Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Dear Steven Spielberg (“Falling Skies”’ War Memorial Glitch)

Let me confess up front that I’m not now and never have been much of a science fiction fan.

I’ve enjoyed some of the classic 1950’s/1960’s films – Red Planet Mars, The Day the Earth Stood Still (Gort, Klaatu barada nikto), The Incredible Shrinking Man, if only for their near parodic quality. And I did so enjoy Ray Milland as the father and Frankie Avalon as the son in Panic in the Year Zero, which is more of a political dystopic film than it is sci-fi. Talk about having your finger on the pulse of both cold war nuclear bomb panic and on teen idols. (The casting could only have been outdone if Elvis or Ricky Nelson had played the son.)

I very much like E.T., but Star Wars and Star Trek… Well, I guess I’d have to give the nod to Star Trek, which I’ve seen something of – the TV show in its many incarnations, and a couple of the movies. (I somewhat enjoyed the one with the whales in it.) As for Star Wars, all I can say is that I lasted through about 30 minutes of the first one, and left the theater. That was about it for me.

Still, I do enjoy dystopia, and Steven Spielberg’s new TV series, running on TNT, Falling Skies had a mildly dystopic ring to it. Plus it stars Noah Wylie an actor who, for whatever reason, I like. (True confession: I do know the reason. I have no idea whether he can even act, but I do find him cute.) And I’m always at least moderately drawn to any film or TV show that takes place in Boston.

So, I turned on the premier episode of Falling Skies, which is about a band of survivors trying to group together in post-apocalypse Boston, to fight back against some Alien Invaders who have destroyed most of the world, at least in part by attaching some sort of lizard to the backs of humans. (I actually missed the first couple of minutes, but this is what I gather of the plot.)

Anyway, it’s always fun to see what “they” do when “they” are using a place you’re familiar with as their mise en scene.

Thus, I was amused many years ago to observe Cher, in the delightful movie Moonstruck, park her car in Little Italy (which is in Manhattan) and walk around the corner to Cranberry Street (which is in Brooklyn). Or it may have been the other way around. And/or it may have been Pineapple Street. But whatever it is, I said to myself, ‘That’s not right.”

And so it is with Boston-based shows.

Forget the accent: that’s way too hard.

It’s the guy who walks out of the subway and finds himself in an entirely different part of town. The restaurant that’s really a dry cleaners. The “Harvard Yard” that’s full of grey, Gothic buildings – kind of like Yale…

These things generally don’t bug me; they amuse me. They make me feel in the know, a bit smug. Just as I’m sure natives of anywhere feel when they notice things that aren’t quite right when it comes to how their town is being portrayed.

Filming license doesn’t bother me as much as the sorts of little detail mistakes I occasionally come across in books I’m reading.

For someone who generally follows the “if a man on a galloping horse wouldn’t notice” creed – i.e., don’t spend tons of time fretting the details – I am surprisingly picky about inconsistencies or anachronisms when I’m reading.

I can laugh off a scene in Bonanza in which Little Joe closely examines a Franklin Roosevelt dime, but if on page 458 of a book a minor characters eyes turn from brown to green, I will be compelled to page back through everything (okay: only once, and admittedly quickly) to see if I can find that earlier reference to brown.

And I hate it when the setting for a story is 1960, and someone drives up to the polls to vote for JFK in a Mustang, which wasn’t introduced until a few years later. Or when a young woman on the home front during World War II draws seams on the back of her stocking-less legs with a Magic Marker, which wasn’t invented until the 1950’s. Drawing seams on legs was what eyebrow pencils were for. Didn’t that writer’s mother tell her anything?

But I’m not such a stickler when it comes to a film or a TV show, perhaps because I place greater value on the printed word than on something flashing across the screen while I’m only half-way paying attention to it.

Plus, when it comes to films and TV shows that take place in New England, I’m used to them being filmed someplace else. That’s what Canada's for, eh?

Anyway, I knew from the get-go that Falling Skies wasn’t filmed anywhere near Boston. It looked vaguely Northeastern-ish, but that was about it. There was nothing that I recognized, no place looked familiar. (Plus the people went in awfully odd directions to get places. And no one would describe Acton as North of Boston, by the way.)

But what really got my persnickety up (and the TV turned off) was the scene that took place on some sort of town green, on which Noah Wylie and his band of survivors were hanging out making plans.

Oh, I’m sure that having our future warriors palavering in front of a war memorial was supposed to give things some heavy meaning. All those wars to end all wars that didn’t…

But Jeez Louise.

I will betcha there’s nary a war memorial in Massachusetts. Make that in New England. No, let me double down here: in the United States, that lists the dates of World War I as 1914-1918, and of World War II as 1939-1945.

Those would be the dates that a country that was, say, associated with England might put on their war memorials. Since those were the dates of their involvement in the world wars.

But I’d bet a couple of Joe Cartwright Roosevelt dimes that war memorials in the good old US of A would say 1917-1918, since Johnny got his gun, got his gun, and the doughboys started heading over there, over there, in April 1917, not in 1914, which was when Britain stepped in in the wake of the frenzy kicked off by the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand.

And maybe we should have gotten into World War II when the Germans invaded Poland. But in real life, we waited until Japan attacked Pearl Harbor.

Dear Steven Spielberg, I know you’re just the producer, not the editor or the location manager, but you’re the name I recognize.

So, if you’re going to make a film about Americans. And you actually want to set it in the U.S. And you want to make some point about war always being with us, maybe your folks should show a war memorial that actually relates to the American Experience. With all the technology you have at your fingertips, surely you could have digitally altered that sign and zapped that “4” in 1914 into a “7”, and reworked 1939 so it read 1941.

You might have had me with Falling Skies to start with – Noah Wylie is cute (but kind of sad-sack, now that I think about it) – but you lost me with the Canadian war memorial. (As it turns out, the show was filmed in Ontario.)

Yes, I’m just a fussbudgety old crank, but for crying out loud. Nobody noticed that the dates of the wars were a bit off?

I wouldn’t call it an epic fail, but it sure doesn’t work for me.


Lee said...

Yep, it was the war memorial that did it for me.

I'm a big fan of sci-fi, but this was absolutely awful. The characters were so unsympathetic and unbelievable that I wanted the aliens to kill them all.

I won't be watching any more of this series.

John said...

Washington DC is a popular location for political and spy thrillers, and if you've lived there, it becomes a bit unbearable. Remember the 80s 20-something drama "St. Elmo's Fire?" The ease of parking in Georgetown transformed it into a fantasy film.

Maureen Rogers said...

Lee - Apparently I'm not the only one who noticed the dates on the war memorial. What a clunker!

John - You raised a great point. I've never seen a movied filmed in a city where anyone has to circle the block looking for a space, and then spend 15 minutes wedging their car into it. But, as you note, anyone who's actually lived in a city and owned a car while doing so, knows that - other than on an occasional summer weekend - there's NEVER any parking.

Anonymous said...

Since when do Americans get to re-write history at their whim? Oh, that's right, whenever it pleases them.

Just because America failed to enter WWII until they were good and ready, that does not mean WWII only took place during those years. Putting the true date of the war on the memorials gives people a damn good reason to ask the question, "If WWII started in 1939, why did we wait so long to join in?"

And Maureen, the reason you've
"never seen a movie filmed in a city where anyone has to circle the block looking for a space, and then spend 15 minutes wedging their car into it" is because that would be GODAWFUL boring.

Maureen Rogers said...

Oh, Anonymous, if there's a war memorial in the United States with the "true dates", I've yet to see it, which speaks to the inauthenticity of "Falling Skies" location, and the fact that they're rewriting reality.

And as for the true dates, setting Sept. 1939 as the start date of WWII reflects a somewhat Euro-centric version of life, no? Can it not be argued that WWII began in the 1930's with Japan's invasion of China?

Anonymous said...

No reasonable person would attempt to assert that WWII started in any year other than 1939. The invasion of Poland by Germany, followed by France and then the UK declaring war on Germany marks the beginning of WWII. That isn't a "euro-centric" version of life. That IS the truth. Any literature, person or war memorial which misrepresents those facts is doing a serious disservice to every man, woman and child who died during WWII.

Maureen Rogers said...

Okay - Let's accept/put aside the "no reasonable person" argument. Do you view the use of a war memorial with the "correct dates", but dates which are NOT reflective of the way that US cities and towns view and memorialize the war, a necessary and deliberate righting of US solipsism? Or is it a careless slip up, given that reasonable persons in the United States might notice the dates and immediately note that a show that purports to portray a location in the US was so obviously filmed elsewhere.

I don't see how pretending otherwise does a disservice to those killed in the war.

nat said...

Yo Mo,

Also being from the Boston/NY area and a bit analytical at times, find you: Well informed, wonderfully witty and more fun than a teenage mercy fuc_. That is to say "well since no one else stepped up to do it, i felt that i had to."

Anonymous said...

The School used in episodes 1 - 10 was a now defunct and abandoned Alderwood Collegiate Institute in Toronto Ontario