Why ‘Firefly’ shouldn’t be given a kickstarter back onto our screens.

One of the most talked about things that happened in Geek/Film/Internet news this past week, is that a Veronica Mars spin-off film has been greenlit, based on fan reactions (and donations) to a crowd-sourcing project started by the TV show’s creator Rob Thomas.

Although hardly the first film to get started this way, it is by far the most well known, which is probably the most important factor for it breaking the record to be the fastest $1m dollar earner, which it achieved in less than five hours. Because of this, it is not unexpected that people have started to look at it with some suspicion, if not doubt. Will the fans get anything extra in return for their investment, or is their devotion just being exploited?

The feature film 'Serenity' was unprecedented in its creation from a cancelled TV series.
The feature film ‘Serenity’ was unprecedented in its creation from a cancelled TV series.

It is also hardly surprising that fans of other cancelled TV series and movie franchises are also wondering what it could mean for the objects of their own affection, none more so than the so called ‘Browncoats’: Fans of the TV series Firefly, who have taken their name from the Independents of the series, a passionate army fighting against the all powerful Alliance.

As I have mentioned in a previous post, Firefly was an extremely short series which, thanks to the tenacity of creator Joss Whedon and the devotion of fans, was picked up by Universal Studios, and the feature film Serenity was born.

Somehow Firefly had done the impossible. There are whole numbers of long lived series that can only dream of making it to the big screen, and Firefly had done it after just fourteen episodes? Fourteen episodes that FOX hadn’t even broadcast in the right order, three not even at all during its initial run. Serenity was a massive success in just getting made, but was only less than mildly successful at the box office.

Whilst fans went to see it in their droves, the general audience went there only generally. Despite the Hugo for Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form) being just one of the many awards it received, not to mention reaching the #2 spot at its opening weekend at the box office, the film wasn’t all that Universal had been hoping for.

Like the series that preceded it, it was DVD sales that would be its economic lifeline, but they were still not enough to greenlight even a TV movie, let alone the two cinematic sequels to complete the “Big Damn Trilogy” fans were hoping for. Serenity was made back in 2005, Firefly was first (partially) broadcast and cancelled in December ’02, and only the small number of comic book mini-series and one-shots that have been published is all that the Browncoats have heard from the Firefly ‘verse in all this time.

Needless to say, Veronica Mars‘ latest news has reignited the spark of hope in fans’ hearts (if it ever went out to begin with), and Whedon has already been interviewed for his take on what it means for the future of the ‘verse:

“I’ve said repeatedly that I would love to make another movie with these guys, and that remains the case. It also remains the case that I’m booked up by Marvel for the next three years, and that I haven’t even been able to get Dr. Horrible 2 off the ground because of that. So I don’t even entertain the notion of entertaining the notion of doing this, and won’t. Couple years from now, when Nathan [Fillion]’s no longer [on] Castle and I’m no longer the Tom Hagen of the Marvel Universe and making a giant movie, we might look and see where the market is then.”

As one fan put it, “Drat. More “maybe eventually”s.”

Needless to say, fans’ hopes and expectations are a constant up and down, hanging on to anything Whedon and the rest of the cast and crew have to say on the matter. Speaking as a fan myself, I have to say that, in my opinion at least, Firefly is dead. And it should stay that way.

For those of you who haven’t left in disgust, I’ll explain why.

As I mentioned, the series was cancelled ten years ago. I don’t know if anyone else has ever seen a film based on a series that’s been gone for ten years, but I have, and I didn’t find Star Trek: The Motion Picture that interesting.

[Dammit, Twitter has just directed me to Jane Nelson’s blog on SFX.co.uk, where she’s saying exactly the same thing. Whilst she’s talking about a variety of shows though, allow me to carry on with Firefly in more detail].

Looking at this properly (and in more detail than Nelson), Whedon is busy for at least the next three years, and even then it seems as though Dr. Horrible 2 gets first dibs on his constantly busy schedule. In her blog Nelson says many fans think Whedon should hand over the reigns to someone else, but a Whedon-less project also has the potential to anger as many fans as the initial cancellation. Assuming fans would compromise with someone else producing and directing a Whedon written script, he still wouldn’t have time to do even that.

Also, there was speculation of the sequel to Dr Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, Whedon’s online project during the Film & TV writers’ strike, being a feature film even before Whedon was attached to the Avengers. There were also reports of the story outline and even songs, had already been written. If we were to assume the already in the works Avengers 2 makes it to screens in the Summer of 2015 (which is pushing it), and the Doctor Horrible 2 script already to go, the very earliest it could be released is Christmas ’15.

Bear in mind this is taking Whedon’s ability to juggle projects to max, and assuming there are no other problems in Neil Patrick Harris, Nathan Fillion, (and Felicia Day?) finding room in their busy schedules. Very (very very) vaguely possible, but still highly unlikely. If (again, very big if) this happened, the earliest we could expect Serenity 2 is Christmas 2016. With his own passion for the project it is not something that Whedon would allow to be rushed, just the knowledge of knowing it was being made would placate fans enough for it to be given the time it would need, and I doubt Universal would give it priority in their summer blockbuster schedule anyway.

So, Christmas 2016 it is. (Very big if.)

Remember how I said Firefly was cancelled in December ’02? That’s fourteen years difference. As Nelson (damn you and your being paid to write!) points out, that’s a big difference. Too much of a difference to pick up where they last left off, and no-one wants to see them still in the same place. When you consider the character of River Tam was 17 years old, she’d now be 31. Hardly the crazy and mischievous teenager she once was, the fact that actress Jewel Staite was even younger only complicates things further.

'Star Trek: The Motion Picture' was released ten years after 'Star Trek' was cancelled.
‘Star Trek: The Motion Picture’ was released ten years after ‘Star Trek’ was cancelled.

But rather than carrying on the hypothetical situations, lets go back to that comparable TV/Film series, Star Trek. Like Firefly, Star Trek was unappreciated in it’s own time, and much like Serenity, a fan campaign was needed for season 3 to be commissioned, when NBC cancelled it after only two. It was during syndication that it achieved the major popularity it is recognised for today, but with people finding it only after it had been cancelled, again the only ‘official’ stories were hand drawn, with Star Trek: The Animated Series producing 22 episodes in 1973-74. The Motion Picture was finally released in ’79, ten years after season 3 originally aired. What started as the pilot episode to what would have been Star Trek: Phase II, it was a massive hit with fans, but only mildly popular with the critics.

Looking back it isn’t exactly seen as one of the best Trek films, and it’s sequel The Wrath of Khan performed so well thanks in part to the replacement of Gene Roddenberry with a newer, and more objective creative team. Headed by producer Harvey Bennett, together they had the insight to acknowledge the character’s age, putting fearless Captain (now Admiral) Kirk in the middle of a mid-life crisis. Whilst fans would find this a not only plausible but also hilarious situation for Captain Malcolm Reynolds, by now he would surely have been pushed beyond the raggedy edge, and his crew scattered to all corners of the ‘verse. And it’s not as though it could have an emotional/unexpected Spock style death to end on a (dramatic) high with either, thanks to both Book and Wash having already suffered that fate. Yet another obstacle for new Firefly projects to overcome.

This ousting of Roddenberry to the role of “consultant” in the first place wouldn’t have been sacrilegious to the fans, even if it was disappointing. Despite being the shows creator, Roddenberry himself jumped ship during the show’s third season and remained executive producer in name only. As a TV show its three seasons were crafted by a range of extra writers brought in, Whedon’s Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Angel also worked this way like nearly all US shows, but Firefly was never given the chance. The creative team was kept to a core of only a few members, and as mentioned before, any Whedonless project could split fandom wide open in a manner not seen since The Phantom Menace. A film which itself is a warning to leave the long gone, well alone.

Actors and characters aside, it’s also the audience who have grown. Whilst I was aware of it when it was released, I didn’t see Serenity until a screening at my University’s Students Union. This would have been around the time of the DVD’s European release, and I got into Firefly from that. I’ll admit I was late to the party (sorry!), but there is now a whole generation younger than me who are even later. Despite DVD and now Blu-ray keeping the series alive for new audiences to find all the time, it’s fair to say that the majority of people younger than me are too young to remember it first time round, even if it isn’t their fault.

Even as a film student, Serenity is the best example that I can think of, of exposition aimed at audience members that are both new, through to those with encyclopedic levels of knowledgeable, simultaneously. In today’s climate of ever increasing, and attention seeking, media, relying only on word of mouth (and blogs) will never be enough to keep up, and many of today’s teenagers simply won’t be interested in something that’s ten years old. I can’t even imagine 2016’s teenagers being even remotely interested in something that would be older than they are. Between many older fans’ incessant expectations, and newer audiences’ ambivalence, the stakes just seem to high to live up to.

So what about Serenity: The Next Generation? Despite featuring only one solar system compared to Star Trek‘s entire galaxy, there is still a whole host of other ships and crews out there, many in similar situations. What about a fresh start for the ‘verse  featuring one of those?

For a start, the actual Next Generation is more than just what Phase II would have been, and Decker/Riker & Ilia/Troi aside, the differences outweigh the similarities. Not only is the whole show is set in the next century, there’s even a Klingon on the starboard bridge console! While retaining the same exploratory spirit of the original, it’s more than just another crew on another ship, because it needed to be something different. Although Data is not so far removed from Spock (the two of whom finally meet in Unification part II, a conversation which doesn’t disappoint), there is a difference between the same roles and same characters. Picard may hold the same rank as Kirk, but has a far more diplomatic way of going about it.

The fan-film 'Browncoats: Redemption' "Project has ended & the DVD/Bluray is no longer available."
The fan-film ‘Browncoats: Redemption’ “Project has ended & the DVD/Bluray is no longer available.”

This different crew approach was when the 2010 crowd sourced fan-film Browncoats: Redemption was released, which featured a cameo from Adam Baldwin and reportedly received a “blessing” from Whedon himself. Although the project has raised money for many different charities and is given respect for the undertaking involved, it hardly filled the gap many fans still felt was missing in their lives.

Unlike in any Star Trek, the mercenary crew of Serenity are so much more than a militaristic unit, and it is the characters and relationships that made Firefly what it is. Just as any ‘reunion’ movie wouldn’t likely work for the reasons outlined above, Redemption was criticised by some fans for trying too hard and following the original too closely. This is an obstacle that even a new Whedon created crew would also have to tackle, and anything too different seems almost beyond waiting for.

By 2016 I’m sure Whedon’s clout in Hollywood would be enough for those writing the cheques to greenlight anything he wants. As much as passion is needed to create a film that works, rather than creating a film because “If I don’t, it’s the only thing I’m ever going to be asked ever by anyone“, I believe fans should instead be asking for original stories in new universes. Whilst I’m sure the above quote was said with the zany sarcasm present in most of Joss Whedon’s interviews, he has a very real point.

Yes I would have loved Firefly to have continued rather than be cancelled, and by all means please do give us more comics. But by now the on-screen adventures of Serenity and her crew are long gone, and any continued efforts to bring them back just seem like flogging a horse that is dead as Browncoats’ hope should be. Like so many others, as a huge fan of Whedon’s, I continually can’t wait for his next projects. The general release of Much Ado About Nothing can’t come soon enough, I’m sure The Avengers 2 will be just as breathtaking as the first, and I can’t wait to see Doctor Horrible again, but original or not, these are all projects that Whedon and co. have already started working on.

While too many Browncoats are waiting impatiently for the box office success of Veronica Mars: The Movie to bring their dream that one step closer, my time will be better spent specualting on something else.

Whedon is not just a writer, he is a creator. Thanks to the fruits of his creative genius, a teenage girl not only saved the world several times over, but reshaped the landscape of American TV while she was doing it. A crew of mercenaries instilled so much passion in fans that they actually achieved their goal of getting a feature film produced from a TV series cancelled during its first season.

 These are feats that are unprecedented, and cannot be overstated enough. And I for one am eager to know what game changing universe Joss Whedon will create next.

Transmedia storytelling: Where do we tie-in from here?

Having been around almost as long as cult film and television itself, tie-in media is now serious business. Star Wars alone includes over 20,000 years of “Expanded Universe” history to support only six (so far) canonical feature films. But how do you go about creating such a detailed background, and what exactly is this background in the first place?

Firstly, you don’t have to. Tie-in media is generally anything that takes an already established story, usually a TV show, and tells another story using those characters, settings, etc, and it doesn’t have to be part of an epic sci-fi saga. Something as simple as the novelisation of Snakes on a Plane, or even the Dad’s Army stage adaptations could also fall under this category.

Starting at the beginning, perhaps one of the earliest pieces of original tie-in fiction was 1968’s Mission to Horatius, a young adult Star Trek novel by Mack Reynolds. Like the episodes of the series itself, the novel told the story of the Enterprise crew on an outer space adventure, thrills and danger were experienced, before everything is heroically, and not to forget neatly, concluded. Returning everything to the status quo meant that viewers and readers could dip in and out of adventures and not get lost. Everyone knew the central relationship between Kirk, Spock and McCoy, knew that Uhura would be there to take the messages, and the Klingons were the badguys. As time went on however, things changed.

The 34th Rule, by Armin Shimerman and David R George, filled in many gaps the on-screen 'Star Trek' to regarding humanities future 'Utopia'.
‘The 34th Rule’, by Armin Shimerman and David R George, filled many of  ‘Star Trek’s Utopia’s gaps.

Klingon peace treaties and the civil rights movement aside, Star Trek evolved, and its tie-in fiction along with it. The episodic TV series’ led to feature films with an ongoing story arc. The Voyage Home remains one of the most popular Trek films to date, but without a recap of The Search For Spock, those who haven’t seen it may be a little confused as to why there’s no Enterprise. Likewise novels were joined by comics that contained stories that could often have cliffhanger endings, leaving readers waiting with baited breath for next month’s issue.

Ten years after it’s initial cancellation, the other long running science-fiction series Doctor Who regenerated into audio adventures, reuniting cast members to portray their charcters, even if by only voicing them. With the series once again gracing TV screens, these classic Doctor tales are still going strong.

Following this, the new millennium began with The Matrix gifting the world with a new breed of tie-in, containing almost as much new storytelling as slow motion CGI. More than just new adventures however, The “Wachowski Warship” as the Wachowski ‘Brothers’ are now known, utilised comics, short animation films, and even a computer game, in order to tell the same narrative story, only from different perspectives; While the audience watching The Matrix Reloaded would witness Niobe imparting news of how a ship called The Osiris discovered a Sentinel threat, those who have seen the aptly named Final Flight of the Osiris would witness that discovery first hand, but only Enter The Matrix players would know how the story, and indeed the intel would be picked up and delivered by Niobe after Osiris’ drop off.

While The Matrix fleshed out a story that fans already knew, the TV series Lost would take this one step forwards (or possibly backwards?) throughout the show’s six season run. Although maybe not producing as many tie-ins as other series, what was produced put a twist on traditional elements, such the ‘in-universe’ tie-in novel Bad Twin (whose ‘author’ was also on flight 815, and the manuscript to which was read on-screen by Sawyer), and merged storytelling with mere merchandising, thanks to a collection of four “Mystery of the Island” Jigsaw Puzzles that advertised “exclusive new insight into TV’s most puzzling drama series.”

Jigsaw Puzzles were an original but laboured piece of 'Lost' transmedia story-telling.
Jigsaw Puzzles were a unique, but laboured piece of ‘Lost’ transmedia story-telling.

But despite such originality in their storytelling, they gave at best only the merest hints towards any further information regarding the show’s many unanswered questions. Meta-fiction aside, the puzzles themselves were just collages of screenshots and images from the show itself, each one only showing a quarter of the completed “insights” which were not only hidden on the back of the completed puzzles, but were written in both code, and glow in the dark ink (the cypher for which was only found on the fourth puzzle). As if this weren’t confusing enough, those that solved everything would only be asked further questions by script co-ordinator Gregg Nations; “I’d have to say yes, they can be considered canon. But keep in mind who wrote those coded messages to begin with — Radzinsky and then Kelvin. What were their states of mind when creating it? And can they really be trusted?

Even worse than Bad Twin‘s duplicity however, semi-canonical storylines set on the island itself, Lost: The Video Game for example, only served to complicate ideas even further by leaving players wondering what should be separated as Lost ‘fact’ from Lost ‘fiction’. Frustrations aside however, you can’t help but admire the planning that went into such a tie-in effort, orchestrated by writers and producers of the show itself.

With the advent of serial-arc based TV drama however, a concept that even Star Trek adopted, tie-in media encountered new problems, but which were relatively easy to overcome. With such a vast universe to explore, Star Trek: New Frontier was created to boldly go where no tie-in had gone before, featuring a completely new ship and crew. A short lived series of novels also looked at how the exploration that epitomised Star Trek was conducted by Starfleet’s Klingon counterparts. Needless to say, conquering was involved.

But the main problem came when the series ended. Often tie-in media was the place to go for fans who were hungry for more, but with the number of television programs adopting story arc’s now being the vast majority, there are more than one in which the final episode concludes its story through what would be a major game change in the characters lives. With tie-in authors unable to make any significant contributions to the development of character’s audiences loved, this was often the last they ever heard from them.

Whether boosted by the example set by Lost, or by their own enthusiasm as fans, producers of cult shows have begun to take transmedia storytelling more and more seriously, and continue to tell their stories themselves, after the shows have been cancelled. Something which comic publishers have been keen to capitalise on, releasing stories that not just continue a TV show’s narrative, but do so to the point where they are considered canonical, and even released in mini-series corresponding to the original show’s seasons. Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season Eight is an early example of this, and it has just been announced that The X Files will be the latest, with “Season 10” due to be published over a decade since “Season 9” was broadcast. Obviously great news for fans of cult franchises whose cast and crew could not be reunited, but more importantly, those that studio executives are no longer willing to risk money on.

But in the current climate of “Brand Recognition” (the idea that particularly in a recession, audiences are less likely to take risks with unknowns, and spend their money more on franchises they already know), this also comes at a price. As Buffy was a popular money maker throughout it’s seven season run, I’m sure Fox have no problem in allowing Dark Horse to license it’s intellectual property for as long as the royalties will keep on coming in.

Firefly on the other hand, also written and produced by Whedon, is a series that Fox doesn’t generally like or understand, and so was cancelled during it’s first and only season. Unable to establish the widespread fanbase it deserves, what the show lacks in quantity of fans it more than makes up for in quality, and with only fourteen episodes and one feature film produced, they are always eager for more. Joss Whedon’s time management aside, surely I’m not the only one who considers Fox’s dismissal and consequentially the the series’ lack of money making ability to be an important factor in it’s lack of comic production, a mere fraction of the titles set in the already heavily established ‘Buffyverse’.

The slayers' Scythe appeared in 'Fray' before 'Buffy The Vampire Slayer'
The slayers’ Scythe appeared in the comic ‘Fray’ before ‘Buffy The Vampire Slayer’.

Although transmedia has gained popularity and acclaim throughout it’s lifetime, I can think of only one instance in which a piece of tie-in fiction has influenced the TV show which had born it. When writing a comicbook mini-series, Whedon (I know I keep mentioning him, but do so not through choice, but simply due to the prolific and various natures of his work) assumed people would only want more slayers from him, and so obliged accordingly.

Even when considering this is just a very brief overview of its history, it is no wonder that tie-in media is increasingly now referred to as ‘transmedia’ storytelling. These new stories are no longer being written to tie-in with bigger storylines, they now often are the bigger storylines.

Before commenting on the current emerging trends of where it is taking us next, it is important to remember that new developments of transmedia do not always mean the end of the traditional, which are still important in their own right. Whilst Star Trek‘s on-screen adventures may have returned to an alternative view of Kirk & co, with the films writers and producers involved with the parallel and prequel comic series, brand new adventures of Picard, Sisko, and Archer (not so much Janeway) are still recalled through a plethora of novels. Novels which do not just keep characters alive, but which allow newer and previously unpublished writers to be read.

Una McCormack for example, has gone from writing internet fan-fiction, to pretty much holding the fate of Cardassia itself in her hands. More than just Hollow Men and The Never-Ending Sacrifice being two of the best Star Trek novels I have read (and I’ve read more than a few) writing tie-in fiction has given a writer the opportunity to not only contribute to series she loves (she has also written books for Doctor Who), but this has also lead to her own original fiction being publisd as well.

But just as with all evolutions, it seems the tree of transmedia is again spliting into two separate branches. Whereas previous divergences occured from prose to comic to audio however, this one is at the heart of on-screen media itself.

One thing it seems, is that with a rise of adaptations and series such as The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones, transmedia has come full circle. Whereas tie-in material published through books were previously used to supplement on-screen adventures, now it seems that what we see on screens, is more and more filing in the gaps and producing it’s own additional narratives to supplement books and comics. Somehow creating three longer than average movies from a single children’s paperback, The Hobbit immediately springs to mind.

The Avengers Assembled. Six movies that form only "Phase One" of the 'Marvel Cinematic Universe'.
The Avengers Assembled. Six movies that form only “Phase One” of the ‘Marvel Cinematic Universe’.

More than this however, is the new tradition that has developed in which feature films now seem to be produced at a rate to rival TV episodes, something seen particularly with the recent Marvel Cinematic Universe. This is well worth noting here, as what is being described as “Phase Two”, the continuation of films that culminated in Joss Whedon’s (told you, prolific) recent blockbuster The Avengers (Assemble), will constitute not just Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World et al, but also a S.H.I.E.L.D. Television series.

While it remains to be seen exactly how much this new series will link in with the films, with the inclusion of Agent Coulson who was seen dying in The Avengers (Assemble), filling in the backstory of how the S.H.I.E.L.D. organistation was created cannot be ruled out.

But regardless of the stories the TV series will tell, it seems that where TV has traditionally been the primary narrative with tie-in stories from ‘lesser’ media supplementing them, the twentyteens have not just followed Star Wars’ lead and promoted the primary narrative to cinematic heights, but with S.H.I.E.L.D. alongside The Clone Wars, promoted the supplementary stories to the ‘lesser’ medium of Television.

Although these phases of transmedia are still emerging, it is interesting to speculate who will take them up, and where they might go with them. Not forgetting of course, in the years to come, what other changes might come next…

The ‘Lie To Me’ effect?

Promo image for 'Lie To Me' season two.
Promo image for ‘Lie To Me’ season two.

Having been curious ever since I first heard of it, in the January sales I finally bought myself the complete Lie To Me boxset, which I have just finished. Not that I often buy boxsets merely on a whim, my curiosity had initially led me to watch several disparate episodes on TV, at which point it most certainly had my attention.

The detective style series focuses on the character of Dr. Cal Lightman (Tim Roth), a published psychologist who spent years studying the universality of human facial expressions in remote populations, before founding the Lightman Group, a private company of psychologists and deception experts. Like similar series in recent years, the science behind Lie To Me is purported to be genuine, but unlike those such as C.S.I., it has a unique element which helps support this claim.

Where C.S.I. creator Anthony E. Zuiker has stated that “all of the science is accurate and we have real C.S.I.’s on staff that help us write the scripts and make sure everything is executed perfectly“, Lie To Me credits Dr. Paul Ekman as its scientific consultant on microexpressions, the Facial Action Coding system, and the whole pallet of tools used by Lightman and co. More than just one of a crowd however, Ekman has studied human psychology, emotion and body language in places such as Papua New Guinea, co-authored a book on Emotional Awareness with the Dalai Lama, pioneered the science of “deception detection”, and is also the C.E.O. of The Paul Ekman Group.

As I’m sure you’ve spotted, the unique inclusion of Dr. Paul Ekman is somewhat of a double-edged sword. Although C.S.I., along with its host of generic but original characters, contains rather liberal doses of “fudging for dramatic purposes” , it is clear to see that even if only in terms of the scientific psychology and it’s application in Lie To Me, Lightman is Ekman.

Without wishing to pick on C.S.I., I have used it here as a comparison for several reasons, firstly, the fact that of all the recent scientifically inspired detective procedurals, it is easily the most popular, and most recognisable. Mainly however, it is because of what is commonly referred to as the “C.S.I Effect“, the idea that people’s watching of on-screen fictional (and often inaccurate) forensic science will affect their perceptions of real life forensic science. Something reported to have been seen particularly among jury members presiding over actual cases, and even criminals attempting to cover their own forensic tracks. So  if C.S.I. and it’s skewed (for lack of a better word) science can influence members of the public, what about the more closely guarded science of Lie To Me?

Throughout it’s three seasons, the show not only depicts portrayals of microexpressions, facial expressions that are so-called because they are so quick and hard to spot, but those performed by the actors are often punctuated with still frames of those same expressions seen on the faces of politicians and other public figures under similar, often high pressure, situations (think Clinton and O.J.). Whilst these still frames are ostensibly another means to ‘show, not tell’ the emotion of characters, they also underpin the universality of microexpressions, and the science behind reading them. If, as the C.S.I. Effect claims, people take in and believe what they see on-screen, how much is Lie To Me teaching them about body language and deception detection? More importantly however, how much do people believe it is teaching them?

The disclaimer which accompanies every episode.
The disclaimer which accompanies every episode.

Although an interesting question, the consequences of any “Lie To Me Effect” are not likely to be talked about. More than those who disbelieve the C.S.I. Effect, Lie To Me was cancelled after only three seasons, and did not achieve the popularity heights enjoyed by C.S.I. With a smaller, audience, there is less of a chance that audience will contain members who have  be described as “gullible“, and even “incredibly stupid“. Something which also seems to fit the trend that the longevity of a show often (but not always) seems to be inversely proportional to it’s quality, but that’s a discussion for another post.

Each episode begins with a disclaimer, and through the DVD special features (admittedly  not available to a TV audience), Ekman and his team personally explain how, unlike their own, the science seen in the show is not immune to artistic license in order to tell entertaining stories. Despite this however, those same features also show footage of the Ekman group scrutinising the cast and crew interviews in the same way the Lightman Group scrutinise their own.

But if we were to consider an answer, what would become of people who believed themselves to be lie detectors, purely from watching a fictional TV show?

Whether their deductions were articulated or not, regardless of their accuracy, the effect would have far wider reaching consequences than the courtroom, criminal or otherwise. If viewers of C.S.I. really do go to extreme lengths to cover the tracks of their illegal activities, what lengths would they go to in order to cover their  incriminating microexpressions? Lie To Me shows us that through the subconscious nature of these quick as a flash  facial expressions, they cannot be faked in the manner of general expressions, and the only ways to avoid making them are either through taking muscle relaxants such as valium, and the use of botox, or cosmetic surgery.

It is through these factors that comes the main “warning” against trying to incorrectly , and perhaps the biggest difference between Ekman and Lightman. In many ways, Lightman is a true tragic hero. For all his boasting and flamboyance, he has an ability to read faces which he cannot switch off, but an inability to understand the people what he is seeing, leading to his wife leaving him for “someone who doesn’t study my eyebrows when I’m standing in a thong.”

One step forward, two steps back?

While there are some people deeply engrossed in the specifics of the HD-DVD/Blu Ray battle for supremacy, it is fair to say that most people are still blissfully unaware of said battle. And many of those who are aware just don’t give monkey’s simply because HD DVD and Blu Ray really aren’t any better than DVDs in the first place.

When DVDs first came out, everyone was wowed with the better picture and sound quality, interactive menus, bonus features, and all you had to do was buy a new video player. Now, no-one’s getting excited because you not only have to choose between the two in a VHS/Betamax style, but whichever one you go for, both will give you the pleasure of having to buy a brand new TV in order to handle the even better picture quality that you really don’t need.

Not only this, but because of the superior data storage you only need to buy one highly priced disc at a time. Where a regular DVD would make you go to all the effort of having to actually go to the player, and change discs in order to watch the bonus features, everything now comes on one disc (meaning you are physically getting less for your bigger price tag), so you can now sit and watch everything without having to leave your seat. Toilet breaks are left to your own discretion.

But while most sensible people are ignoring this new pointless debate, they are also ignoring the old entirely relevant one at the same time. Is all this new fangled digital stuff any better than analog in the first place. What’s the point in bonus features and web links if the disc can be irreparably damaged by being left on the side. Personally I think chapter selections are a great idea, especially when you need to find the point at which you have to take the disc out and clean off the three specs of dust that made it stop in the first place.

When trying to watch M*A*S*H earlier, and after performing the stop-eject-wipe-chapter selection routine too many times, I realised the brand new disc was actually scratched just from having being loose in the box. If I was watching it on VHS, it would have fit perfectly in the box, and the vulnerable tape would have been perfectly protected by the rest of the cassette. I could also feasibly leave it lying around, not having to worry myself about splodges of jam.

And it’s not just the home video that has suffered either, as any Star Wars fan will be able to tell you that a puppet can create a better performance from an actor than a soon to be CGI’d over tennis ball on a stick. And what about TV transmissions? If it’s raining outside, how can the picture freezing for ten seconds in a variety of big squares be any better than it going a bit crackly? Even when it went black and white you could still tell what was going on.

So am I going buy a Blu Ray player, or an HD DVD player? I think I’m more likely to go on eBay and buy another VHS player before my current one packs up!

Doctor WTF??


Yesterday I watched the final episode of season 3 (29 if you’re being picky, 34 if you’re really picky) of Doctor Who.

Yesterday was also the first time I have been really disappointed by the series.

When the season first started, I have to admit I didn’t think it was as good as what had come before it. ‘The Shakespeare Code’ seemed more like it was trying to jump on the Harry Potter bandwagon than celebrate a famous historical figure, and having the shows most loved enemy in an average story in ‘Daleks In Manhattan’/’Evolution Of The Daleks’ did seem a tad wasteful. Minor quibbles aside, it was still essential Saturday night viewing.

And then came the second half of the season, which was fantastic. ‘Human Nature’/’The Family of Blood’ gave us a real insight into the Doctors character, as well as showing off David Tennant’s talent. ‘Blink’ was everything Doctor Who should be, funny, dramatic, and taking full advantage of the “big ball of wibbly wobbly timey wimey stuff”.

‘Utopia’ was a great introduction for the season finale, and although the Master’s appearance didn’t come as the biggest surprise to me (it happens if you discuss rumours on the internet), I still thought it was well conceived, and a great cliffhanger leading to ‘The Sound Of Drums’, quite possibly one of my favourite episodes of Doctor Who ever. Not only was John Simm perfect as the Master, bringing the right elements of humour to the role without overdoing it and still keeping his aura of absolute evil, but the tension between him and the Doctor was great, as were the glimpses of Gallifrey itself. But ‘The Last Of The Time Lords’ just tended to spoil things for me.

Maybe the end of season hype and greatness of ‘The Sound Of Drums’ just gave me unrealistic expectations for the finale, but it was probably more that I, never in five trillion years, would have expected Russel T Davies to turn the Doctor into Dobby, The House Elf!! Bandwagon jumping again, perhaps??

Right from the start we are told that it is now “One year later”, which just gave me the impression I might have been watching Battlestar Gallactica by mistake. Whilst spreading the word of the Doctor was certainly a different way of saving the world, and hailing a big cheer from pacifists everywhere, it still seems like a bit of a cop out and certainly far fetched. Almost as far fetched as the result of everyone in the world chanting his name would magically transform him to exactly how he looked before (including wearing the clothes he had previously grown too small for), and being able to levitate, unaffected by laser fire, whilst at the same time bask in an all glowing aura.

Basically, everything up to “I forgive you” could have done with a few rewrites. And then a few more, but luckily things seemed to pick up afterwards. The Doctors crying at the death of his arch-nemesis was a great touch (even though he was probably crying because it meant he was the last of his kind. Again.), and the funeral pyre was blatantly a Return Of The Jedi rip-off. The picking up of the ring was a nice way to explain how the Master might come back again, rather than going with the traditional magically reappearing with no logical explanation, which normally happens.

And Captain Jack Harkness as the Face Of Boe?? Nice idea, but does beg the question of how he goes from bi-pedal human to big head in a jar in a matter of 198,000 years, whilst spending the next 5 billion(ish) years unchanged. And it does make you wonder how far in advance they planned it all. Even if they haven’t answered the dangling cause of his missing memories, but they’re probably just saving that for Torchwood.

Which leaves us with the Titanic. Somehow creating an enormous hole in the interior of the TARDIS twice the size of the exterior, unless of course the chameleon circuit just happened to fix itself and disguise the TARDIS as an iceberg. And are the producers planning another multi-Doctor story, or have they forgotten that the Doctor has been there and then before?

Russel T Davies, please let Steven Moffat write next years finale. PLEASE!!!!

Don’t quote me on that . . .

As not alot has still not happened, and I haven’t had a post with any pictures yet, I thought I would have a quote with pictures post, in the style of my friend Deb, but entirely a lot less cute.

“The television screen is the retina of the mind’s eye. Therefore, the television screen is part of the physical structure of the brain.

Therefore, whatever appears on the television screen emerges as raw experience for those who watch it.

Therefore, television is reality, and reality is less than television.”

– Brian O’Blivion, Videodrome