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September 22, 2009

Weird old title sequences: The Martian Chronicles

Posted on September 22, 2009 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

The Martian Chronicles

Ray Bradbury was one of those science-fiction authors who didn't like science. He didn't like getting bogged down in all those nasty facts and things that made his ideas impossible, so he ignored most of science altogether.

Which for his Martian Chronicles was a good thing, I think. Okay, so it did mean that Mars mysteriously became a world with an oxygen atmosphere that human beings could just walk around on without difficulty. But Bradbury was able to let his flights of fancy soar without being tethered or bogged down by pedantic little details.

The Martian Chronicles is an impressive name for what is essentially a set of short stories, linked mainly by their setting, rather than any particular theme, world view or overall story arc. It details humanity's various attempts during the 20th and 21st century to settle on the planet of Mars, where they encounter a society of telepathic and extremely alien Martians.

The Martians initially try to repel the new arrivals, but eventually they're all but wiped out by diseases brought by humans to Mars. Eventually, the humans themselves are wiped out on Earth by nuclear war, and find themselves becoming the new Martians and adopting the Martian ways.

The Chronicles themselves only really achieved coherence when they were collected together out of the various magazines they'd been published into a single volume – with some slight amendments such as the inclusion of 'interstitial vignettes' to make them fit together. It was this volume that was adapted by NBC and the BBC in the late 70s and turned into the mini-series The Martian Chronicles.

Although the stories themselves had no central hero, since they take place over a number of decades, for the mini-series, rocket pilot Rock Hudson becomes the hero, replacing the heroes of the various short stories that had them.

Like the stories, The Martian Chronicles is a meandering affair, aimless, taking absurd detours because it's really an umbrella for all of Bradbury's short stories. So we have the central plot of the colonisation of Mars and how it's taking on all the worst characteristics of Earth, including gambling.

Then there'll be a brief interlude where Hudson finds out his old friend Barry Morse has replaced his entire family with identical robots – Barry then dies, leaving his robotic family to carry on without him, unaware they're robots. Which makes sense as a short story about what it means to be human, the nature of family, etc, but is utterly incongruous when placed with all the others.

It's no surprise that The Martian Chronicles failed both critically and in the ratings, particularly since Bradbury himself described it as 'boring' in a press conference to launch the mini-series. But it still was a poetical piece, in which the ultimate action adventurer, a space rocket pilot, learns that true happiness doesn't come from technology and action – that's the kind of thinking that ends up with the whole human race and planet Earth destroyed in a war – it comes from being happy with oneself and in what one does. It also had stunning designs that really conjured the idea of an alien race with its own aesthetic and view of the world.

The titles are anything but dynamic, but they are one of the few examples of a poetic title sequence you're liable to find, attempting to demonstrate the beauty, peace and calm of these imaginary Martians who died, leaving only ideas behind.

September 21, 2009

Review: Community 1x1

Posted on September 21, 2009 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Community

In the US: Thursdays, 9.30/8.30c, NBC

Smart comedies are hard to do. So hail to those who try their best to do smart comedies. Even bigger hails to those who manage to achieve it.

But sometimes you need to borrow an old formula to do it. There's no shame in this if you can make it your own, though, which is what the creators of Community have done.

The name of that formula? Bill Murray.

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September 21, 2009

Review: Engrenages (Spiral) 2x2

Posted on September 21, 2009 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

The people have spoken and the decree is "let's have episode by episode reviews of Spiral (aka Engrenages aka the French TV series that doesn't suck".

So here we go: episode two, another multi-layered piece of subtlety and blistering indictment of the corruption at all levels of the French criminal system. Apparently.

Continue reading "Review: Engrenages (Spiral) 2x2"

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