Are TV shows becoming more cinematic?

With the growing focus on cinematography and stylistic choices, Arnojya Shree talks us through how TV shows are matching their big-screen counterparts

Arnojya Shree
22nd March 2020
Credit: IMDb
The world of cinema was a true game changer from when it first began. Movies gripped our senses, culture and lifestyle to a point of no return. Cinema took fantastical intangible ideas and turned them into actuality, through audio-visual transformation. In a dark movie theatre, anything was possible.

Fast forward to a century later, after witnessing cinematic excellence with directors like Hitchcock, Coppola, Spielberg, Tarantino and Nolan, the past decade has not been as kind to its dedicated cineastes. Audiences became aware of cinematic potential. Cinema arguably went into a decline with repetitive narratives, cliché tropes, stereotypical characters and overall, bad film-making.

This is when big production streaming sites like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime got involved. These companies appealed because they brought together film, television and web shows on to a single platform, readily available. The competition for such sites has been huge. We're now watching these services, using their ever-growing budgets, to make TV shows that are more cinematic. Special attention is given to the visual aesthetics and cinematography, appealing to a wider audience. Shows are bigger and better than ever! Here's just a few of the best shows that are breaking through the constraints of television.

From the use of low and eye-level camera angles to vibrant lighting, the cinematography draws reference from 80s adventure films like E.T., Goonies, Stand By Me

When it comes to combining stylistic elements with great cinematography, Stranger Things comes to my mind straightaway. The appreciation comes from the bold colour palette, which uses intense primary colours and neon lit-mall complexes. From the use of low and eye-level camera angles to vibrant lighting, the cinematography draws reference from 80s adventure films like E.T., Goonies and Stand By Me but also from recent Sci-fi hits like Under The Skin. The show is cinematic in the way that it looks like it should belong on a big screen, and its ability to transport viewers back in time.

Game of Thrones is another great example of bringing cinematic excellence to television. In terms of visual style, the show epitomises the globalising epoch of 16th – 17th century (Benjamin Breen, Pacific Standard). The show portrays the best use of special effects and digital cameras, which bring the ice and fire to life. It makes the fantastical appear real, from dragons to giants. The show also focuses on the visual grandeur of kings and queens, like Danerys’ transformation to Khaleesi upon a burning pyre or Jon Snow’s defining moment in Battle of Bastards

Anne with an E. Credit: IMDb

Anne With an E is another example of beautiful cinematography. Based on an early 20th-century coming-of-age novel Anne of Green Gables, the show is shot on Prince Edward Island of Canada. The cinematography features a naturalistic landscape which highlights the essential theme that nature plays in Anne's life, almost to the extent of nature being its own character. The snow-covered fields, blooming cherry blossom trees, cliffs overlooking the ocean and autumnal forests appear frequently in the show, and their painting-esque form unveil the depths of Anne’s mind to the viewers. This show uses these cinematic themes for good reason.

The camera movements, framing and angles subtly hint towards the Blade Runner aesthetic style

Westworld, an HBO production based on Michael Chrichton’s 1973 film of the same name, is now running its 3rd season. It has maintained consistency in delivering beautifully executed shots. The camera movements, framing and angles subtly hint towards the Blade Runner aesthetic style where the visuals mould a high-tech futuristic controlling underground world with a Western. It creates a believable world for its audience where two timelines, centuries apart, mirror one another. This filming style makes the show as perplexing for the viewers as it must for its characters.

With higher production budgets, television shows are always improving by becoming as rich in their visuals as they are in their narrative. These streaming giants know exactly what appeals to audiences, and how movie-like shows thrive. This gripping cinematic effect isn't only available in the cinema anymore; it's readily available in the comfort of your own home. This is likely to be the future of television, so let's sit back and enjoy the show.

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