Story-telling: Jurassic Park 3/3: Patterns, Patterns

Welcome to the third part of my posts about Jurassic Park in which I am trying to delve into the story as to learn from it. Perhaps this is useful, or perhaps it is not.

As already mentioned there is little to no character development in this movie. It is simply not that kind of movie in the sense that it is more aimed at action and showing the dinosaurs, but also because the movie covers less than a day in full. While it is not impossible for a character development to happen in less than a day, it is not very common or realistic.
However a movie doesn’t have to be realistic in the sense that a movie might show a change of character that happens within a very short span of time simply because it can do that and does not have to stick to reality.

To discuss the changes in the movies I want to look at patterns. A pattern is used to  visual guide the watcher through the movie and make scenes  link. This is probably even more important in a movie than in a written story as a movie is a visual medium that uses imagery to convey a story or in any rate: can make use of it.
What is a pattern you might ask? A standard pattern is a chronological one in which things linked to each other happen in order of time.  In Jurassic Park we will also examine few other ones.  Let’s have a look at how Spielberg uses patterns to convey the story.

Hammond: the road from joy to sadness.

Hammond is the ceo of the company that builds Jurassic Park. As mentioned in the two earlier posts.. he is the creator. He is thus appropriately dressed in white for that seems to be the color associated with creators such as Yaweh,  the ultimate creator of the universe according to the bible.

In Jurassic Park Hammond will go from an joyful and boisterous mood to sad and downcast  mood in the course of movie, thus mirroring the downfall of his creation over which he lost control. The short of it: the human that is the creator overreaches himself because nature can not be controlled(and will not according to Malcolm who almost present nature as an entity). This is not only shown when the dinosaurs escape after the deliberate breakdown of the system, but also made clear because the dinosaurs propagate uncontrolled as Grant founds out during his trek through the park. The creators thought to control their creation by only having female dinosaurs in the park, but through something called: dna drift some females spontaneous change into males and couple.

 

This sequence is shown in a series of screenshots below.

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Grant and the kids.

Grant has problems with kids suggesting basically that he is a big kid himself.. at the end he is a man and at ease with the kids.

 

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The mosquito in the amber.

A recurring item in the movie is the mosquito in the amber. The mosquito delivers the blood that is used to retrieve dna for making the dinosaurs.

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The ever changing Sattler.

While most people in the movie do not change, not even their outfits..Sattler, being the only mature woman in the movie, changes throughout the movie. She is in fact the only person in the move who undergoes these changes.

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Nedry and food

Nedry, the computer nerd is busy with eating or drinking al lot, or surrounded or associated with food. It is the excuse he gives when he leaves the central room. He says he is going to get a soda.

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More patterns.

– The story (almost) begins with a helicopter scene and ends with it.
– Hammond is the creator and dressed in white, while his worst critic, Malcolm, is dressed in black
What is the meaning of all these patterns?
As mentioned above these patterns are guides that help you watch the movie and guide you through the story. In that way the movie becomes better watchable and better make you understand the story. My next post will be an examination of Avatar in which we will see perhaps some other patterns appear.
If I find more reasons for these patterns I will update this post.

 

 

Story-telling: Jurassic Park part 2/3 : The T-rex, the raptors and the naked monkeys.

Welcome to part second part of the movie Jurassic Park in which I am trying to analyse the story-telling.

In a previous post I discussed the first fifty minutes of the movie including the introduction of the central characters. In this part I am going discuss the remaining two hours of the movie which might conceivably make for a very long post were it not for the fact that most of the movie is a lot of the same stuff: the humans trying to deal with the predatory dinosaurs and the dinosaurs trying to deal with the humans(by eating them).

We left part two with the picture of the dinosaur with the name I have a hard time typing properly: the triceratops,  a kind of heavily armored rhinoceros(I am probably offending some dinosaur experts for this triceratops probably has got nothing to do with the rhinoceros.) The poor animal is ill and therefore lies prone on the ground. Which is handy for patting it.

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Poor trike.

This  scene had me puzzled: why is there no fence between the cartrail and this particular dinosaur? I thought there were fences on both sides of the trail, but I was wrong apparently. The fence was meant to keep the meat eating dinosaurs inside I guess. But if so, why do Grant and the two kids climb a fence to get at the other side to escape an approaching T-rex(i think, for we don’t see it  but only hear it) just to discover that there is a T-rex at the side they escaped to. Also this scene seems to add little to the story.. unless the illness of this triceratops and the illness of the brachiosaurus later in the movie are connected(which I though it was) and would point to a kind of War of the Worlds development in which the dinosaurs would all be killed by a disease. But nothing of the sort happens. This leaves me to believe this scene is just meant to show a dinosaur upclose. By the way, in the extra features there is a storyboard for a scene with a baby triceratops toppling Lex in a funny scene. It didn’t make it into the movie.

Part 3: The shit and the fan

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We are now past the fifty minutes mark. In the previous part the scene is set and the characters are introduced. The domino pieces have all been put in their place. Time to make them fall. So it is time for action and we start with a rain storm. Storms are very neat devices in movies for the rain and the wind add to the confusion, help make communication harder thus adding to the isolation, make things more difficult to see and have then storm break things.. like power lines.

While the storm hits in full force..

 

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and the devil takes a swig(while telling Grant he loves kids)
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and Arnold lights yet another one(where is the ashtray?)..
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..Nedry sabotages everything by computer, enters the place where the embryos are held and steals them. Nedry has a picture of a scanty clad girl in his computer cause nerds can only gape at things they never get.(Actually: it’s Nedry’s third wife.)
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And while Nedry looses his way because he knocks over the roadsign that should have told him where to go…
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..the largest land predator known to have existed on earth decides to put in an appearance(that is why you have plastic cups filled with water in cars, so the water shakes when the six ton heavy monster approaches)..
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..to the perplexed anguish of some,
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..and gobbles down a goat..
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,,which was introduced earlier but escaped it’s fate.. until now( I wonder about the horns).
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The moment for a first time experience: eating canned peltless omnivores.
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Things you might reconsider doing: using a powerful lightbeam to entice and annoy the huge carnivore next to the car.

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Grant pissing of the T-Rex by cheating her(it’s a female) out of a meal by tossing a flare into a bush. Flares are part of the standard equipment of the automated tour cars, next to night goggles, portable search lights, plastic cups with water and rocket-launchers with T-Rex seeking missiles (which they missed in the rush to play fetch-the-flare with the T-Rex).

And after this climatic series of images the story actually settles down and is the same for the rest of the movie as Raptors and a T-rex make live difficult for the human cast and eventually kill four of them. There are a few more developments:

Grant’s character develops as he takes care of the kids, thus overcoming his unease with children.

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Grant showing the claw of a raptor. Cool! And odd considering that they are on the prowl(but then Grant doesn’t know they are). Someone has a sardonic streak in him.

Hammond and Sattler have an emotional moment.  While Hammond in an emotional moment shows he has not learned anything and vows to do better next time, Sattler goes even more emotional on him and tells him that people are dying for crying out loud cause he fucked up.. How about some yoghurt?

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Hammond and Sattler in an emotional moment. Hammond: we can make it better!(Hurrah for mindless optimism!) Sattler: people are dying right now!(Spoilsport.)
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After an emotional moment you have to eat.

After some tos and fros the surving cast ends up in the central building and Hammond calls for a helicopter to pick them up after Sattler reactivates the system. The group  then heads for the helicopter pad while being chased by raptors. These manage to corner Grant, Ellie and the kids in the central hall, but they can escape when a T-Rex attacks the raptors.

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Surprisingly it is Lex, the teen girl who knows her way around computers and flight simulators.
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So she flies into the software program(it is UNIX) and locks the doors so the raptors can’t enter. Until they break down the door of course. Cause these raptors are smart (and have had Swat training.)
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There is some intense hide and seek being done in a kitchen, with the raptors losing that round.
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But they win the next one by trapping Grant, Sattler and Lex in the central hall(See that raptor grin: haha, caught you!)
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Only to lose the game when they are rudely interrupted by a sneak ambush from this twelve feet tall T-Rex which nobody noticed approaching as nobody had plastic cups with water to warn them.
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A moment of emotion when Hammond stares off screen into the direction of the park. Nothing is said.

Part 4: the end

So it’s time to finish the story and this is actually done in one of the better scenes in the story(in my humble opinion) which  summarizes and then wraps up the storyline.

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Hammond stares sadly at his walking stick that contains the amber with a mosquito. This is a recurring item in the movie. His dream is shattered.
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Grant with the kids. He looks at Sattler. He has learned to live with kids…
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so it might be time to settle down with the only available woman in the helicopter. Sattler let her hair down..so she is available.
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One of the final shots: birds(Pelicans?) flying over the sea. The birds are considered descendants from the dinosaurs. Something that is told earlier in the movie. These aren’t large meat eating lizards so there is nothing to fear.
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Off into the sunset we fly.. While this ends the movie, there is just enough of an open end to make a possible followup: the dinosaurs can mate and thus create offspring and the park is uncontrolled. Time for the colonial marines to intervene!

So this ends part 2 and we even have a part 3 to wrap up and make some overall observations.

The walking dead videogame: interactive storytelling.

(This movie shows three key scenes.. if you do not like spoilers you should not watch after the first scene has ended. There is a red walking dead sign dividing the first and second scene.)

I was fortunate that I did not buy the video-game the walking dead. I was somewhat suspicious about it actually being a game, so I decided to find out what kind of game it  before buying it. You see, the maker of the game, tell-tale games. made and makes click adventures. Click adventures are the kind of games where you have to click on objects in the game to combine them so they can be used to make the game proceed. It is not my kind of game. In fact ever since  I played Zork way back I stopped playing those kind. I vaguely recall that I had to do something with a piece of string and a clay brick to open some kind of doorway. I think the piece of wire was meant to go into the clay, then the clay was made into a brick and the brick with string attached had to be put in a wall to open a secret door.

The walking dead game was exactly the kind of ‘game’ I expected it to be. So based on that conclusion it would not be very interesting for me. However I became fascinated by the game movies that one guy called the rad brad had made. I followed him playing this game from start to finish.  And it was clearly not a game but rather an interactive movie. The whole story line did progress along the same path regardless of what options the player choose.  Most of the options available were more to give the story a slightly different feel then make for a dramatic different game or create an complete different conclusion.

The game might be disappointing for people who want to play a game that gave them the option to make decisions that had important repercussions. However as a story it captured me even though it had it’s weak moments.

I was wondering what actually made the story work for me and after some pondering I figured that the most  crucial thing in the game is the relation between the main character Lee and  the little girl Clementine. Lee acts as Clementine’s replacement dad. It is therefore that I made a small movie showing two crucial moments in the game…the one where Lee and Clementine meet and the one were they part.  In addition it also shows you how the game ends.. So that is three scenes.

In addition to the central relationship in the story I have to name the voice acting as a impressive. The fact that the game makers stick to a simple story line seems to work well and most of the characters are believable people that you can identify with, care about, understand, suffer or perhaps even hate.  Unlike many characters is other movies and games where nobody really cares about them because they are not believable people. Lee, for instance, is the kind of guy I liked from the start as being a former teacher. Clementine is a kind of kid that you like.

Because I like pictures above typed text, let me go through some of the movie scenes and comment on a few scenes that makes this video game/movie stand out.

The walking dead opens with the skyline of Atlanta

The walking dead opens with the skyline of Atlanta and it is a link between the television series, comic and the game. That way people will know the setting. In a later post I will comment further on the interaction of thoughts, feels and the use of language and imagery to invoke stories. Above the picture   somehow I thought it read “A brand new day.” Note the beautiful blue sky and the sunny setting.  Interestingly.. while this is the skyline of Atlanta we do no go to it.. the story takes us away from it. In this manner a possible conflict can be avoided. Bye bye Atlanta.

The conversation between Lee and the cop.

The conversation between Lee and the cop is done partly via the rear view mirror. This way we can follow their expressions. It also underscores the relation between the two and will aid in setting up the scene where they have the accident. Note that setting is still pleasant. There will be message on the radio and police cars driving towards Atlanta. We know what is going to happen.

After the police car hits a zombie, it slips, crashes through this rail and ends up at the bottom of this slope.

After the police car hits a roaming zombie, it slips, crashes through this rail and ends up at the bottom of this slope. While this is a very unlikely occurrence (those rails can stop trucks) this makes for a very engaging shot from above. Note the corpse of the cop in the right top corner and the trails of blood that runs from the car to him. The shades and dark lights create for an ominous scene. The sunny happy mood has been replaced by gloom and creepy shadows. It is a cool way to make a picture. The look from above to below zooms out give an overview and also makes everything remote. Note that the darkness is on the edges. It creeps in from all sides.

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A shot from the car through the cracked window.. the dead cop catches the attention. To make us focus he is in the light and the rest is dark, with the darkness being at the edge of the picture.

Again the above shot is almost like a painting.. which perhaps it is. The low quality of the graphics is used to the advantage by changing it all into a more comic kind of style. I suspect it was a way how the makers had to deal with a technical limitation, yet kept the whole in style and interesting. Incidentally.. the original comic is done in black and white which is probably a way to save cost on having to color the pictures

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When Lee gets out the car he looks around and reaches down.. this gives the maker the change to create this upward shot where the light of the sky turns Lee into a silhouette. The sky is a sickly yellow.
Lee finds out that the cop is dead but still moving. It lunges for Lee. Lee crawls backwards until his escape is blocked by the car. This is just prior to him picking up the shotgun and killing the now zombie-cop. The camera is set at an angle and we look down upon Lee. This supports the feeling of fear, strangeness and confusion.
Lee escapes zombies that have been alerted by the gun shot by climbing over a fence.

After escaping from the zombies Lee finds himseft on the grounds of this suburban home. The shot is zoomed out which show us he is completely alone.. his shouting made me cringe. This will be used several times during the game. Someone shouting in an otherwise silent place. Did you notice the eerie yellow sky and gloom? In the distance it almost looks like there are yellow vapors rising from the ground.

Lee enters the nearby home.

When Lee enters the nearby house he moves from out of the light into the darkness. Again creating an eerie atmosphere. This is the home where he meets Clementine. As you can see this whole setup is deliberately. In the previous pictures it is dark as if the evening has fallen. Then the scene is changed to an eerie sick yellow color. Here the color outside is almost golden, while inside darkness is hiding unknown dangers.

The central working element in the game is the relation between Lee and Clementine.

The central working element in the game is the relation between Lee and Clementine. While the art could be better and is not that original as some people claim – it resembles that of other games and movies(Borderlands spring to mind) – the use of expressions and the voice acting coupled to the images make the story work. In fact it works better than many movies with real people.

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Lee crouches down and talks to Clementine. His fatherly caring attitude towards the frail girl shows him to be a gentle person. We care for this person because he cares for Clementine.
This is perhaps one of the most telling shots.. Lee taking Clementine by the hand to brave the unknown dangers of this zombie plagued world.
Another classic scene.
At the beginning of the game Lee meets Kenny.. the relation between Lee and Kenny is another important one in the game. Kenny is the other dad.. and his relation to his wife and his son is a mirror of that which Lee and Clementine have. Note that we will never see a scene in which Kenny talks to Clementine. His looks is that from a country guy or mechanic. This is a working class man(as opposed to Lee, who is a teacher.)
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Kenny’s wife Katjaa and their son Duck. Duck is an obnoxious brawny kid and almost the opposite of Clementine. As such he functions as a kind of lightning rod.
This is Lilly who leads the group of survivors that Lee and Clementine join.

Lilly is the leader who continuously struggles with her role. I am not sure how other people feel about her, but I think she was wrongly treated in the story line. She was obviously put in a role she felt uncomfortable with and she tried to do her best in a bad situation. Nobody, not even Lee, actually volunteers to take over her leadership role, yet she is keenly aware of unvoiced (imagined?) criticisms towards her own short comings. She has to make though decisions and at one moment during the game she makes Lee, who is the main potential challenge to her leadership, even if he does not want to, choose whom to feed. The makers of the game do something harsh towards her halfway into the series although  it is not out of character. This act makes her flee the group and thus leave the story.. although there is possibility she might return in  future episodes.

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Lilly’s father is an overbearing bitter person. His appearance supports this very well. He has a broken nose and a jutting jaw like he is some kind of street fighter (bully?).. It is also hinted at that he is a racist which explains his hostility towards Lee. At some point he warns Lee off to keep his hand away from his daughter, thus adding a sexual undercurrent to his dislike for Lee,
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This is Ben, like other characters in the story he seems to be in the game to supply the story with someone who can be written off at some point during the tale so that we keep being aware of how dangerous this world is.
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Molly appears in the last episode of the game and she as fast in as she is out. Without her wanting to she almost causes the group of survivors to be overwhelmed by zombies. She is a resource full athletic girl and one of the few people that survive. It is almost in her nature to survive.
Chuck, another survivor that has a small role in the story. His role seems mostly to make Lee aware that the world has changed forever and he needs to learn Clementine some basic things like.. firing a handgun. Skill we in a normal society would not want to teach to our children. His is the wise guy… even though he is portrayed as a hobo.
This picture invokes a strange scene. The group sits near a abandoned train out in the open. Chuck is playing music. It is explained before that the place is secluded and protected, yet with all the roaming zombies around one wonders why there is not one single guard.. on the top of train for instance?

As a story element the above scene creates a placid scene. The sky is blue and it almost looks like they are sitting around a campfire as if on holiday. Not even someone on guard. Which might be a deliberate move. A guard would spoil this ideal camping picture.  Note that nobody seems to change clothes throughout the game, except for Kenny, who switches t-shirts..

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Another set of picture that show the interaction between Lee and Clementine. He explains her that she has to cut her hair because zombies could grab it. Later Lee learns her to shoot.

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The group enters the city of Savannah. The place of hope. Note the sunny colors..
While zombies are a constant threat in the background the game does not overdo it. It uses them appropriately. In this scene the previously empty streets of Savannah are suddenly filled with zombies because Molly uses bells to lure them away. She is however unaware of the group of survivors entering the town. As consequence she lures the zombies right towards them. From a technical angle this image shows the limits of the game as well. The avatars have been lightened but they do not match up to the surrounding lighting and they cast no shadows where other things do. As such they almost look like they have been cut out and pasted into the scene.

Another use of colors in the above two scenes. When the group enters the city of Savannah.. the scene is set as if it is a nice summers day.. when the zombies arrive.. the colors are turned to dark and threatening. It is one of the ways to underscore the mood…

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The game at various moments shows us empty streets that are suddenly filled with zombies. It is one of these weaker features in the story. Why would zombies linger in the houses to sudden erupt into the street? Because it is story wise more exciting and.. it is probably also a limitation of the game.

Note the sky above this scene.. bad things are about to happen….

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During one of the moments in the game a hunting party send out by the group finds three other survivors.

This scene is cast in an almost pleasant like forest view. In this case the dark threatening colors are no used.. because the sunray that shines into the clearing makes for a nice contrast with the next scene.. The light guides our view towards the center..

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One has been caught in a trap while zombies close with the group they frantically try to release the trapped survivor.

Zombies shamble towards the group…

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There are tough moments in the game like these where you have to choose whom to feed. Curiously enough the whole food issue is never mentioned again.
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More issues.. this girl is about to be overwhelmed by zombies.. your can choose to kill her or hope she makes it, but it is obvious from the situation that she has not a shadow of chance to get out alive.

The above scene with the dark clouds that seem threatening is the stage for this little drama.. you have to either see her killed by the zombies or you have kill her yourself. Watching this scene gives me a sad shocked feeling. I know what is going to happen.. You can see she must have been through a rough time with her being dirty… she almost looks like a zombie at this point, and you can see the desperation on her face. He looking as a zombie creates this feel that she has been in the pit.. tries to escape.. Lee and Kenny are near.. yet within sight of salvation they can not help her..and only kill her quickly to spare her an agonizing death…

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More tough choices. The camera is set low so that it show the kid in the middle and the gun in the foreground.

This camera is set low.. so we are at eye level with the kid.. the two grown-ups loom over the dead kid.. It is a classic scene of a vulnerable kid being at the mercy of two strong grown-ups.. The gun illustrates this to a point.. If we did not know from the story-line this might be even interpreted in another way. This is one of the things about a story.. like a house it is made up out of smaller parts that give it context and meaning.. Context and meaning that could be changed by changing the constituent parts of the story.

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Tough moments like these abound.. you can choose to rescue Ben or not. There is a reason you might want to drop him.. which is why the choice is not easy.

The camera shot is marvelous: the one hand holding Ben, the zombies roaming below and climbing the stairs. The darkness creeps in from all sides.. again.

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Almost at the very end we discover what happened to the Clementine’s parents.

This last scenes are done in a stark dark color. We are in the pit of darkness…

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Halfway during the story the group find this train blocking the road.
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The survivors get the train to work. It brings them to Savannah where they hope to escape by boat.

This is the scene of Savannah just before the group enters the town..They travel towards the sun.. the bringer of light, warmth and hope.

Yellow dust hangs over this scene and obscures the zombies.. suggesting there are a lot of them. If you look closer you will see that there are not that many there..
Lee hangs out of the train.. the group barely escaped this horde of zombies. You could swap the zombies for any other kind of pursuit.. it is the classic.. we got away! scene.
One of the final scenes…It could be dusk or dawn..but the landscape signifies a change of state. Considering it was dark before.. this must be dawn..