I SAW "DOCTORS" ON TUESDAY AND WEDNESDAY!
Part One: Tuesday
("Part one" is another article that I initially started writing as an "aside" but which grew to a point where I think I'll split this article in two and write what I was going to write later. But, come to think of it, the other half of this article probably won't be written until tomorrow as I have something half-written I started on Monday that I really should finish writing.)
On Tuesday, the second episode of the new Doctor Who series
aired in Canada on the CBC and I must say, two episodes in, this show is the finest piece of pure self-conscious cheese I've seen on television since... umm, nothing more recent than Jack of All Trades
is coming to mind right now. I don't want to say too much for the sake of those of you Americans who have to wait to watch it, but Tuesday's episode took place aboard a space station orbiting Earth... five billion years in the future, and various VIPs had been invited to an exclusive social event of the eternity, front row seats to watch the sun expand to a red giant and engulf the Earth. (I'd say that the premise of the episode was obviously very, very inspired by "Milliways", the "restaurant at the end of the Universe"
from Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
, but this is, of course, impossible.)
Anyway, you see a menagerie of aliens, mostly people in costumes and makeup that is similar to the more elaborate alien creature effects from Star Trek
or Babylon 5
, but the pièce de résistance
, the last human in the universe (excluding Rose Tyler (Billie Piper
), who was brought forward through time from the present by the Doctor (Christopher Eccleston) to witness the event), who was several thousand years old. But she's human in name only; she's had so much plastic surgery, to the point of having her skeleton removed, that she's just a large flap of skin stretched out on a metal frame, so she resembles a trampoline with a human face (except, unlike a trampoline, she needs to be moisturized by her two assistants every few minutes, otherwise she dries out and dies). I thought this character was just going to be a brief sight gag who wouldn't be onscreen for more than half a minute, but, no, she's in the entire episode. Now, if you're taking the show at face value and thinking about that character critically, of course, she makes no sense; why would a human being have her entire skeleton removed, rendering her completely helpless? And, why, five billion years later, are there creatures that we can still recognize as human (yes, she's a sheet of skin, but, at one point in time, a few thousand years prior, before all the cosmetic surgery, she was a regular bipedal vertebrate), and why hasn't English, in the unlikely event that it's still around as a spoken language in some form, evolved over five... umm... "billenia" (probably not a real word)? But, if you appreciate the show as fine cheese, then the more absurd something is, the better. It's the "Limozeen Cartoon Justification"
STRONG BAD: Oh-ho-ho! So classic!
STRONG SAD: But why are they in space? There's no reason for them to be in space!
STRONG BAD: On the contrary, my dear Fatson! There's every reason for them to be in space.
I mean, we're not meant to take this at all at face value, I hope. She's a bloody talking trampoline, fer crissakes! But, as cheese, it's simply brilliant. Just like the killer mannequins on the first episode (and that one scene with the London Eye ferris wheel). Unfortunately, I don't know if the older incarnations of Doctor Who
I watched on TV Ontario circa 1984, mainly episodes with the fourth Doctor, Tom Baker
, but also the early episodes with the fifth Doctor, Peter Davison
. I do remember being legitimately frightened by the episode "Time-Flight"
, the one when the evil Time Lord called the Master takes the Concorde into prehistoric times for some convoluted reason, and most of the passengers and crew are under some sort of hypnotic illusion that they had landed safely in London, even though it's some sort of misty island (that's like a really bad Star Trek
set), but the thing about that episode was, apparently, that the production values were so low and the plot was so ludicrous that "Time Flight" is widely considered to be one of the worst episodes in the show's history
. The thing to remember is that I was only about nine or ten at the time and had difficulty recognizing when something is not meant to be taken seriously. The Vogons in Hitchhiker's Guide
also scared the shit out of me at that age, and I thought Airplane!
was a serious disaster movie first and foremost that just happened to have a few funny scenes. So, now that I watch the new Doctor Who
with an adult eye, I recognize that much of it is very tongue-in-cheek goofy, but I'm not sure if it's any more goofy than its predecessors. It certainly has a higher budget, though. That's one thing you can say about it, with a lot of expensive location shoots around London and almost movie-quality CGI (though I am pleased to see on the official site that, when a certain landmark gets trashed in an upcoming episode, it's mostly a practical model effect, not completely computer graphics). I suppose the Tardis being shaped like a "police box" phone booth and K-9, the robot dog (plus, in some episodes, Aldric, the boy sidekick with the most blatany subtext this side of Robin) should have clued me in that I wasn't to take this show quite as seriously as, say, the sobering Russian sci-fi film Solaris
My biggest disappointment is that they don't show the tacky headshot of the current Doctor with the glowing border during the opening segment like they did for the Baker and Davinson episodes.
THE NUTRITION GESTAPO WILL HAVE MY COOKIES WHEN THEY PRY THEM FROM MY COLD DEAD FURRY BLUE FINGERS...
What's this? The Cookie Monster? Rapping about healthy foods?
"Don't tell Cookie Monster, but the producers of the new season of "Sesame Street" have declared his favorite treat a "sometimes food."
As in, it's OK to eat a cookie sometimes, but not every day, and certainly not for every meal, as Cookie is known to do.
Instead, Hoots the Owl will explain to tot-sized viewers that fruit is just as sweet but much more healthy, while Cookie will don a skullcap and rap with Wyclef Jean, telling viewers that "nutrition is really hip."
It will be a repeated theme throughout the new season, which starts Monday on most PBS stations. "Sesame Street" is launching a multi-year "Healthy Habits for Life" initiative that emphasizes the importance of eating healthy meals, exercising and sleeping."
People are crying "sacrilege"
, and "nanny state"
The Stanford Daily
's Chris Holt has written an opinion piece proclaiming "C is for crazy people":
"Now Cookie Monster is qualifying his eating. According to the makers of Sesame Street, the new season will feature a more "health conscious" theme. Now Cookie Monster is being lectured by a pompous owl who reminds me of those health nuts I routinely like to eat bacon cheeseburgers in front of."
Well, Chris, I understand the sentiment and I certainly am not averse to eating Big Macs just to piss off the Morgan Spurlock types, but, personally, I can't get too outraged at the subjugation of a personal childood hero.
Let me explain; most people around my age (30), born in the mid-seventies, probably haven't watched Sesame Street
much at all since around the era that Mr. Hooper died (1982), Elmo first appeared (1984), and people other than Big Bird started being able to see Mr. Snuffleupagus (1985; before then, people thought Mr. Snuffleupagus, whose real name is Aloysius Snuffleupagus
, by the way, was Big Bird's "imaginary friend"). But I'm not "most people around my age" and I watch an inordinate amount of children's television, and here's a news flash: Cookie Monster rapping about healthy food ain't a new development!
I'm sure I remember Cookie Monster rapping about changing his diet before, so I checked "Tiny Dancer"'s
always reliable Sesame Street lyrics archive
and discovered that the first attempt to rehabilitate Cookie Monster's dietary habits happened eighteen years ago
, in 1987, with the song "Healthy Food"
(penned by someone called Christopher Cerf).
Well, me known for eating cookie,
When me don't, they shout,
"Look, he trying to throw loyal fans a curve!
What he doing eating fish,
Or vegetable dish?
Man, he sure got a lot of nerve!"
Well, me answer you straight,
When me filling up plate,
Taking only cookies is all wrong!
'Cause you also got to eat
Fruit or veggies and meat
If you want to be healthy and strong!
Boy, it taste so good.
Me one healthy dude
'Cause me eat healthy food.
Me love it boiled or stewed,
Me love it whole or chewed.
You'd feel just great if you'd
Eat some healthy food!
So I wouldn't fret too much about political correctness spoiling your childhood memories; as I've demonstrated, Cookie tried to go on a diet almost a generation ago but soon reverted to sweet, sweet gluttony. I guess he's a yo-yo dieter! (Hmm... if you're on a "yo-yo" diet on Sesame Street, does that mean that you have to try and remember passing the street clock and the plastic house and then the animal fountain while the crazy psychadelic Yo-Yo Man transmogrifies into those objects in the background?)EDIT:
I neglected to check out Technorati
before writing all that, but some other bloggers also remember the "Healthy Food" song: "Wednesday White"
remembers, as does Dr. Chuck Pearson
. Dale Bentley
THE HITCHHIKER'S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY MOVIE... DO PANIC?
Author and journalist MJ Simpson
, founder of the Planet Magrathea Hitchhiker's Guide fan site
, has seen a mostly-finished cut of the Disney Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
film at a special screening for journalists, and is less than enthused by it
. To put it mildy.
"The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy movie is bad. Really bad. You just won't believe how vastly, staggeringly, jaw-droppingly bad it is. I mean, you might think that The Phantom Menace was a hopelessly misguided attempt to reinvent a much-loved franchise by people who, though well-intentioned, completely failed to understand what made the original popular - but that's just peanuts to the Hitchhiker's movie. Listen.
And so on...
It’s bad on a big scale because enormous swathes of the story have been dispensed with - most of the Guide entries, whole scenes - or changed beyond all recognition. And it is bad on a small scale because many, many wonderful lines have been cut or in some cases actually rewritten to make them less funny. Whatever your favourite line from Hitchhiker’s, there’s a good chance that it won’t be in the film. Even if it’s really well-known, widely-quoted, much-loved, very funny - it will probably be absent from the movie. Or if it is there, it might have been changed."
Just so there's no ambiguity as to what he thinks of the film, Simpson closes the spoiler-free version of his review with this line:
"This is a terrible, terrible film and it makes me want to weep."
For those of us who actually prefer reading spoilers prior to seeing something and want to know what specific problems he had with the film, "don't panic", Simpson has also written a lengthy scene-by-scene breakdown spread out over four long pages
that seem to indicate that most examples of Douglas Adams' sharp wit have been excised to make this film a fairly generic wacky space comedy (think Men in Black 2
), and there's so little of the expository information about the universe provided by the Guide that huge swaths of the film will likely not make sense to casual viewers who have not heard, read, or seen any of the previous incarnations of the story, all of which were somewhat different from one another but all of which had most of the same major plot elements intact.
Here's just one example that, if this is the way the final cut of the film, I find somewhat egregious.
"Hitchhiker's Guide always had a strong opening. It was beginnings that Douglas Adams was good at, middles and especially ends being a bit trickier. The dialogue between Arthur and Prosser, which was written for a sketch in a Cambridge Footlights revue in October 1973, is a terrific example of Douglas' clever way with - and love of - language:
"I eventually had to go down to the cellar to find them."
"That's the Display Department."
"With a torch."
"The lights had probably gone."
"So had the stairs."
"But you found the plans, didn't you?"
"Oh yes, they were 'on display' in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying 'Beware of the leopard.'"
Or, as the movie version has it:
"I eventually had to go down to the cellar to find them."
"But you found the plans, didn't you?"
Can you spot what has been removed from this scene, gentle reader, in order to shorten it? That's right. The jokes. The jokes have gone. The funny bits, the wit, the humour. The clever stuff that made it worth including in the first place."
See, one of the most memoriable pieces of dialogue in the entire story, an exchange that is funny in and of itself (though I think it's funnier if you include the final "Ever thought of going into advertising?" punchline, which Simpson didn't include in his excerpt), has been "gisted" to the point that there's no joke remaining, it's just a couple of unremarkable lines that audiences have to endure while they wait for the kewl explosion when the world blows up.Here's a list of important items from the three main versions of the story that aren't in the movie.
Is MJ Simpson being too tough? "Quint"
at Ain't It Cool News
has posted a short rebuttal
"Now I saw a test screening of THE HITCHHIKER'S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY and while I didn't think it was the greatest thing since sliced bread, I thought the spirit of Douglas Adams was captured well. There was about 10-15% of the movie I had any problem with and that was all in the (to me) forced romance between Arthur and Trillian."
"I respect Mr. Simpson's love for Adams' text a whole lot and I respect his opinion on the film, but I have to say... the overall feeling I get from reading his reviews is that he's not seeing the forest for the trees. He seems to be really caught up on single lines (sometimes single words!) missing that he may have missed the bigger picture."
Quint later added to that article with an e-mail from someone who calls himself "Pseudo Simon" who claims to have attended the cast and crew screening in London on Sunday.
"I think that MJ is clearly a huge fan, and I respect the fact that they're upset with the changes. All fans get upset over things like this, Star Wars, comic geeks, Trekkies, we all get in a tizz if things are changed. My best friend, who is a massive fan, saw these changes. And he understood them. And he liked the film for what it is: a film. Not a book on screen. Not a TV show updated. It's still a story that's been made for a different medium. No, not every version's going to be as you want it to be (Although from what I hear of Sin City this could change...), it can't have everything you liked about the book, TV or radio show, but I like the respect the film-makers had for it, the fun they had making it, and the fact that they could make this sci-fi geek still be amazed by the scope and vision the book had when I was a kid. I laughed, I marvelled, and I had a fun couple of hours."
This being AICN, the people in the Talkback
are mostly less-than-polite, many calling Simpson an "anal fanboy".
I wouldn't say I'm exactly a Hitchhiker's Guide
purist; my own allegiance is to the BBC TV version, which seems to be regarded by the hardcore fans as the least of the three major versions of the story (the other two being the BBC radio play and the Douglas Adams novel). I know it's not the greatest version, but it's what I was exposed to first and is, to me, the definitive Hitchhiker's Guide
experience. And, yeah, the version I like has already been dumbed down a bit for television but it still has enough of the dialogue preserved to make it a relatively intelligent viewing experience, and animator Rod Lord's simple text-and-diagram animations for the Guide gave the TV version a unique visual trademark that I think was, in some small way, influential1
as to how text and information is presented websites with well-designed layouts (i.e. what this blog is not). The story in Hitchhiker's Guide
is strictly secondary to the smart dialogue, or at least it's supposed to be.
Is Hollywood's version of the story a suitable tribute to Adams' comic legacy, or is it just a film that presents much of the gist of the story, just louder, flashier, and dumber, pandering to the perceived tastes of the average American teenage moviegoing audience? MJ Simpson says it's the latter, AICN's Quint and many other people who have seen it say it's the former. I will not have an opinion myself until I see it at the end of the month.
For what it's worth, I actually did enjoy The Phantom Menace
so I'm not jumping prematurely to the conclusion that I shall end up agreeing with MJ Simpson.
(Though, one thing I am happy to see in the complete spoiler summary is that there are a couple of nods to the TV series version, or one nod to the TV series version and one nod to both the radio play
and the TV series. I've also heard some reports that the Eagles' Journey of the Sorcerer
, the instrumental track that served as the theme for both the radio play and the TV series, does show up somewhere in the film, another bone tossed for us TV series fan.)1 To clarify a bit, I think Rod Long's Hitchhiker's Guide animations were influential on the way that computer information was displayed on the "Com screens" in the later-era Star Trek series, which, in turn, were a big influence on early web designers.