Lighting is an important aspect of cinematography because using lighting techniques. Filmmakers can produce specific effects, accentuate significant objects and figures, create a certain mood, and add to the plot and atmosphere of the film (Malkiewicz, 2012, p. 102). Captain Phillips is an American film based on the real events that were directed by Paul Greengrass and released in 2013. The film tells the true story about Captain Richard Phillips starred by Tom Hanks, whose Maersk Alabama ship was hijacked by the Somali pirates in 2009 (Captain Philips, 2013). The scenes of the film mainly represent the situations on Maersk Alabama ship, and they are focused on the interaction between Captain Phillips and the Somali pirates; thus, the light is used extensively to reflect the tension of the relations, accentuate moods and atmospheres, and highlight objects and phenomena important to understand the director’s vision and idea.
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Lighting in the first scenes of the film is used to demonstrate the contrast between the life of Captain Phillips and his wife Andrea and the life of many people in Somalia. The fill light technology is used to represent the peaceful life of Captain Phillips in his home. The light is soft, and it seems to be natural. The light that is used to represent the Somali pirates preparing for the attack is also natural, but the focus is on contrasts between the light background and darkened figures in the foreground (Captain Philips, 2013). There are no directional lights on the actors, and the characters are perceived as the natural parts of the environment (Malkiewicz, 2012, p. 108). This technique is similar to silhouetting, and it is used throughout the film to create a tense atmosphere and add to the naturalism of the scenes because of the focus on changes in the daylight.
The other important scene to be discussed in terms of the use of lighting is the attack of the Maersk Alabama ship by the Somali pirates. This scene represents the fringe between the peaceful voyage of the ship and the further sufferings of Captain Phillips. The fill light is used to imitate the daylight (Malkiewicz, 2012, p. 104). Much attention is paid to the soft front light and bright backlight. As a result, the shadow areas are large, and the actors’ faces are highlighted only when there are close-ups (Malkiewicz, 2012, p. 154). The technique creates the effect of the audience’s presence on board when the shadows change according to the changes of daylight, and a person can see only those objects that are directly in front of him or her.
This technique adds to the plot, and it is used to demonstrate the shock of Captain Phillips being attacked by several Somali pirates led by Abduwali Muse (Captain Philips, 2013). If the bright light of the background creates contrasts to represent the situation on board, the other technique is used to demonstrate the behavior of the crew hiding in the ship’s engine room. The space in the engine room is limited, and minimal lighting with vivid light spots is used to accentuate the tense atmosphere and the rising fear of the crew (Malkiewicz, 2012, p. 107). This lighting is warm, and the use of red tones in lighting contributes to creating an atmosphere of anxiety and terror.
However, the most striking use of lighting is characteristic of the scene of rescuing Captain Phillips. A range of lighting techniques is used to emphasize the variety of emotions felt by Captain Phillips, the Somali pirates, and by the members of the U.S. Navy SEAL team. Minimal lighting is used in a scene presenting Captain Phillips as a blindfold captive (Captain Philips, 2013). The flashes of the orange light imitating the light of outside searchlights break the darkness of the place where the captive is held. These flashes are also important to accentuate the facial expressions of the Somali pirates and the sufferings of Captain Phillips. The absence of the direct lights on actors is effective in presenting the situation as life-and-death one and rather real (Malkiewicz, 2012, p. 213). The used lighting does not highlight the figures of the characters and any objects presented in the room. As a result, the effect of unexpectedness and developing horror is created.
The shots representing the captive are combined with the shots representing the snipers and the U.S. Navy SEAL commander. The filmmakers use low-key lighting to represent the rescue team in the sea (Malkiewicz, 2012, p. 134). The light of the searchlights is blinding, and it is in contrast with the dark background. To increase the contrast, the silhouettes of snipers are accentuated with the help of the deep blue light (Captain Philips, 2013). This approach is strengthened while the figure of the U.S. Navy SEAL commander is presented. The light that is used to accentuate the U.S. Navy SEAL commander’s emotions and the reaction is bright blue, and it is in contrast with the pale blue color used in the final scene of the movie. From this point, the contrast in lighting effects and colors is one of the main techniques that are used to represent the tension of the climax scene of the film. Even though minimal lighting is present in this scene, the filmmakers use lighting accents of different color temperatures to accentuate terror, anxiety, tension, and risks. Bright flashes of the orange light used to represent the Somali pirates, and the captive is quickly changed with the representation of the darkened blue silhouettes and then with the focus on blinding searchlights (Captain Philips, 2013). These changes in lighting add to creating a tight atmosphere that is important to represent the climax of the film.
The ending scene of examining Captain Phillips by the medical workers of the U.S. Navy is presented in contrast to the previous one because of the change of lighting techniques. In this scene, the lighting is perceived in association with the soundtrack and the camera work. The main lighting in the scene is soft and diffused, and the background light is most important (Malkiewicz, 2012, p. 123-124). As a result, the actors’ figures are highlighted from the background, and this technique adds to creating the effect of the captive’s confusion and his inability to react to the medical workers’ words in an appropriate manner (Captain Philips, 2013). Nevertheless, the main focus on the face of Captain Phillips is preserved. In this case, lighting should be discussed in association with the camera work because close-ups presented in the pale blue light are important to accentuate the character’s complex emotions, his sufferings, and shock (Malkiewicz, 2012, p. 154). The character’s disorientation as a result of the shock is emphasized with the focus on the active change of angles and the contrast between the light and shadow associated with the natural movements of the medical workers. The changes in the light and shadow are reflected in the music associated with the scene. As a result, the scene seems to be very natural and illustrative to speak about the emotions of the person who survived in the life-and-death situation.
Having analyzed the lighting techniques used in Captain Philips (2013), it is possible to state that the light is effectively and masterly used to add a certain meaning, emotion, or atmosphere to the scenes. The filmmakers were focused on the use of different lighting techniques to demonstrate characters in natural environments and with real emotions. It is also important to note that the light and the music create the unity in the film to make the picture full, true, and vivid, as it is represented in the final scene of the film. The use of contrasts in lighting plays the other role that is the creation of the tense atmosphere of the life-and-death situation in which Captain Philips is presented as not a hero, but as a real brave man whose emotions are true. From this point, lighting is actively used in the film to support the variety of tasks set by the filmmakers who concentrated on making the story both real and thrilling.
Captain Philips. (2013). Web.
Malkiewicz, K. (2012). Film lighting: Talks with Hollywood’s cinematographers and gaffer. San Francisco: Simon and Schuster.