Monthly Archives: October 2014

THERE WILL BE CHAOS

Gotham Pilot Episode: The Review

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Gotham is the new television series telling the story of some of the most infamous inhabitants of that city before the appearance of Batman. From over seventy years of comics and movies audiences are pretty familiar with the origin story of Batman. A young boys parents murdered in front of his eyes becoming the reason for him to dedicate himself to a life of fighting crime.

So how can a new spin be put on this most familiar of stories? By shifting the focus to the character of Police Commissioner James Gordon who at this stage is a young detective while Batman is still a twelve year old Bruce Wayne. The pilot opens with the murder of the Wayne’s (after a brief glimpse of young Selina Kyle, the future Catwoman) and in a pleasing wink to the comics young Bruce kneels between their corpses in a close recreation of a classic comic cover. The scene is effectively told but with it being so well known it’s a sensible decision to get it out of the way early.

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At the Police Station we are introduced to James Gordon (played by Ben McKenzie) and his older borderline alcoholic partner Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue). Gordon manages to disarm a suspect who has grabbed another officer and in the first hint that things are not right in this department a group of cops lay into the suspect while restraining him.

Gordon and Bullock

Gordon and Bullock

So far this pilot episode has hit on a lot of familiar story beats, young idealistic detective, older more cynical partner and a case that has great implications with pressure to close it quickly. Bullock it turns out has one foot in the corruption that is rife in the department as he takes his young partner to meet gang boss Fish Mooney (Jada Pinkett-Smith) the murder having occurred on her territory. Gordon encounters one of her henchmen the young Oswald Cobblepot who will go on the become the Penguin (a derisory nickname foisted on him by fellow gangsters). He is all gleeful menace as he batters a man with a baseball bat obviously enjoying the power afforded to him actor Robin Lord Taylor suggesting that a childhood of trauma and bullying has bought out a desire to revenge himself on those who may have taunted him when he was younger.

Fish Mooney

Fish Mooney

As pilots go it’s a bit of a whirlwind as we are introduced to younger versions of Alfred, Poison Ivy, Edward Nygma (the future Riddler) and possibly the Joker. This is a potentially thorny issue that the programme makers are going to have to try very hard to get right. The Joker for many years in comics had no origin story, no real name or secret identity. He simply was the Joker. The 1988 comic The Killing Joke gave him a possible back story but even he doubts how accurate it is. The 1989 Batman movie caused controversy by suggesting that before he was the Joker he was the thug that murdered the Wayne’s. Shrinking the fictional universe of the film considerably (but more on that later). The 2008 film The Dark Knight finally gave audiences a screen version of the Joker that portrayed him as a man with no name or background just a primal force of chaos.

As mentioned above the want to tie everything together is a bizarre affliction of writers and film makers. For examples of this look at Star Wars where the prequels tell us Anakin is from the same planet as his famous offspring, that he builds the droid C-3PO. The point with Batman is that if he and the Joker grow up in the same place it invalidates the theory that crazy people are drawn to Gotham because Batman represents to them a place people can be crazy.

Very little of the pilot is spent with young Bruce Wayne which is fortunate as child versions of characters rarely do justice to their adult selves and can cheapen established mythology (of course the writers will be trying to establish their own mythology but they are working within such a well known universe it will be interesting to see how far they can push new ideas). The recent Doctor Who story “Listen” which was on its way to becoming a classic entry in the long running series until undoing all its good work by showing a glimpse of the title character as a young child and setting the scene in a location that would be reused by the same character hundreds of years in the future. It’s time like this that you want to grab the writers and shake them while shouting “Stop making everything so small when you can make it bigger and richer!”

Production wise Gotham looks fantastic, the city is vast and while you do get a sense of scale future episodes need to explore different areas of the city to show that its not all gloomy buildings and dangerous alleyways. A brief sojourn to Wayne Manor is fine but shows us the schools, the malls, suburban neighbourhoods and office blocks. Even in a city as corrupt as this there has to be something to contrast the endless line of gangsters and scumbags against.

So does Gotham offer innovation anywhere? Gordon is a involved in a foot chase with a suspect and the audience is dropped into the moment with shots looking directly at the young officer as he tears through buildings, presumably achieved by strapping a camera to the actor. This really caught the eye and if the directors are encouraged to try dynamic ideas like this it could make the programme stand out from all the other US crime dramas that are so prolific right now.

One area that does need significant improvement from the pilot is the relationship between Gordon and his girlfriend. The scenes with them together at home have absolutely no emotion and come across as two beautiful people reciting their lines on a set that has come straight out of a designer home catalogue.

The real highlight of the pilot was the performance of actor Robin Lord Taylor as Oswald. He runs a huge spectrum of emotions from sadist to snitch, to overconfident to terrified and finally reborn from a watery grave more violent than ever. His brutal murder of a fisherman and glimpses of further violent behaviour in the trailer for episode 2 show he could be a strong version of a character that has been hard for audiences to take seriously over the years due to prior versions being so comedic (excluding the wonderfully grotesque take on him from 1992’s Batman Returns). Making him a central figure in Gotham’s criminal underworld would be a fresh take and certainly a welcome one.

Oswald steals the show

Oswald steals the show

So a good start and once the business of establishing the characters is out of the way hopefully the early plot strands such as Harvey’s mob ties, Oswald’s rise to power and Gordon’s crusade to clean the police department up can bring the audience some rich drama.

Gotham is broadcast Monday nights at 9pm on Channel 5.

TWENTY MINUTES TO SAVE THE WORLD

How Power Rangers celebrated their 20th anniversary

The Super Megaforce Rangers

The Super Megaforce Rangers

Recently broadcast the season finale of Power Rangers Super Megaforce attempted to honour the legacy of what had gone before and wrap up the series long battle against an alien armada. With a running time of around twenty minutes this would be a tall order for any production team but luckily this episode would definitely have more hits than misses.

In the previous episodes the Rangers had halted all previous attempts by The Armada to conquer the earth and defeated the Prince who was commanding their forces. His destruction resulted in the arrival of his father, Emperor Mavro who unleashes a fierce bombardment which destroys the Rangers Megazord (their giant fighting robot) and leaves the city in ruins. The population warned that at dawn the aliens will return to finish them.

Emperor Mavro

Emperor Mavro

This series of Power Rangers has been very light in tone so this shift in drama for the final few episodes may come as a shock to some viewers but it really helps to sell how inept the Prince was and how powerful his newly arrived father the Emperor actually is. The last episode boldly opens with the Rangers laying defeated, their bodies injured, their clothes filthy and the city falling part around them. While they struggle to regroup the audience is treated to some familiar faces.

One of the selling points of the series has been the Rangers ability to morph into previous teams but it is only now that the legendary Rangers are seen to still be active in saving the world. Be it a man trapped under rubble, a little boy who has lost his dog or office workers trapped in an elevator they are all rescued by past heroes whose faces quickly change to their helmets and then back again. We know something special is coming but the programme makers tease us by holding things back. Long term fans can’t help but feel a shiver especially at the last legend to be revealed, Tommy Oliver is back and saves a kid from a car with help from his talking short sword Saba (though his weapon doesn’t have anything to say here unfortunately).

Tommy using Saba to rescue a child

Tommy using Saba to rescue a child

Dana Mitchell Pink Lightspeed Ranger

Dana Mitchell Pink Lightspeed Ranger

T.J. Johnson Blue Space Ranger

T.J. Johnson Blue Space Ranger

As dawn arrives the people of earth, forced to sleep amongst the ruined buildings are awoken by the morning sun and dare to hope that this new day might hold something better for them but these feeling of optimism are soon destroyed as the aliens descend with their robotic army and prepare to carry out their promise to destroy everyone. But if Power Rangers has taught us anything over the years its that no matter how massive the odds, heroes never give up. The team appear and begin to battle the huge enemy force.

Realising their only chance to win might be to take down the Emperor himself Troy (team leader) and Orion (an alien who became the Silver Ranger halfway through the series and has a score to settle with the Emperor for destroying his home world) ram raid the Emperor’s ship and in a superbly choreographed sequence finally take down the enemies leader.

Since its inception Power Rangers has relied on using action footage from the long running Japanese Super Sentai series and the blending of that and American footage has now become almost seamless so credit for the action must go to production teams in both countries. After their victory Troy and Orion return to earth but like all the best stories we know its not over yet!

A huge enemy force of ground troops march down the valley into the standard quarry location (seriously Sentai and Power Rangers series have more quarry action than fifty years worth of Doctor Who) and at long last they appear. Teams of past Rangers are everywhere and they march forward to greet the current incumbents. A select few unmask and front and centre is the most popular Ranger of all time. Tommy Oliver back in the Green Ranger outfit at last. Long term fans will feel a wave of nostalgia at the sight and younger viewers will be left with a lasting impression of how important all the former Rangers are. Special mention to the music here which is stirring and heroic.

Legendary Rangers

Legendary Rangers

FIGHT!!!!!!

FIGHT!!!!!!

The battle itself though turns out to be a bit of an anti climax. There is nothing wrong with the footage itself, the action is fast paced, hectic and dynamic. It’s just all over so quickly and half the legendary Rangers fail to get a money shot moment. After all the hype and build up throughout the series its a real let down especially when you consider how much footage they could have used from Super Sentai which featured the battle in several episodes and a feature length film. We can but hope for an extended edition on DVD. Being just twenty minutes long Power Rangers has always had to pack a lot in to an episode and unfortunately there is so much missing that it doesn’t feel like a satisfying viewing experience.

The battle done, the legends disappear and our heroes walk away. Troy leaves his sword stuck in the sand, they no longer need weapons as victory has been won. Jake and Gia share a moment of tenderness (he has been pining after her the whole series) and the Rangers walk off, into the sunset.