Degrees of Separation

The other night, Joshua and I watched ‘The Lazarus Experiment’. I found it better than I remembered. (Gareth finds it truly awful.) Perhaps parenthood has softened my inner critic. When a small child holds up a badly-scrawled line drawing and you have no choice but to say it’s lovely, even when by their own standards it isn’t, it can be hard to turn that sort of behaviour trait off again.

There’s one scene in ‘Lazarus’ in which Tennant and Agyeman are trapped in the portaloo chamber of youth, which is about to activate. They escape when the Doctor manages to rewire it so the energy blast is directed outwards, rather than towards them. As they emerge, and Tennant does that hair-ruffling thing, he remarks “It really shouldn’t take that long for me to reverse the polarity. I must be a bit out of practice”. When I mentioned this to Gareth, he said “It’s strange.  If Davison or McCoy or others said that in a BF audio,  I would find it an amusing touch.  But when it happens in the new TV series, it grates as a painful reference.  Odd.”

From then on, our conversation ran basically like this…

Me: Maybe it’s because there is an inherent smugness in the new series that you don’t find present in the audio. When RTD writes something like that he’s typically doing it as fanwank, and you can’t stand that. The audio stuff is not mainstream, it’s niche, and for a specialist and highly appreciative audience. The TV series is aimed at the masses and I sometimes wonder if that’s why you don’t like it, because you simply don’t expect to.

Gareth: That now makes me sound very, er, something.  “Snobbish” isn’t the right word, but that sort of idea.  I would like to like New Who, and I have liked some bits.  But I don’t like much of modern TV at all, not just Who.

Many programmes, especially sci-fi-shaped things, are becoming a generic soup of effects and similar styles of arc and angst.  Everything these days deteriorates into tedium about the characters and their emotions, development, etc.

“We’ve got a time-travelling alien who can go anywhere in the universe!”
“Great, let’s give him some modern-day Earth friends and focus on them instead!”
“This Lara Croft video game thing.  It was a great series about exploring tombs, solving puzzles, fighting enemies. We should make new versions!”
“Great, let’s introduce a backplot where her parents and good friend are lost when she’s young, and have her angsting about finding what happened, trying to get them back etc.  What’s even better is that we can drag this out over three games!”

James: It’s not so much that you don’t like it because it’s aimed at the masses, but more that you don’t like it because of what they felt they had to do to aim it effectively at the masses. Does that make sense? I think you just don’t like contemporary TV because so much of it is the same. That may be why you enjoyed Life on Mars, which was at least a bit different.

(Re: your Tomb Raider thing, you have basically described the new Star Trek film.)

Gareth: That sounds plausible.  Everything seems to blur towards the norm these days, which is a bit dull.

James: It’s like if you look at action cinema. Every. Single. Action sequence. Is the same. Spots of slow motion – acrobatic leaps followed by slow-motion landings and leg sweeps. Wind machines. Thudding score. Oodles of fast cuts. And that’s before we get to the 3-D. It’s just so *boring*.

Gareth: With an explosion.  Coming towards the camera.

James: And someone outrunning a fireball. WHICH IS IMPOSSIBLE. Conversely, have you seen Children of Men?

Decontextualized it loses a certain something, but it’s brilliant, because it’s how car chases would probably really happen. There’s a lovely sense of realism about it.

Gareth: I just went to have a look.

It had an unskippable 22-second trailer.  Then an advert banner appeared across the bottom, which I killed (although its kill button was right next to its open button, and I missed).  Then another advert banner appeared across the bottom.

We were about a minute in before I was actually able to pay attention to any of it.  As you say, I think it needed context, as when I paid attention it just made them look incompetent.  (Yes, it might be more realistic than many, but then so might them stopping for 15 minutes to repair a puncture.)

We also started watching the Who ‘Frontier in Space’ DVD yesterday.  I’m used to them taking more than two minutes to get going, as they have the BBC Logo, the 2 Entertain Logo, the Doctor Who intro sequence, the title being announced, and the “enter audio navigation now”.  I am quite happy to have the “audio navigation” announcement (although I’m sure that these days there could be a setting on the PS3 or DVD player saying “don’t bother showing me this” – like with Infamous 2 where we have to sit through the warnings not to swing our motiony PS3 Wii-like controller too vigorously, or with Mission Impossible Season 4 where we have to choose the language each time).

But in FiS there was also an unskippable and unfastforwardable advert for more Who DVDs, adding more than another minute to the loading time.  It’s things like that that make me wish I’d got a pirate copy…

James: I know. It’s all very well complaining that you get dodgy quality with pirate DVDs, but you also don’t get all the stupid ads. (The one I hated the most was “You wouldn’t steal a handbag. You wouldn’t steal a car. Would you steal a film?”, which is a crappy analogy.)

Gareth: It’s truly awful.  If they’d said “you wouldn’t somehow make a clone of the person’s handbag, not depriving them of their own handbag – not for any fraudulent use of the contents, just to have a nice bag”, I expect many people would say “well, why not?”

James: It would have been a far more sensible question, but you’d have had to knock it down to twelve point fount to get it on the screen, and they’d have had to show it for longer, which sort of breaks up the flow.

YouTube sucks, really, doesn’t it? This is why I don’t monetise. It’s the principle.

Gareth: Many things are going the tedious way.  The strangest (and also quite annoying) thing I’ve met recently is when you buy something on Amazon, you can press a button to announce to Facebook that you’ve just bought it.  Um, what?  Firstly, why would anyone care?  And why would I want to tell the world I’ve just bought stuff.  (Maybe it’s so that Facebook can pass the information on to more people!)

We had a phone survey a while ago.  I usually hang up, but occasionally I’m bored and see what they want.  It was going along all sensibly until we got to the computing and media section, which included the question “how many laptops do you have in your house?” and I thought that this was an unsubtle question to ask.  Would the follow-up have been “and do you have particularly good window locks?”?  Probably not, but that’s not the point.

James: You’ve seen, presumably, how I dealt with our last telemarketing caller? (It involved toothpaste.)

Gareth: I did, yes. Guess what, I just had another one. He said “Hello.  This is Something Lifestyle Survey.  I ask a few questions, it only take a few minutes, and you say ‘yes’ or “no’.  First, how are you today?”

I think that “no” was the only possible response to that.

James: It reminds me of the alleged courtroom dialogue that went

– All your responses must be oral. What is your name?
– Oral.

I have always assumed this was an urban legend, because I can’t believe that even in America anyone could be QUITE SO STUPID.

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