The Rise of DeathPorn on Cable TV
So I let myself stew a bit over the last episode [The Mountain and the Viper] of Game of Thrones (GoT). And before anyone starts prepping their retort to this little missive, let me just state the obvious: after 4 seasons I am fully aware that this show is about the rise to power and how many people it corrupts and kills along the way. I get it. You DON’T have to remind me.
But here’s the rub for me: I need a story where I can invest myself in the characters. As a writer I want the drama they bring to the story. Martin’s cavalcade of death and power amongst the most despicable kingdoms in his imaginary world is gritty, it’s horrid, it’s sensual, it’s grueling, it’s beguiling, and it’s nothing short of porn.
Exhibitionist DEATHPORN. On a scale that might even leave the ancient Roman’s gob smacked.
Case in point: FULL DISCLOSURE TIME: Admittedly I haven’t read one of the books. So I’ll cop to that right from the get-go. To be honest I’ve been too busy writing my own stories to have the time to invest in his world.
BUT having watched the four seasons of the TV show I have come to the realization that I have very little interest in the lives of the people who inhabit Martin’s visually compelling literary universe. From the adverts at the time it had two of my favorite character actors in the show: Mark Addy and Sean Bean. They had me hooked with just these two actors being attached to the project. Well, there was Jason Momoa too.
I was a Jason fan from his stint on Stargate: Atlantis a few years back. I also saw picts of this Kit Harrington guy and he sorta filled the bill as a sexy lead so yeah, I was all in. I was really into the season and contemplated reading the books. I read quite fast so it wasn’t a far cry for me to just jump into the fray and compare with the series what was happening on screen. But I yielded from getting into the books because I wanted to give the TV series a chance. TV and film can be so far off the mark from the original source work (see my previous rant about that whole myth that Hollywood perpetuates all under the guise of the ‘creative process’). I wanted to let GoT the TV series stand on its own. So I watched. I was intrigued. I was stymied – yeah I said stymied (more people should use this word more often – they walk around in that mode – completely stymied over how this modern world truly operates and yet, they seem to use the wrong word to describe it). So yeah, stymied at the small regard Martin seemed to have for his characters.
And believe me, I get pathos. As a writer, I got pathos coming out my ass. But here in is the rub of Martin’s work. While imaginative, bombastic and challenging as it may seem – ultimately what does it serve? Certainly not a character study – as you don’t have any of them around long enough to warrant a true evaluation of them. You get, at best, smatterings of their truer personae. And this ultimately is the singular gift Martin offers for his readers/viewers. Smatterings. Snippets of the fuller beings they could become. Now, again, I concede that I haven’t actually read the work (and I don’t think I will after last week episode – but I’ll come to that anon).
So Ned Stark and the King were my main focus for season one. Joffrey was a right shit so I lost complete interest in his being the villain. Don’t get me wrong, I really liked the actor’s portrayal – I had nothing against him. It was the vehemence of the character that got to me. It was one dimensional – cardboard – all that was missing was the handlebar mustache (admittedly that would’ve been hard for Jack Gleeson to pull that costume effect off – but it was there in spirit). I grew bored with him as the season one baddie.
Say nothing of writing Mark Addy (a brilliant character actor, btw) off so quickly. So I’d lost one of my beloved actors even before the first season had grown cold. A few eps later and Ned got the whack job of his life. So now I was out both of the reasons that I even started to watch the show. I contemplated leaving it at this point – except something altogether surprising happened: I sort of fell in love (as a writer/actor) with Arya and Bran Stark, and Jon Snow. So I hung in there for season 2.
Then we had some interesting gay characters spring up here and there – but already I noticed a trend: Gay characters were nothing more than a trifling to show Martin had any depth as a craftsman, but he quickly disposed of them. It seemed (to this gay writer at any rate) that they were nothing more than a marketing ploy. No real staying power. This is a HUGE negative in my book. Martin doesn’t get props for inclusiveness if he can’t bother to keep them around – cause here’s the nitty gritty about being gay Mr. Martin – we learn very quickly how to survive in a very hostile world. Far craftier than most straights would ever grant us credit for. But of course, they have nothing to compare it to. They don’t have to live their lives in denial until they have some relative ease with which to feel they can be themselves with friends and loved ones. So yeah, a life undercover tends to make one far more careful with their actions. So some of those deaths were nothing to advance the plot. They were porn.
And herein lies the crux of Martin’s world. I liken it to a weekly gladiatorial viewing by the TV viewing masses to see who else gets offed in a given episode.
And just to be clear – here is the complete run down of deaths of the major (and some minor) characters: I Googled it and found one site that had the body count of characters from the series at 208!
So, let’s review that little nugget: 208 character deaths in a series that has only had 4 seasons thus far. Perhaps only Walking Dead could boast a higher body count.
And let’s not toss in that tired line that: it’s a story about how power corrupts man. Yeah, got the memo on that one. But this takes it to the nth degree, doesn’t it? And ultimately to what end? To just see who makes it out alive? That’s what we’ve devolved into? Not about what makes the character’s tick? Not about the interpersonal nuances between them all? A writer writes stories hoping against the odds that their characters will be embraced by their intended audience. Well, Martin has effectively (for this reader/writer/actor) done an ample job of doing the opposite. I have lost all care for any of his characters (though I still have a small degree of it left for Arya, Bran and Jon).
But the rest? Nada.
You know what did it? What broke the proverbial camels back for me? Oberyn’s death.
I thought – “Wow, now we have a VERY interesting character to deal with. He was crafty, ballsy (in ALL the right ways) and didn’t give a shit about what the Lannisters thought about him. I was TOTALLY in his camp. I was loving this guy from top to bottom – and what a nice bottom he had too! He was all over the map in ways that none of the other trapped characters were. He was sensual, he was certainly pan-sexual, but more importantly he was unpredictable. A HUGE smattering of gray in a very grey world. But his grey was fucking neon gray – gray you couldn’t look away from.
And now it too is gone.
And I am not lamenting it because Pascall is one fuckalicious hottie of an actor (though it’d be a close second), no, ultimately it is the interesting things that Oberyn could’ve brought to the table in the long run. But not in Martin’s world. In that world the great takeaway is don’t invest yourself in any of them. It’s just not worth your efforts. You’ll reap no reward for the telling.
There’s nothing on display in GoT other than great art direction, some decent (if at times, over the top) acting, and brilliant costumes. The plot and delivery of the story – very one dimensional. A shock and awe that has long since worn off. So he can kill off characters – what this says to me is that he can’t make them last. He doesn’t know what to do with them all. So like a rotund Rumpelstiltskin he churns out character after character. If you lose one – well don’t worry, I’ve got eight more that I’ll throw your way only to hack them to bits too.
So that’s my takeaway. Martin can create but ultimately he doesn’t know what to do with them other than full on deathporn. Which is really the worst kind.
I am reminded of a question my cinematic idol, Alfred Hitchcock, once posed with Psycho – What happened if the audience was fooled into thinking Marion is the main character only to kill her off early in the film and reveal the true main character as her killer? An interesting perspective on things. With Martin he’s taken it to pornographic levels of death, blood and mayhem – but not to great end. Really it’s quite sad. I mean, sure he’s laughing all the way to the bank, but I just can’t go there any more.
At least with Spartacus, I knew what I was in for. I got that it was about gladiatorial death sequences and that any moment could be your last. But with GoT, the rollercoaster ride only has one bump, one twist and you see them coming a mile down the road. Even when it’s a surprise (as it was with Oberyn) it really isn’t. Martin’s done it all before. Only this time – I’m out.
I am not a deathporn fanatic. I want characters who we have to struggle with and against. None of Martin’s are worth it (with the exception of my trio). Even Daenyris has become a cardboard cut-out. A caricature of her once noble self. It’s a good thing Kahl Drogo got bumped off when he did. His wife has proven utterly boring at this point. A one-hit wonder – with dragons no less. The shock and awe and the carnage to come won’t keep me hanging on.
I wish there was more to hang my hat onto here. But ultimately on which hook do I hang it on? Which one can I trust? Some may say that that is the reason for watching the show. Yeah, not so for me.
Unlike Spartacus, which was admittedly just as gory, just as harsh, just as convoluted, at least you got some redemption for the investments you made into the characters. And the GAY COUPLE fucking lived to have their HEA (Happily Ever After)!! Fucking aces in my book! You NEVER see that in a action/adventure setting…
But with GoT? I just lost interest.
Game over… I’m out.
So given that the final season of True Blood is around the corner. I’ve been reminiscing about the difference between Charlaine Harris’ book series and the episodic version on our TV screens.
At first blush the main cast of characters seem to be front and center (with a few notable exceptions – that being Lafayette and the much more sub-dued Tara – arguably the TV series strongest and most interesting characters). This however is where we hit that proverbial argument (one of which I don’t always think is as valid as Hollyweird seems to make it): Books are different than TV/Film.
Yeah, the more I read, coupled with the fact that I have family that works in the film industry, I am not so sure of that as a creative premise at all. I think in most cases it is producers and directors wanting to make a splash on the shoulders of another author’s works. “Reimagining it for the masses over a different medium…” sort of thing.
It worked for the Harry Potter series, right? Eh, don’t get me started on that one… there were soooo many fucked up production decisions on that film iteration of the beloved books that I could spend an entire blog series just covering it all.
And when David Heyman offered only that as a children’s series they didn’t feel they could ever stretch the films out to encompass the smaller story elements in the books because children were going to struggle to sit still longer than the ‘line in the sand’ at 2 hours and 30+ minutes they’d alloted for each installment in the series. Say nothing of the fact that these were the same children who were happily sitting in the Lord of the Rings movies that toppled at 3.5 hours long with apparent ease. Or given the fact that as the movies wore on (and those little tykes grew up) they should (according to Heyman’s implied theory) be able to handle a longer film. My point being that it was nothing short of a financial cop out. The story and it’s telling suffered because of poor plot line choices. Steve Kloves (the screenplay writer) did his best to keep an even keel scriptwise with input from Rowling herself (often cluing him into elements that were important far before the rest of the world knew what was going on). But alas, it was the story plot lines and the production team involved that sort of ruined the magic of that series for me.
Okay, I’ll cop to the fact that I own every single one of them. They’re my granddaugther’s favorite movies and books. So those films hold a different form of sentimentality for me. She was only one when the first one came out – and she was riveted even at that tender age. If you got in the way of the TV she’d skreech and in her babushka (the reference my family had for her baby talk as she tended to sound like an old Russian woman) way telling you on no uncertain terms to: “get the FUCK outta the way man, I am watching my flick!”
I did like that they never lost sight of the whole blood business. Pure bloods vs. Muggles – yeah, so Third Reich in it’s reach and scope. I really liked that element in Rowling’s series.
Speaking of which – The Hobbit writers felt the NEED to insert a fucked up fake Elvish/Dwarf love thing? WHAT THE BLOODY FUCK? That singular addition to the tale fucking ruined the movies for me! You DON’T INSERT into literature you fucktards! You aren’t that bright to do so… something like that practically soured me on the whole fucking idea of movie options from novels.
Which brings me to the real analysis of this blog entry: True Blood.
In the books the world of Bon Temps and the fearsome but beloved Vamps are quite different. So different in fact, that the faeries play a larger role in the course of the series (and to set the record straight – I HATED the treatment of them by the writing staff of the HBO series – a mishmash of Disneyesque cum Burlesque twat-heads that I was only too happy to see them perish in the TV series. They were complete waste cases). But not in the books, the faeries are BAD ASSED. Even Eric Northman thinks twice about confronting them when Suki is in the hospital and her Faerie grandfather Niall is inbound. What the fuck happened to that element? Why toss your wad on these sappy faerie light versions of their fearsome counterparts in the books? I just didn’t get it.
And I get it, dear reader, that you may wonder why I even care. Well I do because it matters. It matters because I am a writer. Not to say that i have lofty ideals that my stories will ever equate to a property that would get sold to a film/TV company. I can dream but I am a realist as well in that department.
So yeah, if fucking matters big time that they get it right.
There is one element that is fairly spot on between the books and series – Alexander Skarsgard portrayal of Eric Northman. From the moment Alexander makes is appearance in the show I was all “YES! YES! YES!” and I am over the fucking moon that he’s a Nord actor. Go for the blood. It was brilliant bloody casting.
Now, with the exception of Ryan Kwanten, Nelsan Ellis, Rutina Wesley, and Kristen Bauer van Straten , the rest of the cast is questionable. Not that the other actors are bad at their jobs. That’s not it at all. The actors perform admirably to the tasks given to them. It’s the writing that has sucked as the seasons have worn on to the point where it barely resembles the premise it started out with. These are writers who’s good ideas went out with the bath water around the second season. Coincidently, around the same time that the TV series started to really divert from the plotlines that Charlaine had in the books. That wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. I mean, it didn’t have to be a bad thing. But unfortunately, it was.
The differences between the two worlds were really starting to show. One element completely dropped from Harris’ books that I really loved in the novels? Bubba – Elvis as a goofy dumbed down lovable vampire with a penchant for kittens. Now THAT I would have loved to have seen. Hell, they could’ve even cast Michael St. Gerard (from the old Elvis bio pic) in the role.
So the takeaway from the TB fiasco, as I’ve come to call it? Whenever someone says they want to put a ‘twist’ on it, ‘shake it up a bit’ on a successful premise, then that really means – hey, we want to substantiate why we’re having to hire screenwriting hacks to reinvent the wheel because, hell, we’re just too imagined out to come up with a truly great premise ourselves so we’d rather bastardize your shit rather than put in the real work ourselves.
I mean it is possible, you know. Need I say ORPHAN BLACK? Now there’s a series that was created from ground up. But of course, it’s Canadian. Damned Canucks (and I happen to love Canucks… brilliant bastards that they are). But if anything, they show how it can be done. Just like we novelists do – with grit, determination, a little mental-elbow grease and guess what IMAGINATION. Something sorely lacking in Hollyweird.
Sidebar: You know, I sorta have mixed feelings when I bash Hollywood with the ‘weird’ status. Mostly because for the most part I like their sense of equality when it comes to the gay community (in so far as it doesn’t extend (or rarely extends) to lead characters). But then they go completely off the rails with real imagination and creative bravado. They just seem to be apathetic to trying new things when it’s so much easier to option something in existence and ‘spin’ it, make our mark on it.
What the fuck-ever.
Author’s Note: This is a converted blog entry. It was originally published on 04.19.14 @ 11:16pm, US Pacific.
Okay, so I just finished watching ‘The Geography Club’ which is based on the novel of the same name by out-gay author Brent Hartinger.
The ‘Geography Club’ book cover as it was originally published.
First off, I love the books (even if one of them in the series was not my particular favorite – the plot seemed a bit contrived or too messagey for my tastes). Russell Middlebrook is a great GYA (no, I didn’t misspell that ) – gay young adult, character. The series virtually has no sexual scenes in it. It is more about Russell’s evolving ownership of who he is and what that means to him and to those he surrounds himself with.
I’ve reread the books several times. I love the tapestry that Mr. Hartinger brings to the table with his characters (both large and small) within this creative and entertaining world. Brent is a great storyteller with a fine and distinctive voice. It’s no wonder why the book(s) were optioned. It’s a great story to tell and in this modern age where we are taking up the no bully call, it’s a very timely message to get out there. When I heard they were making the movie of the first book I was thrilled.
Then I started to hear about the ‘creative choices’ that Hollyweird was beginning to make regarding the work.
So here’s the dealio with this – My daughter graduated Magna Cum Laude from SFSU film school. So you can best believe I was in the thick of it with her required movie shoots, her film projects (hell, I assisted in the editing process financially, physically and emotionally). I have well over forty years of being in theatre. I’ve worked on various film projects throughout those years as well. So when Hollywood (even an independent movie company) makes ‘creative choices’ that deviate from the core essence of the film as a reader and an audience member in that theater i feel nothing but disappointment with a light dusting of rage.
The production of Geography Club as a movie unit was cohesive and professional all the way. There was nothing amateurish about the project or the final product. The cast was great (even if they barely were passable as teens in high school – (why do casting directors insist on casting like 5 to 20 years beyond the actual age of where the characters are supposed to be??) I liked the cast as a whole – even if Alex Newell’s character didn’t really gel in this new ‘creative choice’ version of the Hartinger story. I knew it was a name the youngsters would recognize from his stint in Glee. I get that. Not that I agree with it, but I get it.
Sidebar casting note on the film: There was absolutely NO way that I was ever going to believe Alex’s character was even remotely 80/20. That actor only seems to have one note when it comes to acting (thus far) and it was rather tiring on Glee. To foist his girlish mannerisms and try to get the audience to accept that he remotely thinks of himself as 80/20 (straight/gay) would’ve worked better with an actor that could play the straighter part a bit more deftly.
In the books the sport was baseball. Why the producers went with football was beyond me. It just didn’t make any sense creatively. There’s nothing wrong with the macho image of baseball – so why the change up? Was one of the producers a fucking football fan? Great – keep it out of the movies you produce and go watch your fucking games on TV or in the stadium like the rest of us. The actor playing Kevin btw, couldn’t even respond like a quarterback would in a game. Did no one think to coach him? My hubby used to play for Clemson back in the day. And before that it was at Massillon back in Ohio – arguably the birthplace of modern football as we know it today. So while I am not the football fanatic fan here, the hubby is. When Justin Deely’s Kevin had the ball my hubby just rolled his eyes. Now for the other eye roll moment of the film? When the geeky bullied Bryan character – played beautifully by Teo Olivares, was soothing his battered soul by playing the cello in the band room while crying, the hubby rolled his eyes again (why? well, only because he used to study piano under Szell and his father was the assistant conductor and head of the brass section for Szell’s orchestra). We both have a grumble about how badly Hollywood misses the mark when an actor has to ‘play’ an instrument. Teo obviously was left to his own devices when figuring out how to play the scene. The only issue was he didn’t have the greatest coaching while doing it. That lack of direction broke the great drama going on with what was supposed to be conveyed in that scene.
But I am getting ahead of myself a bit. You see, when books get optioned into films the first thing the studios often tell an author is – ‘well, books aren’t movies, so there’ll be some creative choices we’ll have to make along the way.’ To which, if it were me, I’d say fine – either I am in and have to approve any changes to my world or deals off. And yes, I’d walk away from any money or implied prestige (and let’s be honest here, even if a book gets optioned there’s no guarantee it’ll be a hit) of having my work produced for film.
Way I figure it, you came to me because of the world I created. Because of the way I told a particular story. Therefore, let’s discuss this whole thing but keep it buried in the back of your little skull that it is my story – different medium I’ll grant you – but no different in its execution. That part is a lie. It is the greatest lie that Hollywood pushes to novelists who are caught up that ‘Hollywood’ called and wants to make a movie of your work. They are banking on the fact that a novelist knows nothing about movie industry. And they play upon that misconception to their advantage. Suddenly the screenwriter swoops in with the producers and begin with their machete’s whacking away at the world they ‘supposedly fell in love with.’
Not that I think that my stuff will get turned into a film – unless of course, my daughter decides to do something with one of my books and is successful in raising the cash to do so. Then we’ll talk. But then again, I’ve got the Daddy card to play as well.
In the end my feelings about Geography Club were mixed. I was happy that it was made. But the screenplay was TERRIBLE. OMG, it was fucking flat as all fuck. The actors did the best with what they were given but the screenplay carried none of the weight in the light humor or the darker pathos. It was just flatlined right out of the gate. I watched it with my granddaughter. In the end she said it was an okay movie but was more interested in what I told her the books were about and how they panned out and where the movie deviate and went horribly wrong. So at least she’s interested in reading Hartinger’s series, so that’s a plus. But I was saddened that it never made it’s money back so they’ll be no other Middlebrook movies down the road. The series was a brilliant one to choose in this time of the anti-bully movement that is solidly taking root in America. Because of the mismanagement and seriously misaligned creative choices (really, that term alone should equate ‘cancer’ to a novelist’s world – I am telling you know.) And don’t think that audience members don’t already know this. I have NEVER heard a viewer say – ‘gee, that was BETTER than the book…’ You never really hear that… But the reverse is often true.
And don’t get me started on the Harry Potter series – or I’ll be writing about that travesty until the cows literally come home.
I am beyond sad that the Middlebrook blew it’s wad on this production. The ‘creative choices’ just flat out sucked. It’s not even my world, but dammit, it was a world I loved nonetheless. I hold the director and producers completely accountable for the product that arrived flatlined before it even had a chance to take its first breath.
So grab a fucking clue Hollyweird. If you can’t write the good shit, then stop crapping on those that do actually write them. Do them justice rather than try to come in at the last minute and trash up some novelists world just cause you think you can. (**cough** “Mortal Instruments, much? **cough**)
Another gay series has been optioned for production. Jay Bell’s brilliant Season’s series. If I love Hartingers books, I fucking am obsessed with Bell’s series. Now the worry sets in. The film site is up – Something Like Summer . And if Hartinger’s work was any indication, I am seriously worried about Bell’s foray into film. The site looks good. The word from Bell is encouraging. I just hope they do the author and his world justice this time around.
We’ll see, though, don’t expect me to hold my breath about it (even if I do cross my fingers and toes on it).