Tuesday, January 31, 2012

TV Shows That Were Too Good to Cancel

For anyone familiar with the history of science fiction television programming, the cancellation and subsequent re-launch of Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek (Shattner, Nimoy, et al) is something of an outlier.  Television programmes are in the business of selling advertising to subsidize network expenses; the higher the rating, the more people watch and the more you can charge for ads (akin to the Superbowl, to a much lesser degree).  When it comes down to the wire, networks may cannibalize their own shows to allow more successful show to flourish, or throw out a sacrificial lamb to compete against another network’s super-show. Those that fail to make the grade of some arcane advertising revenues less expenses and any number of other factors get cancelled, sometimes rescheduled to another time slot (sometimes akin to cancellation). Then there are the half-season shows, thrown into the mix in January; concept programmes that perhaps didn’t make the September line-up but stand a chance, if small, later in the season.

Now, I understand the business model of the networks (several case studies during my MBA certainly help).  Science fiction programmes are a tricky breed to sell to the masses.  Star Trek has its fan base, an extremely dedicated one, making that show a relatively easy sell.  Shows that start from scratch make for a dicey start for executives to swallow.  Outside of specialty channels (SciFi, Space, ShowCase), getting a science fiction programme in Prime Time is up against stiff competition; fantasy is in an even worse jam.  The masses typically go for standard fare programmes: reality TV (personal hatred for this type), legal/police drama (which I like, yet how many Law & Order, NCIS and CSI clones do we really need?) or comedies of one type or another.  Science fiction and fantasy programming doesn’t take well to network television - we'll see if Grimm and Once Upon a Time  have the legs to prove me wrong... I hope so.

In some cases this problem transcends from network TV over to the specialty channels as well.  Lack of adequate viewers fails to justify the advertising space charges to companies buying commercial time.  Two particular shows that suffered this fate were Firefly and Stargate: Universe. 

Firefly lasted a half-season before getting cancelled, something that sat very poorly with the show’s fans.  I actually didn’t get to watch this show until it came out on DVD, and only after the movie-conclusion Serenity.  Firefly was something quirky and completely different than what was on TV at the time; a western-style show set in outer space that didn’t sell well with the executives.  I can honestly say this was a travesty to television.  The pacing was great, the characters wonderful, the acting and graphics superb.  The follow-up Serenity made due by wrapping things up in a way that makes Firefly one of the more endearing shows cancelled before its time, in my humble opinion.

Stargate: Universe was another breed of show that didn’t quite make the cut either.  The third outing from the Stargate franchise, it departed from its campy predecessors in both setting and style.  Sure, there were enough similarities to ensure it fit the mould, yet far enough that it didn’t keep enough people tuned in to be renewed.  I’m just finishing the second, final season and I can’t say enough about how well this show could have gotten.  After getting away from the Lucian Alliance threat, they inserted two threatening enemy races that could have easily pushed into a third season.  Like Firefly, they rushed several of the final episodes to close the arcs out before the show ended.  A gritty and edgy programme, the loss of Universe is untimely and ultimately a loss for the franchise as a whole.

 So ends my obituary/rant of sorts for two fine programmes and the loss of soul Prime Time seems headlong rushing to embrace.  Someone hand me another scotch and give me the one-liner response to who won Survivor and Dancing with the Stars, which CSI or Law & Order cast should be axed and “who did it” in the most recent cop/legal drama .  It appears this is the only programming safe for water cooler discussions.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Classic Scfi-Fi Film Review: Blade Runner

Director:  Ridley Scott
Cast of Note:  Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Sean Young, Edward James Olmos,

Release Date: 25 June 1982
Gross Revenue (year): US$27,580,111 (1982)
Adjusted Gross Revenue:  n/a
Genre:  Drama, Sci-Fi, thriller

IMDb Reference (8.3/10): http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0083658/
Rotten Tomatoes Review (92%): http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/blade_runner/

What the Jacket Says:  Deckard, a blade runner, has to track down and terminate 4 replicants who hijacked a ship in space and have returned to earth seeking their maker.

What the Critics Said:

"Blade Runner" is as intricately detailed as anything a science-fiction film has yet envisioned. Janet Maslin, NYT Movie Critic, 1982

A great movie to look at but a hard movie to care about ... predictable, clich├ęd (Roger Ebert, 1982) Roger Ebert's Review of Blade Runner

The original 1982 review (skip to 2:00 for review)

Analysis:  Amazingly, this movie got middling reviews (polarized on either end of the spectrum) from the critics, earning an equally middling amount at the box office; adjusted, the movie would only have grossed about US$85 million, which is paltry compared to current blockbuster revenues of 200+ million.  The issue seemed to be a negative reaction to the relatively predictable plot and character developments, which isn’t to say they were necessarily wrong, compared to a stunning series of visuals.  Pitting the film against other sci-fi movies, like E.T. and Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan, certainly did little to help.  When released for rental, it seemed to take on a life of its own as a cult classic.  Earning a retrospective upgrade on critic’s lists, it is one of the movies that solidified my love for science fiction.

This movie was a great influence on me for two reasons.  I saw the movie first, that is to say all versions of Blade Runner.  The visuals were stunning, all the more so when you see the featurette explaining how they made the cityscapes and special effects.  In the day of computer-generated effects, this movie’s ability to transport the viewer into a gritty futuristic world truly is a remarkable achievement.  Pacing of the movie is relatively measured; there are no dramatic action sequences until the end.

Things are mostly dialogue driven as Deckard (Harrison Ford) is ostensibly brought out of retirement to handle a band of replicants returned to Earth.  Blade Runners are detectives specifically tasked to destroying replicants (termed as retirement), slave androids used in colonization that look and act like humans but are banned from Earth.  The story follows his detective work to track them down and destroy them, as well as the relationship between Deckard and one of the film’s replicants.  Harrison Ford plays the cynical detective, Sean Young the replicant love interest, Rutger Hauer leading the rogue band of replicants with a mission. 

The film examines the question of humanity.  Oddly, Deckard is relatively detached from everyone, yet uses an empathy test to spot replicants.  His emotions seem solely drawn out by the replicant Rachael, juxtaposed to the rogue band of replicants shows a surprising amount of compassion for the others, but total disregard for other humans.  This seems to reinforce the whole argument that Deckard is himself, a replicant.  The ambiguity to this just lends weight to the intellectual aspects of the screenplay, which also examine some environmentalism, corporate and police big brother issues.

The other issue to discuss is the soundtrack, scored by Vangelis.  There are few other movies I can think of that marry so beautifully the music to the visuals.  The jazzy, ambient qualities to the music add a scope to the film that just blows me away each time I watch it.  It just exudes character into the movie.

Years later, it intrigued me that this movie was based off a book: ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep’ by Philip K Dick.  I warily purchased the e-book, hoping my love for the film would not be altered; the success between film adaptation and literary sources is not a grand success story.  I was more than surprisingly impressed at how misplaced my trepidation was.  The book and film are very loosely related, with certain scenes from the book obviously used in the film but otherwise they are almost two different stories sharing a few commonalities.  The book was an absolute joy to read, examining the differences between machines and people in a different way to the film.  It too read at a different pace than most current sci-fi books, but kept pulling me along with a smile on my face.

Summary:  An unabashed lover of film, Blade Runner hit all the right marks for me.  The visuals, the acting, the soundtrack, it all drew me in and didn’t let go until the credits.  A major influence on me, both in how I rate/grade movies overall, it also keeps me trying to capture the film’s ability to transport my potential readers into another realm.  Ridley Scott did a fantastic job interpreting Hampton Fancher and David Webb Peoples’ screenplay.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Signals Explained

To clarify, Signals from the Arc is an ambiguous reference to one of the story lines I started developing.  It refers to the ‘magical’ construct within a futuristic urban fantasy setting I’m researching and fleshing out.  The ‘Arc’ philosophy and relative abilities is how magic is explained and defined by those that have access to it.  What I started seeing was a potential link with all the other settings I had ‘conjured’ and put to paper (or keyboard, as it were).  With this in mind, it became a suitable metaphor to encapsulate all my writing endeavours, without singling one out.

What is an arc?  There are several answers: It supports great amounts of weight; it bridges gaps; it fulfills both a style and a function; it connects one element to another.  In this latter statement we find the crux of my intent.

The Arc is that place where the unknown finds its power, the source code of all things mystical, magical and unexplained.  I could just as easily state my story ideas are the result of some mystical connection, where my imagination comes to life and provides the bases for my plot lines.  This is certainly not a new concept in and of itself, but certainly one I am happy to embrace as I start gathering my thoughts and telling the stories I see, those fleeting images in my mind.

Embrace the Arc…. Listen for the signals, for they will set you free.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Signals Interrupted... Computer Woes

One of the first lessons I learned when starting to use computers for school projects and the like, was to back-up whatever you couldn’t stand to lose.  Well, start of a new year and already, my computer is aspiring to turn things negative for me.  Trying to get to the Internet to do some research, I found a Vista Anti-Virus (Un-Registered) telling me I have 30 malicious threats, and the only way to get anywhere seemed to register for the program.  From my previous computer science days, some of the threats listed are worms and other codes I know can draw info from the computer, including credit card information typed into an online software purchase.

Yeah….. I guess the research is on hold until I can scan the hard drive and determine what exactly I’m dealing with.  Add to this a trip to the local Big Box electronics shop for a newer, more up-to-date protection suite.

Update:  Yeah, malware with over 50 hooks into my computer’s registry.  Fun times, now that the bastard-thing is cleansed.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

New Year, New Direction

The end of 2011 left a lot of things up in the air for me, not the least of which was my blog. Since my last post, things have gotten borderline idiotic; new baby arrived, dealing with a blown disc in my back, having surgery for the blown disc in my back, recovering from surgery (over Christmas break no less), Christmas, and now an infant who refuses to sleep her nights.

One of the odd benefits to the sleep deprivation (oh, there’s a lot of it too), is a seemingly teeming imagination coming to fruition; I’ve got story ideas flying onto the pages in outline form. One of the other benefits my convalescence provides is a six-week period of respite from work. This essentially forced me to go out and buy a number of books (physical and e-book format). The result is about five books read, including two spectacular anthologies that have really kick-started the drive to write, the drive to create.

With the first book under final editing before being sent out for agent review and the second well-outlined and partly written, I thought it apropos to start flexing my writing in other directions as well. Looking through the net at short story anthologies led me to really see the interest in this previously overlooked format. I never really sought to write short stories, mostly because the ideas for Ihr’Vessen and the Ochra Cycle were too epic, too complex to fit into 2,500 to 13,000 words. OF course when I looked back at my writing, it has mostly been short stories, whether completely original or RPG-based fan fiction – this was particularly true with the RIFTS RPG setting. Short stories were suddenly a place I wanted to revisit, the concept like a welcome reunion with an old friend.

Then the ideas started flowing, many of which were geared towards short stories that could either lead into longer, novel-potential projects, or support the plot lines already planned for the Ochra Cycle. I am now well and truly hooked, which is a joy unlike anything I can think of within the scope of my writing. This of course leads to an interesting quandary. I now have to switch the blog away from a strictly Ihr’Vessen focus to include my other projects. As such I’m re-launching the blog with an expanded scope, resolved on writing in general to allow me to cover all my projects.