in the midst of events. To make it short, erratic zoom-ins make footage look real.


What’s up?

The extreme zoom-in techniques we’ve gone through in this page might not be indicated for all kinds of movies, but the thrilling, scary, documentary or stylized effects they provide are invaluable when used in the right context. Now that we have covered the most common ways of zooming in to scale up subjects on screen, let’s kick that camera forwards with truck-ins.


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