Sunday, July 22, 2012

Dear Hollywood: Please Stop Doing This

Last weekend at the San Diego Comic Con, DC Comics released this teaser poster for Zack Snyder's upcoming Man Of Steel Superman movie.

Oy gevalt.

That is one ugly costume. Just look at that thing. What's with all the weird textures everywhere?  It almost looks like something my Nana crocheted. If Nana was still alive that is, and had the ability to crochet industrial strength polymers.

These days Hollywood just loooooves to festoon superhero costumes with as much superfluous detail as possible. The more the better, and then some. You know, this super-detailed trend started just about the time that hi-def televisions and blu ray players became popular. I wonder if there's a connection? Are filmmakers adding all this unnecessary detail to their superhero costumes so it'll show up all crisp and defined on viewers' hi-def 1080p sets? I think I smell a conspiracy.

And why are the colors of the suit so dark and muted? Superman's costume is supposed to be bright and colorful. What is this, his special mourning costume, that he only wears to funerals of world dignitaries and Phantom Zone ambassadors?

But maybe I'm being too harsh. After all, this is an extreme closeup taken under special mood lighting. Let's back up and take a good look at the whole costume, under more optimal light. I'm sure it'll look better then.

Oh my.

I'll say it again, that is one butt-ugly costume. I thought the ridiculous texture would only be visible in closeup, but it's very apparent here as well. And it's not just the texture of the fabric that's overdone, it's everything. The decorative piping, the silly cuffs, the art deco wings around his waist, his distracting and frankly off-putting package that makes one want to avert one's eyes... and why does the suit look dingy, like he's just finished first in a hog-catching contest? We don't yet know much about the movie's plot, did he just finish first in a hog-catching contest?

I still don't see what was wrong with this suit. It doesn't have any bizarre and unnecessary textures, it's bright and colorful, and best of all it's a perfect live action translation of the comic book version of Superman. I don't remember audiences pointing and laughing at this suit when the movie came out. In fact I think people were probably pretty darned impressed with how good it looked. It's absolutely perfect and there was no reason whatsoever to go muddying it up with a bunch of ugly textures.

It's not just Superman's costume that DC ruined. They did the same thing last year with their Green Lantern movie. They took one of the sleekest and most well-designed costumes in all of comicdom and once again went overboard with the detail and textures. Just look at that closeup of the chest area of the costume. It looks for all the world like they strapped down Ryan Reynolds, stripped off his skin and then spray painted the musculature underneath with green paint.

Incredibly, this costume was so danged complicated that they couldn't even construct it in reality. Reynolds reportedly wore some kind of motion capture suit throughout filming and they added the hyper-detailed costume over him later, through the magic of CGI.

This isn't something that just started happening; it's been going on for quite a while now. In 2006's Superman Returns they overdid it as well. Here's a closeup of the Superman costume fabric from that unfortunate piece of cinematic history.

Again, a simple costume muddied up by the addition of too much detail. And again, it looks like something my Nana would use to make a quilt or a shawl.

They didn't stop with the fabric either. Take a good close look at Superman's S-shield chest emblem there. First of all it's sculpted in three dimensions instead of being a simple patch as in years past. Then they actually etched the thing with hundreds of tiny S-shield shapes. Go ahead and enlarge the photo, I'll wait. See? They decorated the S-shield with S-shields. 

Again I have to ask why they keep doing this. Do they think it adds to my enjoyment of the movie? I can assure them it does not. I would much rather they spend their time honing and perfecting the storyline than seeing how many S-shields they can cram into Superman's chest emblem.

They did the same damn thing with the uniforms from the 2009 Star Trek film. When recreating and updating  the simple velour tunics from the original TV series, the designers felt the need to garnish the fabric with thousands of tiny Starfleet arrowheads-- the same exact shape as the little silver badge on the left side of the chest.

Again I have to ask why? Is it indeed so hi-def TVs will have something intricate to display, to show off their capabilities? Or do the filmmakers feel that the uniforms would look cheap without them? Does infinite detail = high production value?

Hilariously, Playmates Toys tried to recreate this texture in their line of 3.75" action figures based on the movie. Unfortunately it just wasn't possible at that scale, which made the Kirk and Spock figures look like they were wearing bulky cable knit sweaters. Maybe it gets chilly on the Enterprise.

These uniforms are like those computer fractal drawings, the ones that reveal infinite detail the more you zoom in. Say, just for fun, let's try it shall we? Here's a sample of Spock's uniform at 10x magnification. Yep, here we can see the thousands of tiny Starfleet arrowheads adorning the fabric.

Now here we are at 100x magnification. Look at that! I was right! Each one of the thousands of little arrowheads is filled with yet another little arrowhead! It's like that "infinite mirror" illusion at the barber shop. Wow, if nothing else, these filmmakers are certainly thorough.

Now let's zoom in even further, to 10,000x magnification. Ha! I knew it! The fabric itself is made of Starfleet arrowhead atoms! Now that's attention to detail!

Now if we could just get Hollywood to put as much work into their scripts as they do their flippin' costumes...


  1. I have no idea if this is true of film or not, but it is true in live performances:

    Added texture creates light and shadow and makes an object appear more three-dimensional - why it works probably more for live shows and not for film is because it's all about making things look good for audiences far away.

    (By the way, when I mean "more three dimensional", I am not making some stupid comment like people think life should be more like 3D movies. I mean that an object on stage is lit in certain ways and increasing the texture ensures the object catches more light and reduces the likelihood that it appears flat or one/two dimensional)

    I agree though that some detail is just over the top.

  2. What do you think of these proposed spiderman suits?

  3. @Anonymous: That makes sense that stage costumes would contain extra detail for the people in the cheap seats. But film has an advantage over the stage-- in a movie everyone has the same view. The film can zoom in to a closeup.

    @Jeff Carter: The first one's not too bad I guess, but I really don't like those eye holes! They make him look like a grey alien instead of a spider. The second one looks almost exactly like Spider-Man 2099.

    I still say stick with the comic book look. It's worked pretty well since the 1960s, so why change it?

  4. I think superheroes costumes is a better idea for Halloween party.


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