By Rich Figel
Television and movies play a big role in Hawaii's economy. Projects shot here create many behind-the-scenes jobs that range from casting and catering to make-up and wardrobe. What appears on screen often helps sell the islands as an exotic location and boosts tourism. Growing up in New Jersey, I think the original Hawaii Five-O and Magnum, P.I. series created a subconscious desire to move here -- in part, because I was half-Japanese and a lot of the people I saw on those shows looked like me. For the only hapa-Asian kid in a 20-mile radius, that was no small thing.
But in addition to producing a no-budget OC16 show, I'm also a screenwriter who has won awards for my scripts and have optioned stuff to legit producers in Hollywood. So it pains me to say I think the new Five-O is more like the short-lived Hawaii cop series that flopped than Lost, which hooked me from the start. If not for the name and the iconic theme song, I doubt Five-O would have scored the ratings it did. Meanwhile, overlooked in the hype was the fact that Hawaii also was used as a locations backdrop in another new series -- The Event, which aired Monday night on NBC. (In a confusing flashback-within-flashbacks structure, Oahu doubled for Antigua when a young couple goes on a cruise and comes ashore.)
Before I tell you why I think the rebooted Five-O falls short, I just want to mention what is possibly the worst ever original episode. Recently, a Five-O mini-marathon ran on the Spike channel, and I happened to catch the "Samurai" episode in which Ricardo Montalban plays a Japanese character named Tokura. BTW, it wasn't the first time either that Ricardo had to speak with a fake accent or have his eyes made up to appear more Asian -- he did the same for the movie, Sayonara.
The new Five-O doesn't have any Mexicans playing Hawaiian or Japanese characters. But it also doesn't have many Hawaiians or locals playing significant parts either. Sure, you can say that about Lost, Magnum, or nearly any other Hollywood production filmed here. Casting is a business decision. Still, one of the charms of the old series was catching glimpses of real local people in minor speaking roles or background shots. I'll never forget seeing a Magnum rerun in which a shady character appears on screen wearing an absurd Star Trek aloha shirt -- the very same shirt I had bought from a shop on Kapahula that sold "vintage" aloha wear! It was so kitschy, I couldn't resist (plus I thought I could resell it to some Trekkie fan for a profit).
The biggest complaint I had though was the pilot seemed over-produced. For some reason, the opening credits have some weird line pattern or filter that makes the images appear grainy instead of sharp and colorful. Is it supposed to be a "high tech" look? Beats me. Then we're subjected to constant close-up shots that cut off the characters' heads! I know this is the trend, but I don't get it. Instead of seeing Diamond Head crater, we get to see craters on actors' faces. Thanks to high definition widescreen TVs, we can also count the lines in the crow's feet around Jean Smart's eyes.
By contrast, watch on old Five-O show with the sound off. What you'll notice is there are very few close-ups of a single character, and virtually no EXTREME CLOSE-UPS (Wayne's World nailed it years ago). In older TV programs and movies, those were reserved for key moments. Now it seems virtually every other shot is an extreme close up. The actors' faces are literally in our faces. Which is a bad thing for acting in general. I forget which movie critic pointed this out, but he wrote that in classic film comedies and TV sitcoms, the best actors used their entire bodies. And that's how they were shot. You could see not only most of the actor's body, but often the person they were interacting with was in the same frame. In the new Five-O, even when McGarrett and Danno are in the same car, the director keeps cross-cutting as if they were in two separate locations. Why?
Another thing my wife noticed was that many of the exterior shots had a strange yellowish tint. No, it's not my television. This is another trend among younger directors and film editors that I dislike. Instead of taking advantage of natural light and colors, they start tinkering with color saturation to give scenes a more "artsy" feel. Hey, even on the shoestring budget my little TV show is shot on, we know enough to take advantage of Hawaii's natural beauty whenever we get a chance to shoot outdoors! I mean, I've taken random photos and Flip video shots that were better than some of the background stuff I saw in the pilot.
Story-wise, I'll give the writers credit for trying to give the characters some plausible backstory. However, they did it through a lot of exposition. Eg., lines like: "I see from your file that you used to live in New Jersey and got divorced," or "Gee, how long has it been since we went to school together? Fifteen years? What have you been up to, my old friend?" Okay, it wasn't THAT bad... and granted, it's a challenge to work backstory into a pilot. However, look at the premier episode of Lost, and you see examples of hinting at backstory without revealing everything upfront. The opposite of an effective opening can be seen in The Event premier episode. The constant shifting from what you think is the present to three days ago or three weeks ago, back to three days ago or now -- I lost track -- just becomes annoying. As my wife blurted out, "Just tell the damn story!"
Anyway, I'm hoping the new Five-O finds its legs and starts coming up with fresher story ideas that really are organic to Hawaii. Lord knows (pun intended) there are plenty of local angles that could make it stand out from all the other cop shows set in LA or New York.
Due to high interest, we're going to leave the Miracle Hawaii weight management program on our home page for at least another week. You can view it here at www.CareerChangers.tv or tune into this month's show, which airs daily on OC16 at different times (viewing times listed on our site, along with a link to the CCTV YouTube Channel for other videos).