When discussing the greatest long takes in history there are a fair few that come to mind like Goodfellas’ meticulously crafted ‘Copa Shot’ or the entirety of Alejandro González Iñárritu‘s Birdman. But aside from the obvious, there are plenty of impressive long takes out there often seen as being less good or important than they really are.
The long take, continuous shot, unbroken shot or whatever name you want to give it. They're those shots in TV/movies that last longer than the average and offer something extra special for viewers to feast their eyes on. Loads of movies and shows have epic, heartbreaking or horrifying long takes that give scenes that little bit more oomph.
Just look at how successful Sam Mendes’ 1917 was. That whole thing was made to look like one continuous single take and won a best film BAFTA for it. Here's a link to the opening 9 minutes, all done in one take!
Opening 9 minutes of Sam Mendes' 1917
But, like everything, it‘s important to think about the ones that escape us. It often feels as though the same movies get brought up every time the topic is raised. Children of Men, Birdman, 1917. For good reason too. There are so many out there that it's important to shine a light on the long takes that may not come to mind straight away but remain up there with the very best. So here are 5 understated long takes from both movie and TV screens.
warning, a few spoilers lay ahead
1 - SPECTRE - Day of the Dead (00:04:10)
Before 1917 there was Spectre. The talents of Sam Mendes' long take abilities was first apparent to general audiences in the opening tracking shot of 2015's James Bond movie. The scene follows Bond as he walks amongst civilians and across rooftops in the historic main square of Mexico City, Zócalo, to carry out an assassination mission.
It was an outstanding technical achievement as Mendes acrued 1500 extras for the shot and partnered up with cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema (Dunkirk, TENET) and a really big camera rig so the camera could sweep down into the crowds and onto rooftops.
Spectre's opening shot nicely sets Mendes up for 1917, accomplished with meticulously choreographed long takes and edited together with smoothly placed cuts in the exact same style as his next award winning movie. Positioning the audience amongst lively bystanders, it sets the stage for the far more lively action that ensues in the rest of the sequence.
Check it out here - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cbqv1kbsNUY&ab_channel=MovieMaker
2 - Game of Thrones - Battle of the Bastards (00:00:59)
The image above comes just moments before what has to be the greatest long take in all of television history. There, I said it.
It's the shortest on our list but far from the most disruptive or impactful. Director Miguel Sapochnik successfully illustrates (I can only imagine) what it would be like to be on the ground during a fully fledged two-way cavalry charge. It's chaos.
Jon Snow battles through the charge on foot. Arrows fly, everything's covered in thick mud, horses topple over one another and lots of soldiers brutally meet their ends.
Is there a 'luckiest film and tv character' award? If so it goes to Jon Snow. But the clever thing is that it feels like Sapochnik wants us to feel that way. Only luck could ever get a person through the depth of a battle at this scale and it's conveyed really well. This long take is not cool, it's not grand. It's epic in a very pragmatic kind of way.
If you've been looking for a reason to get stuck into Game of Thrones then watch this clip and it might convince you. Just avoid season 8...
Check it out here - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iDVoaJLFcYU&ab_channel=EversonFerreira
3 - Kill Bill Vol. 1 - The Bathroom Scene (00:01:34)
Kill Bill Vol. 1 is one of Tarantino's most significant films. One such reason is that it's home to the greatest long take of any of his audacious films.
There's an extremely badass and, of course, gory fight scene right at the end. It's what most people probably rememeber Kill Bill for. The Bride (Uma Thurman) takes down all 88 of the Crazy 88 gang. It's awesome.
But just before that there's a long take that flawlessly sets the scene for that carnage. It begins from a birds-eye-view of The Bride, treating us to a kind of cross section of the building. She enters the bathroom where she can prepare for her fight and pans down to eye-level.
Then, focus shifts to waiters and owners frantically preparing or an evening of 'entertainment'. They take us through the entire building, introducing us to the space where the fun will happen. It builds tension but does so with a bit of colour and fun.
The best thing? Tarantino's use of a tune that has now become synonymous with advertising (thanks Quentin). Woo Hoo. This whole section acts as a prelude to an exciting fight and does so with precision. It's brilliant filmmaking.
Check it out here - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pfJx04mWMMY&ab_channel=zombriz-tv
4 - 12 Years A Slave - Hanging On Toes (00:01:26)
A departure from the squandering fun of Kill Bill, 12 Years A Slave's hanging scene is definitely a long take that requires more praise. It certainly demands its audience's attention.
As a film in general, Steve McQueen's Best Picture winner doesn't give its audience a lot of time to breath in its portrayel of the slave trade. It's a film that's as harsh as it is true. 12 Years A Slave follows Chiwetel Ejiofor's Solomon Northup, a free man who is abducted and sold into slavery.
The long take is of the protagonist, left hanging from a tree with only the slight touch of his tiptoes keeping him from strangling. It's special because of how much the shot is doing. The length simply gives the audience plenty of time to soak the reality in.
Chiefly, it epitomises the drive of the film. He now belongs to someone else and no one else can touch him. He is forced to wait in the harshest conditon imaginable until his owner can set him free. The fact that it illustrates the beauty of Louisiana around this harrowing event then serves to hit the audience harder. The true horrors truly outweigh the beautiful backdrop.
Check it out here - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QiO2BOnDSv0&ab_channel=JoBloMovieClips
5 - Indiana Jones and Raiders of the Lost Ark - Marion’s Introduction (00:01:36)
The final understated single take is of a style that has become synonymous with Steven Spielberg - 'The Spielberg Oner'. Simply put, he is a stealthy long taker. Where the others on this list have sought to make you notice the length of a shot, Spielberg hides them in plain sight. Instead, you notice the characters.
He typically does it as an establishing shot or opening scene, and here is a perfect example of it in motion. But here he's establishing a character, bold Marion Ravenwood.
It slowly pans into a lone table in the bar, Marion is sat surrounded by locals. Opposite her, the opponent. It's a scene that is tense as it is amusing. She wins the contest and proves she can better any opponent. She's introduced as a sidekick of equal ability to that of Indiana Jones by the event that she finds herself in. And it's all done in one take.
Although this one isn't necessarily understated (in fact that applies to all of them in some way), it's often not considered amongst the big long takes and it should be. It's not epic, but it flawlessly serves its purpose to the film's entirety.
Check it out here - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q4PlXSw0BQo&t=85s&ab_channel=ClipsTime