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All posts for the month April, 2012

A Game of Thrones: Storytelling without Words

Published April 20, 2012 by wyldflamingo

“A Game of Thrones” is now several episodes into Season 2. The storytelling is complex, compelling–I can easily imagine Shakespeare, or Machiavelli observing similar antics in their day, and filing the details away for use in the writing. The acting is superb, the costuming gorgeous, the scenery (Northern Ireland, Malta, Iceland!) amazing.

And yet every time the opening credits roll, I am glued to my seat, staring, mesmerized.

Angus Wall has opening credit design props already (Big Love, Carnivale, Rome). I’ve seen the first two, and found them moving, and absorbing. But more than those others, “A Game of Thrones”‘ opening credits tells a story. And every time the story is different. Each time, the cities involved alter, to fit those who fall into the episode being aired.  Then, there’s the actual mechanics of the crdits themselves. The long shot is as though from a lens of a telescope, and the lens goes into more extreme magnifications to look down (godlike, perhaps) on the happenings of this world. As the lens focuses, a city begins to rise up–the construction is specific to the cities in the novels, which A Game of Thrones is based on. Kings Landing,  for example, has high towers and walls, which crank up as though a piece of clockwork. You can tell the size and potential importance of the locations based on how extensive the constructs are.

Another cutaway shot is of the sun following its path above the planet, further inviting the watcher to feel godlike in their third party observation of the stories happening below. The final shot, pulling back from the cities, focuses on the standards of the various royal houses involved–House Lannister, House Baratheon, House Stark, House Targaryen. The animal icons involved are all in various action poses–much like their houses, trying to find their way through the mess of the succession, and the intrigue that makes up the storyline.

Watching this map of the world come to life through its credits, I almost feel like I can the framework George R.R. Martin must have imagined, when he initially began the books this show is based on. I know Martin had planned to make this series so epic, so incredible, that television would never pick it up (after he experienced incredibly painful “kill” decisions on other shows he wrote for, specifically “Beauty and the Beast”, which had incredible storylines that television management couldn’t grasp). I hope he feels HBO is doing his vision justice.

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‘Crucible of Gold’ proof you’re not stuck with one genre

Published April 12, 2012 by wyldflamingo

Naomi Novik’s sixth alternate history novel in the ‘Temeraire’ series (Crucible of Gold) was released March 6th. Since my last post was about crossovers in television, it seems a perfect time to talk about Naomi Novik’s transition from writing for video games (hardcore RPG fans will recognize her from the game ‘Neverwinter Nights’). With her fantasy cred established writing for RPGs (role-playing games), it probably wasn’t TOO big a jump into the world of fantasy book publishing.

Novik’s claim to fame is the alternate history she’s devised for her novels’ worlds. Set during the Napoleonic War, dragons play a major role in battle, tactics, and the overall military. Novik extrapolates from history and adds amazing details, like an Air Force made up of Dragons. I love her attention to detail as she mixes her fictional world with the historical one–weapons, military order, battles, social hierarchy…it’s like reading a Jane Austen novel with a fantasy element (NOT the HIDEOUSNESS that is “Pride, Prejudice and Zomies” or “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter”). Novik extends her series outside of Britain and france as well, journeying to Shanghai, and Australia. Seeing the world not just from the eys of a “modern” military man, but from an intelligent, articulate dragon offers insight and revelations from entirely different perspectives.

I’m looking forward to catching up with the dragon Temeraire, and the military man of honor he has chosen to serve.

When worlds collide

Published April 12, 2012 by wyldflamingo

We’re going back and re-watching Season 6 of Bones (some Netflix ‘adultery’ occurred, and I finished the entire season without my husband). One of my prior posts commented about Hart Hanson, who is a writer and producer for both “Finder” and “Bones”. No sonner had I posted about this observation than the next episode we watched of ‘Finder’, featured a cross over character visit from Dr. Lance Sweets, who plays a psychiatrist on staff for the FBI.

I’m not sure about when characters cross over to other shows, especially in a series still in its infancy. It sort of feels like cheating–playing on the “street cred” of an existing show, with established characters, and fanbase. Is ‘Finder’ already in danger of being cut (at episode 3)? I know Hollywood and television execs are continusouly winnowing down the amount of time a show has to succeed…so with that knowledge, it’s not a surprise that ‘Finder’ is trying to capitalize off an existing audience.

The Sweets episode came and went on ‘Finder’, and the character remained true to itself (although the premise of his coming to ‘The Ends of the Earth” in the Florida Keys is a little far-fetched). I can’t say the same for when Dr. Jack Hodgins hires the main character (Walter) on ‘Finder’, to investigate the death of a space shuttle pilot.

Anyone who watches ‘Bones’ will know that Hodgins is an intelligent, deeply thoughtful scientist, with a penchant for conspiracy theory. In the context of ‘Bones’, amid all the solid scientific work Hodgins performs, with equally experienced co-workers,  the conspiracy theory rants are an amusing quirk.

Hodgins comes to ‘Finder’ because he’s been following the death of a space shuttle pilot, who reported a UFO. Hodgins theorizes the government is burying evidence of alien visitations, and wants Walter to expose the cover-up, in addition to helping the second shuttle pilot regain his credibility. Unfortunately, removed from his regular environment, and plunged into the world of ‘Finder’, Hodgins is no longer an intelligent, focused scientist. He comes across as a conspiracy nut, determined to read alien invasion into every clue, every hint, or direction the investigation takes. ‘Finder’ loses credibility with me: the decision to not stay true to Hodgins character profile feels sloppy and amateurish.

There have been many other series where crossovers happen (Happy Days/Laverne and Shirley, Buffy/Angel) without this strange mutation happening.

Why would a producer let this happen to a strong secondary character from one series? It seems like it dilutes both ‘Finder’ and ‘Bones’.

 

Published April 9, 2012 by wyldflamingo

We’ve run out of episodes of the shows we’d been following at home (‘Grimm’,  ‘Once Upon A Time’, ‘Smash’), and so, flipping through Hulu, I saw ‘Finder’. Vaguely recalling this looked appealing when I last saw a commercial for it, we started Episode one.

Five minutes in, as they were rolling credits, I was contemplating why the dialogue and characters were already so familiar, and I saw the writing credit: Hart Hanson.

Ah, strong, sarcastic male lead, with a penchant for getting into trouble.

Attractive, intelligent female authority figure.

Cast of supporting characters with interesting quirks.

This sounds like ‘Bones’.

“Big Fish”: writing, tone, and allure

Published April 9, 2012 by wyldflamingo

While working on a myriad of other things (because I’m incapable of sitting and just doing one thing at a time), my husband pronounced “I don’t remember much about ‘Big Fish’, and popped it into the DVD player.

‘Big Fish’ is a Tim Burton movie from 2003, and probably one of his most overlooked works. Burton is well known for odd-ball characters we might not normally find appealing (Edward Scissorhands, Jack Skellington, Beetlejuice), and his just-this-side-of-surreal sets and storylines. ‘Big Fish’ is a story about perception, and how the way one person may view the world is not the same way anyone else views it.

Albert Finney and Ewan McGregor both play Ed Bloom–Albert plays the elder Ed Bloom, dying of cancer and estranged from his son, Will. Will is perpetually embarassed by his father and his “fish stories”–what Will perceives as outrageous exagerations of of Edward’s past. As the story progresses, we see Edward’s life from his own eyes, and it’s up to the viewer to decide if one, or the other viewpoint is more accurate.

While Burton’s cinematography is always appealing, with its soft focus on female characters, and oversaturated background colors, its his ability to deliver a story and create compelling characters that lure and appeal. We’ve established, ten minutes into the movie, that Ed Bloom has a penchant for telling tall tales. But exactly how “tall” does the tale have to be, to estrange you from your son? Is it embarassment that pushes Will away?

What makes this movie for me is Ed Bloom’s viewpoint–he turns the mundane into the magnificent. I’m not sure how effective the same story would be, without Burton’s rich visualizations, but watching ‘Big Fish’ always makes me try to imagine…and practice my embellishments.

Two new series: one of these things is not like the other

Published April 7, 2012 by wyldflamingo

Tonight we tried two different new shows via Hulu: ‘Awake‘ and ‘Touch‘.

Awake initially had a lot of potential for me. The concept is interesting–a police detective continues his life after a devastating car accident affects his family. Except he’s not 100% sure HOW–in one “life”, or stage of “awake”, his wife is still alive and his son died in the car accident. In another stage, his wife is dead, and his son survived. He alternates between these two realities, trying to continue his job. Each reality affects the other, as clues slip from one to the other. Intriguing concept, right?

It would be, but for me, a successful series depends on the writing, and “Awake” (three episodes in) is failing me. The main character, Michael Britten, is struggling to manage his day to day existence(s). But it’s not a compelling struggle for me.  The writers have already set up the final “mystery” to be solved by this detective: which reality is the real one? Is his wife dead? Is his son dead?  Is he really “awake”? But Detective Britten has no drive to figure out which reality is true, because if and when he does, it will mean he finally loses his ability to interact with one of his loved ones. If he doesn’t care about being awake, why should I?

‘Touch” takes place in New York City, post September 11. The main character, Martin, still struggles day-to-day, with the loss of his wife Sarah, a casualty of the terrorist attacks. Their son, Jake, is non-verbal, and autistic, and like many children with this disability, seems to largely live in his own world. Despite normal avenues of interaction not applying here, Jake is an active character, and in episode one, leads his dad to meet someone his wife worked with before she died. The story spans the U.S., and Iraq, somehow tying together. While far-fetched, Martin’s struggles to interact and communicate with his son, and my curiousity as to how the multiple story elements will tie together make “Tough” a much more engrossing concept and story. I’m looking forward to seeing the further exploration of Jake’s autism, and how the writers will need to consider it as they work to develop the characters.