Archive for September, 2008

Commando (Lighting)

September 29, 2008
Many of the scenes in Commando was filmed in the daylight. Therefore, in most of scenes, the sunlight was the source of illumination. The lighting director would have to consider this, and set the camera close-up positions to be consistent with this source of light. For example, in the beginning of the film, Jack was seen carrying a log through the woods and heading for his house. In this scene, when Jack came to a brief standstill, the sun was filmed to be directly behind him. If the lightings were not set correctly, Jack would appear a mere silhouette in the film. In this case, a reflector was probably used to reflect the sunlight onto Jack, so that he did not appear dark. Low-key lighting was also probably used in this scene to emphasize on the brightness of the sunrise.
The last fight between John Matrix and Bennett took place in an underground room. Due to this the fill light has to be turned down to increase the amount of shadow. For instance, when John ducked to the side after having been shot by Bennett, his face was somewhat dark and shadowy. This could probably be the result of the fill light being turned down to a lower level. The dark lighting was probably done to help create a suspense and tense feeling in the audience.
Another example of a well-lit night scene was during Jack’s pursuit of Sully. When Jack finally caught up with him, and dangled him from the hillside before releasing his grip, his face and features could be clearly seen despite the dark background. However in this scene too, the fill light probably had to be turned down low to create a shadowy depth, bearing in mind that the only source of light in that place was supposed to come from the street lamps. There was also evident use of back light, as there was a distinct outline of Jack, separating him from the dark background.


Another distinct lighting effect was shown in the scene where Jack was preparing to launch his attack on Arius and his forces. After having prepared himself for the battle, he stood up with the rocket launcher in one hand and a rifle slung behind his other shoulder. In that scene, low-key lighting was probably used as his contour was clearly visible, yet at the same time, his features weren’t clear. The lighting director for this movie was able to control the use of lights to create certain desired effects.



Elephant (Audio)

September 27, 2008
Most of the soundtracks featured in Elephant are classical pieces such as Fur Elise and the Piano Symphony No. 14.  In one of the scenes which showed Alex, one of the two guys involved in the massacre, playing on the piano. This may be one of the few soundtracks in the movie which are made during the shoot itself. This music falls under the category of practical music as the source of the sound was made by the source on screen. Therefore, the character was able to hear it as well as the audience. I find that the music Alex was playing displays a sense of irony as the calm and soothing music is a total contrast to the emotional turmoil he was going through at that moment. This could be the director’s way of hinting to the audience that something is wrong with Alex. It does not seem right for someone who was picked on by the other students in the school and who was so troubled to be playing soft classical music.
Most of the other sound tracks in the movie were accompaniment music, meaning they were added in during the final editing. In the case of accompaniment music, the characters will not be aware of the presence of the sound, but the audience will. This music falls under the category of extraneous music. One of the examples of such music was heard during one of Nathan’s scenes. Nathan was the popular athlete of the school. When he was first introduced to the audience, he was shot walking through the school premises to meet his girlfriend. During this scene, when the camera was trailing behind him, another instrumental piece can be heard. This piece of music was only added to accompany the picture, and was only added in during the final editing of the film. All of the soundtracks heard in this movie were canned music as they were taken from existing scores. No original scores were composed for this movie.
As for the filming techniques, the director did many long tracking shots, with the camera trailing quietly behind the characters. He also seemed keen on showing observations of the characters’ expression, filming the expressions on their faces longer than necessary in certain scenes. This movie is also shot in a way that portrays the different eye-view of each character. As a result, there were multiple repetition in the scenes. Moving on to the composition of the movie, in one of the scenes when Elias walked into the classroom, the camera focused on him, leaving the other students and the background a blur.

Kill Bill 2 (Framing & Composition)

September 19, 2008

Kill Bill 2 offered a number of dynamic composition as well as various examples of framing images. Entering into the first scene of the movie, in which Beatrix was driving in her car in the continuation of her quest to hunt Bill down and kill him. The camera closes up on Beatrix’s face, with her voice acting as the narrator in the background. Obviously in scenes such as these, her face will be the center of focus, commanding the audience’s attention. Even though at first sight, one might think that the composition technique used in this scene is weak as it obviously went against two guidelines of composition. The first being her face located right in the middle of the image, thus breaking the guideline of the rule of thirds. As for the second, this particular composition also seemed to have broken the guidelines of visual perspective, in which it is advised never to position the camera straight in front of the character,  but to keep it 45 degrees from the subject.

Having said that, if one were to observe the scene closely, it would become noticeable that even though the overall image did not adhere to the rule of thirds, Beatrix’s eyes were situated near the points indicated. This was perhaps the director’s way of emphasizing to the audience that the center of interest is not her face, but in fact, her eyes. Perhaps the director understands the importance of a person’s eyes in revealing their true feelings or emotions. In this case, Beatrix’s eyes were the main tool which showed the audience how determined and driven she was in her quest, and that she would allow nothing or no one to stand in her way. Also in this scene, the audience would notice her sword set beside her on the car seat. This sword served as a tool to support the theme of this scene, and highlight the ruthlessness of her character.

Moving on to some interesting framing, one of which was shown during Beatrix’s flashback to the dress rehearsal of her wedding. She walked out of the church for some air and discovered Bill sitting at the side, playing his flute. When he stood up to greet Beatrix, the camera did a big close-up on their feet, frequently diverting from their faces to their feet, showing them slowly and gradually closing up on each other. This technique of framing probably aimed to show the audience the intimacy between the two. It also showed the contrast of their actions, their faces showing no emotions whatsoever, and yet they kept stepping closer and closer to each other. This action revealed that there was some sort of attraction between them.
Towards the middle of the movie, another effective composition can be spotted. This one again showed Beatrix driving in her car to locate Bill after she discovered his whereabouts from one of Bill’s acquaintances. In this scene, the camera closed up on the side of her face. But this time, her face was set on the side of the frame instead of the middle, leaving some free space in the rest of the frame. This use of space effectively allowed the audience to get a feel of the fast speed at which the car was moving.  
Also, another interesting composition was seen in the scene where Karen Kim, the hired assassin, shot a hole in the door with her shotgun and entered the hotel room. After Beatrix managed to persuade Karen to leave by telling her that she was pregnant, Karen walked out of the room, closing the door behind her. The camera shot a wide angle of the room and the audience was able to see the spacious room. And yet, despite the wide angle, the audience would find their view instantly focusing on Karen’s face on the other side of the door, which was framed by the round hole she left on the door with her shotgun. One crucial composition tool used in this scene is light. The lighting of the hotel room was dim, drawing the audience’s eyes to the circle of light coming from the bright hallway, which could be seen clearly from the hole on the door.
An example of another movie which offered various types of composition tool is Talladega Night. This movie is mainly about the ups and downs of a famous racer and the challenges he faced. Similar to the technique used to impart movement in Kill Bill 2, the same technique is frequently adopted in Talladega Night. The racers’ faces were set at the side of the frame, allowing some free space in front of them to give the sense of the car racing. This composition tool played a crucial part in this movie as the main theme of the movie is movement and speed.  Another distinctive composition in Talladega Night was the use of lines. The race tracks were shot in a way which made them look like curved lines, thus, giving the audience a sense of movement, as well as the grace at which the cars were racing by.

Westworld (Screenwriting)

September 4, 2008

If one takes into account the fact that Westworld was produced back in the year of 1973, one would actually come to appreciate the visionary ideas that the director applied in the movie. Concepts such as the computer generated images proves that Westworld is a movie which was way ahead of its time. This sort of makes up for a few noticeable flaws in the movie, including a scene when the robots were being analyzed, in which their eyes were blinking, when they were supposed to be static.

The plot of Westworld fits nicely into the three act structure of screenplay. Let me first analyze the first act, which is the setup. In the setup, the two main characters John Blane and Peter Martin were introduced to the audience when they meet each other on the plane. This scene basically covered everything there was to know about the main characters. We discovered their names, where they were headed to, which was the amusement park of Delos. It was also revealed to the audience that this was not John’s first trip to Westworld. From the orientation and also the brief descriptions John gave to Peter, the audience would start to understand more about the destination, and what was to be expected when the two guys arrived at the place. The end of Act 1 probably came when John and Peter arrived at their destination and were herded away together with a group of other guests, to Westworld, the zone of their choice.


Moving on to the second act, the confrontation, this structure probably began when the technicians in charge of running the resort realized that there is a malfunction in the robots. From that scene, the audience will start to have a premonition that some serious mishap is about to take place. True enough, a series of malfunctions followed after the first one. These various malfunctions, including Blane getting attacked by a rattlesnake robot, and another guest killed by a robot knight during a duel, were probably the pinches of the structure, the minor obstacles which slowly leads to the final ordeal that the main character has to overcome. The halfway point of the movie was probably when John and Peter were confronted yet again by the gunslinger, and John, not realizing the systemic failures of the robots, treated the confrontation as another entertainment and was shot as a result. Finally realizing that something has gone horribly wrong with the robots, Peter panicked and ran away from the scene, only to be pursued by the gunslinger.

Lastly, the third act, the resolution. This began when Peter, in his escape from the gunslinger, sought refuge in an underground tunnel, which turned out to be the control centre of the resort. When his diguise as a robot was discovered by the gunslinger, and he splashed a beaker of acid on the robot, it was clear that the robot’s system was weakend by the attack. Even though it managed to survive the attack, its sight was damaged, and the audience could already sense the story going downhill from there, moving towards the conclusion. Finally, the end came around when, after seemingly survived being torced by Peter, the gunslinger suprised him by appearing suddenly behind him, only to submit to its damaged system, and falling off the top of the stairs.