A Question of Aspect

Sometime around 1987, Siskel and Ebert did a special about home video, and one of the topics discussed was letterboxing versus pan and scan. At the time, I was unfamiliar with those terms, but I had noticed that when I saw a film on television, it looked very different from how it was shown in the theatre. Both terms are a common part of the lexicon today, thanks in some part to the interstitial that appears on TCM from time to time. An oversimplification of the difference is to say that letterboxed films have horizontal bars that appear at the top and bottom of the TV screen, which some of you find annoying, but it means you are not being cheated, in actuality, you are viewing the movie as the filmmakers intended. It’s pan and scan that’s annoying, and keeps you from seeing the entire picture.

Got it?

In the Eighties and Nineties, millions of VHS cassettes were sold in the pan and scan format. This was due in part to the studios assumption that since the public had seen older films on TV this way for decades, they were the only versions they knew. That, and they didn’t think there was a market for letterboxed versions, except for maybe on laserdisc, which at the time was the prefered viewing method of the cinephile with a large bank account. That, and the willingness to flip the disc over, and/or change discs at regular intervals, as with a long playing record.

A lot of videotapes weren’t labeled “pan and scan,” and if they were, it was in tiny type on the back of the box. Besides, who bothered to look? At some point, many films were released in both formats, so I had to carefully read the box before leaving the store. Sometimes I was in a hurry and didn’t. That was no fun.

When the “special” edition of the Star Wars Trilogy was released, 20th Century Fox made it easy for consumers by putting the pan and scan version, now called “full screen,” in gold colored packaging, and the letterboxed version in platinum. Well, I say “platinum,” but it was closer to silver or chrome. I used the word “platinum” because it seems to carry more prestige than silver, which usually denotes “second place.”

I was in Walmart not long after the release, and was pleasantly surprised to see that the widescreen version was nearly sold out, while there were still a large number of fullscreen cassettes in the display. It almost restored my faith in humanity.

When widescreen TVs became the norm, some studios formatted films on DVD to fill the entire screen, thus eliminating the black bars. This was a good thing, since it utilized the full capabilities of the television. Yet, sometimes my subconscious would act up while watching a film. It would make me think I was watching a lousy full screen version. My subconscious is often unhelpful and untrustworthy.

In some cases, more is not always better. Fox recently reissued Buffy the Vampire Slayer in the high definition widescreen format. It can be seen on Pivot, for those of you with access to it. This new version of Buffy has issues, to say the least. Let’s just say that vampires shouldn’t be seen in broad daylight, and crew members should never be seen in shot.

I recently purchased the BBC version of the House of Cards trilogy on blu-ray, and it has vertical bars on the sides; that way it maintains the 4:3 aspect ratio of old school TVs. Yes, it was a bit offputting… For about a minute. After that, I was so engrossed in the story, I didn’t notice.

So… Is Krypton the Prequel to Smallville?

Almost fifteen months ago, I asked the question: “Is Gotham the best bad idea Warner Bros. could think of?” With hindsight comes clarity, and if I had to do it all over again, I would make one major change to that post. What would that change be? I would change the part where I called Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. a “… Great new TV series.” In my defense, I had only watched one episode.

Gotham is taking a mid-season break, and so far I think it’s pretty good. It was recently picked up for a full season, so it must be doing well. I wish that Gotham would have the same number of episodes per season as The Following, which I think is fifteen. I like that idea, and more series should follow that template. But that’s another story.

I don’t know if it’s coincidence or a full blown pattern, but the first seasons of many Fox series have a similar plot development, that quite frankly, gets on my nerves. There was always someone in power trying to stop Mulder and Scully investigation into the X-Files, and a few times they succeded… For a little while. Chi McBride’s character on House was a hospital board member who wanted to shut down the Department of Diagnostic Medicine. And then there was Fringe. The mid-season finale of Gotham saw Detective Jim Gordon transfered from Gotham P.D. to Arkham Asylum. The big difference with Gordon is we know that at some point he becomes Comissioner of Police. I guess it’s all about the journey.

I say that to say this: What exactly is the plot of Krypton? Or, should I say point? According to reports, the story will revolve around Jor-El’s father and whatever it was he was doing prior to the events that caused Krypton to go boom.

Am I the only one that thinks this sounds a bit familiar? I am thinking about Caprica, which was the prequel to Battlestar Galactica. I never watched Caprica, because at the time, I hadn’t seen BSG. It’s a long story about a crappy cable company dropping SyFy, which at the time was still called SciFi, not long after the BSG miniseries aired, which I saw, and bringing it back just prior to the premier of Caprica. Blurgh.

From what I have read online, (I really shoud know better) Caprica was either a sci-fi soap opera, or a soap opera set in the world of science fiction. Either way, it never really found an audience. Some say it failed due to fan response to the Battlestar Galactica finale. Another theory is that SyFy botched the promotion and scheduling. Maybe it was a bit of both.

One thing I am not a fan of is splitting a season into multiple parts. I understand the thinking of doing it with series that starts in the fall, and have twenty-two or more episodes, but not when you have less than that. I hated when Doctor Who did it, and I am barely putting up with it when it comes to The Walking Dead.

Don’t get me started on Mad Men.

I guess it all comes down to the question I asked in the headline. Smallville was basically “Superman Begins,” and it lasted ten seasons, and everyone knew how it was going to end. Krypton could work, but can the show make us care. And more importantly: Can it make us tune in?

Hollywood is Full of Hacks part 3: Reading Dirty

I got so upset in my last post, that I lost the ability to count. So the final post, more on that in a bit, is labeled part 3. Yeah, I suck.

This may not actually be the final installment in the series. (Please refer to the last sentence in the previous paragraph.) Apparently, those responsible for the Sony hack are planning a “Christmas surprise.” I don’t know what it could be, but fingers crossed, I will find a Sony Vaio laptop with a built in blu-ray player under the tree. Mainly because that would mean that they also brought a tree.

Yep, still sucking.

Maybe they should bring me a childrens guide to counting. That would probably be helpful.

Part of me feels more than a bit wrong for reading the Sony emails. I know, I know–all the cool kids are doing it. But does that make it right? Just because it’s on the Internet, it doesn’t mean I have to click on it. You know, like the comments button. That’s like the Mos Eisley cantina of the Internet.

It wasn’t that long ago that many of the same websites that posted the hacked emails, or links to them, were chastising those who posted pictures stolen in the so-called “Fappening.” Worst. Scandal name. Ever. At least it wasn’t “Fapgate.”

I swear, if I ever get ahold of a time machine, I’m going back to the early Seventies and telling the Democrats to stay at the Hilton.

I will give some people a lot of credit. When the celebrity nudes hit the web, they didn’t blame the victims. I hate this “blame the victim” mentality that so many people have. It’s one of the few things I learned about in school, along with forgery, and a few other felonious crimes. Oh, and how to take a test.

To be fair, I am not the only one to think that there is something a bit wrong about perusing someone elses emails. In researching this piece, (Yeah I do research . . . Sometimes) I found a Chicago Tribune article that expressed similar reservations, and asked some of the same questions. The answer the Trib writer came up with was, “… If the Sony hack was ‘wrong,’ the leak of celebrity nudes was more wrong.” I will give the writer credit, they went on to say that it “… Seems like a dangerous bit of moral relativism.” Ya think? What I think the writer is trying to say is, “When it comes to hacking, there are Whitehats, Blackhats, and Greyhats.”

Hollywood is Full of Hacks part 4: Bad, Just Bad

Among all the stuff that was found on the computers at Sony Pictures was a version of the script for the next James Bond film: SPECTRE. I didn’t read the script; like I have the time. But I did read an overview. Don’t worry, I am NOT going to spoil it for you, but I am going to dance around things, speak in generalities, and explain what’s wrong without telling you what’s wrong.

Basically, it’s like all my other posts.

The general concensus amongst those in the know at Sony Pictures (giggle) is that the third act of SPECTRE, for the lack of a better term, sucks donkey. As legendary filmmaker Billy Wilder once told Cameron Crowe, “If you have a problem with the third act, the real problem is in the first act.” There is a reason why Wilder is considered a genius, and much of it lies in this quote. More people in Hollywood should heed his advice. Not only that, they should stop thinking that the three act structure is the only way to tell a story. But that’s another post for another day.

Does SPECTRE have a first act problem? Yep. I simply do not buy into a certain part of the premise. Another part I love, and think is quite clever. Admitedly, this may not be the actual final draft, so who knows? They may remove the part I like.

There is also a… How do I put this? A (REDACTED) that happens, and I am calling b.s. on it. I know that the series was rebooted with Casino Royale, and everything is a blank slate, but why?! Some of you may be wondering if what I am refering to has anything to do with a certain something that was mentioned in the novel Carte Blanche, written by Jeffery Deaver, which was a reboot of the novels. No, this is not that.

Yeah. That last paragraph got away from me.

I am trying to keep my temper under control. I even let my first draft sit overnight in hope that I would just calm the fuck down, or that it would turn out to be a bad dream, or that I would magically become a decent writer, but no. I apologize for the language, but the Bond series brings out the passion in me–for better or worse. I was a Bond fan before Star Wars came along; I’m old. Both film series mean a lot to me, and when I feel they are being done wrong by, it pisses me off.

Why do some people feel the need to add superfluous plot points to stories? The same could be said about blog posts, but enough about me. When properties have been around as long as the Bond films and novels, at some point they are taken over by long time fans. On the one hand, this can be a good thing, such as with Doctor Who, (yeah, I know) and hopefully the next series of Star Wars films. But sometimes the results are nothing more than bad fan-fiction. Sometimes writers play the “What if?” game, or say things like, “Wouldn’t it be cool if ______?” in much the same way they did on the playground as children. That’s how an idea like a 21 Jump Street/Men in Black crossover comes about.

That or copious amounts of Class A narcotics.

Hollywood is Full of Hacks part 2: And you thought The Newsroom had unbelievable dialogue

Usually, we have to wait for the tell all book or a documentary to get the scoop on the behind the scenes drama that surrounds the making of a movie. If not for the hacker(s) who infiltrated Sony’s email account, it is possible that the public would have never known the details of their failure to get the Steve Jobs movie made, and its subsequent move to Universal.

Can you imagine if email had been a thing back in the day? I would love to read the correspondence between the studio and Erich von Stroheim during the filming of Greed. I would like to know Francis Ford Coppola’s uncensored thoughts while making Apocalypse Now. Imagine the internal emails circulating about the how Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate was hemorrhaging money.

The screenplay for the Steve Jobs film was written by Aaron Sorkin, and David Fincher was all set to direct, but much like most of the plans I make, it fell apart like Jenga blocks in a wind tunnel. One would think a reteaming of Sorkin and Fincher would be a no brainer, since The Social Network was a success on multiple levels. But much like a person who drinks the water in Mexico, Sony was unable to keep their crap together.

On a purely selfish note, I would like to know if Sony and MGM are ever going to make the final two films in the Millennium Trilogy. I think I know the answer; I would like to have it comfirmed though.

At various points, Leonardo DiCaprio and Christian Bale were in the running to play the part of Steve Jobs. In the case of DiCaprio, groveling was involved, and virgins may have been sacrificed. Tom Cruise was courted as well, and I do not even want to know what kind ceremonies were brought forth. Unless of course they were like the ones in Eyes Wide Shut, in which case: Tell me more.

Then Michael Fassbender was mooted as a possibility. In an email to Sony Pictures co-chair Amy Pascal, Aaron Sorkin wrote, and I quote: “I don’t know who Michael Fassbender is, and the rest of the world isn’t going to care.” Ouch.

Of course, Jesse Eisenberg was a household name prior to The Social Network, and Armie Hammer’s oeuvre ranks right up there with Justin Timberlake’s. If you have read the emails from the time The Social Network was in the casting process, you will know that Sorkin specifically requested that Andrew Garfield play the part of Eduardo Saverin, because Sorkin is a huge Doctor Who fan, and his favorite story is “Daleks in Manhattan/Evolution of the Daleks.”

No, not really. “Daleks in Manhattan/Evolution of the Daleks” is no one’s favorite Doctor Who story, but Andrew Garfield was excellent. He also makes an excellent Spider-Man, or should I say made? If the reports I read this morning are accurate, Garfield may have been given the sack. If so, it’s a damn shame, since any failure of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 had nothing to do with him.

There was a series of emails between Scott Rudin, the producer of the Steve Jobs film, and Sony Pictures co-chair Amy Pascal, about the availability of David Fincher to direct. Pascal stated that Angelina Jolie wanted Fincher to direct her film about Cleopatra. Doesn’t anyone recall the 1963 Cleopatra film starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton? If I am not mistaken, it lost 20th Century Fox a boatload of cash.

Needless to say, Rudin was less than pleased about this. His response to Pascal was to call Jolie a “spoiled brat with a rampaging ego.” Oof. While Scott Rudin is rumored to be the inspiration for the Les Grossman character in Tropic Thunder, he’s not a nobody–he’s an EGOT. And one must remember that without a Tony award, Rudin would be just an EGO.

Hollywood is Full of Hacks part 1: Spider-Man and the Interwebs

Did we really learn anything from the Sony email hack? We’ve known for years that Sony Pictures is a dysfunctional entity that keeps repeating mistakes, and fails to capitalize on their assets. The sad truth is you could hack the email account of any corporation, regardless of size, and find similar accusations of harassment, of people with fewer qualifications being promoted over someone with far more experience, charges of racial of gender bias, etc. If you haven’t seen these instances in your workplace, you probably know someone who has. Oh the stories I cannot tell.

One of the first things to be examined when the emails and documents hit the web was: What the hell is going on with the Spider-Man franchise? In my opinion, The Amazing Spider-Man was a very good film, and I liked the second one as well. I know I am in the minority. I also know that TASM 2 has flaws; I’m not totally blind.

While The Amazing Spider-Man 2 made money for Sony, it didn’t perform up to expectations. Of the four comic book films released this year, TASM 2 is the fourth best/worst of the lot. I am not including Big Hero 6 in this discussion for various reasons.

James Horner, who composed the score for The Amazing Spider-Man, didn’t return for the sequel because he felt it was a bit of a mess, and that the studio and producers overwhelmed director Marc Webb with notes and changes. It’s no secret that Shailene Woodley was cast as Mary Jane Watson, and filmed scenes that were eventually cut. There is a deleted scene on the blu-ray version of TASM 2 that shows Peter Parker reuniting with his presumed dead father. WTF? Sony even used this scene to market the blu-ray. That’s kind of sad.

I have no idea why these scenes were cut. Okay, the one with Peter’s father I can understand. As far as anyone can tell, the part of Mary Jane will be recast for part three… Maybe. That is if there is a third film. It is scheduled for 2018, but a lot can happen between now and then.

Sony wants to build a “Spider-Man shared universe” similar to the one Marvel Studios has, and DC/Warner Bros. is in the process of building. My question is this: How do you build a shared universe around one single solitary character? Apparently, the answer is by making a film about the villains. One of the main criticisms of TASM 2 was that it spent too much energy setting up the Sinister Six, and not enough on the film at hand. The same was said about Iron Man 2, but in that case Marvel was building toward a movie everyone wanted to see–Avengers.

I hear some of you saying, “How is Sinister Six any different from what DC is doing with Suicide Squad?” Yes, that is a very valid question, so I will answer it by saying this: My God have you seen the cast Warner Bros. has put together for Suicide Squad? And besides, who isn’t excited about finally seeing Harley Quinn in a live-action film, especially since she is going to be portrayed by Margot Robbie? Show of hands?

I am not saying that I think Sinister Six is going to be a bad movie, and I am not praying for its failure. I hope it turns out to be a rousing success, both financially and critically. I am not one who hopes for the failure of others. In most cases, if you leave well enough alone, they will fail all by themselves.

Sons of Anarchy “Papa’s Goods”

As with most of my predictions, I got the Sons of Anarchy finale totally wrong. I don’t even know why I bother sometimes. My theory is that if I can predict what is going to happen, then it isn’t a very good story. If I can’t predict the ending, then it must be pretty good. That, or I got bored and checked out.

A few years ago, I had the idea that Unser would be the last man standing. And by “standing” I mean over a frak-ton of dead bodies. But of course Jax shot Unser in the penultimate episode. I had to cancel my plans to go to Vegas to bet on the finale, since I was all out of ideas.

I felt bad for Unser. Poor guy was used, abused, and carried a torch for Gemma. And what did he get for his troubles? A bullet; that’s what. But he did beat cancer.

I knew that Jax wouldn’t get a happy ending, and that was proven to be correct when Gemma killed Tara last season. I also knew that Jax and Wendy wouldn’t get back together, but they did make the beast with two backs together. Good for them. Hopefully Wendy will turn out to be a good mom, but she has her hands full with Abel. I have a feeling he’s going to be trouble.

After Jax killed Jury, I knew that he would have to meet Mr. Mayhem. Okay, after Jax came up with his plan, I thought he would get away… For a second. Then I thought the patrolman would shoot him. Then came the re-creation of the OJ chase. Minus Al Cowlings and CNN.

Then I saw the truck… And so did Jax. When I saw “Papa’s Goods” printed on the side of the trailer, I knew exactly how this was going to end. It was the only way it could end. In the end, we are all our fathers sons.

Some of us more than others.