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Community: Remedial Chaos Theory – Watch the full episode now.

Hulu – Community: Remedial Chaos Theory – Watch the full episode now.

I’m sharing this on the off chance that you somehow missed this. I’m both pleased (due to the quality) and displeased (because no proper scifi show has reached the level of storytelling of this sitcom’s scifi episode) to report that this, so far, is the best episode of science fiction television of the current fall season. Why do I say it’s so good? Because while superficially the episode is all about the gimmick, the episode is really a brilliant character study made possible by analyzing the current state of the characters but in different situations at the same point in time. Think about it.

Torchwood: Miracle Day

It may have taken a few years, but Torchwood was finally continued in another high-concept series – this time in a joint British and American production. Children of Earth‘s concept was the desperation of humanity against an impossible to defeat alien threat that simply wanted to use their pre-pubescent children for drugs. Miracle Day, the latest effort, had an even more amazing concept – what would happen to the world if people stopped dying? It wasn’t a matter of invincibility, mind you. Even when decapitated or crushed, people stayed alive through what could only be described as a miracle. What does humanity do with a population that only increases in number? Vile things, it would seem.

There’s a lot to talk about with this particular series, but I’m going to try to streamline it. This is an approach I wish that BBC and Starz had taken with the series, which would have been brilliant at 5 episodes but seemed stretched thin at the 10 episodes they aired. Good storytelling with proper buildups would no doubt have a bit of slow movement in the middle of the series, but Miracle Day almost came to a crawl as the writers struggled to figure out how to slow down the pace that a proper Torchwood story should have. What made Children of Earth so effective was that it felt like a five hour movie, whether you saw it all at once or over the course of days. Miracle Day seemed less fluid and contiguous. I suspect it has everything to do with the arbitrary episode count.

But the series was brilliant nonetheless. I love the idea of exploring how humanity tries to deal with overpopulation (categorize and eliminate). I love the idea of taking the Torchwood team out of Wales, proving that their efforts really do affect the world. I love that they were taken away from the Torchwood tech, meaning that the solution to each problem did not depend on having the right miracle gadget. They played it smart, and I appreciate the series for that. The spirited performances also helped me to believe in the story and the new characters.

Bill Pullman did an amazing job as Oswald Danes, convicted pedo-rapist/murderer and first high-profile survivor through the miracle. I loved watching this complete slime rise in popularity despite how horrible everyone acknowledged he was, and I loved Captain Jack Harkness’ deconstruction of the man Oswald was hiding inside. His character arc was very subtle, but it was there. He basked in his glory until he realized that he was being recategorized as no longer living but rather as someone who should not be allowed to live. In helping to end the miracle, he found some level of redemption in the eyes of the viewers. Meanwhile, he proudly boasted he would likely go to hell when he was finally able to die, finally accepting his fate.

But what about the climax? To be honest, the payoff for the series was pretty damn disappointing. It should be a spoiler to say that some weird, two-opening creature that lives literally through the Earth was the cause of the miracle, but a lack of any sort of build-up or worthwhile explanation renders the spoiler pretty much null. It simply exists, and it proves Jack’s theory that the miracle was somehow caused by morphogenic field alteration. No, this isn’t made up sci-fi terminology. However, its application here is again stretched thin. The reversal of the morphogenic field needed to be explored further to be satisfactory. All the time they had was squandered.

I can’t help but think that I’m more intrigued by the concept of the series than anything else, and that helps me to acknowledge the poorer aspects but look past them for the rest. I’m not sure if any other show would take a chance on running a full concept through for a season. For any other show, this would have been a two-parter.

So would I recommend Miracle Day? Probably. I would sooner recommend Children of Earth, as that is truly mind blowing and heartbreaking. Miracle Day felt like it was almost but not quite the same. Maybe if they get another chance, if the ratings didn’t drop too much, they can build upon this and make a much better series. They already put in sequel hooks, after all. Still, more Torchwood is never a bad thing in my book.

Give the networks some credit

The closing of multiple Borders Bookstores nationwide has left me with some mixed feelings. On the one hand, I grew up going to Borders at least once a month and walking away with some shining treasure. Not only was Borders where I discovered the wonderful novel Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, but that is where I also picked up my one and only copy of Diehard GameFan magazine. That magazine is unparalleled to this day. It’s probably why I have such warped sensibilities about video games. I later went to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, which happens to feature the first Borders Bookstore right on its campus.

But on the other hand, sales speak loudly to my multimedia habits. It was difficult to hold back, but I refused to go until the minimum discounted price was 50%. My fiancee and I went and tried to find new treasures. By then the store was already picked apart by people who give in too easily. Scott Pilgrim books and DVDs were not to be found, nor were any of the more exciting graphic novels and manga. The science fiction was left bare once we realized that the only items present were derivative materials and new releases that had been pulled out of overstock. The only section that contained anything at all worthwhile was the DVD section, because their discounted material was still around the cost most stores charge for the items – which makes me wonder if one business failing of Borders was the fact that Borders is the only store anywhere that sells DVDs at MSRP.

Click for a Veridian Dynamics commercial from the show

I came across two of my favorite recently canceled shows: Dollhouse (Season 2) and Better Off Ted (Season 1). I think overall I saved approximately $8 on what they would cost me through Amazon, but I didn’t care. These were shows that belonged in my collection. It’s one of the few times in recent years that I ignored my $15 per DVD/set limit.

Interestingly, I had actually been thinking about canceled shows quite a bit. This was sparked by my reading too many comments on various blogs about enthusiast materials. There is an annoying aspect of fandom that seems to require everyone think the same way and regard all material in a similar fashion. The nail that sticks out gets hammered down. New movies that get released require the same opinion, and only certain television shows require support. Then there’s the vilification of anything that gets in the way. The most common form of this is the canceled TV series, whose failure must be blamed on the television network. Read the rest of this entry

Hanna

"Adapt or die" sounds like the tagline Enix should have proposed for E.V.O.: Search for Eden

I just got back from seeing Hanna, and the movie definitely ranks up there with the good movies that have come out this year. Good but not great. In the end, there wasn’t enough material there to make me think I saw a full movie. It was kind of empty.

Then it hit me. Hanna herself, having grown up in the forest without any real social interaction or anything beyond a rote understanding of life, was a blank slate. There wasn’t much there to differentiate her from any of the classic video game avatars. She went through several levels before she reached the end: the facility, the desert, the city, and finally the amusement park. While she did not encounter battles every step of the way, she did gain experience. In the end, she beat the big bad. Game over. Credits. Insert more money to play again.

It is amusing to see this movie compared to Sucker Punch in various reviews. While Sucker Punch looked like a video game, Hanna played like one. Critics say that Hanna is the superior film, but I have to tip my hat to Sucker Punch because I find difficulty enjoying video games that don’t allow me to actually play them.

The Adjustment Bureau

Some people have complained that the red dress never appears in the film, but the point is the symbolism of her being the red apple that damns him out of the paradise of political power.

Philip K. Dick’s back catalog of paranoid insanity is sadly becoming easy pickings for Hollywood’s drought of ideas. While Blade Runner and Minority Report have become classics for one reason or another, films like Paycheck and Next make fans almost ashamed of their beloved Dick. The general problem is that few truly understand the complex and sometimes schizophrenic nature of the material. Most films attempt to simplify it, which changes it into something else entirely. And then it doesn’t work.

The Adjustment Bureau could have been a complete toss-up. Showcased in this story is Dick’s paranoid view of the world around him, how there is a second layer discretely manipulating the first layer. Whether it is a shadow conspiracy or the hand of God does not matter. What matters is that people are not noticing. What matters is that people are having their choices nullified and reduced to insignificance. A world like that causes existential angst. It’s nihilism based not on a lack of reward but on lack of involvement instead.

Read the rest of this entry

Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Fan Narcissism

Warner Bros. has officially pulled the trigger on a Buffy the Vampire Slayer reboot, and the Buffy fandom has already cried foul because Joss Whedon is not involved. He really does not even need to be. He had seven years on the series, five for Angel (which only gave him one additional year), and an incredibly interesting comic book series that looks like it will continue for some time. Whedon’s work still exists, and a reboot cannot discredit that.

I have definitely cried foul over reboots. The Transformers movies bother me, but not because they are reboots. They were just bad movies. Star Trek definitely bothered me, but I am over it. At the same time, Battlestar Galactica was a both a reboot and an amazing series. Even The Prisoner reboot had its positives. Objectively, reboots do no damage to the original properties. In fact, they draw more attention to the overall franchise and work as nice entry points for new fans. So what is the problem? Read the rest of this entry