Yes, I guess leading up to Christmas I feel extra old and cranky lately, because it’s time for yet another get-off-my-lawn rant.
This news-flash came through my Facebook feed and my first reaction was:
The fact of the matter is that movie promo stills have been moving in this direction for, I dunno, the better part of the last two decades. It’s so common now that this is just the new normal and not something anyone other than an old fogie like me would see fit to complain about.
Here’s another “leaked” still. I mean really, what’s going on with all this backlighting? Is this the Duran Duran Wild Boys music-video or something?
If you go a little farther back, I started noticing this really start to gain traction as movies began to use “digital grading”. Here is a beefcake still from 300.
And here is some of the earliest digital grading from Fellowship of the Ring:
You can see how the grading in LOTR really set the stage. It was innovative and groundbreaking at the time. But now, everything has a decidedly videogamey look to it. It’s glossy to be sure, but extremely gaudy and uncanny valley and simply unsuitable in many cases where it’s utilized.
If we want to limit things to just posters, here’s one from Fellowship 15 years ago which has a parchment sort of background:
And one from the final Middle-Earth movie (for now), the Battle of Five Armies, which is still in the same basic washed out style, but without the parchment texture in the background:
I think I’m more apt to give the Middle-Earth pictures a free-pass on this because it’s fantasy. Comic book movies to me feel like they should be somewhat more grounded in reality, despite the outfits. All of the sepia toning and swirling clouds in the background just strike me as overly pretentious considering that this is, ultimately, a kid’s medium, the same medium that brought us the Superfriends:
What also bothers me about this image is the gratuitous lens-flare smack dab in the middle, the lens-flare being the bell-bottoms of the 21st century, a stylisic abomination that will hopefully be looked back on later with a combination of disgust and embarassment, and on top of this, dry-ice smoke hugging their feet like it’s a f*cking GWAR concert.
Considering that, like GWAR, modern superhero costumes are mostly dark rubber instead of tights, the comparison is apt.
Now, at least as far back as the 80s, a movie poster was something that was most often painted, yes painted, an actual work of analog artwork, not a heavily digitally tweaked and CGI’d image. So to keep this post from being nothing but a worthless rant, I’ll highlight the king of movie poster artwork, Drew Struzan. Everyone has seen his work, but may not know the name. So here we go.
His work for Star Wars is legendary:
Struzan’s art has been reserved for prestigue genre projects even into the modern era, like Harry Potter.
If this style of collage looks familiar to Generation X, it’s because it was also heavily used with videogames, like Atari:
Yes, movie artwork used to be artwork. Now it has an antiseptic Madison Avenue quality, not so different from a perfume ad.
Anyway, back to WB’s total mishandling of the DC properties. Remember Batman v Superman? Remember this kind of stuff?
I can pretty much guarantee you none of these three were even standing together when they were photographed. They were merely “sampled” in front of a bluescreen and then slathered with tons and tons of digital processing, and frankly, it SHOWS. It’s really not that different from the sort of thing done with female models where the original footage is simply used as a startpoint point for pixel-pushing within Photoshop. The end result looks more like a photograph than a painting and yet it is mostly an artificial construct.
In contrast, here is Christopher Reeve in what looks like a promotional still for Superman: The Movie. It looks real because it WAS real. In fact, it’s so bright and vibrant that it’s almost hard to take these days because we’ve become so used to the dark brooding look of today’s superhero movie. The color of his blue eyes is what they really looked like. What we’ve gained in being able to fiddle so with imagery, we’ve lost this level of authenticity, or as Richard Donner said, versimilitude.
I miss the days when movie-posters were handpainted and movies reflected emulsion reacting to actual light and real-world objects on the scene that were not subjected to endless digital manipulation.
While it’s fine for a single movie to adopt a synthetic look, the problem is when all films copycat that same brooding look. The stylistic fashion-trends in Hollywood that have brought us heavy digital-grading, lens-flares, and shaky cam have monopolized this singular look and feel. Unfortunately I see no end in sight for the immediate future.