Every Photo is a story: the photos of Frances Benjamin Johnston

Self_portrait_by_the_American_photographer_Frances_Benjamin_Johnston
Frances Benjamin Johnston, a self portrait.

I recently got five links from the Library of Congress for the series Every Photo is a story. In this series Kristi Finefield, reference librarian in the Prints and Photographs Division, and Sam Watters, architectural and landscape historian, take a look at the photos made Frances Benjamin Johnston,  (1864–1952), one of the first female photo-journalist who rose to prominence. She was an expert at making hand-painted photographs. She was a champion of the City Beautiful Movement to restore beauty to an industrial America through garden design and was very well connected. Such beautification could thus promote a harmonious social order that would increase the quality of life.
These two go together as she had her photographer ‘improved’ to the wishes of the customers by having them painted. Even then reality sometimes needed to be improved upon.  How this worked and why this was done will be told during the series.

Watters has worked with the library of congress to examine no less that 1100 of Frances Benjamin Johnston’s photos, which she donated to the Library of Congress.
Library of Congess: Every story is a Photo:
http://www.loc.gov/today/cyberlc/results.php?mode=s&cat=69

800px-Frances_Benjamin_Johnston,_full-length_portrait,_seated_in_front_of_fireplace,_1896
Frances Benjamin Johnston, full-length portrait, seated in front of fireplace, 1896

Part 1: Start to Read a Photograph
http://www.loc.gov/today/cyberlc/feature_wdesc.php?rec=6730

Part 2: Get to Know the Photographer
http://www.loc.gov/today/cyberlc/feature_wdesc.php?rec=6731

Part 3: Consider How the Photos Were Made
http://www.loc.gov/today/cyberlc/feature_wdesc.php?rec=6732

Part 4: Interpret Stories You Discover
http://www.loc.gov/today/cyberlc/feature_wdesc.php?rec=6733

Part 5: Explore the Photographer’s Era
http://www.loc.gov/today/cyberlc/feature_wdesc.php?rec=6734

washington-morse-garden-gate-660
charles-marshall-townhouse-660arcady-330

For fun, I made my own look alike picture.. It is made using second life.

benjaminjohnston

More links

Frances Benjamin Johnston
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frances_Benjamin_Johnston

Sam Watters’ book.
http://www.traditional-building.com/Previous-Issues-12/AugustBR12Gardens.html
http://www.designersandbooks.com/blog/author-qa-sam-watters-gardens-beautiful-america

City Beautiful movement
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/City_Beautiful_movement

Library of congress
https://www.loc.gov/

Another story: Trinity

When talking about collages, a friend of mine asked me why I think that making a pictorial story would work because as far as he knows most imagery, a catch all phrase for pictures, photographs and other ways to display (un)reality, is often one single depiction of a single event. Like a snapshot or a painting of, say, Mona Lisa.
Perhaps he is right, but then I find it fun to work some kind of story into a depiction or playing around with imagery that is just something more that just one picture.
So here is another one that I worked upon. It is called Trinity.
Now I personally think that pictures should tell their own story.. or at least should inspire or fascinate, without needing words to explain more, as it is probably that the words will not always be connected to a picture. Perhaps I should looking into that.
This picture was inspired by the fact that in Second Life you can make a copy of yourself that looks exactly the same as another avatar, however through behavior and other ways of being they can be different and perceived and treated differently by others.

 

trinity

Story Telling: Mass Effect 3

While doing some preliminary research for a short article on Mass Effect 3 story telling I ran into the linked article.
I think it’s an interesting article that investigates how a sequence of stories(games) that allows for shaping your own tale can have impact on the the next installment and, when not handled properly, can lead to making large groups of people unhappy.
I do not agree that this is the only reason as I wanted to show in my short article on one particular story in Mass Effect.

I’ve played through the Mass Effect series a number of times to get a feel for the different directions the story can go and it is clear to me that of the three games Mass Effect 3 is the weakest. It is also the one that has drawn the most ire from fans. So I thought it would be interesting to really dig deeply into what was done not just in the 3rd game but the series as a whole and identify what caused the final game to end up in the state that it is in. The results are long, so bear with me.”

Posted by An Individual on August 20, 2013

http://www.koobismo.com/2013/08/me3-analysis-what-makes-this-good-game-bad/

Rorschach-test

rorscharch-2

“There is something special about having a vampire for a lover”, Liz said to her one true love with a sigh.
Lina, her arms around Liz’s waist, stiffened and then frowned, “Vampire?  Where did the vampire part come in?”
“I was meaning to tell you..   Nadja.. she.. she is also a vampire. I meant to tell you…”
“You meant to tell me.. but you kinda forgot?”
“I was going to…”
“..But it just slipped your mind?!”
“No.. not really. I was looking for the right moment to break it to you. I thought you might get upset…”
“Upset? ” Lina tasted those words, “I might be upset?! You know why they do what they do?”
“I heard the sermon.”
“It is one thing that I tolerate you exploring yourself with your little encounters, but this is something beyond… beyond exploration and tolerance…It is dangerous.”
Liz suddenly kissed Lina on the mouth, “Oh hush..You’re so sweet in allowing me to have my little adventures.. Like you’re so sweet when you bought this gown for me. It is beautiful..”
Liz stroked the Ivory Maxi gown Lina had bought for her.
“I think black looks better on you.”
“It’s our wedding gown.. can’t have them in black. Black brings bad luck.”
“You deserve a black one..you look awesome in gowns.. Unlike me. Fat behind.” Lina slapped her buttocks.
“Why thank you,” Liz kissed Lina again, “And you are wrong about your behind: it is lovely”
“Hmm..”
“Hold on!”
“Trying to sidetrack me with kissing and flattery won’t work, young lady. I was lecturing you about vampires…. This is a serious game for them, they seduce you, drain you and leave you empty and soulless. So yes.. I am upset!

“It’s just a game, Lina. They do not really suck your blood. It’s just a silly game they play. The blood is not real. Just a computer keeping score.”
“I don’t like those games.  It makes you unsure about peoples intentions. How do you know she isn’t just being nice to you because of the game?”
“She probably is, but she also says I am a great lover…It can be both…”
“Or she might be lying just so you come back.”
“I am sure she isn’t. Not it the way she reacts.. she goes pretty wild. I am still blushing when I think about it.”
“Hmmppff.. So how much blood did this Nadja take already..”
“We have been together twice.. and. well, she really likes to bite..”
“So?”
“It goes with three percent at the time. So I guess we are at… well… the first time she bit me twice, but the first time is actually fifteen so that makes for eighteen the first time. Then the other time she bit me twice.. So that makes six. So it must be like twenty-four?. No wait.. it is twenty-seven.. She bit me three times the second time.”
“I see..my mind is boggling with the calculations.. so three quarters left… What happens when your blood runs out?”
“I understand you can buy new blood.”
“As if people do not create blood by themselves. But hey it’s a game  so you have to buy it, so others can suck it. Neat game.”
“It’s the way the people get paid for creating and maintaining the game..”
“I figure when your blood runs out and you don’t buy new, Nadja suddenly stops being wild..”
“She could buy it for me, I guess. She seems to have money.”
“But if she doesn’t? Are you going to buy it yourself?”
“Can I buy it myself? You know who has the money in our arrangement..” Liz smiled a lovely smile at Lina, “So can I?”
“Can you buy it yourself? What do you think?”
“I think the answer is no. And I would not expect anything less,” Liz smiled broadly and kisses Lina warmly.

“Right, with this vampire business settled, how about shopping for a black gown to go with the white?”
“How about I shop alone so I can surprise you?”
” Surprise me? That sounds like a deal.”
“I need some money to buy one. They are not free, you know..”
“Here you go.. Surprise me, Liz.” Lina pulled Liz against her then kissed Liz in her neck.
Liz reached up her neck where Lina had kissed her, still  moist with Lina’s kiss, and her fingers touched the still sensitive bitemarks.
“I am going to.” Liz murmured  dreamily, “I am”.

Storytelling: The old testament

Introduction

The other day I happened to look at the College Tour. The College tour is a Dutch program in which the host Twan Huys invites famous people to talk about what made them famous and allow the audience(students mostly) to ask them questions. In this particular episode the guest was John Cleese. During this interview someone asked Cleese about his lectures on creativity. Cleese told that he has been fascinated by creativity for a long time and it was his observation that creativity came from the subconscious, for if creativity was something that logic and intelligence brought about, than it would stand to reason that people of logic and intelligence would be the most creative. And that is certainly not always the case(:P).

This remark gave me a flash of insight, for I have always been fascinated by stories, specifically stories that are combined with pictures. Now I realize that many of the things that I posted here, such as my first post for the sl scrapbook, fascinate me because of their story like qualities. In Second Life you get, if you listen, to hear a lot of stories and some perhaps are as close to the truth as can be possible in a virtual world and others are totally fabricated, sometimes without the teller actually realizing this.

One of the things about a place like Second Life is that truth and lies are so mixed up that it is hard to tell where one starts and the other begins. In fact, if you were of a very negative mindset you might say: it is all lies, as it is a make-believe world in which people live make-believe lives and claim make-believe qualities and experiences. Or even: they believe perhaps that which did not happen did happen. The mind can be a great tool for deception!  Specifically when it is convenient and  the deception is helped along through imagery, sounds, mood, education and social pressure. But perhaps instead of looking at things in terms or lies and truth, one can look at these things as stories, which might be true, but perhaps not. but are mostly aimed at conveying a story instead of a truth of one kind or another.

Recently I became interested in the stories that were told in the bible and therefore I borrowed this Bible for the Youth from the library(see below for the source:*) . Next to having pictures, I thought that a bible for youth might be interesting because when you tell something to young people you have to make it pretty engaging and to the point. And this is something the translators  have been trying according to their introduction. In addition they claim to provide facts too. Which will be interesting.

Let’s have a look at the first part of the bible: the old testament.

Abraham gets to see the promised land before dying
Abraham gets to see the promised land before dying.

Above is the first  large picture you see in the book and it shows Abraham looking at the promised land before dying.  He was called Abram first, but his name was changed to Abraham when Yahweh* decided to make him the founding father of Israel. The story itself, to which this picture belongs, is further into the book after the creation stories.  I wanted to show this picture because it is the first big picture in the book. The book is A4 in size and the style of drawing is the one you see above.

*(a side note on the use of the words god, God and Yahweh.  We have been learned in the west to write the name of the god of the Christians with a capital to differ him from all the other gods. I will not follow this practice because it comes from a Christian centrist world view. In this view  God defines just the one specific Christian god and if you are not part of that world you would not use God to describe the christian god. Since continuing this would be disrespectful to other people and would lead to confusion I use the name Yahweh to denote the christian god. )

The bible: a very short introduction.

The bible is a collection of writings of different sources spit in two parts. One is called the old testament and has the Jewish people and (the relation to) their god as central themes to unite the writings. The other part is called the new testament and basically tells about Jesus and some of his followers, notably Paul. The two parts are roughly equal in size in this version of the bible, thus Jesus gets as much space as the Jewish tribes and their history. This shows how important Jesus is in the christian faith.
While the new testament has a kind of plot structure, the old testament has nothing of the kind. It seems like a loose collection of anecdotes and there is no specific purpose in the story or even a clue or a dramatic moment to work towards.  In fact you might think that the old testament would lead inevitably to the new testament, but there is nothing that connects the two because there is a gap of almost four hundreds of years between when the old testament stops and the new testament picks up.

The old testament

The old testament is split in various sections that bundle certain writings. The first part sets up the scene with the creation of the universe, the creation of earth and the creation of mankind. The next part covers the birth of the Jewish people with Abraham/Abram and  the move to their homeland, which seems to be called Canaan  The next part is mostly about Egypt, how they get to leave Canaan, become slaves and then finally escape their slavery and Egypt. The last part covers the life and times of the Jews in their land including a moment in which they are forced to leave their country.  In the first part of this section they are mostly at war with the Philistines, later on the stories mostly tell about confrontations with the various big empires that emerged in the Middle-East such as the Babylonians, Assyrians and the Persians.  These were powerful nations against which the Jews stood no chance.
What general picture emerges from the Old Testament according to the Bible for the Youth?

(Arbitrary) killing

Some detractors of the bible point out, sometimes with glee, how the bible is full of killing. And it is. This bible of the youth, of which you would expect it to be moderated somewhat, fills the pages with Yahweh or people  killing people or planning to kill them.
There are other stories full of death and killing, but in the bible this borders on the deranged as it is mentioned in  such an off hand way as if killing is a normal reaction to any kind of conflict. Strife between people, notably brothers, often leads to murder or the planning of murder. Kain kills Abel. Esau plans to kill Jacob after the latter cheated the first out of his first born child privileges. Twelve brothers plan to kill Josef out of jealousy because he is favored by his father and he narrowly escapes this fate by being sold off.  Saul is jealous of David and tries to kill him on several occasions. Whole peoples get slaughtered simply on a the flimsiest of pretexts. The whole earth gets flooded because people sinned. Sodom and Gomorrah get leveled because they sinned.
Killing is so normal that after a while I found myself even accepting this reaction.  An example is for instance the story of Mozes. At some point it is told that an Egyptian is flogging a Jewish slave..Mozes kills him for it.
At various points people get killed because they are at the wrong place at the wrong time. Jephthah promises to offer the first thing he meets when he gets home if he wins in a certain war. And the first thing he meets is his daughter.  David lusts after a woman called Bathsheba, her husband is in the way so he is ordered into battle to certain death. Then Yaweh gets angry with David because of this and communicates via Natan that the child he will get with Bathsheba will be killed because of this. And so it happens.
(Sidenote: It seems that the bible is even more bloody than this Bible of the Youth, so yes they actually did moderate the bible. An example is the two evil sons of Eli. They get killed for their evilness in the bible. In the Bible for the Youth they are just mentioned to be evil but their deaths is not mentioned). 

Jefta promises Yahweh to offer the first thing he meets when he gets home and it happens to be his daughter.
Jephthah promises Yaweh to offer the first thing he meets when he gets home and it happens to be his daughter.

Lack of compassion

The bible is full of stories about strife, punishments and destruction and it pained me to read how little compassion there is for those who get in the way. The earth gets flooded because the people have sinned and there seems to be no way for the sinners to redeem themselves. Sodom and Gomorrah gets destroyed and again there is no option for people to make amends. In fact, in both cases it is not even clear whether the people who were about to be destroyed were aware of their impending fate. This gets even more disconcerting if you think that Yaweh is the god of Israel and seems to be only interested in  the tribes of Israel, yet he does drown the world in water killing a lot of people who have never even heard of him..
An example of this lack of compassion is in the Mozes story. When Mozes returns from the mount Sinai, after he received the ten commandments,  he finds out that the people made an image of a golden calf to worship. This results in Mozes killing everyone who worships the statue. There is no compassion from either him or Yahweh for these people  and although they get a chance to return to god, those who refused  to do so were killed. Mozes is not one for tolerance, nor is Yahweh.

Disloyalty towards god

One thing that surprised me  is how often the Jews, Yahweh’s chosen people, turn away from their god. At various moments it is told that the Jews start to worship some other entity and grieve Yahweh by not living according to his commands.  An interest aspect of this is what is told about King Josiah: a prophet tells hat Yaweh would have punished the Jews if it was not for their King Josiah who was good man and thus loved by Yaweh and as long as Josiah lives  the Jews did not need to fear their god. It is interesting in that in many cultures a king is often presented as a go-between a god and their people. It is of course a neat way to strengthen their rule and it still is done today. Coronations are usually also religious ceremonies to underscore that a god approves of the rule and that whomever rebels should fear the wrath of the god as they are of course rebelling against a god approved ruler.
A very interesting parallel can be found in the Roman empire in which the various worldly positions are tied in with religious functions.  One such function is that of the Pontifex Maximus: the highest priest. The Pontifex Maximus associated the emperor with the god(s) and is therefore one of the pillars on which power of these rulers rested. In fact, insulting the emperor could get you convicted for violating the majesty of the ruler. This usually meant death.

Yahweh loves men, not women

Women are not men and thus, with perhaps the exception of Esther , women only function in the context of a male, just like Eve was made for Adam. Even Esther, who gets a book named after her, has only a role to play because she is married to Ahasveros, the King of Kings  of Persia and can influence him because she is pretty.  The Queen of Sheba appears in the bible only to admire Solomon. The good qualities of women are to be pretty(and young) or rear children(when they get older). Men have friendships, companions and kindred spirits. Men can love their fellow men and most of all they can have a relation with god.  Women have  almost no relations of any kind with other women with the exception of being sisters or daughters.  But these are only of importance because there is a man involved. The only exception seems to be the tale of Noomi and Ruth, but even that tale ends with finding a husband. No woman talks to god directly nor does god ever talk to a woman. Nowhere in the bible of the youth is written that god loves a woman.
Women do appear as evil at times. Such as the famous Deliah, who causes Samson’s downfall.

A  source of amorality

If we set aside Yahweh as the inspiration of actions and assume that these are the actions of men -and non other than men – then what picture does emerge from the Bible for the Youth?
We get a shocking display of amoral behavior. People trick people(read about how Jacob tricks his near blind father in blessing him to be his successor). People steal other peoples wives(David). People commit suicide(Saul).  Men have multiple wives(almost all of them). People make their servants pregnant(Jacob). Kings break the laws the are meant to uphold(Saul).. and so on.
One particular dubious story is that of the prophet Elisha. One day he is offered hospitality by a rich woman(without a name, because women do not matter, see above) in a place called Sunem and one day she complains to Elisha that she likes to have a child but that her husband is too old. Well, Elisha predicts that she will deliver a son. And she gets one. One he even saves from death. Probably because it was his son(my interpretation).

bijbel5
Elisha predicts that his hostess will get a son within the year. A miracle happens: she does get a son and it dies, but gets resurrected by Elisha.

By the way Elisha is also the guy who has a group of kids killed by two bears for mocking his baldness. This is told in the sideline as the tale itself will probably raise to many awkward questions.
It is curious that non of the figures that feature in the stories actually display any of the moral qualities that are attributed to them. Successors to kings are often chosen on the ground that Yaweh wants this or that person to succeed or because they are sons. It is seldom that it is said that a person should be king because of their leadership abilities or because they are elected by the people.
Sometimes you get a peek at the underlying reality of the story. For instance in the story of Samuel. He is the adoptive son of Eli, a high priest, and Samuel is good and the two sons(unnamed) are evil. It almost feels like we are witnessing some kind of rivalry in which Samuel had to prop up his position as successor to Eli by describing that his two sons were evil and he was good(a man of god). It is probably remains of a fight for supremacy in which the victor’s side of the story is the only  story left to us.
Even more interesting are all the claims that are unfounded. For instance Solomon is described as being wise and  for once in the bible we get a display of a claimed quality. In this  bible no quality is otherwise demonstrated or proven. You just have to accept the bible for being true. The sole exception is Solomon. His wisdom is demonstrated  by his judgement of two women who claim to be the mother of the same child.  To figure this out he threatens to have the kid chopped in half. The argument is that a real mother would not want her child killed while the false mother would settle for half because it would be dead and nobody would get it.  And so it happens. And this then is the demonstration of his wisdom.
This is so obviously fake because only retard  would fall for this trick and it shows how badly the writers think of women in general. They are retards. But in addition. Let us look at the picture that comes with this grand tale of wisdom:

Solomon's wisdom
Solomon’s wisdom: threatening to chop a kid in half to find out who the real mother is.

So a kid gets hold up by it’s feet and threatened in be cut in half. How more brutal can you be? The whole judgement has nothing to do with wisdom, but with violence and making women out to be retards. And this is then the showcase example of the wisdom of Solomon as given in the Bible for the Youth.

No fun

If there is one thing that simple lacks in the Old Testament then it is any kind of fun.  It reminds me of the Name of The Rose in which people get killed because they come in contact with a work of Aristotle that discusses humor. Humor makes life bearable, but the murderer kills the people because knows that humor (notably mockers) also reduced the fear for Yahweh. Nobody should laugh at him.  And perhaps that is the reason why there is no humor whatsoever in the bible. Except unintentionally. It is a dry dreary tale lacking any sense of gaiety

To summarize

“The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.” (Richard Dawkins)

Richard Dawkins’ statement is actually not entirely correct. Read on.

Reading the old testament as presented in the Bible for the Youth is an awful experience. The blurb on the back of the book promises to give us all the important stories of the bible. I assume this claim to be true.  The bible is a cavalcade of unlikable characters and non of them have any redeeming qualities. Most have no personality to speak off, those that do are abject people. I don’t mean people with their strengths and weaknesses, but just abject people. They are nasty, selfish, petty, cheats, dishonest, bloodthirsty killers. Some were  obvious confidence tricksters, like the prophets Elijah and Elisha.
And this is why Dawkins statement is’t entirely correct. This statement is about  Yahweh, but  as said before.. if we assume that there is no Yaweh this means that all the acts are done by the people that are in the bible. They are petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freaks; vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleansers; misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bullies.

The Old Testament as a great tool for story telling.

While the Old Testament  is an awful book, it is however a supreme book for story telling. This sounds like a complete reversal of what is said above, but allow me to explain.
The Old Testament reads as if someone quickly penned down a series of sketchy plots without filling in the details. It is like a bare-bones framework. As such it can be a great source for developing stories and it should perhaps be read in that fashion. Shakespeare’s plays are full of murder and mayhem and people think his works are  among the best that English literature has to offer.  The Old Testament itself is a crude storybook, but I can very well imagine how it has been used throughout the ages as a means to tell stories that adapted over time.  In this perhaps the Old Testament’s strength is the same as it’s weakness.

(*Source: De bijbel voor jongeren. Verhalen en feiten in woord en beeld. Naverteld door Selina Hastings met illustraties van Eric Thomas..)

Story-telling: The hobbit – The battle of the five armies.

Yesterday I saw the Hobbit – The Battle of the Five Armies, and wrote a short scathing critique of the movie on metacritic. This third episode is simply a long series of fights interspersed with some dialog. However, besides giving criticism I want to learn from such movies, so I am going to write a few short notes the story telling in this episode.

The biggest problem.

The biggest problem is that Jackson wanted to make an epic movie that mirrored Lord of the Rings, but the Hobbit wasn’t enough of an epic book to provide the material for such a tale. In fact the book reads as a bedside story the kind a parent tells to one of his kids just before sleeping. The hobbit is the kid undergoing the adventures in a world where magic and magical creatures exist. A wondrous tale of adventure and danger ending with treasure and the defeat of a mean dragon.

Because the story lacked body, it got expanded.. Hence the introduction of Azog, the orc, the addition of a love story between an elf and a dwarf and the adding in of a fight between Sauron and the good powers.One can be against adding such extra stories, but in itself I find this neither good or bad. You might not agree with it, but it doesn’t make for a good or bad tale merely because something is added that wasn’t in the original book or, the opposite, because something was left out.
To a certain extent a movie maker is at liberty to do whatever he or she wants with his movie, although if a movie maker changes too many things in the story, he or she might probably have to change the title to be fair to the original book or writer.

The problem with the last entry in this trilogy is twofold. The lack of things to tell becomes glaring obvious and what is added never feels part of the overall story as it doesn’t integrate well.The effect is that story telling suffers.

But how can this happen while at the same time so much is going on? In fact.. there is so much going on you might think that having enough to tell is the least of Jackson’s problem. Yet at the other hand; there is nothing much to tell either. This sounds like a contradiction, doesn’t it?

theparty-
The party: a lot of dwarves and a hobbit. While having many dwarves with their own personalities in the movie is nice, it is a bit wasted as few get the attention they need. Less dwarves with more story might have been better for the story line.

The issue is that Jackson doesn’t seem to focus. He wants to do a lot, but never concentrates on a single thing.
Even with the massive cast he already has( the thirteen dwarves, a hobbit, bard, Gandalf, beorn, the elf king, the bad orc) he still adds more, like Alfrid the side kick of the master of the town who he made up himself(why if he already had the master of the town to fill that role) and Legolas, who isn’t in the book and could have been left out because he will get a big role to play in the lord of the ring movie. And he still adds more. Saruman, Sauron, Galadriel, Elrond all put in an appearance to add an extra scenes that feel like filler.  And of course Radagast is in it too. And if that is not enough he adds a love interest for the dwarf Kili.
In fact he has pretty enough of stuff to tell. Like Thorin getting greedy and the impending conflict with the townsfolk.  And the battle between the five armies would have in itself given enough to tell about.

Ironically Jackson resembles Thorin in that he sits on a stack of stories that is more than enough to make for  good movie but he wants to add more and more. He hurries from one scene to the next, never giving enough time for things to develop. Like for instance the relation between Tauriel and Killi feels just rushed.

What than can we learn from this?

Kill your darlings
You and I have heard this before. Leave out the things that do not really belong to the center story.Legolas could have been left out. Like Alfrid, Radagast. Saruman, Sauron, Galadriel: they are are superfluous. I am not against the introduction of Tauriel. I actually thought it was a good idea, but I don’t think the love story with Kili was such a good idea. Elves and Dwarves somehow don’t mix. Perhaps it would have been better to hook her up with Bard. Which might have been too much of a reprisal of the love between Arwen and Aragorn, but at least more believable.

cool-but-superfluous-
Cool but superfluous.

Concentrate on a few individuals
Unless you are planning a television series, it’s probably wise to concentrate on just a few characters. Thorin would have been an obvious choice. Bilbo of course, perhaps Bard and Tauriel.  Four characters that we follow that can be paired. Thorin with Bilbo.. Bard with Tauriel.

legolas-
Legolas: could have been left out the story. Tauriel could have filled in.

Make them change
Thorin was a great character with his faults and as such I think he was probably the best of the characters. We could see him change, make wrong choice and at the end he changes and become the great king he wants to be.
Bilbo we see change from a reluctant bumbling hobbit into a brave hobbit that does the right thing when Thorin doesn’t. It leads to betrayal. It is the ultimate setup for a good storyline.
Bard was a character that should have been worked upon. He could have been given some weaknesses that either make him change or make him a hero. He could have been a glory hound for instance,  believing himself to be marked out for glory from the start. Maybe he should have been portayed as a kind of William Tell. Perhaps he was even a poacher and that is where he knows Tauriel from.

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Gold! Gold! Gold! It is the MacGuffin in this movie.

Tension
Tension between characters make for a good story. It would be obvious that Thranduil would collide with Thorin. This could have been made more complicated by a relation between Bard and Tauriel  which might be souring the relations between Bard and Thranduil, who are allies opposing Thorin initially. The master of the laketown could have been give a kind of secondary role in opposing Bard. Since Bard claims the right of rule while the master is an democratic elected ruler. This could be done with all the available characters with the need to add or change things too much. Of course it would require some additional writing and some additional acting.

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Thranduil: he should have been the real mover of things. He was bound to clash with Thorin. Have him oppose a relation between Bard and Tauriel and we have a hefty complex situation as they are both rivals and allies.

Wrap things up neatly

One thing that perhaps needed to be done is wrapping the story line up. The Hobbit feels rushed and drawn out at other times. When the battle is won, the orcs are defeated and the next moment we see Gandalf and Bilbo in a very long end scene in which Bilbo say farewell to Gandalf travels towards his house where they are selling his property because they believe him to be dead.It is a strangely long out end scene.

Instead we do not get any idea what happened to everyone else. It isn’t really wrapped up neatly.

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It might be the cgi that many hate, but it I find it marvelous nevertheless.
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Cgi. I am not actually opposed to cgi as many seem to be. It can certainly help in the story-telling.

These then are some quick notes about the movie. I hope to add some more later.

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.

Storytelling: Jurassic Park(part 1/3): god, the devil and lunch!

 

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I write reviews, but not because I want to criticize things. Actually I like to learn how to write and tell stories, so that is why I write them. On one level to learn to write the reviews themselves and on another level to analyse the storytelling of that which I am writing about. Also I like to look at pictures as part of storytelling. And I like to make pictures.
In this post I want to take a look at Jurassic Park, the movie made by Steven Spielberg based on a script written by Michael Crichton, which was an adaption of the book written by Michael Crichton himself. I will focus on the movie and not discuss the book or compare it to the book as I never read the book. It is also not important to me as I want to write about storytelling in the movie Jurassic Park.
I picked Jurassic Park simply because I just saw it together with my daughters and I think it is a good example of storytelling. It might surprise people that I never have seen the movie before, but there is a simple explanation for it: I live under a rock. Yup, a lot of things escape my notice.
Jurassic Park is  a good tale and probably would have been an exceptional tale if it wasn’t for some (very) weak parts. I will try and address those weak parts as we go along so we can consider them and perhaps learn from it. Note that what follows are spoilers as this post is meant to analyse the story and thus will reveal the story and that means: spoilers ahead.

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Spoilers ahead! Welcome to Jurassic Park. Somehow this reminds me of an adventure movie like Conan the barbarian. It must be the torches.

Summary of the movie

Very short

A group of people made up out of scientists, a laywer and two kids, inspecting a theme park filled with living dinosaurs before it opens become the target of ravening dinosaurs when a disgruntled employee sabotages the security systems to steal dinosaur embryos. After a few encounters and deaths the group and the park owner escape by helicopter.

Longer

The story of Jurassic Park is about a rich old man named John Hammond who is the head of a bio-engineering firm and who made a theme park filled with living dinosaurs on an Island belonging to Costa Rica. Before the park opens he invites a group of three scientists to inspect the park; the paleontologist Dr. Alan Grant, the paleobotanist Dr. Ellie Sattler and  the mathematician Ian Malcolm. The scientists are joined by a lawyer representing some otherwise unnamed investors who are concerned about their investments after an employee has been attacked by a dinosaur. In addition they are joined by Hammond’s grandchildren Lex and Tim Murphy.
The group gets a tour of the park during which they run into problems as the electrical touring cars fail. These problems become serious when Dennis Nedry,  a disgruntled employee of Hammond, sabotages the security programs to steal dinosaur embryos and deactivates the electrical fencing that help keep the dinosaurs inside the park.  In addition a storm approaches the theme park to make matters worse.
The group is attacked by a T-Rex that eats the lawyer and the group splits in two. Grant and the two kids flee further into the park, while Sattler calls in the help of the head warden of the park, Robert Muldoon to help the now wounded Malcom. The three then reach the main building where Hammond and his chief engineer Ray Arnold are frantically trying to get security systems and fencing back online.  They discover that the computer running the software that controls the park is made inaccessible by Nedry, who is nowhere to be found as he tried to escape the park with the embryos, but got killed by a dinosaur.
Hammond and Arnold decide that to restart all the systems to get them working again and gain access. So they shutdown all systems, but to start them they have to throw some switches in a nearby underground bunker. Arnold leaves for the bunker but disappears, so Dr. Sattle and  Muldoon, leave for the bunker as well. When they reach the bunker raptors appear. Muldoon fights them and is subsequently killed, gaining time for Sattler to enter the bunker to restart the systems. Sattler succeeds in doing so and then discovers that Arnold has been killed by a raptor that is inside the bunker. She manages to escape the bunker and returns to the main building.
In the meantime Grant and the two children, Lex and Tim arrive at the main building after a stay in a tree and a trip through the park.  Lex then uses the computer system to activate the parks systems and this allows them to call for help. In the meantime a raptor appears in the main building and the group decides to make their way to the helicopter pad.  Chased by raptors part of the group gets cornered by them in the central reception area, but they escape when a T-Rex attacks and eats the raptors.
Everyone then leaves the island by helicopter.

The story in parts

Stories are cut in parts that have a certain purpose. These parts follow each other in chronological order in which time usually follows a natural order.  In Jurassic Park the story develops along a natural and predictable way. There are no jumps or flash back for instance. and time is not garbled up with things that occur later in the movie actually occuring earlier in the story.

The first part

First there is a part in which the  stage is set and we get introduced to the characters and some background. In Jurassic Park, this part is actually pretty long as it takes a whopping 35 minutes. To keep us interested we get a few cliffhangers along the way.
But first let’s first meet the main characters: Dr. Ellie Sattler and Dr. Alan Grant. We meet some other people along the way, including two kids, but in the movie the camera will follow these two. With an exception being made for the two kids at some moments. Grant will head out with the two kids and Sattler will team up with Malcom and other secondary characters.  My eldest daughter said Ellie is the blond haired girl  that is only good for getting into danger so she can be saved by men. I said she can’t be as she is a doctor and main character.  It turned out that my daughter got it right.
If you want to strip the story  down to essentials then it’s Grant who is the main character as he is the only one who has a story arc of sorts in the movie and he actually develops(he is learns to deal with kids!) Non of the other characters have any kind of arc and some are just in the movie to get eaten.

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Dr. Ellie Sattler and Dr. Alan Grant in a rare shot: they are dirty. Alan and Ellie have a platonic relationship. Not surprising as he is drinking champagne from an oversized beerglass. I wonder what the tools on the wand behind Ellie are for. Guess they must be part of the standard equipment for Paleontologists.

The other two important characters in the movie are god and the devil. It’s Hammond vs Malcolm as Malcolm, dressed appropriately in black, directs criticism against the creator of life Hammond(dressed in white) for meddling with nature and predicts he will be unable to  control of his creation. It’s humans playing for god. It is science vs nature. And most of all: it’s a storytelling device to set the mood for what is about to happen. It will go wrong.. I tell ya! It will!
Beyond these roles they don’t  have much more to add to the story. Hammond is the creator who witnesses his creation going wrong and we get a kind of wrap up into the end of the movie where he and Ellie discuss the failure.  Malcolm flirts with Ellie Sattler for short period in the movie but then is out of the story because he is wounded. Yeah, he doesn’t get eaten.

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The creator and his critic. God vs the devil. Science vs the nature. Capitalism vs nature. Doom! Doom!

And then there are kids who are there to  get threatened so an Grant can save them and bond with them as a surrogate father.

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Grant bonding with the kids. Up you go, Laddie. And by the way: that fence is dangerous, that is why they put up a sign. So you know: it’s dangerous.
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More bonding. Kids aren’t so bad after all as compared to a ravening bloodcrazed T-Rex.

And then there are the people who are meant to be eaten. The lawyer with dubious morals, the thieving nerd, the chain smoking black guy and the courageous but ineffectual park warden. They even got names in Jurassic park, but no personality. They are just lunch. And of course to give us the feeling that there is danger. For without someone getting killed or eaten we wouldn’t think the main characters are in any danger.

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Lunch!

The story itself 

The very first thing we see is the attack on the employee. This establishes various things. It alerts us to the danger involved: some dinosaurs are dangerous animals you know. It immediately grabs our attention. It gives a reason for the lawyer to be there and it is one of the reasons for the main characters to be there: Grant is invited partly to condone the park.

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The movie starts with things going wrong. An employee gets attacked by a dinosaur. You get this symbolic shot of a hand slipping away from someone’s grasp because this is a PG movie. The blood and violence is kept to the minimum, so even I can watch it.

The second cliffhanger is about fifteen minutes into the movie. Here we witness Nedry making a deal with an representative of a competing firm to steal some embryos from Hammond. Nedry will be instrumental to the chaos of the latter part of the movie. His is a computer nerd and he is heavy build because computer nerds live in  attics eating junk food and drinking coke. An unhealthy mind creates an unhealthy body. Or is it the other way around? We get to the characters somewhat later.

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Making the deal. The heavy set bloke is the computer nerd who is going to steal some dinosaur embryos for the guy on the left. Dirty deals are made in bars(preferably shady ones).We are about 15 minutes into the movie.

The third moment is not a cliffhanger, but more to shake us up a bit. A cow gets lifted into the park and is eaten by a dinosaur. Since the movie is PG  we are spared the bloody bits and we see just some plants shake and hear shrieks. It’s not very scary. They also no doubt wanted to delay showing the monster. Not showing monsters is a very good practice. Only I felt a bit sorry for the cow. We learn from this part that Spielberg has a sadistic streak in him. Or do meat-eating dinosaurs only feed on live animals? Tsh. Choosy buggers.

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A cow meets its doom. Death to cows! We are 30 minutes into the movie.

To keep us interested also during this part of the movie we are enticed with the possibility to see some dinosaurs. Surprisingly the first dinosaurs appear about twenty minutes into the movie and they are the only ones we see in the first part.

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The first dinosaurs you see in the movie appear at 20 minutes into the movie. And that’s it for dinosaurs in the whole of the first part.

Well… not quite.. we see some dinosaurs being born in this scene that reminds me of Alien somehow. No face hugger jumps out of that egg though. It’s a bird that hatches from an egg.. Eh.. a baby raptor.

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And some dinosaurs are being born about 25 minutes into the movie. The first thing you see in you live is the face of an bearded old man dressed in white. It is god!

We have some other things occur in this part.

There is nice sequence about 20 minutes into the movie that explains how they created the dinosaurs. This  bit is actually introduced quite smartly as it’s introduced in the story to the main characters as what is going to be presented to the visitors of the park, but it’s also meant for the watchers of the movie to understand a bit of the science behind the movie.
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At 32 minutes into the movie there is the discussion between god and the devil  which I mentioned earlier which is part of a bigger discussion about using science to create these dinosaurs. Grant and Sattler: you don’t know what might happen. Malcom(the devil): it will go wrong.  The lawyer: if there is a profit in it then do it. I found this attitude for a lawyer a bit strange as it seems to me that a lawyer is more concerned with lawerlike things and that profits are more the concern of business types. In fact a lawyer might as well be against it because of the judicial complexity this causes.

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Should humans meddle with that which god/nature destroyed?

The second part
The second part  starts about 35 minutes into the movie and last for about fifteen minutes.  This is where the tour starts that will expose the the main characters to danger.  Incidentally this is also the part where the children are introduced. If you were to cut of the whole first part from the movie you might still be able to follow the movie. This part is therefore a lead up to danger: the start of the movie. In other words a second setup.

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The party gathers. With hobbits, a wizard and a warrior.. wait, this isn’t Lord of the Rings so they are just normal people. Incidentally the cars are electrical and run along the track on the ground. Why? Because a horror gives you one thing, then takes it away. It is transportation that goes nowhere and certainly not to safety.

This part is mostly for setting up some interaction between the various characters as until now we have just been introduced to them and  we have been enticed with the non show of dinosaurs. Time for some action. The pace of the story picks up as various things start to happen. Malcom flirts with Sattler. Hammond and Nedry get into an argument. Malcom makes some snide remarks in the camera that Hammond reacts to. And Grant leaves the car, dragging the rest along. For some strange reason Sattler steps out of the car at the wrong side. I guess this might have something to do with the camera.

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Things get moving along faster now. Ian flirting with Sattler. Nedry and Hammond have an argument. If you didn’t know it yet: Nedry is the nerd who lives on coke. Do you see the coke in his hand? If you didn’t we can always throw in a closeup. Hammond(in white) is annoyed at Malcom’s(in black) remarks. It’s not for the first time. And Sattle leaves the car to follow Grant by exciting at the opposite end. Curious.

The party gets out so we get to see the first dinosaur upclose . It’s a triceratops. Hurrah! But it is ill! It is also the last time we get to see a dinosaur that close, except for a meeting with a brachiosaurus. And of course when people get eaten or attacked.

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A triceratops upclose. It’s the first time they get this close with a dinosaur in the movie and the last time except one incident with a brachiosaurus. Not counting when someone gets attacked or eaten of course. Then they are too close.

It’s about 50 minutes into the movie and it’s time that things start to happen before people start to leave the theater.. Hence things happen: the nerd makes his move, the rain hits the park and the electrical fences and cars start to fail.
Continued in the next post (as this post is  long enough).
To be continued…

Red Flag

 

Red Flag is a movie based on an art installation called ‘threatened’ made by Asmita Duranjaya in Second Life.
I do not like to explain too much about it as i like people to make up their own stories.. to let their mind go and thing.. what is going on?
For me the movie is not a representation of the art installation.. it forms the fabric of my story and imagery that should be a story on it’s own.. At least.. that is what I intended.
And because the movie is made as is intended it is by all means.. an intentional series of depictions.

Enjoy!