The gray wasteland of many TV shows and movies
January 12, 2022 7:43 AM   Subscribe

So many TV shows and movies now have a dull filter applied to every scene, one that cuts away vibrancy and trends toward a boring sameness. Every frame’s color scheme ends up feeling the same as every other frame. And when there are so many projects using similar techniques, you end up with a world of boring visuals that don’t stand out. Colors: Where did they go? An investigation that includes history, examples, and not much snark by Emily VanDerWerff in Vox.
posted by Bella Donna (75 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
 
This was really interesting! Thanks for posting it.

I love how she points out that The Matrix, which seems to have pioneered an all-over colour tone a) did it better than most of its imitators and b) did it very intentionally, to the point that it wasn't replicated in the more recent Matrix 4.
posted by hepta at 7:52 AM on January 12 [13 favorites]


I was thinking of posting this myself!

It's interesting that hi-def home television and streaming don't seem to be a factor. Obviously this is all hypothesizing and there is no single cause, but it seems like this is mostly driven by production needs and less consumer demand.
posted by Think_Long at 8:02 AM on January 12 [1 favorite]


I found House of Gucci to have such a relentlessly gray palette that it was hard to sit through.
posted by ill3 at 8:02 AM on January 12 [1 favorite]


Also Emily is at least partially responsible for the critical resurgence of the original Matrix trilogy, so anything she says on the topic should be listened to.
posted by Think_Long at 8:04 AM on January 12


This is interesting, but all of these seem to be symptoms rather than the cause.

The cause, I think, is the cultural association (at least in the US) of "colorful = childish". The films the author highlights demonstrate this: The Matrix, the Lord of the Rings movies, comic book films. In all these cases I think the desaturated/muted colors were a deliberate attempt to mark them as Serious Business and distance them from the general regard of their respective genres. Similarly, in TV, I think that sort of coloring is associated with the rise of "prestige TV" in the late 90s/early 2000s (and thus the cultural regard as Serious and Important), which even network TV would come to emulate.
posted by star gentle uterus at 8:16 AM on January 12 [17 favorites]


My money is on digital color grading as the reason (also see this previously about the Orange & Teal trend in Hollywood films). And frankly it is a shame - especially in these drab times.

In the fan editing world (if you're not familiar this is a scene where fans take movies they love and reedit them in various ways) you see a lot of colour regrading and sometimes the films look remarkably better (particularly anything superhero or FX laden).

Regarding one of their other points in the article, I just rewatched the original Matrix on the weekend, which was the first time since I saw it in a theatre in 1999, and though it does have a very restrictive colour palette what colour is there is used very carefully compared to most current contemporary films. Frankly, it looks more colourful then most films now.
posted by Ashwagandha at 8:17 AM on January 12 [6 favorites]


As much as I generally respect EVDW's work, I feel like the argument is a bit front-loaded, especially as the header illustration is from Zack Snyder's Justice League and the video that she links to WRT the MCU's alleged offenses in which the narrator says, "Why do Marvel's movies all look like muddy concrete?" while showing a clip of the divided Avengers charging at each other across the concrete apron at the Berlin airport. Some of it may be an attempt (as star gentle uterus points out above) to make the point that Superheroes Iz Serious Bizness Now (that certainly seems to be Snyder's point), but also I think that it's de-emphasizing the colors in order to bring out the textures more.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:24 AM on January 12 [2 favorites]


Fashion and even houses and cars have been trending bland and monochrome for much of my 50 year memory.

The seventies were vibrant jewel tones, the eighties all about soft pastels, the nineties everything was scruffy and worn, the 2000+ period have all been grays and beige.

It's gotten pretty extreme in the late 2010s. You can't buy a car these days in much more than white, black or some sort of "silver". Housing colours are all browns and greys. Marketing has made great strides in differentiating subtle shades of taupe. Painting your garage door green or blue can get you fined by the local housing authorities in many even not-new suburbs, in places where there even is a choice. Many now have their entire living palate dictated to them by a co-op board or a landlord, chosen to be as muddy and bland as possible.
posted by bonehead at 8:25 AM on January 12 [26 favorites]


Amélie was the crest of the breaking wave.

This is really interesting. Someone more knowledgeable than me could probably make an argument about the rise of phone camera aps with digital filters as a cultural signifier. I'm sure I'd get the details wrong.
posted by eotvos at 8:30 AM on January 12 [5 favorites]


@eotvos,

Interesting and on point to bring up Amélie. What I think makes it further interesting is how modern films are.... drab, boring, dark post apocalypse type films.

On the other hand, the director of Amélie, Jean-Pierre Jeunet's early films were dark and and apocalyptic. Delicatessen still stands the test of time as a favorite (and stars one of Amélie's minor characters).

It looks like Jeunet is now trying to inject color into apocalyptic situations.

Anyway, interesting that a French director who started with muted tones created some of the most vibrant and colorful works while Hollywood went the other direction.
posted by deadaluspark at 8:39 AM on January 12 [4 favorites]


Thanks for this. I'm not a huge movie or TV person but man, this is something I've noticed so much lately. Particularly because we're still rocking a 720p plasma TV from 2007 whose dimming makes some of this stuff look like reflections in a muddy puddle.

Can I bring up Netflix's Sex Education here? It's not shy with its colors, most of the time, but for anyone who knows better than I do, what's up with all the chromatic aberration? All the outdoor scenes, and many indoor ones, are absolutely riddled with it. Which I assume is a stylistic choice, but it's something I don't think I've noticed on anything else I've watched lately.
posted by uncleozzy at 8:43 AM on January 12 [1 favorite]


I’m in VFX and over the years I’ve come to understand that colorists are there to make the client happy and don’t really know too much about digital color reproduction. Color is seen mostly as a perk where the director or cinematographer can feel like they still control everything when the film enters post-production.

Yes they do want it that way, it is intentional and your distaste for it comes from 100% valid reasons.

Compound that with nasty compression that aggressively degrades the image used by EVERY streaming service. Yes this is extremely frustrating as a professional and I’ve since left the industry over this and many other intrinsic issues that fuel a pervasive public backlash against vfx in general.
posted by misterdaniel at 8:46 AM on January 12 [19 favorites]


deadaluspark, some day one of us will have the opportunity to ask Jeunet questions, and we should ask about this and report back. I love the drab stuff too, but the difference sure is interesting. (I'd never heard of BIGBUG before. I'm looking forward to it.)
posted by eotvos at 8:50 AM on January 12 [1 favorite]


I’m kind of surprised this article doesn’t mention 300 or The Good Place.
posted by bq at 8:50 AM on January 12 [5 favorites]


also see this previously about the Orange & Teal trend in Hollywood films


This trend was all over TV shows in the past decade, as well. There are shows that leaned so hard on the Orange and Teal motifs that it's not just distracting, but actively off-putting.

The two that pop into mind right now as being particularly egregious at times are "The Listener" and "Chicago PD". To the point that I'm thinking, what the F is wrong with the lighting in that room? I'd go crazy if I had to work in that office!
posted by darkstar at 9:02 AM on January 12 [1 favorite]


Ashwagandha - yes! The orange/teal colour palette is way overdone. It ruined The Queen's Gambit for me and makes AP Bio unwatchable.
posted by essexjan at 9:03 AM on January 12


I have nothing intelligent to say about this beyond, "Yeah, I really hate that so many movies and prestige TV now are SO DANG COLORLESS."

Because I watch a fair amount of sci-fi/fantasy type shows, it is pretty noticeable how grey and beige and drab and DARK scenes get when the big CGI stuff comes in, and they need to hide the seams. Sometimes I watch a scene go from a bright outdoor day in a meadow to "wait is this the same meadow or are we in a London fog?" and I wonder, why would you not do X thing as a practical effect rather than a very bad-looking CGI thing?

Like, I watch a lot of historical costume drama too and actual grey London scenes where everyone is wearing black are LESS DRAB.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:06 AM on January 12 [10 favorites]


Adding on to what star gentle uterus has noted: this has been a thing in video games for years. Many gamers prefer the browns and greys, too.

Colorful games are still popular, but they're often ones that have fanbases that lean younger (Fortnite, Among Us, etc.) and/or are intended to be family-friendly from the get-go (a lot of Nintendo stuff).

It's not too surprising that movies and TV have latched onto this same trend.
posted by May Kasahara at 9:08 AM on January 12 [1 favorite]


Desaturation makes it easier to match VFX shots, and makes it easier to cover up a whole slew of lighting and exposure errors during filming. Any tiny deviation in colors across cuts will throw the audience out of the film, so it is far easier to just whittle all the colors down to the lowest common denominator.
posted by 1970s Antihero at 9:11 AM on January 12 [4 favorites]


A lot of good points... I wonder whether color desaturation in TV shows helps the advertisements (which are still mostly rich with saturated colors) pop even more, in the same way that their relatively natural audio levels help the advertisements highly compressed and brickwalled audio shout even louder.
posted by at by at 9:15 AM on January 12 [4 favorites]


So is The White Lotus an example or counterexample? Intense colors, but quite a sameness to them.
posted by PhineasGage at 9:22 AM on January 12 [1 favorite]


RE: desaturated VFX shots. This is most commonly in my experience due to the footage changing hands improperly and being viewed/authored using incorrect tools and strategies. I can be less vague if anyone is curious.

Digital color is still very much a black box for most artists. It’s absurdly easy to screw it up, incredibly hard to get right and in some cases impossible to fix after the fact.

Bonus: TV manufacturers’ bullshit marketing creating problems that they can then charge more to solve in the next generation.

P.s. I’m at a AAA games studio now and it’s so, so, so much worse in terms of confidently wrong people making mistakes they don’t understand and won’t admit to.
posted by misterdaniel at 9:26 AM on January 12 [4 favorites]


I'm not a huge movie or TV person but man, this is something I've noticed so much lately. Particularly because we're still rocking a 720p plasma TV from 2007 whose dimming makes some of this stuff look like reflections in a muddy puddle.

On the other hand, my modern LG OLED tv defaults to something called “Filmmaker mode”. Far from being just a gimmick, this seems to be part of an industry wide effort including the likes of Amazon Prime. The overall aim seems to be extended the power of content correction beyond colour manipulation alone. Maybe they like to send somebody round to cook some muted palette popcorn?
posted by rongorongo at 9:29 AM on January 12


misterdaniel: I can be less vague if anyone is curious.

Yes, please! I enjoy learning how color grading works, how to do it right and how not to do it wrong.
posted by indexy at 9:39 AM on January 12 [1 favorite]


the cultural association (at least in the US) of "colorful = childish"

While I don't think this is the whole cause, it's definitely a thing. I love color - bright color, sunny color, quiet color, deep color, whatever - and it's a problem any time I want to find, say, some bedsheets, or a duvet cover, or furniture. For years now everything's been either shades of grey or brown, or it's color but with some kind of "warm grey" or creamy beige undertone, as though it's okay to be happy, but only in a professional, muted way, lest it be too vulgar. Smile, but politely, with your mouth closed. Ikea, for example, was pretty good for bright colors once, but for the last few years it's all been this kind of thing. I hope it's a passing trend.

I know some photography fans who'll be all "ooh, this is the best light for taking pictures" on slightly overcast days because apparently that way you get even lighting without having to worry too much about sharp shadows caused by bright sunlight. But all I can think every time someone says that is "great, but then I get grey, overcast pictures?"

To me sunlight looks real, imperfection looks real, inconsistency looks real, and often digital pictures from the past X years look less real to me than old photos from the '80s, even though colors still sucked then and edges were slightly blurry. The light just looks more real somehow.
posted by trig at 9:42 AM on January 12 [12 favorites]


I keep waiting for a stylistic return to mid-late 90s science fiction with bright palettes like The Fifth Element, Total Recall, or even/especially Dark City that relied on contrast and brightness. Even Alien was extremely bright and Prometheus was very not. Instead of sticking to sci-fi the sludge infested every other genre, just washing everything out. Kevin Can Go Fuck Himself used the contrast really well, but most other places it just reeks from a lack of creativity and catering to stylistic convention.

We've been mired in this stylistic choice for 20 years now and maybe now that people are starting to pay attention to it, directors will start to bring colors back. Station 11 is mentioned in the article and I remember being amazed that grass was actually green in a post-apocalyptic show.

Everything also seems to be filmed with super flat lenses these days, I've noticed a lot more digital blurring and vignetting in a lot of movies and TVs that looks wholly unnatural. I forget the show I was watching earlier this week, but everything that wasn't the main characters just seemed to be blurred to create a depth of field that clearly wasn't there when the thing was shot. It was distracting and gross.
posted by mikesch at 9:47 AM on January 12 [4 favorites]


Another reason to love Ted Lasso.
posted by saturday_morning at 9:47 AM on January 12 [3 favorites]


Desaturation makes it easier to match VFX shots, and makes it easier to cover up a whole slew of lighting and exposure errors during filming. Any tiny deviation in colors across cuts will throw the audience out of the film, so it is far easier to just whittle all the colors down to the lowest common denominator.

As a still photographer, I was pretty relieved to find a set of commercial profiles for Lightroom that had the benefit of normalizing RAW decoding across multiple camera systems in the direction of greater dynamic range and more "natural" tones.

The best I could do for consistency between my Leica and my Fujifilm cameras prior to that usually erred in favor of crushing, blowing out, or pulling tones in an extreme direction. It bothered me that my choices seemed to be toward papering over inconsistencies by embracing a look that felt simulated, and it came to a head when I sat down last month to do a year-end collection and came face to face with things I shot months and months ago that felt sort of weird, editorially. Like, there was a consistency of look, but I didn't like the look because it was too much, and it was too much because it's pretty hard to take the time to get things consistent. At least, without a paycheck to subsidize the time lost to that part of the craft.

Finding a RAW decoder that enhances the dynamism of an image rather than flattening it out was sort of a revelation, and I ended up buying the decoder packs for three generations of gear and three camera platforms.
posted by mph at 9:53 AM on January 12 [3 favorites]


Another early film that did this was Traffic in 2000. It was set in like 3-4 primary locations. The only thing I remember about that film was that every scene set in Mexico was orange/brown. It was an effective shortcut to keep the audience clued in about where the story was throughout the film.

A modern exception to this desaturation rule: Utopia (the British version of the TV show.) So colorful! Which contrasts nicely with the general scary tone it carried a lot of the time.
posted by nushustu at 9:54 AM on January 12 [2 favorites]


What does video do with modern interiors, of the ubiquitous white-cream-and-pale-grey kind trig describes? Do they already read as "serious"? Are they easy to color-correct in? Do we just not film in them?
posted by clew at 9:55 AM on January 12


I'm surprised nobody here or in the article has brought up Dune. Its grey/brown palette makes some sense given the sand planet setting, but the only pieces of color that pop in the entire (long) film are blood and the blue eyes of Chani (which are colorized). About halfway through you start wishing for something else to stand out with some color, or they might as well have made a black and white movie out of it.

By the way there is a website called MoviePalette where you can purchase an "artwork" consisting of a set of stripes representing the chronological color palettes used in a movie's scenes. Here is the one for Dune. Besides maybe being decor you might like, these things provide a more objective way to compare palettes of various movies.
posted by beagle at 10:33 AM on January 12 [5 favorites]


It's mentioned in passing in the article, but I'm hoping the counter-example of Squid Game has an impact - I don't watch dark violent entertainment as a rule, but I was almost sucked into that one because the visuals were just so delicious.

At least musicals are still allowed to be colorful - we haven't made it to West Side Story yet because I really want to see that one in the theater but the visuals of In the Heights and La La Land really stuck with me, and they're all about the colors.
posted by Mchelly at 10:42 AM on January 12 [3 favorites]


beagle: I was also disappointed by the bland colors of Dune. Yes, it is a desert planet, but there can still be freaking colors!

Related issue with that film is that there is almost no intimacy or human feeling in most scenes. Even the actors are filmed like broad landscapes.
posted by Saxon Kane at 10:47 AM on January 12


At least musicals are still allowed to be colorful - we haven't made it to West Side Story yet because I really want to see that one in the theater but the visuals of In the Heights and La La Land really stuck with me, and they're all about the colors.

The new West Side Story, which I have seen in the theater (my first visit since the pandemic started), is absolutely beautiful with color and movement. I didn't love everything about it, but the look of it, the energy of it, the staging of the fights and dances—gorgeous.
posted by Well I never at 10:48 AM on January 12 [1 favorite]


Kevin Can Go F Himself intentionally films the series in both bright sitcom color and gray, shadowy prestige drama tones, but it's setting up a contrast between character behavior in each. Bright and colorful still signals funny or lighthearted tone, although anyone who's seen Midsommar could tell you how scary full-color, sunlit horror can be.
posted by gladly at 10:56 AM on January 12 [3 favorites]


It's because it's cheaper and faster to do it this way. Less meticulous planning and lighting of setups and shots is needed. An entire production can be faster and sloppier and still come out looking cohesive.

Along these same lines is the terrible overuse of Cinema Verité in TV and movie production. At first it was an interesting stylistic choice, a daring and provocative thing to do. Then in the '90s, Ricky Gervais did this with the British version of "The Office" and from that point on, almost every comedy and many non-comedies on TV and movies have been using shaky-cam, pull-focus, zooms, camera sweeps, etc in production.

Gervais used it to make it look like a cheap documentary at a real office. And it worked! It was great because it was used for a specific, artistic reason that "made" the show. Now it is used to the point of ridiculousness. It's everywhere and it is annoying as hell, IMO. TV comedies almost HAVE to be shot in this style to seem "contemporary."

But IMO, it's no longer done for a specific style; it's done because it's a cheap way to film and edit stuff. It's a cop-out. Being careful about continuity largely goes out the window when everything is shaky-cam. Shots and blocking don't have to match up nearly as seamlessly. If the whole thing looks "off the cuff" then the whole thing can be thrown together easily. Much, much more easily. Far less time setting up shots, carefully blocking, etc. It looks sloppy because it "has to look sloppy" because it's a Comedy. But really? It's a cheap and easy way to throw together edits. I'm sick to death of it, and I can barely stand watching anything shot this way anymore.

I've worked on TV commercial writing, art direction, shooting, editing and color grading back in the mid-2000s, so I have some background in this—but I'm not pretending to be an expert. The running joke on set was always "We'll fix it in post!" which was a ribbing of the Producer, because they knew that things COULD be fixed in post production, but that it was very time consuming and very expensive. The Producer NEVER wanted to have to fix things in post production!

"Fix it in post" is no longer very time consuming or expensive. I'm sure no one uses that joke on sets anymore.
posted by SoberHighland at 11:04 AM on January 12 [8 favorites]


but I'm hoping the counter-example of Squid Game has an impact
Mchelly

Squid Game is actually another example of what I'm talking about upthread. It uses bright colors to intentionally invoke a childish feel, along with all sorts of childish imagery, because it revolves around children's games that contrast against the brutality depicted.
posted by star gentle uterus at 11:06 AM on January 12


Squid Game is actually another example of what I'm talking about upthread. It uses bright colors to intentionally invoke a childish feel, along with all sorts of childish imagery, because it revolves around children's games that contrast against the brutality depicted.

It does but it also used regular colors away from the games, like the island [spoiler] scene is not shot in greys, it's bright. James Bond No Time to Die (and all the other Daniel Craig films) was pretty nice too from a color perspective, even if lots of other things about them are terrible.

I've always thought the color palate of The Matrix drags it down. They do all these amazing scenes in drab grey. I find it boring.
posted by The_Vegetables at 11:16 AM on January 12


Another early film that did this was Traffic in 2000.
Oh, man. I have many complaints about that film. But, the colors are absolutely bonkers. Had nobody on the production team ever been to Tijuana? Crossing the border into the US is a shocking transition from bright colors to beige stucco and concrete. They got it exactly backwards. If you're gonna make up color pallets for nations, at least pick ones that make some sort of sense.
posted by eotvos at 11:26 AM on January 12 [8 favorites]


Seems reflective of many affluent Americans' taste in home decor right now, if the dozens of renovations going on around us in DC are anything to go by. Sleek, sterile, beige/white/grey.

There's a particular shade of exterior grey that seems to be used a lot by developers / flippers that a friend refers to as "you can't afford this grey".
posted by ryanshepard at 11:41 AM on January 12 [2 favorites]


Seems reflective of many affluent Americans' taste in home decor right now, if the dozens of renovations going on around us in DC are anything to go by. Sleek, sterile, beige/white/grey.

Indeed. Some years back I had occasion to drive via interstates from Vermont to Minnesota and back. As you passed suburban towns, especially in the open country out past Pennsylvania, we took note of the prevalence of beige subdivisions. Usually various shades of beige, but nothing other than beige. Probably required in the deed covenants. And if not beige, they were shades of grey and light blue.
posted by beagle at 11:49 AM on January 12


Making me thing of the two big Star franchises:

Star Trek: Started as a very bright show, the original series movies kept the motif, and even TNG was really bright and colorful. However, as DS9 came about (the serious series), the colors got muted out, which went even further with ENT (with those awful blue uniforms with barely any color). I haven't seen much of the newer series, so can't speak to them, but just thought that trend was noticeable.

Star Wars: Was kind of bright for the first trilogy, but Lucas turned the colors up to 11 for the prequel series, and the sequel series are almost an entire trilogy about color. My favorite scenes of the unqualified best movie of the three, The Last Jedi, really are those that primarily played with reds (Battle of Crait, Throne Room fight).
posted by General Malaise at 12:00 PM on January 12 [6 favorites]


BoneHead, omg, TAUPE!
What a color curse.
I blame it on endless war: its beginning in the early 90s sucked color out leaving decades of tan, black, khaki and the dreaded taupe.
Check out last winter's fashion mags when brilliant colors and outrageous patterns tried to make a come back.
But this winter it's back to the endless boring blahs.
posted by Mesaverdian at 12:11 PM on January 12


Greige.
posted by Mchelly at 12:15 PM on January 12 [2 favorites]


I am just passing through here to recommend Annette, a collaboration between Leos Carax and Sparks, as something that really bucks this grey trend. It is pretty close to "three-strip Technicolor musical spectacular" in the intensity of its colors.
posted by egypturnash at 12:19 PM on January 12 [4 favorites]


Is this the visual equivalent of the mumbly, unintelligible dialogue that also plagues Serious Cinema?
posted by escape from the potato planet at 12:20 PM on January 12 [2 favorites]


The only thing I remember about that film was that every scene set in Mexico was orange/brown.

Why Hollywood Won't Stop Making Some Foreign Countries Look Awful (yt): Shithole Color Grading
posted by BungaDunga at 12:26 PM on January 12 [4 favorites]


Greg Malaise Star Trek: Started as a very bright show, the original series movies kept the motif, and even TNG was really bright and colorful. However, as DS9 came about (the serious series), the colors got muted out, which went even further with ENT (with those awful blue uniforms with barely any color). I haven't seen much of the newer series, so can't speak to them, but just thought that trend was noticeable.

The new live action series are at certainly less beige than '90s Trek but aren't exactly vibrant. If you want more color in your Trek the animated series are more saturated and the new Pike-era live action show will at least bring large swashes of primary colors back to the Enterprise bridge and uniforms.
posted by nathan_teske at 12:27 PM on January 12 [3 favorites]


I think this may be why I am not hating the Sex and the City reboot despite it's terrible writing. The colors are just so -- there! Watching it just makes me happy even when the dialogue is dreadful. I said out loud when watching "Remember when clothes came in colors?"
posted by archimago at 1:08 PM on January 12 [2 favorites]


BoneHead, omg, TAUPE!

(Off topic but I realized I wasn't sure exactly which shade taupe was so I googled it and google's information box on the side said it came from the french word for mole, and I thought "aren't moles usually darker, and also why name a color after them, were grey-colored beauty marks a thing back in the days of powdered hair" and then I realized they probably meant the animal mole rather than the kind you might need to get surgically removed so I did an image search for taupe and came across this picture so thanks to this thread I'm now aware of Canada's own star-nosed mole.)
posted by trig at 1:19 PM on January 12 [1 favorite]


I read an article some years back that attributed the start of this trend to Three Kings (1999), but I can't find it now.
posted by happyfrog at 1:20 PM on January 12


I'll use any excuse I can to plug the mini-series Russian Doll, and this is no exception. Although a lot of it takes place at night, the colors are vibrant and have a very intentional/symbolic vibe to them
posted by treepour at 1:20 PM on January 12 [9 favorites]


(Thanks, trig. For the record, the star-nosed mole is considered the world’s fastest eater solely because those mole researchers never met my friend Richard.)
posted by Bella Donna at 1:25 PM on January 12 [1 favorite]


Its grey/brown palette makes some sense given the sand planet setting

It's funny you bring up Dune, because you just clarified something for me. There's something off about Dune, and now I realize it's not just that I don't vibe with the designs. It's that everything looks overcast to me!

It just doesn't mesh with my experience of actual deserts, where there is plenty of bright sun and clear sky. You know, because it's dry. There weren't many individual colors, but the ones that did exist weren't dim or washed out except at certain times (rainy season, dust storms, etc).

Dune looks like it was shot during a damp midwestern winter. It really doesn't sell me on being set in a desert, and a lot of that is the palette.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 1:32 PM on January 12 [3 favorites]


The criticisms aren't just about the lack of color, it's the lack to true blacks and whites also. They've got the black and white points so far toward the center of the histogram that the darkest blacks and brightest whites come out gray.
posted by octothorpe at 1:50 PM on January 12 [6 favorites]


See also: All computers and monitors. I hoped those jewel MacIntoshes from the 1990s or whenever that was were going to be the wave of the future.
posted by small_ruminant at 1:52 PM on January 12 [3 favorites]


See also: All computers and monitors. I hoped those jewel MacIntoshes from the 1990s or whenever that was were going to be the wave of the future.

I was just thinking that it's probably a sign of the next decade of industrial design that Apple has gone back to bright colors in last year's iMacs and are rumored to do the same with this year's MacBook Airs.
posted by General Malaise at 2:07 PM on January 12


This palette thing is terrible, but I hate the hand-held shaky-cam a lot more. A whole lot more. Maybe why I haven't missed the cinema that much -- none of this new stuff is very compelling; I only want to watch old films now.
posted by Rash at 2:47 PM on January 12 [1 favorite]


The landscapes in Dune felt big, and they felt dry, but they never once felt hot, and I think the beige overcast is most of the reason why. Come on, that sunlight is supposed to literally kill you!
posted by echo target at 2:51 PM on January 12 [7 favorites]


P.s. I’m at a AAA games studio now and it’s so, so, so much worse in terms of confidently wrong people making mistakes they don’t understand and won’t admit to.

ooo I love the term "confidently wrong" I also work in VFX and have encountered many of these people. Like, you'll be, say, adding a stormy sky to a shot, and they'll just send it back over and over with the note "match colours better" until everything is exactly the same colour, the scene is completely monochrome, and looks boring as hell. Why even bother adding a dramatic sky if you're then going to suck all the interest out of it?

The abundance of colour was one of the things I loved about Bridgerton - everything just looked so alive and vibrant, it was awesome to just watch something fun for a change
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 2:53 PM on January 12 [2 favorites]


Fascinating article! It made me think of how they used to tint some scenes in B&W silent movies blue or red or gold to establish setting or mood, or hand-paint Dracula's eyes red, or (when it became available) put one pivotal scene in two-strip Technicolor for emphasis.

I also remember being impressed when I saw a featurette on the DVD of Die Another Day, when they showed how they increased the color saturation of some scenes to make Spain in the middle of winter double for Cuba in the summertime.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 3:26 PM on January 12 [1 favorite]


any time I want to find, say, some bedsheets, or a duvet cover, or furniture. For years now everything's been either shades of grey or brown, or it's color but with some kind of "warm grey" or creamy beige undertone, as though it's okay to be happy, but only in a professional, muted way, lest it be too vulgar.

It's been true for cars for years, obviously, but annoyingly the trend has spread to socks. I wear basic anklet/lowcut socks around the house, and the last time I had brought a bunch of them was nearly a decade ago, and all sorts of bright solid colors and even neon were available from the major manufacturers, even in the extended sizes (because all those women's one size fits all tend to slip annoyingly off size 9 feet.) Fast forward to now, and it's white, black, and grey. You can get tiny stripes of color in your grey, but still kind of dulled. You can find fast-fashion sites with colors but the socks are pretty cheap and bad. I did manage to find one set of colorful socks by going directly to the Hanes site, but that was it.
posted by tavella at 3:44 PM on January 12 [2 favorites]


I love colour, and find the current trend so depressing.

It is not just sci-fi. Everyone in any medieval or fantasy show or movie seem to wear nothing but black. Usually black leather.
posted by fimbulvetr at 4:04 PM on January 12 [2 favorites]


Everyone in any medieval or fantasy show or movie seem to wear nothing but black.

Cons of watching Korean court-based historical dramas: endless rounds of people with goatees scheming to poison people without goatees.

Pros of watching Korean historical dramas: both people and buildings are seriously into rich jewel tones, and lush greenery abounds.
posted by trig at 4:26 PM on January 12 [7 favorites]


I think color grading is part of the reason that so much of today's cinema and TV just looks...artificial to me.

When I first started watching Star Trek: Discovery, I was sure that most of the shipboard scenes (the bridge, the ready-room, the corridors) were CGI.

Then someone told me that they're actually shot on real sets – and I had to look it up before I believed them.

It makes sense to use color grading to make the hues in different shots match.

But it's become completely standard to use it for effect, like an Instagram filter. And it just feels overproduced and fake.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 4:59 PM on January 12 [1 favorite]


Everyone in any medieval or fantasy show or movie seem to wear nothing but black.

Even when they're supposed to be poor! Argh!
posted by clew at 5:48 PM on January 12 [2 favorites]


It makes sense to use color grading to make the hues in different shots match.

But it's become completely standard to use it for effect, like an Instagram filter.


Bingo. Contemporary overuse/misuse of color grading is exactly like the early days of Instagram, when everyone covered their photos with digital schmutz because they thought it looked cool.

In 20 years, people are going to look back at movies from this era and wonder why the hell they look so bad.
posted by Artifice_Eternity at 8:27 PM on January 12 [2 favorites]


Came here to make the Traffic reference that a few others mentioned. Soderbergh actually mentions the location color scheme/processing on the director's commentary track (remember those).

The other thing that strikes me is that if you listen to the official Better Call Saul podcast they endlessly talk about how they are shooting with the latest digital cameras and lens that let them get shots with almost no artificial light which was impossible to do in the past. When you have lots of dark shots like that in a work you really can't have a lot of candy colored shots unless you are really going avante garde with the visual motif.
posted by mmascolino at 8:42 PM on January 12 [1 favorite]




I'm surprised nobody here or in the article has brought up Dune. Its grey/brown palette makes some sense given the sand planet setting, but the only pieces of color that pop in the entire (long) film are blood and the blue eyes of Chani (which are colorized).

On the other hand, Lawrence of Arabia takes place in the desert and is full of bright color.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 9:48 PM on January 12 [4 favorites]


the unqualified best movie of the three, The Last Jedi
Haha, nice gauntlet throw, General Malaise. I think it's by far the best film on all counts, cinematography, filmcraft, story and acting.

At the moment I'm trying to watch as many of the films of King Hu as I can get my hands on and the colour and light in those films are absolutely stunning. Also every frame is perfect - watching them is a bit like being hypnotised. Well, watching them the second time, for me the first watch is rather tense as he takes his time telling the long story. Anyway it requires endless twiddling with the colour and aspect settings on my old and not very good television to do justice to the visuals, something that's not been necessary for any of the recent DVDs we've watched.
posted by glasseyes at 1:32 AM on January 13 [4 favorites]


James Bond No Time to Die (and all the other Daniel Craig films) was pretty nice too from a color perspective, even if lots of other things about them are terrible.

It’s interesting you say that. [I haven’t seen No Time To Die, but] I remember one of the things I liked about Casino Royale was that it felt more modern — which meant more like a Bourne movie, probably — but in the tradition of Bond glamorous locations it was colourful: Madagascar, the Italian villa, looking sunny and colourful. And by the time you get to Spectre, you have an opening scene set at a Day of the Dead parade in Mexico City — and it’s all brown.
posted by Bloxworth Snout at 2:38 AM on January 13 [2 favorites]


How would audiences know it's Mexico if it wasn't?
posted by acb at 2:53 AM on January 13 [1 favorite]


We just watched Don't Look Up last night, and it seemed like they made a real effort in the coloring to change things up - whenever things were normal bad (scientists trying to get people to pay attention, normal humans dealing with one another, doing science), it was the muted color tones we're talking about here. But every time things were Really Bad (people denying science, bad guys generally winning) there was a shift back to bright colors - sometimes in a very pointed way.

I'm pretty sure I would have been vaguely aware of it even without reading this piece, but watching in the light of reading it made it stand out in a way that actually made me enjoy the film more.
posted by Mchelly at 9:11 AM on January 13 [1 favorite]


As a lifelong Doctor Who fan, I've found the writing to be pretty terrible these last few years under current showrunner Chris Chibnall, but I will say that the cinematography has been fabulous -- and utterly unafraid of striking, intense colors. It stands out amid the sea of drab TV and movies. Some of it is doubtless done in post, but it seems clear that an awful lot of it is done practically, with lighting.
posted by Artifice_Eternity at 10:56 PM on January 14 [1 favorite]


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