Just for fun.

So I noticed something today.

They sound pretty similar.

I am not kidding, they really do. That said, the soundtrack was the best part of the Battlefield 3 single player campaign, and Hans Zimmer did have a hand in composing for another EA published FPS released in 2011:

Coincidence? 馃槢

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Why is Jurassic World so BLUE?

No, really, why is Jurassic World so BLUE?

I have some idea of why Jurassic World IS blue, but no idea why it is SO blue.

Teal (or blue) and Orange colour correction is not a new thing, and it’s not a trend I am particularly fond of.

That being said, when I first watched the Jurassic World trailer, it really seemed aggressively blue to me, more so than other similarly colour corrected films. It wasn’t until rewatching the trailer today that I realised why.

Let’s have a look at it:

The film’s blueness goes beyond just its colour correction. The scenes presented in the trailer are actively aggressively blue. Take the following for example:

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Almost everything in the frame is really blue, the one big exception being the top worn by the children’s mother. I’ll dig into a possibly entirely unfounded interpretation of the visual story telling going on here later.

Here are a couple of more screen grabs from the trailer to illustrate what I mean by there being a lot of blue packed into the frame even before colour correction took place.

Notice the number of park visitors dressed in blue in these two shots? (Speculation on this later as well).

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Going back to the monorail, the seats are blue as well, though this is part of the in fiction branding of Jurassic World, given it is being run, not by InGen, but by Masrani Global Corporation and they clearly use a lot of blue in their branding.

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There’s also some generic BLUE IS SCIENCE and BLUE IS TECHNOLOGY in the following two shots:

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Also Chris Pratt wearing blue is once again part of Masrani branding.

Here’s some shots from a Lab in the Jurassic World trailer:

Look at that teal and orange.

Look at that teal and orange.

Blue and Orange here too. Also eggs.

Teal and Orange here too. Also eggs.

And let us compare it to a scene from the lab in Jurassic Park:

There's even eggs in this one too!

There’s even eggs in this one too!

Notice, the blue in this shot is coming from the fill lights and Sam Neill’s shirt, rather than through aggressive colour correction. It probably is a product of its time, given that Colour timing was a lot harder before prints could be scanned and then digitally manipulated. That said, they still could have used blue gels on the lights and a blue filter on the camera if they wanted more blue. Which they didn’t.

SPECULATION TIME

With regard to the first shot I posted, the one really strong non blue element in the scene is the children’s mother. During this part of the trailer she is giving the younger child a kind of pep talk, hyping him up for the trip to Jurassic World while his older brother stares uncaringly into the distance and his father stands as a smiling observer. The fact that she is wearing red already makes her stand out from everything else in the frame and gives her a sense of importance, visually, which seems to be echoed in what we see of her relationship with her younger son. Red is a warm colour in an otherwise cold and sterile looking environment, and from that one can infer that she is quite protective, and very warm towards her children.

As for the remainder of the shots, what I have to go off of is Colin Trevorrow mentioning that this movie takes place well into Jurassic World鈥檚 existence, and that the park has existed long enough that just seeing Dinosaurs isn鈥檛 exciting the public as much. I鈥檓 wondering if there鈥檚 some deliberate visual story telling going on with the blue clothing there. Blue being a cold colour matching the cold reaction of the visitors. That said, there are a lot of visitors at the park during the trailer and they do seem to be enjoying the attractions. I鈥檓 not entirely sure if it was made public that the D-Rex was developed and bred, or whether the D-Rex was actually bred to drive up interest in the park again, so really this talk about visitors dressed in blue visually signifying the cooled down public reception of Jurassic World is pretty flimsy based on what I have to go off.

Really I don鈥檛 have a particularly satisfying answer to why there are so many people wearing blue, adding to the already overabundant blue in the movie. I mean, the Jurassic World and Masrani Corporation branding is blue enough. It鈥檚 kind of distracting, and really odd to have such an aggressively blue looking movie, especially compared to its predecessors.

interstellar

I went into Interstellar with mixed feelings. Prior to watching it, I had heard things ranging from Interstellar captured the spirit and feel of old hard science fiction novels (for ill and good), that the sound mixing was abysmal, and that the film was initially a Spielberg project that fell to Nolan to direct and ultimately fell apart in the home stretch as a result.

Ultimately, I think my feelings on the film can be summed up with the following:

“Saw interstellar. It wasn’t good or bad, but mostly bad.”

I enjoyed my experience looking at the film more than I did engaging with or listening to it.

Nolan works best at creating films that misdirect and create a sense of mystery. His movies seem to be vacuum sealed, having all sense of sentimentality sucked out before being packaged and released. We watch Memento, or The Prestige, not out of a desire to follow the emotional journeys of his protagonists. We watch to unravel the mysteries of his narratives; his protagonists serving more as tools to deliver clues and exposition than characters with emotional lives. Interstellar develops into a hard science fiction film with the promise of staying as such before evolving yet further into a meditation on humanist metaphysics and the nature of love as a thing bigger than us. This is a transition that the film, as a product of Nolan’s helming, cannot survive. Try as it might under the weight of an oppressive, and aggressively mixed Hans Zimmer score, the film cannot land its sentimental finale.

The film feels like a fusion of Solaris and 2001: A Space Odyssey by way of Contact. It started off with an extended sequence set on a dying, anti-intellectual USA, struck down by a crop jumping blight. History books have been rewritten to push students away from science and engineering and into farming in a last ditch effort to produce food for an increasingly starved human population. There are hints of desperate military activity (a military drone flying aimlessly, brief mention of the US government attempting to bomb other nations out of existence so they can focus on only feeding US mouths), but the majority of the on Earth run time is set up for ultimately underwhelming emotional through lines that will get into spoiler territory, but if you’ve seen Contact, you may guess where the film is going in the end. It is in this moment that the film also begins setting up its more humanist underpinnings, as well as making more overt allusions to 2001. Humanity is pointed in the direction of an artificially placed wormhole by an unknown, possibly alien benefactor, gravitational anomalies that communicate in Morse Code and Binary in Interstellar, and the Monoliths in 2001.

The earthbound sections of Solaris served as a test of character, barring entry to all but the most dedicated. What lay in wait was a heady exploration of mankind’s interaction with itself, its neuroses, the unknown, and things much bigger than itself. In ways, Interstellar tries for much the same, while where Solaris was a sobering exploration of humanity’s inability to comprehend an intelligence that was entirely other and much vaster than it could handle, Interstellar posits in all seriousness that “Love is the one thing that transcends time and space”, that Love is a fundamental force, and that Love will direct and shape the course of human evolution. As a Spielberg project, I can imagine this would have been more successful. As a film that promises a hard science fiction romp through quantum physics and realistically rendered wormholes, it feels like a betrayal of the spirit of what preceded it.

Nolan approached the sound mix for the film in an incredibly deliberate way. He wanted the audience to experience moments in the movie as the actors in the scenes would have. This has lead to people complaining about diagetic and non-diagetic sound drowning out dialogue in an attempt to craft emotion. In the case of the diagetic sound of a space craft launch drowning out the dialogue, I can understand. However, there were moments when Hans Zimmer’s score was mixed so loud and so aggressively that it began to sound more like a wall of white noise than a film score. Nolan may have approached the film like an impressionist, but it seems like he didn’t quite understand that other films utilising impressionist sound design did not drown out the dialogue, and further did not feel the need to fill themselves with dialogue either. His supposed impressionist and “Experimental” film relies more on dialogue to fill in spaces than other such impressionist films, resulting in the problem of dialogue being drowned out in the first place. While it may not be an entirely successful film, Beyond the Black Rainbow utilises its visuals and score to create an utterly unsettling atmosphere of control and dread.

Interstellar‘s major thematic arc is the presence of Love as a fundamental force that can transcend time and space, and both Cooper (McConaughey) and Brandt (Hathaway) are motivated and guided by love to complete their mission. What comes across as a bit problematic is the film’s portrayal of this love motivated decision making. Brandt is motivated by her love for one of the initial astronauts sent to survey possible habitable worlds. She is given possibly the worst monologue in the film, and is ridiculed for even considering love as a factor in her decision making. However, Cooper keeps insisting on returning to be with his children, he lectures others on what a good parent he is, and the film goes a long way towards portraying his motivations and his love as admirable.

The film also felt weirdly episodic, as if 4 stories from a science fiction anthology were stitched into an unsatisfying whole. At 169 minutes, Interstellar is a long movie and its narrative being broken up into segments served to make the film feel longer and more disjointed than it needed to be. Editing and transition decisions near the film’s conclusion made it feel like the film was reaching a climax, before building to another climax, and then another climax, before finally coming to an end. A 3rd act twist and subsequent cross cutting between the mission and the film’s Earthbound characters served only to artificially heighten tension in an unnecessarily generic way rather than in one that foregrounded the film’s thesis about love. A section inside a tesseract reminded me so strongly of 2001’s finale that it drew me out of the experience. Of course, your mileage will vary on this.

As for what I enjoyed about Interstellar, it was really good to see a major Hollywood production make large use of miniatures (3D printed and exceptionally good looking), and being shot on film contrary to the increasing industry wide move to digital. It lent the film an appropriately old school vibe, which was kind of cool, really. The miniatures lent the film a physicality that is missing in contemporary sci-fi cinema.

The film was gorgeous to look at. The technical brilliance of the visuals alone is reason enough to watch Interstellar. A sequence involving approaching and eventually travelling through a wormhole is probably the film’s stand out, but that is not to say its other set pieces are any less visually appealing, even the ones I don’t feel landed narratively.

TARS and CASE were the best drawn characters and it was interesting to see a film explore non-humanoid robots, while addressing the concessions which would be made to allow humans to feel comfortable interacting with them. It reminded me of GERTY from Moon.

What I hope to come out of Interstellar is for Miniature use and practical effects to be utilised more frequently in Hollywood, and I hope that 3D printers will potentially make that viable again.

Gravity

Gravity is a movie that has to be seen in cinemas and in 3D if one wishes to get the best possible experience. As an active disliker of the current 3D cinema experience, I was originally sceptical. The friends I saw it with insisted, and I am glad they did. Never before have I ever seen 3D used so effectively as a dramatic device. Gravity does a lot to lend credence to the format.

There is a reason the 3D is so effective. Alfonso Cuar贸n (Children of Men) composes every shot of Gravity with such care and intent that it becomes so much more immersive a film than one would expect a 3D movie to be. Previous high water mark Avatar used 3D as a way to give its richly imagined world a “reach out and touch it” immediacy. Cameron painted the screen with lush visuals for the purpose of transporting the viewer to another world. He didn’t really use his camera, his 3D, or his visuals to add to the film’s narrative richness.

In Gravity, Cuar贸n utilises the entirety of his frame to tell his story. Events happen in the background that cause ripples that affect what happens in the foreground in sometimes catastrophic ways. Background events drive characters to perform actions. This deliberate framing makes full use of the 3D format. The added depth increases the audience’s immersion in the scene, and it is incredibly powerful to see something small happen in the distance, only to have it grow in scale and menace as it moves towards Sandra Bullock’s character, and by extension, towards the audience, in the foreground.

I can’t help but feel the affect of huge chunks of broken machinery careening towards the camera would be dampened by a 2D screening.

The attention to visual story telling extends to the way the characters interact. There isn’t much in the way of character development, and the screenplay spends little time in establishing them before all hell breaks loose. However, characterisation is strengthened by the way the characters act more than by what they say. A particular scene involves George Clooney’s character attempting to calm another down as he tows them across space. The dialogue in this scene feels forced. Based purely on what is said, what is meant to be a poignant scene that sets up an entire character arc would feel flat. Being in a space suit, Clooney cannot directly look behind him, and instead gives a concerned glance into a mirror attached to his arm, while maintaining his cool tone of voice. It is a tiny moment, but one that breathes personality into a character the way the words they say could not.

Cuar贸n’s previous film, Children of Men, is the more thematically rich film, with a much more meaty narrative. It also boasted some very impressive sound design and cinematography. However, the technical intelligence on show in Children of Men is nothing compared to what is to be found in Gravity. Being freed from the constraints of terrestrial, practical film making, Cuar贸n orchestrates some of the most amazing long take shots I’ve ever seen. Additionally, Cuar贸n often frames the audience as part of the action. Often during some of the most dazzling moments, the film cuts to a first person point of view shot of Bullock’s character. It is us and not just Bullock trapped in an impossible situation. It is us fighting for life in an alien, incredibly hostile environment. And it is us who experience the majesty of the images Cuar贸n subjects us to. We are participants in the action rather than passive observers.

The sound design is equally impressive. Space in Gravity is soundless, and this soundlessness is played for maximum tension. Collisions occur silently in the background while characters remain oblivious, focusing on more immediate concerns. It is haunting to see such large scale destruction without hearing it. Positional audio is also incredibly well utilised. This is particularly noticeable in the film’s opening, when we see the earth and hear a voice in the rear right. The voice slowly moves towards the centre and then to the left as the setting of the film slowly drifts into view. It speaks to the incredible immersive quality of good sound design when you are given a sense of your place in the scene before seeing any of the principle players.

Cuar贸n played with diegetic and non-diegetic sound in Children of Men. An early series of scenes features the main character standing next to an explosion and a secondary character taunting him about a ringing in his ears. The very next scene makes it obvious to the viewer that ever since the explosion, a ringing simulating tinnitus was part of the soundscape of the movie, and this ringing continues for another couple of scenes. This experimentation continues in Gravity. Sound will often, and deliberately cut in and out, whether it is diegetic or not. During sections of Gravity, when a character is expected not to be able to hear anything, all sound, including the film’s score, drops out, only to reappear when the character is expected to be able to hear again. It’s another technique that Cuar贸n uses to not just frame his characters within the scene, but the audience.

Away from the technical side of things, the screenplay isn’t great, but is light and has enough character to provide some laughs and get the audience rooting for Gravity’s characters. The performances are amazing, and both Clooney and Bullock excel in their roles.

The film moves at a brisk pace and is over in under 90 minutes. It definitely does not overstay its welcome, a problem I seem to be noticing with more and more of its contemporaries. It is a movie that knows it has not earned 2 and a half hours, and so does not try to be 2 and a half hours long.

I found Gravity to be the most intelligently staged film I have seen in a long time. It’s not weighty in its themes, but is a show of pure film making talent. It is also a film that concerns itself with telling a story and ratcheting up tension above being scientifically accurate. While it’s depiction of a Kessler syndrome is chilling, the actions undertaken in the film are impossible given the orbits and locations of the places the characters visit in their journey towards salvation.

A suspension of disbelief is strongly advised.

I found it a case where the film was so well made and so exciting, that real life implausibility was of little concern. I found myself in a similar situation with a particular sequence in Jurassic Park. The sequence in question was staged with such skill at building tension and excitement, that the discrepancy in the height of the T-rex pit when the car is eventually pushed over the edge was inconsequential. There are times when one shouldn’t let fact get in the way of enjoying incredibly well made fiction.

SPOILERS FROM HERE ON IN

I do believe that something has been made of the fact that Bullock’s character is made to appear incompetent and reliant on the men in the movie to keep her alive. While this is true to an extent, it is moderated by context. Bullock’s character of Dr Stone is a civilian noted as mission specialist. She is on the mission because she has specialist understanding of the upgrades being done on Hubble. She was not an astronaut, she was not in the airforce, and she was given very minimal training (six months) in preparation for her mission. She is a medical doctor, a profession not generally known to be comprised of incompetent or unintelligent people. In fact, the entire mission required her to be there in space making very specific upgrades to Hubble, based on her research into medical technology.

Clooney’s character, on the other hand, is a seasoned Astronaut who has conducted a number of space walks. It is to be expected that if something were to go wrong, Clooney would be the one to remain calm, while Bullock would panic, having never been in that situation before.

Throughout the rest of the film, Bullock shows a level of resourcefulness and quick thinking that ultimately gets her back to earth in one piece. Had she been a truly incompetent character, she would not have been able to manage piloting a craft with controls labelled in Chinese. She would have died off before getting to that point.

On the other hand, there is the low oxygen hallucination scene where Clooney returns to magically explain to Bullock how to get out of her situation. This scene can be read as problematic, where even in death, the male character is required to move the action forward for the hopelessly disheartened female character. I will not begrudge anyone for viewing this seen as such. It was a point in the film, where just for a moment, Bullock was taken from being resourceful and quick thinking back to being reliant on a man. It was a bit jarring and undercuts her development into a powerful agent free from male intervention.

I tried rationalising this through the use of psychological schemas, but I was unhappy with the outcome of the exercise as it was still problematic. I shall explain the thought process for those interested.

Schema are mental frameworks used by individuals to reduce the amount of information the brain is required to process in day to day life. You can think of a schema as a script. You have a specific schema for ordering pizza, for example. You know what the transaction involves, and you act it out in accordance to the schema, or script, contained in your mind.

Applying this to the mission depicted in the movie, it is fair to say that Bullock’s character would develop a schema that had Clooney, as commander of the mission, being the source of information about what to do in emergencies. Thus, when low on oxygen, and with higher level cognitive functions presumably close to shutting down, her brain resorted to her schema related to this particular mission: New survival information will come from a commander as a commander is naturally more knowledgeable about what to do in this situation. This lead to the hallucination of Clooney that facilitated Bullock’s brain in making her aware that she herself knew of a solution to her current predicament. Ultimately, it was her own ingenuity that saved her life, but filtered through her schema that told her she should expect survival advice to come from a more experienced source.

All well and good until you realise Clooney is still a man! Her brain’s shorthand for the context of the mission involved a man being in a position of power over her, thus it is still a problematic scene.

So much for that fix, eh?

Children of Men, or a powerful commodity?

So like Children of Men is one of my favourite movies of foreverrrr!!!!!

I was so very happy when it came out. It was a brilliantly bleak soft science fiction film, not without an odd sense of optimism that explored something I think is a very interesting topic.

So let’s set the scene. It is 20 minutes into the future and women have all become infertile. The world collapses and the last bastion of civilisation is an increasingly xenophobic and totalitarian UK. The UK has shut its boarders to foreigners and refugees are rounded up into camps and may/may not be executed. Also there have been no babies born for 18 years.

18 YEARS.

Also the film starts off with everyone being depressed because the world’s youngest person (who really came off as kind of a prick) is stabbed to death.

So far so interesting, no?

The *really* interesting part comes when our main character is introduced to a woman who, beyond all odds, turned out to be pregnant. This is a huge shock to him. Bigger than Ben Hur, and that was pretty dang big to begin with. What complicates issues is that said woman is a refugee.

Being the world’s first pregnant woman in 18 years and being a refugee in a totalitarian, xenophobic country makes things complicated for the poor woman. People start moving to utilise her and her body for their own political, social, or monetary gains. Our hapless main character is tasked with escorting her to a safe haven that may or may not exist.

The real meat of the film comes in the form of these sociopolitical tussles between an extremist group that wants to use the woman and her baby as a symbol of hope to help topple the government, and the looming threat that if the government finds her, they will make her deliver the baby, kill her and claim the baby is born of a local woman.

The idea that a woman can be reduced to nothing more than a biological function in the eyes of various political factions is a scary one indeed. The situation is one opposite of abortion, where the woman just wants to give birth to her child in peace, but there is an underlying unifying issue here. The issue the film is getting at is the lack of decision making power the woman has regarding to the functioning of her own body.

With abortion, the woman’s choice in the matter is often overlooked because the issue of murder comes in. The issue becomes a political, social, and religious matter first, and a matter of an individual’s choice in how their body functions second. It becomes a matter of whether taking a life is ever permissible or morally justifiable. Once this question is resolved, the issue of the woman’s choice of what to do with her body can then be addressed. The woman’s choice is already shifted back in favour of the consideration of the nature of death. It is a political issue because governments are afraid of offending potential voting demographics with unpopular decisions. It is a social issue because if taking a life is murder in all cases (i.e. immoral and unjustifiable) then the woman is a monster. It becomes a religious issue because life is sacred and it goes beyond a mere moral wrong. It becomes an affront to God to go against his design.

With the movie, the woman’s choice in the matter is overlooked because of the important political and social implications of a woman who is a foreigner being pregnant. It becomes a political issue because ascribing the level of importance a pregnant woman would have to a foreigner would fly in the face of the government’s stance on foreigners. It becomes a social issue because people fighting for social change want to use the woman and her body and her status as a refugee as a catalyst for said social change. It becomes a monetary issue because some people want to sell her and her baby to the highest bidder. Never is the woman’s opinion considered. In all cases these people want to use her body for their own ends and they view her as an entity that performs a specific biological function first and a fellow human being never.

Really, rights are nebulous things and I do not think there are any ‘natural’ rights or laws that make humans particularly special or human life particularly worth protecting. By this I mean there is no objective worth to human life. There will always be subjective worth. I know I was personally struck hard when a friend of mine committed suicide, so I know that life can mean a lot to people. I am just afraid of the ‘value’ of life being perverted and used by groups to push their agendas upon others.

So a good, thought provoking, depressing and hopeful soft science fiction film. Well done all involved.