Sunday, March 25, 2012
Saturday, March 24, 2012
I don’t like (un)reality TV, it just isn’t my cup of tana leaf tea. I don’t care about the people in the shows and it seems so blatantly staged that it grates on my nerves. Maybe it's because I like documentaries, that the scripted reality offends me in some way. I did like Making Monsters on the Travel Channel, about the people who work at Distortions Unlimited (the mask and Halloween people). Mainly I liked it because it stayed on making the masks and props, which interests me.
The SyFy Channel (I know, I can’t say or write it without laughing to this day), which seems to be a waste basket of cheap rip-off-direct-to-video movies and reality shows, has a new program that combines both. Monster Man is set around practical effects man Cleve Hall as he works with his family (ex-wife and two grown daughters) at SOTA Productions for Roy Knyrim.
On the surface this should be a show I would love. Monsters, practical (not CGI) effects, and a veteran makeup man to bring it all to life. After watching two episodes I’m a little less than thrilled.
Part of the problem with this show is it has all the reality show tropes that tick me off. Everything seems staged, to the family strife to the drama with making the monsters. In the first episode Cleve has to make a two headed shark for 2-Headed Shark Attack (2012). The client comes in with the shark’s heads stacked on top of one another (bunk sharks?), and Cleve shows him how having the heads side by side would be better. The whole scenario felt scripted to me. I could see a producer going to the client and saying “So come in and tell them you want bunk sharks, and Cleve will save the day by showing you a better design”. Maybe it wasn't, but that's how it felt to me.
So if I don’t like the reality show part of it, what do I think of the monsters?
The second episode they had to make a werewolf for Hallow Pointe. The werewolf head came off looking like a high school football mascot with a huge schnoz. I know effects are meant to be filmed, and don't look as cool in the harsh rays of daylight, but this head was almost comical. I'm a big fan of practical effects, and I applaud Hallow Pointe director Thomas J. Churchill for going that route instead of crappy CGI. Still he shot it in the best angels to make it scary, which is quick cuts where you hardly see it.
Another thing that annoyed me was that the titular Monster Man, Cleve, hardly did anything creative with this werewolf build. His daughter, Constance, designed it. The sculptor did the clay version, and the molder cast everything and did the foam. If he’s the Monster Man, would think he would do more than do painting and gluing fur (Don’t get me started on the visit to the guard dog school to get “inspiration” for the werewolf-staged, staged staged). If he's the monster man, I want to see him more hands on throughout the whole monster making process.
I think SyFy missed an opportunity here. They could have shown the episode of Monster Man where they create the effects, and follow it with the actual film they worked on. It could be a Saturday movie event each week. I'd tune in for that.
I did like the parts where they were fabricating the creatures and I wish they would concentrate more on that. I also like the backdrop of a struggling effects company trying to make it in a world where CGI has almost all but replaced them.
I really wanted to like this show, and I’ll probably watch the remaining episodes with the hope it gets better, but in the end it doesn't get this monster kiddo excited. Given SyFy’s track record I shouldn't be surprised that I’m let down.
Until Next Time,
Wednesday, March 21, 2012
The Bryan Fuller(Dead Like Me, Pushing Daisies) and Bryan Singer (X-Men, House) Munsters reboot, which is now called Mockingbird Lane, has cast Eddie Izzard as Grandpa (read the article HERE). That means it’s moving forward and will likely start production soon.
I'm not looking forward to it.
I have to be frank; I haven’t liked what I’ve heard about this show so far. The show is an hour long dramedy (hour long drama with some comedy) and the characters will look normal as they try and fit in with the rest of the world. That means none of the iconic makeup that made the original show stand out.
The charm of The Munsters was that they did stand out against what was considered “normal” suburban Americans of the mid-1960s. Still, they didn’t conform and change themselves to fit in. What is a better social message, “be yourself” or “change yourself to fit in”?
(There are also people out there that say The Munsters was a commentary on racial discrimination in the 1960s, but that’s a blog post for another time.)
Another problem I have with the whole “monsters trying to fit in” concept is the BBC’s BEING HUMAN ALREADY DID IT, AND DID IT BETTER. We already have an Americanized Being Human on SYFY, we don’t need another one.
Network TV seems to like to keep their monsters in the closet. NBC’s Grimm, about a monster hunter, has the monsters in human form most of the time. When’s the last time you saw a monster, as a monster the whole time, on a TV show? The last ones I remember are Lorne and Illyria (who was only in part of the last season) on Angel, the Buffy The Vampire Slayer spin off. And that went off the air in 2004. Even in recent science fiction, aliens and monsters are few and far apart. Firefly and the rebooted Battlestar Galactica ditched all the aliens for all human universes. Sure Galactica had Cylons, but even most of the Cylons looked human.
As a genre fan, I want my monsters to be seen. I want to see fantastic creatures on the screen, not homogenized every day looking people. We all know the “monster hiding as a human” isn’t a clever metaphor devised by the writers to get across a point about society; it’s a cheap way to save money on production.
Until Next Time,
Saturday, March 17, 2012
Friday, March 16, 2012
There were attemps at revivals over the years. The short lived night time drama in the early 1990s suffered from being pre-empted for the gulf war. An attempt by the late WB in 2004 network never made it to air. Still, fans like my brother and I hoped for someone bring us back to Collinwood.
Fans rejoiced when they heard Tim Burton and Johnny Depp were going to make a feature film of Dark Shadows. Although I was intrigued by the pairing of the quirky duo and the gothic soap, I was not as excited as others.
Why, you ask?
Look a list of their work together and pay attention to the types of films Burton makes and the characters Depp plays in them: Edward Scissorhands, a comedy with a weird outsider played by Depp; Ed Wood, a comedy with a weird outsider played by Depp; Sleepy Hollow, a comedy with a weird outsider played by Depp; Charlie and The Chocolate Factory, a comedy with a weird outsider played by Depp; Sweeney Todd, a comedy with a homicidal but weird outsider played by Depp.
Does anyone see a pattern here?
My fear was Burton and Depp would camp it up. And those fears intensified when I saw an early set photo of Depp in his Barnabas Collins makeup, looking like Michael Jackson’s ghost (what, too soon?). Fans kept their cool, for the most part. Waiting until they could see with their own eyes what kind of movie Burton would bring them.
And then the trailer came out.
Facebook and the Twitterverse blew up with negative reactions. Most hated the idea of their beloved Dark Shadows being made into a comedy. Many said it didn’t fit their memories of the soap opera they ran home from school to watch all those years ago. There were some positive voices out there. Mostly people too young to have seen Dark Shadows and knew little of its history.
My brother, just so you know, hates it. I think he took a sick day from work to recover.
So what is my take on the new Dark Shadows?
First, I’m not surprised at Burton’s slant on comedy for the new film, as I said before. That’s his strength and at this point in his career he knows what works for him as a director and what doesn’t (cough-Planet of the Apes remake-cough). Even with it being a comedy, Burton always manages to weave in pathos and drama. He knows how to manipulate emotions so you feel for the outcast.
Second, and don’t get angry at me for this, most of the population don’t know anything about the original Dark Shadows. They’re going to see it because it’s a Johnny Depp flick. Heck, there are people out there that don’t realize Pirates of The Caribbean was based on a Disney ride at their theme parks. Dark Shadows fans aren’t enough to make a movie a hit on opening weekend. They had to make the movie more mainstream, less cult following.
Also, I rather doubt film executives would throw millions at Burton and Depp to make a depressing horror film. As much as I love Sweeney Todd it is considered a box office failure.
This was never going to be the Dark Shadows we fans remember, nothing can ever be. Trying to recapture the lightning in a bottle would be a fool’s errand. I wanted it to be a faithful retelling of Collins saga. I wanted to feel the pain Barnabas goes through as he battles his vampire side. I also wanted werewolves and man-made men and an aged vampire in Dick Smith makeup. That can never be again. Just like there are different takes on Batman, Dracula, Frankenstein, Tom Cruise and other fictional characters, this is a different take on Dark Shadows.
With all that said, I’m going to give the new Dark Shadows a chance. I did like some of what I saw in the trailer. The 1970s is cool choice of a setting and appropriate. The vampire Barnabas is a gothic fanged monster that DOES NOT SPARKLE LIKE A DISCO BALL. Am I a little conflicted as a fan of the original? Yes. But I’m also a fan of Burton’s and I’m willing to give his vision a try. I might be disappointed, I might not be.
But I’ll always have Dark Shadows on DVD and Netflix to remind me of those nights I snuck downstairs when I was a kid.
Monday, March 12, 2012
You go to a website to read something, but you can’t find the content because the top of the page is filled with banner ads and website branding. What you want to read isn’t even visible when you go to the page, you have to scroll half way down before you even see the top of the article you want to read.
This horrendous website design has been bothering me for a while now and it really came to a head when I went to Fangoria’s website today to read an article someone posted on Facebook (*Please Note: although other sites are guilty of the same crime, I’m going to use Fangoria as an example because it was their page that stoked my ire this morning).
I’ve seen a lot of bad websites, but most of them have been amateur efforts by people who think hundreds of dancing gopher gifs on a page is a hoot. On a professional website there is no excuse for this. It’s a kin to getting the New York Times, and the whole area "above the fold" (to use newspaper terms) is filled with print ads and no headlines or news.
On Fango’s site, there were four banner ads, one of which is for their Dead Time Stories pod cast; two of the same 545 by 250 slide show boxes, advertising the magazine or, again, Dead Time Stories; a 300 by 250 pixel box asking people to friend Fangoria on Facebook when they already have a 50 by 50 button; and that’s not counting the Fangoria masthead, user login bar (which has the above mentioned 50 by 50 Facebook button) and menu bar. All of that is above the fold, taking up every pixel of space when the page first loads. The real content is so far down you can’t see it, or "below the fold" to use newspaper speak again.
Such clutter makes it unattractive for readers to frequent such sites on a daily basis. I don’t go to Fangoria’s site for my horror related news and the site design is one reason. Don’t get me wrong, the overall design is nice and ties in with the magazine. And I’m sure the posts are informative, if I didn’t have to scroll and scroll and scroll all the way down to read them that is.
So why would a magazine, that’s had a web presence for over ten years, make you dig for your content like this?
I can only speculate, but here is my two cents on the issue. First, print magazines are becoming a dying industry. People have abandoned buying paper hard copies and go online for their information. Why buy a magazine who’s data is already a month to two months old when you can get up to the minute news on your favorite subjects with a click of a mouse? Many magazines that lasted for decades have closed up shop. The magazines that are surviving rely on their websites to generate extra money through ads.
I’m sure someone, maybe a marketing person at Fangoria, said, “Gee, if one banner ad generates X amount of cents every month then a whole bunch will make us even more money! And while we’re at it, we’ll put in a bunch of our ads to maximize the branding of our business. I’m a genius! Now where did I put that Red Bull?”
Here is the problem with that logic. If you top load your site with ads, even ads for your own stuff, people aren’t going to hit your site that often. If people don’t hit your site that often because of said ads blocking the content they want to read, they will to other sites to read that content. When people don’t go to your site, you don’t make money from the ads. I’m sure the only thing stopping the marketing person from filling the entire page with ads was those pesky little articles that bring people to the website in the first place.
And you don’t have to go over the top advertising your own stuff on your site, one little slide show box is fine. I like slide show boxes, they takes up less real estate on the page (that is, if you don’t put more than one on that page) and can still advertise your pod cast, magazine and anything else you want to let your readers know about.
If I was to redesign Fangoria’s website, I’d take out all the banner ads at the top except for one. I’d keep the masthead, then have the banner ad, followed by the login bar, and menu bar in that order. Then one (only one) slide show box. Also I’d make darn sure that the article or other content is prominently visible "above the fold".
Okay, that’s my rant for the day.