Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Where is this year's Sci Fi Classic Movie?

Last year saw a couple of films leap directly into the top drawer of the 'all time greats' in the shape of the bleak and twisted 'THE DARK KNIGHT' and the altogether lighter and brighter 'WALL-E', both of which were mandatory viewing (subject to the Batman opus's certification of course). There was also the extremely good 'HELLBOY 2' pushing to join them.

We're halfway through blockbuster season and there's no sign of this year coming up with a single genre film to impress. To date the closest we've come are the kiddie flick releases 'CORALINE' and 'MONSTERS vs ALIENS', both of which were highly enjoyable, but not really what you could call classics. 'STAR TREK' also entertained, but turned out to be surprisingly forgettable as well.

'WOLVERINE', 'TERMINATOR 4' and 'TRANSFORMERS 2' all turned out to be disappointing at best.

'HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF BLOOD PRINCE' is the last of the big budget hopes for the season, but advance word suggests that it'll entertain, but not surprise. '2012' is Roland Emmerich's new destructathon which might be spectacular, but will probably also be as empty as the robot mash ups of the year so far.

In fact it looks like the science fiction movie hope now lies with James Cameron's 'AVATAR' which might manage to make it into the cinemas for December, but in the UK is likely to be next year. Whilst he's a safe pair of hands is that the best that we can expect for half a year? The cost of sci-fi epics makes them a target for a cost-conscious film industry in these recession-hit times, so this summer could mark the last throes before the genre goes to sleep like ancient Magrathea, waiting for the economy to recover enough to afford them once again.

Saturday, 11 July 2009

Ghosts are Good For Business

Whilst the graveyard of television is littered with the headstones of short-lived science fiction series there is one corner of the genre that is positively booming and that is the one that deals with the life hereafter.

With Virgin 1 running GHOST WHISPERER with the latest series on Living TV and repeats showing on E4 it is significant that this uninspired and, frankly, repetitive show has reached its fourth season and shows no signs of running out of support. Each week Jennifer Love Hewitt meets a ghost, sorts out its social problems and everyone cries a lot. Ok that's unfair because the latest season has mixed up the plotting a lot, but it's essentially that.

GHOST WHISPERER though is not alone. MEDIUM is essentially the same story with a police twist as Patricia Arquette helps to solve crimes by talking to the victims, or dreaming about them to be completely accurate. It's got a strong cast and a great depiction of home life, but episodes can blur together, but it too is on its fourth season.

SUPERNATURAL is less traditional in its view of the afterlife, but it has demons and angels and all kinds of things that ought to be dead, so whilst it might not be positive about whether we'll like it the show is in no doubt that death is not the end. REAPER also deals with souls escaping from hell, but if Hell exists then so must Heaven.

In the UK, BEING HUMAN about a vampire living with a werewolf and a ghost has become a surprisingly strong hit for the BBC and Christmas brought ghost tales CROOKED HOUSE and AFFINITY to UK screens.

Perhaps it's a sign of our troubled times. In a world where tube trains are bombed, planes hit skyscrapers and religious hatred divides the world it is perhaps a comfort to believe that there is a better place waiting for us at the end. Perhaps science hasn't wiped out the sense of wonder in our world and this is just a sign of us looking for the magical in our mundane lives. Or, of course, it could be that we just like the shivers of a good old ghost story.

Whatever the reasons, ghosts are big business on the small screen and it seems likely that folks will be saying 'I see dead people' for quite some time to come.

Gag episodes R Us

Every genre show, providing that it lasts long enough, will sooner or later get around to the gag episode, an episode based around a single gimmick rather than a plot or character development.

SUPERNATURAL's Season 4 (recently finished on ITV) had an episode entitled Monster Movie which was shot in lush black and white with a gothic orchestral score to mimic the old Universal black and white monster movies, just as the title suggests.

The greates exponent of the gag episode was BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER which had all manner of gags. The most famous of these was Once More With Feeling, the musical episode, but no less impressive was Hush which was mostly silent and Superstar where the show was taken over by a minor character. Buffy's spin off ANGEL also has a notable gag episode in which Angel the vampire is turned into a muppet (no really).

In the STAR TREK universe, the main source of the gag episode was the holodeck. Thanks to this wonderful device VOYAGER was able to visit the Saturday morning serials in Bride of Chaotica, and DEEP SPACE NINE redid Bond in Our Man Bashir.

Unfortunately there is a downside to the gag episode when it is not done well. In the wake of CLOVERFIELD, the 'shot by a reporter' episode has appeared in SANCTUARY and SUPERNATURAL and was reworked in BABYLON 5's View From The Gallery to shockingly poor effect.

The gag episode is a sanity saving device for writers looking to put a new spin on a show to freshen it up for the audience and for themselves. This is all well and good if it serves the plot and characters, but if it's done just for the sake of doing it then it falls flat.

Friday, 30 January 2009

Eli Stone and Pushing Daisies cancelled - criminal

It's been a while since the news came that both Eli Stone and Pushing Daisies, two of the most excitingly original genre shows for some time, have been cancelled in the US (and, since that's where they're made, all over the world) in an act that ought to be prosecuted under crimes against humanity.
It is perhaps ironic that humanity is what is at the heart of both of these shows. Despite Eli Stone being about lawyers and Pushing Daisies being about death both these shows are relentlessly optimistic.
And that's what probably killed them.
With Iraq and Guantanamo Bay and global financial meltdown and poverty and everything crashing down around our ears perhaps it isn't the time for a message of goodness and kindness and positivity to be heard and yet this is the message for our times. Surely there can't be a better time for people to be getting the message that we ought to be nice to each other, that tolerance and goodness and just plain being nice are good things.
Eli Stone and Pushing Daisies occasionally tipped into sentimentality and sludge, but they were sweet and lovely and the world is a poorer place without them.

Where are all the new ideas?

There hasn't been a better time to be a genre viewer in the UK. In the first month of 2009 we see the return of The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Battlestar Galactica, Pushing Daisies, Supernatural and Lost. Great stuff all of them.
In the same month we will see one new show hit the screen - Being Human.
Whilst the sheer output of genre television at the moment and in the near future is astonishing there is depressingly little among it to shout out "That's New!" about. In the list above only two were new ideas when they first arrived (Lost and Pushing Daisies). You can say that Supernatural is new, but considering that almost each episode is a rerun of a popular horror or sci fi outing that isn't true at all.
The rule is that the franchise is king and if it doesn't have a built in recognition factor then it doesn't get made. Last year we saw Survivors based on an old BBC show and in the near future we will see The Prisoner based on an old ITV show. The big TV show of the moment Dr Who is older than I am (just) and has spawned two spin offs whilst the Beeb hasn't come up with one original genre show. Jekyll was a story that has been told time enough and again whilst Merlin is just a spin on the Once and Future King idea.
Having the brand recognition isn't necessarily enough either. Bionic Woman didn't run and Blade was a one season wonder (as in 'I wonder how they cocked it up so badly'). Flash Gordon failed to ignite any excitement despite being one of the biggest names in the Sci Fi universe.
It's the same in the cinema as well. Whilst you have to expect the big novel adaptations (Twilight) you shouldn't have to expect that every genre film is a remake (The Day the Earth Stood Still), clone (DOOMSDAY/MAD MAX 2) or yet another comic book (The Spirit, Watchmen, Iron Man, the Incredible Hulk, Hellboy 2 even Wanted).
Surely somebody somewhere has something new to say. Surely in this world of jaded entertainment reruns there is an idea that will catch on and fire itself up to the world-spanning phenomenon levels of Lost.
If there is, we haven't seen or heard tell of it yet.