The Fourth of July means many things to many people, but one thing nearly everyone thinks about on Independence Day are the fireworks. They’re loud, they’re big, and they’re beautiful–so of course they grab our attention, and of course they are a great way to convey action, celebration, and emotion in a visual medium, including film. Here are five great uses of fireworks in cinema:
Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
Before several hours of over-the-top groundbreaking cinematic action take place in Peter Jackson’s epic fantasy saga, we get a light show thanks to Gandalf the Wizard and some mischievous hobbits. Gandalf recounts the notable battle between Bilbo and Smaug (later depicted in its own trilogy of blockbusters) with the use of crowd-pleasing fireworks, which goes awry once Merry and Pippin bungle things up and set more off than they can handle.
One of the most powerful dramas ever made, the background use of fireworks by visionary director Ang Lee serve a more subtle purpose than usual. Ennis (Heath Ledger) is a married father struggling with the love he has for another man. When he faces a pair of drunk, troublemaking bikers who challenge him and his wife, Ennis saves the day and beats them in an affirmation of his traditional masculinity. With the fireworks blazing behind him, it seems like a perfect patriotic cheering moment, but masks the unconventional road Ennis’s life has taken. Oz the Great and Powerful
“Are people born wicked or do they have wickedness thrust upon them?” The Sam Raimi-directed, James Franco-starring sequel had a lot to live up to when it was released nearly 75 years after its predecessor, The Wizard of Oz. That classic film used bright technicolor to bestow wonder on its cinematic audience. Oz the Great and Powerful attempts to do the same with a fiery explosion of color during the heightened climactic battle between the good and the wicked.
Land of the Dead Zombie godfather George Romero’s long-awaited third sequel to Night of the Living Dead introduced some novel concepts to the franchise of brain-eating ghouls. One was a zombie-proof tank of a vehicle called Dead Reckoning that used “sky flowers” to distract hordes of the undead. By firing fireworks straight into the sky, the living could buy themselves some time as the zombies gawked up in slackjawed awe–Romero’s films are often a critique on actual, breathing humans, and this metaphor might not be too far off.
The final battle between Disney warrior Mulan and villain Shan Yu is an epic climax and one of the most memorable scenes in the film. Fireworks are used for good triumphing over evil–a classic trope used with simple yet bombastic fanfare. Fireworks were also invented in China and are an important part of Chinese culture, bringing poignancy to the scene. Will the planned 2020 live action remake outdo this explosive sequence? We’ll soon find out…
The final victim after eight seasons of fire, ice, and bloodshed on HBO’s fantasy epic Game of Thrones just might be our Sunday nights. Thrones had established itself as the appointment TV show of the decade, and now that the game is over, there’s a void left in both the television landscape and the hearts of many viewers who crave watercooler-ready event pop culture.
But don’t worry, there’s still plenty of shows, both old and new, to fill the vacuum left by Game of Thrones. Here’s ten of the most notable:
Westworld’s third season is still a year away, but there’s a reason the sci-fi western drama adapted for HBO by Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy takes its time between installments, and it’s not just its incredibly high production values. The show’s incredibly complex, weaving storylines take time to map out and write, but leave fans with plenty of theories and mythology to chew on each week in the same way Game of Thrones has since 2011.
There will be more than just fireworks this Independence Day–this Fourth of July will see the season three premiere of Netflix’s nostalgic horror/sci-fi series, Stranger Things. As the show’s child stars mature into teenagers and the time period reaches the heart of the 1980s, we’re expecting shopping malls, New Wave music, and of course, Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) facing off with terrifying grotesque monsters.
A Discovery of Witches
The new critically-acclaimed BBC series A Discovery of Witches stars Matthew Goode (Downton Abbey, The Good Wife) and Teresa Palmer (Hacksaw Ridge, Triple 9) and is based on Deborah Harkness’ bestselling All Souls trilogy. Its first season comprises eight episodes and its tale of magic and witchcraft should scratch the itch of Thrones fans wanting more magic in their pop culture.
His Dark Materials
His Dark Materials was first adapted into a blockbuster 2007 Hollywood film, The Golden Compass, that bombed hard and put the planned trilogy to a halt. Fans of the beloved series have been clamoring for another adaptation ever since, and are finally getting it thanks to a collaboration between HBO, BBC, and New Line Cinema. The cast includes Ruth Wilson (The Affair), James McAvoy (X-Men), Dafne Keen (Logan), and Hamilton star and creator Lin-Manuel Miranda. The historical fantasy that, yes, deals with magic, spirits, and the end of the world–but also talking polar bears–is expected to surpass fans’ already-high expectations; its second season is already in pre-production.
The Walking Dead
The zombie smash hit will be back on AMC for its tenth season in October, coming off its game-changing ninth season that saw the loss of series protagonist Rick Grimes. New showrunner Angela Kang was praised for steering the show into a new era with several new castmembers and the rise of big, big bads The Whisperers. The Whisperers storyline will continue in the new season, and likely lead to the deaths of even more fan favorite characters, including Michonne, whose actress Danai Gurira is rumored to be leaving the show soon.
One of the most anticipated shows of 2019 is Amazon Prime Video’s adaptation of Good Omens, the fan favorite comedic novel by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman about the birth of the Antichrist and the end of everything. Amazon spared no expense and the show boasts an incredible cast: Michael Sheen, David Tennant, Jon Hamm, Miranda Richardson, Benedict Cumberbatch, Brian Cox, and Frances McDormand. The six episodes of the series were directed by Douglas McKinnon (Doctor Who) and focuses on Sheen and Tennant as a bickering angel and demon forced to team up to stop the Apocalypse.
Based on the wildly popular video game, The Witcher will be a Netflix original about Geralt of Rivia, a solitary monster hunter, who struggles to find his place in a world where people often prove more evil than the creatures he faces. Henry Cavill is moving on from Superman and Justice League and has physically transformed into the fan-favorite, silver-haired protagonist.
The Expanse has been drawing comparisons to Game of Thrones since its debut in 2015, and the parallels are obvious. Both are adapted from a series of epic, bestselling novels and both deal with multiple alliances, betrayals, political maneuvering, and a supernatural threat that overwhelming it all. The story by James S. A. Corey involves grounded, realistic space exploration in the somewhat near future when Earth, Mars, and the Asteroid Belt are all warring governments who must come together to deal with an extragalactic… something. Its first three seasons aired on Syfy, but after being cancelled, season four will air on Amazon Prime Video, possibly because Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is a huge fan of the series.
The Lord of the Rings
Amazon Prime Video is pouring over a billion dollars to create the most expensive television show in history, a five-season prequel to JRR Tolkien’s Middle Earth epic. Amazon has been keeping details surrounding the production very close to the vest, but a late 2019 release hasn’t yet been ruled out. Once the show does air, expect Lord of the Rings to dominate pop culture conversation in the same way Game of Thrones, and the original Lord of the Rings film trilogy, once did.
Untitled Game of Thrones Prequel
Then again, maybe Game of Thrones will fill the Game of Thrones-shaped hole in our hearts. Well before the series ended, HBO had commissioned up to five spinoffs to be created, though details about most of them have been sparse. One such show, by Bryan Cogman, has already been cancelled. Another is rumored to be an adaptation of Robert’s Rebellion, the near-recent civil war that directly led to the first season of Thrones.
However, one prequel is already in production, with a pilot to be filmed sometime this year. Its cast includes Naomi Watts as series lead, as well as Miranda Richardson and John Simm. The story is supposedly set 10,000 years before the current series, and will involve the Age of Heroes and possibly the mysterious origin of the Night King.
So while the watch has ended for Game of Thrones, one of the most epic, expensive, talked-about series in the history of television, rest assured there will still be plenty more content to watch, dissect, and argue about online.
Oscar-winning cinematographer Andrew Lesnie died of a heart attack on April 27, 2015. While relatively young at 59, his work in the film industry was monumental and will leave a lasting impact that will continue on for generations.
Lesnie was born in Sydney, Australia in 1956. While attending film school in Australia, he worked his first professional gig on the Richard Franklin film, Patrick, as an assistant camera operator. After graduating, Lesnie worked as a cameraman on a TV magazine show, allowing him to shoot constantly in a wide variety of locations and situations, helping him hone his skills as well as learn cinematography techniques and tricks.
From there, Lesnie found ample work in Australian films and television, building up a steady and solid resume. His big break came in 1995, with the release of Babe, the family-friendly film starring a talking pig. Scripted by Australian filmmaker George Miller, Babe was a smash hit and in turn brought Lesnie a heap of fame. He later went on to shoot its sequel, Babe: Pig in the City, as well as the Sandra Bullock romantic comedy Two If By Sea.
However it was his collaboration with New Zealand filmmaker Peter Jackson that immortalized Lesnie’s contribution to film and showed the world his own unique “cinematographer’s eye.” He was selected to shoot the game-changing Lord of the Rings trilogy. Pre-production for the films lasted several months, as Lesnie worked closely with Jackson to plan and construct the trilogy’s elaborate sets, as well as plan work out the films’ trickier shots. These included playing with perspective and other cinematography tricks to faithfully and realistically capture the significant size differences of the trilogy’s fantastical characters. To aid this process, Lesnie and Jackson used computer previsualization programs to accurately plan the necessary frames and angles.
Lesnie was also instrumental in crafting the trilogy’s trademark color scheme, a palette of earthy browns and greens that helped turn Middle Earth into one of the most grounded, lived-in cinematic worlds this side of the Star Wars galaxy. To achieve the look of the films, Lesnie shot on film, using tungsten-balanced stock and a variety of Arri cameras, including the Arriflex 435, Arriflex 535, and ArriCam Studio 35mm, all paired with Zeiss Ultra Prine Lenses.
Not only gigantic financial successes and a pop culture phenomenon on the level of Star Trek and Star Wars, the Lord of the Rings films were critically adored as well. The third entry, The Return of the King, won all eleven Academy Awards it was nominated for, tying the all-time record for wins. Lesnie picked up a Best Cinematography Oscar for his efforts on the trilogy.
His career did not end with the Oscar, though. The monumental success of the original Lord of the Rings trilogy brought Lesnie a wealth of fame and accolades. His projects that followed expanded in scope, including Peter Jackson’s afterlife drama The Lovely Bones and epic remake King Kong. Lesnie also served as director of photography for the blockbusters I Am Legend, The Last Airbender, and Rise of the Planet of the Apes, in addition to reuniting with George Miller as part of the live action unit for Happy Feet.
When Peter Jackson signed on to direct The Hobbit, Lesnie came aboard as cinematographer. Like its Lord of the Rings predecessors, the film was expanded into another trilogy, yet—filmed a decade later—proved to be a totally different beast. The Hobbit trilogy was not only shot digitally, on the RED Epic camera, but also in 3D. On top of that, it was shot at a rate of 48 frames per second, as opposed to the usual 24, practically unheard of for major motion pictures. By shooting and screening at the faster frame rate, motion blur was greatly reduced—giving the film almost a video-like feel—which theoretically helps the brain process 3D easier and make it more enjoyable to watch. Shooting in a radically different format meant lighting and even framing differently, as stereoscopic cameras were used with dual lenses.
While The Hobbit trilogy wasn’t as unanimously revered as the original Lord of the Rings films, it was hard for anyone to deny the incredible visuals Lesnie produced. His final film was The Water Diviner, starring Russell Crowe, and the industry and movie buffs alike must mourn the loss of work he will no longer provide. However, the footage he did manage to shoot during his time will not be forgotten and his work will inspire generations of cinematographers and filmmakers for decades to come.