Thursday, August 23, 2007

A British Invasion

For many years American pop-culture has had great success in traveling to other parts of the world, and taking root. Of course, American films and Hollywood are probably one of the most successful forms of cultural colonization. However, this seems to have changed a bit in the last few years. Films and televisions shows from other countries are finding homes in the U.S. A plethora of television shows that have been remade are readily found, and films either directly made in other countries or funding by from outside the U.S.

Fans of genre fiction are likely to have spotted this with the return of Dr Who. Years ago, this television series was often relegated to late night showings on PBS stations. It was thought campy, difficult to understand, and low budget – and mainly had a cult following in the U.S. Today, the new Dr Who is thought to be campy, sometimes difficult to understand, and higher budget, but it has more of a mainstream genre following (I’m not sure what “mainstream genre” is, so just go with me on that one).

There has always been a style to the Dr Who series, one that in the past was thought to be to borderline humorous for serious SF/Fantasy viewers. Now it has picked up quite a following, and has spawned a related series named Torchwood (it seems this one is too steamy for the U.S. market).

In films, 28 Days Later arrived on U.S. shores with a burst of energy – it even has Christopher Eccleston, also known as the “9th Dr Who.” It is a fast paced zombie-like film, where the characters find themselves in a world suffering from an overdose of “rage.” It follows the apocalyptic zombie storyline, but has a few twists. Perhaps most notable is the lack of American actors and the setting. It lacked the camp of Dr Who, but it certainly had its own, non-standard Hollywood perspective. This film hit with such success that another is in the works.

Following fast on the heels of 28 Days Later was Shaun of the Dead. As this film is a horror/comedy, some of the campy features return – all for the good. Yes, this is a zombie film and a romantic comedy. And it is something more like The Office (another British import, later Americanized). Shaun, the protagonist, simply doesn’t see that he isn’t living life, and most of those around him are already dead – zombies or not. There have been similar American films, but none seemed to have gained the success of this one.

This leads me to the Sci-Fi Channel’s remake of Flash Gordon. This is an American hero, but with some of the original FG's (unintentional?) campy qualities. It seems that the revivified version of Flash Gordon is playing to the Dr Who market, but adding an American hero and setting instead. Honestly, I never thought that Flash Gordon would ever see the television screen or theaters after its last incarnation when Queen performed the soundtrack (that version was also campy). But maybe this time around, viewers are ready for that flavor of production.

There are countless other films and programs that are produced in conjunction with the BBC, many of which are very “Hollywood” and very British at the same time. Most have meet with success in the U.S. market. And I’ll not go into all of the other countries following this path (it wouldn’t fit with the title of this post), but there are plenty out there. I can only wonder how much this will change the American notions of film and fiction.


Jeff Edwards said...

I've seen SHAUN OF THE DEAD twice and would gladly watch it again. Great satire.

I actually sat through the 1980 FLASH GORDON movie and couldn't stand it. Timothy Dalton's performance was notable -- if I remember, he was trying to play his role with intensity and a straight face, but he must have been terribly embarrassed to be in such a poor film!


William Jones said...


I thought SHAUN OF THE DEAD was a very clever film. I did catch several allusions to previous zombie films, but I'm certain there are fans who caught many more.

As for the 1980 version of FLASH GORDON, it was a bit painful overall. It is surprising to see how many actors are in the film, but who don't seem to belong there. Dalton did seem out of place (I wonder if he'll ever appear as Dr Who)? :)

Charles Gramlich said...

I have not often been a fan of transplanted TV and film, especially if the intent is humorous. Shaun of the Dead did work for me, though. I liked it quite a lot.

One movie that I absolutely loved, and is among my favorites of all time, is "Brotherhood of the Wolf," which was a French flick. Incredible suspense and action.

Amanda said...

I love the new DR. WHO! I have a friend who has some of the originals. I tried them but couldn't stand to watch more than 10 minutes. They just seem dull. I don't like the new Flash either. The actors look like they are right out of the 80's.

Now SHAUN I loved and 28 Days. I thought they were better than the remake of Day of the Dead. Another movie I thought was good was The Descent. It isn't a zombie movie, but it is better than some of the stuff I've seen lately.

Thomas said...

Brotherhood of the Wolf the best movie of its kind. The Howling gets everyone going and it is great. But Brotherhood of the Wolf was just spooky.

Anonymous said...

28 Days Later already has a sequel out, 28 Weeks Later with which is just as good as the first one.

Doctor Who is hit and miss with me, with some excellent episodes and some not so good.

The other British show that comes highly recommended from me is Spooks , although you might all know it as MI5

David Conyers

Heather said...

Since BBCA is the only channel i watch anymore, i would have to say that i rather enjoy dr. who. also, you should keep an eye out for the show jekyll. Also a british television show, but very interesting. it's a little brit different.

TonyKenealy said...

Hi William,

Nice article. I think the British Invasion has been going on for a long time. :) When all said and done you have had a Brit at the helm of the Enterprise, for it's continuing mission, the iconic US SciFi show and a franchise. There have been a lot of classically trained British actors appearing in a US movies (Christopher Lee, Michael Caine, Ian McKellen, to name but a few) for a long time now.

In the movie world, foreign made films have definitely been on the increase in the US market. 28 Days Later, Shaun of the Dead and Descent have been mentioned. Another wonderful movie in recent years that is, in my opinion, up there with Brotherhood of the Wolf, is Dog Soldiers. Definitely worth looking out for that one.

The biggest area that the British Invasion is starting to show is on TV. On the comedy side, shows have been remade into 'US' versions, some successfully some not so. Classic example The Office, great UK version and pretty good US version. An example of not so good was the flawed US remake of Coupling. This is, in it's original form, a superbly funny show but when made for US TV just didn't work. Coupling is in fact written and created by Stephen Moffat which brings us nicely onto the relaunched Doctor Who.

Doctor Who has been a British institution for many years, in fact nearly 45 years now but whose counting. Remade in 2005 for a modern audience, higher budget, great story lines and maintaining the wonderful concept of episodes that can go anywhere, in any time period, Historical stories, future stories or modern day stories, the show has them all.

The new show has done something that everyone thought could never happen again, they have managed to bring a family genre show back to a family audience on a Saturday night (Saturday night being the traditional slot for Dr Who in the UK). People said in the modern times it would be impossible to produce a show that the whole family could enjoy, Dr Who has proved it can still be done, and on a worldwide basis. In the UK there are kids running around the playground pretending to be Daleks, going round asking 'are you are my mummy' (see, another Moffat link there) or marking people with marker pens when they are detected as Human. You also have adults talking at work about the latest episode.

It is a period of mixed feelings amongst long standing fans of the series, it's no longer in the domain of the minority fans who kept the flame burning throughout the 90's with books and various audio dramas. The show is now back in the hands of the masses, it's no longer 'our' show, it's everyones again but on the other hand its bloody fantastic. :)

BTW Torchwood has been accepted for US TV viewing, it begins on BBC America this coming Saturday (8th) and apparently according to my sources has not been censored or cut other than a few seconds for timing issues. You will see what was seen in the UK (something that can't be said for the SciFi channels showing of Dr Who.)

I think the influence of British movies and TV shows will have a long lasting effect with more and more British actors appearing in more and more big Hollywood blockbusters or bringing our own brand of movies and comedy to Hollywood and the TV networks.