Monday, November 26, 2007

More Televised Science Fiction

CD in Play: Neko Case, Fox Confessor Brings the Flood

Just watched the 2005 remake of The Quatermass Experiment, starring Jason Flemyng and David Tennant. Another example of how good writing and solid acting can overcome small budgets which would limit things like make up and special effects, making it a worthwhile contrast with how a show like Battlestar Galactica is done. My friend Gavin is my window into the world of British Sci-Fi, having introduced me to both Doctor Who and Quatermass.
The 2005 remake was shot live for broadcast, something the BBC hadn't done in around 40 years. It was an impressive feat given all the locations they appeared to have had. I do realise that they would have to have been very close to the sets in the studio, but it is impressive none the less. The acting was quite solid and mistakes were minimal. I would love to see them do another Quatermass project with Flemyng in the titular role.
British Sci-Fi is often discarded by many of us here in North America, because of the cheap special effects and rubber mask aliens. We're prepared to overlook it when it comes to shows like the original Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica, but the Brits always seem to come off looking cheap in a way that is inexcusable for most. We can overlook the bad effects when it come to comedies like Red Dwarf, but not if it is asking us to take it seriously. Of course, that attitude is hardly universal but most often it is the ones who have been more comfortably in touch with their inner nerd who can get beyond the cheap effects, rubber masks and bad costumes (See the Doctor Who, "Robots of Death" serial) to focus in on the writing.
Trent (who had known Betty from a `zine called Phoenix) had been into what many of the rest of us considered to be the geekier end of the Sci-Fi spectrum. I remember trying to watch Blake's 7 with him but just could make it through. Gavin had been trying for years to get me into his sort of sci-fi, but I was still fairly distant with that nerd within as were friends of mine like Elijah - who still recoils from his inner nerd when it gets too close. It took Farscape to get me over that hump, and even that is a big budget special effects bonanza that gets ridiculed by some for not being up to snuff with the major American franchises.
What Farscape had was writing and good characters, from there Doctor Who was easy. Once Gavin had shown me the first few serial of William Hartnell's Doctor and Jon Pertwee's turn in "The Green Death", it was easy to get interested in seeing the 1967 version Quatermass and the Pit. And this brings me back to what I had intended to say long ago in relation to 2005's Quatermass production: effects are just dressing, good stories are well written and have and engaging characters.
I was always a bit saddened by the fact that Canadians would never have the budget to produce their own science fiction shows since we just don't have the money in our system. But a show like The Quatermass Experiment demonstrates just who wrong that sort of thinking is - we can make good science fiction television. (and The Lexx was not good science fiction television no matter how you slice it) It doesn't have to be shot live, it just needs a solid concept, good scripts, and engaging characters. I would also not worry about targeting the American market. Put out a worthwhile project and it will get picked up eventually in some capacity.


Blogger Betty said...

A friend of mine made what I think was a very perceptive comment after I forced him to watch-- er, introduced him to Blake's 7. He said the trick is to think of it like a stage play. You can look at a stage that's furnished with maybe a 2-D backdrop and a few random props and quite contentedly permit yourself to imagine that it's a city street or a Victorian parlor, or whatever. Well, if you can allow yourself to do that with cardboard sets and rubber monster suits as well, you're golden. Because the point of the play isn't the realistic visual depiction of the setting, and that isn't the point of a show like Blake's 7, either.

As far as Canadian shows, go, Forever Knight was, IMHO, pretty good, and I think it did reasonably well here. Admittedly, you couldn't exactly call it science fiction, but it definitely feel within the realm of speculative fiction, at least.

(Of course, I also think that Lexx was, some of the time, quite good. It's just that when it was bad, it was bad.)

26 November, 2007 19:21  
Blogger Magnus said...

That talking head thing in Lexx was one of the most annoying things ever to hit the small screen - maybe even more annoying than Urkle or Full House. Hmmm... well at least equal with Full House.
My hope is that some Canadian out there in the business has taken a page or twoout of Britain's book and is thinking what I am thinking.
I can see what you are saying about the stage play. In a way that is how I view those early Who serials and Quatermass was almost exactly like watching a play.

26 November, 2007 20:38  

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