The Official Blog Of Edward Cline

Netflix’s Turkey Farm

I have taken some time away from Islam, the government
shutdown, Obamacare, the buffoonery in Washington D.C., the news media, and
other pressing issues to report on that great alternative to programmed TV and
exorbitantly priced big screen theaters: Netflix.  My mind needed a rest, or a change of
scenery.
Netflix is a priceless (well, a relatively cheap) way to watch
recent movie releases and TV series or miniseries. Its chief value to me is to
be able to watch “oldies” without commercial interruption and on my
own viewing schedule. YouTube carries many of those oldies, as well, but
usually in parts that often don’t match up or are missing.
But I couldn’t help but notice, when I scroll through all the
categories of choices that Netflix offers, that it carries dozens and dozens of
turkeys. Netflix seems to be the final resting place for films that couldn’t earn
their keep on the big screen or were never seen there, or were released as TV
specials, or not released anywhere at all except on DVDs. It is also the graveyard
or retirement home of many a TV series.  
One reason I watched these turkeys (and also many of their
bigger-budget parents), and never will again, is to see how directors and
screenwriters deal with emergency ethics,
which is what all these films deal with. How those ethics are dramatized is a
reflection on the state of reason in the culture as a driving force. Which, at
least from a moral standpoint, is virtually nil.
Emergency ethics entails problem solving. Reason apparently
played no role in either the decisions to make these turkeys or in imbuing
their characters with reason. Rational problem solving, in turn, entails the
weighing of values, one’s own values,
not the values expressed by a consensus, a majority, a group, or by
“mankind.”
A “turkey” in my cinematic lexicon can be defined
as: A low-budget, independently financed and produced film cranked out to cater
to filmgoers or couch potatoes obsessed with natural or manmade
“environmental” disasters, apocalypses, the price of fooling with or
“raping” the “ecosystem,” ends of civilization, ends of the
world, science fiction dystopias, and any other theme that blames man for his
particular perilous circumstance or for his hubris or arrogance or for his mere
existence.
I’ve already written about two Netflix blockbusters,
productions that have measurably higher standards of directing, acting, cinematography,
and scripting: the Kevin
Spacey
House of Cards
and Jenji Kohan’s Orange
is the New Black
. In terms of all secondary attributes, they are far
and away superior to the turkeys, past and present. But they all have one or
more things in common. Fundamentally, they are the celluloid or digital
offspring of liberal/leftist politics, and liberal/leftist morality. Netflix
has picked up the Spacey and Kohan series for new rounds of viewing.
What follows are the titles and their Netflix synopses in
italics, accompanied by my own notes.
The Road, 2009:  Set in
a post-apocalyptic future, this end-of-days tale follows two survivors, a
father and son, who navigate an ash-covered wasteland in search of a better
life — with only a sliver of hope that salvation awaits them at the end of
their journey.
This is the oddest of the lot. No explanation is given for
the desolate landscape that the two main characters wander through in search of
food and shelter. It was shot mostly through a filtering gray lens to emphasize
the dreariness, with occasional flashback color footage of the lives of the
characters before the apocalypse. The characters are always complaining about
the cold, and the sky is an unrelieved gray, so it must be because of
“global cooling.” There are no live trees, no birds or animals. I’m
guessing that Detroit was where much of the urban devastation was filmed. The
story is a struggle leading up to ultimate defeat with no attempts at
profundity. Episodes of survival are unconnected. Emergency ethics moral: Live
like a cave man, or a homeless person with a shopping cart.  Mutter or whisper inaudibly platitudes about
love and hope.
Apollo 18, 2011: If you buy in to official statements, Apollo
17 was NASA’s last manned mission to the moon. But what if found footage of a
secret Apollo mission that had taken place the following year could prove
otherwise — and explain why we haven’t gone back?
A kind of conspiracy
theory story about an Apollo mission that went to investigate a Soviet moon
landing. The astronauts are attacked by roach-sized insects that live as rocks
in a crater. They can turn over moon buggies and chew up flags and skitter into
your space helmet. Jerkily shot as though through personal video cameras, à la Cloverfield (2008), its CGI
is passable but the story is banal. Emergency ethics: Lose your mind when the
irrational suddenly appears.
Under the Dome, 2013:
An invisible and mysterious force field
descends upon a small fictional town in the United States, trapping residents
inside, cut off from the rest of civilization. The trapped townsfolk must
discover the secrets and purpose of the “dome” and its origins, while
coming to learn more than they ever knew about each other.
The synopsis
says it all. The characters are so “ordinary” and their dialogue so
banal that one really doesn’t want to know more about them. By the end of the
miniseries, the impregnable transparent “dome” remains inexplicable.
Is it an alien experiment? A secret government program? An act of God? Mother
Nature punishing man? The series was renewed
for a second season in 2014, with metaphysics-gone-mad horror writer Stephen
King to script the premiere episode.
The Walking Dead,
2010-2013: In the wake of a zombie
apocalypse that desolates the world as we know it, a group of survivors led by
police officer Rick Grimes holds on to the hope of humanity by banding together
to wage a never-ending fight for their own survival.
This series, renewed
by AMC, actually features some mature albeit erratic adult introspection and
value judgments, though the metaphysically impossible conflict, with zombies,
is unfortunately the venue. Filmed mostly in Georgia, it isn’t a cheap
production. It’s the only series in this genre that incorporates some actual
non-zombie human conflict and resolution.
Category 8, 2013: When a government experiment to harness the
sun’s power goes horribly awry and sends a massive fireball hurtling toward
Earth, it’s up to a renegade scientist to save the planet by reversing the
cataclysm — against seemingly impossible odds.
Straight off, the bad guys
are identifiable, such as the Secretary of Defense and a private firm
contracted by the DOD to develop an energy concentrator that shoots the sun and
can somehow collect the energy of the resulting solar flare to blast enemy
satellites. The “renegade” scientist is a snarky, anti-war,
anti-establishment aging hippy creature working out of a barn powered by solar
panels, and who has boring and distracting personal issues with his daughter’s
fiancé, a cadet cop. Satellites fall from the sky by the hundreds, even the
space station, the earth’s core stops spinning, but, somehow, cell phones work
perfectly. The snarling, hippy-dippy scientist saves the day, twice, with his
outside-of-the-box physics. Emergency ethics? At series end, the
“renegade” scientist almost seems to regret having saved mankind.
Survivors,
2008-2010: When a deadly strain of flu
decimates the world’s population, a scrappy group of survivors find themselves
struggling to exist in a world devoid of electricity, running water and
government services.
Distributed by the BBC, this British series is slow to
reveal its anti-business agenda. In one episode, an Oxford classics professor
becomes a slave-owner running a coal mine, and it’s revealed at the end that
the virus was manufactured by a pharmaceutical company and it got loose. The
series develops several subplots to which it devotes considerable footage –
such as the insidious designs of a government survival colony, and a gang of
boy-scroungers lorded over by a Fagin-like murderer – and then forgets them by
series end. Emergency ethics? Gotta find my son, who may have survived the
plague. Everyone else subordinates his values to the plus-size heroine’s.
100ᵒ Below Zero,
2013: When a series of volcanic eruptions
rips through Europe, the subsequent ash cloud blocks out the sun. As the
continent plunges into a new ice age, an American couple must find their
college-aged kids and get them out of Paris before it freezes over.
This is
the cheesiest of the lot, an American-Canadian production, with
characterizations, dialogue, and special effects so flat and bogus one can’t
help but think that the staff in the cutting room laughed their heads off as
they put it together tongue-in-cheek, or perhaps even blindfolded. Emergency
ethics? Gotta find my kids in Paris. Never mind the Styrofoam bricks and
concrete that bounce on the streets of Paris during an earthquake, which is
simulated by someone shaking the camera, and the character claiming it’s really
cold, with no visible breath in the supposedly frigid air.
The Core, 2003: The Earth’s inner core has stopped spinning, and scientist Josh Keyes
must discover why — before the world literally falls apart — by burrowing into
the planet’s center in a vessel piloted by Maj. Beck Childs and Col. Robert
Iverson.
Why did it stop spinning? No answer, but man must have had
something to do with it. A plucky band of stereotyped characters plan to
detonate a nuclear bomb to nudge the core into moving again. The vessel they
ride looks suspiciously like a tricked-up cigar tube. Believe it or not, at the
end, whales save the day when they “sing” to the cigar tube trapped
at the bottom of the Marianna Trench because they think it’s another whale.
Emergency ethics? Gotta save the planet.
Invasion: Earth, 1998: Earth becomes a battleground in a full-scale
intergalactic war when the Royal Air Force erroneously shoots down an
unidentified flying object. With the planet’s future at stake, can the world
work together to protect itself?
This older series had an interesting opening,
the London Blitz, shot in period black and white, when an alien spacecraft’s
escape pod crashes into the rubble of a bombed section of the city during an
air raid. Why did it crash? Did the Luftwaffe shoot it down? Did it get snagged
by one of the dirigibles? No answer. Fast forward to the present when a British
fighter jet shoots down a similar spacecraft. From there, the plot becomes so
complicated, twisted, and implausible (even for space aliens) all one can do is
shake one’s head. Most of it is set in Scotland. I got the distinct impression
that the series was made exclusively to provide employment for the cast. Emergency
ethics? Gotta save the human race from those giant insects.
Revolution, 2012: Three companions go on a quest to uncover the truth about a mysterious
blackout that caused all electricity to stop working 15 years earlier.

Again, the villains are the government and contractors co-opted by nefarious
bureaucrats who want to use a technology that uses nanobots to control
electricity and as a cure for diseases. Or something. The experiment went
wrong. The nanobots ate the electricity. Lights out. Anarchy and chaos ensue.
In this one, the U.S. has collapsed into several independent republics, most of
them ruled over by brutal tyrants. I think I identified some of the cast from
the Lost super-series.
Emergency ethics? Pragmatism.  
Vanishing on 7th Street,
2011: When a power outage plunges Detroit
into total darkness, a disparate group of individuals find themselves alone.
Soon the daylight begins to disappear and as the survivors gather in an
abandoned tavern, they realize the darkness is out to get them.
This is
probably the most hilarious and unintentionally allegorical synopsis of the bunch
I’ve selected here, because it couldn’t have been set in a better place than in
bankrupt and shrinking Detroit. I did not watch this one. The synopsis warned
me off.
These films seek to cash in on the box office appeal of
Hollywood’s multi-million dollar, multi-star disaster productions (recently,
e.g., Elysium and I Am Legend,
the first about how “we” ruined the earth and started class warfare,
the second about the consequences of fooling with Mother Nature), but with less
money, working with hackneyed scripts, clunky special effects, and employing
largely unknown and therefore cheaper casts.
Until I subscribed to Netflix, I had only a vague inkling of
just how much contemporary rubbish Hollywood or “off-Hollywood” had
ever produced. Technically, in another era, the turkeys discussed here would
have been dubbed “B” films. While not as irredeemably awful as, say,
Edward Wood’s Plan 9 From Outer Space,
with few exceptions (those with the bigger budgets) the selections are
noticeably creaky and almost as ill-conceived and slap-dash as was Wood’s opus.
There are numerous older clunkers available on Netflix, as well,
spanning all past decades. Some of them are well done, such as Henry Hathaway’s
The Dark Corner, which,
aside from it being a “dark” detective story, is interesting
especially because it reveals that Lucille Ball was an excellent dramatic
actress, and not the addle-headed comedienne most people remember her as.
These films and series are what one Washington Post critic
would call “disposable popcorn spectacles.” I would say that about
most first-run films that have come out over the past twenty years. But, more
and more, “B” films or turkeys, in attempts to emulate the Hollywood
“blockbusters,” seem to be little more than excuses for CGI wonks to
show off their expertise (or lack of it) in creating illusions of collapsing
skyscrapers, repellent zombies, disgusting alien insects, firestorms, earthquakes,
tidal waves, and other usually man-caused natural phenomena, with the story content
secondary and usually defaulting to a collectivist or self-sacrificing template.
Well, enough of this. Someone – or something – is knocking on
my front door. Probably an Obamacare zombie or “navigator” wanting to
know why I haven’t visited the local “insurance exchange.” I knew I should’ve practiced my
decapitation skills.
Or maybe it’s just a Secret Service guy in a turkey costume on
a mission to assassinate me.

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5 Comments

  1. Tim C

    Wow, your capacity for pain in doing this research is pretty noteworthy. While MST3k seldom made too many value-judgements in their jokes (though occasionally doing so – "Another successful sexual intervention by the Roman Catholic church" comes to mind – in _Girls Town_ IIRC), I suggest you may find their work to be a useful treatment after this project.

  2. Edward Cline

    Tim C: It was far less painful than watching Obama saying he has everything under control, and since you didn't build that National Park, you can't go there. Ed

  3. Edward Cline

    By way of contrast to the turkeys, I just finished watching on Netflix a restored 1914 French movie, "Fantômas: The False Magistrate," a 1.5 hour-long crime thriller. The English subtitles didn't distract from the overall quality of the production. It's about a French judge who exchanges places with a notorious thief and murderer in jail in Belgium so the man can escape to France, where he'll be arrested for his crimes there. The plot, based on a serial novel, was ingenious. Of course, the criminal, Fantômas, doesn't know he's been tricked and that his gang in France really didn't arrange his freedom from the Belgian prison. The restored film is missing some sequences, but everything added up at the end. Even though it was in black and white, the cinematography was on a par with the best one can see today.

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