First, Last for Everything
I wonder if Aaron Sorkin watches Sherlock or forwent Grown Ups 2 to see Pacific Rim on the weekend? I do believe he definitely could learn a thing or two from these two seemingly opposite media artifacts. Over the last couple days I’ve consumed the first episode of season 2 of the Newsroom, the last episode (so far) of Sherlock and the everything that is Pacific Rim. Our brains are wonderful things and tend to connect the dots where we can. But what do these three things have in common? Hint: 2 are very smart and the other isn’t. Another hint, there may be spoilers.
Connecting the dots is what Sherlock does like no other (love the Turner waterfall painting reference at the beginning of the Season 2 finale). If you are unfamiliar, get yourself to Netflix and binge watch yourself into the know. Sherlock is a re-imagining of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic Sherlock Holmes and a lot of fun. It stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman and is co-written by Steven Moffat of the new Dr. Who fame. At the moment it only has 2 seasons consisting of three episodes each. The episodes roughly inspired on the original Doyle stories clock in at an hour and half each. Although all are good, both seasons suffer from the second episode lull. They are definitely the weakest of the six, which is to say better than most things on T.V.
What makes Sherlock so compelling is its characters and their relationships. It banks heavily on loyalty and an appreciation for one another. Sherlock himself lacks all social graces and Watson’s job is to help him navigate through the awkward pitfalls this presents. (It is even hinted at: Sherlock may exhibit the characteristics of Aspergers.) Sherlock and Watson play the perfect foils.
The Newsroom‘s Will McAvoy on the other hand is nobody’s foil. He is in a league all his own; always self-righteously correct, unless he is spectacularly less correct. Wait, that describes all the characters on The Newsroom. Like everybody else on Aaoron Sorkin’s TV drama, he has only two modes: manic or less manic. Even though we are constantly being told how professionally expert* they all are at their jobs (*the mission-impossible-live-post-dub performance of the premiere) they all seem to need to sleep with a nightlight.
Where Sherlock is truly smart, The Newsroom just isn’t. Maybe I’ll concede that it is Smart-Lite. It deals with complex issues, but it is almost like every character’s wits are so razor sharp they can predict the future. Oh wait, they can predict the future because the future has already happened and the writers have the newspapers to prove it. This is why the Newsroom falls apart; it is too full of itself. That, and its characters have the emotional depth of a teenage girl crush on One Direction. We’ve seen this show before: it’s called Who’s the Boss?
When it comes to who’s the boss: giant robots or giant monsters, Pacific Rim spends a pleasant two hours trying to solve this age old question. They fight in the rain, they fight under the ocean, they bash each others brains out and look good doing it. Check your own brain at the door and channel your inner 12 year-old and you won’t be disappointed. Just because you don’t need your brain, don’t assume this is not a smart film. The plot and premise are ridiculous and the dialogue clunky (Ron Perlman seems to be the only person who is aware of this), but Guillermo del Toro is helping usher us into a new age of the blockbuster: the international popcorn movie.
Pacific Rim was made as much for China as it was for Hollywood. It takes place in Hong Kong, most of the extras are Chinese and China’s own robot Crimson Typhoon are all evidence of this. The new trend in Hollywood is to cater to the Chinese market. Iron Man 3 had scenes that were made specifically for China and were not included in the North American release. Why is this smart? Another giant robot movie Transformers 3 made 145 million in China alone, add Russia and we start to see the picture. I personally like this international approach to movie making and feel it can foster a deeper global understanding: we may not agree on politics but we all want to see giant robots battle giant monsters.
Aaron Sorkin could learn a thing or two from a new take on an old character and an old take on a new approach. If you focus more on the hows (Sherlock – how are they going to explain that cliffhanger?) and the whys (Pacific Rim ‘s eye candy export) we won’t be left with just the what?