Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Dark Knight in Nine Acts

Revised Jan 5/09

Spoilers follow.

The Dark Knight is a movie with many themes, morals, and meanings. However, this analysis is mainly focused on the plot through the Nine Act Story Structure.

A brief description of the Nine Act Story Structure:
0) All the background information and setting: the things that happen before the story
1) Initial Shot: establishes the premise.
2) Inciting Incident: starts the story.
3) Character introductions: the good guys and the bad guys.
4) Pursuit of first goal: go after the initial goal.
5) Realization of wrong goal: the story twists and turns
6) Pursuit of correct goal: going for the new goal.
7) Climax at resolution: something changes to reach the correct goal.
8) Conclusion: ties up the story.

The Nine Act Story Structure is considered the basis for many blockbuster movies and well-written screenplays. Using this, here is a brief analysis of The Dark Knight.

1. Opening Shot -- Setting/Premise
The opening shot in The Dark Knight serves two purposes: it provides the setting of the film (Gotham in its heavily dense and populated city) and the whole premise of the film (to keep the viewer guessing what will happen next, or "Things not going according to plan"). The setting is self-explanatory, and that is what the opening shot is supposed to do in terms of the Nine-Act structure. The premise however, is a little more tricky. The camera starts off by moving in at a high speed, setting the story in motion. After the inciting incident (Act 2 -- Intro), the story never stops until it reaches its conclusion. When the camera zooms in closer to the central building, we are given the entire idea of the movie: Something bad is going to happen--but we don't know where, when, or how, as the window finally explodes and reveals who is inside, which leads into Act 2, the Intro. This idea of "Something is always about to happen" permeates the movie, and that is what makes it so suspenseful, paired with the chilling and tension-filled soundtrack, which always escalates before every major incident.
2. Intro -- Things Go Wrong, Fast
The first scene (after the opening shot of a movie) should be the inciting incident, not a load of backstory, boring monologues, character introductions, or history lessons. This should be the event that sets the story in motion and lets the rest of the movie try to fix it. The audience must have the problem of the story to know what the goal is before letting the movie drag them off into nothingness. The Dark Knight does that here with the Bank Heist. This scene sets off a chain reaction which leads to the first goal, the second goal, and so on until we reach the conclusion of the movie. In this scene there is the acquisition of the mafia's money from the bank, which eventually leads to Batman's involvement in the matter and the first goal of the story. Things also catch us off-guard and go wrong in this scene (such as the killing of each heist member), and these things make the story interesting. If everything went according to plan (a theme central in the movie), this scene would be much less effective. However, the introduction also serves a secondary purpose in The Dark Knight to introduce the character of the Joker.
Here, we get background information about the Joker through dialog, not by itself, mind you--but as an extra through the already occurring action. The audience is told how the Joker acts, what he does, and everything he stands for until his reveal towards the end of the scene. By doing this, the movie saves the audience the boringness of having a 'proper' introduction and instead introduces the Joker through the action sequences. By introducing the Joker early, the movie makes the viewers aware of the character's potential actions for every scene he is subsequently in, and thus those scenes are made much more intense.
3. Introducing The Main Players
This act is where all the main characters are properly introduced, so we understand their relationships to each other, who they are, what they want to do, and why they want to do it. Immediately after the heist we are first given the city's view on Batman, his relationship to the criminals, and how he has eluded the police's capture for so long. This leads into a fight scene where Batman reinforces his stand on the city and his new relationship to the criminals and citizens there. The scene also contains has the "Mad dogs"--another theme in the movie--who represent the Joker, and are unleashed by the unsuspecting mob. The real mad dogs in this scene promptly attack Batman and thus scar him, which is what the Joker will do later in the film. The scarring also works as character sympathization, so that the audience can root for the protagonist. Afterwards, Bruce Wayne goes back into his underground lair to stitch himself up (The conversation during this sequence being further informative of story themes), and this leads into the next character introductions: that of Harvey Dent, and Rachel Dawes.
The courtroom scene is mainly focused around Harvey, who is shown in his poise to be a crusader for good, and unafraid of the mob, even when they try to kill him. On top of that, we are also reintroduced to Lt. Gordon in his meeting with Harvey Dent (after a brief scene with Batman and Gordon) and led into the first goal of the movie: to stop the mafia's flow of money by seizing their funds from the city's banks. Finally, we are given the Joker's new relationship to the mafia in his first 'proper' introduction, and we are told of Bruce Wayne's new relationship to Harvey Dent in the next restaurant scene. The character introductions in these scenes establish each character's motives and outlooks. Over the course of the movie, these characters are changed from who they who are initially by the actions of the Joker. The audience must be clear who the original characters are, so that the audience can understand who they transform into as the story goes on.
4. Pursuit of 1st Goal -- Stopping the Mafia's flow of Money
Act four is where the characters commit to the first problem.
Stories are all about solving problems. Things go wrong, and the protagonists have to fix them. Antagonists, on the other hand, try to stop the protagonists, and this conflict between good and evil makes up the chunk of any good story.
The first goal of in the Nine-Act Structure has the main players committing to the initial problem, created by the inciting incident (Act 2). We have two opposing forces here that provide the conflict (a necessary ingredient for any story) in the movie: Joker, whose goal is to kill the Batman by working with the desperate mob; and Batman, who continues to try and put the mob out of business by going to Hong Kong and stopping the flow of money after it eluded the police in Gotham.
Batman arrives in Hong Kong with the plan to arrest and capture the mafia accountant--only after things did not go according to plan with the Bank seizures. This first goal was brought upon by the Joker's initial bank heist, and this idea of two forces of good and evil bouncing back upon each other will continue throughout the movie and escalate each stage until the final conclusion. Every subsequent action that either the Joker or Batman preforms from this point on will have an equal repercussion from the other side. This bouncing back and forth is what will drive the plot continually, over, and over. The first goal provides the primary incentive for the audience to commit to the film.
5. Pursuit of Wrong Goal -- Realization
Act five is where the main characters realize that they were pursuing wrong goal and instead go after the new goal.
Movies today--for the most part--do not survive on One-Goal screenplays. A One-Goal screenplay means you start out with the initial goal of "saving the princess" and then at the end of the story the hero "saves the princess" and the story ends.

Things going according to plan = boring.

Screenwriters realized this and they adapted to include a double-goal in many successful movies. This is because the viewers need to be tricked in a story; they need to be surprised and carried off in an unexpected direction for that story to be successful. The initial goal of a story will not be the final goal.

The new goal is only brought about after the first goal is realized to be the wrong one. Batman succeeds in his capturing of the Mafia accountant, but instead this leads into the Joker's public announcement, and his intent to introduce mayhem and anarchy in Gotham. Through the previous introduction of the Joker, the viewers know what the consequences are if Batman does not stop him as the new second goal. If the audience was just given the "capture of the Joker" as the initial goal from the beginning of the movie, the story would be made much less effective and feel needlessly protracted. Instead, the Joker is introduced as the prime goal later in the movie.
6. Pursuit of 2nd Goal -- Attempt to Capture of the Joker
In the protagonists' pursuit of the second goal, things are usually at their lowest in terms of moral. The city is in turmoil over the Joker's terrorism and assassinations, and the Joker continues to evade police (The [k]night is darkest before the dawn). This act in the Dark Knight subsequently starts when Batman and Harvey Dent commit to capturing the Joker (the press conference scene). The stakes are at their highest, and failure is more costly than ever. This act contains much of the conflict in the film, and thus provides much of the suspense and action. Throughout this act, Batman succeeds and fails in capturing the Joker (things didn't go according to plan!), and subsequently reaches the final goal, but not without cost.
7. Completion of 2nd Goal -- Victory at a Price
For the second goal, victory always comes at a price--something changes because of it. In the final act it is made apparent that the Joker's true intent is to change people from who they are (to dethrone Gotham's 'White Knight'), and the Joker does this through introducing anarchy, chaos, and mayhem. Batman nearly breaks his one rule by almost killing the Joker in the final scene, but instead saves him from his own demise. Harvey Dent fails to resist the Joker and lets himself fall to what he believes is a chance fate, and thus demoralizes himself. He eventually lets chance--or even more, the illusion of chance--decide his fate. This entire point of character adaptation is boiled up in an allegory on terrorism by showing what Batman must do to stop a madman and prevent subsequent deaths. Batman must sacrifice the freedom of the city in order to stop the Joker.
In the end, the whole movie builds up and ends on the theme of inherent good and evil. Will people destroy themselves when put under the pressure and anarchy of villainy, or will they prevail and hold fast to what they believe is right? When the Joker realizes that he cannot dethrone society into anarchy and change people into what they are not, that is when the movie reaches its climax; Batman apprehends the Joker, and the second goal is achieved. The plot reaches its conclusion; the theme of the story is made; the story draws close to an end.
8. Conclusion -- Wrap up the Loose Ends
Act eight, while wrapping everything up, also contains a short epilogue in Harvey Dent's character. We are given the final themes of the movie regarding what it must mean for one to tackle a psychopathic anarchist, and how the world will view the one who battled him afterward. These themes lie along the lines of heroes, lies, and what it means to live in a society of good and evil. Batman is what Gotham needs: not a hero, but The Dark Knight.

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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Obi Wan (Digital Painting)

Digital Painting Attempt #02.
1 Layer + Background
No Tracing, No Color Swapping
No Photoshop Effects, No Transparency (100% opacity brushes)
No Manipulation of image (Brushes Only)
5-10 MIN: My main plan is to work from large forms and break them down smaller and smaller until I reach the final image. I want to start out with large brushes, and only several colors, no more. I attempt to start out with loose shapes to Take chances, make mistakes, and get messy (Thanks, Miss Frizzle)! I currently have three colors here: Skin, Robe, and Dark Robe.20 MIN: I realize that the round brush in Photoshop is not very good. I switch to a somewhat horizontal brush that closer resembles that of a paintbrush. I go down slightly smaller in brusher size and I use more colors, but I still keep the palette manageable.
30 MIN: Now some real forms start to appear and it looks like a human, but not Obi-Wan yet; continuing with smaller brushes and more colors. This is the first real stage where I start to refine the shape from my messy beginnings.60 MIN: I get pickier about the palette and try to nail the basic forms down to the wire. It starts to resemble Obi-Wan. I must get the likeness and impression down here, before I go down and refine it, or else I am a goner.
100 MIN: This is where I start the process of refinement to break down the larger forms into smaller forms. It starts to look like Obi-Wan a lot more. I still must resist the notion of going into details, however. I also must be careful in my smaller work process not to destroy the basic forms. 150 MIN: Further refinement leads to a crisper image. Since I have the basic forms down now, its just a matter of more refinement (last time I use this word, I promise), cleaning up, and alteration to fix any mistakes. This is where it can get tedious.190 MIN: I add in a background. I'm getting slightly bored after three hours.
300 MIN (Final Image): Five hours later I break my rule to add a lightsaber with a glow effect on a separate layer (it wasn't worth it to paint the glow). That didn't feel like five hours. Luckily I am not a perfectionist anymore, or else I would be here for at least two more hours. I think I did alright for my second ever digital painting, but this is more like my first digital painting since my self-portrait doesn't really count. That was more like a digital mish-mash experiment.
The End!

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