Friday, June 24, 2011

Twin Peaks and Fire Walk With Me (with an extra surprise!)

Streaming video on the internet has really become one of the best things out there for those of us who love movies and television. I watched pretty much the entirety of Buffy the Vampire Slayer through Netflix the old way, one disc at a time. Sometimes that can work okay, but for other series that love to use cliffhangers and suspense, it can be really hard only watching three episodes before you have to wait for that next disc to arrive. It's for these shows that streaming becomes almost necessary. The moment Twin Peaks was added to Netflix Streaming was the moment I started watching it.

Twin Peaks is a murder mystery set in a small town. Since this is the brainchild of David Lynch, you probably expect that things are not exactly as they seem. Having already seen Blue Velvet, I definitely noticed lots of similarities in theme beyond the fact that they both star Kyle McLachlan as the main character trying to get to the bottom of it. To his credit, Jeffrey Beaumont and Special Agent Dale Cooper are not one and the same by a long shot. Jeffrey is frequently out of his element in the strange situations that happen to him, while Cooper is almost always ready and willing to roll with the punches. Cooper is a fascinating, funny, and charming character who carries the series even when it eventually starts to take a turn for the worse.

While I think most people are familiar with the fact that Twin Peaks has a lot of strange elements, what you might not also know is that it's essentially a soap opera. Nearly everyone is sleeping around on their significant others and many of the characters are trying to double cross each other. It's intended as parody, but in the beginning that wasn't too clear to me. However, because the murder mystery is in full swing, it did not detract from me enjoying the series at all.

When you watch a show, do you ever pay attention to the music score? I know that I generally do not. Somewhere after a few episodes in this series I couldn't help but notice it. The reason for that is that there are basically three themes that were played over and over again. These were done by Angelo Badalalmenti. They're not bad songs, but the repetition of them made them a little hard to swallow after awhile.

What is bad is that apparently David Lynch desperately wants to be a song writer, because there are songs he wrote all throughout the series. Sometimes it makes sense, like seeing performances at the local bar or within the dream world, but in one instance, three characters just randomly decide to record a song together in their living room. The fact that the song is terrible only increases the awkwardness of the moment.

The show lasted two seasons, and for reasons only to be described as bad judgement, ABC insisted that the killer be revealed halfway through the second season. Given the difference in length of the two seasons, this also happens to be almost the perfect halfway point in the length of the show. Given the nature of the killing (and I'm not about to spoil that for you), there is still a reason for the story to move forward at that point. However, it is extremely clear that this forced direction left Lynch and the rest of the writers feeling a little confused on where to go initially. Add to it that they continued the stories under the impression that there would be a third season (and possibly beyond) and the latter half of the series rests somewhere between a jumbled confusing mess and just flat out boring. With the mystery gone we have nothing left but soap opera, and while it is a little more clear as parody here, it's just not enough to keep your interest. The last couple episodes are slightly better, but to be honest, I barely cared about those either.

There's a very important freaky/weird scene in the final episode. My internet connection was acting up and it kept getting interrupted with that "Retrieving" load screen. (For those of you who don't have Netflix, just imagine the infamous "Buffering" messages you see when trying to watch streaming video.) It would literally play somewhere between five to thirty seconds of video before jumping back to that Retrieving screen. You know what? I didn't care. Or at least, my annoyance came more along the lines of "Would you please start working so I can get this over with?" rather than "I want to see what happens!"

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me

Despite this, I still insisted on watching the film that came afterward, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. The movie is a prequel. However, you couldn't watch it before seeing the series because it gives too much away, and you certainly couldn't watch it alone because it doesn't make any sense as a stand alone film. It's intended purpose is to show you the events leading up to Laura Palmer's death. The problem is that most of these details were already revealed to us over the course of watching the show. As much as I live by "Show, don't tell" in storytelling, if we've already been told, you don't really need to show it to me. I suppose for someone who really, really loved the show, it might be neat to see all these things as they happen, but for me it just felt redundant. It also has one scene that I felt contradicted events shown in the series. The only new piece of information anyone will actually get from this film is answering the question of why Laura Palmer and Dale Cooper once had the same dream.

It probably sounds like I'm attacking this series pretty hard by now, and I'm not. If you like shows like True Blood or Lost, you deserve to give this one a shot. It will most likely keep you spellbound until at least episode sixteen. There are a lot of "WTF?!" moments that will get you all excited, and Cooper's Sherlock Holmes level detective skills are fascinating to watch. There are lots of really great characters and the show has a really great sense of humor.

David Lynch himself even has a recurring role that cracked me up pretty much every time he appeared. I also now have a huge crush on Kyle McLachlan after watching him as Dale Cooper. Beyond Cooper I also really liked Deputy Andy, Albert, Lucy, Pete, and the Log Lady. I hate to go into too many specifics of why I like the show because I think the way the show slowly unravels all the little details is a large part of its appeal.

My suggestion is to start watching and see how far you get. If the murder has been solved and you are getting more annoyed then entertained, just turn it off, because you're not going to get any more answers anyway. It's really a shame that they weren't given a chance like Lost was. Perhaps if they had known when the series was going to end, they might have been able to wrap up at least some of the loose ends, or at least show us some more than what we got to see.

Black Lodge 2600

For those of you who have already seen the show, you know what the Black Lodge is. Would you like to put yourself in Cooper's shoes and take a walk inside? I present to you Black Lodge 2600 - an Atari-style video game that lets you do just that. Created by Jak Locke it is a chase and puzzle solving game that's both simple to play and yet challenging at the same time. Previous experience with the show is not required because Jak's made an instruction manual that tells you most of what you need to know. As of right now, it is only playable on PC, but he is working on a Mac version.

The graphics and music are mostly done in the Atari style, though slightly better quality in places. You use your number keys and space bar on the keyboard to play - no controllers necessary. In the game you play as Special Agent Dale Cooper and try to make your way through the Black Lodge to outrun your doppelganger and defeat BOB.

I'm not going to lie to you - this game is hard. While it starts off simple enough, after the first few rooms, the rooms will be randomly loaded for you to run through. This is a pretty fun idea to help recreate the fact that you are in a dream world. However, it also means that the difficulty can jump back up and down without warning, as some of the rooms are a lot harder than others. You'll probably have to die a few times to get the hang of some of them. There's lots of stuff to knock you down, therefore making you easier for "DoppelCooper" to catch. There are statues that can knock you back if you walk directly in front of them, and their hit detection is incredibly sensitive. Most annoying of all, Laura Palmer's screams make your controls reverse. So when you've been hit by a scream and are trying to solve a puzzle backwards while simultaneously outrunning the bad guy, you're probably going to start screaming yourself.

I think most of this is par for the course if you've ever played an Atari game before. They're not really built to be easy. While I couldn't play a marathon session of this, I was left with the feeling to come back again after a break and try again. Even if you can't get too far with these puzzles, if you're a fan of the show you'll enjoy seeing the Black Lodge being recreated in such a fitting manner. There are of course some things here that do not actually happen on the show, but that should be expected of any video game adaptation.

Also, I can tell you this: you don't have to conquer all these puzzles to beat the game. The boss is actually reached through a secret door.. but you'll have to find the giant first in order to find out where. How you get to the giant... well, that's another secret.

Even more?

I thought my journey into Twin Peaks was finished but it turns out there are in fact two books that were written - one from Laura Palmer's perspective and another from Dale Cooper's. I will be reading these eventually, and if they're worth discussing, I'll report back.

There will probably be spoilers in the comments, so here's your advance warning.

1 comment:

  1. Yep, all thanks to the streaming video sites where we get to watch those TV series and filmsm, whenever and wherever we want. Twin Peaks did make some unforgettable scenes, surprising moments, and other memorable tidbits. It lacked some of the basic things that would have made it a perfect murder mystery and, in some ways, fell short in evoking the parody it was trying to prove. But the series surely captivated its viewers. Laura Palmer, for example, was truly captivating.

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