Friday, February 25, 2011

Seek the Original: Flashforward

90% of everything Hollywood does is adapted from a book, or short story, or comic. Never settle for an adaptation. Seek the original! What did the author write? Let's examine one novel that was adapted into a TV series and see how it stacks up against the author's original creation.

Flashforward
by Robert J. Sawyer

An experiment at CERN (you know, the Large Hadron Collider) leads to a worldwide blackout. Everyone on the planet suddenly collapses into a coma, and the consciousness of humanity leaps ahead 21 years, showing everyone a glimpse of their future lives.

This is a very fascinating concept. Everyone sees a brief glimpse of their future. It inspires some people to pursue their dream, because they see themselves successful 21 years from now. It fills many people with hope that the future will be better. But not everyone. There are plenty of people who see themselves as failures. Some see nothing at all, which means they will be dead. What would knowing your destiny do to humanity?

Theo is the most engaging character. He knows he’s going to be killed in 21 years, and his investigation into his future murder is intriguing because the perspective is unique.

Our main character, Lloyd, knows his marriage is going to end in the next 21 years, so should he bother going through with it now?

Honestly, this concept is good (Sawyer always has great concepts), but about midway through the story falls apart. (Sawyer does this a lot, too.) Sawyer brings this to an energetic start but it’s obvious he didn’t know what to do with the idea.

This peek into the future don’t have any real effect on humanity. Flashforward is supposed to present what seeing the future would do to/for humanity—the decisions not made, the lost hope for the future—but nothing much becomes of it. The world doesn't change. There's barely any mention of how it affects the world.

Even for the characters, it has little impact on their lives. We could’ve had an interesting, reverse murder mystery in Theo, but at the start of part three, the book makes a jumpcut over 21 years, the investigation is glazed over and the murder plot fizzles out and goes absolutely nowhere. Lloyd’s subplot had potential but never comes across as the intense dilemma it should have been.

For over half the book, Sawer builds up the logic that free will is an illusion and quantum physics proves there is no past or future and everything simply exists all at once. In short: there is no way to change what's going to happen because it already has happened. The flashforward merely changed everyone's perception of time for a couple minutes.

And then, suddenly, someone commits suicide, showing the world that the visions are not set in stone. It is possible to change the future.

This development is not logical. The vision of the future 21 years from now would presumably include that everyone had knowledge of the future and acted on that knowledge, so there should have been no way to change anything. That's the scientific logic. That's what the book builds up to.

But suddenly, without nearly as much scientific justification, the future can be changed. It's more of a copout than a crucial plot development. Maybe Sawyer realized this concept was begging to unfold over the whole 21-year timespan, showing how everyone’s attempts to prevent their future end up causing it to happen. He didn't have time to develop a book that deeply, so instead of letting the story unfold like it wanted, he broke his own logic and jumpcut past 21 years worth of story to force the book to conclude.

Because of this, the book never figures out what effect the Flashforward has on the world. As far as we see, it has zero impact on humanity. Everything after the midpoint comes across as random, where-the-hell-did-this-come-from attempts at explanation. Especially the ending. All of a sudden we go from a flashforward to robotized immortality? Where-the-hell…? The book is interesting up to halfway but that’s it.

Compare that to…



Flashforward
ABC series, Fall 2009 - Spring 2010

I wonder how Sawyer feels about this. His blog seems to indicate he was behind it 100%, but…was he? Almost none of the book’s plot is in the series. All that's left is the bare bones concept.

Instead of taking place in Switzerland and France (the LHC site), it takes place in America. Instead of the story revolving around scientists at CERN trying to understand what happened, it's about FBI agents tracking down the conspirators who caused the blackout. In the book, the flashforward is a scientific side-effect of CERN's research. In the series, we gradually learn, there is a global agency of terrorists (or something) who engineer these flashforwards for some nefarious, evil purpose. The cast of characters has expanded, now showing a bunch of people and how the flashforward affects them personally. Instead of 21 years, humanity's consciousness only leaps ahead 6 months.

But this could be a good thing! Maybe now, in this form, the story will have a chance to stretch itself out comfortably. With more characters to show, the series set itself up very well to demonstrate exactly what effect the flashforward has on the world. The book never figured it out, but the series went out of its way to expand on this.

Watching the first episode reminds me so much of Lost. The teaser (meaning the part of the episode before the first commercial break) is exactly the same as Lost's! Our main character wakes up to total chaos, walking around a city falling apart. Oh yeah, ABC tried really hard to make another hit series.

Each character has his or her own little story. There's Bryce, a cancer patient who sees himself alive and well six months from now, and therefore decides not to commit suicide.

There's Olivia Benford, who sees herself with another man six months from now.

Mark Benford (Oliva's husband), the FBI agent and former alcoholic who sees himself drinking again in the future.

Then there's Demetri Noh, an FBI agent who finds out he's going to be murdered in less than six months.

That's just to name a few. It's very promising. Finally, a chance to see how the flashforward affects people! Everything the book failed to do, the series could make up for it! Especially Demetri's subplot! The reverse murder mystery is the only element from the book to make it directly to the screen, and now we can see it play out to its full potential!

Buuuuuuut then most of the plotlines take ridiculously unrealistic directions.

For example, Bryce (the cancer patient) sees himself meeting a Japanese girl 6 months from the blackout. He doesn't know who she is, but he wants to find out. It had potential to be interesting, how these two strangers get together in the future, but the writers made a big mistake giving Bryce a girlfriend while he searches for his mystery girl. He spends six months building a great relationship with his friend, and then he throws it all away to meet a girl he doesn’t even know! Dumbass! You have a fucking hot girl at your side already! Why would you blow her off to meet this stranger?! How can you be in love with this Japanese girl you've never met, but care nothing for your friend?! Stupid, stupid, STUPID!

Another example is when Demitri has the affair with his coworker, Janis. It’s abrupt, has no foundation, and makes no sense. The writers tried to explain it retroactively, saying that Demitri thought he was about to die, so…why not sleep with her? He wasn't interested in her before, even in flashbacks to their days at the academy, so where is this coming from?! Maybe if alcohol had been involved it would’ve been believable, but they’re totally sober. His wife is going out of her mind trying to save his life, and all he can do is have an affair! Stupid.

Also, as Demitri’s death date gets closer, nobody seems to care. Demitri doesn't even notice. He should be worrying about it day and night, brooding, dreading that calendar date as it gets nearer and nearer. But we don't see how knowing the day he's going to die affects him. Again, the reverse murder mystery is underplayed, and he makes little effort to do anything about it.

Mark and Olivia's marriage falls apart all right, but the writers elected to Lost's method of creating tension. These two argue about everything. They're at each other's throats over this issue instead of meeting halfway.

The series makes a pretty big deal about how the flashforward brings the world together. For the first time in history, every person in the world has something in common, and it's created a sense of unity. (it's not shown, but it's what we're told.) Well, you'd think Mark and Olivia would feel this, too. They've been married for years and instead of finding this common ground, realizing neither feels in control, they push each other away. As if it's Mark's fault he's drinking in his vision. As if it's Olivia's fault she's with another man in the future. They blame each other for something they haven't even done yet, and it's stupid. They even say so!

The most illogical subplot is Janis Hawk. In her vision, she's pregnant. But she's gay. Ok, that had my attention at the beginning. How does a lesbian get pregnant? Well, the series never figures this out. As the show progresses, she just develops this unfounded desire to have a baby. The only reason she wants to have a baby is because of her flashforward. Totally self-fulfilling and illogical. She can't explain why she wants to have a baby, it's just a desire that fills her up more and more. No, that's the writers struggling to justify this subplot.

In early episodes she has a "significant other," but after just one or two appearances, this woman mysteriously disappears. What did her lover think of Janis having a baby? The writers had to delete a character to make this plot work, and it still didn't make sense.

It’s no surprise to me the show got cancelled. Most of the series feels haphazardly written. Like someone stepped in and said there's not enough conflict in this show. Put some petty bickering in; that's what entertainment is all about! There's a point in the series where Mark asks a few of his friends who told his wife about him drinking in the future. They exchange bitter, menacing words, completely overreacting. It's not dramatic, it's out of character. Just a lousy attempt to inject more drama into this situation.

The conspiracy is interesting, but I get the feeling the writers didn't have a plan, and they were building up to something they didn't even understand. The conspirators are never portrayed as a group with a dangerous objective, so there isn't much weight behind it. I'm sure their motivation would've been explained later, but the show wasn't renewed for a second season, so we'll never know what the flashforwards were all about.

Season one finishes with a bang, and it's exciting! Too bad the rest of the show wasn't like that.

It does a better job handling the effects of the flashforward than the book, but that's a relative measure. Again, the world still isn't any different. There's a greater sense of how it affects individual people, but most of the time their stories are just plain illogical.

Skip the series. Skip the book, too. Sawyer has written better, such as the Quintaglio Ascension Trilogy. Why weren't these books adapted into a TV series??

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