Monday, 23 September 2013

Continuum - Review (Spoiler Free!)

Knowing nothing about Continuum, beyond iO9 repeatedly name dropping it in my Facebook timeline, I was expecting no better than Jean Claude Van Damme, ricketing down a tunnel o'time in a two seater Sinclair C5 lookalike ("Timecop" 1994), with irritatingly clashing flavours of causality in each successive episode.

But Continuum is far more grown up, with unexpected attention to detail. We're not talking "Primer" (2004) level mind strain, but it is more grounded than the "Back to the Future" (1985) style paradoxical paradox resolutions, also present (but better executed) in "Looper" (2012). Of course there wasn't a blockbuster budget here, so the CGI is relatively light and tasteful, with the all singing/dancing views of the future carefully rationed. Action/fight scenes aren't it's forté either, but are always passable, without any cringe-worthy flaws.

It is pretty clever at setting it's own tone, in the first season, by building up towards opportunities for obvious (dramatic tension building) clichés, staring them square in the eye, then casually bypassing them with a barely glimpsed smirk.

It's fully Bechdel test compliant too (unlike "Elysium"). In fact, the central female character is of a convincingly conservative disposition, despite supermodel looks and that skin-tight, nano-weave onesie. More of a Major Kusanagi of 1995 (my personal GITS preference) than the harlot of the (still highly recommended) 2002-2005 series, or the original manga (I've not yet seen the new "Arise" reboot).
Major Kusanagi (GITS 1995) vs Kiera Cameron (Continuum)
Simon Barry (show creator) was almost certainly influence by Ghost in the Shell. One obvious similarity being the full body invisibility cloaking, despite exposed head and hair. But don't be expecting weekly servings of bad guys gratuitously beaten up by a ghost: TV budget limitations, remember. Similarly, in parading all the cool, semi-magic, future-cop gear, they do risk the viewer wondering why certain toys aren't used more often. But these are clearly fallible characters, and any FPS experienced gamer will be able to empathise with the difficulty of scroll-selecting the ideal weapon in a panic!
Usually it's a compliment to be more akin to the works of Masamune Shirow than J.K. Rowling's...
The appearance of Jericho's (2006-2008) gawky-young-post-apocalyptic-small-time-commerce-king-pin-of-the-year award winner, as another central protagonist, was slightly distracting for me at first. Erik Knudsen perhaps feels a little under-energised to be typecast as a super-geek. From their résumés, it looks like most of cast will hold similar familiarity for fans of other American/Canadian sci-fi shows. It took me a good couple of episodes of mental groping to put my finger on a Caprica (2009) actor in the second season.

Many monitors maketh the 'Great Man'..?
Seemingly disposable background characters become central, which is cool. It even goes some way towards mitigating over-reliance on the Great Man theory (of innovation). There is (ab)use of the Swiss pocket-knife style, omni-scientist/technician, trope; there's a glaringly backwards setup comprising 7 terrorist grunts to 1 all-purpose geek, which is toned back towards acceptability as characters are all fleshed out. Anyway, for a full memetic deconstruction of the series, you could just read the ever prescient TV Tropes.

The plot does feel a little more unfocused, midway through the second run, but never jumps the shark in terms of confusing complexity. It actually comes together very tidily, disdaining a frustrating cliff hanger, or "Hero's" (2006-2010) style hanging segue to season 3, in favour of a deliciously dark full stop.

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