Saturday 24 Sep 2016

Up on the Screen
AJ Robinson

Thats an old movie term. People say, of a movie, Everythings up on the screen. They mean the producers have put a lot of money into a movie and used it for all of the things that you see on the screen: the special effects, the costumes, the sets, the locations, and so on. However, sometimes it does not apply to what you hear (not the music) the dialogue. Often big, fancy movies or television shows, which that shoot as epics fall short in the category of a decent script.

As a kid in high school, I remember hearing about a new TV show that was coming on in the fall Battlestar: Galactica. This was the first network TV series, back in the 1970s, not the recent Sci-Fi Channel series. In one of the talk shows of the day, the main cast members came on to talk about the show. They held a fashion show to show off some of the incredible outfits made for the show.

I got a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach when I saw that. I had to ask, if theyre spending all this money on clothes for a sci-fi series, on top of what theyll be spending on special effects, just how much they leave for the scripts. I hoped to be proven wrong, but I ultimately found I was right the scripts were poor and the series didnt last a season. Later, they dragged it back as Galactica 1980, and that failed as well.

A short time after that, while channel surfing on the little black & white TV my dad and I used in our cottage on Marthas Vineyard, I chanced to come across some sort of sci-fi series on WGBH-TV, the PBS station in Boston. The special effects were laughable. I immediately switched the channel, as there was nothing much else on. This was in the days before cable and the umpteen-zillion channels it provided.

I eventually ended up back on PBS. As I watched the show, I did occasionally roll my eyes at the silly effects, but there was something else going on here. This man fascinated me. He wore a long, long very long scarf. His lines were delightful. The characters he was encountering were full, rich people that were fascinating to follow.

By the end of the episode, he hooked me. The next night, I was back. I finally learned the name of the show, Dr Who. It is a British sci-fi series. To this day, it remains the longest running sci-fi series in history, and yes, its special effects have always left a lot to the imagination.

Yet, in watching the series, it made me realize that putting all your money into effects doesnt necessarily work. The first Star Trek series had some very primitive effects; yet it is still popular today. I thought of some of the other series that Id enjoyed as a kid. Thered been Clutch Cargo, Bullwinkle and Rocky, Astroboy, Kimba the White Lion, Speed Racer, Gumby, and Davey and Goliath; none of these were very good in the technical aspect, but they were always fun, and I still remember them to this day.

That says a lot for their staying power.

All of these shows share something: full, rich characters that were interesting to watch, witty and smart dialogue, and lively stories. Maybe Im biased (as I am a writer), but as the fans of these shows cant all be writers, I tend to think that my opinion is somewhat neutral. At any rate, I continue to enjoy all of them (thank goodness for DVDs), and I always strive to write my stories as good as do they. Do I succeed? Eh, well, I leave that to the judgment of future fans.

Combining the gimlet-eye, of Philip Roth, with the precisive mind of Lionel Trilling, AJ Robinson writes about what goes bump in the mind, of 21st century adults. Raised in Boston, with summers on Martha's Vineyard, AJ now lives in Florida. Most of the time he writes, but sometimes he works at Disney World to renew his fantasies and get a few dollars more. AJ writes, with insight and passion, about his family and his dog. His liberal, note the small "l," sensibilities often lead to bouts of righteous indignation, well focused and true.

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