The look and style of films can be very difficult to do in any non-visual medium. I tried to talk about the striking colours used in our podcast about the 2016 movie Ghostbusters: Answer The Call. Without being able to present examples it’s hard to get across how strongly this film uses colour. Fortunately, I have a space to write about it and show what I mean.
It’s worth noting that I went through the film and grabbed a frame every time there was a new example of the colours I wanted to discuss. In total I ended up with 213 shots. So here you’re only seeing a small percentage of what the film gives you.
By far and away the most striking colour through the film is this red. Which is verging on purple-pink, although hopefully the collage above gives you an idea of the spectrum across which it is use. The central rock concert set-piece is almost entirely lit in red, barring a few cut-aways and reshot scenes, everything in that sequence is imbued with a deep crimson look. The middle row of the grid shows this perfectly.
I’m amazed how it is allowed to permeate everything surrounding the Ghostbusters. The walls in Erin’s university and the lockers opposite Abby’s lab both have a rich maroon burgundy. The eventual headquarters for the Ghostbusters accents itself in as much as possible:
Outside, inside, on the floors, the panels… if something is associated with the Ghostbusters it has a red hue. The bottom row on the collage has the red streaks pulling ghosts back into the portal, the sirens for Ecto-1, and the safety of the ‘real world’ for Abby and Erin, all of which have a deep, almost arterial red.
If red is the colour for our heroes, green is very much the colour of our villains. Some ghosts are utterly in green – the concert demon, Slimer, Rowan before possessing people – and the unleashed portal glows green as the ghosts burst from their mirror prisons.
Anytime we are introduced to a scene, set, or sequence that we do not yet fully know, green is the colour most strikingly seen on-screen. Erin’s university used the natural green, the underground has green on all main pillars and gates, and the outside world from the Ghostbuster’s HQ has the look of a Disney villain.
What surprised me most in looking for these colours is how often green is also used as an accent in a scene when there is an option of having a colour.
People’s clothes, anything on paper, even lamps are given strong green lamp shades to really stand out on-screen. These are really interesting production choices, when the paper could be simple white, or the extras allowed to wear whatever they choose. In this film though, people are shown on-screen in a green jacket, and printed documents are on a green paper that I’m sure no one would choose when printing their advert.
When looking at the colour wheel, red and green are complementary colours, so they will stand vibrantly against each. We can see the film grouping each colour to our heroes and villains so that there is clear association and opposition.
If we’re using two clear colours that live in opposition, we can use other colours in the same way. Whilst we have non-humanoid ghosts in pure green, the humans are very definitely blue. Part of this is likely a psychological reason – watching a ghost firing electricity that isn’t blue-white would not fit with our expectations.
More so than the green though, we see production decisions to use blue as a balance to our reds and greens. The chairs in Erin’s lecture theatre, the lights beneath Kevin, and especially the shot from the opening above. The floor is cracking open in a deep green, yet when we see his reaction to that it is the blue of the ghost we go to. This movie wants you to know you are in for a medley of strong primary colours.
Clearly yellow is used less in the film than the other three colours on display. I take this as a clear indication the director and crew were aiming to make the red, green, and blue visuals come through as strongly as they do.
And yet, we see places where the yellow to compliment the blue comes through in their decisions. When filming between two very yellow objects on Ecto-1, someone thought having a yellow cab moving through the scene would be the best plan. And in costuming Holtzmann and Patty they were given very yellow outfits.
As you would expect, there are many occasions that these colours come into direct opposition on screen. The green/red and blue/red is most frequent because that is used so frequently for special effects in an effect heavy film. The practical choices in production allow the colour schemes are what really make this a terrific use of colour on-screen. Whoever put Kevin in a Ghostbuster red tie with a ghostly green jacket should receive a generous bonus, and selecting a Boris Karloff poster that is so green is a terrific way to help your colour theme shine through.
That final frame of Ecto-1 and Slimer with all the colours represented in strong forms stands out as visual statement of intent. I described Ghostbusters Answer The Call as a visual feast, and I still think it is a terrific modern example of using facets of cinema so often downplayed in modern films that aim for dark and gritty, especially when coupled with the matte break in 3D. I hope more directors and cinematographers present us with vibrancy of this sort.