” The world’s youngest citizen has just died at 18, and humankind is facing the likelihood of its own extinction. Set in and around a dystopian London fractious with violence and warring nationalistic sects, Children of Men follows the unexpected discovery of a lone pregnant woman and the desperate journey to deliver her to safety and restore faith for a future beyond those presently on Earth.
Set in 2027 London with a Hollywood cast including Clive Owen and Michael Caine. One would assume that it would be full of explosions and guns which is actually true but there is a good story line which is backed up with a lot small nuggets of gold produced by the prop team and the cinematographer -Emmanuel Lubezki
This post is going to be a overview of different aspects of the movie from concept,directing, cinematography,set design, props and Cgi unlike the Book of Eli post.
The first thing that I focused on with the movie was the reference to the Bible like the book of Eli – but in this case it’s specifically of the birth of Christ.
This shot is taken from the first time Theo (Clive Owen) sees the pregnant girl Kee (Clare-Hope Ashitey) for the first time.
It looks very cliche for this shot to be taken in a barn, a direct reference to the birth of Christ. However the way the movie plays out by being in a farm safe house and the barn being the only place of privacy to the audience only a keen eye would make this connection.
The next scene when most of the audience realize that there is a connection between the movie and the birth of Jesus is when Kee and Theo have a conversation in Jasper’s house (Michael Caine) Sound Bite below:
Although just a joke between the two It shows the importance of the child that will be born and how it will change the future just like Jesus.
The next Shot is of Kee giving birth. Watching this it just reminded me of the birth scene in the stable. The European women giving them this room was like the Inn keeper to Mary and Joseph.
Going off at a tangent by not talking about the relevance to the Bible; the shot is very effective as it shows the stark contrast between labour in the present day with nurses and hospitals compared to 2027 in the movie.
Whilst we are on the subject of this shot I would like to draw your attention to this footage which shows the making of this scene and how it is compiled together :
By watching this video it shows that its not just the actors and directors job for the movie to create a certain atmosphere – but it is also up to the cinematographer and the post production team.
I also enjoy watching this “behind the scenes” as it shows what is capable with CGI.
- Let’s Appreciate: Children of Men (durbaq.wordpress.com)
- Children of Men and Australia’s Immigration Policy (asherhirsch.wordpress.com)
- Children of men #code71 (frankj89.wordpress.com)
“Children of Men is popular for its cinematography, the sheer unrelenting physicality of the action on screen and the bleak portrayal of a future Britain (something which rarely happens in mainstream motion pictures) but it also has a deeper level of understanding. Whether it’s uncharacteristic everyman Theo, who never fires of touches a firearm in the film or the passive nature of the camera as it drifts through the world like a ghost it is a film to stand the test of time and deserves to be considered a landmark in filmmaking. ” -Durbaq
I read the 1984 novel by George Orwell to get the ideology of the dystopian world from him and to get an idea of how it could be translated into a movie.
After watching the movies portrayals – the 1953 version and the 1984 version (which I will be focusing on) I was bitterly disappointed, especially after reading the reviews.
I would like to state that John hurt played a very convincing Winston Smith in the movie and the movie did tell the novel very well, however I do believe that people who have not read the novel before hand might be a little confused with the plot. None the less the movie as a story telling medium was good.
As I am looking at the movie in terms of the cinematography and the way it expresses the atmosphere of the the dystopian world I was left high and dry.
For example in this scene. the prop designers have gone to length to make everything look old and battered, however it still looks very clean and ordered. When I was reading the book and it was talking about the tele-screen in Winston’s house I was imagining this little box set that although small created a whole uneasiness in the room. Winston is sitting there writing in his book away hidden from the tele-screen but that isn’t really potrayed in this shot. It just looks like he is sitting down. I imagined him to be tucked away in a kind of inglenook, constantly cautious of the eyes of the tele-screen upon him.
“His pen had slid voluptuously over the smooth paper, printing in large neat capitals – DOWN WITH BIG BROTHER DOWN WITH BIG BROTHER DOWN WITH BIG BROTHER DOWN WITH BIG BROTHER DOWN WITH BIG BROTHER over and over again, filling half a page.” (Orwell 18)
This is what Winston should be writing in this shot. There are no up close shots of him scribbling away in a “self-induced trance and vehemently wrote down his true feelings towards Big Brother and the totalitarian government.” It comes back to the questions that I asked at the end of the movie – The Book of Eli , when it relates to the cinematographers view on what is going on in the scene and how best to go about it. My big three questions are to use are these
WHAT? WHY? HOW?
This is asking what is going on in the scene. What are the dynamic motions that are happening?
Why are they happening? there must be a reason for these things to be happening for the story to tell its tale.
Final How best can this be portrayed to the audience. We need to feel the reason for it. The emotions the impact of what is happening.
In this shot I can only see that the first one of these questions have been answered.
This will be a shot by shot analysis of the movie to get used to the cinematography of the film. I will then summaries the films cinematography and say how they portrayed certain atmosphere or events to make the scene more effective.
(Instrumental ambient tense music )
slow camera pans across the a dead body as an animal moves in the distant. It emerges as a cat that starts to eat the body, Very Macabre. But the camera carries on moving until it turns to a man laying camoulaged in the soil. Bow and arrow pulled back. Camera use focus on the arrow tip as the bow is pulled back even more. Camera turns to the cat looking around. Then a hand held camera acts as if its the cats eyes looking bewildered into the forest.
(shhhhhhup! Music stops)
Close up of the man with the gas mask, A sharp inhale. Close up of the cats eyes. The arrow is released. A doppler effect with the speed. As it approaches the camera it slows down to 1/5 the speed then as it passes speeds up again.
Bright flash of light to show transition between scenes. The colour mood changes from a green to a yellow of colour. (eery music starts playing). slow motion shot but shot the camera zooms out to show that the man is on a long trek and there is no sign of civilization. Camera pans up into the clouds where it shows the title of the movie.
Pans back down to a different scene of a road camera fixed on foot level as man walks past. Camera is inside of the car tracking the man walking. it pans over the drivers seat where there is a dead body
another shot of the mans feet as he walks past. but this time it starts to pan upwards to show the full scale of how far he has to walk. endless amounts of cars and dead bodies. a baron land.
I decided to take a large screenshot of the bungalow exterior to get an idea of the scene design. First thing you notice is the man as he is in center of the shot. Then the bungalow comes into focus. Then two objects attract your attention – the mailbox and the swing. Everything in the scene is old and battered. The mailbox obviously has not been used in a why and the owner of the bungalow has no mail. It is slanted. The swing is broken giving a macabre feel as one associates a swing with children playing. The bungalow itself is bowing and looks derelict.
Inside the bungalow the camera sticks on the man. the windows are taped up which means something was happening before the occupants of the bungalow left. He is holding a gun, finger on trigger that indicates that there maybe danger.
Stream of lights are used probably through holes in the ceiling of the bungalow . This shows the difference between light and dark and gives the scene a better atmosphere. It also allows the camera to pick up dusk particles in the area that shows that the place has been derelict (this is easy to do with volume lights on 3ds max)
Most of the time it is good to see the main characters face when doing closeups. This is happening when he is opening different cupboards. Fake cupboards are used with no backs so that you have enough field of view to see what is in the cupboard as well as the characters face. Also it allows the camera to pan through different cupboards.
When he is sitting down next to the fire. there is a lot of cutting from one clip to another. closeups of what he is doing for example, cutting meat up, setting the fire up and connecting a battery to his iPod. These are split up by close ups of his face to show how he is reacting to the situation
One thing about dystopian movies/novels is that there needs to be a base of reality so that it not completely science fiction. Doing a close up of a KFC wipe for him to clean himself tells us two things. Firstly there used to be a KFC so we are not looking a long time in the future. Also it tells us that if he is cleaning his whole body with a wipe that there must be something wrong with the water (or the lack of it).
Al Green – How can you mend a broke heart. (music over) transition fades to the rising sun
The Ambush (1)
To emphasize that it is a new day, there is a time lapse where the sun moves across the sky faster than normal. This Time lapse continues inside as the ray of light wakes up the man. There is a close up of his Ipod. This is significant as Ipods are a “newish” invention pf the 21st century, However looking at his Ipod it either is very old or it has its fair share of scrapes.
It cuts to a broken window where he walks up to it and stares outside. This indicates that its a new day and that he will be going outside soon. He closes his eyes and musics starts to play and when it reaches is crescendo it cuts to outside.
the camera is now at ground level focused on the man as he walks under an overpass. The shadow of the overpass plays nicely with the atmosphere of the grey but light sky. It camera pans across the floor in a very large arcing motion still focusing on the man. It passes behind a woman with a trolley to initiate her into the scene. By still focusing the camera on the man its a subtle entrance from the woman.
The camera then cuts to an over shoulder shot over the man (to show his perspective of the situation). You can see that she is on the side of the road.
The camera shot as his feet again shows that this is not a conversation between two people. There is a disconnection between the two.
In contrast to the feet shot as the ambush arises. a camera on a lift is panned into the area to give an aerial shot of the whole situation as to show the kind of trouble that the main character is into.
The camera then focuses on the man as he back into the darkness of the tunnel. The camera does not move it is stationary, on the man retreats.
A low angle shot of the “ambush-ers” gives an intimating effect on the situation. they surround the camera and as they proceed forward they go over the top of the camera.
Now the next shot really interests me. It is a fight scene under the tunnel. The camera is fixed in place probably on a tripod and is stationary as the fight progresses. This is so the main attention is focused on the main character and not the motion of the camera moving. The interesting thing about them fighting under the tunnel is the contrast in light levels. Due to the darkness of the shadows in the tunnel and the brightness of the sky outside it provides strong silhouettes of the people in the fight. This give a good atmosphere and affect. I believe its not only for aesthetic affect but also quite practical. Being in silhouette form makes it easier for the special effects to work as they are working with simple black outlines.
The next two scenes just shows him walking off into the distance and up on an overpass. It shows that he is used to them kind of scenarios so it doesn’t faze him. I put these shots up because I believe they have strong imagery of dystopian architecture.
This little clip is showing how if there is not much going on in the scene. A moving camera is a good way of creating the atmosphere. Also the swing of the camera means that at the start of the scene the road is hidden. focusing on the sign and as the camera swings behind the main character the long road comes into view.
So I thought I might talk about set design as the man enters a typical dystopian town. At first glance it looks like a town from the wild west. It in the middle of desert. I have 6 things that I believe make this scene and how it makes it look dystopian. the 1st thing circled (shown with the number 1) is a broken down car which just seems to be abandoned. It has dust on it which means it has probably been there for quite a while. Looking again you can see that the whole town is scattered with broken down cars. The people in the scene require trolleys and carts to move stuff along.
The 2nd thing is the women sitting down on the sand. Obviously in today’s society there are people that live on the street but this shows that even in the future there are some homeless people. t
he 3rd circle I believe shows a telegraph pole in the distance. There are no power lines coming from it which shows that there was once electricity but that is something of the past.
4th scene design which is circled just shows the crumbling down of the buildings in the town.
the 5th and 6th circled objects can be classed as one thing. One of the extras walking towards the camera is wearing goggles which is to protect him from the sandstorms, this is the same as all the dust sheets over everything in the scene. Things like this knit the whole scene together and give a big impact that one thing on its own
The first shot is of someone crouched on the rooftop holding a rifle so you know straight from the outset that this is not a friendly neighborhood.
The camera pans close up of people with cut scenes. One is of a homeless woman with her child screaming. The next shot I find particularly good. It is someone staring at the main character through a cafe window. The good thing about this is that the reflection on the window shows the man as he walks past. The next cut is of people watching him as they serve each other food from a pot . this goes to show that the man is not welcome there but also that the people who live there are extremely poor.
As the scene progresses it becomes more intense with the ambient music rising and becoming more aggressive. The man on the roof top is aiming the gun at him which seems to mean that something horrible is about to happen. Then a close up of a bell as a door open and it rings stops the music dead.
This is just like in thrillers when you believe there is someone hiding behind the door. The music and tension builds only to give a false sense of security.
The shop scene is a very short scene with a lot of dialogue which doesn’t really reflect good cinematography, however I really enjoyed the opening scene. they used security mirror in the shop to view the main character walking into the shop. Its a very original way of capturing someone and with the dirt on the mirror gives a nice aesthetic/rustic effect to the clip.
I like that this movie constantly uses the same technique to convey the same kind of situation. Just like the forest scene the gun tip is in focus.
The next clip has never been shown before with the interactions before. A side by side clip of the shop owner and the main character. due to composition of the camera is seems show unlike that of the ambush that this is going to be a friendly encounter (even if the shop owner is holding a gun).
So the bar scene is when we meet a new main character. we can tell that he is important and rich from what he is wearing. His feet are up on the desk which shows that he is comfortable. The most important thing in the first screenshot is that he is reading a book called Mussolini the leader of the National Fascist Party, which means that this person sitting relaxed in this chair is not a “nice guy”.
The next clip is of his henchman ordering some hooligans up from the bar. This high angle and use of levels shows that the hooligans are of a lower pecking order than the henchman and the man sitting down.
There is a few exchange of words where the hooligans give over some books but there is nothing in terms of great film capture. The next scene is of the main character walking into the pub. As usual people are staring at him as he walks across to the bar.
He orders some water and the barmaid goes and gets it from a pump. There is a long line of people with tin cans waiting for their daily allowance of water which shows that water is a necessity but is become scarce in this desert town.
The next clip is where one of the hooligans is aggressive towards the main character for pushing his cat off the bar. I like this clip as it shows the contrast between slow cinematic work and fast cinematic work. The contrast between the softly spoken words and slam of the table. If it gradually bit up it would of not had the same impact.
After the incident the main character decides to leave but is met with the other hooligans in the bar
Theres another fight which is shot slightly different to the ambush in the previous “chapter”. however it uses the same kind of shots and simplicity. Like the low angle shot of the ambushers there is a low angle shot of the muggers with the women of choice in hand to show the aggressive nature of what is about to happen.
As the fight progresses unlike before when the camera was stationary now it slowly arcs in a circle focusing on the main character. This happens because the muggers are aligned in a circle and are attacking him one by one so it makes sense for the camera to move like this.
When the fight comes to an end there is a close up of the barmaid as she walks in, now we know that the fight is over and that it has become personal again.
There is a high angle shot of the scene to show the destruction that has been caused by the fight.
Solara: “So how old are you?”
Eli: “Excuse me?”
Solara: “It’s just I don’t see people of your age come through here before”
Eli: “Well erm…. Its been… 30 years since the flash, I really don’t remember.”
Solara: “Do you remember what it was like? Like in the world before? What was it like?”
Eli: “People had more than they needed. They had no idea what was precious and what wasn’t. We threw away things that people kill each other now for.”
This is not part of the cinematography of the movie. I am taken a slight tangent talking about the concept behind the movie for a brief moment. This conversation talks about why the movie is set in the dystopian world. So we learn that there was a “Flash” that caused this kind of destruction of the world however there is an underlying tone that society was crumbling before this happened. I believe this is where the author/screen writers put forward their views on today’s society.
Eli says that people had more than they needed but did not treasure what they had. It is a sense of greed that the screen writers want the viewers to acknowledge will be our downfall.
One of the most prized possession besides the book of Eli (the Bible) is water. In the shot Solara and Eli are in a well to stock up with water. I love this shot for the contrast between darkness and light. The way the sun streams down from the top of the well as if to illuminate the water. A golden oasis.
Another thing that happens quite frequent in the movie is when there are no dialogue, there is ambient music playing through the scene. Sometimes there is not a lot going on other than walking etc. In this instance Solara is crying because a fight scene moments earlier. as the camera cuts to a further out picture, all what is happening is that Eli is looking at her (the camera is stationary) so make the picture more interesting the sky (I believe is green screened) has been sped up to bring motion to the clip.
“After the war. People made it their business to find and destroy any bible that the fires didn’t destroy already . They believed that this book was the reason why the war started in the first place. Anyway this is the only one to survive ….. They said the war tore the hole in the sky , the sun came down and burned everything and everyone…. Lucky people a year later started wondering to find a place to survive. One day I heard a voice like it was coming from inside me. I could hear it as clear as I hear you talking to me now. It lead me to a place where I found the book buried under some rumble. The voice told me to carry the book out west , told me that a path will be laid out for me where the book would be safe, that i would be protected from anyone… anything that stood in my path. I’ve been walking ever since.”
Eli and Solara are getting tracked by the evil people (don’t know what to call them). The silhouetted power station shows where they were last night to show that the chasers are on to them. I love that shot as its atmospheric as well as power stations have an eerie dystopian vibe. By having a clear contrast with the back lighting of the sky. You are able to have a far off clip whilst still being able to clearing identify the people walking into the power station.
The scene is a cut scene with it changing to Eli and Solara walking on a ridge. They are moving fast to get away from the pursuers. This is emphasized by a close camera with a wide lens. If the camera was panning far away then it would look like they are not moving as fast (like looking at a plane in the sky).
the next shot is very cinematic. A high angle far away shot of a house. They have done this to show that there is nothing around the house to show the deserted landscape. The camera then pans down the back of the two characters. It gives the sense that they are also looking at the house and without talking you know that they are going to go to the house.
The next clip I wanted to include as the type of camera shot has been used throughout the entire movie. Using the low shot of the feet walking means that something is about to happen. They are not going to have a conversation
As the camera swings behind there feet focusing on the house, a sign appears “Absolutely no trespassing.” In movies sometimes the directors like for the audience to get a jest of what is going on before the characters of the movie do.
As they knock on the door they fall into a pit. I like shot as it shows the power balance between Solara,Eli and the couple that have a gun pointed at them. Even without seeing the other couple with gun you can presume that they are there.
Once again I am going off at a slight tangent, I want to once more look at the set design for this scene as it is drastically different to what we are used to in the movie. For once this set looks like something you would see today in a house (maybe old fashioned but still) they seem to have electricity due to there being a lamp on the side. They also have time to enjoy music and make tea.
The first shot id like to bring your attention too only because I really like how they do a close up of the record player’s needle being put down on to the spinning record. the difference between a record player such at that a radio player or ipod etc is the delicacy at which its start to play. This brings a sense of comfort to the scene.
This movie does very much like to play on contrast, so it is inevitable that the next scene be a graveyard out the back. It is a very macabre scene as the couple of the house seem to be pleased with their gardening skills.
The next shot is when Eli and Solara are about to leave. Ive never seent his done before but it seems to work. What I mean is when you have two things in a scene and you want to focus on one thing the most obvious thing to do is to send the object you want into focus and blur out the unnecessary bits. However for this shot as Eli and Solara are silhouette they do not need to be blurred out (wouldnt make much of a difference) your eye gets attracted by the cars in the background.
Coming back to prop design I like how the megaphone is (I think) made from some time of Motorola part. It reminds me of a genre called steampunk.
You can see more about steampunk here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steampunk
Attack on the house
I wanted to show this clip as I believe it is the only time in the movie when a use of a handheld camera (not on a tripod) is used. It reflects the actions of the pursuers as they flee from the bomb.
The car explodes and lands on top of the camera which is very effective however I do not know how this was done .. CGI maybe? The camera then darts from looking at the pursuers to inside the house. This is a more dynamic way of looking at both sets of characters than doing cut scenes .
The bazooka is done in the same way however it is much more fluid/ less shaky than the gun fight, maybe to show the hectic nature in the formal situation. The Camera is targets on the missile and dolly’s along through the window inside the house where it explodes.
I chose a shot of the bullets through the window as again I believed this was and effective use of light.
the next two scenes is of Eli when he surrenders to the pursuers. The lack of ambient music and close up shots of his face shows that there is not going to be fight.
I have found that in movies, if an object or a stranger appears in multiple shots that, the thing in question is important to the story. It this scene it is the knife. In the first shot you see the henchman welding the machete. your eyes are focused in two directions, his face and the knife. It is only when he throws the machete onto the dashboard and there is a shot of it do you realize that there is more to to the machete than meets the eye.
One of the reasons is that it shows the henchman is not armed so Solara takes here chances to use a chain/wire to stranger them.
Like the bazooka a dynamic shot is used as it zooms out through the small window to a far out shot of the truck as it flips over.
Another reason for the up close shot of the machete earlier in the scene was to show later on that the henchman gets impaled with it as the truck flips over.
Golden Gate Bridge
I really enjoy this scene as you really get under the skin of the cinematographer’s mindset, constantly questioning what is happening in the movie and how best to portray that through the art of the camera.
We start of with an aerial view of the car slowly driving past other deserted cars. why is this an aerial view? why cant we see the rest of the scene?
As the camera pans up we can see that they are in fact driving along the golden gate bridge to San Francisco. So they used this camera affect as a kind of slow reveal.
It terms of set designs a really like that they have used the Golden Gate Bridge due to the fact it bridge a realism to the movie just like the KFC wet wipes at the beginning of the movie.
The next part of the scene is where Solara slams on the breaks and the car comes to a sudden stop. If I was a cinematographer I would have to have this question in my mind. What happens for car to stop. You have to slam your foot down on the brake pedal for the wheels to lock and to slow down. These are the dynamic motions that happen when a car is stopping. So the best thing to do is to film one of these happening , in this case it was a close up of the wheel. The difference between a close up of the wheel and a close up of Solara slamming down the pedal is that the wheel will make a louder sound against the road (however they could of done both).
The next question I would ask myself is why have they stopped? what is the reason for this? A close up of the front wheels shows that there is something not right with road ahead but your not sure what. It is the suspense that makes a good cinematographer.
The next shot is an aerial shot that shows the audience that there is a big gap in the bridge from one side to the other.
The next shot is of San Francisco which I really like because it shows a very dystopian atmosphere. Also the main characters are offset which means they are not the focus of the camera.
I have included a shot of the real San Francisco from the Golden Gate Bridge courtesy of Google street view to show the effects which has been put onto the movie to give it the dystopian look
The Lock – The Bible
This is just a very short clip of the general store man picking the lock of the Bible. I like this as the camera is actually inside the mechanism rather that just looking at the man picking it, which is much less dynamic.
In the Book of Eli there are shots that are simple but evoke a strong reaction due to the storyline. For example this shot of the bible which the pursuers have been after for so long turns out to be in braille so he is unable to read it. Another strong image that is at the end of the movie is this:
Which shows Solara wearing the same outfit as Eli did at the start of the movie with the same Ipod. It a good way of looping the movie back in a circle.
I have put this in because it reminds so much of Alex Romans the third and the seventh. The close up and high definition of the machinery which matches perfectly with the music is a true master class in cinematography.