15
Nov 05

“did i remember to tell you that science is WEIRDER and MORE EXCITING than is dremt of in yr PLAYSTATION? well DID I? bcz IT IS!!”

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apparently the above — first ep broadcast on c4 on saturday — is based on a SCIENCE MUSEUM EXHIB’n which fellow citizens of the Freaky Trigan Empire enjoyed

well i watched it w.my dad — though he wisely slept through the entire thing — and it wz INCREDIBLY AGGRAVATING, not least bcz it seemed like there wz actual real interesting speculative science squirrelled away beneath the surface

the project wz the examination of the possiblity of an alien ecosystem evolving on a planet circling a red dwarf star, with the same face always turned to its sun — they proved that the temperature would be OK for liquid water (assumed essential for life), and gamed up four life forms, and allowed them to evolve, then showed us (CGI) clips a la nature doc/CGI-dinosaurs series

here are the several annoying elements:

i. as with the dinosaur series they invented very BAD stories: recall that with a standard nature doc, a storyline is cobbled together from the footage shot (ie the story comes after the images); here there’s an option for it to be the other way round, but instead they PRETEND that this is “footage shot” and “oh, look, the big turkey-looking thing is going to eat the little cute one! oh NOES!! who’d ever have guessed!!” except they also carefully set up what’s going to happen, in a REALLY CLUMSY CLICHED WAY — so the predator “gives no quarter” etc. This means we switch constantly from faked-up anticipation to frustration (when the storyline lumbers “unexpectedly” elsewhere)

ii. we are constantly bein told how EXTRAORDINARY the aliens are: compared to WHAT? Other aliens? Life on earth? In what exact sense is it a surprise that aliens are not like life on earth? As a culture we spend an INORDINATE AMOUNT OF TIME imagining aliens: it is not remarkable to us that aliens are non-earth-like, y’know??. Actually the MOST INTERESTING thing explored here (in the original science, but obscured in the narrative) were the ways in which science CAN’T — or declines to — imagine extremes of difference. viz life everywhere will (apparently) be carbon-based and water-requiring; viz will fall into “plant-types” & “animal-types”; predators & prey; male & female (!!they went straight past this w/o even whispering that things might be otherwise); seeing (the eye has evolved seven difft times here on earth hence is likely elsewhere also) (<---single most interesting science fact, skated busily past); bipedal (and frankly birdlike); will make scary or cute noises like as to they were IN A CARTOON etc etc.

iii. ie basically they kept saying “It’s extraordinary!!” (which can only have referred to their own CREATIVE IMAGINATIONS) when the really extraordinary thing wz how SIMILAR to life-on-earth it ended up being. Star Trek wz right all along! All alien civilisations will be peopled by humanoids in rubberised facemasks!!

iv. there wz not quite enough CGI produced to fill the programme, so they repeated “clips” — for example of a “tree” falling over — in difft parts of the storyline: sometimes they flipped the image so you wouldn’t notice (sidesnipe: the CGI wz in general rather ugly)

v. if they had dramatised some of the questions and choices and assumptions being made by the speculatin scientists, they would not have HAD to fill in so much time w.repetitions — viz “Can we assume all big life will reproduce via sexual pairing?” “Well let’s see what goes wrong if we assume something ELSE”

vi. They never really got a measure of the gap between reality and made-up: viz these creatures had names, but came from a planet w/o a speaking species hence even in the madey-up world the names must have been given them by HUMANS, hence we as humans could stand in for the humans who did this and CHOOSE (and make a DRAMA OF THE CHOOSING) of the names. Then they might have been actually good, and not a dreary mishmash.

CONCLUSION: In general making a drama of the various choices and assumptions would in ever way have IMPROVED and CLARIFIED — viz, when you say (repeatedly) “x is extraordinary” or “x is weird” WHY DO YOU THINK THIS? and are you RIGHT OR WRONG?

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