I had high expectations for both these shows as they came under the imprimatur of Steven Spielberg albeit as an executive producer, but they suffer from the odd cosy nature of their catastrophes. The problem that is central I think is the role of the family. Since War of the Worlds, Spielberg had betrayed what had previously been an impeccable record of putting the nuclear into nuclear family. Remember Close Encounters of the Third Kind and how Richard Dreyfus gleefully destroyed the family home in his obsession with pmashed potato mountains and UFOs. Remember the home destructions of 1941 and ET. Families weren't only broken they were ripped apart: Poltergeist. But something changed and that came in 2005's War of the Worlds. The son is as determined to leave the family as Roy Neary or Chief Brody. He goes to what must be his death, in the process giving his father the agonizing decision of which child to save. This moment of genuine grief is betrayed in the final reel when we learn that the son survived anyway. Not because of anything, not through some twist. He just did. Families are for these programmes and films what divorce used to be for police detectives. A divorce used to be a code which said single but not gay, been around, has emotional depth, but available. Now family gives a simliar idea thast parenthood is an essential prerequisite of heroism. But that is ot all that is awful about the pointless Terra Nova, which despite its much trumpeted budget seems to have been shot in an upper end farmer's market. The plot makes no sense: the guns don't seem to work much on dinosaurs who helpfully only eat people who don't have many lines, the idea of escaping from smog by going and living in a dinosaur infested prehistory seems shortsighted to say the least. The actors are remarkably unlikeable and everyone takes the silliness far too seriously. It might get better.
But i'm not holding my breath.
The joy of Blu-Ray (as well as other previous format changes) comes with the formation of a personal canon. There are films you like; films you like very much, but there are only a limited number of films that you are willing to pay to have in three separate formats: VHS, DVD and now Blu-Ray. The Godfather has sat on the shelf for a few months now, waiting its moment and last Saturday I finally got a chance to watch it. Would it be controversial to say this is a great film? I marveled specifically at Pacino. Brando is brilliant, he does the little things to humanize his Don Corleone who is now more a grandfather than a gangster. His exasperation and weariness is evident from the beginning. All the other actors do their bit, but Pacino, in his first major screen role, is a genius. His quietness and his isolation is there from the beginning. Right from the party, this is a man who knows he can take over whenever he wants. He won't wait for promotion; he wants no time kicking his heels in middle management; he has his eye on the top spot. Look at the way he holds back the taking of the family photograph and then introduces Kay into the picture. He is the director, genuinely his own man. When he improvises at the hospital, he notes with a quick look of self-revelation that his hand isn't shaking. He was to the manner born. The murder of the police chief is undertaken with the minimum of fuss, his only mistake not dropping the gun instantly, as if he wants to keep hold of it, now that it is in his hand. More controversial than Brando's no show at the Oscars was Pacino's nomination as Best Supporting Actor. Hadn't they seen the film?
A little while ago I wrote about how Breaking Bad needed to end and end well. I wrote about the diminishing returns of a once great drama. Look down the page and you'll find the post; it wasn't that long ago. Or don't. Because the last three episodes have turned the ship around. When it came down to it, the resolution was satisfying on almost every level. Walter White's status, someone whose moral compass has always swung wildly while he still insists he knows where he's going, was finally and definitively decided. Jesse also felt like a fitting end to an arc that had threatened to go astray. The humour and tension were as good as they have ever been. What was particularly satisfying was the feel that the earlier episodes which had turned their focus away from White and Jesse and towards Mike and Gus Fring were justified as all the stories came together. There is even a connection to an earlier episode when Walter is spinning the gun in an earlier episode and it points to a plant which at the time you assume it is pointing nowhere. It is only in the final shot of the season that you realise a decision was made. I would like to know what happens to Saul and Mike, but I feel this is the end. Vince Gilliigan has, however, already agreed to another 16 episode season, although he has stated that this will be the end of the series. Well, he's surprised me before and I will be happy to eat my words all over again.
The photography is something that Terrence Malick might be proud of, brief moments of magic hour beauty, a life lived in a series of snapshots, a beach, a night club, a street, lovers together, a moment of prayerful solitude and another of passion while a voice tells us about life and all the wonders held therein. 'You can't beat death, but you can beat death in life,' the old man's voice intones. Emotionally exhausted, the music surges and here we have the Levi's logo. The Levi's logo?
What? After all that emotional investment I expected a new religion at the least, or a secular grasping of a big God shaped idea. But this... all of this... the old guy, the photography, the lovers, the cosmos included was just to sell me a pair of trousers?
Next advert. Girl talks about a break up. 'It was like someone had died'. Northern accent confers sense of directness and honesty. Talks about intimate pain and the grief she felt before coming to terms with the necessary complexities of a mature emotional life: 'yin yang like'. All with tungsten illuminated cityscapes, blocks of flats, close ups. And then we're asked at the end by someone to send our own stories of break ups to the Doc Martens web site.
I don't just don't get it. I remember people feeling a bit icky about buying t-shirts which basically made us into walking adverts for the brands involved, but now they want us to send in our intimate secrets/painful moments/emotional traumas to use as part of their advertising campaigns. There was a time when people accused big companies of being heartless but now the problem is different. they seem to have listened and now they've decided it won't do and are ripping the hearts from our chests like some Tidley Scott remake in order to rectify the deficiency. (And yes that is a typo but now I see it I feel Tidley Scott given his recent cinematic dribblings deserves nothing less).
Sell me trousers, sell me jeans, but please don't start giving me philosophy.
Don't ask me to participate.
John Bleasdale is a writer. His work has appeared in The Guardian, The Independent, Il Manifesto, as well as CineVue.Com and theStudioExec.com. He has also written a number of plays, screenplays and novels.