Use of Color in Film

I can’t be the only one who has noticed that films in the past decade have grown increasingly darker and drained. I don’t mean the content (although that could be saved for another topic), I mean the cinematography.

The Wizard of Oz took every advantage it could of color when it first debuted in 1939. Every scene popped because the crew wanted it to be bright and fresh. The use of sepia tone at the beginning can be used to demonstrate the jump from something a little bland to an eye catching, fantastical world. A world of color with the change from black and white. This movie was just the beginning of presenting a different style and trend in entertainment.

wizard of oz2wizard of oz

Although, today it seems that our directors want to  return to that lack of vibrancy.

Look at films like the Dark Knight Trilogy (or anything of Christopher Nolan’s), Man of Steel, Harry Potter, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Hunger Games, and almost any action movie. Even the latest Avengers movie was toned down incredibly in terms of color.


There’s also the orange/teal discussion to bring into this. For a while now films have used teal in the background and orange on the actor’s faces (think Michael Bay). The idea is that this is supposed to create a complimentary contrast that’s aesthetically pleasing. The problem is, more and more film crews have decided to use the technique to the point where they become lazy with it. It’s become more of a fliter with the promise of looking good than taking the film’s appearance into consideration and seeking out the most ideal costumes, backgrounds, and lighting. Not to mention since we’ve been overexposed to the style, it doesn’t hold as much appeal.


Personally, I love color. That’s one of the reasons I adore Wes Anderson because of his attention to pigments and what compliments what. I want to see more films with scenes in the middle of a sunny afternoon that aren’t romantic comedies. I want films to start steering away from this dimness and heading toward something a little brighter.

moonrise kingdom

I’m not saying these films need to go into a full on bubblegum atmosphere. I just want a little more light. I want some of these colors to pop. I also understand that some films need the darker tones to fit into the overall mood, but I’d also like to see a movie not rely on a gritty color scheme to be taken seriously. Twin Peaks, for example, uses copper tones to create this older look for the series. It allows itself a darker appearance, but it does it in a way that remains pleasing and original. It works best for Lynch’s view of the show without draining itself of any color. It also allows for some natural light to come in and present an autumnal appearance.

twin peaks

The idea also brings to mind the British TV series Broadchurch. This is a drama series about discovering the murderer of a young boy in a small town. You would assume the colors would be dim to showcase the sorrow of the family who lost this child or the anxiety felt by the detectives trying to achieve justice. Instead the series is vibrant with a great deal of scenes taken place during the day (sunny days!). It’s beautifully shot in general, but the brightness in these scenes never takes away from the plot. When there’s a confrontation in front of a blue sky and green grass, I still feel every bit of emotion and anticipation. It’s one of the reasons I got hooked on the show.


With the recent trailers for Mad Max it seems that the use of vibrancy hasn’t been completely lost. This film looks awfully sunny with plenty of daytime scenes along with the orange and red tones of the desert. Then again, there are also trailers like for Dawn of Justice which stands by the pitch black of previous DC films.

Maybe I’m the only one who finds dim tones unappealing, but I would be ecstatic to see more movies/series follow in the steps of Broadchurch or anything else that still hangs onto a unique use of color.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s