Archive for October 12th, 2010

Review: The Island

Many times I’ve written on this blog about how bad the Greek TV is. Apart the terrible daily live shows, there are the equally terrible scripted shows. Cheap, ugly, stupid.

So I was very happy to see a production seeing the light of day that had high standards. The show is called “The Island” (“Το Νησί”), and it’s based on the best-seller book by Victoria Hislop with the same title. It’s a period mystery/drama, about a leprosy colony in a small island off the shore of Crete. The show was shot on location, on the actual village/island the book was written about. The story spans 3 generations, from 1939, to today, and it’s told via flashbacks.

The production, by Indigo View (a production company in Crete), is the most expensive of all times for the Greek TV. Shoots for the 26 episodes will last a year, and half way through, it cost Mega Channel about 4 million Euros. Which probably means that it will eventually cost up to 9-10 million Euros (which equals to about $450k USD per episode). Now, think that American series cost between $1 million and $2.5 million per episode! And no, Greece is not a cheap country, definitely not Crete, a touristic island! Paying hotels for the cast and crew probably was the biggest cost for the show! I’ve read elsewhere that the budget was 4 million Euros *overall*, which would mean that each episode only costs 150,000 Euros. If true, then that’s a miracle.

So the question is, “how good is this show, then?”. And I can firmly say that it’s very well done. The photography is good, script is good (if not a bit cliche at times), acting is great for the most part, direction is stellar. I can say that this show looks and feels better than most American TV series! Not only that, but this is the first Greek TV series in many years that foreign TV channels asked to buy! You can watch the series for free, here (no subtitles, sorry).

The show premiered last Monday, and it had one of the biggest ratings for scripted shows ever in Greece! At some point during the 56 minute show, there were 72% of the Greek young population (15-48 year olds) who were watching!!! Overall, 48% of the Greek population watched! This is a staggering rating for any country! And it shows how the Greek people are HUNGRY for quality programming, rather than the complete crap the TV is feeding them for the last 18 years!

I feel that there are few things that they could be better on the show though:

1. The editing. The show is cut like a TV commercial (especially the first half of the first episode). There are some very impressive shots, but they’re cut at 1-3 seconds each! It’s too fast editing, the viewer doesn’t have the time to digest all that visual information! It feels almost like the tapes arrived at the editing room, and the editor guy, seeing this amazing footage for the first time in his professional life, he felt that it would be a shame to leave it out! But he must!

2. The three generations do not make logistic sense. If the mother of the English girl and the restaurant’s woman were born in 1930 (9 years before the story begins), they would be 80 years old today. And yet, none of the two older versions of them looks to be more than 55 years old. The “today” story should have been set in 1985 or 1990 instead.

3. The song in the credits is extremely cheesy. The music of the track is good, but the vocals take away a lot of the atmosphere. They make me cringe real bad. They should have kept the piano music alone, no vocals! Yuck.

4. The last scene, where the teacher and the kid leave the village for the leprosy island, is way too long. The farewell scene is SIX minutes long, in slow motion for the most part. That’s *way* too much, and over-dramatic. Again, an editing problem. I’m guessing that the foreign networks will have an easy time to cut material when they will try to fit the 56 minute episodes in their 45 minutes time slots.

Having said that, the beginning of the scene with the daughters and the villagers being outside their homes to say goodbye, was a tearjerker. I don’t cry easily, but this got me. But then, the prolonged farewell scene, killed the mood.

Instead, the editor should have cut out more out of the church and the farewell scenes, to make more sense out of the London segment (which was rushed too much). The show also required a few seconds of showing the beauty of Cretan village from afar, and its sea (e.g. a shot like this). Also, the last time we see Alexis looking at the small island, that wide shot from afar, needed to be on a high, moving crane.

I watched some behind-the-scenes footage, and it seems that the production used an HDV camera (looked like a Canon), with a 35mm adapter. I was totally expecting a Red ONE, but I was surprised to see a 35mm adapter + HDV camera. Some of the scenes were a bit too shallow of depth of field, almost unnaturally shallow. The quality of such a cam is not going to be as good as the Red ONE, but this is not a major problem, since most Greeks don’t even have an HD TV signal. The production possibly saved $10k to $15k overall by using an HDV camera. The other Greek TV series are shot with plain HDV cameras, and they look super video-y, and ugly. Even the “better” TV series, like this one or this one, they can’t hold a candle to The Island visually.

The interesting thing is, from all the “somewhat better” TV series in Greece, are all produced by the Mega Channel. And with “The Island”, they indeed show a clear understanding that true quality programming pays back big time. Your turn, US TV.

My rating for the first episode: 8/10

UPDATE: Second episode, not so good. Fully agreed with the review here. Despite this, ratings got up to 62% overall! Much higher than the first episode!