Archive for the ‘Stories’ Category

My last trip home to Chicago, I asked my parents about their genealogy research. On my dad’s side, the story I always heard was that theBartlettsmarried into the Carrolls; my grandfather and father were then given the name Bartlett Carroll. I ended up as Bart Carroll on my birth certificate, and later changed it to Bartlett Carroll, as it was always supposed to be (it was written, incorrectly, as Bart Carroll III).

Looking back through the Bartlettside of the family, I came across a reference to the Bartletots—a wonderfully old-school version of the family name, I thought—along with some connection to the court of Charlemagne.

One quick internet search later, and I came to the following:

The Bartlett family owes its beginning to King Pepin and Queen Bertha of France. The parents of King Charles I (aka Charlemagne) and his sister Bertha. Now Bertha married Milo, Duke of Aigiant and they are the parents of theBartlettline. Their son, christened by the name of Berthaelot (a diminutive of Bertha) became the favorite of his uncle (Charlemagne) who watched over him.

On one occasion, during the Festivale of Pentecost, at the Great Court and Tournament, an important event relating to the Bartlett Coat-of-Arms occurred.

It seems that a son of the Duke of Aymon, named Raynard, ventured into the chambers of the King demanding a payment in gold for the death of his uncle Bevis. Charlemagne, enraged by the insolence, removed the glove from his left hand and threw it into Raynard’s face, thus creating a challenge to which Raynard chose to withdraw. Berthelot retrieved the glove from the floor returning it to Charlemagne.

Among other things, Berthelot was a master of chess. History says that, Sir Gordon, known as the mischief-maker, coursed Barthelot to challenge Raynard in a game of chess. After playing six games, tempers rose and the meet erupted with words and blows upon which Raynard picked up the heavy gold chess board and brought it down on the head of Berthelot sending him to the floor. Where upon Raynard drew his sword and brought it down splitting Berthelot’s head leaving him dead on the ground. Charlemagne hearing of the death of his nephew decreed that the Berthelot family would be recognized by three left-handed gloves with gold tassels to be emblazoned upon its Coat-of-Arms.

So there you have it. A Bartlett in Charlemagne’s court. Killed after a blow by a golden chessboard.

So, here’s my book report on Mockingjay—the final book in The Hunger Games trilogy. At least, my take-away impression, not so much of the heroine, Katniss, but on expressions of being a heroine.

For anyone that hasn’t read the book—spoilers, dead ahead!

Katniss, in this conclusion to the trilogy, has escaped the namesake Hunger Games and been taken in by the mysterious District 13—thought long dead and destroyed by the Capitol. As figurehead to the resistance, Katniss works to help overthrow the Capitol government and President Snow, only to realize along the way that District 13’s leader, Coin (not my favorite name for this series, but an excellent name for a thief in some other fantasy series), is no better. Even Gale, her lifelong friend and potential love interest is thought to have helped devise a deathtrap responsible for the death of Katniss’s sister along with an entire city block full of children. Yech.

In the end, Katniss manages to kill both President Snow and new President Coin, essentially with a single arrow. (Amazing, I know). But it’s a pyrrhic victory. Katniss is left broken and disillusioned; and between her potential suitors, she’s left with Peeta, equally damaged beyond repair.

It’s a fine series; and while even the last book felt the weakest of the three—the military strike through the Capitol wasn’t quite the same as a third Hunger Game competition, although the author tried to set it up as such—it still had me tearing through it. I can’t remember the last series that had me so excited to keep turning its pages.

However, my main complaint was with the nature of being its heroine. Katniss is tortured throughout the entire series—physically, mentally, emotionally; by the third book, she’s in and out of the hospital, taking medication just to cope with her nightmares, and at times is sunken into one hell of a bleak depression for a YA novel (granted, it’s not the bleakest element of all considering the series revolves around a children’s death match). But clearly, it’s no fun to be the “hero” in the Hunger Games.

That seems to have been a common trait in other series, as well. Harry Potter comes to mind; in the early books, the dark dangers of the story are tempered with his delight in Hogwarts and everything he discovers there. By the end of the series, this magical world is a dreary, oppressed one indeed, and it’s all Harry can do to keep as many of his friends alive as possible.

Perhaps even more so, Frodo in Lord of the Rings experiences extremely little joy along his journey. He does meet up with Bilbo for a brief respite in Rivendell (and even that’s spoiled by the ring), and then it’s a brutal slog through Middle Earth and Morder, with Samwise having to physically haul his broken ass up a mountainside by the end of it.

Now, obviously these are dramatic stories and the odds are supposed to be stacked heavily against the hero so that It’s all the more incredible when he or she ultimately succeeds.

Still, I suppose my take-away from The Hunger Games at least is that I tend to enjoy stories where the hero gets to enjoy, at least for part of the time, being a hero. Han Solo seemed to have a blast. Likewise, characters in The Princess Bride. Fafhard and the Grey Mouser. Iron Man (especially after seeing The Avengers this weekend… great movie, but you really don’t have to stay through the end of the credits on this one). And—as a child of the 80’s—Arnold Schwarzenegger, throwing off as many one-liners as he was grenades/knives/circular saw blades in the middle of the action.

To some extent, it should be rewarding in its own right to be a hero. You shouldn’t have to survive being a hero just to ultimately win some peace in the end. To me it’s the equivalent of Cape Fear movies and all their kind, where the protagonist is tormented up until the end, when they finally overcome.

I much rather the hero enjoy themselves along the way.

My only knowledge of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’s original script came from a piece of trivia in its IMDB listing (I love picking through IMDB’s trivia section). It mentioned Joel and Clementine originally written to have erased each other multiple times, into their old age, pointing to the doomed nature of their relationship.

This past week, I read through the script. It made an outstanding companion to the film—to see what Charlie Kaufman originally envisioned. As written, Joel was not the most sympathetic character. In the movie, he mentions already having a live-in girlfriend (Naomi) when he meets Clementine. In the script, Naomi has a much larger role—she’s there when Joel returns from the beach house, and although he’s bored in their relationship (which is why he’s drawn to Clementine’s excitement), she’s not a bad person. But he quickly dumps her to be with Clementine. Then after he’s erased Clementine, he immediately reconnect with Naomi and sleeps with her, only to push her away again the next day (after meeting Clementine again for the first time).

I can see why they edited her out. Naomi seems to work as a counterpart to Patrick, for the people Joel and Clementine turn to. But Joel’s conflicted enough. And she makes him much less sympathetic. The movie’s about his break-up with Clementine, not with Naomi as well.

There’s also more to Mary and her doomed relationship with Walter, the doctor in charge of Lacuna Industries. In the film, we know she had an affair with Walter, a memory she learns she had erased. In the script, not only did she have an affair but also an abortion as a result—the pain of not remembering drives her to mail back all of the patients’ files. It explains her actions in the film (in the script, she argues—as much as the audience no doubt does—that memories, however painful, still need to be remembered). Kaufman still challenges us on this point though, asking in the script, what about memories of the horrors of war? What about memories of rape?

And, there are two lovely bits of poetry that the movie choose not to include (or could not for legal reasons, who knows). The beach house has special significance to Joel and Clementine, in part because they find it while discovering they both love the same poem:

CLEMENTINE
Do you know her poem that starts “Seaside gusts of wind,/And a house in which we don’t live…

JOEL
Yeah, yeah. It goes “Perhaps there is someone in this world to whom I could send all these lines”?

The beach house becomes their house in which they don’t live. The poem (named “Erased” appropriately enough, goes on: Well then!/Let the lips smile bitterlyAnd a tremor touch the heart again.)

The second lovely bit comes in a scene when they are intimate in bed. In the movie, Clementine is talking about an ugly doll she had as a kid, that she yelled at to be pretty—she thought if she could change the doll, then she could be pretty, too. It makes her vulnerable, and Joel loves the bonding between them, especially when she’s so aggressive around him the rest of the time.

In the script, her speech instead references the Velveteen Rabbit:

CLEMENTINE
It’s my favorite book. Since I was a kid. It’s about these toys.  There’s  this part where the skin Horse tells the rabbit what it means to be real.

(crying) I can’t believe I’m crying already. He says, “It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t often happen to people who break easily or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally by  the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

It’s a much more important speech. It’s not just about her, but about their relationship, about how people truly in love look past all flaws and faults in one another; they don’t, in fact, even see them.

For Joel and Clementine, that’s the crux of the movie. They do see each other’s flaws, to the point where they break-up catastrophically—and Joel, looking back, finally realizes that he didn’t understand. It’s the point in the script where he decides he doesn’t want to forget Clementine after all—he changes his mind, he yells out that he wants to stop. But by then of course it’s all too late.

I forgot how much I love Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, however sad it makes me feel. It’s one of my favorite movies, weirdly personal concerning past relationships—and having watched it again this past weekend, I enjoyed again how well crafted, well written, well acted it is. All of its scenes fit together so beautifully…

Even more importantly is how much the movie resonates with me emotionally (and a great many other people, I imagine, who’ve ever suffered through either side of a break-up). It is, after all, far more a story about the agonies of a failed relationship than it is about that relationship being resurrected at the end. Forget the mildly science-fiction element of memory-erasing. The movie chronicles the very real psychologies of Joel and Clementine as they take the terrifyingly step of ending things permanently.

They cannot do so without looking back at the start of their relationship (the focus of the movie), which makes the finality of it all the more agonizing. Their break-up means the end of everything—no more fights, no more frustrations and disappointments with one another, but also everything else that led up to that point, good or bad. Through the conceit of memory-erasing, if Joel and Clementine break-up, they’ll not only be out of each other’s lives forever, but will have never existed to one another—and the knowledge of that shakes them completely.

And ultimately, they can’t go through with it.

At the end (or rather, the beginning) of the movie, Joel and Clementine reunite. Although their memories of one another have been erased, they are nevertheless drawn back together. And despite knowing what they’ll eventually think of each other, all the faults they’ll find, they nevertheless decide to give their relationship another chance.

It’s still a heartbreaking ending. Although they ultimately return to their relationship, it remains doomed. They haven’t worked through any of their problems, they’ve only temporarily “reset” things to the beginning. The original script had Clementine unknowingly having her memory erased again and again—meaning, although they keep reconciling, their relationship ultimate fails, again and again, unavoidably.

This last time I watched the movie, however, I found another ending I almost preferred—at least, for how I connected with the movie.

Near the end, Joel remembers meeting Clementine for the very first time, at a party on the beach. Later that night, they run off into an empty house where Clementine almost convinces Joel to spend the night with her. It’s the last memory he has of her. And before it’s erased, she asks him to spend the night again—to stay this time, and make a new memory. But he can’t. That’s not how it works; he didn’t stay the first time, he ran off, embarrassed, and confused, and smitten—but he ran off. So he can’t remember staying with her this time.

She at least asks him to say goodbye, and that he can do. In a way, it’s the break-up that they should have given one another and moved on. They say their goodbyes as the beach house, and their memory of it, falls down around them.

How happy is the blameless vestal’s lot!

The world forgetting, by the world forgot.

Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind!

Each pray’r accepted, and each wish resign’d…

It comes as no surprise that last week I watched The Hunger Games. So did everyone else in the world, plus a few citizens of the moon. And for good reason—it’s a well executed, faithful adaptation of the book, which itself was a fairly well written page turner.

The most legitimate complaints I’ve heard so far about The Hunger Games (the first book/movie; I haven’t read the rest of the series) is, first, that it’s a little too convenient. For starters, we follow the protagonist, Katniss, throughout—so we’re entirely certain that she’ll not only survive but go on to win the Hunger Games competition. No surprise there (a more original novel would have had her dying off at some point, but none comes to mind where the protagonist that we’re following suddenly dies partway in… excepting, perhaps, the Cohen Brothers version No Country For Old Men).

Throughout the competition, the sympathetic characters are killed off by the villainous competitors (the spoiled rich ones; it’s a given that the hero of the story is an underdog—at least in terms of her background, if not her skills; here’s a great article, btw, on how movies trick you into rooting for the hero.). Katniss herself only directly kills one competitor, and that’s after he stabs a 7-year old girl—so, clearly, he has it coming. (It’s akin to Arnold Schwarzenegger explaining to his wife in True Lies, that yes he’s killed people, but they were all bad.) Even at the end, Katniss’s partner, Peeta, is also allowed to live through a twist in the rules.

It’s not an entirely rosy ending. The first novel concludes with its unresolved love triangle between Katniss, Peeta, and Gale; and, although she’s won this competition, her defiance has made her a target of President Snow. Still, for a story about a murderous battle royale between children, the heroine gets to keep her hands remarkably clean of any morally ambiguous bloodshed. The good guys wear their white hats throughout, and the order of the killings naturally leaves our heroes to duke it out in the end with the main villain. Tidy!

The other complaint is that The Hunger Games is fairly derivative. The story about a deathmatch competition is nothing new, and Hunger Games’ more recent cousins include The Running Man (more Arnold Schwarzenegger), The Long Walk (and hey, more Stephen King)—and, as Amazon.com recently figured out and added to their rental queue, the Japanese film, Battle Royale.

The concept of derivative stories just happened to bite me in the ass this weekend. I’ve been working on my own writing, most recently on a chapter involving one of the main characters—the brawler—being arrested and thrown in prison. It’s the revision to an earlier version where the brawler is involved with underground fighting and is then arrested at one of his fights, but I thought it would be more compelling if the arrest came first—and the brawler is then forced to fight in prison. This alone is already derivative.

Add to that, I happened to be watching an episode of G.I. Joe: Renegades. (It’s a great cartoon that has fun with introducing old characters in new ways, and I’m a sucker for all things G.I. Joe*). They had a prison break episode, and I wanted to see how they wrote the escape.

The escape itself was nothing novel (Snake Eyes codename should really be deus ex machine, as he perpetually turns up out of nowhere to save the day). Worse (for me), the prison itself made use of the very same concept I was exploring—the heroes were made to fight, organized by the warden in order to gamble on the fights as sport. The entire concept, I realized, was enough of a trope that it’s now cliché—a gladiatorial arena in prison—that I’ll need to rewrite much of the chapter.

I have some thoughts on it, and may end up leaving it in. In a revised version, the hero may not need to fight for the warden’s entertainment or gambling. Instead, there may be an element of competition to it. This prison houses the worst of the city’s criminals, and to ever be paroled, the prisoners can only earn years off their sentence by defeating other prisoners (and earning whatever parole their opponents have accumulated).

*As a side note, boing boing recently posted a link to a Toy Fair article that effectively summed up my feelings on G.I. Joe. The author is a little cynical about what she sees there, until she comes to the Breyer horse exhibit—her favorite toys as a little girl:

“I’m going to get a little nostalgic for a moment, so bear with me, but do you remember your favorite toys as a child? And maybe you wondered why adults didn’t seem as enchanted with your toys as you were? I used to swear I’d never lose interest in my figurines and dolls, I feared it would mean losing my entire sense of self. But of course I grew older and started leaving those beloved things behind.

“I can pick up a Breyer horse, admire the smooth plastic and artful details, but … that’s it. I’m not going to sit on the floor with it for hours, making it talk to other toys, acting out my latest conflicts and fantasies, forming pretend relationships. I wish I could enjoy toys on that level again.”

Hugo: Rewritten

Posted: January 30, 2012 in General, Stories
Tags: , ,

It’s Oscar season—and since most Oscar-bait is released as far into the year as possible, that means we’ve been trying to catch up on our movie watching around here.

This weekend, it was Hugo.

Very briefly, the movie involves the titular Hugo, orphaned son of a clockmaker who haunts a Parisian train station. While evading the station inspector, Hugo tries to both fix an automaton that he believes contains a message from his father, and resolve the mystery of a tragic toymaker.

There’s quite a fair amount I did like about Hugo. Although not a fan of child actors, the roles of Hugo and Isabelle were played likeably enough; add to that Ben Kingsley as Georges Méliès, and Sacha Baron Cohen as the station inspector. And although not a fan of 3D movies (which seem novelty money-grabs more than anything else), Hugo actually does make good use of the medium. The visuals of 1930’sParis are beautiful. And the bouquets thrown to movies and moviemaking in general are heartfelt.

That’s to start with positives. There were multiple scenes that, taken individually, entertained. My problem was the unfolding of the story itself. As a whole, it really faltered.

Hugo is based on “The Invention of Hugo Cabret,” a book I have not read, and so I don’t know if the story was constructed differently in print. However, here’s what I would have suggested with it:

As told…
Hugo’s father is a clockmaker. When he dies tragically, Hugo is taken in by a sodden uncle who manages the clocks of a train station. When the uncle disappears, and later ends up dead, Hugo is left to fend for himself and keep the station’s clocks running.

In a suggested revision…
There’s no reason to have both father and uncle. The father should have been the clockmaker who also managed the train station. When he died, Hugo is left on his own.

As told…
Hugo’s notebook is taken from him by Georges Méliès, a toy seller. Méliès threatens to burn it, but relents if Hugo works for him and shows promise. Hugo needs the notebook to fix the automaton—yet however important this device, the notebook is later ignored. Hugo fixes the automaton regardless. For whatever reason, Hugo even stops working for Méliès due to some falling out.

These elements are really a mess.

In a suggested revision…
Hugo ends up working for Méliès, but only further along (so as not to remove the earlier danger of the station inspector and being sent to an orphanage) after learning Méliès was once a filmmaker. He earns back the notebook, and uses it to fix the automaton.

As told…
An academic who has devoted his entire life to studying Méliès’s career as a filmmaker, isn’t aware that Méliès is even still alive. This made absolutely no sense; Méliès was never trying to hide his identity, and an academic writing about his life would have fairly easily tracked him down.

In a suggested revision…
Méliès is not mistaken for dead. After his films were no longer in vogue, he simply went into a J.D. Salinger-like exile. No one knows where he is. Eventually Hugo discovers that the humble toy seller is actually Méliès, the innovative filmmaker, and tension arises when Méliès demands to be left in obscurity because nobody cares for his movies anymore.

As told…
Hugo fixes the automation, which draws him a picture of a movie his father told him about (A Trip to the Moon), and so he thinks it’s a message from his father. This is the emotional climax of the entire goddamn movie, and it comes about halfway in! Afterwards, Hugo then tries to revive the spirits of Méliès, and brings him the automaton to show that his life wasn’t pointless. Oh, did I mention that Méliès also invented the automaton? (This felt about as forced as learning Anakin Skywalker constructed C-3P0.) He was a magician, then filmmaker, then ended up in obscure retirement as a train station toymaker—and yes, this is all based on the actual, incredible life of Georges Méliès—but the added element of this automaton was just too much.

In a suggested revision…
Méliès never invented the automaton. We never learn who did; it’s a mystery. The automaton is an ancient wonder. At the end of the movie, Hugo finally fixes it; but instead of the climatic sequences of rescuing the automaton from the train tracks, it should be a miraculous discovery of the missing key that finally brings the completed automaton to life.

As it’s brought to life, the automaton draws its wondrous picture of the rocket to the moon as the final scene; it is Méliès’s movie, which brings him a measure of validation, and a seeming message from Hugo’s father, which brings him a measure of peace.

I’m currently in the middle of two books (48% into Iain M. Banks’ Transition, and page 90 of Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games). Usually this happens when I start a book, but it fails to catch enough of my interest that I drift over to something else. Life is too short to finish a bad book, after all.

And between these two, I’ve noticed one crucial aspect about why Transition is getting put down more quickly, and Hunger Games picked up (aside from the fact that my wife devoured the Hungers Games trilogy and wants to discuss them with me especially before the movie comes out).

A brief introduction of Hunger Games, if you haven’t devoured them already yourself: it’s the story of a girl chosen by lottery to participate in a televised death-match. Kind of like The Running Man or The Long Walk (Stephen King’s short stories), also set in a bleak, futuristic America. And as such, I’m trying to trick my wife into watching The Running Man with me.

Hunger Games is marketed as a young adult novel, part of which means having a younger protagonist, presumably that the target audience can more easily relate to. It also means having a more straightforward narrative. Not so straightforward as in a “this happened, then this happened, then this happened” sort of way—more of a “this happened, then this happened (which reminded me of something in my past), then this happened (which makes me suspect something in the future). And, it turns out, this makes for easier reading.

(As an aside, part of the undeniable appeal of Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code, at least for me, was its narrative structure. There were essentially two narratives going on at the same time, one with the protagonist (A), and one with the antagonist (B). Each short chapter concerned one of these narratives, and then ended on a mini-cliffhanger. You had to read through the next chapter to find out what happened at the end of the chapter before that… at which point, you then had to read through that chapter to find out what happened at the end of the one before that, and so on. A-B-A-B-A-B, all the way through. It worked… one thing that didn’t, though, was the cardinal sin of having the main character look in a mirror so that he can be physically described to the audience.)

The opposite is true with Iain Banks. If you aren’t familiar with his novels, he’s the writer of sci-fi “Culture” novels (as Iain M. Banks, somewhat confusingly), and other fictional works (as Iain Banks). He is prolific. And (perhaps because of that, perhaps growing bored with a straightforward narrative style) he is experimental.

In some case, this works wonderfully. The Wasp Factory (1984) tells the story of a deranged killer as the protagonist. Walking on Glass (1985) weaves three separate narratives together, brilliantly, in the end. The Bridge (1986) used a similar trick, also brilliantly. (I appreciate a good narrative trick; Slaughterhouse-Five is one of my all-time favorites.)

With Transition, however, the narrative has become so fractured that I’ve generally lost the thread of who the characters are, what they’re after—heck, what the book is even about. (I get that you don’t always want to telegraph the goal up front, assuming that the protagonist will achieve it in the end. It is, for example, the Hunger Games trilogy; I assume the protagonist wins, or at least survives, the first death-match.) But here, some chapters seem entirely standalone and don’t serve any greater story. It probably doesn’t help that the story itself concerns a group of agents that can flit between dimensions which are copies of Earth (to some extent; think of string theory and an infinite possibilities, each marginally different), assuming new identities in the process.

And that some of the characters are actively trying to conceal and confuse their identities.

And that some of the characters may actually be the same character, just at different times in the narrative.

I don’t know.

I can’t f’ing tell.

If that sounds entirely too messy, that’s because it is. I love Banks, especially when his books come together… but in this case, I feel that he’s pulling a trick with far too long of a reveal. Instead of following whatever twists the narrative itself has in store, most of the story so far has simply been piecing out who’s who how the mechanics of this universe actually work.

And who knows; that may have been all of the story that he wished to tell.

It’s a well-written mess. And right now, it’s losing out to a well-written book. Guess which one gets to be a blockbuster movie.

I’ve written in the past about Snow White’s double-jump to the big screen next year, with both Snow White and the Huntsman, and Mirror, Mirror. She’s not the only fairy tale character. They really do seem to be the next broad trope.

I missed this latest version of Sleeping Beauty, perhaps for good reason. The IMDB description: “A haunting portrait of Lucy, a young university student drawn into a mysterious hidden world of unspoken desires,” does not exactly compel me to buy a ticket. Nor does the salon.com’s review, which summarizes it as a “young woman’s creepy sexual odyssey.” It all sounds more like Seinfeld’s Rochelle Rochelle (“a young woman’s erotic journey from Milan to Minsk”) than anything having to do with the original fairy tale (except for the fact that the main character appears to be asleep through most of it.

More in keeping with the original is this latest trailer for Jack the Giant Killer:

 Now that’s a movie I’d watch!

An older post, but reposting here for the sake of archiving!

Fair warning: this post is completely self-indulgent, having finally made my way through Battlestar Galactica (the SyFy Channel series). So sue me, I have to rant. I missed the show when it first came out (as I did with Firefly), but everyone who watched always raved how much—as a fan of science-fiction—I’d love it. And it’s true, the show, overall, was fairly great; as a series, not quite as good (for me) as Lost, but extremely well acted (Jamie Bamber is actually British? He sure fooled me.). Part of its success was the fact the show hinged on its characters. Consequently, the characters hinged on the writing, and that I found to be wildly hit or miss.

***

Looking at the series, there were a few notable examples that I found both hugely compelling and utterly egregious. In the interest of storytelling….

What worked:

1. The Resolution of Starbuck

In Season 4, Starbuck disappears in a cliffhanger ending, presumed dead in a ship explosion. She later returns to lead the colonists to “Earth”… where she finds her own dead body. I think the writer’s wrote themselves into a corner here. They wanted to keep some mystery about Starbuck, but weren’t quite sure how to adequately explain her return. Would we find out in the last episode? Nope. Alone with Apollo, he turns and finds her gone (but not, as she feared, forgotten). And… it worked. It completely worked for me to take her out of the world so suddenly—even without explanation. They got lucky, the writers. The lesson here may be that sometimes the explanation ruins the mystery.

(As a side note, Starbucks’ relationship with Apollo I did considered a writing failure. The writers developed a compelling story arc of their growing closer, with their finally coming together. Only there was quite a bit of series left, so they wrote a new arc of their sudden break. And then, another arc of their possible reconciliation. By the end, I no longer cared about them, or about Starbuck’s feelings for Anders. The lesson here is not to always end an arc with the immediate start of a new arc, at the risk of audience fatigue.)

2. The Admiral and the President

This relationship, on the other hand, I considered a success. At some point in the series, fairly early on, we can see this one coming: Admiral Adama and President Roslin. Even still, it was handled with enough grace and patience (over a single, long arc) that it felt quite genuine. The scene of Adama at Roslin’s grave—at the site he’d build her cabin—was note perfect and well choreographed along the way.

3. Baltar’s Trial

Dr. Gaius Baltar—as a villainous schemer, he finally gets what he wants as president of New Caprica—only to hand over control to the Cylons. At his eventual trial, there seems no way to keep this character either alive or out of the brig for the rest of the series. But the writers still needed him. Apollo’s defense speech was so eloquent and reasoned, I was almost convinced myself—and certainly willing to accept a split vote by the jury.

What failed:

1. The Cylon Virus

The only reason I continued watching BSG was by pretending this plotline never happened. Showing the Cylon’s vulnerabilities, the fleet discovers a virus that’s decimate a base ship. If the fleet can inflect a Cylon and execute it, sending it back to the Resurrection Ship, the entire Cylon race would be destroyed. I think the writers started this plotline, and quickly realized they needed to back out. Hence Helo, in a fit of conscious, kills the infected Cylons before the plan can be carried out. Despite the fact that this would have ended the war, there’s no subsequent investigation (despite the obvious culprit), and despite what should have labeled him a traitor to all humanity, Helo is later promoted to CAG. It was a ham-fisted way to write off the Cylon virus, and it showed. The lesson here is not to start an arc you don’t intent to follow it through.

2. Cylon/Human Children

Hera, the Human-Cylon child is a pivotal figure, heralding salvation for the two races (somehow). Later on, Chief Tyrol and Cally have their own child… and Tyrol is revealed to be a Cylon. Uh oh—how to explain this? Sadly, by claiming that their child actually had a different father. A cheap writing trick, and one that showed the writers hastily covering their plot holes.

(On a related note, an earlier script called for the death of Helo and Sharon at the end, with Hera then raised by Baltar and Caprica Six… which would have given a satisfying completion to the Opera House visions (with their walking away with the child). Instead, the writers “graced” us with a happier ending: Help, Sharon and Hera as family. I say, don’t give us a happy ending to make us feel better about the characters—not at the expense of concluding a pivotal story arc. Fail.)

3. The Final Cylon

The greatest mystery of the series was always who may or may not be a Cylon. The President? Adama? When the Final Five are fully revealed, we learn that the fifth Cylon is… wait for it… Ellen Tigh. Of all the characters they chose, they went with one whose story arc had already wrapped up (beautifully) with her death at the hands of a heartbroken Saul. There was no satisfaction to her reveal, only a sense of a squandered opportunity for one final twist. I guess the lesson here is, once an arc concludes, leave it the heck alone. In the immortal words of the Humungus: Walk away. Just walk away.

4. Joining Earth

This point alone led to this lengthy blog post. In the series finale, the fleet finally, finally, reaches Earth—the “real” Earth (I have my disappointments with their finding an earlier, irradiated Earth). A perfect way to end a grand series, and that harkens back to the end of the original Battlestar Galactica series (let’s forget about Galactica 1980, shall we?). Once there, we are then told that the humans who traveled so far, and sacrificed so much, are willing to start with a “clean slate” and join the planet’s crude inhabitants with none of their current technology. I call bullshit. This was clearly an attempt by the writers to try and fit the fleet into our own Earth and allow for history as we know it. Except it makes no sense at all. Not only would the fleet never agree to this (they’re really expected to fly all of their spaceships into the sun, knowing the Cylons are still out there? How stupid are we supposed to accept that they are?). But, even if they abandoned all their technology, they still retain the knowledge to build more—and most certainly would have done so, resulting in an unavoidable change to history. The lesson here is not to try and be so clever that you piss all over plausibility.

Melancholia

Posted: November 28, 2011 in Stories
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Last week, I reviewed The Immortals. This weekend, I caught Melancholia (which does sound like a disease, doesn’t it?). Here’s my two second review:

Don’t watch it. They should have dropped that planet on Kirsten Dunst’s head 5 minutes into the film, and saved me the remaining 131 minutes.

And now, hopefully, I’ve saved you from this dreary misery as well.