Advertising the Future: Cameron vs. Kubrick Part 1

In an earlier post on this site, Moira O’Keeffe talks about her research on the kinds of images that inspire young people to become scientists and engineers. In her interviews with science students and professional scientists of all ages, science fiction was a recurring topic. As O’Keeffe points out, movie critics and scholarly writers have often pondered the cultural significance of mad scientists, Frankensteinian experiments, doomsday weaponry, and the various other fictional conventions that the creators of science fiction employ to build drama into their stories. This kind of analysis of science fiction usually focuses on the narrative content of movies rather than their visual style. But style has its own meaning, its own appeal, and its own ways of advertising a worldview. Style can sell, and it’s fascinating to try to figure out what and how.

Science fiction is not lacking in examples of great-looking movies, but any short list would have to include James Cameron’s Avatar (2009) and Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Both movies are major milestones in the history of special visual effects. Taken as a whole, the range of techniques that Kubrick used to create a scientifically informed vision of space travel can fairly be considered the high point of pre-digital effects, and they won Kubrick the only personal Oscar of his career. The brilliant technical innovations that Cameron developed for Avatar’s 3D effects, and the exceptional artistic intelligence with which those innovations were deployed, are, to this date, the most compelling reasons for believing that 3D will becomes a permanent feature of visual media, and that the earlier history of 3D movies (born in the early 1950s and dead before the decade was over) will not be repeated.

Beyond technical excellence, 2001 and Avatar have few things in common. In many respects, the two movies are polar opposites of each other. Indeed, one way to describe Avatar is as an explicit rejection of the future envisioned in 2001. Kubrick’s movie was written in close collaboration with Arthur C. Clarke, master of “hard” (scientifically plausible) science fiction. The story line is a methodical, rationally worked-out account of what humanity’s first encounter with aliens might look like. Because the earth is so much younger than the universe as a whole, Clarke and Kubrick assumed (in common with other science-minded writers who have speculated on this topic) that the aliens would get here first, and that they would be technologically superior. For unspecified reasons, 2001’s script also portrays the encounter as benign: the aliens trigger humanity’s evolution from primordial apedom to the technological sophistication of a civilization capable of flying to the moon. When humans do get to the moon, the aliens set in motion an even greater boost to their evolution.

Avatar is sometimes referred to as a rare example of a contemporary Hollywood blockbuster whose script was not based on an existing book, movie, comic, or other property. But the movie’s story line, created by Cameron, draws very heavily on two themes with a very long prior history in both literature and cinema. As in H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds, the interplanetary encounter portrayed in Avatar is initiated by a technologically superior species with malevolent goals. Wells wanted to make his British readers see the evils of colonial conquest, the invasion of the earth’s weaker peoples by British “aliens” intent on economic exploitation. Cameron’s purpose in Avatar is the same, but his method is even more direct than Wells’s. The War of the Worlds invites readers to see the beleaguered earthlings as stand-ins for the victims of colonial oppression. In Avatar, the viewer doesn’t need to make any metaphorical leaps. The humans are the bad guys. Moreover, drawing on a second fictional convention, this time from Westerns (e.g., Broken Arrow) rather than sci-fi, Cameron portrays the put-upon victims of humanity as a tribe living an Edenic existence in perfect harmony with nature. The movie’s upshot can be seen as a reversal of the evolutionary trajectory traced in 2001. Declaring that the material achievements of human technology are worthless, the movie’s hero abandons his human identity permanently, and chooses to live on in the form of his alien avatar, as an adopted member of the aliens’ tree-worshipping tribe.

Avatar’s message is spelled out explicitly by its central characters, and in any case it is a message that anyone growing up in the US has heard repeatedly from her/his teachers, as well as from movie stars and other celebrities: The only thing that deflects Avatar from perfect alignment with contemporary environmentalist advocacy is the fact that the aliens’ skin color is blue instead of green. But what is the viewer supposed to think about the things that happen in 2001? It is easy to imagine a critic – a fan of Avatar, perhaps – taking a disapproving view of the proceedings: aliens messing with the natural course of evolution, disrupting the apes’ harmonious existence with nature, and unleashing the development of the destructive human species. I described 2001’s aliens as benign, but no one in the movie says anything like that. 2001 is famous for containing less dialogue (much less) than any other Hollywood feature film since the advent of talkies in the 1920s.

It is fascinating to compare 2001 with the two movies that are most like it, because they were partly based on it: Robert Zemeckis’ Contact (1997) and Brian De Palma’s woefully under-appreciated Mission to Mars (2000). In both of those movies, the character who gets to meet the aliens expresses her or his attitude toward the experience verbally. But the astronaut protagonist of 2001 remains totally mute. During the entire last section of the movie, after he has played the recording that reveals the hidden purpose of his mission, not a word is spoken. If we want to know what Kubrick wanted us to think, we have to look at the movie’s visual content: the production design, the cinematography, and the appearance and demeanor of the actors.

    

After 2001 makes its stupendous, four-million-year leap from a mob of growling pre-humans to a graceful procession of early-21st-century spacecraft, almost everything that happens in the movie takes place in structures fabricated by humans: a space station, a moon base, and various types of space vehicles. In the unfiltered sunlight beyond the earth’s atmosphere, the outsides of these structures become patterns of gleaming reflections. Every shape is perfectly smooth, and every surface is immaculate. The interior spaces are spotless, and the objects inside them are arranged with meticulous precision: the very first act that we see when the camera moves inside a spaceship is a flight attendant retrieving an errant pen from its zero-gravity wanderings and restoring it snugly to the breast pocket of its sleeping owner.

The visual qualities of the production design are echoed in the cinematography. 2001 was the first movie in which Kubrick made extensive use of two devices that became trademarks of his later style: (1) tight compositional symmetry in the framing of his images; (2) smooth, steady, perfectly controlled camera movement. Anyone who has made movies knows that both of these ways of shooting a scene require a lot of effort. When a shot is framed asymetrically, the camera’s position can often be displaced substantially without doing any perceptible damage to conventional artistic criteria. But when the framing is symmetrical, the tiniest displacement completely destroys the intended effect. As for camera movement, even when the camera operator is using a Steadicam (which didn’t exist when 2001 was made, although Kubrick did employ it in later movies), it is very hard to keep the movement’s pace absolutely even and the direction absolutely consistent.

What does all this add up to? In one word: control. Kubrick’s vision for the future is of a world in which humans have attained perfect control over the rough edges of existence. It is a hard-won control. When the movie’s most famous character, the supercomputer HAL, malfunctions, he kills all but one of the humans on the spaceship that he has been guiding. But the remaining human uses his own knowledge of the spaceship’s workings to subdue HAL and take over command of the mission. Humanity’s intellect and physical daring once again bend the rest of the material world to their purposes. With the lone surviving astronaut at the helm, the spaceship resumes its stately progress through the solar system and arrives at its intended rendezvous with the aliens.

It is instructive to take one more look at the differences between 2001, on the one hand, and Contact and Mission to Mars, on the other. In Mission to Mars, the astronaut who meets the aliens has a look of ecstatic, transcendental anticipation on his face as he prepares for the encounter. In Contact, the scientist who sets off for the world of the aliens is terrified by the memory of an explosion that obliterated an earlier version of the spaceship that she is about to board. But the astronaut of 2001 goes about his mission with no visible display of emotion. Keir Dullea’s tightly focused, self-contained performance in this role is one of many examples of 2001’s very high level of visual intelligence.

    

Dullea’s demeanor is the logical complement of the movie’s broader vision of where we humans might be headed for. By appealing to our admiration for elegance, order, and precision, Kubrick’s imagery is an advertisement for a future in which we use the powers of technology, science, and reason to make all of reality a work of human art. That was what Kubrick was selling. Have viewers bought it, then or now? Very few other movies, before or since 2001, have looked anything like this one. However, there is considerable affinity between 2001’s production design and the sleek, stripped-down geometric forms favored by mid-twentieth-century Modernism, as exemplified by Eames furniture or such glass-and-steel skyscrapers as the Lever House in mid-town Manhattan. There is even greater affinity between Kubrick’s visual compositions and the work of the photographers who documented Modern architecture and design, such as the renowned, Los Angeles-based Julius Shulman, or his equally distinguished East Coast counterpart, Ezra Stoller. If we wanted to figure out what 2001’s specific style has meant to viewers over the years, we would have to do a lot of guessing on the basis of stray and fragmentary evidence. However, the American public’s feelings about Modernism as a whole are much better known.

Anyone interested in understanding the cultural implications of visual style needs to take a close look at the writings of Virginia Postrel. The Future and Its Enemies, Postrel’s first book, was published more than twenty years ago, but it remains the most perceptive and subtle analysis of the ways in which people’s stylistic choices reflect broader aspirations – and apprehensions – about the kind of society they would like to live in. In the book’s introduction, Postrel talks about the evolution of Disney’s Tomorrowland. In its earliest version, which opened in 1955, this section of Disneyland featured integrated design and simple, smooth architectural forms. Postrel describes it as a place of “impersonal chrome and steel.” By the late 1990s, however, when Postrel wrote her book, Disney’s designers had loosened the relationships among Tomorrowland’s new structures, and they had introduced greater architectural complexity and more extensive vegetation. Postrel sees these changes as responses to the public’s distaste for the uniformity and encompassing vision of Modernist design. Instead, she says, people prefer variety, choice, and the mingling of old and new. That may well be. But, back in the world of science fiction movies, things seem to be heading in a different direction. The line from 2001 to Avatar does not lead to a future of fruitful coexistence between human technology and non-human nature. It leads deliberately backward, to a world that wouldn’t be able to recreate any of 2001’s technological marvels even if it wanted to. TO BE CONTINUED….

RECOMMENDED READING

Postrel, Virginia. (1998). The Future and Its Enemies: The Growing Conflict Over Creativity, Enterprise, and Progress. New York: The Free Press.

Postrel, Virginia. (2003). The Substance of Style: How the Rise of Aesthetic Value Is Remaking Commerce, Culture & Consciousness. New York: HarperCollins.

Patton, Phil; Postrel, Virginia; & Steele, Valerie. (2004). Glamour: Fashion, Industrial Design, Architecture. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Analysis of “Never Catch Me” Music Video

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2lXD0vv-ds8

“Never Catch Me” is a recent hit musical collaboration between Producer Flying Lotus and Grammy-nominated Rapper Kendrick Lamar, but the mise-en-scene of the video is a product of Director Hiro Murai’s Imagination.

Every individual shot reflects the concept of death in the minds of children and adults in at least an indirect manner. However, the video as a whole ends up teaching the audience much more about present life than the afterlife. As the music begins to play, we see somber onlookers, all adults, who have come to pay their respects to a boy and a girl, immobile in their coffins, that have lost their lives at a very unlikely age for an unknown reason. If it weren’t for the upbeat instrumental and vocals and the beautiful setting of the church, then the combination of the slow camera pans, dim lighting, and dark colors would make the video unbearably depressing. When the faces of the children are finally revealed, they spring up out of their coffins and begin a 2-part choreographed dance sequence, broken up only by a blissful, slow motion sprint through the shaded halls and rooms of the church and outside. As the mourners continue to look forward as if nothing is happening, the audience becomes aware that the children are heading to the afterlife. The choreo ends after the children dance in the midst of other children that are playing jumprope who are also presumably dead, then our main characters jump into a hearse and drive off into the sunset.

The music video does an outstanding job of using emphatic slow motion and montage to make clear the juxtapositions between the uplifting music along with the huge smiles on the dancing children’s faces and the dull expressions and visuals of the church and their relation to death. The people perched in the pews, although they are alive, seem to have absolutely no life in them at all; they are crying, have their heads down, and are obviously under a lot of stress. The two dynamic dancers, however, seem more alive than they ever could have been as they prance through the church and outside with the utmost joy, communicating that they are happy to have passed away. Unlike the people who are alive, they no longer have to deal with the pain that is in this world and can move on to paradise. In reality, younger people don’t consider the issue of death with as much gravity as adults do simply because they can’t comprehend it as well as more mature adults can, and “Never Catch Me” touches on that idea, especially because adults are the only ones seen in the pews. Yet, the title itself seems to suggest that children have the right idea about death, although they may not realize it; life is rough, and all people suffer in it. If one cannot know true joy until he or she has suffered, then it only makes sense that true joy can only be achieved in the afterlife. The slow motion effect and montage superbly portray that the children are happy to have reached the afterlife, so much so that they will keep running, just to ensure that the tribulations of the world will never catch them again.

Sofia Coppola vs. Wes Anderson: Trailers Compared

Sofia Coppola and Wes Anderson are both regarded as auteur filmmakers: that is, their visual styles and themes are so consistent and evident across their bodies of work that their films are easily identifiable. Although many people are responsible for the making of their films, Coppola and Anderson have such distinct artistic control that their names alone serve as brands, each with their own cinematographic and thematic conventions. The trailers for Anderson films (Moonrise Kingdom, The Royal Tenenbaums, and The Grand Budapest Hotel) and Coppola films (Lost in Translation, The Virgin Suicides, and Somewhere) help shed light on the particular characteristics that make up the filmmakers’ respective styles. In particular, Coppola and Anderson trailers utilize color filters, camera movement, and editing in unique ways.

Both sets of trailers use heavy color filtering. For example, shades of blue saturate all three of the Sofia Coppola trailers, evoking a romantic melancholy characteristic of Coppola’s films. After watching the actual films rather than just the trailers, it becomes evident that she uses the blue to highlight the loneliness of her central characters. Charlotte in Lost In Translation, Cleo in Somewhere, and the Lisbon sisters in The Virgin Suicides all seek to define themselves independently of the oppression around them. Literally surrounding the main characters, the hazy, blue filter mimics their desperation. On the other hand, each of the Wes Anderson trailers has a different set of colors rather than just a uniform blue hue. Each of his trailers was shot with a warming filter and then later corrected to saturate certain colors: faded yellows and teals for Moonrise Kingdom, dark pinks and sepias for The Royal Tenenbaums, and bright pinks and purples for The Grand Budapest Hotel. Anderson sets each of his films in a fantasy world, each with its own set of painstaking visual details. The color palettes unique to each film are one facet of that visual profile. Anderson’s trailers focus on heavily color filtered images to draw viewers into the fantasy.

Each set of trailers has a similar structure. For example, all three of Wes Anderson’s trailers begin with a dialogue scene to highlight the deadpan humor of the rest of the film and then move onto shorter cuts introducing the setting and characters. Coppola’s trailers each open with an establishing shot introducing the setting. These long shots also contribute to the overall theme of loneliness and isolation common in Coppola’s films. In Lost In Translation, the opening view of Tokyo’s flashing lights and neon signs in a foreign language hint at the title’s implied theme of missed connections and lost meaning. Similarly, the trailer for The Virgin Suicides begins with a time-lapse shot of the main characters’ house. The trailer for Somewhere opens with a shot of the sign of the hotel where the main characters live, then cuts to one of the characters walking through a hallway. The long shot of the narrow corridor and out-of-focus figures moving in front of him achieve the same dual purpose as the establishing shots in the other two Coppola films—introducing the setting and hinting at the dreamlike pace of the film as a whole. Interestingly, both of the filmmakers end their trailers with montages. In Moonrise Kingdom and The Grand Budapest Hotel, one ridiculous image appears after another as overdramatic classical music booms in the background. The montage at the end of the trailer for The Royal Tenenbaums is set to British punk rock, but achieves the same effect. The montages bring the trailers to a humorous climax and satisfying ending. In Coppola’s case, the montages provide an appropriate ending as well, but do not have the same humorous quality. The images —Charlotte staring silently out of a car window in Lost In Translation, the arm of a Lisbon sister dangling out of a car with a single cigarette still in her hand in The Virgin Suicides—depict intimate moments in the characters’ lives to form an emotional climax.

Coppola’s and Anderson’s trailers differ greatly in camera positioning and movement. Near the beginning of the trailer for The Grand Budapest Hotel, the camera rapidly zooms in on two people standing on the balcony above. Known as a snap zoom, this technique is a signature in Anderson films. In all three trailers the camera is mounted on a tripod or dolly and moves almost solely in precise, smooth right angles. This exaggerated camera movement deliberately calls attention to itself. The effect is an almost farcical feel, a tongue-in-cheek reminder to viewers that they are watching a movie. In stark contrast, the camera in Coppola’s trailers often moves jerkily as if the camera is handheld. In the shots of the party in Lost In Translation and those of the father and daughter being followed by paparazzi in Somewhere, for example, the camera seems to bob and move behind the characters as if attached to the napes of their necks. This does more than make the viewer empathize with the characters—the viewer is inside the action itself.

Before the name “Wes Anderson” appears in familiar calligraphy and before the name “Sofia Coppola” bursts onto the screen accompanied by a blaring pop-rock song, the viewer can already identify the filmmaker. In fact, Wes Anderson previews are so consistent that Saturday Night Live recently parodied his technique in a fake trailer called The Midnight Coterie of Sinister Intruders. However, it is important to note that the methods employed by Coppola and Anderson have a purpose beyond creating a personal brand. Anderson’s carefully curated color schemes, contrived camera movements, and editing techniques reflect the idiosyncrasies of his characters, who are often outsiders in society. The romantic sense of melancholy created by Coppola’s use of color and cinematography emphasizes the dreamy introspection of her characters and allows audiences to project their own feelings of loneliness onto the film. In both cases, though, the trailers are effective examples of the way technical forms translate to theme.

Moonrise Kingdom: httpv://youtu.be/7N8wkVA4_8s

The Grand Budapest Hotel

The Royal Tenenbaums

The Virgin Suicides: httpv://youtu.be/fbz4-du3Ayg

Lost In Translation

Somewhere

Wes Anderson v Christopher Nolan

For this paper I have chosen to compare and contrast the cinematic forms in the movies directed by Wes Anderson and Christopher Nolan. Both directors are known for their stylistic idiosyncrasies that make their movies immediately recognizable to an audience, although the two make distinctively different films: Wes Anderson is renowned for his quirky comedy-dramas, whilst Christopher Nolan is arguably a master in the modern film-noir genre. I have selected the trailers of each filmmaker’s three highest grossing film at the domestic box office to date[1]. For Wes Anderson these were Moonrise Kingdom, The Royal Tenebaums and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. For Christopher Nolan, The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises and Inception. Some of these films also happen to be some of the directors’ most critically acclaimed works. The trailers will be compared and examined on its cinematography, set and costume design, and also special effects.

 

The cinematographic details in Anderson and Nolans’ films were observed. One of the first things that are immediately evident in Anderson’s film is his repetitive symmetrically framed shots taken using wide-angle lenses. This feature prevails in all three film trailers and is starkly noticeable; it serves as constant reminder of Anderson’s precise aesthetics. It also draws audiences’ attention to the characters in the scenes, and invites the audience to identify the contrast between the perfectly structured world and Anderson’s flawed characters. This is exemplified through the scene where Royal Tenenbaum has a conversation with his children for the first time in years in The Royal Tenenbaums. Anderson also ensures that the lighting and color temperature are consistent with a particular color palette throughout the whole film. In Moonrise Kingdom, mostly soft, natural lighting is used. This, coupled with the warm yellow filter that is used almost throughout the whole trailer, presents the film a hazy vintage quality. This stylistic choice is unsurprising given the movie is a relatively light-hearted comedy-drama. Christopher Nolan by contrast, achieves very different effects with cinematography. The symmetrical shots are no longer present; if anything, asymmetry may have been used to create a sense of chaos in certain scenes. Moreover, in The Dark Knight trailer, we see the cool-toned blue filter used, two prominent examples being the scene where the Joker enters the room full of mobsters and when Bruce Wayne is in solitude in his room. The blue tint emphasizes the solemnity of the scenes and cements the serious theme of the film. Hard lights are often used to create shadows, conjuring a sense of looming darkness, seen when the Joker walks down the streets of Gotham. It is interesting to note however, that both directors favor close-up shots with shallow depth of field. For example, in Anderson’s The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and Nolan’s Inception, where there are close-up shots of the protagonist(s) in reflection. This is perhaps due to the directors’ emphasis on character development and interaction.

 

The two directors also differ in their approach towards production values, in particular set and costume design. Wes Anderson allows his signature quirkiness pervade through his set and costume design. All the sets and costumes brings his eccentric visual style together, subtly remind the audience that they are watching a film that does not closely resemble reality. As mentioned above, Anderson enjoys the use of symmetry in his films; this of course has implication for the set design. As we can see from Moonrise Kingdom, the mise-en-scène in Cousin Ben’s tent is meticulously arranged to maintain the balance of symmetry. In terms of costume design, Anderson has not only taken it as a tool to reinforce his artistic style, but also used it as a means of defining his character’s personalities. This is especially apparent in The Royal Tenebaums. The characters’ costumes are all consistent with the vibrant color palette of the film: Chaz’s family all dressed in red tracksuits, whilst Sherman has his royal blue suit. Moreover, the costumes all reflect an aspect of the characters, for example, Margot’s signature fur coat and Hermes bag allows her sophistication to shine through and Royal’s rugged suit reflects the messy state of his personal affairs. On the other hand, Christopher Nolan’s production values are visually different from that of Anderson’s, however Nolan is just as precise. Most sets in Inception were physically built as opposed to using CGI[2]. The sets often reflect on the character as well. As seen in the trailer, when Cobb is in Saito’s castle, both the interior has an unmistakably oriental ambiance. In the case of The Dark Knight and Dark Knight Rises, its adaptation from a comic book implies that the characters need to somewhat resemble the original versions visually. However, Nolan also uses costumes to define his characters within this restriction. For example, Bane’s mask in The Dark Knight Rises sends a menacing and dangerous vibe.

 

Lastly, the ways in which special effects are used in the two directors’ films are examined. Wes Anderson’s most heavily used special effect is perhaps also his most subtle: Anderson is known for his use of slow motion sequences. In the trailer for The Royal Tenebaums, the reunion between Margot and Richie was filmed using this effect, and presents this scene with a moment of heightened emotional significance. Anderson also employs more obvious forms of special effects: The animals in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou were animated using special effects, as was the lightning strike in Moonrise Kingdom; both have a cartoon-like texture and can be considered by some to be kitsch, but effectively lends to the comedic atmosphere[3]. Nolan’s special effects are often used to achieve visual spectacles. This may be partly due to the fact that his budget can accommodate it, and the impressive visuals in his films helps to woo the audience at the box office. Nevertheless, Nolan is scrupulously thorough with the use of special effects; this attentiveness paid off, with Inception awarded the Academy Award for Best Visual effects. In Inception, some of the special effects are created to illuminate the surrealist quality of dreams, a key element of the film. For example, in the trailer there was a digitally animated scene where the streets of the city folded over[4]. In The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises, films that could fall under the action genre, special effects were often used for explosion scenes that amplify tension. An iconic scene is when the football field in The Dark Knight Rises was blown up.

 

Wes Anderson and Christopher Nolan lie almost on the opposite ends in terms of the spectrum of modern filmmaking. One makes comedy-drama with the quality of an independent film; the other makes blockbuster action-thrillers. Some of the differences in their cinematic forms can be attributed to the different sectors of the film industry in which they thrive in, however, it is interesting to note that there are some common themes between the two directors, such as their propensity towards close-up shots. Regardless of the similarities and differences in their styles, both Anderson and Nolan are fine directors in modern cinema.


 

[4]http://www.wired.co.uk/magazine/archive/2010/08/play/behind-the-special-effects-of-inception

 

 

 

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7N8wkVA4_8s

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=66TuSJo4dZM

 

Comparison of First and Third Installments in Comic Book Franchises

It feels like every other movie released in the last few years is a sequel or part of a franchise, the box office always dominated by films from the Marvel or DC Universe. Sometimes we forget that movies based on comic books were not always the blockbuster, guaranteed-to-succeed powerhouses that they are today. Franchises have a beginning, and sometimes their success can come as a surprise. For my six trailers, I chose to examine three major comic book-based franchises: X-Men, Batman (Christopher Nolan’s reboot), and Iron Man. For each franchise I chose to compare the trailers for the first and third installment in each series.

For the first group of trailers — X-Men (2000), Batman Begins (2005), Iron Man (2008) — it’s important to remember that while these films helped launch billion dollar franchises, none of them were considered guaranteed successes. X-Men represented a shift in the tone of comic book films, choosing to forgo the campiness of older Marvel adaptations. Batman Begins was an attempt to reboot a series that was considered on its way out. (1 Batman & Robin (1997) received abysmal reviews and has a rating of 12% on RottenTomatoes) Iron Man was not expected to be a smash hit, but greatly exceeded expectations becoming the second highest grossing movie of 2008, beaten out only by The Dark Knight. The stars of these films were not superstars at the time, but were soon after. Robert Downey Jr. was a cautionary tale of how drug addiction could destroy a promising career before Iron Man. Hugh Jackman had barely broken into the film industry before X-Men. (2 His filmography on his imdb page shows he was only in one film before X-Men, the musical Oklahoma!, and several television shows) These films have had a long term effect on both actors’ careers. Downey and Jackman now top the highest paid actors of 2013 in spots one and three, respectively, according to Forbes.(3 Celebrities 2013: Highest paid actors : http://www.forbes.com/pictures/mfl45egdgg/robert-downey-jr-8/) Christian Bale was already a respected actor when he took the role of Bruce Wayne in Batman Begins, but Christopher Nolan’s gritty adaptation gave him world wide notoriety he previously had not experienced.

The second group of trailers — X-Men: The Last Stand (2006), The Dark Knight Rises (2012), Iron Man Three (2013) — are all the third film in established, successful franchises. These movies were all released between five and seven years after the start of the series. Their lead actors were now established faces of the franchises. The directors were given bigger budgets, as it was considered a safe bet that these films would be incredibly successful, summer blockbusters. I thought it would be interesting to see how these factors affected four different visual aspects of the films. For my analysis I chose to examine editing speed (in shots per minute), lighting style, the quality and prominence of special effects, and the amount of screen time dedicated the “star” of the franchise. (4 I put “star” in quotation marks only because the X-Men series, while having an ensemble cast, tended to focus on Jackman’s Wolverine, the only character to get his own solo franchise separate from the series.) I included a detailed chart that contains the exact breakdown of each trailer, including the percentage of screen time for each actor and the number of shots in each trailer (as well as I was able to measure on my own) but here I will discuss my overall findings and the trends I noticed.

First, both The Dark Knight Rises and Iron Man Three decreased in editing speed and included more extended shots of visually engaging action sequences, with only flashes hinting at other aspects of the movies. These movies use similar techniques, omitting plot in favor of demonstrating one example of a particularly spectacular moment from the film. (5 In Rises the shot of the football field collapsing, in Iron Man Three the shots of Tony Stark’s house being destroyed) Iron Man and Batman Begins attempt to convey far more information and thus cut more quickly between scenes. These films need to take the time to introduce the audience to the protagonists, clearly demonstrate the tone of the story, and give as much information about the plot as possible. Rises and IM3 on the other hand already have a built in audience and have the opportunity to peek curiosity by showing less plot, but demonstrating why it would be incredible to watch. X-Men and The Last Stand did not change in editing speed, partially because the ensemble nature of the cast requires a lot of cuts to show as many of the character as possible.

Second, special effects and lighting change distinctly between films. The changes in special effects are very noticeable and lighting is used to enhance this change. In the trailers for the original films, CGI is less frequently shown and the action that is present is done using primarily practical effects. (Quick shots of real flames and explosions are found in all three trailers) The small amount CGI that is shown in the X-Men trailer looks cheesy and unconvincing. The lighting in all three movies also tends to be less saturated and darker. While this helps set the more serious tone that these movies are trying to get across, it also help hide some of the less convincing special effects. In the sequels, the trailers focus far more on special effects and there is significantly more CGI. As I previously mentioned, The Dark Knight Rises and Iron Man Three dedicate a significant amount of time to longer shots of specific almost entirely CGI action sequences. X-Men: The Last Stand similarly dedicates more time to displaying its improved special effects and CGI. It’s telling that even Rises focusses on CGI given that director Christopher Nolan is well known for trying to avoid using CGI as much as possible in his films. These movies are all marketed on the basis that the audience already knows the characters and are already committed to the franchise. The trailers are trying to build excitement to get more audience members to show up to the openings weekend and pay to see these spectacular special effects on a big screen, not wait for them to be released on DVD and Bluray. The lighting is also brighter, the colors more saturated. It heightens the details of the special effects and makes the overall look of the films more engaging. Also because these films already have the established serious tone from the original films, the darker lighting isn’t necessary to communicate that feeling.

 

Finally, the screen time of the star. Originally I predicted that the stars of these franchises would be given more screen time as they became more famous and successful. However I was mistaken. The Dark Knight Rises and Iron Man Three devoted significantly less screen time to Christian Bale and Robert Downey Jr. Perhaps at this point the franchises themselves were enough of a draw that the actors’ star power was not necessary. Or perhaps these franchises are now so intrinsically linked to these actors, its not even necessary to show their faces as much. Perhaps the extra focus on CGI and spectacle just left less screen time to devote to the stars. Once again X-Men was the exception, Hugh Jackman was given almost the same amount of screen time in The Last Stand, most likely due to the ensemble nature of the cast.

 

 

 

Film

Budget (USD)

Gross (USD)

Screen Time of star

Special Effects

Lighting

Editing (# of shots,shots per min)

X-Men (2000)

 

$75,000,000

$157,199,717

8s of 2:30min (~5%)

-Very little amount of CGI, most of the CGI looks cheesy

-Primarily show practical effects and makeup work

-Dark lighting, high contrast lighting

~119, 48spm

Batman Begins (2005)

$150,000,000

$205,343,774

~23s of 2:24min (~16%)

-Almost no CGI, focusses on practical effects primarily

-Not very saturated, limited color palettes in shots

~111, 46spm

Iron Man (2008)

$140,000,000

$318,298,180

~50s of 2:29min (~34%)

-Hardly show the actual iron man suit, only from a distance in quick cuts

-Nothing too flashy, mostly explosions

-Primarily dark, higher contrast lighting, mostly desaturated colors

 

~87, 35spm

 

 

Film

Budget (USD)

Gross (USD)

Screen Time of star

Special Effects

Lighting

Editing (# of shots,shots per min)

X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)

 

$210,000,000

180% increase

$234,360,014

7.25s of 1:39min (~7%)

-Noticeably superior special effects, far more and better CGI

-Longer shots of special effects, trucks flipping over,Golden Gate Bridge scene

-Brighter, more saturated colors

~83, 50spm

The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

$250,000,000

67% increase

$448,130,642

7s of 2:04min

(~5.5%)

-Focusses on one particularly CGI heavy shot, a few brief explosions, otherwise not effects heavy

-Very blue and orange color pallet

-Contrasts rich color outdoor scenes with muted  indoor/underground

~51, 25spm

Iron Man Three (2013)

$200,000,000

43% increase

$408,992,727

~23s of 2:05min (~10%)

-A lot more focus on special effects, shows the multiple Iron Man suits up close and in action, interacting with actors

-Dedicates screen time to incredibly effects heavy action (house getting destroyed)

-Brighter, richer colors

-Even darker scenes have bluer blues

 

~60, 29spm

 Trailers:

 

X-Men: http://www.imdb.com/video/imdb/vi339519001/

Batman Begins: httpv://youtu.be/vak9ZLfhGnQ

Iron Man: http://www.imdb.com/video/imdb/vi447873305/

X-Men: The Last Stand: http://www.imdb.com/video/screenplay/vi1258225945/

Dark Knight Rises: http://www.imdb.com/video/imdb/vi2823134745/

httpv://youtu.be/GokKUqLcvD8

 

Iron Man Three: http://www.imdb.com/video/imdb/vi1265935385/

The Changing Face of War Film Trailers: Before & After Saving Private Ryan

The Changing Face of War Film Trailers

Before & After Saving Private Ryan

              From D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation to Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan, the true traumas of American battles and wars have been the setting for several compelling and revolutionary films. In this analysis of the war film trailer, the aforementioned Saving Private Ryan (1998) will mark a division between two different sets of war film trailers. The first set, films released before 1998, is made up of three movies set during the Vietnam War: Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now (1979), Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket (1987), and Oliver Stone’s Platoon (1986). The second set, films released after 1998, is made up of three movies set in eastern Africa and the Middle East during various United States invasions: Ridley Scott’s Black Hawk Down (2001), Sam Mendes’ Jarhead (2005), and Kathryne Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker (2008). In this analysis I will consider how the use of lighting, editing, and special FX differ between these sets of trailers and will briefly explore how the proposed content of war films have changed over time.

            As war films, the majority of each trailer was filmed outdoors in what appears to be natural lighting. However, the three of the newer trailers have more contrasts in their images. Where natural lighting in Platoon and Full Metal Jacket makes for relatively flat images, the shots in the newer trailers have dark shadows and strong directional lighting. Even the trailer for Apocalypse Now, which features strong directional lighting in its first shots, becomes flatter as shots move outdoors and under natural lighting conditions.

            Another aspect of lighting that is rather unified in the second set is the color of the light. While there are exceptions, especially in Black Hawk Down’s interior shots, the color of natural light in the trailers for Jarhead, The Hurt Locker, and Black Hawk Down is very white. On the other hand, the first set of trailers have disparate colors in their outdoor shots. The trailer for Apocalypse Now has warm light with a rich yellow tint in its shots. Full Metal Jacket has light that varies in color from white to blue-white. Platoon’s outdoor shots range from slight yellows to white to stark blues.

            In terms of editing, there are far more shots in the newer trailers. Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket has the lowest number of shots with thirteen and Platoon, the trailer with the highest number of shots in the first set, has about forty. Every trailer in the second set has more than ninety. Part of this is the length of the trailers. Each trailer in the first set is less than two minutes while those in the second are about two minutes and thirty seconds. Nevertheless, there are other factors that add to the number of shots that I will discuss in my conclusion.

            As war films, special FX are an integral part of the making wars realistic and both sets of trailers use them accordingly.  Both sets of trailers use compositing effects to overlay different images and there are also extensive uses of explosions and gunfire. The main difference between the two sets of trailers comes in the use of slow-motion special FX, especially in The Hurt Locker, and the visual graphics added to the three newer trailers.

Also, the quality of the explosions in the newer trailers is better. In Full Metal Jacket and Platoon, most of the explosions are booms of thin smoke and a bit of fire; they look like fireworks. In contrast, Jarhead, Black Hawk Down, and The Hurt Locker have explosions of thick fire and billowing clouds of thick smoke and close-ups of the bombs, missiles, and weapons that are causing the damage. Coppola’s Apocalypse Now has high quality explosions at some points, but there is no detail of the ammunition that is causing the damage.

            In looking at six trailers from six different directors there are often more differences between individual films in each set than between the two sets as a whole. In the time since the last film from the first set Full Metal Jacket was released in 1987 to the time of the earliest film from the second set Black Hawk Down, there have been extraordinary improvements in special FX and many changes in American film culture. Editing styles have dictated faster shots from various angles in one scene. For example, an action sequence in The Hurt Locker trailer has upwards of twelve shots while action sequences in Apocalypse Now are often done with two or three.  

            Additionally, the earlier war trailers are fairly anonymous in terms of actors. We see the central characters and snippets from each movie but the actors are not named. Two of the trailers in the second set have sequences dedicated to the actors in the movie while The Hurt Locker shows the names of the actors in a brief shot of the awards the films have earned.

            In the end there are differences between the two sets of trailers but most of them are not based on formal qualities. Instead the differences come from changing Hollywood industry that is catering to the desires of the public. It is interesting how the focus of the older trailers seems to be on the war at hand. For example, we hear dialogue about the importance of the mission, or the reality of the experiences that the movies detail. The newer trailers seem to focus more on the characters. Even when we are explicitly told the film is based on true events as in Black Hawk Down’s trailer, there is an emphasis on the humanity of the soldiers who are fighting. It seems that moviegoers in the twenty-first century need more than the promise of gunshots and explosions to go see war films now, and the makers of the newer trailers are obliging.  

Trailers:

Before Saving Private Ryan

Apocalypse Now (1979) Francis Ford Coppola 

httpv://youtu.be/0HEiqAsrVMQ

Platoon (1986) Oliver Stone

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hGsyEkfjhQk

Full Metal Jacket (1987) Stanley Kubrick

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WAvWQa64B8M

After Saving Private Ryan

Black Hawk Down (2001) Ridley Scott

httpv://youtu.be/tnV6wM-vd9s

Jarhead (2005) Sam Mendes

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iHDCSlOmwPo

The Hurt Locker (2008) Kathryn Bigelow

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2GxSDZc8etg

Action Movies Now and Then

The advancing of technology and more specifically computer graphics has allowed the film industry to make more spectacular movies with more astonishing effects every year. The technology impacts not only the sophistication of the effects, but also the process and form of film making. Even though these advances have impacted the entire industry, it has been of particular benefit to action movies. Action movies often benefit from faster paced scenes, amazing digital effects, and effective manipulation of space. To explored how action movies have evolved, we will be comparing three original movies from the late 20th century to their 21st century remakes. Between the two sets, original and remakes, we will be analyzing the usage of the camera, scene editing, and special effects.

 

We have chosen trailers of three action movies which fall into very distinct subtypes to cover a breadth of movies within the action genre. Total Recall is a film on making fake memories of lives people wish they could have led. This can be considered a typical action packed movie with lots of fight scenes, explosions and weapons. Karate Kid is a coming of age movie that describes how a bullied boy builds resilience by learning from a martial arts master. Finally, I am Legend is a post-apocalyptic film on how one survivor of a plague struggles to find a cure. We hope that the analysis of three distinct types of action movies and their original counterparts will illustrate the way they have evolved.

 

Camera Movements

The power and flexibility of the modern camera creates an enormous difference in the types of shots we can achieve. This is accentutated in action movies. Generally, the camera has become more dynamic and quick creating more large and small movements. In the new trailer of Total Recall, many quick camera rotations are used in fighting scenes to render streaks of light. This method is also used to transition from one shot to another, instead of just doing a standard cut. Within each shot, the camera is also never steady. In other words, there is almost always a panning, zooming, or subtle shake, depending on the shot. These devices are used to make the shots more lively and less stale. These, combined with quick editing, which we will discuss later, makes the trailer more engaging and fast paced, two very important features of action movies. In the original Total Recall trailer, all of the cuts are very explicit and discrete from one scene to the next. There are very few subtle camera movements because most of them are still shots of the scene. It is clear that the editing speed is also much slower. Another usage of the camera that is evident in all three remake trailers is the usage of flyover angles. This is used to show sets and cities from a top-down angle. This is not used in any of the original trailers and gives the new trailers a more spectacular big screen effect.

 

Editing

Overall, the editing speed of modern trailers, especially of action movies, is much faster. However, there are many other smaller differences in the editing that complement this fast editing. For example, the fast editing is juxtaposed against flashes of short text or phrases with a dark background that reveal to the users a bit about the movie. Furthermore, the shots from the movies fade to the black background, but pop right back into the next shot without a fade. This mimics a heartbeat style animation, giving the trailer a more intense rhythm. These abrupt pauses make the fast action scenes look like they are moving even more quickly due to their contrast. Moreover, the original trailers use voice overs instead of these flashes of text, so they do not contain the contrast between fast and slow editing. Combined with the generally slower editing, the original trailers feel less urgent or rhythmic, which can be a drawback for action movies. Instead of the dialogues, the new trailers use short bursts of dialogue in many of their shots to give the user a sense of what's happening in the movie. The other flexibility fast editing enables the trailers to show are scenes in a non-linear fashion. Sometimes a different sequencing makes the trailer more exciting. This is evident particularly in Total Recall, but is also used lightly in Karate Kid and I am Legend.

 

Special Effects

The special effects may be the most obvious evolution between the original and new trailers. The most gaping improvement is the set rendering. In the original movies, all the sets were small in scale. This is because all of them actually existed in real life. It is hard to make the scenes look big screen spectacular with small, local sets. The new remakes of the movie, especially I am Legend and Total Recall, have sets constructed entirely in digital 3D. Examples of this include the futuristic cities and torn cities infested by zombies. Despite those, there are also very large real sets like the Great Wall of China and famous Chinese temples in Karate Kid (The original Karate Kid was filmed almost entirely in a school setting). Because our technology in computer graphics has taken such a huge leap forward, movies like Total Recall can do all of its special effects in post. Every special effect in the new Total Recall was composited in post-production. These are contrasted with the original versions of all three movies in which many of the special effects were done using makeup and costumes to deform characters.

 

Our technology and its improvements have allowed the film industry to improve on their camera movements, editing, and special effects, among others. Specifically, the three film forms discussed are of particular importance to action films. They make action films more dynamic, engaging, and spectacular. All of these significant changes are derived from new technology, enabling the film industry to create effects unseen before.


httpv://youtu.be/_pV2zz3z0oM

httpv://youtu.be/WFMLGEHdIjE


Reference Trailers

Total Recall (2012)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_pV2zz3z0oM


Total Recall (1990)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WFMLGEHdIjE


Karate Kid (2010)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XY8amUImEu0


Karate Kid (1984)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yDi3an8WgN4


I am Legend (2007)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ewpYq9rgg3w


The Last Man on Earth (1964)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i4mYireNvcg

The Effect of the Release Date on Romantic Comedy Movies’ Opening Weekend Success

The Effect of the Release Date on Romantic Comedy Movies’ Opening Weekend Success

Scary Sex: The Effect of Sexual Content on the Success of Horror Films

What is a good horror movie without a sex scene and a sexually repressed psychopath? The juxtaposition of sex and violence has such a connection with the horror film that the two almost seem inseparable. This study investigates whether there is a true statistical relationship between the amount of sexual content in the contemporary horror film and its domestic box office profit. In other words, this study tests whether sex sells horror films today. Considering the success of past films like Psycho and Friday the 13th and the increase in sexuality in films over the last few decades, it was expected that there would be at least a weak positive correlation between the amount of sexual content in a horror movie and its success in the box office (“Ratings Creep”).

In order to test the correlation between sexual content in horror films and their success in the box office, quantitative measures needed to be established for the qualitative variables. Sexual content was measured through ratings on kids-in-mind.com, a website that allows members to rate the amount of nudity and sex in a movie on a scale of zero to ten.  This was more reasonable quantitative measure of sexual content than ratings from the Motion Picture Association of America, since most horror movies probably have an R-Rating from the MPAA due to violence and instances of terror. Film success was measured by each film’s domestic box office profit. Calculating profit rather than just revenue would allow for differences in film budgets and as a result make comparisons of success more accurate. A sample was collected of 48 American horror films released in the past five years. The movies chosen exemplify all subgenres of horror, such as period, slasher, and supernatural. Profit was calculated by finding the difference between the estimated production budget and domestic box office revenues, both reported on boxofficemojo.com.

The next step was analysis. The relationship between sexual content and film success was examined through a linear regression, which involves arranging the pairs of sex ratings and profits into a points on a graph and finding a straight line that minimizes the squared difference between the points and the line. The r-value or slope of this straight line reflects the amount of correlation, if any, between the independent and dependent variables. The graph below demonstrates the results of the linear regression, with each data point representing a horror film and the line showing a prediction of the relationship between sex and profit based on the given data.

As represented by the best fit line in the graph above, the r-value between sexual content and profit is approximately 0.09 out of a possible 1, meaning that there is almost no correlation between the two. In other words, the amount of nudity and sexual subject matter has virtually no effect on a horror film’s profits in the US.

Although unexpected, the results of the study lead to several logical conclusions. First, so many factors in a movie’s production contribute to its overall quality that it is too simple to attribute so much weight to its amount of nudity and innuendo. In fact, an excessive amount of nudity and sexual content can even cause potential audiences to perceive the horror film as low-budget and low quality, causing profits to fall (“Does Sex Sell Movies?”). Nudity and graphic violence that are now commonplace in every form of entertainment from television to video games were novel in the early days of the slasher film in the 1970s (“Sex and Violence”). It is also important to keep two facts in mind: only very recent films were studied, and the regression analysis concluded that there is no correlation rather than a negative one. This suggests that audiences may have become desensitized to sex on the screen. Having lost its shock value, sex does not sell horror movies today.

Bibliography

France, Lisa. "Does Sex Sell Movies?" CNN. Cable News Network, 30 Dec. 2009. Web. 13 Oct. 2013.

"Study Finds 'Ratings Creep'" Harvard School of Public Health. N.p., 13 July 2004. Web. 10 Oct. 2013.

Welsh, Andrew. Sex and Violence in the Slasher Horror Film: A Content Analysis of Gender Differences in the Depiction of 

        Violence. University of New York at Albany. Web. 10 Oct. 2013.

Comedic Talent and Lifetime Success

Research Paper 1- Lifetime Success of Comedies

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