Visual Storytelling

It was only a matter of time before we got here– to the land of things you can not script out but are important for any good film.  Much like Moses and the Promised Land, this is a place I can only view from far away on top of a mountain, never allowed to actually go there.

I want to talk about one far off building that seems to have gotten a lot of traction these days– visual storytelling.  The idea that we can tell large parts of a story not through dialogue, or even action, but in how things look.  Often, we use what’s on screen to augment parts of the plot or highlight particular aspects of characterization.  Sometimes its super subtle.

For example, Carl Up starts the movie with more rounded facial features and after his wife dies, regresses into a bitter old man who also looks more square-ish.  He’s the square peg that refuses to conform to the round hole his life has become– he’s all stuck in his ways and unable to give up the past.  It’s not until that boy scout comes along– who is also more roundish– helps Carl learn and smooth out the edges.

Pacific Rim is the poster child for this as large parts of that film are only told visually, but I only ever saw Pacific Rim drunk at a New Years party, so i can’t actually reference it (or remember large chunks of it, outside of GIANT ROBOT SMASH MONSTER THROUGH BUILDING, HELLS YEAH).  But I can give you an example– Tarzan, and Jane’s attire through the movie.

Jane starts out the movie on the run from stealing Belle’s dancing dress in Beauty and the Beast:
jane--full dress

As the movie progresses, Jane starts realizing that a ball gown is not exactly strong jungle attire, and decides to switch over to the outfit she stole from The Wild Thornberrys:
Jane--level1

Then, while Phil Colin’s croons, Jane realizes that actually, sleeves are horribly restricting and really hurting her ability to get her lady boner on for Tarzan:

jane-- level2

Yet, when it’s time for her to go back to England, the ball gown comes back on:

Jane--level3
However, after Jane finally makes her choice to stay in the jungle, fuck clothes:

jane-- level4

To put it very succinctly: when Jane makes the correct decision according to the movie, she shows more skin.  We can chart her entire character progression based on that.  As she falls in love with Tarzan, and in doing so realizes her place is the jungle, she goes away from formal attire and more towards her mini-skirt/sports-bra combo.  When she decides to go back to England, it’s back to Belle’s clothes with her.

Her trend is far more gradual than Tarzan’s– who goes directly from loincloth to suit and back to loincloth, because this movie isn’t paced super well.  At any rate, you can look at this in a few ways:
1) we are shown Jane’s gradual acclimation to the jungle.  She can pass from England to the jungle because she slowly becomes part of the jungle– she sheds off the layers of high society to become more like Tarzan.
2) we are shown a visual aid to how Jane and Tarzan feel about each other.  As they fall in love, they start to dress more like the other– Jane gradually, and Tarzan all at once.   By the end of the film, they’re in love because they dress the same.

It’s probably the first idea over the second– after all, the movie hardly needs any visual help to show it’s love plot, and Jane comes about three degrees too close to molesting a blackboard sketch of Tarzan long before she drops the sleeves on her shirt.

However, that still leaves us with the thematic problem of Tarzan being unable to leave his place (the jungle) and Jane being allowed to leave hers (England) for reasons that are never shown.  I never said the thematic elements were good, just that the visuals support them.

There is more to dig into here as well– the fact that Jane stole her dress from Belle is on purpose.  The movie is playing at undertones– the story of Tarzan has similar themes to Beauty and the Beast.  Tarzan is a wild gorilla man… sure, he starts higher on the screw-ability curve (unless you’re into that, and from comments I’ve heard about Robin Hood, there are more people into that than you might expect), but there is a theme of Jane bringing civilization, manners and, well, gentleing (ooh, I made up a word) out the wild Tarzan.

Unlike Beauty and the BeastTarzan doesn’t want to focus on how this process brings out other sides of Tarzan’s personality for Jane to fall in love with, because Tarzan decided to use it’s runtime for an extraneous music number about gorillas trashing a camp.

These are probably considerations that’ll get pushed to the back burner in favor of more pressing matters (Guys, how do I write a romance scene for a Disney film that isn’t the most cliched thing ever?  This is really hard), but it is cool to pick up on.

Who knows what I’ll be blogging about next week.

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About relimited

Sup. I'm a computer science grad student out in California currently reading fairy tales rather than writing a strong testing framework.

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