CT Let's discuss OT Cinematography and Production Design

Discussion in 'Classic Trilogy' started by The_Improved_BMD, Mar 7, 2014.

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  1. The_Improved_BMD Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Feb 10, 2005
    star 1
    Star Wars - Gilbert Taylor (DP), John Barry (Production Design)

    TESB - Peter Suschitzky (DP), Norman Reynolds (Production Design)

    RotJ - Alan Hume (DP), Norman Reynolds (Production Design)

    Of the original trilogy, my favorite film in terms of appearance is Star Wars. I like how there is such stark contrast between the antiseptic black and white Imperial sets and the softer, more earthy tones of the desert scenes and rebel base. It has the most visually distinct look of the trilogy to me. I feel TESB also looks very nice. However, I full RotJ is visually dull and has no remarkable cinematic moments. It's just flat.

    This is only my opinion. Let me read yours.
  2. Mr. K Moderator Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Oct 23, 1999
    star 5
    Gil Taylor, despite his clashes with GL, provided an iconic look for SW which followed through to the rest of the films. But Suschitzky's work in ESB is IMO the best of the bunch. Some of the images he captures during the Bespin scenes is absolutely breathtaking. Even in other shots, there's a style that's just a notch up from what Taylor did before. Look at this image from the Falcon's cockpit. Look how he has the lights casting on the faces- very different from Taylor's take.
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    My favorite image captured by Suschitsky for ESB....[IMG]
  3. ObiAlKenobi Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Mar 10, 2012
    star 2
    My vote has to go to the ESB. To me, it was the definitive SW film on all levels. The visuals are breathtaking to me (from Hoth to Bespin).
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  4. Garrett Atkins Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Feb 11, 2013
    star 4
    Add an ESB vote for me, beautiful visuals (especially in the Luke-Vader duel).
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  5. Ord-Mantell70 Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Mar 9, 2009
    star 3
    I'm personally awestruck by the photography, lighting and color mixing of some ESB scenes :

    - Echo base and control room scenes.
    - Falcon arriving to Cloud City.
    - first part of Cloud City duel (carbon freezing chamber).

    Second part of Luke versus Vader in ROTJ is visually breathtaking too (with those shimmering blue lights in the dark).

    Regarding production design, the carbon freezing chamber set in ESB is the most terrific to me.

    Also like very much the Lars homestead exteriors and interiors in ANH (fascinating contrast between primitive dwellings and futuristic technology), Jabba's palace oudoors and indoors in ROTJ, and Echo base sets in ESB.

    Overall, my vote goes to ESB as well.
    Last edited by Ord-Mantell70, Mar 9, 2014
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  6. Beezer Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Jul 5, 2013
    star 4
    It's not an entirely fair comparison because E5 and E6 had quite a bit larger budget than E4, where they had to cut corners at every turn. That being said, I would probably go with E5 because of how much I enjoy Cloud City.
  7. Ingram_I Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Sep 7, 2012
    star 2
    It should also be noted that the much beloved visual aesthetics of The Empire Strikes Back are not necessarily the result of better, more talented filmmaking, but the thematic evolvement of the story. A New Hope is indeed rather stark -- between whites and blacks, sands and grays -- because the story itself at that point is a more simplified dichotomy between good and evil; the old proverbial "white hats vs. black hats" Western motif. Aside from budgetary advantages, the approach in cinematography for Empire via Kershner, Suschitzky and Reynolds was predicated on Lucas’ choice to take the story down a darker, dreamier and more ambiguous path, as a direct thematic response. But this shouldn’t take away from appreciating some of the flourishes A New Hope has to offer on its own. Midday sunny desert exteriors and barrenly studio lit interiors give the film a very plainspoken, objective quality, though daylight and luminous white glows are still used expertly to achieve a certain level of mythic shimmer and gauze. And while the film averages a more binary palette, intermittent is a bold, reoccurring streak of fiery reds and pinks that opens it up with an off-set color eccentricity.

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    Reiterated from a discussion I posted elsewhere some two year ago:

    What Empire is really doing is utilizing colors on a temperate level. I’ve since described it as an "icy-hot" film. Filtered through atmospherics both in-camera and by way of post-production mattes, deep blues become cold, the twilight of Dagobah feels clammy and floor-lit oranges steam like a sauna. The darker tone itself is merely a countervailing result of these intensely vibrant paints, as the trick of cinema is to direct the senses while redirecting the emotional perception; high contrast, where its the deep lighting and intense colors that define the gloom we feel, as opposed to just filming a series of dark images.

    Return of the Jedi has always been dismissed as the blandest looking of the OT, unfairly in my opinion. I think it mixes the sensibilities of the prior two films without ever mimicking either one, maintaining its own thankless even keel. Compared to Empire’s consistently tight anamorphic framing, everything here displays a slightly boxier, four-square shooting style and with a decrease in long-lensing, as if our window into this world has been pulled back to stage level. But with it comes a certain tableau effect that allows for an old fashion vignette style of composition which does maintain dramatic perspectives and some fine graphic matching/lining. The key factor to this dynamism is that each film displays a distinctive visual tone, often by adhering to its own base or vertebral color. Lucas, Marquand and DP Alan Hume maintained a largely straightforward lighting scheme in tandem with a specific choice in art direction and costume design, for in this film the base color is black. An entire rank of Imperial officers, all previously gray, are now uniformed in black, as is the attire of Bib Fortuna, the Emperor, Darth Vader (obviously) and, center stage, Luke Skywalker. Blackness seems to lurk in every corner and crevice of this film, frequently obscuring the four corners of the frame inside Jabba’s palace while the whole of the Endor’s forest, though green and lush, is alternately composed of endless black patches that come natural to the deep woodsy foliage of the Northern California Redwood coast. And note how the Death Star’s shuttle bay platform shines like obsidian. Additionally, this movie features multiple extended scenes that take place at night, both on Dagobah where Luke speaks with a ghost Ben Kenobi and then later on Endor where he himself counsels Leia.

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    The grand culmination of this scheme is the battle between Luke and Vader in the Emperor’s throne room, with all three characters garbed in black, in a darkened setting. It’s a risky move, visually. Even Lucas, during the bonus commentary track of the scene, briefly quips the technical, photographic difficulty of trying to make the images register on screen. I always thought they pulled it off rather well and favor it as another one of those moments in Star Wars that delves into a kind of abstract. It is here that we should recognize the thematic importance of this aesthetic. Since Vader and the Emperor are both dressed in black as a clear calling to the dark side of the Force, does that mean that Luke’s appearance is taking him down the same path? Not necessarily. In the previous films (and fantasy in general) darkness or full-on black conventionally represented some form of evil, villainy or doom, yet by this final episode it takes on a whole new and more profound significance. In Jedi black is no longer the color of evil, but ultimately the color of void. Black is the most dominate of all colors, an absolution, the final form.

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    That Luke -- from white in Episode IV to gray in Episode V -- now appears in black is the visual mark of his completion as a hero of singular purpose and conviction. Along with Vader and the Emperor, all three are individual final forms bought together at the precipice of this epic myth. Two opposing black knights in combat under the goad of a black sorcerer; black on black on black. So what does it mean? It means nothing...literally. The final duel between good and evil becomes the erasure of everything that separates the two, were black cancels out black. A vacuum. All that remains is choice. And such is the power of this scene on a cinematic level, as the vacuum becomes the fulcrum point where the hero must choose the path before him. When slowly prowling under the stairway, Vader moves as a black shapeless mass, catching only enough light to render his mask spectral-like. It’s almost as if he ceases to exist as a separate entity and is now a mere taunting extension of Luke’s psyche; Luke, whose face we see divided by the light and the dark.
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    This to me is masterfully sensible visual storytelling where light and color and concept-imagery are in full service to central themes. There’s nothing dazzling about this scene. Nothing is flaunted as to call the viewer’s attention away from its meaning. The artistry is powerful but equally transparent, to such a degree that all of this intellectual study is inevitably limp-dick. A child watches this scene and the imprint is subconscious, they feel it; because the story rings clear and because the technical direction, though workmanlike, is none-the-less so humbly purposeful. Lastly, is the final alteration in Luke’s clothing. In the Star Wars movies the costume design is very specific in that even slight changes can (re)define a character. After surviving the Emperor and saving his father, Luke returns to Endor with the lapel of his single breasted suit folded open to reveal a distinctively gray triangle. So we have a Jedi savior dressed in black, with one hand dark and other the hand light, and with a gray geometric over his chest. Of both sides of the Force, Luke is a walking balance.

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    In closing, I’d say all three films are superb in the areas of cinematography and production design that best suites the transitioning story and tone.
    Last edited by Ingram_I, Mar 12, 2014
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  8. MatthewZ Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Sep 21, 2003
    star 4
    This is one of my favorite RoTJ shots.

    Vader as the dark shadow over Luke's shoulder. Throw in some aggressive red with the Royal Guards.


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