The Secret Guild of Movie-Writers

The Secret Guild of Movie-Writers

Episode 1: Stupidly Treking Into Darkness

Mere days after the release of J.J.Abrams’ Star Trek reboots the franchise to huge success, three key members of the Guild of Movie-Writers (we’ll call them Misters A, B and, er, C) meet to discuss plans for the follow-up-

Mr A. Well gentlemen, its official- Paramount have contacted JJ and they want a sequel pronto. Any ideas?

Mr B. Well, I have an idea. I was looking at my girlfriends DVD collection-

Mr C. I always said, the best place for ideas is a DVD collection…(Mr A nods sagely)

Mr B. –yes, well, I saw this disc on the shelf, it was Star Trek 2: The Wrath of… er, Wotisname…

Mr A. Hmmm. I think I know the one you mean…

Mr B. Yeah, its supposed to be a fan favourite, and the critics quite liked it. Maybe we could use that. I mean, its movie #2 and everything, its like a perfect fit. Does half our work for us. And if the fans liked it the first time, they’ll love it the second time, right? I mean, its, like, the ‘Golden Law of Hollywood Sequel-making’ or something isn’t it? Give it ’em once, give it ’em twice, give it ’em thrice!

Mr C. Yeah, we could. The beauty of these reboots is that you can freely remake…

Mr A. I hate that word. ‘Remake‘ is such a dirty word. I prefer ‘re-imagine’

Mr C.  -ahem, I mean, find inspiration from other  peoples brighter ideas. Its not a if we even had to create characters for that first film, it was all done for us. Fantastic. Did that script in a weekend. Wotisname… er, Kang was it? He could be a cool villain. We could lift whole scenes from that movie, maybe twist things around a bit, obviously. It ain’t a remake or anything. Maybe make Kang a woman maybe! Or British!

Mr B. I dunno, I thought Kang was some kind of Oriental Super Soldier in the tv show. British?

Mr C. The best villains are British, everyone knows that.

Mr A. Well, I had a cool dream last night about the Enterprise racing around underwater.

Mr B. What? But it’s a spaceship, not a bloody submarine.

Mr C. That’s my fault. Well, I was telling him the other day about Cameron setting Avatar 2 in the Ocean…

Mr A. Well, there was big fire-breathing dragons chasing the Enterprise under the sea to Beatles music, but that’s not important. You see, I had this cool image of the Enterprise rising out of the sea. Really. It was so cool even in my dream I thought, wow, beauty-shot for trailer!

Mr B. Yeah, that’s true, the marketing boys would love that for their trailer. Wonder how we fit that into our film though?

Mr C. Well Bond had pre-credit action scenes, and JJ had one in Trek with Kirks daddy biting the Big One. So we have a big, big pre-credit action sequence, loads of explosions and shouting and CG shit. Yeah, cap it off with the Enterprise rising out of the sea and escaping into space. Bingo! Blow 20% of the fx budget. Mega-CG quota filled in first ten minutes, the geeks will be wetting themselves for more. Genius!

Mr B. But I still don’t know why they are in the sea, sounds stupid, it’s a space movie, after-all…

Mr C. Nah, they’ll love it! No-one expects an under-water Space movie! The Enterprise in the sea- like Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea man, I loved that show! Yeah. Man, I always said you don’t need to know jackshit about Trek to write a Star Trek movie.

Mr B. Well, the success of this first one proved that.

Mr C. Yeah. Infact, it proved that the best person to write a Star Trek movie is someone who knows nada about Star Trek. I never watched any of those ‘sixties shows. Not one. I said to JJ, “JJ, I’m your man! I don’t know my Kirk from my Yoga,

Mr A. Yoda.

Mr C. Yeah, Yoda. I said, “JJ I’m perfect for your project!”  Actually I said the same to Ridley the other day, he’s canvassing ideas for a new Alien movie and I think I got the gig. I said, “Ridley, I never seen your Alien tv show and I couldn’t tell you when it last aired, but I got this idea about ten-foot tall bald guys ruling the universe…”

Mr B. But I still don’t know what a spaceship is doing being a submarine…the Trekkies will go nuts. When you had the Enterprise being built in the desert in that first one, a lot of them wanted to know what the hell happened to the Space Dock in that Motion Picture.

Mr C. Ah, screw ’em. Don’t worry about the Trekkies. I saw this review the other day for Star Trek. It said, “A Star Trek movie for everyone who doesn’t like Star Trek!” man that dude nailed it. Screw the Trekkies. What they got to do with it?

Mr A. “Keep it secret, keep its safe!” (Giggles) I love that man, that gay wizard is so cool.

Mr B.What? Is that Tolkien?

Mr C. Peter Jackson.

Mr A. “Keep it secret. Keep it safe!” Its a spy mission or something. The Enterprise is on a cloak and dagger mission and its hiding in the sea!

Mr B. But that doesn’t make sense. Surely the best way to keep hidden is stay in orbit and beam the crew down.

Mr C. What? What are you talking about?

Mr B. Well, you’re trying to tell me that flying from deep space into a planets atmosphere, re-entry and everything, and then crashing into the ocean and somehow flying around down there is quieter or more secret or safer than just staying up in orbit… well, the Trekkies won’t buy it for a second. Beam the crew down like they did in the tv show. In this last movie, you beamed people from one planet to a ship in warp and that’s already got plenty of Trekkies in a hissy fit, I seen those forums, This underwater stuff…

Mr C. Ah, screw ’em. Infact, I say we give those cretins the finger and beam someone from one end of the galaxy to the other, see what they make of that!

Mr A. Well, there you go! Settled then. We start with the Enterprise on a mission in the ocean and get it into space in a big jaw-dropping fx shot. And Mr.C, I think you’re onto something with that beaming across the galaxy thing. We could use that when the Kang guy has to make a dastardly exit. Cut out all that using a spaceship nonsense. That’s so old.

Mr B. How the hell does that work anyway? You beam someone instantly across light years of space that takes a spaceship at Warp 9 hours or even days or weeks. Where’s the mechanism, the power, how the hell does it even work?

Mr C. Yeah, well, that’s nothing, I’m all for having a space battle at warp-speed, you know, in that Hyper-Space or whatever they call it. Imagine how cool the CG fx wil be with all that glowing swirling space stuff and laser guns going badda! badda! badda! It’ll be like a spaceship gunfight on acid. Lucas will be choking on his cornflakes, it’ll piss all over his old Star Wars rubbish. Star Trek is so rock and roll man.We’re gonna make Star Wars look like some old black and white movie.

Mr B. Spaceships dogfighting in Hyper-Space? They REALLY ain’t gonna let you get away with that.

Mr C. We can get away with anything. Trust me, as long as the editing is tight and the sound is loud and the fx are bright and trippy the audience won’t even have time to think, they’ll be in a goggle-eyed trance chewing up all the eye candy. Transformers movies have been doing it for years. So we have the Enterprise in the sea, Kang beaming himself across the galaxy, a space-dogfight at Warp speed… oh yeah, Simon Pegg screaming “she canna hold together Captain!” we gotta do that, Simon’s so funny.

Mr A. I’ll tell you what else we need. Klingons. We didn’t have ’em in the first movie, they gotta be in the second.

Mr B. I don’t know, that Wrath of Kang/Wotsisname movie didn’t have Klingons in it, not that I remember anyway.

Mr A. Well, I tell you what. When Kang beams himself across the galaxy, hows about he lands on Krypton?

Mr B. Krypton? Don’t you mean Klingon?

Mr A. Klingon! Klingon yeah, I don’t know, all this geek stuff is so confusing. So he goes to Planet Klingon and Kirk has to chase over there and capture him and yeah, has to kick some Klingon ass to do it! Cool. More fighting, explosions. CG fx.

Mr C. Hey, I don’t mind telling you guys, this is sounding like one cool bloody movie. I’m talking Oscar here, no really. All we need is some pathos to mix with the flash-bang stuff.  How about we make Kang a terrorist, that’s hip at the moment. Everybody knows every quality bad guy these days has to be a terrorist blowing shit up. Lets have him blow up StarFleet. No. Paris! No. London!

Mr A. I hate London. I had a holiday with the wife there a few years ago, pissed down all week and the people kinda smelled funny. Lousy, dirty, really ugly place, yeah, I vote we blow up London. And maybe have Kang kill someone Kirk knows. Make it personal.

Mr B. Well, that Pike guy is like a mentor to him, I suppose we could bring him back into it, have Kang kill him, or put him in  that floating wheelchair.

Mr C. Wheelchair?

Mr B. The Menagerie. One of the tv episodes, nevermind, I guess its not important. So we get Kirk all vengeful. ‘Star Trek With A Vengeance!’, sounds like a good title.

Mr C. Can’t use that,  Willis did something like that. Maybe ‘Wrath of Kirk’, yeah, that would put a clever spin on the original?

Mr B. I dunno, maybe we should have a script before we have a title. Lets carry on.

Mr A. That second film. Didn’t they kill Spock in that?

Mr C. You’re kidding. They killed Spock?

Mr A. Well, yeah, they brought him back from the dead in the next one, obviously, but yeah, they killed Spock.

Mr B. I don’t know, if we kill Pike and then we kill Spock, Kirk’s gonna be pretty pissed off with Kang, it’ll be all Apocalypse Now or something, really really dark, like,  a Journey Into Darkness…

Mr A. Perfect. Star Trek Into Darkness!

Mr B. Does that even make sense?

Mr A. Who cares? We kill Pike and Spock, and then Kirk goes all Rambo in the Jungle after Kang. Yeah, I can feel that Oscar in my sweaty paw already. Sweet. That Chris Pine guy will love us. He’ll be able to frown and emote and shout and scream and over-act. Actors love all that.

Mr C. Or maybe… maybe we kill Kirk instead of Spock. Yeah, stay with me on this, think about it. We do the death scene like in that original movie, only… switch it, yeah? You know, its a reboot, not a remake, yeah? The same… but different?

Mr A. That’s so clever man I wish I’d thought of it. And that Spock actor can go all hell-for-leather crazy and scream and rage ‘cos he loves Kirk and… yeah, I know, we gotta be subtle with it but everyone knows the gay fans are a huge deal ticket-wise and Kirk and Spock are like, secret lovers or something… What? What are you looking at me like that for?

Mr B. You gotta be kidding me.

Mr C. I like it. I thinks its got Pathos. I got tears in my eyes already just thinking about it. It’ll be like the scene in Romeo and Juliet, we’ll bring the house down, even the Trekkies will be bawling their eyes out

Mr B. I’m sure they will. Spock is a Vulcan, zero emotions, remember? And besides, they hardly know each other. The beauty of that Wrath of kang movie was that the characters shared a decades-long friendship, the actors in real-life and the characters with years together in the story, years of adventures, through thick and thin. When Spock sacrificed himself in that movie it was a big deal, all the tv series and stuff. But in our reboot, well they haven’t even started the five-year mission yet.

Mr C. What are you talking about? Seriously, do you know anything about writing movies?

Mr B. But we have to be honest to the tv show, the franchise, we can’t just piss all over it.

Mr A. Did you even see the first movie? Man, when Mr C said bring you along into this because you’d seen a few episodes I thought it might be a good idea, save hiring that Research Girl with those funny glasses, but I dunno. I don’t think you are at all serious about this entire enterprise.

Mr C (snigger) That’s funny. I see what you did there.

Mr B. You guys are crazy. Kill Kirk? He’s the star of the movie. You’ll never get away with it.

Mr A. We will if we press the reset button and bring Kirk back from the dead, get our two lover-boys back together for movie three.

Mr C. Magic blood.

Mr B. What?

Mr C. We bring a dead Tribble back to life with magic blood and McCoy see’s it, and being a smart doctor and everything, says, bingo, lets inject Kirk with this magic blood.

Mr B. Magic Blood? Are you crazy?

Mr A. Well, maybe its Kang’s blood or something. He’s a superhuman or something, yes? Maybe it gives Kirk superpowers for movie three!

Mr C. Not bad, not bad. Maybe he can have X-ray vision and ogle all the broads…

Mr B. But this death scene, what’s Kirk doing down in Engineering fixing the ship? Isn’t he supposed to be fighting Kang? Where’s Scotty, he’s the guy always fixing the engines.

Mr A. Well, maybe we sack him, or he quits. Get him off the ship somehow anyway.

Mr C. I don’t know, I like that Simon fella. He’s funny.

Mr A. Oh, we’ll bring him back, maybe Kirk can call him from Klingon and Scotty will re-join the team. Only not in time to fix the engines, obviously.

Mr B. What, Kirk just dials his phone and calls Scotty who is across the galaxy having a coffee searching the classifieds for a new job?

Mr C. Sure. Smartphones are even smarter in the future, remember.

Mr B. But that’s just crazy. You are already beaming people across the galaxy, and now you’re ringing across the cosmos, chatting to someone over on Earth for help, with just a communicator. What the hell does Kirk need Uhura for if he’s dialing Earth for help on his own communicator? And won’t there be any time delay? I suppose you are saying the conversation’s in real-time across all those light-years?

Mr A. You’re just being picky, the kids will love it.

Mr B. But you’re creating plot-holes for every future Trek movie. Every time anyone is in any trouble, they’ll just need to ring Starfleet back home and get them to send in help.

Mr A. Actually this gives me an idea. Lets throw those Trekkies a bone. They like that Lennie Nimmoy fella don’t they? You know, he plays that old Spock that’s hanging around. How about we get him in the action again? Lets get our ‘new’ Spock to ring him up for a bit of advice during the movie.

Mr B. You’re kidding me. Spock give the old Spock a call for a quick chat? During all the action I suppose, tips on how to nail Kang.

Mr A. Yeah, that’s it. Now you’re getting it. That’s great man. He can tell our Spock about Kang’s Kryptonite. You know, his weakness, his Achilles heel.

Mr B. But every time in future Trek movies when they encounter something like the Doomsday Machine or something, Spock will be able to give the old Spock a ring and ask his advice.

Mr A. Doomsday Machine? That sounds good. Think we can fit one of them in this movie?

Mr B. This is going to be the stupidest thing ever.

Mr C. You crazy, Mr B. This things going to be the biggest, most successful Star Trek ever! Trust us, we know what we’re doing! Get the word processor out, Mr A, and set it for Stun!

Mr A. Thats Stun as in STUNNING Mr C!

Mr C. Right on, brother! JJ’s gonna love this….

Obsession (1976)


1959, in sultry New Orleans, businessman Michael Courtland (Cliff Roberston) celebrates his wedding anniversary at a lavish party with family and friends. After the party is over however his wife Elizabeth and nine-year old daughter are kidnapped. A ransom of $500,000 is set and a warning not to turn to the police. Michael chooses to ignore that warning and a chain of events unfold with tragic results.

Sixteen years later, and still haunted by the loss of his wife and daughter and blaming himself for their deaths, Michael visits Rome, where he first met his wife long ago. He visits old haunts and finally the church where he and Elizabeth first met. Within the church he meets Sandra, a young Italian woman who looks the exact double of his dead wife. The two fall in love and intend to marry back in New Orleans, but Michael is to find that history is about to repeat itself, giving him an opportunity to correct his past mistake…

There’s not much I can say about Brian De Palma’s fascinating film Obsession without dwelling too long on the film’s bizarre twist. The twist itself is not such a big surprise -my wife and I guessed it before the big reveal- but rather it is what the twist means to the film itself when you look back on its events. You are forced to re-evaluate pretty much everything you have seen, from the earliest shots from the party, in which something originally innocent begins to have darker connotations, to the film’s main romance, which suddenly feels subversive and shocking. But I won’t slip into spoiler territory here. Suffice to say that Obsession is quite a good film and indeed De Palma’s best in my opinion. It’s certainly been running and re-running in my head over the past few days, a sign of a good movie.

Having never seen the film before, what drew me to the film was the fact that it was inspired by one of my very favourite movies, Vertigo, complete with a provocative score by Bernard Herrmann, who of course wrote a wonderful score for Vertigo itself. Basically Obsession is a reworking of Vertigo with a more modern. seedier undercurrent typical of 1970s American Cinema. Obsession dates back to 1976, and its interesting to note that at that time Vertigo itself was out of public circulation, withdrawn I believe by Hitchcock himself who at that time owned the film (Vertigo would not be available to the public until some three years after Hitchcock’s death). De Palma is famous/infamous (delete as you feel fit) for mimicking Hitchcock’s style in several of his films, particularly Dressed to Kill and Blow Out, but nowhere is it so obvious or successful as in Obsession. Part of it must surely be down to the Herrmann score, that echoes the soundtrack to Hitchcock’s masterpiece as much as the visuals do. The cinematography of  Vilmos Zsigmond is particularly wonderful- many shots are works of art in themselves. Indeed its a beautiful to look at and listen to.

It is far from a perfect film, and De Palma is nowhere near the director he aspires to be, but its a fascinating film nonetheless and Obsession is a far better film than I expected it to be.

The Natural (1984)

naturalbluI don’t understand baseball, the rules or even the appeal of it as a sport, and certainly not the American fascination with it. I can however see the appeal of its roots, the romantic call of the distant, more innocent days- of ordinary guys playing it as much for the love of it as for the necessity of a working-class wage when alternatives were scarce. As opposed to the modern era of millionaire players and corporate business domination, which is what is happening over here to our own national game, football (or soccer for our American cousins). Sport used to be just that, sport, until it became big business. Its less about the playing now, more about the sponsorship, about the fame, the money. The agents and the fat pay deals, the women and the mansions and sports cars, the tax-evasions and the sponsorship deals. The innocence of the nobler past is gone.

Which is what is so curious about so many baseball movies, how they deliberately look back into the past and more innocent times, Its something that both The Natural and Field of Dreams share, looking back to another America, eulogising another, simpler age. Whether that age ever even existed, or if its just Hollywood Myth-making, the films simply looking back through rose-filtered glasses mythologising the past just as we do with stories of Robin Hood or King Arthur, I cannot say. I use those two examples deliberately as that’s what these baseball movies seem to do- creating heroic, noble figures in idealistic situations. Its fantasy over reality.

Growing up playing baseball, and pitching with your father is about as American as apple pie, a rite of passage it seems. The Natural begins with a prologue as romantic and ideal as the childhood sequences from Richard Donner’s Superman and just as iconic. Indeed, as Roy Hobbs will turn out to be a baseball superhero himself, its hardly accidental, the prologue serving as a sort of comic-book superhero origin story. Randy Newman’s score is pure Americana and the mostly dialogue-free sequence is lit with soft filters bathed in golden light. Under open skies young farm boy Roy Hobbs is playing catch with his father and proves to be, well,  a natural. But Roy’s innocent childhood is shattered when his father passes away. The mythology is set in place as a storm strikes that very night, and lightning hits a tree at the spot where his father died.  The next day Roy begins to craft a baseball bat from the remains of the tree that has been split asunder by the lightning strike. He dubs the bat “wonderboy” and at the age of 19 (awkwardly played now by a much-older Robert Redford) is summoned to try out for the Chicago Clubs. leaving childhood sweetheart Iris behind. Before he reaches the try-outs though he encounters famous baseball star ‘The Whammer’ who Roy bests in a contest, catching the attention of the beautiful and enigmatic Harriet Bird (Barbara Hershey). Harriet is already in tune with the themes of the movie, comparing Roy’s deeds to those of heroes of Ancient Greece, aspiring to similar immortality. Reaching Chicago, Roy falls under the spell of Harriet’s mysterious temptations and goes to her hotel room where she promptly shoots him without warning, before throwing herself out of the hotel window. Fade to black.

Sixteen years later Hobbs arrives at the failing New York Knights, a freshly-inked contract in his hand as he steps out of the Dark Ages of obscurity for one last attempt to fulfil his destiny. He’s a middle-aged unknown, a man without any past. Can he save the failing club, become everything he should have been, defeating the club’s corrupt co-owner and defying the sultry wiles of temptress Memo Paris (Kim Basinger)?

You either buy into it or you don’t. Later when Glenn Close returns to see her childhood sweetheart during his great against-the-odds comeback she stands up in the bleachers surrounded by almost religious blinding light. “Our Lady of the Extra Innings”, Roger Ebert called her; Ebert complained why didn’t they make a baseball picture rather than idolatry for Robert Redford?  He felt the film was cheap and phoney. He was right of course. But then again, its not a baseball movie. Its myth-making. Treat it as a superhero movie without the cgi or action of a modern Marvel movie and you might ‘get’ it. Its not about the sport. Wonderboy is a modern Excalibur. Fifty years ago the film might have starred Jimmy Stewart rather than Robert Redford. Its a Frank Capra movie in all but name.

Maybe Hobbs died in that Chicago hotel room. Maybe everything that happens after is a near-death experience, a final rite of passage as he dies, being tested by Angels in a sport-themed Jacobs Ladder. Redemption without Jacobs Ladders horror. Certainly the myth defies reality. At the end, the club has been saved, the bad guys thwarted, and Hobbs returns to his childhood golden fields with his sweetheart Iris, to play catch with his newly-discovered son. If that isn’t The Natural‘s vision of Heaven, then what is?


Television > Movies?

bsg7 bsg5American Horror Story. Dexter. The Shield. The Wire. BSG. Boardwalk Empire. Game of Thrones. Mad Men. That’s hardly the start of it. There is a long list of television shows now that are the equal, if not indeed actually superior to, what we see in the cinema.

Back when I was a lad – well, not even anything like that long ago actually- there was a clear difference in quality between television and movies- even ‘big’ shows like the original Battlestar Galactica and Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, tv shows created on the back of the post-Star Wars sci-fi boom, were clearly of inferior quality compared to their Big Screen counterparts. There were obvious limitations in budgets and time-constraints that meant that what was on viewers television screens was markedly different to what was on the silver screen. But it went beyond just production values. You’d very rarely, if ever, find an established movie-actor appearing on television, whether it be tv series or a tv-movie. It would seem to be a ‘step-down’. Likewise movie directors wouldn’t work on television projects. If anything, directors would start in television to get experience and work their way up to motion-pictures, seeing the latter as the Big Time and never to return to their humble origins.

bsg4 bsg6Things have changed though. Television is still home to plenty of sub-standard product but some of its quality shows are easily superior to most motion pictures. Actors see better roles for themselves on television than what is available on the silver screen- dramatic, challenging roles with real merit. Even film directors have become used to using their skills on television projects. Mostly this is due to premium cable networks like HBO but even on other, lesser cable channels, or terrestrial networks such as the BBC here in the UK, there is not the old natural perception that ‘made for tv’ means any less quality than a full-blown motion picture, whether home-grown or from Hollywood.

I have just finished watching Hannibal, a prime-time show from the NBC network in the USA. Rarity it may be for that network, it was nevertheless one of the best shows I have ever seen, easily equal to the quality we’d tend to expect from premium sources such as HBO. I’ve never been a huge fan of the various Hannibal-based movies but this 13-part series was easily equal to them. The writing, acting and direction… the location-shooting and the intense soundscape of the music score… it is a remarkable piece of work. Here in the UK it was shown on the SkyLiving channel, aired via cable and satellite networks, so no doubt failed to set ratings-figures alight or gain much attention from tv critics more focused on popular soaps or primetime shows. I only hope its DVD/Blu-ray release will widen its reach, or that I can talk people into giving it a go and perhaps tuning in to the second season next year, because this was really something special. The makers have a five or six-year plan for the series and I’d love to see it manage that.

bsg1 bsg2I recorded Hannibal on my Tivo box, letting the Tivo collect all the episodes each week over the past few months before finally watching them over the past week or two as the showing of the series finale neared. I guess in a way it was like watching it as a DVD boxset, watching it every night or so, and sometimes watching two episodes in a night if time allowed. That way was ideal for following the plot and picking up on clues as the storyline progressed as opposed to waiting for a new episode each week. And of course I was able to skip through the irritating ad breaks. I guess tv chiefs hate people doing this, but it does raise the issue of how people access television content now.  If I had watched the first two or three episodes and decided it wasn’t for me, I’d have stopped and deleted the series from the Tivo, but instead I found it was really excellent and devoured it inside a fortnight, never being subjected to a commercial break.

Many of these series have long complex story-arcs, almost like long novels. Seasons may be self-contained very often character-arcs span multiple seasons and events in, say, season 5 might refer back to events of an episode in season 2. They encourage viewers to pay attention and reward that attention, A two or three-hour movie cannot even approach that level of complexity or sense of reward to the viewer.

I know there were television shows that did it before (particularly here in the UK), but I often think that the tv show Babylon 5 was the first real attempt at this kind of programming. Most tv shows prior to that, particularly network shows, had an established model of individual episodes that pressed a magical ‘reset’ button at their conclusion. That way audiences could miss the odd episode but drop in easily. Shows like Star Trek, The A-Team… pretty much any show, they were all the same. Series creator J. Michael Straczynski had a plan for Babylon 5 from the very start, a five-year arc with a definitive beginning, middle and end, essentially a novel for television in the genre of space-opera, and it pretty much succeeded. It wasn’t perfect and has been bettered since, but it proved to be the model for future genre shows like Farscape, Battlestar Galactica and so many others, right up to current series like Defiance and Falling Skies.

I remember being absolutely blown away by Babylon 5. I’d see things in series one that were brought up in series three or four, or something a character would do or say in series five that dated back to something that happened to them in series two. There hadn’t been anything quite like that before. I would re-watch shows to pick up on something I may have missed, and, Lord knows, I couldn’t miss an episode. I remember at the end of each season the agonising wait to hear if the show would get renewed for another (Babylon 5 was always a borderline success and its fans were always subjected to a real-world renewal cliffhanger equal to any of the shows in-series cliffhangers). The series may have faltered toward the end (the storyline proper had pretty much been condensed to the end of season four due to poor ratings) but the emotional pay-off of the final scenes of the last episode of season five was like nothing I had experienced before. I loved that show.

bsg8bsg10Nowadays most shows seem to follow the Babylon 5 model. They can be victims of it, of course, as once the show is established, it can find it impossible to increase audience ratings. That happened to Farscape and it suffered a painful cancellation, but even its fans have to admit there was little chance of new viewers to, say, season three, having the slightest chance of figuring out what was going on. That’s the real challenge of episodic television like this, how to maintain or even increase viewer ratings with entry-points and the like while maintaining multi-season arcs. I guess DVD boxsets help with this. I missed the initial showings of Dexter, for instance, but I saw the first series one and two on DVD boxset and then followed it from season three onwards on-air, so the shows likely manage to increase viewers through things like that. Of course it also might actually reduce viewing figures, as a lot of people just wait for the boxset anyway, which can prove dangerous to the longevity of the show.

So anyway, this seems a long way of stating the fact that I find many television shows better than what is shown in cinemas now. Its gotten to the point that I watch fewer movies now, and more tv shows, and find the latter more rewarding. Thirty, twenty years ago that would not be the case. But show me any recent social-commentary movie equal to The Wire. Any science-fiction movie of the past ten years equal to the Battlestar Galactica reboot. Anything as endlessly fascinating as Mad Men. Movies have become huge bubblegum entertainment blockbusters, hugely popular, yes, but hardly satisfying in the way so many tv shows are now.  Which is another way of saying I am more inclined to be excited about an upcoming tv series than I am any movie. For all the blockbusters coming to the cinema this year or next, I am more hyped for the return of Da Vinci’s Demons or American Horror Story or Mad Men or, indeed,  Hannibal.  And it seems my Blu-ray shelf is stocked as much by tv box-sets (and I am more inclined to watch and rewatch them) as it is by movies. Unfortunately of course, all these boxsets and series are more time-consuming, which is likely the one negative about them.

But anyway, if you didn’t catch Hannibal on-air, do give the upcoming box-set a go. You won’t regret it- except that you’ll be in for an agonising wait for season two!