Sunday, April 11, 2010

On Following Formulas

The Fringe: A War Drama of the Distant Future
Created by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks

Pilot Episode
Opening credit sequence: Orchestral music, going back and forth between strings and horns depending on how epic or sentimental we want to feel in the moment. As the titles play, we see a fountain pen on yellowed paper. It is drawing bold, straight lines. As it does so, the ink is just gushing out of it. The ink pools and flows on the paper in aesthetically pleasing, computer-generated ways. Is anyone in the show using a fountain pen? No. Does the pen carry any special significance for the show, metaphorical or otherwise? Not really; it looks cool. And the ink flowing all over the paper is like blood, so that's cool too. What is being drawn or written with this pen? We don't know and its not important. It's just awesome.

Synopsis: We're introduced to the characters. Start with about a dozen, so we can get a politically correct cross-section of society at this point in time (which is The Future).
**Two family members from an Ethnic Family: Italian is usually best for this sort of thing, since their history is relatively free of shame and everyone's familiar with their food. Also, ample access to Italian-American actors because any dark-haired guy can be Italian. Just stick your jaw out and squint. Maybe we'll glue some dog sheddings to your arms. These guys are introduced at a big family dinner like those I-ti's always have, and they serve together in the same unit because that happens all the time in the Space Marines.
**A newlywed. He's enlisted out of a sense of duty and he fears for his own safety...perhaps too much. His wife is fine as hell and because this is HBO we get to see her boobies in a gratuitous shot. Nice. She's proud of his service but also very worried. She's not sure how she'll hold up with him gone. Will she cheat on him while he's away? A "Dear John" letter makes its way out in the Space Mail? Who knows? Foreshadowing!
**A black guy! This will be a new step forward for Spielberg and Hanks. The military's combat units weren't integrated until Korea (sad but true) so they've never had to confront racial dynamics. Well, we are progressive in space! This black Space Marine's parents will be a flatulent mustachio'd man in overalls, and his morbidly obese wife with an inch-thick crust of make-up. Both will be played by Tyler Perry, so we can be sure it's all tasteful.
**A sensitive soul. He should be a writer--an artistic type whose narration we can occasionally use to make things seem more epic. You can't have some farm-boy grunt open his mouth and drop lines like, "The plain was dotted with burning tanks, like volcanoes cast up out of the ground by an angry God." He'll wax poetic when we're feeling it and draw in the ladies with his sensitive side. Will be featured prominently in a romantic subplot.
**Two or three other guys with simple but interesting storylines (enlisted over his parent's objections, has an older brother in the service he idolizes). They aren't important at the start, but as the season's writing goes along it's good to have padding in case of plot-impacting casualties. These guys can either die for pathos, or be expanded into full characters in case a main character dies for pathos.

These men are thrown into boot camp together and get to know each other. Some characterization is done and boot camp cliches are re-hashed. Drill sergeants are badasses with hearts of gold. Some tangential character washes out as a sober reminder that everyone's here to do a job. Maybe even a tragic boot camp death like in Starship Troopers? It's really impossible to draw from too many cliches here; the audience knows the military through these same cliches on TV. It's all good, so long as other people do the fighting. The boot camp sequence can either be ended with a "graduation" scene, or by a training montage. Even Rocky had a montage.

Our guys are next seen on deployment, being shipped out to some combat zone on the other end of inhabited space. They mingle with other Marines on the ship. Some minor scuffles take place between these bare-chested young bucks. At last we come to the landing scene, and the CGI fireworks go off while our boys make their way to the hostile planet. They run patrols and dig in; here's where all the military experts we hire tell us how things are supposed to be. It will be a little more difficult because Space Marines are in the future. Days pass without action, and we are reminded of warfare's most immutable law: 95% of the time, soldiers sit around bored. They sit in filth chewing on things and cleaning their guns until it comes time to get shot at and risk their lives. It is, by most standards, unrelenting misery. To hammer this home, it will rain constantly as our heroes traverse the Space Jungle.

Eventually, it comes time to get some fighting done. But it's not early enough in the show to begin killing off characters in earnest. Consequence-free combat ensues as enemy soldiers attack our heroes' camp in the dead of night. Huge amounts of muzzle flashes and explosions turn the next 14 minutes into a soup of sensory overload. The fact that it's night aids shooting--handheld cameras are the order of the day here. The terror and chaos of battle is conveyed without expensive CGI, but rather by shaky and poorly-lit shots of terrified soldiers' faces and seemingly random gunfire. As in real combat, all gunfire is shockingly inaccurate except when the needs of the plot dictate otherwise. Scene ends with a long slow fade to black, implying the fighting went on considerably longer than what we saw. Just imagine how much gunfire at night happened! A handful of friendly Space Marines are killed; just some extras. The morning after, our boys all look like hell. They survey the carnage wrought the night before--the piles of enemy bodies, the craters and the soot and the expended casings. Guys smoke cigarettes and cast steely-eyed stares across the horrifying scene, and the horrors of war are laid bare. How dare the audience have watched as we trivialized combat by casting it as a mow-the-bastards-down video game? For shame. The guys say a couple words to each other, three-word understated mumbles in the vein of Hemingway dialogue. These, after all, are men. In space.

No comments:

Post a Comment