Monday, November 22, 2004

Went to the V&A the Science Museum to see Black Fashion the Future Face exhibition. It's a Wellcome Trust thing, so it's in that titchy room on the first floor by the telephone exhibit. I've been there a couple of times now, most recently for the Pain exhibition. This was slightly better, in that the room design didn't make me feel nauseous this time. But there were two main flaws. First, I assume the budget had been used up before signage was decided upon, as most signs were completely unhelpful in explaining the point of most exhibits, often little more than the name of the piece of artwork and the creator. The back wall of the exhibition had a number of exhibits to do with 'future faces', some big pictures of people from some twenty or thirty years in the future about the genetic engineering they'd had done to the future, a brief bit of film about the world's most advanced digital female avatar, a small video screen looping Bjork's All is Full of Love, but no text placing it in context.

There were two video pieces on digital avatars. The one I've just mentioned seemed to be two twenty second pieces of video, one showing a geometric run-through of the piece and the second showing the hi-res avatar. The other was a large head that, I think, was supposed to turn her head to follow you as you walked around the little room she was in. Both these pieces were silent and I'm not sure they were supposed to be, as the inadequate signage for the latter talked about how the creator was supposed to talk about the creation process.

Also, who's idea was it to cram the two computer interactive exhibits in a falsely created corner of the room? One was a game on 'micro-expressions', you pressed a button, saw a head perform a microexpression and then you had to click on what emotion that was. The other was one where you have a digital camera take a photo of your head, tell it your sex, your age and your race and then it would alter the picture, you could see yourself as other races, or a Picasso character or a chimp. So we were all crowded in a corner off the wall of the exhibit to see whereas common sense might have dictated spreading it out a bit.

Despite this lapse the rest of the exhibit was laid out quite nicely, a collection of glass eyes, photos and portraits of people who's faces had been altered by some medical condition such as stroke or illness, and people who'd covered their faces in tattoos or piercings. But what might have been a fascinating exhibition was just an interesting collection of oddments.

Nina wanted my opinion on The 4400 which started broadcasting on Sky One last night. As a general rule, anything Sky promotes the hell out of tends to be crap, the last Voyager episode, the last Buffy episode, the Simpsons episode with Tony Blair... So far the only exception has been Battlestar Galactica. But The 4400, it's this year's Taken. Our two heroes work for the Department of Homeland Security, presumerably because with his maverick approach to life and her hair, if they worked for the FBI the parallels would be just too obvious (That was another crap show Sky overpromoted, the X-Files finale). I don't mind that the American Big Brother organisation du jour is presented in such a benevolent manner, or that when they launch a nuclear attack on an incoming alien spaceship it seems everyone in the US is less than a few miles away from launch sites, or that unlike missile defense most of the missiles supposedly hit their target. It's just that it's not very interesting.

4400 people from around the world have been apparently abducted by apparently aliens over the last apparently 80-odd years. And suddenly, one night, they are returned. Why 4400 will hopefully be explained somewhere down the line (after all, one of the characters last night did question it). Such a large number seems something of a hostage to fate, especially when the non-Americans amongst the 4400 are largely ignored. Indeed last night we ignored 4395 of those abducted.

But so much of the show was pretty obvious from the start. We had the obligatory sequence when people were trying to settle back into life, a woman who disappeared twelve years ago finds her husband has remarried and their daughter believes her stepmother is her real mum. A lawyer who vanished in the late seventies finds his wife dying in an old folks home and his old firm unwilling to give him a job. And the first abductee, taken in the forties, visits her parent's grave.

The first abductee... Maia Rutledge, is an eight year old girl. Yes, it's the bane of sci-fi shows, the preternaturally intelligent child. The kind that has you screaming at the TV "Will someone shoot her for the love of God!" There should be a law against children in American sci-fi, or a law that something nasty happens to them as soon as they come on screen. What I don't understand is why in Star Trek the captain always beams down to an alien planet with a load of guys in red shirts, why he/she never beams down with a load of kids because those little bastards seem to be indestructible.

After a brief period in quarantine the 4400 are released into the community. This way, when stuff starts going wrong, it'll means Agents Sculder and Mully (I really didn't care enough to learn their names, they are basically an older, divorced Mulder without the wit and a Scully without the scientific abilities or smouldering sexual presence. They also have even less chemistry together than the X-Files duo) have to search them out. This will probably be what drives the show each week as it soon becomes apparent that the returnees are different to normal humans. They have been given a different or unique power whilst simultaneously losing the ability to be at all interested in it or to understand why others might be concerned. Agent Sculder's comatose son's friend is one of the returnees and seems to have some sort of 'life-giving/life-sucking power, which helps when he's attacked by another kid at school for the freakish habit of being kidnapped by aliens. He then spends the rest of the show being annoyed at his brother and his girlfriend being concerned that he half-killed the guy. He doesn't seem to think at any point "Wow, I was literally sucking the life out of him! Cool!" Maia is precognitive, of course, and doesn't seem to realise that if you tell prospective foster parents that they'll be buried in nice cemetaries when they die, or that you don't explain that the reason you're putting your shoes on a chair is because a water pipe will burst during the night, that they might be a bit freaked. The main threat last night was Orson Bailey, the lawyer who caused large telekinetic storms when angry yet seemed to be completely oblivious to the damage he was doing.

What remains to be seen is whether these new abilities is just the excuse for this completely unnecessary show or whether there's some over-arc, maybe one that rips off the rest of Joe Straczynski's Rising Stars concept. There'll be five episodes of this in which we get to find out.


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