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David Hines [userpic]

Working blue: advance worries about HBO's series of A GAME OF THRONES

April 16th, 2011 (06:25 am)
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Based on the footage released thus far, I’m getting a sinking feeling that HBO’s GAME OF THRONES series is going to suck.

I’m not saying this lightly. I’ve been looking forward to seeing this series filmed for years, and I’ve been looking for George R.R. Martin to get an awesome Hollywood victory for longer (we couldda had DOORWAYS!). The ingredients for excellence are there, because HBO has not been stingy, and the series producers have clearly gone to considerable amounts of effort: hordes of extras, huge detailed sets, a costuming budget larger than the budget for some films. Casting is remarkable -- PETER DINKLAGE as Tyrion! Mark Addy as Robert Baratheon! Sean Bean as Ned Stark!

And there's a good chance none of it’s going to matter, because the filming is absolute shit.

When we look back at the seminal film articles of our age, a prominent place is going to go to Todd Miro’s “Teal and Orange - Hollywood, Please Stop the Madness.”

Modern movies have a weird, distinctive look, and Miro does a very good job of explaining what’s going on and why. It’s not changing film stock, as we’ve seen a few times in Hollywood history; it’s a fashion, produced by deliberate manipulation in postproduction. Like everything else, color correction can be used to good effect; like everything else, it usually isn’t. Miro highlights examples that look ridiculous, but the problem goes deeper than just looking stupid. I've been to movies where the limited color palette actually gets in the way of conveying information on the screen (in PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN 3, for example, there were scenes in which the entire screen was taken up by shades of blue and shades of orangey-brown so dark as to be almost indistinguishable from one another, to the point that it was nearly impossible to tell what was happening). And GAME OF THRONES is bringing the same incomprehensibility to the screen. The footage of GAME OF THRONES looks like producers read Miro's essay. They thought it over seriously. They said, “He’s right.”

And then they said, “Let’s lose the orange.”

Oh, look, it's Brainy Smurf's nutsack.


There’s nothing wrong with your monitor, folks. This scene is just that blue.

Here’s what’s going on: the showrunners are trying to provide visual cues for the audience. GAME OF THRONES takes place in a number of locations and among a bewildering number of characters, many of whom don’t have the decency to stay put and so wander from one location to the next, making it hard for the reader to keep track of 1) who everyone is and 2) where the hell they are. So the producers are borrowing a page from THE MATRIX. If you remember, the scenes in THE MATRIX that took place in that film's artificial reality had a green cast to them. The Matrix looked *different* from the real world, which created a simple visual cue to instantly orient the viewer as to whether they were in the real world or the fake one.

GAME OF THRONES is doing the same thing, only it's more of a continuum, and it depicts north-south. If you’re in the south, the lighting is golden or orange; if you’re up north, it’s blue.

Here's King's Landing:

Hellllo, ladies.


And here's Bran Stark in Winterfell:

The littlest Smurf.


That scene's pretty blue, but Winterfell's not as far north as we get. There's also the Wall, right? That's where the Night's Watch hangs out, and where Jon Snow spends a fair portion of his time. That's farther north than Winterfell. How's that look?

Blue.



Bluer.


Bluest.


Uh-huh. And what about the patrols farther north on the other side of the wall?

Oh, look, it's Brainy Smurf's nutsack.  Again.


This is where we started, folks; it's as blue as Brainy Smurf's nutsack. Of course, given that Jon Snow winds up going even farther north down the road, eventually the series is going to get even bluer than that.

I don't know about you, but at this point I'm finding it hard to see stuff.

This is a problem. The show could have done visual location cues, even color cues, using costumes and scenery, and that would tip off the audience and also give us, y'know, *different colors* to look at. In fact, a costume designer and an art designer talk specifically about how they made costume and scenery choices to reflect different areas. Except in all the show footage, the producers overlaid huge amounts of color, maybe because they figured the audience wouldn't be smart enough to pick up on the in-camera visual cues the show painstakingly created. Or maybe it's a purely stylistic choice that is working out to be a bad idea. I'm leaning towards stylistic, because some shots that aren't bad on color are lit with such dramatic shadows that you can't get oriented. Example: here's Tyrion, in a scene in -- in -- well, hell if I know where he is; I can't see the set, and can barely see the characters:


Oh, hi, what's going on?  NO REALLY I CAN'T SEE ANYTHING.



The part that kills me in the behind-the-scenes footage is when they show clips from the Eyrie. It doesn’t look very interesting. The color has been drained out.

I'm glad we caught you at home.  Can we use your phone?



Eyries don't have phones, asshole.


Sometimes you can't see anything at all, f'rinstance:

Oh, that's an OSHA violation.


But in the behind the scenes footage they're going on about the walls and the tapestries, and about how amazing they are, which annoys me because we can't see them. And then they showed some shots of the set with the color correction off and the lights on, and I said, "Oh."

Color!


More color!


It's beautiful. It's strange, eerie, a little jarring; it works, and it has an interesting effect on human eyeballs, and it doesn't look like everyfuckingwhere else that's got the lights out on the show.

For me, though, there is one shot that perfectly emblematizes the absolute suckitude of this approach, and it’s this:

How to get ahead in the game of thrones.


That’s a dragon skull, BTW.

If you’re thinking, “What? Where?” you’re not alone. The behind-the-scenes special cued up this shot as if it was something special, but I had to go back and rewatch the clip before I could even see what the hell I was supposed to be reacting to. The effect of the lighting and the color-correction is such that the dragon skull appears as the same color as its surroundings. The shadows, meant to give it mystery and depth, fail completely at defining its borders, which is important when the item looks the same color as the substrate on which it rests and the walls that are behind it. Not only does it not pop, it is barely visible at all, which is really rather remarkable when you consider that A) it is a *giant dragon skull* and B) it is *right in the middle of the shot.*

What's really interesting? These are HD caps; if you lower your resolution -- try it on the Youtube video -- the dragon skull gets exponentially harder to spot. We're at the point now where television is starting to run into problems that have only bothered computer gamers: you have to upgrade to a certain level of technology in order to consume the product as it is intended to be consumed. I don't know what the GAME OF THRONES producers use to edit their show, but their displays and their video are going to be better than what a lot of people use at home. When your show is this far out on the color-correction curve, that might be an issue.

Originally posted on my DW. | comment count unavailable people have commented there. | Do so yourself, if you like.

Comments

Posted by: madripoor_rose (madripoor_rose)
Posted at: April 16th, 2011 03:33 am (UTC)

Oh dear. There've been a few series and movies where I've had that problem, some important scenes too dark to see a damn thing happening in them. I fear you're right.

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