You've found Father McKenzie. But are you really looking for Eleanor Rigby?

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Basking in the Glow of Firefly

I have watched disc 1 of firefly and started to make my way through disc 2.

Some random observations:

1. I don't mind it, but I don't think I will ever be a "true fan". I was never a Buffy follower, nor Angel, so Josh Whedon mustn't "do it" for me.

2. I originally watched it in anticipation of some "hard" science fiction (Arthur C Clarke, Isaac Asimov), but realising it's "softness" (it's closer to Star Wars in more ways than one - elaboration later) I haven't decided to label it "cheese" and enjoy it as such.

3. First double episode was uninspiring - the battle scene was so stupid I laughed at all the clich├ęs. Hasn't Josh seen "Saving Private Ryan" and the Omaha beach scene? That, IMHO, is the current benchmark for set piece gun battles. The best one so far was the third ("Bushwhacked"), worst so far was the one where Mal fights a duel "Shindig"- so lame a plot device, it's hardly imaginable anyone still uses it post-Hornblower.

4. Style, design etc - I think Josh should go back to the "Ridley Scott" school of filmmaking - witness the excellent approach to Alien, Gladiator, Black Hawk Down (but must excuse Kingdom of Heaven - Ridley is losing his touch). The lighting, grittiness, tension etc is all there - and needs to be in Firefly. They're all just much too squeaky clean - like 1950's cowboys. The "Alliance" are also dressed in "Starship trooper" costumes with SA 80 rifles (current British issue). You'd think they could have done a bit better in the props department. I mean, it's not THAT low budget, is it? The obligatory barroom brawls and gunfights are too boring to be even bothered fast-forwarding through.

5. Lines missing from Firefly, Season 1 and 2:

a. Mal Solo: "You mean you've never heard of the 'Serenity'? It's the ship that made the Kessel run in les than 5 parsecs" blah blah blah etc etc

b. Wide eyed settler who has booked a passage to Persephone*: "What a piece of junk!"

Mal Solo: "She'll make point 5 past light speed"

* A name posited for the "Average American's Dream Car" before the design was handed over to one Homer J Simpson.

c. "Ambassador", looking at "Serenity": "You came here in this? You're braver than I thought!"

That is, "Firefly" needs to be changed to "the continuing prequel adventures of Han Solo"

6. Fictional historical context - good, but could have done much better. i.e. "Independents" are modelled closely on Confederates, the "Alliance" are close to the Union in Civil War USA, and there's hints of slavery etc (but none seen as yet). The "Browncoats" idea is borrowed from the War of Independence. But the actualisation of this is terrible, The "Alliance" are badly dressed unmilitary bureaucrats. If there is going to be super-charged authority figures, at least let them be ruthlessly efficient rather than bland pen pushers with bad haircuts. It's like being boarded by accountants (shades of Monty Python, perhaps?)

7. My biggest beef. Characters. C'mon? "Western" stereotypes aplenty. Boring tropes that are in heavy need of revision.

The functionally useless preacher who acts as a "social conscience"

The hooker with a heart of gold (somewhat interesting to have this character of high social status but this is lost in the conversation in the "shindig" episode where mal asserts that what he does is illegal but honest, whereas hers is legal but "dishonest" (i.e. it involves pretence, and the greatest value is authenticity, even to be authentically corrupt). She is also an "empath" - Deanna Troi alert! And note when the "Shepherd" is having a moral crisis about falling in with a wretched hive of scum and villainy, the prostitute can provide moral support. What an inversion of values!

The dumb lug heavy who loves knives and guns, who is comic relief - he's the "sidekick character" but you should have guessed that.

The 'naive' doctor (if he's so smart, why can't he figure out basic social skills?)

The "Reavers" - if these aren't "Apache Indians" by any other name, I don't think there is a whiff of western in this postmodern mishmash.

Plus some more (not necessarlity Western but..)

The bland inter-racial couple (made from, of course, the domestically 'incompetent' husband and the switched on wife (Fred and Wilma, Homer and Marge, Ray and Debra, etc etc). This may have been radical in the 60's when Kirk kisses Uhura but now - yawn!

The chick mechanic - straight out of the Herbie movies. the "Tom-Boy" character.

[What did Josh Whedon do, sit around and pick the top 10 most stereotypical characters and jam them into a space drama with a Western theme? Surely a recipe for comedy, not "serious" sci-fi?]

... and my unfavourite


I remember a friend explaining to me once the difference between "modernist" heroes and "postmodern" heroes (really, anti-heroes) with reference to an episode of "Babylon 5", where the main characters let a baddy go back to his homeworld with a secretly ingested bomb (unbeknownst), so that he would destroy all of his compatriots on return. This was considered hilarious fun.. The same mean spirit is exhibited by the cast of "Firefly"

- kills a law-enforcement agent and throws him out the hatch (Mal)
- laughing at the doctor when they told him his patient had died (Episode 1) (Mal, Lug and husband and wife all have a jolly old chortle together)
-tricking the doctor into wearing a spacesuit when they knew a) he was afraid b) it was unnecessary c) he didn't know how to put it on properly (Lug's initiative, Mal's laugh)
- killing an enemy prisoner who refuses to co-operate and vows everlasting revenge (Mal)
- stabbing his defeated opponent repeatedly ("Shindig" episode), deliberately wounding him, for his own amusement (Mal)

All of the other stuff about hiding fugitives from the "Alliance" (they may come in useful later), allowing time for a "Shepherd" to say words for dead colonists (there is a booby trap connect our ships and we need time to defuse it), etc etc are just further examples of what is essentially an ugly, amoral, utilitarianist character. The only exception I can think of is when they decide to return stolen medicines for sick babies, in that Mal puts himself and his crew in peril for the advantage of others.

8. I could write more - especially about shoddy plots, "deus ex machina" style e.g.

Co-viewer: "I thought it was over"
Me: "Give it a few more minutes"
(some more minutes pass, credits roll) ,
Me: "Was that it?"
Co-viewer: "I told you we should have turned it off then."

and so on. But I’ll leave it there. I will continue to enjoy "Firefly", but definitely not seriously. Cheese it is. Discs 3 and 4 will tell if the cheese is good.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Be An Anarchist, Wot`? Fink for Yoursewf!

Just saw V For Vendetta and am now keenly aware of the violence in'erent inna system of Mawgrit Fatcher's Bri'ain. Sounds like the Poms need to kick out the Conservatives, quick, and elect a Labour Government so it can keep them out of "America's wars."

Two things puzzled me, though. I don't mind the Rolling Stones' Street Fighting Man, but -- as music for the closing credits of V4V?

(1) Mick Jagger is a multimillionaire, who on several occasions has endorsed a vote for the British Tory Party. (I wonder how many voters tried to find the "Conserthatithe" candidate on the ballot that Mick was referring to?) Keith Richards is a devoted family man and devout churchgoer. Whose signature is on the form assigning the Wachowski broth-... err, siblings the rights to use the song? Brian Jones'?

(2) My immediate thought was "Wouldn't The Procreative Pistols' Anarchy in the UK be more appropriate?" Well, sounds like thousands of others - about 25,200, according to God - had the exact same thought. Who said voluntarist decentralised social systems can't be self-coordinating?

UPDATE [1]: That was a week ago. Now, as of 9 pm Sunday 10 April, the count is down to a mere 16,900. Someone's killing them off one by one!