Wednesday, October 26, 2011

BONUS MATERIAL

Recently, I started watching the hit AMC zombie drama "The Walking Dead." I ran across it on Netflix, which had it available for instant viewing, and since I didn't have anything to do with the next six hours of my life, I thought I'd dig in. The first season was as good as you've been led to believe (assuming that you've been lead to believe it was awesome). Since the second season is currently running on AMC, and since I live in the stone age and only have broadcast stations (also, inexplicably, Nick Jr.), I've only seen the first season. Well, the first season and the first episode of the second, which was available at AMC.com.

The best scene in the entire series run thus far came toward the end of the pilot episode. Our intrepid hero wakes up to find the country overrun with plague-infested zombies. While wandering around an appropriately creepy empty city park he encounters possibly the gnarliest zombie ever put on film. The zombie in question was a woman, and in quite the state of decomposition. Her legs were gone save for one dangling femur, and she therefore drug herself by the arms rather than walking. Intestines spilled out of the gaping hole of her torso, her skin was black, her mouth and eyelids rotted away. So, not in the best of shape; truly horrific. At the end of the episode, the main character, now shaved, dressed in his deputy uniform, and with a new found resolve to locate his missing wife and child, takes a detour to the same park where he first encountered the zombie woman (or what was left of her). He follows the trail of bile in the grass until he sees her. The soundtrack music isn't horror or action movie fare, but a rather touching arrangement more suited to a different genre altogether. Our hero pulls his gun, aims it at the zombies head, and says, "I'm very sorry that this happened to you." Then he pulls the trigger. The whole thing is strangely heart-wrenching. You're forced to confront the fact that these zombies aren't pixels in a video game or extras in make-up, but were once real people. (Obviously they are extras in make up, but you get what I'm saying.) That the writer/director chose to use such a completely disgusting zombie to make this point is brilliant. And it works. That shriveled animated corpse stands in for the loss of the human race.

And then they ruined it with a damned webisode.

After watching the season two premier on AMC's website, I was tooling around to see what other videos were on the site. They had some stuff on the special effects, interviews with the cast, stuff like that. But there were also a few bonus webisodes available for my viewing pleasure. One such webisode was touted as the backstory for the woman zombie in the park in the pilot. It would explain how she ended up in such a state.

I didn't watch it.

Because if I did, the best scene in the series would have been ruined for me, completely and utterly. What made that scene so powerful was that we didn't know anything about the character. She was the embodiment of the whole of humanity infected with a disease so horrible it literally turns you into a monster. Giving her a name and a backstory reveals more about her character, but it ruins her in the process. She has no mystery; she no longer works as a metaphor. This powerful symbol has been completely trashed by the producers of the show to satiate "fan interest." Sure, we know more about her, but more is not always better.

Let me repeat that: more is not always better. At least not in story-telling. Sometimes what you hold back is just as important as what you put in. People seem to have forgotten this. The aforementioned webisode phenomenon is a prime example. Exploring sub-plots and side characters is almost always a terrible idea. Fiction is not real life where everyone is the protagonist of their own story. Sometimes side characters should remain in the shadows; bringing them out in the light only ruins them.

The same goes for deleted scenes. Is there any greater beating than the trend of the "Director's Cut" DVD/Bluray? And I'm not talking about movies like "Blade Runner." Some films are absolutely butchered by the studio for dumbass reasons non-Hollywood executives could not hope to understand. In these cases the freedom given to directors to re-cut the film to their liking for the DVD release is a godsend. But how often is that the case? More times than not the so-called "Director's Cut" has little to nothing to do with artistic integrity, it is just a bloated, over-long version of the same film screened in theaters. The directors didn't add that extra ten to fifteen minutes of footage in order to preserve their vision; they did it (if indeed they are the ones behind this, I have a hunch it's the same idiots at the studio) because we, as fans, have become insatiable black holes of desire when it comes to bonus material. If a movie was exciting at 120 minutes, it'll be twice as exciting at 240, or so the thinking seems to go. But that isn't the case. More often than not that extra material just slows things down. It was cut for a reason.

Extended universe stuff is perhaps the worst offender when it comes to this issue. Yoda is such a great character in the "Star Wars" franchise because he's so odd. We don't really know what planet he's from, why he talks that way, or what his favorite breakfast cereal is. I'm sure that, were I to look, I could find an extended universe "Star Wars" novel that covers two (and possibly all three) of those points, thus taking all of the fun out of the little green Muppet.

Sequels are bad about this, as well. There are precious few books/movies that really lend themselves to having a sequel or prequel attached to them. I'm going to take the easy way out and point to the "Star Wars" prequels here. Did we gain anything, ANYTHING AT ALL, by seeing Darth Vader as a kid? All it served was to make one of the most badass villains of all time into a wuss. Knowing how or why Vader turned to the Darkside IS NOT necessary to his character or the story. To be sure, not all sequels are bad, and some franchises really do lend themselves to multi-film story-telling, but not many.

I suppose this is all a by-product of the times we live in. The idea that there's stuff out there that we haven't seen, just seems annoying in the Internet age. If there's an unreleased track or a deleted scene sitting in a vault somewhere, we want to see it, damnit! And the studios are happy to oblige. Make no mistake about it, if you'll pay, they'll provide you with all the content you could ever hope to want.

This is understandable.

It's also understandable that the fans want this stuff. "More is better," is a pretty standard human operating procedure. Yes, most of the time gorging yourself on DVD "extras" and asinine sequels is bad, but so is having that 18th beer. You know it, but you can't seem to help yourself. Restraint takes work. But restrain ourselves we must. We've got to trust the creators to give us the information we need in order to enjoy a great story and leave out the extra stuff we don't. We've got to stop it with this ridiculous notion that we need to know everything about every aspect of every movie, book, or television series. Otherwise we turn into a bunch of mindless zombies, wandering around the wilderness of the Internet for bonus content that we don't need.

Now that's scary.