Features and Columns · Movies

Movies Are Getting Darker, And Digital Is To Blame (Kind of)

Hey! Who turned out the lights?
House Of The Dragon Dark
By  · Published on February 4th, 2023

Welcome to The Queue — your daily distraction of curated video content sourced from across the web. Today, we’re watching a video essay that explores why movies are getting visually darker these days.

Do not adjust your television sets. The picture is, indeed, meant to be this dark.

Yes, it’s true: Films and TV shows are getting darker. But lest you feel the “old man yells at cloud” gravitational pull, take comfort in the fact that it’s not just you. The good news is that you’re not losing your eyesight. The bad news is that the black, obscure image you see is exactly what the filmmakers intended.

The long story short (which is allowed to stretch its legs in the video essay below) is that digital filmmaking is to blame. Shooting on film is expensive. And even with a light reader, shooting dark scenes is a gamble any filmmakers aren’t willing to take. As a consequence, many dark scenes shot on film make use of on-set lighting to ensure that subjects are legible in the final product.

So, when the switch flipped, and digital cameras became the norm, filmmakers were able to take far more risks with the darkness of their shots. Not only are digital cameras more sensitive to light, but digital images are also able to be lightened without losing detail in post-production. As the essay keenly notes: image darkness only feels like a “problem” when it feels like we, the audience, are missing out on something. Darkness has plenty of narrative and thematic purposes. But when an audience can’t parse an image at all (looking at you, House of the Dragon), the defense of it being a creative decision begins to lose some of its luster.

Watch “It’s not you – movies are getting darker”

Who made this?

This video about how modern motion capture involves more artistry than you’d expect is by Vox, an American news website owned by Vox Media, founded in 2014. Vox produces videos on news, culture, and everything in between. This video was produced by Edward Vega, with art direction by Joey Sendaydiego and editing by David Yim. You can subscribe to Vox on YouTube here. And you can follow them on Twitter here.

More videos like this

Related Topics: ,

Meg Shields is the humble farm boy of your dreams and a senior contributor at Film School Rejects. She currently runs three columns at FSR: The Queue, How'd They Do That?, and Horrorscope. She is also a curator for One Perfect Shot and a freelance writer for hire. Meg can be found screaming about John Boorman's 'Excalibur' on Twitter here: @TheWorstNun. (She/Her).