Sunday, January 25, 2009

Rooms Mean Buildings

I guess still on the nostalgia kick, I watched Back to the Future last night. Back to the Future was a solidly ingrained part of my high school experience because there was a copy of it in permanent residence in the school VCR that got passed from room to room. It was great when a teacher tried to tie the movie into the class subject somehow. One can kind of see flimsy, logical justifications for it being shown in Science, History, or English classes.

Anyway, along with Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, it remains Robert Zemeckis' best work, and I think it's no coincidence Steven Spielberg produced both movies. There were so many moments in the movie last night that felt more like Spielberg than Zemeckis, mostly in the use of close-ups, but also in the narrative structure, which may also simply have been a result of most every major action or adventure film in the 80s having been influenced by Spielberg and Lucas.

But it really works in this case, particularly one device which I've always liked that devotes a large portion of the beginning of the film to developing the characters and world by putting them through a story somewhat separate from the main plot, but which subtly introduces bits that are echoed later for great payoffs. Gremlins, another movie produced by Spielberg at around the same time, is closest to Back to the Future's use of this device, in which familiar people and places are established in the preliminary act, only to reappear in a sort of parodied or deranged form after the dramatic, strange event that sets the protagonist's principle conflicts in motion. This serves Spielberg's persistent desire to make use of every moment of film for entertainment purposes, it helps enrich the setting, and it also provides a bit of smoke and mirrors--to distract you from the hero's main conflict so that when something else develops based on his own already established character, its both surprising and credible. Sometimes I think that's the key to good storytelling--finding the balance between surprising and credible.

I'm now four episodes into Battlestar Galactica's second season. I don't think there's anything remotely wrong with the use of the world and characters as a metaphor for the Bush administration and modern Islamic terrorism. But I can't get excited about it for some reason. Well, I've never particularly liked allegory. But it's not like the makers of the show are doing anything wrong--I like how the colonel isn't entirely unlikeable even as he's a complete irresponsible blowhard.

I think what I don't like about Roslin is that I feel like she's supposed to be completely likeable. Every other character feels like he or she was designed to be fallible. Roslin seems like nothing she does is meant to be a mistake, even when she does crazy bullshit. I was sort of glad that her aide, Billy, couldn't get behind it.

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