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Netflix Lighting and the Death of the Director in 'Wednesday'

There aren’t a lot of directors’ styles that someone who only casually engages with film will recognise more than Tim Burton. There is a lot to critique about his work—especially his casting choices—but there is no doubt when people describe a Tim Burton film as a “Tim Burton film”, that they are accidentally leaning into auteur discourse.

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Courtesy of Netflix

There aren’t a lot of directors’ styles that someone who only casually engages with film will recognise more than Tim Burton. There is a lot to critique about his work—especially his casting choices—but there is no doubt when people describe a Tim Burton film as a “Tim Burton film”, that they are accidentally leaning into auteur discourse. 

No matter your personal grievances with the auteur, it’s true that Edward Scissorhands and Beetlejuice are films that are best described as quintessentially “Tim Burton.” The sickly, dark, whimsical aesthetic is so plaguing that it inspires TikTok trends. It is why The Nightmare Before Christmas will always be referred to as a Burton film, despite him only producing it. For better or for worse, Burton is one of the more prominent examples of the modern auteur. His style is tied to his personhood from his films' thematic similarities, artistic style, and recycled casting choices. 

And Netflix killed it.

To blame Burton’s loss of experimental expressionism entirely on Netflix is admittedly ignorant of his recent film decisions. Alice in Wonderland and Dumbo were lifeless corporate products that relied on the Burton name for the audience to project the magic onto. But there were still elements of Burton’s aesthetic, no matter how minimal and Disney remake-ified they were, in their attempted darkness. 

That is why I was hopeful for the Wednesday series. The Addams Family seemed perfect for Burton’s style; it's a wonder it wasn’t remade under him before. The offbeat gloominess of the family, the kooky characters, and the ever-present theme of being an outsider can be found in any of Burton’s works. And while Netflix is a media conglomerate, it is still a streaming service whose hosted movies stay true to the filmmaker’s decisions, unlike Disney’s multiplatform domination. I was excited to see it.

My excitement was simple naivety. Wednesday proved that producing a Netflix show is a stylistic choice, not just a distributive one. Wednesday has the elements of fantastical darkness, but that appears to be due to the nature of the IP, rather than its place as a Burton product. Wednesday, the character, is dark; true to the original costuming, she is “literally in black and white,” as mentioned in the pilot. The opening scene is Wednesday, played brilliantly by Jenny Ortega—who alone is worth watching the show for—attacking her brother's bullies by dropping piranhas in a swimming pool. She is expelled and attends Nevermore, the show's primary setting that references Edgar Allan Poe. The school has elements of Gothicism dominated by dark wood, gargoyles, and arches with ornate detailing. But none of that is Burton; that is just Wednesday Addams. 


Little jokes, character interactions, and set designs made me think more of previous Netflix products than Burton's artwork. The setting and structure are more reminiscent of style and character choices from Stranger Things, A Series of Unfortunate Events, and Umbrella Academy, two of which were pre-existing IPs. In both Wednesday and Umbrella Academy, the main character—lit from underneath and filmed at a low angle—plays a string instrument at night to soundtrack the scene.

 

                                       

 

 

 

 

 

 

Image courtesy of Alamy

 

Image courtesy of Netflix

 

Wednesday is just another addition to the dreaded “Netflix Lighting,” a term I use every time I see a Netflix show with that stock-standard aesthetic. Even Matilda the Musical (2022), a film I personally adored, also suffered from this boring and dull colour scheme. But it is wrong to say I’m the only person who has noticed it. Vice refers to it as the “Netflix Look”: dark imagery and saturated colours, but with the most conventional shooting styles—so conventional they will repeat it in almost every show you see. J. D. Conner, associate professor of Cinema and Media Studies at USC, told Vice that Netflix requests some basic technical specifications from all its productions. Looking at the lack of creativity on Wednesday’s supposedly “climatic” scenes, Netflix’s specifications explain a lot. 

It is unfair to say Wednesday has no Burton flair. There are probably two specific moments that felt connected to Burton’s style: the setting of Wednesday’s room and the monster. Known as The Hyde, the monster has the classic big eyes, light blue skin and crooked teeth that feel reminiscent of not necessarily Burton villains but Burton characters in general. The dorm room Wednesday shares with her friend Enid draws heavily from the German expressionist architecture by which Burton has long been inspired. But these two elements still lack the playful tactility that Burton’s films have long had; instead, they have the seamless cleanliness that Netflix productions have perfected, much to the detriment of viewers who like to have fun. The show doesn’t watch like a Burton product so much as a rushed, corporate attempt to mimic his style and generate more viral content. 

 


Image courtesy of Netflix

 

Image courtesy of Vlad Cioplea/Netflix​

 

The auteur is a concept rooted in the patriarchal and capitalist obsession with the genius individual. It is a concept that glorifies the lone, usually male, artist, who created this aesthetic and film from thin air, ignoring the influence of the editor, the screenwriter, the cinematographer and the set designer—but the auteur is human. Netflix and Disney are conglomerates, corporate entities that have found ways to produce our most accessible art forms in a production line. In taking away the messy humanity of it all, they’ve created something so incredibly dull. 

I wanted the auteur to die long ago, but I didn’t want Netflix to be the one to kill it. I fear Wednesday has taken an axe and messily hacked away at it. 

 

 
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