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Hollywood Darkness

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"There has to be enough light to see the darkness by."

When a character switches off the last light in the room, a vaguely bluish light slightly dimmer than normal illumination switches on. It's implied that the characters aren't supposed to see what the audience can, which makes sense; a black screen isn't much fun to watch (most of the time). Funny thing is, most of the time the characters will be unaffected by the supposed darkness, moving about without stumbling over furniture or stubbing toes. In a few cases, a red light will be used instead.

A "Fantastic Voyage" Plot or spelunking adventure often has a highly illuminated environment, when in reality, the interior of a living being would be mostly dark - a few centimetres of skin, muscle and other assorted tissues work well at blocking out any light from outside the body - with a select few areas nearer the surface where there might be enough light penetrating in from the outside world to cast things in a red hue. Video games provide numerous examples of oddly well-lit caves. And space is always brightly illuminated.

In the past, nighttime scenes were filmed in full daylight, with a blue filternote  on the camera; this is known in the business as "shooting day for night" and is essentially a cost-cutting measure, since it's much easier to film a scene during the day.note  It often becomes a form of Special Effect Failure — shadows don't match the flashlights, headlights or torches involved. In fact, sometimes the shadows of the supposed light sources are clearly visible. In certain cinemaphile circles this was known as "broad daynight". It sometimes remains a necessity even today, though, as with some lenses film isn't sensitive enough to shoot without enough light, or the location won't allow any practical way of hiding the lights (this is common in areas where there is no motivated light). Thanks to the advent of the digital post-production it's also much easier to do convincingly (such as doing sky replacements).

Not the same as Unnaturally Blue Lighting, which turns up even when it's supposed to be just a cloudy day or literal bad blue lights.

There is a trend for dramatic series to prefer real darkness. Similarly, it's common in Sitcoms these days for a "good night" moment with husband and wife in bed to cut to black when the lights are turned out. Someone then says something in the dark — sometimes it's a comment that prompts someone to turn the lights back on, and sometimes it's an entire conversation. And of course, video games often give you a torch for a reason. (If you don't have a free hand, or hands-free light, don't forget the duct tape.)

In black and white films, particularly older ones, there may be no difference between day and night in terms of lighting. Watch Nosferatu, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, or M and try guessing what time something happens. This comes from technological limitations imposed by the film stock available in those days. By which we mean that filming in darkness would have produced absolutely nothing. (In the original prints of silent films, various chemical tints were used to suggest differences in lighting.)

Occasionally this can be justified in cases where the characters are something, such as owls, which have good night vision, because then the audience would be seeing as they see even when in darkness.

Should you find yourself in total darkness (such as a deep cave), you'll be able to "see" the outline of your hand, but it's literally "all in your head" — what you're really seeing is a form of 'sensor ghost' generated by your brain as it receives signals from your body (a sense technically known as "proprioception").

Inverse of Nuclear Candle, which dictates that anything lit by a single tiny light will somehow illuminate the whole room evenly.

For an aversion, when single-point light sources cast shadows as they do in real life, see Chiaroscuro. When this happens despite it not actually being dark see Brightness Shadows.

Compare Mood Lighting and By the Lights of Their Eyes, in which the scene is quite a bit darker except for the eyes of the characters or the teeth of the monsters. Contrast Blackout Basement, when everything being pitch black is the gimmick of a level or area of a video game, and Who Forgot The Lights?, a generally bad inversion where the whole thing is too dark. See also Rule of Perception for one reason why this trope exists. The common practice of using blue to represent "darkness" is directly related to Orange/Blue Contrast (specifically, the "turn up the shadows to the teal end" part). Sub-Trope of In-Camera Effects.

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    Anime & Manga 
  • In Fullmetal Alchemist, the characters are fighting in a forest in the middle of the night when the nearby town, the only source of light, is plunged into a blackout. The characters can't see a thing but to the audience, the lighting has barely changed.
  • Toradora! switches to green-tinted night vision mode for this in the anime adaptation, which makes it clear that it's pitch black for the characters.
  • Cowboy Bebop where Jet and Spike descend 28 stories below ground into a defunct museum (in search of a Beta player), using just Spike's lighter, and can see perfectly well around them.
  • Haruhi Suzumiya: Haruhi couldn't distinguish the face of a time-traveling Kyon when she was 13 because they met late in the night, however, in the anime adaptation both are clearly recognizable even from afar. It's also been several years and Kyon hasn't aged a day. Furthermore, they met only once, but Haruhi still asks: "Have we met before?" when they first meet. Thus starting the Stable Time Loop.
  • The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan Alternate Universe spin-off manga's take on that moment shows Haruhi could see perfectly fine and recognizes Kyon right away even after several years, but doesn't let on about it. Haruhi and Yuki also have a similar first meeting where the darkness, Yuki's nearsightedness (she went out without her glasses), and a lack of an impression made on Haruhi really did make it hard for each to identify the other later.
  • JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: An episode has Jonathan drop a torch to plunge the room in darkness and all it does is switch the tint from green to blue.

  • In The Starry Night, the night sky is depicted as a bright blue rather than a pitch black, and the whole town is shaded blue to reflect this. Again, it wouldn't be much of a painting if it was too dark to make out details.

    Comic Books 
  • Supergirl:
    • In Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures in the 8th Grade issue #4, Linda, Lena and Belinda's eyes are visible and blue lines outline their silhouettes as they're standing in the dark.
    • The Death of Luthor: When Lex Luthor triggers his darkness bomb and plunges several city blocks into darkness, buildings and people are bathed in shades of blue, violet and purplish-grey. Supergirl and Luthor's gang can see just right (thanks to her X-Ray Vision and special googles, respectively), but everybody else are completely blinded.
    • "Those Emerald Eyes Are Shining": The Legion is walking down a passageway when the lights suddenly go off. However, the background is colored in a lighter shade of grey, so the Legionnaires' black-colored bodies stand out.

    Fan Works 
  • Averted in Diamond's Cut; it is genuinely dark when 007 switches off the lights to take the terrorists in the opening scene by surprise. The resultant combat is therefore mostly shown through the security cameras feed.

    Films — Animation 
  • Averted in The Bob's Burgers Movie, where the scene where the Belchers are trapped in a car buried underneath the sinkhole, where the scene is entirely very dark, with the exception of Louise's broken flashlight.
  • In Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, the second gangster falling into a grave is a case of either this or Behind the Black.
  • In Hoodwinked!, the song "Red is Blue" uses it when Red Riding Hood is sad.
  • In Turning Red, the scenes in Mei's room at night when her lights are off are lit only by moonlight yet everything remains perfectly visible.
  • In Sleeping Beauty when Aurora is hypnotised by Maleficent, the hidden staircase scenes with Aurora is only illuminated by Maleficent's glowing orb. The scenes with the good fairies searching for Aurora shows the hidden passageways visibly lit and not from the little tiny lights at the end of their wands.

  • The Darkest Dark: The book has lots of scenes set at night. Despite that, you can still things quite clearly.
  • Discworld series.
    • Lampshaded in Men at Arms, where the narration mentions an underground cave being faintly lit, but the people in it are a dwarf and a troll, both able to see in the dark. But all caves on the Discworld are illuminated by something in case a human hero falls in and needs to see.
    • In Moving Pictures the nascent movie industry is struggling with night scenes: the camera imps can't see to paint at night. Victor comes up with the idea of explaining the situation away in the dialogue card: "How bright the moon is tonight, bwana." This eventually turns out to be one of the Laws of Holy Wood: It is always bright enough to see the darkness. Later on they come even closer to the trope, when it's discovered that they can illuminate the scene with torches so that the imps can see but it's still recognisably night.
  • The first chapter of Seth Grahame-Smith's How to Survive a Horror Movie, which deals with signs that you may be living a horror film, asks the reader, "Is everything bathed in bright blue light even though it's supposed to be nighttime?"
  • In the Left Behind books, God with one of His Trumpet Judgments causes New Babylon to be enveloped in complete darkness so that no one among Nicolae Carpathia's loyalists can see any light save for Nicolae's faint aura. Believers in Christ, on the other hand, are able to see with the illumination level of a low-powered chandelier.

    Multiple Media 
  • In almost every "Fantastic Voyage" Plot, the interior of the body being explored is brightly lit. In reality, bright light does penetrate the skin, as seen if you close your eyes during the day you can still see that it is day, but doesn't get much further than that. Places in the body like the heart, the brain, and the entire digestive system would be in complete darkness.

    Music Videos 
  • "Holding Out for a Hero" by Bonnie Tyler: While the night is totally black when Bonnie's house burns up in the video, the Mounted Combat between the two cowboy types has the night being lit in blue by the full moon, and shadows are still strongly apparent.
  • "Moonlight Shadow" by Mike Oldfield: While it's not apparent throughout the entire video and only appears when the actual story is being shown, the story is about a woman's husband getting shot six times on a Saturday night, and takes place at 4AM in the morning.

  • A standard way to portray a night scene in theatre is to use a dark blue filter on the stage lights. This is lampshaded in The Drowsy Chaperone when the Man in the Chair mentions that "[Janet] is bathed in the pale blue light of a sympathetic moon ... which is ridiculous, because it's the middle of the day".

    Video Games 
  • Lorwolf: The Darkspine campaign areas are described as being completely covered in shadow, but the graphics are perfectly well-lit save a slight purple filter.


    Web Original 
  • Discussed In Best of the Worst's episode on Lycan Colony.
    Rich: If you watch RedLetterMedia for, like, filmmaking tips and advice? That's the one lesson you come away from with this episode: Don't shoot day for night. Ever. Ever.
    Jack: It won't look good, and you can't do it.

    Western Animation 
  • Played with in one of the Secret Squirrel cartoons on 2 Stupid Dogs: When Secret and Morocco infiltrate the pitch black lair of Dr. O (who, being a bat, can see in the dark) and have their last light source destroyed, the screen goes completely black and we hear the narrator say "For the benefit of the audience, a special filter has been installed so you can accompany the action... in complete darkness." The following sequences then appear normally lit, giving the surreal (and funny) sight of Secret acting like he can't see while Morocco tries to tell him what is going on (since, being a mole, he can see in the dark as well) in what otherwise appears to be a completely normal situation.
  • Featured in The Magic School Bus episode where the gang explores Arnold's digestive system. However, this is lampshaded in the closing And Knowing Is Half the Battle segment where someone calls to ask where did all the light come from. The person answering merely snidely remarks they should have gone with "The Magic School Bus Radio Show."
  • Very noticeable in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2003) episode "Darkness on the Edge of Town," in which a total power blackout allegedly renders Manhattan pitch black. Despite this relevant plot detail, the color palette used is exactly the same as the one used for normal nights.
  • In the Teen Titans episode "The Quest", Robin fights a snake-creature in a cave that is, to him, pitch black. However, the viewers can still see him and the snake from his POV during the fight.
  • Occurs hilariously in one episode of the Spider-Man: The Animated Series. One character enters a warehouse, and standing in the shadows is the Hobgoblin, colored all in blue to fit this trope. So far, so normal, except that Hobgoblin then steps out of the shadows and gains his normal coloring, and the scene is directed and scored in an attempt to make this a dramatic reveal. Such a pity that the Hobgoblin is clearly visible, Mark Hamill's voice is very distinctive, and the man he's talking to knew it was him to begin with, making the entire scene excellent Narm.
  • In Avatar: The Last Airbender, even when the sun is eclipsed, the outdoors have late-day levels of light.
  • Gargoyles tends to depict night-time scenes with more color and light than is realistic, even far from city lights. The main characters are nocturnal, brightly-colored creatures who presumably see better in the dark than humans can, and much of the series takes place at night, so this makes sense.


    Comic Books 
  • A highly popular issue of The Spirit features a fight scene lit entirely by a flashlight rolling around the floor.

  • The play Black Comedy by Peter Shaffer is constructed around an electrical blackout in an apartment. The first few minutes of the play are done with no lights (or dim lighting), but the characters act as if the apartment were fully illuminated; then the blackout occurs — and the lights go up full while the actors pretend they can't see. Whenever someone lights a match or turns on a torch, the stage lights are dimmed slightly. At the very end of the play, the lights are fixed by a maintenance guy who turns them "on," at which point the closing blackout occurs. Typically, this is explained in the playbill or program, or in a curtain speech, so that the audience understands what's going on — although it’s easy enough to pick up on the idea anyway.
  • During the blackout in The Drowsy Chaperone, the lights are fully, 100% off. The only source of illumination is the Super's flashlight.
  • The seventeenth-century plays The Duchess of Malfi and 'Tis Pity She's a Whore both have scenes written to take place in total darkness — they were written for the new upscale indoor theaters, which were small enough to light using candles. The larger public theaters had open-air stages with performances taking place in broad daylight, so lighting effects were impossible; plays written for those venues had to indicate darkness by having a character say it was dark (and/or carry a candle or lantern onstage). The presence of scenes in total darkness in the indoor theaters must have been extremely unsettling to the original audiences.


    Web Original 
  • Inverted in Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog: In one scene it the lighting on everyone makes it seem like daytime but looking at the sky and streetlights the viewer will notice that it is nighttime.
    • If that's the Brand New Day song ("It's a brand new day / and the sun is high"), where you can see the sky as the trio leave the laundromat, then that may be because of polarizing filters on the camera.
  • Marble Hornets doesn't use any other illumination aside from what was available in the various areas where the series was filmed. One particularly scary entry has Alex running through a wooded area at night with the only light coming from his flashlight...which ultimately comes to rest upon a tall, faceless man in a business suit standing completely silent among the trees....

    Western Animation 
  • Averted on Batman: The Animated Series - and intentionally, too, as a conscious decision was made to animate everything on black paper precisely to achieve this effect.
    • Especially effective in "The Forgotten", an episode in which Batman has to bust some slavers who have kidnapped homeless people and are forcing them to mine for gold in the mountains. Once Batman is spotted, the Big Bad gathers all his Mooks (who are wearing miners' head-lamps) and they chase Batman into the mine. He then instructs one of the men to kill the lights by throwing a switch ("We'll see if this bat can see in the dark!"), and for a moment everything is completely black. Then the head-lamps are switched on, and for a while all we can see are the illuminated Mooks themselves or whatever happens to be within a short radius of them.
  • The British cartoon Danger Mouse was notoriously low-budget, and so the scriptwriters gleefully seized any opportunity to save on animation costs by having the heroes enter somewhere dark and bumble around in pitch blackness for a few minutes with only their eyes visible.
  • Screwy Squirrel had a classic scene where a dumb-guy dog chases him into a pitch-black cave. We see only blackness and hear some undecipherable loud sound effects...a moment later Screwy steps out in the light and tells us "Sure was a great gag, folks - too bad you couldn't see it!"
  • In Titanic: The Legend Goes On, Kirk and Dirk break into a woman's room to steal her jewelry and close the door without turning on the lights. It then makes things very confusing when someone and a pet enter and a scuffle breaks out (the movie was trying to trick the audience into thinking that the woman and her dog returned, when it was the thieves' boss and her rat dog).


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Alternative Title(s): Hollywood Night


The Grinch Steals Christmas

In How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, the Grinch breaks into the Who's houses and committs a spree of robberies and cleans out all of their possessions, all to a reprise of "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch".

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Main / CrimeSpreeMontage

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