Does a Tyrannosaurus Rex ever feel insecure? Reading movies


On the surface, I agree with Roger Ebert’s idea of a film’s composition.  It is my sense that we as humans have a natural tendency for symmetry and balance.  We may not notice when something “works” but we probably do when it doesn’t.  It was difficult for me to think of this in the abstract so off to the internet I went and searched “famous movie stills”.  This was one of the top hits:

still 1

Shot from Jurassic Park

Eeek!  Let’s see how it matches up with what Ebert says:



“…in general terms, in a two-shot, the person on the right will “seem” dominant over the person on the left” If we count T-Rex as a person, I would say Ebert’s principle may not apply here.   It all centers on what “dominant” means. Do we mean brute strength? In that case, clearly T-Rex wins. Do we mean dominates our attention, or with whom we most strongly identify? In that case, it would be (for me at least) the human.
“Right is more positive, left more negative” Yup. Bad dinosaur on left, scared human on right.
“Top is dominant over bottom” You could say that!
“Foreground stronger than background” Depends on what you mean by stronger.   Certainly the dinosaur is the “stronger” one but I as a viewer identify most with the human, so I feel more strongly drawn to the human in the shot and what he must be feeling.
“Brighter areas tend to be more dominant over darker areas, but far from always. Within the context, you can seek the “dominant contrast”, which is the area we are drawn toward. Sometimes it will be darker, further back, lower and so on.” The dinosaur is certainly brighter in this shot and he dominates the frame. Yet I am drawn to the human so perhaps it is a matter of the contrast that makes me feel drawn to him.

Verdict-in this one instance, Ebert’s principles loosely worked.  It all hinges on what we decide “dominant” or “stronger” mean- visually, emotionally or some mashup of the two.  Movies are intended to arouse emotion (at least I think good ones do)–to divorce the experience of WATCHING from the film itself doesn’t really work.

I watched the video “Hitchcock loves bikinis” for the filmmakers exposition on why cuts are so important in films- in this case, they either make the man in the film a nice guy or a lech.  This to me was a little bit simplistic-after all, a person could start at a neutral state, see something, and have a reaction to it for an almost infinite number of situations.  You don’t need film for that to happen.  It’s not the cut that changes things (the pieces of bread in a sandwich), it’s what comes between (the “meat” as it were).

I also watched the video “Zooms” on the  use of zoom-in and zoom-out in the Shining.  [If you are ever near Estes Park, CO, head to the Stanley hotel, which inspired King’s story, btw.]  God that movie is creepy.  The examples of zoom techniques used and being able to see them in such short succession really emphasized how they provide a sense of tension in the story.  If a zoom could talk it would say “AND THEN….get ready for this….” It’s almost a way of honing our focus on the shot- in the case of a zoom in, a magnifying glass, and in the case of a zoom out, a widening of our consciousness to include the larger world.



2 thoughts on “Does a Tyrannosaurus Rex ever feel insecure? Reading movies

  1. I like the side-by-side comparison of Ebert’s principles with your reading of this still. Nice way to run through them in a visually helpful manner with the two columns. I think this one is tricky because it mixes some of the principles: it may be that in general terms, what is on the right will seem dominant, but in this particular case there are the mitigating factors of the dinosaur being larger, being on top, and being in focus in contrast to the human. So I wonder if we have to kind of take several of the principles into account at the same time, thinking that, well, if something is on the right it may seem dominant unless some of the other factors come into play. Your point about what we mean by “stronger,” more “dominant” is very good; the dinosaur is certainly portrayed as stronger in this frame, given its size and the fact that it’s in focus, but one might feel more connected to the human and think that in some way that makes him dominant.

    This post has made me think further about how complicated these principles really are, how we have to think of them in tandem and really dig deeper into what they might mean. Which makes the idea of creating my own video according to such principles even more daunting!

    I also like your analysis of what zooms might say…I haven’t really thought of what a camera motion might “say,” but it makes complete sense to do so. I agree that many zooms could say what you suggest. I also notice, in the video about The Shining, that many of the zooms focus your attention on someone in the middle of the shot, even if the zoom is going outwards rather than inwards. It’s like it’s still saying pay attention to the person way from which the camera is moving, even when you’re getting more in the frame to pay attention to. I hadn’t noticed that before about zooms.

    By the way, I’m not a GMU student; I’m someone who has taken ds106 in the past as an open online student, and I’m playing a bit with it right now too!

  2. And I play the part of thanking Christina for such detailed comments, spot on for some of the ambiguity of the meaning of the positioning of the T-Rex and Dr Grant. That is what makes the scene interesting to me, is how that power might shift depending how you read the scene; one might say it creates tension. My thought us that the power shifts depending where you are in the movie; and for most of the movie, the dinos are dominant. And they should be, int terms of size, and power right? But of course man and his super brain/intellect triumph.

    For the Hitchcut, what you describe is the point– that the same clip of a character looking at two different subjects shifts in terms of what we think of them based on that cut, and yes, that thing in the middle makes it all. What it really says is that the things/persons a character shares a scene with may more define them than the character themselves.

    Good stuff here!

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