Film Analysis Holly Cox Adam Deutsch English 225: Introduction to Film August 30, 2010 Film Analysis There is so much more to analyzing films than watching a movie. Film analysis is a very complex procedure. “Analysis generally, means breaking up the whole to discover the nature, function, and interrelationships of the parts” (Boggs, J. & Petrie, D. , 2008, p. 7). In analyzing a film, you must not only analyze the film as a whole, but you must also analyze each element that makes up the film. Because a film is constantly moving, it is difficult to analyze all of its elements in a single viewing.
Therefore, to analyze a film properly, it is usually necessary to view the film at least twice and preferably multiple times. There are several elements that make up a film, such as the fictional and dramatic elements, visual design, cinematography and special visual effects, editing, color, sound effects and dialogue, musical score and acting. Each of these elements work together to convey the theme of the film to the viewer. The first step in film analysis is identifying the films theme. When discussing film analysis, the theme refers to the unifying, central concern of the film, the special focus that unifies the work (txt, 2008, p. 0). There may be several different things going on in a single film, but one will stand out amongst the rest as the theme. After viewing a film, you should be able to analyze all of its elements and how they contribute to the films theme. Five categories make up the theme of every film: the plot, the emotional mood, the character, style or texture, and ideas. In every film each of these elements are present, but one is more prevalent as the focus and theme. In order to analyze the theme, it is helpful to first figure out the element that the film is focused.
In a movie where the theme is focused on the plot, the film is usually action packed and fast paced. The events and characters in such films are only important in the context of the story being told in the said film. An example of a movie where the theme was based on a summary of the plot would be Spiderman. In the film Spiderman, the film is focused on the action happening in the film. It is a fasted paced, action filled film where the events and the outcome have no real significance except for in the context of the movie. The theme of a film can also be focused on an emotional mood.
There are a wide variety of moods that can serve as the thematic concern in modern films (Boggs, J. & Petrie, D. , 2008, p. 22). Films such as Friday the 13th and House on Haunted Hill are designed to scare us. Films such as The Notebook and Just Like Heaven evoke feelings of romance and love. The films The Bridge to Terabithia and Marley and Me are designed to bring the viewer to tears. In these types of movies the theme can usually “be best stated by identifying the prevailing mood or emotional effect the filmmaker has created” (Boggs, J. Petrie, D. , 2008, p. 21). In films that focus on the emotional effect or mood, the plot and events are important, but their most important role is evoking emotion. Although all films have characters, some films actually focus on one single, unique character. In these types of films, what happens in the film is important as it helps the viewer to understand the character. A movie focused on character is Forrest Gump. Forrest; the main character is not an overly intelligent man who finds himself accidently present at many important events.
The film is about the events of Forrest’s life, but these events are merely used to help the viewer understand the character that the film writer is trying to development. In this type of film, the focus of the theme is on one unique character. . The focus of the theme of a film can also be on style, texture, or structure. In these types of films, the director presents the story in such a different way that the style or texture is the most memorable aspect of the film. This makes the thematic element the actual structure of the movie. The film Memento, released in 2000 is a perfect example of a film focused on tyle and/or structure. The story in this film is told in an odd way, as the main character has no short-term memory. The director reveals the story through forward flashes of things that are to come to compensate for his unreliable memory. The way the story was told in the film is what remains in the viewers mind after seeing the film, making its theme one based on the style of the movie. In most serious films, the action and characters have significance beyond the context of the film itself – a significance that helps to clarify some aspect of the experience, or the human condition (Boggs, J. & Petrie, D. 2008, p. 24).
The ideas in these films may fall into any one of the following categories: moral implications, the truth of human nature, social problems, the struggle for human dignity, the complexity of human relationships, coming of age, or a moral or philosophical riddle. In these films, the viewer is challenged to analyze the film as a whole and find the theme that best represents it. Although identifying the theme is a very important part of film analysis, it is not always a simple task. Identifying the theme can be considered the beginning and the end of film analysis (Boggs, J & Petrie, D. 2008, p. 32). After viewing a film, we may have an idea of what we believe the films theme to be. This is a great starting point for film analysis, but only after analyzing all of the films elements and how they relate as a whole can we truly identify a clear vision of what the theme actually is. Once the viewer can identify the theme of a particular movie, it helps the viewer to understand what the filmmaker’s purpose of making the movie was and also show what the filmmaker was trying to accomplish by making a certain film.
With the theme discovered, we can analyze each other part of the film and how it relates to the theme. There are many visual effects that a filmmaker must consider when making a film. Because all of the visual elements must relate to the film as a whole, visuals must be carefully contemplated and chosen to properly suite the specific film. Visual elements such as color, space, focus, depth of field, camera angles, point-of-view, composition, movement, aspect ratios, light, lighting and costume and design are all elements used by filmmakers that have an effect on the film as a whole.
While each of these elements are equally important, to the amateur person doing film analysis a few of these elements are more important as they are more easily understood. A very important visual element in all films is color. Color can be used in many ways. The director, in order to draw attention of the viewer to a specific part of a scene, can use color. This is an easy way for the director to direct the view of the viewer. In the film Avatar, the director uses a bright white when putting the mother tree in the screen to draw the viewer’s attention to the tree.
Colors are also used to convey a sense of temperature. Red, orange, yellow, and lavender convey a sense of warmth where blues, greens, and beiges convey a sense of cool. In the film Toy Story 3, there is a scene where the toys are slipping towards the end of the dump, the place where the last of the refuge is burned. The bright reds, oranges and yellows in this pit give the viewer a sense of warmth, of very high heat. The director used these colors to portray to the viewer the heat and the danger that the toys are facing in this scene.
Color can also be used as a transitional device, for example, in the film The Wizard of OZ, the film is black and white when Dorothy is in Kansas, and it goes to full color when Dorothy is not in Kansas anymore. There are several other ways a filmmaker uses color in a film so, when analyzing a film, the color must be looked at. It must be determined whether the color contributed or took away from the film as a whole. The setting is another important visual effect that is important in film analysis. It is important that the setting seem realistic, that it take the viewer to the time and place that the film is supposed to be taking place.
The setting is a large piece of the whole; it is a very important part of the storytelling. Some films, such as In Her Shoes and Love Happens, filmmakers are telling a story of people and their somewhat ordinary lives. In these types of films, the settings are homes or apartments of a specific atmosphere that a certain type of character would live in and regular places that they would go to such as work, grocery stores and restaurants. The setting helps the viewer to see what the characters normal, everyday lives are like, giving them a connection to the film and developing the character.
These settings make the story realistic and believable. In other films, for example, Saving Private Ryan the setting is crucial to telling the story. Because the story takes place during the invasion of Normandy the realistic war setting on the beach is imperative in conveying the story correctly. Costume and make-up is another important visual that should be analyzed in film. The different use of costumes and make-up in films can create an enormous difference in how the viewer portrays the film. If costumes and make-up are done with great success, they can contribute greatly to the film.
Costume and make-up can be so extreme and detailed that a make believe character will seem real to the viewer. This is the case in the film Avatar. The costume and make-up used is so exceptional that the Avatar people look like creatures that could realistically exist, bringing the film to life for the viewer. Typically, a film is telling a story and a good story is one that is unified around its central theme. No matter what type of theme a story may have, a fictional film generally has a storyline that contributes to the development of the theme (Boggs, J. & Petrie, D. 2008, p. 42). Another aspect of a good story is getting the viewer completely involved in the story. For a viewer to become truly involved in a film, it must be made believable. There are a few different ways that a filmmaker can give the impression of truth. The most common truth in film is externally observable truths. These truths are simply put, the way things really are. They may not always be happy truths, but they are truths based on what the viewer sees in the world around him. The 2007 movie Juno is the story of a teenage girl who accidently ends up pregnant.
While this truth is not pleasant, it is a truth that a viewer witnesses in real life therefore they accept it. A filmmaker may also use internal truths of human nature. In these films, the truths are not truths because they conform to the viewer’s personal experiences, but because the viewer wants or needs to believe that they are true. These films are the happily-ever –after types. The fairy-tale Cinderella a perfect example of a film of internal truths of human nature, it ends with happily-ever after just like all fairy-tales that the viewer wants so badly to believe. The other way that a filmmaker can portray a truth to the viewer s the artistic semblance of truth; the way things never were and never will be. In these types of films, the filmmaker makes an imaginary world that, for the duration of the movie, is believable. In the 1990 film Edward Scissor Hands starring Johnny Depp, the filmmaker made a world where a man with scissors for hands seem acceptable as the truth to the viewer. When analyzing a film, it is important that the film be believable as a good story is almost always credible. Dialogue is an essential part to any film and therefore it is an important element to look at in film analysis.
The dialogue can help reflect mood and emotions from the actors and to the viewers and it can also reflect the pace of action. In films such as the Lethal Weapon series, the dialogue reflects both the mood of the characters and the pace of the film. In Lethal Weapon 3 there is a scene where two cops are trying to diffuse a bomb. The dialogue is very quiet and quick in this scene, which portrays the actor’s sense of urgency to the viewer and also the fact that time is short and they must act quickly. Although dialogue is an important element in films, it is important that it is not overused.
The old saying, ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ describes this almost perfectly. The filmmaker must be sure to not over use dialogue as the visual before the viewer already says so much. Acting can ether make or break a film. The first things to consider are the physical characteristics of the actor and if they were suited to portray they character that cast for. Next, it is important that the actor’s performance is believable. If the part was not believable, it is important to determine if it was due to poor casting or if the actor simply did not deliver a grand performance.
Most importantly, how strong is the cast and how do their roles contribute to the film as a whole. In the 2009 film The Hangover, the acting was tremendous as it all contributed to the films theme of comedy. Each role was well written and then well played by each actor involved. Each actor in this film took the role that they were given, played the part absolutely convincingly, and each individually contributed to the films plot, theme, and to the overall success of the movie as a comedy. Although many times a viewer will accept films music without question, it is still an important part of the film as a whole.
Music has an extremely strong impact on the reaction of the viewer as it stimulates emotional responses. For instance, in a thriller film such as The Last House on the Left, the music in this film is intense in times of suspense and has the viewer on the edge of his seat. Without the music in this thriller, the emotional responses from the viewer would have been minimal at best. Filmmakers also use music to create structural rhythm in the film as a whole and in its individual shots by developing a sense of pace that corresponds to the pace of the movement in each shot and also to the pace of the editing (Boggs, J. Petrie, D. , 2008, p. 292). The musical score in a film, when effective becomes a reflection of the emotions in a film as a whole. Different films are made for different audiences and for different purposes. The term genre film is used to describe stories in movies that have been repeated again and again with only slight variations in some areas. Because genre films are about a story that has already been told repeatedly, the storytelling for the director in somewhat simplified.
There are several basic genres in film: western films, gangster films, films noir, war films, horror films, science fiction/fantasy films, screw-ball comedies, film musicals, romantic comedies, and action films. Each of these genres have a different purpose and are made for a different audience. For example, Spielberg’s E. T. was sci-fi film about an alien that was accidently left on Earth and found by a child that did not want him to leave. The genre of this film was science fiction and it was made for a family audience with the purpose to entertain.
There are so many elements to consider when analyzing the film as a whole that when I, as an amateur, begin to analyze a film I chose what I believe to be the most important elements to me in successful filmmaking. First, I try to decipher the theme of a movie and then decide if it is even a theme if I can relate to. Generally, if I cannot relate to the film on any level I will not take the time to watch it. Next, I look at the acting in the film. The actors are an important factor and will often determine if I am even interested in watching a film.
After viewing the film, I decide if the actors were right for the role, if they played the role well, and then if their part in the film contributed to the success of revealing the theme of the film thus contributing to the success of the film as a whole. The visual effects are something that I find extremely important in a film. When watching a film, it should be able to hold my attention therefore it must be visually stimulating. Through setting, color, lighting, and costume the director should be able to reveal a lot to me as a viewer. The musical score is also an important aspect in a film to me.
Music sets the emotional mood for me and often I will relate a song to a movie long after I view the film. Overall, I believe a film to be a success when it has a strong theme and every element of the film supports this theme to make it have an extreme impact on the viewer. If a film does this and the films theme is effectively portrayed to the viewer, the viewer walks away from the film satisfied with what they have just seen in relation to the theme. This makes a film an effective success.
References Boggs, J. & Petrie, D. (2008). The Art of Watching Films. (7th ed. ). Boston: The Mcgraw-Hill Companies, Inc.