Here is the boat scene from Ringer as it aired last night. It’s been a long time since a dramatic show had a process shot quite that bad. Looking at it again, it may be that one of the reasons they couldn’t “fix” it is that the real problem with the scene is not the green screen – it’s the boat itself. Like many cars and boats in old movies, it’s being rocked back and forth in a way that doesn’t match any footage they can use, and the lighting doesn’t suggest two people on a boat. So to get the scene right, they’d have had to re-shoot the whole thing.
As I said, it brings back memories of old movies, particularly those Universal movies of the ’50s and ’60s where the over-use of rear projection was compounded by some less-than-beautiful colour processes. The movie Down With Love already paid tribute to that kind of shot in comedies, the ones with Rock Hudson and Doris Day. If Ringer just starts doing every vehicle scene that way, it could be a tribute to Douglas Sirk melodramas, although Todd Haynes already has that covered. These things seem better when they’re done intentionally.
It is a little strange that every time you think we’ve gotten beyond certain types of bad special effects, they come right back again. I feel like obvious process shots in cars and elsewhere, while done differently, are more common on TV now than they were in, say, the ’80s (when a show like The Fall Guy stood out for its over-use of process shots, and other shows preferred to shoot inside a real moving car as much as possible). Sometimes it seems like there’s a perception that because special effects have improved for TV – allowing some locations and buildings to be faked without any of us noticing – shows can get away with any kind of fakery at all. But there’s a limit, and some things still do look better when they’re done for real.