Archive for April, 2013

Liar, Liar

Posted in Reviews with tags on April, 2013 by melendwyr

Further reflection has brought up something that I was previously uncomfortable with but wasn’t part of my initial reaction.

I offer warnings:  this will have some major spoilers for the third episode.  Granted, we’re well past that now, BUT:  you have been informed, and should stop reading now if for some reason you want to be surprised.




Okay: in the third episode, Dr. Lecter commits a murder with the express intent of framing someone, using a bit of blood and a chance meeting to his advantage.  And he lies about the nature of the phone call he made to the Shrike immediate before the visit to his home.

Dr. Lecter does not lie; he doesn’t deign to do so.  To conceal his crimes, certainly.  To mislead and misdirect, sure.  But he doesn’t think the people around him are equals; it wouldn’t be sporting to lie to them.  And to those people he thinks are interesting and worthy of some respect, it would be neither just nor polite.  As he reminds Mason Verger, we all know he never lies.  Consider this conversation with Margot Verger:

Listen to me,” the doctor hissed.  “Mason will deny you.  You know you’ll have to kill him, you’ve known it for twenty years.  You’ve known it since he told you to bite the pillow and not make so much noise.”

“Are you saying you’d do it for me?  I could never trust you.”

“No, of course not.  But you could trust me never to deny that I did it.

And he does more than that, in exchange for certain favors from Margot.  He calls her answering machine and gloats over Mason’s death, assuring her that it was agonizing and prolonged.  Which gives everyone the idea that he killed Mason – as it is intended to.  But he never actually claims responsibility for the crime.  He suggests that Margot rip out some of his hair and scalp, he reminds her of her need to kill Mason and her need for someone to take the blame for that death.  He helps create the situation in which Margot kills Mason.  But he didn’t come into Mason’s room and stuff the Moray eel down his throat, and he never claims to have done so.

We know he never lies.

But what does he do?  He murders the girl who threw the rock at a distraught and enraged man, the brother of the girl found impaled on a stolen stag’s head with her lungs cut out.  He places blood from that thrown rock on her teeth, where the police will find it.  This is more than permitting people to draw the wrong conclusion from perfectly true statements – it’s a lie.  Not a verbal one, not an omission of the truth, but a lie.  Then, when he’s challenged about the phone call by the girl who first answered it, he gives a clear and direct lie about its nature.

Dr. Lecter would never do that.  Ergo, that is not Dr. Lecter.

Lazy Writing: Show, don’t Tell

Posted in Reviews with tags , on April, 2013 by melendwyr

The new Hannibal show has now been on for three weeks, three episodes.  Three’s enough, I think.  What conclusions can we draw?

Lawrence Fishburne’s Jack Crawford is not the sardonic and skilled investigator of the novels.  He stands around wearing nice suits and making obstructing demands.  He’s something of a boor.

The sound effects (I hesitate to call them ‘music’) intrusively establish mood by being unsettling and jarring.  Unfortunately the scenes in which they are featured can’t carry the emotions themselves.

Freddy Lounds is a woman.  Which is not in itself remarkable, but given that the novel’s character is a man one has to wonder why.  Perhaps there was a perceived dearth of females on the prospective cast.

So what is the show like?  Let’s take a look at the first episode.

It starts at the scene of a bloody crime.  One investigator slowly eliminates the distractions from his mind’s eye and runs events backwards, ending standing across the street looking at the home.  Then he commits the crime, breaking down the front door, while his voices narrates over events.

He shoots a man twice in the neck, telling us that he’s severed both carotid and juglar with “almost surgical precision,” that the victim will watch as everything is taken from him and that this is the killer’s design.

(What?  What?!)

Next, he comes up behind a woman sobbing as she desperately scrabbles at a home security control box and shoots her in the neck.  We’re told that the major blood vessels were intentionally missed and the spinal cord hit, supposedly leaving the woman paralyzed but “still able to feel pain.”

(What?!  What?!!)

Y’know, maybe these statements make some degree of sense.  I don’t know enough about anatomy or gunshot wounds to speak with great confidence.  I suspect hydrostatic shock would have some pretty unpleasant effects on someone shot through the neck, and blowing out major blood vessels leading to the brain will lead to very rapid unconsciousness.  Same, I think, with the spinal cord that high.  Yeah, you can sever the spine without killing, but you have to do it low enough that the nerves which control breathing aren’t affected; pain could be felt above the break, but shock would set in pretty rapidly, so I doubt someone with a shot-out spine would be feeling much of anything.  And certainly nothing below the neck.

Is this delusional thinking, or is the narrator talking nonsense?  I can’t tell, the vast majority of the audience can’t tell, and it draws both them and me right out of any immersion that might have been set up.

We then find that this entire episode has been a recap or flashback taking place during a lecture given by Will Graham, tormented possessor of extraordinary empathy which somehow gives him insight into the criminal mind.  He later claims that “the evidence speaks”, but he rarely looks very hard at evidence.  He goes to crime scenes, glances around, closes his eyes and enters a trance where he perceives disjointed visions.  The original Will Graham was a careful and intelligent investigator with an excellent memory and occasional moments of insight; the show’s version is a psychic in all but name.  He has frequent nightmares and is the Dog Whisperer, with something like seven or eight canines sharing  his home; original Graham was fairly normal and married, with a son from the woman’s previous marriage.  I don’t recall any dogs.

Graham’s knack at psychological profiling is demonstrated in a scene in which he, viewing the personal data of the seven missing girls of similar appearance and build who have mysteriously vanished, declares that they’re like Willy Wonka chocolate bars, and the killer is looking for the one with the Golden Ticket.  Only one of the girls is so blessed, we’re told, probably hidden amongst the others.  “It’s what I’d do… wouldn’t you?” asks Graham.  Except that the canny viewer has probably realized that the common factor isn’t among the listed victims at all.  This “Golden Ticket” theory is never mentioned again; just as well, as events quickly show it to be wrong.  Oddly, even Graham discounts it – he claims the killer has a daughter or loved one who looks like the victims (plausible but not necessarily the case) and is the same age (possible but not necessary) and is going to be leaving home (ummm….).  Ahh, hmmm… well, those things are certainly possible, and of varying probability, but none of them are really justifiable claims at this point.  But Graham’s magic brain has produced them, so, they must be correct.

The rest of the show is like that, but worse.

Major points of my criticism follow:  first, the original novels that served as the inspiration for this show were well aware that psychological profiling is of extremely limited utility.  As is the case in reality, profiling gets none of the protagonists closer in any meaningful way to finding out who’s committing crimes.  The Silence of the Lambs verges on outright parody – Lecter’s almost gnostically-cryptic clues about the Buffalo Bill killer don’t derive from his extraordinary understanding, he saw the killer professionally as a psychiatrist and knows his identity.  He merely wants to draw out as much as he can from Clarice Starling and possibly develop her mentality by giving her clues.  But in this show, assertions come out of seemingly nowhere, and turn into facts with remarkable rapidity.

An principle of writing, whether for visual media or simple text, is that as far as possible the audience should be shown things, not told them.  Conclusions should procede from the information provided to the audience, not presented in them.  But that’s not what’s happening here.  The audience is not being shown suggestive evidence which presents both it and the fictional investigators with a puzzle.  It’s not being shown careful collection of data, the intelligent interpolation and extrapolation from what’s known, the occasional intuitive leap which is plausible yet not available to self-analysis.  It’s not even being shown frequent intuitive leaps.  The answers come out of nowhere; they are not earned, neither by the audience nor by the characters.  It’s… magic.

Remember Hannibal?  The person the show is named after?  He doesn’t show up for quite a while; when he does, the context would make someone unfamiliar with the Lecter mythos think that he’s implied to be the serial killer in question.  Who is he, why is he important, what’s his angle?  Aside from the constant stream of double-meaning quips and situations which can be meaningful only to someone familiar with the surrounding characters, we’re given very little.  Until he begins to do extraordinary things without obvious motivation within the show as we’ve seen it.   A naive viewer would be quite confused by this point in the show, and I couldn’t blame them.

If you’re looking for graphic violence and gore, this is the show you’re looking for.  Quality writing, in homage to familiar characters and the unquestionably well-written sources they come from?  Intelligent exploration of crime and detection?  Thoughtful entertainment?  Don’t bother.  You don’t even get good drama out of this one – it’s all forcibly provided through the nearly-subsonic soundtrack.

I’m told that NBC has already made two seasons’ worth of episodes, and I presume will be airing them regardless of viewer response merely to get it’s money’s worth.  So we’ll have to avoid this show for a while.  Online critics have been quite complimentary, even going so far as to call the show ‘brilliant’; I can only wonder if we watched the same program.

The Cube

Posted in Weirdness with tags , on April, 2013 by melendwyr

Possibly not the one you’re thinking of:  the 1969 television short directed (and partly written) by Jim Henson.  You can find it on YouTube here.  People don’t always realize that in addition to his other roles, Henson was also an experimental film maker.  Very experimental.

I really have no idea what “The Cube” was supposed to mean, if anything.  I tend to dislike self-consciously trippy attempts to expand people’s minds, and there’s a lot to dislike here.  Especially as the main character doesn’t really seem to respond as we expect a normal person would in equivalent situations.  But I also enjoy puzzles and trying to find meaning in tantalizingly ambiguous messages.

Quite a lot of the movie can be considered a sort of riddle; if you suspend your initial, straightforward interpretation of events and look aslant, interesting alternatives appear.  One thought that occurs to me is… let’s put it in ROT13 just to avoid casual spoilers… gung gur frrzvatyl zbpxvat gnhag “lbh’yy arire trg bhg ‘gvy lbh’er qrnq” pna unir zber guna bar vagrecergngvba.  Yvsr vf n fgngr gung lbh pna’g trg bhg bs jvgubhg qlvat, vfa’g vg?


Posted in Fantasy with tags , , on April, 2013 by melendwyr

I’ve put myself in a bit of a pickle.

I normally avoid pop culture – not because I think I’m above it, but because so much of it is terrible, in accordance with Sturgeon’s Law.  So I’m quite uninformed about pop cultural developments much of the time, which makes avoiding it that much easier.  But then came the Internet, which is so good about informing people about stuff that it spills over onto the people who aren’t even trying to be informed.

I recently became aware that NBC has made a series about Will Graham and Hannibal Lecter, which leaves me dumbfounded and horrified.  In a bad way.  I’ve been very fond of Thomas Harris and  his novels – although not so much the latest about Lecter’s childhood and early adulthood, which were supposedly written under pressure as another author threatened to bring out his own novel on the subject unless blocked; and not so much the adaptations of his novels, which leave out all of the interesting complexity.  Hannibal was particularly weak, I thought.  And Graham is the most intriguing of Harris’ protagonists, especially as he doesn’t exactly get a happy ending.

Anyway, the series airs tonight.  And the critical reviews are highly complimentary.  Except – publicized and commercialized reviews necessarily show their target in a good light, else they wouldn’t be ad fodder.  Also a lot of television reviews are, shall we say, not quite to my taste.  So – do I watch this, risking the possibility that it’s a shameless money grab sullying the delightfully wretched icon of Harris’ work, or avoid it and risk missing something that I might actually enjoy?

At least this serves to divert my attention from my actual problems.