We will dance high up balancing ballet… #Choose6 Futurama edition

Recreation of the Earth Flag "Old Freebie...

Recreation of the Earth Flag “Old Freebie”, as seen in the animated series, Futurama. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There is too much television.

There are also too many books, too many plays, and way too many films.  So much so that it must surely be impossible for the ordinary person to keep up with all the best pop culture and literature.  My housemate — made of much stronger stuff than me — managed to get through every episode of Breaking Bad.  Apparently, it got decent a few seasons in.  Myself, I can’t justify sitting through two awful seasons just on the off chance that it eventually gets better.

And it’s worse for science fiction fans.  Our television shows last decades.  If you were to watch every single episode of Star Trek (in each of its different series), it would take you 533 hours, 45 minutes to watch them all. That’s about 22 days of doing nothing but watching Star Trek, including the absolutely terrible Enterprise seasons.

What we need is a guide.  We need the fans to admit that not every single episode of our favourite shows are essential, enriching viewing.  We need people to sit down, scratch their chins and answer a simple question: ‘Which six episodes should I watch?’

Here’s my Futurama list:

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Maids and masquerades, this shadow depression… I appear to be watching rotten films

The problem with holidays is that every day feels like a weekend.  This lack of structure and urgency is further compounded by my insomnia.

In one sense, these are not good things.  I’m one of those people who needs structure and regularity, if for nothing else but messing with that structure and regularity.  The structure and regularity gives me something to which I can respond.

In another sense, it is quite liberating.  I’ve enjoyed the beach, caught up on a vast amount of reading, played a frighteningly large number of gaming hours, and watched a few films.  I’ve resisted the urge to blog about everything I read/watch/do/play because it becomes tedious and isn’t interesting for other people.  On the other hand, this blog isn’t terribly interesting so it might be forgiven.

In the past two days, I’ve watched two awful, awful films: I Am Number Four (accurately renamed ‘I am Number Snore’ by i09.com) and The King’s Speech (wacky pun from io9 forthcoming).

I Am Number Four (a.k.a. ‘You space kids stay off my lawn’)

TVTropes.org explains Chekhov’s Gun fairly well.  When you’re creating a science fiction world with aliens and alien technology and alien intergalactic politics, this sort of thing is important.  First, it cuts down on clutter (if the alien death ray isn’t going to shoot somebody, it doesn’t need to exist in the story) and it prevents deus ex machina endings.

I Am Number Four is a slave to Chekhov’s Gun.  The first twenty minutes of the film is nothing but running through all of the guns which will resolve the ‘plot’ crisis.  Oh, the lizard shape-shifted into a dog and the bad guys have massive dragons?  Oh, there’s a girl hunting down the ‘protagonist’ who isn’t ugly and is invulnerable to fire?  And so on and so forth until the film ham-fistedly gets to the angsty teenage rebellion of modern school life (bullies and girls and nerds, oh my).  At this point, the film pretty much forgets about the dog and the fire girl until they reappear at the conclusion of the film.

There’s nothing exciting about the film.  The lead character couldn’t act.  The interesting character dies Obi-Wan Kenobi-style, leaving the protagonist the opportunity to find his destiny.  Blah, blah, blah.

But why were the bad guys are bad?  The film suggests it’s because they’re ugly.  When I finally got bored with the narrative, I imagined that they were retaliating for some terrible war crime committed by the main character’s race.  Fueled by revenge, they were wiping all trace of their former oppressors from the universe.  For all I know, the bad guys were the last five guys from their race because Number Four’s dad used the Force to swallow their home planet, or something.

That’s what I want to see: a film where I understand why the villains are so evil.  This would also help me to understand why the protagonists feel that the only suitable response is murder.  There have been far too many films lately which tell the audience ‘This is the bad guy and trust us that he’s bad and needs to die.’  I’m sure there’s some political statement to be made here about Americans.

The King’s Speech (a.k.a. ‘When supporting characters wanted a bigger role’)

Historical fiction is the oldest kind of fiction.  You would think that we would be better at it.  Perfected by Herodotus and Livy, the point is to explore some great question about the human condition through real people and events.  The King’s Speech gives absolutely no exploration of anything worth exploring, and somehow manages to make interesting characters into wallpaper.  Helena Bonham-Carter has neither the presence nor the ability to convey the strength of the Queen Mum.  Timothy Spall trots out a weak caricature of Churchill.  And Derek Jacobi — probably the most adept actor in the film — barely gets to say boo.

There’s nothing terribly inspiring about the film.  As a person with a very slight stammer, I felt stammerers were exploited by the film (stammers are just caused by maladjusted childhood!  A bit of music and rolling around on the ground will fix it).  Lacking clear direction and a sense of purpose, the film bounces rapidly off the abdication and the rise of Nazism (both quickly noted as Bad Things) before the yawnfest of the climax (OMG, he delivers the very famous speech.  Who would have known?).  No time is allocated for character development (montages get rid of the worst of the stammer) and any tension created is resolved within three minutes, lest the audience becomes too excited.  Not a word of a lie, there is one major conflict between the two main characters (which is the protagonist?) which lasts all of about thirty seconds.  I began to write an SMS ‘An hour in and we finally get some tension’ but didn’t get to the word ‘finally’ before it was resolved.

Are there any good films coming out soon?

We’re not alive, we’re not alive… Story-telling and science fiction

I’ve been getting into the structure of stories lately, trying to work out why some movies are really gripping and interesting and why others are confused and dull.

It came to a head yesterday when I had a Superman marathon which went from the films to the television series, Smallville.

I think I got up to season five when I used to watch Smallville.

While I’m probably going to be derided for poor taste, I think I prefer Smallville to the films.  I think it’s because the television series is better constructed than the films.

The first film, for example, doesn’t get going until about 45 minutes into the film.  It opens with Jor-El conducting a trial of Zod.  It’s tense and interesting, then Zod is sealed in the Phantom Zone and shot off into space until Superman II.

Oh.

Then Jor-El has a massive fight with the Krypton Council and decided to send his only begotten son to Earth.  As you do.  There’s ten minutes of Clark Kent being a teenager and suffering identity crisis before he goes to spend 12 years off camera in the Arctic in his Fortress of Solitude. Continue reading

Ridi, Pagliaccio, sul tuo amore infranto! Ridi del duol che tavelena il cor! … And get a proper plot while you’re at it.

They need to teach aesthetics.  It ought to be a mandatory class.

It seems that even Ebsen Storm thought that Subterano (the film I rubbished in my last post) was terrible: he was credited as ‘ Mort S. Seben’ .

We can appreciate art in two ways.  The first is to appreciate its form.  The second is to appreciate its substance.

My classic example illustrates the first: The Old Man and the Sea.  It’s amazing but it has absolutely no substance.  Wagner is another good example: the substance is ugly (Germanic people are the shiznit, yo), but the form is magnificent.

It’s more difficult to find good art which can be appreciated for its substance alone.  The works of the Beatles, I think, satisfies this.  Musically, it’s rubbish.  Its message was an important reflection on its era (at least, the later stuff was).  Godzilla films were about the fear of science post WWII in Japan.

SPOILER WARNING… not that you’ll go watch the film, but it’s always best to be polite.

Subterano is about a dystopian future (shock!) where computer games (shock!) are a big deal and there’s a rebel who’s trying to escape from the authorities (shock!).  A group of polar opposite personalities (shock!) have to bond together in order to escape a death game (shock!).

The resolution to the film is that the protagonist and a few of his women escape the death game.  The death game was being conducted by a sociopathic adolescent who is upset that he failed to kill the protagonist and his women, so he starts up another game with a new set of victims… Continue reading

And still I find it so hard to say what I need to say… But I can mumble general comments

Bought a new computer today after my laptop exploded.  I don’t know what’s going on lately but my phone exploded (Nokia E71: I don’t recommend it.  It does what I want it to do, but Nokia’s interface programs are extremely fiddly and idiosyncratic.  I really don’t know why I stick with Nokia.  Sure, they’re better than Motorola — there’s several months of my life I want back — but they just seem so glitchy.  I’m looking forward to the LG watch phone but I think that they have a long way to go before they grow the e-beard), then my computer exploded (something appears to have caught fire inside it; the ventilation on the Acer Aspire 5920 is really, really shitty — seriously, what is it with so many laptops having the air vents pointing directly downwards where there’s no airflow?), then my car exploded.  Poor car.

I just wish it were symptomatic of super powers.  Then, at least, I’d be able to say: ‘Well, all my gizmos exploded, but at least I have superpowers.’

In related news, why is Australian science fiction so crappy?  TiVo caught Subterano which screened at some godawful hour the other night.  While it’s probably the case that Esben Storm is the worst screenwriter in Australia (even worse than Mick Molloy, which is quite an anti-achievement), the actors really aren’t doing much to salvage it (with Tasma Walton — best known for being Rove’s wife — being the sole exception).  Absolutely nothing makes sense, and you can see that Storm thought: ‘Ooooh, what would happen if we remade eXistenZ on a billionth of the budget and none of the creativity?’

Worse, I can’t understand how this dreck could find the funding to be made.  Given that Storm wrote the horror years of Round the Twist, we know that he didn’t have a soul to sell to raise the funds.  On further investigation, it seems that the Australian Film Finance Corporation coughed up the cash.  Given that the film died and went to straight-to-DVD hell, I’m guessing that the film didn’t break even.  How is it that the AFFC can facilitate the production of some excellent Australian movies and yet get roped into some absolute trainwrecks?

Alas for us who are to lazy to write our own suckarse screenplays.

But back to the main point.  Why is Australian scifi so craptastic?  Of everywhere on Earth, Australia should make the best science fiction.  Australia rewrote the book when it came to biology.  We’re in the process of crafting our national identity.  We’ve got a very different cultural narrative to that of the USians and Brits.  Between biology, identity, and culture, we should be generating brilliant futurism.  Instead, we make cruddy knockoffs of American(/Canadian) and English science fiction.

I dislike Superman. Despite the fundamental problem with his character — that he is invulnerable to everything except magic and concrete magic — he’s boringly one-dimensional.

Indeed, the only time he’s a good character is when he’s starring in one of those ‘What if…?’ tales.  For the best example to date, check out Red Son: instead of landing in the Bible Belt, Superman’s infant pod is knocked off course and he lands in Soviet Russia.  Instead of protecting America from supervillians, he protects the proletariat from the evils of American capitalism (headed by none other than Lex Luthor).

Then again, the only time Pingu is awesome is when he’s communist.

So when it’s reported that Chris Nolan might be rebooting the Superman movie line, I die a little bit more inside.  Superman is inextricably woven into the idea of the Ideal American.  For three generations, he’s been the ideation of the white, Protestant, American male: he’s always good, he’s always right, he always wins, and he always brings hope.

While Batman has strong links with the capitalist fantasy of dominating the underprivileged who threaten their power structure (he’s a wealthy industrialist who dresses up in fetish wear to punch up escapees from a psychward — Arkham Asylum — who threaten their power structure), Batman’s become a lot more interesting since the ’80s turned him into an antihero.

You can’t have a canonical antihero Superman.  That might not be a bad thing: we’ve become a little bit too absorbed with antiheroes over the past two decades and it gets a bit tiresome.  Oh look at you, you edgy outsider who doesn’t care for the rules but is determined to seek justice.  P.S. Your featureless mask is terrifying, Rorschach. Continue reading