Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Western Union

Does anyone remember the “Europudding”? The term surfaced in the early 1990s to describe the stodgy, virtually unwatchable European movies that were co-productions between numerous countries. As one critic commented, “Europuddings, like certain cheap wines, ought to carry the warning label: Product of more than one country.”

Such a warning should have been branded across Burn Up. As a English/Canadian co-production it certainly didn’t travel well. Who’s to blame for the mess remains to be seen, but you have to consider than in recent years one of the countries has produced quality dramas like Intelligence and Durham County and the other hasn’t.

The really remarkable thing about the second part of Burn Up was not that it was even worse than the first half, but that it seemed to be a completely different drama altogether. All the little dramas built up from the previous episode were practically brushed aside, concentrating instead on the machinations of its “Kyoto 2” conference in Calgary.

Sniffing through the BBC’s Burn Up Press Pack, we learn that writer Simon Beaufoy constantly updated his research so the script was “as current and realistic as today’s front-page news.” Now that’s brilliant if you’re putting together a documentary or taking a break while dragging your soapbox to Speakers’ Corner, but Burn Up proved it can obviously spanner a drama.

According to the Press Pack:

Simon Beaufoy was intent on making the facts that appear in Burn Up as accurate as possible. He explains: “I did a huge amount of research. I talked to people ranging from the CEOs of oil companies to the Head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and all stops in between. Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, the UK Government, even – in fact, especially – the denialists.

“I also went to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Montreal to watch the political horse-trading, which informed the way I dramatised the conference in episode 2.

“For example, the tactics of the non-governmental organisations are also all based on facts, right down to the note-passing, threats of funding withdrawal, stalling and leaflet drops.”

And it showed. It would have been relevant if, from the get go, the drama had centred on that kind of skulduggery, as various apparatchiks, lobbyists, NGO twonks and bleeding-heart tree-huggers all butted heads behind the scenes. But it didn’t start out that way. Instead the characters that were expected to be at the heart of the drama were relegated to the sidelines and for the most part superfluous.

So blame Beaufoy for getting too caught up in the research, or more likely the executive producers, or the producers of the various production companies who read the script and didn’t raise a hand, either to point out that the drama lacked any kind of real drama or to simply throw a book of Samuel Goldwyn quotes at him. And that fucking oil company chairman still bumbled about without any staffers!


At 12:45 pm, Blogger Stephen Gallagher said...

I've said in the past, on shows I've been on -- and been overruled -- that you can't make a thriller out of global warming. Or green issues in general. The heart sinks, the pulse doesn't quicken... and no amount of handwaving will overcome that.

The only way to make popular drama out of issues is by allegory. If you really want to tackle these subjects, adapt a Wyndham or a Ballard with the same seriousness given to an Austen or an Eliot.

At 11:22 pm, Blogger Good Dog said...

Oh, absolutely. It's what science fiction's for. Or rather, proper science fiction, sans blue police box.


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