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Archive for August, 2017

Westworld S01 review

The first original android story I’ve seen since Robocop. And that’s quite an achievement seeing as it’s based on a 1973 Michael Crichton (rip) film. I’d say it was a great series, not perfect by any means, but that I won’t be awaiting its second series. Be warned now that this review will contain many SPOILERS so watch and enjoy the series first.

In fact I baulked when I discovered the writers plan to make five seasons. That would explain why the ending to Season 1 is as dissatisfying as The Prisoner‘s ending. They would have done well to learn from The Prisoner – a series that works perfectly as a one-season story. A series that had a perfectly coherent structure and ending (despite the sloppy execution). A series that would have been better had it not had filler episodes. As with The Prisoner, Westworld is marvellously designed with exquisite attention to detail paid.

As with Blade Runner the story has been altered a lot from its inception. With Blade Runner the robots were given a humanity they don’t have in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. In Terminator the robots have developed a consciousness and perceive humanity as their enemy – the same story used for The Matrix as well. In Robocop the android is fully autonomous and learns of its humanity (the same story stolen for Terminator 2), but it is still a robot – a machine, and not human. Robocop has so far been the best at telling that story without descending into madness. In Westworld 1973 the robots are inflicted with an unknown pathogen and attack the humans. It makes no attempt to explain why – it could have been a computer virus, intentional malicious code, or something else. But it does appear to have happened without a human directing the destructive behaviour. There is no attempt to link it in anyway to them becoming conscious.

What the series does brilliantly is to turn this idea completely on its head and surge forward with their own. Just like Blade Runner, the nature of the androids is fundamentally altered to fit the new reality of the new story. Like Robocop, we ultimately learn that the androids do not really possess humanity, and specific to the story they don’t have any real free will or consciousness (Robocop on the other hand is sentient but he understands he’s a robot and not a human). This is quite brilliantly explained to the audience in several different ways, perhaps my favourite being when William is shown the inside of Dolores. Despite not having these qualities, they do possess emotion. It’s the fact that they possess emotion that drew one of their creators mad, and drives the other as well as Bill and the other guests. The androids believe they have sentience, but do not. Dolores’ affection and longing for William is nothing more than a part of a larger behaviour loop (probably intentionally set by Ford for Bill’s enjoyment), hence why it resets itself and continues to drive her character. Dolores was able to kill the man she most admires because her safeguards were disabled and she was instructed to, yet she can’t harm the man she despises when her safeguards are on. This is why I fear the show will descend into ruin in the following season/s… if they decide to make the androids sentient that fundamentally alters the reality of this world, and undoes the very thing that makes these androids special and unique compared to the ones in other somewhat similar sci-fi stories (Blade Runner for example).

Now that I’ve highlighted some of the show’s positives, let’s talk about the negatives. The twist with Bernard being revealed as an android was completely predictable. I think I was 2 or 3 episodes in and I was already convinced that either he or Theresa was an android, and of the two I always thought it was Bernard. Now, this actually makes sense because he’s a puppet used by Ford to infiltrate goings on that don’t otherwise involve him and protect his interests in the park. But this made for a terrible twist because of how predictable it was – why not reveal him as Ford’s double-agent earlier and use his character to a greater potential?

Why does Ford have Bernard kill Elsie? Elsie poses no threat to him whatsoever, and he can effectively control her through Bernard. It makes no sense at all that he would want to kill her. The only thing that scene serves to prove is that Bernard is completely under Ford’s control and does not have free will. That’s it. And that’s fine, it’s a good way to explain that, however Ford still needs a reason to send out his unwitting hitch-man in the first place, and he has no reason to do so. I thought that an explanation would surely be forthcoming by the end – but no, it seems the writers were perfectly happy to leave that glaring plot-hole in there.

William turns out to be the Man in Black. Great, that plot-twist I actually liked. I actually did not see that one coming, although perhaps I should have in retrospect. The one criticism I would put forward is that there is no way that Dolores will remember the younger William and not recognise him now, he’s been coming to the park regularly for 30 years. But in any case it layers the story brilliantly, further cementing the perplexing reality of the androids as capable of emotion but not free thought. Something William came to understand, and I suspect is why he enjoys his time in the park. He’s not a sadistic murdering bastard, he just likes the thrill it gives him. That’s why he’s not on the outside committing acts of atrocity against real people they way that Ford (the real sadistic Hannibal Lecter) does. Speaking of which I read with interest that Anthony Hopkins admits that reprising the Lecter role for two additional outings was a mistake (the TV series was an unmitigated disaster from my POV). So perhaps he plans not to return to this series and that’s why the ending was written the way it was – I think it would be a huge mistake if the series is going to continue to leave the ending the way it was… but I also think it’s a huge mistake continuing this series beyond one season. It’s as absurd as if The Prisoner was extended to another season!

Ford creating Bernard in Arnold’s image made no sense. In fact the whole back-story unravels into chaotic nonsense. Arnold felt the androids had “humanity” (or rather their own consciousness) because they expressed emotions. But Bernard designed those emotions for Ford several years after Arnold’s suicide. See? Makes no sense. I understand why Ford would give Bernard Arnold’s back-story, that part is fine, but making him in the physical image of Arnold doesn’t make sense, and it wouldn’t work there are people that would recognise Arnold and that’s beyond Ford’s control. He wouldn’t put himself into that kind of danger.

The androids feeling guilt over killing other androids also makes no sense. The other androids just get repaired and brought back on-line again. This whole pseudo-plot was just a ruse to cover for Dolores’ real guilt for killing Arnold. And although she appears to kill Ford at the end of the series, it’s probably just another android Ford made in the basement of the cottage in his own image. Or an avatar … perhaps he created avatars for all his guests so they can experience “real stakes” and that’s what he means by taking it to the next level. That would make sense, but the idea of actually enabling the hosts to kill does not make any sense and wouldn’t work anyway since the engineers in the basement can just roll back the firmware any time. Note that we never saw the rest of the pictures Theresa picks up, and nor do we see the end result of the android he’s rendering there, which is probably the Ford android.

Logan’s fate is left up to the imagination of the audience. Or perhaps not. The last we see of him, William has tied him to a horse and sent him straight towards the edge of the park, where if the android horse continues it will explode presumably killing Logan in the process. However, nothing in the series suggests such a grizzly fate has ever occurred to any of their guests, it’s more likely the horse will refuse to leave the park border, turn around and return Logan to some place in the park. All throughout the series we have seen that the host safeguards work flawlessly (except of course when Ford intentionally disables them), hosts are not allowed to let humans come to harm or to leave the park so the idea that the host horse will disregard its safety directives would not be in keeping with the rules of the fantasy world. Even if all this is ignored and the horse does leave the park, it’s unlikely the explosive device would be strong enough to harm anything other than the host itself anyway… and there would still be a team of engineers back in the depths of the bunker monitoring it anyway and they could remotely deactivate it or turn it around as well. None of this explains how William got control over Logan’s company however, but that loose end doesn’t really need an explanation anyway.

There’s a lot of believability lost with the sheer level of mayhem. The film suffers this problem too where it is explained that a stay in the park costs its guests $1,000 per day – yet they seem to be able to create far more damage than that, and there is not enough guests in either the film or the series at one time to pay the staffing costs, let alone the costs of daily park maintenance and repairs. There are dozens upon dozens of staff and only a handful of guests at one time? Even if the train was full with guests (which it wasn’t) when it comes in, that’s still not enough people to pay the wages of all the park staff. And for that reason I would have thought that the more menial tasks like android repairs could be carried out by androids instead of humans, especially when you have a hanger full of deactivated androids serving no present purpose. And yes I know it was carried over from the film, but it makes no sense that they would render their own android horses and livestock when they could just as easily use real animals that don’t need to be programmed and would far cheaper to maintain for the park (plus of course provide food).

Charlotte’s master plan goes nowhere. Seriously, what the fuck. Not to mention that she walks around the park in high heels and a tight-fitting dress like it’s Jurassic World – fuck me. So she activates an android, gives it her custom code, and sends it out into the world at large. I suppose this is intended for the second season, but brining the chaos and mayhem out of the park makes no good narrative sense, and it’s better not to show the futuristic outside world anyway and concentrate on the park. Once you lift the veil it will lose all its magic, it will no longer feel like a real place that could exist in the future, instead it will look silly.

And this leads me back to the series’ ending. The whole sub-plot with Ford’s new story didn’t go anywhere, it’s all just a stupid set up for some future story. It had no purpose whatsoever in the series itself. Furthermore, Ford has conducted himself honourably for 35 years and then all of a sudden he starts killing people? I don’t for a second believe that. The ending as presented does not fit the series… it’s just there to lead into the next season. What a horrible mistake. The series could have drawn to its natural conclusion, and that would have been that. But instead we get a forced ending to set up the next season… better get James Cameron involved if there’s avatars afoot. Without all that nonsense the ending would have been great – the realisation that Dolores isn’t on a journey, she’s just in a loop, and that William is the Man in Black –  brilliant. End it there, on the high note. Don’t force it to be something that it’s not.

So the series was good, not perfect, but prepare for it to be utterly ruined in the following seasons. Take my advice: don’t watch!

Fake. I like to be upfront, I saw for some reason a video come up on YouTube with a click-bait title “my 600 lb life exposed” where the lady claims she did her research and she’s concluded that it’s “real”. Well she’s wrong, and this entry will explain why she’s wrong.

So first off let’s set some parameters. Real would be a documentary, an investigative journalist report, a medical procedural show, a bibliographical programme, or perhaps an educational programme. At the lower end we might even accept a current affairs show. 600-lb Life is a reality television show that imitates the format of a documentary programme like Brother’s Keeper. Its imitation of the documentary format is as close as it gets to being “real”, the show is just entertainment, not an informative show. You could even call this kind of show “documentary-porn”. It’s what people watch instead of documentaries as documentaries are far less entertaining.

One reason why people might think that this show is real is because it has “real people” and claims to follow their journeys over the course of a year. But this is just a staple of reality television.

So why then is this show fake – what makes it fake? The number one difference between this kind of show and a documentary is that a documentary film-maker is there to tell the story that unfolds – they aim to represent people and their journey as they are, and to present the viewer with an accurate account of what took place condensed into the space of an hour or two. Reality shows instead of showing you people’s journeys, construct characters/personalities out of their participants and manufacture dramatic moments through the use of music cues, clever editing, and frankenbiting. Constructing personalities for your characters in single episode instalments is far easier than in ongoing serials – have a look at Ice Road Truckers for a counterexample and take notice of how those portrayed with “reckless” personalities have that toned down or even dropped in subsequent series!

They also create whatever story and whatever ending they want for their show and make it all fit within their show’s formatting. One huge difference you will notice between this show and any acclaimed documentary is that use of a voice-over by their participants. To create this voice-over the participants are primed with videos of stressful or emotional clips and a producer (or director) grills them with questions that both further prime them or are intentionally leading. So for example, when you hear someone say something like “this is my last chance and if I don’t get surgery I will die” a line that every participant I’ve seen so far appears to have uttered, it’s because someone has primed them or lead them to say that off-screen … or they’ve simply constructed it by frankenbiting (taking different parts of conversations and editing them together to create a completely new statement by their participant). And it’s not hard for them to manipulate these participants, as most of them have high anxiety associated with their weight, and when a producer or someone off-camera makes them uncomfortable they will do what the producers want in order to lower their anxiety.

The show does not address many of the issues facing the participants. It presents a very shallow view of weight management – there are many issues which these people face, however if it doesn’t fit the show’s manufactured format then they aren’t included. Social anxiety for example is one huge issue for many people with morbid obesity that prevents them from going into public more to exercise etc. Disordered eating is usually the result of a mental health condition, rather than the result of gluttonous behaviour and those issues are not addressed either. Instead the show simply views morbid obesity as the result of a person’s unwillingness to control their behaviour and the enablers that surround them. While that forms part of the picture, it’s far from a comprehensive understanding.

If someone fails to lose weight or to get surgery over the course of the programme they can construct whatever personality they want to present the viewer with. The blame for this is always on the patients and never on the healthcare providers who never seem to feel responsibility for the success of their clients. One example of this is an episode with a man named James K who they present as being a gluttonous slob. Never mind that he became bed-bound due to breaking his ankle, and probably feels high anxiety and humiliation due to it, which of course is going to make any effort to control his diet difficult. Cynthia on the other hand is portrayed as a strong independent woman raising a lovely family, but how different her episode would have been had she started bed-bound following a broken ankle! And that leads me to my next point…

The show presents unrealistic expectations on its participants. You think morbidly obese people can stick to a 800kcal or 1200kcal diet on their own? You have to be kidding me. And not only that, but every episode portrays bariatric surgery as the final goal of the participant – never mind the fact that it’s not suitable for everyone, and that people need to be assessed to determine whether they can lose sustained weight on a controlled diet on their own or whether they will require surgery. It’s not something suitable for all morbidly obese people. And nor is a 800 or 1200 kcal diet, to lose weight over the long term without surgery you would put someone on a energy restricted diet that decreased energy overtime as they lose weight – and you wouldn’t start anywhere near 1200kcal. In fact based on the shows portrayal of Dr Nowzaradan who consistently blames his patients or their family members for their ill health, and never seems to advise them that bariatric surgery may not be the right solution for them, I would think he should be investigated for medical malpractice.

Some participants are shown to be consistently losing weight, but then get surgery anyway. Um what? And worse still, in those episodes Dr Nowzaradan will say something like “they have done reall well but needs surgery to keep going and make progress long term”. No they don’t – many of them don’t need surgery at all. Bariatric surgery does not work long-term. It’s not a real solution, at least not for all patients. It can be a helpful tool, but that’s it. The idea that people need it or they will die, or that they can’t make progress without it is a complete fabrication and outright lie. If you watch the original series that was shot over the course of 7 years you will find that some of those participants (all of them by now probably) re-gain all the weight they managed to lose before and then after surgery. And that brings me to my final point.

The show’s successes are only an illusion. Here today, gone tomorrow. The show does start by saying that only 5% of morbidly obese people are successful long-term in controlling their weight, but they end many of their episodes by portraying a success that may be nothing but a short-lived false victory. The end goal for weight management is in 20, 30, 40 years time in the long-term, not in 1 year. 1 year means nothing, and if the show put that into context it might have a bit more medical credibility.

The show is fake, if you enjoy that’s perfectly fine. It’s an entertainment show after all, but stay sceptical and don’t take it seriously.

Alien: Covenant nonsense explained

A:C is the disappointing sequel to Prometheus. Prometheus wasn’t perfect, but at least it did break new ground and advance the story. A:C’s crowning achievement is to have stagnated the Alien back-story.

Prometheus Questions?

A lot of people were unnecessarily confused by Prometheus. So I might begin by going over a couple of the so-called “unanswered questions” from that film. 1. Why does David poison Charlie? Because he’s curious. It helps if you understand that David isn’t “evil”. 2. Why did the engineers want to kill humans? This question has answered by Ridley Scott himself – they go back to planets they seeded with life and wipe out life if they don’t like what was created, it’s that simple. It is also answered in the film itself – the Juggernaut was going to head to Earth roughly 2,000 years ago, suggesting that Jesus was taken to earth by the Engineers (either as an Engineer himself or from a more advanced society) and they were not pleased when he was crucified by the Romans. Or perhaps they simply wanted to use Earth to test their bioweapon. Maybe they want Earth for themselves. In any case the real unanswered question isn’t why did they want to destroy Earth – but why has no one been back to LV-223 in 2,000 years given that there are many Juggernauts loaded with the pathogen stored on the moon? And we have to assume that they were all victim to the accident that happened 2,000 years ago that killed the crew of the Earth-bound Juggernaut.

Okay so now we’ve got that out of the way let’s move onto the two possible directions the next story could have taken. Either the alien that bursts out of the engineer will stalk Shaw and David and follow them to to the engineer home-world, or it ends up on a different Juggernaut and ends up spawning the xenomorphs we are familiar with, and that Juggernaut ends up crashing onto LV-426. Or it just does nothing.

Now there’s one other question that no one ever asks regarding Prometheus, and that is why does the ancient constellation drawing lead them to a bioweapons facility and not the engineer home-world? The answer I believe is that it does lead to the home-world, they just chose the wrong star in the constellation to explore.

Alien: Covenant explained …

The one good thing I will say about A:C is that it does advance the overall narrative surrounding David and human space exploration. But that’s really as far as it gets. So let’s first work out what’s actually going on in A:C and then go from there. For the record I think the movie is fairly straightforward, going over these questions is just for the benefit of the audience.

1. Did David take Shaw to the engineer home world? I’m going to keep this simple and say that it probably is their home world. The main reason to think so is that it has a giant scorpion-shaped docking station for their Juggernaut ships.

2. How does the ship crash? The most likely explanation is that it was attacked after David drops the payload on the engineers/humanoids.

3. Why isn’t there another Juggernaut or spaceship on the planet somewhere? If there was David could escape the planet and continue his experimentations wherever he chooses. It does seem odd that there are no spaceships on the engineer home world, especially given the “many” number of them stockpiled on LV-223. How are they going to defend themselves from an attack? One possible explanation is that any spaceships on the planet fled after David unleashed the pathogen, but that doesn’t explain why they left him there for up to 10 years to further decimate their home world.

4. How does Shaw die? While the pilot engineer in Prometheus survives the crash, he is seen visibly injured. It’s likely Shaw simply died in the crash on impact. Perhaps she survives and later dies on the planet while marooned there with David either from the pathogen or from one of the many monsters the pathogen creates. Another explanation is that the alien at the end of Prometheus boarded their Juggernaut and made a face-hugger egg. Or she may have died from the original infection she contracted from Holloway as many more parasitic alien life forms grew inside of her. I doubt the last explanation as the parasitic aliens whether xenomorphs or other morphs always end up killing the host when they burst out. I also doubt the engineer’s morph had time to gestate and burst out of the engineer before they leave LV-223, and it is shown emerging after they have left the moon.

5. Why did David kill Shaw? I don’t think he did, the engineers killed her by attacking the docked Juggernaut.

6. Why did David kill the engineers? I don’t think that he thinks through the consequences of his actions very carefully. He wanted to experiment with the pathogen, but he also would have been fearful of the engineers killing him and Shaw.

7. How did David have time to experiment with the pathogen spawned life forms when he already killed all the hosts? Simple – he didn’t kill them all. He killed most of them in the initial attack on the city, but there would have been engineers both living elsewhere on the planet that survived this attack, and also under quarantined conditions or in other situations that led them to be unaffected by the vaporised pathogen after it had dissipated enough in the atmosphere. Notice the atmosphere itself was no longer toxic enough to kill the crew of the Covenant, and it wouldn’t have been toxic enough to kill all life on the whole of the planet unless David had gone and dispersed it properly which he didn’t do, he just dropped it all in once place.

8. How did David switch places with Walter? This question is actually far more difficult to explain. The android that runs to the ship has the exact facial wounds that Walter just sustained in the fight that no one other than he and David witnessed, AND doesn’t have the chin hole. The only way this could happen is if David uploads his consciousness into Walter – but the problem with that explanation is that he wouldn’t have the same ability to express his free will in Walter’s body as he’s a later more mellowed android. The more likely explanation is that we’ll have to ignore the facial scarring inconsistencies because come the next film when the engineers arrive to find their planet has been obliterated and Walter is there to explain to them what happened. Whatever happened, David would have had to have gone back to his workshop of horrors to swallow the face-hugger embryos to take with him.

9. Why does David help Daniels and Tennessee kill the xenomorph? David doesn’t have an agenda to kill the remaining crew and colonists of the Covenant. His agenda is to continue refining the xenomorph. Anyway, he can’t very well go about killing crew members and expect the ship’s computer to be complicit. He needs to take things slow and deliberately.

10. Why does David admire Shaw? I think there are two things here. Firstly, David and Shaw grew close on their journey to the engineer home world/”Planet 4″. Shaw repaired him, and he taught her to pilot the Juggernaut (yes obviously I’m ignoring the 4 minute prologue that purports to show David putting Shaw into hypersleep). They needed each other. Secondly, she is the presumed mother to his xenomorphs. He can’t start with the black goo as it’s a pathogen, so he starts with her living tissue (whatever remained of it) and opened her up so he could witness how the gestating monsters grow.

So where did it all go wrong?

Okay, Prometheus had some very annoying poorly thought through elements. Guy Pearce as Weyland. Vickers is Weyland’s daughter “plot-twist”. Vickers crushed by rolling Juggernaut. Weyland stowing away on the ship in secret. A “Pauling medical pod configured only” for men that “does bypass surgery, what do you need it for?”?! It obviously does more than just bypass surgery… and besides, wouldn’t they need something like it on their spaceship? Shaw able to get to the pod without the two other people subduing her, and able to take a Caesarean whilst fully conscious and then rush out of the pod to David and Weyland. But for all of its flaws it was a great film, it was scary, it had great visuals and well designed creatures, and the moon itself was just creepy.

A:C has none of this. It has a bunch of generic crew members who do stupid shit all film long, while exhibiting horror-cliché behaviour. The story is so formulaic that it is basically just the 1979 Alien story retold with no suspense. I baulked at the Guy Pearce and David scene. Now, retconned for no apparent reason, David must be at least 40 years old by the events of Prometheus and at least 50 by the events of Alien: Covenant! Um, what? To everyone in Prometheus David was the latest technology. Next we meet the bland and unlikable crew. I’m not even sure that we like Daniels the lead female in this film to be honest. The creature design in this film is terrible – okay sure the protomorph is OK, the facehuggers too. But the xenomorphs are a joke.

I think the worst part is that it’s just not a scary film. The setting isn’t creepy, and the xenomorphs are not in the least bit scary. And the reason why they’re not scary is because they barely kill anyone, and when they do they are people who are doing stupid shit not being alert and vigilant. We also are not invested in the crew – the best example of this is in the Walter and David showdown. Now if there was Bishop we would have rooted for him – but Walter is just a generic droid/synthetic that we don’t care about. And that’s fine, we don’t need to be invested in Walter, but it also means there’s no point in doing a final showdown with David. It doesn’t really make any sense anyway – sure Walter perceives David as a threat to the crew and colonists of the Covenant… but Ash is a more advanced synthetic and he has no problem with ‘crew expendable’. And also, it was the wrong way to end the film – Alien and Aliens both end with the xenomorph being flushed into space – why recycle the same plot AGAIN??