How Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse Truly Embraces Its Comic Book Roots

“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” was directed by Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsay, and Rodney Rothman and the directors made sure to truly embrace the comic book genre, while also managing to stand out is the oversaturated genre. From its fourth-wall-breaking jokes to its animated imitation of the comic book aesthetic, the film is made to feel like a classic Spider-man comic book that combines light humor with a story about responsibility and coming of age. The film was both critically and commercial acclaimed grossing over $370 million worldwide and being very well-reviewed on websites like IMDB, Rotten Tomatoes, and Metacritic. The film fourth wall breaking jokes also allowed it to stand out in its genre by making fun of genre clichés like with the telling of the origin stories or the reference to objects essential to the plot as a ‘goober’. One of the most significant aspects of comic books they adapted was the existence of a multiverse. Comics have always had multiple versions of the same character and this was explained through the existence of different Earths, which is showcased in the after-credits scene where they travel to “Earth-67”. In comics, the heroes from different “Earths” would occasionally cross over, and Spider-Verse was the first major film to put this into a film. Spider-Verse introduced us to a group of new spidermen who were different from the teenage Peter Parker audiences had become accustomed to, as well as giving us a new, at least to film, main protagonist.

According to Patrick O’Keefe, one of the film’s art directors, Spider-Verse’s unique look was based around a few basic principals: the appreciation of the printed comic book form itself, the graphic simplification of animation, and the admiration of live-action cinematography. They wanted to emphasize the comic book features to the point of absurdity, and even included the classic “Thwip” onomatopoeia from the Spider-man comics. They also make sure to include stylistic elements of comic books like the thought balloons, the tingling lines that indicate Miles’s “Spidey-sense”, and the printed words which could be used as previously mentioned, for the onomatopoeia, or for things like warning that go with Miles’s “Spidey-sense”, for example, the words “Watch out” were printed when Miles was close to getting hit by a moving object. Furthermore, the entire movie makes use of thick black outlines and small dots to look more like a comic book, as well as having several scene transitions that involve going from one frame of a comic boom to the next. 

One of the essential steps in making this animation comic book like was to strip down aspects of how Imageworks already did their animation. An animated superhero film would be expected to use a lot of motion blur (like in the Incredibles whenever Dash runs), which is an animation technique used to imitate the smeared image of fast objects on film. However, one of the Spider-Verse directors, Rodney Rothman, wanted the staccato effect off no motion blur so it would give the movie more of the frame to frame comic book feel, as opposed to looking like another animated superhero movie. The directors also didn’t want to ruin the new visuals the film aimed to create by using motion blur. However, the new animation did lead to some issues. The images looked ‘too staccato’, they decided to borrow techniques from hand-drawn animation such as shifting the image every second frame. This is known as animating “on two’s” This lets the animators have more control over the speed and power of the movements of objects. Certain of the scenes would shift the image at every frame (this is called animating “on one’s”, this was done in the scene of Miles running through the snowy forest, the run is animated on one’s to emphasize speed with fast frame movements. In that same scene, he gets up on two’s because, naturally, they didn’t feel a need to emphasize the speed and power of that movement as much. 

You can even notice how the movements are less fluid in the few steps he makes up the tree until he started to swing. During the run, we see a frantic and panicked run, and having that be done on one’s will show the franticness of his arm movements and thus emphasizes the panic he feels when he can’t swing to escape from the people chasing him. The next scene shows him calmer and composed as he’s able to swing, and his movements don’t need to be as emphasized, so it goes back to being animated on two’s.

With the introduction of new “Spider-people”, we also see an introduction to some different animation styles. Except for Gwen and Peter, all the heroes from different dimensions have a unique animation style. Spider-Man Noir is animated in a noir style, Peni Parker has a more Japanese anime style, and Peter Porker is mostly animated in the same style as the rest of the movie but does have certain aspects which resemble Looney Tones, like the way he pulls out objects like a mallet out of nowhere. The unique animation style does make these characters memorable despite not having the most important roles because they stand out especially in action scenes.

The fourth-wall-breaking jokes are an important part of this film’s humor. The Spider-Man origins story is told by seven different Spider-Men, and it embraces all of the clichés of the superhero origin story. The repetitiveness is successful because the audience laughs at the irony of each superhero telling their ‘unique’ origin story, and ending it with saying they were “the one and only Spider-Man”. Spider-Verse itself is an origin story for Miles Morales becoming a new Spider-Man, so to avoid falling into the trap of being another origin story they decided to use the other heroes to tell their own origin story. Furthermore, having the characters who have already been superheroes tell their origin stories creates a coming of age effect when Miles finally tells his origin story in the same style at the end. 

For the first time in a Spider-Man film, we had a new main protagonist. Miles Morales is not only the first Latino African American Spider-Man but the first Latino African American superhero to star in a major motion picture. They make sure Miles’s background comes through with his taste in music and the use of Spanish phrases. For most of the 21st century, the superhero genre has been dominated by white male protagonists, and most of those movies would have the same “anyone can be a hero” cliché despite always having the same profile of person be the hero. In this film, we see the “anyone can be a hero” idea expanded to multiple races, multiple genders, and even multiple species. Even though the film has an underlying message about anyone being able to be a hero regardless of race or gender the film does show how Miles’s background makes him a unique Spider-Man. The scene where Miles is stuck to Doctor Octopus’s office ceiling tells us a lot about Miles. Firstly, we are re-exposed to what we already know about Miles’s taste in music, he loves hip-hop, and see him sing along just like he did in the first scene where we are introduced to him. 

This is also one of the many scenes where Miles is humanized. Constantly throughout the movie Miles messes up, mostly due to inexperience. After his world’s Spider-Man died Miles felt he had to take on the responsibility of taking on Kingpin and saving New York. He wants to help but struggles with his new powers, his confidence, and the loss of his uncle. The turning point in the movie is when his father speaks to him. After just losing his uncle and being told by the other Spider-Men that he wasn’t ready to help them Miles was at an all-time low. His father came to his door and gave him the speech about a “spark within him” and being able to “do anything he wanted with it”. This speech leads into him using his venom shock and breaking out of the webs he was stuck in, and eventually saving the day as the audience expected. This movie has a theme of failure and learning from it, which is what Miles constantly has to do as Spider-Man. The final battle scene shows us a completely different Miles, who even when he gets beaten down by the Kingpin he still gets up and continues to fight. As previously stated, this is a coming of age story for Miles, who despite his powers does come off as very vulnerable throughout this film.

Spider-Verse had the problem of bringing a new Spider-Man to compete with the already beloved Peter Parker. The reason for its success was its embracing of the old to bring in the new. Spider-Verse makes it clear that Miles Morales is the main protagonist and that this is Miles’s origin story. However, the still decide to include multiple versions of Peter Parker, including an older version of the one we know, to mentor Miles. The mentor role is something new to the older Peter Parker, and in helping Miles to get rid of his fears he was able to get rid of his fears when he goes back to fix things with his Mary Jane. The same happens with Gwen who can open up after her loss thanks to her newfound friendship with Miles. The Miles, Gwen, and Peter all have their character arc, so when they made Miles’s protagonist they still made sure that beloved characters like Peter and Gwen stayed very relevant by not only being Miles’s mentors but also going through their struggles.

Spider-Verse was a success because of how it embraced the source material while also being original. The animation doing everything it can to imitate the comics through the removal of motion blur to give a more frame to frame effect, or the aesthetic choices to the background to look like a moving comic book frame. The group of spider people would each stand out, even the three that had listed screen time, due to their unique takes on the origin stories, animation styles, or in some cases their character arc. The protagonists go through a compelling struggle which is both inner, with Miles trying to understand his powers and dealing with his problems, and outer, which is when Kingpin is trying to open his portal. Spider-Verse is a masterfully animated superhero film with compelling and relatable protagonists and a very self-aware sense of humor throughout the film.

Animation as a Tool for Expression: Examining the Original and Live Action Lion King

By Charlie Donnelly

Prominent film theorists and filmmakers disagree about the role of animation in cinema, with the philosopher Stanley Cavell claiming that “cartoons are not movies” (Frank 24), a stark contrast with educator Hannah Frank’s conjecture that “all works of celluloid animation [are] photographic in origin” (Frank 23). While we’ve discussed the role of animation in cinema in class with varying opinions, there are certainly instances when animation possesses an expressive quality lacking in traditional photographic cinema, especially seen in the differences between the original 1994 animated version of The Lion King and the 2019 live action remake. Although some feel that live action possesses the most varied capabilities as a mode of cinema, I will argue that animation has unique powers of expression in creating vivid and recognizable characters, establishing connotation and theme, as well as creating heavily stylized worlds with their own distinct visual iconography.

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Inside Bresson’s Truth – Cinematic Life In A Man Escaped (1956)

Ben Ratchford

It is often said of Bresson that his films, through their mechanical nature, their minimalist approach to their presentation of human emotion and experience, portray more passion and depth than could be achieved by “showier” directors. Bresson  expresses this as one of his goals in filmmaking in an interview from 1973.

BressonQuote

We have here an opposing view to Bazin’s idea of “total cinema” that cinema ought to re-produce as faithfully as possible the physical experience of real life – Bresson’s “cinematic life,” which is unique to cinema as an art, form seeks something new and otherworldly rather than trying to replicate lived experiences. I will here examine the techniques used on and off screen by Bresson in A Man Escaped to manifest his vision of cinematic life, that we may begin to understand what he means by such a statement. This is by no means an attempt to synthesize a complete definition of Bresson’s cinematic life, but rather a case study of a single film in what is at its heart a much larger project. Ultimately, I argue that through a minimalist construction of the emotional landscape in A Man Escaped, Bresson is able to slowly build emotional investment in Fontaine’s character, finally transcending the real at its end, achieving a level of depth which “places the world in the light of eternity” as Hayman put it in that same 1973 interview.

I want to first discuss the reasons why A Man Escaped feels realistic, and will then talk about how it surpasses this realism to become its own sort of life. At the heart of this question is Bresson’s unique directing style, notoriously “against acting” as it has been put – he told his actors as little as possible about the story before shooting, asking them instead to speak their lines and perform their actions as mechanically as possible, “as though they were speaking to themselves.”

We see this at play at the beginning of the movie – right after Fontaine (François Leterrier) is thrown into his cell, he lays down and we hear him say, “My courage abandoned me for a moment and I cried.” However, on-screen his face is completely flat. The line, too, is delivered with absolute dejectedness. I’ve included the scene below.

Here, the disconnect between visual and auditory information does not detract from the scene, but rather the “emotional space” left open by Leterrier’s performance allows audience to fill in the gaps themselves, which, counterintuitively, lends the film more emotional depth, not less. His voice reads not as bored, but as reflective of his fatalistic attitude. His lack of action on screen reads not as lazy acting, but as Fontaine being too exhausted to emote for the camera. It feels truly like a man who knows he is alone in a hostile world acting for no one but himself.

This trend is carried throughout the film, where even in the most strenuous situations Fontaine’s expression scarcely deviates from its typical inscrutability (see Figure 1).

Figure1Fig1Caption

To some, Leterrier’s performance might read as emotionally sparse, or even poorly acted, but to me these moments characterize Fontaine as cool, levelheaded, indefatigable. A man in full control of his emotions, someone who is committed to his goals and cannot be shaken by even the most harrowing conditions, rather than an emotionless robot. This is supported by other emotional characters, rare moments of emotion from Fontaine himself, (For example, when he builds a relationship with his neighbors, when he expresses fear upon meeting Jost, his obvious love for his country, or when he laughs nervously after returning to his cell from his sentencing. Still, his expression never changes.) and his regular acts of brilliance and resilience that make up the body of the film. As expressed before, the narration also helps work to this end – we know that Fontaine is experiencing a very intense emotional journey, (something I will elaborate on further down below) but is forced to steel himself against the storm. Courage is the word we hear perhaps the most often over the course of the film – by Fontaine to himself, in a note from the women, and perhaps most memorably in reference to Orsini as “courage incarnate” – and certainly the relevance of this motif in relation to Fontaine’s actions is not lost in translation.

There is a quote from the same interview which I presented at the opening in which Bresson says “You must feed the ear and the eye together if you can because the ear gives something to the eye. When you hear the whistle of the train it gives you the idea of the whole station. The ear is inventive.” This is to say that much can be implied with very little information, and I think this attitude that Bresson takes towards sound, an element of this film which is so crucial in constructing its physical and emotional landscape, perfectly explains why the acting in this movie works as well as it does (the use of sound in this film has been very well explained by others before me, so I won’t recapitulate the arguments here except to say that it is used very sparingly and precisely to establish the space of the film).

The other effect of Leterrier’s acting in this context is that the prison feels exceedingly oppressive, and Fontaine’s escape mission seems to be of the utmost urgency. It is not that he does not feel, he simply has no time to emote – he is already pushed up against his own execution as things are, and each day that passes is already a risk when he is at all times engaged in crimes punishable by death. We hear other prisoners being killed around him throughout the movie, and even from the beginning he accepts that death is an option if he does not act carefully and quickly. There is no time to waste. Emotion of almost any kind, be it early celebration, paralyzing fear, anything less than full commitment to his escape, could prove disastrous.

This reading of Fontaine is enforced thoroughly through the film’s intense focus on manual labor, certainly its most defining visual characteristic. In the first hour of the film, over half of the screen time is spent on Fontaine’s hands – in many shots his face is not even shown at all, opting instead to give the audience something akin to Fontaine’s perspective. They do a number of things in this time: reaching for the door to escape in the first scene, sharpening his spoon, chiseling at the door, unraveling his bed to make rope, ripping up his blanket, braiding shirts into ropes, bending metal frames into hooks, and more (Figure 2).

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Bresson’s intense focus on manual labor in this film is something that we will return to, but in the characterization of Fontaine it serves to strengthen the notion that he is an assiduous worker, and further increases the gravity of his plight.

These shots make up a part of what is the crucial element of the film’s emotional continuity, which is the strict adherence to (and careful portrayal of) Fontaine’s perspective. Throughout the entire film we see only what Fontaine sees; sometimes less, but never more. This is not done in a literal sense – we are at almost no point given a first person perspective of Fontaine’s view – but in the sense that the information the viewer is given is always reflective of what Fontaine’s attention is drawn to, and gives us an idea of his internality. This effect is shown quite clearly in the scene where Fontaine learns how to make hooks from Orsini. What Bresson shows us is just as important as what he does not show us – both tell us relevant information about how Fontaine sees the world around him.

My favorite example of this is the scene in which Jost is brought into Fontaine’s cell.

Here Jost is not shown to us as he enters the cell, even though he is clearly the focus of Fontaine’s attention, and the most important element of the plot by far at this point. Even though we can’t see him, Jost is the most important thing on the screen, despite not actually appearing on screen. Bresson’s decision to keep Jost out of sight as he enters the cell reflects not what Fontaine sees, but what he feels. Jost is a mystery, perhaps dangerous and perhaps not, but at this point there is no way to know – visually, this is exactly what we are shown. By drawing out the tension and not revealing Jost right away, Bresson communicates Fontaine’s feelings to us without ever having to tell us directly what is going on in his head. Again, the audience fills in the gaps all on their own.

Thus, throughout the film the perspective shown to the audience mirrors Fontaine’s internality as much as it does his externality, of which we actually see rather little, given the scale of time over which the movie takes place. This is where we come to understand how Bresson’s cinematic life differs from real life. He is not attempting to show the audience something which parallels each element of living exactly, but rather which mirrors the emotional landscape of life’s journeys. All of the drama, the flair, the monologuing that we come to expect when we go to see shows at the theatre, on TV, or in very highly produced modern films, has been pared down to its most essential parts, until what’s left is not a story that we physically feel is real, for indeed a true “total cinema” experience in this sense would require such a holistic approach, but rather a story that we connect with emotionally. This lack of superficiality, in the design of the set, in the editing and shooting of the film, and in the direction of the actors, is felt as something metaphysical, otherworldly. This is what is meant when Bresson’s work is described as being ascetic or “placing the world in the light of eternity,” because of his unique way of striking the emotional core of the story. The characters feel at a point not as people in the real world, but as parts of some perfectly orchestrated larger machine with an unknowable purpose, as though it might appear in the mind when being remembered.

In A Man Escaped, this is made no more clear than in the final 20 minutes of the film, the escape scene itself. In place of what might have been a heart-pounding action sequence in any other film, Bresson’s escape is an excruciating crawl through the darkness, a primarily silent endeavour punctuated by the wail of the train where the crunching of gravel means the difference between life and death. In the night time and open air, the sounds of the world carry much further and more clearly than they do inside of the cell, and the starkness of the film is brought fully into the light. No more is the story one of a man suffering and laboring tirelessly within an oppressive system, but now that all of the preparations had been made, all that stands between Fontaine and freedom is a single guard. “This man had to die,” says Fontaine. There is no doubt or fear any longer, but the crushing force of fate coming in the form of Fontaine to end a life. It is here that we are reminded of the title, A Man Escaped – we knew that all was set from the beginning. Fontaine is to escape, and this man is to die. A decree from eternity. And so Fontaine, calm as ever, lays down his meticulously crafted hook and rushes into the darkness to kill, off screen. The struggle is not important because we already know what happens, what had to happen, what was always going to happen.

Figure3Fig3Caption

This graduation from emotionally realistic on-screen action to the super-realistic is gradual, if indeed one can even meaningfully distinguish between the two, but important – without the emotional continuity and setup of the first half, aided by the fact that the movie depicts a true story, was filmed in the place where it happened, and used real objects as models for prop creation, the second half could not carry the weight that it does. It is this slow and steady increase in depth which allows Bresson to reach the “cinematic life” which surpasses the real in A Man Escaped.

Citations
Bazin, Andre. ‘The Myth of Total Cinema’, in Andre Bazin, Hugh Gray (trans), What Is Cinema?, Vol. 1, London: University of California Press Ltd, (1967)
Bresson, Robert, and RONALD HAYMAN. “Robert Bresson: In Conversation with RONALD HAYMAN.” The Transatlantic Review, no. 46/47, 1973, pp. 16–23. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/41513325.
Burnett, Colin. The Invention of Robert Bresson : The Auteur and His Market. Indiana University Press, 2017.
Ebert, R. (1999, December 23). Robert Bresson was master of understatement: Interviews: Roger Ebert. Retrieved from https://www.rogerebert.com/interviews/robert-bresson-was-master-of-understatement.
Foster, G. A. (2014, June 4). A Man Escaped. Retrieved from http://sensesofcinema.com/2012/cteq/a-man-escaped/.
Hagopian, K. (n.d.). Film Notes – A Man Escaped. Retrieved from https://www.albany.edu/writers-inst/webpages4/filmnotes/fnf04n9.html.
Karp, M. (2009, May 14). Cinema and “Reality”: The Importance of Emotional Truth. Retrieved from https://www.studentfilmmakers.com/news/051409_cinemaandreality.shtml.

Streams of Audio, Visual and Narrative Information in A Man Escaped

By Eric Chang

When watching A Man Escaped (1954) by Robert Bresson, what struck me the most was the lack of uniformity in the ebbs and flows of the different streams of information presented to the audience. However, these streams – audio, visual, and narrative – all coalesce into what is truly a very engaging, balanced, and well-structured film. I believe that a close and individual examination of each will allow us to understand just how this film comes together.

The following analysis of A Man Escaped centers largely around what I consider the “streams” of different types of information provided to the audience. When I refer to a stream of information, I am describing the rate of information provided, an admittedly qualitative measure of just how much and how often (new) information is provided to the audience.

The most noticeable aspect of the stream of audio information in A Man Escaped is actually its lack thereof. This silence is most noticeable in two forms: the silence of dialogue and the silence of all other non-dialogue sounds. From the very beginning of the film, we are presented with an extended length of the former, with the first words we hear a full minute and forty-four seconds into the film after Fontaine, the film’s protagonist, is first seen sitting in the back of a car, escapes, and is ultimately recaptured, handcuffed, and beaten. Furthermore, the first words we hear from Fontaine occur three minutes and twenty-four seconds into the film in the form of narration and the first words that Fontaine’s character actually speaks coming a full six minutes and forty-four seconds into the film.

Non-dialogue silence is also pervasive throughout the whole film. Much of this silence exists in the scenes in which Fontaine spends time in his jail cell, either quietly listening for guards’ footsteps and signals from his friends or sitting on his bed waiting to be let out. At times, this type of silence is also most pronounced when Fontaine is carving at his door. In between each scrape of his spoon chisel, we hear nothing else, leading us to focus on just how silent his cell and hallway are and how equally silent he must be as he works.

As discussed in class, deliberate silences of any kind have become foreign to American cinema audiences (disclaimers had to be issued about the 5-second silence in Star Wars: The Last Jedi). However, in A Man Escaped, both of these types of silences are understandably employed given the prison escape genre of the film. Furthermore, these silences actually accent and draw attention to the scenes that involve the occasional loud noise and/or background music.

For example, the loud sounds that occur while Fontaine is in his cell are perceived by the audience to be even louder than they actually are due to the silence (or relative silence) that exists throughout the film. A great example of this occurs at 53:50 when Fontaine puts the glass from his lantern in between the folds of his blanket and crushes it with his shoe on his cell floor (GIF below). This is an extremely loud sound and is one of the many loud noises that occurs during Fontaine’s escape preparations (others include when a large piece of his door first breaks off at 31:45, when the first panel of his door is pried off at 35:40, and when the glass breaks when Fontaine first tries to climb onto the roof at 42:00). In each of these scenes, the silence preceding and following each noise serves to actually draw more attention to the noises that interrupt it.

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This is once again true when we take a look at the music and dialogue that interrupt the silence. In A Man Escaped, orchestral background music, courtesy of Mozart, swells whenever there are major plot developments, such as when Orsini attempts to escape at 48:50 (GIF below) and at the very end of the film when Fontaine’s escape is complete. Again, these short periods of intense music invite the audience to engage with major turning points of the film.

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Shifting to the dialogue, the short, covert discussions that Fontaine has with the likes of his two different neighbors, the trio of men strolling outside of his first cell, and the various other inmates during their washing period contribute to an atmosphere of muted dialogue. However, similar to the relationship between silence, noise, and music, this muted atmosphere directs the audience’s attention instead to the times in the film when the relative silence is interrupted. Both the brevity of each conversation and the frequent need for quiet whispers are suddenly ended when Jost, Fontaine’s new cellmate introduced at 1:06:00, appears. After this plot point, the dialogue noticeably opens up as Fontaine talks to Jost both frequently and for extended periods of time.

Whereas the rate of audio information presented to the audience in A Man Escaped may have been purposefully inconsistent and variable, the visual stream of information was rather constant, most notably in the types of scenes and shots that were shown. When examining the film as a whole, certain scenes, settings, and actions are repeated throughout the film numerous times. For example, scenes in which inmates must exit their cells and stand in the hallway for roll call are shown a total of nine times, scenes in which inmates empty out their sanitary pails are shown a total of seven times, scenes in which inmates are washing their faces over a communal trough are shown twelve times, scenes in which Fontaine is carving away at his door are shown a total of seven times, scenes in which Fontaine talks to his neighbor through the bars of his window are shown a total of twelve times, and scenes in which Fontaine prepares his ropes and hooks are shown a total of six times. While the above list may seem exhaustive, it goes to show one major point regarding the visual information presented to the audience: it is redundant and regimented, just like Fontaine’s life inside the German prison.

This monotony, coupled with the black and white picture of the time, illustrates the painstakingly mundane nature of life as an inmate. Furthermore, even the scenes in which new information is introduced or a plot twist occurs all exist in the context of the regimented monotony that dominates the visual aspect of the film. For example, when Orsini escapes (GIF above), this escape happens directly after the inmates empty and clean their sanitary pails and are shuffling in a line to return to their cells.

Another example lies in Fontaine’s breakthroughs (literally) that occur while he is chipping, prying, and sawing away at his cell door. When the first large panel of his cell door comes off (GIF below), this is the seventh time we as the audience have witnessed a close-up shot of his slow work with the door, a scene that has already become familiar if not tiresome to both Fontaine and the audience alike. In the preparation work with both his door and his ropes and hooks, the scenes in which we observe Fontaine’s slow, methodical work become a constant throughout the film, a description representative of the film’s overall visual stream of information.

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Similar to the visual information in A Man Escaped, the stream of narrative information provided to the audience tends to be rather constant. This was mainly a result of the sheer amount of narration provided by Fontaine, as it seemed like the majority of settings, actions, and thoughts in each scene were described in detail to the audience. Despite the overall flow of narrative information remaining largely constant, the type of information tended to be one of two types: (1) novel information otherwise unknown to the audience or (2) redundant information already apparent to the audience.

This first type of information comes into play many times when Fontaine is alone and thus cannot communicate with anybody else. For example, at the opening of the film, we see Fontaine thrown into solitary confinement, where he can only communicate with his single neighbor in Morse code. Thus, rather than breaking the fourth wall and telling the audience what he is thinking and feeling, Fontaine assumes the role of a narrator and muses about his uncertain future at 6:30 (GIF below). Here, the audience gains valuable information straight from Fontaine’s stream of consciousness that would otherwise be inaccessible without such narration.

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A similarly useful narration that presents novel information can be seen when Fontaine first begins to assemble the ropes needed for his escape at 44:05. Undertaking a rather complicated process, Fontaine narrates the thought process behind each tear, wind, and twist, making the actions on the screen easy for the audience to follow and understand (GIF below).

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However, for every narration that was novel, there seemed to be two that were redundant. Throughout the film, Fontaine frequently narrated the actions that were already obvious to the layman audience member. For example, after he crushes the glass from his lantern, hides it in his sanitary pail, and then empties the pail into the communal drain, he states at 54:00 that “I emptied everything into the drain,” an obvious piece of information (GIF below). Similar patterns of narrating obvious actions occur throughout the movie – when Fontaine is washing his wounds, climbing up his windowsill, knocking on his cell wall, etc.

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When examined as a whole, the stream of narrative information, both novel and redundant, provides the audience with a constant source of information that closely mirrors the visual element of the film. Thus, when viewed in its entirety, we see that the mercurial nature of the stream of audio information in A Man Escaped is balanced perfectly by the constant nature of the streams of visual and narrative information. The former accents the unpredictability and sharp plot developments necessary to keep the film engaging, while the latter provides the structure and foundation to fill the space and time of a one-hundred-minute-long film.

Color in Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse

by Nick Nowicki

Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse is a superhero film that tries to emulate the experience of reading a superhero comic book. The film moves away from the live-action superhero paradigm and fills the screen with bold colors, halftoned graphics, and word-boxes that one would see in the comics. Color in particular plays a variety of roles in establishing character traits and developments throughout the film. This post analyzes three main uses of color in the film. First, I will examine how color is used to establish good and evil figures in the film. Next, I will focus on how color is used to emphasize the emotions of characters and the overall tone of a scene. Finally, I analyze the role that color plays in signifying turning points in the narrative arc and various character arcs.

Background on Comic Book Color

Four colors serve as the basis for most of the colors we see in early comic book prints and Into the Spiderverse: cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. The CMYK color model (K being a “key” color, black) stands in contrast to the RGB model, as cyan, yellow, and magenta subtract red, blue, and green from white light, respectively. So, instead of white being the sum of our basis colors, as is the case in RGB, combining cyan, magenta and yellow produces black. It was of course cheaper to simply print pure black instead of combining all three inks.

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To produce an RBG color of a particular saturation, illustrators use a process called halftoning where small dots of each CYAM color printed over each other.

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Color: Separating Superhero from Supervillain

Audience members without any knowledge of Spiderman or comic books in general can look to a character’s color palette to see if that character is good or evil. Heroes tend to have lighter, brighter colors like red, pink, white, and blue while villains tend to have darker, unnatural looking colors like black, purple, or green. The one exception in Into the Spiderverse is the color black, since Spider-Noir, Miles, and Gwen all have black in their costumes.

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Into the Spiderverse cleverly uses these colors to give the viewer an early indication of the “bad guys.” Miles’ uncle, Aaron, is introduced as the “cool uncle” who is not as uptight as Miles’ father. When Miles visits Uncle Aaron for the first time, we get clues from his apartment that he might be a supervillain. As Miles looks up to his uncle’s apartment from the street, the light coming from his apartment gives the surrounding outdoor objects like the fire escape and building edges a purple tint.

When Miles sends Aaron a picture from his window, the phone screen and background is tinted purple. The purple furniture like Aaron’s sofa gives another signal that he might be some kind of “bad guy” in a sense not imagined by Miles’ father. Of course, we later find out that Uncle Aaron is the Prowler, whose costume uses purple and black as its primary colors.

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The color scheme used in Dr. Olivia Octavius’ lab also indicates that she might not be just a doctor who is working for the villains in the movie, but a supervillain herself. As Miles approaches her lab through the vent, the light from the interior of the lab gives the vent a light green tint. We see the same unnaturally green color coming from objects in her lab such as her computer screen and testing chair. Her second primary color is purple, another classic supervillain color that can be seen in her hair, skirt, and surrounding items in the room. These colors are all introduced to the viewer before she reveals herself as Doc Oc, allowing the viewer to foreshadow her reveal.

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Color: An Indicator of Emotion

After Miles gains his Spidey powers, his emotions manifest themselves on the screen in various ways. One of the most prominent reoccurring feelings throughout the film is Miles’ fear when overwhelmed by social pressure or danger. This fear causes a fight or flight response in Miles, usually triggering some Spidey power like invisibility. We also see the color scheme change at these points where Miles feels overwhelmed.

A good example is early on in the film when Miles sees that everybody in school has heard about him accidentally ripping Gwen’s hair out. In the style of a comic book, the screen becomes populated with boxes that show what Miles is afraid of: all the other students judging him and gossiping about him. Just as Miles is overwhelmed by the situation, the colors are intentionally overwhelming to match Miles’ emotional state. Pure cyan, magenta, and yellow are scattered in different boxes throughout the screen and jump out at our eyes.

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We see this appearance of the classic comic book color palette again when Miles is tested by the Spideys from each dimension at Aunt May’s house. When he fails to control his powers and fight back, Miles is knocked to the ground and colors seem to blur off of his body before his invisibility kicks in and he flees the scene. Again, the viewer is overwhelmed with bold primary colors to display Miles’ inner anxiety about achieving what is expected of him.

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The color blue is also used to set the tone of sad moments in the film. When the original Peter Parker dies at the hands of Kingpin, Miles runs home to his parents, who find out about Parker’s death as it is broadcasted on the news. The light from the television screen tints the apartment blue, and we next see the entire city tinted a similar blue as everyone sees the announcement of Parker’s death. The creators of Into the Spiderverse were not bounded by realism that live-action filmmakers are limited to, in trying to give a scene its emotional tone. Along with sad music, this blue tint further emphasizes the sadness of the city in response to the death of their hero.

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Color and Character Arcs

The main and supporting protagonists possess a set of primary colors that establish a part of their identities. When a character’s primary colors are emphasized or changed in some way, this change in color has a corresponding character development. Two key examples of this are in Spider-Man Noir and Miles’ character development.

Spider-Man Noir is introduced as a man whose life of fighting crime has led to become hardened and devoid of emotion. The black and white coloration of his universe reflects the fact that he does not have the ability to feel feelings. In this new universe, he discovers that he is not the “one and only” Spider Man, but that there are many others like him that share some variant of his experiences. At the film’s climax, we see that he has developed the capacity to have and share emotions. As Penni’s robot dies, he is behind her with his hand on her shoulder to comfort her. Before returning he says with hesitation in his voice and the Rubix cube in his hand:

“I…love you all. I’m taking this cube thing with me. I don’t understand it, but I will.”

When we see him one last time during the resolution of the film, he has solved the cube, the one colorful item in his colorless world. The interplay of colors with their absence (in the RBG system) serves as a symbol of Spider-Man Noir’s character change.

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Miles’ main character development in the film is defined by ability to harness the Spider powers that have been granted to him. Miles struggles with this challenge as he tries to learn how to be Spiderman from Peter, but cannot hone his powers successfully. He has no set of defining colors for most of the film. He tries to emulate Peter’s look with a red and blue Spiderman costume that does not fit him. The scene where Miles manages to hone his power and swing throughout the city with his new red and black costume solidifies his new identity as a true superhero. His true colors, red and black, are revealed to us, and we see a new Spiderman comic book falling onto the stack of others.

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Color at the Climax

At the climax of the film, the collider beam shoots out cyan, magenta, yellow, and many other combinations to represent the colors in all the universes in a kaleidoscopic way. The energy of the scene is matched by the vibrancy of each character’s main color or color scheme. We can see this additional vibrancy first in the fight scene with Doc Oc. At other points in the film, her green appearance is dampened by the surrounding colors. However, when she is in focus during the final fight with Spiderman, her green color is amplified by the presence of the collider beam and fills the entire screen. The peak intensity of her primary color is seen at the peak of her action in the film.

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Further, the final return of each Spidey to their respective universe is established by the use of color in the collider beam, rather than bringing the audience to each character’s universe. When Spider-Man Noir jumps into the beam, the room lights up in his primary colors: black and white. When Penni and Porker do the same, we see the room filled up with the color schemes of her robot, and the Looney Tunes world, respectively.

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Finally, Miles’ primary colors permeate the screen during his final fight with Kingpin. Miles’ greatest power is on display just as his primary colors are displayed in their purest, most vibrant form, filling the entire “space” of the collider room.

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Conclusion

Into the Spiderverse bombards the eyes of its viewers with the kinds of bright, robust colors one would see in a comic book. However, it does not do this for no reason. Other than honoring the medium from which the character Spiderman came from, color can be seen as a mechanism for differentiating good from evil, revealing a character’s emotions, and signifying character development.

Chiron’s Male and Female Relationships in Moonlight

by Tomi Kolapo

Introduction

Moonlight by Barry Jenkins is a film seen through the point of view of the main character, Chiron. The film remains in Chiron’s perspective even as the character grows to be a teen and young adult. Over this time, the viewer gets to see Chiron interact with the people around him. Underlying these interactions is the fact that Jenkins makes sure to characterize as a shy, emotionally scarred individual. Thus, it is notable that he is able to form deep connections with some people. Among, the people he interacts with the most, Juan, Kevin, Paula, and Theresa, there appears to be a gender divide in the level of intimacy he has with these individuals. Aspects like the amount of contact, type of contact and color of the scene indicate the connection level difference between male and female. This serves as an indicator of Chiron’s sexuality.

Juan

From Chiron and Juan’s initial contact, the closeness of their connection is clear. However, the first notable instance involving physical contact is when Chiron’s mother denies Juan from contacting Chiron. She does this when Juan returns Chiron to Liberty city. Paula moves Chiron away from fist-bumping Juan. A fist-bump is an activity that has to be engaged in by both parts. Thus, it represents mutual affinity. Chiron’s mom realizes the fist-bump represents a connection between the two. Thus, her moving away Chiron represents her wanting to ignore that they have a bond. Or it shows her not giving Chiron a chance to realize he has a link to Juan by engaging in physical contact. Paula realizes the importance of physical contact in the development of a relationship.

However, Chiron’s mother’s rejection of Juan dos does not inhibit them from having physical contact at a later scene. A prominent instance of physical contact is when Juan is teaching Chiron how to float. First, it is important to acknowledge the nature of this activity. It is the type of thing a father would teach a child. The type of physical contact is also indicative of their closeness. Before he lets Chiron go, he is lifting him over water. Lifting is not an activity done to anybody someone likes. It is representative of a close relationship. For example, parents and relatives carry small children, not a random person the like. Also, his touch has to be gentle because he would not want the anxious and fearful Chiron to become tense or to start panicking. Thus, he uses a gentle touch which represents a tenderness. Chiron’s acceptance of that tender touch indicates his comfortability with Juan.

The colors the cinematographer chooses in the floating scene indicates the warmth of the interaction. The scene is noticeable by its blue tinge. Everything in the frame is altered due to the addition of a blue hue. This is not surprising since the scene is dominated by the sky and water which are blue. However, this shade of blue is lighter than what is usually depicted as water. The water is so light it is almost green. Thus, the scene has a softer tone, representing the relationship. By the surroundings appearing lighter, they are less of a menace to young Chiron learning to swim. Instead, they reinforce the pleasantness of the interaction.

Juan teaching Chiron to float

Kevin

Both the sexual and nonsexual contact between Kevin and Chiron reflects an affectionate relationship. The story first introduces Kevin in a scene in which boys are playing the field. They end up playfully fighting on the ground. Rubbing against someone, while rolling on the ground is not an activity people normally seek. Such a close, constant, uncomfortable touch can only represent extreme emotion. It is either dislike or fondness. Since they get along after the scene it has to be fondness. It has to be this way because people do not want to get so close to someone unless they like them or want to fight them.

The fight between a younger Chiron and Kevin (Fight begins at 2.20)

Additionally, there is a scene of sexual contact between the two males. The sexual contact is implied due to Kevin cleaning his hands with sand and the fact that it follows a kiss. Also, the camera only refuses to show Chiron’s crotch and Kevin’s hand so it indicates that it is near Chiron’s genitalia. Touching genitalia is a touch that represents intimacy. Instead of directly focusing on the sexual act, the camera stays on Chiron’s head on Juan’s shoulder. Thus, the head-shoulder contact makes an already intimate act more personal. It shows that it is done by two people that cherish the sexual contact. A headrest is only done between two people that are comfortable with each other.

When Kevin and Chiron talk to each other on the beach, a hue of blue goes over the scene. The color lightens the setting that should be dark since it is at night. Also, the color adds softness to a discussion that starts going in a depressing direction. They discuss Chiron committing suicide by walking into the water. However, the blue hue that radiates in the scene comes from the connection between the two. It adds optimism to a dark time, which talking to a person of reciprocal fondness causes.

The intimate scene between Kevin and Chiron by the water

Paula (Chiron’s Mother)

Chiron loves his mother out of obligation, but not because they have developed a deep connection. One of the scenes of physical contact is when she yells at Chiron to give her money. During this interaction, she touches him in a stern, firm and threatening way with her hands. In this scene, she tugs on Chiron and hits him lightly on the abdomen. These are all more aggressive physical touching than happens in his interactions with the two men. This type of contact represents a relationship that expects reciprocity. It does not include the gentle touches of the males showing Chiron compassion.

In part 3, while sleeping, an older Chiron dreams of his mom in an angry mood. In this dream, his mom is dressed in a red top as she stands in the hallway yelling at Chiron. While she is yelling, there appears to be a neon pink or purple line around her. The color is one of the least soft and most alarming in the film. It is abrupt and not inviting when juxtaposed with the lighter hues of the rest of the scenes.  Therefore, the cinematography is indicating that this may not be the most affectionate relationship. It takes the audience out of the comfortability the lighter tones cause. It reflects the dynamic of the relationship. The scene emanates a lack of mutual comfortability.

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The scene with the neon light surrounding Paula

Theresa

Theresa only ever touches Chiron once in all their interactions once. However, the lack of contact does not reflect a distaste for each other. It does show that they are not linked the same way that Chiron and Juan were. They do not have a closeness in their relationship that requires contact. Instead, their relationship is defined by respect. However, the relationship does not transcend to form an intimate relationship.

The one instance of touch is characteristic of the distance in their relationship. It is a stern touch in which Theresa holds Chiron by the chin and lifts it upward. Such a touch does not reveal affection. It indicates Theresa’s demand or request for Chiron to complete an action. This is confirmed by Theresa’s dialogue, “Stop putting your head down in my house” (Moonlight). This is a more assertive or critical statement than any that Juan makes towards Chiron. It reinforces the level of affinity that the touch indicates.

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Theresa lifting Chiron’s head

There are not any distinctive scenes of color between the two. This describes the steady, respectful, but unimpassioned nature of their relationship. It does not stand out as involving a special connection to the audience or Chiron.

Conclusion

With Kevin and Juan, Kevin shows himself to have warm and comfortable relationships with them. These relationships are the greatest pieces of emotional connection in a difficult life for Chiron. The way he allows these individuals to touch him reflects these individuals breaking past Chiron’s hardened exterior. The movie depicts scenes with Kevin and Juan in lighter colors. It reflects the warmth in these relationships. However, he does not have as warm a relationship with the women in his life. Even though it is usually a female character trope that women are warm characters that juxtaposes against harsh male characters. In this movie, he does not have the same fondness for Theresa and his mom that he does for men. With Theresa, he has respect for her, but he does not have a deep connection with her. Kevin loves his mother because she is his mother and only present parental figure. However, they do not profound connection. They cannot penetrate each other’s tough exterior.

The dichotomy between the nature of Kevin’s male and female relationships connects to broader themes in the movie. One of these themes is Kevin’s sexuality and his struggle to discover it. The film indicates that Chiron is not heterosexual, due to other people calling him a “faggot” and his mom blaming his mannerisms for him getting bullied. This is made explicit to the audience by the night on the beach with Kevin and the fact that he returns to Kevin even after the pain he causes him. Thus, the film is providing a signal by the characters he is able to connect with. The film is telling the audience that his inability to connect with women is not only due to the circumstances that Chiron lives. It could be that it is innate in him to form deeper bonds with men like Kevin and Juan. This reflects that Chiron’s circumstances do not totally obstruct him from his essence. His natural inclinations only adjust to manifest themselves in the situation that he lives. His homosexual inclinations make him comfortable with getting close to men.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider Verse, A Masterclass in the Intersection of Sound and Animation

SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE

By Aditya Tandon

Spider-Man: Into the Spider Verse hit cinemas with a storm in late 2018 as movie-goers of all ages came together to watch a new kind of Spider-Man film; not just because of the biracial protagonist, the presence of multiple spider-(wo)men, or the flawless comic-book styled animation, but because of how seamlessly all these pieces came together. It was a movie of many firsts, and it surpassed all expectations, later going on to win the Academy Award for Best Animated Film. I must confess, however, the first time I heard about the film and all the fanfare around it, I assumed it was just another super-hero movie being propped up by a loyal fanbase. It was only upon finally watching it that I realized how grossly mistaken I was; I noticed the enormous detail that went into both the animation as well as the plot, and how much the film was able to achieve through the intersection of animation and sound. All of this comes together in what is perhaps one of the most iconic scenes of the film, Miles’ “Leap of Faith,” embedded in full below.

There are so many aspects being brought together to make this scene what it is; the voices in the background representing Miles’ growth and arrival, the upbeat music broken up by moments of silence, the palpable fear and uncertainty in the air, the symbolism of his gliding over the same building he fell from before, and finally, the intersection of all of it incredible beauty of the animation itself.

The Opening

The scene begins with Miles sitting on the ledge of a building, lighting striking in the background matching the tempo of the music, both the animation and the music being dexterously used by the creators. The audience immediately gets a sense of what Miles is feeling in this scene, the adrenaline created by the music, the doubt in his mind conveyed by the height of the building, the enormous expanse of the city behind him, and the wariness in his face. We feel entirely in touch with Miles here and without a single word being spoken, which only serves to illustrate the enormous power of animation and music, and perhaps less expectedly here, the shot of the frame in moving from the bottom to the top of the building.

Immediately following this, the scene cuts to a flashback of the journey Miles made from Peter’s home to the ledge that he was sitting on, and the internal growth that the audience is able to witness. Here, the editors beautifully created a montage of things people have said to Miles that push away the doubt we previously saw. Rather than flashing back to each individual moment,  the editors chose to have the voices in the background and this tool further allowed the audience to put themselves in Miles’ shoes; to watch as Miles’ confidence grew with each voice that we heard.

“I see this spark in you…it’s amazing.”

“Whatever you choose to do, you’ll be great.”

“Our family doesn’t run from things.”

“You’re the best of all of us, Miles. You’re on your way.”

In addition to this, visually, this growth is also apparent in Miles looking at his reflection in Peter’s suit. While this scene alone (Figure 2) could have conveyed that Miles was finally ready for the battle that was waiting for him, what makes it far more poetic is the scene of Miles unable to see his reflection in Peter’s suit earlier in the film (Figure 1). In drawing back to that first scene, the film is able to highlight Miles overcoming his self-doubt and his development in finally becoming worthy of the suit. All of this is brought together, the music, the flashbacks, the voices in Miles’ head, his journey to the building he first attempted to leap from, in less than 1 minute, and yet it packs an enormous amount of tension and emotion into one short scene.

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Figure 1: Miles unable to see his reflection fit into Peter’s suit
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Figure 2: Miles seeing his full reflection in Peter’s suit towards the end

Music: Blackway and Black Caviar’s “What’s Up Danger”

The use of music in this clip is especially apt on several different levels, not only in the lyrics of the song itself as Miles is getting ready to face his fears, but also in the pauses within it that let us appreciate Miles’ internal struggle and hear the sounds of his steps and the glass breaking. As the flashback scenes take place, we hear the music build up until it finally breaks for a moment as we hear Peter’s voice saying, “That’s all it is, Miles, a leap of faith.” This one moment, although it only lasts for three seconds, brings together Miles’ finally moments in which he realizes that he must trust himself; the audience does not actually hear him say this in any dialogue, but the music becoming increasingly quiet and the animation showing him take a deep breath are enough to tell the us everything.

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Figure 3: The Leap of Faith

 

 

 

 

 

Whether we see it or not, Miles’ uncertainty in this scene is palpable, and it is further highlighted by two shots. The first is of the moment right before he jumps, where he is at the very edge of the frame with the enormous skyscraper beside him (The very beginning of Figure 3). This framing, in addition to the near silence of the music, accentuates Miles’ self-doubt and allows us to once again empathize with him; we understand that Miles is doing what he thinks is right, but not necessarily what he wants to do. Jennifer Scheurle, a veteran game designer, described the shot, saying,

“The building is so much larger than he is and dominates the screen. His environment leaves almost no room for him. He’s crushed by the weight of where he is and what he has to do next.”

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Figure 4: Miles’ fingertips holding on the glass

This sentiment continues in the beautiful animation of the next shot. As the music gets slightly louder and we hear the words, “Like what’s up danger?” Miles gracefully leaps off the building. We see Miles fingertips breaking the glass as he is unable to fully let go off the building, however, fear still clouding his mind as he pushes himself, nonetheless (Figure 4). It is in this moment that we are reminded of Miles’ age, that after all he is only a young boy afraid of the choices posed in front of him. Scheurle called this “the man infestation of his leap of faith: Miles is doing something necessary despite his fear, despite knowing how badly this could all go for him.” And as we arrive at one of the most beautiful shots of the scene, the extended silence allows us to take a moment and truly appreciate Miles’ feelings as well as the beauty of the animation.

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Figure 5: Miles rises on screen

As the silence continues and some form of serenity kicks in, the shot shows Miles rising even as he is falling. And in this moment, we do not question it, for Miles has indeed risen to the occasion. This does not last long, however, even as the silence continues, suddenly we are reminded that Miles is indeed falling as the grace of the scene disappears and we watch Miles flutter around. Rather than sustaining the serenity of the previous shot, the silence now serves to heighten the sound of the wind clashing against his clothes, until it finally returns, bringing only tension and worry back with it. In these scenes, by combining long periods of silence with short bursts of music, and even longer lengths of silence with sounds of the glass breaking or the wind, the film is able to create a reality even as we have already agreed to suspend our disbelief. Because of the use of the sound in combination with the expert animation, the audience is able to feel every sentiment of Miles’ without ever having leapt off a building – and this is the beauty of the intersection that one cannot stop appreciating while watching these scenes.

 

 

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Figure 6: Accentuated comic-book style animation

Although our logical minds keep telling us that Miles will survive the fall, the anticipation creates a certain uncertainty as the fall extends further and further. In this scene, as the music finally picks up and we hear the words, “Like what’s up danger?” again, we witness the animation that made this movie so notable in the first place – we see an accentuation of the comic-book style in the blocks breaking up Miles’ descent, and all of this comes together to build up more tension as the music gets faster and Miles gets closer to us.

Finally, we watch as the music becomes louder still and Miles launches his webs and glides across the city in triumph, highlighting what is possibly my favorite piece of symbolism in this scene, but something that I entirely missed initially. As Miles is swinging we a see a contrast in the red and orange lights on the ground and the lighter shades of blue around him in the sky. Scheurle suggested that this is representative of how Spider-Man views the world: “The sky is peaceful and blue. The ground is dangerous, metaphorically on fire. The floor is lava, and it’s better, safer, for him to be in the air.” I thought this, in addition to the more apparent symbolism and connections to earlier scenes, showed just how much thought clearly went into this short scene, and reminded me of what made the animation of this film so beautiful.

As we come to the end of the scene, we witness one last connection to an earlier scene that perfectly culminates Miles’ journey thus far. Swinging around, more sure of himself now, we see Miles glide across the building from which he first tried and failed to leap off from, and as the music beings to fade out, both Miles and the audience know that he has come full circle.

This entire scene is one that many recognize and many have expressed their opinion of, but I think more than anything, it represents how beautifully animation and sound can come together to create human sentiment. When one watches a scene like this, there is no question of animated films being secondary to live-action, for Spider-Man: Into the Spider Verse shows just how much animation can push the boundaries of what we expect from films. By not only developing intricate animation, with 177 animators working on the film at one point, but by combing it with varying volumes and tempos and moments of silence, this film illustrated exactly how to build emotion and develop characters, often without even saying a single word. And while this may only be one clip of the scene – and, certainly, one of the scenes that I felt was packed most with symbolism, call-backs, and possibly the most beautiful animation – it is representative of the entire film and the practices used to create this masterpiece.