This week, I wish to discuss the importance of lighting in a movie, as well as the Mise en scene (general scenes) created by a Cinematographer in the movies. As an Example for scenes and how their lighting and placement changes the course of movies, I will be using the original Stargate movie:
This first clip shows us the scene in which Dr. Jackson explains to us how the Go’uld (MAJOR bad guys in the Stargate universe) came to look like humans. The specific Goa’uld mentioned has named himself Ra, after the Egyptian sun god. In this first clip, the characters of Dr. Jackson, Sha’uri (pronounced Sha’re in the later Stargate SG-1 TV series), and Jack O’Neil are treated with a traditional low key style of lighting. With this technique, we are meant to believe that these three are inside a temple reading the story of Ra on it’s walls. It is not merely the light coming off the props (the torches) the characters are carrying that creates the illusion of darker shadows than would normally appear in an indoor studio. Even the first time I saw this movie, I couldn’t believe what a wonderful job Karl Walter did on this particular scene. It’s pure genius!
Karl Walter helped continue this theme of firelight throughout the movie, as most of it is spent following the characters as they learn about the nature of the Goa’uld, the peoples of Abydos and the Stargate. They are always inside and in hiding from Ra and his forces (the Jaffa). We also start to see shifts in lighting as the story progresses, even through the 3 following Stargate TV series (SG-1, Atlantis, and Universe). As the characters learn how to use the Stargate and other alien devices, the better lighted the characters become. They become more enlightened (please pardon the pun) as we delve further into the Stargate Universe as a whole.
This second clip shows the demise of the bad guy (the Goa’uld formerly known as Ra) in this movie. Before we even get to see the great ending to that character, we see 3 excellent examples of low key lighting in this scene. When Dr. Jackson and Jack O’Neil are talking about a way to diffuse or use the bomb, we see the shadows that fall upon their face. Once again, once the rings activate onboard the ship we see the character of Ra being highlighted with low key lighting once again. When Ra realizes the bomb will kill him, we see him being light up from within. I know this was mostly done with CG, but the audience can clearly see that Karl Walter had the final say with his quick flash of high key lighting at the very end that washes the actor’s face out. This made it easier for the guys doing the CG in the scene to do their jobs even better.
I firmly believe that if Karl Walter had not made the choices he had with the lighting in this movie, the audience would not have believed the scene as a whole. If he had chosen to wash the actors out with light when they are supposed to be sharing dinner around a campfire, and downplay the lighting when they are fighting outside, then we would not have believed that the actors were in the place the director says they were. The illusion, therefore, would have been destroyed. Illusion of reality in films makes them worth watching 6 times in a year (and YES, I have watched it that many times so far this year).
Stargate Movie Credits. (1994) IMDB.com. Retrieved From: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0111282/fullcredits?ref_=tt_ov_st_sm
Snapfactory. “High Key & Low Key Lighting: Ep 42: Digital Photography 1 on 1.” Retrieved From: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ze7JzH_lKN