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I've Seen the Light, but Where Did It Come From?
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In another episode of "Watching Movies Way Too Closely," we look at how the lighting always seems to be perfect, even when it isn't.
Warning: Potential spoilers ahead.
Lighting is very important in movies, so much so that the guy in charge of rigging up the lights gets the famous job title everyone can remember but no one can define: gaffer. Not only does lighting ensure everyone and everything can be seen by the camera, and therefore the audience, it also goes a long way in creating the right mood. Bright sunlight can perk things up, while dreary fluorescent light can suck the life right out. If done correctly, even the way light falls across an actor's face can help emphasize the story's point. In short, getting the right light is as essential as finding the right actor, the right dialog and the right music.
Sometimes, though, in the quest for flawless lighting, things end up a little flawed. Science fiction movies are the biggest culprit. Even in deep space, there is always some mysterious nearby light source, conveniently never caught on camera, that allows those space ships to be seen in all their wonderful detail. I can't really fault science fiction too much for this, though. Everyone likes their space dogfights with lots of impossibly loud bangs and huge explosions, so it stands to reason we want to see all the action as well, even if it's supposedly taking place in the pitch black void between the stars.
Outside the realm of science fiction, though, I have often been compelled to ask, "Exactly where is that light coming from, and how come nobody else notices?" Here are some of my favorite, er, highlights.
Lighting a scene that is really supposed to be dark, without resorting to sci-fi's disembodied lights, can be tough, but not impossible. If a strategically placed street light or a nice full moon isn't available, the movie makers will often take another existing light and give it a bit of a boost. Usually it's an effective trick, but sometimes it gets a bit obvious.
For example, when driving at night, the inside of a car is usually pretty dim. What little light there is usually comes from the dashboard. In real life, the dashboard's light is just bright enough to let the driver see the display, leaving everything else dark so there are no unnecessary distractions. In movies, though, dashboards shine brightly enough to let everyone see the driver's face. What's good for theatrics would be incredibly lousy for safety. Case in point:
Would you want to drive with that bright of a dashboard glaring at you? I wouldn't!
Sometimes in a movie's quest to present each and every scene with maximum drama, the lighting goes a bit haywire. In Airplane!, the lighting jumps around so often that I can't help but wonder if that's supposed to be one of the jokes. One particular scene in the cockpit starts like this:
Never mind for a moment how there really shouldn't be a bright light shining into the cockpit when it's supposedly dark outside. Later in the scene, Dr. Rumack (Leslie Nielsen) turns around, the camera shifts, and the light follows him!
Now that's dramatic!
Now I can't in good conscience rag on Animusic without first saying that the Animusic team have put together some excellent music and computer animation. I can't wait to see Animusic 3. If you haven't seen or heard of Animusic, truck on over to Animusic.com and prepare to be amazed.
The first song from Animusic 2 is titled "Starship Groove," and the video predictably has a sci-fi motif. Since I already forgave sci-fi for all those mysterious off-camera lights, maybe I shouldn't harp here. The funny thing is, though, the video actually opens without any mystery light!
Then, after the song starts, we get not one, not two, but a whole bunch of mystery lights!
I guess it goes to show, musicians will not be denied their moment in the spotlight, even if the musicians are robots and the moment happens in outer space...
Here is another scene where light that really is present gets a bit of extra help, except in this case, the helper light is very badly misplaced!
At the beginning of the movie, a TV is left on. When the station goes off the air, an eerie, flickering glow fills the room, supposedly from the static on screen. However, the flicker is very obviously not coming from the TV. In fact, at one point the camera almost catches the real source of the flicker, coming close enough for the glare to reflect off the lens!
Or perhaps this is all intentional and it's really the ghosts playing with the TV's light, making it shine where it shouldn't. Uh oh...
IT'S THE GHOST LIGHT!!!
And finally, here is one where the lighting is just so completely unrealistic that it actually kills the suspense for me.
Late in the movie, Clarice (Jodie Foster) has stumbled figuratively onto the serial killer's hide-out, and is now stumbling literally through rooms so dark that she can't even see the killer following her. He on the other hand is moving about quite easily, thanks to his night-vision goggles.
Fair enough. But tell me, how can she not see the guy when he's got a light right above him?
Granted, it's not exactly the sun, but it's a far cry from the total darkness the movie is trying to imply!
Welp, that's it for today. Tune in next time when we'll ask, "Where is that music coming from?"
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