Twin Peaks: a TV revival like no other


Twin Peaks returns to television today.

For fans left hanging for decades by the cliffhanger ending of the original series, this is still hard to process. The immense secrecy around the project makes it even harder to imagine what’s coming. The elusive Twin Peaks narrative has spread into the real world surrounding it.

Long-time fans are naturally eager, but media coverage reveals pronounced interest where you might expect to find cynicism. Franchise resurrection – and criticism of it – is now de rigueur and has spread from film to TV, including The X-Files, Gilmore Girls, Prison Break, and many more. Twin Peaks might understandably be treated as yet another dubious instance.

But quite the contrary: has any TV revival after a long absence felt like such a worthy creative venture and been treated as such? Or at least a risk worth taking? Healthy skepticism is out there, but the prevailing mood is acceptance and curiosity rather than dismay at the reanimation of a long-dead property. Top publications are venerating the show with few caveats. Even Sight and Sound put the show on its cover. Why?

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Strange New World: Streaming Star Trek to a Global Audience


Netflix acquiring international distribution rights to Star Trek: Discovery excited me immensely. Then I realised it put the CBS All Access distribution arrangement in a whole new light. I wondered what the Netflix deal may mean for the long-term viability of the platform.

So I wrote a piece for the leading Star Trek site, Trekcore, on all the implications.

Star Trek is finally returning to TV


Nearly 12 years after Enterprise left the air, Star Trek will finally return to TV in January 2017. TV is the franchise’s natural home, so this is fantastic news whether or not you like the current batch of movies. At its best, Star Trek holds up a mirror to our times, and TV allows it tell a variety of small stories without the pressure to offer action-adventure again and again. Its voice on the small screen has been missed.

However, it’s not strictly returning to television. CBS, who holds the rights to the TV side of the franchise, will in the US present the new series exclusively on their dedicated streaming service, CBS All Access. With no obvious free-to-air or cable home for the series these days, streaming makes sense for Star Trek and its typically tech-literate audience.

Other than that, we know very little about the new series. But let’s dig into what this announcement means and what we can potentially expect. Continue reading

Why Disney will release the original versions of the Star Wars trilogy

hangreedoSince Disney bought Lucasfilm in 2012, a key question has been whether they’ll release the theatrical editions of the original Star Wars trilogy. George Lucas has largely suppressed them since releasing the first special editions in 1997, embarrassed by their less-than-perfect special effects and insisting he would always have made the incongruous additions if technology and circumstance allowed.

So essential are these upgrades for him that he’s decreed older fans should never be allowed to see the versions they grew up with and younger ones shouldn’t be able to see a seminal part of cinema history. This is in stark contrast with his infamous 1988 speech to Congress declaring that permanently altering films was barbaric.

The issue has been personal for him, but fortunately Disney’s a soulless multinational corporation. If there’s money to be made, what do they care about a director’s pet grievances? Plus, Lucasfilm under Kathleen Kennedy seems to think quite differently about the imperfect, lived-in aesthetic of the original trilogy.

We don’t know whether Disney is contractually able to release them, but some still believe they wouldn’t bother spending much on a niche concern even if they could. I think that view is wrong and fails to see the big picture.

But first, let’s look at the potential hurdles. Continue reading

Syfy’s new focus on quality drama has a catch

At its upfront presentation last month, Syfy announced several new scripted projects as part of their return to serious-minded science fiction. That the channel behind Battlestar Galactica is again fully embracing the genre after years of lightweight fluff is something to celebrate. Yet Syfy’s newfound ambition is a double-edged sword. They’ve fallen prey to Hollywood’s conservative dependence on existing properties: nearly every project they’re developing is an adaptation.

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The future of TV distribution already exists, and it’s called Crunchyroll

cr_verticalAttorney-General George Brandis announced last month that the Australian government wants to drastically curb film and TV piracy, but with methods that have been demonstrably ineffective in other  countries. Following Foxtel muscling iTunes and Quickflix out of selling HBO shows the day after broadcast, this is another step leading us further away from the convenient distribution systems that could genuinely reduce piracy. Instead of curing the problem by building towards a flexible, geographically egalitarian system, Big Media and the government are merely treating the symptoms with resentment and hostility.

Yet progressive distribution models are prospering. Netflix is frequently held up as the benchmark, but it only distributes its handful of original shows in all its territories at once. Even if they set up shop here tomorrow, we’d remain bound to free-to-air and pay TV distribution for all other new shows. Hulu comes closer with next-day streaming of American broadcasts, but it’s US-only (unless you’re geo-dodging) and doesn’t include content from key cable channels like HBO, Showtime, and FX. And that’s just American programming. The problem repeats in most countries.

No, the model for the future is Crunchyroll. If you haven’t heard of it, that’s for the very reason it’s so effective. Crunchyroll doesn’t stream mainstream TV shows, but a niche product: anime.

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Wherein I write a Breaking Bad article for Crikey

breakingbad2I’ve fallen behind with the recaps, but that’s partly been due to a terrific opportunity to contribute to Crikey’s excellent TV blog, Wires and Lights.

In Desert island: how Breaking Bad became the next Lost, I examine how Breaking Bad has unexpectedly become the next supernatural event show, following on from The X-Files, Lost, Battlestar Galactica, and other dearly departed genre landmarks. How, you ask, given that Breaking Bad is firmly set in the real world? Click through to Crikey and read on.

A big thank you to Laurence Barber for inviting me to contribute.

Now, on to the recap catch-up.

Greenlighting three Avatar sequels is a mistake


James Cameron is now working on not two, but three new Avatar movies, to be filmed as one production and released once a year. But do enough people even want to see them?

Questioning the wisdom of sequels to the all-time biggest-grossing movie may seem naive, especially when sequels to far less successful films get made without hesitation. But I think Fox and Cameron are the naive ones here, because cultural cachet is the better indicator of how well these particular films will be received.

By the time the first sequel comes out in December 2016, seven years will have passed since Avatar. Kids who saw it as they were leaving primary school will be starting university, and adults would have needed to form a serious bond with the film to stay excited for seven years. We’ve formed such bonds with the Avengers series, the Dark Knight movies, the Daniel Craig Bond films, the Harry Potter franchise, and TV shows like Game of Thrones. They have all stayed in the cultural conversation more or less constantly, and all but Game of Thrones started before Avatar came out. Granted, they’ve maintained momentum with continuing installments, but they’ve all been more and more successful rather than strung along to comparable or middling returns.

Avatar has had no such test, but its complete absence in discussions of film and pop culture is more telling anyway, from film buff discussion to chats in the lunch room. I don’t think it’s rash to conclude that there’s hardly a groundswell of adoration for this movie. Our feelings for it have diminished rather than grown.

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Why we should be open-minded about Pacific Rim

pacific-rimPacific Rim might be in trouble. The tracking figures for audience awareness and their intentions regarding it are surprisingly low, with the latest Adam Sandler assembly-line construct Grown Ups 2 projected to open at number one next weekend. This means that an epic, crowd-pleasing film about giant robots fighting giant monsters might well be beaten severely by a comedy sequel that was never intended to inspire the kind of excitement that an event film like Pacific Rim normally would.

These financial figures indicate a deeper audience apathy. Logically and commercially, Pacific Rim should be a slam dunk. Whether or not you think there’s any entertainment value to giant robots, the Transformers films have proven that they bring in the dough. This film goes one better by throwing in giant monsters too, and they’re all far bigger than any of the Transformers. Could any concept appeal more to imaginative young boys or grown-up boys who dreamed about this stuff in their childhood? Spectacle on the scale that Pacific Rim‘s trailers suggest were once only possible in comics and Saturday morning cartoons. Now, finally, the visions many of us grew up with have been brought to life. There is unquestionably an audience for this film.

Better yet, it’s not an adaptation of a toy line or a comic. Pacific Rim is original IP. We’re being offered a new world that draws on a variety of genre touchstones that could never be realised like this before. The responses from preview screenings over the last few months have been ecstatic, including from credible sources like Looper director Rian Johnson.

So why is Pacific Rim not registering with enough of its target audience? As for those who might not care about the spectacle, shouldn’t the advertising also present character moments and comedy to attract as many ticket buyers as possible? Isn’t that a fundamental goal of big-budget marketing?

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Why Doctor Who‘s missing episodes captivate us

Fury_from_the_DeepBleeding Cool threw a grenade into classic Doctor Who fandom a week ago, running what they claimed was a reliable and well-sourced rumour. Apparently, the BBC have recovered a whopping 90 of the 106 missing Doctor Who episodes, along with a host of other lost programs from the 1950s and 1960s, and will announce the find during the show’s 50th anniversary in November.

The story sounds too outlandish to be true, as if generated by an amateur rumour-monger who didn’t realise that plausible rumours are most effective. The missing episodes that have been returned to the BBC always came back in small handfuls, and at a diminishing rate since the 1970s. As more archives were searched and more time passed, the prospect of the majority of episodes being discovered in one fell swoop became less likely, if it was ever likely at all.

But Rich Johnston has a history of breaking accurate stories in the comics industry, and other sites chimed in to say that they’d independently heard the same rumours. This still could have been an elaborate hoax or a joke gone wrong, however, and Johnston acknowledged that even former Doctor Who insiders like Ian Levine were angrily rubbishing the claims.

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HBO finally developing a science fiction series

HBOThe success of Game of Thrones has shown HBO that geek genres like fantasy can be profitable while not undermining their brand, so it was only a matter of time before they ventured into science fiction.

Although they were developing a tantalising mini-series version of Trent Reznor’s dystopian Nine Inch Nails concept album Year Zero a couple of years ago, that project doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. This new one, The Spark, is long-form and suggests that HBO is cool with genre now that Game of Thrones is their second most successful show ever, which makes it a milestone.

The Spark is from Karl Gajdusek, co-creator of Last Resort and co-writer of Oblivion. Not the most impressive pedigree since the swiftly-cancelled Last Resort reputedly couldn’t turn a stellar pilot concept into a series and Oblivion was derivative and hollow. But D.B. Weiss didn’t even have any produced credits before Game of Thrones, and that turned out okay.

To quote Deadline’s synopsis from their announcement:

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Terminator 5 is coming, starring Schwarzengger: did we ask for this?

Terminator 5 has been mumbled about since last December, when Oracle kids Megan and Larry Ellison became the latest independents to buy the rights. Now the shambling freight train is on the tracks, with Paramount negotiating to distribute the film and Arnold Schwarzenegger announcing he’s on board and that filming will begin in early 2014. And so the latest franchise reanimation is underway.

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Naoki Urasawa’s Monster at HBO: an opportunity for progressive casting

Deadline has revealed that HBO and director Guillermo del Toro are developing a series adaptation of Naoki Urasawa’s manga thriller series Monster. While intriguing news for existing fans, what’s most significant on an industry level is the possibility of HBO subverting the exclusionary standards for how Asian actors are cast in non-Asian television shows.

But first, the manga. The 18-volume series begins in Düsseldorf, where visiting Japanese doctor Kenzō Tenma chooses, against orders, to save the life of a young boy rather than the mayor. Years later, Tenma learns that the boy, Johan, has grown into a psychopath of immense ambition and influence. With no-one believing his story, Tenma takes it upon himself to discover Johan’s origins and take him down.

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