When we leave the cinema, or turn off the television, we might often catch ourselves thinking, ‘that was okay. If only they’d blank instead’. So it’s not unusual to thing about how we could fix media that we feel we could have enjoyed a little more – but what if improving that thing involved fundamentally changing what it was? In the wake of the announcement that His Dark Materials is being adapted for the BBC, James Barker and Features Editor Camilla explore how could frame some of our favourite fictional universes a little differently, and breathe new life into them.
Sci-fixing trashy TV shows
In recent years there has been a popular trend in TV shows. Even before the rise of the superhero cinematic and televisual universe, there was another greater, growing power – the sci-fi show. Starting with the short lived 2011 Terra Nova – to date the most expensive show ever made, with the first season costing a mere £100 million – which saw scientists and families from a dystopian future travel back in time to populate a prehistoric Earth, more and more shows of easy watching trashy fantasy have arisen. There’s been alien invasions in Falling Skies, children sent down from a spacecraft to a dying planet in The 100, and in Under The Dome a small Maine town ended up… under a dome.
(So many bad things happen in rural Maine. Why do people even go there?)
Arguably the most trashy is Zoo. Based on works by James Patterson in much the same way as Under The Dome was based on Stephen King, it features a global crisis where normally peaceful animals turn against and start attacking humans. These plots all sound at a very minimum half decent – so why is the result so cringe-worthy? I get more secondhand embarrassment watching Zoo than I would Megashark Vs Crocosaurus, because films of that ilk are self aware enough to poke fun at their use of stock footage, awkward scenes and average acting. Unless you’re Terra Nova, you probably don’t have the budget of a feature film for every episode of your show. Visual effects tend to be weak compared to what we’re used to seeing on the big screen.
The greatest flaw in these shows, however, is their pacing – they’re trying to spin a complex and intricate tale, without the means to do it or the content to fill it. What could be a short and snappy exploration of the plot are instead drawn out with awkward moments between undeveloped characters, and unwanted exposition about everything and anything in that fictional universe. Do away with the time for these things, and you solve most of the issue. Instead of 15 hour long episodes, make it a single two hour feature film. A tighter, more pace-y story that ‘shows’ and so doesn’t have to ‘say’, with a bigger budget, could expand the viewing available in Hollywood sci-fi by exploring interesting plots without hours of exposition.
It was all a dream – or was it? Christopher Nolan’s Inception
If you’re talking pace, something which didn’t have it by half was 2010 heist thriller Inception. A piece of audiovisual mastery, the film starred an acting cream of the crop including Leonardo DiCaprio and Marion Cotillard in some of their best work to date. It had some of the some stunning cinematography, visual and practical effects, scoring and casting of any film in the last decade – and it has four Oscars to prove it. None of that could be improved by changing the film to a television series, far from it – a show could never hope to sustain that level of action or suspense when it has to stretch over one episode a week for months on end, nor could it afford Hans Zimmer to score and actors like Michael Caine to star in bit parts.
What a series could give Inception, though, would be back story.
Fans of the film, who have seen it on numerous occasions or read articles online, have already pieced apart the complex plot. But these tend to ask more questions than they answer. What are the different applications for the dream sharing technology, besides stealing people’s secrets and training soldiers – could it be used for good? Who are Tom Hardy’s Eames and Joseph Gordon Levitt’s Arthur to each other, since they seemingly have a history? So is there a underground network of dream thieves who all know each other? What are their totems? What are everyone‘s totems? And why was Cobb’s totem his wedding ring all along, and was it always, before all of this business with Mal?
I’m not saying I would have wanted Inception to have been a series. But if someone where to make a series, set in the same universe and explaining its wider principles and laws? Well, that’d be a dream come true.
And more magic than the movies? Harry Potter revisited
As much as I love Warner Brothers’ Harry Potter franchise, for me, the books always have that little something the films lack. Condensing books as large as the Harry Potters are into two and a half hour films, you bound to lose those little niche details which make the series so special; backstories, minor characters, the day to day life of Harry and his friends, for instance. This doesn’t need to be the case with a TV series. A 10 episode season per book, like with George RR Martin’s Game of Thrones, allows each story the time to develop that it needs.
Personally, I would love to see Harry Potter turned into a TV saga, although I can see there is a danger that it might become tedious, especially in parts of the series when the drama is not so intense. An hour of Harry walking between lessons might be quite boring; and also, I’m not sure I could cope with anyone other than Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson playing Harry, Ron and Hermione!