burton

Memes and Hackery From The Canting Crew

Dragons and Pendragons
burton
wordgrubber

Heroic or medieval fantasy has never had an easy time on the Tube. The related genres of horror and urban fantasy have done just fine: Thriller, Twilight Zone, Buffy are the most obvious examples. But the particular problems of filming a fantastic world - costumes, SFX, elaborate sets - have led to sword and sorcery of the low budget camp variety, such as Xena: Warrior Princess or Merlin.

That we now have two shows dealing with medieval fantasy that actually have large budgets is due to two trends; the critical and financial success of cable adult oriented drama series such as Deadwood and the The Wire, and the terrifyingly lucrative Lord of the Rings series in cinema. Not only did Peter Jackson demonstrate how much cash could be made in the heroic fantasy genre, he also used special effects in an unprecedented way to make the world and creature building affordable.

HBO’s Game of Thrones and Showtime’s Camelot are both fairly large budget fantasy series that have some points in common; intrigue over rulership of a warring land, sweeping shots of real and CGI landscapes, nudity (mostly of the nubile female variety), sudden violence, and as a sign of the dark ages none but the prettiest of the leads use hair conditioner. The series part ways in content, writing, and direction.

The rest here. 

Octogenarians on the Bridge
burton
wordgrubber

A few weeks ago, on March 22nd, William Shatner turned 80, followed closely by Leonard Nimoy, who had his 80th birthday on March 26th. A reminder to science fiction fans who remember the original Star Trek series, or watched it in syndication, of our own aging, and a reminder as well of how long science fiction has found fans on the tube. This also may be a marker of how little we’ve progressed with science fiction on TV.

Shatner, ubiquitous, often ironically egotistical, strangely charismatic, much parodied, is obviously now a TV icon. His career on the fantastic screen began with a role in an episode of the Twilight Zone in 1960 titled “The Nick of Time,” which was fantasy. In 1963 he starred in one of the classic science fiction TZs “Nightmare At 20,000 Feet” as an aviophobe who spends a terrified flight watching a gremlin tear apart the wing engine of his plane. It’s a touchstone of TV horror, and it’s an excellent performance by Shatner. (And yes, the gremlin looks sort of like a tele-tubby on the Twilight Zone DVD - a result of the DVD makers brightening the image too much. Turn down your brightness and turn up the contrast when viewing.) Shatner also starred in The Outer Limits episode “Cold Hands, Warm Heart.” In this fairly limp entry of the usually excellent anthology series Shatner plays an astronaut who has been possessed by a Venusian, who resembles a giant Sea Monkey, and is saved by a sauna and the power of love.


The rest here.

All About the Zombies
burton
wordgrubber
The Walking Dead

In the first sequence of the first episode of The Walking Dead, deputy sheriff Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) is searching abandoned cars along a deserted road for gasoline when he spots a little girl moving among the vehicles. He calls out to her, and she approaches, a zombie child, bloody, torn face, exposed teeth, and pale eyes - moppet as monster. She staggers towards him hungrily and Grimes, wincing, shoots her in the head. It’s a graphic and bloody scene, and one of the most shocking cold opens in the history of T.V. It contains so many of the elements of the zombie genre - the isolation of a last human, the post-apocalyptic landscape scattered with abandoned artifacts of human existence, the search for resources, the monster as someone we would normally protect, and the breaking of social taboos. The unease of seeing taboos subverted - cannibalism on the side of the zombies, almost all other social conventions on the side of the humans - is a chief appeal and an important source of unease in the zombie narrative.

“It’s not about the zombies,” the cast members of The Walking Dead assure us on some of AMC’s promo ads for the show. They tell us it’s about the characters, about relationships, about survival, and about how people change as they struggle to survive. The other ads, of course, show many zombies. Close-ups of zombies, hordes of zombies, drooling, bloody, staggering zombies. The promotional “making of” videos on The Walking Dead’s webpage spend a lot of time discus
sing the nature of zombies, zombie make-up, zombie choreography, and how fantastically cool it is to be making a show about zombies.

The rest here.

The Monster Pauses: Predators
burton
wordgrubber




 

It’s a standard element of horror movies: the Monster Pause. The alien/werewolf/knifeopath has kung-fu reflexes when inhuming secondary characters, but when confronting the main character(s) the mutant/vampire/cannibal slows it’s attack, or pauses dramatically or sadistically, or does a huge wind up to the killing stroke. This allows the protagonist to escape or hit the detonate button or stab the fiendish thingie with a weathervane. (This may also create a moment where the hero/heroine may elocute a final wisecrack through gritted teeth.)

Predators exaggerates the Monster Pause into actual film structure – the foldable-fang-faced predators of the movie gradually slow down their lethalness as the film progresses so that when Adrian Brody, playing a mercenary who might be named Stoic Gravelvoice, has a final confrontation with the last monster, it seems to be stunned into stupidity and slow-motion from recognizing an Oscar winner.

The first thirty minutes of Predators is compelling; a multicultural group of killers and mercs find themselves free-falling into a jungle and gradually figure out that they’ve been relocated to an alien world as the lions for a big game hunt. The cast -- including Brody, Laurence Fishburne, Alice Braga, and Walter Goggins in his credible smirky psycho mode – means that this version is much more watchable than the Schwarzenegger original. The interesting problems of reorientation and survival -- and the possibility that this dangerous bunch of humans might find a way to work together to defeat the predators -- are tossed out and replaced by gore, shock kills, and lots of running about as soon as the hunt begins.

There’s a certain lack of imagination here, sadly common in science fiction films. The speculative setting and concept are just that, not integrated into the plot and the problem-solving that the characters have to deal with. It’s a slasher film on another planet – and sadly that’s what many audience members are happy with.

(And could they have talked to someone about the planetary physics? A leaf spins rapidly in a pool, suggesting a wonky coriolis effect, meaning what? A superfast planetary spin? Then why doesn’t the planet seem to move in relation to the sun --and why then do we finally get night? A look at the sky shows other huge nearby planets – which would cause insane tidal effects – and mean that the jungle would not look like an earthly jungle. And if, as it’s suggested, they’re on a much larger planet than earth, then why aren’t the humans feeling the effects of more gravity?)

But back to the Monster Pause – or in this case the lingering (and possible malingering) of predators. There is no sense to their actions as hunters. They seem to be looking for game that fights back, and the earlier films tell us that they don’t kill the unarmed. But why let the humans get away when they can blast them at any point? And if they want to make it a challenge, why use high tech invisibility screens and energy weapons? You’re already bigger than the humans – grab some spears and go for it. (Which reminds me – one set piece that has potential is the sword battle with the Yakuza assassin versus a predator. This is undermined by having a predator that seems to be moving a lot slower than the human, yet still cutting him up.) They seem to enjoy watching their prey try to survive, panic, and maybe turn on each other, and they’re obviously bloody minded sadists. But their lack of logic seems to be written off as not understandable because they are aliens, or that they are working on evolving their technology through combat, or other such nonsense that is hard to buy.

The hunting and killing are done for effect – each death is a set piece that doesn’t follow any sensible pattern that would actually create suspense. And without suspense we're just left with some nice visuals and tension free action. Contrast this with a film like Aliens, where the creatures hunt to feed and reproduce and don’t pause for their close-ups.

(And another SF issue – the predators are a part of pop-culture now, so we have to accept them as bipedal dreadlocked crab faces with human-like bodies and technology. But does every other alien have to be like something on earth? The hunting “dogs” the predators utilize look like hyenas with spikes all over them. How about a flock of six-winged hoverers with no heads and eye clusters on their bodies? Something that leaps from tree-to-tree with tentacles? Or something that isn’t just something we recognize with stuff pasted all over it.)







I'm required by the FDA...
burton
wordgrubber
... to state that side effects may include: pandiculation, floundering, Big Macs, snurling, camel-toe, hagiolatry, venting of spleen, sophophobia, cat's cradles, friction, doodling, hair cramps, looming, cliches, torpor, dreamlessness, sniffling, and strumpetocracies.

I deny all responsibility for...
burton
wordgrubber
 soggy French fries, poppy seeds between your teeth, smelly Sci-Fi fans, Lysenkoism, silverfish, homicidal oompa-loompas, overacting, deconstructionists, Dick Cheney, the pox, dudes who call you "bud," buds who call you "dude," dog sweaters, lampreys, deodorant on the outside of your shirt, ghost hunters, frozen nose hairs, and demonic posesssion.

Continuity
burton
wordgrubber
I hate when you forget something in chapter three that was really cool and then write something in chapter nine that's just as cool but can't happen if the cool thing in chapter three isn't changed and then you have to decide which cool thing to leave in to allow other specific cool things to happen in the book later. Know what I mean?

I'm not responsible for:
burton
wordgrubber
 

 grade inflation, Piltdown Man, prions, Oscar Mayer Lunchables, cane toads, spray tans, urban myths, cold scrambled eggs, Immanuel Velikovsky, Shark Week, interrupted naps, insolent seagulls, sarcosuchus, the extinction of sarcosuchas, salespeople who have read Dale Carnegie, the Borgias, high fructose corn syrup, humidity, the sedan that is tailgating you, and ringtones that play "Tequila."






         
     

I'm required by the FDA
burton
wordgrubber
 

 to report that side-effects may include:
nattering, bloated earlobes, tone-deafness, spelunking, saggy trousers, increased gravity, manscaping, insincerity, rotoscoping, bear-baiting, spine-tingling, inability to stop humming "Horse With No Name," brittle toe-nails, instantaneous cloning, jazz hands, split infinitives, brothel breath, triskaidekaphobia, optimism, geysering mucus, and zombiism.


I'm not responsible for:
burton
wordgrubber

 dry skin, overcooked steak, particle board, lampreys, the designated hitter rule, kleptomania, rusty nails, whinging, tomfoolery, nanotechnology, silverfish, the Moral Majority, deodorant body spray, lederhosen, the defenestrations of Prague, postmodernism, tubas, and the popping sounds that your knees make when you stand up.

 

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