Saturday, October 31, 2009

Saturday Matinee: Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe, Chapter Eleven

Say, you think that's a stuntman as Flash starting at about 2:11 of Part 1, or did Buster Crabbe's hair suddenly get a lot darker, and very thin on top?

And at at the end of "Poison gas! Cover your mouths!" (2:49 of Part 1), Dr. Zarkov suddenly gets very, very Celtic. According to IMDb, actor Frank Shannon comes by it naturally. There was a line last week (can't remember what it was) that made me suspect, but this one just cracks me up something fierce.

(And now my cats, who I think already wonder about me, are going to have to put up for a while with me going around the house, yelling, "Poison gas! Cover y' mowwwoooothz!")

3:47, Part 1: As they used to say on Mystery Science Theater 3000, here's one for the laaaaadies.

So many scene transitions are dissolves or wipes that for the Part 1 break, I just went for a mid-scene line that was good and punchy and cliffhanger-y.

Charles Middleton (Ming) seemed to have a bit of a problem with name pronunciation. He renders "Ronal" alternately with the stress on the first syllable (correct) and on the second, and "Sonja" sometimes with a "j" sound.

4:54 of Part 3: Oh, no! Ming tortured him to death in the Comfy Chair!

This week, only 27 frames come from AVI, and twenty of them are the dissolve into and out of the seven used to repair a film break (about 1:38 of Part 2).

And, again, it's fortunate the sound is good on my DVCam copy, because there are some substantial chunks missing from the AVI:

1) A segment cut out between 4:16 and 5:53 of Part 1. Yes, they went from before the attack, directly to the announcement of defeat.

2) A 20-frame film break during that long, long wide shot of Ming's throne room (7:12 of Part 1).

3) An incredible 3:34 edit going from 6:14 of Part 2 to 3:13 of Part Three. The end of this chapter is funny enough as it is, but without the explanation for why it's happening, it must be hilarious. (Vagueness courtesy of SpoilerBusters™.)

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Saturday Matinee: Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe, Chapter Ten

Our first three-parter in a while. Actually, Chapter Ten runs about 19:30, but there wasn't a convenient place to cut it into two pieces of ten minutes or less.

I could have mentioned this last time, but I laugh every time I see the four of them all turn their heads at once (3:09 of Part 1). Somehow, I don't think that was the response the filmmakers were going for.

As I've said, I'm not that musical, but even I can recognize the bizarre musical cut at 3:21 of Part 2. Did the music editor have a sudden heart attack?

It won't win any acting prizes, but I'm still unreasonably amused by the way Anne Gwynne (Sonja) delivers the line, "Prince Barin, bah!" (4:03 of Part 2).

When I'm really rich (and there's just a fortune to be made in science fiction publishing these days, a fortune), I'm going to fix up the basement to look just like the radio room (first appearing at 0:30 in Part 3). There wouldn't be much to do there, you say? Well, only two walls are visible in the serial. What you can't see is that they've got a kick-ass 120-inch HDTV in there, plus an Xbox 360 complete with The Beatles: Rock Band. You should hear Barin's men wailing on "Hey, Bulldog."

Speaking of wailing on things, it's a shame there wasn't a 1940 Olympics, because they could have taken a page from this chapter's conclusion, and instituted mixed doubles fistfighting. I wonder how many little girls on the school playground beat the snot out of each other, playing Dale and Sonja, while the others were busy playing house? To most of them (the ones who weren't just doing it because they were budding little violent psychopaths), I'd just like to say, 69 years late, "You go, girl!"

While we're talking proto-feminism, note at about 2:50 in Part 3 that it's Dale who goes into the cell to check that the guard is dead, while Barin hangs back, and not the other way around.

This week, not only does almost all of the video come from my DVCam copy, so does the audio. It's been over a year since I transferred it, so I don't remember for sure, but I think Chapters Ten, Eleven, and Twelve were on a different tape from the rest. At any rate, I know that, unlike most of the rest, there were no timecode hiccups in those three chapters, because I was able to capture each in one piece.

And it's a lucky thing the DVCam audio is good for this chapter, because the whole scene from 4:44 to 5:47 of Part One isn't in the AVI version.

The only piece from the AVI version comes at 5:54 of Part 2. As you can see, it bridges two shots. In the past, I've replaced the whole shots, but in this case, each shot was pretty long, so I decided on something more ambitious. I sized and positioned the AVI version to best match the DVCam, and dissolved from DVCam to AVI and back, using the least possible amount of AVI in the process.

By the way, next week might mark an uptick in visual quality, since I've only just noticed that YouTube has increased maximum file size to 2GB, up from the 1GB I've been using since this site began. Now I can use the highest settings when converting to MPEG-4.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

YouTube Tuesday: Bunker

This is a darker than I usually like to go with these, and I was a step ahead on the twist, but it's really well made. Also, the woman-alone-in-a-bunker aspect reminded me of a story I just read and enjoyed the other day in a late issue of the original Thrilling Wonder Stories.

Oh, and it's in French, with English subtitles, which automatically makes it more artistic. (Your number one sign the subtitles were not done by someone fluent in written English: they don't know that, for some bizarre reason, the English first-person singular pronoun is always written in upper-case.)

And I fully admit I didn't manage to find this myself. Instead, I heard about it via the io9 science fiction news site. According to them, it was shot with the hot hot hot RED ONE digital camera. (george c. scott) Gee, I wish we had one of them RED ONE digital cameras (/george c. scott). I just mention this in case you draw my name to be my secret Santa.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Saturday Matinee: Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe, Chapter Nine

Old-time Doctor Who fans, back me up on this one: the Rock Men and Omega (left), separated at birth or what?

Back when I was doing Undersea Kingdom, after a while I'd think ahead every week about Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe. I decided each week's blog post title would have a scrap of lyric from Queen's Flash Gordon theme (e.g., "Saturday Matinee: Flash! Ah-ahhh!") Naturally, as soon as the time came, I forgot all about it, and I've only just remembered now, as I'm writing the notes for Chapter Nine.

I know I've made a similar statement before, but it's kind of amazing to me that a serial that can produce a cool visual effect like the monitor tuning in (about 8:12 in Part 2) has to resort to film scratches for most of the energy rays.

Again, the audio from the DVCam version was full of annoying digital-error squeaks and chirps, so as much of the audio as possible comes from the AVI version. Unfortunately, for three short periods, the AVI audio is plagued with ticks... the kind that are short, sharp noises, not the kind that carry Lyme disease. And thanks to a film break in the source material for the AVI, a short bit beginning about 2:21 in Part 1 comes squeakily from the DVCam.

Speaking of digital errors, most of the episodes on my DVCam tape had to be captured in several pieces because some error would stop the capture. If I remember correctly, one episode of Undersea Kingdom had about twenty. Well, this week's episode, I was able to capture in one piece. But it doesn't help the audio.

Apart from one shot through the window of Flash's ship, all the video specific to this chapter comes from DVCam.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

The Next Small Thing

This week, we've had news that ABC's creatively troubled remake of V will premiere with four episodes in November, then stay off the air until the 2010 Winter Olympics are over, in March.

Then NBC announced that Day One, originally slated as a 13-episode mid-season replacement, will run instead as a four-hour miniseries. The interesting part to me is that NBC based its decision on the notion that while they could effectively advertise Day One as event television, it would be a harder, prohibitively expensive, sell as a series.

Which got me thinking... is this the beginning of a new phenomenon in television: the sweeps month micro-season?

The longtime model of a 35-week season, with reruns scattered amongst 22 new episodes, has become increasingly uncommon for dramas. Partly it's due to increasing serialization of shows, which makes reruns potentially confusing for the more casual audience. We've become used in recent years to shorter blocks of all-new episodes, as with Lost and 24.

At the same time, networks have become more reluctant to commit to seasons of 22 episodes, increasingly preferring figures like 13, 16, or 17, even with successful series (as, again, with Lost). Partly, this ties into the serialization and seasons without reruns. Sweeps periods come in November, February, and May, making 17 (or occasionally 18) the number of weekly episodes needed to have a season premiere at the beginning of one sweeps period, and the season finale at the end of the next.

So why not take this maximization of sweeps months one step further, and, as it were, cut out the middlemonths? Imagine a series which premieres as a big November event with four episodes. If that goes well, it comes back with another four-episode event in February, and a final block of four in May.

Obviously, a network couldn't do a series like 24 that way (besides that they'd have to rename it 12), but I can easily picture a series model with four-episode plot arcs with a beginning and end unto themselves, but picking up from, and springboarding into, other arcs. Sort of a season along the plotting lines of a film trilogy (or, perhaps more to the point, a Star Wars trilogy, inasmuch as the aim would be to get renewed for another trilogy).

Or possibly I'm dreaming, and it's just the models of V and Day One which will catch on. The advantage to the V model of 13 episodes, shown in blocks of four and nine, is that if the first four do well, the network can air the remaining nine starting in late March, with the big season finale at the end of the May sweeps. If it doesn't, the network can start the second block in early March, and have it done before May sweeps.

The advantage to the Day One model (or, after its true originator, the Battlestar Galactica model) is that the network has only committed to four hours. If they don't do well, that's the end, at no additional cost.

With either model, the network could use the 17- or 18-episode sweeps-to-sweeps model for the series the next year.

Still, I keep thinking about the "event series" of sweeps-month micro-seasons. What network could resist the idea of, essentially, three premieres and three finales per season, all on sweeps weeks?

In any case, it looks like, when it comes to premiering a series, networks are looking to do more with less.