Consider how David Lean creates an atmosphere of fear and suspense in the opening sequence of ‘Great Expectations’.
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Consider how David Lean creates an atmosphere of fear and suspense in the opening sequence of 'Great Expectations'. In a society dominated by technology, it is now possible for anyone to buy a camera and make a film. It is also becoming increasingly easy to create realistic special effects using computers and digital cameras. In 1946 when David Lean shot 'Great Expectations', he had neither expensive software nor previous film interpretations to help him. However, he nevertheless manages to combine both images and sound to manipulate and evoke emotion in his audience. The opening shot is a close-up of the first page of the novel, followed by a gust of wind and the pages flicking over. This informs the viewer that the film is an adaptation of a book, and links the first and second shots together. It also gives the viewer an idea of the weather in the opening sequence. There are also some strangely-shaped shadows falling on the book, which make it appear as if someone is standing close by. This adds an eerieness to the shot and may represent the darker parts of Pip's life that lie ahead, like meeting Magwitch, for example. The first sound we hear (other than the music in the title sequence) is a voiceover of the grown-up Pip, reading the text shown on the screen.
The audience can see and hear exactly what is making Pip uneasy, and should begin to experience some of the fear which is obviously affecting him. It is at this point that Pip finally runs into Magwitch. Lean builds up the tension very well here, by keeping the camera on Pip constantly, following him as he gets up and runs away. This means that we do not see Magwitch until Pip runs straight into him, which is a great shock for the audience. Strangely, Lean does not use music to increase the tension in this part of the film. The creaking of the trees, coupled with the occasional sound of a bird, are the only sounds used. This near-silence helps to create an atmosphere of isolation, and reminds the viewer that Pip is (supposedly) the only living person in the churchyard, and indeed for quite some distance. The tension is finally released when Pip looks up at Magwitch and screams. This is the first 'human' sound we have heard since the voiceover ended, so the scene begins to seem less eerie and instead, simply terrifying. Magwitch has obvious power over Pip, and Lean has used their differences in heights to demonstrate this. Pip is at least a head shorter than Magwitch, and instead of bending down to speak to him, Magwitch lifts him up to his eye level.
Eventually, Pip reaches the churchyard and crouches down behind a gravestone. He cautiously peers around it, looking for his pursuer, but we can still only see his feet. The audience does not see Magwitch in full until he is on top of Pip, which causes a great deal of suspense as we want to know why Pip is running, and what the man looks like. The clever use of point-of-view shots enables the viewer to empathise with Pip, and share his fear of Magwitch during this opening sequence. In conclusion, I think that Lean has combined camera angles and shots with use of sound effects and light to create an effective atmosphere of suspense and fear in this opening sequence. Some of the techniques used, such as the point-of-view shot of the knot in the tree, are very innovative and, I assume, quite unusual for such an old film. A modern audience, particularly a younger one, might not be so moved by this film, as nowadays we are constantly being bombarded with special effects and computer graphics, but a 1940s audience would certainly have been captivated from the moment the film began. Lean was certainly a pioneer in the film industry, and I think that if he had had access to the technology and finances that directors have today, he would have been able to create an even more gripping and frightening version of this equally gripping and frightening novel. ?? ?? ?? ?? Page 1 18/12/2007 English Media Coursework
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