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Monday, 16 January 2017

Let there be Fire (for that scene, anyway)!

Flame is one of the accomplishments associated with both untamed nature and man's accomplishments. Man's discovery of fire was an important part of establishing ourselves as the world's dominant species. This history and association means, in addition to fire's very nature as a transitory element that appears seemingly from nowhere, means that it's become used in many ways within stories. These stories range from the most ancient myths to modern yarns, with accompanying variations in quality and length.

Human reverence of flame is also a part of stories, and has its roots in ancient religion. In Zoroastianism, a sacred natural flame within a temple is the subject of worship. The Roman sect who worshiped the goddess Vesta is also notable for their eternal tending of a sacred flame at the heart of their temple. This theme of a sacred flame tended by a religious sect is nothing new in fiction, but it doesn't solely originate there - examples from real religions and faiths from Eurasia exist. Flame is an almost inevitable addition to stories involving dragons, which ranges from books to films to games. In books, dragons come in all shapes and sizes, more so than the visual arts. I guess the mind's eye still has an advantage against the work of visual effect designers and CGI animators. Eastern fiction is not so limited for dragons, as fire breathers are not typically present in the folklore of the region. Something that also suggests fire is a desert setting, such as for books and films inspired by Near Eastern fiction such as A Thousand And One Nights. A single spark of flame might not feature, but there's still an impression of heat and flame through the climate and environment.

As with my previous post, I'll be referring to the work of Japanese film maker Akira Kurosawa. He was noted for his use of environmental effects in scenes to exemplify mood. Fire was no exception to this, as he used it more than once in his work. The instance I'll be calling out at from Ran. Having seen the error of splitting his dominion between his two favoured sons, old daimyo Hidetora retakes one of the castles, but an allied force storms the castle, killing everyone inside and setting the castle ablaze. The now-wizened, traumatized and soon-deranged Hidetora walks from his burning palace as the two armies line his exit, a blank stare on his face as the castle behind him is consumed in smoke and flame. Another scene that uses flames to emphasise the mood is the first Spider-Man film from 2002; Spider-Man is tricked by Green Goblin into entering a burning building, and the smoldering animosity and tense situation is reflected in the flaming scenery. This may be two examples, but I think they're notable uses of this common environmental effect; the use of flame can exemplify an emotion that some character is feeling, or a symbol of change that will mean things are never the same again. There are minor instances of fire being a potent symbol - any volcano-based picture, the tense hunter-v-hunted scenes in the original Alien, the pyre that signals the end of many lives at the end of The Fall of the Roman Empire.

Video games use fire for many things, and adding impact to scenes is one of them. The level from Uncharted 3 where protagonist Nathan must escape a burning house is notable, but there are also instances like the "Fire Temple" from Ocarina of Time, even the opening of Tomb Raider Underworld. The one even the most casual gamer is likely to remember is the famous scene from Final Fantasy VII, when the SOLDIER Sephiroth, having been driven insane by the revelations of his origins, has set the town of Nibelheim ablaze and butchered its inhabitants - we see him surrounded by flame, immortalised for all of time as a vision of twisted evil. All of these above range in purpose from mechanical to thematic, but they all share a purpose - fire and flame exemplifies tension, captures a mood, and signals great change in a way other environmental elements can't.

Of course, this is just my view, and there's plenty of other instances where flame and fire is used to good effect. If you wish, please comment below and describe what you think is the best instance of this most hypnotic of environmental effects.

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