Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Modes of the Documentary

Modes of the Documentary
By Mark Davenport

As time grew on and the documentary evolved out of its original rigid definition of an ‘unedited’ stream of footage (thanks to Nanook of the North), different styles of the art-form have taken flight over time.
Bill Nichols has theories five major modes of documentary, of which are still today in creating categories and sub-genres for works.

Poetic


The poetic mode of documentary is the most abstract in many senses, often coming dangerously close to becoming experimental films and often incredibly avant-garde. Typically these films are without narration or an overall narrative, often desiring the audience member to take it upon themselves to create their own narrative or meaning from the piece (as is human nature).
Baraka is classic example of a masterpiece of a poetic film, with breathtaking visuals (the first film to ever receive an 8K scan, once described as the best looking DVD ever printed by Roger Ebert) and a spine-tingling soundtrack to boot.
However I would be hard pressed to tell you what actually is the story or point of the film, I can tell you things I saw, but how they’re meant to link together (if at all they’re meant to link together) is very much up to the digression of the viewer.
A less flashy, but no less notable example of a poetic film can be found in Junktopia, a film which shows art being made out of ‘junk’, however with the way it’s filmed and the musical choices give it a post-apocalyptic (dare I say WaterWorld?) world, lacking any humans but showing our material impact upon the Earth. While many dislike this film, I was quite taken with it.


Expository

Perhaps the most classically thought of mode of documentary, Expository documentaries revolve around the idea of telling the story of an event, person or fact-seeking. Such as the type of documentaries you’d find on the History Channel about the Second World War. They often have a presenter of some sort, although this presenter isn’t necessarily involved in the story itself, more as an avenue to get across information. They focus more on the actuality of the events, however the means of which they present this information isn’t just restricted to interviews or archival (although they do use these), they also can use recreations. These recreations can be as simple as an actor playing a general pointing at a map with a stick or one person walking down the street passing a secret document to another. However the entire film could be made up of recreations as well, however these recreations aren’t one continuous thing for the film (otherwise it would end up more in the realm of biopic), instead they can be interlaced with interviews from the people who were there or experts of the event.

Observational

Observational documentaries can sometimes be hard to define, elements of it can be found in both Expository and Participatory modes, the general idea however is that the documentary ‘observes’ the event without getting directly involved in it.
For example in a Participatory documentary about a racist man going to a rally, the presenter would be walking alongside the subject, talking with them constantly and would be filmed themselves standing alongside in the rally with them (such as what Reggie Yates did when he joined the race rallies in Russia). However, in Observational the presenter isn’t generally seen or heard, in this sense the camera acts as a first person perspective for the audience, so in an abstract sense they can feel like as if they’re standing in the race rally themselves, looking at the subject in question.
The only time you’d hear the presenter was if it was vital for the question to be heard or seen if say the police came and the fourth wall would be broken. In this way Observational, while highly edited can have a more ‘fast and loose’ vibe to it.

Participatory

The Participatory documentary has become one of the most popular forms of documentary of recent times, in some cases the audience is more interested in watching because of the presenter than the actual interest in the subject itself, this very much lines up with the way a lot of internet content on YouTube works these days, they’re personality driven, instead of pure content.
The classic examples can be found in the ever delightful Louis Theroux, where the man finds himself among Neo-Nazis, Sex Offenders, Dangerous Animal Owners, Porn Stars, Gambling Addicts and almost anything else you could possibly think of.
Louis Theroux is of course not alone, other examples can be found in Ross Kemp and Reggie Yates. Part of the appeal is not just the core personalities, but the idea of ‘privileged access’ or the pure audacity of the presenter. These presenters find themselves in the company of people the audience are deeply interested in, but wouldn’t ever dream of meeting. They can often get invited into places out of bounds, in a sense they’re thrill seekers of an intellectual kind. This can extend to programs like River Monsters, the most popular show on as Planet. Those who might not normally care about fishing (like myself), are deeply invested in the program.

Self-Reflexive

The Self-Reflexive form of documentary is one which can have the most twists and turns, in this the documentary is typically about the filmmaker themselves. In the purest sense, they would film and edit the work themselves. A somewhat crude, disturbing, yet intriguing example is Tarnation. A young boy of 12 starts to film his life and amazingly still kept filming his life for years and has the footage years later. Of course in his case, it helps that his story is one full of despair and tragedy. Abused childhood, raised by kooky grandparents, a broken mother, a disappeared father, being gay at a time when it wasn’t as easy and experimenting with his own sexuality at a very young age. Having such a unique story to tell allows the film to be a standalone piece, despite being up of random footage with text on the screen to tell the story.



The documentary is an interesting form of filmmaking, it unfairly gets a bad rap often as being boring and lame, something shown on terrible VHS tapes at school, however just a slight bit of care and digging will grand the audience an insight they might have never had before. Documentaries are not only entertaining, but can be very informative.
I have often said I have learnt more from the internet than I did at school and that also rings true for the documentary.
While not a documentary really, on QI last night I learnt that Killer Whales are in fact Dolphins with the name misquoted from Killer of Whales. I didn’t know that, now I do. That is Quite Interesting.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Blog #13 - Until next time

The final blog.

I am not sure if the future units require blogs or not, going into documentary next trimester, does that have a blog? I am not sure to be honest.

Time to reflect!

I think overall we did a decent enough job although the final product is yet to be final.
We showed off the film in front of a bunch of people at uni and the result wasn't... well, what we had hoped for.

There were audio problems and visual problems, simply put there was not enough time in post-production. Originally we were meant to have three weeks, but we ended up having two. Because of this, we got picture lock done on the night before, which didn't leave enough time for audio to finish or the colour grade to be done.

However it's not over. The group has decided to push on. The two audio have decided to finish which is fantastic, they're under no obligation to do it, so it says a world about them that they will. So the score will also be done.

The colour grading will also be re-done and the credits will be rejigged (many problems, such as not showing up right away, long gap after and our 2nd A.Cs name not showing up).

But I think as a group we have learnt a lot, I sure know I have learnt a lot.


As for next trimester, the future!
I am not sure what I will be doing a doco on yet, haven't seen the brief. Although I am thinking something about lifeguards or surf lifesavers could be interesting.
Cannot wait!

- Mark

Blog #12 - The perfect coffee

The Director of Photography requested that I make him a coffee as he nominated to stay behind and watch the equipment as it was separate to our base.
His perfect coffee was three chunks of instant, two sugar cubes, a lot of hot water and only a dash of milk.
I thought he was mad, but I took it to him and in his words "perfect".

Having a setup for food and drink is something we can improve on in the future. As it stands we had a giant kettle thing which provided the hot water and a bunch of loose tea-bags and coffee. Which changed from day to day.
In future we need to be more specific about what we need, how many cups we need and have more to eat than biscuits.

Thankfully one of the actors mothers brought alone sandwiches, so that was great. There were also heat up food which was good too, but sparse.

There is a lot of people to feed when you start to think about it, our core group, audio, extra helpers, actors, actors parents, ect. I think we need to overestimate the amount of people on set in the future.

Let's not forget that it was an issue of hot food which caused the entire Top Gear scenario.

Blog #11 - Lens

Constantly lens were used throughout production, in the pre-production stage the selection of lens was chosen as well to be put on the running list for the day.

There is a whole box full of different ones, although we used primarily the 14inch, 24inch and 50inch. The bigger the number, the further the view you get. The smaller the number, the more tight and closed in.

The thing about these lens is, they don't offer zoom of any kind, so unless you want to be playing around with digital zoom later (which can reduce the visual quality), it's vital to get the shot you want right away.

A good thing about lacking zoom on the lens however is that you won't accidentally zoom in while trying to change the focus. Focus pulling was something we really didn't do while filming and maybe was something we should have invested more in. A couple of our shots were in fact out of focus.

Steadicam (yes it is spelt that way) by its nature had focus problems, although we had more problems with keeping the Steadicam steady than anything else. It took a while to set up, having to balance it all, the problem was, the final shots with them tended to be on the Micheal Bay end of the spectrum which was a bit of chaos in the editing as a lot of it (even with the aid of software) was unable.

Battery's being on charge is always fun, charge stations are pretty much the first thing set-up.
PRO TIP!: Don't try to charge a Steadicam battery and a normal set of battery's off the same plug, it will blow the fuse.
Yay.


The whole thing was shot in something called SLOG2, which from what I gather is a filter to make it seem more "cinematic".

Blog #10 - Setting off fire-alarms is what we do best

When we filmed on location inside, lighting was needed constantly.

Lighting meant power cables, plugs, those orange boxes (RCD's I think) and of course the lights.
For reasons I cannot explain, they're named after hair-colours. "Redheads", "Blondies" and "Dedos", okay maybe Dedo isn't a hair colour, but the others are!

Blondies or aka the big ones are very big and very hot. At one point we're trying to set up this silhouette in a doorway shot, so to get sharp edges around the actor we need an awful amount of light behind him. As I was helping set it up, I was put in for a dummie to see how the shadows looked, I got to feel first hand how hot it got, very hot.

Lights are hot, it burns the plastic gels, it makes it hurt if you touch the metal and it sets off fire alarms as we learnt. The 2nd A.C. commented "oh I thought it would give us trouble" when he saw the fire alarm, the heat triggered it.
So the owners of the property can be assured that their fire alarm worked just fine.

Lights also have a habit of getting in frame, something I found out again later when I was editing the film.

Blog #9 - Being upstaged by a seven year old

The audition process took us quite a while, we had about 20-25 girls come in to audition for the roles of Megan and Jessica.

And a few men come in for the role of Charles.


Originally I wasn't meant to have any part in it. Why would I? In the words of our producer "no need to have lots of people there gawking at them", so as for some reason on the project I became the "printer guy", I came in early to print off the posters and place them up though the uni pointing the actors to where they were meant to go (which thankfully worked).
I was ready to go home when I asked to stay to be the line-reader opposite them... for the entire day.

So here I am, no acting experience, not prepared and tired. But I did as I was asked and tried my best. Tried being the best word, how actors are able to remember their lines is beyond me, still after three days I couldn't remember the scene.

I felt pretty bad about it, I was the impression the actors were getting of our group, as I looked down nervously on the paper accidentally reading their lines.
Of course I was able to see actors first-hand doing their thing.
One tried to hug me, of which I got confused and another started crying. Of course she wasn't actually crying, she was just acting in the scene. But I got scared real fast as I thought I did something wrong and caused it. It would be a typical me thing to do.

Most the actors were between 12 and 16, although one walked in and was tiny, as in smaller than my waist line, she was seven years old. She was able to remember her lines.

Blog #8 - No wonder films are expense

I am a new(ish) driver.

Being told I had to drive hours wasn't great for me, not at all. Driving into Melbourne was chaos, finding a park in Melbourne was chaos and driving through Melbourne was chaos (although I did find a whole new appreciation for good radio).
But put aside the torturing uncomfortable nature that I had to be the one with the SUV and couldn't go home as I couldn't drive it in a night, the cost was something all new as well.

Petrol, that one night in a motel, Food on the way. Normally my costs are the Myki card and the $3 coffee's at 7/11.

But now I had to pay for petrol, parking spots, a lot more food, accommodation and all of this isn't including the $150 something I must of overall put into the project in either direct or buying props.

Of course ours was the cheapest possible film we could do, no wonder that big films cost stupid amounts of money.

Blog #7 - Comm Link

"Communication is key", a phrase I have heard many times in my life and communication was a subject that came up quite a bit through production.

At first it was simply a matter of all getting to class on time, but it went beyond that quickly.
The biggest issue faced was not being totally honest with each-other about our handling on a subject. For example, telling our producer "yes" in response to his questions when we didn't actually know or weren't sure we could do it.

The other was saying we would have a task done by deadlines, but not or getting things told to us. I was pretty good at writing everything down in a notebook, but the problem became I had two notebooks and not much organisation inside them.

Being able to stay in contact was another one.
Email was the largest way on a grand and personal scale. Early on our producer requested that we all respond to his emails so he wasn't left in the dark and that we all use email.

I don't think I have used my phone (as a phone) as much as in the last trimester, texting and calling a lot more than I normally do.
Facebook was good early on, but lost a lot of its use later when texting was more guaranteed a response.

Blog #6 Editing

Editing is something I thought I was good at, well I am pretty decent at the technical side of things, but one area I have found to be lacking in is the “Feel” of being an editor.
I guess I just think about things in a different ways, some people are good at breaking down a scene, getting all the metaphors, subtext, ect out of it, while I just try to enjoy things. So when it comes to editing, it seems my gut instinct isn’t quite what everybody is looking for all the time.

Pacing, feels and looking at things a grand scheme of things is something I need to take into more consideration in future, but I think management as well.

Calling the editing process of Ritual ‘non-liner’ is a understatement, instead of importing all the files into neat folders within Premier from the start, I pretty much just dragged in the files I liked from  the master folder and imported them in that way. Which works fine enough on Windows, but since in the editing bay I am forced onto the awful nature of Mac, it isn’t as simple because if you struggle with making a mouse which double-clicks, everything else is a mountain to climb for an operating system.
But I do know that in future I will manage the folders better, import all the audio at once into their own folder, all the video and other assets to be placed into their own neat section.


But I think the biggest thing I have figured out is that I should sync the boom audio to the footage straight away, while I did the typical Mark thing of cutting the vision first then adding the (good) audio later on. Which was not the best thing to do.

Blog #5 Audio

Audio makes or breaks things, it’s an annoying fact of things.

If you go onto YouTube it’s common to find that people will deal with low quality visuals, but the one thing people cannot stand, is bad audio.

Audio in many ways has a far profounder effect on the brain that images do, audio changes the tone, mood and everything about the piece.
This of course doesn’t just effect Film/TV, but every other medium from Video Games, Web and Live Production.

A great soundtrack can in specific stances can elevate a mediocre product into a great one, it can stick in such an iconic way.

Star Wars, Jaws, Harry Potter, Jurassic Park without the score of John Williams? They’d be totally different feeling films.

The thing is, I am not an audio student, in fact I know very little about the technical side of audio.
I know what I know and I like what I like, but I couldn’t play an instrument to save my life, let alone fix the background buzz of ducted heating, they’re proper wizards in their own way.

One advantage SAE does have over other places is that all the students are dumped together in the same building, this can be annoying when the audio people play sick-beats which shake the whole building or that every computer is a Mac (when if you’re doing games, Mac is like worse than a Windows 95), but one plus side of it is that you’re able to find people who know their stuff about areas you haven’t a clue.

Nobody in my ground, myself very much included is audio minded or skilled, however thanks to a crewing night we were able to get two very talented audio students who have been invaluable. Not only are they just two good people, but without their stuff we’d be boned.

See the camera’s in-built audio is just hot-trash, it doesn’t sound good and it seems in our case in a bunch of cases the audio just doesn’t exist.
The boom mic just sounds far better.

Now that we’re into post-production, things going to get a lot better. With proper mixing and balancing of the audio from the people who actually know what they’re doing (when while I am an editor, my effect on audio isn’t great).

This of course isn’t at all mentioning the score which is also being done for us, now that’s neat.


So audio folks, some people might diss at you, but really we need you a lot more than you need us.
You can make music without film, but you cannot make film without audio in most cases.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Blog #4 Of Teenagers and Goats

The script stars two girls, one 12 the other 14. The actors playing them are 13 and 15 respectively.

At first we were under the impression that we all needed Working with Children's Cards, which seemed simple enough at the time.

The process is quite simple, you fill out the details on the website, print our the form, take it to the local post office with some ID to prove it's you, they spend it off, do a police check and then bang you get it.

At least that is provided the Post Office likes your photo, they didn't like mine. See I got my photo taken at the Kodak shop because they get better photos than the Post Office does, the lady at the photo shop has a bit of plastic which shows how big the photo is meant to be in the frame for the ID, the exact same big of plastic is in the post-office. The problem was the two different ladies each had their own interpretation of the SAME government-issued guide. So that was a thing, thankfully they did finally spend it off.
Being that I have no criminal history, I got approved quite quickly and got my card.

But other members of my group not so lucky, oh don't worry none of them done anything bad. Just that they took a very long time process their cards for some reason.
Although while we were stressing out about the other crew members outside our core group (i.e. audio), Child Services told us that only one personal actually needs it to be a supervisor... and that person can be the parent who doesn't even need a card. That would have saved us a lot of trouble!
Still I have the card for 5 years, so I cannot complain, might come in handy if I ever decide to become a Lifeguard or something.


Child Services themselves are interesting, while we all know why they exist, they can get a bit strung up about certain things.
See I don't really care about someones age, I am very much of the opinion that one shouldn't be judged for their age and that many age-based laws are nanny-state nonsense (I have a lot of opinions about things), but the things they talked about just confused me.

At first we couldn't have our youngest (who let me remind you is 13, a teenager, not a young kid), couldn't be near a goat because apparently goats a wild beasts who cannot be unleashed.
Although now they say it's cool as long as she isn't holding it.

Oh and the themes might be too spooky for her or whatever. Let me tell you, I hope child services never goes to read the type of fan-fiction actual tweens/teens write themselves, they'll need to really re-think how they view that age-group.

Blog #3 - Location, Location, Location

Attempting to find locations for the film proved quite hard.

We looked at a place called Kirth Kilm, however being a public area it meant that other members of the public could be camping there or just walk though, with no way to stop them or close the area off.
Not to mention having to go through Parks Victoria would be a nightmare, submitting the files our producer never really got an answer back from them and aspects like the goat could never work.

Also there would be a lack of power, toilets and not really any real way to feed or keep warm our crew and more importantly our cast. Child services would not be pleased.

I was personally sent to inquire about Treetops scout park, however as we thought we found a location I was asked to not bother going after it, in hindsight maybe that was a mistake as we could have used the location and it might have been quite ideal with power and shelter. Not to mention perfect for me as I am very close to it, while every other location is like a three hour drive for me and I hate driving, along with the fact I am made to carry the gear because I have the SUV.

Regardless after much faffing around looking at locations, we settled on two places.
The first being the house of the family friends of our Production Manager, the house was perfect visually and some of front areas proved quite useful.

The second location is the neighbor property of our director, quite handy and there's a goat nearby.
But the drive for me personally is utter hell. The one thing I will be glad once this shoot is over is that I don't have to drive for a long time. Because SAE lacks a proper car-park of sorts, parking in Melbourne is hell and attempting to pick-up/drop-off gear becomes more of headache than it really should.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Blog #2 - Cinematography Workshop

We spent a day working in a cinematography workshop with an expert named Michael in the soundstage.
While Michael got familiar with the script, the director (Logan) showed us his directors brief including examples of how he wishes the film to end up looking. Which is important to me as now I am doing the colour grade so I have something specific to aim for now which is handy, it very much has an old-70s looking vibe as if the film has been exposed to the sun too much.
It also clarified something for me in terms of the story, but I won’t go into details for spoiler reasons.

The first major part of the day was spent talking about lighting, the use of defusing to get a soft light, inspired by the works of famous painters.
He commented that Light is Truth, the idea being that if at all possible go for one light source, the main example for us being windows.
How the lighting could be used to light the characters is also touched on, with our villain being in the dark/shadows while our hero being in the light. Surfaces on tables can be used to bounce light as well.
We worked on the idea of tricking fire by using light, at a part of our film requires the use of fire. However due to Child Services, what should be a rather simple thing has turned into a nightmare. Naturally not wanting to break any laws one possible outcome is to use light, by using a bounce board, placing a plot-plant in front can create the image if a hand is placed over the light to create a flicker. It’s a neat trick, for water it looks great, for fire I am yet to be personally convinced.
The other solution, of course is to find actors who don’t need child permits, easier said than done if you need a character who is twelve.
There has been talk of also finding a safety officer, which seems to be the likely route if we can get one.

After a break two actors were brought in to play one scene, the object of this was less about lighting and all about the camera itself. What lenses to use, movements, angles and the like. It seems to be that the 50’ lenses is a winner. I think I have now pretty much mastered the art of changing (or “pulling”) lenses.
It was pretty nifty seeing two actors play out a scene I had imagined in my head for a while. We placed down a table, placed a few props (With a “holy book” which was my notebook which I did some designs in). Curtains were pulled in order to create a door for our hero to come through.

However the main thing I could take from it all was pot plants, pot plants can be used for everything.
For background dressing, for foreground dressing and in order to push light through to have an effect.
So thank you pot plants, you’re the real MVP.


Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Blog #1

Up to only recently have I had any real experience in partaking in the practical side of film-making.
For my childhood and teenage years I acquired a growing understanding of the film-making process, however this was only ever at a distance from what I gathered from online and behind-the-scenes.
The media program at my high-school did little to incorporate much of this, as it was mainly have an idea and go out doing it. Of course there a level of pre-production, however in high-school I didn’t often see the point as I already had ‘the vision’ inside my head, for me the real work was in the production and post-production.

My first real experience with pre-production wasn’t in film at all, it was in Games, previous to studying Film I was studying Games at SAE. In games it was as like film, critical to nail down the plan of action before production could begin.

Once in Film, the pre-production for our first project (Keyhole) was limited, the story changed around a lot and roles were pretty much locked in place of being shared around.
The second and third projects (Medley’s “Do you Feel Safe” and Derroman) were the first real film process sections, going through months of pre-production. This mainly applied to our music video, working with the client, working out the locations (although in the end we just filmed inside the Sound Stage with some set-dressing).
The production itself felt easy by compassion to the pre-production, I myself was not much involved with the Post Production.

That is going to change with our current project Ritual, for I am going to be the editor and colour grader. My key is to have all the elements which I can setup beforehand setup in place, ready to go.
This is setting out the assembly line and starting to cut it together as soon as I can get my hands on the footage, not waiting until I have it all.

I am relevantly confident in the cutting of the film, my largest focus of learning right now is on the colour grade. The director has made his vision quite clear, that the images should all be de-saturated, the Director of Photogopghy has helpfully told me a good starting point is “Lumetri Color”, getting in as much practice before hand will be critical.
But right now I am go work on the titles/credits.

I am working on an animated logo before the first scene, after the first scene will be the title and of course after the film will be the credits.
I have already gone through the script (which is now scene-locked) to figure out the order of appearance of characters and where they appear, if I can write up the credits as much as I can now with leaving spaces for placeholders when the final information comes through (i.e casting).

Along with the main project is my own personal script, titled Local Council, I have written it to be somewhat in the vain of the ABC show Utopia.
At time of writing I have yet to review the feedback, however I will need to download software such as Celtx when I go for my second draft to re-do the script.
The first draft was written using Microsoft Word (which I am using right now actually), however as scripts are very set in the way of the formatting I have been advised to go against the free-form word processing software in favour of a dedicated software suite.


Due to personal reason and my own failures I have fallen behind a bit, however I endeavour to step up and get into a better system of getting things done.
My main motivating force behind this is the shared score with the team, the idea that my own failure would bring down the mark of my team, my friends, is frankly terrifying to me. That is a prospect I do not wish to face, ever, so that is my major driving force as of now.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

FLM110 Topic 10: Film and Audiences

I typically watch movies in a cinema if I watch them away from a television. If in a cinema generally speaking I do not interact, I prefer to be a good little boy and keep my mouth shut (surprising I know to anybody who has spent time around me).
I also tend to refrain from laughing out loud or making any comments even if I desperately want to go “ooh I get it now”.
When watching films with friends or family, I am happier to talk and give a running commentary during the commercials before the film and the credits after, but never when the actual film itself is running.
I tend to get annoyed by deliberate sound from other cinema goers. While a laugh at a joke is fine, there is a point where a laugh can be so obnoxious that I want to cover my ears and cringe. People chatting or making loud comments as well annoy me. Babies or very young children crying also gives me a case of the wanna-punch-someone-syndrome. Mind you this crying isn’t a reaction to the film itself either, it’s just because that’s what babies do.
It’s true that I am a heartless bastard, I won’t really cry in films. Maybe misty-eyed at most, but even then that tends to be a reaction to when the film wants me to cry. The engineered action of music, story and cinematography which causes tear-jerking on demand.
I know some people are more emotional than myself and can get triggered by almost anything, but I am far too cynical.

I don’t think I have ever gotten an change of moral mind from watching a film, my morals and view of the world is already baked into me and so far no film, game or book has been able to truly sway my opinion one way or the other. Not that isn’t to say that I don’t ‘understand’ what the film is trying to get across or conveying.
I perfectly understand when films like Children of Men or Zootopia are trying to make a statement on social issues. I think in the case of Zootopia it’s quite evident that the core social message is a response to global terrorism and the people’s reaction to it. Racism, Faith and Gender all are represented in an interesting way.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Subtext: Pokémon The First Movie

 Film: Pokémon: The First Movie
Year: 1998 (1999 English Dub)
Director: Kunihiko Yuyama

Pokémon is massive, although that cannot quite describe it. It truly is an iconic franchise of modern pop-culture.
At its core Pokémon is a video game series, although has spun off in many different directions in many different mediums, the anime (which started off as semi-direct adaption of the game) is among the most famous. It was here where Pikachu was established as the most iconic Pokémon.
This leads to the humbly titled Pokémon: The First Movie: Mewtwo Strikes Back (Yuyama, 1998), the western release (of which I will be looking at, which is important to note as there are plot differences in the two versions) is simply just Pokemon: The First Movie.

The film is about an artificially born Pokémon (Mewtwo) who goes rouge and seeks to rule the world with his “superior race” of cloned Pokémon.

The films core moral is “fighting is bad”, although I think the deeper message about how we view and respect each other.
Generally speaking there is a very clear hierarchy in the world of Pokémon (and our own as a parallel), we as humans are the top. We are the most important species on this planet, we control this planets future and we tame or killed other species for our needs, resources or entertainment.
In the Pokémon world, Pokémon are caught as trophies (“Gotta catch em’ all”), then trained for combat for the financial and ego benefits of the Pokémon Trainer (often refereed too as “master”).

Mewtwo at the start feels betrayed by humanity because of this, he was born by humans and not shown any respect.
He was simply to be used as an excrement for knowledge by the scientists and to be used as a weapon/tool by the criminal organization Team Rocket. Both lied to him about “Being equal”.
Mewtwo’s reaction to this was to destroy the place where he was born and to kill all those who made him.



Cursing humanity he made his own race of cloned Pokémon (using DNA) of which he declares to be better the original.

This is very clearly a case of “superior race” syndrome, of which he feels that his non-loving and mechanical approach to raising Pokémon is better.
This draws parallels with many historical moments, the most obvious being Germany under the reign of Adolf Hitler.
The idea of the “machine man”, while not literally machine, but of the concept of being built like a machine, part by part, unloving, though a rigidly controlled upbringing and life of education, society, roles, all of which are to be pre-determined. To make the best off the best. In order to create the most superior possible person.

However in the process of making the strongest, fastest and most efficient, you lose the emotion, the choice and the “core” of what makes life worth living.

The Pokémon themselves display this. The “cloned” Pokémon look identical to the organic ones, par slight visual changes (more black stripes on them). They walk in a rigid marching formation with each other, never stepping out of line. They obey Mewtwo’s command without question and they’re willing to fight to the brutal, bitter end.




They become machine Pokémon, blinded of logic or emotion. Unable (or unwilling) to think for themselves.
In the real world, this is not just seen under fascist regimes, but in cults. Specifically religious cults.
Where there’s a leader and the followers take the leaders word at face value, to build a better world.
As such is Mewtwo’s intentions as he outright wishes to destroy all humans and even kill off all the organic Pokemon as despite being innocent, Mewtwo considers them “weak” for obeying the humans.
This idea of natural selection, will of the strength is seen in fascism as well.

In response to this, the organic Pokemon fight back, one on one against their clone counter-part, but despite the physical and idealogical difference between them. They both do the same thing, resort to violence.
One doesn't become much better than the other as they both become the same thing.
As is the case with the human race in our own world. Our lust for revenge is constant, whenever someone attacks us we as a society feel the urge to attack back. To the point where it doesn't even matter who started it.
Did Mewtwo start the conflict or did humanity? Does it matter? The result is the same, death and brutality.

Two forces refuses to fight, Ash (the main character of the anime) and his partner Pikachu.
Pikachu refuses to fight back, letting his cloned self beat him up.

According to the English Bible (1611, Various), Jesus apparently said this "Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also"
This is also known as "turn the other cheek", the idea being that you should "love your enemy".

In the film, this is exactly what Ash's Pikachu does. Despite being constantly beaten (literately on the cheek), Ash's Pikachu refuses to fight back, even in pure self-defence.




Every problem in the film goes back to humans trying to be gods, creating life, attempting to "perfect" life by the way of experiments and control. Demanding animals submit.

The film asks the viewer if it's all worth it, if that's what they desire. The film also dares to question who the viewer is more like. Is the viewer the kind of person who is willing to seek revenge no matter the cost, or are they the kind of person who refuses to lower themselves to the brutality of their opponents.

The film also has a message about prejudice, hating someone purely due to the nature of their birth.