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Monthly Archives: December 2010

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The Stargate Universe cancellation

Like a lot of other things, shocking but not that shocking. Stargate Universe followed the Star Trek formula, complete with a beloved original series and spinoffs of diminishing popularity. Stargate Atlantis couldn’t perform at the level of the original Stargate and wound up canceled. Stargate Universe turned in a darker and higher quality show that alienated a lot of franchise fans. But Stargate Universe was picking up viewers initially throughout the first season. Unlike a lot of doomed shows, it improved on its premiere. But then things went south. The second season never brought back the ratings. Which is a shame. Because Stargate Universe might have imitated Ron Moore’s BSG reboot, but it was many of the things that show wasn’t. After the cancellation of Enterprise, it was also the last major show to focus on space exploration.

Guess we should have known how that would go.

Falling Skies are Falling

If you suffer through the first 15 seconds of the awkward little girl voiceover, it gets better. Better enough to show that the Spielberg produced Falling Skies might have some potential after all. People are going to be comparing this to The Walking Dead, and the vibe is similar, except it looks as if things actually happen on Falling Skies and the actors don’t spend all their time trying to recite horrible stagey dialogue. Obviously Falling Skies taps into the whole Cloverfield thing that was big enough to inspire the whole shakycam alien invasion thing with the Battle of Los Angeles and Skyline. But Falling Skies also looks like something we never properly got before, but that the original V series tried to do, and botched badly, showing human resistance to an alien invasion.

No More Jack Black Movies… Please

Enough is enough. Jack Black becoming a leading man is one of the more incomprehensible things in human history. It shouldn’t have happened. But it did. And now we all have to live with it. But as many times as Hollywood tries to prep Jack Black for leading man roles, the whole thing implodes badly. Gulliver’s Travels is just the highest profile implosion. Had it been released two months earlier, it wouldn’t have been nearly as much of a disaster. But along with Shallow Hall, Nacho Libre, this should finish the job. But not Black’s career, because he’s never really acted like a leading man. Jack Black has been willing to do anything offbeat. And even regular. He keeps showing up in unlikely places, in guest star appearances and friends’ projects. Which is okay. A world entirely without Jack Black wouldn’t be that much worse, but a world in which comedy is defined by Adam Sandler, Will Ferrell and Jack Black playing the same idiots in every movie would be really horrible. So no more Jack Black movies, unless it’s a film version of Heat Vision and Jack.

Is Narnia Done Again?

The Narnia Chronicles movie series has had more lives than most cats. It should have been doomed by Prince Caspian’s failure. That was enough to get it kicked out of Disney’s mouse house, but FOX picked it up again. And what do you know, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader proved to be non-competitive. At this rate it’s going to have trouble even passing a 100 million dollars domestically. But that’s okay. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader may pull in 200 million internationally. Which may or may not be enough to keep the series going. Walden Media’s plan to make family friendly films has been a disaster, but the Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe was one of its few successes. And if Narnia goes, Walden Media starts to look crazier than ever.

The Zombie Movie’s Survivalist Plothole

The real reason zombie movies exist is to fill a plot hole in the usual post-apocalyptic survivalist story. The way that story usually goes, a big catastrophe happens, civilization as we know it is overturned and everyone has to wander or build their own mini-societies, recapturing the hunter-gatherer lifestyle, in response to the disaster. But the plot hole in that is always, why don’t people just set up refugee camps and try to rebuild civilization.

The survivalist story usually assumes that civilization is rotten underneath, that it only takes a push before people are killing each other over tins of canned food. You can find the prototype of the “zombie free” zombie movie in Heinlein’s Survivalist essays about a nuclear war

“If the fragile structure of that city were disrupted by a single atomic bomb, those who survived the blast would in a few short days be reduced to a starving, thirst – crazed mob, ready for murder and cannibalism.”

That’s a few days in Los Angeles and there are your zombies. (This also gives Farnham’s Freehold some context, Heinlein thought that after a nuclear war everyone regardless of race would go cannibal in LA.) But this doesn’t pass the common sense test. If you made a movie where everyone went cannibal a few days after a nuclear bomb, it would bomb. Because we don’t believe civilization is that fragile.

The Survivalist story assumes most institutions and people are rotten underneath, that the only thing keeping us from beating each other to death all the time are cell phones and security cameras. Take them away and it’s zombieland. But most people don’t buy into that.

The zombie movie fixes the survivalist plothole. It usually dumps the nuclear apocalypse, and cuts right to the starving mob ready for cannibalism. That’s what the zombie is. The average citizen after a disaster who can’t take care of himself as well as our heroes becomes a zombie. (S.M. Stirling actually plays that out in his Emberverse novels where the people without skills turn to cannibalism and then turn into crazed mindless zombies.)

A convenient zombie virus, lets the survivalist narrative play out, hitting the reset button on civilization, without challenging the audience’s faith in humanity. The zombies are what survivalists think of most ordinary people. The living dead, who didn’t bother getting ready for the end of the world.

How to Make Your Tired Old Movie Exciting

Take Me Home Tonight
Uploaded by ThePlaylist. – Classic TV and last night's shows, online.

Got a movie that’s about a directionless manchild who just can’t grow up, even though he’s over 30 already, and has the chance to make it with the hottest girl in high school, so he tells her he’s rich and gets invited to a party along with his fat annoying generic sidekick? Want to make it exciting?

Turn up the music to the loudest 80’s song you can find. Then fill the movie with lots of screaming. If a second goes by where no one is screaming, then your trailer has failed. But the trailer for Take Me Home Tonight doesn’t fail, it succeeds at bringing together every single scream in the movie and putting them into the trailer. Sure it tells you the whole plot, like most movies do, but it also gives you every single scream.

Maybe I’m being unfair. Maybe Take Me Home Tonight really is a sensitive and funny movie that brings John Hughes back to life, but got stuck with an obnoxious trailer. And maybe it’s just as generic as it looks. The female friend played by Anna Farris feels a little Hughesian. But it likes a single knowing touch in a sea of well… screaming.

Guardian, The Last of Sliders

The Guardian was the last good episode of Sliders. Written by series creator Tracy Torme, it gave a bittersweet sendoff to John Rhys Davies’ character Professor Maximilian Arturo, who would be killed off a little later in the season in an ugly way by the people who ran the show into the ground. The Guardian wasn’t distinguished by great acting, Jerry O’Connell and Sabrina Lloyd both deliver terrible line readings, but in the middle of two seasons where episodes were created by ripping off popular movies or throwing in cowboys, dinosaurs or some other gimmick, it was a throwback to what the show used to do. Tell stories about people, instead of cheap special effects and ideas lifted from bad movies.

Mostly though The Guardian reminded you of what a waste the series had been. It had the cast and the premise, but it didn’t have the stories. Even The Guardian doesn’t have much of a story, but it has the right mood. And it lets John Rhys Davies play the professor as a human being, instead of an abrasive one note curmudgeon. Davies looks like he’s genuinely having fun.

Torme wrote The Guardian while dealing with his own father’s illness, and it shows in places. It ends up being a farewell to the show and the character. When Exodus kicks in, the show goes to hell and beyond redemption. It finally turns into all the B Movies it had been ripping off. The cast begins disintegrating. The premise vanishes. And though it still goes on for years, the show is gone.

Marvel Keeps Alienating its Own Directors

Marvel’s rep for being able to turn its properties into hits rested on the work of a handful of talented directors. Bryan Singer made the X-Men franchise work on the big screen. Sam Raimi made Spider-Man work on the big screen. Jon Favreau made Iron Man work on the big screen. Now all three of these directors are gone from the franchises.

Most of this is not Marvel’s fault. FOX was responsible for Bryan Singer moving on to Superman with disastrous results. Sony was responsible for dumping Sam Raimi for a Spider-Man reboot. But Marvel is to blame for moving Jon Favreau out. Let’s face it. Iron Man 2 was bad. Not bad, bad. But not really much of a movie either. The difference seems to be that Marvel wanted to shoehorn in more characters. That also seems to have been the problem with Spider-Man 3. And that’s a clash between the comic book way of doing things, character diarrhea, and movies which need a more limited focus.

Replacing Bryan Singer with Brett Ratner didn’t work out too well. Rebooting Spider-Man, we don’t know yet. The quality will obviously go down. The box office may still be there though. Dumping Jon Favreau, a move that Marvel will probably regret around the time that Iron Man 3 features the entire Marvel gang, with Tony Stark sitting in a corner and drinking himself senseless.

Time’s Man of the What List

Every year we go through the same charade as everyone pretends that Time’s Man of the Year or Person of the Year or Object of the Year actually matters. It doesn’t. This year it’s Mark Zuckerberg, for reasons that probably have a lot to do with the amount of money put into promoting The Social Network and Zuckerberg’s response to the bad PR with Simpsons and Oprah appearances. Otherwise it might well have been Facebook. Or the Tea Party. Or an overstuffed chair.

How little does Time’s Thing of the Year matter? Last year it was Ben Bernanke? In 2006 it was You. Not you, the social networking you, you. If Time hadn’t used that one in 2006, they would have used it again in 2010.

Mostly Time’s Man of the Year have been politicians. Obama. Bush. Putin. Giuliani. Bush. Clinton. Gingrich. Clinton. Bush and Bush. Gorbachev. Gorbachev. Reagan. On and on. (That’s an actual list in reverse order.) When Time runs out of politicians to name, then it starts reaching. Either it picks somebody who’s going to be obscure a few years later. Dr. David Ho. Mostly tech CEO’s Andy Grove. Jeff Bezos. Like Zuckerberg, Bezos and Grove are still important, but known for their companies.

But when Time runs out of CEO’s, then it turns to desperate brainstorming. In 2006, Time’s man of the year was You. In 2003 it was The American Soldier. In 2002, it was The Whistleblowers. In 1993 it was The Peacemakers. In 1988 it was The Earth. In 1982 it was The Computer. In 1975 it was American Women. In 1969 it was Middle Americans. In 1966 it was Twenty-Five and Under.

So the one we can say about Time’s Man of the Year is that it’s actually more like Person, Thing or Word of the Year. And that it’s whatever overworked editors brainstorming at the last minute decide looks good on a cover.

Are Disney Animated Movies Back?

Tangled was a big enough hit to beat back Harry Potter to number 2. Not easy to do, though probably easier than it would have been a couple of years back. It’s even more remarkable because Disney had to bring Pixar on board because they couldn’t make any animated hits of their own. The Princess and the Frog was a flop. So was Bolt, Meet the Robinsons, Brother Bear, Home on the Range, Treasure Planet and right back to Lilo and Stitch, the big mouse’s last animated hit in 2002. And Disney still depends on Lilo and Stitch merchandising today.

What Tangled’s success really means is that Disney hand drawn animation is never coming back. Tangled is 3D. And they’ve had too many 2D failures to try again. Princess and the Frog was the end of an era. It also means that Disney will laser in on cheeky female protagonists. Forget the animal characters that powered Disney’s original brand. It’s going to be Bratz characters who are going to be princesses in Shrekified fantasy settings. Because that’s what Tangled really is. A blend of Disney’s princess brand with Shrek and its pop princess music empire.

Less risk taking is also part of the formula. Princess and the Frog used an African-American protagonist in a historical setting. Don’t expect to see that again. Disney animated movies might be back, but soulless and shameless. Forget the art. It’s going to be a formula from now on.

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