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Monthly Archives: September 2011

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The End of the Office

The Office isn’t off the air yet and its ratings are good and NBC is desperate enough that it will keep on paying money to keep it on the air. When the competition is Parks and Recreation and Community, shows that no one outside LA and New York even watches, then it doesn’t have too much to worry about, but the season premiere is a reminder of how completely the show has been ruined.

Seasons 1 and 2, the Office was funny without being a sitcom. It was exaggerated but it also had the reality of the workplace, the senseless misery and lack of control, the awkwardness of the people you work with whom you’re around all day but don’t really know or like, and the sense that you would rather be doing something else if you weren’t being paid to do this pointless thing.

Then the show let go of the reality more and more, and just let the characters run wild on a collision course with each other. It was close to a sitcom but it was still unexpected, awkward and felt grounded in a workplace. Year by year that changed, and then this is the season that it became a sitcom. A sitcom without a laugh track, but with all the lameness.

The Office was always going to become a sitcom, the more Michael became Homer Simpson and Dwight was allowed to run wild, and Jim and Pam became smug parents, the closer it got. But nothing cliched it like a show digging up a plot that almost every office sitcom has toyed with, the boss dividing the office by turning them against each other, and the moment where Andy walks in to deliver a sitcom cliche of standing up for his fellow workers that is determined to make viewers feel good, without earning it. It’s the end.

Summer of Blockbuster Failures

Four underperforming comic book movies. A Conan reboot that bombed. And a whole lot of other underformers made this the summer of blockbuster failures.

Now most of these movies haven’t really lost money or not as much it seems, but they’re still failures. Cowboys and Aliens was a major failure, but it could have been worse. At least it wasn’t Conan. Captain America pulled in a hefty enough international box office that its mediocre domestic performance didn’t hurt too badly… but it wasn’t much good either. X-Men First Class didn’t even make it that far and took in most of its money from foreign box office. Green Lantern barely passed a 100 mil. Even Thor which was supposed to be a winner didn’t pass 200 mil and that puts it right up there with Wolverine.

There were some winners. The awful Apes kept its budget low and profited big even though its box office total isn’t that fantastic. Harry Potter minted money for its last film. But the Smurfs were so-so in America taking in its cash internationally (not a surprise, Tintin will do the same.) Transformers 3 made plenty of money but didn’t match Transformers 2. Not a good trajectory.

The sequels? Final Destination 5, Spy Kids Whatever didn’t live up to franchise box office total. The Hangover II scored plenty of cash despite or maybe because it was the same movie.

Pirates of the Caribbean 4 underperformed in the US but took insane amounts of money internationally. And I mean insane. We’re talking over a 100 million in Japan. That’s half of what the movie made in the US. 63 million in Russia. 54 million in the UK. 70 million in China. So this franchise isn’t going anywhere no matter how Americans neglect it.

But the American box office is weakening and the business models will have to change. Throwing a ton of cash at a tentpole has become a better strategy internationally than at home.

Some Things… Aren’t Meant to be Changed…

Some cliches never go away. Flash back to Jurassic Park with Richard Attenborough’s John Hammond delivering the same embarrassing mad scientist speech in a maudlin way, that has been delivered over and over again. Usually this happens right around the time giant radioactive animals begin rampaging around the countryside. And the arrogant scientists are held responsible for playing white coated deities.

Sure animal research doesn’t lead to giant animal rampages, but any time it could. And the attitude comes from outside the movies and goes outside it. Clone a sheep? You’re just waiting for trouble in the form of hordes of giant rampaging radioactive sheep. Bang some atoms together and you’re just waiting for trouble to happen. Why do you have to experiment and explore the universe? Some things aren’t meant to be changed.

Not that this stops those same people from wanting the latest and greatest medical treatments right now. But we shouldn’t change things, except the ones we benefit from changing.

Studios and Theaters Get the Blame

The Video on Demand battle between studios and theater owners is opening up another posturing front. Both theaters and studios are complaining about how much money they aren’t making. But they aren’t making money because they’re both trying to squeeze each other and moviegoers too aggressively.

Skyrocketing budgets and ad costs, and theater consolidation and investment in renovations have hiked up costs on both sides. And those costs have been triply passed on to customers. Movie prices have gotten outrageous and that translates into fewer people showing up. Studios investment more in fewer movies and count on huge box office takes to pay off their investment. It’s a bad business model that’s called putting your cinematic eggs in one weekend. And when one movie with 150 to 200 million in costs crashes and burns, there’s not much chance of recovery.

Studios have stripped away originality and in cooperation with theater owners are turning theaters into amusement parks, cranking out 3D rides based on some randomly familiar IP. Alvin and the Chipmunks. Airbender. Monopoly. GI Joe. These aren’t movies anymore. They’re overpriced rides. And when a ride fails, it takes everything with it.

Studios and theaters need to revisit their business model. Spending more on less and expecting everyone to pay more doesn’t work. Making more movies for less and cutting theater prices would give better results in a bad economy. The premium model on a national level is a no go. And studios and theaters are destroying the movie to make more money.

Roddenberry’s Star Trek Pitch a Little Too Wedded to Alternate Earths

The original Star Trek pitch. This isn’t actually new, but blogs think anything that wasn’t on the internet before is new. So okay it’s new. If you haven’t read Stephen Whitfield, it’s new to you.

What’s interesting about the pitch is that there are stories here that are better than many of the actual episodes that got made. And others that read better than the way they were implemented. But also that Roddenberry was focused more on using alternate earths to comment on our earth, than on space exploration. It’s almost as if Roddenberry was trying to make Sliders or Gateways, not Star Trek.

Which begs the question why didn’t Roddenberry jettison the starship and just build a gateway that his explorers could move through. Maybe he didn’t see the contradiction of taking a starship to explore other earths. Back in the 1960’s, parallel earths in space weren’t considered as crazy in Science Fiction.

Star Trek didn’t actually have all that many parallel earths, though the ones we did have were too many. President Capone was awkwardly explained as coming about because of a book left behind, not because this was a planet where Capone actually took office. Going to Rome or watching Yanks and Coms fight each other was equally embarrassing. What Star Trek did best was comment on human nature, instead of naked attempts to comment on history.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes… Worst Movie of 2011?

Imagine a few hundred apes escape? End of civilization, right. That’s the plot of Rise of the Planet of the Apes, an early contender for the worst movie of 2011. The apes are smart. Really smart. So smart that they rampage through traffic. How will we ever confront this terrible threat of leaping apes with our puny machine guns, hopelessly weak atomic weapons and millions and millions of troops who can’t possibly stand up to monkeys.

People like to take shots at Burton’s Planet of the Apes, but at least it had a sense of wonder. This is apes as monsters. An idea so stupid it could only appear in studio notes. But the selling point will be the ape CG. Burton’s apes were more human, but these apes are shiny. They have expressions. And we’re supposed to appreciate that.

Least helpful is James Franco, who’s supposed to be a research scientist or guy who gives speeches to them, doing his stoned act as the least believable scientist speech giving guy ever. And his speeches. “You don’t know what they’re capable of.” “Some things aren’t meant to be changed.” The two most original lines in monster movie history.

Straw Dogs, Then and Now

Straw Dogs was one of the movies that it made the least sense to remake. But if you do remake it, swapping out Dustin Hoffman for James Marsden makes even less sense, not just from the acting angle, but because putting a guy who plays comic book superheroes into a suit and sticking glasses on him is just a pose. Having Dustin Hoffman go violent was a game changer. Having James Marsden do it is no biggie.

Going from England to American hicks makes it an even bigger cliche and you end up with something that looks a lot like a hundred other movies. The undertone of contempt in the relationship is also missing. So the real question then is why bother.

Were there are a lot of people who wanted to see a remake of Straw Dogs? I doubt there’s anyone who saw Straw Dogs, who wanted to see a remake of Straw Dogs. It’s like a remake of 2001 or Taxi Driver (I’m sure that’s coming) except that’s way more obscure. And if you’re going to make a generic thriller loosely based on a famous movie, what’s the market for it? There isn’t one.

The Scar Crow Men by Mark Chadbourn book review

Amid all the books of fantasy detectives and secret agents, The Scar Crow Men is the story of a fantasy secret agent in the 17th century. Fair enough. But what sets the Scar Crow Men apart is its grounding in a historical reality, Mark Chadbourn does a great job of bringing London of the period to life in all its strangeness.

Unfortunately the book is also uneven. There are absolutely great moments of Will and his allies dodging around plague pits and palaces on the run from a supernatural enemy, the fay, who have unnatural powers, torture and kill on a whim, and whose very sight drives men mad. And then the corner turns and the fay become just more redshirts to be mown down by Will, and even when they capture him, what follows is the usual “Let me tell you all my plans right before you escape from my fortress” bit.

Somewhere halfway through Scar Crow Men, and its promising beginning in the intrigue of the court and the grimness of the alleys of London, the book jettisons most of the horror and trades it in for cliches. The visit to France to encounter the thing that drove a man so mad that he killed an entire village, leads to nothing. The climactic hunt for the magic weapon that will change everything is anticlimactic and the weapon and how it works is undeveloped.

But to add insult to injury, the closing of the book reveals that the entire thing was pointless leaving The Scar Crow Men with an idiot plot.

Spoilers begin here…

The entire plot hinged on Kit Marlowe, the playwright, having known what was really going on, hiding the information in a ridiculously complicated cipher scattered around all over the place. It never made much sense that he would do this, and there was no real point to him doing it. The enemy already knew its own nature, so there was never anything to hide, and no reason Marlowe couldn’t have just put the actual information in his message.

Still that level of complexity can be accepted for the narrative’s sake… until Chadbourn has Marlowe step out in the final scene (after beating and tying up Will for no particular reason) to reveal that he was around all along, and could have told him how to defeat the plot against England at any time. That’s when a ridiculous plot becomes an idiot plot. (If you guessed that Chadbourn then reveals that Marlowe is the real Shakespeare, 2 points for nailing the last cliche.)

Marlowe is the shadow that hangs over The Scar Crow Men. Chadbourn worships him and insists on having all the characters worship him. He sets the plot in motion by his pointless secrecy, and keeps it going that way. And his return from the dead mans that there was no reason for anything that happened, except that if Marlowe had sent a brief note, it would have been a shorter and perhaps better novel.

Exclusive Plans for Dragon Age 3 Revealed

Fans have been waiting for it by the dozens and ever since the smash success of Dragon Age II, EA and Bioware have been eager to reveal the work being done on the sequel.

dragon age“Dragon Age III will take the Dragon Age II experience to the next level,” Mark Laidlaw promised. “Everything you loved about that game will be even better here. Dragon Age II took place in a single city over ten years, but Dragon Age III will take place over twenty years… in one room.”

EA expects players to look forward to a return to the world of Thedas, or one room in it, to explore that room, to battle armies of enemies who suddenly appear in the room.

“We’ve made some challenging choices here,” Laidlaw said, “for example you can’t go left anymore, just right. And we feel that really expands the player’s horizons. Because it’s all about choice and telling people that they can’t go left challenges them, it makes them think about the nature of choice in their own lives.”

As before the player will take on the role of Hawke, a penniless refugee turned champion who is bound on an amazing adventure in a single room. Along with his companions, four of whom are gay, he will play a major role in shaping the future of the room, and romance his companions by clicking on options and then saying unpredictable, but sexually harassing things to them.

“This is about a story,” Laidlaw said, “that takes place over twenty years, that raises real world questions about terrorism, the environment and how tight my headband is. It will showcase a brand new engine that will make every corner of the room shine. And it will allow you to battle without even thinking about it. All you have to do is keep hitting a button and you will automatically win.”

Reviewers who are in no way beholden to EA have already given the game an average score of 94 before even seeing it and Bioware promises a special DLC expansion, The Unpantsed Prince, that ingame characters will constantly mention to you until you break down and buy it.

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