Thursday, March 30, 2006

"Lost" Connections

Everything on Lost seems to be connected. In last night's episode, we see Locke inspecting a house for Sayid's missing girlfriend. We also find out that his father is a con man.

Now - think about con men. Sawyer is one and has spent much of his life looking for the con man who caused his parents' death. What are the chances that Locke's father isn't that con man?

Various spoilers:

It is no surprise that Gale isn't really Gale. He acted too suspicious. Why make Locke and Anna Lucia swear to protect him no matter what unless he knew that he might be discovered? They threw us a curve ball by showing us the balloon before he asked for this promise but it was still a telling request.

A few episodes back (with all the reruns, I forget how many), Sawyer conned Jack and the others. This week, Jack repaid him. Jack knew that when he gave Hurley advice on playing poker, Sawyer would take it as a challenge. Jack pulled the same trick later, forcing Sawyer to bluff rather than fold in front of an audience.

Jack is the leader who no one follows. Hurley complained about not being in the loop but jack is right - there is no loop. None of the principals follow him. They do what they think is best. Sometimes it is the same as what Jack wants but often it is not. This includes big things like moving off of the beach (what ever happened to the settlement at the water hole?) when Kate and Sayid refused.

Jack is also an untrustworthy leader. He breaks his word. He did it to Kate when he took the dynomite and to Locke when he promised not to open the weapons locker without consulting Locke.

This is the second or third time Kate made it clear that she was available and Jack turned her down. She was clearly impressed by the poker game. She fluffed her hair and started to follow Jack to the bunker "for a shower". A lot more was implied. Jack poured some cold (muddy) water on this and offered to escort her back to camp, instead. Jack probably didn't want her near Gale.

Back when they first found the water hole, Kate asked if Jack was checking her out. Had he said yes - who knows. Instead he showed that he wasn't even thinking of her.

Answered questions:
The bunker was running out of food. Now we know how it was resupplied.

Unanswered questions:

Sawyer asked Jack why he didn't play for the guns? Jack said that when he needed the guns he would have them. Does he mean that he is sure he can manipulate Sawyer or that when he needs the guns it will be so obvious that Sawyer agrees?

What triggered the "event" in the bunker? At first it seemed like something was shorting out but there was a lot more to it including the hidden map on the blast door. Since the PC showed a command prompt first, this probably triggered it. Did "Gale" do something to start this? Did Michael or one of the others start it from a different bunker? Is it part of a timed routine to test the people on duty in the bunker? We still don't know if the button does anything or if it is a test to see how long someone will push it on faith. Is it is a test, then the whole lock-down could be a different test.

A lot of other bunkers showed up on the map. We already know of three, two of them abandoned. How many are there? They seemed to be in a circular pattern.

That balloon was not big enough to cross the Pacific. doing that takes a gondola the size of a garage and a huge balloon to lift it. Was the balloon they found part of a re-supply drop? And where did the real Henry Gale come from?

Finally, We know that Hurley was institutionalized but we don't know why. From the preview, it looks like he is going to have a relapse.

Monday, March 27, 2006

New Costumes

Recently Spider-Man got a new costume. He is now a part of the Avengers and is living in their tower along with his wife and Aunt May. Tony Stark took a special interest in Peter and, when his supply of spare costumes ran out, made him a new one. The new one is red and gold (like Stark's Iron Man's armor) with scanners and armor. It even lets spidy glide for short distances.

Depending on how you count it, this is Spidy's third or fourth costume. His original costume is rather striking. It is unusual in a few ways. The back is completely different from the front. Where the front has a small black spider on red, the back had a large red spider on blue. The sleeves have red stripes along the top with webbing and he is not wearing trunks. All if the full-head mask and the under-arm webs and you have a very striking costume.

Every so often Jack Kirby's heirs revive Kirby's claim that he created Spider-Man instead of Lee and Ditko. The costume, all by itself, refutes this claim. Kirby's costumes were usually simple and either left the character's head uncovered or had a simple helmet or mask. What's more, Kirby's characters almost always had trunks, even the Silver Surfer. As the Watcher's gown grew shorter, you could see some trunks peaking out from under.

Anyway, with the exception of the under-arm webbing which most artists didn't want to draw, Spider-Man's costume stayed unchanged until the Secret Wars cross-over. This was comic's first big cross-over event and every character or group came back different in some way (or had a major change while Secret Wars was going on). In Spider-Man's case, he came back with a black and white costume (different from the one from the Spider-Man 3 still).

Of course, this turned out to be a symbiont who eventually became Venom so that didn't work out well for Peter. It worked out great for sales, though. Venom was very popular.

During the period between Peter separating from the symbiont but him returning as Venom, Peter alternated costumes between the old red and blue and a cloth version of the black and white. Once Venom made his appearance, it was back to the original suit for good.

During the clone wars, Peter lost his powers and retired. His replacement started out as a new hero, the Scarlet Spider, but switched to Spider-Man fairly quickly. His suit was based on the original but given a slightly edgier look. It also was front/back symmetric.

So, how long will the new costume last? I'm betting it will not be long, mainly because of the marketing that went into the old costume.

Not that other Marvel heros haven't changed costumes. Iron Man has gone through three major changes and lots of minor ones. His original suit was clunky and iron grey. He quickly painted it gold and a few months later replaced it with a red and gold version. This was the standard for decades. After a major plotline, he came up with a new gold and red version that has set the standard since.

Other heros' costume changes didn't last. Both Dr. Strange and the Sub-Mariner changed costumes in an effort to prevent cancellation. Neither effort succeeded and both characters went back to their classic costumes when they were revived.

Dr. Strange did switch from a plain blue to a fancy red cape back when he was in the back of Strange Tales and this change took.

Daredevil did a similar change. His original costume was outright ugly - yellow tights with black trunks and muscle shirt worn over. It probably threatened his identity since it had to have been designed by a blind man. After a dozen issues and a couple of years (many Marvel comics started as bi-monthly) he quietly changed to a black costume with red highlights. Wally Wood, the artist who designed this costume was thinking of a velvet shirt he owned. Later artists changed it to a straight red costume.

In the 1990s, in a bid to increase sales, Daredevil switched to a grey, high-tech costume. Fans hated it. The writer kept insisting that, by calling the costume "memetic" it made it cool. All the readers cared about was that the "man without fear" was now hiding in a bulletproof suit.

Henry Pym has probably changed costumes and identities more than anyone - so much so that I'm not sure what to call him. He started as Ant Man in a red and black costume. At that point, he could shrink and talk to ants. In an effort to increase sales, he was changed to Giant Man and could both shrink to ant-size and grow to 12 feet. His costume was redesigned at this time although this seemed to depend on the artist. His base costume was red with blue trunks, gloves and boots. As Ant Man, he had a couple of large circles on his chest and some stripes over his shoulders. As Giant Man, the circles were dropped, sometimes looking like suspenders and sometimes like a big black "Y". Eventually his costume was redesigned again by adding a blue over-lay to his chest and helmet. A few issues later Giant Man was cancelled and replaced with the Sub-Mariner (who was given a costume in the late 1970s to increase sales).

Pym came back a year later in the Avengers as Goliath in a yellow and blue costume. For some time he was permanently 10 feet tall. When he regained his ability to shrink and grow he switched to a red and blue version of the same costume. Even later, he changed identities completely to Yellowjacket in a yellow and black costume.

After a divorce, breakdown, disgrace, further breakdowns he became Doctor Pym - sort of a take-off of Doctor Who with an overcoat full of miniature inventions that he could make grow. Pym resumed a couple of previous identities before retiring along with the Wasp who only held one identity but, for a long time, changed costumes with every appearance.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Lost and B5

Lost is beginning to remind me of Babylon 5, and not in a good way. There are several comparisons I could make - both have intelligent scripts with a continuity that promoted character developement. Both have Mira Furlan playing an intense character from a different culture (France and the planet Mimbar). Both have story arcs that hint bigger things are coming.

But that's not what I'm thinking of. I'm thinking of all the damn reruns.

Most shows are shot out of sequence in order to build an inventory of episodes. It usually takes longer than a week to produce a new TV show so they intermix new and inventory episodes. This makes continuity a problem which is why most shows limit changes to the continuity to specific months, usually a sweeps month.

Babylon 5 was run on a different basis. Episodes were normally shot in the order they aired. The few exceptions had extra effects and needed additional time for rendering. With no inventory, they would air what was ready then go into reruns, air some more episodes, etc. To make matters worse, the distributor felt that they had to save the last couple of episodes of the season and air them just before the next season. This meant that they could not be rerun (at least not until the next season). With 52 weeks to fill and a couple of episodes subtracted from reruns, that meant that other episodes were run three or four times.

And that brings us to Lost which has just rerun the pilot and two other 1st season episodes for the third or fourth time.

The networks seem to have abandoned the long-standing tradition of a fixed schedule. Instead all but the most popular shows vanish from the schedule for months at a time so that special, limited-run shows can have a slot. While this helps the network pump up their ratings during sweeps month, it has the long-term effect of separating the audience from the full-season shows. It also means that a show that does not vanish from the schedule is caught short of episodes.

The one good thing to come from this - we can go back and look for inner significance in details we originally missed.

In the show they aired a week ago, I just now caught an in-joke. In a sub-plot Sayid and Shannon are trying to translate some French notes. Shannon finally realizes that the words are song lyrics written over and over by Dannielle. The joke is that, while the song was written in 1960, it was used in the closing credits of Finding Nemo. The plot of the movie, a parent trying to find the son who was separated from him, echos Danielle who is still hoping to find her daughter.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Oscar Aftermath

The Oscars have been presented. There was only one surprise in the entire ceremony - Crash beat Brokeback (two surprises if you count Jon Sterart's performance but I'll get to that later). Every other major award went to the person it was expected to go to. Even the ratings went as expected - the second lowest ever.

Looking over the results, there was no trend. Of the six big awards (best picture, director, and four acting awards), no two went to the same picture. Only the best actor was even in a nominated movie. Then there are the technical awards - art direction, sound, etc. A big winner pics up several of these. This year they mainly went to Narnia and Geisha (three each).

This raises a few big questions. Did any of the nominated movies really count as "best"? Was the best movie of the year snubbed in the nominations? Should Walk the Line, Narnia, Geisha or some other movie have been nominated? Or was it just a really bad year for movies?

As for Jon Stewart - the best hosts, the ones who are invited back, are stand-up commedians who have a solid film career. Think Bob Hope or Billy Crystal. Stewart's specialty is political satire. His film roles have been bit-parts in bad movies. He doesn't even live in LA. He's from New York and he's only known for a basic cable show. What were they thinking making him host?

There's always next year. Maybe this year will produce a good movie to nominate.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Oscars - Who will win? Who cares?

Brokeback is going to win best picture and best director. Everyone knows it? So why are there rumors that Crash will win? It's partly because Crash's studio is mounting a marketing campaign but I think it mainly comes down to ratings.

The Oscars is a long boring show. It always runs long. It gets its highest ratings when either a very popular picture is likely to win (such as Lord of the Rings) or when there some real controversy about which picture will get win.

None of this year's nominees are popular. Brokeback has a box office gross of around $75 million. Figuring $8-$10 admission (probably closer to $10 since it mainly played in big cities for half its run) then fewer than 10 million people have seen it. In a country with a population of 300 million, that means that fewer than 3% have seen it. If only the people who saw Brokeback watch then the ratings will be a disaster. Even if everyone who saw all five movies watches and no one else, the ratings will be terrible.

So the powers that be came up with some drama. Crash had a last minute surge and could win after all.

Does Crash have a chance? Not likely. It wasn't even supposed to get a best picture nomination. It took the slot that was supposed to go to Walk the Line which did have a shot at best picture.

About the only real drama is if the Oscars will be a clean sweep for gay-themed movies or if Reece Witherspoon will get it. I don't plan on watching just for that.