Karavansara

East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Blood & Treasure or, I am too old for this

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Seven minutes into the pilot of Blood & Treasure, the new TV series by CBS, I stopped laughing and decided that life’s too short to waste time with such irritatingly cliched writing.
And it’s a pity, really, because there’s obviously money backing the series, that was shot on location in a number of places, including my hometown of Turin, but the writing is so abysmal, I really couldn’t make it.
I wanted to, because at one point I thought it might be fun to do a post on Karavansara. I went back and restarted it.
I stopped watching 11 minutes in.

Let’s see what we are talking about…

An antiquities expert teams up with an art thief to catch a terrorist who funds his attacks using stolen artifacts.

Oh, yes, fair warning: here be SPOILERS.
True, I’m gonna spoil only the first ten minutes of the pilot, and a lot of the things you already saw in the trailer, but…

S P O I L E R S!!

So OK.
Three minutes in, they blow up the Great Pyramid.
That’s no big deal.
No, really – I’m all for a movie in which the pre-titles sequence ends with the bad guy blowing up the Great Pyramid of Giza, the whole 2,583,283 cubic meters of it.
Well, no, actually the explosion we’ve seen in the trailer only rips the pyramid open, so the volume effected by the explosion is not that much. Say 1 million cubic meters.
It’s OK: give me a show in which the bad guy rips the Great Pyramid open with explosive charges after killing all those that were inside.
I like that. It’s the sort of bad guy that has promise.
A bit over the top, but he does have promise.
Give him a white cat and a secret volcano base, and I’m sold.

But please do not give me a movie in which an explosion capable of blowing open the Great Pyramid leaves behind recognizable bodies so that the good guys can learn one of the members of the expedition exploring the secret chambers of the pyramid was kidnapped.
“Her body wasn’t there!”
Mother of Thoth, man, half the frigging pyramid was not there anymore!

This is the sort of thing that really gets to me.
And I know a lot of people don’t give a damn, and some will say, hey, Dave, it’s just an action-adventure series, stop nitpicking and enjoy the ride!
But I can’t.

I can (barely) tolerate the bad guys coming in with night vision goggles in a room illuminated with neons (really?), but I get royally pissed off at the archaeologist that upon finding a secret door has a go at it with a crowbar.
And mind you, I’m a fan of Giovanni Battista Belzoni and his “explosives & hydraulic jacks” school of archaeological digging, but what the hell… cracking open a piece of ancient architecture and then shouting “Call the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities!”?
Yeah, right lady, go right on. I’ll sit here with my popcorn and wait for Zahi Hawass to come for you like an Egyptian curse.

Oh, and there is an Egyptian Curse. In the secret chamber in the Great Pyramid. It’s in there with the mummified corpse of an Afrika Korps soldier. Evidently the Nazis did not attack the door with crowbars like a professional archaeologist just did.

OK, let’s get serious.
I’m fine with the over-the-top set-pieces and the patent absurdities, as long as the story is fun. What I can’t stand is the lazy writing.
Now, I’ve read somewhere that cliches are a sign of lazy writing, but I beg to differ.
Cliches are like Lego blocks – you can use them to build a lot of different things, it’s all in the way you use them.
Lazy writing, to me, is when you use cliches like they were plug-and-play, one-size-fits-all, pre-cooked things.

Like, our hero is a former FBI agent.
Also, he has a past with the missing archaeologist – she was his mentor, or something.
And he’s no longer with the FBI because his last operation went pear-shaped and he was not able to nail the bad guy.
And the bad guy happens to be – you guessed it – the pyramid blowing guy.
So now to save his old mentor that’s been kidnapped by his old nemesis, he’ll need to team up with an international art thief that he failed to nail when he was with the FBI … yeah, he was a pretty crap FBI agent, given his track record.
Of course the international art thief is a beautiful woman, with whom our hero has a past.
He’s got a lot of past, our hero. Practically every character he interacts with is an old friend or an old enemy.†

When we meet the heist specialist, she’s in Monte Carlo (where else?), seducing her way into the suite of a guy to get access to his safe.
She seduces him, drugs him, cracks the safe, gets what she was looking for (a memory stick of sorts, that she copies with a device with the progress bar that goes “ping!” when the download is done), gets caught by chance, escapes via the balcony, throws away her high heels and …

See?
It’s cliches, straight out of the box.
One could do something exciting with this material.
The cast is quite good, the locations are great, and again, I like a bad guy with the cheek to blow up one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World…

There!
Matthew Reilly.
Reilly is an Australian author that specializes in over-the-top, high-octane action-adventure. And I mean really over the top: he’s like Clive Cussler on steroids, and he is fun.
I respect Matthew Reilly a lot, and he did a series about the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
And writing action-adventure he deals in cliches. But he can use them creatively. He has an almost instinctive skill when it comes to tweaking cliches, and telling a good story.
Silly, implausible, excessive and full of explosions, but good.

And I really wanted to like this series, hoping for something in the vein of Cussler or Reilly: I did not expect something out of Archaeology Magazine, or what. I expected fast, furious, fun entertainment, with good set-pieces and a few original ideas.
I am ready to believe that the level rises after that fateful ten minutes mark where I gave up. I hope it does improve, and it’s a smashing show.
But having gone through those first ten minutes, I actually can’t give a damn – about the story, about the characters, about the sarcophagus in which Cleopatra rests.
Given those ten minutes, I feel I already know how it’s going to go – and I am not interested enough to check out if I am wrong.
Maybe one day I will check out – and I’ll be happy to find out I was wrong all along. Should that happen, I’ll be happy to make amends.

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

9 thoughts on “Blood & Treasure or, I am too old for this

  1. Agreed. I watched the first episode and had to force myself to stay awake. It’s got great production values and yeah, they didn’t get stingy on the budget but Odin’s Ravens is this such a slog. It reminds me of one of those syndicated Saturday afternoon shows that enjoyed a boom here in the late 1980s/early 1990’s that were mostly Indiana Jones knock-offs.

    Like

    • Yeah, really a missed opportunity.
      And it reminded me of Relic Hunter: an upscale rehash of the same stuff, and without Tia Carrere.
      And even with Tia Carrere on screen, Relic Hunter literally put me to sleep back in the day. I was really worried about that.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. “Blood and Treasure” sounds terrible. But hey! My first really serious disagreement with you comes NOW! You respect Matthew Reilly?
    I do not respect him at all. In fact I hate that bloke. He has all the faults of “Blood and Treasure,” squared and cubed, his writing style is God-awful, and … well, you get the idea.
    His special agent, and sole series character so far as I know, code named “Scarecrow”, with mirrored sunglasses he wears almost constantly to hide the vertical scars over his eyes, is a two dimensional cartoon figure and nothing else.
    Signing off with gritted teeth.

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    • I am not very familiar with the Scarecrow books – I think I read only one of those. A lot of Reilly’s books are read-and-forget.
      I liked the Seven Wonders books for their sheer madness and utter disregard of plausibility – for the way it was played without a hint of shame.
      When you get to the VTOL 747 superfortress that belonged to Saddam Hussein, you either trash the books or go on reading and laughing. I respect Reilly as an entertainer, and I have read and listened to a lot of his interviews, and I find him worthy of my respect.
      I know two thousand authors that have a better prose, and write stuff that ticks a lot of my personal boxes, and that therefore I like better.
      But Reilly is good at what he does – mindless entertainment and non-stop action – and sometimes I am in a mood for just that.
      And then, of course YMMV, as anyone’s.
      I do not claim to own the Truth(R) 😉

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      • Me either! And when I dislike something I admit I tend to go over the top. I’ve also been known to nitpick unreasonably. My son, who by the way is cool, smart, talented and a great guy (biased, who me?) often reminds me, laughing his head off, of my explosive response to the movie “Van Helsing.” VH, confronting Mr. Hyde, calls him a “murderous psychopath,” and I was like, “What the hell? The term psychopath wasn’t even in use in those days!”

        Mostly, though, I keep reactions like that for complete plot implausibilities. I like some plausibility somewhere, and if there’s none … then for me, non-stop action, though I like that too, can’t atone. Granted without reserve, too, the characterization in an action novel doesn’t have to be profound, but I like it to exist.

        I remember the precise moment I gave up completely on Matthew Reilly. It was in “Ice Station”, one of the Scarecrow series. The first. One thing that occurred to me was that the title ripped off Alastair MacLean’s “Ice Station Zebra,” but that wasn’t really a factor. I didn’t groan and throw the book at the wall until Scarecrow’s team of marines got to the lake filled with killer whales hundreds of feet below the Antarctic ice. The seven-foot woman nicknamed “Mother” has her leg taken off by one of the orcas. She twists around and blows its brains out, with a handgun if I recall, then escapes the lake and survives.

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        • Oh, I hated Van Helsing too.
          Despite the gorgeous presence of Kate Beckinsale (that has a tendency to appear in rather rubbish fantasy movies, now that I think about it).
          I’ll have to do a post about VH, because it’s a classic example of a first movie that killed the franchise.
          And yes, the lake with the killer wales. I remember that. I guess Mother is what they call a tough mother 😉 …

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    • Oh, and by the way – controversy is good, so thanks!
      Let’s hope this small controversy of ours attracts a lot of readers to my blog 😛

      Like

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