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. As to why that efficiency doesn't translate to maintaining usable brightness, don't expect an answer.
Commonly known as Tech noir.
- The Alien movies.
- The Nostromo in Alien is a downplayed example; areas like the crew quarters and the sickbay (easily identified by being mostly white) are brightly lit, and only the cargo hold and the engineering, spaces that are normally unoccupied, stay dark. The ship's bridge is fairly dark, but that's a necessary concession to the pilot's need to be able to see out of the windows during takeoff and landing.
- As for Aliens, the colony on LV-426 is shot to hell, everyone was dead, and much of the place had been blown up with 'seismic survey charges'; the brief scene taking place before everything goes to hell is noticeably brighter, though still on the dim side of tolerable because Weyland-Yutani isn't the type of corporation to spend more than the bare minimum on the working environment for frontline staff.
- Alien³: The entire setting. The surface of the penal planet is cold and dark, even when the sun shines, and the prison itself has 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.
- Blade Runner, the movie that first meshed Film Noir aesthetics and Cyberpunk themes. And did it so before Cyberpunk was Codified. And by extension, Bubblegum Crisis and Silent Möbius, two anime series that took visual inspiration from Blade Runner.
- Terry Gilliam's dystopian Sci-Fi movie Brazil. Though this one is justified by the background, because given how inept Central Servicesnote is, it's not surprising that everything not deemed utterly essential is permanently in a state of brownout.
- 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.
- Inverted by THX 1138, Gattaca and The Island (2005). The future will be white.
- Star Wars has some dimly-lit settings, such as the Emperor's throne room and the interior of the Millennium Falcon. By contrast, Imperial Star Destroyers are much more brightly lit. Princess Leia's corvette splits the difference by having both brightly lit sections and dimly lit industrial sections, such as the corridor she hides from long enough to give R2D2 the stolen Death Star schematics.
- All interiors in Serenity, be it on the ship or elsewhere, are poorly lit.
- 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.
- 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.
- Prime Suspects: A Clone Detective Mystery is a dark, rainy, sleazy setting full of corruption as well as Fantastic Racism. It's also very dark because that's how it is on this planet.
- Star Trek is usually bright and colorful, but it uses dim lighting for effect throughout the franchise:
- Klingon and Romulan ships in Star Trek: The Original Series were just as brightly colored inside as their Federation counterparts. Ever since the films, though, they seem to prefer seeing crewmates as dim, sinister-looking silhouettes.
- Star Trek: The Next Generation: The episode "Yesterday's Enterprise" features an alternate timeline where the Federation is at war with the Klingons. The bridge◊ is very dimly lit. Interestingly, the Darker and Edgier alternate timeline has 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.
- Star Trek: Deep Space Nine:
- The station is already darker than a standard starship, but flashbacks to the ship's time in Cardassian control reveal that it used to be even darker, both owing to the Cardassians' discomfort with bright lights and to make it more ominous.
- Everything is dimmer in the Mirror Universe. 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.
- Star Trek: Voyager:
- This tends to be done in Voyager's meeting room whenever the situation is supposed to be serious. The lights on the Bridge also dim whenever the ship goes on Red Alert.
- In "Year of Hell", one of the signs that the Voyager crew is having the worst year ever is the ship looks broken and the lighting is dim.
- Star Trek: Discovery continues the noir lighting for the overall Darker and Edgier tone of the series.
- Star Trek: Picard is also rather dimly-lit. Initially, this is because the main characters are travelling onboard La Sirena, a private speed freighter hired by Picard to operate outside of Starfleet. However, after he rejoins Starfleet, their vessels turn out to be just as dark on the inside.
- 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.
- Stargate Universe: 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.
- The Expanse features this, Justified generally as a mix of exterior shots of space and powered down ships. Capital ships, such as the UNN Agatha King and the MCRN Donnager are very brightly lit, though still avoiding the Everything Is an iPod in the Future aesthetic with very practical interior designs (as you know, you'd expect from an actual Real Life fleet with resource constraints).
- Red Dwarf takes some inspiration from Alien in some parts of the ship. While the sleeping quarters are usually well lit, any time the crew end up in the corridors or the cargo bays, the scenery is very industrial and poorly lit, as is the case when they end up aboard other vessels.
- A lot of the environments in the The Chronicles of 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 (Escape from Butcher Bay) takes place in the universe's toughest prison, and Dark Fury and Assault on Dark Athena on spaceships run by bounty-hunting mercenaries. You'd think it'd be in their best interest to keep the lights on.
- Command & Conquer:
- The Brotherhood of Nod have a fetish for using too few red lights in their bases.
- The GDI global stratospheric transports in Tiberium Twilight, while not as dark as Nod's facilities earlier, are still not well lit.
- Doom³: The Mars City UAC base on Mars is a dingy place — some rooms in the less refined maintenance/engineering sectors seem to only have lights to show where the walls are —, even if you discount the power outages; this impression is reinforced by several audio logs from UAC workers complaining about the base's poor lighting. Then the infernal outbreak begins, hellspawn trash the entire base, and light becomes practically nonexistent other than the player's Infinite Flashlight and the fireballs of demons. It doesn't help that the lighting engine renders sharp black shadows in such a way that increasing the screen's brightness is no help at all.
- Mass Effect
- The 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.
- Inverted with Cerberus, whose stations and vessels actually have adequate lighting. Ironically, this was meant to make them seem creepier, in a cold, sterile, medical sense.
- Perfect Dark (fittingly, considering the title) is a sci-fi game with several dimly lit levels, including the Skedar attack ship.
- Splatoon 2: Octo Expansion has the most technologically advanced setting in the franchise thus far. It is also the most dimly lit, moody setting in the franchise. The central station, for instance, has only a single row of lights hanging from the ceiling, none of which are bright enough to liven up the place and some of which are broken, and the rest of the region is rarely much brighter than that. Of course, considering the Deepsea Metro is based on, well, the deep sea, it would make sense for everything to be dim.