Tag Archives: science fiction

Fringe: Staring into the Abyss of Bad Science, Writing & Acting

Complete Score: 16.5 / 42 = 39%

Fringe, the latest J.J. Abrams project, is inspired by the X-Files, Twilight Zone and other similar science fiction shows. Normally an Abrams production incites a cloud of hype and blogosphere activity, but I did not hear about Fringe until a few days before the premiere. Once I read that it’s a science fiction show about odd, weird, and generally on the fringe sciences (hence, the name), including but not limited to re-animation, mind control, genetic tampering and other freaky topics I became interested. As a big fan of quality science fiction drama (ergo, Battlestar Galactica is the greatest show ever) this one seemed to be unique enough to warrant a look.

a show that is not authentic, immersive, or otherwise good.

The show features Anna Torv as FBI Agent Oliva Dunham, John Noble as mad scientist Dr. Walter Bishop, Joshua Jackson as the good doctor’s rebellious son Peter Bishop, and Lance Reddick as Olivia’s boss, Homeland Security agent Phillip Broyles. The show was co-created by J.J. Abrams, Roberto Orci, and Alex Kurtzman. Fringe airs on Fox every Tuesday night at 9 PM.

Hey...it's the gahden...Celtics start up soon!
Hey...it's the Gahden...Celtics start up soon!

Value

Fringe airs on Fox and streams via hulu so it’s relatively free. The 2 hour premiere for Fringe apparently cost $10,000,000 to produce and though there were a few nifty special effects, it’s tough to say the $10,000,000 was well spent as the show itself was lackluster. The storyline is a cool idea but its execution is average. The acting and writing are simply just not very good. For $10,000,000 Abrams and crew would have been much better off hiring someone to direct the cast well. Even Lance Reddick, who was awesome in The Wire comes across flat and stale here, a boring over generalization of every other secret government agent we’ve seen in shows like the X-Files.

On the plus side, the show is part of a movement by Fox to keep viewers focused on the channel by lowering the commercial count for Fringe and Joss Whedon’s new show, Dollhouse. It makes sense for all parties involved to have fewer commercials for shows, as we as a populace have lowered attention spans and with the internet increasingly growing as an alternative to television, TV channels must adapt. By having fewer commercials, the experience and immersion in the show is increased for the viewer, while also increasing the chances the viewer will stick to the channel and watch the commercials, thus increasing value for advertisers.

Score: 2.5 / 5

Lance longs for the days of The Wire
Lance longs for the days of The Wire

Quality

Though immersion in this show might increase due to the lower rate of commercials, we’re immediately ripped out of that immersion by the writing, which at times beats us over the head with stupidity and then kicks us while we’re down too.

Though I’ve enjoyed Lost, most of the other J.J. Abrams productions struck me as entertaining though shallow. A week ago I caught a few minutes of a Lost episode and with the recent viewings of Fringe fresh in my mind even the writing on Lost was now apparently bad. I always knew the writing was not spectacular, but it was good enough to allow the viewer to buy into the story for long enough. Not so with Fringe, where you are constantly reminded that you’re watching a TV show, where logic and real science get tossed out.

As a Bostonian born and raised, anytime I see my city on the little or big screen I immediately like that show or film at least a little bit. Too bad for Fringe that they did not bother to make the show seem authentically Bostonian, rather the city in this show could be any city in the world. There’s numerous gaffes that immediately strike any Bostonian, for instance at one point agent Olivia Dunham calls from South Boston and states that she’s going south on Fenway. There is no road in South Boston called Fenway and the Fenway area in general is on the other side of the city.

Dammit people, we will find a way for me to get off this show...we'll stay all night if we must!
Dammit people, we will find a way for me to get off this show...we'll stay all night if we must!

At another point the FBI agents must go to Back Bay, MA, which to any Bostonian would imply they’re going downtown to the South End – Newbury Street area. Nope, they’re out in the boonies at some storage facility that simply is the exact opposite of the Back Bay. The producers took the time to realize there’s a section of Boston called Back Bay and then just turned it into some little town setting. These are relatively small errors but they are numerous and as they add up over time it turns real Bostonians away from the show. If you’re going to base a show or film in Boston, take the time to realize that locals are very, very proud of their city and will rip apart your setting unless it is near perfect. So far, there’s no need for this show to be based in Boston and it seems to be an afterthought. If you’re going to do such a poor job of portraying the city realistically just base the show somewhere else.

For a $10,000,000 million dollar pilot, the show entertained me but I wasn’t hooked in to the point of wanting to see the next episode already. Also, for that cost the show should at least be authentic to its settings. It is not. Though I’m not a scientist, much of the fringe science on the show seems to be completely made up and not based on any actual knowledge. Obviously this show has to take creative liberties due to the subject matter, but at least try and make it seem reasonable.

Having now watched the first fours episodes of Fringe, I can come to a fairly accurate conclusion. The acting and writing for this show is awful. It’s insulting how bad it is. For instance, in one scene in the third episode, the FBI agent and Pacey are sent to a home in Cambridge to extract a device hidden in one of its walls. Upon knocking on the door, no one answers. Pacey then makes the remark, “well the lights are off” to imply that no one is home. It would be a viable conclusion except its bright enough outside to be the middle of the day. Over and over errors pop up in the script that make it apparent that these scripts were written in one pass and never looked upon again until read and recorded. The acting, while obviously hampered by the terrible writing, is also awful. FBI agents are made to look dumb, completely avoiding the fact that they’d have to be reasonably aware of science to become an FBI agent.

In another scene, we’re shown an image that looks like either a duck or a rabbit depending on how you look at. The mad scientist explains that it’s all a matter of perception, which the FBI agents just don’t get. I really like the plot line but the execution fails in uber-epic fashion.

Score: 1 / 5

Hey, the lights are off in the middle of the day, ergo no one is home!
Hey, the lights are off in the middle of the day, ergo no one is home!

Innovation

Abrams lists the show’s inspirations as The X-Files, Twilight Zone, Altered States and Michael Crichton. No wonder then that the show has a heavy dose of deja vu. A scientist gets locked away for an deadly accident, his son abandons him, two FBI agents fall in love and have to hide their relationship, all while a crazy hidden group is slowly discovered behind odd world events. Derpity derpity doo Fringe, I know you. Seriously, have I seen this show before? When I watch it sparks of creativity flutter out but in the end I’m just left with a very strong gut feeling of deja vu.

The show does get one point for the opening scene, a new level of gruesome for prime time TV.

Score: 1 / 5

Social Benefit

Well, if the show leads to more children being inspired to pursue scientific endeavors it could be viewed as a positive for society but if it inspires even more terror and fear into an already tense American public, it might just be a wash. The one plus is fewer commercials, which in the marketing laden environment of the current USA can only be viewed as a good thing. Plus it’s on hulu which means you don’t need to get a television to watch the show.

Still though, it’s just a television show and not a very good one at that. It’s not educational or in any significant way beneficial to society. It’s not the worst thing for society either but it certainly does not move the human race forward by any means.

Score: 1 / 5

Freestyle!

It’s not terrible, the acting is OK but the believability of the show is just plain awful. There were multiple occasions where I was forced to laugh at the ludicrous plot points in the show. In the end, the premise of the show is cool but my brain hurts too much watching the show and blocking out the constant pattern of points that remind me it’s a show, a show that is not authentic, immersive, or otherwise good.

Score: 11 / 22

Complete Score: 16.5 / 42 = 39%

Equilibrium: Better than The Matrix?

Complete Score: 32.5 / 42 = 77.4%

In 2002 a film was released to test audiences with a significant amount of positive reaction from movie going crowds, although critics mostly rated the movie as mediocre. At this point the marketing geniuses at Dimension decided to release the film with little promotion and only to a select few theaters. Of course the movie tanked, thus re-affirming the view of critics and seemingly supporting the marketers’ perspective that the film sucked and wasn’t worth distributing to the general public (who, again, actually liked the film).

Clerics look for sense offenders who choose to risk it all and feel!

The film is Equilibrium (though those aforementioned marketing geniuses very nearly released it as “The Cleric”) and it’s dystopian futuristic setting oozes detail while it’s storyline hints at very deep philosophical currents. Written and directed by Kurt Wimmer, the movie stars Christian Bale as a cleric who begins to question his role and his reality, Taye Diggs, the ever loyal to the fascist regime douchbag extraordinaire, Emily Watson, as the love interest of not just one but two characters (scandalous!), and Sean Pertwee as the big brother figure, known as Father in the film’s city state setting of Libria.

The world finally experienced World War Three and citizens around the world gave up their rights to liberty and reality for peace. After the war it was determined that humanity itself was to blame for the ills and dangers of humanity, thus a huge movement was started to basically sedate our emotions. To the characters in the movie, the secluded world of Libria is all they know and everything beyond the Librian walls is uncivilized and dangerous. Clerics, the elite police force of the government, patrol the wild environment outside of Libria looking for sense offenders who choose to risk it all and feel!

Value

As of the date of this review, the film is available on Amazon.com for under $10. Considering it’s worth at least two views, the value of this movie is quite good. It’s not the best of movies, but it’s certainly worth $10 and will entertain you at least once. The action scenes are worth the price of admission here, so even if you find the story a bit campy the action is tight!

Score: 4/ 5

Quality

The action scenes are great, some of the best I’ve seen! The movie revolves around a new form of martial arts that includes guns, called Gun Kata. Clerics are the grand masters of Gun Kata and work for the government tracking down sense offenders, who are people who’ve stopped taking their daily soma-esque treatment and instead experience the world naturally, with emotions! The storyline is a bit campy but it’s viewable a few times before the camp really sets in.

The artistic vision for this film is perfect and really immerses you in the dystopian, authoritarian future of the story. Even today, six years after the film was made I’m still awed by some of the special effects and imagery of the film. The filmmakers spent just enough time showing off the environment to give you a feel for the city without taking too much time away from the story. The writing in the film isn’t great but is good enough to keep the film flowing. The real stars here are Libria and Gun Kata.

Score: 4 / 5

Equilibrium's imagery is splendid.
Equilibrium's imagery is splendid.

Innovation

OK, so first time viewers of this movie will find a lot of similarities to The Matrix, but with it’s use of Gun Kata (yes, I’m a big fan of the Clerics’ fighting style) and focus on emotional control it breaks enough new ground that it’s not just another science fiction film but with gun karate. Still, it borrows heavily from 1984, Fahrenheit 451 and Brave New World. Books are burned, along with any other material that might induce human emotion such as paintings and music. Characters are turned into walking robots while Big Father is promoted as knowing all and being the ideal role model. It’s not the most original story but if you’re going to borrow ideas and mash them up these are three phenomenal sources to use so Equilibrium gets a small pass here.

Score: 3.5 / 5

Social Benefit

It is a movie, which means whether or not you buy a disc the disc exists and will exist longer than any of us so it has a negative aspect there. Movie production is a big, big process that uses a lot of energy during all stages of the movie, from production to distribution to viewing. Still, if people see this movie and are inspired to go read 1984 or Fahrenheit 451 or question authority or their own reality, then it’s worth it. We need more movies like Equilibrium and The Matrix and less Dane Cook romantic comedies.

Score: 3 / 5

Gun Kata is wicked cool.
Gun Kata is wicked cool.

Freestyle!

I’m a big, big fan of this movie and have seen it enough times to have progressed from getting annoyed by the campy bits, to growing to love the cheese. Once you’ve seen this film as many times as I have, you start picking out parts that don’t quite make sense. Everyone in the film, except the sense offenders, is supposed to not feel emotion, yet the Clerics and police force do show anger and paranoia. Perhaps it’s meant to show that we cannot eliminate all emotion, and that those last emotions to go are the very ones that supposedly caused World War III and all the other violent acts of human history. To eliminate the worst of the human experience is to in essence neuter us.

Without the range of emotions, can we still be classified as humans? There are multiple points in the movie where it seems characters are only pretending to be robots, for instance the older woman we see enjoy the feel of a steel rail against her hands or the revolution that lives in the under world of Libria with all their raw emotions flowing. Ironically enough, the government in the film takes such a zealous approach to wiping out violence that they become an extremely violent force themselves. Of course, the movie hints that the leaders, particularly Father, are aware of this duality and purposely act on it.

Equilibrium hints at deep existential questions but leaves enough out there for the viewer to take and run with and question further. It’s much more of a science fiction action film than anything else and the action sequences are outstanding. They still impress me every time I view the film, which counts into double digits by now. Equilibrium is not better than The Matrix, though some fight scenes do match up well with and even surpass those found in The Matrix. The storyline in The Matrix, however, is more original and deeper. Still Equilibrium is a great film and excellent in its dreary depiction of the dystopian Libria and its unique Gun Kata martial arts.

Score: 18 / 22

Equilibrium is available on DVD at Amazon.com. (Note, Amazon.com is our affiliate).

Complete Score: 32.5 / 42 = 77.4%