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The Future Is Noir
aka: Tech Noir
One thing that we know for certain about the future and of alien species waiting for us out in the universe: None of them have discovered the usefulness of adequate lighting. And in some cases, humans have forgotten it.
As the Cyberpunk
movement took tropes from the gritty American detective/crime novels of the 1930s, so did films and TV shows take inspiration from the Film Noir
of the same period (or based on it). Featuring darkness except for critically placed light, and often a single source of it for the entire scene, the look is dramatic. Unfortunately, in a serious case of Fridge Logic
, it's pretty dumb when you think about it. Large open offices maintained in darkness except for the single desk lamps of the workers. Entrance ways and throne rooms in complete darkness but for the single row of spotlights down the middle. Looks cool, but you never see one of those deskbound workers getting up and running into the wastebasket because their vision is screwed up going from their light source into the surrounding darkness.
On alien ships, this is seen frequently to show how "alien" they are. Because aliens don't, you know, need to see anything. Or they see in a spectrum of light invisible to humans. Or they evolved from something nocturnal, making human-level illumination painfully bright to them.
There is a certain practical
aspect to this: nothing hides cheaply-made sets and props better than poor lighting.
Another explanation is that energy-efficient lightbulbs have become much more popular in the future...
Commonly known as Tech noir
Compare City Noir
, Cyberpunk with a Chance of Rain
, Unnaturally Blue Lighting
and Used Future
Contrast Crystal Spires and Togas
, as well as Everything Is an iPod in the Future
open/close all folders
- The Alien movies.
- In Alien, note that the crew areas (easily identified by being mostly white) are brightly lit, and it's the cargo / maintenance / engineering areas that are poorly lit. As for Aliens, the colony on LV-426 had been shot to hell, everyone was dead, and much of the place had been blown up with 'seismic survey charges'.
- Alien³: the entire setting. The surface of the penal planet was cold and dark, even when the sun shone, and the prison itself had black shadows everywhere. The look of the film has more in common with old German black-and-white films than with the preceding Alien franchise.
- Star Trek: The Next Generation eventually went noir when the movies started rolling out. Sometime between "All Good Things..." and Generations, someone apparently busted out half the lights on the Enterprise-D.
- The real-life explanation is that the E-D sets were not built to a high enough standard to look real on film using normal light. Generations used dim lighting to hide flaws in the sets. However, when a more high-tech ship was introduced in Star Trek: First Contact, the plot dictated that the ship be under permanent Red Alert, making the sets even darker.
- Enterprise-E is a Sovereign class warship, of course. And you can't know that your ship is a warship and not a neighborhood with a warp drive unless everything's dim, right?
- Immortal, though a little more brightly-lit than normal, still has all the fedora-wearing detectives, corrupt politicians, dingy cities and cool bars that are the norm for a Noir movie.
- Enki Bilal seems to love this. His two other movies (Bunker Palace Hotel and Tykho Moon) have a similar Noir-ish feel.
- Bilal is better known as a graphic novel artist, at least in Europe, and his favourite colouring tool appears to be charcoal.
- The French film Alphaville (1965), making this Older than You Think.
- Before that, of course, there's Metropolis (1927), which actually predates noir, and was an influence on it.
- Blade Runner, the movie that first meshed Film Noir aesthetics and Cyber Punk themes. And did it so before Cyber Punk was Codified.
- The Terminator, which even had a night club called "Tech Noir".
- Terry Gilliam's dystopian Sci-Fi movie Brazil. Though this one is justified by the background, because given how inept Central Services (the red-tape bound bureaucracy that provides heating, cooling, water, power, and pretty much everything else) is, it's not surprising that everything not deemed utterly essential is permanently in a state of brownout.
- Renaissance, a French CGI film about a Twenty Minutes into the Future cop's search for a woman and her immortality-granting MacGuffin.
- The setting of Repo! The Genetic Opera, aside from a handful of places mostly entered by the obscenely wealthy, takes the words 'grim and gritty' to their logical extreme.
- Gattaca isn't set very far in the future, nor are there any aliens to be seen, but the aesthetic is purest SF noir.
- The aptly named Dark City.
- Inverted by THX 1138, Gattaca and The Island. The future will be white.
- Star Wars has some settings like this, such as the Emperor's throne room and the interior of the Millennium Falcon. By contrast, Imperial Star Destroyers are much more brightly lit.
- Pitch Black is hard-boiled fiction, with themes not unlike Blade Runner or "The Silence of the Lambs IN SPACE!".
- Renaissance takes this Up to Eleven. Aside from having a classic noir plotline at first, the film is composed almost entirely of pure black and pure white.
- Brawne Lamia's story in Dan Simmons' Hyperion is told in the style of a noir detective. Of course, (1), Lamia is a PI, and (2) her homeworld of Lusus is a Wretched Hive.
- Altered Carbon. Pretty much all of it.
- The aptly titled novel NOIR by K.W. Jeter, where a guy named McNihil is a retired PI and had his eyes surgically altered to see the world in shades of grey, like noir films of the 30s.
- The Windup Girl combines this trope with Biopunk to wonderful effect. Although it is often sunny in 23rd century Thailand, there is little electricity, so every building is dimly lit and grungy.
Live Action TV
- Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, at least compared to the cheery, fluorescent world of The Next Generation. This is explained that the Cardassians that built DS9 prefer darker lighting than humans (it's even darker when you see it in the Mirror Universe or under Cardassian administration; Garak pointed the latter out when his brain went blooey and chewed out Bashir with several rants). In the conference room particularly, there is patchy lighting over everyone's faces, just like the venetian-blind-obscured lighting in much of Film Noir.
- TNG had actually started with noir lighting. The production staff apparently hated this look, but for some strange reason waited until the third season before firing the initial lighting cameraman and bringing in someone who brightened things up.
- "Yesterday's Enterprise" featured an alternate timeline where the Federation was at war with the Klingons, the bridge◊ was very dimly lit, and there was a plausible reason to have Wesley as a full ensign. Interestingly, the Darker and Edgier alternate timeline had an opposite effect on Ten Forward: instead of being the usual mood-lit recreational area, it's a banal mess hall with white fluorescent lighting (now, in the normal timeline, the lights do go up in there as needed, but you'd probably only notice if you're paying much attention to it).
- As noted on SF Debris, Voyager tended to do this in their "magic meeting room" whenever the situation was supposed to be serious.
- Whoever designed Voyager had a flair for the dramatic, as the lights on the Bridge would dim whenever the ship went on Red Alert.
- Klingon and Romulan ships in TOS were just as brightly colored inside as their Federation counterparts (the show had a lot of bright colors so as to be a good demonstration of color TV). Ever since the films, though, they seem to prefer seeing crewmates as dim, sinister-looking silhouettes (along with the forehead ridges picked up at the same time, it is unclear whether this is supposed to be an actual change or whether it is simply Art Evolution).
- This trope is the rule, rather than the exception, on Farscape.
- One episode answered the question of "why is Moya so damn dark?": aliens have FAR better vision than us little (but still "superior!") humans. Also, Moya is a living ship. It makes some sense that she'd want to conserve energy for other, more critical things, despite anything Pilot might tell her to do. In fact, the goal of the villain in "Crackers Don't Matter" is precisely to generate more light, sapping energy from the other vital system. At the height of his power, Moya is brighter than the Enterprise-D on an August afternoon.
- For some reason interiors of Destiny are very dark.
- Justified in-universe because Destiny is always running on the stray edge of being out of power, is falling apart at the joints and hasn't had living-people maintenance of any kind in a million years. The fact that it has working lights at all is a minor miracle and considering that in many cases they were lacking power and parts for life support and basic functions, it's easy to justify leaving the lights down low and not repairing them all.
- In Firefly, the interior of Serenity is always depicted as fairly dark to contrast with the bright florescent lighting and Creepy Cleanliness of Alliance ships (see Star Wars).
- Warhammer 40,000, where "grim darkness" doesn't just apply to the tone of the setting.
- A lot of the environments in the Riddick games (and Dark Fury) have very high-contrast lighting, with lots of shadows. The lead character can see in the dark. The first game (Butcher Bay) takes place in the universe's toughest prison, and Dark Fury and Dark Athena on spaceships run by bounty-hunting mercenaries. You'd think it'd be in their best interest to keep the lights on.
- The 1997 Blade Runner videogame is set in the Blade Runner universe, and in fact the very same city as the film. It's no wonder that it takes the aesthetic of its predecessor.
- The Brotherhood of Nod from Command & Conquer have a fetish for using too few red lights in their bases.
- According to Tiberium Wars, Kane does this because he loves hearing people whack their shins on tables.
- The GDI global stratospheric transports in Tiberium Twilight, while not as dark as Nod's facilities earlier, are still not well lit.
- Doom 3 was infamous for not giving you enough light, justified in-story by the The Legions of Hell trashing the place, although you do get an Infinite Flashlight by way of compensation... Except you can't hold the torch and a gun both at once. The "Duct Tape" Game Mod fixed this issue and made the game a lot more playable.
- In Mass Effect 1, lights on the Normandy are kept very low. Between this and the bright orange computer screens, humanity has evidently conquered eyestrain. On a battleship this is potentially justified in that it makes instruments easier to see. The living sections of the ship do seem to be a lot brighter than the deck level...
- It also explains why Cerberus is so much more advanced than the Alliance: their stations and vessels actually have adequate lighting! Ironically, this was meant to make them seem creepier, in a cold, sterile, medical sense.
- Deus Ex: Human Revolution uses this during cutscenes but looks normal during gameplay, making the swap between the two rather disconcerting.
- Perfect Dark (fittingly, considering the title) has several dimly lit levels, including the Skedar attack ship.