The good and the bad are often subjective and definitively within the eye of the beholder. Hence the wide rift between myself and Roger Ebert. I'm kiddin', Rog', I'm kiddin'. There's an old saying: "Cows may come and cows may go but the BULL in this place goes on forever!" So, while the good and bad may be subject to varied opinions, the inexplicable, WTF, "HELLO!!!" moments are pretty much universal. Or, as Ashley J. Williams of S-Mart once said: "Good? Bad? I'm the guy with the gun!"
In that 2008 was an Election Year, you know with sure-fire accuracy that the "What the Eff-You-See-Kay?" factor would be amped up in ways that only election years can. Hell, we could write an entire WTF article on Dennis Kucinich alone, man! Aside from him the list still grows!
In a year that both saw a new leader for Cuba and a new studio album from Guns n' Roses; a year labeled as both the "International Year of the Frog" and the "International Year of the Potato"; a year that saw China hosting the Summer Olympics and packing the opening ceremonies with bullshit CGI; a year that showed us that Nasa can actually successfully land a spacecraft at the North Pole of Mars but Metrolink engineers can't drive a locomotive ON A TRACK without texting, crashing and killing people; a year in which Rod Blagejovich can stay in office, XM can merge with Sirius, Will Ferrell and Tina Fey can come back to SNL, Capcom can release a Resident Evil movie that actually features Leon S. Kennedy and hundreds of Californian Lesbians can marry (albeit temporarily) David Gilmour and Roger Waters still aren't talking to each other any more than Israel and Hamas are... in a year with all this, what are the weirdest and least explicable events of 2008?
Well... I'll... I'll tell ya:
No, not the political movement, the Guns N' Roses album.
After fourteen years in the making, a revolving lineup of musicians, millions of dollars changing hands, lawsuits, controversies, promises, internet leaks and more DELAYs than Sugar Land, Texas (get it?), Gn'R's Chinese Democracy, "The Most Highly Anticipated Album in Music History", was finally released on CD and LP on November 23, 2008.
To put this into just a tad more perspective (or just belabor my point), let's take a look at a few marks on this timeline! On April 1st of 2003 the long promised Chinese Democracy was considered to be overdue to the point that The Offspring announced (as their April Fool's Joke) that their next album would be entitled Chinese Democrazy (You Snooze, You Lose)! Please note, that was five and a half years before the album was actually released and that joke was considered to be topical! And why not? "The Chinese Democracy Tour" had actually started on January 1st, 2001! That's right! January 1, 2001, man! They toured again in 2002 before dropping off the map for a while longer, only to return in 2006 for a fuckload of dates. Of course a few of these were cancelled, as were the five January dates from 2007. But, hey, Axl had a good reason for cancelling those last few! After all, he had to concentrate on making Chinese Democracy perfect for its promised release on March 6, 2007! When that didn't happen, he picked up the tour again in June and July of 2007. All told, there were 119 "Chinese Democracy Tour" dates with 54 cancellations!
It actually got to the point what I stopped believing the damned thing was coming out at all! But it did! Yes, it did! And how "perfect" was it? How much of a smash was this Highly Anticipated Album? Well, it debuted at #3 on the Billboard Charts, selling somewhere around 33% of its expected units in its first week! Thirty-three percent! While, admittedly, most bands would love to sell 260,000 records in one week, most bands aren't releasing "The Most Highly Anticipated Album in Music History" with somewhere around 13 million dollars tied up in it. The Killers' Day & Age album sold more (coming in at #2) and Kanye West's 808 & Heartbreak outsold both and took the top spot. While reviews weren't exactly terrible for Chinese Democracy, most were lukewarm. After all, how could any album with this much of a buildup possibly live up to its expectations? Could such a thing be fair, even to Axl?
When the news hit, Geffen Records blamed Axl Rose's lack of promotion for the album for the disappointing sales. Rose had reportedly disappeared for two months surrounding the album's release (note: this is the man who claimed he would quit the music industry forever if his nine minute ballad "November Rain" wasn't recorded perfectly for 1991's Use Your Illusion I). Meanwhile, Rose's lawyers have shared some of the blame with Dr Pepper, who famously offered a free can of their product to everyone in America (except for former guitarists Slash and Buckethead) if Chinese Democracy hit stores in 2008. It was, they did and... their website crashed. Yeah, that's a bitch and all but I'm not sure I can agree that such a thing (and I quote) "RUINED Chinese Democracy's release". Other fingers have been pointed at retail chain Best Buy, who is the exclusive US retailer of Chinese Democracy. Did they under-promote the album? Well... that quote I keep throwing in here about the album's "Most Highly Anticipated" status hit me from multiple directions every time I walked into a Best Buy Store. Everywhere I looked, there it was! Perhaps going "Exclusive" with any store was an ill-advised idea? Doubtful. AC/DC's Black Ice rode the "Highway to Health" through its exclusive deal with Wal Mart, debuting at #1 in almost 30 countries and sold more units in its first week than Chinese Democracy has sold by year end 2k8. Yeah, okay, Best Buy isn't quite the size of Wal Mart but, folks, this is Best Buy! We're not talking about an exclusive distribution deal with Denault's True Value here!
So what's the explanation for the less than booming sales and mixed to low reviews? That's a big "WTF!" It's inexplicable... and being 14 years and almost as many millions of dollars worth of inexplicable, it tops our list in 2008!
Star Trek Changes
When Paramount announced a new Star Trek movie that would serve as a prequel to the Original Series, they gave us the most promising (and fan-pleasing) creative team news since Sam Raimi was announced as the director of Spider-Man! This new film (featuring the original crew with younger, near look-alike actors) would be directed by J.J. Abrams and produced by Abrams with Damon Lindelof and Bryan Burk with a screenplay by Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci! How could we lose? The creative team behind Lost was set to revive Star Trek with a budget of 150 million bars of gold-pressed latinum and an announced intention to be true to existing Star Trek Canon!
Well... we'll see. Fan concern began with the first (admittedly exciting) teaser trailer (released in January) which showed the USS Enterprise's hull being built on Earth (rather than in space, as established in the Star Trek mythos). Orci cited "creative license" on that one. The new trailer (released in November) gave us a much closer look at the cast as well as the Enterprise, which is... well, way different.
The bridge is expansive and much more modern-looking than what we're used to and the exterior (specifically the Warp Nacelles) has been decidedly redesigned to appear merely similar to the original ship. This time "creative license" wasn't cited. Abrams seemed almost oblivious to the changes, indicating that "... it better look like the ENTERPRISE, because otherwise, what are you doing?" Good question, J-dog! What are you doing?
Due to the release delay (though not nearly as long a delay as the Chinese Democracy album), we're still a few months away from seeing the film itself, so I'll leave this one in the Question Mark category. After all, Lindelof and Abrams haven't let me down yet. It's a BIG question mark, though, inexplicable and with a big WTF emblazoned on the nacelles. WTF-1701!
The Dark Knight's Joker
Over the years actor Heath Ledger shed his "pretty boy" image and won audiences over with an interesting and unique asset for a thespian to employ:
The Australian put on superb performances in a great many varied films and dissolved into each of the characters amazingly. He truly was one of our best actors. His untimely, accidental death was nothing short of a tragedy. At less than 30 years old he had already won critical acclaim, along with a great number of awards and was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar for Brokeback Mountain. There was no telling what he could have done had he lived.
His acting skills shined no less brightly in 2008's The Dark Knight and he continues to win awards for his portrayal of the film's villain. However, as good as his acting was, whomever Ledger was portraying in The Dark Knight, it wasn't The Joker. In fact, Ledger's character bore almost no resemblance whatsoever to Batman's arch enemy from the comics (significantly less than Abrams' Enterprise resembles its source). In the graphic novels, the Joker was deformed by chemicals, causing his hair to turn green, his skin to turn chalk-white and his facial muscles to twist into a permanent smile. He completed his newly clownish look with a purple colored tuxedo (or variation thereon) and a maniacal, yet generally suave and clean look. After a lengthy development, Ledger created a "punk rock" inspired Joker who chooses to wear makeup over his "Glasgow grin" scars and dye his hair green. His filthy costume was designed, in part, to give the viewers an idea of how the Joker might smell.
Director Christopher Nolan supported Ledger's decision to add incessant lip-licking to the character making his mannerisms much less resemble the Clown Prince of Crime than George Burns with his favorite cigar. Many claimed that this made him more "lizard-like" and "reptilian". Okay... so... shouldn't he be the villain in the next Spider-Man flick? Since when is The Joker (whose look is inspired by the character on the playing card) "lizard-like" or "reptilian"?
Again, there was nothing wrong with Heath Ledger's acting. The interpretation, however, was so far from its source that the character is nearly unrecognizable. But how dare I say that? Where's my respect for the dead? I have more respect for Heath Ledger, dead and alive than most actors! That has no affect on the fact that his interpretation of The Joker was indescribably inexplicable.
The X-Files: I Want To Believe
For a franchise that thrives on mystery and conspiracy theories, it's noteworthy that the latest entry 2008's The X-Files: I Want to Believe is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma... worthy of a conspiracy, actually.
Ten years after the last theatrical release debuted and six years after the last episode of the X-Files television show aired, Chris Carter and company looked to reboot the franchise with a film that would appeal both to fans and to the masses. Unfortunately, the film didn't appeal to either group in any huge quantity. Instead of focusing on the Alien Invasion "mytharc" that earned The X-Files its cult status and fans, Carter and co-producer/ co-writer Frank Spotnitz crafted a surgical horror film about a gay, married couple who has taken to stealing other people's body parts and the disgraced Catholic Priest who has visions about it all. While some of the classic (and loved) X-Files motifs are happily present, the overall feel is one of a cold, muted no-fan's-land between what is The X-Files and what is an accessible Hollywood serial killer thriller... albeit with a PG-13 rating.
It would be hard to imagine that after this much preparation, anticipation, litigation and fan jubilation that a film from The X-Files canon could become a flop but sadly that's just about what happened. Reviews were mixed, as was fan reaction but the real beating may well have come from none other than Batman himself. The Dark Knight was in its second, wildly popular weekend when The X-Files: I Want to Believe was released. Since then The Dark Knight has gone on to become the second best selling film of all time (behind Titanic) whereas The X-Files: I Want To Believe went on to earn slightly more than ten million dollars in its first weekend and slightly more than ten million more between its second weekend and the end of 2008. While the subject matter might not have been the most accessible thing on the planet, it's equally unbelievable that the film failed. It's not a bad movie by any means and, even with the intent of appealing to a wider audience, I have to applaud the X-Gang for offering up a little something different! Let's hope I Want To Believe finds its real (after) life on DVD.
Sequels... that aren't!:
When the joyless, miserable and under performing Batman & Robin (1997) failed to please critics or audiences, future entries into the Batman series languished in development hell until the REBOOT Batman Begins (2005) relaunched the film saga to high acclaim and revenues. After failed attempts to continue Battlestar Galactica since its final appearance in 1980, a reimagined Battlestar Galactica debuted to great success (both critically and financially) in 2003! After years of hopes and plans for a Superman film after Superman IV (1987) and Supergirl (1984) both succumbed to viewer and reviewer kryptonite, Superman Returns (2006) debuted as part sequel, part relaunch and has done very well for itself.
Well, there are three examples... that must make a trend, because the reimagined relaunch reboots are popping up all over tarnation, damnation and every nation in between. Though postponed to 2009, Star Trek is a shining example of just how this sort of thing has been planned for 2008. After the franchise flopped on both the big and small screens in the early 0's, Paramount is calling "Prequel" again and is launching the Enterprise to a canonically mixed but highly advertised and anticipated future. Lionsgate similarly redeveloped the planned Punisher 2 into an unrelated film called Punisher: War Zone that largely ignored events of The Punisher (2004), the film that was successful enough to warrant a sequel in the first place. Still on that familiar Marvel kick, although ultimately financially successful, 2003's The Hulk experienced a big drop off in its second weekend and beyond. Therefore Marvel's next collaboration with Universal was a new film with its own continuity called The Incredible Hulk, starring new actors and supported by a different creative team.
Hey, it's been done before, right? Well, yeah but rarely have such things followed so close to the films they immediately followed. Star Trek is a prequel that will be released almost exactly four years after the final episode of Star Trek: Enterprise a Star Trek Prequel! The Incredible Hulk followed The Hulk by five years and even made passing references to the previous film, while discarding the origin story in favor of something more reminiscent of the television series. Punisher: War Zone hit theatres only four and a half years after The Punisher, which it discounts (and sucks significantly worse than).
And if you think that's "Incredible", the reboots (and sequels to reboots) just keep coming. 2008 also saw the release of The Dark Knight (sequel to Batman Begins) and Quantum of Solace (the next James Bond flick after Casino Royale rebooted that franchise). In heavy advertising right now is The Pink Panther 2, the upcoming sequel to 2006's reboot The Pink Panther. And stay tuned, true believers, for 2009's new reboot/ remake of Friday the 13th, which has waited a respectful (ha ha) six years since the last film in its series. Who knows... At this rate we could see a new X-Files film as early as March 13th of this year, forgetting forever that I Want To Believe ever existed. Or, why not kick the Indiana Jones flicks off once again with ol' Henry, Jr. having no memory (or concern) whatsoever for rival archeologists with crystal skeletons from outer space. Good, Bad, Indifferent? Inexplicable!
Nuking the Fridge:
But back to Sequels that are... and no, this next one isn't about Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2! Whether you called it Tzar Wars: The Jones Wars or Kingdom of the Crystal Scully and Mulder, there's no question that the much anticipated new Indiana Jones film, featuring greedy Russians and decapitated Space Aliens left a number of viewers scratching their heads. While it was the second highest grossing film (worldwide) of 2008 (behind The Dark Knight, of course), Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull featured a few hundred moments that earned its WTF Nominations for 2008... some of which even go beyond the absurdity of Shia "The Cow" being presented as a viable leading man. The most noteworthy and memorable of these many elements spawned its own pop culture term almost immediately upon release. When Indy escapes a nuclear blast by hiding in the same kind of lead-lined latching refrigerator they don't let kids play around anymore, he is promptly launched through the Nevada desert and emerges intact and still wearing the Fedora to watch the cloud mushroom up and laugh about his luck. Thus "Nuking the Fridge" surpasses "Jumping the Shark" in our collective Pop Culture Lexicon! For all of you true disbelievers out there who have not only embraced the term but have derided the film at every turn, note that most critics still reviewed the film positively and it's pulled in a global take of over 785 million smackers so far. Such moments are no less incredible but amigos y amigas, that kind of dough will buy you a whole lot of Frigidaires to do with as you please.
So... Lady in the Water wasn't just a fluke, then? Pardon me but...
Not that it's easy to have your name put on the map by The Sixth Sense and having everything you do compared to such a film as that but The Happening seemed to baffle all five senses and then some upon its release. M. Night Shyamalan's mysterious film about the revenge of the vegetable kingdom on its cruel human masters started out interestingly enough (people freeze in place, then calmly come up with efficient ways to kill themselves) but quickly falls victim to its own one trick. It doesn't help that Marky Mark's main character constantly sounds like he's talking to a four year old or that the forced emotion and clunky dialogue here felt a lot more like a farce than a valid suspense flick. The film never truly lives up to its name, nor does it truly engross the viewer with its strange theme and vague characters.
Yeah, it's safe to say that this film has more than its fair share of indescribably, inexplicable and inaccessible moments. Weirdest of all, however, is the fact that I can't put this on The Worst of 2008 List... because in spite of the fact that critics lambasted the film and that some reviewers and audience members have speculated that this film was "intentionally bad", some people I respect absolutely swear by this film and consider it to be less completely suck ass than a complete success. Sure I thought it was a second rate Day of the Triffids but then again, I'm the guy who still insists The Spirit was a good film.
Which is more inexplicable? You decide!
Cancelling Pushing Daisies:
It's not often that something different manages to capture the public imagination and become a success on network television. And by "not often" I actually mean "fucking never!"
Pushing Daisies was created by Bryan Fuller, the creator of Dead Like Me and (with Todd Holland) Wonder Falls, who also wrote 22 collective episodes of Star Trek: Voyager and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and was an instrumental creative force (as writer and producer) behind season one of Heroes. Pushing Daisies existed in a strange, surreal world just a half-step removed from ours. It had a pastel, fairy tale innocence to it that shined through beautifully in the idealistic cast of characters. In spite of this lively theme, the show was actually all about Death. Specifically it was about a pie-maker named Ned (Lee Pace) who has the special ability to bring the dead back to life just by touching them... for one minute only. This comes in very handy when he teams up with private investigator Emerson Cod (Chi McBride) to solve murder mysteries. However, it rather confuses things when one of the murder victims is his childhood sweetheart Charlotte "Chuck" Charles (Anna Friel)... whom he can't seem to let go of once she's brought back to life. Soon, Ned and Emerson have a new partner in Chuck, who is desperately in love with Ned, who is likewise desperately in love with her... and they can't touch. Throw in the fact that his employee Olive Snook (Kristin Chenoweth) is desperately in love with Ned, can be touched (and still survive) and is also incredibly hot, and you've got more tension than a greyhound's leash when a rabbit runs by!
After a curtailed first season (due to the WGA Strike), Pushing Daisies was renewed (surprisingly) for a second season that started on October 1, 2008. By November 20, 2008, ABC announced that they would not be ordering any episodes beyond the initial order of 13 and that remaining episodes (none of which will successfully wrap the show up) will be burned off during the summer non-season. This is in spite of some excellent guest appearances, an enthralling and deepening story arc, a series of awards and the hilarious and perfectly timed omniscient narration of Jim Dale. The two combined seasons will amount to only 22 total episodes, about the same amount a single season usually receives.
Did the strike kill the show? Possibly, as such a quirky show with so many continuing themes can only suffer from a break of that kind. Did ABC fail to give Pushing Daisies the chance it deserved? Folks, I would love to lay this one squarely at the feet of the cold, mechanical, money-grabbing whoreywood networks but the truth is that the ratings did indeed decline. The highest rated episode of the second season failed to achieve the viewership that the lowest rated episode of the first season grabbed. The truth is that the viewers didn't come back in enough force to bring the show back.
In my diatribe against the cancellation of Wonder Falls I outlined in great detail the way in which a network can give a struggling show a chance to pull in viewers, so I don't really need to recap it here! Yes, ABC could have given Pushing Daisies another chance but, to be fair, they did bring the show back for a second season and that's something. The inexplicable part of this is that American Viewers just don't seem to want to give different shows a good shot. True, Lost is still being sought out by viewers but the fact that Pushing Daisies is pushing daisies is worthy of a big, fat "What the EFF-YOU-SEE-KAY!?!?"
Indescribable mention goes to the confused reviews for The Spirit and those overly clever, cutesy but ultimately insulting CNN headlines. Last but not least, a big WTF goes to WorldsGreatestCritic.com and the fact that it's still here after over five years and several hundred reviews, in spite of the fact that it's a sad imitation of Douglas Adams, Mad Magazine and Mystery Science Theatre 3000, all wrapped in some truly lame-ass web design. Even more surprising than that is the fact that you've gotten far enough in this article to even read this! I guess as long as I keep writing, somebody's going to come read it. What, me worry?
See you in the next reel... year after year!
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