Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Heroes - 'Nothing to Hide' (1x07)

I think one of the things that hasn't been written about enough concerning the recent emergence of the serialized television drama as novelistic form is its unique narrative structure. Until the late 90s, virtually all shows, except for sensationalistic soap operas, were based on a standalone episode structure. Each week would have a new event, and sometimes those events would tie in with the past, sometimes they'd just happen. Even shows that became very serialized as they went on, like Buffy and Six Feet Under, began with a standalone structure. Usually there would be an A plot and a B plot, and they might have parallels in some way, each episode functioned as a statement in and of itself.

That's why shows like Lost and Heroes represent a new paradigm for TV, one where the whole thing is one giant story, and there's no real differentation between the episodes. It's just the overarching story, spread across a bunch of hours. Back when I was watching The X-Files, I was incredibly frustrated by the lack of continuity and longed for a show like this. However, I think there are limits to serialization. In a show like this, or Rescue Me, there's no real distinction between the hours. That means you rarely get a bad episode, but you also don't get something as great as Buffy's Restless. Instead, you get exactly what you expect every week, and that makes it a bit difficult to review Heroes on a weekly basis.

I enjoyed this episode, and it's a necessary piece of the overall story, but it didn't do anything that particularly surprised me. I'm starting to feel that a bit less serialization can work well for a show. I think Six Feet Under season five is a fantastic model, it was very continuous emotionally, but would frequently present the characters with something different from week to week to test them in different ways. An episode like Dancing For Me, in which Nate meets up with an old friend from high school does a great job of forcing the character to assess his life.

However, Buffy and Six Feet Under have a fundamentally different core than Heroes. They are based around character development, so the plots are designed to test the characters and expose their feelings and flaws. Heroes is a mythology based show, and as such, the characters are subject to the narrative. To some extent, they are all manipulated into situations demanded by the story. I think mythology can work really well if it's tied in with the characters' emotional experiences, as in the best moments of The X-Files. However, I think a character based show can get away with a lot more. Buffy could do really risky shows because we had the character attachment to keep us engaged.

Now, that's not to say that Heroes needs to become more character focused. I think they're doing a good job of telling the story they're setting out to do. It's just that they could eventually run into the Lost problem of being all about teasing answers for the audience, while moving the plot slowly along. In Buffy, the plot couldn't move slow because our enjoyment didn't hinge upon narrative development.

I think Heroes could benefit by adopting a bit more Claremont X-Men model, and using the superpowers as a way to test the characters' emotions. I'm not sure what the long term plans for the show are, but I would love to see a third or fourth season do a storyline like The Mutant Massacre, in which there is a massacre of super-powered people, prompting the X-Men to become an underground strike team.

I'm guessing we'll get a big payoff at the end of November sweeps, and most likely a major cliffhanger as well. I do like the way the narrative strands are gradually converging, but I think we're getting less each week than we were before. It's like those Buffy episodes in the 19-21 run of each season, where there's just a lot of plot machinations to set up the big finale.

Well, I don't know if I made enough references to other shows in this review. But, I'm still liking Heroes, and I'm looking forward to seeing what's up next.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Weekend Update


Now that I'm done with Seven Soldiers, I'm going to take some time off from Moore/Morrison stuff. Right now, I'm reading the first volume of Warren Ellis' run on Stormwatch. I know it picks up a little later, but it was jarring reading that first issue. Coming from the brilliance of Seven Soldiers, it was jarring to go to a book that has so many basic storytelling flaws. The cast is massive, and as a result, we're forced to endure a ton of expository dialogue like "Don't fuss Jackson. You know my energy absorption talent took the sting out of all that." Anytime you have a character say "As you know..." it's a sign of bad writing. There are some interesting ideas there, but Ellis, particularly Ellis circa 1996, doesn't even touch Morrison's superhero work. Reading the issue does give me a better idea of how big a deal The Authority was. Coming off this constant exposition, narrative caption Claremont X-Men style stuff, the widescreen superheroics were positively revolutionary. I think Claremont's work is fantastic, but the quality of his characters allowed him to get away with a lot of flaws that others couldn't pull off.

New Music Video

This week, I finally wrapped up my music video for Nepo's Yer Warpin' Me. It's a great song and I think the video turned out really well. The 35mm lens adaptor is just fantastic and I love the colors and quality you get from the DVX camera. Anyway, you can get more info here, which also has a download link. Or, just watch the Youtube below.

TV Reviews

I've fallen a bit behind on doing weekly reviews of Heroes, Gilmore Girls and Veronica Mars. I'll be bringing those back with prompter reviews. The issue is that in ongoing series, a lot of episodes are designed solely to move the story forward and don't have as much to analyze. Shows that have been on longer usually have more to discuss, because you have the weight of the characters' background. That's part of why I always have so much to say about Battlestar Galactica, you're better able to position the developments within the existing story. That's true for some of Gilmore Girls, but in the case of Heroes, after most episodes I think that was pretty good, I want to see more. However, with a show like The Sopranos, there's so much quality already out there, even an episode where virtually nothing happens has a ton of material to analyze. Same for Six Feet Under last year. The closer a show gets to the end, the clearer it becomes what the overall story of the show is.

Lost Girls

Earlier this week, I bought Alan Moore's Lost Girls from Amazon. Normally I'd be all over a new Alan Moore book, but I was a bit uncertain about getting this one, due to its self professedly pornographic content, and its price. But, I decided that new Alan was worth it, no matter what subject matter he's tackling, he's interesting. So, I'll probably be reading that after Stormwatch.

Tiranti Transit

Tiranti Transit is a short film by Italian director, Alessandro Fantini. It was interesting approaching this film because I can see so much of my own work in the film, both the triumphs and the failures.

The film's in Italian, and I didn't have access to the English dialogue, but I think it's so well made that you don't even need to understand the dialogue. The primary concern is building a mood, and what lingers with me after viewing the film is not the story, it's more this feeling of melancholy and warmth. In that respect, it's a very prototypical European art film. I haven't seen that much of his work, but it's reminiscent of Antonioni, with a decentralized narrative and a focus on aesthetic qualities.

I think that's what makes cinema so powerful, a Wong Kar-Wai film wouldn't work in any other medium because it's not solely about the story, or solely about the aesthetics, it's about the fusion of music and visual to create a singular feeling. The score in this film is fantastic, moody and Blade Runneresque, it's a large part of why the short works as well as it does.

The best moments in the film are at the end. There's a fantastic shot where the woman opens a door inside and there's a cut to a wide open road, which we then see her standing on. It's a great moment of surreal cutting, using editing to make a transition that's not possible in reality. This leads up to the really nice ending of the film.

My big issue with the film, something that's true of a lot of low budget, digital works, is that some shots just feel like home video, and that takes you out of the story. It's the biggest concern in working with digital, I absolutely love DV and would gladly shoot it over film, but it means that you need to better, to ensure that each shot has the care you would spend for a filmbased take. Even David Lynch had some really sloppily composed shots in Inland Empire, it's tough to nail every shot and a few here just didn't quite work. But, it didn't fully take me out of the story's mood, and I was able to quickly shift back in and reengage with the story. Maybe some color correction would resolve that issue, or more likely, just a higher end camera.

The other thing I wasn't sure about was the zooms. Some of them were great, but some felt a bit arbitrary. Some filmmakers use the zoom lens in great ways, most notably Robert Altman. I feel like with the zoom you either have to be really slow, or really fast. If you use the default camera speed, it can feel rote. But, I'm not sure if I'm reacting that way just because I know about cameras and can see how it worked. However, I'm still glad that he tried it, because some of those zooms made for great moment.

I'd rather watch a film like this than a polished Hollywood movie that doesn't have any energy in the shooting. I'd rather have a few shots that don't quite make it if it means having some of the fantastic compositions that appear throughout the film. As I've said many times before, I'd rather see a film that aims high and doesn't quite make it than something that has no ambition and nails it. So, the flaws of this film don't mean that it's not a great viewing. This film is a world you can slip into, and I really enjoyed my time there. And, the ending had a primal power that I found very affecting and well done.

If you want to view the film, it's online here, and there's more information on Alessandro, including some fantastic art, right here. at his site.