So I saw the tail end of Spielberg's "War of the Worlds" on a high-def television the other day, and aside from the bad pacing, Cruise's dated acting, and the fact they pulled the whole damned punch of the story (I don't care how anti-science this culture has gotten, microbes are not a fucking epilogue tag, they're the goddamned punchline!), what really struck me was this: crisp high-def screens break the fourth wall for me.
Maybe it's an artifact of being horrifically nearsighted, preferring the world with some of the rough edges filed down. Maybe it's that the visuals are so present it only emphasizes the things that aren't real, the missing textures or wear and grit, the hollowness underneath the cliche suggestions of reality. I'm there on the set, and I can tally up each feckless effort put into trying to convince me otherwise. Or perhaps because it's shoved in my face, I expect it to carry more storytelling weight, and it often tells me more about the Industry than the Story.
Thing is, I don't demand visual realism. Babylon 5, aside from the writing and acting which is uneven but has moments of aplomb, is very clearly happening on a sound stage: the costumes are not lived-in pieces, the lighting is straightforward, and the sound simplistic. The walls don't have weight, the spaces don't have the proper echo, but it very rarely throws me out of the story. Because it's not pretending to any deep layers of texture or depth, it aims for, and reads as, space opera theater.
Hell, I rewatched Star Trek TOS last fall and adored all the funky delightful ways they were using fabrics, found objects, and gels on the lights to make a handful of severe gunmetal grey rooms interestingly'spacey'. (My) Immortal: The Web Series
clearly happens on a relative shoestring in a handful of borrowed locations and is chockablock with visual characterization and commentary.
I like to pick out things like lighting, make-up, set design, mise en scene and atmosphere. I notice when the make-up takes character into account, and it warms the very cockles of my heart. On the flip side, I notice with disdain when every woman on a show sports the same make-up; it's as creepy and repulsive as eating in a restaurant where you can see every waitress is the manager's type. I appreciate it when the bruising and blood after a fight are not ruggedly placed to bring out blue eyes or white teeth, but instead are the raw smeared mess that makes a person look like a snotty bawling toddler crying blood tears. I love it when a rainy scene is followed by a scene where it's stopped raining, but the tires make a wet hiss on the street. I notice the implied space described by the echo or lack thereof in a room. I like seeing dust motes. I notice depth of field and how it's applied.
There is so much more to visual storytelling than dialing up the contrast so the actor's very pores are screaming for attention underneath a trite swab of grease paint.
Originally posted at http://handypolymath.dreamwidth.org/3998
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