So Good You Can’t Even Tell

Warner Bros logoI finally got around to watching The Dark Knight on DVD last night. Fairly impressive, but I’m not here to write about the film itself.

I was struck by a promotional video that ran before the feature, right after the god-awful reworking of Casablanca into a warning not to pirate movies (Shame on you, Ilsa).

The promo featured big, impressive, immersive shots from some big Warner Bros. movies, including A Clockwork Orange, Blade Runner, 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Matrix, Goodfellas, V for Vendetta, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, and Batman Begins. For the most part, these were shots intended to make the audience go “oooh,” like Neo stopping a barrage of bullets (ooh), or the Houses of Parliament exploding (ooh).

The voice-over that went with these big visuals went as follows:

Something has come along that changes our movies.

It changes the way you see them, hear them, feel them.

It changes the experience.

It opens our eyes to something new.

We invite you to dig deeper, to find things that you’ve never experienced before.

This is the difference between watching our movies and living them.

Experience our movies on Blu-ray.

This is how our movies are meant to be… lived

Blu-ray logoOK. It was a promo for the glory, the splendor and the majesty that is Blu-ray. Fine. But it raised a few questions for me.

As I’ve already mentioned, these were big, impressive images. I was watching on a standard DVD, on an eye of hell that’s neither HD, plasma, giant, or even flat, with the sound running through a stereo that’s about 30 years old — well, the speakers are only about 10, but there are only two of them. And I got the message that I was supposed to be impressed by these images.

So if I’m impressed, how are they supposed to sell me on ditching all of my equipment and getting a Blu-ray setup? Obviously, they can’t show me how a Blu-ray image is better than what I’ve got if they’re showing it to me via what I’ve got. Maybe they should have lowered the quality of the images they showed me, like I was watching on a pitiful portable picnic player, as little Alex might point out. Then they could have told me that if I wanted to experience the true gorgeousness and gorgeosity of the pictures and properly hear the angel trumpets and devil trombones, I’d best upgrade.

Or I suppose they might have added a few lines to the voice-over (I think it might have been Kiefer Sutherland, using his “this is America” Bank of America voice rather than his “tell me now or you’re dead” 24 voice, by the way), like

Do these scenes look good to you? Then you’re an idiot. This stuff is pure crap. You can’t see how good these scenes really are, because your hardware is shit.

There needs to be some comparison if I’m to be convinced that what I don’t have is better than what I have. Remember the theme song to WKRP in Cincinnati? The first few bars were engineered to sound like AM radio, and then it opened up to something fuller, so even though you were listening to the whole thing through a tiny, tinny monaural speaker, you could hear the difference. You got the message that AM radio sounds like KRaP.

And there’s that last line in the promo: This is how our movies are meant to be… lived.

Is it really? Have they forgotten about movie theatres, many of which still have bigger screens and better sound systems than the average living room? Are they suggesting that this is what the filmmakers had in mind?

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A Certain Tendency of the Sci Fi Channel

Sci Fi logoWith apologies to François Truffaut.

I’d like to point out a couple of things I’ve noticed recently about the Sci Fi Channel, that great bastion of geekery on the eye of hell.

Ghost Hunters

I can’t say I’ve seen this program, or its spin-off, Ghost Hunters International, but I’ve certainly seen my share of promos for both shows. The shows document the adventures and investigations of The Atlantic Paranormal Society, or TAPS. Here’s how the TAPS people describe themselves and their mission:

Taps promises to bring professionalism, personality, and confidentiality to each case we investigate. We understand that it is tough to call someone like us, and we respect your right to privacy.

We bring recording devices to your home to capture evidence of paranormal activity, but they are only used with the homeowner’s permission. We will not share or publish any of the media or any details of the case outside of the close-knit TAPS group. More sensitive cases will be dealt with by the founders and be held under the most strict confidence.

We are not amateurs. We have had extensive experience. Part of what we have learned is the psychology of making someone feel comfortable during these times of fear and uncertainty. We will bring a levelheaded and comfortable atmosphere into your home, in essence, taking care of the most important thing, your discomfort. We will then help you to understand some of the nature of the problem supplying you with the information to understand why this is happening and how little danger is actually involved. We will listen to your experiences and concerns. Then we will set up equipment and begin trying to recreate and debunk personal experiences in an attempt to find good evidence either for or against paranormal activity. We will then share our findings with you and come to a conclusion.

Pretty serious stuff, it would seem. But if that’s the case, why is it that every clip I’ve seen in promos for the show consist of people completely freaking out every time the floor creaks or a door closes? If they’re serious about this, it doesn’t really make a lot of sense to me that they would wet their pants at the slightest hint of finding what they’re supposedly looking for. How many CPAs do you know who cry for mommy every time they see a W-2?

The Friday Prime Time Schedule

This is the channel’s current schedule for Friday evenings from 7:00 to 11:00 eastern time:

7:00–8:00 A repeat episode of Stargate SG-1
8:00–9:00 A repeat episode of Chuck
9:00–10:00 A repeat episode of Stargate Atlantis
10:00–11:00 A new (or as they call it, “all new”) episode of Stargate Atlantis

And what do they call this four-hour block of programming? “The All New Sci Fi Friday,” of all things. If you’re a regular reader here, you probably know that I take issue with the marketing term “all new”. I’ve pointed it out quite a few times. Quite a few. Come on, Sci Fi. How can it be all new if 75% of it simply isn’t? Honestly, what the fuck?

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Taken by Surprise by a Trio of Roguish Ads

I wrote last year about the way Nissan was going a tad far in product placements on Heroes.

On Heroes, Hiro and his friend are renting a car and Hiro is absolutely insistent that it must be a Nissan Versa. Ostensibly, this is because that’s the car they rent in the comic book that’s predicting his future, but does it actually name the car in the comic, or is Hiro just an expert at picking out the model of any car he sees? Keep in mind that Hiro is from Japan, where if the Versa is even sold, it probably goes by a different model name. And of course, there’s an ad about the car on the show’s home page, and a commercial or two for the car during the broadcast.

Nissan RogueThey’re at it again, but this time it may be going even further. In the season’s premiere episode, Claire’s father gives her a Nissan Rogue (the fabulous new crossover the commercials for which whore out the Clash). That episode was presented with “limited commercial interruption” by Nissan, which included three Rogue commercials in a row. One of the features they push about the Rogue is its “intelligent key that never has to leave your pocket.”

In episode two, Claire’s car gets stolen. She goes to the copy shop where her father is working and admits what’s happened, taking the blame by indicating that she forgot to lock it. She forgot to lock it? But it has an intelligent key that never has to leave your pocket. I know it does, because the nice people at Nissan told me so. Three times.

I’m predicting that in next week’s episode, we’re going to find out that the car was taken by someone with special abilities. Maybe Sylar’s already found Claire and he took the car for a joyride before slicing her head open. I don’t know. But it can’t simply be that some normal human just opened the door and drove off. They couldn’t. The Rogue has an intelligent key that never has to leave your pocket.

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Stoopid Nooz

News on the eye of hell used to be pretty straightforward. A guy, sitting at a desk, reading the news. Those days, however, are long gone.

I grew up on Lawn Guyland, from the mid-60s to the early 80s, and I saw a lot of the changes in the news at the flagship stations of the major networks (back when there were only three). Some were fads, but some have stuck around.

Scripted Small Talk

I remember , who was the quintessential NY anchorman. For some 25 years, he had just a touch of grey on his temples. Jensen used to challenge his reporters: they’d come back from the taped segment of the report and he’d have questions to ask the reporter — real questions. You could tell that they didn’t know in advance what he was going to ask.

I remember seeing them go back to the studio after a report by (who was seriously hot back then) about abused children. Meredith was in tears, and Jim did what he could to (ahem) comfort her.

Uncle WethbeeI remember, but didn’t see Tex Antoine’s last night on the air. Tex was a weatherman, and he used a character called “Uncle Wethbee” to show us what the weather would be like: if it was to be sunny, Uncle Wethbee wore sunglasses. Cold weather meant Uncle Wethbee would be wearing a hat and scarf. Tex lost his job when, after a report about a rape, Tex was to make a quick statement before they went to commercial. Rather than something to the effect of “We’ve got some wild weather coming up,” he said something like, “Confucius say if you’re going to be raped, lay back and relax.” No more Tex, no more Uncle Wethbee.

Now, just about everything is scripted. When we come back to the studio after a taped segment, the hard hitting, incisive questions asked of the reporter by the anchor are all being read off the prompter. After all, they don’t want to get stuck with some reporter not knowing the answer. Every now and then, the small talk appears not to be scripted, like when Kira Philips’ mic was left on when she went to the bathroom to kibbitz about her sister-in-law, or when Carol Costello’s needling caused Chad Myers to have a weather tantrum.

Weather Radar

This one seems to be going the way of the dodo, but you can still catch them pulling this crap now and then: Americans are stupid. We know that. When you say the word “radar” to an American, they either think of the little Iowan guy from MASH, or an image from a World War II movie of a monochromatic screen with a line sweeping around it in a circle. Apparently without that line, we don’t know that it’s radar, so when weather reporters show us images from their radar, they’ll add in that rotating scan line. It’s not actually part of the radar image; they just figure we need it to assure us.

Hand-held Camera

This is something they were doing rather a lot of maybe ten years ago: to make the news more exciting and immediate, they’d pretend that they hadn’t had sufficient time to prepare their reports, so the reporter would come bounding down a corridor and into the studio, being covered by a very shaky hand-held camera. Did it work? Of course not. But it’s not that different from…

The Control Room

The standard was always to have the reporters sit in at the big desk, next to the anchor to introduce their stories, but we see a lot of reporters sitting in what’s supposed to look like either an editing room or the control room. It shows their connection to the technical aspects of reportage, even if they have no idea how the machines there work — even if the machines are just mock-ups that don’t do anything.

Big Screens, Fake Screens, Screens Screens Screens

Anyone who’s seen CNN in the past couple of years knows that they just love gigantic video monitors over there — big ones, sometimes arrays of monitors, and sometimes arrays of big monitors. On some broadcasts, the giant video wall is completely fake. It’s just a blue screen, and when the anchor carries on a fake, scripted conversation, s/he has to pretend to look at the image of the reporter while reading the scripted conversation off the monitor, all the while looking as if they’re just talking to another person. This is why they make the big big money.

The monitors our boy Wolfie has in his Situation Room are real, and they can do all sorts of fun things with them: a different picture in each one, a single picture spanning across all of them, or breaking them up into groups. One thing they do that doesn’t make a lot of sense, however, is to point a camera directly at them, so that the array of monitors takes up the whole screen. Why do they do that, when they can just send the array of feeds out as the feed we receive? Pointing a camera at a monitor is so 1950s.

STFD, or the Finger Clasp

Maria StephanosI think we can blame Blitzer for this too, although someone else may have done it before him: for many anchors, the anchor desk is no more. Sometimes they’ve got a stool, but often it’s their job to just stand there. I suppose sitting down implies that they’re too lazy for the exciting world of journalism. The problem is that back when they had their desk and chair, they could lay their hands on the desk or hide them under it. What are they to do with their hands now that everything is so out in the open? Some choose to hold a few pieces of paper. They don’t read them, of course — that’s what the prompter is for. But if they don’t hold anything in their hands, it seems that the trend is for them to stop their hands from wildly swinging about in the studio by gently clasping the fingers of one hand in the other. Some of them seem to take this very seriously indeed. If their fingers ever slip out of the proper clasped position, they seem to go into a tiny panic attack until they find their way back. Maybe some guy in the control room is responsible for reminding them about it, shouting “FINGERS! FINGERS!” whenever they slip.

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