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Sunday, 1 October 2017

Fudging the Dismount - Electric Dreams

I'm starting to think Electric Dreams is getting an unfair beating.  It's still very polarised out there, between those who love and hate it, there isn't that much middle ground.  But that's the internet for you, it's where the middle ground goes to die.  There's all the it's trying to be Black Mirror talk, which is plainly a red herring.  It shares a similar aesthetic feel, but that's because that's the default aesthetic of now - I will write about this in a future blog post, with special reference to 1980's television studio lighting.
That said, Impossible Planet left me feeling some of that internet disappointment.  The ending just didn't work and the outpouring of dismay on Twitter was fairly well justified - it was a really good story and it was changed by the adapter into a less good one.  The adapter went for the addition of a love story, where the couple end up in some kind of group hallucination at the point of death - or is it all really real?  If it were a 1950's B movie the words The End would come up and turn into a big question mark.  It was nowhere near as satisfying dramatically as just leaving her to die alone with her android, and the crew missing that the planet is really Earth all along.  The original story left us with empty lies and missed opportunities.  Much more fun than a suggested have cake and eat it ending.
I've adapted science fiction before, with a stage version of The Time Machine (published script pending) and so I am at risk of being an hypocrite for attacking changes in adaptation.  The writers were encouraged to do so, and with an hour to fill, something else probably needed to be added to the narrative.  Probably.  I'm not convinced that something else could have been done to fill the time, especially when the rest of the world was so convincingly created.  So far the two universes created in the first two episodes have been realised incredibly well - showing us their world with as little telling as possible.
Let's address my hypocrisy for a moment.  As I say, I did an adaptation of The Time Machine for stage this year and it's interesting looking back at my version, because I thought I'd changed quite a lot.  It's a sod to stage because it's set in a world without language - or at least a language that is used.  My version used storytelling and narrative tricks to get inside and outside of the Time Traveller's head to get round this, but in terms of narrative I only made three explicit changes.  1. I reset it in the present/slight future day - but as it was originally set in the then present/slight future day, that seemed fine. I'm sure some people cursed my name.  2. I ditched his excessive use of matches, which was never practical or plausible. A phone with a faded battery filled in for much of the necessary plot actions. 3. I made it so as the Time Traveller possibly never came back from his trip to the future.  Now, there are similarities there to the ending of Impossible Planet, in that there was a hint that the ending wasn't necessarily real.  The difference was that I changed a bleak ending to a bleaker ending.  The Time Traveller was dead, and the story told was just a recording sent back in time, rather than he was somewhere in the future.  The change to Impossible Planet was to take an ending that's bleak and uncompromising and making it... well... a bit mushy.  And a bit mushy isn't really very PKD, which is why a lot of people went - oh, magic sort of happy ending, bleargh.  All that needed to under cut this mush were brief snatches of the two sort of lovers suffocating, turning blue, coughing up dark liquids as their lungs collapsed.  Just fractional cuts - from smiles to horror and back.  Then everyone would have been happy.
The real shame was that, until that final drift of shots, it was a really great episode - silly red killer robot eyes aside.  (I actually rather liked them, but they were silly.)  But anthology / short stories stand and fall by the dismount.  I think Asimov made the point about the short story that they're all about the idea - get in, get out and get out with a punchline.  (I can't find the essay in question at the moment, but it was something like that. Or I've made that up and it's by someone else.)  The previous week The Hood Maker did, to some degree, the opposite.  Teep stories are always a bit of a sod, they don't really have anywhere to go, so any flaws in the narrative were forgiven because it ended on a nice bleak note of chaos.  Whichever way that society was going, it was going via Hell.
And bleak is the operate word here.  We are largely here for the darkness, not the light.  We want the bleak and if you take it away from us without some payoff, we will be annoyed.  And by we I mean me.  There are always obvious problems with complaining about authenticity in adaptation.  How proper are these adaptations.  How much should we take with us when we cross over to a different medium?  My primary complaint, as I've said, is not with the accuracy of the version, just that the new ending just didn't work tonally.
So, two down, and they have been different enough from each other, and generally good enough to make me keep coming back.  I cannot fault the visual style, the scripts have been mostly tight, I am mostly happy.  It's just that landing.
More thoughts will probably come after tonight. #ElectricDreams

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