In movies, a common effect to get inside the lead character’s head is to enter into a binocular shot. This sort of thing is most common in adventure or spy movies where the lead character (usually a lone wolf a la James Bond or Indiana Jones) must act like a spy and get a closer idea on what they’re about to get into. It is pretty easy for the filmmaker to simply have a shot of the spy looking through binoculars with a cut to a close up of the compound they’re investigating. However, filmmakers devised a way to get even closer to the lead character because we’re seeing everything through their perspective anyway. So, the filmmaker goes into a binocular shot.
Basically, a binocular shot is when the lead character raises a set of binoculars to their face and peer into them. Then, we get a cut to a shot through their eyes of an image with the sides cropped out in a circular pattern. Some filmmakers have even gotten fancier by adding various measurement systems like a distance calculator to the side of the shot making the binoculars appear high tech. In the end, this sort of shot allows for the viewer to enter into the first person perspective of the lead character very effectively. We are given their story and, for a brief moment, we’re given their story through their eyes.
However, there is a problem to all of this. Often, the perspective in the shot that we’re given does not exactly correlate to the position of the lead character doing the viewing. They may be on top of a building looking down to the streets below and, when we’re given the binocular perspective shot, we are suddenly now on the ground looking across the street. This mistake is often not so bluntly obvious, but it does happen. For example, in Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana Jones peers into his binoculars from a distance and looks down upon the Nazis in their trucks. Then there’s a cut, then there’s a cut back to the binocular shot and suddenly we’re almost level to the Nazis loading up the trucks. Indiana Jones has not moved an inch but suddenly his perspective has.
I hate this shot because it seems like a cheap gimmick. Oh, you mean we can put circles on the edges of the screen and it will look cool!? How fucking neat! The shot, in my opinion, is almost never done right. It’s like having your intestines slowly pulled out with a pitchfork by a Victoria’s Secret model: stunning at first but then deadly. I mean, it’s almost as excruciating as watching TV Land specials hosted by Gary Coleman.
There is an exception to the rule (of course). Binocular shots in videogames are pretty cool. I would argue, though, is that they are most commonly used in First-Person Shooters because you are already in the First Person and seeing through the eyes of your avatar. Seeing through binoculars just comes naturally in that sort of situation. They often have a bunch of doohickeys that make it seem all high tech that I don’t really care for because it’s not really too believable.
Overall, the binocular shot seems nearly worthless. There are better ways at depicting distance and point of view things without cropping the image with circles. It just seems silly and, well, FUCKING STUPID.