DC’s compulsion

Okay, this trailer is surreal. If I described it just in terms of what is happening in the action, I would be describing a terrific Billy Batson trailer.

But the visuals are part of the story. I do not believe any more that DC’s studios are making a conscious choice about their lighting. Literally, they are not thinking about it. There is no way anyone, at any point, in the entire production process asked themselves “how much light should we have in this scene?”

0:01: A child running under an overcast grey Wisconsin sky.

0:09: A social worker is laboring to set a child at ease and make them feel safe. She does so in an office with all the lights off, drenched in shadows. The only light is later evening sunlight slanting in through drawn blinds. Her presence on-camera as we focus on the child is a looming shadow void of details, rich in menace.

0:30: Two young boys share a humorous moment, relieving some tension and bonding as friends. For reasons nobody chooses to explain or examine, they do so in a darkened room lit by a single dim desk lamp. The home in which this occurs appears equipped with functional overhead lighting, which all concerned have chosen not to turn on. The concerned parent who sets up the meet does not see this as a warning sign of any sort.

0:37: As the cheerful boys talk about “what super power would you want?” the screen just goes totally black for no reason.

0:50: Kids are being let out of school in the middle of the afternoon. This is as bright as anything has gotten so far in this preview. It is sullenly overcast. Passing cars have their headlights on in order to be visible.

1:00: The action passes through a subway platform that has a substantial number of the lights required by regulation extinguished. That’s likely a created set, because it would be a pain to get any metro association to dim up their station that much.

1:26: We are introduced to the great wizard Shazam, who apparently lives in a stygian cave lit only by the light of his magic staff and his own chest. At least that would be good for reading, I guess. Oh wait, there is backlighting, to justify casting his features as complete impenetrable blackness. I wonder what he looks like. The world will never know.

1:32: Billy does what sounds like a terrific comic take to relieve this moment of tension, but he’s so underlit that all you see are dim highlights of his cheekbones and the ridge of his nose. These suggest the acting that happened. You can imagine, for instance, that his eyes have some color, if properly lit.

2:00: What … what is this? OH MY GOD! They’re playing around with super-powers, and … it seems like they actually want us to see it! Somebody found a fill-light in the back-lot and pressed it into service! I’m so happy I’m misting up here. I mean, granted, it’s a sewer. It’s 50% deep shadows. If this were “Big Trouble in Little China” you would recognize that this scene is meant to be particularly dark. But it is far and away the best lit scene so far. I’ll take it!

2:07: Funniest scene of trailer, emotional high point. Outside. In day time! Sullenly overcast daytime. Again, in any other movie dialect this would be “a dark scene” but in DC I’m practically reaching for my sunglasses. You can clearly distinguish between the red of Billy’s uniform, and the red of the washed out bricks in the building in background. We have achieved shades.

2:18: Hotel lobby during … a power brown-out, maybe? All the lights are dimmed, anyway. Maybe that’s why Billy is charging people’s phones.

2:28: It’s … sorry, give me a second, here. This is an emotional moment for me. It is a normally lit 7-11. Nobody has unscrewed any of the fluorescents, or created special fluorescent tubes that are much dimmer than normal ones. It’s just … normal. It looks roughly like reality. You can see the colorful packaging of all the junk food. You can see the color of Zach Levi’s eyes (looks like deep brown, maybe a hint of green) and every nuance of his acting.

And that’s the high note. That’s the big finish. Normal lighting in a 7-11.

DC cinematography has emotional issues. I’m beginning to think this goth-emo-thing is not just a phase. Somebody needs to stage an intervention.


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