Thursday, September 16, 2010

Television as an alternative to film

I've seen a lot of shitty films lately, and yes I know this is the way it has always been and that amongst the dross are nuggets of cinema gold (or in my case, home cinema gold) - but seriously, so many movies have left me cold or disappointed lately I'm losing interest in the whole medium. I ask myself, when was the last time I watched a highly anticipated or recommended piece of work that caught my attention and made me feel something. This year? Maybe 1 movie. Last year, perhaps a handful.

I've been to the cinema twice this year, thereby setting a 5 year record for number of cinema visits in a calendar year. Both times I was gouged at the register and let down by the product. Avatar was spectacular but boring and The Expendables adequately made but lacking that special something to get it off the ground. At home, I don't even want to consider how many hours I've wasted watching shit films. Expensive, cheap, horror, action, drama - whatever - I swear to something or other that 85% are below par and I wonder why the producers even bothered. I'm not talking about embarrassing junk like Meet the Spartans, Sex in the City or anything starring the guy from Black Knight and Big Mommas House - no, I mean movies that should have been worth watching, even for a quick bit of escapism.

Like an glitzy dress on Miranda Kerr. Good to look at once or twice but there are plenty of pretty things with more substance out there.
Like an glitzy dress on Miranda Kerr. Good to look at once or twice but there are plenty of pretty things with more substance out there

I'm going out on a limb here to say this includes such snore fests as Lord of the Rings (all of them), the Spiderman movies after the first one, Avatar as previously mentioned, almost all of the top tier action, drama and horror movies and I assume most movies from other genres too (I can't imagine this is limited to a handful of genres). When I've enjoyed something lately it's almost always come from left field or been a rare recommendation that held some weight. Movies like Pandorum, Children of Men, the recent Rambo movie, The Descent (and the sequel), Dead Snow, Body of Lies, Taken...okay I'm running out of movies I've really enjoyed lately.

This picture doesn't illustrate what the movie is about. Is it a movie about work safety?
This picture doesn't clearly illustrate what the movie is about. Work safety? Medical incompetence?

On the other hand, and the reason for this rant, i've seen a lot of quality television lately. Not all of the shows I'm about to mention are super fantastic, but they're worth watching every week and the heightened depth of story (DoS) (TM) over most movies is in the order of several magnitudes when measured on my secret and patented DoS scale. Now, the salient difference here is probably what, for me, makes good television series superior to films these days - the amount of time producers have to work with. A single season of a good television program should run about 8 hours, any more and you're scrambling for material, any less and there's insufficient time to flesh thing out. Being broken up into 45 or 60 minute chunks also means it's easy to watch parts of a larger story arc at your leisure and without your arse going to sleep on an uncomfortable cinema seat. The trick, of course, is to know when it's time to stop, Heroes being the perfect example. Sometimes television is the perfect medium to tell a complex story that requires 8-12 hours to do it justice, and when that story has been told in it's entirety it's best to move on, not make another (otherwise unplanned) season.

A movie has from 90 minutes to 3 hours, with 3 hours being way too fucking long in my opinion. For the attention deficit society of today, 90 minutes of attention may be about all we can ask, with plots containing story and characters stretching things a bit too far. Therefore, we get shit shoveled into our homes by the truckload. It's cheap to make and easy to market, but I'm sure most people know this.

What I though after watching The Book of Eli
What I though after watching The Book of Eli

Returning to television, I've not seen many bad productions lately. I'm not talking about Glee, Jersey Shore or whatever masquerades as entertainment in some circles. No, I'm watching shows recommended by friends, genre experts and even - gasp - critics. Over the last couple of years I've watched shows both new and old and fuck me if I've been impressed by episodes far more often than I've been let down. I've wanted to write about particular television series several times, but this is a movie review site so I've had to put that aside until now. The tipping point came this week when I started watching the second season of a show that was yet another victory for story telling and characterisation over fart jokes and over loud explosions.

About as entertaining as reading this article, though not as long. I'm 100% sure these girls will be doing topless art films within 5 years.
About as entertaining as reading this article, though not as long. I'm 100% sure these girls will be doing topless art films within 5 years.

So what have I enjoyed? I hesitated to list anything here because my tastes are not necessarily your tastes and I don't want to come across as a fan boy of these particular genres. I'm 100% sure there's great television being made in other spaces as well and I'm not in any way suggesting that my pet likes are where all the good TV is at. Nevertheless I decided to make a quick list to illustrate the breadth of material out there (and this is only a very small sample of all the great stuff floating around).

Battlestar Galactica - I loved the first season, then it was a little up and down. Still, it was great sci-fi and good drama, with memorable characters to boot. BSG was the series that got me back into watching television and movies after many years of avoiding both.

Firefly - You love it or you hate it, but it was well made with interesting characters and good stories. The greatest strength of this show will prove to be it's cancellation. It never had a chance to go bad and will live on as a much loved genre piece that  fanboys can obsess over for years to come.

Caprica - I don't love Caprica but I can see how it might turn into something quite interesting. Nevertheless, it's fairly complex and has a few novel-ish ideas.

Stargate Atlantis - I expected this to be crap, which is why I didn't watch it until this year. Totally worth it. Popcorn sci-fi done right, very entertaining.

Being Human - The blurb made this sound like a hokey supernatural comedy, but it came sort of recommended from a friend so I figured I'd give it a shot. I'm not sure if I read the right blurb. While it has humorous moments and some absurd set-ups, it's not played for laughs so much as satire.

Doctor Who - Was mostly really good, the lowest points being the 3rd and 5th seasons.

Dexter - Dexter is an excellent example of a show that should have been retired at the end of the second season. The first two seasons constituted a complete story and Dexter should have been put on the shelf after some loose ends were tied up.

Spartacus Blood and Sand: Fantastic mix of drama, scheming, violence and nudity.

Stargate Universe: An interesting idea that started ok, wandered around the season without its pants on for a while then finally took some pills and got it together. Maybe the second season will be more consistent.

V - Wasn't good. Just wanted to say that.

One of the many, many nude scenes in Spartacus - legitimate adult entertainment
One of the many, many nude scenes in Spartacus - legitimate adult entertainment we can all enjoy. Except prudes and religious nuts.


  1. Really enjoy your blog. I'd love to see you do more TV reviews or even quick recommendations like this. I've been feeling similar lately. It's just so hard to find quality things worth watching, but I'm not quite ready to give up yet.

  2. Your wish is our command, more TV reviews (or more likely, series recommendations) coming right up.

    As to the article, I didn't want to suggest that I'm giving up on movies, far from it. I've just become a touch jaded and I definitely overemphasised the situation to get my point across. I've seen quite a few 'okay movies' and the sad part is how much better they could have been with a little more thought and effort. In some instances all the crap movies make it that mush more exciting when I discover something really well done. Or at the least, the crap makes a properly constructed movie 'seem' excellent by comparison.