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Blue Movies
September 26, 2011 4:29 PM   Subscribe

Cartoonist Pete Emslie misses colorful color films.

"Hollywood has decided that we can't have beautiful imagery anymore. These days, it seems that the default look for most (if not all) movies is like this - colours drained of all their bright hue and given an overall dull blue tinge:"

Boing-Boing re-posts and commenters chime in.
posted by Ideefixe (54 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
Nice color commentary.
posted by punkfloyd at 4:40 PM on September 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


I haven't seen all the examples listed, but for Up In the Air it's pretty clearly an artistic decision. That's a beautiful and subtle film, and the use of color (and I assume, but can't confirm) color correction helps to create a somber and reflective mood.

The ability to color correct on such a huge scale is a relatively new technology, The Matrix was probably the first movie most people saw that used the effect throughout. Basically it's a tool that wasn't available before, sometimes it's used to great effect, sometimes it's ham-handed. The Matrix uses it well because there's a compelling reason: to subtly distinguish the real world from the matrix. Films that use it "because it looks cool and/or film-like" are missing the point.

Also, Metafilter was blue-tinged before it was cool.
posted by 2bucksplus at 4:40 PM on September 26, 2011 [3 favorites]


MAYBE SOME SUBTLETY OF EXPRESSION IS LOST WHEN EVERYTHING, INCLUDING THE COLOR, IS AMPED UP TO ELEVEN.
posted by benito.strauss at 4:53 PM on September 26, 2011 [5 favorites]


This is one of the reasons why I love love love The Fifth Element--one of the most eye-poppingly garishly beautiful movies ever made.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 4:55 PM on September 26, 2011 [17 favorites]


Holy crap, 4 for Texas looks like a hoot! This essay neatly summarizes why I prefer ST:TOS over all other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.
posted by Scoo at 4:56 PM on September 26, 2011


I could have sworn that the "everything is orange and teal" thing hit the... blue previously. It certainly is a common complaint: http://www.google.ca/search?q=orange+and+teal

Now that it has been pointed out, I see it everywhere, too.
posted by clvrmnky at 5:03 PM on September 26, 2011


The Matrix was probably the first movie most people saw that used the effect throughout.

Nope. You can blame Saving Private Ryan for the prominence of color desaturation. It appeared a year before The Matrix. If Spielberg does it, it has to be right, right?

Or perhaps you could find other precursors. 2001:A Space Odyssey springs to mind. Sure it has colorful set elements and bright sequences, but the bulk of the film is stark black space and white interiors. That only makes the colorful, psychedelic SlitScan sequence stand out even more. And many parts that are colorful, are monochromatic (like the red light of the scene when HAL gets shut down).

Now me personally, I'm sick of the oversaturated, high contrast color of Technicolor films of the 50s and 60s. They are crude and lack any subtlety (as benito.strauss noted). Back in those days, color was much more difficult to produce, so directors wanted to wring every dollar's worth of color out of their film. Today, those films seem like I'm being bludgeoned to death with color.
posted by charlie don't surf at 5:20 PM on September 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


Watched the 1958 "The Fly" recently and was amazed at how awash with color it was. The interiors, the costumes, everything. It didn't seem garish at all, in fact I think it added a lot to the movie -- you got the impression that the characters were living in this beautiful world together, and yet instead of participating fully, the scientist chose to retreat to his dank laboratory and explore the seamy boundaries of scientific ethics.

From the beginning, whenever his radiant wife enters the lab, the contrast is just really obvious and you get a sort of instant feeling that the world of scientific advancement he aspires to is utterly inhuman.

I guess we all pretty much live in that lab now, is what filmmakers are trying to tell us.
posted by hermitosis at 5:22 PM on September 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


I could have sworn that the "everything is orange and teal" thing hit the... blue previously.

It did! Found the link in the first BoingBoing comment.

Previously.
posted by treepour at 5:30 PM on September 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


The colourful movies of yore were all shot in Technicolor®, an expensive dye-transfer process that fell out of favour in the late sixties.

There is simply no matching Technicolor's spectacular (and sometimes ridiculous) vibrancy.
posted by Sys Rq at 5:31 PM on September 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is only because no one has yet paid me to shoot film.
posted by seanmpuckett at 5:38 PM on September 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is one of the reasons why I love love love The Fifth Element--one of the most eye-poppingly garishly beautiful movies ever made.

I never thought of The Fifth Element in terms of its color saturation before, but now that you mention it, yes! I love that movie, and now I know one of the reasons why.
posted by Gator at 5:39 PM on September 26, 2011


This is one of the reasons why I love love love The Fifth Element--one of the most eye-poppingly garishly beautiful movies ever made.

I think I liked The Fall for the same reason. I don't even remember how that movie ended, but there's a dozen images from it that are still etched in my brain.
posted by theodolite at 5:42 PM on September 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


Two of the big names right now, Fincher and Nolan, have really restricted and monochrome tastes (although Nolan is red/green colorblind so I wonder how much of that is a factory), digital color correct tends to make everything fall into the same wavelength and just the general western taste for monochrome grey or brown or pumped up orange and blue.

That being said, there is something different and wonderful and Kodachrome and Technicolor, a quality modern cameras don't have, when I saw Vivian Leigh for the first time in Gone With The Wind, I gasped, it was like a postcard, the colors like an illustration.

Not to say color is totally gone, mentioned above, the Fifth Element is literaly comic-booky with it's color tone and The Fall is one of the most beautiful movies on the last decade, extreame color isn;t fashionable or new anymore, but what of Sosanna's dress in Inglorious Basterds ? The carefully chosen colors of Mad Men (watch those floral prints! it's a Thing). Color is still there if you look for it.
posted by The Whelk at 5:51 PM on September 26, 2011


These are not the glory days of movie color. The late 90s-early 2000s were great. The Matrix! O Brother! Out of Sight! Traffic! Even Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon—those greens in the bamboo forest chase! Those movies are feasts for the eyes.

The Fall had some crazy-ass color. The Proposition was as gorgeous as it was depressing. John Toll did spectacular work on the pilot of Breaking Bad. Those were the last really interesting use of color I've seen recently, and they were years ago. Christopher Doyle seems to have fallen out of favor in Hollywood after Lady in the Water. Even the BBC's production of Sherlock went for all-blue-all-the-time-except-for-the-blood.

Nolan is r/g colorblind? wow, did not know that
posted by infinitewindow at 5:52 PM on September 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


If Spielberg does it, it has to be right, right?

Also A.I and War Of The Worlds had the limited blue-grey pallete, along with Chicldren Of Men and No Country For Old Men (which was yellow_ and The Road (which was grey grey grey). If nothing else,the "bludgeoning with color" look has been out of fashion for a more than a decade.
posted by The Whelk at 5:53 PM on September 26, 2011


But yeah, the post doesn't mention Amelie', big hit, huge 60s-influenced use of color (her blue lamp!) within recent memory (almost).
posted by The Whelk at 5:55 PM on September 26, 2011


The hideous oversaturation of yore is one of the main reasons I prefer old black and white movies to old color movies.
posted by sonic meat machine at 5:57 PM on September 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


There was some discussion of this in here too. Color coding by genre seems like a cheap and easy way for the post-production team to get the job done.

"Boss knows I did my job competently because this horror movie is now blue, just like all the other horror movies" or something.

Also, I'm surprised no one on the internet has created a little page to turn those garish youtube videos into classy black and white yet.
posted by Winnemac at 6:03 PM on September 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


The last big color movie I remember was Slumdog Millionaire, though I came out feeling like the movie had actually been a lot less colorful than I'd hoped (the hacks on NPR had described it as a psychedelic Bollywood adventure that they thought was overwhelming in its visual opulence and saturation; I must assume they saw a different movie).
posted by klangklangston at 6:28 PM on September 26, 2011


God---The Umbrellas of Cherbourg!
posted by Bromius at 6:31 PM on September 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


if it takes forever
posted by The Whelk at 6:32 PM on September 26, 2011


One of the best uses of vibrant color in more modern movies was Pleasantville. We're now so trained to see bright, vibrant colors as "dated" that directors tend not to use it unless they're making a particular statement with the colors.
posted by xingcat at 6:37 PM on September 26, 2011


MAYBE SOME SUBTLETY OF EXPRESSION IS LOST WHEN EVERYTHING, INCLUDING THE COLOR, IS AMPED UP TO ELEVEN.

screw subtlety. watch Speed Racer.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 7:10 PM on September 26, 2011 [3 favorites]


Also, the same thing happened to videogames. We want blue sky in games.

Just Cause 2 is the most colorful game I've played in ages, and that's about a CIA agent destablizing a small island.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 7:11 PM on September 26, 2011


Even Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon—those greens in the bamboo forest chase!

The last big color movie I remember was Slumdog Millionaire

My exposure is limited, but Asian-produced/influenced films (Hero and House of Flying Daggers are other good examples) seem to have a different relationship with color. And while it's not too popular around here for other reasons, this piece deserves some props for its unabashed celebration of vibrant color. I don't know if its a sign of things to come or just a stubborn stand-alone.

There's a similar trend in video games, as well - particular action pieces - emphasizing browns and dirty, 'gritty' colors for the sake of atmosphere. Possibly some influence seepage from film?
posted by AdamCSnider at 7:12 PM on September 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


There's a similar trend in video games, as well - particular action pieces - emphasizing browns and dirty, 'gritty' colors for the sake of atmosphere. Possibly some influence seepage from film?

Real is Brown

It honestly really bugs me, though I still enjoy Gears of War
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 7:15 PM on September 26, 2011


Yow. The color work on Scott's Robin Hood take is either majorly lazy, or their colorists got so lost in Flame wars that it just all turned to muck.
posted by gorgor_balabala at 7:36 PM on September 26, 2011


But yeah, the post doesn't mention Amelie', big hit, huge 60s-influenced use of color (her blue lamp!) within recent memory (almost).

Amelie is an example of color timing put to good use-- most of the film is extremely green, but then certain bits (her room) will be extremely green, or there will be a particular object (her lamp!) that go entirely against the color scheme. It's every bit as controlled as the palette of Nolan or latter-day Speilberg, and is certainly more noticeable, and I think that its obvious intentionality can be seen as a Rosetta Stone for understanding why other directors make the palette decisions they do.

The thing about the old Technicolor films, as much as I love them, is that a lot of the more colorful examples (I'm thinking for whatever reason of The Music Man) have very little intention behind their palettes-- which is obviously something you can do without digital color timing, simply through lighting and costuming and set design. Digital makes it (for lack of a better term) easier, and therefore more popular, but it's by no means worse; oftentimes the comparison you're making is the result of a film where a decision was made vs. a film where no decision was made. Whether that jibes with your preferred aesthetic or not, I think it speaks to a maturation in filmmaking.
posted by shakespeherian at 7:50 PM on September 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


There is nothing like three strip Technicolor.
posted by TrialByMedia at 8:10 PM on September 26, 2011


I like the toned down, non-garish look. I even enjoy the (gasp!) completely desaturated, i.e., monochrome look. Imagine Raging Bull in technicolor. Sounds horrible.
posted by simen at 8:18 PM on September 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


I like the toned down, non-garish look.

It's been way over-used. That hilarious teal/orange article from March 2010 describes it perfectly. The opposition for me isn't "garish vs. toned down" use of color; it's "lazy vs. thoughtful" use of color. What you're calling "toned down" has become such an obvious cliché; I'm really glad folks are pointing out the smartly colorful middle ground that's been ignored by so many mainstream films over the last few years.

The hideous oversaturation of yore is one of the main reasons I prefer old black and white movies to old color movies.

I think AdamCSnider's comment about color in a lot of modern Asian blockbusters is right on - they manage to make use of a rich palette - including plenty of dark colors - without going off into, say, Douglas Sirk territory. Seems to me that too many ooh-we're-so-gritty Hollywood films don't even bother trying that anymore.
posted by mediareport at 8:35 PM on September 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


try Tears of the Black Tiger. Thai technicolor Western
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 8:56 PM on September 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


Come to think of it, I think David Lynch uses color (and lack thereof) very well. I can't think of any iconic David Lynch scene or sequence that doesn't feature a rich and provocative palette, even if that palette is black & white, sepia, wash-out, or full-on saturated. He uses color kind of like he uses sound design.
posted by treepour at 9:17 PM on September 26, 2011


We've met before, haven't we?
posted by shakespeherian at 9:21 PM on September 26, 2011


It's kind of ironic that earlier audiences were exposed to the wonderful richness of Technicolor (and all the other color film processes of the time), but had no way to capture those images except with their memories. Now we can buy movies on DVD a few months after they leave the theatre and watch them over and over on state of the art screens that accurately display thousands of colors - and yet, the palette of everything we watch is more restricted than ever. Maybe it's analogous to the way that people listen to clippy MP3s instead of lossless music.
posted by Kevin Street at 12:03 AM on September 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


So wait, his complaint is that Inception does not use the same color palette as Gentlemen Prefer Blondes?

Look at the author's profile. This is not a reasoned critique of modern movie palette choices, this is a 1960s fanboy comparing technicolor apples to color graded oranges (and teals).

Not every movie needs to be garish. Not every movie needs to be drab. And they're not.

Instead of complaining that British wizards in a haunted graveyard at night aren't showing off their "warm, tanned flesh tones and well-tailored wardrobes", he could note modern movies that are incredibly colorful.

Avatar, King Kong, LOTR (Shire/Rivendell), Pirates, seemingly every Burton/Depp collaboration are all incredibly vibrant. Is the problem rather that we now make movies whose subject matter would make overy colorful palettes seem out of place, instead of everything being the sugar-coated Technicolor dream of the Rat Pack and Ann-Margret wearing nothing but paint?

Isn't Mad Men enough for people who fetishize alcoholism and misogyny?
posted by unigolyn at 1:04 AM on September 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


So wait, his complaint is that Inception does not use the same color palette as Gentlemen Prefer Blondes?

Scott Pilgrim also involved inception but it also managed to have bright colors. I get his complaint. Action films and games are meant to be escapist and fun. So many are drab and boring.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 1:07 AM on September 27, 2011


I mean, look at that Ridley Scott Robin Hood. I love Alien, and I'll probably love Blade Runner when I see it, but when I saw that trailer it just looked so drab and joyless I instantly stay away. And when a fun film like Speed Racer or Sky Captain or Scott Pilgrim does come out it gets shredded by the critics and ignored by audiences.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 1:10 AM on September 27, 2011


Jack Cardiff did some amazing work with colour film; if you watch films like Black Narcissus or The Red Shoes there are sequences where the colour is breathtakingly strong, yet overall it isn't crudely oversaturated or manipulated. There's a sense that the colour is being captured in a special way that your eyes alone couldn't manage.
posted by malevolent at 1:30 AM on September 27, 2011


Sky Captain was a fun movie except for the actors.

But that's a common complaint about Paltrow joints.
posted by klangklangston at 2:35 AM on September 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Scott Pilgrim ranged from meh to cringeworthy for my money's worth.
posted by ersatz at 3:58 AM on September 27, 2011


Color desaturation makes CGI effects fit in better. Fully saturated color is still something most FX shops have problems with, almost 20 years after Jurassic Park, who completely nailed it.

I loved the colors of the Cohen Brothers' True Grit - it was winter, but it wasn't bleak.
posted by Slap*Happy at 4:56 AM on September 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


I mean, look at that Ridley Scott Robin Hood. I love Alien, and I'll probably love Blade Runner when I see it, but when I saw that trailer it just looked so drab and joyless I instantly stay away. And when a fun film like Speed Racer or Sky Captain or Scott Pilgrim does come out it gets shredded by the critics and ignored by audiences.

Scott's Robin Hood got shredded by critics and ignored by audiences. It's possible there's more at play here than color palette.
posted by shakespeherian at 5:04 AM on September 27, 2011


Moulin Rouge also had a lot of color.
posted by smackfu at 6:17 AM on September 27, 2011


Tarsem Singh made a couple of fantastic-looking films with The Cell and The Fall, shame that for Immortals he appears to have shot it in 300-O-Vision.
posted by Lucien Dark at 10:13 AM on September 27, 2011


My exposure is limited, but Asian-produced/influenced films (Hero and House of Flying Daggers are other good examples) seem to have a different relationship with color.

Hero and House of Flying Daggers were both directed by Yimou Zhang, who has done several other opulent color-rich period pieces which you are likely thinking of. The Fall was directed by Tarsem Singh, likely most well known for his prior work directing 'The Cell', but has had a hand in several other things of note (and apparently he did Immortals this year as well? Might have to check that out after all..)
posted by FatherDagon at 10:25 AM on September 27, 2011


"Color desaturation makes CGI effects fit in better. Fully saturated color is still something most FX shops have problems with, almost 20 years after Jurassic Park, who completely nailed it."

Aha! That explains a lot. Thanks, Slap*Happy.
posted by Kevin Street at 11:12 AM on September 27, 2011


To be fair the CG dinosaurs in full daylight look pretty shit in Jurassic Park.
posted by shakespeherian at 11:45 AM on September 27, 2011


Color desaturation makes CGI effects fit in better.

I first noticed this (and I mean really, really noticed it) in The Lord of the Rings (or whichever of those movies I suffered through). The movie suddenly goes black and cyan--i.e., black and white with the tint control cranked--for the entire duration of one heavily CGI'd battle. That's cheating!
posted by Sys Rq at 11:57 AM on September 27, 2011


Fully saturated color is still something most FX shops have problems with, almost 20 years after Jurassic Park, who completely nailed it.

No they didn't. The majority of dinosaur effects in JP were mechanical props. The only scenes that are CG are when you see the whole dinosaur from head to tail, and there aren't very many. I still use JP as an example of how badly you can screw up your CG and compositing. There is one wide shot that shows a group of raptors running from the horizon, across the screen to pass close to some people standing in the foreground. Those dinosaurs have the entirely wrong lighting, they're too desaturated to match the fully sunlit scene. So you see some dinosaurs running past with an unearthly bluish tint like they were shot on a cloudy day, running up to some people who are brightly lit and have distinct shadows. It looks ridiculous.

There are some scenes that look realistic, but only because they smeared over everything with rain and fog, or it's a dimly lit night scene. And there are some scenes where you only see the dinosaur for a couple of frames, lit by a lightning flash. This is how you simulate a big CG budget.
posted by charlie don't surf at 7:47 PM on September 27, 2011


Fully saturated color is still something most FX shops have problems with

I work in VFX, and it's not that it's a problem to get saturated images to fit together - it's great fun to work with lots of colour - but it can happen as a shot is bring worked on, there is such scrutiny put on every aspect of the image by so many people, if the director doesn't have a really solid vision, the colour variation can get eroded with each subsequent version. For example - it's a night scene - dark sky, some water, a beach, the actors. You add the moon - it's white, with a bit of warmth, some glow around it - it illuminates some clouds, looks nice. The first time it gets notes, they say, well, the reflection on the water is blue, match the moon to that. Then the next round of notes might say, the clouds are too warm, they stand out. The next version they'll suggest adding some light effects to the actors, so it looks like the moonlight is hitting them - match the light to the moon. Now the beach stands out - fix it. In the end you have blue people on a blue beach looking at a blue moon.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 8:26 PM on September 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


And when a fun film like Speed Racer or Sky Captain or Scott Pilgrim does come out it gets shredded by the critics and ignored by audiences.

Sky Captain was the most desaturated movie I've ever seen. I love a steampunky/art deco aesthetic a whole lot, but I was bored to tears by this movie.

And Speed Racer is an idiotic concept, no matter the merits of the movie. Making a big budget movie based on a saturday morning cartoon that aired in the late 1960s is like making a Mighty Morphin Power Rangers movie in 2048.

Scott Pilgrim was awesome, but it's the type of movie that will only appeal to a very small demographic.
posted by unigolyn at 1:34 AM on September 28, 2011


In the end you have blue people on a blue beach looking at a blue moon.

Isn't that the final scene of Smurfs 3D?
posted by unigolyn at 1:35 AM on September 28, 2011


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