General Nerdery: Syfy and More

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A few years back, I got into a heated debate over the future of the Syfy Channel.

Of course, it was still SciFi then, and methinks fans like me still believed the network had a legitimate chance “to be” something greater than what it was. We Geeks are like that – we’re always seeing something better, something grander – and I think it has to do with how our brains are wet-wired around that whole What If? conceit.

Anyway, the long and the short of the point I’d been making pretty much came down whether or not Syfy’s Saturday Night Movies ever had a chance of getting better than a million-and-a-half viewers. I insisted that they could but if and only if Syfy demanded smarter writing and performances of its contributors.

See, I long ago accepted the reality that the channel wanted these weekend stinkers to be as schlocky as a concept and title like Sharknado sounds. As much as it pains me to say this, there’s nothing wrong with putting sci-fi and schlock together. That combination fueled so many of the cheap but passably entertaining flicks of the 1950’s, 60’s, and early 70’s. No, these weren’t great films, but for all intents and purposes they worked well enough to explore and exploit their premises. And the writing and acting were hammy enough to pull it all together.

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Robert Rodriguez’s contribution to Quentin Tarantino’s bloated cinema experiment in Grindhouse (2007) is exactly what I’m talking about. Planet Terror is a delight, serving up a high camp exploitation of government conspiracies gone awry leading to an all-new Apocalypse thanks to the release of some dastardly bio-weapon. The picture is liberally sprinkled with sci-fi-type magic not unlike those films of old; Rodriguez’s script unloads every hard-boiled cliché with perfect timing; and everyone involved looks committed enough to make it perfectly sane (or, at least, sellably so).

Granted, Syfy’s usual Saturday Night Disaster couldn’t afford Bruce Willis in fatigues, but you’re telling me Eric Roberts couldn’t muster enough suitable menace if the price were right? Heck, I’ll bet you could even still get Planet Terror’s Freddy Rodriguez for a respectable sum, and there’s nothing wrong with casting former 80’s pop stars for female leads because their inability to act could be a plus! You’re playing right to their hidden strengths!

Look, I’m no executive. Nor do I play one on TV. I’m just an average schlep who sits at a PC for a few hours every day cranking out sentences, ideas, and paragraphs about whatever curiosity stirs his mortal soul. I’m sure the nuances behind marshaling the creative forces of network television are vast and incalculable. I’ve no doubt the tasks behind mounting a TV production are Herculean in nature because of that old adage: “if it were easy, everyone would do it.”

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But somewhere between the Farscapes, the Eurekas, and the Warehouse 13s there’s definitely a market and an audience for something called Sharknado if (and only if) Sharknado’s heart is in the right place. Granted, Pandavalanche might be pushing one’s luck. Shihtzunami is probably more than a walk around the park. Manmade Primate Change would naturally get too political. Tigurricane is facing ridiculous post-production difficulties. But Sharknado?

That has a chance to be something special.

For Your DVD Players This Weekend

I watch a lot of foreign films, and I do mean a lot.

One of my side gigs is penning reviews over at Amazon, and, as a Top 1,000 reviewer, I do get a lot of requests from media distributors and the like. So if you don’t mind subtitles and you have access to a terrific DVD rental store in your immediate area, I’ve two suggestions for you this weekend (as late summer theatrical releases tend to get pretty tiring and fairly predictable). Plus, there’s never anything wrong with trying to ‘class the place up a bit’ with something non-American, is there?

The first is an unmitigated disaster. Seriously.

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2012’s The Tower is the kind of film Hollywood made during the 70’s when things like Earthquake, Meteor, and When Time Ran Out were en vogue. After all, who doesn’t love a good Apocalypse? It’s Christmas Eve inside Seoul’s twin tower high-rises, and all 108 stories are celebrating. A freak helicopter crash traps the workers and residents about sixty floors up, and The Tower unloads with one treacherous set piece after another.

Not for you? You say you’d rather have your heart warmed than have it beating in your stomach?

Then, I’d offer up Kang Woo-suk’s inspirational Glove (2011) for your consideration.

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Jae-yeong Jeong stars as a down-on-his-luck Korean major league player who – in order to avoid greater public disgrace – is forced into coaching a misfit, high school baseball team for the hearing impaired. Glove has everything you’d expect from a traditional sports film – inspired speeches about teamwork, excellent cinematography, a rousing musical score – but knowing this one is based on a true story gives the story a few extra innings to play with.

Last, But Not Least

Superman fans have had a lot to crow about this summer – a blockbuster movie with Man of Steel and a new comics’ title in Superman Unchained. If ever there were a summer to believe a man could fly, this is it.

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I just finished Glen Weldon’s pretty stellar Superman: The Unauthorized Biography, and I thought I’d give it a plug (read it after you’ve read our very own Paul Tassi’s newest The Exiled Earthborn, of course). Weldon serves up a massive history lesson, recounting Superman’s introduction into our collective consciousness all the way up the release of the summer blockbuster – as the book only came out recently, it doesn’t cover Man of Steel, except to mention its existence. There’s plenty in there to get excited about, and even better that you don’t need X-ray vision to enjoy Weldon’s good-hearted prose.


  • Indy Zoeller

    “Glove” sounds like a movie I’d really enjoy – I love baseball movies, and there so few truly good ones. How hard is it going to be to find? I mean it sounds like you’d have to go to an actual, brick-and-mortar video rental store, which in this day and age sounds as hard and archaic the Lewis and Clark expedition.

  • A little schlock with your sci-fi can be cool, but SciFi (still not using the “nu metal” spelling. Sorry) has made itself a joke by offering us little else. And most of it isn’t even enjoyable schlock so much as it’s dull sub-Uwe Boll garbage. Comedy Central had to bring back Futurama, and they could’ve saved any number of great network shows, but they’ve decided to support crap instead.

    They do have a few shows I like like Lost Girl, Defiance, and even the Being Human remake, but that’s an impressive collection seeing that the only original shows I’d watched the decade previous were BSG and Caprica. I just wish they’d air classic sci-fi films like The Day the Earth Stood Still or Soylent Green instead of Asylum’s garbage. They’d definitely get more viewership from me.

  • E. Lee Zimmerman

    @Indy: yeah, you’re gonna need a brick ‘n mortar store, for all I can tell you, if you wanna score GLOVE. I checked Amazon.com, and it isn’t streaming there. Don’t know about Netflix as I’m not a member. Best of luck, though. It’s a great flick.

    @Nick: I understand the concern, I do. However, the latest news http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/live-feed/dominion-lands-pilot-order-as-594090 indicates that Syfy is broadening its original programming slate, and I’ll always give something new a shot. I lasted four episodes into DEFIANCE before I tuned it out; and I gave LOST GIRL a few, too. CONTINUUM, I only took in the pilot, and it wasn’t for me. I do agree that I’d love a Friday or Saturday night showing of something like the original DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL or SOYLENT GREEN spaced out with celebrity interviews and/or some kind of additional info, but I’d guess you and I are the rare exception in that regard.

  • Tyler

    What about the old days of Stargate? I was young but I also remember a show called Sliders that had a pretty awesome concept. There was once a time, long ago, I would stop by the SciFi channel just to see if they had anything on, now I cringe when I see the commercials. After seeing the movie where the Nazis genetically engineered a 100 foot monster that looked like it had the budget of 10 dollars I finally gave up hope. V would also be something good they can show though, definitely a classic, and I feel like with the tech today they can do a good remake if they haven’t already.