Gravity – Review [film]

Gravity

The only film I can claim to have seen four times in the cinema. Without a doubt, the greatest cinema experience of my life, restoring my faith in Hollywood and movies in general. A technical, directorial, cinematographic masterpiece, this is what 3D movies were made for. No, this is what movies were made for. It would be almost impossible to explain in a few paragraphs just how good this film is, and it probably is impossible to explain how I feel about it. But at least I can attempt the former. There is so much I could say but don’t want to give a running commentary, so I will try to limit myself to a few key points. Here goes:

The beauty of earth, the fragility of human life, the wonder of our technology, the determination of the human soul. Loneliness, emptiness, despair, depression, the incomprehensible vastness of the universe. Even the title of this film is a metaphor.

This is the first movie in over a decade I could allow myself to enjoy movie schmaltz and come away feeling uplifted. And the stunning score, which is just as much a part of the story as anything else, is undoubtedly a factor in this.

A friend of mine described his experience watching this as “spiritual”. Another had tears in his eyes at the end. I can completely relate to both those experiences. This is a completely immersive movie and if you are one of those people who allowed themselves to be immersed you won’t need me to explain this feeling.

Contrary to what some few have said, in my opinion the story of this film is not thin. The story is linear but it isn’t simple. So much of this story isn’t communicated by dialogue, but that’s the difference between a movie and a book; a lot of this story is told in true cinematic style: by the camera; how the shot is framed, the length of shot, the use of lighting and colour. And of course the unspoken or understated performances of the actors and actresses, the sound effects, the music, the objects in the foreground/background. I’m not talking about personal interpretation here, I’m talking about what you can experience with your senses.

We jump into another person’s life for 85 minutes (not real-time) and then jump out again. And there is so much that Cuarón wanted to say that to put it all together in such a short space of time, so well-paced, yet so enthralling and exciting and without smacking you over the head with it, is why the story is given the credit it is. Your brain is noticing all these things even if you aren’t consciously. It is why the rebirth in the airlock and the evolution on the shores of earth were on paper before the camera ever stated rolling. It’s why the story wasn’t even going to be set in space originally. It’s because Cuarón wanted to tell a particular story in a particular way, and the cinematic spectacle that it became was necessary to accomplish this. Everything visually and audibly stunning about Gravity serves the story, not the other way around.

My three favourite shots in this film could be said to encapsulate the story itself, or the three primary emotions I experienced, or maybe even three acts of this drama:

  1. The pan from Kowalski up to the earth in all its wondrous glory as we hear the first inklings of Ryan Stone’s theme. I remember seeing this for the first time in the cinema and being filled with awe at how huge the earth is, how beautiful it is, and just terrifying it would be to be an astronaut and actually see the earth above, or beneath you, with nothing but endless blackness all around. I can’t think of anything more simultaneously stunning and scary.
  2. External shot, slow pan from the Soyuz from the setting sun to the aurora borealis. Cold, lonely, silent, hopeless. Game over. There is no chance of rescue, no point in believing anymore. No point in going on.
  3. The Shenzou entering earth’s atmosphere as Tiangong’s debris burns up with it. Pure exhilaration. A firework display of colour and fire as our planet’s atmosphere, the thing which gives us life and shelters us from so many wild objects that fly through space, mercilessly incinerates everything – except one tiny thing: that small escape pod which humans, in their ingenuity, built to keep their kind alive. The solitary voice which has thus far sung Ryan Stone’s sad melody to us, now erupts in a full throng of human voices, as if from earth below, calling Ryan home. This isn’t fear anymore – this is sheer joy – this is laughing in the face of death, of adversity. This, along with the charge of the Rohirrim on the Pelannor fields, are my two favourite movie shots of all time.

So, what is this film about? Doing what each of us has to do every day of our lives: stand up on two feet in the full gravity of the only place in the totality of existence we are conditioned to survive, and keep going every day; live.

Gravity is, without doubt, the most beautiful film I have ever seen.

Final score for Gravity is: 10/10.

Why ‘Prometheus’ gets it all wrong, and why it matters

There were a lot of things wrong with Prometheus (daft dialogue, ridiculous character behaviour, odd-pacing, odd-editing and incongruous music), but I’m only going to focus on the greatest error the film made: its ridiculous distain for scientific fact. I’m going to explain just how badly the writers got it wrong and why it matters. I almost laughed before I realised how tragic the tale is.

If you’re telling a fantasy story you can pretty much get away with anything. With science fiction, depending on how “hard” or “soft” you want it: you can get away with a lot less or a bit less respectively. Prometheus fails as science fiction because there is nothing more scientific about its premise than the Never Ending Story’s. But even if you want to say that Prometheus is a bit of fantasy fun set in space, it still fails because it contradicts some of the most important and established knowledge we have, just as any fantasy story that depicted the earth as being the fourth planet from the sun would instantly lose all credibility and connection with the audience. Similarly, even a fantasy about humans must depict them as creatures with two arms, two legs, and not, for example, 100 tentacles.  We know that the earth is not the fourth planet from the sun, so whatever planet “earth” we are told is the fourth from its sun, it’s not ours, and it’s not our earth, and it’s not us, just like we might connect with a 100-limbed fantasy species and even empathise with them, but if you call them “human” you’re just being silly. But imagine that a large politically-powerful group of people had a vested interest in perpetuating a myth that our earth is in fact the fourth planet from the sun. All the evidence notwithstanding, Mars is the third planet and Earth is the fourth. What seems like a scientific faux pas and bit of fantasy fun takes on a darker and worrying shade. Well that is the problem with Prometheus.

The basic plot of Prometheus is: an alien race dropped their DNA in the oceans of earth long ago and so created humans. This is about as scientific as saying that you can take a drop of blood from a dog, inject it into a giraffe, and expect the giraffe to give birth to dogs or giraffe-dog hybrids. The very definition of “species” in fact is a community that can only breed successfully with itself.

During the film, it’s discovered that these aliens called “Engineers” have a 100% DNA match with humans. This is either rubbish or meaningless, take your pick. If the writers were trying to say that the Engineers are genetically similar to humans, the match is trivial: every living thing that lives or has ever lived on this planet shares the same DNA. A lot of DNA is arguably junk anyway, but “there is more than 95% to 98% similarity between related genes in humans and apes in general. (Just as in the mouse, quite a few genes probably are not common to humans and apes, and these may influence uniquely human or ape traits.) Similarities between mouse and human genes range from about 70% to 90%, with an average of 85% similarity but a lot of variation from gene to gene…” [source] So if they have the same DNA code as us, so what? That only proves that they evolved on earth. But if the insinuation is that they are a 100% DNA match with humans, despite being aliens, that is nonsense because…they aren’t human! That would be like a forensic detective placing you at a murder scene 5000 miles away and 5000 years in the past, because your DNA was a 100% match to a criminal in the past, which is impossible, or matching you because you both happen to be human beings…

But, even if aliens could drop something in earth’s primordial oceans that could somehow mingle with DNA…even that doesn’t make sense because evolution simply doesn’t work that way. A few Star Trek episodes tried to do something similar with evolution and failed for the same reasons. In those stories, the premise was that evolution could be sped up and the results observed in hours or days instead of millions of years. This is such a spectacular misunderstanding of evolution that it makes me depressed just thinking about it. But before I explain that, let’s start at the beginning:

All living things on this planet are the product of common descent. We all share the same DNA and metabolise energy in the same way because those fundamental parts of life happened once, billions of years ago, and not again. All life is descended from very simple self-replicating molecules. On this planet, DNA eventually got this job and the code used is the same today as it was 3 billion years ago. (If life exists on another planet, it too almost certainly started with very simple self-replicating molecules, but it’s overwhelmingly improbable that it would evolve the same DNA code as Earth’s, if it even used DNA at all.) Today, there are thousands of computer programming languages because each was designed by a human computer programmer for a specific need. But in nature, there is only one programming language and it had to be modified and utilised only by trial-by-fire selection in the wild over a very long time. (Incidentally, the ubiquity of this one (and only one) natural language is another argument against intelligent design.)

The “Engineers” could not have any DNA similarity with us unless they came from earth, which they clearly did not do. But we didn’t see the Engineers dropping DNA into the earth 3.5 billion years ago (unless the opening scene of the film was supposed to be earth at that time…in which case I suggest History of the Earth 101 for the writers to give them an idea of what this planet was like so early in its life. Let’s just say Hell would’ve been more hospitable.)  But suppose the engineers got DNA started in the first place (which isn’t implied in the film) all those aeons ago. Is that any better? Nope. Which brings us to:

Humans look the way we do because on this planet we are a member of the primate family. We share a common ancestor with all apes alive today, and our nearest relatives are chimpanzees. The modern human being as we know it today is only about 150,000 years old. But, we didn’t have to evolve this way. On earth, countless unpurposed events directed life in different directions. To name just two: the great oxygen catastrophe and the Cretaceous–Paleogene event (which wiped out the dinosaurs) – two events which forever shifted the course of evolution on Earth, and which were unplanned and devastating in their own right. The oxygen catastrophe didn’t have to happen, but it did. A meteor didn’t have to hit the earth and wipe out the dinosaurs, but it did. On this planet in the past, creatures that we would call primates today found it advantageous to walk upright thus freeing their hands for manipulating the world. On this world, that gave them an advantage over their competitors in the wild. Those creatures which would become us developed higher intelligence as tool-using thinkers. But as Chuck from sfdesbris.com says: “it’s not enough to be smarter, smarter has to give you a distinct advantage.” It’s not a foregone conclusion that evolution will lead to intelligent life, although given time and the right conditions one might expect it to. One might also expect that intelligent life on other worlds would be analogous to humans as tool-using thinkers, using their appendages to manipulate the world and freeing up their bodies to evolve larger brains. But that is not to say at all that such life would also evolve from creatures that would look anything like primates – they could just as easily look like walking octopuses. Again, on earth – we look the way we do, not because some alien dropped some DNA in a pool 3 billion years ago (and most certainly no sooner), but because we evolved from similar looking creatures who evolved from similar looking creatures, all of whom can call themselves descendants of apes, who in turn can call themselves descendants of whatever small mammals remained (or evolved) after the mass destruction of the dinosaurs left niches in nature for new creatures to fill.

To say that aliens created humans is absolutely stupid because we already know how life developed on this planet and everything we know and have ever learned in biology, genetics and geology confirms it – just like we know the Earth is the third planet from the sun. And this makes the entire premise of the film pointless, (much like the Answers in Genesis website). It’s like a great mystery novel akin to the space equivalent of Angels and Demons, but the final startling revelation being: the earth is flat and the sun orbits it.

No matter how wild your story premise is, there must be a part of the audience that thinks “this could happen, this is how things might’ve have been, even if they weren’t.” For example, imagine a story where aliens brainwash Hitler to invade Poland. Silly, yes, but at least it can’t be disproved. (Of course, something isn’t proven true just because it can’t be disproved.) But with Prometheus, it simply can’t be true, because we didn’t pop into existence with unique DNA 150,000 years ago – we evolved from other species very slowly and share our DNA with all other life on earth. The story is not reflective or metaphorical, it’s dumb.

The only way to have Prometheus’s story make any sense as regards its DNA claim is to say that aliens created DNA itself and put it on earth 3 billion years ago, but even that doesn’t explain why the aliens are almost identical to humans: you cannot predict which path evolution will take because evolution, by very definition, is simply the change of gene frequencies in generations responding to the pressure of natural selection. Natural selection can be caused by sexuality and/or environment, but it’s location specific. The millions of varieties of life you see on earth today are only possible because it takes evolution that long to produce any noticeable change at all, especially speciation (although evolution on every meaningful level is an observed documented fact.) To illustrate this by contrast: if a species were already perfectly suited to its environment and its surroundings never changed, that species would never change (and evolve), not in ten million years.

But why does it matter? It matters because Prometheus is a major international release that completely abuses a wondrous field of science. It’s rubbish at best and slander at worst. It matters because there are people in positions of power who deny evolution because it contradicts their ignorant beliefs about the universe, and they want to push those beliefs on you and your children, by law, in the classroom. It matters because evolution is as established and beautiful a scientific fact as anything the human race has ever discovered, and it’s a travesty that it’s so badly misunderstood in the 21st century, so much so that most people who see Prometheus won’t even notice anything wrong with its “science”.

And the moral of Prometheus the film? Our protagonist Elizabeth Shaw regains her faith in god (of course, the personal choice of god of the writer, which is the Christian version). At one point she is teased about her faith with the claim “I guess creating life is easy…anyone can do it…you just need some DNA.” But that’s the kind of nonsense strawman of evolution that no evolutionist ever claimed! Life didn’t happen on earth because of some DNA in an ocean…DNA is only a coding language. It is genes that allow characteristics to pass from generation to generation, and NATURAL (or sexual) SELECTION is the only method by why nature can pass on some genes and withhold others. So no, you need more than just a bit of DNA…and that fact is totally ignored (deliberately?) by the writer(s) of Prometheus. Is there any other scientific field that could be so grossly disfigured and butchered by a film writer in this day and age and still get approved? I don’t think so. What do you think?

The irony here is sadly amusing: if the moral of the story was to have the protagonist reclaim her faith in god and challenge the notion that life on earth evolved naturally…it speaks volumes that such a notion was only possible in a fantasy land where the real world can be ignored and the movie script can make the impossible possible, just like the bible has the sun stand still in the sky. Most people don’t take those stories seriously, with good reason. But some do unfortunately, and they even try to re-write scientific fact to suit their beliefs. Some even use their big chance writing a Hollywood screenplay to push their creationist agenda on a worldwide audience. The sad thing? Many people don’t know any better.

***

Further reading:

The Greatest Show on Earth by Richard Dawkins. Not arguments, no debate. Read this if you doubt the facts.

Evolution at Wikipedia (if I were ever to endorse compulsory education this would be the second thing on my list.)

Other good critical reviews:

http://www.skepticalraptor.com/skepticalraptorblog.php/ridley-scotts-prometheus-anti-science/

Fantastic Voyage – Review [film]

About reviewing

Since this blog is about my opinions I recently realised that one area I haven’t really commented on much is entertainment media. This is because it’s really hard to say anything original; not least of all because someone working full time on this sort of thing already says it. It’s also because all I can do is give my opinion, which may or may do justice to the matter since I don’t claim to be an expert on, well anything. But at least I’m not afraid to voice my opinion, even if it’s unpopular.

See here goes with hopefully the first of many of my opinions on something that isn’t our fascist governments.

Overview of the film

Fantastic Voyage is a 1966 science fiction film and if you want any more general summations you can check out the Wikipedia page for it.

I remember seeing this film when I was very young, though I can’t remember exactly my age. At the time, I had no idea it was as old as it was. When I first saw it FV was already 20 years old, but in the 80s I really don’t think the special effects could be criticised too much. I was totally captivated and my imagination was inspired.

The film opens with CIA agent Grant, played by Stephen Boyd, disembarking a plane with an old guy. The old guy is Benes (pronounced Benesh) and Grant is delivering him back to the United States after getting the defector out from Soviet Russia – and who can blame anyone for wanting to leave there; it’s like Everton FC, only with Everton the torture only lasts 90 minutes and the occupants can at least remember being useful. Grant leaves Benes in the “safe” hands of fellow agents after a wordless man-hug initiated by the former. In the book based on this film a lot of backstory is given: Grant went to great personal risk (as per his job as a secret agent) to get Benes out from behind the Iron Curtain, and the two men exchange some words on the final flight into America, on board a plane so rickety and shed-like it will later be used as the blueprint for shuttles in Star Trek. Except this plane actually lands safely.

We soon see the CIA motorcade being ambushed by “the other side” who will be unnamed in the entire film, although there’s no doubt who the two Powers at work really are. The ambush is rather brief on screen and doesn’t really carry the sense of excitement or danger presented in the novel. In the novel one of the enemy agents happily sacrifices himself just to collide with one of the limousines, but in the film we see Benes bump his head and get escorted to another car which promptly speeds off.

As this point I should mention that the film is not based on the novel. The producers wanted to give the film some scientific credibility and approached the famous Isaac Asimov to write a novel based on the script. Asimov pointed out just how ridiculous the script was as regards scientific credibility and also some very reasonable plot holes, which we’ll get onto later. Asimov got permission to write his own take on the story which deviates from the film in some noticeable ways, especially towards the end. The book is only 186 pages long and I’d strongly recommend giving it a read. The chapters flow naturally and quickly into each other with each scene essential and fascinating, even minimalist to the exclusive of anything that doesn’t advance the plot.

Back to the movie and next up are the opening credits being typed over images of Benes in hospital being treated by doctors. The credits don’t have music, something I’ll comment on soon, but rather a series of sound effects to represent Benes’s vital signs and medical equipment at work, but they are presented in such a way as to almost be musical accompaniment, at the same time unnerving and tense.

Next, we are back in a limousine seeing Grant being escorted somewhere. He knows as much about it as we do. His escorts refuse to give him any details and finally the car stops in a back-alley and Grant is told to wait inside as the other men get out. Next moment the car sinks underground and comes to a stop as a guy in military police uniform pulls up in a buggy. Grant hops in and is driven around a bit. This scene establishes a huge underground government complex with hundreds of employees, and everywhere the initials CMDF are plastered. A General Carter finally meets Grant and explains that this organisation is the Combined Miniature Deterrent Forces, a super-secret organisation with a technology that can reduce any object, living or not, to any size. Grant naturally has a hard time believing this, but his doubt only lasts a few seconds as he can tell that Carter is dead serious.

“Consolidated Mobilisation of Deliquent Females” – Grant

Miniaturisation has featured in science fiction almost since the genre began. It’s a really interesting idea and also terrifying at the same time. If you actually think about what it would be like to be shrunk to such a size that the entire world you know changes, the rules go out the window – the entire universe that you evolved to deal with isn’t the same, and the challenges and enemies you face are of an order and nature that quite frankly are beyond what can be imagined, then you can see why sci-fi has gotten such good purchase out the idea. The problem is, like most science fiction, how do you present it in a realistic and plausible way, if you bother to do so? If it’s a film like Inner Space which isn’t really meant to be taken seriously then it doesn’t matter. But if you’re going to call your work science fiction, as opposed to fantasy, and want to have some suspense, it has to have some scientific credibility. For example in Star Trek they have “warp drive” because faster-than-light travel is impossible. That isn’t to say that you always have to explain everything. In Star Wars, technology is never explained, with the artefacts and spaceships just happening, like how your imaginary games as a child might work: million ton starships just float and weave across the planet without any apparent thrusters or engines, like gravity doesn’t apply to them. Tiny fighters cross hundreds of light-years by themselves. It doesn’t matter in Star Wars because, let’s face it, it’s just a fantasy drama which happens to be set in space. They don’t bother to explain anything because they don’t care and similarly we as the audience are told that it doesn’t matter. It’s just for fun. Star Trek always took itself far more seriously which turned out to be a curse just as much as a blessing.

In Fantastic Voyage (the film) the science behind miniaturisation isn’t explained, and I think it’s better off for it. In the book adaptation, Doctor Michaels explains that “hyperspace” can be manipulated (probably with frikkin “lasers”) and despite it seeming not to make sense, the maths works. In the book we are given about as much explanation as we need or could understand, just like our protagonist. In the film, because the story is a race against time, no scientific explanation is given and I don’t think it affects the movie. We are told it works and we see it happen, and that’s enough. Of course, if I was being totally critical, I don’t think it’s possible. At all. The idea of hyperspace, of another dimension being manipulated through the laws of physics to alter an object so that all its dimensions change, as if it were superimposed over this reality – is interesting. It’s like taking a photograph or hologram of something, shrinking it, then bringing it to life in its new form in this world. It’s still “itself” but in a different “phase” of reality if you will, co-existing with this one. At least that’s how I read the explanation in the book but I admit that was several Pinio Grigios ago.

Grant is taken to a briefing where we meet the rest of the cast. Obviously I’ve got to mention the magnificent Raquel Welch here. Her presence in this movie is so well known, despite being a caricature of fictional female helplessness, that a Google search for images of Fantastic Voyage yields, as the third choice, a picture of her sitting naked (alas cross-legged) in beauty makeup. Even the DVD copy I own has a thumbnail of her on the side, a large picture of her on the cover and even larger one on the back! I’m not complaining per se; she was a rather fine looking woman, and still is if you like that sort of thing, but the movie is not about her. It’s not even a tiny bit about her! The book does much more justice to the character of Cora Peterson, but even before Grant (and we) are introduced to her in the film, we have Doctor Reid complaining to the neurosurgeon Doctor Duval that “a woman has no place on a mission of this importance!” Ah, God bless the 60s.

A science fiction adventure drama coming soon to a cinema near you!

Captain Bill Owens is introduced as pilot of an experimental submarine (do you see where this is going?), and Doctor Michaels (played by the English Donald Pleasence – do you see where this is going?) starts the briefing. What we’ve already been told is that Benes has a clot in his brain and the only way to reach it is via the arterial system. Carter told Grant earlier that the plan is to shrink a submarine and surgical team to microscopic level and inject them into Benes’s body. Doctor Michaels now explains they’ll be injected into the carotid artery where they’ll make their way to the brain, dissolve the clot with a frikkin laser, and return via the venous system where they’ll be removed from the jugular vein. Simple as that, eh? They only have to: avoid turbulence, for example going through heart, avoid white cells, not get attacked by antibodies, and be out within 60 minutes or they’ll grow to normal size inside Benes.

Miss Cora Peterson, Doctor Duval’s assistance, is going along anyway because he said so. And because this movie has to live up to titillating trailer artwork.

Grant doesn’t really get the choice to back out or the chance to stop and think. The crew are ushered to the sterilisation section where we see them in skin-tight white swim suits, which are slightly more flattering on Raquel Welch than some of the male occupants.

The next scene shows up the vessel we’ll be making this adventure in: the Proteus, a small bubble-topped submarine sitting on what is either the floor section of the miniaturiser, or a prototype for the Blockbusters’s screen. Inside the sub, Captain Owens explains that the sub is powered by a microscopic radioactive particle, or rather it will be once it’s miniaturised. This particle will also allow them to be tracked from the outside.

Now the four-stage miniaturisation job begins. Some of these effects look dated, even today, and some of them are passable. I have mixed feelings about a modern remake of this film, but one of the massive pros in making a new version would be what special effects today could do with this concept. The thought of it really excites me, even if Ronald Emmerich directs it. My problem with “phase one” of the miniaturising is that we don’t get to see a lot of the shrinking. The normal-size ship begins to shrink, then the next time we see it it’s the size of a matchbox. It would’ve been nice to see more external shots. By comparison, in “phase four”, after the shrunken Proteus (about an inch in length) is put into a huge hypodermic which is then also shrunk, the exterior shot of the hypodermic is much finer and smoother and we have a good few seconds of seeing miniaturisation in action.

Finally the already tiny Proteus inside the container is reduced so that the huge hypodermic is now the size of a regular one, and the crew is informed that they “are at full reduction.” One of the interesting things in this film is that communication is only possible via wireless, and honestly I think it’s a superb touch. It really gives the sense of being out of touch with the real world and disconnected, with only Morse code tones for external help. In the book it’s explained that this is the only sort of communication that can cross the “miniaturisation gap”, and given that we’ve previously seen video calling in this film, I think it would’ve been worth mentioning here too.

The Proteus prepares for miniaturisation

Via some delicate contraption the hypodermic is taken to the operating room and injected into Benes’s neck. At over 36 minutes into the film we finally hear incidental music for the first time. Leonard Rosenman, who also scored Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, deliberately wrote no music for the film until this point, and it’s an unusual but highly effective choice. In my opinion the music for this film is perfect. It’s dramatic and often abrasive and from a modern perspective perhaps dated. If the film is (ever) greenlit to be recreated in the near future, I can’t imagine it having a score anything like this. But that doesn’t mean it’s corny, cheesy or old-fashioned. The score is one of suspense and threat all the way through. Even the main theme theme itself, heard for the first time as the crew enters the human body (all the time being one of wonder and awe), has an ominous undertone to it. Nothing about this film, which the music reflects so well, says “this is just an exciting trip! Let’s relax and enjoy it!” There isn’t a single relaxing moment in this adventure, to the credit of the film once it finally gets going after an admittedly slow start. The music mirrors this wonderfully in my opinion.

The Proteus crew encounters a seemingly endless sea of red with shapeless balloons streaming by. The effects are certainly a great attempt at presenting the human blood stream from within, albeit lacking in anything resembling reality. Asimov explains it best in the book where he says that if you were the size of a microbe, the walls of the artery would be miles off to your eyes, and the red blood cells (erythrocytes) would be huge compared to you. Also, it’s only oxygenated (or deoxygenated) erythrocytes that given blood its colour. The rest of the blood is made up of plasma, platelets and other types of cells. I’m not a doctor, despite what I told my first girlfriend, but if you were microscopic size I’d have thought the blood would actually be quite transparent given its straw colour. It’s not a problem for me as far as the story goes, but it’s one of those things I’d love to see remastered with modern day effects, not to improve the movie itself, but as a fan of science I like to see the universe presented to me in realistic ways. That is after all one of the reasons I loved this movie so much in my life and why I can keep coming back to watch it every few years – because the concept is great, and seeing the human body (which has always fascinated me) shown in this way should be awe-inspiring for anyone. To a modern audience this aspect of the film would certainly be lost, because our standards for what we accept of realism are so high that special effects have to be impeccable to fool our eyes, and even then the best CGI doesn’t always get it right.

A great effect

There is one effect I must mention; it’s so short but fantastic. As the Proteus is being injected into the carotid artery we see the ship hurtling towards the end of the syringe. It looks a vast distance off with only a red glow growing menacingly towards them. It’s cool. But as they pass into the bloodstream the Proteus emerges from the end of the syringe itself, and you can clearly see the shape of the needle and how it’s so wide compared to the Proteus. It’s a little shot but it really establishes how tiny they are.

There’s some dialogue where Doctor Duval waxes lyrically about the wonder of the human body and it’s clear he is a man of god. Michaels on the other hand, being a damn dirty atheist, merely points out that end-to-end the circulatory system is a hundred-thousand miles long. Grant just looks on like the dumb college football jock he’s initially made out to be in the novelisation.

Before long though there’s trouble a-brewing. Despite the woman not driving, the Proteus starts to veer towards the arterial wall and Owens reports that it’s unresponsive. It seems that damage to Benes caused the carotid artery and jugular vein in the neck together into something called a fistula. (I typed “fistula” into Google and…let’s just say that whilst what I got back was related to the human body, I don’t think it’s the cardiovascular anomaly the film writers had in mind…) The micro fistula caused a whirlpool in the bloodstream and the Proteus, having been sent out of control, smashes through the wall of the artery into the vein and can’t go back.

The mission is now in failure: they can’t go back into the artery and they can’t reach the clot from the venous system, and continuing on in the direction of the flow would take them to the superior vena cava which, as we all know, ends in the penis. But before then it goes through the heart, and that would smash the tiny Proteus in a million pieces.

This is where the first major plot hole appears: it’s never explained why, since they were planning to extract them from the jugular at the end of the mission anyway, they can’t just extract them now…and re-inject them into the carotid artery at a point beyond the fistula! It’s a shame this isn’t addressed in the film, or the book, because it’s so obvious a solution the story is weaker for failing to acknowledge it. If there were a particular reason why they had to be injected into a very particular place, fine. But that’s never stated. Absolutely no thought is given to taking them out and just putting them back in. It seems like a no-brainer to me. They should have said that the stress endured by the craft during, say, injection, is so great that it can’t be repeated due to micro-fractures in the hull, or something.

Anyway, since the scientific and medical geniusesss….genia…genies….people aren’t as smart as me we’re left with the only logical solution: stop Benes’s heart long enough for the Proteus to get through the right atrium, pass through the right ventricle and exit the semi-lunar valve. In true Hollywood style, the heart can only be stopped for exactly 60 seconds, but it will take 57 seconds for the Proteus’s dash, leaving only…three… seconds to revive Benes. These scenes are well done. The music is gripping as the technical staff in CMDF witness the ship moving closer, ever closer, to the heart itself. Perhaps what works for me in this movie, and of course this is just my opinion, is that the human body, our body, our ally – is actually the nemesis. We get to see just how inhospitable the human body is for something that doesn’t belong in it (well, not without a lot of lube anyway). The Proteus has become the bacteria that doesn’t belong and is afforded no special dispensation by a mindless environment that’s spent millions of years adapting itself to kill such things.

In Soviet CMDF, heart stops you!

They enter the valve and the heart just dies in the arms tonight. Painfully slowly, the Proteus glides through the huge chambers as the seconds tick away all too quickly. They approach the frozen semi-lunar valve and the Proteus speeds towards the huge gaping hole, (reminiscent of some of the images I got back from my Google “fistula” search.)

In the longest three seconds of movie history, Benes’s heart is revived in time and the Proteus, now in the pulmonary artery, continues on its way to the lungs. The arterial channel becomes narrower as they enter a capillary, one of the millions which pass within diffusion distance of the alveoli. Sure enough, before their very eyes, the deoxygenated erythrocytes (all cells in this film are called corpuscles) change from blue to red. This is a bit of a Hollywood touch keeping in line with the popular (though incorrect) notion that deoxygenated blood is blue and oxygenated is red. Of course, the former is simply a dark red and the latter scarlet.

Dr. Duval calls cell oxygenation one of the miracles of the universe, to which the unimpressed atheist Michaels retorts that’s it hardly a miracle and just “a simply exchange of gases…the end result of 400 million years of evolution.” I can get the film-makers wanting to stress the point that Michaels is an atheist and doesn’t buy Duval’s superstitious ramblings, but did they have to make him such a bore? I mean, atheist or not, you’re inside the human body seeing cellular oxygenation in action! Duval incredulously replies “you can’t believe that all that is accidental? That there isn’t a creative intelligence at work?” I was a Christian growing up and evolution was synonymous with “spawn of the devil” to me. It was so counter-intuitive I couldn’t believe how anyone, save through an act of sheer will, could bring themselves to believe that the incredible complexity in life was accidental, and how it all just works despite a billion intricacies. I admit, it is almost unfathomable to the ignorant. Now, the human body is an incredible machine, but it’s far from perfect. If I were omnipotent and omniscient, the human body would not be the apex of my creative ability, at least not on the inside anyway… For all the misconceptions and apparent inplausibilities, evolution of man is a fact as undeniable as heliocentrism or gravity. You can say that God got the ball rolling if you want, but it’s really impossible to argue for divine guidance given the fact of common descent and so many obvious design flaws in the human body.

Unfortunately Dr. Michaels doesn’t get to give us his response, as a warning alarm on the sub goes off. Captain Owens informs the crew that air pressure in the tanks is dropping, which Grant confirms. In the novelisation it was the breathable air the crew is losing but in the movie their breathable air isn’t the problem but presumably the air pressure to maintain ballast. Grant suggests that since they are so close to the lungs they use a snorkel to absorb air and replenish their supply. It’s dangerous but they have no choice. Because of the risk of missing the mark and exploding the tanks, Owens suggests everyone leaves the sub but him, leading to a slightly extended shot of Miss Peterson unzipping her onesie.

Before this however, as they prepare to depart, Grant notices the laser detached from its stand, partially unfastened, and obviously jarred by the action of the whirlpool. Cora swears she tied it down securely but Michaels and Grant exchange dubious looks.

Deep breath…

Back to the air refuel job, and Asimov noticed the problem with this story element immediately: the air molecules in the alveoli are normal size – there is no way the miniaturised crew could breathe them. In the same way the ballast wouldn’t work either, if they could even get the huge molecules into the tanks in the first place. Asimov got around this by having a tiny miniaturiser on board the sub to shrink the air as it entered the snorkel, but in the film this whole aspect is ignored.

Unable to get a stable footing from the capillary side of the alveoli wall, Grant enters the air chamber itself with a safety line tied to the sub by Duval. But just as the Proteus’s tanks achieve capacity the safety line suddenly snaps and Grant is sent hurtling off out of sight. During the breathing lull he finally comes to rest on the floor of the alveolus and quickly scrambles his way back out. The alveolus is obviously a set, but it’s done quite well. No one knows what one looks like from the inside anyway but they imagine it well.

In the CMDF control room, Carter and Reid note the delay near the lungs and the passage of time. Grant was in too much of a rush to inform them via wireless but he does so now, then we get a shot of the Proteus cruising through a long, wide and shallow space of vivid colours – the pleural cavity. They’re now between the lungs and the wall of the chest.

Duval examines the laser and determines that it’s irreparable due to a broken trigger wire, but Grant suggests that they can cannibalise the wireless for the replacement wire (somewhat ironic). Of course, this will put them out of contact with the control tower, though they’ll still be traceable due to the radioactive fuel. As Duval observes, it’s either the wireless or Benes’s life. It’s not pleasant, but the choice seems clear.

“Is this your hair?”

As Duval and Cora get to work on the laser, Grant intimates to Dr. Michaels that there must be a saboteur onboard: the laser mysteriously unfastening itself and Grant’s safety line snapping all by itself. The logical choice is Duval but Dr. Michaels, despite their personal disagreements, believes that although Duval is “under a cloud” he is also dedicated to his profession. The conversation ends with Michaels essentially talking Grant down, and Owens shouts down from the bubble that the sub is approaching something. Michaels explains it’s reticular fibres lining a lymphatic duct. Grant, as it happens, has never heard of any other system apart from the circulatory system (which he takes to be the blood), although the lymphatic system is a part of the circulatory system.

They enter the lymphatic node, one of many situated in specific areas of the human body most noticeably under the jaw, armpits and the groin area. In what is apparently a redress of the heart set only with giant strings of snot, the Proteus makes its way through the node. (Funnily enough, as a kid I misheard “node” as “nose” and though the reticular fibres in this scene were actually huge snot strings.)  The Proteus starts to receive several bumps now due to turbulence from outside. Grant opines that “it’s like someone’s declared war” to which Michaels responds “that’s exactly what it is”; the lymphatic system is a vital part of the immune response and outside the Proteus antibodies are swarming over bacteria or any invader to the system. The effects here aren’t great, but it was the 60s. Having said that, despite being inaccurate they illustrate how antibodies essentially work: locking onto receptor patterns (antigens) of foreign objects and inhibiting vital functions or, if there are enough antibodies, essentially crushing them. This is a nice bit of foreshadowing and explanation which occurs naturally in the story. It will pay off soon.

Owens observes that the reticular fibres, as well as slowing them down, might clog the intake vents of the sub and render it immobile. Either way, the trip is taking too long and Duval says they’ll never make it to the clot as this rate. Grant asks if there’s an alternative route but Michaels immediately dismisses the suggestion. Duval insists that there is though: they can head to the inner ear and from there make their way to the injury site. Sounds simple enough, but Michaels explains that whilst in the ear any noise from the outside world would have a disastrous effect on them, possible destructive and fatal. They can’t inform the control tower of their intentions but the outside operatives should notice immediately the change of direction and act accordingly.

As it happens, in the control tower news of the change of course comes through and far from being surprised it seems the crew have already figured out the Proteus couldn’t make it in time and that the inner ear was their only chance. Reid heads to the intercom and announces to the operating theatre that absolute silence must be maintained whilst the Proteus is in the ear.

The eerie and otherwordly inner ear.

Another establishing shot as the Proteus floats through the inner ear, and again it’s a well-designed and realistic set. Some obvious re-uses aside, the producers do a good job making each area unlike any other. The lighting here is reduced and the area dark with lovely colours. Unfortunately, no sooner is the Proteus halfway through than it starts to drop slowly to the surface below. Sure enough, as Owens informs the crew, those reticular fibres have indeed clogged the vents and propulsion is impossible. Grant does the only thing he can do: put on a suit and try to unclog the vents.

In the operating theatre outside, the medical staff stand quietly and the CMDF control tower can only watch as the blip representing the Proteus on their tracking screens remains motionless.

It finally dawns on the rest of the Proteus crew that it would be faster if they all got off their asses and helped Grant, so they do – all except Duval who wants to remain behind to fix the laser, a statement that elicits a brief but very suspicious scowl from Dr. Michaels.

The tension here is good. We cut back and forth behind the inner ear, quiet and peaceful as the crew very slowly manage to unclog the vents, and the operating theatre. It’s getting anxious outside though, and the chief attending’s forehead is covered in sweat. Seeing this, one of the nurses (one with a vagina of course) gently picks up a towel from the nearby table, dragging a pair of scissors with it, which promptly drop to the floor in a loud clatter…

In the ear the world is turned upside down. The Proteus lurches up and down, side to side, and the crew are sent flying off in different directions. Cora is sent hurtling down towards Hensen’s Cells where she gets entwined in fibres. The vibrations finally abate and Michaels warns Grant that Cora is damaging the fibres and will be considered a threat by antibodies. They start out after her but the pressure is too great for Michaels who has to turn back. Being a frogman Grant carries on and reaches the panicking Cora who is well aware of the danger she’s in. Grant frees her and they start back to the Proteus just as antibodies show up.

“HEATHCLIFF!”

In a sequence which gives me scientific misgivings, the antibodies follow the trail and chase the two humans back to the sub, but the hatch takes time to open during which the antibodies attack Cora and begin to bind to her. (Who can blame them?)  Grant gets her inside the hatch but she is being choked and can’t breathe. The half-empty hatch is opened anyway as the other men pull her out, lay her down on the floor and start frantically grasping at her skin-tight suit to rip off the antibodies. The “crystallised” antibodies are ripped off and Cora is ok. This is another exciting scene and it’s well done, but I’m not sure how accurate it is: antibodies are nothing more than protein chains and I don’t think they could bind to the shape of the human body, at least not in the way they attach themselves to bacteria. And although they can “tag” a body for immune response once it’s been identified as hostile, I don’t think it works with them literally following the “scent” like hunter-killers shown here. It’s probably not realistic but it is good drama. (Interestingly, the actors ripping the antibodies off Racquel Welch were so concerned with being chivalrous and respecting her body that they avoided her breasts. In the end they had to be ordered to ignore their manners for the shot!)

With 8 minutes remaining the sub eventually leaves the inner ear and is on final approach to the brain. Reid informs the operating personnel that all is clear and they brief a huge collective sigh of relief, with the clumsy nurse remarking “I almost died when the scissors dropped”, to which Reid puts his cigar to his mouth and gives a small fond smile. It’s only a little thing and it’s very underplayed but it adds character. If this was a modern Hollywood movie he’d make some cheesy punch line with the camera obviously framed to tell us “this is funny”, since modern movies find it hard to go even five minutes without destroying their own mood and tension with dreadful comic relief. Fantastic Voyage is not a comedy and it’s not played like a comedy – there are no “light relief” scenes to give the audience a chance to relax between action. There are lulls between the action but the tension is never released throughout the hour and this adds to the oppressive tone of the movie. It’s quite literally one crisis after another and despite some plot holes and scientific inaccuracies, the effects and disasters contribute logically to the story.

In what is undoubtedly a re-use of the pleural cavity and lymphatic duct passage, the outside of the Proteus now shows a long channel lined with black narrow threads, unmistakably nerves, leading to the brain. In the distance is a mass of nerves lining an opening or nexus of sorts, no doubt the entrance to the brain itself. I think this is supposed to be the subarachnoid cavity. The reason I like this is because despite the obvious effort to dress this effect up as the passage to the brain, it’s just in the background outside the window. It’s understated, because the effects (despite being a massive selling point for the film at the time) are only there to further the story, not the other way around. Do you hear that, George?

The only glitch here is that as the conversation continues before the window the entrance to the brain looms ever closer, until one close-up of Grant produces a continuity error of the sub being almost at the end of the channel, and right back at the start of it. Blame the editor.

The conversation going on here is whether Duval should test the laser before they reach the clot, since repairs are finished. Michaels insists that Duval test the laser before they waste their precious last few minutes getting to the clot, unloading, only to discover that it doesn’t work. The counter-argument from Duval is that he’s done all he can to fix it; if it doesn’t work there’s nothing he can do anyway, but if it does work there’s no way to know how long it will last, so every last joule of energy should be saved, which means testing it is wasteful. Both men make good arguments, and if I was on the crew I’d be highly tempted to side with Michaels since about now I’d be really panicking as the seconds tick by in this very dangerous confined space. But since there is still time left to perform the operation, even if the laser fails, Duval’s case is the stronger. Michaels and him end the argument quite heatedly with Michaels stating that as usual Duval just wants his own way.

Grey matter

Grant eyes them both curiously as we cut to the control tower where Reid remarks “just imagine, they’re in the human mind”, and the anatomical display in the background with the Proteus marked as entering the brain transitions to another establishing shot: the sub gliding through a dark region lined with what look like cobwebs, across which spots of light flash and jump. I really like this set too, because it’s probably the best that could’ve been done at the time. Another thing I like about this, and it’s true of almost all the sets actually, is that the blocking and camera work suggests vastness; you can’t really see a wall or edge to the environment which, at the Proteus’s scale, is how it would be. In the distance Duval points out the clot, the area of damage, a large black area which looks quite spooky. As Duval and Cora prepare to leave, Michaels says they can’t possibly operate and get out before time’s up, and instructs Owens to head to the removal point. Only six minutes remain, but it will take two to get to the removal point. Michaels warns that if they overstay they will deminiaturise in moments, growing large enough to endanger the brain after which white cells will destroy them. Owens continues the order to leave but Grant cuts his power and the Proteus slowly drops to the surface as the music ominously grows. Grant whispers “Dr. Duval, get the laser”, who doesn’t need telling twice. Michaels argues with Grant even as Duval and Cora leave the sub. Michaels flames at Grant, apparently having suddenly changed his mind about Duval, declaring him “an assassin, whose only motive is to kill Benes, and now you’ve made that possible.” Grant refutes this though, saying that he’s faced assassins before and Duval doesn’t fit the bill. He announces to Owens that he’s going to try and help the two surgeons and leaves the sub, leaving Michaels to quietly fume.

At the clot the laser works, and Duval starts to delicately slice away damaged tissue to relieve the pressure on the nerve. The operation goes well but time is ever running out. Back on board the Proteus doctor Michaels calls Owens’ attention to the escape hatch: fluid is leaking in. Owens comes to take a look but gets a spanner in the head for his troubles. Michaels was the saboteur all along! (He’s the English guy, how did you not see it coming?) He scrambles up to the bubble after restoring the power and starts the sub’s engine, speeding right for the nerve!

At the nerve, with the operation finished, the three look back and see the Proteus speeding towards them. This is another great model shot which captures distance and scale without limiting the environment in any way. Grant takes the laser from Duval and asks for full power as he fires at the Proteus and rips a hole along her hull. Out of the control the sub crashes into a nearby mass of (presumably) synapses and dendrites. It’d be hilarious is if this caused brain damage to Benes requiring another operation…

In the distance, white cells are spotted and Grant enters the hole in Proteus to rescue Michaels and Owens. In the ship the conscious Owens tells Grant what happened but the crash has jammed Michaels’s hands in the steering gear. Overhead through the glass dome a white cell slowly looms down on the Proteus, as Donald Pleasance really nails the panic and horror of a trapped man who knows he’s about to be slowly eaten. The white cell smashes through the glass and envelopes him. (The white cell covering Michaels’s head here were achieved essentially by soap-suds, and Donald Pleasance’s screams here are quite genuine!)

Pleasence nails this terrifying moment

Grant and Owens exit the Proteus and join Duval and Cora as the Proteus is ingested. A couple of final shots from the laser kills one white cell, but the laser is fried…so Duval just throws it aside. Remember that for later…

Grant asks “you said there was a quick way out?” Actually, no one said there was a quick way out. Grant earlier asked “is there a quick way out?” but doesn’t get a reply as Cora points out the white cells. It’s a tiny glitch but I always noticed it. Duval does confirm that there is though: “we can follow the optic nerve to the corner of the eye.” And so they do, the music builds to a crescendo and we cut to the control room as the timer turns to zero. Time up. Game over, apparently. Carter says to Reid that they’ll have to remove them even though it means killing Benes. Reid proceeds to the operating theatre and orders the physicians to remove the Proteus immediately, and an emergency trepanation is about to be started until Carter suddenly commands them to stop. He reasons to Reid, in a wonderfully whispered and chilling manner, that if he was running out of time in there he’d abandon ship and get out the fastest possible way. Reid pieces it together for himself: the eye! He races to the operating theatre…

“Light impulses, on the way to the brain…we’re nearing the eye…”

Meanwhile the three men and Raquel Welch are still swimming towards the eye. This is another scene well done; the music captures the other-worldliness wonderfully and the eerie score and sound effects reflect the organic environment they so desperately need to escape. They reach the eye and in another nicely understated scene we see them scrambling through an opening onto the roof of the eyeball; the effect is only about two seconds long but very realistic. It’s another example of how bigger and longer is not necessarily better.

In the operating theatre, Reid uses a super magnifying glass and sees four people in a drop of water. (And slowly, and surely, he draws his plans against them.) He calls for a glass slide and scoops them up. Despite the fact they’ve been growing all this time they are still not visible to the naked eye and this unspoken point proves (to me anyway) just how tiny they really have been. Reid carefully places the glass slide on the floor of the miniaturising chamber seen early and the music hangs on a note of suspense one last time…and then totally changes; for the first time in the entire film it now turns to one of hope and relief, and our protagonists become visible again. As Reid and the command staff watch on, four tiny people take form and revert to normal size. A silent nod from Reid to Carter is enough to convey the emotion of the moment between two military professionals. (Again, if this were remade today, Carter and Reid would be 30-something Calvin Klein models high-fiving each other and making inappropriate corny jokes to break up all the boring science stuff.)

I think you’ve got something in your eye…

An overhead shot of the four survivors ends the film as they’re joined by operations personnel and doctors all wanting to congratulate them on their fantastic voyage and safe return.

Unfortunately, everyone forgot about the injected saline from the original syringe, the discarded laser and oh yes, the frakking submarine which all remained inside Benes and would revert to normal size too, resulting, in Doctor Kelso’s words, of “a nasty case of…death”. Some claim that because the Proteus was digested, it was destroyed, and therefore wouldn’t revert to normal size. This is…err, wrong, to be polite. The ship was ingested, but the molecules and atoms that constituted it were miniaturised – they didn’t cease to exist. Given the whole premise of the film was the crew having 60 minutes, no longer, before they regrew, this is pretty glaring oversight. In his novel, Asimov got around this by having the crew tempt the white cell (which ingested the Proteus) into following them out through the eye too. Also, the physicians used as little saline as possible for the initial injection.

As regards the characters, none of them are particularly fleshed out but this is an adventure movie not a character-driven plot. With so little time and so much to get through, the film can’t afford divergences to let us see the mind and soul of Grant or Cora. The film also never explains why Michaels is the bad guy either. Again, in Asimov’s short version the characters are brought to life a lot better (albeit the dialogue is clunky) with Cora initially viewing Grant as just a dumb muscle man but coming to see that he has a brain indeed, is a good leader, and is obviously grateful for him saving her life a few times. Grant’s attraction to her is written with all the subtlety of a hammer in truth, and the men find it incredulous that a girl can be incredibly clever and also beautiful… “Instead of working as protégé for the best neurosurgeon on the planet, shouldn’t you be doing something worthwhile with your life and making the most of your important features, the physical ones of course – by, say, being a super-model or porn star?!” If this were a character arc like Battlestar Galactica, or a human story with a message which happens to have action, like Star Trek II, I’d criticise it. But it’s not.

De-miniaturisation

Review: I try to be as objective as possible, but the truth is this was an all-time classic for me and a favourite ever since I can remember. For that reason, it’s hard to not inject a bit of fondness into a review, whereas someone else might watch this and think “you can see the strings on the antibodies! That’s crap!” and promptly go back to watching Big Brother.

As far as the story goes, apart from the obvious plot holes it’s a really tight script, with the only question marks over the pacing at the start – and some of the scene transitions feel dated. Some of the special effects are clearly lacking by today’s standards but many of the sets also stand up quite well. The attention to detail is definitely there, for the most part. The film also doesn’t ram medical jargon down our throats but says what needs to be said as if professionals were saying it. It also does a pretty good job getting all the necessary information to the viewer without bad exposition. The sexism of the time is pretty evident, with the lady needing to be rescued a few times and it being the woman to drop the scissors on the floor, and Reid even saying that because this mission is so important we don’t need a woman on board, someone who’ll probably just menstruate all over the sub anyway.

The plot holes and dated attitude to women drop the score a little, but I’ll judge every work of art against what it’s claiming to be. This was a huge blockbuster which took years to make, had some big names stars, and took itself seriously as a science fiction adventure thriller. It was incredibly ambitious, and most of the elements come together superbly. The problem for the writers was that the concept of miniaturisation is so hard to translate into true sci-fi because the rules of physics themselves stand in the way – there are literally too many problems to overcome so you either: a. forget the idea, b. scientifically rationalise every single thing even if only on a very hypothetical level, or c. do what you can do to make a good movie and ignore the rest. I think the FV producers chose c and succeeded.

I’m tempted to be more generous with one of my favourites, but it has some tough competition in the sci-fi/fantasy genre. I’m going to give it 8/10. A true classic. I only hope that any modern remakes do the original justice.

Final score

The Ferengi – the ultimate strawmen of capitalism

You don’t have to have seen Star Trek or even like sci-fi to find this relevant. This isn’t just about bad writing, which is an artistic crime by itself – and when the very thing you’re trying to denounce is so obviously a ludicrous strawman not only do you fail to make the point, you end up undermining your own position. It’s also about propaganda.

I am a geek, I admit, so I can unapologetically say that if you’re not, I’ll do some quick back-story for you: the Ferengi are an alien race in the Star Trek universe, introduced way back in The Next Generation’s first season. Since the Federation (sort of like all the best parts of the United States in space; in Kirk’s words a place where people had “the full exercise of individual Rights” source) finally made friends with the classic bad guys the Klingons, the show needed a new nemesis for our heroes. Now, when you consider that even someone who hasn’t watched Star Trek probably knows who The Borg are, this should give you an idea of the impact a truly terrifying enemy can have…and how far off the mark the writers were with the Ferengi. They are ugly apish buffoons (the Ferengi, not the writers – though I don’t deny the similarity). After only a couple of episodes it was clear they couldn’t be taken seriously, so much so that almost every “Ferengi” episode of DS9 and Voyager to come was written as a “comedy episode”, with one exception.

The Ferengi were shown to be a technologically-advanced intelligent species (appearances to the contrary) who could rival the Federation in space exploration and/or conquest. As I said, this didn’t last long and they instead devolved into the ultra “capitalist” exploitative bigoted idiots that would crop up every now and then to beat us over the head with the “too much capitalism is bad!” mallet. I could attribute this to just bad writing, but the problem is that the Ferengi are a caricature of everything the Left believes about capitalism, beginning with a most profound and basic misunderstanding. Of course, it’s not the Left I’m addressing this to, but the everyday person who doesn’t know any better and whose only understanding of capitalism comes from false generalisations and clichéd movie villains.

Capitalism in one sentence

“Do not initiate force against an innocent rational being.” Got that? Good, because this is the basic premise of capitalism. Of course, people will disagree and they’re welcome to. You are welcome to define capitalism as you like, but you have to justify your definition and show how it’s logically derived. This is the job of philosophy, but I don’t intend to go into that much detail here. The best philosophical defender of capitalism was Ayn Rand and it’s her understanding of the term I’ll use. Even if you totally disagree with Ayn Rand, I don’t see how someone can object to me invoking her here. After all, when I attack communism and socialism, I don’t attack what I think they are, I attack what they actually claim to be! I am happy to take a socialist’s definition of their own system and roll with it, so no one should object to me using Rand’s definition of capitalism here.

Why does it matter? Well, the “profound and basic” misconception of capitalism that I alluded to is of capitalism saying “make money!” But it doesn’t. Don’t confuse an economic consequence with a political principle. I attack socialism, not because it says “surrender all your values to the State!” (although that is a logical consequence of socialism) but because it says “the Rights of the individual are secondary to the needs of the State.” I think capitalism has proven that wealth and profit are its corollaries (hard to argue with, even if you don’t like capitalism), but the political principle on which it stands is: “leave people alone”, or “don’t initiate force against others.”

We’ll see that every distasteful aspect of the Ferengi, who are supposedly the unavoidable consequences of rampant unchecked laissez-faire capitalism, are false and even precluded by capitalism.

Sexism

In Ferengi society females are treated like second class citizens. The men run everything and exclude Ferengi women on the grounds that they are useless in business, and all the Ferengi care about is profit. This is probably the biggest non-sequitor of them all. I don’t know how someone gets from “leave people alone” to “treat women like useless house-bound tools”. Capitalism’s principle of leaving every person free to pursue their own life, liberty and happiness surely encourages respect for our fellow creatures, recognising that they are just like us and have the same potential as we do. Also, with the use of force banned, how could women be forcibly restrained from having jobs and earning money? The Western world has proven (most memorably during WW2) that having half your entire population not sitting around doing nothing, increases production and profits. Imagine if today women were suddenly forbidden from working – almost every business where gender is irrelevant would collapse! Yet we’re supposed to believe that a society so obsessed with profit as the Ferengi wouldn’t take advantage of a worker base which could in theory double its workforce? Isn’t a common criticism of laissez-faire capitalism that would it end up employing too many people that it shouldn’t, not excluding them?

Of course, as any real life rational businessman knows, there is no profit in unnecessary discrimination.

You might say that this is just an example of an alien race which is ultra-capitalistic and also happens to be ultra-sexist. But every single aspect of the Ferengi revolves around profit, so the implication is clear that their horrifically-sexist society is connected to their capitalism. But even if it wasn’t, it’s guilt by association. For example, imagine if Trek gave us an alien race who are all black, oh and it just so happens they’re thieves and rape isn’t a crime on their world. Who would dismiss this as innocently exploring ethical issues in a science-fiction format and not racist?

Exploitation

The Ferengi are open to and encourage bribery, and forever force money from their customers by upping prices, lowering wages, and denying basic commodities to their employees, since without a regulation from some Progressive bureaucrat of course, this is what would obviously happen in all companies. Naturally, all unions are banned.

Leaving aside the government support that unions have had in the Western world (which only gives one side an unfair advantage in negotiations, but since that side isn’t the evil businessmen it’s ok), with the use of force banned, how could unions be prevented? They are an obvious and natural means for employees to pool their (economic) power and lobby their employer for change. If we drop the premise that businessmen are James Bond villains or irrational scrooges, it’s clear that no reasonable employer is going to lose his staff when by making acceptable changes (or losses) he can keep them here and happy. On the other hand, he isn’t going to needlessly cut into his profits if he doesn’t have to. And implying that this is necessarily a bad thing isn’t an attack on capitalism, it’s an attack on the very inescapable nature of human trade itself!

Also, it’s simply daft to assert that a businessman can keep upping his prices to extremes. Of course, in the heads of anti-capitalists, prices are set in a vacuum and buyers are at the whims of sellers. But prices reflect costs, overheads, the affluence of the customer base and competition. Yes, if there is little competition you can get away with upping your prices, but it doesn’t mean that, for example, if I’m the only pub within a 50 mile radius I can charge $20 for a pint of ale. No matter how rich my customer base is, no is going to pay that much for a pint. And even if a tiny minority could, would that handful keep my business running? If only 1 person a day buys a $20 pint, it does not follow that if I cut my prices to $2, I will now get 10 customers a day instead of 1; in reality I’d probably get many times that, because not only will more customers be attracted to my pub, they will each spend more because the prices are good. ‘Good’ here being within the context of my customers’ affluence; in some regions I could up my price to $3 and not lose customers. In other regions I’d have to drop it to $1.50 to (counter-intuitively) make profit. But to say that the customer is irrelevant and an unchecked businessman would just irrationally up his prices is pure fantasy. Which would be fine if this was just another alien race and not an unashamed caricature of a genuinely pro-human political system.

(Incidentally, in my experience pub managers and owners resent raising prices because it simply drives customers away, which means they lose the atmosphere in their premises and lose business. Ironically, the ever-increasing costs on alcohol are imposed by government taxes, something that wouldn’t exist in a truly capitalist society.)

Corruption

The Ferengi give and take bribes like we shake hands. This is bad, naturally, because the affairs of two private consensual individuals are of course the concern of the rest of society. Oh wait…

A bribe is a bribe if it’s a way to circumvent honest trade. For example, if you’re a buyer you could be bribed to accept some poor quality stock that you normally wouldn’t, and which your company wouldn’t normally want – but you get a brown paper envelope and press the Confirm button anyway. This is a bribe. Similarly, you could be a politician with the power to use force against your own civilians, and be bribed by a business to grant them special privileges. This is a bribe. (By the way, whilst the former could of course still happen under capitalism, the latter could not. Remind me again why the Left doesn’t like it?)

But saying that any private settlement reached between two free individuals is a bribe is just ridiculous. By this reasoning, any bargaining or negotiation at all should be viewed as a bribe. Offering to give someone a bit more for something you want isn’t a bribe, it’s called trade! But presumably this is frowned upon by the Soviet Federation of Planets because all transactions are the concern of the State.

It’s either fraud, in which case it’s illegal (even and especially under capitalism) or it’s not fraud in which case it’s no one else’s business.

Obsession with profit

Everything the Ferengi say and do revolves around profit. Their version of the bible is “The Rules of Acquisition” and even their afterlife myths involve a latinum-plated vault where treasures await them. How many businessmen do you know whose every topic of conversation concerns money? How many of them actually dream about it? How many of them see it as an end in itself?

Like everything else with the propaganda of the Left, it makes no sense. Anti-capitalists think that just because capitalists want to be left free to pursue their own selfish values, which includes making money, that “making money” is therefore all they care about. I’ve seen scarecrows with less straw than this argument. It’s like saying that just because someone thinks drugs should be legalised, his ulterior motive is getting high on anything he can get his hands on. I happen to think all drugs should be legalised, but if they were I wouldn’t take them. So why assume that someone who wants property rights fully respected automatically wants to stand on the necks of the poor to make some extra cash? It’s because the Left frames every anti-capitalist argument as a matter of money, and not the principles that political systems should be based on. It is here that anti-capitalists reveal that they are the ones obsessed with profit. But whereas the Ferengi are obsessed with having more money, the Left is obsessed with making sure no one has too much of it!

Greed

This ties in with the above: that just because capitalists want to be left free, which includes having no limit or checks on the profit they can acquire, they are “greedy”, an adjective related to excessive consumption. The difference is: rational people eat until they are full, because there is a logical and practical reason to eat and cease eating when that biological urge has been satisfied. The difference with money is, there is no logical or practical point in life at which it becomes pointless to acquire more money (especially since wealth isn’t finite, it’s created). Ok, in theory you might have so much money that literally nothing is an obstacle for you – but if your productive effort reaps money then the only way to stop making it, short of refusing to get paid, is to sit on your hands and watch TV for the rest of your life, a position itself that is contrary to human flourishing. Also, the incredibly rich do seem to be quite generous with their money in real life, a fact borne out by billionaire philanthropists and mega-corporations who are the largest contributors to charity in the world.

In fact, if greed is the irrational pursuit of objectives, then why would we assume that a person who continues working with no end in sight to what he can achieve or acquire is being irrational? We don’t see the best sports stars earn enough to live comfortably and then retire, do we? And we don’t criticise the likes of Tiger Woods, Roger Federer, Stephen Hendry and Lionel Messi for continuing to blow the opposition away even after achieving everything “reasonably” necessary in a career, do we? So why are businessmen with the same ruthless determination to win viewed as greedy? The best sports stars make  fortunes for themselves in exchange for a relatively limited return to their “customers”, the spectators. They smash the hopes and dreams of their rivals and seek to conquer everything and hope the other guy loses. Even assuming a businessman of equal ruthlessness, he at least brings a product to the world, not just a group of fans, and gives how many others a career and purpose along the way? And unlike a sportsman’s titles and records, the businessman’s practical achievements will live with humanity forever.

And yet, it is the charity worker which is held alongside the sportsman and businessman as the model of humanity.

Public welfare

Towards the end of the Ferengi story arc, which we see in the last season of Deep Space Nine, the leader of the Ferengi Alliance (though what he leads and how, in a system where government force is supposedly banned, is a mystery) has introduced taxation (pretty much a swear word to the Ferengi) and instituted various social reforms such as “free” healthcare and pensions. Ironically, a society where energy is free and unlimited and all matter can be “replicated” from thin air is probably the only one where socialism would actually work. But even then it wouldn’t, unless doctors and scientists could also be replicated…

Yes, the immoral Ferengi slowly begin to learn the true meaning of Christmas; that profit is a vice and the true calling of all sophisticated beings is of charity work to any potential number of other individuals they may never meet and might care nothing about.

But the funny thing is that despite the Ferengi being deliberately stacked as caricatures, they still manage to get things done! Throughout Trek, the Ferengi are never involved in any wars and their business interests are allowed to continue without interference from any aggressive power. They have an impressive military and aren’t slackers when it comes to exploration and invention. We are never shown the Ferengi homeworld in ruins, resource-deprived, impoverished or with people enslaved. In fact, in the words of Trek’s most famous Ferengi: “You’re overlooking something, Commander. Humans used to be a lot worse than Ferengi. Slavery, concentration camps, interstellar war; we have nothing in our past that approaches that kind of barbarism. You see? We’re nothing like you. We’re better.” And despite the Trek writers giving us the kind of alien history that we can only dream about, we’re still told “but if you want all this, you going to have to take corporatism and sexism too.” One can’t help but think that if ultra-capitalism produced a world without war, slavery and genocide, maybe it’s worth a few greedy businessmen.

I’m reminded of the Caldari society in Eve Online, which is supposedly a capitalist state taken to extremes; from Wikipedia: “the Caldari State is organised as a form of statist corporatocracy, where the State itself is owned by and operated on behalf of a few trust-like megaconglomerates.” Whilst I don’t deny that such a State could exist in theory, it isn’t capitalistic. Capitalism is the separation of corporation from State. The Caldari are contrasted with the Gallente, who “favour liberal economic policies, encourage individual entrepreneurship and social democracy, and maintain a progressive approach to social welfare”. The Gallente are very much like Trek’s Federation politically, but the problem is that these “virtues” are reeled off in one sentence as if they are mutually compatible or inevitable. They aren’t. Progressive social reforms are a hallmark of Leftist politics and are undeniably fascist in origin and nature. Individual entrepreneurship is antithetical to social welfare and liberal economics, since Liberalism in the modern sense means socialism, not capitalism. Again, we see strawmen in action: the best of all worlds is a semi-socialist “liberal” democracy and anything else must necessarily be an undesirable radical society which is either fully-despotic and totalitarian or ultra-capitalistic where the mega-corporations are in charge. How convenient. But I say again: this is all based on a simple misconception of capitalism. If capitalism is the society where nothing trumps individual Rights, then please tell me, how exactly could business own the State? How could despotism come about? How could anyone be forcibly included or excluded from any activity against their wish?

Why?

Because I’m so opinionated I can’t just leave it there and point out the flaws of anti-capitalism in just two popular works of fiction. The question is: why is capitalism painted this way? Leaving aside conspiracy theories of the Left (not because the Left is innocent but because not everyone who is sceptical of capitalism is always a Leftist), I’ll suggest this: it’s easy. If capitalism was understood properly it necessarily would exclude most of the nasty stuff that people don’t want to see in politics. The problem though is that it raises a lot of uncomfortable questions that people don’t want to answer, or simply can’t, like: what about education, roads, healthcare, tax? It’s easier to imagine that somehow our society just works with the balance of individual freedom and Statism, and pretend that the two are compatible or can even co-exist for a while, and anyone else must just have it wrong. And how much better does such a Liberal Progressive society look when contrasted to the strawmen alternatives?

The irony is that despite Roddenberry’s Marxist utopia, the United Federation of Planets was supposed to be the United States of America in space, a place where individual freedom was treasured and people of all races would work together, not because they are forced to, not because they are guilt-tripped into it, not because of positive discrimination or ethic-minority quotas, not because of political correctness, but simply because there is no rational reason for us to not cooperate if everyone is equal in the eyes of the law, and because there is no profit in discrimination. It was the capitalism of early America that smashed slavery and feudalism and allowed men to flourish (and get rich), and those countries that followed the example (like Britain in Europe) also succeeded compared to other nations. It was the Progressives of the late 19th and 20th centuries that would re-introduce the anti-individualist God-state as the political ideal, whether as expressed fascists, communists and socialists, whether as brazen as Hitler’s Nazi party or as nicey-nice as Barak Obama’s neo-socialism. Rather than being cutting edge thought-provoking television, Star Trek is just another example of anti-capitalist nonsensical clichés. We can blame it on bad writing, but the reason for such an obvious strawman in the first place is sadly more pervasive.

My Top 10 TV Shows of all Time II

It’s been over 3 years since I last considered this topic, so I thought an update was in order.

When judging a TV show, I can only try to do it as objectively as possibly from what I have seen, which means establishing some criteria coupled with my own tastes and preferences. For one, a show should primarily achieve what it intends, whether it be drama or comedy. Further to this, if it is trying to achieve something, for example a particular message or thought, does it? If so, how well? Most importantly, is that message positive and meaningful? Then HOW it achieves that must be considered, in other words, quality of writing and structure. Other factors, such as acting and use of music are also important. Then it should get bonus points for how long it keeps this quality up. Also worth considering is the context of the show in culture and time. I added this little specification to avoid judging older shows too unfairly, considering how TV styles and attitudes have changed, especially in the last 10 years.

10. Spaced

A short-lived but really clever and funny sitcom. That it was so short-lived is definitely in its favour. It never got stale. Every episode is a treat, full of little gems that can be spotted for the first time with each re-watch.

9. Battlestar Galactica

A very intense, very raw drama. Lots of fantastic action scenes, lots of excitement. Some absolutely superb stories, and a truly mindblowing set of actors. This is dirty on-the-edge sci-fi at its best. Having said that, it loses points for me for a few reasons: I am not convinced the writers knew where they were going from the start. Secondly, the “heroes” of the show are despicable. They are mostly foul obnoxious back-stabbing unprincipled parasites you could hope to meet. I can only think of one character who stays mostly true to himself for the whole show. You might say that humans on the edge lose all friendship and rules and honour. If that’s true, I say I’d rather the Cylons have killed me. Fighting for survival on its own isn’t enough, and this major philosophical point is totally lost on the writers, hence the lower score. (Not to mention the statism/socialism/collectivism/mysticism that is often applauded in the series).

8. Scrubs

A sitcom. Does it make you laugh? Very much so. This is one of those shows that, assuming it’s up your street, will definitely make you laugh out loud so many times. It is also very well written, and has just enough realism when necessary to still make you care about the characters. It has tears-in-your-eyes LOL moments, and shivers-down-the-spine WOW moments (My Screw Up, anyone?). Problems: after season 4 it got too big for its own good and fell away from the originality that made it special. Recurring guest stars became main stars; the regular cast ran out of stories; the interaction between them just didn’t work anymore; and most importantly, it simply stopped being funny. I think it’s because the story was about young doctors growing up and finding their place in the world, the hospital, and amongst each other. But this was achieved by season 4. The story was told. After that I think it just stopped working. Give me 8 seasons like 1 and 2 and this would be higher.

7. Prison Break

Addictive TV at its best. Again I have to say, very well thought out stories and stuff that really makes you think “oh crap! How is he going to get out of this mess??” There are so many twists and turns you’ll never know what to expect, and I can’t think of any dumb ones thrown in just for dramatic effect. It also has its touching moments too, especially the finale. There is an element of it being dragged out a tiny bit and every single event being slightly embellished, but that’s high-paced modern TV drama for you. The only downside of a great show like this is that re-watchability suffers. But I’d strongly recommend everyone give this a try.

6. 24

Most of what I said about Prison Break could apply to 24. I scored 24 slightly higher because I think it’s more re-watchable and there are more of those special moments. 24 is exciting, and grabs you straight away, keeps building up the tension, and intrigues you. It combines all the best sci-fi/drama/cops-and-robbers moments with brilliant characters. The problem with 24 is that it went on too long, and became formulaic. There are only so many times you can re-use a plot idea before it loses its impact. There is only so “big” you can make a terrorist attack before it becomes ridiculous. There are only so many times you can “save the day” in the last second before the tension is lost. And ultimately, they didn’t end the show how they should have.

5. Firefly

With only 14 episodes, it must take something special for a cancelled TV show to come in this highly. Firefly is that special. It is probably the most unique sci-fi show you will ever see, and that will ever be made. No aliens, no kids, no silly costumes. This is a story about a very diverse bunch of people, some friends – some not, making their way in an unfriendly galaxy. The dialogue is totally brilliant. The actors are superb. There are enough funny moments to make you think it was written as a comedy. The characters are so deep the show could run for years and we’d still want to know more. THIS is how a television show should be done. Unfortunately, because FOX are retards and the show never caught on right away, it was cancelled, never to return, save in film form (Serenity). Do yourself a favour, buy the boxset, watch the 14 episodes, and weep that that’s all there was.

4. Babylon 5

In some ways, I wish B5 was more like Firefly. B5 is a very unique show – and was a big divergence from sci-fi at a time when Star Trek had the monopoly. All the things that Star Trek TNG did bad, this did well. Characters that are actually believable, stories that go somewhere, issues that really matter, consequences that aren’t forgotten in 40 minutes. The use of special effects and music is also far superior than any other sci-fi show too (Battlestar Galactica had the right idea). The way the story arc builds, with little hints dropped in every now and then, is just fantastic. The battle scenes are exciting. The Shadows are just, well, awesome. The attention to detail in how the races look and talk and interact, and how the universe “works” with space-stations and jump-gates – all builds a very believable and realistic view of the future. And yet, despite the gritty realism of it, this Tolkien-esque dramatic background of ancient races, spirituality, epic issues and fights beyond our imagination – was definitely a first for popular sci-fi.

The problem with B5 is that it does have some rather corny, cheesy, and cringing episodes, especially in its first season. I think it takes a while to get going, and I can’t promise it will grab anyone, even half-way through season 1. However, this is like much 90s TV. The episodes are generally more self-contained and you don’t have to invest too much to begin with. From season 2 though, it’s non-stop fun and the arc intensifies to the point each episode is more like a chapter in a book.

3. House

Talk about superb writing. I have never seen a TV show where every single episode was jam-packed of so much good dialogue, humour, and drama. I still notice new jokes re-watching it. Obviously, this show is clever and fascinating. It’s a “who-done-it” every week with the culprit being some rare condition. How we get to find out is much more important that what it is. Every scene with House’s sarcasm is a joy. And the sad moments are certainly not contrived to make us think “oh this is a serious show too” – the humour and despair in the show work off each other so well because the source is the same. I can’t work out if House is uplifting or depressing; it’s probably both, with the lean towards the former, eventually. The episodes are admittedly, and almost deliberately, formulaic – because it’s hard to tell them another way. What’s important is what happens around it.

The only downside of House is that from a philosophical perspective, the character is praise-worthy and despicable at the same time, due to the misguided notions in pop culture and writing of selfishness and value. If a drug addict is selfish, then what is a fitness-focused personal trainer? Selfless?? This is a finger I can’t point just at the House writers, but at the “intellectuals” in philosophy who are nihilistic and Kantian.

Everyone must watch “House.”

2. Star Trek

I was cheating here somewhat at first because I was going to lump them all together and pick out the parts I like. But to be fair, I’ll stick with the original series and those films. You have to remember, it’s the 1960s – and NOTHING like this has been before. There is no template, nothing to compare, no words or phrases like “tractor beam” to nick off other shows. This is what started it all off. The best part of the original Star Trek, which was lost on so many future audiences, is that it’s NOT a geek show. It’s not about tachyon particles and warp-core breaches or whatever other nonsense the TNG writers thought their fans wanted to be impressed by. It’s not.

Gene Roddenberry wanted a “wagon train to the stars”; a story about HUMANS and the human condition, but set in space. Amidst a real world that was on the brink of nuclear war, with so much racial and social unrest, he imagined a world where people working together overcame those differences and reached out into space, building a great federation and making friends of aliens. The villains in ST are BAD and must be destroyed. The good guys are GOOD and try to do the right thing. The three main characters, Kirk, Spock, and McCoy – interact wonderfully. The show also gets the comedy right when it tries to as well. Kirk is perhaps the greatest fictional Captain and leader of all time. He is what a true hero should be. This believable and engaging universe sparked imaginations across the world, and directly influenced pop culture, fashion, technology, and inspired dozens of other sci-fi shows. The first US aircraft carrier and the prototype NASA shuttle were christened Enterprise in honour of the fictional starship.

Star Trek lost its way in my opinion even as early as The Next Generation. Picard and Data aside, show me another character in that stale miserable lot who were different from season 7 to season 1 and I’ll eat my hat. DS9 was a better show, but it wasn’t Star Trek. Voyager is the best one of the lot for being true to Star Trek, and Janeway the best captain since Kirk.

Don’t let the geeks and the Klingon speakers and the conventions put you off – Star Trek the original series was a revolution and changed the world. Even almost 50 years on, those episodes and films are timeless. There are negative points, but more cultural and time-specific ones that I won’t mention.

1. Buffy, the Vampire Slayer

When I started, I said let’s consider what a show tries to be and how well it does at that. BtVS INTENDS to be dramatic, comedic, theatrical, outrageous, and metaphorical. It succeeds. Despite some of its more outrageous notions (and demons) it takes itself seriously and it asks you to do the same. If you do, you will love it, and if you don’t you’ve missed the point. Created by the same genius as Firefly, this has the same brilliant dialogue and character interaction. It is superbly funny. The characters are real and deep, and they change and grow up. The ability of the show’s mood to reflect the characters’ mood is staggering. It can feel so light-hearted and fun a show to watch, and also dark and dangerous and depressing. It accomplished feats never seen before (26 odd minutes with NO dialogue) or those rarely seen and even more rarely done well (the Sleepless dream sequences; or the Once More With Feeling musical).

This is a show that excels at virtually every quality you would want in a TV show, and on a very modest budget too. It’s a show about young people growing up, and how the monsters they face are metaphors for personal and social problems that we all do. Pain, friendship, unpopularity, social awkwardness, the first crush, the first love, the first loss, heartbreak, depression, death, grief, fear – these aren’t words I am just rattling off – this is what the show is about fundamentally. That the tools used to drive the story, fantastic demons and epic life-or-death end-of-the-world battles, are also brilliantly done is just a bonus.

It is so addictive, especially when it gets going – and ALSO so re-watchable that it gets bonus marks for that alone. As with all 90s TV, especially those set in “sunny” teen American high schools, there are some cheesy moments. I also think the title itself puts people off. But this isn’t a story about vampire-teen-angst though (like some of the shit swirling around today). This is a story about YOU. This is the story of YOUR life, if you were in Sunnydale and had the weight of the world on your shoulders. And yet, who of you hasn’t felt that way at some time in your lives? Can you pick yourself up when there is seemingly nothing to fight for, and battle on one more time against your own demons and the other horrors in life? Our heroes can. That is why they are heroes. But they are just normal people who are friends, and in that respect that are what each of us can and should be. BtVS is a show that glorifies good and positive values, and slays the bad. Evil is something to be defeated, in every tiny way, every day. 

And if you are positive and fight for the good against the demons in your mind and the real world – you can succeed. Now, give me a TV show that exemplifies this spirit, with amazing funny and likeable characters, with wonderful music and a barrage of laughs, with heart-sinking moments and blink-and-you’ll-miss-it dialogue, and a plethora of other “female-lead-hero” inspired TV shows that followed, – and I’ll show you the best TV show of all time. Oh hang on, just did…