FICTIONSIDE 102: Jokerside’s 10 Rules of Engagement

Jplerside Fictionside #2 The Rules

To mark Jokerside’s third and a half birthday, another Fictionside. This time exploring the central tenets that Jokerside loves to stick by / completely ignore.

Here are nine of Jokerside’s rules of engaging with pop culture (full explanations below):

  1. Anything deserves credit
  2. A writer should want (need) to write themselves into a hole
  3. Change is a luxury
  4. Never count on renewal because, bluntly, Networks aren’t often wrong
  5. Works of fiction can’t have plot holes
  6. A creator cannot rely on an audience to fill in plot holes
  7. Remakes, sequels and prequel cannot diminish the original
  8. Enemies must be used sparingly
  9. Narrative knows no bounds, everything has its medium
  10. Canon is there to help fans, not deny them

 

Let’s jump in…

  1. Everything deserves credit

If it took people time and effort…

Hellraiser Pinhead and the Lament ConfigurationAnything that makes it to the small or big screen has taken time, effort and thought. No matter how tempting it is, no matter how flawed the end product, no matter how much you disagree with it, there’s more chance of Batman V Superman crashing at the box office than a group of people dedicating months to producing something that deliberately failed against their goals. Yes, even rush jobs like Hellraiser Revelations, which a Pandemonium’s worth of evidence might suggest was a cynical attempt to retain franchise rights, deserves some credit because aside from any studio or legal issues people persevered to make it happen. Clive Barker has every right to dismiss it, Doug Bradley too, and many others. But anyone who’s handed the keys to the franchise, even with a sharp production schedule and light budget is unlikely to resist opening that puzzle box.

From top to bottom, there are big credits that reflect every collaboration and rewards them. So, it’s unfair, bordering cruel, to disparage that work. And after all, everything is an acquired taste…

Jokerside seldom slips at the negative, even considering half the Hellraiser franchise on an equal plane, but it’s tricky. Take a trip to Victor Frankenstein last year. That was Jokerside’s first, long-awaited trip to see a Frankenstein adaptation on the big screen (you know, we love Frankenstein) and while the end result was a disappointment it just shows how behind the scenes nonsense can get in the way of incredible talent working in front of and behind the camera. That kind of mess can be impossible to decipher, it might be aspersion and it’s doubtful the behind the scenes tales will ever spill out. But really, what needed to be said about a film that crashed at the box office, was poorly treated by British cinema chains and was surely not what the creators envisaged.

Always remember the glasshouses. No matter which demon, scientist, captain or bunch of pixels built them.

  1. A writer should want (need) to write themselves into a hole

With a quill you are fearless…

It’s one thing to set a cliff-hanger at the end of film, book, comic, television series… And another to use it to pitch the direction an intent of a whole second stab. As arc shows have fast become the accepted norm, that’s all the trickier to navigate when a huge weight of concept shows appear year after year, propelled by hubris and concept and are… Promptly cut off after one season. Step forward Flash Forward. It’s the kind of thing that makes people utter inane comments like “Oh, if I’d have known it was only going to last one season, I’d never have bothered…” Really? It comes to something when a full US season of over 20 hours requires years of promised story yet to be written to warrant investment. After all, why bother with the second year when it could just as easily be cut off before the third…

For all the success (and contemporary criticism) The X-Files found by asking constant questions, giving few answers and hedging bets, there was an early warning shot when the ambitious five year plan of Dark Skies was cut short.

Television is both serial and finite, it’s Schrödinger’s Idiot Tube and you don’t get to both turn on your cathode ray and turn it off.

The Leftovers - A JokersliceA flip-side comes with renewals that are taken for granted or when there’s an occasional guarantee of multiple seasons. Lost was a prime example of the latter, with later truncated runs balanced against a fixed six season commission. Wonderful, but could it have been to the detriment of the show’s story? Recently, one of the sublime break-outs of the past two years, The Leftovers, had the mixed blessing of a confirmed but final third year. In that case it is very good news, and feels exactly right. But only as that show has bold, risky storytelling at its heart. And that’s rare.

Hannibal was another bold show that knew full well it was lucky to run three years on prime time network. Bryan Fuller would have had no issue keeping its intoxicating story going longer even though [spoilers] he ended the third year with a superb Reichenbach moment. Though we all lament for Fuller’s take on The Silence of the Lambs (truthfully, already echoed in earlier seasons), that was both a satisfying conclusion and a huge hole to write himself out of. A hole it might be said that Arthur Conan Doyle hadn’t bothered to write himself out of over a hundred years ago. Back to the X-Files, the recent limited run poked fun at the outrageous stretching enigma that typified its original nine year run, but ended with a satisfying cliff-hanger that will likely, but possibly never, be resolved.

Jplerside Fictionside #2 The RulesWe’re well past the days when episodes reset every week with a laugh on the Bridge of the Enterprise. Writers should always aim for the boldest and most satisfying conclusion for a story, no matter the difficulty it causes their future selves. They should be confident that no matter how dire or finite the ending, a writer or writing team can pen themselves into a new story the next time round. After all, real life carries on regardless, and it takes writing itself out of ridiculous situations for granted every second. That is life. It doesn’t stop.

So writing to a limit or writing to infinity is a trap to be avoided at all costs. And come the end of a series, no matter how demarcated, no matter how Blake’s 7 it all seems, a writer must be ready to continue that story. That’s what Charles Dickens was doing week to week far before a TV writer hedged their bets. Read more…

FICTIONSIDE 101: Five types of Hollywood Reboot

Hollywood reboots Jokerside

Film is about 125 years old, television nearing 90 and this week: Jokerside turns three! As the next year will see this blog cast its sideways glance even further – with even more splintering of pop culture to come – this anniversary is marked by the start of a new series. Jokerside’s Fictionside will look at storytelling trends and memes – in this first instalment, five recent ways that Hollywood has coped, or perhaps failed to cope, with ageing franchises.

SOMETIMES IT’S BEST TO START SMALL, AND THAT’S BY NO MEANS LESS. 1976. WHEN THE DOCTOR WHO PRODUCTION TEAM TEMORARILY GAVE WAY TO FOURTH DOCTOR TOM BAKER’S CONVICTION THAT HE DIDN’T NEED A COMPANION IT WENT FAMOUSLY WRONG. But that resultant mess, where the Doctor is forced to talk to himself, there aren’t traditional characters to draw out the danger and in its place are long, dull scenes, failed to materialise as the ever-brilliant Robert Holmes crafted a classic tale from adversity. In fact, the fantastically named The Deadly Assassin, heralded a number of reboots. A key one was controversially defining the Time Lord culture that the Doctor had rejected – an astonishing 13 years into the show’s lifetime. But then Doctor Who is a show that, thanks to luck, brilliant decision-making and the marvellous eccentricity of its state-owned production company, has change built into its core. From one episode to the next the sets, characters and even the lead actors can be completely different. That poses a huge and irresistible challenge and one that hopefully can roll on forever. But it’s a freedom that’s all too rare in fiction, scared as it is to paint itself into a box with confidence that a writer, as should be their raison d’etre, can paint themselves out of. Even in Who’s incredible fictional framework, one which had no issue with running that small mid-70s experiment, we have a great demonstration that reboots often don’t go the way they should.

And that’s on television. On film things are slower. Much slower.

Hollywood’s war of franchises may be more heated than ever as studios create, reassert, reboot and continue whatever their rights can manage. It may seem that a lot of energy falls on that mythical and never ending quest to find a new young adult property, as indeed it does, but there are older blockbuster sagas that have asked the question. And the answers vary greatly.

Aging Action – James Bond

Method: Whether shamelessly ignoring continuity or making a joke of it, there aren’t any hints or suggestions that marketing and a few years can’t spin. Welcome to timelessness.

The franchise has remains charged by that cusp it emerged from

A worthy early nod to the British-themed champion of change. Is there a coincidence that Britain lies behind Bond and Who, if not always in money and creative talent? Certainly changes in British society have been tied into the genesis of both. While the Doctor would struggle to hide away in an East End Totters Yard in a Police Box these days, unlike his birth 18 years after the Second World War, Jamaica had gained independence from the shrinking British Empire in the time between the first Bond film, Dr No’s filming and release in 1962. The franchise has remained charged by that cusp it emerged from, external change and Bond’s response to it has played very real role in the super spy’s longevity.

In 2012 Jokerside looked at the intricacies of the Bond timeline, a vague and intriguing string of adventures that have often shamelessly overcome any sticking points by confronting them early and full on. Even when Bond changed his looks five films in, the script took pleasure in smashing these alterations through the fourth all (with the rather balletic punch of George Lazenby). In dropping back to a more faithful take on Fleming, it even had Bond meeting Blofeld for the first time in the second film in succession. It was clear that consistency wasn’t a top priority – clearly a less important consideration in the 1960s without home media. And as wonderful as On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is, the return of Sean Connery in the following film left the real legacy of OHMSS as proving that audiences accept a change of Bond.

Read more…

Terminator: Twisted Timelines and the Horror Within! 2007 – 2032 (and beyond…)

Terminator twisting time lines

The final part of a Terminator retrospective that mixes its twisting timeline with some of the horror roots behind each instalment. Jokerside’s looked back at 1964 to 2004, but now the twist gets harder, from The Sarah Connor Chronicles to Terminator Genisys. Spoilers abound…

THE CHANCES OF THE TERMINATOR FRANCHISE REGAINING THE CRITICAL APPRECIATION OF ITS EARLY DAYS ARE AS REMOTE AS SKYNET AGREEING A TRUCE WITH HUMANITY’S LAST UNDERGROUND CITY OF ZION. Still, The Terminator remains intriguing; relatively distinct from and self-assured compared to young pretenders like The Matrix. After years in the ether, the Terminator film rights are due to revert to T-Master James Cameron in 2019. But amid terrible marketing, reviews and release, the latest attempt to reboot, a film superior to its immediate two predecessors in many ways, has somehow managed to gross over $400 million at the international box office. Impressive work, showing that there’s still fuel left in the endoskeleton. Arnie wasn’t lying about T-800s lasting 120 years.

Against expectation, The Sarah Connor Chronicles appeared late last decade and wowed a small but influential audience. As it’s the most consistent and longest running Terminator story it makes the cut here, in a franchise that happily rides roughshod over previous instalments. And following the seminal first two parts, and the major time split caused by Judgment Day’s arrival in the third film, that’s where this glance at the horror of The Terminator series begins…

Terminator Time lines Clock

2007 – 2008 (via 1999) – Key series: Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (Released 2008 – 2009)

Where we are: Sarah and John Connor emerge on a freeway in San Francisco, swapping 1999 for 2008 with their guardian Terminator Cameron (not as beardy as the franchise creator who gifted her name). Judgement Day has been deferred, but as much as the Connors have bought some time with their disappearance, resistance and Skynet forces are growing in a past increasingly forming a temporal civil war. Sarah and John set about stopping the armageddon once and for all, leaping twists and turns as they go.

“Come with me if you want to live”: Several times, courtesy of the delightful and mysterious new Terminator model – the T-900 series Cameron.

Skynet mechanism: Military. Via AI, chess machines and temporal sabotage. Or is it?

Horror: Psychological / And Then There Were None

“The future’s ours and it begins now.”

Splitting the timeline, and deliberately ignoring the events of Terminator 3 (the clue’s in the title), the two short seasons of The Sarah Connor Chronicles may be Terminator’s finest hour(s).

“Great, it looks like a robot serial killer lives here”

Where to start. Praising The Sarah Connor Chronicles could take volumes, and perhaps it will take over Jokerside one day… But let’s get it over with succinctly here. For all the trauma of the material, fan expectation and behind the scenes machination, possibly no other series has carved an original and captivating narrative from a simple pitch, while retaining the essence and maintaining the sanctity of two seminal blockbuster films. No, not even Timecop. But, there are inherent problems with taking that one line pitch from the first film and fixing it to an ongoing narrative.

Read more…

Terminator: Twisted Timelines and the Horror Within! 1964 – 2004

The Terminator Timelines

Another franchise all about futility? This is becoming a habit. Part one of a look at the horror of Terminators 1, 2 and 3

Terminator Genisys has just emerged the shadow of flop and thanks to some phenomenal Chinese takings has somehow surpassed Mad Max Fury Road at the international box office. This return of the Terminator brings ever more twisted timelines with the biggest reboot in the temporally tangled saga. But that’s only to be expected in a franchise that’s had that moveable timelines built in from the first instalment…

It’s not just a shame to miss out on some of that ‘time fun’, it would be like watching Salvation again. But while doing that, why delve into the more interesting idea that every Terminator film draws on a different type of horror? From slasher to gothic to psychological – behold the horror within!

AS ITS MOST FAMOUS CATCHPHRASE SUGGESTS, TERMINATOR IS THE KING OF THE COMEBACK – THE PREMIUM GOLD FRANCHISE THAT SITS JUST THE WRONG SIZE OF BUDGET TO STOP IT BEING USED AS COLLATERAL ACROSS TINSEL TOWN. And there are many studios, let alone filmmakers, lined up to have a stab. It’s helped that the rights have pinged around as much as Hunter Killers, and this year Genisys is the latest example of that wringing of the franchise. Moving away from the last attempt, 2009’s Salvation, it chucks the proverbial time travelling sink at Skynet. As its stuttering box office has suggested, there’s a lot of time streams running under the bridge…

Twisting Timelines

“I can’t help you with what you must soon face, expect to say that the future is not set”

Terminator. That dark, gritty, violent slice of horror science-fiction… That spawned an empire. Having jumped at the peak, creator James Cameron, has sat outside the franchise, but still atop Hollywood box office. He’s not alone. While the legend persists that the main franchises needs Arnold Schwarzenegger to survive, even he hasn’t spanned the entire universe. Over 30 years, five films a TV series and multiple prose, comic, gaming and theme park spin-offs the franchise has left an indelible footprint on western cinema. And as Genisys proves, it’s far from dead. And not has it risen again, but Genisys is resolutely closer to the original film than any of the others. In fact, it’s taken 31 years for the franchise to dare to touch the sacred timeline set down by that first classic.

There’s one common link throughout the saga. While almost every film distorts the timeline in some way, the famed Judgment Day remains inevitable. As much as the Connors flip between survival and actively trying to stop Skynet in its tracks, it remains a certainty no matter how much it is pushed back in time or mechanism. The result is an ever-expanding temporal war spilling out from a few points in the future that continue to spin further backwards and sideways in time. It’s built on paradox, but there’s something else in there as well…

Hedging Horror

For all the dodging of an 18 certificate in the UK, Terminator at least started off in a gruesomely mature film. Back then the time jumping wasn’t too complicated and the plot a slash ‘em up – but more of that later… As the Terminator saga has grown it’s hung on to its horror roots in ways that are far more interesting than extrapolating the parallel timelines alone. In this summer of dystopia, it’s possibly the big budget Hollywood franchise that preaches futility in the face of certain destiny the most. So taking that horrific journey through time, exploring key horror at the key dates, where exactly are we?

Terminator Time lines Clock

1964

19 September and 17 October, two episodes of the Outer Limits titled Soldier and The Demon with The Glass Hand are broadcast, both written by Harlan Ellison. See 1984…

1965

Sarah Connor is born. The fatal cat and mouse pursuit can begin, somehow dodging her forefathers.

Read more…

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