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The Dopler Effect

[UPDATED 08.24.07 -- Now that I've finished the series]

Well, first an apology for what was a very hasty post. This is positively the last time I will review a series based on its promo. Since I make promos for a living, I should know better.

Now, onto the review. Jhon Doria gets major kudos from me for putting together a basically coherent show on what appears to have been an extremely low budget, finishing it and getting it posted online. With music. I think his effort would be better served through faster pacing, and if it were cut down to an hour format and shopped around as a TV pilot. Perhaps he is doing just that.

His story has potential as a futuristic action/suspense drama. It has elements of 24, X-files, and other TV classics. Alas, sometimes storytelling and accuracy are in direct conflict. Billed as “science non-fiction,” The Dopler Effect has precious little science. And what science it does present is framed in a Frankenstein/Blade Runner dystopian cautionary tale of technologically enhanced humanity run amok. In the final scene, the plotters plan to take over the world as we smash to black with the slogan “Evolution is not optional.” Nice premise for a TV series, but a terrible distortion of what’s really happening in transhumanist circles. Pick an approach: techno suspense/conspiracy a la X-files or the much more interesting real science ripped from the headlines.

Doria takes every development he touches on to its scariest extreme (see webisode reviews below). There is dialog about “playing god.” And references to past mad-scientist schemes such as eugenics. In this sense, Doria seems to mirror the position taken by Bill Joy in his seminal article “Why the future doesn’t need us.”

But nowhere in Doria’s dark world of human enhancement is Kurzweil’s scenario of a positive outcome acknowledged. Since we know good news doesn’t sell, and technophobia is rampant in society, the cynic in me thinks perhaps Doria has taken the smarter tone for a drama–from a marketing standpoint. Sunny-bright futures could be too reminiscent of glitzy future-tech reality shows on the Discovery Channel. But dark can still be accurate if you do your homework.

I have other criticisms of the structure of the show. We are treated to a shocking cult initiation ritual early on, with precious little payoff later. Where are the zombified goons ready to die for their cause? Maybe they shot more of the cult story line and left it out. But the way the show is cut now, webisode 3 is completely gratuitous. At least 3 or 4 other story lines are left dangling, including Mamma Kin. Also, the character interviews are a cheap (yet still effective) device to carry out still more exposition in a script that’s already dripping with it. Show me don’t tell me. Doria should have kept the script much tighter for the pilot, then explored these other subplots in subsequent episodes of the first season.

In sum, Doria and his “science non-fiction” genre have potential. He needs a better budget, he needs to stick more closely to the facts of science and a balance of risks and rewards. He should also use much snappier editing, and better music, and he could have a cult hit.

Original post from 8.21.07:

Check out what looks at first glance to be a very hip underground series of webisodes on the technological singularity called The Dopler Effect. I only saw the promo, and it’s hard to know what positions the series will take on important issues. It looks vaguely dystopian, but I thought the same about I, Robot after seeing the trailer, and that film ended up being excellent. I’m going to check it out as I have time, and I’d also love to hear your feedback. Here’s Jhon Doria’s description of his series:

For the past few years I’ve been developing a niche genre that I call ‘Science Non-Fiction’. The theory behind it is that today’s technological accomplishments have finally led society over the threshold into the world that sci-fi writers only dreamt about before.

The topics explored in The Dopler Effect may seem fantastic upon first glance, but the truth of the matter is something far more plausible. Now, while the characters (and their specific journeys) are fictitious, the topics are not. They are either actualized scientific breakthroughs, or currently the basis for numerous experiments and clinical trials around the world today.

The subjects and institutions in The Dopler Effect (The Singularity, Transhumanism, DARPA) are extremely relevant, thriving aspects of our society. The only thing is that the majority of us have no idea that they exist. But, inevitably, we soon will.

There are a multitude of varying, often conflicting, opinions from the foremost scholars and scientists in the world as to how these technologies will ultimately play out. It is this spectrum of discordant opinions that The Dopler Effect explores, because, after all, there is one undeniable fact: it is extremely fertile ground for a story.

Mini-webisode reviews as I watch them:

  1. Backstory, a slow start. This is low-budget.
  2. Picks up quite a bit. Great atheist rant at gunpoint from psycho hostage-taker.
  3. A cult leader demonstrates his wicked initiation ritual.
  4. Starting to get a little creepy, not in a good way. A brutal “operation” that ends with little explanation. Where is he going with this?
  5. The plot thickens: the cult leader knows things he shouldn’t, and delivers a mysterious dossier to our confused protagonist.
  6. DARPA is revealed as the ooohhh so scary government agency that’s working to undermine all things human through sinister inventions. Our agent asks: “Are you turning people into machines, or machines into people?” I gotta say, this is getting reeeally, reeeally bad. Doria’s losing me. At least 2/3 of webisode 6 was taken up with tedious exposition of the ‘frightening developments’ Big Bad DARPA is involved in, (most of which actually exist in developmental form as of 2007 and are already somewhat old news).
  7. Picking up again–Agent Dodd is framed. Or is he?
  8. Some pathos–an emotional scene between father and son. Later Dodd begins to exhibit paranoia as it appears his superiors are participating in the coverup.
  9. DARPA scientist Dr. Meyers is paid a visit by Mamma Kin, the mastermind of the brutal operation from webisode 4, who leaves her a present he made “with her DNA.” His sidekick demonstrates “technopathic” powers, an ability (assisted by brain implants) to tell if someone is lying. Meyers is scared.
  10. Dodd and Meyers have a clandestine meeting in which Meyers reveals that the eponymous Dr. Dopler, chief scientist behind DARPA’s human enhancement technology, has gone missing in Iraq, erasing all traces of his identity. “He never existed.” But, “He must be stopped.” Then, unexpectedly, Dopler calls Dodd’s cellphone, and acts as if he has heard their entire conversation. Dodd agrees to a meeting with Dopler. (One fallacy expressed in this episode is the notion that any one person could abscond with bleeding-edge scientific knowledge. Science breakthroughs are usually attained incrementally and then verified and duplicated by many researchers. Or through competitions like the real DARPA’s robotic vehicle challenges. Also, most breakthroughs have to do with applied science: commercialization or militarization of technology, and refining of manufacturing methods.)
  11. An organ buyer receives a dreary exposition of the process of organ harvesting: using a genetically modified fetus grown specifically for the purpose in just 30 days. We now have our explanation for the gruesome operation from webisode 4.
  12. Dodd and Meyers are both kidnapped.
  13. Dodd’s coworker Coletta pays a visit to Dodd’s father and is drawn further into the web of mystery by a meeting with cult leader Mitchell.
  14. The truth about Dopler’s secret government experiment on several FBI agents (including Dodd) is revealed. Several agents were driven to suicide.
  15. Flashback to the death of Dodd’s girlfriend, which has now been erased from his memory.
  16. Dodd awakes with his head shaved, after having been drugged and forced to electronically relive his girfriend’s death. He is trapped, and as he finds his way out of the building, a predator is waiting for him.
  17. Having been captured, Dodd is taken to Dopler’s beachfront estate, where Dopler clues him in to what’s really going on. Dopler is the epitome of the evil genius, amoral, and bent on using his knowledge to subjugate the world. His speech is a mixture of exposition and cultlike megalomania.
  18. Mitchell confronts Dopler, two fanatics wth opposing cartoonish fantasy worldviews: the God of religion, and the god of enhanced humanity.
  19. Dodd has joined forces with Dopler and captures Coletta. We are treated to more of Dopler’s megalomania, culminating in a Dr. Evil style meeting in which four men plan to take over the world, in effect to save it from itself. “Those that refuse to learn, are the engineers of their own extinction.” Slogan “Evolution is not Optional.” This is absolutely the worst dystopian caricature of transhumanism I’ve yet seen.

This could have been so much more…

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