Sean T. Collins has written about comics and popular culture professionally since 2001 and on this very blog since 2003. He has written for Maxim, The Comics Journal, Stuff, Wizard, A&F Quarterly, Comic Book Resources, Giant, ToyFare, The Onion, The Comics Reporter and more. His comics have been published by Top Shelf, Partyka, and Family Style. He blogs here and at Robot 6.
This is Brian K. Vaughan's world; we just live in it
This and other insights can be yours if you click over to this week's Thursday Morning Quarterback and read what I had to say about the most recent issues of Runaways, Doctor Strange: The Oath, 52, Conan and the Midnight God, Daredevil, The Exterminators, Jack Staff, and The Walking Dead.
Here's a long-overdue link to Eve Tushnet's latest post on Eyes Wide Shut, a film we've been discussingfor awhilenow. In it she clarifies her take on the character (or lack thereof) of the Harford's daughter Helena (it's not that she thinks there's some sort of crucial moral or religious component lent a marriage by the children it produces, but basically that if you show a kid in act one, it better go off by act three), as well as the difference between her sin-based approach to Bill's misadventures and my guilt/shame-based ones (sin accounts for the possibility of redemption, so an ending where that isn't wrestled with is disappointing; shame doesn't, so it isn't).
Here's the thing, though, and this just occurred to me as I was driving back from the oil change place: Doesn't Helena play a major, if subtle, role in the film's denouement? As I'm fond of pointing out, there are no accidents in Stanley Kubrick films, and the final scene of this one takes place in a toy store where the Harfords are shopping for and with their daughter. The part she plays in their rapprochement doesn't get spelled out, of course, but setting the scene in this environment Kubrick appears to be saying that their marriage has produced something that will out-last and out-love the temptations and degredations Bill has come across. Right? I remember thinking that the setting gave Alice's final prescription for their marriage's woes--"Fuck"--an extra, naughty, earthy frisson, and that wouldn't have been the case if the scene took place in the self-help section at Barnes & Noble.
To shift gears to the not safe for work portion of this post, Eve also links to critic and sock-puppeteer Lee Siegel's take on the film. Siegel argues that the sequences in which Dr. Bill pictures his wife in flagrante with her sailor fantasy-man are the most erotic in the film; Eve disagrees, and I'm with her:
...I didn't find the Alice-fantasy scenes erotic at all. The black-and-white felt cliched; the whole thing did. That actually worked for me--I'm thinking that jealous fantasies, like most projections of the self onto the beloved, are usually cliched.
That about nails it. (The sailor was in his dress whites, for pete's sake!)
Looking back, I find Eyes Wide Shut to be a very sexy film (beautiful, nude women are beautiful, nude women), but not a very erotic one--and that's fine, for all the reasons I've enumerated before. There is one exception, though, and I'm wondering what exactly it is that makes it so. Why is it that in a film chock full of images like these...
...the most (indeed, perhaps the only) truly arousing scene looks like this?
Dr. Bill's encounter with Sally, the roommate of the prostitute named Domino he met early in the film, is hot. Not to put too fine a point on it, but in my case it's the only scene in the film that elicited the physical response sex scenes are supposed to elicit, with nary a nipple in sight. At least one other friend of mine reported the same basic reaction to the scene. Why? It's probably a vain exercise to try to nail down or (over)analyze--you know hot stuff when you see it. But if we're going to be all close-reading about it, this is probably the only sexual encounter Dr. Bill has that's spontaneous. It's certainly "casual," to use the pejorative term applied to sex without emotional commitment, but there's nothing cold or transactional (or illegal, for that matter) about it. Bill and Sally have chemistry--even without watching the scene again I can still hear her sultry breathing and speaking as they slowly-but-speedily melt into a touch-but-not-too-much clinch. And I think the chemistry comes from the fact that, however little, Bill and Sally have to work for it. She's not a prostitute whose services he can purchase, let alone a child prostitute offered as a gift by her father, let alone a masked and dehumanized orgy participant served as a party favor. However you may feel about her seeming readiness to hit the sack with a total stranger who's actually there to see her roommate, it's a decision she's making with her mind and her body, not a customer-service decision. She's a woman, which is to say she's a person.
The fact that so many of the other sexual encounters in the film lack that resultant heat has a moral dimension.
Postscript: While digging up images for this post I came across a wonderful essay on the film by Reverse Shot's Michael Koresky. Koresky puts a little too much stock in the role Bill's profession plays in the film, I think (some of that is there, but I think 'Doctor' is mainly a talismanic title connoting privilege and power here--he could easily have been called 'Sir' or 'Prince'). But a) he give the business in a big way to American Beauty, a film that deserves a kick in the junk whenever it is possible to dole one out ("The closest it comes to a moral insight is that it answers the 'To fuck or not to fuck the teen virgin?' debate with a conciliatory 'No!'"; b) he calls out the film's use of the uncanny, and amen to that; c) he says this:
A common criticism leveled against Kubrick’s farewell film upon its unveiling was that it was dated; that its values were somehow outmoded, that what it was saying was by now well-trod territory or, worse, had no place in contemporary sexual discourse. What is this supposing? That dramas of fidelity no longer reflect a common mindset, or that marriage no longer needs defending as an institution or a spiritual solace? After all, aren’t we infinitely more “liberated” now than when this stuff was in vogue? Aren’t we hip to the gaps and contradictions inherent in every relationship? Isn’t the threat of spouse-cheating on every talk show on every channel every day from 9 to 5? Whichever the case, Eyes Wide Shut revealed more about popular culture than it did about Kubrick’s moralistic outlook....
Post-Postscript: Remember the part in the orgy when Bill gets caught and the master of ceremonies orders him to strip? I remember being incredibly disappointed that Bill's ill-fated companion intervened to stop this. I wonder how different the movie would be if we'd seen Tom Cruise's cock in it, or at the very least how differently we'd see the movie.
A human rights group said Thursday that Saudi Arabia violated international law when it ordered the beheadings earlier this week of four Sri Lankan robbers and then left their headless bodies on public display in the capital of Riyadh.
"...We were getting prisoners from the navy SEALs who were using a lot of the same techniques we were using, except they were a little more harsh. They would actually have the detainee stripped nude, laying on the floor, pouring ice water over his body. They were taking his temperature with a rectal thermometer. We had one guy who had been burned by the navy SEALs. He looked like he had a lighter held up to his legs. One guy's feet were like huge and black and blue, his toes were obviously all broken, he couldn't walk."
A man suspected of killing and dismembering his wife was captured Sunday as he fled searchers, running through snow in northern Michigan, police said.
Stephen Grant had been the subject of a manhunt since police discovered what they believe to be the torso and other body parts of his wife, Tara Lynn Grant, in and around the couple’s house in a suburb of Detroit.
My favourite movie when I was a little, little boy was Bud Abbott and Lou Costello Meet Frankenstein. It’s very funny when Abbott and Costello are around, but when they’re gone, it’s actually played very straight. I remember having the thought: “These are the best movies ever! When it’s supposed to be funny, it’s really funny, and when it’s supposed to be scary, it’s really scary. I can’t believe they make movies like this!” So, even as a really young child, I was making genre distinctions. I liked this genre and I liked that genre, and actually blending them was a really sexy thing to me.
I come both to bury and praise Captain America, as well as discuss the latest issues of The Authority, Mighty Avengers, Civil War: The Initiative, Cold Heat, Fantastic Four, 52, Incredible Hulk, Sheena: Queen of the Jungle, Supreme Power: Hyperion vs. Nighthawk, and Ultimate Spider-Man, at this week's Thursday Morning Quarterback.
Battlestar Galactica's James Callis has evolved over the course of the series from a smarm machine of the sort who'd play the heavy on Relic Hunter to delivering, on a weekly basis, one of my favorite television performances of all time. My Wizard chum Andy Serwin interviews Callis here; look for insights into the many shades of villainy his character Gaius Baltar embodies as well as into what it is the character really wants out of life.
I love Frank Miller--he's my favorite cartoonist--but I've never deluded myself into believing his comics have a lot to say politically. Since 9/11 he's obviously been more tuned in, though he's careened wildly from doing "bloodied but unbowed" Captain America portraits for Marvel Comics' benefit book to doing a fairly vicious anti-patriotism and anti-religion thing in another benefit book to rewriting the third and final installment of The Dark Knight Strikes Again so as to play up the similarities with the real-world attack to slowly but surely working on a Batman vs. al Qaeda comic. But before then, you could essentially sum up his political position by saying he likes stuff that is good and doesn't like stuff that sucks. Politics in his pre-9/11 work--cf. the liberal and conservative stereotypes in The Dark Knight Returns--were of an equal-opportunity angry centrist stripe and served mostly as another source of potential mayhem to play with.
That's why I find the entire debate over the politics of 300, Zack Snyder's "this one goes to eleven" film adaptation of Miller and Lynn Varley's late-'90s graphic novel, ridiculous beyond words. So the following conversation, culled from an email exchange with my old Comics Journal message board running buddy Jim Treacher (of The Daily Gut, Blowing Smoke, and Mother May I Sleep with Treacher fame), is about as seriously as I'm gonna take it. Spoilers, saucy language, and snark abound, so caveat lector.
It's like all the lily-livered liberal film critics in America put the same nine criticisms in a hat (video game, comic book, homophobic, white skin good/dark skin bad, warmongering, misogynist, too loud, too slow, too serious, Godwin's Law violation), drew them out in random order, and made that their review.
And I'm not sure how this little dork typed up his review with a baby bottle in one hand and his own bleeding heart in the other [chomps cigar].
Of course, when I Googled that guy, he served in the Gulf War so I'm not allowed to call him a little bitty sissy baby.
"Sean T. Collins"
Another Nazi comparison! Did they go to film school with Charles Krauthammer?
"I mean I had an M16, Jacko, not an Abrams fucking tank. Just me and Charlie, man, eyeball to eyeball. That's fuckin' combat. The man in the black pyjamas, Dude. Worthy fuckin' adversary."
Also, all that man-heat on one screen could totally cause global warming!
How about that Queen Whatserface? I'd like to [colorful euphemism deleted--ed.]
"Sean T. Collins"
She's a looker.
I saw it at a Warner Bros/press screening at the IMAX on monday, and I was surprised that the part where she gutted the evil councilman was the single biggest applause moment of the film.
Yeah, that was good. Historically accurate too I'm sure, just like the rest of it. I liked the bit about standing up to the Persians' "mysticism and something else I can't remember." The Spartan Abe Lincoln, I've seen him in a bunch of other stuff, can't think of his name.
"Sean T. Collins"
He was Elaine's shrink on Seinfeld, who ordered her to date him. "You can and you will." If Lifetime ever picks up my spec script for Artificial Person: The Lance Henriksen Story, he's my lead.
I AM pretty amazed that they kept the boy-lover insult line, considering that Frank was still responding to letters pointing out that it's the most wildly historically inaccurate part of the book (and that's fucking saying something) like nine years later.
Honestly, who gives a fuck if it's "fascist"? On a purely aesthetic level fascism was pretty rad, and considering Bush's approval rating in the country it's not as if we're in danger of actually going Fuhrer these days. This movie is utterly divorced from a political program--it's just Frank's innermost macho fantasy. No one actually thinks he's advocating infanticidal eugenics, do they?
On a purely aesthetic level fascism was pretty rad
and considering Bush's approval rating in the country it's not as if we're in danger of actually going Fuhrer these days. This movie is utterly divorced from a political program--it's just Frank's innermost macho fantasy. No one actually thinks he's advocating infanticidal eugenics, do they?
It's like people who want to ban The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn because of Nigger Jim.
And they're all missing the mordant humor. I only read the first issue way back when so I don't know how that stuff played on the page, but Leonidas had some great laugh lines. And when they're huddled under their shields against the rain of spears and all start laughing, I wanted to stand up and cheer.
"Sean T. Collins"
To be fair, I don't think Frank is critiquing this way of life. At all. In a way 300 is like Starship Troopers, in that if this more-or-less imaginary warrior culture could make a war movie about itself, this is what it would look like, but unlike Starship Troopers, I don't think Frank wants us to look at Spartan society with bemused horror. He doesn't like everything about that society, obviously, but overall he thinks it's cool, whereas the guys who made Starship Troopers don't think that society is cool.
It's definitely aware of how over-the-top it is, though. I mean, walls of dead bodies, you know? Actual fascist art is either oblivious to or contemptuous of or desirous of the ability to exterminate the notion that there's any other way of doing things--that's what makes it fascist. 300 knows it's completely bombastic and ridiculous and doesn't give a fuck--that's what makes it fun!
You're right about the laugh lines. Another thing I liked about the movie is that you really get the sense that these guys LIKE each other--they enjoy hanging out and working together, they respect each other's abilities, they believe in what they're doing, they enjoy the fact that they do it well, etc. It's a celebration of cooperation and competence, two very adult values that don't get celebrated nearly enough because not enough actual adults cooperate or behave competently.
Totally, totally, totally.
"Kneeling to you, that might be a problem. See, killing so many of your men this morning gave me a nasty cramp in my leg right here, so..."
I forgot my favorite moment! When the bald giant monster guy was watching the battle and straining against his chains, I wanted Joel Robinson and the bots to yell, "Put me in, coach!"
And if they're going to slam this movie for showing Spartans without a lot of clothes, they might as well slam a Western for showing people riding on horses instead of in cars.
"Sean T. Collins"
I also wonder if it is EVER acceptable to have a film in which light-skinned beings fight dark-skinned beings and the light-skinned beings happen to be in the right. Critics called freaking Lord of the Rings racist because of the orcs, fer chrissakes.
And you know, Leonidas had a good point throwing those guys down the well. That dude rode into town grinning and holding up the skulls of conquered kings, he dissed the queen, he threatened Sparta with slavery and ruin, and in general he was just a dick.
"Sean T. Collins"
Don't forget they prefaced the whole parlay with "we hold everyone responsible for their words here, even messengers." I haven't seen anyone bother to point that out.
That's right: Fighting against a superior force that wants to enslave you is FASCISM. I thought these days we were supposed to call it "freedom fighting"?
"Sean T. Collins"
Uh, have these people read the version on the "page"? God knows I like Frank Miller, but they're giving him an awful lot of political credit.
Miller's just fucking crazy. Sin City is crazy. Dark Knight is crazy. This is crazy. It's the ravings of a (once) talented madman. Just fucking enjoy it! Does anybody really give a shit about Ditko's Randian bullshit? Besides Ditko?
"Sean T. Collins"
Oh man, wait till these people do a Google search and realize what he's planning to do with Batman.
It would be nice if people could just take it easy and grok that this film has precisely nothing to do with Dick Cheney or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but lack of righteous indignation about absolutely everything doesn't pay the bills. And I say that as someone who really appreciates Sully's righteous indignation on a variety of issues (even if it ruins his prose).
Go see 300. Yes, if you cut the slo-mo the movie would be 40 minutes shorter, and yes, you'll want them to get back to the killin' during the final reel. I also would have thought they overestimated audience interest in the "meanwhile, back at the palace" storyline if it hadn't been for the applause I heard during the aforementioned gutting. But it's Frank Miller in all his unsubtle glory; it's actually pretty erotic, whatever your poison may be; it involves you with the characters through their genuine camaraderie and chemistry, as I mentioned above; it's an absolute must see for anyone who cares about violence on film as deeply as I care about violence on film; it's gorgeous; and you'll never want those battle scenes to end. I really liked this film.
"Open your mouth--I'm going to put something nice into it"
If the sheer volume of responses is any indication, this week's Horror Roundtable topic is apt to strike a nerve with pretty much any horror fan: Name a horror movie you didn't or couldn't watch all the way through. Almost-walkouts were also accepted, and that's where my entry came in...
Tales of Mystery and Terror by Edgar Allan Poe, from the Great Illustrated Classics series, adapted by Marjorie P. Katz, illustrated by Pablo Marcos Studio. I found a hardcover copy for three bucks at Michael's craft store this afternoon and couldn't pass it up. I had a purple paperback copy of this when I was a kid, and "The Cask of Amontillado" blew me away.
R. Kikuo Johnson illustrates Anthony Lane's New Yorkerreview of the Korean horror film The Host. Lane liked the movie quite a bit, though bona-fide horror buff and ADDTF pal Jason Adams was not that enthusiastic; the problems he cites lead me to believe that Lane's enthusiasm stems from the typical zeal non-horror-buff critics display for films that "transcend the genre." "Transcending the genre" is, of course, bullshit, so color me skeptical--though it is a water monster, so I'll probably see the damn thing myself at some point.
Resolutely P.C. film critic Dana Stevens of Slate loves The Host. I'm not surprised, given that her litmus taste for genre films appears to be whether they can be seen as sufficiently allegorically anti-Bush, and by all accounts The Host passes that test with flying colors. For many mainstream film critics, the slightest display of political awareness automatically enables a horror film to transcend the genre, regardless of what else is going on, or whether anything else is going on. And I guess the fact that the bad guy in this is a monster rather also keeps her from having tut-tuttingly inform us that Doing Bad Things Is Wrong.
So once again, I'm unconvinced. But yeah, I'll see the thing.
Writer Jeremy Brown speaks with Battlestar Galactica's Grace Park. Man, the BSG crew REALLY think highly of this season's finale, huh? Given the previous two-and-a-half season finales, that's high praise indeed...
And as usual, Thursday Morning Quarterback is up, featuring my thoughts about this week's installments of Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight, Civil War: The Confession, 52, Battlestar Galactica, B.P.R.D.: Garden of Souls, New Avengers, Stormwatch: Post-Human Division, and Tales of the Unexpected. Go nuts!
And it's not The Scarlet Gospels. Or the third Abarat book. Or the third Book of the Art. Or the second Galilee book. Nor is it the Hellraiser remake he's writing. Or the Midnight Meat Train adaptation he's producing. Or the Damnation Game and Pig Blood Blues adaptations in the pipeline.
It's a brand new novel called Mister B. Gone, and it's coming out this Halloween, and the details, such as they are, can be found at Clive's Revelations site. (Hat tip: Pete Mesling.)
The critics, however, were mostly hostile, and frequently venomous. Many reviews made the same points:
• “300” is not sufficiently ironic. It takes its themes (duty, loyalty, sacrifice, the preservation of Western civilization against enormous odds) too seriously to, well, be taken seriously.
• “300” is campy — meaning that many things about it can be read as sexual double entendres — yet the filmmakers don’t show sufficient awareness of this.
• All of the good guys are white people and many of the bad guys are brown. (How this could have been avoided in a film about Spartans versus Persians is never explained; the distinctly non-Greek viewers at my showing seemed to have no trouble placing themselves in the sandals of ancient Spartans.)
But such criticisms aren’t really worth arguing with, because they are not serious in the first place — and that is their whole point. Many critics dislike “300” so intensely that they refused to do it the honor of criticizing it as if it were a real movie.
Jon Hastings at The Forager offers his take on two recent, controversial genre films: first 300, then The Host.
Several interesting points are raised in the 300 review, from a likening of the movie to a sort of Western wuxia picture to a (favorable) comparison of the way this movie translated the comics imagery of Frank Miller to the screen versus the way Sin City did it (for the record, since I've seen a lot of people make the same comparison, I actually liked them both a lot).
Jon also kicks off the review by saying "The teenage goth girl who sold me and my brother tickets for this told us that it was the best movie she had seen since The Matrix." As you can probably tell from the grosses alone, even aside from anecdotes like this and several I've experienced on my own, this film is playing awfully well with females. After seeing the movie, I'll admit I was surprised at this--more so than I was going in, at which point I figured the oceans of beefcake would win women over. The thing that really threw me here was the rape scene, to be honest. After one Identity Crisis too many, I'm sort of at the point where if a given work of fiction isn't more or less about rape, I'd prefer it not tackle the topic at all; I feel as though far too many writers don't realize just how completely rape overpowers a story if it's handled in a perfunctory fashion.
On the Host front, Jon shares my skepticism about mainstream critics' penchant for political allegory in their genre films, but says that in The Host's case, you barely notice it, seeing as how it's just one of a myriad of different tones and themes chucked into the mix willy-nilly in what is apparently the predominant mode of Korean cinematic storytelling. As a bonus, he also points out how reductive a reading of the original Dawn of the Dead as an anti-consumerist parable really is, and claims that the reason Land of the Dead feels flat is that Romero (perhaps buying into his own press) set it up so it's difficult to read any other way. (Again, for the record, I like Land, and don't think it's as allegorical as all that.)
Those gentle voices I hear explain it all with a sigh
Thursday afternoon is here, and with it my opinions on 52, Justice Society of America, Amazing Spider-Man, Battlestar Galactica: Zarek, Detective Comics, Girls, Runaways Saga, The Walking Dead, and X-Men in this week's Thursday Morning Quarterback.
I have a theory that the critics' urge to find political allegory in Romero's movies in particular is their way of staving off dealing with what always seemed to me the obvious point in his work: nihilism. It's much easier to say "yeah, those guys over there suck" than it is to think "but maybe none of my good intentions or noble efforts matter one bit, either." It's not that Romero makes no distinctions between good people and bad, it's just that he goes on to say that it doesn't matter in the end whether you were good or bad: it won't affect your chances of survival when things come munching. And even though I don't think that's the moral truth of the universe, it's for sure an _emotional_ truth of part of our experience, if we acknowledge it rather than hide it.
As something of nihilist myself, at least in my approach to horror, that makes a lot of sense to me. Now, to be fair to the folks who come at Romero looking for the purely political message, I do think it's there, not least because interviews I've read from Romero himself seem to back it up. But it seems reductive to take the complexity of, say, the shifting nature of who's right and wrong in Night of the Living Dead and boil it down to a campaign commercial. Nihilism works a lot better as an explanation. And it is truer.
Hmm. In its way, the Romero-verse illustrates one of the classic existentialist points Camus was on about: whatever you're trying to hold onto won't last. You're stuck. You have to start something new. I wonder what a zombie story would be like if I had a community of survivors who accepted that philosophical/religious despair and then went on to try to do something meaningful in the next context. Damn, like I don't already have enough on my plate....
Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard's ongoing zombie comic The Walking Dead looked, for one brief shining moment, like it was headed in that direction, but that was a year or so ago now and that hasn't happened and doesn't look like it will happen. DIY, Bruce!
Meanwhile, Jon Hastings himself wrote in regarding the other half of that post of mine, my surprise at the rape scene in 300:
As for the rape scene in 300, what I thought was interesting is that it wasn't presented as something for a guy to avenge or get angsty about (a la Identity Crisis) but as the Queen making a sacrifice for the good of Sparta (just like her hubby and his men!). Still very "problematic", of course, but I'm not sure that I've seen a movie that's taken that particular POV before.
That's a good point. She even doles out the comeuppance herself, and the whole business occurs with no expectation from either her or the rapist that her husband will ever find out about it, even. Very different than the old "women in refrigerators" approach.
I've been watching the British sci-fi series Primeval recently. It's about a group of scientists investigating holes in time that are releasing prehistoric creatures into the modern world. The third episode looks like it's chock full of scary aquatic dinosaurs.
Oh boy! I gotta check this thing out--it seems kind of like The Mist with no mist and tonier accents.
Finally, I write letters too. Or at the very least I post comments. Andrew Dignan's review of the latest episode of Lost over at The House Next Door (SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT!) saw him throw his hands up in despair over the introduction of the so-called "magic box," from which the residents of the mysterious Island known as the Others claim to be able to produce their hearts' innermost desires. "I give up" is the direct quote. I myself did not:
I think you're taking the "magic box" concept a bit too literally. I assumed that Ben was speaking, if not metaphorically, then at least, er, poetically, and never got the impression that the room where Locke's father was being held was an actual Magic Box that they opened up to find him in that morning. Rather, I interpreted Ben's statement as a more explicit assertion of the already established ability of the island, and apparently some of the people on it, to make manifest their fears and desires. From Jack's dad to Eko's brother to Kate's horse to Charlie's guitar to Locke's ability to walk to Juliet's ex getting run over to Charlie's plane full of heroin to (perhaps) Claire's mother getting into a car wreck immediately following Claire wishing she were dead, the entire show has involved one character after another opening the magic box, if you take my meaning.
Later, Andrew replied, in part:
Guys, come on now. I say outright that the box is likely a metaphor, and not literally a cardboard box sitting in a corner somewhere.
Granted, but I think what all of us who accused Andrew of literalism were picking up on was that he was acting as if this aspect of the show debuted, or at the very least reached some completely unprecedented level, this week. The point I was trying to make with my list of "where there's a will, there's a way" moments is that this has been a part of the show for a long time, and that this ability of the Island and some of its residents was already apparent.
For example, a clear sign of progress in Western society is that one does not need to argue against rape: it is “dogmatically” clear to everyone that rape is wrong. If someone were to advocate the legitimacy of rape, he would appear so ridiculous as to disqualify himself from any further consideration. And the same should hold for torture.
"Battlestar Galactica" is a bit like "Lost" in that it's what's called a highly serialized drama, with a long continuing plotline. If someone misses a few episodes, they may stop watching entirely, thinking they'll never be able to catch up. At the same time, once you get past the first season, new viewers can be put off by how much they don't know about what's going on. So you can lose the viewers you already have much more easily than you can acquire new ones, and both shows have suffered dips in their ratings. Yet this also seems to be one of the most fertile and exciting formats in the medium. How do you deal with those challenges?
I don't. It's a genuine problem I have no solution for. We have long conversations with the network about the extent of the serialized nature of the show. It's certainly not something they're in love with. We the writers are always pushing to make it more serialized because it makes for better storytelling. We've done a few stand-alone episodes here and there, and they're almost never very successful for our particular series. They're not what the audience tunes in for. But the network's legitimate concern is just what you were saying: The audience tends to attenuate over time. It's hard to bring new people on board. There's the hurdle of them having to catch up on all the old episodes, and any hurdle you put in front of the audience is just a bad thing. I don't know what to say. This is the kind of show I like to do, and we're just going to keep doing it. Hopefully, we can persuade people to buy the DVDs and catch up at home and keep watching the show, but the show is what it is.
The availability of DVD sets seems to have made it more possible to do this kind of series.
I think it has. It's really changed the landscape. People are much more comfortable getting on to shows like this because they can pick up a boxed set and catch up.
I latched right on to this portion of the interview because it confirmed something I postulated two years ago:
I wonder if new technologies like TiVo and DVDs aren't also playing a major role in how narrative fiction is developing on the tube, insofar as they're making complex series economically feasible in ways they didn't used to be. Back in 1990, a show like Twin Peaks could make a huge splash, but if it demanded too much week-in week-out attention from its viewership, network pressure to make the show accessible (in Peaks's case by revealing whodunit) would quickly kill what was special in the show, if not kill the show outright. Nowadays viewers, and more importantly executives and producers, know that it's easy enough to "catch up" by hitting a few buttons on your DVR or renting the first season through Netflix. Perhaps we can expect the complexity of televised fiction, even on the benighted networks, to expand accordingly.
With so much emphasis on the plotlines and characters and mysteries and other writerly aspects of the show, the fact that it's the best-looking network television program since Twin Peaks almost always gets overlooked, and pretty much no one on the show has more of a role in that visual look than Bender. Sample quote:
So what we did is that we saved all the camera moves and all the moving shots and handheld and longer lenses and all of that stuff for the island story, and we made the flashbacks closer angles, wider lenses so that all of the background would be in focus.
I was wondering if you went into it sighing, wondering how you’re going to pull it off.
VERHEIDEN: We do that with every episode. [Laughs] But it’s not so much a sigh of defeat, but more like, “Wow. A lot of challenges here.” It’s really great, though. One of the wonderful things about this show is the fact that there are so many places that we can turn. We have such a large cast, and each of them has their own idiosyncratic issues that they have to deal with. We have the Cylons. We have science-fiction conceits. We have interpersonal conceits. There are just a lot of ways stories can go. So rather than that being challenging—well, it’s challenging, but it’s also a wonderful opportunity because you’ve just got so many choices that you can make. You’re not locked into any one thing that you sort of need to do or tell. That’s great.
If you'd like to know what I thought of this week's issues of Daredevil, Green Lantern, Guy Ritchie's The Gamekeeper, Action Comics, Batman, Superman Confidential, and Ultimate Spider-Man, then Thusrday Morning Quarterback is the place for you!