Saturday, April 04, 2009

Probably a bad idea.

Warning: The post that follows contains spoilers for DOLLHOUSE, the BATTLESTAR GALACTICA finale, and INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL. It is also a rant, and thus poorly structured and vague in its intent. Feel free to skip it. However, to prevent this from being a complete waste of time, and also to conduct an experiment in site traffic, here's a photo of Jennifer Connelly.

Jennifer Connelly
I’ve developed a kind of precogniscence that I’d rather do without. (Now I know how Christopher Walken felt.) It seems that after years of discussing media on the internet, as well as enjoying unpopular examples of said media, I now know when people on the internet will hate something well out of proportion to its actual flaws. I’m not sure whether I’m becoming more perceptive or if fandom, in the broad sense of the word, has become that predictable.

Last night I saw an episode of DOLLHOUSE, Joss Whedon’s latest series, set in a creepy facility where “actives”, people who’ve had their personalities wiped, are implanted with different personalities and skill sets to do jobs for wealthy clients. It’s a decent show, took a while to get going and will probably be canceled sooner rather than later, but never mind that. The episode in question involved a bunch of actives remembering who they were and trying to escape the facility. In the end, it was revealed that this was a psychological experiment to deal with some of the repressed baggage these particular actives had, that had been surfacing in prior missions. It was a fun episode which deepened some of the characters, expanded on the setting, and moved at a good clip. But I knew the final twist, and the fact that this episode had not demolished the status quo as the network promos had hinted, would in fact piss a lot of people off, and so it did. I was enjoying the episode but dreading the inevitable blowback.

Go back a bit to the ending of BATTLESTAR GALACTICA. In a final confrontational moment, resident religious nut/glorious scumbag/whatever the Hell else he is Gaius Baltar offered his explanation of divine forces at work bringing the Cylons and the last hope of humanity together at one vital moment. The possibility of divine influence in this series was always present, but sci-fi fans were generally hoping for something more concrete and detailed, and detailed explanations- of whether Baltar was right or an idiot, of what the Head-things are, of what Starbuck was, etc.- were not forthcoming. I didn’t mind the ambiguity but I knew that others would, especially since the Sci-Fi Channel had been promoting the final season by promising that all questions would be answered. On top of that, I knew that a final decision by the characters would be perceived as particularly anti-science, pro-Luddite, and generally backwards and reactionary in our modern political climate, and in this case I thought the articulation of that decision was kind of weak (the show, magnificent as it was, had a tendency to lapse into cliché dialogue now and again), so I felt some of the end scenes were flawed, but to me they were minor issues. To others they totally ruined the end of the series.

I’m getting repetitive but I’d like to go back even further, to May of last year and INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL. My positive review of this film is a matter of public record, and at some point opinion on the film went from polarized to profoundly negative, as seems to be the fate of anything George Lucas has his name even remotely attached to. (I’m sure he doesn’t care, having enough money to start his own country, but the way his name is spoken like a curse annoys me. Price of success I suppose.) Now, the film definitely had flaws. But more unpleasant than the actual bad parts of the movie (the overly abrupt ending, John Hurt having nothing to do, etc.) was watching the parts that I knew fanboys on the Internet would lose their shit over. The early scenes in the desert have a lot of prairie dogs popping up, and they’re obviously CG and sort of a passive Greek chorus to the high-action absurdity going on, which is weird but funny. But because it’s so cartoony, it was once again evidence of Lucas’ sinister immaturity tainting a formerly dignified franchise. And then there’s the nuked fridge. Indy rides out an A-bomb test in a lead-lined refrigerator, which I found amusing and it set up a great shot of him looking up at a mushroom cloud signifying the passing of an era. It’s blatantly impossible, so lo and behold, “Nuking the Fridge” is now common Internet parlance for ruining a franchise.

And it’s not like this only happens with moments I otherwise don’t mind. I do think the business with Mutt leading a bunch of monkeys to mess with the Nazis was kind of stupid. Emphasis on “kind of”, because it’s an obvious Tarzan homage and this is a pulp movie and seriously, have you seen some of the crap they get away with over in the Mummy series? But of course, if there is one thing fans cannot stand it is a series not being taken as seriously as they themselves take it, so this movie ends up on worst-of-the-year lists and anything wrong with it is the fault of you-know-who.

Objectively I shouldn’t care. If you enjoy something, the fact that others don’t shouldn’t give you pause. If you think it’s actually objectively good and others think it is terrible, you are not necessarily wrong. But sometimes the sheer level of vitriol makes a reasonable give-and-take over something harder to engage in- the con side defines the terms of the argument and you end up having to defend monkeys and fridge-nukes before you get to talk about the things you actually liked. On this blog, at least, I can structure an argument without going into defense mode, but I enjoy actually having a give and take with people as well.

If you’re not sure what point I’m making, welcome to the club. Obviously people will disagree on things, and such is the Internet. I wish debates like this took place on more fundamental levels- story and character and aesthetics rather than individual weird moments- but at the same time I suspect that a lot of the complaints you hear are shorthand. BATMAN AND ROBIN isn’t a terrible film solely or even primarily because there are nipples on the batsuit, but “nipples on the batsuit” is sort of a code for the film’s campy attitude and aesthetic, which doesn’t work because the performers don’t sell it like they did on the Adam West series, etc. DIE ANOTHER DAY’s problem is not that James Bond windsurfs down an iceberg but that the film seems to ricochet between absurd madness like that and attempts at low-key geopolitical intrigue like two scripts were shoved together at random.

I suppose my problem is perspective and a lack thereof. We’re talking about things that represent individual whims and choices on the part of writers/directors/etc., conceptual decisions that in and of themselves are neither good nor bad. It’s all in the execution, and examining why something works or doesn’t is a lot more interesting than just pointing to it. I suppose all of us, myself included, could also stand to be more open to disagreement and the idea that the opposing side may in fact have valid points. Too often I hear these points espoused as geek gospel, something that’s been decided on, and someone who challenges them is an apologist- a Whedonite, a Morrison whorrison (though that’s actually kind of clever), an undiscerning fanboy who refuses to recognize the truth. It hate it when these situations occur, and that’s why I hate being able to see them coming. There’s no way for creators to avoid it because fans are impossible to uniformly please, and catering solely to them means losing your own voice, a fate I would not wish on Whedon, Ron Moore, George Lucas, or frankly even Michael Bay. Not that they’re paying attention.


Anonymous said...

I completely agree with nearly everything you said. I do think that with the internet, everything is dissected down to its minuscule parts, so the bad, even if it's small, is talked about so much it ends up being big. And, sadly, I think people like to hate. They enjoy 'bringing someone down a notch.'

It's at the point where I don't even argue with most people anymore. Depressing.

Generic Viagra said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.