Monday, December 13, 2010

Copy Cats

A couple of weeks ago, I stopped by the local movie theater and caught the alien-invasion flick, Skyline. The movie was not particularly good, and its stay in theaters was short. To me, the story and cinematography are reminiscent of the monster flick Cloverfield. The plot revolves around a couple who have flown to Los Angeles for the birthday of the guy's best friend. The friend is some sort of media mogul and is played by Donald Faison who is best known for playing Dr. Turk on the sitcom Scrubs. None of the other actors were familiar to me, but that certainly does not mean they are not well-known.

During the couple's first night in LA, they are awakened by bright blue lights coming through the window blinds. The lights are from spaceships belonging to aliens with not so nice intentions. When people see the mesmerizing lights, their body is frozen in place, and then they are vacuumed up into the ships. The rest of the plot revolves around characters either trying to hide or escape from the aliens. Neither of these approaches are successful. The military also makes some appearances to provide some action but little success. In the end, the audience is left to assume that the aliens were successful in their conquest of the planet Earth and the human species. I am not kidding. Not to worry, there is already a sequel in the works.

One thing that I noticed was the movie depends on the standard signals to inform the audience that the lead female character is pregnant. For anybody that does not grasp the subtleties of Hollywood symbolism, when a woman pukes and/or declines an alcoholic drink, it means that she is pregnant. I think screenwriters go to those wells far too often, but I guess it makes things easy for both the writers and the audience. There are few other reasons for either of those two situations to be worked into a story. I suppose if the story is about a woman recovering from alcoholism, it would be reasonable for her to decline drinks. If a female character is hungover, is being treated for cancer, or is being poisoned, then it is understandable that she would throw up. I think those examples are about it though.

Speaking of regurgitation, it seems increasing popular nowadays for movies and television shows to recycle previous ideas. As I mentioned above, Skyline is basically a remake of Cloverfield with the Godzilla elements replaced with the extraterrestrial elements from Independence Day. Moving over to the small screen, one frequent source of regurgitated ideas for American television shows is the BBC. Some of the best examples are ABC's Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, NBC's The Office, and TLC's Trading Spaces which was based on a BBC show named Changing Rooms. The show What Not to Wear is another example from the network TLC. The original hosts of the British version of that show even went on to have their own show on American television.

The latest show to get the BBC-to-America treatment is Top Gear. The British version of the show is shown here on BBC America. Let me say that I am definitely not a gear-head. I own a 1998 Honda Accord Coupe with peeling paint. It is the EX version with the 3.0-liter V6 engine. That is about all I know about cars. I do not change the oil in my car. The extent of my car maintenance skills are pumping gas, changing wiper blades, adding air to tires, and changing bulbs and fuses. I was quite proud of myself when I replaced the main relay in the Honda. Also, I do not know how to operate a manual transmission. It just seems a bit silly that I would watch a show about high-end sport cars that I would not even be able to drive if I somehow managed to afford. All that being said, I do enjoy the British version of Top Gear.

That enjoyment does not exactly carry over to the American version of the show. I have watched all the episodes so far, and the best I can say is that I do not hate the show. Unfortunately, the American version just does not work as well as the original. While the hosts from the BBC version have an easy, dare I say organic, relationship, the relationship between the three hosts for the American version seems forced. The individual segments are also a bit discombobulated. Some of the segments seem more like the bland car reviews from the PBS show MotorWeek. Other segments, such as the Stig test-driving supercars and celebrities driving on the track, are just straight duplicates of the British version. The one improvement to those segments is the little diagram that traces the path around the track. I always thought the British version should have something similar. I do not even know the shape of the track on the British version. I was glad to see this improvement included on the American version.

Finally, I watched the premier season of The Walking Dead which is a television show about zombies. The show is broadcast by AMC, and as one might expect from the channel that is known for the hit show Mad Men, the focus of The Walking Dead is more about the drama between the living survivors than their efforts at fighting off the undead. Of course, it would be impossible to do a show about zombies without borrowing from some of the many zombie movies. Despite the fact the Evil Dead movies are among my favorites, I am usually not one for horror flicks, but I have seen a few zombie flicks relatively recently including the 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead, the horror comedy Shaun of the Dead which starred Simon Pegg, and Zombieland which starred Woody Harrelson. I suppose working with zombies does not give one much flexibility, and the zombies from The Walking Dead are basically the same generic zombies as from those movies.

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