The Stargate franchise is to originality, what Smallville is to canon; but Stargate Universe steals from so many places at once that it becomes hard to keep up. Its two hour pilot shamelessly borrows the structure of Lost’s pilot, beginning with the emergency evacuation, accompanied by flying luggage, and then proceeds to tell the story of how they got here, accompanied by flashbacks to the evacuation, and the character’s personal lives. In other words it’s the Lost pilot taking place in the Stargate universe. Robert Carlyle’s Dr. Rush, with his determination that the Destiny is the most meaningful thing in the universe and has a plan for them, obviously echoes Lost’s Locke. Except Destiny is the Hatch. There’s even a countdown timer that kinda resembles the Hatch timer.
But it doesn’t end there. Stargate Universe mixes that up with some of the look and plot of Battlestar Galactica, and pads that out with a cast that owes something to Lost by way of the CW, including Eli, a Seth Rogen lookalike who gets on board by solving a puzzle in an MMORPG that looks a lot like Mass Effect, talk about pandering to your SciFi channel audience, a Senator’s daughter who spends half an episode naked in the shower, and a soldier who hallucinates in Catholic symbolism, crossing Supernatural with Battlestar Galactica for pretentiousness fail.
The thing is that underneath all those layers, the show isn’t bad. It’s just uneventful. The cast works reasonably well and so does the premise. But with no aliens in sight, there’s nothing of interest except ship malfunctions. Air was a fairly decent follow up to a reasonably strong pilot, but even so it doesn’t really capture your attention. Darkness was so boring that the producers felt the need to throw in gobs of eye candy to try and keep viewers from switching the channel. And basing a show around crazy people yelling at each other only works if you manage to convince a bunch of the alpha dorks and the IO9 crowd that you’re selling brilliant drama, ala the Battlestar Galactica reboot, something that Stargate Universe doesn’t have a shot in hell of pulling off. That means Stargate Universe needs an enemy fast to survive.
Between Ben Silverman and Dawn Ostroff, the last few years of network television have been like some sort of bizarre family reunion, with NBC trying to reboot the Bionic Woman and Knight Rider and the CW trying to reboot Melrose Place and Beverly Hills 90210, and guess what they have in common, that’s right, they all failed really really badly. Knight Rider and the Bionic Woman have gone away to the great big rerun land in the TV sky and Melrose Place and Beverly Hills 90210 haven’t been canceled, because then someone might notice that Dawn Ostroff should have been fired 3 years ago, and might actually fire her. Right now the Beverly Hills 90210 reboot is struggling along with 2.4 million viewers, which is actually not a complete disaster on the CW, mainly because the CW itself is a complete and unmitigated disaster. And the Melrose Place reboot is down to 1.4 million viewers. Now just by way of context, even though Dawn Ostroff banished Smallville to Friday nights and the show is in its 9th season, it’s still getting better ratings than either of Dawn Ostroff’s pet projects, the Melrose Place and Beverly Hills 90210 reboots. And even its demographic share is better than either of them. Ben Silverman has been fired. Maybe it’s time to show Dawn Ostroff the door too.
You know what kids really like? Movies about childhood that are really sad. Oh wait, kids actually hate that, but the folks behind Where the Wilds Things Are and Astro Boy were somehow certain that this is exactly what kids would want, to go see movies that would make them feel as bummed out about childhood, as the adults who write and produce them. To state the really obvious, kids don’t want to go see movies in which childhood is a depressing and angst ridden experience. Just as the average adult does not want to go see movies in which suburban life is portrayed as a hopeless and soul crushing form of life, hello Revolutionary Road. And while you can sell pretentious to adults, you can’t sell it to kids. Kids want the sugar rush, which is why even a mediocre animated movie like Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs will easily outdraw both Astro Boy and Where the Wild Things Are at the box office, without even really trying. And here’s one more thing, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs is rated G. Where the Wild Things Are is rated PG. Astro Boy is rated PG. Sure make a movie for a G age demographic and then rate it PG. Can’t miss strategy there guys.
Astro Boy opened in 6th place with 7 million dollars. Which is still probably more than it deserved. With only a 65 million dollar budget, it isn’t quite as high profile a failure as Speed Racer, but it’s still an obvious failure. Which brings us to the real question, who in their right mind decided that investing the budget of a small city into remaking mildly obscure cartoons from the 80’s was a good idea? Sure Scooby Doo paid off, but Scooby Doo is iconic and popular in a way that Underdog, Speed Racer and Astro Boy are not. And plus it’s fairly easy to sell audiences on a movie with a giant funny dog and a teen movie cast. If Speed Racer at least made some attempt to give audiences a reason to come, Astro Boy doesn’t bother, sticking to its bizarre j-plot. The movie has bits of Pinocchio and A.I., but mainly it’s a very expensive and depressing CG cartoon that is practically designed not to appeal to the only people who would go to see it, kids. You know when you’ve got a quote like this, “The sadness of the story,” Cage said, “is exactly what drew me to ‘Astro Boy.’ That you don’t have the product.
The last Saw movie, Saw 5, was the first in a while to not open in the top spot. But it lost out to the teen sensation High School Musical. Saw 6 meanwhile lost out to a horror movie, and this weekend saw the usually reliable Saw horror fest actually lose out to not only a horror movie, but a horror movie with an even smaller budget, Paranormal Activity. Like Hostel, Saw was part of the wave of torture porn movies that took over and displaced horror. Paranormal Activity, for all its viral vibe, is basically an old school ghost story. And it’s ironic to see a ghost story kick the hell out torture porn’s biggest product. Where Saw 5 pulled in 30 million in its opening weekend, Saw 6 pulled in less than half that with only 14 million. And while Lionsgate will still keep making money off the Saw movies, this may bring the day closer when the repulsive series heads direct to DVD. At last.
For about two thirds of its length, The Accord by Keith Brooke seems as if it might be one of the best books written about virtual reality this decade. Why? Because The Accord avoids all the usual troops so many virtual reality stories fall into, of trying to write about the abstract, and instead gives us the story of Noah Barakh, “The Architect of Heaven”, trying to create a virtual afterlife. The nuts and bolts of the Accord, the virtual reality world he is creating is light on the details, but Keith Brooke paints it as a plausible programming project of trying to recreate the world we live in, for those who have already died.
But in the middle of the process, Noah Barakh tries to have an affair with a powerful politician’s wife which ends in her murder and his suicide. Both of them are reborn in the Accord itself, only the version of Priscilla reborn in the Accord is one whose scan predates their love affair, resulting in Barakh going to greater extremes to try and recreate their relationship, while being pursued by her husband, Jack Burnham, a very determined and sociopathic politician. All of this sounds a bit soap operatish and it is, but Brooke’s writing manages to make it work.
The problem is that The Accord, like a lot of larger novels, is about 200 pages too long. And when Brooke runs out of ideas, he turns the formerly realistic nuts and bolts Accord into the Matrix. Yes, literally the Matrix. Jack Burnham takes on parts of the memories of others, and gains the power to turn into anyone in the Matrix he wants, basically turning him into Agent Smith. He seemingly kills Noah, but Noah returns to be worshiped by everyone in the Accord as a godlike figure. And by the time he grows wings and begins to fly around, The Accord hasn’t just gone off the rails, but off the cliff into the worst VR cliches you can think of. And it doesn’t help that Keith Brooke tries to pad out the space by tying in one of his stories as an ending chapter. What follows next makes no sense, and after a few thousand years in which Jack+ has gone around molesting half the girls in the universe and turned earth into a backward stone age planet constantly at war… ending the novel by having Barakh and Priscilla kiss and say the equivalent of, “Awww I loved you too”, just doesn’t fly.
What do you do when your company’s in trouble, you’ve sold out search to Bing and most of your shareholders hate you. Naturally you roll out a big splashy ad campaign featuring annoying people and their dogs grinning at the universe with a background of loud primary colors that the 80’s somehow didn’t kill. You don’t actually make it clear what in particular you’re even advertising, except the idea that Yahoo puts you in the driver’s seat of something or other. Or at least that’s Yahoo’s big ad disaster.
Now do you see Google rolling out a big billboard campaign telling people to Google or go to YouTube or how convenient Gmail is? No, and that’s exactly the point. Print ads are not really a great way to drive internet traffic. Old media advertising is non-interactive for one thing. Obviously Yahoo is trying to redefine perception of its brand, or something. But Yahoo doesn’t have a brand perception problem. More people use Yahoo’s services anyway, and if anything the contrast tinkering with Yahoo Mail is more likely to drive users away than attract them.
Yahoo does not have a problem getting users. It has a problem making the whole thing pay. And running an AOL-like campaign aimed at the common man is fundamentally stupid. It’s Yahoo trying to piggyback on Microsoft’s antics, but Microsoft is mostly trying to sell physical products, Yahoo is trying to sell people on the Yahoo experience, or something like that, but idiots grinning with joy at being able to open their email or use Flickr to upload their dog’s pictures to the world, is not it. Neither is Jewel fronting a yodeling contest, whatever the hell’s that about. When you provide services, you get users. It’s a pretty simple formula, and not one that old media billboards can change a lot.
The latest Windows 7 ad campaign featuring people who wouldn’t appear in Apple ads claiming to be PC’s and coming up with the idea for Windows 7, is reporting making the Cult of Mac feel threatened. Hoodie wearing graphic designers in Park Slope have begun tiptoeing warily around the billboards while clutching their iMacs to their Arcade Fire t-shirts. While at first many Mac fans mistook the Windows 7 ads for some sort of ironic statement, the realization has slowly crept in that unlike the new Yahoo ads, these are not actually ironic statements about the eternal suffering of man, but real ads for a new Windows OS.
Worry has also been spreading through the transparent cubicles of Apple Electronics Inc Etc, as Apple’s top notch marketing department and font specialists try to figure out how to fight back and watch an entire season pass of Flight of the Conchords at the same time. “We’re completely okay with black people,” said Apple’s director of communications, Bryn Mawr grad Holly Whistleton. “And here at Apple we think they have their place, dancing around while wearing iPods. But when it comes to using Macs, that’s something it takes a sexually ambiguous twenty something Harvard dropout to do properly.”
Steve Jobs however is back at work and on the problem. While Apple has categorically refused to actual black people in the ads, a crack team of Apple’s top researchers buzzed on smart drinks is hard at work developing an alternative to black people. “We at Apple refuse to go along with the old concept of black people. We refuse to be satisfied with that,” Steve Jobs reportedly said. “We want to develop Apple’s vision of what black people should be. Shinier, with Apple logos stamped on them and much more useful.” As his first move, Jobs put in a call to the KKK, whose shiny white uniforms match the Apple offices and product line so much better.
Batman’s “death” has helped generate a lot of new comics, from Red Robin to a revitalized Batgirl, to a new Azrael and a bunch of others. So let’s try separating the wheat from the chaff.
First up, the worst Batman spinoff probably has to be a tie between Azarel and Batwoman. It’s a tough competition because both of them have horrendously incomprehensible art, which at least Batwoman tries to write in as the character’s hallucinations. Both focus on characters that few people could be paid to care about, and neither seem to fit too well into the ongoing events in Gotham. Batwoman is slightly likelier to survive, even though it’s just as stupid, because it has more comprehensible villains and artwork, and the big Bat in the name.
Second up, most improved, would be Batgirl, who is finally not a deaf mute wearing a costume that looks like it was done by Hannibal Lecter, but gets back to the classic idea of Batgirl, taking Stephanie Brown from Spoiler to death to Batgirl. And it works. The covers are nicely classic too and the writing is good. Not great, but this is Batgirl, not Watchmen anyway.
Then there’s Red Robin, which despite an annoying hero and an awkward premise and a dumb costume, saves the day by bringing in Ras Al Ghul for a touch of Donnie Brasco.
Streets of Gotham was fantastic when Paul Dini was writing it. Now the issue has tanked with the cliched priest, I guess DC confused Gotham with Hell’s Kitchen and decided to borrow from Daredevil, and inflicting Huntress on us was a little too much. Just when Dini had taken Zsasz to the max, we get the wacky antics of Huntress and Man-Bat for a sitcom no one wants.
After a few episodes of SGU aired, we’re seeing complaints about Stargate Universe’s sexism at TWOP and IO9. The complaints mainly focus on the lack of strong female characters and the shower scene in Darkness. Now anyone complaining about SGU and trying to argue that Stargate was all about girl power, the pilot had nudity with a female soldier who was just there to be victimized by the Gaould. And the original Stargate team was composed of three men and one woman. And no matter what what Stargate fans project on Samantha Carter, she was the science geek, like Daniel Jackson, who mainly kept quiet, or made awkward comments, or tried to fix a problem, only to be shouted at by Colonel O’Neil to tell it to him in plain English.
Back to Stargate Universe, the show is much more equal in gender distribution. And most of the cast is completely out of their league. So yes we don’t have much in the way of strong female characters, or strong male characters. The lead Dr. Rush, is a whiny nutjob. The colonel hobbles around. The commanding military officer is a kid with no offworld experience who can’t control anybody or anything. And then there’s Eli, and a criminal with a short temper. On the flip side there’s Ming Na’s character, who looks hopelessly obnoxious, so I can’t complain that we’re not seeing more of her. There’s the medic, who is a strong female character, and parallels the colonel. And there’s the Senator’s daughter who’s at the center of a love triangle. No she’s not a strong character, but no one can seriously fail to miss the fact that Stargate Universe included three characters, her, Eli and soldier boy, for the WB or CW demographic.
No, Stargate Universe is not Buffy. But it’s not the new Battlestar Galactica either, a show that the same people attacking SGU praised for its treatment of women. Its treatment of women being for the men to beat the hell out of them, when they felt attracted to them.