Once Bitten…

I continue the struggle with myself, the struggle with who I am and who I want to be. I have much to talk about, many blog topics to write, but today I thought I was talk about a show.

One of the things I watch on YouTube is CinemaSins. I know some people feel they’ve lost their way, that their videos aren’t what they used to be. That the way the length has increased is a sign of them selling out to views and fame. I personally still enjoy watching them, even the videos for the movies I’ve never seen and have no intention of seeing.

One result of watching these has made me more aware of the things shows/movies do, both good and bad. This has been a blessing and a curse. The blessing is that I now recognize these tropes and pitfalls, and hopefully wont fall victim to them in my own writing (if I ever get around to writing). The curse is that I now can’t watch even my most favorite shows without picking them apart in my mind. Despite this however, or perhaps because of it, I’ve come to appreciate even “bad” shows/movies in a way I never have before. I can see, even in poor quality productions, the areas where people try. And I can appreciate even terrible movies as works of art.

Moving on to Bitten. I’ve seen 9 episodes so far, and am enjoying it (which comes as no surprise to one Alabama Gandalf).  So I wanted to talk about it (or type about it) for a bit.

I am pleased with myself that I am beyond grading a show as terrible based entirely on poor visual effects. A small-time studio may not have the budget of a big blockbuster, but that doesn’t mean they can’t tell a good story.  The CGI in Bitten is terrible. Here is an example:

bitten-gif

It is hard not to compare to Twilight. Take a look:

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The style is much the same, giving more emotional depth to the face than a real wolf would have. This move is understandable, they want to be able to portray emotion on the face of an animal. Despite the fact that the wolves in Bitten are not much larger than real wolves (unlike Twilight where they are the size of large ponies) the show probably chose not to use trained animals because they wanted to be able to show emotion on the wolf faces.

However, CGI is probably expensive, which leads to very few actual scenes with the werewolves in the show as actual wolves, making the effort almost not worth it.

I will give a slight lead to Twilight on the CGI however. Their wolves are just a bit better animated. The running animation of the Bitten wolves is very…off, especially on the back legs. Their movements just look…unrealistic and clunky. Whereas the movement of the Twilight wolves is smoother and more realistic. The detail on their fur as well is better, and their faces look less…cartoonish. So while both went for the same style of human facial expressions portrayed on wolf faces which is awkward, Twilight actually take the lead on CGI quality, in this bloggers humble opinion.

I want to take a moment here to go off on a tangent. While I love werewolves in general, I am a little sad that Bitten chose to go with the Twilight brand of werewolf. The change is much more involved, where you hear bones cracking and see the bodies contorting. But they change into creatures that are basically wolves, if a bit larger. I would have preferred them to go with the more anthropomorphic variety, like this:

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Now of course, folklorically speaking, having them as actual wolves is historically accurate. I am not entirely sure but I do believe the anthropomorphic rendition is something done in modern movies, and the actual lore of werewolves throughout history is either humans turning into wolves, or humans displaying wolf characteristics (probably derived from people getting rabies after being bitten by a wolf and going rather savage).

That said, I prefer the anthro version, and wish Bitten had taken that route. Or gone with the World of Darkness method and allowed both a full wolf form and the anthro-hybrid form.

To get back on track however, I don’t want to judge a show based entirely on their CGI effects.

There are instances in the show that are really well done. Some of the characters are strong, well acted, and make you care for them, and some of the actors are quite good in their roles.

Some, however, fall short.

clayeleneaTake Clay for example. He certainly is hunky and handsome if you like the rugged look, and it’s clear that is what they were going for. With his shaggy hair and rugged facial hair and plaid shirt he is meant to scream “werewolf.”

But he lacks any kind of charm that makes us want Elena to be with him. And it is clear that is what the show wants. They want us to root for him getting Elena back, it wants us to feel his pain and loss that she left him and is now with Philip. But Clay lacks any charm that would actually make the audience do that. I’m sure there are those who root for him due to his rugged good looks and broody eyes, but personality wise he’s kind of a dick.

Elena’s human boyfriend, Philip, however is far from it. He’s a nice guy, who clearly loves Elena, and we’ve never seen him do anything but treat her with love and respect. The actor also does a good job of showing emotion and hinting at jealousy when the character thinks Elena is cheating and hiding stuff from him. I can’t help but wish that Elena chooses Philip.

Elena does an okay job, her actress makes her likable enough, but doesn’t do much to go beyond just being a pretty face.  I have far more interest invested in pack Alpha Jeremy, “cousin” Logan and Philip’s sister than I do on the main characters of Elena, Clay and Philip.

jeremyJeremy especially is compelling. Three times now I have rewinded the show a few seconds to try and dissect Jeremy’s facial expressions.  In one scene in particular that is meant to be emotional he makes a movement with his mouth that I just can’t tell is meant to be the character holding back the floodgates of emotion, or the actor holding in a laugh that (if bloopers are any indication) so often crop up during emotion-heavy scenes.

He does a good job of having that air of authority and leadership and fatherly responsibilities. Despite being a relatively young actor who is “father” to a handful of fully grown men, he commands respect, and the actor pulls that off nicely.

Philips sister has her quirks. You see her drinking these green juice concoctions and sniffing longingly at junk food the others are eating. A few offhand comments about the dating scene, and you start to wonder if this woman (who is in perfect physical condition in my opinion) might have some kind of eating disorder brought on by insecurity. Both her siblings (one of them younger) are in relationships, her younger sister getting married, and Philip in a series relationship with Elena. Perhaps the pressure of being the last to find love is weighing on her.

And it is subtleties like that which make this show, for me, good, despite all the holes. It doesn’t spoonfeed it’s audience. An example is that all the werewolf characters seem to have green eyes. I doubt this is a coincidence, but it hasn’t been mentioned in the show. No one has said “look at his eyes, he’s a werewolf” and no one has had some character mention green eyes in such a way that is obviously meant to provide exposition to us. It hasn’t even been mentioned. There is a picture of the whole family together and when Philip sees it he doesn’t say “you all have the same eyes.” If he notices he doesn’t mention it. It almost makes me wonder if it’s just a coincidence.

There is some exposition that is a bit in your face, such as Elena being the only female werewolf, because for some reason women are too weak to survive the change but Elena did.  I feel like this is one of those contrived features to make the main character seem special, but doesn’t actually succeed. I personally feel it would have been a stronger aspect if instead werewolves were just misogynist, or choosing not to turn women because it is easier on pack life to only have men. This would mean that Elena, bitten despite the laws of the pack, had to actually struggle against the adversity of being the only female. This would make her a strong character based on her actions, and not based on some contrived plot device. Instead, she is strong because she is the only female to survive the change, and because she for some reason has a better sense of smell than all the others. Very Bella-esque character development here, and why I have very little vested interest in the show’s main character.

Another example of such a plot device is the difference between the “pack” and the “mutts.”  There doesn’t seem to be one.  Pack members just happen to be born or turned by fellow pack members, and mutts are not. There is not physical difference, no real difference that I can see. Because of this it makes the Pack’s authority over Mutts actually seem tyrannical. Which really leads to me not caring if they remain in control, or maybe even rooting for the Mutts to succeed in taking down the pack.

Here is how it works as I understand it so far:

There are several Packs, and they tend to be “families” so probably have more born than bitten members, but that is only my assumption.  The Packs are the only ones allowed to set down roots, to own a “territory.”  Mutts, which appear to be in most cases “lone wolves” are forced to remain mobile, always on the move, and nomadic.

I get why the show did this. It is meant to mirror real wolves. A lone wolf doesn’t have a territory, they are always on the move, but they are always seeking a pack, because that is how wolves live.

The show seems to hint that joining a pack is possible, maybe. It’s unclear, but a few Mutts have requested as much in return for information. They’ve all been turned down thus far, either forced to give the information anyway or tortured it out of them.  It’s been made clear that wolves can be exiled from the pack. And it’s also been made clear that anyone, pack member or mutt, can challenge an alpha.

But the fact that Elena and Clay used to run around on Pack orders and make Mutt’s lives a living hell in order to force them to keep moving and remain nomadic, and also as a show of force and strength of the pack, just makes me feel like the Mutts should rise up against this kind of tyrannical rule.

One Mutt in particular who is acting against the pack had my sympathies right up until he was killed by the pack. All he wanted was to settle down, to be able to live with his girl, to put down roots. I don’t think I can blame him for that. The Pack has given me no reason to actually feel they deserve the leadership and authority they have, and no reason at all for me to hope for their success.  In fact, the show needed to have the Mutt who is kind of in charge of this resistance, turn serial killers into werewolves, to ensure the audience sides with the Pack, and it worked. It’s the only reason I want to see those Mutts lose.  If the show had just made the Mutts wanting freedom from the Pack, I would have zero reason to care what happens to the Pack at all.

To conclude, the show has some very strong aspects to it, and because of that I will continue to watch it. But it has some weak points as well, that can’t be ignored or go un-noticed. I do have hopes for the show however, hopes that maybe the Pack will do something to really make me care about whether or not they maintain their control.

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