Friday, 8 August 2008

Spooks en Français

It’s reassuring to know that the BBC is able to flog a show like Spooks to our continental chums, thereby assuring that Auntie has more money to throw at quality drama (and I’m not being sarcastic). Problem is, I didn’t see much of the last series first time round, so now it appears that I’m doomed to catch dubbed re-treads in a variety of continental hotels. So, Spooks – in French (and eventually with the sound muted, as my grasp of French is tenuous to say the least): what can be learnt from it with the sound turned off? (by the way, I was watching this episode).

Locations: the first thing that becomes apparent is that the location budget is not exactly generous. A huge country pile, a cornfield, a cemetery, and the by now familiar Spooks operations room, a dim cubbyhole in which various furrow browed boffins tap at keyboards and look perplexed. Oh, and a smattering of satellites rendered in some pretty impressive CGI (the type of satellites that can be controlled by a laptop placed on the tailgate of a Land Rover – I’m not making this stuff up, honest). A fairly limited locational palette, I’m sure you’ll agree, which is why we need:

Visual Style: decidedly angular, with a big side order of wobble. Every now and again, things would tilt dramatically as if someone had dropped the camera on the floor and had forgotten to pick it up. Either that, or it was a series of high powered kinetic wobbles as a couple of slapheads in rather fetching military fatigues chased our heroes through a corn field.

Dialogue: sorry, all in French! I gave up after ten minutes and turned the sound off.

Narrative: without the aid of dialogue, the narrative was remarkably easy to follow, which has to be a good thing. The head baddie (D(F)uckface from Four Weddings) had somehow received a rather stellar promotion which meant she found herself heading up a sinister terrorist group who had a nefarious scheme for taking over the world via the power of CGI satellites (don’t know why though). What’s more, this sinister terrorist group were nicely headquartered in a huge country pile (surrounded by cornfields, always convenient for a quick spot of running about). After a contretemps with Adam (who is armed with a syringe full of nastiness), Ros gets herself captured by the bad guys. Unfortunately, Adam is captured as well and Duckface proceeds to inject the contents of the syringe into Ros’s neck, despite Harry’s protestations, killing her stone dead. The bad guys make their getaway, but the day is saved by Malcolm, who turns up with his magic laptop. The team gather for Ros’s funeral, but – hold on! – she’s not dead (either Adam was bluffing with his syringe full of nastiness or he switched them). Ros miraculously comes back to life and is exiled to the anonymity of civilian life by Adam. All is well. Phew!

So: did I learn anything? Hmmm - given the fact that Spooks is what you might term 'event drama', I was surprised to discover the paucity of locations on display: a globe trotting budget was obviously not available for this episode, which means that even flagship shows such as Spooks have some severe budgetary constraints imposed on them. And as much as I love writing dialogue, the thing that should come first is the visuals, even if in this episode everything did look decidedly wonky.

Apart from the visual jiggery pokery, watching Spooks with the sound down was tremendously satisfying and actually pretty good fun. I think I might start doing this with Doctors.


Michelle Goode said...

Didn't the TV have subtitle choices? Still, I think watching with the sound off is distinctly better than reading English subtitles. Subtitles are so distracting. Even if you can hear/understand what is going on you still feel compelled to read the words on the screen thus missing out on all the visuals!

Wobbly camerawork is so overdone these days. I think the use of it can be forgiven in action dramas such as Spooks, when there's a lot of running around and uncertainty, and the shakiness adds to the viewers perception of the situation and the excitement... But when the cameramen get lazy on Casualty, for example, and the producers seem to think it's "modern" to leave it all shaky, it's taking the piss really.

Chip Smith said...

No, no subtitle choices - I did try! And watching stuff in a dubbed version is just awful - give me subtitles any day, I really don't mind therm at all. Given the fact that some of my favourite films recently have been French and German, subtitles are pretty important...

And I can't stand wobbly camerawork! I ruined the last Bourne film for me, where the camera was being thrown around so much, it was necessary to include dialogue so that everyone knew what was going on! Pah!