Sarai is a free-lance literature enthusiast who current works as an academic. An avid horror and fantasy reader she is an advocate for its cultural importance: saraimw.com
A bizarre name that can as easily put you off as draw you in – ‘Warrior Nun’ (WN) is the latest TV series from Netflix. It is based, unsurprisingly, on a comic book character by Ben Dunn. It tells the story of a young woman who is reincarnated by an angel’s halo during an attack by demons on a sect of warrior nuns. The presence of the halo in her body, when the previous Warrior Nun died gives her abilities and a new life.
Sounds ridiculous right?
The show is worth a deeper analysis both for the development of themes and ideas that are reflecting changing perspectives on gender, race and religion, but also from the perspective of wider changes that are being reflected through the stable of shows from Netflix and other show providers. What do you think?
Star Trek: The commitment to storytelling
At the time I loved the new Star Trek movies. They were exciting, full of space travel, linked to nostalgia and full of "larger than life" characters. However, a re-watch of these was almost as painful as re-watching the Fast and the Furious series; instead of vivid I realised the characters were one-dimensional, stereotyped, almost all white and when I actually took note of the ridiculous 70s dresses of the women, actually quite insulting.
Now this realisation did not occur randomly, this was the result of returning to re-watch the films after completing the TV series Star Trek Discovery – and what I discovered was that the films lived up to the franchise (hated by fans, full of over blown situations and lacking the depth of storytelling in the shows). Now with the launch of Star Trek Picard I am blown away by the commitment to storytelling in both the shows. The focus is on personal growth, the difficulty of sticking to your convictions, taking responsibility for your actions, understanding the complexity of dealing with people (human and alien) and it is committed to showing diversity.
I think there is a lot in the new Star Treks that is showing the way forward for all TV – in a post MeToo world, in a post Black Panther world, it is not acceptable to continue to show narrow stereotyped, outdated and offensive perspectives. We often talk about the power of pop-culture and mainstream entertainment because it does offer a platform to not only reflect the world, but offer paths to change. This is a lot of lauding and pressure to place on a set of sci-fi TV shows, but I think Star Trek has more to teach us, even if it is just a better commitment to storytelling. What do you think?
Space yoga, red lighting to sell meat, and terrible decisions on Avenue 5
Avenue 5 is a recently released HBO touted as sci-fi comedy, as was Orville, however, the difference is astounding. A5 appears to be taking a more "reality show" approach to storytelling. The cinematography moves between constant vignettes that hone in on the various character groups, and then multi-character scenes are shot in an often long framing to appear as the fly on the wall while you watch characters shout over each other in a very "naturalistic" dialogue approach. The focus so far seems to be on the lack of competence of everyone involved. This reality/sit-com approach is especially unusual in sci-fi and even though Orville began with elements of this it rapidly became a Space Opera with focuses on moralistic decision making and character growth. I’m not sure if we are going to see that occur on A5. But does that matter? A5 appears to be offering a new take on sci-fi which could open the genre wider to further hybrid versions. A deeper analysis is needed to look at what A5 offers the genre.
Star Wars has been a popular culture icon for decades now. The revival of the early episodes and the continuation of the later that have altered the canon of literature, comics, and games have brought in a new generation of fans. Now with the move to Disney there are high expectations of the money-milking enterprise of a thousand spin off variations, yet interestingly there is the new tv show ‘The Mandalorian’. It already has a youth friendly vibe with a limited range of onscreen violence, no swearing and an over produced cinematography and sound track, yet still…it is the story of a bounty hunter, a criminal…but [SPOILER] he chooses at the end not to kill his bounty when faced with a "baby Yoda." Are we to assume then from this that the story will focus on a lone warrior with his own code, or will this be a redemptive arc – the hero was always within. It indeed fits into the franchise that has always been about hope above all else. The question will be though, like the most recent films, does this show actually have anything new to say or will this once again be a reiteration of the single monomyth that has plagued the SW franchise?
The rise of the female action hero?
We are slowly seeing a rise of all female or at least female dominated films in genres that have not traditionally been female friendly. Traditionally action films, whether they are specifically categorised as Action or Action slash (/sci fi, /western, /crime), have focused on varying interpretations of the masculine lead. Sometimes he is flawed, and sometimes he may as well be a plastic figurine for all the depth of character demonstrated, but always he is strong, determined and takes action, and is accompanied with weak or "temptation" women whose role is to look good half dressed. Yet a handful of recent films are starting to challenge the role of the female action hero.
The supernatural action genre has given us three intelligent, funny, and active women in ‘Ghostbusters’. The heist genre laid out eight women of varying skills whose expertise held up against the original male roles in ‘Oceans 8’. The sci-fi action adventure has most recently given us three power and diverse roles in the latest ‘Terminator’. However, the question is this – does this indicate a substantial change in Hollywood’s approach to the representation of women in film, or is this just a trend that will fade away again to be replaced with atypical machoism?
The detrimental toll of hype
Part of marketing is the driving up of hype, but in fact little active promotion is needed by many films and TV these days as most fans drive the movement with their own social media discussions and excitement. But is this proving detrimental to the work? For instance, with the close of the saga ‘Game of Thrones’ the hype and expectation around the wrapping of the series was incredibly high, with people taking time off work/study etc. to catch the "on time" release on Netflix around the world. But what seems to have come out is a post malaise of criticism about the ending that for some may have soured the entire show. Now is this a fair state of affairs? Was the ending really poor or is this simply a reaction to heightened expectations that just can not be met?
It would be interesting to explore the fan expectations, hype and marketing surrounding the completion of ‘Game of Thrones’, ‘End Game’ (throwing as hugely hyped film into the mix) and ‘Big Bang Theory’ (maybe even look back at other colossal series ends such as ‘How I met your mother’ and ‘Breaking Bad’) to examine how their completions differed and seemed to have resulted in a very different spectrum of responses from fans.
What makes an ending great? How do you manage fan hype? Can anything live up to a finale expectation?
The appeal of darkness
So often we are drawn to the darker side of life, a quick purview of most films coming out in the last 5 years tends to support this. Yet why is this?
Why are we so drawn to the dark, to the evil, to the bad?
Is it a desire to engage safely with taboos? Does this appeal to our baser natures that desire an interaction with danger and amoral ideas? Or simply do we want to watch safely from our seats the downfall of others?
There are obvious genre appeal in watching horror or thriller films, an aspect of the viewing is the narrative structure and the expectation of the horror themes. But what about drama or action or even romance films that are also engaging with these darker tones? Why is there a trend towards the macabre, the sinister and the frightening?
The Victorian Historical Romance and Urban Fantasy Mash-Up
It is not as silly as it sounds.
The Victorian era was actually the period of the emergence of city literature, with great works by Charles Dickens that captured the new industrial London. It was a period too when superstitious beliefs and the beginning of science-fiction with Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’ and Robert Louis Stevenson’s novella ‘Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.’ It was a period that saw much of its literature immersed into the urban. This is a central concern of urban fantasy, and with the suggested supernatural interactions into the city that highlight the anxiety and fear present in the modern city, as captured beautifully in Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula,’ it is unsurprising that contemporary authors are still so captivated with using this as a setting.
As such a new mash-up genre has emerged that is not yet named but is basically ‘Historical Victorian Urban Fantasy Romance’ genre – terrible name but a descriptive working title. Key authors in this field have been C. J. Archer with her series ‘Glass and Steele,’ and ‘The Ministry of Curiosities.’ Both feature strong female leads that must navigate through the streets of London on a series of adventures, with magics and supernatural forces surrounding them. Another is Colleen Gleason’s series ‘The Gardella Vampire Hunters,’ which focuses on Victoria, the most recent hunter called to hunt the vampires of London and Europe.
This new genre deserves further discussion and a closer examination.
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