In a few weeks FOX will be shoving Avatar down our throats for December. But while there will be a lot of marketing dollars on the line, it’s not clear where the fanbase is that’s supposed to embrace the movie. Avatar did have a limited fanbase when it was only a rumored project, but that fanbase has only begun to shrink with the release of the first Thundersmurfs trailer. And the situation hasn’t gotten any better since. Gimmicks like Avatar Day in theaters or an interactive trailer, which is basically just a regular trailer that you have to download with added interview clips, presume there’s a fanbase interested in the movie. The sad fact is there isn’t much of a fanbase. Making parallels to Titanic is easy and cheap, but that same rabid teenage girl audience these days is obsessed with Twilight New Moon, which may wind up making more money than Avatar will, at least in the United States. And while Avatar will no doubt have a good opening weekend and make money around the world, it may also turn out to be another Golden Compass.
Monthly Archives: November 2009
While the launch of ABC’s V has been troubled, probably the biggest and most obvious mistake has been to adopt the multicharacter structure of the original miniseries. While a multicharacter structure makes sense when you’ve got hours to fill in a wideranging story, V as an episodic TV show arguably needed a central character through whose eyes we are to see what’s going on. While Lost was probably a bigger influence in the decision to go with a multicharacter series, than the original V miniseries, that itself was a flawed decision because where Lost managed to make a multicharacter structure work by both having a lot of characters and making them memorable, V has done neither. Where’s Lost’s characters started as enigmas, V’s mainly begin as simple types, the hardworking mom cop, the earnest priest, the disguised alien and the troubled teenage boy. There’s not much more to explore beyond that because rather than characters these are types.
V’s ratings fall has stabilized at around 9 million viewers, which is not bad by the way things are measured these days. But with the first 4 Charles Wells episodes burned off, what comes next? Somewhere out of sight V is being retooled in the hopes that the new model will be shinier and more appealing. And if it isn’t, well networks kill off shows all the time. It’s possible that V’s initial falloff had stabilized the series to the point at which the people actually interested are watching and the people who just took a look because of the hype aren’t. Alternatively imposing a break may lead to the current viewers forgetting the show was ever on when it does finally come back. That’s the threat and the challenge, and there is no way to find out until the curtain is lifted and the wrapping paper comes off the new V. Which hopefully will be a better series for it. Hopefully.
Back in the 90’s when Gus Van Sant first came up with the brilliant idea of doing a remake of Psycho, shot by shot, he could have hardly been treated worse than if he had announced that he wanted to dig up Orson Welles’ body and use him as a puppet in the next Alf movie. And when the Psycho remake failed, falling off drastically after the first week, the filmattati declared week. And now here we are approaching 2010 and we have long ago resigned ourselves to the fact that everything that we love will be remade over and over and over again. If there has been a shortage of Hitchcock remakes, it is mainly because movies are remade to appeal to the youth market, and Vertigo or North by Northwest are not ideal formulas for capturing the Gossip Girls audience, unless of course they’re just ripped off and presented in botched form, see Disturbia.
Airing a bit too late to be the show’s halloween episode, Baneling nevertheless serves that function. Not only does it revolve around the Keeper of the underworld raising the dead, on the condition that they kill for him. Not only does it trap the main characters in a death camp along with banelings in their own ranks, but it pushes the gruesomeness and the violence well beyond not only what you expect from Legend of the Seeker, but from just about any broadcast television series. By the ending which features a demonic little boy, Baneling has pushed the limits visually, even though its structure is conventionally close to the usual Legend of the Seeker, twists and problems resolved by a lighting final decision structure that we’ve come to expect from the series. Baneling may lack the sturm und drang of Marked, but it compensates for that with a generous helping of creepiness and even some decent storytelling in the bargain. And it begins to show us some of what the Keeper can really do in order to make the lives of the main characters, a living hell.
If there’s any message that the season opener for the second season of Legend of the Seeker is supposed to convey, it’s epic. And it is amazing just how much material the episode fits into 40 something minutes. The series has always managed to pack a lot of twists and turns into individual episodes, but Marked goes way beyond that. And it’s also clear that there’s a lot of money involved. From the gear to the battle scenes to the landscapes, there’s more of everything, and everything is darker and grimmer. That’s a good change for the series which has had a weakness for comedy at times. More importantly it’s an episode that brings Richard closer to the decisive adult of the novels, as opposed to the confused teenager of the first season. And by focusing on the Keeper, rather than the New Order, the season comes packaged with the devil himself as the villain. There isn’t much to complain about with Marked, except perhaps the death of all the Mord Sith, but at the same time Marked is more epic than memorable.
In the 1970’s and 80’s, Wes Craven, a former English professor had made a name for himself directing horror movies. But the culmination of his career and the movie he was best known for was still Nightmare on Elm Street. By the mid 90’s, Wes Craven had been reduced to directing the Eddie Murphy vehicle, who at the time was also in a career slump, Vampire in Brooklyn. Then in 1996, four years after he made a weak effort at rebooting Freddie Kruger again in New Nightmare, Wes Craven bounced back thanks to a young screenwriter named Kevin Williamson who penned a script deconstructing the kind of slasher movies that Craven himself had directed.
The result of their collaboration was Scream, and while it’s easy to forget in the wake of all the sequels and the copycat slasher movies and the parodies of the slasher movies, Scream was actually a good movie. And it actually did a better job of deconstructing the slasher movie than all the parodies of it. The problem was what do you do for an encore. Wes Craven did the sequel, but he clearly wanted something more. Scream II had gone through Miramax’s Dimension arm, and in turn what Craven wanted from Miramax was legitimacy. To be known as a serious director, instead of the guy responsible for Freddie Kruger.
And that was when a golden project came together. Meryl Streep in a movie about a white teacher who teaches black kids to play the piano. Meryl Streep alone means Oscar gold. Meryl Streep pretty much owns Oscar and has more Oscars than Oscar Meyer has weiners. And when combined with Miramax, which back then could get an Oscar for 90 minutes of static or a performance by Matt Damon (same, same), Wes Craven thought he was almost guaranteed an Oscar and a golden ticket to being taken seriously as a director. And get this, the name of the movie, Music of the Heart. How could that not get an Oscar?
What went wrong? As it turned out people had been watching movies about teachers in inspirational urban schools for too long, and they yawned at this one. Since nobody could possibly blame St. Meryl, they blamed Wes Craven for being out of his depth. Craven went back to do Scream III, which no one saw. Then he reunited with Kevin Williamson to do Cursed, which no one saw either. Since then he directed Red Eye, which no one saw either, and has been pimping out remakes of his old movies, such as Last House on the Left. Not much of a comeback, was it.
I saw an article recently that listed 10 useless things that no one needs anymore. On the list were books, the print kind. Apparently we aren’t going to need those anymore now that the Kindle is here. Today on the bus I saw someone actually using a Kindle for the first time. Now just the fact that I’ve seen thousands of people out and about using iPhones and only one using a Kindle, says volumes about its realworld popularity. But it was the first time I was up close and personal with the gadget, at least in an over the shoulder voyeuristic sort of way.
The Kindle was smaller and neater than I expected. The text was clear and very readable when compared to a laptop or a media player. But imagining myself with a Kindle still held no appeal. Sure I could in theory load every single book I could ever want on it and carry it with me anywhere, and still for all that even the thought of reading lost all its appeal. The Kindle isn’t ugly. It didn’t look clunky. It was flat and thin, and so is the idea of reading books on it.
Once out of the bus I stopped by a bookstore, just to compare the experience, and there is a real magic to seeing the tangible volumes all around you. Hardcovers and softcovers. New and used. Plain covers and big tacky and splashy covers. The Kindle and ebook readers turn books into something intangible and unreal. They break them up into a page of electronic text. And somehow by doing that they also kill the appeal of reading. Reading Lord of the Rings on a Kindle feels as appealing as reading a tech manual, practical but joyless. There is nothing alive in an eBook. It’s dead and broken down into bits for your convenience. Thank you Amazon, but no, I’ll stick to the magic of the printed word.
Reading the stories in Driving Blind you can view it as the intersection, the late 1990’s stories by Ray Bradbury that mark his transition to the purely nostalgia based fiction he writes today. There is one Science Fiction story in Driving Blind, though it is a high concept but particularly weak entry in terms of execution, and one genuinely great horror short story Thunder in the Morning that should have been reprinted endlessly in horror anthologies, but hasn’t.
But Driving Blind is for the most part more concerned with nostalgia, with old school classmates and ex-girlfriends, with looking into the other end of the telescope at adulthood and with growing old and seeing that all disappear, and while such ideas have always been present in Ray Bradbury’s work, in Driving Blind they seem to predominate and dominate the old Bradbury who looked at far horizons that were beyond himself, rather than only looking inward.
When you drive blind, you go to the destination you know best, like a horse with blinders on, because in the dark we can really only see ourselves. And Driving Blind is that one single destination arrived at over and over again, sometimes with talent, sometimes aimlessly, always with depth of emotion, but having read Driving Blind, I can admire Bradbury as a stylist, while finding little there to draw from beyond the shallow wading pool of memoir fiction. The Bradbury whose work I loved looked at the world and the world beyond with fresh eyes. The Ray Bradbury of Driving Blind is more comfortable with the romance of nostalgia and memory than with anything larger or vaster and while he still writes with love, it is a love so narrow as to be self-love.
It took long enough for the show that never should have existed to become the show that no longer exists. FOX canceled Dollhouse after renewing it to escape the wrath of the fans. It might have been kinder to let Epitaph One be its epitaph, because Joss Whedon’s rabid fanbase certainly won’t be pleased by another 13 episodes, even when it comes at a cost of the entire year’s budget for some companies. Naturally they’ll complain that FOX was abusing Joss Whedon, when this time out it let him air and drag out a really bad show for 2 years, instead of giving it a mercy killing from the start. It’s not that Dollhouse is a bad show. Bad is fixable. It’s that Dollhouse is a series whose premise never made any sense and had no reason to exist, except to serve as Eliza Dushku’s employment agency. FOX knew from the start that the show was bad, and tried to have Joss Whedon fix it before it even aired. Joss Whedon knew it was bad enough that he was actually apologetic about FOX’s moves from the start. The question is why everyone involved just kept riding the train to nowhere for 2 years?