Contributing writer for The Artifice.
The Cinematic Space Odyssey
Movies such as Gravity, Arrival, or the upcoming Passengers and Life films showcase the persistent human curiosity about outer space and who else (if anyone at all) is out there. We’re no longer in the era of little green men coming to invade the Earth in their silver flying saucers to abduct us or otherwise probe our brains. Cinematically speaking, how has the human vision of extraterrestrial life and exploration changed over the years? How have certain historical landmarks in the space program transformed what moviegoers want and expect to see in outer space-themed films? Has the recent media coverage about a possible mission to Mars in the not-too-distant future shifted the cinematic focus away from an interest in aliens to issues of human evolution/multi-planetary colonization? Is there something else at work here?
The Challenges of Writing Second Person Point of View
Using second person point of view isn’t exactly common when it comes to literature. It often brings to mind "Choose Your Own Adventure" stories, but not likely much else. Novels often seek to put the reader into the protagonist’s shoes so to speak, which second person point of view literally does, so what accounts for its limited use? Examine what puts this type of narrative at a disadvantage compared to the more popular first-person and third-person points of view in novels. What are some examples that make good use of second person point of view and how they successfully navigate its pitfalls and/or subvert its expectations?
The Role of Opening Credits
TV opening credits obviously let viewers know who the main cast is as well as give everyone involved in the process their due. The aesthetics and artwork of each individual show’s credits can also persuade the audience into participation. How do opening credits function depending on what shows one is watching? There are certain shows that begin with catchy themes, eye-catching graphics, or contain "easter egg"-like codes/foreshadowing. There are others which keep the visibility of opening credits to a minimum, perhaps to heighten the realism of the show’s fictional world. How does the nature of certain shows determine the way opening credits are presented to the audience?
Movies to TV: What caused the shift?
Whether it’s True Detective, Fargo, Mad Men, Boardwalk Empire, Stranger Things, etc. there has been a strong shift of interest from movies to TV. TV shows now have high production levels that mimic large-scale movies in both aesthetics and tone. TV is perhaps taken more seriously now than ever before. Does this have to do with ease of access? With services such as Netflix, viewers can binge-watch entire seasons if they want to. There is also the bankable element of episodic teasing out of narrative compared to the contained narratives of movies. Are TV shows taking more risks? Orange is the New Black and Stranger Things cast mostly unfamiliar faces yet Netflix is also responsible for reboots of familiar shows as with Fuller House and the upcoming Gilmore Girls. Even actors have shown greater interest in moving to TV, which was once seen as lesser than being a film star. Or is something else at work here? Can films make a comeback from this and how?
Can I Get a Take Two?: Actor Replacements in Film Franchises
What happens when an actor takes on a character played by someone else within the same franchise? I’m not talking about reboots that completely refresh the cast (as in Tobey Maguire, Andrew Garfield, and most recently Tom Holland as Spider-Man). I’m talking about a single franchise where the film brings an entirely different actor to play the same character. For example, in the Harry Potter film series the initial actor who played Dumbledore passed away and Michael Gambon had to step in for the rest of the series. There are also The Mummy movies, where Rachel Weisz dropped out of the cast by her own volition and was replaced by another actress for the third film in the franchise. In my experience, the different Dumbledores didn’t bother me at all but to have Brendan Fraser’s character with a different woman playing his wife was confusing. How have these transitions fared for films that have replaced actors in the middle of the same series? Were they considered jarring and rejected by audiences or did they do little to affect the series as a whole? Does the nature of these replacements have an effect as well (i.e. an unprecedented event such as an actor’s death vs. an actor’s or studio’s decision)?
Future Film Movements: How will reflexivity tackle fully-immersive cinema?
4D movie theaters are known for their immersive qualities including smells, seat vibrations, the simulation of certain weather conditions, etc. to replicate for the viewer what is being experienced in the fictional narrative presented onscreen. So far, 4D movies haven’t exactly dominated the movie-going experience but their existence does raise questions about how reflexivity will be achieved in the future. Self-reflexive films make viewers aware of the fact that they are watching a film, revealing “the artifice” as it were of the narrative and the characters involved. It’s a technique that’s often associated with art house or new wave cinema, though it can be found elsewhere in more palatable and consumer-friendly forms. Moviegoers usually like a fully immersive movie-going experience rather than be reminded that a film is a construct (it provides a nice escape from the tedium of reality for a few hours). With the increasing popularity of virtual reality in gaming nowadays, how will these increasingly more immersive technologies impact future movements in self-aware cinema? Will it undermine it all together? If not, how can reflexive techniques find a loophole around it to engage viewers as participants (not just spectators) again?
The Fall of Calm, Cool, and Collected and the Rise of the Flawed Hero
While watching re-runs of the 1960s cult classic, The Avengers, I was reminded of the effortless cool of many of that era’s heroes. With their witty banter and impeccable fashion sense, John Steed and Emma Peel were the epitome of the clever and effortlessly cool hero. Sean Connery as James Bond, the ever-jaded Humphrey Bogart, and even Cary Grant with his many aliases in the comic film Charade all exuded debonair qualities. Nowadays, many audiences gravitate toward anti-heroes instead. We are all about gritty realism, whether that’s by casting non-celebrity faces with minimal if any make-up as in Orange is the New Black, showing explicit content as in Game of Thrones or The Walking Dead, or simply having skewed morals as in House of Cards or Dexter. There are even heroes who revoke the traditional heroism thrust upon them as with Jessica Jones. Modern-day protagonists are not often meant to be looked up to, but humanly flawed and as susceptible to be corrupted as we are. Yet it goes even beyond mere human flaws. It seems we enjoy seeing the extremes of bad behavior and the worst versions of ourselves. How did this come about? Is there a way to attain gritty realism without sacrificing the self-assuredness of the supposed heroes?
No More Fade to Black
The trend of showing just about everything in media, even if it seems unnecessary. I’m not talking about censoring, but about limiting the audience’s act of imagination to fill in the rest of the picture. What happens when a level of subtlety, implicitness, and mystery is lost? I was thinking of some classic black-and-white films such as M, The Innocents, Nosferatu, The Third Man, Gaslight, etc. whose atmosphere is heavily reliant on what is shrouded by shadow. A lot of suspense, dread, as well as intrigue is created by what we can’t see. When many movies now are so well-lit and in high-definition color, has something been lost? It seems like there is a strong desire to expose and reveal as much as we can instead. Has this transition affected how movies are filmed in other ways?
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