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Babylon 5.1
by Rick Norwood

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Ratings are based on a four star system.
One star means that the commercials are more entertaining than the program.
Two stars watch if you have nothing better to do.
Three stars is good solid entertainment.
Four stars means you never dreamed television could be this good.

The Mists of Avalon The big television event in July is the TNT mini-series version of The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley. It airs Sunday July 15 and Monday July 16, and looks to be a sumptuous production. The only point that gives me doubt is the writer, Gavin Scott, who in the past has done professional but not exceptional work on the films The Borrowers and Small Soldiers and on the TV series Young Indiana Jones and The Secret Adventures of Jules Verne. On the latter, he has creator and executive producer credit. The Mists of Avalon is his biggest project to date. We shall see.

I plan to read the book before the TV production airs. It is one of those big books that I have always meant to read, like Crime and Punishment (Pevear and Volokhonsky translation, of course). The Mists of Avalon, like The Hobbit and Snow Crash, just keeps on selling, month in and month out, year in and year out. I expect to enjoy it.

I've read a lot of books by MZB, mostly Darkover novels, and I met her a few times at conventions. I remember her bursting into tears at the convention where the death of J.R.R. Tolkien was announced. And I remember her being unfailingly kind to even the most socially inept fan. The Darkover novels were enjoyable, but I doubt I will ever return to them. I think MZB had one great story to tell, and The Mists of Avalon is clearly her one important work.

The only question is: watch it on television or wait for the DVD?

Shrek Atlantis In my previews and reviews, I pay more attention to the writer than I do to the actors and the director. As I've said before, I think the screenplay has the greatest influence on a film. Poor acting and poor directing can ruin even the best script, but that doesn't happen very often. It is far more common for a poor script to ruin an expensive movie with major actors and director. Pearl Harbor (**) is a good example -- worth seeing for the special effects, but come an hour late for full enjoyment.

Two animated films currently playing illustrate the importance of the writing: Shrek (****), written by Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio, Joe Stillman, and Roger S.H. Schulman from a book by William Steig, and Atlantis (*), written by Tad Murphy, from a story by Gary Trousdale, Kirk Wise, Joss Whedon, Bryce Zabel, Jackie Zabel and Tad Murphy. I saw Shrek for the second time last night, and it is clear that every line of the movie is lovingly crafted, even the throwaway lines that you don't hear the first time. Mike Myers does a fantastic reading of those lines, but if the lines were inept his acting ability wouldn't have helped. God is in the details. Atlantis pays absolutely no attention to detail, so that even the number of characters who survive isn't consistent from scene to scene. Huge machines fit inside much smaller machines with ease. At some point during the storyboarding, somebody must have pointed out that nothing makes sense. At which point somebody in power must have said, "The audience is a pack of idiots. Nobody will notice." The reviewers who pan Atlantis usually say it lacks "heart." I think it lacks brains.

Copyright © 2001 Rick Norwood

Rick Norwood is a mathematician and writer whose small press publishing house, Manuscript Press, has published books by Hal Clement, R.A. Lafferty, and Hal Foster. He is also the editor of Comics Revue Monthly, which publishes such classic comic strips as Flash Gordon, Sky Masters, Modesty Blaise, Tarzan, Odd Bodkins, Casey Ruggles, The Phantom, Gasoline Alley, Krazy Kat, Alley Oop, Little Orphan Annie, Barnaby, Buz Sawyer, and Steve Canyon.

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