Archive for the Television Category

Some kind of a puppet

Posted in FILM, Television with tags , , on December 3, 2016 by dcairns

life backwards from David Cairns on Vimeo.

I’ve been looking for this sketch since forever. Easily, for me, the most memorable thing the satirical puppet show Spitting Image ever did.

The modus operandi of the show was snark, but this posthumous piece on Orson Welles can be processed in other ways. At the time, I remember finding it not so much funny as thought-provoking.

The year was 1986. Welles died in October the previous year. It was kind of odd for a topical show to pick up on something not really in the news. “Don’t you think right after his death -?” as a guy named Thompson once attempted to ask. This little scene riffs on some of the commonplace bits of snark about Welles — “from CITIZEN KANE to sherry commercials” but offers a different spin.

American satires of Welles come with a not-so-hidden subtext: he started big and ended small. He made the greatest film ever, and look what happened to him. Beware, all of you, of artistic ambition. Hubris! No good can come of it. Very reassuring to those with regular work making run-of-the-mill multiplex fodder.

The authors of this piece are still prone to underrating later Welles achievements, as far as we can tell in its rather incomplete summary of his career. But by flipping Welles’ biography around, this little spoof raises two points ~

  1. Does it matter what order Welles made things in? The fact is, he made CITIZEN KANE. A career with that in it is a triumphant career. Nothing that comes after it can invalidate it, any more than anything before it could invalidate it.
  2. What does it matter what you say about people?

My Westworld Theories

Posted in Science, Television with tags on November 26, 2016 by dcairns


Alright, so we know something’s going on in this show, albeit very slowly. But what? Here are my theories.

  1. The show is actually set in the wild west, for real. Some very smart fellow in post-Civil War Utah has invented robots early. Naturally, he’s used them to create a theme park representing life in the future, as a cowboy scientist of the nineteenth century might imagine it: all gleaming white walls (in reality, our futuristic walls are magnolia and dusty). To make Futureworld seem convincing, he needed to include leisure activities, so he added Westworld, using his home town to represent the theme park within the theme park. Also, everyone’s been dead all along.
  2. The show is actually set in the far future. A nuclear war instigated by our current president-elect has sent humanity back to the wild west age. Time travelers from the present have arrived, and mistaken this environment for a wild west theme park. They run around gleefully shooting everyone like idiots, believe they’re only robots. They set up a big glass hospital to repair the slain “robots” every night, not realizing it’s their own descendents they’re murdering and robotizing. Also, it’s all a dream.
  3. The show is actually set in the present. A well-heeled cable company decided to create a show set in the future in a theme park simulating the wild west with robots. They hire actors to play both robots and humans, build sets, and have “scenarios” prepared by writers. The while thing goes out on TV and nobody suspects that the TV show is actually a cunning construct, based on an old movie. Anthony Hopkins has been dead for years.
  4. It’s set in Romanworld but the robots all revolted years ago and decided to play at being cowboys (hence the big orgy, clearly out of place in its setting).
  5. Everyone’s been dead all along. They’ve been hooked up to a computer that programmes their corpse-brains with a simulation/dream, which is better than going to heaven (no cowboy sex in heaven). It was supposed to be Medievalworld (hence all the heads on spikes, clearly out of place in their setting) but a computer glitch sent them forward into the old west. The staff aren’t part of the simulation, they really are robots, but they think they’re dead.

I guess that clears it up. Maybe now there’ll be some peace around here.

Red Dead Resurrection

Posted in FILM, literature, Television, Interactive with tags , , , , , , , , , , on November 24, 2016 by dcairns


We’re quite enjoying Westworld, the HBO series derived distantly from Michael Crichton’s fun film, the original Jurassic Park only with robot cowboys instead of dinosaurs.

No spoilers, unless you’re the kind of person who doesn’t want to know anything, in which case you ought to have stopped reading by now.

The TV show, created by Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy, attempts to spin the concept out by splitting the narrative among multiple characters, and putting the robot revolt into extreme slomo. The accretion of plot developments is glacial in pace. This is partly because of the numerous plotlines — just as something interesting is happening, we tend to cut away (J.J. Abrams is also involved, and those who lasted a season of Lost will recognize the strategy.) It makes the series compelling yet slooooowwww. Which is no bad thing in itself, although the regular inclusion of sex and violence is working hard to convince us that in fact this is an action-packed thrillride.


But very little of the violence in Westworld itself counts for anything, since it’s all a mechanical simulation. There’s one massive plausibility hole, by the way. Crichton’s movie made its theme park seem vaguely like fun, until it all went wrong, but it was a movie made when video games consisted basically of Pong. A holiday destination where you could play dress-up and shoot Yul Brynner seemed vaguely desirable. This new series comes on the back of video games like actual western bloodbath Red Dead Redemption, and might not even be possible without that example. Nobody plays cowboys and Indians anymore.

But video games offer us more sophisticated narratives than Pong, and in order to engage us, they work on a reward-punishment system where the player’s skills determine how successful they are. In Crichton’s concept, continued here, robots are programmed with Asimovian restraints that prevent them shooting the guests. So you seemingly can’t lose a gunfight if you’re a guest. Seems to me this would get rather boring. Some kind of paintball scenario where you can get fake-injured and lose points/privileges could have been concocted, but this park is short on rules and explanations. Introducing one main character who is new to all this, who has a friend who’s played before, should have allowed the writers to dole out information in a dramatically pleasing manner, but seven episodes in I’m still unsure how the park is supposed to work on the most basic level. Turns out the robots are allowed to punch guests. I wouldn’t go on a holiday where robots punched me, not even Thandie Newton robots.


Oh well, maybe just a little.

There’s another thing that doesn’t make sense — taking their cue from vidgames, the writers have imagined lengthy and complex narratives that the guests can get involved in. These are designed to be as believable yet dramatic as possible. But wouldn’t these be necessarily compromised by the fact that everybody who gets killed comes back to life the next day? A scenario like this would require the dead to stay dead until their narrative is over, and until the guests they’ve interacted with have finished their vacation.


Despite all this, we’re hooked. Good actors like Ed Harris, Anthony Hopkins (de-aged by CGI to appear in flashbacks), Evan Rachel Wood, Thandie. An AMAZING scene with a guy called Louis Herthum as Wood’s malfunctioning dad. Uncanny in all the right ways. The Abrams connection suggests it may not ultimately prove to be satisfying, while the Nolan connection suggests it may not be as clever as it thinks it is (see above). But it looks great and keeps throwing out good scenes.