Reach for the Sky: Dissecting the Sky Sports/BBC Sport F1 Partnership

On Friday, the Formula 1 world was rocked by news that UK Television Broadcasts of the sport would be fundamentally changing starting from 2012. The state-supported and industry-leading BBC had originally been expected to hold exclusive rights to Formula 1 through the end of the 2012 season, after securing the rights from rivals ITV, who ditched them as a result of their almost perpetual cash-strapped nature.

More incredible was the new primary rights holder: technically, Sky Sports. This despite the fact it was generally accepted the rights had to be in the hands of a free-to-air broadcaster. How did FOM get around this? The rights actually went to a Sky Sports/BBC Sport Co-Operative deal. A deal which will give the BBC 10 races, or 50% of the season (Though in the event of 21 races, the extra race would be Sky exclusive). The two broadcasters will share commentary and some other resources, but use different presentation packages.

For the 10+ races the BBC is not showing live, they are showing…Well, what exactly? Bernie Ecclestone has apparently led the members of FOTA (Formula One Teams’ Association) to believe that they will be showing the full race on a time delay. The BBC, however, has seemed to play down these reports – they indicate an extended highlights show, clocking in at around 75 minutes. Either way, the show or taped race would air in prime time on Sunday – AKA the least valuable kind of prime time.

Still, the BBC package will air the day of the race, whatever the minutiae are.

This bizarre setup with the BBC acting as some kind of “Sky Sports Preview” is unique. No other sport, Motorsport or otherwise, operates this way, and the BBC agreeing to play second fiddle to Sky has made some observers distinctly uneasy.

Setting aside the practical and TV industry implications for a moment, let’s consider the financial impact of the deal. The Sky Sports/BBC Sport Partnership is paying out a combined £55 Million, up on the £40 Million the BBC had been paying out for the exclusive rights. The teams have been told this will factor out to about £1 Million per season extra paid from FOM to each team.

In F1 terms, £1 Million a season is…Not a huge deal. Even the back markers reportedly blow throw more than £30 Million to just show up and not completely embarrass themselves. For frontrunners McLaren, this is chump change. So one could reasonably wonder why they are going along with this so readily?

Consider also, McLaren (In particular) are majority funded by sponsorship revenue. This means they in particular should be concerned about any potential decrease in viewership. It seems like hubris to claim (As FOM, amongst others, have) that this deal might grow the F1 audience in the UK. The idea seems to be that being in BBC1 Prime TIme will inherently draw more people to the sport.

That…Sounds like a huge assumption. The argument seems to be casual fans will be more interested in a prime time highlights reel than in watching the race at midday (or odd hours for fly-aways). There is some merit to that idea, but it still seems like there is room to question it. We’re talking about a delay of six to, potentially, 12+ hours. It seems…Unlikely – to say the least – casual fans will go out of their way to avoid spoilers, but counterintuitively one could also reasonably question whether they’d bother watching the highlights reel once they knew the result?

Smaller teams also look set to get screwed – hard – by this. They get their best exposure for sponsors during qualifying and the exact kinds of “boring” bits the BBC’s editors are likely to cut for the highlights reel (For example, the leaders putting a lap on them). These losses will not in any way be mitigated by Sky Sports viewerships. Consider…

Sky Sports 1 enjoys a whopping 0.9% Audience share. This is HALF the audience share of BBC Three. It’s barely 0.2 more than the anaemic share held by BBC Four, which this deal is widely believed to have been orchestrated to save. Sky Sports 2, which will share Sky Sports 1’s duties as F1 broadcaster, has an eye-watering-ly small 0.4% share.

For comparison, the BBC’s F1 audience has averaged 4-5 million viewers, with peaks in excess of 6 Million – which is 10% of the UK Population, never mind UK TV Audience. And there is very little demographic overlap between existing F1 fans and Sky Sports subscribers – who are typically more interested in ball games like Association Football and Cricket.

So then, there is a strong argument that this deal will massively reduce the audience for Formula 1 in the UK. And it raises big questions about the financial impact of the deal on teams. There is one other area this deal could potentially have a massive impact, as suggested by Ewan Marshall at GP Focus: the prestige of the Championships.

By making only ten races live on free-to-air television, this deal implicitly adds prestige to the already prestigious Monaco and British Grands Prix. It will possibly have a similar effect on other events (Potentially including, regrettably, poor Grands Prix like the Singapore Night Race if they are included amongst the ten). What can’t be known at this stage is what impact this shift in emphasis to fewer, “marquee” races will have on the public’s perception of the Championships.

In American Motorsport, there are several Championships in various categories. What’s interesting, though, is that unlike in Europe (Where even casual fans tend to idolise championship winners like Jenson Button or Fernando Alonso), a lot of casual fans are more interested in which drivers win certain marquee events – like the Indy 500. Is it possible that, at least amongst casual British fans, this deal will decrease the importance of championships?

Are we looking at a future where casual viewership for most of the Grands Prix (Even most of the free-to-air Grands Prix) decreases because winning the big-name events like Monaco and Silverstone are seen as more important than winning the championship? Such a shift would take us back to the pre-fifties era of rand Prix racing, before the inception of the World Drivers’ Championship.

It’s a big if, but do we really want to go back there?

So there’s just a few points of interest from the Sky Sports/BBC Sport Joint F1 Broadcast deal. The crazy thing is, this is such uncharted territory, we have little to no way of knowing what the potential ramifications are. It could affect things we’ve not even considered.

Video Industry & Television Studies Academic Essay June 2011 – A vision of the future for British broadcasting

The following is an Essay written for the Video Industry and Television Studies Module of my Degree Programme at the University of Portsmouth. It received a 2.1 Passing Grade, my First Year overall was passed at First Class Standard. The title for this Essay was “Using an historical perspective, outline a vision of the future for British broadcasting” and it was printed for submission on June 10 2011 – note that certain details may have become outdated since then owing to rapid developments in the UK Media.

Introduction
British broadcasting has, throughout its history, been an highly changeable medium. It has evolved constantly to keep up with advances in technology, changes in taste and an evolving political situation. This pace of change, always considerable, has been accelerating at an ever increasing rate. Today, the industry faces its largest upheaval ever as trends in multiple areas are shifting concurrently.

As a result, British broadcasting in the future will be virtually unrecognisable…

A Brief History of British Broadcasting
In the early days of broadcasting in Britain, Television, the dominant form of broadcasting today, was mostly a dream. The broadcasting age was kicked off by the advent of the radio in 1922. That year, a number of independent stations began broadcasting and the BBC was formed, initially broadcasting in London.

Right from the start, the BBC was funded by a License Fee. Initially, the Broadcasting Receiving License. The industry as a whole was protected from collapse by forming a syndicate, with royalties being earned on all wireless sets sold. By 1925, though, change was already in the air as the wireless manufacturers wanted out of the deal. Meanwhile, the BBC’s leader (Lord Reith) successfully convinced the Government’s Crawford Commission to continue Public Service broadcasting.

As a result, the British Broadcasting Commission, which largely survives to this day, was established to oversee the nascent British Broadcasting Corporation under the authority of the Crown.

That set the scene for much of the remainder of the post-war period, until around 1935 when the BBC began experiments with television broadcasts, initially using Baird’s 30-line system. By 1936, “High Definition” had already arrived – 405 lines versus the 240 of the Baird system used at that point.

The service wasn’t available for long, however, as service was interrupted by the breakout of World War II.

Once the War ended and stability returned, efforts to resume television service began. In July 1946, the TV License was introduced and TV Service resumed, with the BBC showing a Mickey Mouse cartoon (Mickey’s Gala Premiere) which had been the last programme aired prior to the shutdown of the service seven years earlier.

Three years later, the BBC Television service began to expand outside of London. This expansion continued, with the BBC maintaining its monopoly, for a number of years. Then, in 1955, Independent Television – commercial broadcasting – arrived. And the shape of British broadcasting was altered once more.

This was just the first of a rapidly accelerating number of paradigm shifts in British broadcasting over the coming decades. In the 60s, BBC2 and colour television arrived. In the 70s, Ceefax launches – a nascent foray into information services for the broadcast industry.

But things really changed in the 1980s. Channel 4 launched, bringing commercial broadcasting to the state-owned broadcasting slate, with a focus on exploring new ground with programming aimed at niches not catered to by the existing BBC/ITV Duopoly – most notably the rising “youth” movement of teens and young adults, an increasingly distinct set of demographics.

On top of this, satellite broadcasting went online, beginning an industry in premium TV which would eventually become one of the most important sectors of British broadcasting. Amazingly, it was only in this same decade that British networks began 24-hour broadcasting, which just serves to demonstrate the rapid pace of acceleration in British broadcasting’s evolution.

By the end of the 90s, Channel 5; Six TV and a plethora of premium channels like Sky 1 and the Disney Channel had become available to British audiences. Whilst some were unsuccessful (Six TV went defunct in 2009 after a troubled and highly limited run in its ten year lifetime) others, like Sky 1, remain dominant forces.

Into the 21st Century, analogue broadcasts – satellite, cable and over the air – began to cease. Freeview, Freesat, Sky and Virgin Media Television have battled for eyeballs, and all four have launched new HD services in 1080i. But a growing competitor in the form of the world wide web, born in the 90s, has begun eating into television’s market – both with original content on sites like YouTube and blip.tv and through on demand distribution of television programming through services like BBC iPlayer.

This is the scene as we look ahead to the future of British broadcasting.

The Future of British Broadcasting: A Vision
As it stands, British broadcasting is engaged in a massive-scale “war for eyeballs”, caused by the plethora of services demanding the attention of the public.

There is little chance that all these services can continue to co-exist. As a result, going forward, it is inconceivable that we will not begin to see ever-increasing instances of convergence amongst these services. Already, we have seen television broadcasters like the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, BSkyB and more make their programming available online.
Some, like the BBC and BSkyB even allow viewers to watch television live as it is broadcast over the web – and even on mobile phones.

The future of British broadcasting will be crafted in this image. Video content is platform-neutral at its most basic level. As a result, video services from one platform can be delivered on another platform with minimal additional effort. We are beginning to see this coming to fruition in the form of Internet-Enabled TV sets and devices powered by software like GoogleTV.

These products, which will become increasingly prevalent in the coming years, invert the move of television to the web by bringing the web to television sets. As a result, audiences are able to watch live transmissions or on demand content from the comfort of their living room, on their big screen, without additional effort on their part.

The secondary result of this will be the resurgence of independent and even semi-professional video producers. With internet video services – which offer a far more accessible platform for smaller producers – with equivalent prominence to conventional broadcasters on TVs, independents and semi-professional individuals will be able to reach a far wider audience than at present, radically increasing the viability of small producers.

One possible side-effect of this will be the collapse of the Government’s efforts to launch a new sixth terrestrial broadcaster. The new sixth channel is being pitched has having a localised remit, patterned after the US Networks system, where a national Network produces prime time, late-night, (in some cases) daytime and news programming and local stations broadcast it to small areas (Eg. Cities) along with locally produced content like the local news and weather. Note, ITV used to be organised in this way prior to a mass of station mergers which has rendered the ITV Regions system a nominal one only.

This focus on localised programming will likely have its audience consumed by independent efforts making use of the web. Already, services lie Portsmouthlive.tv are serving the same basic purpose – at very low cost – without the government’s backing.

Similarly, it is highly unlikely that the proliferation of channels (Hundreds broadcast in the UK at present) will continue. Indeed, it seems likely that the number of channels available to UK audiences will plummet over the next ten to twenty years as the niche markets catered to by satellite and cable begin to be eaten up by web services. These niche channels are by far the most vulnerable to being subsumed by the web, as their inherently smaller audiences mean it will be viable for users to stream video live far sooner because less bandwidth will be needed.

As bandwidth concerns are overcome, channels with ever-wider audiences will be able to move online. Theoretically, if enough bandwidth can be added to the UK’s internet infrastructure, every channel currently on the air could be broadcast via the web. But that is a long way in the future.

One other thing seems likely: 3DTV will not achieve truly widespread adoption. Whilst their is a market for 3D content, the inconveniences of the technology make it ill-suited to broadcasting as it is generally consumed. Studies in the UK (The Guardian Online, 2010) and the US (NTDaily, 2010) have shown that an increasing proportion of the audience – particularly amongst younger viewers – prefer to multitask whilst watching television. This means their attention is divided between a TV, perhaps a laptop computer and even a mobile phone. They are social networking and reading the news whilst they watch.

3D doesn’t fit in this lifestyle, as it requires concentration to work. So whilst it has a market in event programming like live sport and movies, particularly movie premieres, conventional programming is unlikely to move to 3D in a meaningful way.

Conclusion
Ultimately, it seems possible that in the future, there will be no Freeview, no Satellite and no cable – as we know it. Instead, broadcasting will be consumed via an online portal with access to all the channels and on demand content in one place and an interface which scales from small screens (mobile phones) through laptop screens all the way up to big screen TVs.

Additionally, this portal could integrate with social networking services, to tap into broadcasting’s role as a creator of shared experiences and converge it with the advent of modern day social media.

Bibliography
Wearden, G. (2010) The Guardian Online: Multi-tasking media consumption on rise among Britons, says Ofcom study. Retrieved 9 May 2011 fromhttp://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2010/aug/19/multi-tasking-media-ofcom-study
Landry, N. (2010) NTDaily: Study shows increase in technology multitasking. Retrieved 9 May 2011 from http://www.ntdaily.com/?p=7975

On Final Cut Pro X: What Pro Video Editors Won’t Tell You

And the Pro Editors are hopping mad about it. You’ve probably seen the brouhaha all over the tech corner of the web, with Pro Video Editors fuming at Apple’s slick new upgrade for Final Cut Pro, Final Cut Pro X which EOL’d Final Cut Express and the Final Cut Studio Package, unifying Pro and Express and splitting the Studio Suite into three core Apps all available on the new Mac App Store. What’s got the Pro Editors hot and bothered? They’ll tell anyone who asks (And anyone who doesn’t) that it’s simply the fact that Apple has abandoned them, Apple doesn’t care about Pro any more because this App is “unsuitable” for professional video editing – it’s not Final Cut Pro, it’s iMovie Pro! (Note the irony here: the iMovie Pro name is supposed to demonstrate that Final Cut Pro X is not a tool for Pros. One would wonder then why it has Pro in its name even in this derisive nickname?)

Here’s the truth. That’s all a load of FUD. And I’ll tell you why: the reality is, the world of video has grown and changed. Pro Video Editors? They have not. They’re dinosaurs, stuck in a world of TV (TV Networks in general can be considered at least partially responsible for the dinosauric attitudes of the Editors owing to their cheapness and general unwillingness to upgrade technology – many still require masters on tape) and film in an era where video has shifted.

Simple question for you: where would you say you saw the most video content in the past 24 hours? For most of you I’d wager the answer is not “Traditional TV broadcast” and certainly not “in a movie theatre”. Nor is it likely to have been film or TV on DVD/Blu-Ray. For most of you, the answer is probably “the web”, or some variation of it – such as on-demand on a TV.

Apple’s aim with Final Cut Pro X was to produce a Pro Editing App for the modern era. Avid Media Composer, Adobe Premiere and even Sony Vegas are all built from he perspective of the past. And it’s one the Pro Editors love. It’s conservative, it’s heavily keyboard-driven, it’s bathed in dependence on timecode and syncing and preposterously complicated formats and drivers and encoders and decoders and tapes and format wars and piles of jargon-heavy windows with unusual and complicated interfaces. It’s built on a foundation of “you’re going to do x by doing y or else z is going to break unless you a b and reverse the c of n”. In short, it’s complex, hard to learn – harder to master – and inaccessible.

Existing Pro Video Editing Apps are built with the wrongheaded belief that you should be made to learn the App to edit the video. It’s My Way or the Highway with Avid and Adobe. Even FCP 7 was guilty of this to a certain extent.

And that was weird, because it’s not Apple’s way. Nor is it a credible way to design a video editing app. A lot of Avid Editors will scoff at the idea of someone using the new Smart Tools Avid added in the latest version of Media Composer. Know why? They use the mouse. Editors don’t like the mouse, they like the keyboard. Know why? Cos anyone can use a mouse, and video editors are special. But that’s their own hang up. If they want to prove you need to be a Pro to be great at editing, then the tools shouldn’t matter. A Pro should always be able to edit better than a consumer, regardless of the App, otherwise their training in editing theory was an expensive nothing.

The real reason the Pro Editors all hate FCP X so much is simple and twofold: it makes editing too easy and it’s not optimised from a conservative worldview.

Final Cut Pro X is optimised for an all file-based workflow. Do you know who uses all file-based workflows?

People like me. People like the folks over at Channel Awesome.

Oh sure, some independent web producers use tape or DVD in their workflow right now (I believe Cinemassacre do, or at least did until recently) but it’s more about that kind of work than any specific producer. I myself do use a tapeless workflow. And FCP X cures literally all the bottlenecks and hangups in my workflow. Better yet, it operates in such a way that editing is easy, the App gets out the way and lets you arrange the video and audio and export for the web with ease.

Independents like me and the other examples do need Pro grade tools – I couldn’t use iMovie for what I do – but that doesn’t mean we need Avid Media Composer. I’ve been professionally instructed in Avid and I still hate using it because it constantly gets in my way. Likewise Premiere Pro which I found to be mess of complications and incompatibilities – as well as being hideously ugly and suffering the worst UX of the big three (FCP, Avid and Adobe Premiere). The App being simple o use is very important in the era of democratised video:

Sometimes the editor is the talent. And the producer. And the cameraman. And the writer. And the director. Certainly that’s the case with me. In this era, we need pro tools which do not require speciality training in order to use.

Pro Editors hate all this because it means change which offends their conservative nature and it also means they might not be able to command such high salaries or face tougher competition. Unfortunately for them, that’s just the way it is.

About ten years ago, Apple heralded the birth of a new era when they claimed that home video production was about to be the next Desktop Publishing. Like the way desktop publishing took longer to evolve than assumed and wound up a very different beast (The World Wide Web supplanted the original vision of people printing their own newsletters, but had an all the more devastating impact on the traditional print industry because of its inherent advantages, including cost) Apple is being proved sort of right, much later than they probably planned.

The big growth in video is small operations – less than ten people on the whole production, often as few as one person or two people doing to the majority of the work – producing for the web. Final Cut Pro X was designed with that in mind. The response thus far has suggested it’s the answer to a question no one asked at best and at worst, the wrong answer to the question the pro editors asked.

The truth is, the Pro Editors were asking the wrong question. FCP X is the Right Answer to the Question the Modern World Asked.

Thoughts on Avatar

What follows is the stream of consciousness I wrote down on my recent watch of Avatar. I hadn’t seen the movie at all for around a year after it came out, primarily because I knew it wasn’t to my tastes and I refused to pay money to see a film I knew I wasn’t really going to enjoy. However, it became free for me to watch it, so I opted to see if I could at least figure out what all the fuss was about. I sat down, with TextEdit opened, and wrote down my reactions in real-time. Yes, I knew I wasn’t going to like it, but I was unprepared for just how much this movie annoyed and infuriated me. Read on to see my slow descent into madness.

But, do bear in mind, since this was written in real-time through the movie, I only had time to correct some of the more glaring typos and such, so a bunch may have slipped through. Try to ignore them.

It Begins:

Two and a half hours? This movie is two and a half hours?!? Fuck me.

Okay….Pretentious opening narration. Wonderful. I’m already regretting this. Okay….Joke about alcohol or something, I guess it’s supposed to be relatable? Just came across as forced, but whatever.

What the fuck is with the lighting? Everything looks like it’s the wrong colour. Is this supposed to be other wordily or some shit? It just looks weird. You’d think with all the money Cameron wasted on this thing he could have paid someone to colour correct it.

“Since your genome is identical to his”…You fail biology forever, movie.

Pandora so far looks like a cross between a quarry and a level from Halo 1.

In fact, now that I think about it, everything I’ve seen of this movie gives me a vaguely “Halo Ripoff” video game feeling…Microsoft, you might have grounds to sue. Just saying. It’s made quite a lot of money (for…some reason) so, you know…Might be worth thinking about.

Lemme get this straight, not only does the military not pay to repair its soldier’s wrecked spine even though such a thing is apparently possible, the human race has also apparently failed to improve on wheelchairs in any way. Indeed, they haven’t even given this pleb a motorised wheelchair. Why? What part of this makes sense?

Oh hey, cliched “grizzled military guy”. Wow James, you’re such an innovator in this industry.

…Wait…

Stop saying Pandora you hack, we know where we are. Lazy exposition is lazy. Oh hey, here’s Norm, (AUDIBLE COMMA) Spellman with more lazy exposition. I’m gonna call Norm AUDIBLE COMMA Spellman “Expo” from now on.

Why is nobody horrified or appalled at this? THis whole Avatar programme sounds at least as evil and insidious as openly attacking the Na’vi.

“Looks like you”. No, it doesn’t. It looks like a giant Cat-Smurf.

Wow, the far future and yet this prick is unfamiliar with a Video Log. Am I to understand it that whilst in the future we have failed to iterate on the wheelchair, we have so fundamentally changed human expression (WITHOUT losing the ability to speak English) that a video log is an alien concept to this retard?

Okay, font used for these subtitles wins the Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings Elvish Subtitles Award for Jarringly Out of Place Subtitles font.

Oh and here’s Sigourney “I’ll do anything James Cameron Says Because I Seem To Have Forgotten He’s Not The Only Reason I’m a Success” Weaver.

TWIN BROTHERS DO NOT HAVE THE SAME GENOME YOU FRIGGING MORONS. Lady, you’re a scientist, POINT THAT OUT TO THIS PLEB AND YOUR PROBLEM IS SOLVED.

Unobtabium. I knew he was gonna say it, but somehow I had always fooled myself into believing people were playing a massive joke on me. James, I know that’s supposed to be an inside joke, but dude…That’s the laziest, stupidest inside joke I have ever heard. You know the “suspension of disbelief”? The thing that made me believe that Liquid Alloy dude in Terminator 2, the last good movie you ever made? Yeah, you just ruined mine for this movie’s entire premise.

Unobtanium. UNBELIEVABLE. It’s like he went to TVTropes.Org and decided he just wanted to piss off everyone who ever loved that website.

Wow, this guy who is I guess the hero…He has made literally no impression on me. Arnie this prick is not.

Also, he’s doing a very bad job hiding his accent. It’s not so much that I can hear that he’s an Oz, as it is I can tell his dialogue is stilted and inexplicably gruff. Either that, or he’s a shit actor. I could go either way on this.

Well that “Hey guys” sounded both badly acted AND Australian…So I think it’s both.

This guy is not endearing, he’s a precocious asshole.

And he’s hideous! HOLY JUMPING CRAP! THESE THINGS ARE DISGUSTING! I thought someone said they designed these things specifically so that they were aesthetically pleasing? I recall hearing JC didn’t okay the design till every castmember said they’d tap a Na’vi? Are these castmembers the people with the worst taste in the universe or something? Every one of these Na’vi is horrendous to look at.

“Don’t play with that, you’ll go blind”? Okay, so there’s one good joke.

Incidentally, Sigourney Weaver as a giant Cat-Smurf is just wrong.

Oh hey, generic “tough-girl military type”. “Hi, I’m James Cameron and I am not a sexist. Just ignore, you know, the entire plot of my appalling Oscar-bait flick ‘Titanic'”.

I find the scars on this Space Marine Cliche guy incredibly stupid, distracting and unnecessary.

LET ME GET THIS STRAIGHT. They have GIANT MECHS. They have HALF-ALIEN SEMI-CLONES WE CAN CONTROL BY REMOTE. But they DO NOT have a way for this dipshit to WALK, or at least a more efficient way for him to move around than manually pushing two wheels?

Congratulations movie, you are officially a broken universe.

I’m sorry, really, BLUE people? This is stupid. Teddy bears can be blue. Birds can be blue. Tiny little freaks who live in toadstools can be blue, but giant freaking cat people? THEY SHOULD NOT BE BLUE.

Eye Candy of a Space Jungle I guess? See, maybe it’s because I happen to be one of the apparently few people who actually thinks earth is pretty great, but I don’t find this that impressive.

Oh hey, look, E-Ink. Colour E-Ink. We already have that technology you know folks, it’s just taking an inexplicably long time to come to market…They should really get on with it, they’d make a fortune off of idiots by making phoney Avatar technology.

HAHAHAHAHAAHAHHHHAHAAAAAA! Are you kidding me?! A Hammerhead Shark crossed with a rhino?! You’re serious!? The only thing more ridiculous than that is this – is his name Jake? The crippled guy. Him. His mid-nineties trash-talking is at least twice as ridiculous both in and out of context. I’ve heard more convincing smack-talk and use of the word “bitch” from 12 year olds on Xbox LIVE.

Man we are way deep in uncanny valley here. There’s something about this CGI world which is just slightly less than photorealistic and it’s making me slightly uncomfortable. Everything has a falsely textured appearance, and the edges are just slightly too soft.

Oh for crissakes, there’s two more hours of this crap.

Oh hello obvious love interest….You’re…Um…Hideous. And having seen the actress that plays you, they must have gone to some considerable effort to make the Na’vi ugly, because apparently they’re supposed to look like the people who play them and Zoe Saldana is anything but ugly.

Okay, I know this is an alien atmosphere, but I have seen more convincing fire in video games. And quite frankly, I’m giving a “You Fail Physics Forever” badge to those flames because they just don’t behave believably, or consistently.

“I’m TOUGH. You can tell be cause I said ‘God-Damned’. Did you know you can’t say that on TV? It’s true. But this is a movie. So I can say it. And I did, because I’m badass Space Marine. Yeahhhhhhh”.

I find this Na’v language annoying and off-putting. And no, I do not buy into the idea that me thinking that is xenophobic, these are fictional monsters with a a culture cynically stolen from real ethnic groups. If anyone was being racist, it was the filmmakers in exploiting cultures like that. And for what? to make an appallingly heavy-handed message which nobody who saw this movie actually needed to hear and a few billion dollars.

Assholes.

This sequence with Jake and whatsername played by Zoe Saldana is a good indication of why this lost out on the Best Picture Oscar. For one, it’s awkwardly written. For another, it’s a cartoon. A jumped up cartoon with ideas well above its station, but a cartoon nonetheless. personally, it being a cartoon doesn’t bother me, I love Disney Cartoons, and Disney Pixar cartoons. It does bug me that they pretend it ISN’T a cartoon, because it clearly is. However, my point was that the Academy never gives the best Picture to a cartoon, even if they should (Wall-E says ‘hi’). Speaking of, if Toy Sotry 3 doesn’t get it, the Academy can go to hell.

Why are these subtitles in Yellow? It’s really annoying.

ARGH! This guy is the most hideous Na’vi yet! And he’s all shiny, like an unfinished effect or something. He looks out of place amidst the just-slightly-too-soft-focused-and-textured rest of the movie.

Well info individual Na’vi are ugly, a crowd of them just looks preposterous. I can’t look at this crowd without sniggering.

“Me Big Chief Na’vi. Zoe Saldana go-em fetch’s firewood”.

Yes, I’m suggesting that the design of the Na’vi Chief is incredibly racist against Native Americans, an yes I’m aware it’s not a new opinion and no I don’t care. It’s jarring and annoying.

I don’t get it though, are the Na’vi supposed to be African, Aborigine or Native American? Did the filmmakers just rip off all three of those cultures and combine them? I can’y decide if that’s better or worse. I feel like it’s worse.

Why is this moron continuing to speak english to every Na’vi he meets when to our knowledge, only a few seem to speak it? Which in and of itself is a minor miracle, very few creatures possess the vocal chords etc. necessary to reproduce human speech. That’s why Chewbacca in Star Wars may be able to understand Basic, but doesn’t even bother trying to speak it – and vice versa for Han Solo with the Wookie language.

Oh please stop saying Unobtanium.

You know, I’m going to be controversial here and say the Na’vi are at least as much to blame for the shit that goes down later in this movie. All the humans want is to get at the…Let’s call it the Oil. Thats what it’s clearly supposed to be. SYMBOLISM!!!!!111!!!!11!OMG!!WTF!!1BBQ!!1one!! Anyway, if the Na’vi would just stop being so stubborn about the superiority of their culture (Which is, itself, xenophobic. In fact, the Na’vi are at least ten times as xenophobic as the humans, who are going out of their way to be gracious, when it’s been made clear they could wipe the Na’vi out of they felt like it) and let the humans grab the oil and go, there’d be no problem.

The humans have no interest in staying, they’d have to either become Avatars (Expensive) or wear masks (Inconvenient).

Uh-huh. She’s teaching him their ways, the others dismiss him as being incapable of learning. Xenophobia. Like I said.

You know, I liked Expo much better in Dodgeball (Yeah, I just figured out that’s where I recognised him from). Anyway, I see he’s, once again, expositing. Lazy writing is lazy.

You know, I still don’t fully understand what happens to the Avatars when they’re not being controlled…I mean they just seem to be able to dump them anywhere, asleep. Isn’t that dangerous? Even if they pick a “safe” place to sleep, it’s an inhospitable jungle. Anything could happen!

The Na’vi doesn’t choose the weird pterodactyl thing, the weird pterodactyl thing chooses the wizard…Wait, this is bleeding into the various other fantasy universes James is ripping off.

Hah. She calls him moron. Accurate.

Horses with extra legs. I’d like to speak to a biologist about the feasibility of that.

Okay, come on, I have to be missing something. I’m an hour into this, and I still have no idea what people find so captivating about this crap. Is my capacity to be impressed simply by “the shiny!” really that much lower than the general populous’s? I find that hard to believe, I’m a Mac and iPhone user.

Tribal tattoo on his arm? This guy is such a douchebag.

Training montages without kickass music suck.

Mystical energy which flows through all living things? You’re ripping off Star Wars. You’re ripping off a series which itself consists almost entirely of borrowed ideas. You sir, are a hack, James Cameron.

Okay, I find the whole “clean kill” thing, and the mystic crap and all this BS and the way he’s started buying into it incredibly annoying and it’s one of the many thing which makes me fundamentally dislike the Na’vi. They’re bigots. They despise anyone who doesn’t buy into their religion. And what really annoys me about this is the fact the movie expects me to side with them, to the point of even implying that their religion is technically truth. FUCK THIS MOVIE. Stop talking down to me, I’m NOT a racist, I’m a supporter of Hope not Hate. Quit cramming “primitive cultures are really superior” white liberal guilt down my throat.

Hmmm…Weird pterodactyl’s who choose the wizard…Is this the part with the flesh USB Port…Yes. That’s ind of gross. There’s a presumably unintentional sexual undertone and it’s freakishly unsettling.

This entire culture is stupid and pointlessly dangerous and complex. In what way is this superior? They were openly cheering on the idea that he might die completing this entirely pointless task to prove his worth. What a fucking awful message to send kids James. “Unless your proving yourself through incredibly dangerous unnecessary risks, you’re mot a real man, and any worthy culture knows that”. FUCK YOU.

THIS IS JUST SHOWY. This whole pterodactyl sequence is 3D Eye Candy. And I ain’t watching this crap in 3D unless I can do so on the 3DS. So this is entirely pointless to me right now. I hate pointlessness in any movie, let alone a movie which is OVER TWO AND A HALF FREAKING HOURS IN LENGTH.

Oh hey very brief scene consisting entirely of exposit….Oh, it’s gone. Back to the showy cartoon nonsense.

Bored now.

Not even halfway.

Sigh.

This movie’s pacing is really inconsistent. It was racing along for the first forty-five minutes or so and now it’s dragging along like a broken down train.

Oh goodie, a mercy mission. How exciting. I’m convinced they actually made this movie with the idea that we sit and watch this mercy mission be successfully completed, because this totally is an independent arthouse flick, and not glossy, shiny, mainstream, populist schlock.

Waitaminute…This is Avatar. Sorry, I was fantasising I was watching a different movie. Replace that description with its opposites.

Sorry James, it’s gonna take more than glowy tentacle porn to win me over on this movie.

Blech. These Cat-Smurfs have totally the wrong bone structure in their faces to pull off human emotions like amusement and desire.

AND HOLY FREAKING GOD CAT-SMURF SEX SCENE. EWWW. EWWWWWW. This is wrong, wrong on so many levels. Gross. Dude is a fucking xenophile. Sick dude. Don’t fuck creatures of another species, inexplicable half-alien clone which you inhabit by remote or no. It’s still YOU in the re being aroused you sick creep.

Oh look, the exact thing I said about this whole leave them sleeping where ever they drop malarky has come to pass.

Yeah…Ummm..I find it hard to believe that they wouldn’t know where the Avatars were at all times, or at least be able to identify them immediately, in case they themselves destroyed the damn things in exactly this way.

Oh hey, his Ozzie accent came back. I get it, he can’t emote and maintain his gruff American Marine voice at the same time. Ergo, poor casting.

I’m curious, what DOES happen if you interrupt a link in progress? Does the Avatar die, or the human or…What? I’m unclear here. Cos from what I understand of this movie’s plot going in, Jake goes back into his Avatar and goes native…So that means both he and it survive…So…Like…What’s the danger?

Electro-chemical communication between the trees? It’s a global network? Pseudo environmental crap! Hooray, I feel like I’m watching Fern Gully!

Wait, that’s a bad thing…

A deal can’t be made because the Na’vi refuse to move. It’s “move or die” and they’re not moving. Where is the problem exactly? They were given a freaking choice. I mean, I’m not saying the humans aren’t wrong to kill them, or aren’t incredibly greedy, I’m just saying the damn Na’vi are being pigheaded and doing little to nothing to help their own cause. If the humans are irredeemably evil, which seems to be the movie’s message, then the real message about the Na’vi is that they are idiots. Total fucking stupid savages. I think the message they WANT to send is that the Na’vi are noble and proud or some shit, but that’s real not what comes across at all. They’re just stupid.

Take Love interest’s angry reaction to Jake telling them:

A) You have to move on
B) I was sent here by them to learn your ways and convince you to move.

She, and the rest of the Cat-Smurfs are surprised and outraged by this news. WHICH WAS ENTIRELY OBVIOUS TO ANYONE WITH HALF A BRAIN. What the hell did they THINK he was doing there, sight-seeing?! Besides, he’s now CLEARLY trying to help. WHY ARE YOU SHOOTING HTE MESSENGER YOU SAVAGE FUCKING MORONS?!

These things are assholes, stupid fucking assholes. WHY should I sympathise with a people who SO CLEARLY want to die, or are otherwise too racist to accept help to prevent it.

They’re racists, they’re idiots or they’re both. Sure, the humans are racists and for the most part irredeemably evil (Incidentally, this many irredeemably evil characters? Bad writing James), but the Na’vi are hardly blameless.

Oh look, a token “I didn’t sign up for this shit” AWOL move.

Lazy writing.

You know, call me crazy, but these graphics really aren’t all THAT impressive. Sure they look great, possibly the best CGI to date in film, but they’re not SO MUCH better than other films recently. For the most part, excellent, but they’re incredibly uneven. Frequently I’m finding that the foreground looks almost real, but the background looks almost painted, or vice versa. It kinda breaks the suspension of disbelief.

Na’vi crying does not prompt sympathy from me. It’s just an incredibly annoying noise. And Love Interest anger is petty, and again, sounds annoying.

Turning don the colour on this sequence didn’t make it more dramatic James, it just made it look pretentious – and the shamelessly self-aggrandising dialogue did nothing to alter that perception.

Fifty Minutes left. How is it possible that the climax of this movie takes fifty minutes? Is James that and at directing?

Man, you’d think they’d have some kind of remote shut down for these Pelicans…Wait, this isn’t Halo…Sure looks like it…Anyway, you’d think they’d have remote shutdowns to prevent the expensive flying machines from being stolen like this…That kind of technology exists TODAY for crissakes, they have it in CARS.

“I don’t believe in fairy tales”. You’re in one, lady.

Now Jake just sounds British. This dialogue is dubbed, how can this possibly be the best take?

Hmm…WHile we’ve got time. I want to ponder why Sci-Fi universes always perceive other worlds as being mono-climactic and mono-cultural, when the only planet we know of with sentient life, earth, is the exact opposite.

In this context: why are all the Na’vi racist, xenophobic religious fundamentalists with an inexplicable technophobia?

Here comes the white man! The white man will save us!

For a movie dripping in white liberal guilt, this thing’s incredibly racist…The Na’vi can’t save themselves, and Jake makes a better Na’vi than the Na’vi.

Also, fuck the apostrophe in Na’vi. What the fuck is it for? What does it represent?

Spiritual crap. How incredibly offensive to those of use who are happily secular humanist.

SHE WAS SHOT. WE CAN HEAL BULLET WOUNDS NOW. They do not need to magic of some jumped up force knockoff to heal her. What a load of fucking bullshit.

…Haha, it didn’t even work. Awesome. I’m really loving this. Stupid Na’vi-loving prick. If you’d spent more time using medical science and less hauling her to a fucking prayer tree maybe you’d have been more successful at saving here you dick.

JAKE. You are NOT a Na’vi. I’m sorry, doesn’t anyone else find this sick? He has appropriated the cultural heritage of another race, indeed another species, as his own. It’s theft, horrible disgraceful theft. And not only that, it’s a terrible, awful betrayal of mankind. This guy is no hero, he’s an asshole. He has literally no redeeming qualities.

Good CGI on that water there though. Kinda pretty. That being said…WE HAVE WATER. ON EARTH. LOTS of it.

Wow, this movie seems to be implying that the soldiers sent into foreign territories collectively, uniformly, unquestionably support the thinking behind a given conflict. That is outrageously offensive to the military, who may do their duty, but that doesn’t mean they like it. Not every soldier sent to Iraq was in favour of Bush and Blair’s Oil-loving Islamophobic bullshit you know James.

STOP CALLING THEM SKY PEOPLE JAKE. They’re HUMANS. AND SO THE FUCK ARE YOU, ASSHOLE. You’re a fucking racist – against your own fucking people. There is nothing about you which is not evil and contemptible you detestable little shit.

Yeah…This movie sucks. Up to a point, I was of the opinion that it was merely “not good”, and that it was worthy of being hated purely based on the fact that a movie this expensive and successful ought to at least be good, and arguably ought to be mind-blowingly awesome. But at this stage, it has dramatically exceeded my expectations for sulkiness, and I knew going in it was unlikely I’d enjoy it. But I find myself hating every insipid, moronic, awful, offensive moment of it. This movie is an abomination. This movie sucks on a scale I haven’t experienced since Hulk. The Room may be incompetently made, but at least that movie just sucks. This movie sucks OFFENSIVELY. And unlike The Room, this was a vastly over-budgeted event film from a name director which went on to huge success.

The Room was an independent turd crapped out by some idiot which went on to obscurity outside of that little pocket of the internet that delights in watching crap.

Yeah, that’s sensible. Send your Commanding Officer right into the heart of combat.

This combat sequence is pretty, but I find myself distracted by the fact that the Na’vi are predictably going to win, because they’re the designated good guys…Despite the fact there is no credible way that a few thousand giant blue targets with bows & arrows, spears and the odd sword or gun could possibly beat an army packing rockets, machine guns and heavily armoured flying machines.

Stupid bitch, your hopelessly outnumbered and impossibly outgunned, Do as he says.

Oh look, hammerheaded deus ex machina. I hate lazy writing, so very, very much. Alas, it seems I cannot escape it.

Okay, now here, I’m pissed, the way they’ve made the Na’vi victory credible is to make all that mystical crap work. Now, fair enough you get to define the rules of your own universe James, but the Na’vi are a parallel for real peoples, here on earth, and they’re not even SUBTLE parallels for them. So that the solution to their inevitable destruction is “their pseudo-religion is right and hates the evil sky people”, is fundamentally the same as declaring western culture flawed, incorrect and basically unreservedly evil.

You’re basically saying “Fuck you” to the entire audience you asshole.

Oh hey you know, this Mech thing is like straight out of Killzone 2! Well at least James is being multiplatform with the games he’s ripping off. I’m sure there’s even something in here they knocked off from Nintendo.

Why does a mech that size have a knife.

Yeah, I know that should be a question mark. But I’m not gonna use one. Know why? BECAUSE THERE’S NO ANSWER.

There is no credible answer for what that Mech has a knife in its “hand”. If it needs to clear undergrowth or some shit, strap a chainsaw to its arm. This is bullshit, plain and simple.

About time someone asked him that General Asshole. I’m not saying you’re not as much of a prick as he is, you’re both evil pricks, but it’s about time Jake got a “What the hell, hero?” from someone. Though, quite frankly, I think it would have been better coming from someone who wasn’t so unrelentingly and obviously a villain.

Yeah, see, Arrow in you. That’s why you shouldn’t have opened the canopy, even if you couldn’t see.

Oh, yay! I think jake is dead! Well at least both the unrelentingly evil leaders in this movie have died. That shows some awarene…SON OF A BITCH. She saved him. Well, shit.

Oh god, seeing him with her as a human only serves to drive home how disgusting and wrong everything about Jake is.

And here he is, calling humans “aliens”. That’s not okay Jake. YOU ARE A FUCKING HUMAN.

EWWWWWW. GIANT CAT-SMURF IS KISSING ACTUAL HUMAN. THAT IS FUCKING GROSS.

Oh wow. It’s over. Good lord. That is one of the worst, most offensively appalling movies I have ever seen. I mean, jeez, I knew I wasn’t going to like it, but fucking hell…I mean damn, I knew I wasn’t gonna like Twilight either, and I came away from that with my opinion entirely unchanged. It sucks. Here, I went in expecting a movie which in no way justified its cost and popularity, with some plot holes and some lazy writing. What I saw was so much worse. It’s more offensive, and more…Simply BAD than I ever imagined, in its every facet and moment. There was literally five minutes total of this that I didn’t find either bad, offensive, stupid or some combination of those. It’s about ten minutes of spectacular imagery wrapped in two and a half hours of broken universe, plotholes, broken aesops, racism and a heavy-handed message its own makers seem not to have actually taken to heart.

I hated this movie. hated hated hated this movie. Hated every insipid, audience-offending minute of it. This movie is awful. This is everything which is wrong with modern filmmaking, and James Cameron can go to hell.

I am not open to opposing arguments on this. This is one case where I am invoking “Your opinion is objectively wrong” on anyone who tries to convince me this is a good movie. You can tell me you like it, you can even tell me it’s your favourite thing ever, and give me reasons why. But I will not hear any argument against the fundamental message of this Blog: this movie sucks. It sucks OUT LOUD.

Christmas Letter 2010

Dear family; friends; casual acquaintances; people who I don’t know reading this online and Google Spiderbots,

It’s that time of the year again. You know? The most wonderful one. That one. Christmastime. Yeah? You probably noticed what with all the pretty lights and tinsel and goodwill to all men and sudden inexplicable rise in quality of television. Which also means it’s time for me to write my Christmas Letter, a tradition which – despite the protestations of many –  shows no signs of ending. You know? Like mince pies.

Now for some of you this is your first time receiving one of these letters, and some of you who have received one before have preposterously short atten…Oh hey look, a bunny rabbit!

Where was I? Oh right, explaining the letter.

Every year, I sit down and ask myself a simple question: “What kind of year has it been?”.

Then, in the letter, I ramble on and on, at times quite tediously, in answer. And because I’m a wacky goofball, I usually litter it with jokes. Mostly the stuff I didn’t have time to say in the year that was. Why? Because why the hell not, that’s why.

So anyway, let’s set about answering that question. What kind of year has it been? Well…A damned long one! I don’t know about you, but January 2010 feels like so long ago I can barely remember it. Maybe it’s the quite preposterous number of things which happened this year, or the way everything seems to have changed, or maybe it’s the fact I’m a Student and therefore have consumed what is surely a dangerous amount of alcohol.

No, just kidding folks. The only DANGEROUS amount of alcohol is none.

Just think, this time last year, me and many of my peers were waiting around for the sadistic system known as “UCAS” to let us know our fate. I was in College and almost all my friends were 17, which means there was no nightlife to speak of.

How times have changed.

And look at all the other stuff. This year, amongst the achievements to my name are, sleep (Drunk) in a Disneyland Paris Hotel bathroom; move to University; spend an hour on a stage telling my fellow College leavers how awesome we are; go to Prom with a date AND pass Year 13 whilst basically sleeping through most of the Exam period – thank YOU inexplicably high marks in January Exams*!

*Seriously, I have no idea why they were so high. I thought I’d failed them.

Yes, it’s been one hell of a year. A year in which I, repeatedly, discarded almost all of my hair and started reviewing drinks on the internet for…Some reason. You know now that I write that down, it seems even weirder…Still…Go watch those reviews…

Still, by far the most exciting part of the year was moving to Portsmouth where, to paraphrase a song, I’ve got some friends that I may hardly know, but we’ve had some times I wouldn’t trade for the world.

Man, I hate it when people pretend to be deep by using the lyrics of a song, don’t you? Doesn’t that just make you want to punch them in the face? Well please don’t do that, I’m still typing. It’s hard to type with broken glasses and a black eye you know. I speak from experience.

Also, some stuff happened in the wider world, but it’s mostly very depressing. But…Uh…Hey, Toy Story 3 came out. So it’s not all bad. Oh and they brought Golden Grahams back. Some of you have no idea why that’s amazing, but I assure you, it’s like the best thing that ever happened in the world of cereal.

You know, speaking of Toy Story 3, I saw a lot of good movies this year…So there you go, there’s some good news from the wider world. It was a good year for cinema.

Still reading? Good…A lot of people duck out after the second or third paragraph after they realise I’m just as annoying in writing as I am out loud. In return for your persistence, I have some happy news: IT”S SNOWING! I literally glanced at the window as I was writing this paragraph and it’s started snowing again! on Christmas Eve ! That’s in-freaking-credible!

Yeah, as you may be aware, I never grew up.

I’m still a kid at heart.

Anyway, I think I’ve taken up enough of your time now. Plus I want to get this sent at about Midday. So then…Have a Merry Christmas; Happy Holidays; Happy Hannukah; Kwazy Kwanza; Solemn, Dignified Ramadan and a Happy New Year.

Yours,
Paul Douglas

PS: Okay, NOW you can hit me.

PPS: OW! Hey, it wasn’t mandatory! Jeez.


The Final Stretch

Well today is the very last day of my Easter Holiday away from College. Tomorrow, it’s back to the Sawtry Community College for the home stretch. Three weeks this coming Thursday, I’m onstage wrapping up our official time at Sawtry with the SCC Sixth Form Leavers 2010 Final Assembly. I promise a show like no other. This is going to be one helluva spectacle folks.

A couple of weeks alter, on Friday the 28th of May, at Twenty-Five to One in the afternoon, my last ever lesson at Sawtry ends. After that, all I have there is four exams. The mind boggles that in less than six weeks, it’s all over. Seven years on, as by far the longest-lasting constant in my life outside of my immediate family, my time at SCC comes to an end. Naturally, that means I will have a lot of spare time for some three months. And that in turn means I’ll have more time to spend on doofy crap for this here website.

Then, it’s on to Uni. Which leads me neatly to the other thing which will take up my newfound spare time, the pursuit of money. Yes, it seems I’ll have to pick up at least a few days’ overtime each week as summer rolls around in order to build up a nice lump of spare money to spend on life in Pompey.

Man, writing this all down, it steal feels unreal. I am simultaneously overcome with amazement at how short the time left is and an overwhelming lack of comprehension of that fact.

It’s a weird time of life, you know? Everything’s basically done here but the closing number. We’ve got plans to end it all with a succession of show-stoppers though. The Final Assembly I’m putting together is an extravaganza. It’s a celebration, a variety show, a trip down memory lane, a massive pat on the back and more all crammed into an hour. I’m shooting for the full range of emotions. They’ll laugh, they’ll cry, they’ll cheer, they’ll be proud, they’ll be embarrassed, they’ll smile, they’ll cry & of course, they’ll smile. This is the biggest thing I’ve ever done. And I assure you, I take it very bloody seriously.

Then, a bunch of us are going to tear it up at a Theme Park for the day. Alton Towers is, I think, again the plan. And then we’ve got the End of Year Ball in early July. We call it a ball, but it’s being deliberately organised to allow us to go to the clubs & bars afterwards, so I’m, not certain “Ball” is the word. But it’s going to be one helluva party. Later that month, in a last hurrah before the exam results day, I’m off back to Disneyland Paris with some mates. Imagine the high spirits!

…And there it is again. I’m writing this partly to try and make it all sink in but…It just seems unreal to me.

Oh well, maybe it’ll sink in tomorrow when I hit the College. I’ve got a surprise for everyone which will be immediately apparent, and I have some unfinished business to take care of. It’s the home stretch, and it all kicks off in less than 15 hours. Here. We. Go.

Christmas Letter 2009

It’s that time again folks.

Yes, it’s the time of the year when, in lieu of sending Christmas cards (Because sitting and writing someone’s name then my name then someone’s name then my name over and over and over is the kind of thing which will eventually drive me over the edge and thus cause me to go on the psychopathic rampage which the majority of you are still expecting of me), I write out a long, winding look at the year that was and what lies ahead, with characteristic sarcasm and comical faux-hipness. Because I’m “like” “with it”. Er…”dawg”!

So then…To business!

Ah what a year it has been. For me, terrific. Wonderful things have happened over and over again (Green Day – the best band in the world seriously don’t even argue, turning 18, the computer I’m writing this on, Disneyland which is like heaven for me and of course a certain Mr. Jenson Button winning the World Championship).

But as with any year, 2009 has had it’s fair share of flaws. Yes, for every Barack Obama becoming President, there has been an unfortunate but inescapable Twilight Saga release. In the future, they will look back on years like this as the beginning of the zombie apocalypse which is still speeding on its way to destroying our world as we know it, presumably within the next 5 years.

For those of you about my age over here in the UK, this year has also probably begun your association with the most unspeakably horrific torture device known to man. Yes, I speak of UCAS, which dominates your life for months at a time stressing you out about filling in a form, getting Personal Statements & References written and all this as soon as humanly possible rush rush rush. Then it immediately turns into the most insufferable waiting game ever devised – it’s like an ironic punishment in hell, it taunts you for your previous desire to slow things down by going to the other extreme.

Cruel and unusual.

If you’re like me (To those very few of you, you have my sympathy) you mostly measure a year’s worth on the quality of the entertainment put out that year. On that front, New Moon aside, 2009 is a standout success. We’ve had brilliant movies like The Hangover, Role Models & Zombieland as well as amazing TV shows making their debuts (Such as FlashForward) or re-launching (The fantastic Scrubs Season 9 (Med School)).

In more good entertainment news, word reached us this year that Channel 4 will not be buying any more seasons of Big Brother, ending its run on the channel in 2010. Every reasonable person in the country is delighted by this news. In less welcome news, ITV (Continuing its downward spiral into being the most vulgar unappealingly cheap and tacky network on Television) has ordered more seasons of The X-Factor. Which means 2010 will be another year in which the Christmas Number 1 will go largely un-contested…

Eff you ITV. You ruin everything.

In the world of video games, Killzone 2 released this year and overshadowed all other First Person Shooters. Honestly can’t think of a single other significant one. None at all. Nope. Modern What 2? Never heard of it. It’s the biggest entertainment release of all time? Oh that Modern Warfare 2. Why didn’t you say so?

In more interesting video game news, The Beatles: Rock Band released this year, broadening the appeal of Rock Band-like games as well as of The Beatles’ superb music. As if Harmonix, makers of Rock Band, hadn’t done enough to make me love them, they recently announced that next year they will release another game. Green Day: Rock Band. Thereby immortalising my two favourite bands in their own games.

Less fortunate this year were those Activision guys. Tony Hawk: Ride is the punchline to every video game joke made from now until Project Natal releases.

On a more universal note, the economy has started to recover! That’s good!

But VAT in the UK is going back up. That’s bad.

But it’s not going up to 20%! That’s good!

But the Tories will probably put it up to 21% (That’s bad) as soon as they get in (That’s bad).

Potentially far worse news from the land of politics is that the BNP got into the European Parliament. Which is both a disgrace and nonsensical. How can a party who think anything and everyone from outside the UK is sub-human represent us in Europe? It’s a logical absurdity!

And on that note, we come to “Climategate”. I’m going to put this to rest once and for all: The world is getting warmer. We’re at least partly to blame through CO2 emissions. Get over it and help us start fixing it.

Jeez, is it that hard to stop burning things left and right?

So then, what lies ahead, in (As weirdos call it) The Year of Our Lord Two Thousand and Ten (Or as the hipsters call it “Twenty-Ten”)? Well how the hell should I know, I’m not psychic. I do however have some predictions for your amusement:

1) The Tories will win the General Election and ruin the country, but idiots will still claim things have improved.
2) A celebrity will die and the whole world will overreact.
3) Someone, somewhere, will have sex with somebody else. This will piss off a third party who will throw a hissy fit about it and/or go to the press.
4) A man will discover the Meaning of Life and start trying to tell people it. Nobody will listen.
5) Britain’s Got Talent will still suck.
6) The X-Factor will suck even more.
7) Twilight Saga: Eclipse will suck even more than James Cameron’s Avatar clearly does. Dan Berry will not notice due to his guy crush on Robert Pattinson/Taylor Lautner/Dan, seriously what the hell.
8) Kanye West will continue to be a douchebag.
9) Sarah Palin will, on at least 4 separate occasions in each case, fail to spell her own name or even the word “a” correctly.
10) I will write another Christmas letter.

Now, let’s see how my predictions form last year did:

1) Sky will stay blue (Correct!)
2) Music will continue to dominate culture (Correct!)
3) Economy will finally begin to rebound (Correct!)
4) Summer will be hot (Correct!)
5) Spring will suck just as much as ever (Correct!)
6) Someone, somewhere, will be inappropriately offended by something they know was not meant in that way – they will proceed to destroy someone’s career over it despite being aware they meant and caused no actual harm (At least half-correct!)

Wow! Maybe I am psychic! On that bombshell, I’m off to make a killing gambling on sporting events!

I hope you all have a Merry Christmas and of course a Happy New Year!

Yours,
Paul “Jensonb” Douglas

TOTS: On Trial Show

Back in the so-called “Golden Era” of GameSpot, Ryan MacDonald and Richardine K. E. Gallup III IV Jr. created a live weekly show called On The Spot. On The Spot was the shit. It was perhaps the only Live video game show that actually mattered (Outside of E3). Certainly, it would be uncontroversial to say that in all its forms (Except its latter days with a certain bimbo proto-feminist) it was one of the best magazine shows, or shows of any kind, about video games, delivering a heart “fuck you” to the inept management of G4TV.

After the conclusion of last year’s run of On The Spots, GameSpot made the wise decision to put the show on ice and give it a revamp. At this stage, the show had been around for a long-ass time, so it was a good idea to take a step back and re-think things. It’s standard practice in Television, you just have to make sure your shows are fresh.

Unfortunately, GameSpot had the show off the air for months. Then finally, they announced a date. Then pulled it, explaining that they essentially wanted the show to be “even more awesome than we were gonna make it”. Naturally, with all the delays and promises and teasing, the expectations of the show were high.

Perhaps too high. The show that GameSpot took half a year (Including a quarter year delay) to produce was a radical deviation from the original On The Spot. It’s not the same show. Hence, it was given a fancy (And slightly mis-leading) new monicker “Today On The Spot”. It’s no longer live. And the producers are shooting for an average run time of 20 minutes, a minimum of about 15. What they have, is a prototypical web show run time.

Web show run times are not a good thing, even on the web. Programming needs to be thought of in half hour chunks. Why? Because most shows feel rushed if not programmed for a 30 minute or longer slot. Commercial television shows run about 20-22 minutes of content per 30 minute slot, but they don’t have to rush. They’re made into clear segments and the break (Whether it actually rolls ads or is just an act break like on DVD) gives the audience time to catch their breath.

You can do a 20 minute Magazine show. But the only way to do it is to cut back on the variety of content. And I still say don’t do it, because 20 minutes of programming is an anomaly in TV Shows caused by the presence of ads. where it can be avoided, it should because it can sometimes feel insubstantial. This only applies to shows setting a standard run time. Web shows often have varying run times, and there it is okay to have some shorter episodes.

The reason GameSpot opted for this radically curtailed run time is simple. The show is now on 3 days a week – although a casual reading of its name would cause one to believe the show was daily. Essentially, the same amount of content is produced as was before (Albeit now shot to tape and not live). On the face of it, that should be fine. But it just isn’t. Once again, the reason the run time is a problem has nothing to do with the quantity of content, and everything to do with the format.

This is a show that is fantastically well made. Production values are high and much of the talent is there (Tor Thorson, Brian Eckberg, Chris Watters and Co. do a great job “on air”). The format is the show’s elephant in the room. Despite being cut down to 20 minutes, the show is now trying to include a wider variety of content per episode – not per week, per episode. And that’s a big problem. Why? Because the show is too short for this many different things to happen. It feels breathless. Whether it’s Brian Eckberg going from receiving the throwback to throwing it out again via a mere few seconds of banter or Chris Watters flubbing a line as he speeds through a sentence, here we have a show which has no time to breathe.

And the rushed-feel of the show doesn’t just affect the hosts. It’s a tiring show to watch. The breaks between the segments aren’t long enough. It’s a subtle art, defining the different segments of a show. This is a bad example of how to get it done. The pauses and graphical splashes are short-lived and the cuts through black fast when there at all. Cuts and fades through black exist partly so the audience can catch their breath. This show is too short to waste time on filler between its already rushed segments. As a result, it comes across as way more “seat of your pants” than the old live show.

And it kinda suffers for it.

Other than the format, the other key problems with the show are the writing (Which runs the gamut from “Good” to “Corny” to “That’s so funny I forgot to laugh >_>”) and the on-screen personas of some of the talent, and how they interact. The writing is weak, and it suffers both from existing (These all seem like people who ought to just be going from an outline) and from the aforementioned pacing issues. The key to comedy is timing. We’ve already discussed how the show’s timing is screwed up, so what do you think you get when you introduce already poor comedy to poor timing?

Nothing good.

As for the talent personas and interactions, for the most part, they’re fine (If in most cases a little constrained – the show does tend to have a slightly repressed feeling, likely a result of both the fact it’s taped and it’s so short). But the real problems start when you have Chris Watters hosting, with Lark Anderson as his sidekick. These are both very obviously likable guys. But whatever chemistry they have is diminished by the shoddy writing and corny jokes, which makes it hard (As a member of the audience) to develop a rapport with them. It’s the chemistry between the talent that causes audience attachment. That’s why The HotSpot and The Bombcast worked and work.

Somebody also needs to give Lark some onscreen charisma lessons. There’s no problem when he’s talking, but when he’s sitting listening to Chris, he remains perfectly still staring semi-interestedly at Chris as the latter talks. No reaction, no animation until he is called upon. It doesn’t look so great and it makes it even harder for the audience to get in on the hosts’ chemistry.

Anyway, this is just my little critical analysis of Today On The Spot. I promised I would do one, and as you all know, media is kind of my thing. So here it is. Some of you might disagree, that’s cool. Explain why on the Twitters @Jensonb. Or whatever. But for me, this is a show which needs to be aiming for 30 minutes minimum, even with the same amount of content, before I could call myself a fan.

This Blog Post originally appeared on Giant Bomb (dot) Com

Movie Review: 8 Mile

So here it is, the (Admittedly belated) review of 8 Mile. It’s a natural choice to review this after Get Rich or Die Trying, both being vehicles for popular rap artists to launch (Potentially unnecessary) Acting careers. So is this one as bad, worse or is it (Gasp) actually kind of decent?

Well, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, I enjoyed it. 8 Mile is a good movie. It’s hardly fine art and it’s not going to be remembered as the defining moment of a generation, but it’s decently entertaining and very watchable.

One of the crucial differences is the scale of the story on offer. Get Rich went for a preposterously overblown tale of a kid who becomes not only a drug lord, but also a rap star, On top of that, it is stuffed with over-dramaticised attempts at emotional weight. The resulting scenarios and story are implausible to the point of unwatchable.

8 Mile on the other hand focuses on a relatively small story. It’s not about grandiose ambition coming to fruition, it’s not a false-feeling attempt to portray a modern rags-to-riches tale. Instead, we have the real story of rap – the working class, Motor City and, of course, the streets.

And that’s not “the streets” in the eccentric “bullets flying every which way” sense Fitty Cent used it for Get Rich. It means real people. The youth, in the real world, just trying to pass the time in relative comfort and get by on what they can.

When guns appear in 8 Mile, it’s a big deal – they’re a real threat. People don’t just suddenly become drug dealers, or rap stars. They work day in, day out and blow off their steam however they can, and between that and work they spend their time surviving. It’s not the happiest portrayal of working class life, but it’s at least real.

The performances are pretty decent all round, and Eminem’s rapping is at its absolute best here. He was at the top of his game when this movie was made, and it shows in his epic Battle performances and the movie’s theme “Lose Yourself” – in my opinion, hands down his best ever track.

On first blush, Eminem seems rather bored with his part, wandering through the film with a lazy wide-eyed mild disinterest. But on closer inspection, and after watching the movie for a bit longer, this bewilderment seems more like his character’s persona. He seems constantly to be looking over his shoulder and lacks confidence.

He has just that right sense of mild but contained frustration with his lot in life that you would expect from a low-paid metalworker, and by the time he opens the taps and destroys the Leader of the Free World, you’re really rooting for him.

8 Mile is an easy film to recommend if you’re okay with Rap music. Those of you who can’t stan it are well advised to steer clear, but if you’re even merely okay with it, this is a move to check out. Stay the hell away from Get Rich though.