Four years ago, when I was unenthusiastically toeing the first mysterious manifestation of The Strain, I thought it had the potential to be the beginning of an impressive movie. I didn’t realise just how much morecrap was going to fall from the ceiling overhead, and I was dazzled by the sheer quality of Pan’s Labyrinth, so I was inclined to cut Guillermo a lot of slack, in the way that I wouldn’t now that I’ve seen Pacific Rim.
Well, someone loved the whole idea enough to throw a load of money at it, and here we are with a TV series. Which I was honestly not going to bother with, but there was a sudden spike in my page-views for the swipe at The Night Eternal….
In good news, Corey Stoll is all back to life from getting asphyxiated in House of Cards, and he’s even grown some hair, or stolen Christian Slater’s, whichever is cheaper. In bad news, he’s playing another work-fixated dick-head whose family life is falling apart. I put this down to the unending Hollywood theory that go-getters always have to have miserable home lives to balance things up. Some people think that this is down to simple-minded screenplay writing, but I think it’s dumber than that. The whole idea just appeals to neurotic artistic people who want to think that they’re messing up their own personal lives because they’re tortured geniuses paying a price for success when the reality is that they’d be messing up their personal lives if they were working a shift at Walmart.
Of course it also gives the writers a pretext to tell us how great our protagonist is at his job; five minutes in and we’re getting his wife monologuing straight to camera about how he’s the world’s greatest epidemiologist. When del Toro was on top form, he did not need anyone to monologue the camera to tell us that the Captain was the Spanish Army’s greatest living bastard; he gave us scenes that let us figure out for ourselves that everyone had a good reason to be terrified of him. And honestly, if Corey Stoll’s character is commanding the respect of his colleagues despite being called Eph Goodweather, he pretty much has to be awesome at his job. No need for his wife to put in the time on that one.
It’s pretty much the opening of the book, acting-friendly character count and cast of expendable meat puppets all present and correct, but I was surprised by how del Toro still found a way to make the cold open more boring than it needed to be. You’ve got a Marie Celeste plane on the tarmac at New York; start there, don’t burn up minutes letting us see some of what happened before the plane landed. You’re wasting time and money on people we’re not going to get to know any better later on.
Which leads me to my other surprise; what I had thought of as a movie friendly character count actually isn’t, because there are too many stories and no place that they can believably connect, even though my shaky memories of the book tell me that just about everyone we see in this pilot episode is still going to be in some kind of play for the endgame, assuming that they keep throwing money at the problem for as long it might take to get there. At the speed that they’re not burning through the book, it looks like they might think they’ve got three mini-seasons here, which is going to be asking a hell of a lot from the actors; it’s not like the underlying text is going to save this thing.