By Abigail Reed (Cape Town, South Africa)
The following is a collaborative review of The Prestige by the Literature to Film elective class at the American International School of Cape Town.
Sound & Soundtrack
The Prestige, by Christopher Nolan, is a historical drama about the conflict between two magicians, Borden and Angier who compete relentlessly to defeat the other in the performance industry. The soundtrack of The Prestige accurately represent the time in history of the film and adds suspense to the dramatic events taking place in The Prestige. Christopher Nolan certainly uses soundtrack to his advantage thus enhancing the experience of the viewers.
There are three main classifications of sound in film. In The Prestige, each type of sound is evident. One of the most significant uses of diegetic sound is during the magicians’ performances. Nolan makes use of the noise the electrical sparks make from the machine in order to make the machine seem more powerful and dramatic. This creates suspense for the viewers and the loud sounds capture their attention.
Another prominent type of sound throughout the film is non-diegetic sound. An important example of this is during the scene were Borden is hung. Loud dramatic music booms, getting louder and louder over time then suddenly stops when Borden is killed. The buildup of sound generates anticipation and the sudden silence creates a cliffhanger. Finally, the movie presents internal diegetic sound, which is a sound coming from the mind of the character. For instance, the last scene of the movie is narrated by Cutter revealing the secrets behind magic, allowing the movie to come to a conclusion and the confusion of the film to be resolved.
Overall, Christopher Nolan did an exceptional job of choosing the various kinds of sound and when to apply them. The music in the background was simple yet effective. Our group thoroughly enjoyed the film as a whole and the influence of the soundtrack on the movie.
In the movie, there was a lot of editing that was put into the film. For example, Short Take, which is quick cutting of shots that are less than a second long. This builds suspense which makes the scene seem dramatic. It was used towards the end, where Angier was shot. Short takes were used in magic tricks, also, or when something went wrong to give the effect of distortion and build suspense about whether the trick was going to work or not. There was also point of view, which shows the character’s point of view through their eyes or to show what the character is thinking, like when Angier was at the pub after his wife died. There were some long takes to show the viewer that the character is in deep thought and to focus on the character’s movement. There are also more cross-cutting, to show the different characters point of view, the two characters were reading the journals. During the magic tricks there was more short takes to add suspense when he disappeared.
Mise-en-scene: Costume & Makeup
At first glance, the costumes and makeup in The Prestige are nothing special. They play their part in informing the viewers of the time period, along with the roles and personalities of the characters, but no more. It isn’t until the end of the film that their full brilliance is realized. Don’t worry–we won’t spoil it for you.
Throughout the movie, low-key lighting is incorporated for the most part conceiving an enigmatic effect. It becomes difficult to examine characters when they are in the dark for the entire film, almost creating a sense that they cut their costume and makeup budget and had to compensate. The only occasion in which you’re able to witness a bright tone is during the magic show in which the main performer is depicted in a luminous light drawing entire attention to him. While the dark lighting made the movie much more mysterious and spooky, the movie could have been more successful if bright lighting was incorporated into more scenes.
When the movie begins you can identify the Warner Bros. Inc. logo in a black and white tone, furthermore when the movie ends a shadowy room fades out into pitch black which left many questions unanswered. Since the genre of The Prestige was a science fiction/thriller the lighting used was very adequate to the movies theme. However we still feel the need to emphasize that the movie could have used more scenes with brighter lighting in order for us to capture the full attention of the viewer as well as dispel any questions that the viewers may have had especially in the ending scene. Although many scenes were confusing and intensely complex to understand, the movie according to the genre was very successful overall.
Cinematography: Camera Angles
The cinematography of this film was truly exceptional. There are many different aspects of the use of camera angles in The Prestige to note. The majority of the film is at eye level, so that the audience can establish a deeper connection with the characters. The use of eye level allows for the audience to feel as if they are part of the scene, and conflict seems ‘more real’. However, close-up angles were also used, notably during conflict scenes, and when the two main characters, Angier and Borden, had an argument. The use of close-up shots allowed for the audience to see the true emotions of the characters. Low angles were used sparingly, mainly during the scene where Angier was performing his final act, so that we (the viewers of the film) felt as if we were actually part of the audience watching the show. Lastly, high angle was used during the drowning of Angier, in order for the audience to see all aspects of the box he drowned in.
Mise-en-scene: Setting and Prop
The director, Christopher Nolan, uses various filing techniques to keep viewers on the edge of their seats. While several aspects of the movie’s cinematography helped to bring the film together, our group specifically focused on setting and props. Nolan uses a non-chronological plot line in this film, like many other of his movies, which is highlighted by the constantly shifting setting. As this movie was about magicians and the objects in their shows, the props helped to heighten the tension surrounding the conflict between the two illusionists. Certain objects were used symbolically throughout the film to help tie the story together, such as the water tank. The tank was featured in almost all of the pivotal scenes in the movie, such as when The Great Danton’s wife died. The overall realism and truth to the time period was conveyed almost wholly by the setting and props, which made the actors time-period specific acting even more brilliant.