Some pictures still have a bright background light source. This month's is a good example, with the 1701 and the Botany Bay along side, deep in shadow, with what looks like a brightly lit Mutara Nebula behind it. So yes, several pics still maintain that kind of dramatic "flare". However, most pics (at least in the past couple of years) seem to be pretty evenly lit on its subject matter.
My biggest gripe, actually, is the use of a grain filter to make the picture look like it was a frame of film. I suppose some do that for artistic license, or to make it look less like a digital render and more like a feature film clip, but I think many others use it to obscure jaggy meshes and other imperfections in their models. My minor gripe is that it's actually useless (to me) as a calendar. The months are not ever spread out in 7-day columns and are nigh-impossible to be used to determine an accurate date at a quick glance. Then again, I never bought them to be used as a calendar, but as a monthly rotating gallery.
Either way, I personally think the quality is generally quite good and has held up pretty well in recent years. I am very sad to see it go - it was always a Christmas present staple for the longest time. I got bored with the generic calendars, but it looks like that's what I'll have to settle with from now on.