Saturday, 26 January 2013

Lens flare

Since when did lens flare become trendy for cinematography in blockbuster movies?   

Enterprise... oh, shiny!
J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek reboot was the first big screen movie that overused lens flare for its live-action scenes aboard the Enterprise, and the constantly over-lit and blurry images proved to be so irritating it spoiled the whole movie. It did not present us with a brighter future, or some kind of spontaneous and organic creativity, it only looked far too amateurish to be taken seriously. 

Vulcan death rays
Abrams continued his apparent fascination with the visual noise of lens flare in the supposedly down-to-earth adventure Super 8, and it resulted in a terribly annoying train wreck of a movie. His malign influence on TV series Fringe is also noticeable, with a detrimental effect on the camera work.

Super 8 train wreck
Len Wiseman’s Total Recall is another remake that abuses viewers’ eyesight with its ridiculous glare from both on– and off–screen lighting. Many scenes are rendered all but unwatchable by streaks of whiteness that obscure details, and negate any sense of space within the frame. 

Total mood-lighting failure
Is it stylish? I certainly don’t think so. Babylon 5 used lens flare so that computer-generated scenes of the orbiting habitat, and varied starships, might appear as if they were filmed with actual cameras. It made a kind of sense… at the time. It could be perceived as a clever visual, even if it was not always artistically valid in frequent repetition. A similar conceit was used for many of those digitally created space battles in the BSG remake. Other movies troubled by a migraine blaze of lens flare include Michael Bay’s Transformers: Dark Of The Moon.

Blazing Transformers
CGI aside, lens flare is (of course) caused in actual cameras by light bouncing around inside the lens itself. The solution used by professional camera experts is to fit a hood on the lens. With recent big screen offerings that mess up clear views of expensive set designs, while also mistaking jittery handheld camera movement for real atmosphere, you might wonder if there is a shortage of lens hoods in Hollywood. I hope this stupid fad is over soon, but Abrams sequel Star Trek 2 is due soon, so I fear the worst is yet to come, and it’s been announced that Abrams will direct a new Star Wars feature.

Star Trek 2 - into the light!
Ultimately, lens flare is invalid as a subjective style or first–person–cinema technique simply because our eyes do not work like camera lenses. This futuristic dazzle for the look of sci-fi movies is so bright that we may have to squint to see anything at all.

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