Friday, June 17, 2011

Television Review: Deadliest Warrior

For the uninitiated, Spike TV's Deadliest Warrior is a series created by Max Geiger, based around a computer program by Slitherine Strategies. This program is capable of taking complex data and running a realistic battle simulation with it, which they then do 1,000 times. In theory this allows them to enter data about historical warriors and finally settle the age old question of who would win in a fight.

The competition angle is definitely not the show's strongest suit, but what is awesome about the show are the weapons and armor demonstrations. If the entire show was just them looking at history's greatest warriors and examining the tools of their trade in gory detail it would be completely awesome. Unfortunately, as mentioned, the show falls apart when it gets into the competition aspect. Here are the top 3 reasons I will probably not be tuning in when the show returns on July 20th of this year.

3. Why are vikings fighting samurai?
I'll go ahead and say it: the fact that they didn't put ninjas against pirates should be a crime. They made a show about which ancient warriors would win in battle, and didn't do the single most hotly debated matchup of all time? That's like doing a series about famous wars of the 20th century and skipping World War 2.

Now that that's out of the way, I still have to wonder about some of their picks. Knight vs. pirate? Maori warrior vs. Shaolin monk? I get that the idea was to be outlandish so as to take full advantage of the anachronism stew they created, but the result is ridiculously unbalanced. You can usually name the winner of these early episodes from the beginning, or at least the halfway mark, once you realize that no amount of steel armor can stop a cannon, or that the ninja has like two weapons with killing potential while the spartan is so heavily armed even his shield can kill you in one hit.

As mentioned, though, these are early episodes. The reason this is only number 3 is because this is really only a problem in the first season. There seems to have been an early desire to do "strength vs. speed" and "skill vs. ferocity" fights. By season 2 they started sticking to closer matchups. This kind of goes back to a bigger problem, though.

2. It's not a realistic battle simulation.
Don't get me wrong here. I'm not saying that the computer program they use is anything less than amazing. It's deep and capable of taking so many factors into account. The problem isn't with the program, it's with the entire concept. The program can only simulate the physical attributes of the fighters: strength, speed, size, weapons, and armor, and that's really all you can expect it to do.

Thing is, there are so many more important factors to a battle than that. There's also skill, training, determination, and most important of all strategy. Yes, they run these simulations 1,000 times but it doesn't matter. It wouldn't matter if they ran them a billion times, they still can't factor in strategy. If you don't get why that's a problem, remember that in a purely physical matchup England would have demolished the Continental Army in the American Revolution, the Nazis would have crushed the French Resistance in a day, and the people of Afghanistan would have been easily conquered by the Soviet Union.

Not only would I say that strategy is the most important part of battle, I might even go so far as to say that proper strategy, along with the skill and determination to carry it out, is the only truly important part of battle. But hey, that can be forgiven. If DW's magic program could simulate strategy the ninjas would've just poisoned the Spartans in their sleep 1,000 times over, making for the most boring episode ever. The real issue is...

1. You're not a Spartan, okay?
Here's where the show gets stupid: the trash talking between the weapons experts they bring on the show. It's one thing when it's something like the Green Beret vs. Spetsnaz episode, where the weapons experts for each side are actualy former Green Beret and Spetsnaz commandoes, but then we get episodes like Apache vs. gladiator. I shouldn't have to tell you this, but they did not resurrect either an Apache warrior or a gladiator for this episode. The weapons experts have no stake in this fight and no reason to dislike each other, yet they're bordering on death threats.

I'm sure this was the idea of the producers. Experts who have appeared on the show have also implied that the producers pressured them to show off weapons that were cool as opposed to weapons that would have actually been used. (Case in point: the hookswords in the Shaolin monk episode which, while undeniably badass, are debatably not even actual ancient weapons and even if they were they were certainly not the mainstay weapon that episode implied.)

This is easily the biggest problem with the show: all the things they added in purely to boost the "cool" factor. I suppose it's to be expected, this is a Spike TV production after all, but it is really irritating to the point of being honestly painful to watch and it ruins the fun of watching the weapons demonstrations.



Jovi said...

RE: the strategy part. My favorite comment I ever heard with regards to the show's ridiculous and braindead mashups was on the Vlad vs. Sun Tzu episode.

"Vlad the Impaler vs. Sun Tzu? Vlad vs. /Sun Tzu/? *Really*? Have they even heard of Sun Tzu? Maybe there can be a twist ending where Vlad shows up for the one on one duel, only to discover that Sun Tzu ignored it and burnt all his crops."

Mike M. said...

Vlad vs. Sun Tzu is quite possibly the worst episode in the series, at least in terms of the gap between what would happen and what will happen.

On the one hand, if strategy was a factor Sun Tzu would win, no matter what. Sun Tzu was a psychologist as well as a general. An emotional person like Vlad is someone he would have LOVED to have fought. He literally wrote the book on using your foe's anger against him.

On the other hand, you can tell as soon as the episode starts how it's going to end. Vlad has three weapons Sun Tzu can't counter: the kilij sword, the halberd, and the hand cannon. If strategy were a factor Vlad wouldn't have a chance, but since the only thing their computer program cares about is physical attributes, Sun Tzu might as well not have even shown up.