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Brannon Braga’s 24 Berman – Justman Star Trek Reference

April 1, 2009

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Make of it what you will.

Having exhausted all its own cliches, 24 brought some Trek people on board. Well they brought Manny Cotto on board, and looks like Manny brought Brannon Braga on board. So the 16th episode of 24’s 7th Season was co-written by Brannon Braga and Manny Cotto.

In it President Taylor’s demented power hungry daughter proposes Rick Berman as a replacement to the Chief of Staff she forced out, countering her mother’s suggestion of Bob Justman. Her argument for Rick Berman, “never underestimate the value of a fresh perspective”.

Considering what Rick Berman did to Star Trek, I think we should totally underestimate it. But for those not in the know, Bob Justman was the producer of Star Trek’s original series. Rick Berman was the executive producer of everything after that, once Roddenberry had been conveniently tucked out of the way. Brannon Braga who co-wrote the episode was the creator and executive producer of half of those shows. So his support for Rick Berman’s fresh perspective might be a little biased.

At least we haven’t gotten any word of J.J. Abrams for Chief of Staff.

Now since the proposal is made by an evil character, I’m not sure if that’s Brannon Braga expressing some regret, or just throwing in an in-joke. I would go with Stupid Door Number 2 on that one.

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Get Your Frakking Religion out of my Science Fiction

March 29, 2009

Once upon a time in the good old days when cars were made in Detroit, skirts were short and everyone hated the Irish; a Science Fiction TV Show meant you would be watching a series focusing on science. SCIENCE. And that was usually the way it went. When James T. Kirk encountered a religion, it was usually a computer programming people to be ignorant, so naturally he blew it up, had sex with some of the locals and flew away faster than light before he could be hit with a paternity suit.

And do you know why he did it? Because James T. Kirk knew what Ron Moore didn’t, that Religion and Science Fiction don’t mix. The great adventure of space is space itself. Take a look at a Nebula, a black hole, the entire Milky Way galaxy. Study a pulsar, discover alien life and alternate forms of evolution. You didn’t need religious awe, when you had the awe of the amazing universe around you.

Then all that began to change. George Lucas brought in technomysticism, Battlestar Galactica mixed together Mormonism into a frontier travel metaphor. None of that was too bad. Yet. Because Science Fiction on TV was still basically Science Fiction. It might be bad, it might be good, but it was still basically about exploring and experience strange things.

The end began with Babylon 5 and DS9. The X-Files played their part, but it was hardly the series to influence the rest of SciFi TV. Instead B5 and DS9 set the standard for turning Science Fiction TV into Pseudo-Religious gibberish. Henceforth every Starship Captain would also double as The Chosen One, with a great prophesied destiny, e.g. Andromeda. And if it wasn’t him, it would be someone else. There would be tests of faith, discussions on the meaning of religion and none of it would matter a damn.

When Battlestar Galactica ended with the “revelation” that the whole damn thing had been orchestrated by two “angels”, it was the ridiculous but inevitable end that reflected the kind of stupidity that Ron Moore had brought to DS9. Deep Space Nine began with Sisko coming on board and learning to communicate with aliens who perceived time in a whole other way. That was one of DS9’s most intriguing episodes. By the time the series had ended, half the cast was worshiping the aliens as gods, and Sisko had been revealed to be their spawn with a mission to fight the other aliens, who were “evil”. This on a Star Trek series, which had never even accepted that a race was hopelessly evil.

That was what Ron Moore’s injection of religion into DS9 accomplished. It turned Science Fiction into religion. It turned the idea of making contact with an alien race that saw the world differently, into taking their statements on faith, viewing everything that happened as inevitable and outright worshiping them.

I don’t have to tell you what it did to Battlestar Galactica. At least there Ron Moore was honest about wanting to get rid of Science Fiction in favor of religious twaddle. So we had a non-SF series about a bunch of starships created by a society that still drives hummers, uses projectile weapons and corded telephones… all dedicated to the idea of accepting religion and turning into primitive savages by giving up technology.

This is your Science Fiction. This is your Science Fiction on Religion. Any questions?

The worst part of it is that after all that, none of these attempts to inject religion into SF TV actually tell us anything new about either religion or Science Fiction. The idea of aliens who experience time differently than we do is an interesting one. The idea that the Captain is a half-divinity whose mission is to fight evil sparkly aliens by jumping into a pit of fire or something… well it’s not an idea at all. It’s just a collection of badly cribbed cliches.

Science Fiction TV shows have nothing new to tell us about faith. Zero. Zippo. All they can do is dramatize it. And drive the Science Fiction out completely.

It’s time to actually bring back Science Fiction to TV. And I don’t mean Caprica airing on the SyFy channel. I mean Space. The big adventure. Worlds unexplored. Lifeforms that are strange and different than us. The big questions. And to do that, you’ll have to get your frakking religion out of my Science Fiction.

I don’t want to hear any more stories about Faith, or Prophecies or some idiot Hollywood producer’s idea of religion that he picked up by watching an episode of Oprah. Enough. I am not watching them anymore. I want Science Fiction. I want Robert Heinlein, I want Isaac Asimov, I want Arthur C. Clarke. I want the kind of vision of humanity’s technological future that Science Fiction used to inspire.

If you want to tell a story about religion, wait till your next confession.

I Watched the Battlestar Galactica Series Finale and it made me Retarded

March 22, 2009

Thank you Ron Moore.

Five years of running a SciFi series into the ground ended with two hours. Watching the extended pile of flashbacks set to sentimental New Age music you call a series finale brought that to an end. At least until Caprica airs, and dies horribly, along with the minds of the last deluded fanboys who still think your remake was some staggering work of transcendent genius.

Well you sure showed them.

I watched Daybreak Part 2, and every 15 minutes of it made me more and more retarded. First Adama, the XO, both of the Fleet’s Presidents, and half the useful officers, including the original Final 5, go off on a suicide mission to rescue a little girl. Cute.

Sure it seems like Cylons and humans can have kids anyway, but Adama decides to take everyone down to rescue her, and leaves Gaeta’s boyfriend in command, and makes him Admiral on top of that. Because apparently everyone in the fleet loves and respects him, something that happened while we weren’t looking.

As startling as the sight of humans fighting Cylons is for the first time in many years on the show, this brief diversion from the usual BSG storyline of the characters getting drunk, remembering the good times and yelling at each other is only brief.

Instead we soon head for Earth, the real Earth, or Earth 2. There Adama Jr decides we should break the cycle of violence by giving up all technology and living in caves. Because you know technology is evil. First you invent spaceships, then you invent evil robots and it all goes to hell from here.  A point driven home by the conclusion in modern day New York City that ominously plays Bear’s reworked Dylan while kids stare at useless Japanese toy robots.

Oh no! Can’t you foolish Japanese people see you’ve doomed the species all over again by building toy robots that fearsomely clap their hands!

Of course even though the Fleet constantly rebels against the Adamas, this time everyone embraces the plan, even though it means living without basic hygiene or elementary medicine. Because I guess everyone in the fleet is down with having lots of dead babies and a lifespan that ends at 40, in order to have a clean slate.

And technology is bad. That is unless you want to fly your girlfriend around to look at some flamingos while you propose to her. Otherwise it’s BAD. Real bad.

And you know what ends the cycle of violence? Going back to a stone age society and resource scarcities. Because it’s technology that kills people, not people.

BSG isn’t unique in its Luddite approach. It’s just an insult to call Luddite New Age crap like this Science Fiction. Science Fiction was about imagining the possibilities. BSG is about ignoring the possibilities and flying your starships into the sun, and looking cheerfully at stretches of grass that are somehow free of predators and diseases that will kill you the moment you try to drink some standing water. That kind of retarded luddism is what Hollywood producers who think their spa getaways are a return to nature bring to the party.

Oh look, let me go put up a cabin. No need to worry, I won’t drop a log on my foot, develop a gangrene infection and die because I’m miles from help and I flew all my raptors into the sun. No, because I’m from Hollywood.

Of course if all that retardation wasn’t enough, for years now Battlestar Galactica was busy promising to explain all its “mysteries”. And then comes the series finale and there are no revelations. Zippo. Unless you count the “revelation” that the whole opera house vision was nothing more than a metaphor for the time that Hera would run away, Baltar and Captica Six would find her, and then stumble into a standoff, that wouldn’t exist if not for them carrying her into it.

Who’s Starbuck? We’re never told. Instead she mouths some nonsense about how glad she is that her journey is over. Who are the Baltar and Captica that they see in their visions? No answer either, except that they apparently work for some powerful deity.

In between all the flashbacks, which take up half the finale, to such compelling moments as Rosyln deciding not to sleep with a younger man and Adama deciding not to retire, and my eyes deciding to glaze over… there’s one thing that is pretty clear. And it’s that Ron Moore saw Return of the King and decided that it would be really great to end the episode 5 or 6 times. Classy.

Tell you what Ron, forget Caprica. I want to see you follow up the rest of this magnificent finale. Damn it, I want Battlestar Galactica Season 6.

I want to see Adama Jr crapping his pants with dysentery. I want to see the Cylon skinjobs and humans uniting in throwing used coffee cans at him because the drought means they have no food and they’re starving to death. I want to see Adama Sr, get sunstruck and wander around preaching his own religion while swilling imaginary booze. I want to see Chief sexually assaulting goats because he decided to spend the rest of his life on an island with no people on it. I want to see Saul and his slutty girlfriend living in a tree and smacking the hell out of each other because she keeps cheating on him with the natives.

And most of all I want to see a giant pile of bones, the remains of the human race on Earth, eaten by lions, killed by disease and common accidents, hunger, and of course by the friendly natives whose spears couldn’t possibly be used for violence. And then I want to see the list of survivors standing at Zero.

Oh and if you could clear up how Eve, an African woman, is really an Aryan blond robot with a glowing spine, that would be cool too.

Sincerely

Me

Give me my Damn 12 Bucks Back (My Open Letter to Watchmen’s David Hayter)

March 17, 2009

Last week you published an open letter to fans asking us to go see Watchmen a second time in order to support smart edgy adaptations of comic books. So I went a second time, hoping that this time I wouldn’t waste a few hours sitting through an awful butchery of Alan Moore’s work just so the director of 300 could show off how many more neat camera tricks and slow motion scenes he could squeeze out. And after all that I’ve got one thing to say to you, Give me my damn twelve bucks back.

There’s only one good thing about the cinematic abortion you proudly participated in, and it sure as hell isn’t in the script. It has three names, the last one is Hale.  Everything else is rubbish.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a nitpicker or obsessive. Keep the squid or don’t keep the squid. Cut down some plot lines. Even make the movie sound like a damn Best of the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s Radio station. I can live with all that. I can even survive Malin Akkerman doing her best to audition for the reboot of Melrose Place, and I can even accept your lame attempt to modernize the story by throwing in the energy crisis and making Dr. Manhattan the one who gets the blame. (Yes those are spoilers, you’ve now been spoiled. Live with it.) It’s a halfway clever idea, and a genuinely talented writer might have made it work. You didn’t, but I could still accept all that if there was some larger redeeming value to the whole damn movie. Too bad there wasn’t.

Let me be clear about this, Watchmen has one thing and only one thing to offer, and that’s the chance to see Jackie Earle Hale deliver a mostly pitch perfect take on Rorschach. Cool yes, worth 25 bucks, no. Not when the rest of the movie is a disconnected cut and paste jumble of scenes that still somehow manages to drag. Not when half the performances are terrible. And oh yeah, the attack on Manhattan is replaced with a 2 second CGI scene from Independence Day.

Ballsy, David? No you wussed out. And you wussed out big time. Ballsy doesn’t mean splattering people in blood in slow motion while Bob Dylan croaks in the background. Ballsy doesn’t mean showing a guy’s hands getting sawed off. Lots of R Rated movies can do things like that. Ballsy means having Dr. Manhattan and Silk Spectre walk down the street and see the dead bodies, the corpses of people who were doing nothing more than eating take out, murdered for world peace. It means showing Ozymandias triumphantly raising his arms in victory,  Nixon style, while the TV sets he’s watching fill with corpses. It means realizing that he’s no different than the same people who were ready to drop the bombs and that the village had been destroyed to save the village.

Where is that in your “ballsy” movie? It wasn’t there because you and Snyder didn’t have the guts to put it in among the soft core blue lit porno and the mutilations. You couldn’t even manage to do what Cloverfield did. That’s how much you suck.

All the sad parade of compromises might have been worth it if Watchmen had managed to hold on to the ideas and actually make people think, instead of being a gloomy version of 24 with more capes. Your appeal to the fanboys showed how much you didn’t get it. Watchmen isn’t Batman or Superman. There are no drooling fanboys who want to see their superhero kick ass on the big screen. Watchmen dissected the whole premise of superhero comics and asked you to question it. The only thing the movie makes you question, is why Hollywood just can’t seem to get it. Ever.

Closing your letter by saying we’ll come back like Sally was a wonderful touch of class. But I’ll give you that much, whoever came back did see a rape. Not just the one on screen, but you and Zack raping Alan Moore’s Watchmen on a big screen backed by a whole lot of CGI and not a single clue. I saw. I came back. I was disgusted.

Now give me my damn twelve bucks back.

Watchmen, how a Movie went head to head with a great Comic Book and lost

March 13, 2009

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Alan Moore’s Watchmen was epic and dense. Zack Snyder’s Watchmen is long and hollow. If you want the bare bones difference between the movie and the graphic novel, ladies and gentlemen, there you have it.

Anyone who remembers Peter Jackson’s obsessive focus on the technical details, the armor, the weapons, the clothes and the sets, only to wipe out some of the most vital scenes in the trilogy and replace them with his ideas of what should happen, had to be getting flashbacks when Zack Snyder kept showcasing the sets, the costumes and telling us how well he recreated the world of Watchmen. There’s no better tell for when a writer and director have missed the point, then when they’re busy telling you how well they recreated a visual world, because they’re focusing on the wrong thing.

In Watchmen Zack Snyder very succesfully recreated what Dave Gibbons brought to Watchmen. He completely failed to recreate what Alan Moore brought to Watchmen. No wonder what Gibbons approved and Moore didn’t. It’s easy enough to recreate an artist’s work, it’s the ideas in the written word that are so hard to put on screen. And for all his technical facility, Snyder fails badly.

Snyder took a graphic novel with complex moral and political ideas, and faithfully recreated the look of it, amped up the violence, and made it “current” by focusing on the energy crisis. The soundtrack got filled up with Bob Dylan numbers and other self-conscious period music, Snyder dug into his 300 bag of tricks for slow motion shots and wacky camera angles made possible only by special effects. And did I mention the sex and the violence? That’s right folks, graphically fake CGI amputations, fake CGI blood splatterings, and some pointless nudity from half the cast. Including fake CGI nudity from Dr. Manhattan.

The one piece of violence that Snyder couldn’t show was the destruction of half of Manhattan and the piles of corpses falling out of buildings. That actually filled page after page of Watchmen and represents the moral complexity of the story. So naturally Snyder left it out in favor of showing us fake CGI amputations and people being punched in slow bloody motion. The difference of course is between meaningful violence and meaningless violence. The death toll in New York City raised serious moral questions. A fat guy’s arms being amputated by another criminal is meaningless Hollywood violence. It’s no surprise that 300 director Zack Snyder chooses to go the Hollywood route. And it’s a testament that the fears that Snyder would turn Watchmen into 300 were correct. Except 300’s ending had more balls than Watchmen’s ending did.

The Watchmen cast fall well into the uneven category.  Patrick Wilson seems to be playing Nite Owl as Chevy Chase in full Clark Griswold mode, while Matthew Goode almost gets Adrian Veldt right, but the movie denies him his full share of villainy. Instead Watchmen’s ending is almost too eager to sanitize him, cutting out the comic’s most iconic panel of Veldt triumphantly raising his arms in victory in front of a television set of corpses. Billy Crudup was apparently told to play Dr. Manhattan as an aimlessly gentle soul, a performance that minimizes Manhattan’s more ruthless side, and the charachter’s impact. Haley is notable for delivering with every line  and Malin Akerman is notable for being so bad that it’s hard to imagine reasons she was cast that don’t involve her taking a position on a casting couch. Watching her act next to Carla Gugino is like watching Chris Klein act next to Robert DeNiro. It’s not just painful, it feels like you’re watching two different movies. One for adults. And one for kids.

But that’s exactly what Watchmen is. What we see on screen isn’t Watchmen, it’s Zack Snyder looking at Watchmen and taking away the same things a kid would, the violence, the sex and the fight scenes, and a big explosion, and building a movie around that. For all the pre-release hype and the R Rating, that’s all Zack Snyder’s Watchmen is. A movie that pretends to be confrontational and radical, but like the V for Vendetta adaptation is hopelessly sanitized and fumbled.

Watchmen is not considered great because it has violence or nudity. Not even because of Gibbons’ art. It stands out for its creation of a world racing toward oblivion and then weighs the human choices that people will make in the face of that and the price they will pay for it, using comics as the medium for raising those questions, in more ways than one. Snyder may never have had a shot at putting that on screen. But he could have done a lot better than he did. Instead Snyder faithfully recreates a world racing toward oblivion, but takes away the complicated questions, smoothing them away to offer an easy answer.

And yet part of what Watchmen had to say was that it was the easy answers that were leading us to oblivion.

Friday Night SciFi and Nothing is Happening

March 8, 2009

On Terminator The Sarah Connor Chronicles Ourselves Alone, 40 minutes pass by of people talking to each other or mostly not talking to each other, Cameron being wierd, and the Connors being incredibly oblivious, until Riley suddenly snaps and tries to kill Jessie having realized that she was meant to be a lamb to the slaughter.

On Battlestar Galactica Islanded in a Stream of Stars we get treated to more hysterics and histrionics, with Adama and Tigh turning into mean drunks (again) over the prospect of trashing Galactica, an extended trip for Boomer and Hera in which they sorta bond, and Baltar running tests to confirm what we already know about Starbuck, and delivering one of his usual cynically insane speeches about it. Only by the end of the episode does Boomer make it to Cavill. Meanwhile Starbuck keeps crying over Anders, the guy she only married to get over Adama Jr, and whom she cheated on and didn’t care about, until you know like 5 minutes ago.

Finally on Dollhouse, Gray Hour,  Echo gets hired to run a break in team to steal the Elgin marbles. At least it’s a slightly more plausible use for a Doll than as a sex toy or a midwife, which is what we get shown at the beginning. Because you know how hard it is to get a good midwife, that you have to rent a blank mindwiped one for six figures. Naturally Alpha manages to screw with her once again, remotely mind wiping her, in order to try to force her to form a composite like him, whether to turn her into an enemy or a girlfriend, who knows. Ballard stomps around some more acting tough, and accomplishing nothing, and the episode ends with Echo using the tunnel that was there all along to escape.

It’s telling really that the old Angel and Firefly writers can’t do much to make Dollhouse interesting, no matter how hard they try. It’s the difference between writing for a good concept and writing for a bad one. There’s not much you can do to elevate 90210, by contrast writing for a show with a great voice and concept is a whole lot easier.

Battlestar Galactica and Terminator the Sarah Connor Chronicles have a lot fewer excuses, because they did have a great concept and a great voice, and they’ve become soap operas running on characters breaking down and lying and betraying each other. Occasionally that may make for a good story, but mostly it’s cheesy and boring. The Riley thing on TSCC has dragged on forever, and will run well into the final episodes of the show, despite Riley being dead. We can choreograph the whole tedious journey with Sarah accusing Cameron, John setting out to clear Cameron, discovering Jessie and the whole tedious goulash of it all.

Battlestar Galactica is even more immobile. The show that used to be about humanity on the run, has just turned into people wallowing in their own misery. Now with most of the cast turned into Cylons or part Cylons, and the Galactica itself failing, the show is more self-involved and pointless than ever. Ron Moore thinks it’s art. I think it’s crap. And showrunners who admire it and try to imitate it hurt their own shows. Dollhouse suffers from BSG envy with the whole “Name the Dolls” thing that reeks of the “Name the Cylons” reveals that BSG does. TSCC has gone down the BSG road with episodes that amount to nothing, characters who pursue their own bizarre tangents and tie the whole thing together with a song or some biblical metaphor. And the damn thing of it, is that it doesn’t work. It won’t ever work.

And it’s Friday Night SciFi again, and nothing is happening.

Some Terminator Must Watch While Viewers Must Sleep

March 5, 2009

Last week Terminator the Sarah Connor Chronicles delivered a pretty decent episode with Desert Cantos that ended with a bang. Naturally Josh Friedman decided to follow it up with an episode that could be titled Nightmare on Sarah Connor Street, that has Sarah Connor having nightmares for the entire episode. Well done. You’ve just turned off what few viewers were willing to watch your show.

It seems only fair that a Friday Night deathslot should be paired with a Friday Night Deathwish, which is what Terminator the Sarah Connor Chronicles has now. Friday’s Terminator episode was called Some Must Watch While Some Must Sleep, and as it turns out a lot more people were sleeping than watching, especially after the first 15 minutes.

Terminator the Sarah Connor Chronicles has traded in its last shot at life, by trading in its premise for one in which Sarah Connor follows her visions while mentally cracking up, leaving the rest of the cast on the sidelines. Some Must Watch While Some Must Sleep, is a particularly terrible excursion into Lynchian territory in which Sarah Connor checks into a sleep clinic where they inject patients, and which might be controlled by Skynet, except that probably turns out to be a nightmare, and ends with an indecisive dream or dreamlike ending.

Some Must Watch While Some Must Sleep, might have been somehow justifiable if any of it turned out to be real. Instead we’re subjected to extended sessions in which Sarah Connor has a nightmarish encounter with the man she killed, and a lot of scenes of her trying to sleep or getting ready to sleep. Sum total, an audience that has been put to sleep.

There’s no better way to cast self-indulgent then getting your Twin Peaks on with episodes like this. Dream episodes on SciFi shows tend not to work, because for one thing they’re not interesting, and for another, nothing that happens in them is real, and for a third, they’re just ways for writers to regurgitate the stuff they learned about symbolism and metaphor in Pretentious English for Freshmen 101.