Posts Tagged ‘Television’

Dune … Desert Planet … Arrakis

Sunday, March 2nd, 2014

I’ve been intending to write this article for some time but Cracked’s recent article about five dream film projects that turned into nightmares provoked my digital pen. The five films they cite as having been nightmares for their producers are: Battlefield Earth, Dune, Toys, Pirates and Howard the Duck.

One of these things is not like the others.

Dune‘s production was famously troubled culminating with David Lynch refusing to lend his credit to the extended cut. But the movie is quite serviceable. And IMDB seems to agree. Here are the IMDB ratings of these five troubled productions:

Howard the Duck: 4.5
Pirates: 6.1
Toys: 4.9
Dune: 6.6
Battlefield Earth: 2.4

You can see that for all its problems, Dune is considered a decent flick. Certainly not in the same category as Battlefield: Earth.

It’s hard to overstate the difficulty of bringing a book like Dune to either the big or the small screen. Much of the novel occurs in the minds of the characters and the action depends heavily on their intellectual and physiological skills. The Dune universe is so intricate and complex, you could spend an entire movie just setting it up. (In fact, the Duniverse is often so abstract and complex that it’s hard to follow on the written page.)

But for all that, I would argue that we have gotten not one but two quite serviceable adaptations. Neither is perfect. Both have flaws. But they are very watchable and do a fine job of bringing out the essentials of the book.

The Lynch/De Laurentis version was absolutely savaged by critics when it was released and is still regarded by many as a gigantic flop. I really don’t understand why. Granted, I’ve read the book so I understand it (a friend who worked at a theater said they had to give out pamphlets explaining all the terms in the movie). But, if memory serves, I had not read the book when I first saw it and still didn’t understand the hatred.

Visually, the movie is a feast. Some of the FX are a bit dated, but the set design, costumes and navigators are wonderful. Toto’s score is very good, even it gets a bit repetitive. And the casting is top-notch. Jurgen Prochnow is outstanding as Leto Atreides. MacLahan, Annis, Stewart, Jones and Dourif are all great. Even at times when the movies is struggling, the actors pull it through.

The script has some issues but the conflicts are perfectly clear and the themes laid out quite plainly. Even on first seeing it, I found the plot intriguing and the idea of winning conflicts through political, religious and psychic power drew me in. And Dune itself is depicted quite well.

I think one reason for the hatred is that the original cut is a lot less comprehensible than the extended cut which I saw on TV the first time and now own on DVD. The extended cut, which Lynch disowned, has a massively superior opening narrative that explains the background and politics. It has a lot more scenes that flesh out the narrative and give the complex script room to breath. Much as I respect David Lynch as a film-maker, I think the long cut is far better than his (even if the special effects are still not quite finished).

(Of course, in later years, the critics would decide that Lynch’s opaque narratives and befuddling plots were a sign of his genius. I guess that stuff just wasn’t acceptable in the science fiction genre. It would be another thirty years before incomprehensible science-fiction films would be hailed as works of genius.)

I also have a high opinion of the sci-fi channel’s miniseries, which I also own on DVD and have also watched multiple times. With six hours to work with, the miniseries is more coherent and adheres better to the book (and doesn’t have the embarrassing weirding modules). The portrayals of Chani, Irulan and the Harkonnens are far superior. Fremen culture — the keystone of the book — receives a far better treatment. I know a lot of people prefer the monstrous baron of the Lynch movie. But I prefer a Baron (and a Feyd and a Raban) who are smarter and deadlier. The Baron is supposed to be a formidable opponent, a skilled tyrant, not a cackling imbecile. Feyd is supposed to be nearly Paul’s equal in a lot of ways. The Sci-Fi miniseries nailed it, making the Harkonnens dangerous and deadly. It also, in my opinion, does far more with the female characters — an important aspect of Herbert’s writing.

The sci-fi channel version has its own flaws, of course. William Hurt is somnambulant as Leto. Alec Newman is good, but not as good as Maclahan. The effects are conspicuously poorer because of the budget.

Still, you really can’t go wrong with either. I would give both 8/10 (fan rating). I suppose I should hold out hope that one day we’ll get a perfect adaptation. But I really don’t see that happening any time soon. In the meantime, both versions of Dune are worth the time of any science fiction fan.

August Linkorama

Thursday, August 8th, 2013

Time to clear out a few things I don’t have time to write lengthy posts about.

  • I’m tickled that Netflix garnered Emmy nominations. Notice that none of the nominated dramas are from the major networks. Their reign of terror is ending.
  • This look at Stand Your Ground laws look state by state to see if murder rates went up. I find this far more convincing than the confusing principle component analysis being cited. Also, check out this analysis of the complicated relationship these laws have with race.
  • Speaking of guns, we have yet another case of Mathematical Malpractice. Business Insider claims California’s gun laws have dramatically dropped the rate of gun violence. But their lead graphic shows California’s rate of gun violence has fallen … about as much as the rest of the country’s.
  • Doctor Who Challenge: Days 26-30

    Thursday, August 30th, 2012

    Just to knock this out with the last five days so I can stop thinking about it:

    Day 26: Favorite Doctor gadget

    I’m not a big fan of the Whatever Device. I was somewhat fond of Bessie in the old series. But nothing really can compete with the sonic, can it?

    Day 27: Favorite interview

    It’s not quite an interview, but the extra part of Martha’s instructions from Human Nature, where David Tennant says some amazingly silly things, is a great.

    Day 28: Favorite gif

    Uh, no. I hate animated gifs.

    Day 29: Favorite guest star

    Most of the guest stars were already covered in villains and companions and so on. But I would like to highlight two little cameos that brought a grin: John Cleese in City of Death and Bill Nighy in Vincent and the Doctor.

    Day 30: When you became a Doctor Who fan

    It was the mid-80′s. My friend Adam (name changed to protect the innocent) was very into Doctor Who. I had watched a couple of episodes — Pyramids of Mars and Four to Doomsday. But I wasn’t really into it.

    Then I watched an episode with him called Mawdryn Undead. Although I have seen it many times since, I can still remember the mindset of watching it off and on, becoming intrigued but being confused about what was going on. I an still remember it as some half-understood mix of images. While the effects were notoriously lousy, the ideas, the writing the acting drew me in.

    I was intrigued enough that I decided to watch Terminus on my own the next week. And, after that, I was hooked. I realize that Terminus is no one’s idea of a great episode. But I found it intriguing. And when it was followed by Davison’s great last season and then Pertwee’s run, I became an addict.

    What followed was a wonderful time as I discovered the series. There was so much to look forward to – 20+ seasons! I can still remember eagerly anticipating each week’s episode, breaking out the newspaper and seeing what was on.

    The American experience of Doctor Who is very different from the British one, especially before the new series became popular. Doctor Who was … well, not exactly obscure. Most people had seen an episode on PBS. But it was so weird for someone to be a fan of the show. Being a Trekkie was bad enough, but a Whovian? That was a real freak show.

    (Hell, my dad use to get on me about it. Funny story: frustrated with my lack of a dating life, he used to say, “What, are you going to marry Doctor Shmoo? Ironically, 30 years later, I did. My wife is named Sue, some friends call her Shmoo and she has a Ph.D. in biochemistry. And Doctor Who is probably the only TV show we watch these days.

    My mother, however, embracing anything that got me out of the house, sneaked into a fan club meeting and found someone who knitted Tom Baker scarves. It was the most shocking birthday present I ever got.)

    Sad to say, I did not have a lot of friends in high school. But Adam, before we had a falling out, introduced me to Terminus Tardis, a Doctor Who fan club (Terminus is one of Atlanta’s three previous names). I would go about once a month to watch old episodes or the newest episodes, neither of which were being shown on TV. But I would also socialize. I met a couple of people from my high school who were into it (I was frantically reading the novelizations and developed a reputation — and not a good one — for always having a Doctor Who book on me). I would go down to the PBS station to answer phones when they were raising money during Doctor Who. And … well, that was my social life, such as it was.

    Without Doctor Who, I might have been even lonelier in high school. But I don’t look back on that time with any shame. When I watch old episodes, it takes me back to those old days of adjusting my rabbit ears to pick up a clear signal and eagerly discussing the latest discovery with my few friends. And now that Doctor who is cool, I can legitimately say I was into Doctor Who before it was cool (way, way, waaaay before it was cool). And I’m sure that scarf makes me look like some kind of … well, maybe not a hipster … but something not entirely uncool.

    Anyway, those paragraphs above tell you a lot about why I love the show so much and I would devoted several thousand words to a silly tumblr exercise. Now it’s out of my head and into yours. Back to our regularly scheduled program.

    Doctor Who Challenge: Days 16-19

    Thursday, August 30th, 2012

    Is the blog haunted? I could swear that right before vacation, I posted Days 16-19, wrote but held Day 20. Then I came back and an empty Day 20 was posted, so I had to fix it. Now I can’t find 16-19. So this is all out of order and I’m just going to finish this puppy and crawl into a hole before I embarrass myself further.

    I know I wrote this because I remember how hard it was to come up with the choices.

    Day 16: Favorite Actor

    I’ve already stated my favorite doctors and companions, so I’ll exclude them and just focus on guest stars.

    For the old series, I always liked Michael Sheard, who played numerous roles and was simply great as the doomed Lawrence Scarman in Pyramids of Mars. For the new series, I’ll go with Michael Gambon. The character of Kazran could have been terrible; Gambon made it exceptional. Honorable mention to Julian Bleach as Davros and Bill Nighy’s cameo in Vincent and the Doctor.

    Day 17: Least Favorite Actor

    When you base a series in Britain, you’re hard-pressed to get bad actors. But Graham Crowden in Horns of Nimon was simply awful (although that may have been the horrid script). For the new series, I didn’t like Peter Kay in Love and Monsters but that’s probably because I hate Love and Monsters so much. It’s awfulness was not really his fault.

    Day 18: Favorite Actress

    For the old series, Beatrix Lehmann was simply a delight as Professor Rumford in Stones of Blood, one of the few episodes of the old series that passed the Bechdel Test. For the new series, I’ll take Carey Mulligan, who I still wish would return as Sally Sparrow.

    Day 19: Least Favorite Actress

    No one could eclipse Bonnie Langford for the old series. For the new series, I never cared for the Lady Cassandra character and Zoe Wanamaker’s performance.

    Doctor Who: Days 21-25

    Friday, August 17th, 2012

    Did Day 20, might as well bring this puppy home.

    Day 21: Favorite couple

    In the old series, it was Ian and Barbara. I always hoped they ended up getting married after they left. Their interaction in The Romans as wonderful. For the new series, who else could it be but Amy and Rory, the first genuine married couple in the series?

    Day 22 Favorite Friendship

    This seems to be restating the favorite companion question. I’ll stick with Sarah Jane (old series) and Donna (new).

    Day 23: Favorite spinoff

    The only one I’ve really watched is Torchwood, which could be uneven. Sometimes is was really good and sometimes it was awful. Children of Earth was simply brilliant, one of the most brutal mini-series in sci-fi history.

    Day 24: Favorite quote

    From the old series: “The very powerful and the very stupid have one thing in common. Instead of altering their views to fit the facts, they alter the facts to fit their views…which can be very uncomfortable if you happen to be one of the facts that needs altering.” — The Doctor, Face of Evil

    From the new series?: “The universe is big, its vast and complicated, and ridiculous. And sometimes, very rarely, impossible things just happen and we call them miracles. And that’s the theory. Nine hundred years, never seen one yet, but this would do me.” — The Doctor, The Pandorica Opens (and really, just pick a random page on a Moffat script and we’re there).

    Day 25: Favorite Doctor catchphrase

    I hate catch phrases. “Exterminate!” is the only one that ever really sent chills up my spine.

    Doctor Who Challenge: Day 20

    Friday, August 17th, 2012

    Day 20: Favorite Writer

    OK. Didn’t realize this got published instead of sitting in my draft queue. I don’t know what’s more awkward: that it got published or that no one noticed…

    Anyway, my favorite writer of the old series was Robert Holmes. Holmes had a unique way of getting the science of Doctor Who mind-bogglingly wrong. There would be sciency words sprayed around, but the execution was almost childlike (in a memorable moment, the Doctor uses a diamond to convert a lighthouse into a spaceship-destroying laser). But … Holmes has such a great feel for character, dialogue and plot that it didn’t matter. Episodes like Ark in Space and Pyramids of Mars and Caves of Androzani were among the most brilliant of the entire 26-year run.

    Russell T. Davis was the Robert Holmes for the new show. He had an amazing feel for character. But his science was laughably bad. He was great. But in the end, he is eclipsed by Stephen Moffat, who is rapidly becoming the best thing to ever happen to Doctor Who. Not only is his dialogue memorable, his characters true and his plots intricate, he science is gold. It’s not accurate, per se, but it is plausible. The ideas he throws out aren’t ridiculous and he is very good at not over-explaining things. There are occasional “huh?” moments like The Big Bang. But overall, he keeps it together. And the juggling act he did through seasons five and six was remarkable.

    Most of the best episodes of Doctor Who were written by Moffat — for either series.

    You’re Watching it Wrong

    Friday, August 10th, 2012

    I have to agree with this article on how people are using their televisions wrong. It’s distressing to think that a generation of Americans may grow up not knowing how movies are supposed to look. Oh, well, I guess they’re already growing up not knowing how an action scene is supposed to be filmed.

    Doctor Who Challenge: Days 9-15

    Sunday, August 5th, 2012

    Some more from the Doctor Who challenge. We’re getting further into the weeds as the questions go on. In the meantime, I found this on Cracked’s website, giving an overview of the Doctors that’s pretty amusing and accurate.

    Day 9: Favorite Master

    Oh, it’s Delgado, no question. Jacobi was good and Ainley coulda been. But Delgado was simply awesome. I know a lot of people loved Simm, but I wasn’t overwhelmed. As James Berardinelli said to me in an e-mail: “The Master isn’t merely evil. He’s diabolical. In five minutes, Jacobi captured something that Simm couldn’t “get” in two episodes.”

    Day 10: Saddest Episode

    Probably Journey’s End for the new series, which had Donna’s departure. For the old series, I’ll go with the last episode of The Green Death, which tugged hard on the heart strings (Katy Manning breaks down on the DVD commentary). It wasn’t just the end of Jo’s tenure; it was the end of the UNIT era and the beginning of the end for Pertwee.

    Day 11: Funniest Episode

    For the new series, probably Partners in Crime which really showed off Catherine Tate’s talent for humor. For the old series, probably City of Death, which was written by Douglas Adams. The Romans, however, would be a close second. It features one of the Doctor’s boldest and funniest jokes when he plays music for Nero.

    Day 12: Episode that scared you most

    Oh, Blink, definitely Blink. A Doctor Who episode had never really had me gripping the sofa arm quite like that one. For the old series, it’s hard to tell. I’ll just throw out Ark in Space, since the idea of being slowly transformed into an insect is scary.

    Day 13: Favorite theme song

    The current arrangement is pretty fun.

    Day 14: Character you like that almost everyone else hates

    From the old series, I liked the Sixth Doctor. And I hate to admit it, but I actually kind of liked K-9. I’m not sure who people find annoying in the new series. Jackie, maybe?

    Day 15: Most annoying character

    Probably Adric in the old series. For the new series it was Adam. The last two are bad question for me since I usually tune out annoying characters unless they are around for more than an episode. I can’t really get worked about the third Dalek on the left being an annoying twerp.

    The Doctor Who Challenge: Days 4-7

    Friday, August 3rd, 2012

    Some more Doctor Who blogging. I promise I’ll be mercifully short.

    Day 4: Favorite Villain

    There were so many good ones from both the new and the old series: the Master, of course. The Valeyard, Tobias Vaughn, Davros, Fenric. And if we fold in monsters, you’ve got the Daleks, the Vashta Nerada, the Cybermen and the Weeping Angels. I would say that the old series was a little better at villains, per se, since it had more time for them to develop into full characters.

    But I’ll go with something off the wall here: Sutekh. Sutekh was one of the few villains who I found frightening. The idea that a being so powerful could be unleashed and cause such immediate and awesome destruction was deeply disturbing. Sutekh was incredibly intelligent, vicious and brutal, threatening to torture the Doctor for centuries for destroying his ship. He’s the one villain that, had he gotten free, would have been unstoppable. Gabriel Woolf was so effective of the voice of evil that they brought him back to voice the Beast in the new series.

    With the new series, I’ll go with Davros. But the Weeping Angels taken a close second.

    Day 5: Favorite Aliens

    I’d go with the Silurians but they’re not really aliens, are they? And you could go with the Doctor, but that’s not really the point. And I’m guessing this is different from the villains/monsters I listed above. This is supposed to be something friendly?

    So if we’re going with friendly extraterrestrials who are not the Doctor, I’ll go with the Draconians. They only made one appearance but I found them fascinating. If we confine ourselves to the new series, I’ll go with the Ood.

    Day 6: Favorite Special Episode

    This mainly applies to the new series — The Five Doctors was the only special in the old one. I’m going to go with Christmas Carol which I found to be far less over-the-top than Russel T. Davies’ last few overwrought episodes. It could be watched by someone only vaguely familiar with Who, it played wonderfully on the original story and featured a great performance from Michael Gambon.

    Day 7: Favorite Season

    I’m going to go with Season 13 from the old series. It featured the Fourth Doctor and Sarah Jane, the best combination in Who history. And the episodes: Terror of the Zygons, Planet of Evil, Pyramids of Mars, The Android Invasion, Brain of Morbius, The Seeds of Doom were excellent. This was back when Doctor Who was determined to scare the crap out of its viewers.

    For the new series, I’d probably go with Season 6. You know it’s a good season when, arguably, the two best episodes weren’t written by Moffat.

    Honorably mentions go to classic Seasons 8 (The Master and UNIT at their best), Season 14, Season 15 (which has some bad episodes but was special to me), Season 21 (except for The Twin Dilemma), Trial of Timelord and Season 25.

    Day 8: Least Favorite Season.

    For the old series? Season 24 was pretty bad apart from Dragonfire. For the new series, the four specials that ended Tennant’s tenure were pretty poor, especially the deeply unapproachable End of Time. Season 1 of the new series was probably the worst simply because the show was still finding itself and was a bit uneven. But really, there haven’t been too many bad series in Doctor Who’s history.

    Cutting the Cord

    Thursday, August 2nd, 2012

    The lamest thing about NBC’s Olympics is not the insipid announcing or the constant shuffling of events or the focus on drama instead of sport. No, the lamest thing is their online streaming.

    No, scratch that. The streaming is actually very good. It’s easy to find events, the video is smooth and you can do a picture-in-picture thing to effectively watch two events at once. Even better: you can actually watch the events instead of puff pieces about the athletes, if you can imagine.

    No, what’s lame is the business model. Streaming is only available to cable subscribers. You have to be subscribed to NBC, CNBC and MSNBC in order to stream events live to your computer. This may sound fine to NBC and its paleozoic business outlook. But it’s death for the modern viewer.

    And it’s death to their finances. NBC is throwing away potentially millions, maybe hundreds of millions of dollars by not making their streaming more accessible. Prime time viewing will draw lots of eyes for a long time — their ratings have been through the roof. But streaming brings in new customers who would prefer a cleaner more current version of their coverage. And NBC could make trainloads of money off of it. I would personally pay at least $50 for unlimited access to Olympic coverage if I weren’t already paying the cable company for it. Just a million customers would bring in a cool $50 million for NBC of which the cable companies would get zero.

    (Update: I’d forgotten that Comcast owns NBC and is therefore able to use the Olympics to sell crappy cable packages. That, of course, doesn’t apply to customers of other cable companies or customers who have cut the cord to cable. And the less said of the sleazy Comcast-NBC acquisition, the better. My general point remains unchanged: Olympic streaming should produce piles of money, not aggravation.)

    But it’s bigger than that. The current trend is of customers following content rather than providers. Forget what NBC would make now; they would be setting up a gold mine for the future. You wouldn’t have to juggle six channels and tape delays to find what you want. Go to NBC, pony up some cash and the entire Olympiad would be laid out for you. Instead of this, they have hitched their wagon to the dying cable model. (See update above for why they’ve done this).

    It’s not exactly news that cable is dying. My personal journey away from cable is like that of ten million other people in this country. When we lived in Texas, we had an elaborate and expensive cable package. When we moved to Pennsylvania, we ditched it. This wasn’t because we didn’t want it but because we simply couldn’t afford it until we sold our Texas home and my wife had a job. But even once those things were cleared up, we didn’t go back. We realized that we hadn’t missed cable. Between Netflix, Amazon and online streaming, we pretty much had everything we wanted. I’ve recently upped the subscription slightly to get Olympic coverage and football games. We’ve also had grandparents moving in with us for long periods and they miss the TV. But if I could, I would cut the cord completely.

    The Great Recession has only accelerated this trend. People need to save money and cable is an obvious place. But even when (if?) the recession ends, I don’t think they’re going to stampede back. Consider the following replacement we put in place for a cable subscription running $100 a month:

  • The main thing we watch broadcast TV for is Doctor Who. For $2 an episode, we get it on Amazon or Itunes within 24 hours. And we own the digital copy. Total cost: $28.
  • We also like The Daily Show and the occasional sitcom. Hulu and Comedy Central’s website fill that gap for the cost of watching a few ads.
  • Most other stuff we get from Netflix streaming or DVDs. Total cost: $240 a year.
  • I recently subscribed to MLB.tv. I now have access to any baseball game that is not blacked out in my area. I’ve been watching my Braves all season; I watched the end of Matt Cain’s perfect game; I watched Bryce Harper’s debut. This is better than cable; way better. Total cost: $125.
  • If the NFL and NCAA had similar packages, I would buy them. NFL has Sunday Ticket, but it is only available to either Direct TV subscribers or those who can’t physically get Direct TV because of line-of-sight issues. It also costs $350, which is ridiculous. Let’s assume they come to their senses once the Direct TV contract runs out and offer it to everyone at a reasonable price. Let’s assume the NCAA does so as well and the two combine for about $300 in cost.
  • We’re now up to a grand total of about $700. For that price, I get to watch any network television I want, when I want. I get to watch any baseball game in the country (and any football game if the NFL/NCAA ever pull their heads out of their asses). I get to make sure my daughter watches decent TV like My Little Pony instead of horrid TV. And cutting off her TV is as simple as changing the router password. And I still have $500 left over to buy any DVDs, blu-rays or downloads that haven’t been covered already. Or I can just throw myself a big party with some very expensive scotch.

    Jesus Christ … why is anyone staying with cable? If channel surfing really that much fun?

    I’m not going to say that cable is dead … yet. Cable can be very much alive if they start competing with that model. They’re doing this in their own way with On Demand movies and sports packages. But they have not gotten within screaming distance of the convenience, cost and mobility offered by other services. I can stream Netflix and MLB to any device no matter where I am in the United States; I can barely watch Comcast in my living room. I can watch Netflix or Amazon through an iPad app; for Comcast I need a huge box next to the TV. I can cut Netflix off with an e-mail; I’m locked in to Comcast for months. Netflix charges me $20 a month for as many downloads as I want; Comcast turns me over and shakes me by the ankles to see if I have any loose change.

    That may have worked ten years ago. It’s a recipe for extinction now.

    Cable companies are making tons of money right now, so they think everything is fine. But they are ignoring two things: (1) they are making money because they have little monopolies all over the country; (2) they are making money off the expectations of older customers. My daughter’s generation will simply not stand for this. Already, she expects content to show up on any reasonably flat surface at a touch with no commercials. She’s a part of a generation for whom everyone gathering around the Ol’ Radiation King at 8:00 to watch Seinfeld and eight minutes of commercials will sound as quaint as party phone lines do to me. She will navigate through a dozen internet services to find precisely what she wants at the best price and the least fuss. And cable … isn’t that.

    Update: You might wonder what provoked this rant. Up until a few months ago, I had a minimal cable package. I ran the line into the back of my television and got a good number of channels with some in HD. We got PBS for the kid, football in the fall and a handful of other channels for the grandparents. We were fine. Then Comcast decided to “improve” their service. Suddenly, we needed a box and another remote control for every television. And the results was fewer channels and no high definition. It tells you how little we watch TV that we didn’t even notice this for a month.

    So, as result of Comcast’s service improvement, we paid more, got worse service and were blessed with a big white elephant sitting next to every TV in the house. This is not a business model for the 21st century. It’s the business model of someone who has a monopoly … one that is doomed to extinction.

    The Doctor Who Challenge: Days 1-3

    Monday, July 30th, 2012

    Apparently, there’s a tumblr going around for a 30 day Doctor Who challenge, a bit of summer fun to bridge the way-too-long gap between Series 6 and 7. There seems to have been no starting date. Everyone is proceeding at various paces as the meme goes viral.

    You know me: I can’t resist a list and especially not a list on my favorite subject. So I’ll bite. I’ll concatenate a few just so the blog doesn’t get swamped with Doctor Who posts. This post will be longer than most because I had already written and shelved a long pointless post on my favorite Doctors.

    (more…)

    Which One, Sherlock?

    Sunday, May 27th, 2012

    I originally read the Sherlock Holmes cannon back in college. I enjoyed the stories but didn’t love them. Doyle tends to be a bit long-winded and, even when young, I found Holmes’ methods to be more dramatic than scientific. They make for good stories but real crimes are not solved by scuffs on boots and cigar ashes. Often times, the solution to the mystery was either very obvious or not accessible at all until Holmes revealed the extremely esoteric path he followed to suddenly present the solution. My favorite story was Hound of the Baskervilles, which I found wonderfully creepy.

    But, over the last decade, I’ve slowly become a Holmes devotee. I re-read the stories when I bought my Kindle and thoroughly enjoyed them. Doyle is still long-winded, but I enjoy the digressions and back stories. And while Holmes’ methods are still more dramatic than scientific, they are fun. I enjoy the journey. And I thoroughly enjoy the character, who is one of the most wonderful in fiction. I think Steven Moffat described him best: Holmes is a man who wishes he were some sort of god.

    And that brings me to the point of this post: Holmes is back in the public eye. We have had two movies from Guy Ritchie and a BBC series. And, thanks to Netflix, I’m now watching the classic Granada television adaptations. There a million portrayals out there and I should probably watch the Rathbone films before I even think of blogging about it. But I thought I’d go ahead and address the big question: which Holmes do I prefer so far?

    And the simple answer is: all three of them.

    The Jeremy Brett television series is the most faithful to the books, virtually a transcription. This is a little bit of a weakness as it tends to be staid and predictable to those who have read the books. The style is very classical and slow. What elevates it to excellent television is Brett, who simply embodies Holmes. His portrayal is as precise as a scalpel. Every gesture and word is exactly as one would envision from the books. There’s a very understated joy in the performance that makes the Holmes character so fascinating.

    The Ritchie films are a cut below and probably my least favorite. That’s praising with faint damnation as I enjoyed both films, have the first on blu-ray and will probably buy the second soon. Robert Downey, Jr. is great in the role and has a fantastic chemistry with Jude Law. I wasn’t that taken with Rachel McAdam’s Irena Adler, especially the ridiculous way she was killed off. But Jared Harris’s Moriarity is a wonderful portrayal. And I like the way Holmes’ thinking is portrayed — with rapid edits and quick bursts. This reaches a climax in Game of Shadows when he and Moriarity both think out their moves in advance. I found myself grinning like an idiot in the theater.

    The weakness, I think, is that they make Holmes a little too eccentric, especially in the first film. I can not imagine Holmes living in squalor or being so disheveled and mumbling. But … that’s their interpretation (or, more likely, Downey’s). If I can put my image of Holmes aside — and I usually can — I don’t have a problem.

    But I think my favorite is the recent Moffat-Gattis effort on BBC. With six movies down and at least three more to go, it has been a pure pleasure to watch them unfold. It combines the best of both worlds: by moving the stories to the present and adapting them, yhere’s enough new to keep the audience on their toes and enough winks and nods to the fans to keep them happy. The casting has been strong and the secondary characters — particularly Lestrade and Adler — have been outstanding. The portrayal of Holmes’s thoughts, his use of technology, his controlled eccentricities — all are perfect. And the dialogue and plotting are as sharp as you would expect from the team that has made Doctor Who one of the best shows on television.

    But what makes it great are the two leads. Cumberpatch embodies Holmes the same way Brett did — as a precise arrogant genius who borders on sociopathy. His portrayal is much more sarcastic than Brett’s but flows from the same vein: portraying Holmes as man who thinks of himself as more than human. And Martin Freeman is simply one of the best Watsons. There is a tendency to make Watson kind of dumb so that Holmes looks smarter. Good productions — like the Ritchie films and Granada series — stay away from this. Freeman’s Watson is smart, tough and can (almost) match Holmes quip for quip. The chemistry between them is so good, the constant jokes about them being gay partners don’t hit a false note.

    We’ll see if Moffat and Gattis can keep the ball in the air for another series (and if Ritchie can). But … so far … it’s a great time to be a Holmes fan.

    Fantasy Death

    Monday, May 14th, 2012

    This article, which talks about the way fantasy and sci-fi fans react to characters being killed off, reach a conclusion I find ridiculous:

    I believe the discomfort comes down to the base fear of death and uncertainty that people face every day. Death is a subject that makes people uncomfortable. It doesn’t surprise me then that people would have such emotional reactions to fictional character death. They come to fiction to be taken away from the concerns of their everyday life. When confronted with the sudden death of a beloved character, viewers and readers are jarred into dealing with the uncertainty of life in their fiction and that can be unnerving. Look at reactions to the first murder in Psycho, or the death of Cedric Diggory in Harry Potter as examples outside of Martin and Whedon if you will, as they’re not the only writers who use the tactic to drive the emotional point home.

    This is psychoanalytical bullshit. The reaction of fans is much more down to Earth. They realize that these characters are fictional. And so killing them off is the writer’s choice, not something that just happened. Even the phrase “killing them off” acknowledges this.

    What fans object to is not a character dying, but a character being killed in what feels like an arbitrary and capricious way. No one — NO ONE — objected to Spock being killed in Star Trek II. It was a great way to go, it was an emotional wallop and it was utterly consistent with the theme of the movie and his character. It was one of the best moments in the movies. People did object to Data being killed in Star Trek: Nemesis because it felt arbitrary and stupid. There was no reason for it to happen other than to shock us and try, unsuccessfully, to recreate the punch from Star Trek II.

    Numerous sci-fi/fantasy deaths are well-regarded: Theoden’s fall in Lord of the Rings, Vader in Star Wars, Roy in Blade Runner, Ries in The Terminator, Kong in King Kong, Theo in Children of Men, Kosh in Babylon 5, the Knight’s pending death in Seventh Seal and Dumbledore’s fall in Harry Potter. All of these were cases were the death was consistent, reasonable and even noble.

    If you look at the deaths that are poorly regard, they tend to be of the arbitrary “eh, shit happens” type: Trinity and Neo in The Matrix Revolutions, Padme in Revenge of the Sith, Ripley in Alien 3 or almost all the death in The Dark Tower.

    I have not seen Game of Thrones or Buffy, but I did see Serenity. I didn’t object to the characters being killed. What I most objected to was Wash being killed so arbitrarily (and even then, I didn’t object that much, even though I loved his character). Yes, life is like that, especially a dangerous life. But we want to see our characters go down fighting, to die for a reason.

    I mean, seriously: you’re going to take us on a journey with magic and swords or laser guns and faster than light travel; and suddenly you want to be all realistic when it comes to the characters being killed?

    That’s the problem. We realize that we are in a fantasy world. And if our characters are going to go down — by the choice of the writer — we want them to go down for a reason.

    Tuesday Linkorama

    Tuesday, May 1st, 2012
  • So my daughter has taken to watching My Little Ponies: Friendship is Magic lately. I’m fine with it, since the show is a lot more sophisticated than the stuff she’s liked before. It’s also far less abrasive and ugly than most of the animation that dominates morning TV. Still, I do not understand the brony phenomenon. Really?
  • The best magazine articles ever?
  • The amazing thing about environmental fear-mongers it that they are never discredited by being totally and completely wrong. Thankfully, a handful will own up to it.
  • This story, about potentially innocent men not being informed about flaws in the evidence against them, is appalling and should be bigger. Where the anti-big-government types when it comes to getting innocent people out of jail?
  • The thing that strikes me about this photo essay about the poorest place in America is how relative poverty is. I’m not saying they are not poor or are facing few prospects. I am saying that if you saw the same thing in much of the world, you’d think you were looking at the richest part of the country.