Sound is one of the most basic essentials that a modern film production should have. If screenplay writers wish to include dialogue and sound effects into their production, it is essential that they should produce a script. This is because it allows actors involved in the production to confidently express the characters that are in the film. The camera crew can rely on the script when it comes to producing the shots for a particular scene or section and the sound crew can successfully insert sounds because of cues from the script.
In this task, I analysed the script for the opening scene from the 2012 film adaptation of the Schonberg-Boubil musical Les Miserables that stars Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean and Russell Crowe as Javert. I was able to complete the task by reading the manuscript then analysing how that section of the script was interpreted on screen.
1) How does the script introduce the narrative, setting, time period, the characters and the genre?
A) In the superimpose caption, the script introduces the year, the country that the film is set in and the film's historical context in full sentences. Even though they are full sentences, they are simple sentences. The length of the sentences allow the audience to easily remember these important facts. This allows the audience to have a clear understanding of the film that they are about to watch before any shots or screenplay have actually taken place. It says, 'The year is 1815. The French Revolution is a distant memory. Napoleon has been defeated. France is ruled by a king again.'
In A1's screen direction, not only is the actual location of the film's opening scene introduced (Ahead, the port of Toulon, the home of the French navy) but the setting and the atmosphere that the setting creates is also introduced to the audience. When a person thinks of 'Winter rain', they immediately think that it is dark and miserable. Some could say that this dark and miserable theme could continue throughout the film. It could also be an enigma code for events to come. Another superimpose caption that says the film's setting was written for it to appear onscreen during the film. This tells audience members, who are unfamiliar with the theatre adaptation or with landmarks of France, that the opening sequence is set in a particular place in France.
In the first shot's caption, the character, Jean Valjean, is described as being 'a great brute of a man' but 'he seems to feel nothing'. This is an enigma code because it makes us wonder why he feels nothing and so numb despite being incredibly strong and brutish. The fact that the shot focuses on Valjean's characteristics unlike all the other convicts suggests to the audience that he is either a main character or a character of significant importance to the film's events.
The second shot's caption directs the convict ensemble to sing their lines when it says, 'The convicts sing in time with the rhythmic pulls on the rope -'. This lets the audience know that the genre of the film is a musical. This caption also introduces the character, Javert, as being 'the officer in charge of the convict workforce' which shows the audience that there is a class and power divide between him and the other characters. It also says that he is 'expressionless' which shows that he is certainly not showing any remorse or guilt for the pain that the convicts are undertaking. This suggests that he must be the bad character or the villain of this film.
In the third caption, the relationship between Javert and Valjean appears strained and almost non-existent when it says Valjean 'stares back for a beat, defying him'. This suggests to the audience that the conflict of power between the two characters could escalate further as the film progresses. This suggestion could be classed as a part of the film's narrative.
2. How does it engage you?
A) It engages me by giving full descriptions of shots. This allows me to create an image of that shot in my head and this makes me, as an audience member, feel more involved and more connected to the film. The script's writer has also been careful not to go into too much depth when it comes to describing the characters. This engages me because the vague information makes me question why those characters are like that and it makes me wonder if those questions will be answered during the film's progression. Key characteristics have been mentioned rather than a whole list of personality traits. This engages me because it does not over-complicate the character and it allows the actor to create a realistic, respectful representation of that character.
3. How did the film-clip introduce the narrative (story), setting, time period, the characters and the genre?
In the first few seconds of the clip, the year, the country and the historical context is introduced. The year of the film is larger than the rest of the text. This suggests that this detail out of the whole passage is the most important. If audience members are unsure why that date is significant, the first half of the passage explains why (twenty six years after the start of the French revolution). The audience are able to know the film's setting from the remainder of the passage which says 'a king is once again on the throne of France'. Non-diegetic fanfare music can be heard at this point. The genre and the aggressive tone of music suggests that the following shots in the sequence are going to express that aggression at some degree. The consistent dark colour scheme creates a miserable, dark atmosphere which suggests that the film's narrative could be just as dark and mysterious.
The camera then rolls from the ship onto the docks. This shot could be called the opening sequence's establishing shot because it introduces the location of this first scene to the audience. Although it is not clear what is the name of this particular place, the audience are able to identify it as being a war-ship docks because of the size of the ships that are on the left hand side and on the right hand side of the camera's position.
A high-angle shot then zooms in from the ship to the cast who are pulling the ship into the docks. The shot particularly focuses on Hugh Jackman. Fans of the original musical adaptation will recognise this character as being Jean Valjean. However, other audience members may not realise this yet and may question if his character has significant importance because the camera is focusing on him. His shabby costume suggests that his character could be quite poor but then the shackles around his neck confirms that he looks dishevelled because he is a convict.
A few seconds later, this next low-angle shot zooms to a medium close-up of Russell Crowe. Once again, fans of the original musical adaptation will be able to identify his character as being Javert, the officer in charge of this particular group of convicts. For those who do not know the musical, the low-angle shot is often used for characters who are menacing or have a high degree of power and status. This degree of power, alongside the much tidier costume that he is wearing, suggests to audience members (who don't know who he is) that he is the leader or dictator. The menacing mood and low eye contact suggests that he could be a bad character or a villain.
After this shot, the camera cross-cuts to a close-up of Valjean struggling to pull the rope back. Whilst doing this, he sings the line, 'Look down!'. By singing the dialogue, this tells the audience that this film is a musical. The line 'Don't look him in the eye' is addressed to Javert. The tone of this lyric proves that the rest of the characters in this sequence have a strained relationship with the officer because of conflict in power.
This low-angle shot of the convicts walking allows the audience a clear view of the horrible conditions that the men have to work in. This shot is also very interesting because it depicts the convicts walking over their country's flag without a care in the world. This is an enigma code for the film's narrative because it suggests that the people of France are living under such regime where they are physically unable to be patriotic and love their homeland anymore. This also suggests that at some point in the film, the cast could show defiance and stand up against the French regime in vengeance for the pain that they had endured.
This medium shot of the two characters together establishes their strained relationship for the audience. The difference in costume shows that there is a clear divide in power and respect. Valjean's back is facing the camera. This body language shows that he does not wish or choose to associate with Javert.
4) How did it engage you?
It engages me because one clear interpretation of the script has been created. Whilst the script was full of enigma codes that caused me to ask questions, the film's sequence explored these enigma codes in a way that was not directly addressed to me as an audience member. Elements of the photography created these enigma codes such as the interaction between the two main characters and symbols that signified possible plot elements. The audio codes also engages me because it allows me to understand and connect with the characters on an emotional scale.