“The rush of battle is often a potent and lethal addiction, for war is a drug.”
l, Kathryn Bigelow and Greg Shapiro
Staff Sergeant William James
Sergeant JT Sanborn
Specialist Own Eldridge
Staff Sergeant Matt Thompson
Contractor Team Leader
(By Warner Brothers in Italy)
Iraq War Films
Effects of 9/11 and the Iraq War on Film:
Warner Bros.' terrorist
med action film
Collateral Damage (2002)
, an Arnold
Schwarzenegger vehicle, was about a Los Angeles
seeking revenge for a
terrorist bombing (a drug
Middle Eastern attack). It was originally due to
be released on October 5, 2001, b
ut was postponed until early February 2002, due to
the terrorist attacks on the twin towers of the World Trade
still did poorly at the box
At the same time, Ridley Scott's intense and suspenseful combat film
, released only a few months after 9/11, recreated and captured the
visceral tension of a bloody, disastrous, and tragic American helicopter mission in the
torn city of Mogadishu. Somalia in October, 1993.
25th Hour (2002)
was a po
st 9/11 examination of racial hatred, fears and
prejudice, portrayed in the character of convicted NY drug dealer Monty Brogan
(Edward Norton) who was facing seven years in prison. Its most memorable scene
was a scathing diatribe of ethnic/socio
rchetypal slurs delivered before a
mirror. The first 9/11 related feature film from Hollywood, on the 5th year
anniversary, was Paul Greengrass' and Universal's real
United 93 (2006)
Another 9/11 related film was Paramount's and Oliver Stone's
that opened in late summer, and told the story of two Port Authority cops
(Nicolas Cage and Michael Pena) who were among the last rescue workers to be
pulled from the rubble.
The innovative documentary film
Voices of Iraq (2004)
as made by distributing
150 inexpensive, lightweight, digital video
cameras to the people throughout Iraq
the film's subjects and participants. Over 400 hours of film footage was edited down
to less than 80 minutes, and although presumably unbiased, it p
resented a fairly
positive view of the US.
Filmgoers were mostly reluctant to attend films that dealt with the realities of the
unpopular war (and mentioned the word "Iraq" or "war" in ad campaigns), and film
studios shied away from making war films for mu
ch of the decade. However, there
were some exceptions. Director Irwin Winkler's R
rated war drama
Home of the
told about four American soldiers (Samuel L. Jackson, Jessica Biel,
Brian Presley, and 50 Cent) on their last mission in Iraq when th
ey were ambushed.
Subsequently, they suffered both physical and emotional trauma upon readjustment to
civilian life in Spokane, Washington. It was the
major Hollywood feature film to
depict returning soldiers from the war in Iraq. Made on a budget of
$12 million, the
film was a serious flop, earning only about $500,000 (worldwide), and only $52,000
domestically. It recouped some of its losses from sale of DVDs, at $4.7 million.
There were lots of other Iraq War
office casualties, especial
ly in 2007:
writer/director Paul Haggis'
, lifeless, and plodding
In the Valley of Elah
reflected the confusions and atrocities of war in its story of a retired Vietnam
vet (Tommy Lee Jones) searching for his missing, returned Iraqi War soldie
near his Army base in New Mexico, where the Iraq War was only a backdrop. It made
only $7 million at the domestic box
office. Michael Winterbottom's sad
told of the kidnapping
disappearance of journalist Daniel Pearl in
tan in 2002 and his truth
Mariane's (Angelina Jolie) heroic search
South African director Gavin Hood's coldly observant
dramatic thriller and human rights drama about the war on terror, starred
as a determined, pregnant American wife whose
born, chemical engineer/husband
accused of being a terrorist
was detained and tortured in a secret detention facility in Northern Africa. It
showed the dubious tactic of keeping ter
suspect prisoners in detention facilities
outside the US where they could be tortured. The film barely made $10 million.
Lions for Lambs (2007)
, directed by star Robert Redford, was an
impassioned exploration of US wars in the Midd
le East from three different angles
(two soldiers in Afghanistan, a Republican senator (Cruise) and an opposing TV
journalist (Streep), and a West Coast history professor (Redford) challenging one of
his promising students). The
opinionated $35 million dollar
film chastised the mistaken Bush administration for leading the country into a futile
war, but was poorly attended and fell flat. Scriptwriter Matthew Michael Carnahan's
first screenplay was for Peter Berg's equally
The Kingdom (2007)
about a terrorist bombing in
Arabia, an expensive $80
million film that couldn't recoup its costs. However, writer/director Charles
No End in Sight (2007)
, an informa
accounting of the bungling of the Bush administration in the Iraq War, was a well
received factual indictment of failed US foreign policy in regards to Iraq.
Brian DePalma's fictional anti
, with the tagline:
the first casualty of war," was a fictional story based on real events in Iraq
(including the 2006 rape/murder of an Iraqi teen girl by two US soldiers)
it was a
daring recreation of videos/blogs made by soldiers serving in Iraq, to bring the
' (edited or altered) sensitive and confidential information into the open. And
writer and first
time director James Strouse's understated
Grace is Gone (2007)
about a grieving Minnesota father (John Cusack) who took a road trip with his two
and 8 year
old daughters to a fictional Florida theme park (Enchanted
Gardens) where he struggled in the
ending to tell them that their soldiering
mother Grace had been killed in Iraq.
Kimberly Peirce's raw
explored the human con
traumatic stress disorders, or soldiers going AWOL) of the questionable military
policy dubbed 'stop
loss' which allowed the US government to involuntarily extend a
soldier's enlistment contract for duty in Iraq. The realistic terrors of th
e Iraq War were
dealt with in Best Director
winning Kathryn Bigelow's tense bomb
The Hurt Locker (2009)
, the Best Picture of its year.
It is the lowest grossing best picture winner of all time
was never on more than 535 screens
Beat the highest grossing movie in modern history (AVATAR)
Cost a mere $11 million to make (AVATAR cost $230 million)
Had to break the “Iraq war curse”
It had to weather attacks in the media and from some in the military
questioned the realism of how it portrayed the bomb
It had to win with backing from Summit Entertainment, a relatively new and
small distributor that had never before won an Oscar.
Despite some technical inaccuracies it captures more ex
istential truth about the
conflict than you’ll find anywhere.
Improvised explosive devices and suicide bombings have maimed and killed
more American soldiers and Iraqi civilians than any other weapon.
The intensity captured by the film is absolutely true f
or any soldier who
navigates Iraq’s fraught roadways.
Soldiers themselves sometimes resort to invention when crafting their own
stories of war. Tim O’Brien, a Vietnam veteran wrote an award winning
fictionalised account of his in
country service explained
it best when his
character says “I want you to feel what I felt. I want you to know why story
truth is truer sometimes than happening
In a very real sense, this movie is the first of its kind. The first boots
ground Iraq War film.
m of the story is derived from journalist and scriptwriter Mark
Boal’s time spent embedded with a U.S Army bomb squad in 2004 in
Prior to filming, Renner and the other actors and production personnel spent
time at the National Training Centre at Fo
rt Irwin, California. They learned the
intricacies of disarming ordnance first hand from Army EOD teams in the
Filming lasted for 44 days.
It’s above all else an action film, but it utilizes the characters and stories coming out
d in a way that no other movie has done so far and in a way that honours
men and women that have an extremely dangerous, extremely integral job.
Most of all, it achieves all of this without even once getting political. It doesn’t even
edge up close. It’s
a story about people, and the cast and crew never lose sight of that
or attempt to inject any ulterior meaning into the narrative. It’s refreshing considering
the alternatives, but the filmmakers were smart and confident enough to realize how
heir subject matter was and enough to avoid artificially dressing it up in
the heavy shroud of political clamouring.
From Filming to Distribution
Filming began in July 2007
The path that "Hurt Locker" took was anything but standard. After Summit
up domestic distribution rights in September 2008, it put the movie on
the shelf because its release schedule was crowded. It eventually opened "Hurt
Locker" last summer as counter programming instead of in the fall, when most
serious dramas get a showcas
The Hurt Locker
had its world premiere at the
September 4, 2008, and the film received a 10
minute standing ovation at the
end of its screening.
At the festival, the film won the
rd, the Arca Cinemagiovani
Award (Arca Young Cinema Award) for "Best Film Venezia 65" (chosen by
an international youth jury); the Human Rights Film Network Award; and the
Venezia Cinema Award.
The film also screened at the
Toronto International Film Festival
on September 8, where it generated "keen interest", though distributors were
reluctant to buy it since previous films about the Iraq War performed poorly at
the box office.
purchased the film for distribution in the
tes in what was perceived as "a skittish climate for pic sales"
In the rest of 2008,
The Hurt Locker
screened at the
3rd Zurich Film Festival
, the 21st
Mar del Plata Film
Dubai International Film
, and the 12th
The Hurt Locker
screened at the
Göteborg International Film
, the 10th
Selects festival, and
It had a centrepiece screening at the 3rd AFI Dallas International Film
Festival, where director Kathryn Bigelow received the Dallas Star Award.
Other 2009 festivals included the Human Rights Nights International F
Seattle International Film
, and the
The Hurt Locker
was first publicly released in Italy by
picked the film up
for distribution in
the United States after it was shown at the
International Film Festival
The Hurt Locker
was released in the United States on June 26, 2009, with a
limited release at four theatres in Los Angeles
and New York City. Over its
first weekend the film grossed $145,352, averaging $36,338 per theatre.
The following weekend, beginning July 3, the film grossed $131,202 at nine
theatres, averaging $14,578 per theatre.
It held the highest per
ge of any film playing theatrically in the
United States for the first two weeks of its release, gradually moving into the
top 20 chart with much wider
released, bigger budget studio films.
It held around number 13 or number 14 on box office charts for an
four weeks. Summit Entertainment took
The Hurt Locker
wider to more than
200 screens on July 24, 2009 and more than 500 screens on July 31, 2009. As
of March 21, 2010, the film grossed $40,016,144 against its $15
production budget, and
the domestic total of $16,400,000 places it at number
117 of all films released in the U.S. in 2009.
According to the
Los Angeles Times
The Hurt Locker
performed better than
most recent dramas about Middle East conflict. The film outperformed all
themed films such as
In the Valley of Elah
Lions for Lambs
In the United States, The Hurt Locker is one of only three Best Picture
being the other two) to never enter
the weekend box office top 5 since top 10 rankings were first recorded in
1982. It is the only Best Pic
ture winner on record never to have entered the
weekend box office top 10.
The Hurt Locker
opened in the top ten in the United Kingdom in 103 theatres,
scoring the fourth highest per screen average of $3,607, ranking between
in overall grosses. The film garnered a half a million
dollars in its opening weekend in the United Kingdom of August 28 through
August 30, 2009, and has grossed over a million dollars in the UK, Japan,
Spain, and Fr
ance through March.
According to an article in the
of August 2009 there was a shortage of film pri
The Hurt Locker
, as well
as other hit independent films such as
Distributors told theatre owners that they will have to wait weeks or months
past the initi
al U.S. release date, to get the few available prints that are already
in distribution. "Sometimes the distributors goof up", said a film buyer for one
theatre, "they misjudge how wide they should go".
One theory is that the independent films have a hard
time competing for
screen space during the summer against blockbuster
films that take
up as much as half the screens in any given city, flo
oding the United States
market with thousands of prints.
Theatre owners have also complained about distributors "bunching too many
movies too close together".
It is also thought that independent film distributors are trying to cut their
losses on print
s by recycling them. Given the popularity of some of the films
that are "hard to come by", this strategy may be leaving box office money on
The Hurt Locker
was released on DVD and
in North America on
January 12, 2010. This disc includes an added
director Kathryn Bigelow, writer
Mark Boal, and other members of the
production crew, an image gallery of photos from shooting, and a 15
EPK featurette highlighting the filming experience in Jordan and the film's
production. The UK DVD and Blu
ray has no commentary.
U.S. sales of
the DVD topped $28 million by late April 2010.
Summit turned the Oscar strategy over to PR firm 42 West, where veteran
campaigner Cynthia Swartz called the shots. Swartz was criticized for waiting
until early December to send out the DVDs, even though the
revolved around getting the movie seen by as many voters as possible.
What Swartz did was to centre the campaign around Bigelow, a woman who
directed with as much glory and guts as any man, and to feature
writer/producer Mark Boal for his
screenplay and real
life story as a journalist
who was embedded with a bomb disposal unit in Iraq.
Producers make sure everything happens when and where it should
they also try and
make films as profitable as possible. The ke
y to this is quick turnover from initial
ideas to distribution.
A Film Starts with an Idea
A writer, director or producer will kick
start the project with an idea. 50% of
Hollywood films are adaptations from existing products like books, plays, TV
comic strips or computer games.
Existing story + sequels possible + known market brand+ books sales in
millions = low risk investment
The producer ‘pitches’ (promotes) the package to investors
these are most
likely to be film studios
and financiers. The producer needs to persuade them
they’ll be making a safe investment.
Investors are more likely to go for a package which includes a director with a
proven track record, an A
list star like Tom Cruise or Julia Roberts and which
otential for sequels and marketing spin
offs like games and lunch boxes.
Investors will be less keen on an inexperienced director and unknown actors
but if the idea for the film is good enough it could find support from
ms are developed outside a major studio. The cash may come
from investment companies, wealthy individuals or government funding.
Deals are often made at film festivals
one of the most popular for
independents is Sundance in Utah, USA.
Once the money’s in
place, the producer’s main job is to keep an eye on the
actual making of the film
making sure it’s done as efficiently, quickly and
cheaply as possible.
Distributors Get the Film into Cinemas
Finally the Film Hits the Big (and little) Screen
he film will be screened ‘at a cinema near you’
screen or art
house depending on its genre and target audience.
Transfer to DVD plus sale of TV rights will be confirmed.
Much of Bigelow’s budget went on creating the right look for t
he film which included
spending a great deal on the wealth of spectacular explosions, essential (or justified
anyway) since this is about a small team of three men whose main (but by no means
only) job is to find and defuse improvised explosive devices (IE
Ds), the DIY but
sometimes highly ingenious signature weapons of the Iraqi insurgency.
1) Treatment (short version of script)
2) Storyboard of key scenes
4) Possible stars
5) Likely locations
6) Budget outline
7) Marketing spin
Distribution companies take the finished film,
promote it and persuade cinema chains to show it.
Some of the biggest include UIP, Bu
ena Vista, 20
Century Fox, Columbia and Universal.
A distributor can get the rights to a film by
investing in it from the start or buying it later.
Many studios have in house distributors but and
independent film needs to find a distributor.
Get prints made
Run test screenings
Time the release to cinema or
Stage the premiere
Transport prints to exhibitors
Director Kathryn Bigelow shepherded the film through each showing, giving
interviews every step of the way. She knew it was a hard sell. There had still
a commercially successful film of the Iraq war and the low budget, independently
The Hurt Locker
had no stars and no obvious
It was simply a brilliant film but that
doesn’t necessarily mean anything to the box
Frequently casts Tom Sizemore
Often uses first person
perspectives (Wire trip scenes in Strange Days (1995) and
the chase scenes in Point (1991)).
Was married to James
19 The Widowmaker
He received the Hollywood Life's "Break Through Performance
of the Year" for his role as Brian Gamble in the movie S.W.A.T
(2003). Known for roles in action films
Established actor although not a household name or one big
earners. Thanks to the critical acclaim, was nominated for best
actor at the Oscars, he will not be a household name.
By Hollywood standards he was paid very little of his role
hundreds of thousands instead of millions
Has barely appeared on the radar
as a character actor up until
now. Appeared as a member of a rogue’s band in
The Assassination of Jesse James
by the Coward Robert Ford
. His previous leading role was as Jeffrey Dahmer in
was seen by Kathryn Bigelow and was the reason she consider
ed him for the
role of Sgt James.
Reasonably well known actor. Certainly too well known for the small
part he plays in the film (think Drew Barrymore in Scream) He
amazed film critics and audiences alike with his magnificent
performances in T
he Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert
(1994), L.A. Confidential (1997), and Ravenous (1999). Known for
choosing interesting roles
The Time Machine (2002), The Count of Monte Cristo (2002),
Momento (2000), Rules of Engagement (2000)
"The Hurt Locker" (2008) marks the third best picture Oscar
winning film that Ralph Fiennes has co
starred in. In addition, the
other two, "Schindler's List" (1993; Best Supporting Actor Oscar
nominee) and "The English
Patient" (1996; Best Actor Oscar
nominee), were also dramas set during wartime.
His performance as Amon Goeth from his film Schindler’s List
(1993) was ranked #15 on the American Film Institute's Villains
list in their compilation of the 100 years of The
Greatest Screen Heroes and Villains.
Rich voice, Often plays mysterious characters with equally mysterious
Relatively unknown actor whose character,
the lead protagonist, demonstrates the
elt by many towards this war.
Blond and blue eyed Brian can be seen as
the all American late teens (early 20s) that are off
Appeared in Jarhead (2005) which is a film very
The Hurt Locker.
Generally there as eye candy
: When a stranger calls (2006), Bobby (2006), We Are Marshall (2006)
Performed on stage for 10 years before breaking into
film, became established as a respected supporting,
character actor and second lead.
Known for action films
d a major before
Films: The Rock (1996), Contact (1997), The Green
Mile (1999), Proof of Life (2000), AWOL (2006), 16
Blocks (2006), Disturbia (2007)
Watch the beginning of
The Hurt Locker
What happens in the openin
g that draws you in to the rest of the film?
What visual aspects stand out?
Is music used?
How do you think this opening was supposed to make you feel?
The most essential aspect of y
our studies will be to gain an
understanding of film language. Studying film is not simply a
matter of watching a film and discussing why you thought it
was good (although of course this is very important). In order
to fully express a detailed knowledge ab
out films and the way
they work it is important to have a vocabulary in which you
can discuss why, and how, a film tells its story. To gain the
best marks you should understand film language and use it
appropriately and often.
The opening of a film sets t
he scene for the story to come. In many ways, a film is
like a book. Reading a film is just like reading a book but instead of making sense
from written words, visual images and sounds are combined together to construct the
narrative. As a member of an aud
ience you have an individual response to a film that
you watch. However, the director of a film, like the writer of a book, will place clues
along the way to help you piece together the different twists and turns of the story and
draw you in to understandi
ng the film from a certain viewpoint.
A writer wants you to feel unable to put down their book; the director wants you to
feel that you can’t turn away from the screen
the idea is the same, the techniques are
The opening of a film is the mos
t important part. It usually introduces the main
characters (although not completely the case in
The Hurt Locker)
and sets up a puzzle
to be solved
a problem or a situation that in some way needs resolving (the
continual need to disarm the bombs without
being killed). The opening of a film, like
the opening of a book, has to grasp an audience’s attention; make them want to find
out more about these people or what is going to happen next. A film
has to use all the technical tools they can,
alongside a great story, to capture an
audience’s attention. Whether a film is sad, dramatic, frightening or funny, it will use
the same techniques to create emotion and drama
it will just implement these
techniques in different ways.
So one of the firs
t elements of your film studies course has to be the study of how
makers use technical film
making methods; what skills do they have and what
devices do they use in order to tell a story and make audiences want to see their films?
These techniques a
Cinematography (camera work) the use of the camera
the process of putting the shots together after filming
including music and sound effects
the look and positioning of all the objects and characters in a
the level and direction of light and the colour palette
used (often considered within mise
The use of the camera is also an important visual tool of the film
maker. In the early
What do you hear?
What do you see? (Camera
days of cinema, a single camera attach
ed to a tripod recorded events so the set was
always seen from one position in a long shot. Today new technology and techniques
allow the film
maker to move the camera to different positions and use a wide variety
of shots. The camera can literally show us
action and landscape from a chatacter’s
point of view; it can quickly reveal the reactions and emotions of characters and it can
ensure we see the narrative clues necessary to piece the story together. Film is
essentially a visual medium so the camera is
used in many different ways to maintain
audience interest and enjoyment.
Though it is always important to be aware of how all the elements of film language
work together to create meaning, it is still interesting to consider how each separate
communicate ideas and has its own set of conventions.
When studying cinematography, it is important to look at the choice of shot and
camera movement. Shot duration (how long each shot lasts), movement and framing
can tell us a lot about the characters a
nd their actions. It determines whose point of
view we see events from and draws our attention to clues about what might happen
later in the narrative. When we talk about cinema framing we are looking at what we
can see within the frame of the cinema scree
n. Cinema framing can draw our attention
to emotions, bringing us very close
to the action, or it can place us some distance
away. Particular camera angels may create a particular feeling or impression.
Extreme Close Up
Each camera shot can be described with
a specific term, for example, a close
shot or low angel shot; and generally these shots are chosen to enable audiences to
understand events in a particular way.
up shot is used if the director wants to focus our attention on one particular
when we are close up to a subject; the head and shoulders of a
person to show that their facial expressions are important) This is often a character’s
facial expression. Close
ups emphasise a character’s emotions as we generally re
someone’s feelings by looking into their eyes, or looking for reactions from their
mouth movements. A close
up will ensure our attention is drawn just to one
character’s face so we will know if they are angry, frightened or even about to
up may draw our attention to someone’s reaction to something that is
happening; and this could be a significant clue to a development in the plot. Maybe
this character has not played a very significant role in the film yet; this shot would
are about to. In a similar way, a close up can show us a significant prop.
an item in a scene
that our attention is drawn to because it’s going
to become important later in the film.) By focusing our attention on a knife on a table,
a letter left unopened, we are made aware that this object is going to be important
at a later stage in the story.
An extreme close
up (ECU) shot focuses the audiences attention on even smaller
details and these shots are often used more for artistic effe
ct than due to generic
conventions; though due to the tight framing of the shot, extreme close
audiences a sense of discomfort so can be used to really get the audience close to the
action and see things from the character’s perspective. There is
a good example of this
(1999), where Rick is on the floor pinned down by the ghostly soldiers
who all have their spears poised just above his eye.
A long shot on the other hand shows us the whole of a character, thus drawing our
a person’s costume and body language. A long shot may be needed to
offer perspective. For example, in
The Day After Tomorrow
, we see a long, point of
view shot of the wave approaching the library. This shot includes another main
character, so why has the d
irector focused our attention on the wave and not her?
Because this is a disaster movie and the excitement and tension is created by what we,
the audience, and Jake Gyllenhall, are aware of but
she is not.
Long shots often give us more background to lo
so setting becomes important to a scene as well as
action. Sometimes this is because the setting is
important to that character. For example, we often see
long shots of Jack Sparrow on his ship in
(2003) because his pirate l
ife is such
an important part of his character.
A long shot combined with a wide angel to create a
dramatic image of a setting. This is referred to as an establishing shot as it establishes
a clear sense of place. If the director really wants us to take i
n the surroundings, they
might pan the camera around as well. These shots are often used at the beginning of
films, if the setting is particularly important to the genre. Crime films, for example,
often have dark city settings
so the film might start with
an extreme long shot of a
In the disaster movie, part of the pleasure for the audiences is the spectacle of the
dramatic action and the special effects used to create it, so long and wide shots are
essential to an audience’s enjoyment of these
when we see the character from the waist up with a partial view of the
setting in the background)
shot allows us to see a person from the waist up often this shot ill be used so
we can focus on the dialogue between
two characters. A mid
shot allows us to gain
some information about the setting as well, but not so much that is distracts us from
listening to the conversation or considering what action is
Of course there are variations and the director
to measure how much of a character is showing but the three
main shot types are:
The director’s choice of shot can have a big impact on the way an audience reads the
(Low angle shot
if the camera is placed
below a subject looking up, it looks larger
and more powerful. High angle shot
when a camera looks down on a person or
object, it can look vulnerable)
A high angle shot is when the camera points down towards the subject and a low
angle shot is the oppos
ite. If, as a member of the audience, you are placed higher up
than a character, one of the simplest interpretations is that the director wanted them to
look more vulnerable. We are paled in a stronger position than them. Conversely, if
the camera is at a
low angle, the character looks bigger, making them look important.
There might of course be other reasons within different genres for placing a camera in
a particular way. Fro example, there is an excellent shot of Godzilla, where a close
shot of a leg
tilts up to a low angle shot of the read of the powerful
But a totally different way of using the same shot might appear in a romantic comedy
(the classic point of view shot when a man has dropped to the floor for some reason
and, when h
e looks up, the camera tilts to reveal the long legs of an attractive
Also, when Spider
man is whizzing through the city sky, swinging from building to
building, the camera moves alongside him, sometimes above and sometimes below.
This is not to s
how him as alternately vulnerable or powerful; it is to make the
audience feel that they are alongside him, joining in with his adventures.
cam: a camera mounted on a harness attached to a cameraman, s the
movement of the camera is
held camera: the camera shots move in a
the shots are unclear as the camera is held without support)
A director of contemporary films can move the camera around in various ways to
change an audience’s experience of the image
presented on screen. The difference in
experience is clear when watching films made before the steadi
cam came into use
and even earlier, when cameras were fixed in one spot and could not be moved at all.
However, sometimes a director might want the came
ra to move haphazardly, as this
makes the audience feel that the action is somehow more real, partly because we
associate the hand
held camera with the documentary genre. Action sequences and
scenes where characters are running often use this technique as
it makes the audience
feel that they are running too. (This is used repeatedly in
The Hurt Locker
Cameras can be placed on tracks (tracking shots), on cranes (crane shots), on trucks
and even helicopters (commonly used for bird’s eye view shots). Films w
ith lots of
action will typically use a variety of these techniques.
Zooming in and out
Although it is not officially camera movement, as it only involves the lens moving,
zooming in and out is also an important part of way the camera brings us closer to
action or, when appropriate, takes us away from it. The camera will zoom in suddenly
to emphasise a character’s reaction to something, or to show us a place a character
needs to get to in a hurry, so emphasising this is far away (
Behind Enemy Lines
of this), but very important. Zooming out from something is often done
when a character has reacted dramatically to an event, such as the loss of someone
they care about.
Tilted frame, bird’s eye view and framing
(tilted frame: when the c
amera is tilted so as to put the image at an angle. Bird’s eye
when the camera looks down on settings or characters from high above.
the edges of the picture and what is contained within the space they
Other uses of the camera t
hat are interesting to notice include the tilted frame; this is
when the image you set is on an angle, so the camera is tilted. This is used to put the
audience off balance
to show them something is not quite right. Horror sequences
often use them as the
y emphasise the emotional state of the victim or even the mental
state of the killer.
The bird’s eye view shot (mentioned earlier) is when the camera looks straight down
onto a setting or person, so you see it or them directly from above. This might be us
to show we are watching someone but may well just show us a setting or landscape
from a different perspective.
Framing refers to the edges of the picture
what has been deliberately placed in, or
excluded from, the frame. This relates closely to camer
a angles but we often discuss
the ‘tight framing’ sequence of shots, which would probably be used to describe a
sequence of close
up and maybe mid
shots where little mise
our attention is focused on the characters, or where the fra
me seems to fit tightly
around the characters, adding a discomfort to our viewing experience for some reason
(it may be that the characters are in a small space or tricky situation)
Depth of field
Another technique used to distract our attention from back
ground detail, or to make it
very noticeable, is depth of field. This refers to the focus of the camera. Sometimes a
director will want us to only focus our attention on certain subjects within a frame so
they will arrange the shot so other elements are sl
ightly out of focus or blurred. If the
setting, colours or landscape are important and the director wants every detail to be
sharp and intense, deep focus is used to give all elements in the frame equal focus
even if they are further away. Shallow focus is
the opposite effect and is commonly
used for close
ups so our attention is focused on only one element of the scene.
(Depth of field: the elements within a frame which are highlighted by keeping them in
sharp focus. Deep focus: where all elements in a fr
ame are given equal focus. Shallow
focus: where characters or objects in the foreground are in sharp focus with the
background slightly blurred.)
Lighting and colour
Positioning of characters within the frame
All these elements work together to give audiences a good idea of where the film is
set in terms of time and place. Depending on the genre of the film, how accurate the
details of the mise
en scene are will be of more or less importance
, though some
observes would argue it si always important to represent a place or time in history
scene isn’t just about creating a setting
it is also important for creating the
mood; an this is where lighting and colour come in. th
e use of lighting can have a big
effect on the atmosphere in a scene. Positioning lights onto characters or props brings
out attention to them so we know they are significant to the narrative. Also shadows
create places for characters to hide. Colour can c
onnote various emotions and moods
and is often used significantly in scenes, or even throughout a film. We also relate
film genre to colour.
The relationship between colour and genre is often evident in the promotional film
posters used to market new film
s. Film posters are an important way film
cinemas advertise coming films. They also use visual elements of film language to
market the film
colour, lighting, positioning of characters are all significant on a
In relation to the s
tudy of moving images, mise
scène translates as “everything in
the frame”. It is a French term which refers to:
Lighting and colour
Props, costume, hair and make
Character positioning within the frame
Body language, expression and movement
when embarking on an analysis of mise
scène, there are lots of aspects you
need to consider all at once. It is also important to notice how these elements work
together to create particular kinds of meanings.
The image below is a still from
, as disaster film from 2003.
at the way
the characters are positioned within the frame so all the important characters are
visible and how different levels are created to add visual interest to an inactive scene.
Jot down answers
to the follo
Which characters do you think are the most important in this scene?
What gives you this impression?
What do the props in the foreground and background tell you about what is
What typical elements of the disaster movie genre a
re evident in this frame?
The use of lighting and colour probably impacts the most on other elements of the
. A simple interior shot of a church can be made to seem threatening by
flooding it with deep red li
ght. Props such as statues and crucifixes become
frightening and the Gothic horror genre is signalled.
(Symbolic: an image or object which has additional meaning or cultural significance)
Often a director will have a clear sense of the way they w
ant colour to work in a scene
as colour can have a big impact on our emotions and therefore our understanding of
a scene. (In
Coppola uses the colour orange to signify that a violent act
is about to occur)
Colour can be used symbolically
what emotions do you think of if someone mentions
the colour red? What does white make you think of? Your reactions to these questions
may be influenced by you cultural background as different cultures have different
associations with colours.
Answers from task on prev
It is evident in this still that the group of men are having something explained to them.
The man in the right hand side of the frame is holding a strange object and gesturing,
as well as looking intently towards the group. All of the characters
except one are
looking towards the man with the object which suggests he is explaining something to
them. There is a man standing centre frame, away from the rest of the group, which
suggest he may have amore central/important role in the narrative.
rops include a blackboard and two desks with lots of paper on them. These are
typical props of a classroom of some sort, which also suggests that the character
explaining something is from an academic background, or some kind of expert.
Often in disaster
films there are scientific elements that need explaining, both to the
characters and the audiences, so this kid on scene is common.
Lighting helps to convey mood or atmosphere. Often our attention is drawn to a
particular object or gesture that is important within the film’s storyline. The film
maker can also use shadows to hide
of the scene and create suspense.
If a film i
s shot in a studio, lighting usually comes from three different
kinds of lights:
A back light
A filler light
A key light
These are two distinct ways of describing lighting techniques
key lighting and low key lighting.
(High key lighting: bright lig
hting, when lots of artificial light is added to a scene)
High key lighting refers to a scene where lots of lights are included to create a
colourful and/or bright environment. The key light is the main light used in a scene.
This is a large light often p
laced at the front, by the cameras. This is because lighting
a subject from behind has a particular effect; for example, it can create a silhouette or
a distinct glow coming from behind a character. Filler lights refer to the other lights
used in a scene,
and the director will want to ensure the filler lights ‘fill’ any gaps in
the lighting, as otherwise shadows are created.
key lighting: where fewer filler lights are used so shadows and pools or
darkness are created)
Low key lighting is created by u
sing only key and back lights. This creates areas of
light and darkness. This lighting will be used when a director wants to create a
particular atmosphere. Shadows and darkness are often associated with particular
genres, for example, the horror genre r t
he thriller, when a sense of mystery is part of
the plot. Low lighting and flickering candles which create shadows can also be part of
the romance genre. So lighting and colour are used for two main purposes
to set the
mood and also to give the film a pa
When low key lighting is used the key light
be moved away from its central
position so it
can cast shadows and light for particular effect. Often, as characters can
move in and out of the light, changing emotions can be signalled a
nd a sense of
unease or secrecy is communicated.
The set design or choice of location can be very important to a film. In disaster films,
in westerns, in action films set in exotic places
the representation of the setting is
part of the pleasure
for audiences. Sometimes the setting plays an important part in a
film’s narrative. For example, in the film
Thelma and Louise
(1991), two women are
trying to escape various aspects of their pasts as they travel through the American
countryside. When they
reach the Grand Canyon, the wide shots of the dramatic
landscape seem to represent their quest for freedom. They seem small and powerless,
dwarfed by the landscape but they also seem protected by the majestic environment
that surrounds them.
setting allows the film
maker to impress audiences with spectacular
landscapes, massive crowds, huge spaceships and fantastic, futuristic worlds. Special
effects are often used to maximum effect in set design and rather employing vast
numbers of extras, co
mputer technology can now create artificial crowds.
Setting creates time and place. If set in a historical period, a certain amount of
accuracy will be important to audiences. Obviously the authenticity is more important
in some genres than in others. Cos
tume dramas, fro example, are set in a particular
historical period and part of the audience’s enjoyment of this genre is elaborate
costuming and use of set. Therefore a certain amount of accuracy is important both to
makers and the audience.
tume, props and make
In everyday life we often judge people on first impressions. These impressions are
formed by what people wear, what they carry, their make
up and hair, and perhaps
even their size and colour. In films, these things are important way
s of telling us
something about different characters. They can change throughout the film to show us
that things are changing for characters within the narrative.
Costume simply refers to the ‘clothes’ worn by a character, so this could be the
mour of Predator, a glamorous dress or the furry feet of a hobbit!
It can tell us what people do for a job, if they are rich or poor and even give us clues
what kind of person they are, for example, through the symbolic use of colour.
For some chara
cters costume is essential both to the genre and the narrative. Spider
man uses costume both to mask his identity and to work with his special powers. The
Men put on ‘uniforms’ to show they are about to use their powers and work
together as a team.
stume works alongside setting to establish the historical setting of a film and
aspects of individual characters within that place. Changes in costume might be used
to tell us about personality changes but also about time passing. In films like
The Towering Inferno
(1974) it portrays the original party atmosphere and
glamour of some of the characters involved. However, when the disaster strikes and
the characters are trying to survive, their
costumes are torn and their make
up must show
burns and injuries.
Compare the two images below.
Jean goes through a transition in the films
changing from a ‘good’ character to a
Which do you think is the good and bad Jean?
What brings you to these conclusions
costume, props, make
up, facial expressions?
, Rose’s costume is very important in showing her social class but also how
restricted she feels. At the beginning she moves stiffly and seems to hide behind her
clothes and hat. As the film goes on,
her clothes become less formal, although they
are still appropriate for a woman of her social standing. She is even seen naked at one
point, signifying how she is shedding her old life (not just her clothes).
up is mention
ed you may have instantly thought about glamorous women
up to look more attractive, but in films make
up is often used to make
actors look grotesque, or much older than they are in real life. It can even transform
them from one gender to anoth
er as in
up can create characters from fantasy and aliens from different worlds. Of
up is also used to create scars and injuries.
Character positioning within the frame
A character’s position
in the frame is significant for various reasons. If a character is
in the foreground and in focus, then we can be sure that there is something very
important about them. We may be listening to a character in the background but the
character who is foregro
unded grabs our attention.
Often the director will ‘balance’ the screen by carefully positioning characters within
the frame. They may place them at different heights to show their various positions in
terms of power and importance. Characters can be posi
tioned to show their
relationships with each other. For example, if an argument has taken place, characters
may be positioned far apart. The classic western ‘shoot
out’ shot is still commonly
Body language, expression and movement
e tells us about the relationships between different characters on screen.
The hero in an action or superhero film will have a strong stance. A weaker character
might be fidgeting to show they are nervous. We are accustomed to reading elements
of body lang
uage as signifiers of a person’s status or emotional state so we look for
these clues in films too.
Although dialogue is still an important aspect of most films’ narrative (because it
moves the story on), we also focus on the use of music and sound
effects in film
studies. Sound was not included in films until the late 1920s but it was still important
for creating atmosphere in films and was created in cinemas by live musicians.
Nowadays we are well aware of the importance music and sound effects h
ave on the
impact of a film, and surround sound has greatly enhanced the pleasures received
packed films such as action and disaster genres.
Music in films often plays a crucial role in creating the appropriate atmosphere;
horror films in par
ticular seem to greatly benefit from the use of suspense
musical scores. The changing pace and volume in music can greatly affect the
emotions of an audience and the style of music can make the audiences scared,
amused or very emotional. It can al
so be important when creating
a cultural setting.
Although it is just one element of film analysis, editing is probably the most important
aspect of film creation. Some would say the editing process is where the film is
actually made. This is beca
use editing is where the film
maker sits down and connects
all the camera shots together. At this stage they decide:
The order of scenes
The pace of scenes
Which scenes they will include and discard
When we look at editing there are two wares to concentra
The speed of the editing (how long each shot lasts)
The style of editing (how each shot is joined to the next)
Some of the technology used to make films
like the good old camera and the film
has been around for ov
er a century. Digital technology is changing all the
Continuity Editing is One of the Oldest Techniques
Continuity editing aims to help the audience concentrate on the story and ignore the
edits. The conventions film makers follow for continuity edit
ing were first established
in Hollywood in the early 20
century. The most important one is the 180 degree rule.
s Improved the Look and Sound
Over the years cinema’s changed from silent to sound and black and white to colour.
The big changes now are more to do with the quality of what we see.
Images are larger, cleaner and more imposing. Colours are more true to lif
Sound is louder and multi
generated images (CGI can make a unicorn look as realistic as a
kitchen sink. CGI is now cheaper than shooting live action.
(1995) and their sequels are CGI throughout and have been
CGI only became possible when compression software advanced enough to
bring the files down to a manageable size.
Another big advance was morphing software which automatically merges two
objects to create a single flowing image.
o has Helped Smaller Film Makers
All film used to be recorded on celluloid. Now digital video (DV) cameras are good
enough to shoot a whole film on and this has led to some big changes.
DV images can be altered easily and cheaply using computers. Digital e
suites are smaller and offer tighter control of definition, colour and sound.
makers are always fans of anything that’s cheaper and many
now choose DV.
DV makes copying films without loss of quality cheaper and easier. DV films
ven be distributed over the internet
this could always have a big effect
on how we watch films in the future.
IMAX Creates Huge Images
IMAX has been around since the 1980s. It’s a filming and projection system that
gives you huge images
the screen’s a
s high as three double
decker buses and the
projector’s the size of a car. The screen’s so big that it completely fills the viewer’s
field of vision. Coupled with surround sound this makes for a very immersive viewing
experience. IMAX films are pricey to m
ake and tend to be shorter than feature length.
They’re usually documentaries.
are kept to one side of an imaginary
straight line. This keeps the audience in a fairly
fixed position relative to the actors. It helps them
believe that they are looking into a ‘real’ space
where real 灥潰oe ta步⁰ rt in real events⸠qhey
don’t ‘break in
to’ the film space.
What do we mean by ‘genre’?
The word ‘genre’ refers to a type or category. In your study of books and plays fro
English you will probably have encountered the concept of
genre. When you listen to
music you may have a favourite genre, for example pop or rock or rap. Genre can be
an important factor when choosing which film you want to watch. If it affects the
audience’s choice of film then clearly it will also affect the ki
nds of films that are
after all, film
makers need to ‘sell’ their films to as many people as
Sometimes it only takes a few minutes to recognise the genre of a film from its
particular look, sound or characters. Genre study has become a
key way of looking at
how films are made, analysed and received by audiences. (see you genre booklets for
a detailed list of genres although remember not all have been mentioned)
How do we identify genre?
We group films together according to various sim
ilarities, which include:
(location, historical time period) e.g. frontier towns in the Wild
e.g. greed, law and order, corruption, building new lives, justice and
e.g. Cassidy, the former gunslinger who arrive
s in town looking
to build a new life; Jake, the hard
hearted leader of the bandits; Marylou, the
local teacher whose husband, the former sheriff, has been shot by Jake
Props or significant objects
e.g. the sheriff’s badge, Stetsons, guns, horses,
Narrative and plot
town citizens are terrorised by bandits who
steal their money and threaten women and children
e.g. wide shots which emphasise the landscape, majestic music, fast
editing in gun sequences
Obviously these exa
mples are from the western and in many ways this is one of the
easiest genres to identify.
Frontier towns, mid
American Indian tribes
un fights, disputes
over land and cattle
wacky, stressed out
Modern cities, night
time, bars, narrow
Young friends, loners
Serial killings, treat to
Other planets, small
Search for new w
aliens take over the
For the genres evident in
The Hurt Locker
complete a spider diagram looking at the
six areas described above.
The relationship between genre, the audience and the film maker
enre is very important in terms
audience. Think about the ways in which the
‘audience’ uses genre:
As an easy way to spot the kind of films they like or dislike at the cinema
As a way of subconsciously responding to the short cuts and clues within its film
As a way of comparin
g one film with another.
Can you think of any other ways in which the audience uses genre?
Genre is also important to the film
maker. Think about the ways that the film
uses it. Of course it is a simple and effective way of selling their films to a
target audience; but how do they ensure that the popularity of a particular type of film
is maintained or re
invigorated? We may be fans of a specific genre but few of us
would want to see the same film over and over again.
makers must c
onstantly look for ways of bringing something new to an old
genre. Think about the recent success of
Pirates of the Caribbean
. Pirates films, or
‘the swashbuckler’ were popular in the first half of the twentieth century with stars
such as Douglas Fairbanks
and Errol Flynn, but very few prate films have been made
during the past 50 years. What is it about the Pirates of the Caribbean formula that has
made it so successful that two more follow
ups have been produced?
makers will want to ‘put their
own stamp’ on whatever they do and this is
how genres evolve and change. Sometimes they want to subvert the genre, surprising
audiences and getting them to think by turning genre features upside down or inside
out. Quentin Tarrantino, for example, says he
loves to ‘bend and twist and stretch
genre’ in order to create something new or surprising for his audience.
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The Hurt Locker
hard driving action film
Celebrated for its breathtaki
ng realism in depicting soldiers and explosions,
The Hurt Locker
is being called "the best Iraq war movie," with the
qualification that the genre has been weak and the public response weaker.
Macho men in dazzling exploits, exhilarating and always a littl
e terrifying to
watch, with adrenalin and testosterone spurting off the screen. If war is a drug,
this movie could give you a contact high.
Gives you immediacy and knowledge of soldier life, with the shaky digital
camera and in
out zooms of the genre
(the action is so good, we soon
The movie takes no political stand, other than the opening quote from Chris
Hedges: "War is a drug." This is like the point of view Andrew Swoford used
for Sam Mendes' 2005
, which, however unsuccessful
in some aspects
and poorly received, conveys that soldiers don't question war because they're
too busy doing dangerous jobs, or waiting and hoping to do them, and trying
to stay alive until, God willing, their tour ends.
lack of preaching is one of
's strengths, its focus on one man
somehow doing a job isolated even from his own team fails to provide any
larger context of the war or of the country.
Totally committed to recreating the experience of war as far as possible on
film, and that com
mitment makes any abstract arguments unnecessary.
Notes on Film Language in
The Hurt Locker
The combination of script, camera work, music and editing has given the
audience a soldier’s eye view
from this character driven film.
The actors took on such a r
ealistic persona of the characters they almost
seemed to become the soldiers they depicted. With multiple
cameras, close crop shots, and the magnified sound form inside the protective
bomb suit it puts the actors right on the street with th
The movie was shot in Jordan in the summer and both cast and crew were
exposed to the same environmental conditions as the troops in the Middle
The effect of these elements does not just bring the war to the audience, it
brings the audien
ce right into the war.
Makes you feel like you are a participant
Made a documentary feel out of fictional material
Puts you in the film
Puts the camera on the edge of the action so you have to participate
There were 4 unit
s placed 360 degrees around the set
No place for the actors to turn with out seeing a camera they were hiding
In the most basic terms, a narrative is the story and the plot is how the story is
are essentially three ways in which a narrative can be structured:
A circular narrative is a film that begins at the end. This might sound strange but, if
you think about it, there are many films that start at the end a
nd then use a series of
flashbacks, or construct the whole narrative around one flashback, and then return to
where the film began.
Road to Perdition
(2002) begins with an image of a young boy standing on a beach,
with an adult voice
over introducing the
narrative. It is clear that the adult voice is the
boy later on in life and then the narrative follows him through the action of the film.
At the end of the film we return to the image of the boy and hear his adult voice
narrating again, so the film has re
turned full circle to where it began.
when a film moves to a scene in the past that is relevant to the present.
when a character from the film or an unknown voice gives us additional
information about something that is
that the characters in the film cannot
However, not all narratives with flashbacks and voice
overs are circular.
(1994) has an interesting narrative structure because, although events unfold
more or less in chronological order
, rather thank just seeing Forrest at the beginning
and end of the film, we keep returning to him sitting on the bench telling his story.
His life story is amazing; he has witnessed many historical events important to
American culture. Therefore the narrat
ive has more of an episodic structure which
breaks up these events into more manageable narrative pieces.
The episodic narrative structure is directly comparable to how fictional books break
up a story into chapters. Often these chapters follow on sequent
ially but sometimes
different viewpoints or aspects of the story are told in different chapters and these
interrupt or disrupt the chronological flow.
A linear narrative is the most simple and commonly used narrative structure; it refers
to a story
that is told in the order in which events happen
from beginning to end.
These are sometimes referred to as ‘cause and effect’ narratives, as consequences of
one event have an effect on something else and things move along in this linear
is not to say that linear narratives are boring. There can be many twists and turns
in the plot within this structure and audiences may still have to work hard to find out
what’s going on.
The Sixth Sense
reate mystery and intrigue but yet follow linear narratives. Linear narratives are only
simplistic in reference to time and place, not in terms of plot.
As well as considering how the narrative is to be read by audiences, it is import
think about whose viewpoint they are being asked to see the story from. A narrator
can tell us which character we are meant to feel most connected to and the camera can
also add to this by showing us relationships or events from their point of view
offering us point of view shots) if a director really wants us to feel part of the film’s
narrative, they can add to this feeling by giving us a restricted narrative viewpoint. In
a restricted narrative the audience only get to know as much as the ch
aracters do. This
way we are as puzzled as they are and have to work out what is going to happen as the
story goes along, just as they do.
Other films give audiences a god
like perspective. In these films we see much more
than the main characters. We see
events that they don’t and might be aware of others
plotting against them. This is referred to as an omniscient narrative. Omniscient
narratives create suspense rather than mystery because we know lots of aspects of the
narrative; we are just left in suspe
nse about how the main characters will find out.
a narrative that only allows us to know what the characters
know. Omniscient narratives
a narrative which allows us to know more about the
characters and their situation than they
Some genres tend to use the same kind of narrative viewpoints as it fits with other
generic conventions. For example, crime films often use a restricted narrative because
working out the clues alongside the detective is part of the enjo
yment of the genre.
Disaster films, however, often put us in an omniscient position where we know more
than the characters. We see the meteor or the giant wave before they do; we may learn
more scientific knowledge than them and we see all the different ch
aracters with their
different knowledge of events.
Narrative time and space
Editing is a micro element of film language but it is very important to the way a
narrative is structured; during the editing process the order in which events are
revealed to th
e audience is finally organised. In addition, it is in the editing that the
pace of certain scenes is decided through the amounts of cuts placed between shots.
Time is manipulated quite a lot in films without us really thinking about it. It can be
d so that a moment lasts much longer than it would in real life and it can be
reduced so that all the uninteresting or irrelevant parts of a character’s day are cut out.
We accept the gaps in narrative time (they are referred to as ellipsis). When a
cter is travelling from one end of the city to another, we do not see every detail
of their journey. We don’t see characters eating breakfast or brushing their teeth
unless something is happening that is relevant to the narrative, because these are
sary details. Again we accept their omission as part of the film world rather
than the real world.
Disaster films often stretch time so the build
up to the drama can last much longer
than it would in reality. This increases the excitement and tension in
the audience as
they watch the different characters’ reactions as time ticks away towards the climactic
event. (In The Hurt Locker the climax of the opening scene is slowed down as we see
the effects of the explosion)
A good example of this can be found i
The Day After Tomorrow
in the scene where
the tidal wave hits New York. It takes just under 3 minutes of screen time from the
wave hitting the Statue of Liberty to the point where it engulfs the library where the
main characters are. During this scene we
cut between various shots of the wave;
some characters on a bus and Sam saving Laura as they manage to outrun the wave
and escape into the library. We know that time has been stretched here but, as an
audience of a disaster film, we accept this as a gener
ic convention and enjoy the
Several academics have applied theories to narrative structures. This means that they
have compared stories, and the typical ways they are structured, and created ways of
e these theories in film studies to help us understand how characters are used
within films to create meanings for audiences and we examine common patterns of
storytelling in different genres of film.
One of the most well
known of these th
eorists is Vladimir Propp. Although his
theories were originally written in the 1920s, and refer to Russian folk stories, they
have since been used in reference to many modern films in film studies.
Propp referred to eight main character types. These are:
who departs on a quest
the hero’s opponent
who gives the hero some magic power
who sends the hero on his quest
who aids the hero
who is the hero’s reward, the object of his quest
The false h
The father (of the princess)
Obviously you can’t take a theory from 80 years ago about Russian stories and relate
it directly to every film made. Having said that, if you take into account social change
and the difference in form, it is surprising how
accurate some of Propp’s character
types can be applied to many modern films narratives (as well as television
Deal or No Deal
in this case the player
he players and audience members, Noel
War of the
The characters in this film could be categorised as:
The hero = Ray
The princess = Mary Ann
The helper = Robbie
The villain = the aliens
The donor = Grandmother
The dispatcher = Ha
Each of these character types has a specific role within the narrative. The dispatcher
sends the hero on their ‘quest
the princess is the reward for the hero’s endeavours.
Sometimes, one character may take on more than one character function. For
xample, Lara Croft in
combines the roles of princess, hero and helper.
The helper and the donor are similar as they both assist the hero in some way, but
each role is slightly different. The donor gives the hero something to help them,
the helper helps them along the way. For example, Gandalf, in
Lord of the
(2001), acts as dispatcher and donor.
You must also remember that a narrative can have several versions of these character
types: there can be more than one villain in a narra
A fantasy film has been referred to here because it is often easy to observe Propp’s
character types in these films. The
films are often referred to in discussion
of Propp. That is because these kinds of stories commonly have a main charac
goes on a quest. However, many narratives from many genres have central
protagonists who must achieve a goal by the end of the film and characters serve
either to help, or prevent, them from reaching this goal.
You should also not presume the ‘pr
incess’ has to be a woman. In modern terms the
‘princess’ could refer to a character who needs ‘rescuing’ or is the ‘reward’ and this is
not always a woman in contemporary narratives. Here again Lara Croft is a good
example of a modern
the central character in a film)
Todorov, a Bulgarian academic, devised a way of looking at narrative structures
according to the different stages of the narrative:
The equilibrium (situation)
the state of balance in the narrative, wher
get to know the characters and their situation.
oppositional characters are introduced and the story moves
The recognition (of the disruption)
where the story develops, different events
and characters become involved and mo
re drama occurs.
The attempts to repair the disruption
where there may be a twist or climactic
The new equilibrium (new situation)
the problem is solved and harmony is
resolved, though things may have changed.
An easier way of thing about this i
introduces the characters and elements of plot
something happens to upset the situation the characters are in
and they must do something to overcome the obstacle or problem
rs have been able to deal with the disruption and
we are left with a new but altered situation than we were introduced to.
Disruption sparking a train of events leading to a new equilibrium
The first and second equilibriums (settled situations) are always dif
This film has a closed narrative
a tidy ending. An open narrative leaves the
path clear for a sequel (or three)
This is a single narrative. A real film would probably have one or two sub
plots, creating a multi
As well as crea
ting a strong story, genre films rely heavily on location and
setting to immerse the audience in the film experience.
Classical narratives (as detailed above) routinely begin with an act which disturbs the
original state of things and which is answered,
by the film’s end, with another act
establishes the initial order or balance. Thus a murder mystery, whether a
eye film of the 1940s (
The Maltese Falcon
, 1941) or an action picture of the
Beverly Hills Cop
, 1984), will begin with th
e discovery of a crime (such as a
dead body) and end with the solution of the crime. An adventure story or quest
(Raiders of the Lost Ark
, 1981) is launched with the loss, absence, or lack of a desired
object and concludes with its attainment (or at least
discovery). A love story (
, 1990) starts with a chance encounter and culminates with a marriage. A
, 1975) or horror (
The Silence of the Lambs
film begins with the death of an innocent victim and ends with t
he actual or symbolic
death of the thing, which is routinely reincarnated for the sequel(s).
In between the beginning and the end of the film’s overall narrative action, a series of
additional, smaller disturbances take place, followed tentative restorati
ons of order,