The Contagious Visual Blandness of Netflix

Haley Nahman:

To be clear, this isn’t about whether the movie was “realistic.” Movies with absurd, surreal, or fantastical plots can still communicate something honest and true. 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. The ubiquity of the look is making it harder to spot, and the overall result is weightless and uncanny. An endless stream of glossy vehicles that are easy to watch and easier to forget. I call it the “Netflix shine,” inspired by one of the worst offenders, although some reading on the topic revealed others call it (more boringly) the “Netflix look.”

Like many people, I have been glued to the Last of Us series on HBO — trailer here. Even though it is a modern CGI-heavy show, its cinematography feels appropriately otherworldly, and different from much of what has been churned out of the prestige TV factory for years. It has never been easier to make something which looks expensive, if only fine — entriely premiocre. It is still just as hard as it has ever been to make something which is beautiful, unique, interesting, and memorable.