Sunday, 3 June 2012

This is the review of 'Girl In The Window' I wrote for May's 'Venturer' Magazine :-

Perhaps it's the anticipation of such a pivotal storyline, the desire to see the departures of Sarah Miatt's Lizzie and Ryan Brady's Stephen Brown given due deference, but my expectations were set rather high. After watching the story via the wonders of You Tube I must ask myself they were unrealistically so.

Chris Wilkes' storyline follows on from the previously developed arcs in the 'specials' series of 2011. The severely injured Stephen Brown instructs sister Lizzie to take him back to Rubart, with the clone Melastone 'liberated' from the laboratory of Donatien (Monster of Lacoste). Unfortunately for Lizzie and Stephen, President Vo has well and truly taken a walk on the dark side, deciding that the rise of his new dictatorship must be built on the destruction of Stephen's reputation (and hopeful death).

Threat, danger, political intrigue, sacrifice, betrayal, an old friend turned enemy, an old enemy returned... all the ingredients you'd need to deliver a fantastic season finale and swansong for both Miatt and Brady.

A once again delayed upload gave chance for any issues discovered in the premier to be tweaked, and polished. It's one level of embarrassment to show off half finished work to the hard working members of the Beacon fraternity, all together another to then share it with the rest of the world. Though why you would want to do either, beats me.

So, with such an important story (like others in the series' history), there's a real chance to showcase just exactly what Beacon is capable of. And demonstrate it certainly does.

Normally I work through my notes in a chronological format, and write my review logically working through the episodes as they appear online. This time, I thought I would try something different and focus on the separate elements of the show.

The writing, Chris has written more scripts for Stephen Brown than the Salvation Army dishes out hot dinners. Despite the (I think intended) groan-worthy nature of some of the jokes, and using the first lines spoken by Colin Baker as The Doctor after regenerating from Peter Davison, (twice as it happens) I have to take my hat off to him. There's lots going on, but not confusingly so from a scripting perspective. I'll also forgive the clunky use of the word 'PDA', which was just as clunky a word in 1990 when they were all the rage amongst the uber organised super geeks as the devices themselves.

He again 'borrows' from that famous time-travelling scifi show with a scene where Vo taps rhythmically on a desk and then gasses his cabinet. The script is so important in this scene, Ian's highlighted copy is actually centre of the shot at one point.

The sound in this story has a very annoying habit of changing levels and quality when flicking back and forth between President Vo (Ian Hamer) and Number One (Kathryn Cairns). When Vo tries to bully Death, he stands up and promptly loses synchronisation between image and sound. That isn't the soundman's fault though, that one lays squarely in the hands of the editor.

It is also the editor that is to blame for the downright disruptive an at times, inappropriate background music.

The fist thing you notice when watching this episode is that the image isn't formatted properly into the frame on the website. This leaves us with a solid black border all the way around the screen. The picture, when it's live action is normally treated to an artsy shaky feel. This can be very effective, and give an 'on the fly' edge to the action. It works well when done consistently and when not overused. Sadly we're left with a fair bit of footage that appears was shot by Michael J Fox. It's an effect not always applied either, so confuses the eye as to what the significance is of its use. It may have been nothing more than a conversation of... 'oh, they do this in Battlestar Galactica, and it looks really cool.. I think we should do that...and while we're at it, let's have their music too...'

The initial shots onboard the Venturer appear to have been put through the instagram app on an iphone. It's quiet a nice rosy-glow effect, I just cannot see what it adds or why it is used.

The computer graphics in this story leap from utterly fantastic to, the other end of the spectrum. The establishing shot of the Presidential Offices is overused, and in exactly the same way too. It's a very nice image, we just see it too much. The green-screen shots are very effective and well used, but are let down when the background image is not that inspiring. The Venturer external shots give the ship a plasticky shine, when it comes into land it actually looks a little like it was a toy.

The postproduction visual effects suffer from the same inconsistency, fantastic holographic control screen images, that are well designed and well laid out, that are not in every shot of the same scene. Missing forcefields and control panels spoil Stephen's rescue of Lizzie as there's nothing preventing her from just walking out anyway. When Vo is trapped behind another invisible forcefield and firing his gun at Lizze, there is no effect of the shots and the footage does not tell the story of how or why Lizzie is left in an area of the ship where she is exposed to space when the escape pod departs with the bemused Stephen Brown in the clone body (Stewart James). The image of receding escape pod appears cartoon-like. I would invite you to take a look at some of the 'cutting edge' special effects used in Blakes 7 in 1979 and compare.
The numerous sets and locations are both good and not so good. The cabinet meeting for example makes no attempt to dress the set at all. It does have to be said that the setting fire of the Venturer set was especially effective.

The effect of these failings is to seriously detract from Lizzie's death scene. A series of shots that fail to tell the story is nothing new, and is either down to a gap in planning by the director or some sort of checking and review of work by the editor.

If the delayed uploaded version has resolved previous premier night issues, I cannot imagine what that must have looked like. After my really high expectations I am left feeling very bad for the underplayed passing of Sarah and Ryan's roles after so many fantastic performances, not as much for the actors themselves, but also from the disappointment of the rather missed opportunity to take a brilliant story idea and 'knock it out of the park'. You don't get a second chance to make a last impression after all.

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