Apparently the TV Academy will only go so far in honoring sci-fi when it comes to the below-the-line craft nominations. While HBO’s “Westworld” and Netflix’s “Stranger Things” deservedly snagged 12 and 11 noms, respectively, FX’s “Legion” was totally shut out. That’s right: Noah Hawley’s mind-blowing Marvel superhero deconstruction didn’t get recognition for either Michael Wylie’s eye-popping production design or Dana Gonzales’s experimental cinematography. Perhaps it was too subversive for its own good.
With HBO’s “Game of Thrones” out of the running this season, the void was filled by the brilliant re-imagining of Michael Crichton’s adult theme park. Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy wisely took a more graphic and philosophical approach to A.I. The brutal sex and violence definitely tapped a cultural nerve.
It’s about beauty and ugliness in this collision of sci-fi and the western. Paul Cameron’s nominated cinematography for the opener was shot on 35mm film to capture an organic feel in contrasting the theme park’s slick western town with the sterile multi-level, glass-infused programming center.
This benefited Nathan Crowley’s nominated production design of the western town at Melody Ranch and the Pacific Design Center-inspired programming center, as well as costume design nominee Trish Summerville’s colorful western costumes.
There were other nominations: for Zack Grobler’s production design of “The Bicameral Mind,” the editing, makeup, hairstyling, sound editing, sound mixing, special visual effects, and “Thrones” composer Ramin Djawadi’s main title theme. Plus Patrick Clair was nominated for his powerful and poetic main title design (he won last year for “Man in the High Castle” and is also nominated for “The Crown” and “American Gods”).
The Familiarity of “Stranger Things”
The Duffer Brothers unmasked the dark side of the ’80s, but its nightmarish Upside Down also seemed all too real for Trump’s America, too. Nominated production designer Chris Trujillo brought a gritty, textural feeling to the suburban ’80s and utilized the same set for the Upside Down environments. It was quite a dance dressing and redressing it and inflecting the town with vines and spores.
And nominated cinematographer Tim Ives took his cues from “E.T.,” using the Red Dragon and Leica Prime lenses for a softer, less contrasty look of the ’80s. And, also in a nod to Kubrick, he divided compositions into thirds.
The show’s other nominations include two for editing (Chapter One and Chapter Seven), makeup, hairstyling, the main title design, music supervision (a new category), Michael Stein’s main title theme, sound editing, and sound mixing.
England Rises with “The Crown”
Peter Morgan’s “The Crown” (on Netflix), nominated for seven Emmys, makes royalty very relatable. We get a glimpse inside the kingdom through the rise of Queen Elizabeth (Claire Foy) and outside Buckingham Palace via that old War horse, Prime Minister Winston Churchill (John Lithgow).
With the help of nominated production designer Martin Childs and cinematographer Adriano Goldman, the coronation at Ely Cathedral (in place of Westminster Abbey) looks authentically regal with a hint of softness. For the wedding, nominated costume designer Michele Clapton made sure the iconic silhouette found its way into the dress and was a comfortable fit for Foy. Other nods include hairstyling, Clair’s main title design, a lovely score by Rupert Gregson-Williams, and supporting visual effects.
Political Rage in “The Handmaid’s Tale”
The nightmare of Margaret Atwood’s color-coded dystopia, directed by Reed Morano, also resounded deeply in the aftermath of the Trump election. And, craft-wise, the Hulu show received four nominations for production design, cinematography, costume design, and supporting visual effects.
Production designer Julie Berghoff conjured a muted gray world and the color red, worn by the Handmaids, become the key visual component, symbolic of both menstrual blood and political rage. Cinematographer Colin Watkinson and costume designer Ane Crabtree worked out the right red.
Watkinson went for a painterly look reminiscent of Vermeer. He used atmosphere to create depth in the frame and would light from outside the room. Crabtree set the red against dark teal for a classic Technicolor-like contrast. The result was powerful and filled with constant tension.
The “Fargo” Factor
Despite the shutout of “Legion,” Hawley’s third season of “Fargo” (with Ewan McGregor playing twin brothers) did very well in craft categories, grabbing nine noms, including three for editing along with DP Gonzales’s work on the opener (“The Law of Vacant”). Ironically, Gonzales was so influenced by his experimental work on “Legion” that he loosened up the camera and compositions, while also riffing on the Coen Brothers’s “Inside Llewyn Davis” for his own weird look. “Fargo” was additionally honored for music, makeup, hairstyling, sound editing, and sound mixing.
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“American Gods” Creeps In
Also a little too subversive for its own good was “American Gods,” the Neil Gaiman-adapted fantasy from Starz, co-created by Bryan Fuller and Michael Green. But at least it received two noms: special visual effects for “The Bone Orchard” opener (with the mythic White Buffalo and incredible devouring sex scene), and Clair’s main title design.
“Big Little Lies”
On the other hand, cinematic clout obviously helped HBO’s black comedy, “Big Little Lies,” about overstressed affluent families living on the fault line in Monterey. Director Jean-Marc Vallée (“Wild,” “Dallas Buyers Club”) brought along go-to cinematographer Yves Bélanger, who was nominated for “You Get What You Need.” Although the cinematographer is used to shooting entirely on location with existing light, he was forced to change his method by recreating the Monterey lighting for some of the shoot on L.A. soundstages.
The mini-series was also nominated for makeup, hairstyling, and sound mixing.