Tuesday, May 22, 2012

TV: Luther (Series 1)

Click THIS to see the kickass title sequence.

I finally got around to watching the first series of the BBC crime-drama Luther. Just for clarification, a British TV "series" is the equivalent of a North American "season" -- so basically I'm talking about "season 1", which is six hour-long episodes. I like the show but it is pretty gruesome, as Luther investigates fairly heinous crimes that the show doesn't shy away from displaying in graphic detail, and I must admit as I get older I get more squeamish about onscreen violence (I think it's called "maturing"). It's all very pulpy. Often it sacrifices believability for entertainment (which pretty much all narrative fiction does to one extent or another), and sometimes it gets histrionic and overripe ("why are these two characters screaming at each other for this entire scene?"), but as a whole it's compelling. In the title role, Idris Elba is a charismatic actor, and as Alice, Ruth Wilson plays the brilliant-psychotic-Hannibal-Lecter-surrogate quite nicely (and she's much prettier than Anthony Hopkins or Brian Cox anyway).

If there's one thing that I truly dig about the show, though, it's how the DPs are framing the shots. It really doesn't look like any other TV show. They like to cram characters down into the lower part of the frame, and further to really hang them out in the corners. Here are two angles from an interview sequence in the third episode:

I've taken those two shots and modified them to show how I think a "typical" show would frame them, where the light blue area would be cropped away:

I much prefer the tension that the original framing adds, as it is in keeping with the threatening, off-kilter ambience of the show. When the horrible things horrible people are doing are slowly revealed, it should be as much of a tension-filled experience for the audience as possible.

Here's another couple of shots from the same episode where Luther is confronting a serial killer who exsanguinates his victims (ick.) in said killer's shop:

...and here's the initial crime scene (note that one character is in the lower third of the frame!):

Finally, just another day at the office:

This is obviously not a framing aesthetic that should be used for every show, and even in this show they don't use it for every shot, but when they do use it, it definitely works for me. Anything that gets away from the soap-opera look of full-screen facial close-ups that much of TV succumbs to is a good thing.

I recommend Luther, if you can stomach it. Now I have to get Series 2, though I've heard it's even more gruesome than Series 1, so we'll see if I can stomach that. Also, get off my lawn!

P.S. Here's the link to the Luther Title Sequence again in case you missed it in the caption of the image at the top. It's nifty.