I won’t see the Watchmen movie, though I value the book and don’t mind when the film factory injects a treasured classic with silicon[e]. I even think it’s a plus when I’ve never heard of a single actor in it, save Billy Crudup, who’s replaced early by a computer chip.

Mostly, it’s that I can’t endure the coloring.

In the comic, John Higgins’ colors seemed nasty, lurid, like touching them would infect you with a superbug they’ve only got two antibiotics for and one doesn’t work. My enduring image of it is whole pages of flat magenta or yellow with minor shifts in value. It matched the rotten story and the paper stock. If newsprint seemed to smear color, even absorb it, Baxter(?) paper made it brighter. It’s surely one of the great works of coloring in mainstream comics.

If nothing else, it put me off baked beans for years.

Yet in the movie (trailers), everything’s slick and cool. Its visual sheen has been honed in recent cycle of superhero movies; I guess X-Men was the first, where costumes gave way to hard plastic muscles on bodysuits. Regardless of what they do for the body, they catch the light just so, like a luxury sedan.

Much of the blame should go to the colorist. Even critics who talk about cinematography and lighting, and the rare ones who know the gaffer’s dark art, never talk about coloring (or color grading, as it’s known). The job’s like making a print in a darkroom with expensive hardware.

Stu Maschwitz, a sharp technical mind who until recently ran the VFX house The Orphanage, has a couple of posts on his blog about how color grading can affect a film:

  • Color Makes the Movie, with raw and graded frame grabs from Transporter 2
  • Save Our Skins, about the recent trend in movies to maintain an even flesh color through all kinds of light

So, just from what I’ve seen in trailers & clips, the cold sheen of the images could have been avoided. The recent superhero movies Maschwitz have done, like The Spirit, at least have arresting visuals. Watchmen looks like Turtle Wax.

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