Media Miscellany

by wjw on March 11, 2010

Brief notes concerning images recently made visible on my television.

Survivors. While I had a cold last week I watched several episodes of this British post-apocalypse series, seen here on BBC America. BBCA usually runs SF and/or fantasy on Saturday nights, and have so far managed to prove that the Brits can produce series as feeble and half-witted as anything seen on Syfy.

Survivors takes place in a Britain where a fast-acting plague has killed 99% of the population, leaving behind only (a) the extremely violent, and (b) stupid people. Among the survivors things get all Lord of the Flies very fast, because a country where 99% of the people have just died cannot possibly have enough resources to support the remaining one percent. (No doubt it occurred to the producers that a series in which the survivors quietly go about the business of learning how to sow crops and raise livestock would be, I dunno, really boring. So instead they get to fight over the last tin of bully beef at Tesco.)

Of the two categories of people mentioned above, our heroes are (b) the stupid. Our chief heroine, Abby, has not yet learned that it is not a wise policy to walk up to heavily armed maniacs and preach unto them the gospel of sharing resources and pulling together for the benefit of all. I’m glad a character in the series has a moral center, but I can’t help but wish that more of her neurons were firing.

Maybe it’s the American in me, but I couldn’t help but notice that not a single one of our band of heroes reasons thus: “We keep running into bands of armed, unreasoning people who keep shooting at us. Perhaps, for our own preservation, we ought to break into a gun shop and equip ourselves with firearms.”

I mean, if this were an American show, that would be the first thing people would do. In Britain, not even the convicted murderer is inclined to arm himself!

The Hangover. In general, I’m not a big fan of Guy Comedies. I feel I have enough trouble restraining my impulses toward anarchy and inebriation without having before me the dire example of, say, Revenge of the Nerds IV. Watching Man-Children Behave Badly produces in me feelings of sadness rather than mirth.

The Hangover is a film that transcends its genre, in part because the Man-Children pretty much get what’s coming to them (tiger, chicken, missing tooth, drunken marriage to escort, abduction by strangely fey Chinese gangster, punch from Mike Tyson)— and also because they don’t get to be smug afterwards about their own cleverness.

Plus, it’s really, really funny. And if you’re like me, Structure Boy, you’ll enjoy the unusual way the movie is put together, with a framing story that (a) frames well, and (b) works.

Also, if you’re watching the DVD, be sure to watch the extra titled “The Madness of Ken Jeong.” Because— dude!— that guy got his dramatic training on some other planet, in some whole other universe in which Robin Williams was Jesus.

Brideshead Revisited. This is the 2008 feature film, not the 1981 miniseries, which had fine production values but which ran about four or five hours too long, causing me to surrender first to slumber and then to indifference.

I may have mentioned elsewhere my admiration for the works of Evelyn Waugh. In person he was a vile, creepy little toad of a man who I would have been proud to punch in the nose, but on the page he is marvelous, and Brideshead is his best book. Brideshead was written in World War II— in fact Waugh, who was an officer in S.O.E., managed to get official leave from leading a guerilla war in Yugoslavia in order to write the book. (The fact that everyone loathed him and wished to see the back of him probably helped.)

This adaptation, written by Andrew Davies and Jeremy Brock, and directed by Julian Jarrold, does an admirable job of distilling a very subtle novel into a little over two hours of film time. The novel is as much about mood as it is about story, and the film captured the moods wonderfully.

The best thing is that the film trusts its audience. It assumes that anyone watching is intelligent and can figure things out on his or her own, and so it doesn’t talk down to you and doesn’t bang home the plot points with a sledgehammer. The screenplay clarifies a few things that the novel left ambiguous, and moderates the deranged Catholicism of some of the characters, probably thinking that anyone that crazy would lose the sympathy of the audience. (In Waugh, only the Catholics are real people, thus entitled to guilt, wretchedness, and misery; but if you’re not a Catholic, you’re not even a person, you’re a forlorn shade forever wandering the twilit banks of the distant Styx.)

Everyone in the film is good, but Ben (“the next Olivier”) Whishaw is just astounding as Lord Sebastian Flyte. I remember the 1981 version, and my female friends drooling over Anthony Andrews in the part. You may not drool over Whishaw, but you sure as hell will say, “Holy shit, that’s one great actor!

Dave Bishop March 11, 2010 at 9:26 am

I haven't watched 'Survivors' because TV 'SyFy' (British, American or Azerbaijani) usually pisses me off so much that I now avoid it at all costs.

As for Brits breaking into gun shops … these are rather thin on the ground in the UK. I haven't got the faintest clue where my nearest local gun shop is. Perhaps I should find out before the apocalypse hits …?

andrewsi March 11, 2010 at 2:58 pm

Survivors is filmed in and around Manchester, and the only gunsmith the area closed down a little while back.

On the other hand, there are plenty of army bases within an hour's drive….

Dave Bishop March 11, 2010 at 10:55 pm


Let's hope that the soldiers, on at least one of the local bases, get wiped out by the 'plague' BEFORE they have a chance to secure the armoury.

On second thoughts, that's not a very nice thing to wish for!

dubjay March 13, 2010 at 7:52 pm

Well yes. You know, they could at least =think= about securing firearms, and maybe look in the phone book to see where they could find firearms. But they don't even =think= of that.

I take it that all that traditional British huntin' and fishin' culture is dead, now?

Dave Bishop March 14, 2010 at 11:39 am

No, Walter, I don't think that "huntin'" is dead but it tends to be the preserve of aristos and rich people (Arab sheikhs and licensed bandits … sorry, traders, stockbrokers etc., from the City of London, who need something to spend their enormous bonuses on) and often tends to take place on remote Scottish estates.

As far as I can make out, fox hunting still goes on – even though hunting foxes with dogs is now supposed to be illegal. But, of course, that sort of hunting doesn't require guns.

I believe that you can still own a gun – but you have to have a licence and undergo rigorous police checks. I also think that, as a requirement of the licence, you have to have a legitimate reason for owning the gun (shooting vermin, controlling deer numbers etc.). I'm not sure if, "I need something to spend my ill-gotten gains in the City of London on" is a legitimate reason – but wouldn't be surprised if it was!

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