140 Character Cinema

Update: Since watching Syfy's Riese, Webseries are sprouting up all over. Some of the best (IMHO) are Felicia Day's The Guild (a hits-too-close-to-home but hilarious geek fest about gamers – watchtheguild.com), Mercury Men (brooding black and white, retro sci-fi where the bad guys are atypical glowing white beings – syfy.com), and Jane Espenson's ultra-short (each episode is under three minutes) Husbands (husbandstheseries.com).

I watched SyFy Channels' 10-part Web mini-series "Riese" yesterday. It's a little Steampunk and a little Camelot, but what it is mostly is little. Each episode is less than 10 minutes long. But this suited me just fine. I watch most of my TV on Hulu these days while I'm working on something else. It's a whole lot easier to watch a series of short episodes than hour-long ones. And there are so many interesting shows to watch now that it becomes daunting to try and get up to speed on an entire series.

The actors were culled from other SyFy series, and the acting bar is not set too high. What was amazing to me is how the story still held up with only ten minutes to develop each episode. The show concept is not breakthrough, though it still holds some surprises. Basically, the Hero Princess is on the run, her family killed in a power grab. It is she who has to set things right and de-throne the current empress who is keeping the good citizens down. The Steampunk aspect has an important part in the story, though it only really comes into play in the last few episodes, and you are left wondering in the beginning why people are wearing goggles and leather face masks. There is court intrigue, the prerequisite amount of sword and crossbow action, Goddess worship and a masked bad guy to round things out.

Maybe it is the very archetypal throughline that allows the series to work. That and the fact that there is a narrator filling in the blanks. Each episode provided enough information that it felt complete, left me wanting to find out what happened next, and moved the story along. The characters were easily readable so not a lot of backstory or deep exploration of their personalities was necessary to get to know them. All-in-all, it was not a great series, but it was somewhat interesting and unique in its format. There must be another season in the works because the story is definitely not over after the tenth episode.

Is this the future of storytelling then? With all the massive amounts of information bombarding us on a daily basis while we are at the same time trying to keep up with Facebook, work, commuting, family, and all the latest trends, news and sports, will we want all of our entertainment to come in Twitter-like encapsulation?

What does this say for books? I'm currently in the middle of about five or six, half of them fiction, the other half about social media and film. Being able to carve out the time to really sit down and read has become harder and harder. I read the headlines on my CNN app. I link to articles online. I listen to news and music in my car and on my computer in iTunes, rarely at home.

But I still need and want the escapism of a good story (maybe even moreso with all the political unrest and stark realities of natural and man-made disasters taking the forefront these days). Perhaps the compacted version is enough to satisfy our cravings. If so, I hope only in part. One of my all time favorite stories, "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy, is roughly 1,500 pages long. I'd hate to live in an era where the author would never even have attempted to write it due to a lack of readership. But if the rabid fan base and many transmedia works that LotR has inspired is any indication, the full-blown narrative is still an important part of our culture. But that's a whole other story.