2009-05-25

Five Down

So we sat down and watched the last three hours of season 5 of LOST last night. I’m glad we finally know how Dr. Chang lost his hand; i’d been losing sleep over that.

All in all, not what i was hoping for, given that i was hoping for the show to get good again. Especially anticlimactic was Juliet buying it, which seems an obvious twist when you know that Elizabeth Mitchell is starring in the remake of V next year.

I suspect that for next season, they’re going to use the “back to reality” scenario to just cut whole episodes out of all the flashbacks they’ve had in the previous five seasons. You know, to save money.

I will admit now that despite my sinking expectations, i will be watching LOST all the way through to the end, which says something about my masochism, i guess. I gave up on Heroes without missing a beat when it got profoundly stupid, but i still have a faint, faint hope that Cuse and Lindeloff and company will get it together. However, that hope is tempered by the knowledge that the writing in the show has long since crossed over the line where the mystery is being sustained by willfully withholding story, rather than being created as part of the story. Like, by virtue of the fact that Ben and Julia are now a part of the core group, we the audience should know everything about who the Others and the Dharma Initiative and Widmore’s group were/are, but we don’t. It’s sloppy, and it’s cheating, and i can’t stop expressing how much it pisses me off.

This season also spent way too much time backtracking on some of the most essential aspects of the character story, so that Jack used to be all “Don’t believe in fate” and then is suddenly “But i do now”. And Daniel used to be all “Can’t change the past” and then is suddenly “Except now i think we can”. And Kate hates Ben but decides to save young Ben for no apparent reason. And Sayid is a ruthless assassin who somehow fails to remember that WHEN YOU TAKE SOMEONE DOWN YOU PUT A SECOND BULLET IN THEIR HEAD TO MAKE SURE THEY STAY DOWN!!!!!

Sorry.

I also particularly despise the technique of following a character you think you know, only to realize that it’s a totally different character (i.e. — Locke). That kind of thing is a staple of fantasy and speculative fiction literature (it played big, and badly, in the fourth Harry Potter book if you’re into that sort of thing), and it’s bullshit each and every time. You can’t expect an audience or a reader to make the empathic and emotional connection to a character, as we did digging into Locke when he’s talking about what it means to have died and come back to life — then say “Ha! Just kidding!” Again, it’s a cheat, and after five seasons, a show like LOST  should be beyond cheating.

I did like the late reveal of Jacob and the flashbacks connecting him to everyone else, and i like what that potentially could have set up for the future. But it’s all getting a little bit too slapdash for my taste. The writers have an awful lot of holes they need to dig their way out of in order for next season to work. Unfortunately, they all seem to be engaged in a one-way race to see who can dig deepest before it’s all over.

2009-05-18

To Boldly Story Edit

Speaking of movies full of annoying mistakes, i saw the Star Trek reboot this week and enjoyed it thoroughly while i was watching it. However, the split second that the credits started to roll, i understood with perfect clarity that this was one of the stupidest films i’d ever seen in my life. The litany of flaws in this story — not trivial editing errors but enormous what-the-fuck-were-they-thinking logical gaffes of jaw-dropping proportion — are beyond comprehension, and include but aren’t limited to:

1) The Romulan ship was way too big. It’s an automated mining platform, so how many miners need to actually be there to push the buttons? A million? Ten million? And why does a mining platform need an endless supply of killer torpedoes capable of taking out an entire fleet of warships anyway? It’s like writing a script in which a fishing trawler is armed with triton missiles. (Though, to be fair, that would have made A Perfect Storm a lot more interesting.)

2) Falling into a black hole doesn’t let you travel through time. It only kills you.

3) How come neither Vulcan nor earth has any local ships capable of blasting the drilling platform? In the end, when Spock has to shoot it with his fancy future ship, he’s like a mile above Starfleet headquarters, and i’ve heard rumors that Starfleet is kind of in the ship business.

4) The coincidence factor of old Spock and Kirk being on the same planet/moon was touchy enough. Having them appear a hundred yards from each other was sloppy.

5) If that was a moon of Vulcan (as it would have to be in order for Spock to see the implosion at the scale he did), why is there a remote Federation outpost on it with that “Oooh, i’m a kazillion miles from civilization” vibe to it? Scotty should be shuttling down to Vulcan every weekend for the night life.

6) Setting aside the improbable physics of creating a singularity at such a local scale, there was no need to create the singularity within the core of Vulcan. Parking a black hole on the surface would have done the job just as well. (I’m half assuming that red matter needs incredible heat and pressure to catalyze its reaction, just as i’m assuming that the red-matter singularity disappears when its no longer fed by matter, in order to explain why the singularity formerly known as Vulcan doesn’t continue to suck down everything else in the star system. So how hard would it have been to work either of those ideas into a line of freaking dialogue?)

7) It makes no sense for Kirk to be the only one who recognizes the “lightning storm in space” effect. Pike should have (given his study of that battle), but at the very least, all previously seen space anomalies should be logged into a Starfleet database somewhere. Or maybe they’re using technology borrowed from the 20th-century FBI or something, where no office can share information with any other. (Given the insanely stupid appearance of human welders in the original teaser trailer, that might not be too far off the mark…)

8) How come the H-bomb was leaking radiation bad enough to burn the Others with even casual contact earlier in the season, but Sayid and Jack can work with/carry the warhead with no ill effects?

Sorry, wrong show. But most importantly:

8) Since Nero has gone back in time umpteen years and has a full supply of red matter, he can actually save his home planet by imploding that star now (in film time) before it ever threatens the galaxy, saving his wife and family, yada yada. At the very least, he could just get a message to Spock saying “In the future, when you go to deal with this supernova you don’t know about yet, try to arrive 20 minutes earlier.”

This is all ignoring the fact that a supernova wouldn’t actually have threatened the galaxy in the first place:


(There are lots more technical crap gaffes there, but i’m more of a story guy.)

I seriously want a law requiring people who want to write science fiction to be required to first pass some sort of written test.

2009-05-14

Los Angeles 2019

Blade Runner. Why’d it have to be Blade Runner?

(I’m mix-and-matching my Harrison Ford references; so sorry.)

I had cause to recently discuss with an old friend (François; yo, mon ami) that i still haven’t bothered to watch Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner — The Final Cut Till I Need More Cash version of the film (i’m sure that was the title…) because i really don’t care that much. And though you don’t know it, this is surprising information, because as François did and still does, i loved Blade Runner once upon a time. But when i loved it, back in the day of the film’s original release, it was widely known that the studio had taken the film out of Ridley Scott’s hands at the eleventh hour (adding the horrendous voice-over among other things). And so it was easy to gaze upon this flawed masterpiece and assume that all the many, many, many, many, many, many mistakes present in the film (the miscounted replicants, the horrible dubbing in the snake bazaar, the stray hand on Batty’s shoulder when he first appears, the sudden blue sky over the dove when it flies away, et al) were the result of ham-fisted studio edits that broke the delicate perfection of Scott’s vision.

Except then in 1992, Scott released the director’s cut of the film, which François and i both went to see on opening day with great anticipation, knowing that finally we would experience the film as the auteur had intended it. Only the director’s cut still had all the many, many, many, many, many, many mistakes present in the theatrical release, as well as a fucking unicorn. And i decided as i left the theater that if it that was the film Ridley Scott actually envisioned, then Ridley Scott should go fuck himself.

I know, i know, i know that the things that bothered me about Blade Runner were nothing more than minor technical annoyances, taken objectively. And to reiterate, back in the day, i loved the film as much as anyone ever did or could. However, one of the things that can turn a minor annoyance into an aggravation is the intent. If someone accidentally hits you in the back of the head, it’s annoying but you’ll probably forgive them for it. But if they do it on purpose, it’s a different story. In the same vein, if you assume that someone hit you in the back of the head by accident, then discover that they did it on purpose, your attitude toward them is liable to change. That’s my thing with Ridley Scott. The director’s cut of Blade Runner was him saying “All those mistakes you thought of as accidents were really me not giving a shit, as demonstrated by the fact that adding a fucking unicorn was more important to me than fixing the mistakes the second time around”. And as a result, i chose to be unforgiving.

But then in 2007, it was revealed that the 1992 director’s cut wasn’t actually a director’s cut, just kidding, ha ha. The 25th-anniversary final cut edition would be the definitive actual version of the film as Scott intended, sorry about the eight bucks i wasted in ’92, no hard feelings. And i’ve spent some time reading up on the not insignificant changes to the final cut, which, to be fair, finally do address the vast majority of the stupid mistakes that shouldn’t have been in the film in the first place, and kudos to Scott for taking the time and all that. But two things about the final cut still galvanize my dispassion for this film, in the way that one feels a cold hate for an ex-girlfriend who you were nuts about at the time but realized only years later was truly nothing like the person you thought she was through the haze of young love:

Still got the fucking unicorn; and Ridley Scott is still talking about how Deckard is a replicant.

Strictly speaking, those are actually the same point, as the only reason that Scott sliced in that Legend out-take  in the first place is to “prove” that Deckard was a replicant because that proves that Gaff knew what he was dreaming blah bah fucking blah. I personally think that Scott is flat-out lying when he says that the unicorn is something he meant to do in the first cut (it’s known that it didn’t appear in the infamous pre-original workprint version of the film), just as he was flat-out lying when he called the first director’s cut the director’s cut, before later backpedaling and saying “Oh, i was really busy then and couldn’t do what i wanted to do.”

And no, you can’t argue that without the unicorn dream sequence, the origami unicorn at the end doesn’t make sense. The unicorn at the end was perfect the first time out in the original film with no dream, and remains so. Each of Gaff’s origami represent what he’s thinking (not the horseshit about him knowing what Deckard is thinking) at different points in the story. The first two are a challenge to Deckard — the chicken, calling out his fear of coming back to the life he walked away from; the matchstick man with an erection, calling out the fact that the reason Deckard quit was that he had developed feelings for replicants, the one thing a blade runner can’t ever do. The final one isn’t a challenge, however, but an admission that Gaff understands what Deckard has come to understand. Look at Harrison Ford’s face when he picks it up and looks at it, and you can fucking well see that understanding. He’s scared at first, thinking it’s a threat. Then he realizes that it’s something else.

The unicorn is a universal symbol of purity and innocence. In mythology, unicorns could only be ridden by virgins of exceptional moral character. It’s a kind of inversion of the obvious phallic symbology of the beast itself.  To quote the old voiceover: “He’d been there, and let her live.” Gaff’s final message to Deckard was that he understood that Rachel was innocent — and that as such, she didn’t deserve to die.

But much, much more importantly — if Deckard is a replicant, it’s more than just a stupid twist ending strapped on by a director whose sense of story isn’t all that sharp. (Ridley: love the visual style, but don’t ever work without a writer on set.) It completely negates the worth of the story the film is telling.

When Philip K. Dick wrote Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, his whole thing — which was the thing in so many of his novels — was to look at the schism between what it means to be human and what it means to only appear to be human. Deckard is human by birth and biology — but in his actions and his ability to murder for the sake of blindly following orders, he reveals himself to be something less than human. The longer he hunts the replicants, the less human Deckard becomes. Batty is a replicant by design and decree — but in his actions and his hunger for survival, he reveals himself to be truly human. The more desperately he tries to cling to life as he feels the weight of his mortality and the the loss of his friends, the more human Batty becomes. And so the ultimate conflict of the film is between a human being who becomes a machine by his own choice, and a machine who becomes a human being because the brief life he’s tasted leaves him desperate for more.

Now that’s a fucking movie. That’s the story that needs to exist at the heart of Blade Runner for the film to work on any level. Here’s Ridley Scott’s version by comparison:

Deckard is a replicant who doesn’t know it, Batty is a replicant who does know it, and this is a film about two androids trying to kill each other.

As with all the little mistakes still wending their way through the director’s cut, Scott saying in his many interviews that he thinks Deckard was a replicant and that’s why he put the unicorn sequence in is tantamount to him saying he doesn’t give a shit. Deckard being a replicant doesn’t make the world of the story any less interesting, but it destroys the story that world is supporting. By his saying so, Scott is saying that he doesn’t understand or care about his own film. And so until the final final unicorn-free cut, i’m more than comfortable not caring, either.

2009-05-04

Drink Up

For long years now, at the times when i’m forced to look at contemporary poetry and the critical reaction to it, my own reaction tends to run along the lines of wondering whether these breathless halfwit blank-verse connoisseurs are simply on drugs. But then this morning, it occurred to me that, despite the rhetorical nature of the question, the answer is, in fact, ‘yes’ — though not necessarily in the way one might think.

From time to time, i can remember reading about those experiments that sociologists do where they bring a whole bunch of college students into a bar, telling them they can have as much to drink as they want, on the house. And all the while, these students are observed while they get more and more progressively, incoherently intoxicated… without the people in charge of the study telling them that none of the drinks they’re being served actually have any alcohol in them. Because what’s really being tested is how much people will succumb to the feeling of intoxication — the social side of the effect; the contact high, if you will — simply because their minds tell them to expect it.

And so it occurs to me — this is the poetry problem in a nutshell. The aesthetically incoherent modern-poetry freak approaches the art of contemporary poesy in the throes of the same kind of chemically imbalanced compulsion state with which the frat-boy binger approaches a row of what he thinks are 200-proof vodka shooters. And in both cases, the expectation of a buzz produces that buzz even in the complete absence of any real stimulus or kick. The poetry freak needs the self-delusion that tells him what he’s reading isn’t just the load of emotionally fossilized tripe that it is, just like the binger needs to believe that the water he’s drinking is capable of producing the inebriation he expects to feel. The poetry freak needs the kick of knowing how deeply meaningful his drug of choice is. And so the kick is manufactured within from the necessity of belief, rather than from the content and worth of the work itself.