Thursday, February 15, 2007

Two Telling Articles

Two articles worth checking out.

This one, "Filmgoers debate future of space travel," sent to me from Paul Wargelin, is a piece in the Houston Chronicle discussing a range of audience reactions to the new film The Astronaut Farmer. A lot of older viewers are exciting by the private sector's move into space exploration and space tourism, but that excitement isn't shared by 14 year old Summer Thompson:

"NASA has lost touch with today's kids. In school they teach us about the planets, and I've heard about a couple of space missions, but other than that, they don't say a lot. I don't know that I've ever heard a kid say, 'I want to be an astronaut.' I hear kids say all the time, 'I want to cure AIDS' or 'I want to cure cancer.' They don't know a lot about space. No one cares about going to Mars. If they want to keep NASA going, it's going to take an army of kids who want to do it. But this generation has just lost touch with the space program. I don't want to go into space. I want to be the one who cures cancer, just like everyone else."

Meanwhile, via Pamela Sargent, Gary Kamiya writes "History that hurts," an analysis of why the HBO series Rome works so well that appears on Gary talks about how so much historical drama tries to map contemporary values onto figures in other times and places, taking the stance that mankind is virtually unchanged beneath the hairstyles and fashion statements of different eras. Rome, by contrast, "dares to depict an alien worldview, one untouched by Christianity and the moral ethos introduced by that strange little sect... The biggest difference between Rome and Gladiator, or Ben-Hur, or the vast run of Hollywood costume dramas, is that it resists making its characters familiar. This is a bigger achievement than it might appear. A work of art set in the distant past must walk a tricky line between portraying its characters as essentially the same as us or as utterly alien. Most history-themed films and TV shows have always fallen decidedly on the 'human beings are always the same' end of the spectrum. There are many reasons for this. It requires both historical scholarship and a certain imaginative audacity to create characters who don't share some of our most basic assumptions and beliefs. It's also a lot easier to hook viewers with characters whose emotions and beliefs they share. Moreover, there's a self-contradiction at the heart of the enterprise: to create a three-dimensional character, one must fully enter into his or her mind -- not easy to do if that mind is radically different."


I was also gladdened to see Gary praising Rome for the detail of its world-building, in a comparison with The Lord of the Rings, and talking about how this, combined with the show's willingness to deal with brutality, is what makes it so effective in portraying what he calls the "outer space of history."


justin said...


The Iraq stuff was a touch gratuitous. But a pair of really nice articles.

If I started watching Rome next week, would I be totally lost?

Lou Anders said...

Yeah, I thought the Iraq stuff was reaching, though watching last week's subversion of the Senate by the military, I wasn't so sure there weren't some parallels.

But Rome is only ever going to be two seasons, and the boxed set of Season One is already out - so I'd say start from the beginning. If it were going on for years, you might want to jump in or you'd never catch up. But given it's finite, why not do it start to finish in order?

Justin said...

Fair point. Now I shall place another Amazon order -- and I am incapable of just ordering ONE item.

Ahm. Voluntary penury.

Adam Roberts said...

Justin: "If I started watching Rome next week, would I be totally lost?"

The real question is: "If I started watching Lost next week, would I be totally Rome?

Which is to say, I thought Rome was superb; not so much because of its gifted and mostly ex-Shakespearean cast of actors (something one expects from the BBC), and not exactly because of the violence and the sex (tho' I've no objection to that); but fundamentally because it created a rounded, believable social milieu, world-building in fact, that possessed a genuine thickness of verisimilitude and affect. Which is to say, I believed the city portrayed on screen; it’s daily life, its topography, its values, its strengths and weaknesses. My view: there was only one feeble stretch in the whole series, and that was presumably a budgetary thing (where the director decided to skimp over the battle of Pharsalius, at which Caesar defeated Pompey the Great). Otherwise it was an delicious business as viewer just sitting back and immersing yourself in the world created.

The 21st century has started well for telly, I’d say: West Wing, The Wire, the sublime Deadwood, Dexter, Battlestar Galactica, Rome ... even Lost. All classic. I haven't yet seen Heroes (debuts in the UK next week), but I'm looking forward to that.

Ted said...

I recently watched the first season of Rome on DVD and enjoyed it, but not as much as I had hoped.

For me, perhaps the biggest obstacle is what Kamiya calls the "over-the-top, picaresque plot." Vorenus and Pullo wind up in the middle of everything, and the fact that Caesar explicitly comments on the unlikeliness of this doesn't make it easier to believe. And their presence isn't even required for story purposes; there are plenty of other characters on the show, so it'd be easy to show the pivotal historical events without dragging Vorenus and Pullo into them. I can't agree with Kamiya when he says "it's the kind of absurdity that doesn't matter."

I also don't agree with Kamiya's claims about the show's historical accuracy. The show plays fast and loose with history, which I don't have a problem with, but I think it's only marginally more accurate than Gladiator (given the differing focuses of the TV series and the film), so I think Kamiya is being unfair in the way he disparages the latter.

Nor do I find the characters as alien as Kamiya seems to. Atia's utter nonchalance about her slaves' presence during sex is a neat bit of strangeness, but it seems to be more a reflection of her individual character than it is of the period. In general, I find the characters all pretty recognizable.

Lou Anders said...

Hi Ted,
Interestingly, now that you mention Caesar's comment, I wonder if that isn't the first evidence of the divine and the coincidence of Titus learnign of Vorenus' children's fate the second...
I do agree with you re: GLADIATOR - and the more ROME prompts me to research the actual history, the more I realize how "fast and loose" they are being. I think Gary's article stands more on the idea that they are creating an SFnal like "verisimilitude" of history. ROME "feels" more authentic than other historical dramas due to the Peter Jackson-like obsession with detail of setting.