Term 1 - Week 4 - Film Language - The Good, the Bad, and You Probably Haven’t Seen it but I’d Recomm
A really good unknown film:
Released: 1984, 7 years after Star Wars episode IV (1977)
Budget: 40-45,000,000 US$ (78,000,000 US$ in 2002 (Star Wars Episode II release date), 110,000,000 US$ in 2018)
Box Office: 31,000,000 US$, was considered a box office disappointment
Why is this a good film?
go to: 4:30 - 11:20
Dune is based on a 1965 novel Dune by Frank Herbert. The scope of the universe the author imagined was nigh only possible in words, to make a 2 hour visual recreation of this story was futile, especially back in 1984 (although a Dune remake is in production right now, so I suppose we’ll be able to compare how modern techniques and budgets are able to cope with this kind of story). Although Star Wars episode IV was an incredible attempt of something similar to Dune, and 7 years before Dune was made (which is like 20 years in film industry time), Dune definitely does not live up to the same standard. That being said, they are entirely different stories. The concept of Dune had been taken on by 3 different directors, including Ridley Scott, hired by producer Raffaella De Laurentiis (produced Conan the Barbarian) before she hired a 4th director, David Lynch, who was able to direct a version of the film.
The acting in Dune is terrible, I would argue this only makes it a better film. But to appreciate this film as something subjectively “good”, it would be best we ignore this aspect. Dune accomplishes something even modern films have trouble doing, such as Ender’s Game, which was similarly based on 1985 novel of the same name. They are given the scope of the book, and cram all the information into a singular film, making for a rushed experience that is designed to be told over a longer period. Dune however, whilst perhaps subjectively rushed, I felt was able to comfortably retain most of its critical information and convey this to the audience. It does is able to do this through a weird mix of diegetic, and non-diegetic dialogue, whereby the characters’ thoughts are heard by the audience. It is introduced to us that we hear the thoughts of the characters at the very beginning of the film, where we first hear their opinions, making it natural when we hear later some of these opinions and thoughts as key plot points. Before this technique was used, the script was 3 hours long, which was unusual for films in this time period, and cut the film down to 2 hours.
The universe of Dune is weird, wonderful, and dark, and considering the time period the film was made, Dune is able to create an atmosphere similar to what I believe the original author was aiming for. The film utilises CGI for a few details, however it is not the basis for creating the world we see. Scale is very hard to convey and imagine, saying something like 1000 Earths could fit in Jupiter would mean nothing to the average person who doesn’t spend time thinking about stuff like that, as our minds simply cannot comprehend this scale, it’s the same even on smaller scales. It only becomes possible to imagine size when we are given relativity. Dune, using different close up, medium, wide, and ultra-wide shots, places different mise-en-scene aspects in a way that allows us to compare the size of something small, like a human, with perhaps one of story’s key aspects like a worm, or interstellar spacing guild ships, without necessarily having these same things in a shot.
A really bad film:
Star Wars Episode II:
Budget: 115,000,000 US$ (161,000,000 US$ in 2018)
Box Office: 650,000,000 US$
Why is this a BAD film?
Star Wars is one of, if not my favourite franchise, and the crummy nature of the sequels has undeniably, and regrettably for some, become deep-seated in the Star Wars universe. As amazing as the sequels are, they certainly are not the best films to have rolled on this Earth. This in my opinion is especially the case for Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clone. One of the biggest downfalls for this film is not just the bad acting, or Anakin's cringy/creepy lines- or that Padme falls for this man child of a Jedi, but- unlike Dune, how the film relies so readily on CGI.
It seems in some cases CGI wouldn’t necessarily have been required, such as the 3rd shot here, where Obi-Wan and Anakin stand before the Jedi council. The bad use of CGI makes it seem like they’re floating- and not because of powerful force control, rather sloppy compositing has them at the wrong angle to the floor. The film has shown that it can effectively use CGI, and that makes it even more frustrating that simple scenes like these could not be executed properly, which create an unnatural, clunky, and fake feeling in the film.
CGI also becomes a problem when a live action character starts conversing with a CGI or "holographic" character who isn't there for the actors to see. Line of sight doesn't match up and breaks the immersion in a similar fashion to characters floating on a CGI floor.
A really good film:
Budget: 160,000,000 US$ (173,000,000 US$)
Box Office: 286,000,000 US$
Film on Netflix
Why is this a good film?
This film is effective because of its simplicity, and how it uses simplicity to set up the story. Shots for the most part are fairly empty, with only 2 characters fully visible on screen until around 50 minutes in. The film could perhaps be abstracted as coloured shapes in a frame. This simplicity is utilised by creating a clear juxtaposition between the main character, Jack Harper, and the world. This comparison gives the movie both its beautiful aesthetic, and keys us in on the biggest plot point of the entire film, that Jack isn’t who he thinks he is. The colour and form of everything the film initially associates with Jack is pure, white, and perfect, amidst a ruined world. Despite what we’re initially made to believe, and how COOL this aesthetic is, it’s too perfect, and false. The same goes for Jack’s officer, Victoria, a perfect officer, who puts protocol above everything. She may be “human”, just like Jack, with a dream, but her mannerisms give her a false quality, making her seem untrustworthy. Oblivion also has a fairly simple story, with an effective plot twist. The story becomes this effective because of how the viewer is positioned. We only see and know what Jack sees and knows, save for a few shots before this positioning is no longer necessary, where we see short close up shots of the “enemy” (being this visually comfortable with the enigmatic enemy removes the stigma of this faction, which again key us in that there is something we need to consider about the “enemy” which perhaps Jack has yet to do), In withholding the story from the viewer using these shots, a simple story goes a long way, and becomes more effective when the plot points are revealed to us. A lot of the information Jack first provides us, through a voice over, doesn't quite add up, although this is very subtle, and it requires you focus on what he is saying, rather than just listen to him, and couples well with the colour scheme to create an uneasy feeling that there is something huge missing from the plot (which we are shown later).