Station Eleven

For some reason when I first read Emily St. John Mandel’s, “Station Eleven” in 2014, I thought I was going to read a dystopian tale set in the near future with blights, deaths and horrors. Lots of scary end of the world stuff. What I discovered instead was a genuinely unique story centered on a group of nomadic people, which happened to be actors and musicians, known as the Travelling Symphony. They had embraced their predicament with a noble purpose, by keeping the essence of art burning, performing Shakespeare and classical music. It felt almost lyrical. Though there were creepy moments, involving the collapse of civilization due to a pandemic, with crazed survivors and a manic prophet leading a murderous cult. In the end, the book focused on what had been lost, on people’s nostalgia and longing, as well as the determination of art to expand our view of the world and save us from loneliness.

‘I stood looking over my damaged home and tried to forget the sweetness of life on Earth.’ – Dr Eleven

HBO Max’s “Station Eleven” gives the same vibes. It began filming in early 2020. HBO had ordered the adaptation in June the previous year. A year before the real pandemic began. I can just imagine what the production crew felt working on the series in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. There are elements, early in the series, where the perspective of the show reflects those real world fears we all experienced when the pandemic broke out. And the wonderful performances only strengthened those emotions.

Having just recently finished the limited series, I must admit I wanted to re-watch the first few (I think it was the first three) of the ten episodes again before moving on to watch the rest. There is a lot of complexity and depth, and re-watching actually helped to magnify the breadth of each episode in the beginning. I don’t recommend binge watching it.

Like the book, the film moves back and forward before and after the events of the pandemic. The episodes themselves will leave major characters by skipping an episode, to focus on introducing new characters, building up emotionally powerful scenes, only to return to them in the next episode.

I particularly loved how the graphic novel, Station Eleven, is recreated in the series. (I would love to find a copy) Here the term ‘Home’ becomes such an important theme in the story, and the graphic novel becomes central to that theme. Challenging us to consider the tragedy when things fall apart, and society ceases to exist. How much does it affect us to be where we are and with who we are? This narrative is explored while the Travelling Symphony moves through its motions and each play becomes an event. As when Shakespeare’s Hamlet is performed, and its plot impacts the narrative to form the intertwining pathway to all these places and people. It’s thrilling to watch.

Station Eleven can be viewed as a surreal journey exploring the past and the future of a society broken in half by a world-shattering event. It has its moments of darkness, but it also balances its scenes with unexpected humor and great performances. As a whole, it feels like a moving play, staged in a world of loss and struggle, which finds solitude when it finally returns home.

‘I remember damage. And escape. Then adrift in a stranger’s galaxy for a long time. But I’m safe now. I found it again. My home.’ – Miranda Carroll

Lost in Space – Reboot

I feel that I can safely say, I’m excited.  More so than I have been in a long time for an upcoming new series.  On April the 13th Netflix is launching a new reboot of Lost in Space.  One of my very early, favourite childhood shows.

The original Lost in Space series, created and produced by Irwin Allen, ran for three seasons, from 1965 to 1968 on CBS.  Season one was my favourite, starting off on a serious tone with the characters developing over time.  It was also the only one filmed in black and white.  But I never knew that at the time, since our TV set was black and white throughout the entire three seasons.  Maybe another contributing factor as to why I prefer the first season nowadays.

In 1998 we had a film of Lost in Space released in cinemas, with a plot adapted from the 1965–1968 original series.  It debuted at number one at the box office, ending Titanic‘s 15-week-long hold on the first-place position.  However, critics were generally negative towards the darker tone of the film.  I didn’t mind it.

With the new reboot we also get surprising new changes, one is of the robot.  No longer part of the crew, the robot is an alien machine that is discovered by Will Robinson by chance on a distant planet.  Gender unknown and who is playing the robot is also unknown.  We’ll have to wait for the series to start before we find out.  All we have for now is an amazing looking alien machine and the voice of the robot warning of an impeding threat with the original “Danger Will Robinson.”

Most of us who have seen the original series fondly remember the character of Dr. Zachary Smith (Jonathan Harris).  Whom Bill Mumy, playing the role of Will Robinson, referred to him as “This man we love-to-hate, a snivelling coward who would cower behind the little boy, ‘Oh, the pain! Save me, William!'”

Well, in the reboot, the role of Dr Smith is taking on a gender switch, making Dr Smith a woman.  Parker Posey spoke of her role at WonderCon.  She explained:

“I love the original (series) and I certainly love the original Maureen,” Posey said (via Deadline). “But we live in a different time of gender dynamics.

“The women (on the show) could do whatever the men do – it isn’t even a question. It’s just the reality. It’s incredible to play a woman as smart as she and at the same time, has these flaws and has to connect with her kids.

“It’s 30 years into the future and we have imagined a reality we would like to see. We will hopefully be in a place where we want to be in terms of class, race and gender.”

She added: “When I heard they were going to offer me the part it was really touching for me. I loved that they made her into a woman.

“You’re going to see over 10 episodes how this new Dr Smith evolves.”

Well, I for one will be watching that development closely.

American Gods – You Are What You Worship

Certain books have not been written for adaptation, Neil Gaiman’s, American Gods is one of them. It is, however, a book I thoroughly enjoyed, a story that clashes the old gods with the new gods of technology, media and consumerism.

The ancient gods are desperately in need of devotion from the lesser minions of mankind, or else they will disappear forever into obscurity, which for them is their own personal hell. A state of no longer being remembered via the age-old ritual of worship. The new gods find the old gods irrelevant and late to extinction. That’s why having people think about them is decisively important. “This isn’t about what is . . . it’s about what people think is. It’s all imaginary anyway. That’s why it’s important. People only fight over imaginary things.” And it would seem the gods do too.

The story is also a great road trip through the US, not so much to places we expect to see, but more so on hidden roads and to secret places we are surprised to learn even exist. And they do!

So, it comes as a surprise that Starz’s new TV series, based on the book, (remember, I did say the book was not written for adaptation), is so damn good. Having viewed half of season one, it seems to have succeeded in capturing the visual imagination of the book, as well as the extravagant ambition of the story telling.

But to be honest, American Gods’ proposal is a unique and daring risk for television, one that should pay off if you take your time and watch it from the beginning. Confusion seems to be part of the show’s rhythm, but holding closely to the characters you meet, each with their own bizarre personality, created from humanities desire to believe in deities, will reward your patience.

Let’s hope we see more risks like this in the future.