Interstellar official trailer #3
I found time to watch a movie the other day. This is an unusual occurrence for me because it takes a huge chunk out of my day; but it was raining and I was on foot without an umbrella. Interstellar was showing, and happened to be something whose trailer did actually show promise. Plus I’m a huge Christopher Nolan fan; I have no doubt that history will look back on him as one of the greats – both for his visuals and his storytelling. This post is not so much a review as some observations and musings after three hours in a theatre seat from the point of view of a photographer…
I think I must be one of the few people who finds the pre-show ads and trailers interesting: both from a competitor benchmarking point of view (it’s useful to see what clients are paying for, plus what’s trending, and occasionally seeing some of your work on a very large medium) as well as an editing one. Trailers for upcoming movies must be cut in such a way that in the minute or two you’re watching, they have to get your attention immediately, hold it, and leave you on a cliffhanger of suspense wanting, desperately needing to see how it ends. But it’s Hollywood, and of course it always ends well after some degree of exaggerated conflict. I find the narrative structure of the trailer actually getting pretty formulaic: slow intro, fast cuts of key sequences in the plot, a slightly longer dramatic action scene that cuts to some text right as something exciting is going to happen, and then the end credits and the dreaded ‘COMING SOON IN TWO YEARS’. Few trailers seem to manage to do anything else, and though it’s a formula that usually works, it’s getting a bit tiring.
The only upcoming movie that caught my attention was Big Hero 6, partially for the humour, partially for the Mizayaki-inspired visuals, and because we’ve now reached a point in animation where the creators have managed to balance the fun, unreal aspect with little details that are real enough to be convincing. I’m going to make time to watch that one too, if not for the light relief, then out of curiosity to see what can be done when you pretty much have a blank slate and the technological horsepower to drive it.
What was slightly concerning was the advertisements. Out of seven in total, five of them were for cameras or cameraphones. Nikon, Canon, Oppo, Samsung and Sony all had spots; the latter three pushing smartphones with sole emphasis on the device’s photographic capabilities – and a whole load of impossible examples, with few exceptions, for both the cameras and camera phones. I wonder how many people would buy them and be disappointed – or the cameras, for that matter. It’s concerning for several reasons: firstly, impossible expectations have been set, which is either bad for your own business if you’ve got customers who can tell the difference, or bad for other people’s businesses if not – buyers now believe everything that comes out is gold. “Because the ad said so!” Secondly, there’s a growing disconnect between the camera market, the number of images being produced, the quality of those images, and the financial health of the camera makers: they’re all diverging.
Never have so many images been made with such mediocre content and quality, but at the same time never has there been so many capable devices in the hands of so many. Yet we’re not seeing growing camera makers – quite the opposite, actually. Something here is not right, and isn’t going to last.
Most worryingly, the societal obsession with recording everything and posting it to some sort of social media has meant that people don’t really experience life anymore; they watch it on their LCDs. And to be a good photographer, one really has to be a good observer – the capture part is something that should just be a reflex action that doesn’t require so much conscious thought. If you can’t see it, don’t notice it, then you’re going to miss it anyway. And that’s a shame, really, because life isn’t about making a selife out of it – there’s no future value to these images, because they’re not observations so much as narcissistic pleas for help. The last thing the world needs is more low-quality visual diarrhoea. There’s a reason I actually do very little family documentary these days, and what little I do almost entirely isn’t shared: firstly, it’s private; secondly, we have limited time with our loved ones. I’d rather live it in memory than obsess over capturing all of it, in conscious absentia.
But I digress. Interstellar was to me a modern classic. It fired on all cylinders for me – but then again I probably don’t have the same background as most of the audience; critics seem to think it’s too long and too boring and full of plot holes and scientific misses. Armchair scientists are right and wrong: there are some aspects of the film that cannot be incorrect simply because we don’t know for sure – what happens inside a black hole, for instance*. There are plot holes, but I didn’t notice them or was prepared to put them aside for the drama – and I doubt most viewers did either, until they were pointed out. And the length of it is because Nolan took the time to get the details right, and make them convincing: without these, it’s too easy to dismiss the whole movie as being unrealistic. And I think the length and cut conveys precisely the tedium of a very long (years) journey interspersed with periods of frantic action.
*Before somebody questions my credibility, I’m actually cosmologist by training.
Visually, the thing was a treat: it paid homage to Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey in many, many ways – the docking sequence and main mothership, for one, and the use of a slablike robot – but at the same time looked very, very realistic in the same way as NASA’s documentaries. And Nolan managed to do it without the tedium of Gravity, which was visually beautiful but both unrealistic and boring from a plot standpoint. What photographers will notice in particular is the subtle change in quality of light between the different environments – in space, it’s harsh and extremely directional; on earth, it has a warm, brown sort of quality – no doubt from the dust – and oddly reminiscent of a time in the past, perhaps the 60s and 70s; on foreign worlds it’s tinged with other hues that immediately signal ‘alien’ to our subconscious. My only regret was that I didn’t watch it in the IMAX format it was originally shot in – but then again maybe not, because it’s certainly something I’d want to watch again. Perhaps at home on a large 4k screen without an annoying talking couple off to the back-right and a bunch of teenagers with constantly beeping phones on my left.
Conceptually, it addressed a lot of very real situations that are facing humanity right now: food shortages, intellectual shortages, and a general abandonment of exploration and creativity in the pursuit of short sighted immediate wants and desires. There’s the reduction in exploration, humans taking our planet for granted, and the personal difficulty of feeling uncomfortable with the role society has determined is appropriate for you but deep down you know isn’t for you; it actually makes me wonder how much better the world would be if everybody had the courage to do either what they were good at or passionate about – rather than what society thinks they should do.
There’s so much easily accessible potential out there now. But there’s also very little real creativity; in cinema and otherwise. What Kubrick did in 2001 to make realistic special effects in the days before CGI required some seriously out of the box thinking; the floating pen scene is a great example. I doubt anybody would bother to take the time to find solutions like that these days; just CG it, or in the case of stills, photoshop and composite it. It’s truly refreshing when something different comes along. And that’s sad, and one of the reasons I insist on doing things in one shot: it’s not stubbornness or inability or unwilling to do the postproduction, it’s the simple fact that if we succumb to the laziness, we stop thinking. And if we stop thinking, we stop imagining, and that’s the end of creativity. MT
Limited edition Ultraprints of these images and others are available from mingthein.gallery
Visit the Teaching Store to up your photographic game – including workshop and Photoshop Workflow videos and the customized Email School of Photography; or go mobile with the Photography Compendium for iPad. You can also get your gear from B&H and Amazon. Prices are the same as normal, however a small portion of your purchase value is referred back to me. Thanks!
Images and content copyright Ming Thein | mingthein.com 2012 onwards. All rights reserved