“Lights, camera, action”: the familiar command of movie directors the world over. Sure, lighting for movies is an art form, but what about light in movies? Here we take a look at just a few classics from the big screen where light takes on a whole new (leading) role.
“Your father's lightsaber. This is the weapon of a Jedi Knight. Not as clumsy or random as a blaster; an elegant weapon for a more civilized age.”
We first take a look at possibly the most famous franchise in cinematic history – Star Wars – and the prop that is to blame for fully grown adults choreographing their own sword fights. That’s right, the lightsaber. Throughout his quest to defeat the dark side and save the Galaxy, Luke Skywalker wields the extremely iconic energy sword – the signature weapon of the Jedi order. Used for both offense and defense, its colored plasma blade can cut through virtually anything, deflect blaster bolts and even absorb Force lightning.
“The Patronus is a kind of positive force, a projection of the very things that the Dementor feeds upon – hope, happiness, the desire to survive…”
Staying in the realm of fantasy, we now turn to the world’s favorite child wizard, Harry Potter – who can conjure all sorts of spells. However, the most famous, most difficult to cast and most powerful defensive charm of them all is the Patronus Charm. The Patronus is a silvery light full of energy that takes the form of an animal and acts as a guardian protector. This is the only spell effective against the evil Dementors and appears in various movies throughout the series. Where would its brightness sit on the Kelvin scale? “Bright white” one would think.
“I give you the light of Eärendil, our most beloved star. May it be a light for you in dark places, when all other lights go out.”
Next, we move on to the fantasy world of Tolkien and the trilogy of movies that was born out of his all-time best selling novel – The Lord of the Rings. In the franchise’s third and final installment The Return of the King (2003), light plays a major role in the quest to destroy the One Ring. It is the light of Eärendil's Star which helps Frodo and Sam survive their journey into Mordor after being tricked to venture into the lair of the giant spider Shelob. When Shelob first approaches, Sam uses this light, gathered in a phial, to drive her away.
“Try to imagine all life as you know it stopping instantaneously and every molecule in your body exploding at the speed of light.”
The 1984 comedy Ghostbusters stars Bill Murray as one of a trio of Ghostbusters – a paranormal investigation and elimination service run from an old, disused firehouse in NYC. Being academics, the Ghostbusters developed their own high-tech equipment – including the ‘Proton Pack’ or ‘positron collider’. This, as the name might suggest, fires an extremely bright, positively charged proton beam which enables them to contain and hold negatively charged ectoplasmic entities, i.e. ghosts. So… who you gonna call?
“The sun that rose on our sorrow this morning guards us in its course. Until it sets to-night, that monster must retain whatever form he now has.”
Staying with horror – what is more horrific than the archetypal vampire himself – Count Dracula. The title character of 1897 gothic horror novel by Bram Stoker appears on the screen in many interpretations of the novel: from the first screen adaptation in 1931 to Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 classic starring Gary Oldman. The recurrent theme throughout is centered on light – or lack thereof. Indeed it’s the powers of darkness that Dracula and all subsequent vampires possess: evil, superhuman abilities that mostly cease during daylight.
“The only thing that moves here is the light, but it changes everything.”
Don’t be scared, but it’s time to enter the horror genre – where darkness is so often the scene of the crime. In The Others (2001) – a supernatural, gothic, psychological horror directed by Alejandro Amenábar – there are no electric lights to be found. The plot centers on Grace Stewart – whose children have an uncommon disease, Xeroderma Pigmentosum – characterized by photosensitivity, so they must live their lives in the dark. But when light starts to creep into their lives, Grace is convinced that they are no longer alone…
“You know those pictures in the National Geographic about the Aurora Borealis? This is better than that!”
Spielberg’s 1977 sci-fi classic Close Encounters tells the story of how Roy Neary’s life changes after a close encounter with the bright lights of a UFO. Following a spate of peculiar occurrences – like the disappearance of people, animals and objects – a group of scientists start to investigate the UFO activity. In the film’s most iconic scene, they manage to communicate with the alien occupants of the UFOs via bright lights and sound projected from a large electrical billboard. The mothership then lands returning the abductees.