Wicked has been a long time coming. The film adaptation of the generation-defining Broadway musical was originally slated for December 20, 2019, but production schedules caused the film to be delayed, with Cats taking on the release date. Then, the movie was delayed once again because of the pandemic. Finally, after a director change, a move to a two-part structure, and strike delays, production is finished and the movie will premiere Thanksgiving 2024.
But the first look at the trailer reveals a worrying trend in movies that ties directly to the Star Wars Universe. Just because a movie is easy to see, it doesn’t mean that what you can see is better.
At first glance, the trailer looks like it’s finally breaking out of the habit of shooting “gritty” takes on existing stories with ultra-dark scenes that make watching any sort of action hard to see. After all, this is the world of The Wizard of Oz, and the usage of color is a major plot point especially when one of the main characters is green.
But the color that is in the trailer seems off. The lighting is flat and universal, and the colors seem oddly desaturated. This is most likely caused by the sheer amount of visual effects needed for the movie. Even though it started as a stage musical, there’s plenty of VFX shown in just the trailer: floating coins, flying monkeys, and magic bubbles.
Wicked’s VFX was done by Industrial Light and Magic, the company famous for handling Star Wars’ innovative effects. And the flat, dull, lifeless colors of this Wicked trailer don’t bode well for future Star Wars movies. While the most recent Star Wars movies haven’t quite had this issue, we’ve seen this kind of desaturated lighting in a few Star Wars TV shows — shows which will be soon making their way to the big screen. In a way, Wicked is a case study of what modern Star Wars could look like — and it’s not encouraging.
If this is what the future of VFX-reliant blockbusters looks like, then the problem with Star Wars goes deeper than just making the action easier to see. To hide all the effects, the scenes can either be super-dark or bright but dull and desaturated. Star Wars’ solution is to find a way to not just add more lighting, but to provide dynamic lighting. Star Wars is about finding balance in the light and the dark, but so far we’ve only seen them separate.
This is a huge surprise after director Jon M. Chu made it very clear that efforts were being made to make the world of Wicked feel more lifelike and avoid the downfall of its predecessor Cats. Filming took place on actual physical sets and even outdoors in the U.K,, but the flat lighting persists. Hopefully, this is just the opposite end of the lighting spectrum, not the only other choice in VFX-heavy movies.