Opinion

Can Sense8 Bring Out the Best of the Wachowskis?

Can Sense8 Bring Out the Best of the Wachowskis?

The first trailer of Sense8, an upcoming Netflix original science fiction series created by the Wachowskis (directors of The Matrix) and J. Michael Straczynski (creator of Babylon 5) previews what promises to be an exciting show. Sense8's trailer reveals that the story involves eight characters who live in different parts of the world, but their minds are linked. This means that the characters can draw upon each other's emotions, knowledge and skills. There's also an Indian connection to keep viewers interested.

The trailer shows how various characters execute similar action moves when they're attacked, drawing their martial arts skills from one another. There's a lot more to Sense8 than action scenes though, as one of the characters says in the trailer: "I can feel you. But you're not really here, are you?"

Some characters look into mirrors to find someone else staring back at them. They also feel each other's emotions such as fear, anger and pleasure. This is the most intriguing part of the trailer - can the characters control each other or do they retain an element of individuality? That lays a solid foundation for an intelligent science fiction series, a rarity in modern television.

From great to terrible

And then there are the creators. Any science fiction project involving the Wachowskis and Straczynski will generate excitement due to the sheer quality of the work they represent, but history urges caution especially when it comes to the Wachowskis. The Matrix is one of my top three favourite films of all time but none of their other works match it.

The sequels of The Matrix lost the philosophical depth of the original, and that took the soul of the first film away from the rest of the series. Speed Racer and Jupiter Ascending stand out as two visually stunning films that otherwise fail to live up to the The Matrix's high standards.

Speed Racer fans argue that the film has all the elements that they liked about the animated series it's based on, and that the movie is a representation of the world as seen through an excited child's eyes. When they stop overthinking, Speed Racer is reduced to the kind of film you'd enjoy after you shut down your brain. Over the top action, ridiculous clichés and some terrible acting and dialogues make the film one of the worst works of the Wachowskis.

Then there's Jupiter Ascending. A lot has been written about all things wrong with the film, and it can all be summed up with this, "It would be a much better film if you could remove all the characters and shoot it again as a silent film showing the future of humanity."

Its special effects and action scenes are awesome, but that's like the hollow shell of a diseased tree. One knock and the whole thing crumbles. It's very hard to believe that the people who made The Matrix were also the brains behind Speed Racer and Jupiter Ascending.

JMS and the transition to TV

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Since the siblings have made some spectacular and some terrible films, the big question with Sense8 is whether the Wachowskis can make a TV show as great as some of their films? The answer may lie in one of their past works - Cloud Atlas. Based on David Mitchell's novel, Cloud Atlas' story involves six plots spread across time and the Wachowskis executed it very well in the film. Their ability to flesh out myriad plot threads and link them into one seamless film is perhaps a good sign for their foray into television.

The big difference between a blockbuster film and a Netflix original TV series is the budget. The Wachowskis have made quite a few films that had a budget of over $100 million but Sense8 is unlikely to afford them that kind of luxury. The involvement of J. Michael Straczynski (fans call him JMS) bodes well for the show thanks to his pivotal role in the creation of Babylon 5 - a cult classic space opera franchise. Straczynski brings a wealth of TV experience to the table, and one of the phenomenal achievements of Babylon 5 was high quality writing in spite of strict budget limitations. Although Sense8 looks like its budget is far higher than what Babylon 5 could afford, the impetus is bound to be on developing characters and the world through quality writing as opposed to special effects.

In Babylon 5, Straczynski created a rich, multicultural universe that's teetering on the edge of full-scale war. The events on the one neutral zone that all races are free to visit form the bulk of the plot. Some episodes focused on the small things - like a doctor's instinct to save a life pitted against parents' religious beliefs - while others focused on the war itself. Straczynski made great use of his licence to produce 22 episodes per season by using some episodes to build certain characters and others to move the plot forward. Each episode added to the overall plot, which gave the show fantastic pacing and made it the classic that it is today.

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A group of eight mentally linked people being hunted down forms a great foundation for Sense8. The Wachowskis' involvement is likely to bring great action sequences and some mind games, while Straczynski's involvement could bring us some great characters and dialogue. Netflix TV shows are great for binge watchers as all episodes of a season are released in one go. It allows the creators freedom to execute their vision to perfection without worrying about viewership. All of this bodes well for Sense8. The last thing fans of the three creators want is a series full of mindless action, clichés and character tropes. Let's hope the show lives up to the high standards set by its three creators.

All 12 episodes of Sense8 season 1 will be available on Netflix on June 5, 2015.

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