Thursday, March 09, 2006

Quincy vs. Star Wars

I must admit, I have a weird thing for 70's shows. When I was working at an answering service to support myself during university (and no, this wasn't in the 50's) I did homework and watched TV between taking messages. There were a lot of 70's crime shows on when I worked, and I got hooked on Quincy, MacMillan and Wife, the Rockford Files - shows I had never seen before. (Turns out I'm a sucker for TV where people don't look or act like wind up toys; I'd take the delightfully full-of-flaws MASH characters over Friends any day).

Since I'm a hermit I often work from home, and around lunch time I tend to put Quincy on in the background. Yesterday, the show was centered around two teens driving home from an all night party, both drunk as proverbial skunks. An accident ensued - naturally - and the mystery ended up being trying to figure out who the actual driver was. During the investigation Quincy consulted a computer geek whose specialty was the *cough* "cutting edge" field of accident scene recreation, using what looked like prehistoric computer imaging. The computer graphics used were a monochromatic rectangle for the car and a series of dashes for the road, sort of like an automotive version of Pong. In the end, it turned out that the survivor hadn't been driving the car. Hallelujah!

I also have to admit that I have a a thing for Star Wars. (Well, up until the recent ones). As I was watching the show I was hit by the thought that George Lucas would laugh his arse off if he saw the pitiful special effects. In interviews George has waxed enthusiastically about the triumph of making Jar Jar's robe flow in a completely life-like way as he walked. Jar Jar, who is easily one of the most reviled characters in movie history. Who the hell cares what his robe was doing when his very presence took the viewer out of the story? When his character was so poorly drawn that instead of being sucked into the conflict you wanted to punch him? One has to assume that George is so embroiled in special effects creation at this point that he needs some kind of intervention - the kind where someone takes his CG software away and gives him a stern talking-to. (Man, I'd love to be there for that).

Do special effects in today's TV and movies help tell the story? As over the top cheesy as Quincy is, the characters all have heart, they're well established and definitely not propped up by special effects; for my part, I'm able to connect with the story in a way that I often don't these days with movies, or TV. Seriously, I could care less that the volcano scene in Star Wars III took nine months to put together. The acting was gawdawful and the characters were laughable. (Am I the only one that wanted to give Anakin a time out instead of seeing him as the embodiment of evil?)

In the end, it's character and conflict that drive the story. I did some digging around about creating characters and came across Holly Lisle's great article on this subject. I have to say, I read this ages ago - when I had finished the first draft of my book and was starting the second. The points she makes resonate even more strongly with me today, and I'll definitely keep them in mind as I'm writing my next. Right until I need to blow up the Death Star, of course. Then it's CG all the way.


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