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The “Contagious Visual Blandness” of the Netflix Look

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 25, 2023

Haley Nahman on the contagious visual blandness of Netflix:

It’s actually, specifically, about how movies these days look. That is, more flat, more fake, over-saturated, or else over-filtered, like an Instagram photo in 2012, but rendered in commercial-like high-def. This applies to prestige television, too. There are more green screens and sound stages, more CGI, more fixing-it-in-post. As these production tools have gotten slicker and cheaper and thus more widely abused, it’s not that everything looks obviously shitty or too good to feel true, it’s actually that most things look mid in the exact same way.

Yes, yes, 1000 times yes. This has been bugging me for years now — movies and TV shows are too blandly shiny these days (or is it shinily bland?) It’s easy to make everything look just so — and so filmmakers do, without the visual zip of a Wes Anderson or David Fincher. This comment from Reddit captures the vibe:

I actually think it looks too “perfect”. Everyone is lit perfectly and filmed digitally on raw and tweaked to perfection. It makes everything have a fake feeling to it. Commercials use the same cameras and color correction so everything looks the same. Every shot looks like it could be used in a stock photo and it looks completely soulless.

No film grain, no shadows on faces, and no wide shots. I have a theory that going from tungsten to led lightning added to this as well. Tungsten allows for more accurate color in camera but LEDs are cheaper, cooler, and more convenient. So the solution is to film on a nice digital camera and fix the color in post. However, this makes for less creativity on set and less use of shadows.

Green screens make it worse as they also require flatter lighting to work. Marvel films are very obviously mostly made in post and they all look very flat and not real. Even shitty low budget 90’s comedies look better and I think this can be attributed to the lighting.