domingo, fevereiro 18, 2018

Tickboxing Screen SF: "Altered Carbon" by Laeta Kalogridis

It's a shame they've spent so much money on it as it isn't anything new, the only thing that is new is that you see a couple of willies (even though the willie count is going up generally, we always get an almost embarrassed shot which says look there's a willie in this but lets move back along to the tits, phew) along with the many, many boobs, bums and really as you get closer to the end, stomach churning sexual violence. There is a line spoken by one young actress which made me think that the thirteen year olds watching it (and there will be) will be off kilter for days if not months or years. And of course the scene where one actress fights naked. She seems to be fighting naked because she is a new clone and if she had been born from a vacuum pack I'd have gone with it, but she'd been reclining on a nice comfy chair which could have gone with some nice comfy sci-fi- sweatpants or even a slinky pair of pjs...but no she's naked. Some of the totemic cliches of the first two episodes are part info dump but are mostly faithful to the book. And unless I'm remembering the novel incorrectly, there's at least one Chekov's Gun lying in plain view that had to be there. There is a degree of lingering soft porn that's been overdone (e.g., the Bancroft clone vault scene), and the screenplay and acting are awkward against the expense and complexity of the effects. But I'm four episodes in and so far it's not even close to my expectations. Richard Morgan's novels are heavily invested in violence and sex. They do contrast the violent, casual decadence and immorality of the Meth's vs the street. It's the dark side to privilege that, say, Bank's Culture didn't always address with the same visceral ugliness.

I get the sense that the source material may have been chosen in part because of the way it weaves an appealing character and novel cultural mechanic with settings and tropes that are familiar and popular. I wonder if Netflix see this as a gateway drug to get the “Game of Thrones” audience onto SF/Cyberpunkish stuff. The boob count certainly suggests so (although fringe benefit, pubic hair, is going to make a comeback in the future). The prime reason it felt a little strung out is that they'd (perhaps through necessity for a TV adaptation) expanded the roles of a number of characters that don't feature quite so prominently in the book. Reileen is barely in it, Ortega doesn't have anywhere near as much focus and certainly doesn't spend time with her family, Quell only appears in the form of quotes from her battle diaries and has no connection to Kovacs at all, The Hendrix (Poe) is a lesser character, Vernon Elliott is not a sidekick and Lizzie Elliott has one short scene. For me, the idea that you "shouldn't believe anything you see", or whatever way they put it, is a cop-out. It's lazy writing and has the potential to provide for an easy out for some awkward storyline akin to Bobby popping up in the shower in Dallas. Also, I found the over-use and stagedness of smoking cynical.

I think having read so much written SF over the years my expectations of its being brought to life on screen were very high. Perhaps I'm just a boring old fart who can't be the young twenty year old falling in love with “Blade Runner” years ago and boring everyone senseless over it. I would like to see someone throw money at Marge Piercy's “Body of Glass” or “Woman on The Edge of Time” though (or at “The Player of Games” or at “Consider Phlebas”), and maybe create a new equation of less sexual violence and boobs but more willies and pubic hair...

All that being said, I am finding it extremely frustrating, that people keep either comparing it to “Blade Runner”, which it is not even remotely similar too, or complaining that it is whitewashing because Kovacs is a white actor instead of Asian, which is exactly as it is in the book. Having said that, I was really looking forward to seeing this, but kind of disconnected during the fourth episode. The luscious visuals are just not enough to keep you interested, as there's bad acting, bad and increasingly fabricated plot, and cliche loaded elements that feel like randomly stolen from the modern history of written and screen SF. I guess with “Altered Carbon” most people fall for the great CGI, something that regularly makes me enjoy second class movies if they at least look great, but this was just getting more boring and sterile as it went along.

Coming back to Iain Banks, “Consider Phlebas” is the obvious one for a great adaptation, as it's a very "cinematic" story with a linear narrative focalised through one character's perspective and contains some absolutely massive action set pieces. The main problem is squeezing everything into a film's running length. The later Culture novels become progressively more ambitious in scope and setting. “Use Of Weapons” would be very difficult to do on screen due to the endless changes of place and time. I also don't see how you could preserve the vital twist ending in a visual representation of the characters.

It's a strange one isn't it? I guess the question really is: should we judge a TV show/movie/book on its value as 'art' (high brow/low brow whatever) or should we judge a TB show/movie/book on how much money it makes. I wonder how much money Moby Dick made (first example to pop into my head). And then of course the worry that if a trend comes out of this, it could mean that only works that have a money value start to be produced, which means we lose a great deal of potential art from a lot of artists, as they simply aren't recognised, and the only things that are then produced always fit a formula, one that has been shown to make money, which is what I personally feel has been happening for many years in Hollywood - though there are some notable outliers. It is another example of the 'echo-chamber' effect in some ways I guess. I do wonder if a Brave New World awaits if we continue down this path... everything fits in box A, B or C.

This series is what Stranger Things is to 80's Spielbergian flicks; it does the same to 90's Cyber Films and B Movie Fare like “Demolition Man”, “Johnny Mnemonic”, “Strange Days”, and even “The Matrix”, etc. Even has some pseudo Industrial Rock songs that smack of 90's nostalgia. I also found some references to Video Games like Bioshock (the Raven Hotel just reminded me of some of the beginning stages) and Final Fantasy 7.  “Altered Carbon” lacks invention and understanding of what constitutes reality. Yes, we know life on Earth is likely to be a replay of previous life. That much is obvious to anybody whose mind is agile enough to detect the nuances that life brings about. What this series needs is someone with inside knowledge of the complexity of life whilst bringing out the pain and joy in ways that are subtle and not overplayed or overstated. Too many series are lazy is this respect, they have lost the art of developing the narrative and building up the story. Showing full nudity is a cheap way of gaining stiction and is a clear sign that the director has nothing much to say.

“Breaking Bad” showed us what good screen writing and storytelling is about. Netflix should develop groundbreaking shows like that, rather than spending on CGI blade runner adaptions.

Bottom-line: Gave up after four episodes. Despite the lavish budget it came across like one of those tacky Charles Band knock offs like "Trancers." I know. It's not easy to adapt books like "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep" by Phil Dick. But it´s possible...

SF = Speculative Fiction.

3 comentários:

Luís Filipe Franco disse...

Well just saw the first one to have an opinion:). I liked the first one. I reserv my judgement until the 4th:).

Luís Filipe Franco disse...

Made to the final episode of the season. I think up to the 3rd episode the series is great. And the final 4 are also good.
Curious also is the arena owner which is a synth character.
Hard violence scenes on the final episodes that really should classify this as 18-plus.
Not having read the book I'll keep this comment to the series:
1- the story line is very good. All the ideas on rebirth, and what mankind will use this rebirth capability with all the usual money earning classes to have special perks on the society
2- the plot around the neo-c coding and the rawling viruses is quite realistic. In the sense of... if you can program... you can hack!
3- I liked the characters very good and the actors also. I was convinced that ortega was tak's sister only through the acting of her (btw: great scene ;)).
4- I agree with you on the cynical use of smoking. No need for that.

Bottom line:
I don't remember being curios on a series for a long time. Great hours spent.

Manuel Antão disse...

Hallo Luis. I'm glad you liked it. It's all about what each one of us can take out of something that matters.

For me, as a Cyberpunk aficionado, it's not cyberpunk. It's also not steampunk or dieselpunk or whatever other "punk". It's a science fiction thriller. Unfortunately, the visuals, which were exciting and new when Bladerunner came out, and now by-the-numbers grim future of TV SF. It's all a bit unimaginative. The book was not that great as well.

the genre itself is pretty much done for. Morgan has moved on from it, as has Gibson, Sterling and Courtenay Grimwood. All are writers worth looking at and have their strengths and weaknesses. Bester's work is also worth a look at. This is probably the greatest weakness in the series, it is based on material that was to a certain extent dated when it was first written and it's nearly 20 years old now. SF has moved on.

Bottom-line: I've read the book once again recently, and some of the cod philosophising in the various character voice-overs is painful and not sure why the Envoys had to be mashed into the rebel Quellists; the Envoys had a better background from the novels without messing around with it. Why did the people who made the TV Show had to change it???? It seems to have made the scenario more Firefly/Serenity like, where Kovacs was on the losing side of a rebellion but that does seem to diminish the whole concept of Envoys. TV people always want to go down that road...

I was looking forward to seeing this being a fan of William Gibson books and Blade Runner, but a bit disappointed after 4 episodes. Too much action and violence and not enough originality...