I just binged Netflix’s Altered Carbon.
I was sucked in quickly. Luckily, I had read a summary of the world-setting or I might have been a bit confused. Okay, I was still a bit confused by the end. One of the issues with world-building is being consistent. As I finish edits on my 10thArea 51 book I find myself constantly having to go back to the word.doc that contains all nine previous books and doing keyword searches to try to maintain consistency. It aint easy.
People say Altered Carbon is more ‘steampunk’, but I call it science fiction. It’s been unfairly compared to the two Blade Runner movies. I loved both those movies and while there are comparisons, the reality is in science fiction an author has only so many options. I think its best to leave that comparison aside.
As I said, I was sucked in. Good casting, particularly Joel Kinnaman as Takeshi Kovacs (sort of — he’s actually the sleeve of Kovacs). For some reason he reminded me of a younger Dolph Lundgren. I don’t know if that’s good or not. Then there was the ‘murder victim’ who wasn’t. I kept thinking: I know that guy from somewhere. Especially his voice. Then my wife told me he’d been Marc Antony in Rome, one of my favorite series ever — James Purefoy.
Martha Higareda was very good as the detective. One tiny bit of miscasting: Hiro Kanagawa as Captain Tanaka. He’s a character actor that always seems to be the police captain/lieutenant whatever. Give the guy some other roles, Hollywood. Or wherever Netflix is headquartered.
There’s a lot of violence and a shocking amount of nudity. I think the nudity was a bit exploitive, so be prepared. I started feeling uncomfortable for some of the actresses, especially the sister, actress Dichen Lachman, who had to do an extended fight scene completely nude. I thought she stood out in her role otherwise.
Before I get into spoilers ahead, let me say Cool Gus gives it three of four paws up. With a belly scratch he’ll go for three and a half.
Sometimes, as a writer, we have a good idea and start running with it and then get overwhelmed with story. I would instinctively say the book was better, even though I haven’t read the book (on my stack — okay bad term when talking about this show). Why? Because there’s a LOT of backstory. Always is when you set something in the future. Hard to “dump info” without boring the viewer. It’s especially hard to do this in film rather than a novel because as a writer I have narrative. A screenwriter doesn’t. I think Altered Carbon did a good job until the last couple of episodes. After the last episode, perhaps because it was late, I was tired, and Cool Gus was trying to grab the remote, I was lost. Who did what to whom? Why? It was like they remembered they were doing a murder mystery with a world changing subplot. So they solved the murder, but no world changing although they hint at it with some law being passed about allowing a murder victim to testify about who killed them? But that law was barely mentioned all along; so it kind of was a let down.
Biggest issue was genre. I say it’s science fiction, but it’s also a murder mystery, it’s also noir, it’s also world building, so it’s ultimately kind of confusing and didn’t land solidly. It was like a gymnast who was doing great but didn’t stick the landing.
Jennifer Crusie taught me that the ending of a story is the most important part; I used to say it was the beginning. She is right. And this show is an example where a strong beginning couldn’t save a weak ending, because that’s what you remember.
It sort of reminded my of The Expanse, which has run into the same problem but handling it better. That started out as detective scifi and then grew larger; but at least that’s been on long enough to be dealing with the larger story. In fact, it dealt with it from the start. I think there’s going to be another season, so I assume it will expand the storyline.
Nothing but good times ahead.
Originally published at bobmayer.com on February 6, 2018.