Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Destination Star Trek London

It's not very often I update this particular blog. The main reason is that my other one tends to suck up any and all time I have free for blogging. However, now and again there's something I want to write about for which this is the only real outlet I have.

A couple of weeks ago was Star Trek London, or Destination Star Trek London to give it its full and slightly ridiculous title. Quite why the 'Destination' part was necessary, I do not know, other than perhaps being able to copyright it. A lot has been said about the event - before, during and after - both pro and con (excuse the pun). Having now had a little time to reflect on the matter, here are a few of my thoughts...

The Bad.

I ordered my tickets for the event ages ago. The event was due to begin at 2pm on the Friday. When did my tickets arrive? Thursday, after having been posted on Wednesday. Ridiculous? Yes. Annoying and panic also apply. There is no excuse at all for tickets being sent out that late - especially when ones which had been ordered far later arrived much earlier than mine.

The main complaints from almost everyone about the event were queuing and cost. The only person I met who didn't complain was the guy I talked to who'd ordered a Platinum ticket who was able to queue jump for everything. He'd flown over from Hong Kong and - quite sensibly as it turned out - since he was travelling so far he wanted to ensure he was able to do everything.

Being unable to get tickets to the Captains' Opening Ceremony, we made do with the Alternate one. I thought this would be the more fun one, which... Hmm... It was hosted by the guys from Enterprise and they were really pretty terrible. They introduced each of the other guests at the event in turn, but kicked them off again before they could speak. You could tell this irked a lot of the other guests as they wanted to say hello properly. It wasn't a good start to things.

For those not lucky enough to have a Platinum pass - even those with Gold & Silver passes - spent a hell of a lot of time queuing. You queued to get in the event in a morning. Then you had to immediately join the queue to get tickets for the 'free' Stage B talks. My wife spent 2 hours on Saturday morning in the queue. Thankfully since we'd scouted the event on Friday, we knew exactly where the queue was so didn't have to wander round first. God knows how day-pass people thought, having to spend a big chunk of their only day queuing in the hope of getting a ticket to these talks.

There were no visible signs for these talks. The only way to find out what the snaking queue was for was to ask someone in the line. Quite how such a giant queue managed to build when all that was happening at the front was someone tearing off a ticket and handing it out, I do not know.

We were fortunate in that on Saturday, once you got to the front of the queue you were able to get tickets for all the Stage B talks that day. Of course by the time my wife got to the front of the queue we'd already missed one of the talks on Stage B. But still, for the rest of the day we were able to sit & simply refused to move from our seats no matter what.

On Sunday the ticketing system the changed and you had to queue for each individual Stage B talk. I don't think this system worked particularly well either. You know what would have worked? Not having walls around the stage! The talks were free, so why not allow as many people as possible to listen? Instead of having the video screens right next to the stage, why not put them outside the walled area so others could watch? There were multiple empty halls in the ExCel, why not put the talks in one of those?

Due to being in the right place at the right time, we found out that the Captain's talk tickets for the following day went on sale at 6pm the day before. Thankfully (for us) few people found this out, and at 6pm the queue to buy tickets for the Captain's had died down completely and buying them as a simple (if expensive) process.

The infamous parties. What was going on with those? Decoration? You must be joking. For the Klingon-themed party the organisers had put a few red lights around the hall. For £25 a ticket, I expected at least a little effort to be put in in this regard instead of a bare hall.

In some ways things were even worse for the 'Next Generation' party, where there was zero in the way of TNG-ness. Admittedly, some good entertainment from stars of the series but as a billed 'TNG' it was terrible.

The autograph queues were well managed, in my opinion, however there was a flaw in having a large queuing area set aside for each guest - ie most of them never had anything approaching a queue. Most of them spent a lot of their time looking bored, sat miles back and I'm sure would have welcomed people simply walking up and chatting to them. But people didn't do this for the simple reason that there were a lot of '£15' signs and large intimidating queue areas. I didn't want to get autographs from a lot of people, but if they'd been sat closer I'd have more than happily gone up to them and had a chat.

We had 3 day passes, costing £50 each. At the time I thought this was pretty good value for money. Unfortunately, we'd walked round the entire event within a very short time on Friday. There was the museum, which was nice, but done in 5 minutes. As was the Klingon area. Couple of stall holders (who weren't very happy about only being told they could only stock Trek items 2 weeks before the event & then desperately trying to find enough stock to fill a stall). And that was about it. If you weren't queuing, or at one of the talks you were at a loss for things to do.

On a passing note, why was there absolutely nothing for the new films? The event was advertised as having something for fans of all eras, but if you were only interested in the latest stuff there was nothing for you. Since this was an official event, with a large CBS/Paramount presence, it'd have been nice to have maybe a couple of minutes of footage from the upcoming film.

But onto more pleasant aspects...

The Good.

Since we were able to go to all the Stage B talks, we had a fantastic time listening to everyone. All the guests gave really good talks, but special mention must go to the Klingons who behaved exactly how you'd expect Klingons to behave. One poor guy had to leave the Klingon talk early as he had a ticket for the Kate Mulgrew talk. Oh how he was mocked! It was hilarious.

As the Captain's Opening was sold out, and figuring it'd be the only way we'd actually be able to see the captains, we bought tickets for all the captain's talks on Sunday. We didn't look at the cost, which would have made us cry. The talks, however, were really good. We sat right at the back for one of them and the view was still perfectly good. Highlight was Kate Mulgrew who, upon being told she only had 5 minutes left, declared 'I'll be the judge of that' and proceeded to carry on talking far longer that she should have.

While the parties as 'parties' were awful, there were plenty of 'stars' hanging about and chatting to people which was great. We also had the Klingon band, Avery Brooks doing jazz, Chase Masterson singing and a stand-up routine from Dominic Keating, after which we forgave him for his crappy Opening Ceremony.

I should also mention that every single person I met and talked to was really nice. One of the few plus points of standing in a queue was that you got to chat to everyone else. There was the woman from Slovenia, the guy who'd brought his dad for his birthday and countless others...

The Summary.

So, was Destination Star Trek London a good event? For us, yes, however we were incredibly lucky in being able to do everything we did. That said, having sat through so many talks in such a short period it's hard to remember exactly what was said in them all.

The constant paying out for things was very annoying, especially when combined with the queues, but there was only one guest whom I found to be less-than fantastic to meet. It's just a shame with a long queue areas, you were put off from approaching guests unless you wanted their autograph.

Would I go again? I'm not sure. I've done the captains now. Patrick Stewart did say he would return with the entire Next Generation cast, and it'd take something like that as a hook to get me back. Maybe in a few years time, after everyone has had chance to recover and learn some lessons from this event.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Blue, Orange, Red, Grey... The Colours of Fringe.

Fringe ended last night in the UK (spoilers ahead for anyone who hasn't seen it) so it seems to be an appropriate time for me to have a rant about a plot point that they've had this year and how it has irked me somewhat.


As viewers of the show will know, Fringe has featured a number of different 'universes' over the years, with each one differentiated by the colour of the opening titles. Blue was the 'normal' universe, Red was the alternate one, Grey was the future. This season they introduced a new Orange universe which resulted from Peter being removed from existence.


Of course he came back, but he was the only character with any memory of the Blue universe.

The Orange universe continued to be used for the rest of the season, making everything the viewer had learned about the characters and plot from the previous three seasons irrelevant. Sometimes. And sometimes that old stuff had happened. Since Peter had previous dealings with the Red universe, this meant that all the characters from 'over there' were also changed and you couldn't be certain about their histories either any more. Characters who were once dead were now alive, characters who were good were now evil, and so on.

In many ways it was a reboot of the series, in what can only be assumed was a desperate hope to attract new viewers.


I'd assumed that Blue would return after a few episodes, but it didn't. Orange has remained for the entire season, with no indication that it's ever going away. So now I'm scratching my head and wondering what the point was of watching seasons 1-3. Those characters (apart from Peter and Olivia who got her 'old' memory back) are gone, like the series ended and was replaced with something else.


It's the uncertainty that gets to me. I can't be certain what happened previously, and therefore can't be certain of anyone's motives or actions. It's definitely not rewarding the viewer who has stuck with the series since the beginning.


The Orange universe just seems like a convenient way to write off any unexplained plot points, or bits the writers perhaps just don't like any more, from earlier in the series.


Plus the orange credits look no where near as nice as the blue ones did.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Creator Rights

There's been a lot of kerfuffle in the press recently about the rights of comics creators over their, well, creations. We've had fights over Superman rights, Starlin annoyed about Thanos, Before Watchmen, various writers quitting DC and so on and so on... Indeed, it doesn't seem that a day goes by without someone else being rather annoyed that their not receiving their due (ie money) for their work.

The problem is that every single person has been paid exactly what their contract stated. Some of the contracts were a bit crappy, but the creators signed anyway.

While it would seem a good idea to pay Kirby (or his estate) a load of money for the work he did, paying out retrospectively like this throws up a thousand problems.

The main one is how much do you pay? Say DC & Marvel were suddenly feeling very generous and decided to give Kirby et al some money for the use of their character. Would a couple of $ do? How about $100? What about writers who only created a minor character? And the artists, surely they deserve something to? What about reinventions of characters? Drax the Destroyer, or example was created by Friedrich & Starlin but then had a drastic makeover during Marvel's Annihilation event. Starlin created Thanos, but was heavily influenced by New Gods so should we give Kirby a little something too regarding that character?

Storytelling will suffer. Say you now have to pay Bendis some money every time Maria Hill appears. The Marvel editorial staff will almost certainly demand that she no longer be written into stories. And if Bendis got a percentage from her appearing in the Avengers movie, then suddenly she'd be replaced with a very similar character, yet with enough difference so payment wouldn't be needed.

All of the characters created for DC & Marvel were 'work for hire', which is the main reason why the creators don't get paid anything beyond the wage they were paid at the time. The Big Two own the characters & everything else the creators did at the time.

...which makes it all very similar to every other job on the planet. If I go and work for a pharmaceutical company and help create a super drug to eliminate cancer, I wouldn't get a cut of the inevitable billions of dollars that that drug would make. I'd get paid my salary and that's it.

These days things are a little more improved. There are numerous creator-owned comics being published these days. If you work for DC & Marvel then everything you create belongs to them. Sounds bad, but then you do get to play around with a pool of characters which includes Superman, Iron Man etc.

And these days everyone is much more wary of the details before signing a contract.

This doesn't help the old guys, though. They still only received what they were paid at the time, back before anyone imagined $billion movies would result from their work. I do not think they will ever get anything more, it's just too much muddy water to sort out who deserves what. Time to learn from the past and ensure things are better for the future.

Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Prison Break: Where did it all go wrong?

The first in a series of posts about great TV shows which somewhere along the way turned truly terrible.


I came across Prison Break via a friend. He described it in a similar way as to how Homer Simpson described a certain blockbuster film...


There was a lot of 'these guys are in prison and they're trying to break out, then they break out and there's another prison and...'

Bless him.

Anyway, after a little research it seemed that almost everyone was raving about Prison Break. After a little more research I found out that they were only raving about the first couple of seasons. Apparently it was all downhill from season 3.

Eventually I got around to watching it. Not all of it - I'm still a couple of episodes away from the end - but I can see what 'people' meant about the drop in quality.


To be honest, I wasn't blown away by season 1. It was good, don't get me wrong, but it wasn't amazing. Most of the problem was that it was very episodic. Start of the episode there'd be a problem with the break out of prison plan. They'd spend the whole episode solving the problem. End of the episode there'd be another problem. Repeat for every single episode that season.

Then there was the whole 'lawyer' thing, which was completely terrible. I didn't give a damn about the people outside the prison, that was dull & boring. The interesting stuff was the break out, not the conspiracy.


Season 2, on the other hand, was fantastic. They were on the run, people were being killed, you had no idea who'd live and who'd die. The lawyer stuff was gone & the conspiracy was now interesting.  Everything came to a head as the season ended and then...

There was some silly set up for another year.

Huh.

It should have ended there. The entire plot was more or less resolved but then it carried on. Obviously the writers didn't quite know how to progress the storyline, so with season 3 everyone is back in prison.

Hmm.


Actually, the prison bit wasn't really that bad. What was really bad was that at no point was the character - Whistler - that the evil company wanted the good guys to break out of prison, made clear whether he was good or evil. Fair enough, keep the audience guessing, but his motivation seemed to change so often that it didn't come across that even the writers knew who's side he was on. As a result I didn't really give a damn.

Season 2 resolved completely the plot surrounding the Evil Company controlling the president of the USA, possibly the most powerful person on the planet. In season 3 they're not trying to do this any more, which makes their plans seem a lot smaller from then on, when really as the story progresses the plans of the Big Bad ought to be getting bigger.

Thankfully the season was cut short due to the writer's strike. Unfortunately, Prison Break came back for season 4.


This didn't begin too badly. True, some of the set-up was a little... Well, it wasn't something a viewer ought to pay too much attention too because it didn't really make any sense. But at least there was a plot - bring down the company - and it rattled along a bit like MacGyver or Hustle, with a new mission every week building to a Big Mission.

And it was okay, until halfway through when the Big Mission was over...and then it all went silly again. The entire season's plot thus far was rendered pointless, at which point I wanted to give up watching. I didn't want to see how the characters moved forward from absolute bottom, as I suppose the writers intended, I simply wanted to stop.

Seasons 1 and 2 were heavily grounded in reality. True, a man having his entire escape plan tattooed all over his body doesn't sound too plausible, but it made a kind of sense. The entire escape plan made sense. It seemed reasonable. In season 4 we get a ridiculous amount of super technology. It's almost moving into sci-fi and certainly isn't a world I can relate to any more.

As I move into the final few episodes, things have gone Super Silly. With time running out for the series it seems they're throwing everything they can into it in a desperate attempt to make it exciting. Allegiances switched, people back from the dead, more super-tech, plot holes as big as craters...

It's all too much.

Prison Break should have ended after season 2. It was fantastic television up until that point. Sadly it seemed that upon conception of the show no one ever considered what would happen beyond the first couple of years and there simply wasn't enough story there to sustain the show for any longer. I've heard the counterargument - that a load of shows that do have a 5 year plan mapped out are cancelled early on. Things like Flash Forward or Carnivale, for example. But to me, that doesn't seem a good reason not to plan ahead. For every one of those shows cancelled before their time, there's a Babylon 5 which, against all the odds, managed to complete its entire planned run.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Stuck

So I've been working on my new book for a while now. I really can't remember if I've mentioned it before, but if I did it was quite a long time ago so you'll forgive me for briefly going over it again.

I've always wanted to write about a war from two different sides. First half of the book takes you through events from one side, then for the second half the perspective changes and you see events over again from the opposition. Who you thought were evil might not be quite so etc etc.

Anyway, I've reached a bit of an impasse. Things are not following quite as well as they might(/at all) and I really don't know at the moment how(/if) it's all going to come together in the end.

To summarise, I'm stuck.

So the question is, do I continue to hack away at it, desperately hoping that eventually I'll come across literary gold, or do I abandon it for the time being and come back fresh at a later date.

Of course abandoning it would create a new problem: what the hell do I write next? I have a notebook (yes, an actual book with paper in!) with some ideas scribbled on but none are particularly fantastic, and at worse cover stuff I've already written about elsewhere.

So there we have it. Deciding between two options, none of which are really that good.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Making it up as you go along

It's an old story, dating back to...a long time ago. I think it really became big during the X-Files -

TV shows with arc plots.

But not just that; when the show has been going for a while, developing a large and complex back story. Little inconsistencies begin to creep in between the episodes, flat-out errors appear, and you begin to wonder...

Are they just making all this up as they go along?


You - or at least most of the viewers - watch a show hoping that the creators are weaving an interesting tale to draw you back each week.  That's the idea - fill it full of mysteries that the viewers want an answer to so they'll keep watching.

But with the X-Files the answers didn't come. People got bored. And they got pissed off when things didn't make sense. Suddenly you've lost the 'hook' for the show, as people realise that there are no answers. There never were. The writers didn't have a history all planned out.

Take Lost. One of (I'm not saying the only) reasons people watched was to get answers to the mysteries.

The pilot, the creators admit, was pretty much made up without any thought to resolutions. I think it was part-way through season 3 that they realised that they had to stop introducing new stuff because it was cool and provide some answers before people became annoyed a la X-Files. But even then, whether you liked the finale or not, as you sit and mull it all over after wards you don't think 'well, that was a great journey' you wonder 'why couldn't any babies be born?' or 'what was the horse all about?' or any number of other things that weren't answered.

And then there's Babylon 5. JMS planned out a 5 year arc at the beginning. And, despite everything, he achieved it. It wasn't exactly what he set out to do, but it was pretty damn close. He thought ahead and realised that actors come and go and thus every character had to have a 'trapdoor' available so they could be written out if necessary (which happened on a few occasions).

Babylon 5 wove a rich and complex tale, covering thousands of years, with a beginning, middle and end. If this relatively little show could achieve it, why not some of its bigger TV brothers?

Friday, 30 September 2011

Captain Chair and the Lost Wand


Nate continued to stare at the screen for a good five minutes after it had ended.  It was only then that he was able to summon the strength to move his finger the centimetre required to hit the button on the remote and turn off the television.

“No.  Not another one of those things.  How low can they go?”


It was four weeks later.  Nate had attempted to put the trailer out of his mind, to pretend it didn’t exist.  But there was little chance of that.  The billboards were everywhere.  Every other commercial on the television seemed to be for it now.  Every website he visited had an advertising banner with COMING SOON emblazed across. The marketing budget for Captain Chair and the Lost Wand must have been huge – well, a lot more than the cost of making the damn film, if the previous instalments were anything to go by.

The fact that it had an internet premiere told you all you needed to.  High-quality, well-developed films didn’t have their premieres as streaming videos.

There had been a slight title change somewhere along the way.  Nate didn’t understand why a ‘lost’ wand would be more likely to attract an audience than a ‘magic’ one.  Maybe someone had just made a mistake typing it out, like with Tomorrow Never Lies or that video game which had nothing to do with donkeys.

“I don’t know why you take it so personally.”  Sat next to Nate in front of the computer, Caitlyn typed the URL into the web browser.  “It’s just a bit of fun.”

“Fun at the expense of a hero.  Someone who gives his all to protect this city.”

Caitlyn shook her head.  “Captain Chair must have a better sense of humour that you do.  You only have to look at that uniform…”

As she turned away to concentrate on the screen, Nate scowled.  A lot of work had gone into putting that uniform together.

“Where’s that link…ah.” Caitlyn clicked the mouse and there it was: a painful read and yellow eyesore that some trainee web designer appeared to have cobbled together in his lunch hour.  “I don’t understand why, if you hate these films so much, you insist on watching them with me.”

It was a good question: why did he watch?  The films (and the puppet show and the cartoon strip and…) caused Nate nothing but embarrassment, not that he could let on.  Other heroes didn’t have to suffer this, why him?  He could imagine all the others sitting round, laughing about it over a pint, at one of the hero socials he was certain took place but to which he had never been invited.

He glanced down to the clock in the bottom corner of the screen.  It was almost 8pm and starting to get dark.  He could go on patrol for a while instead.  Show that Captain Chair was something other than…than…whatever it was these films made him out to be.

But he had to watch.  He had to know.  Like it or not, these films were being made and were the public’s main source of information about him.

If only the studio would reach deeper into their pockets and hand out enough money to invest in a decent script.  And some better special effects.  And some actual actors.  And…

“It’s time,” said Caitlyn.  The screen had changed and replacing the trailer was the full-length monstrosity of a film.

“Come on then, let’s get this over with.”

Caitlyn nodded, moved the mouse across the screen and clicked ‘play’...