Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes and the Cinema of Hideo Kojima

Whenever you see an excessively long take in a film, it’s usually for two reasons: 1) Because showing a protracted span of time serves a legitimate, specific purpose to the scene, and 2) because the director is showing off. Sure enough, with the amazing trailer for Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes, Hideo Kojima is doing both. What’s particularly interesting here, though, is that this time showing off is the legitimate, specific purpose.

After finally seeing the trailer, it’s surprising that there was ever any question (as there were in initial news reports) about whether Ground Zeroes would in fact be an open-world game – of course it is, and the “single take” of the 10-minute-plus trailer is explicitly designed to show that. The fact that there are no cuts between “shots” exemplifies the fact that there are no loading screens, no bottlenecks to lead from one self-contained large area to the next. It’s Metal Gear meets Skyrim, and yes, it looks frickin’ cool as hell.

But back to the cinematic appreciation of the trailer. It’s another reminder that when it comes to videogame cut-scenes, Hideo Kojima remains the best there is. No other game director brings the sensibilities and skills of a bona fide film director the way Kojima does, nor consistently puts together cut-scenes as cinematically intoxicated as those in the MGS series.

(And let me be clear that what I refer to here is specifically Kojima’s use of all the aspects that make a movie a movie – shot compositions, editing, camera movement, etc., on a cut-scene by cut-scene basis. As for the overall quality of the stories in each individual Metal Gear Solid game…well, let’s for the moment leave that out of the discussion.)

So let’s take, for example, the segment in the trailer that’s momentarily scored to Joan Baez’s “Here’s to You,” up to when the group of soldiers – led by the mysterious, melted-face man with the dapper hat – walks dramatically toward the helicopter (starting at 4:42). With its staging – tracking the soldiers in dramatic fashion from the jeep to the chopper — and in its incongruous music selection, it gives off a heavy Scorsese vibe — who, of course, is responsible for what may be the most famous long take ever. And I also wasn’t surprised, when looking up more info on the song, to see Wes Anderson used “Here’s to You” in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. This music choice seemed particularly Anderson-esque to me, and he’s another director who loves dramatic, drawn out, often slow motion tracking shots (a trick, incidentally, that he learned from Scorsese).

Some may argue that the fact Kojima works entirely within virtual spaces diminishes the impressiveness of his skills, and I suppose there’s something to be said for that. I’ve always been extremely curious to see how he’d fair directing a live-action movie, and while in my wildest dreams he’d be at the helm of the re-confirmed MGS film adaptation, I know there’s no way a movie studio would ever put him in charge of a big-budget blockbuster (assuming he’d even want to be in this case) without any “real” movie-making experience.

Still, whatever the medium, skill is skill. For instance, compare this trailer to, say, the Bagghar chase from Steven Spielberg’s The Adventures of Tintin (an example of a director using a long take to show off if there ever was one), or the coolest shot from the third act of Joss Whedon’s The Avengers (which is no doubt at least 90% comprised of CG). They serve as examples that even in a virtual space where every element is under total control and the “camera” can be anywhere, you still have to know what the hell you’re doing to even think of the choreography necessary to pull off something as flamboyantly showy as this.

And again, what I find particularly cool about it is that it’s not just an excuse for Kojima to get his film director kicks (he’s famously a film lover, even proclaiming on his Twitter page that “70% of my body is made of movies”). It’s also serving the legitimate, specific purpose of showing off just how detailed, expansive, and beautiful the Fox Engine – and, therefore, Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes – will be, all in one massive, open-world environment. Just consider all the little, throwaway details throughout the trailer: the scurrying rats, the fluttering gloves attached to each soldier’s harness, the crumbling rocks as Big Bo…ahem, as Snake scales the cliff-side. Such seemingly unnecessary flourishes, obsessive-compulsive in their inclusion, have been a staple throughout the MGS series, from maggots crawling in bathrooms in MGS1, to ice cubes that melt in real time in MGS2, to the grand total of 48 different plants and animals populating the jungles in MGS3, to the way Old Snake will grab at his aching back if you crouch-walk too long in MGS4.

But with Kojima, the truth is these aren’t “throwaway” details at all. Because while at the most basic level they may not be essential to these games…they sure do help make them more cinematic. And that makes them vital.

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