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Peter Rogers's Blog
Artist-in-Residence at Chez Firth

Sunday (2/3/13) 10:44pm - ... wherein Peter posts a Weekly Media Update.

Movies:  Return of the Jedi
TV:  Sherlock [series 2]
Books:  Queen & Country: On Broken Ground, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Vol. 1, Devil on the Moon, a Doc Savage Adventure
Other:  The Shadow [radio serial], The Green Hornet [radio serial]

Return of the Jedi
This is, of course, the third and final installment in the only Star Wars trilogy that matters.  I re-watched it (in its "Special Edition") as preparation for this Saturday's Fandom performance.

For the longest time, I said that yes, I knew the film wasn't that good, but I had a soft spot in my heart for Return of the Jedi.  It was always the one that Star Wars fans grudgingly accepted of the original three -- maybe it was a notch above Revenge of the Sith.  I figured, when I re-watched Jedi, I would wince at its obvious flaws, but still see some of the high points that made the film speak to young!me.

Having re-watched it, my reaction is different from the one I expected.  Instead, I have to say, I'm sorry, world, but you are all wrong.  This is a great goddamned movie.  Not "great in spite of this and that", not "oh, it was a good try", and not "an acceptable letdown after The Empire Strikes Back."  This is a great goddamned movie, and I can only guess that the massive criticism it gets says more about its critics than it does about the films.

I was interested to see that with Jedi, we're changing gears from the previous two films.  The first film worked hard to introduce this world, and Empire was all about expanding it.  All of a sudden, Jedi doesn't really *care* about world-building.  Yes, we see new places -- Jabba's palace, his sail barge, and the forest moon of Endor -- but generally, Jedi feels like a victory lap.  We usually go through places we've seen before: Yoda's place on Dagobah, the Millennium Falcon, the Death Star (redux).

And we don't really introduce any new characters, apart from the Emperor, who we glimpsed in Empire.  Yes, we meet Admiral Ackbar for the first time, but he's only really developed in the Expanded Universe novels.  Instead, Lucas lets us patiently check in with the characters we know and love.  And we do it in a way that neatly mirrors the first film -- we start with Darth Vader surrounded by Stormtroopers.  Then, as with A New Hope, we follow to our old viewpoint characters, R2D2 and C3P0, as they approach Jabba's palace.

Then, one by one, we bring back the old cast.  Every character gets an introduction.  After the two droids, we see our first glimpse of Luke, but it's just as a hologram[1]  Chewie shows up.  We see our first glimpse of Han, but it's in frozen-carbonite form.  Then the bounty hunter is revealed to be Leia.  Then one of the guards is revealed to be Lando.  Then Han is unfrozen.  Then Luke shows up.

And with Luke, they take their wonderful time with the introduction.  First, he's a backlit figure.  Then he's hooded.  And then, only at the end, do we actually see the guy: it's Luke!          Director Richard Marquand plays the audience beautifully with this timing.  Every re-appearance is like a little reward for the audience.  Each one gets its own space.  And they're arranged in increasing importance, with the central cast coming last.

Of course it's Luke, the central character, that gets the most gradual introduction.  (It's like he gets the biggest drumroll.)  And when he shows up, they go to great lengths to show how far he's come from the hardscrabble kid growing up on Tattooine, or even the rebel soldier getting his ass handed to him by a Wampa on Hoth.  He is now a Jedi Knight, and that's important, because this story is going to hinge on whether that's actually true.

Again, Jedi is not about expanding the universe; it's about settling into the world that we've already established.  And that's okay, because Jedi has another game plan: it's going to resolve the storylines that have come up so far.  I don't need to meet yet another roguish rebel in yet another improbable sci-fi setting.  I need to see how the main stories end.  Will Luke defeat Vader?  Will Han and Leia wind up together?  Will the empire fall?  This is what matters now, and that's what the film prioritizes.

Those stories progress wonderfully.  Yes, of *course* they kill off Yoda as soon as they can.[2]  And the double-cross -- the Emperor knowingly letting the rebels onto Endor -- actually works.  Unlike so many (Jesus, *so* many) plot twists where the villain says, "a-ha! you thought you were winning, hero, but instead, you are playing directly into my plans!", this one actually makes intuitive sense.  If you want to capture Skywalker, let him land on the planet and then trap him and take him captive there: simple and sensible.  And also, the film reveals this twist a *long* time before the Endor rebels know about it, contributing to this wonderful sense of dread.  This dread builds over the course of the film, as things get worse and worse and worse for the heroes.

And the forest-speeder chase scenes are spellbinding, up there with the car chase from The French Connection, in my book.  How could people not like that?

By the time the stories start resolving, the film series has built up so much weight that you get hit with one emotional scene after another.  When people find out -- first Luke, then Leia, then Han, then finally (and ominously) Vader -- that Leia is Luke's sister, it *matters*.  When Luke tries to save Vader, that *matters*.  If the exhange "I've got to save you!" / "You already have." doesn't make you at least a *little* verklempt, then I don't know what kind of an episode VI *could* have moved your stony and implacable heart.

I guess the main complaint I hear about Jedi is that the Ewoks suck.  I guess such people see the Ewoks, and they see something stupidly cuddly -- a merchandising cash-grab in the form of adorable, sentient teddy bears.  But honestly, to my ears, those complaints sound like, "Yeah, I don't like cutesy stuff, 'cos I like stuff that's, y'know, kickass, and I'm a real man, okay, Dad, so YOU DON'T HAVE TO SEND ME TO CHRISTIAN GAY-CURING CAMP."  Yes.  The Ewoks are cutesy, teddy-bear-like creatures.  Who the hell cares?  They still work fine in the story.[3]

I suspect the same people who object to Ewoks -- their objection being, I don't know, that the Ewoks aren't enough like killer badass dragons who play thrash metal -- those viewers might object to the whole story coming down, ironically, to a sort of pacifism.  The trilogy, up to this point, has had nicey-nice things to say about how the dark side of the Force is about fear and anger, and the light side is about, y'know, not that, but the final scenes for Luke show the series putting its money where its mouth is.  Luke has to avoid getting angry, even when he knows that the Emperor will kill his friends.  Even when he knows Vader will try to turn his sister, Luke has to bring himself to try to save Vader.[4]  Even when he knows he's going to die for his beliefs, Luke has to hold the course.  He's not there for revenge.  He's not there to strike people down.  He's there to help his father. 

That's a hell of a statement to end on, if your story is one that consists mainly of shooting bad guys with laser-guns.

But I think that's an ending that fits perfectly with what the films have been about, deep down.  And again, this is what Jedi does instead of world-building: it's finding the right ways for these story threads to resolve.  In the end, all the fanciful worlds seem to melt away, and we're down to three people in a room, and Lucas's sense of right and wrong.

One last note: this movie has some truly atrocious changes in the Special Edition.  Look, I like movie musicals as much as anybody, but the lengthy musical number in Jabba's Palace is just an awful confluence of cheap-sounding, MIDI-esque pop music and cheap-looking, plastic-sheened CGI.  Also, movie musicals employ songs in a very specific way: they're ways for the characters to convey emotions that are just too big for conventional filmmaking.  The plot stands still during the song, but that's okay, because we're connecting to that character who has the solo.

This scene was the *opposite* of that.  This was just stalling out the story for three minutes so that we could hear a song with incomprehensible lyrics.  And mind you, often incomprehensible lyrics are okay if the song is good, or even if there's just a clear feeling that comes through in the vocals.  In this case, neither was true.  It was like somebody opened the jar labeled "generic and outdated pop music" and poured three minutes of it into the film.  Empty spectacle rarely works at all, and it *never* works if your material isn't, well, spectacular.

The other changes that I noticed[5] were also for the worse.  It seems like Lucas added a number of interstitial shots, presumably designed to show off ILM's CGI chops.  Instead, they just slow the story down.  It makes Jedi feel more like a logy-paced 70s TV show, where they show the detective getting into the car, stock footage of the highway, the detective walking to the warehouse, and the detective walking in, instead of just cutting from the previous scene to the interrogation at the warehouse.

And the less said about ghost-Hayden-Christiansen, the better.

Sherlock [series 2]
This is the second season (or "series", in British parlance) of Stephen Moffat's modernized take on Sherlock Holmes.

Toward the end of series one, I was getting a little bored.  The emotional story of John Watson trying to rejoin civilian society had petered out, and the show was now just Holmes solving one crime after another, often literally *solving puzzles* set for him by the bad guys.  It seemed like, if the show kept going in that direction, it would wind up being Murder, She Wrote with very high production values.

Fortunately, they made some really good choices with their second series.  Most importantly, it looks like they found a way to make series two *about* something.  If the first series was asking us, "Can Watson get his life back together?", this second series is asking us, "What can really *rattle* Holmes?" -- because Sherlock seemed totally unflappable in the first series.  In this second series, each of the three films is a question: "Can sex rattle Holmes?"; "Can the fear of the supernatural rattle Holmes?"; "Can a wrecked reputation rattle Holmes?"  Sure, in each case, the answer is definite 'no' -- Moffat rarely lets his heroes be anything but über-competent -- but it's not a *facile* 'no'.  We can at least see how Holmes reacts under the strain.

And that is really all I need to be on-board for the story: just show me something new about these characters.  Take them somewhere I haven't seen before.

Meanwhile, I'm much happier with the Holmes-Watson relationship that we see as we settle into series two.  As with (of all the movies to compliment) A Game of Shadows, their friendship has a real, lived-in feeling to it.  As series one drew to a close, Watson was kvetching that Sherlock was so unemotional.  It felt a little like Watson was cast as "The Woman Who Says No" -- the responsible character, usually female, who tells the hero, usually male, to stop being so adventurous, or roguish, or inquisitive, or combative, or whatever quality it is that makes the hero interesting to the audience in the first place.

Now in series two, the relationship feels more accepting and friendly.  Watson knows that Sherlock is who he is, and that's not going to change, and the right thing to do is give him pointers on how to get along with society.  "Maybe... less smiling," he gently advises as Sherlock investigates footprints left by a kidnapper who dragged off two innocent children.  And that is more like what I want to watch, both because it doesn't denigrate the qualities I find interesting about the hero, and because it doesn't show us the same relationship that we see in every average fat-guy/hot-wife sitcom.[6][7]

Of these three episodes, the Moffat-penned "A Scandal in Belgravia" was the standout for me.  This was the one where all the audacious editing gimmicks -- the virtual-reality pan to the hiker and the motorist, the three-month cross-fade from a classical violin piece to a Christmas carol, the extreme slo-mo after Holmes opens the safe -- in each case, the cute special effect serves a genuine purpose in the storytelling, instead of just drawing attention to itself and looking cool.[8]

In the extreme slo-mo scene, for example, the ramped-down film speed is absolutely necessary for the story to make sense.  What we have there is a fight that lasts all of three seconds, in which about five specific things happen in sequence, and in such a way that the heroes miraculously end up not-dead.  Without the slo-mo, it would just be a blur of incomprehensible actions, and then "okay, somehow, Sherlock is still standing".[9]  It's the first time in... possibly 'ever', that I've seen that sort of "300 Effect" serve any storytelling purpose at all.

The plot stayed interesting to me.  I could follow the byzantine double-crosses that Mycroft, Sherlock, and Adler pulled on one another.  There were a great many of them, but they made sense, and they were clearly motivated.  In the scene where Mycroft tells Watson that Adler went into witness protection, but that no, she was actually dead -- that bit of lies-upon-lies felt genuinely affecting, which is rare for that sort of plot twist.

Also, the planeload of dead bodies rid me of any untroubled sleep I'd be getting in the next few days.

That said, many critics have pointed out that the film kind of sells out Irene Adler, and I'd have to agree.  It would have been much stronger to have Adler 'win' -- one of the best parts of "A Scandal in Bohemia" is that, by the end of it, Holmes knows that there is one woman out there who got the best of him.  Others have pointed out that she's reduced to a typical, sexualized femme fatale in this show, and her downfall is that she's just too in love with Holmes.  It's like, in order to get to a story that explored how Holmes views sex, we had to get stuck with the notion that strong women only get to show strength by using their Magical Vagina Powers.

But even in spite of that, it felt like a story that mattered to all the characters involved, and all its cleverness made sense.

The latter two episodes impressed me less, overall, than the first.  The whiz-bang editing, for starters, felt less like it was clarifying complicated things in the story, and more like it was desperately trying to make "sitting in a chair and thinking" look active, while never actually adding information.

If somebody's looking at stuff under a microscope, and you add a bunch of Avid farts to it to make it look edgy and cool, it's still just a guy looking at stuff under a microscope.

I have the same objections to Moriarty that I had last time around -- these all-powerful über-villains, whose motivation is purely to put the hero through a series of game-show-like challenges that make for good television (because of reasons), rarely hold much interest for me.  Mind you, I like the *concept* of what Moriarty does in "The Reichenbach Fall".  Pointing out the silliness and impossibility of what Holmes does is a cute plot twist (though honestly, I'd say a showrunner only gets to make *one* "hang a lantern on the show's impossibility" move per series).  Parlaying that twist into the systematic destruction of Holmes's reputation and all his friendships is a great way to stress the character.

But the problem is, "making it all look like a conspiracy" is one of those Evil Plots that gets dumber the more you think about it.  Really?  *Every* client?  *Every* crime?  In that case, Sherlock's 'conspiracy to look smart' would probably take more intelligence and resourcefulness than actually *being* that smart.  The conspiracy would have had to include hundreds, if not thousands of people -- and more to the point, anybody in Sherlock's world would have realized that in an instant.

That said, bringing the whole thing down to Sherlock having to sacrifice himself to save his friends -- that gave the show an emotional weight that I hadn't seen in it before.  The story between Sherlock and Watson towards the end just plain *matters* in a way that the story between Sherlock and Moriarty -- or any story in which one person is just blasé-ly setting challenges for the other -- doesn't.

And honestly, I had no idea that Martin Freeman had that performance in him.  I've said before that it's easy for an actor to play happy, or sad, or scared -- broad emotions, felt intensely, are not terribly challenging for a trained actor, though parlor tricks like that always impress the hell out of civilians.  I've said that the *challenge* is to play a strong emotion, and its opposite, at the same time.  I might emend that now -- another challenge is to play a broad emotion, but play it specifically, the way that *only* that particular character would feel and express it.  It's another instance of "the Passover test" -- "how is this <x> different from all other <x>es?" -- only applied to feelings.  You play the emotion with great intensity, but without slathering it on with a broad brush.  "How is John Watson's sadness different from all other sadness?"  Sure, there are conflicting emotions at play here, too -- we see Watson work notes of anger, desperation, gallows humor, and anger into those scenes -- but mainly we see that character remain resolutely himself, with no loss of nuance or detail, in the face of tragedy.

That said, bringing Sherlock back for one last shot felt weak, to me (I had the same quibble with A Game of Shadows).  If there's one thing we've learned from Buffy, it's that ending with your hero apparently dead gives the story real weight.  Even if nobody believes for a moment you're going to end the series with The Reichenbach Fall, just ending on that tragic note makes it feel like the story matters. 

But I suppose Sherlock is, in the end, light entertainment.

Queen & Country: Operation Broken Ground by Greg Rucka
This is the first trade paperback of Queen & Country, a comics series from American writer Greg Rucka about British foreign intelligence.

I joked online that this series feels like it "occupies the very small Venn-Diagram intersection between Archer and The Wire", but honestly, that assessment still feels dead-on to me.  Yes, it's yet another spy story about spies doing spy things.  But it has a lot of the same bitchy office politics that you see in Archer, not to mention the same amusing contrast between "these people are charged with saving the world" and "these people are acting like my passive-aggressive coworkers at the widget factory."

It also adds this notion of scope, which I associate more with The WireOperation: Broken Ground is about, quite literally, the consequences of a single gunshot.  You watch it happen from the field agent's narrow point of view, and from that first issue onwards, the world expands out.  We see what effect the killing has on the terrorist network it was targeting.  We see how it affects MI6 (AKA "the foreign service") generally, and then how the imbroglio draws in MI5 (AKA "domestic intelligence").  We even see how it reverberates into American intelligence operations.

In a fairly slim, quick-moving volume, Rucka builds up an entire world in which all of these people, with all of their various cross-purposes, are all interconnected.

Also, you see the toll the job takes on the field agents.  Yes, seeing our protagonist drag herself out of bed having drunk herself to sleep is a cliché, but it has real weight here, as she gets shot, used as bait, and hunted through London in an intelligence game that she only sees a small fraction of.  Meanwhile, another field agent has to take some time off -- "What, was he injured?"  "No.  But... I mean, he just killed a guy with his bare hands."  They have office chats about whether they'll see the shrink on the 9th floor, but there's an undercurrent to the conversation that doing that would be weakness -- like admitting defeat.

Hell, if I were living that life, I'd be drinking too.

The storyline ticks along nicely.  Again, having the whole plot stem from that single, initial operation makes the complicated storyline cohere.  And Rucka is great about slowly accumulating elements, one by one.[10]  As the story goes on, and the shit keeps repeatedly hitting the fan, you learn more and more about these surly, idiosyncratic employees who somehow keep Britain safe.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Vol. 1 by Alan Moore
This is the Alan Moore comic about a group of Victorian literary figures who team up to fight 19th-century crime.

This was a lot of fun.  Alan Moore clearly knows what's fun about this property.  Moore delights in filling each panel with as many references to as many old books as he can.  He revels in the Victoriana, though the stories have more references to Victorian things with clear modern counterparts -- like the "alienists", who, though few in number, were roughly equivalent to modern psychiatrists -- and fewer references to Victorian quirks that have no clear modern equivalent -- so, no references, say, to their obsessive fear of being buried alive. 

And Moore loves leveraging the sharp characterizations of his source material.  I don't know how much Moore exaggerates or distorts each of these classic English characters, but he winds up with an instant half-dozen people with radically different takes on life.  Very quickly, you know how any one of them is going to react to a given situation, and half the fun is in watching two of these carefully-imagined people just interact with each other.

There's a plot to this story, but it hardly matters.  Some Chinese character I should probably already know about has stolen some cavorite from an H. G. Wells invention, and they have to stop him because of reasons.  It's basically an excuse, a clothesline that we can put scenes on.  It's mainly about constantly answering questions like "what if Captain Nemo and Mina Harker had a conversation?" and "what if Alan Quartermain and Edward Hyde got in a fight?"

There were things to not-like, but they were relatively few.  The book is more rape-y than I'm comfortable with.  You do have to wonder how misogynist this book is, when the Invisible Man is discovered happily raping young girls at a boarding school, and Edward Hyde is found happily murdering prostitutes in Paris.  The art style is a little extreme (maybe some hints of Gerald Scarfe in the character designs), and that takes some getting used to.

But mostly, it's just a fun playground for messing about with Victorian characters.

Devil on the Moon, a Doc Savage Adventure
This is one of the classic Doc Savage pulp-adventure stories; it first appeared in Doc Savage Magazine in March of 1938.

This may be the worst book I've ever read.

It's definitely the worst-*written* book I've ever read.  And it's badly-written in a very particular way.  It uses simple words, and explains things pretty thoroughly -- which makes sense, since it's aimed a very wide audience.  For the pulp audience, you don't want to, say, write elliptically, and force your readers to connect the dots, or write in an erudite way that half your readers can't even understand.

But somehow, Kenneth Robeson manages to write simply without writing *clearly*.  Reading his book is a bit like reading the xkcd "ten hundred words" comic, with its lengthy cirumlocutions and flat, unstructured sentences.  On top of that, the book goes to great pains not to mention any country by name, so you get contorted references to "the nation about to declare war on the conquesting government", which is different from the "one European power", which may or may not be different from "the other power".  Proper nouns: they are your friends.  Please use more of them.

Then the story itself makes it clear that the pulps are different from both (1) modern genre fiction that derives from the pulps, and (2) our modern concept of what the pulps were like.  As far as I can tell, in a Doc Savage novel, Doc Savage is never in any convincing danger, and neither is anyone on his team.  This is in marked contrast to, say, a modern take on the pulps like Indiana Jones, where our hero *loses* steadily through almost the whole movie.  This is also different from our cliché idea about a pulp story, where we expect, say, a literal cliffhanger, where the hero is dangled over a cliff, and there are alligators below, and the rope he's holding onto is fraying.

Instead, the stakes to the hero feel far lower.  Threats to the hero are handled without any real cost to the hero.  Threats to the world loom in the background, but they never have any intermediate consequences.  The guy intent on blowing up the world never, say, blows up Trenton, New Jersey as a warning.  So we just watch the pulp hero take care of business.

The structure, then, isn't one of "our hero gets himself caught up in impossible situations."  It's more like a police procedural: the hero investigates, and investigates, and investigates.  Clues lead him from one place, to the next, to the next.  He patiently and efficiently dispatches the bad guys.  And eventually the story is over with.

And it's definitely not like this is any kind of literary fiction (nor would I have that).  If a passage is difficult to read, that difficulty is not a deliberate obscurity intended to convey some kind of meaning in and of itself -- it's just bad writing.  And this isn't a modern genre story, where it seems to be about one thing (say, fighting vampires), but it's really about another (say, dealing with high school).  Nope -- this is a story that seems to be about taking down a shadowy crime boss, and really is... about taking down a shadowy crime boss.

Characterizations are, predictably, thin, simple, and one-note.  The members of Doc's team are distinguished mostly by appearance and speaking style.  It's particularly fun to read the dialog for William Littlejohn.  This character has a wide vocabulary, and it's pretty clear that the character using words that the author does not actually know -- or, in the case of "superamalgamated", words that do not actually exist.

Was there *anything* redeeming about this book?  I guess I appreciated its positive attitude and its respect for science and technology.  It was amusing to see the author clearly excited at the technologically marvellous prospect of, say, an answering machine.  (A concept that was explained in a circuitous, meandering sentence that was too complicated by half.)

Generally, though, this book was just plain bad.

The Shadow [radio serial]
I listened to the first two batches of radio episodes of The Shadow, available from audible here and here.  The Shadow is a classic "playboy who secretly fights crime" character, who uses "the power to cloud men's minds" in his alter ego as the Shadow.

As with Devil on the Moon, I was surprised here by the difference between what I thought pulp stories were like and what they were *actually* like.  I was expecting exciting, silly adventures with crazy cliffhangers and impossible, hair's-breadth escapes.  The Shadow, at least in this incarnation, is not that.

Instead, what I got with The Shadow was something much more like an episodic CBS procedural.  We meet this week's criminal.  The Shadow gets wind of the criminal's activities.  For most of the episode, the Shadow asks some questions and gathers some clues, which lead him from one place to the enxt.  Then at last, the Shadow confronts the baddies.

In, I think, eight of these ten episodes, the baddies are hilariously overmatched in this final conflict.  (In the other two, they are overmatched at normal and reasonable levels.)  I mean, look: the Shadow has mind powers.  If you have your fists, and your opponent has freakin' *mind-powers*, you might as well have brought a small, pointy stick to a gunfight.  You have no hope in hell of winning.

That means there's never any real threat to the hero.  If anything, this final conflict works more as a sort of revenge fantasy against criminals.  Modern listeners might expect a fight where the bad guy almost wins, but then the hero takes advantage of some offer set up earlier in the story to turn the tables.  Instead, we get a fight where the bad guy walks into the conflict smugly convinced he's going to be the one criminal (out of hundreds, if not thousands) who takes on the Shadow armed with only a gun and wins.  Then that hubris quickly turns to confusion, then desperation, and then the fight is handily over.

The story structure is competent, but never really engaging.

Mind you, Orson Welles, voicing the title role, does lovely work here.  He portrays the Shadow as a good guy who is genuinely chilling and creepy.  I don't know if I'd *want* the Shadow's help, even if I *were* in trouble.  Granted, some part of my mind always idly wonders why The Brain is solving crimes in a 1930s big city -- but I think this is a feature, not a bug.

The minor characters fare less well.  Margot Lane is the only other regularly recurring role, and she's relegated to the typical "girl roles".  She often has to be The Woman Who Says No -- i.e., the female character who constantly says to the hero, "No, don't do that thing that's awesome!  It's too dangerous/roguish/impolite!  Dammit, don't do that thing that is what the audience has shown up to watch you do!"  And sometimes she gets kidnapped.  A lot of the time she actually joins in on the investigation, which is to the good, but I still don't see her developed much more beyond a simple cliché.

As for the week-to-week guest roles, they're a mixed bag.  Sometimes they can quickly sketch in a good character for the Shadow to visit -- the three principals in "The Death Triangle" were fairly well-done, as was the Indian anatagonist[11] in "The Temple Bells".  But just as often, they're just generic hoodlums, talkin' sneery and bein' evil.

The Green Hornet [radio serial]
I listened to the first two batches of radio episodes of The Green Hornet, available from audible here and here.  The Green Hornet is another classic "playboy who secretly fights crime" character.  In this case, Britt Reid's day job is as the affluent young publisher of The Daily Sentinel.  His alter ego, the Green Hornet, has no special powers.

The the twist is that the Green Hornet is himself a renowned (if falsely-accused) criminal.  This makes things interesting, in that in a typical Hornet story, the bad guys recognize the Hornet as a fellow criminal.  Then, somehow the Green Hornet stops the crime while not committing any crime himself, and while *still* taking the blame for something and thus intensifying the city's vilification of this dangerous criminal.  I know, what I just wrote sounds convoluted (and its sentence structure should be taken out and shot), but it reflects the complexity of the basic story engine.  Every week, we need the Hornet to stop criminals, to do nothing wrong, and yet to *appear* to commit crimes.

As a result, I found a good half of these stories to be frankly unfollowable.  The Hornet always sets a complicated set of double-crosses in motion that feels too clever by half, and by about the halfway point I've given up on sorting out who's doing which, and with what, and to whom.

Kato is an interesting character -- this is the Hornet's "Phillipino manservant" (which, now that I write it, looks like a phrase I'd have to look up on Urban Dictionary) that would later be played by Bruce Lee in the television adaptation.  It's odd to see many of these stories trying to be inclusive of other cultures -- you know they mean well -- but still be incredibly racist.  Kato is portrayed sympathetically, but also as a bit dense, and speaking the sort of broken, pidgin English that just isn't done today.[12]

As you might expect, the voice work for the lead character is nowhere near Orson Welles' work.  This actor seems to subscribe to the Adam West school of acting, with that sort of casual, unruffled calm that rarely varies to include other emotions.  (In other news: apparently Adam West represents a style of acting, instead of being the only guy who talks like that.)

Like The Shadow, The Green Hornet feels very much like an investigative serial.  Britt Reid gathers clues.  Eventually there's a showdown, which the Hornet and Kato win handily.  In this case, the hero doesn't have crazy supernatural powers, so the bad guys don't feel quite so hilariously overmatched, but there still never seems to be much of a threat to the good guys.

And you can forget about cliffhangers.  In the last episode I listened to, the act break -- that is, the last beat before the mid-episode commercial break -- was Britt Reid musing, "Well, sometimes a killer leaves a clue that implicates him."  No threat to the good guys.  No plot twist.  No sudden heightening of stakes.  It's an act-out that's so 'soft', you might expect to see it in Gilmore Girls.[13], and it's bizarre to see a story structured like that in a pulp franchise.

So, again, I was kind of underwhelmed by this serial.  Time to move back to audiobooks, I think.

For next time:  listening to the audiobook of Dark Force Rising, in preparation for this Saturday's Fandom show, and re-watching the *entire* Harry Potter series, in preparation for the  Fandom performance two weeks from now.

[1] It's kind of a cute mirror of A New Hope, where one of the first things Luke did was to watch another character, Leia, in hologram form.
[2] Always kill the wizard.  It makes things worse for the heroes.
[3] Hell, without the Ewoks, you don't get the gorgeous scene of C3P0 relating the trilogy to them in Ewokese, possibly the best "victory lap" moment in the entire movie.
[4] Side note: let's take a second here and recognize how well the Emperor has played this.  If Luke strikes down Vader, Luke becomes the Emperor's padewan and rules the galaxy with him.  If Vader strikes down Luke, there's no longer a rebel Jedi Knight to worry about.  That sounds pretty win-win for Palpatine, no?
[5] Who knows -- maybe there are other, subtler changes to the Special Editions that actually made the film better for me.  I suppose the best special effects are often those that are unnoticeable.
[6] Hot sitcom wife: "Fat comedian, stop it with your crazy get-rich-quick schemes!  They always end with unexpected, wacky consequences!"  Audience: "But, um... we're actually here to *see* the wacky consequences."
[7] ... *shrug* and it just feels nicer to accept your friends for who they are instead of berating them for who they're not.
[8] I feel like this is the purpose served by nearly every splashy special effect.
[9] That said, the special-effects folks don't bat a thousand in this episode: a set of trippy shots designed to convey only that "Mycroft got a text message that really worries him" feel utterly superfluous.
[10] ... unlike The Wire, I suppose, which cheerfully drops you into the deep end and forces you to catch up.
[11] A lady who speaks "Indian", which makes about as much sense, linguistically, as a guy who speaks "European", but we'll let that pass.
[12] ... although I wouldn't put that sort of thing past the earliest episodes of Two Broke Girls.
[13] I say this as a person who *loves* the first few seasons of Gilmore Girls.  Amy Sherman-Palladino made a deliberate choice with that show to eschew dramatic act-outs, and instead tell stories that moved with rhythms that were more like real life.

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Date:Monday (2/4/13) 10:42am

Ewoks < Wookies

I like the movie, but I still feel the ewoks are the weakest point. It was supposed to be wookies, and it probably would have made a lot more sense on how they could fight off AT-ST's and laser guns (with laser xbows..not rocks).

I think you could keep the C3P0 scenes in and get to show the softer side of wookies, as well as help round out Chewies backstory and make me feel less bad he didn't get a medal in the first movie. ;)
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Date:Wednesday (2/6/13) 3:26pm
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Date:Wednesday (2/6/13) 3:36pm
*tips hat*
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