Stylistic Consistency

So recently I started watching the Netflix original show Daredevil.  I mentioned it in my post of a couple of weeks ago about the advent of Netflix and other streaming services.  I’ve only watched the first six episodes so far, but I noticed something odd at the end of the second episode, a weird style choice that I felt didn’t really fit with the rest of the show.

The last five minutes of the second episode are basically taken up by a one take fight.  As in, the entire scene is done in one shot.  It’s interesting looking, and certainly novel for a television show to do.  I had heard about the scene before I watched the show.  One of the websites I frequent happened to mention it and all I really thought at the time was “well that’s kinda cool”.  And it is.  But I felt like it didn’t really fit with the rest of the show’s style.

Daredevil is at its heart a dark and gritty superhero origin story.  And this is reflected in the fact that most of the environments in the show are dimly lit and run down.  But it is also reflected in how the fight scenes play it.  Most of the fight scenes in the show are very fast-paced and brutal (one of them actually shows someone’s bone sticking out of their flesh, so be warned…this show is not for the faint of heart).  They follow the modern style of bare-knuckle fights with fast-paced cuts to different shots.  And it works for the show.  It gives it this feeling of being gritty and unpredictable, which is perfect for a show that deals with crime and corruption.  But the fight scene at the end of episode two feels out of place.

Because it’s all one take, the fight can’t be as brutal and gruesome because that would put the actors in serious danger of getting injured.  So the fight progresses in a manner that just feels incredibly artificial.  Daredevil (or Murdock if you prefer his actual name) keeps dodging in and out of the doors in the hallway, so a significant portion of the fight we don’t even actually see.  It’s the only fight of its kind so far, and it really feels like it doesn’t belong.

When you create a style for something, be it writing, drawing, or filming, you develop a consistency within that style.  This is something that people intimately familiar with your work will immediately recognize.  They’ll be able to tell who worked on it based on the stylistic cues they pick up on.  And if I hadn’t looked it up, I would have assumed that someone completely different shot that second episode.  But it’s the same person throughout all thirteen episodes of the first season.

It would be sort of similar to taking a romance and turning it into an action movie halfway through (a bit drastic of an example, but the principle is the same).  As cool as the scene is, it calls far too much attention to itself.  It’s almost like the cinematographer was saying “hey look how cool I am” by shooting that scene.

Compare that to something like Children of Men, which consistently used the one-take scenes all throughout the movie.  It was a consistent part of its style, and unless you were paying attention you probably wouldn’t catch on to it because it feels so natural.  A few months back I watched the movie with my roommate and he said he didn’t even notice that until I mentioned it.  And it serves a purpose too.  It grounds the viewer in the movie’s world, letting them feel like they’re exploring a distant, dystopian future.

And that last action scene is just amazing.  If you’ve seen the movie, you know what I mean.

But in Daredevil the one-shot fight serves no real purpose.  It doesn’t ground us in the action, making it feel more real.  Rather, it calls attention to the artificial nature of it all.  It’s incredibly obvious that the hallway had been set up for the fight, whereas the back-alley brawls in the show end up feeling more organic.  Of course it’s all staged in the end.  That’s the nature of fiction.  But part of the idea is suspension of disbelief, of being able to just lose yourself in the story and the setting without constantly reminding yourself that it isn’t real.  And that’s why the Daredevil fight scene bothered me, because it broke my suspension of disbelief.  Basically, if you’re going to do something like that, it better have some kind of point to it.

I’m not saying that the show is bad by any stretch of the imagination.  In fact, it’s really good from what I’ve seen so far.  The characters are well drawn and the villain is intriguing and unique.  It’s just that one scene really stuck out to me.

Look at it this way.  Explosions.  They’re cool, right?  Of course they are.  Everyone likes explosions.  But if there’s no reason for those explosions to be happening, people are going to lose interest very fast.  Even in the dumbest of the dumb action flicks, the explosions have a reason for happening.  It’s when they don’t that the facade really starts to crack.

 

That’s all for this week.  Thanks for reading.  Tune in next Wednesday for another post, and as always, have a wonderful week.

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Course Over-Correction: Our Cultural Sensitivity

This is going to be a difficult subject to talk about.

Not necessarily because I can’t find the words to talk about it, but more because of the way people might react to it.  It’s no secret that the history of the United States is filled with horrid moments.  We’ve oppressed other races.  We’ve oppressed women.  We’ve even tried to oppress other religions at times.  But as I grew up, I started to notice something.  In certain areas, we seemed to have over-corrected our course.  It became the standard to not say certain things for fear of being labeled a chauvinist, a racist, prejudiced, or whatever term applies to the situation.  It’s gotten to the point where an internet comedian couldn’t even use the word “retarded” in a proper context without getting slammed with controversy.

For those of you who don’t know what I’m referring to, last August internet comedian Jontron tweeted that the Playstation Now service was “the most painfully retarded thing” he’d ever seen.  Immediately, the website Tumblr was in an uproar (Tumblr is widely known on the internet for smear campaigns like this).  Jontron got plenty of flak for a comment that he probably didn’t even think much about (I already did a post on this way back when if you want to know more).

But it doesn’t really end there.  Because of an image a student at Denfeld High made of another student, in some people’s minds Duluth and everyone in it is a racist.  The image in question was a photoshopped picture of a black student with a noose around his neck that said “gotta hang ’em all”.  Is this picture horrible?  Yes.  Is it something that is worth discussing as a community?  Most definitely yes.  I am not a fool.  I will not deny that racism still exists in and around the Duluth area.  When I was in college, I lived with a black roommate who actually got jumped walking back from school late at night.  It’s no secret that bad things can still happen around here.

The problem is that some people, in their search for change, tend to overgeneralize the situation.  In much the same way as Jontron was vilified for using the word “retarded”, Duluth was vilified by some as a sort of racist haven.  I’ve lived here for about five or so years now.  I know the city’s history.  I visited the Clayton Jackson McGhie memorial and I know the story of those three men.  And I know that we still have a long way to go before we reach true equality in this country.  But labeling a community as racist simply because of one incident at a local high school isn’t the answer, and unfortunately that is the course that some have decided to take.  There is a discussion to be had about where the idea for this picture came from, but oversimplifying the problem is not going to help us at all.

But for now, let’s pull out to a nation-wide scale.  If you’ve paid even the slightest attention to the news (and even if you haven’t), you know of the Ferguson incident and the numerous other cop shootings that have been reported (including one over in Madison Wisconsin, just one state away from me).  In the Ferguson case, it was proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the police department there had engaged in racial profiling tactics.  This much we know, and I’ve talked a little bit about the Ferguson shooting before.  This time however, I’m more concerned with the shootings that happened in the aftermath.

I noticed a trend in the media that really started to bother me.  Whenever they spoke of a shooting, I would often hear this line: a white police officer shot an unarmed black male.  Do you see the issue there?  While they are reporting the facts, there is an insinuation buried in the words that I seriously don’t like.  A white police officer shot an unarmed black male.  Why is their skin color even important?  Isn’t it enough that a human being shot another human being to death?

This is what I mean by over-correction.  Because of an actual racially charged incident, now any incident with similar circumstances is labeled as racially charged, even before all the facts are in.  And that’s worse, these incidents that may or may not be racially charge could end up obscuring the incidents that actually are.  One of the stories I remember was of a cop shooting a man who was running away from him.  The cop said the man had stolen his taser, and that he feared for his life.  But before we even had all the facts, we immediately started reporting it as a white police officer shooting an unarmed black male.  If the event had been proven to be racially motivated in some way, then yes I would say calling attention to their race would be important.  But it really shouldn’t be something that we call attention to upon the first reports of the incident, even though in that specific case I thought that the police officer was completely in the wrong.

I do not believe myself to be a racist.  I feel I have to say that because I know that some people, if they ever read this post, would most likely construe my words in that sense and I would immediately be labeled in their minds as a scumbag.  But if we really want to achieve true equality, we have to learn to not give in to knee-jerk reactions like that.  True equality does not involve giving one group special treatment over another.  True equality means everyone is treated as the same.  The human experience is not black and white.  It is both, and all shades of grey in between.  There are good cops, and there are bad cops.  There are nice people, and there are mean people.  There are people who believe in equality, and there are people who cling to outdated notions of racial superiority.  In this country especially we have to start understanding that life is not a series of binary choices, of belonging to one side or another.  Life is a spectrum, and the people you meet may lie on any part of that spectrum.

In the end, who knows?  True equality might be an impossibility.  But we won’t stop fighting for it.

 

Well I hope you enjoyed this more serious post of mine.  I don’t often talk about social issues on this blog (mainly because I feel that people get inundated with it enough in modern society), but I felt like I wanted to say something about a topic that I’ve been thinking about for a while now.

In any case, that’s all I have for you this week.  Tune in next Wednesday for another post, and as always, have a wonderful week.

 

The Netflix Era: The Advent of Streaming and What it Means for Television

Not very long ago, when you wanted to follow a particular television show your only option was to catch it every night it aired a new episode.  For some, this was not possible, because their schedules fluctuated so much that they were never certain if they would be free on those certain nights when the show was on.  But then came something different.

Both Hulu and Netflix came to the video on demand conclusion at around the same time (Netflix was around for about ten years beforehand as a DVD rental service).  The two services grew in popularity as DVD sales fell around the same time frame.  Netflix is undoubtedly the more well-known of the two, being that it offers DVDs as well as on demand streaming, the advent of which drastically changed the way people watch television.

No longer were people bound to the strict schedule set by television time slots.  They could watch a show they wanted when they wanted, and even stop watching in the middle of an episode only to pick it up later at the exact same spot.  For people with busy schedules, it was a lifesaver.  It also lead to the phrase “Netflix binge”.

The only major flaw to this system is that the streaming selection is based entirely on licensing, which means that some shows won’t be available to stream via Netflix or Hulu (i.e. Game of Thrones or other HBO shows).  There are of course other ways to watch these shows, but those ways are slightly less legal……

“Wow what a great idea,” you might say, “but what about regular television?  Won’t it die out?”  Well…not necessarily.

The way these streaming services work is that they are only allowed access to the episodes after they air, so if you want to be among the first to see it you have to catch it on television.  The other thing is that the licensing fees probably go a long way toward making up for any possible profit losses by people choosing to watch it through Hulu or Netflix rather than on TV.  And considering Hulu was a joint venture between a bunch of television broadcasting companies, I’m not entirely sure how it all works.  It’s very feasible that video on demand views might somehow count for ratings (at least with Hulu…Netflix is another matter I’m guessing).

But regardless, it seems that more and more people choose to use services like Netflix or Hulu (I solely use Netflix myself these days).  It’s great for those of us who, like I said, have busy schedules and can’t find the time to watch shows when they air.  And some of the more exclusive television stations have started offering their own streaming services.  Even HBO, which has been notoriously stringent with its streaming (you had to buy the HBO package to access it), has lifted some of its restrictions, allowing more people to view their programs without resorting to other methods.

However, broadcast television’s future is still uncertain.  They’ll  either continue operating in much the same way as they have been for a long while yet, or they might adapt to the changing market and opt for a more digital streaming style of television.  But with cable and satellite companies still plentiful in the market, I doubt they will be adapting at all for quite a while.  So despite the shifting market, I don’t see them changing much in the next few years.

So now that digital streaming has been solidified as a staple of our households, where’s the next step?  The answer, again, lies with Netflix.

Netflix was the first digital streaming service to offer original programming (I believe), and they have even revived shows that were cancelled long ago (such as Arrested Development).  Hulu started offering original programs themselves not long after, so it seems to me that this is going to be the next step for television.  Unlike regular television, most of these series release in one big chunk, a season at a time.  So it is theoretically possible to watch an entire season of the show the day it comes out (the “Netflix binge” in full force).

Some of the Netflix original shows you might have heard of include Hemlock GroveOrange is the New Black, House of Cards, and Daredevil (which I have not seen but have heard great things about).  It’s definitely a new era for television, much different than the beginning where families gathered around a tiny brown box with a staticky and colorless picture.  Now we have full-blown HD quality shows, production values that sometimes rival those of movies, and numerous ways to watch them not just on our TVs, but on our phones, tablets, and computers as well.

I think that the digital streaming revolution will continue in much the same way as it has.  The technology will get better, the original programs will get better, and more and more people will be switching to solely streaming.  But there will still be a lot of holdovers from the older age of television, the people who still remember those old brown boxes with nostalgia and don’t feel like upgrading to a new system.  That, combined with the finicky nature of the internet, makes me think that traditional television will still stay around for a quite a long time.  It’s old and reliable.

Mind you, I’m not criticizing those who think that way.  It all depends on one’s situation in life.  Not everyone can afford to be paying for high-speed internet and a streaming service, so they choose to stay with a regular broadcast program.  Some people have no interest in anything cable, satellite, or Netflix has to offer.

So while change will keep happening, it’s going to take a generation or two before things truly look different.  And you know what?  That’s perfectly okay.

 

That’s all I have for this week.  Thanks for reading.  Check back next Wednesday for another post, and as always, have a wonderful week everyone.

Life Among the Stars: The Possibility of Aliens

Let’s set the mood with some music.  Why?  Don’t ask questions.

 

 

The setting?  Roswell, New Mexico.  The year?  1947.

It’s a clear, starry night in New Mexico when a strange object crashes near a ranch.  It is said to be circular in shape.  The government denies its existence, claiming that the debris was merely the remnants of a weather balloon.  But what really happened there all those years ago?  What really crashed in the middle of the desert?  Was there more than one?  Were the bodies recovered?  No one really knows…except for the ALIENS!

They’ve been watching us for a long time now…waiting…biding their time until they can enact their master plan.  They’ve been poking, prodding, abducting…looking for strategic weaknesses (because beings with the technology to travel to Earth would totally need to do that).  The government and the military have been trying to hold them back for decades, but their grasp on the situation is weakening.  Their efforts aren’t enough to save us.  It’s too late.

The invasion has already begun.

At least, that’s what some people like to think.  I am not one of them fortunately.

You can uh……you can turn off the music now.  If you haven’t already.

 

Being a big fan of science-fiction it’s no wonder that the idea of extraterrestrial life would be fascinating to me.  But there’s so many different perspectives on the idea of alien life that the question has to be answered: where do I lie on the spectrum?

Personally I believe that the universe is far too large for there not to be intelligent life out there somewhere.  Even considering the numerous factors that have to be taken into account for a world to be within the “Goldilocks zone” (the habitable zone near a star), there are far too many stars and galaxies out there that I can’t fathom the idea that Earth would be the only planet in all of existence to produce intelligent life.  So yes, I believe there is intelligent life somewhere out there in the universe.  Will we encounter aliens within my lifetime?  Probably not.  Considering the immense amount of space that has to be traversed in order to get from planet to planet, and how advanced they would be when they got here, I highly doubt they would care about us.  They’d probably just make a note of us and continue on their way.

So no, I don’t believe that aliens have already visited us.  There’s no evidence to support any claims like that.  Sure, we have plenty of conspiracy theories, but none of them have any solid ground to stand on.  Take the Roswell incident.  Sure, something odd happened in that desert in 1947, but nothing that screams “aliens”.  And sure, the government did deliberately hide things from the public, but documents released decades later show that it was little more than an Air Force project that went awry.  So, basically, no aliens.  Sorry guys.

I’m a Star Trek fan, so my idea of aliens is more along the lines of “people with their own problems and concerns” as compared to the “BLARG monster kill” version that we see so often in Hollywood movies these days.  I find it strangely funny how all of these alien invasion movies hinge on the fact that aliens would for some reason feel compelled to come down and smack the living crap out of us.  Maybe they get off on it or something, who knows?

The interesting thing about alien invasion movies is that they usually reflect our cultural attitudes at the time.  Take War of the Worlds for instance.  In the old 1950’s version, the aliens come from Mars, which was a reflection of how the Soviet Union was considered the enemy at the time.  We knew who our foe was.  But in the 2005 remake, the origin of the aliens is left unknown.  Instead of the tripods coming down on meteors like in the ’50s version, the machines were already there to begin with, buried under the Earth since before humanity even existed.  In this sense, it reflected our fear of being subverted from within, of the enemy already being among us (i.e. terrorists).

In any case I think that our imagination of aliens is probably going to be far from the reality.  Realistically, the chance of finding alien life in a humanoid form is pretty slim (not impossible, but slim).  So probably no Greys, no Romulans, and certainly no freaking Gungans (nobody likes you Jar Jar…NOBODY).  There’s also the chance that if we do encounter alien life, we might not even recognize it as life.

But until we are actually able to venture out among the stars and explore the universe in full, we’ll have to be content with our imaginations.

 

That’s all I have for this week.  Tune in next Wednesday for another post, and as always, have a wonderful week everyone.

 

Freedom or Discrimination: Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act

I don’t talk about politics or religion very often on this blog because I feel like people get enough of that in their daily lives.  But this topic was one I felt compelled to say something about.

Recently, Indiana put forth something called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which proponents of the bill say is to protect the religious freedoms of the people of Indiana.  Opponents have challenged that the bill could be used to deny services to people who are gay based on religious grounds.  But first, a history lesson is in order.

Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act is by no means the first of its kind to come about.  Twenty-some odd states have their own versions of the law.  The origin of the RFRA comes from 1993, when it was signed into law by then-president Bill Clinton.  It was designed to protect religious groups from being burdened by a law enacted by the state.  However, the Supreme Court decided that the law did not apply in all states, forcing each state to separately come up with their own version of RFRA.

So if so many other states have passed these laws, why is Indiana becoming such a big point of controversy?  For one, the others states passed their RFRAs a long time ago, whereas Governor Mike Pence only decided to enact theirs in the aftermath of DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) being repealed and other such landmark events in the gay rights movement.  The other issue is the language of the law.  The other RFRAs refer mainly to non-profit entities, whereas Indiana’s refers specifically to for-profit organizations as well. Whether this is all a calculated movement or just bad timing on Governor Pence’s part remains to be seen.

Those who know me or have followed my blog for a while know what side I fall on when it comes to gay rights.  I’m of the mind that all people, regardless of sexual orientation, should have the right to be married.  Christians seem to think they have a monopoly on marriage when that simply isn’t true.  Marriage customs have existed in cultures that aren’t Christian, some even predating Christianity.  Besides, no law legalizing gay marriage is going to force churches to marry gay couples because it can’t.  All it would do would open the option to churches, something I don’t think a lot of opponents of gay marriage really understand.

There are churches out there that still refuse to perform interracial marriages…just so you know.

But I digress.  Indiana’s law is controversial because it’s so broad and vague.  I’ve read the actual text of the law (which you can find here), and I can’t really understand where they were going with it.  And that’s a problem.

When you create a law that’s too vague, you open it up to interpretations that could be harmful to people even if you never intended it.  That’s the problem with Indiana’s law.  It’s far too open, so much so to the point that it could be theoretically be used to discriminate against gay people.  But despite Governor Pence repeatedly insisting that’s not the case with RFRA, he refuses to place the LGBT community under Indiana’s list of people protected from discrimination.  So if it’s not meant to allow business owners to discriminate against gay people, what exactly is it meant to do?

Governor Pence keeps saying that the law is meant to protect the religious freedom of the people of Indiana, but how exactly?  What exactly do they need protecting against?  The RFRA was crafted mainly to protect minority religious groups (Pence can say his version is for people of all faiths, but it’s clear he has only the one in mind).  And if all it’s for is to protect religious freedom, why not just place gay people under discrimination protection?  If this law has nothing to do with discrimination, then why is that such an issue?

I also just want to point out how ironic it is that Governor Pence is claiming the only reason the law stirred controversy is because of “shameless rhetoric” when he’s using the same rhetoric that proponents of the Arizona SB1062 law used.  For those who don’t know, the SB1062 law was a law put forth in Arizona that would have allowed business owners to turn away gay people based on religious grounds.  Proponents of the law claimed it was to protect their religious freedom.  Sound familiar?  Thankfully that law was shot down and never employed.

Whatever the law’s intention was, the damage has already been done.  Numerous organizations and business have joined a boycott of Indiana.  The state can still recover from this and reclaim its reputation, but its going to take some compromising.

I honestly don’t understand why religious freedom and protecting gay people from discrimination can’t co-exist.  Instead, it seems like the proponents of this law are dead set on pitting one against the other, all while claiming that they’re doing nothing of the sort.  Well you can talk all you want, but your actions tell us the real story.  And it’s not a good one.

 

Well that’s all I have for this week.  Tune in next Wednesday for another post, and as always, have a wonderful week everybody.