Tuesday, August 02, 2005

The Wasted Opportunity that is Darna

A scene in a recent episode of Darna summed up everything that was wrong with the TV series: our heroine, battered by the combined might of her enemies, takes refuge in her grandmother's house. She's lying in bed, bruised and bloodied, though still in costume. Her nemesis, Valentina, shows up at her grandma's doorstep, demanding that they give up Darna. The household insists that Darna isn't there, so Valentina storms up to the bedroom where she finds...nothing. Darna's little helpers, the Wonder Twin wannabees, conveniently turn Darna and themselves invisible. Frustrated, Valentina storms out of the house, shaking a fist at poor grandma and promising to come back.

What the f---?

When they announced Darna last year, I was very excited about the show. Yes, I know, it's a very bakya preoccupation, but like it or not, Darna is part of Philippine pop culture heritage. D It's also part of my childhood, having watched the Darna movies starring a younger Vilma Santos. I wanted to see what magic GMA could do on a superhero, having learned lessons from the short-lived Pintados, the more recent success of Mulawin, and the trial balloon sent by their competitors with Krystala.

When they announced that Angel Locsin was going to play the title character, I found even more reasons to want to like it. GMA had everything going in their favor: a popular eye-candy for the lead, an established mythos, a track record with fantasy settings, an eager fan base. And the fools botched it. Botched it bad.

I gave up watching Darna after its second week on the air. Overlooking the crude graphics, the first half-hour promised a good start with the invasion of the planet of the space amazons. If only they could have extended the conflict over a week to build up the tension. Instead, they quickly segue into a small village in rural Philippines where the young Narda and family is introduced. Fair enough. This is her show after all.

But what happens next? Quickly the show devolves into staple Philippine melodrama. Narda's family is being evicted from their farm over the protests of their landlord's son who is Narda's friend. The family takes refuge with their wealthy relatives, the family of nemesis-to-be Valentina, where they are treated like servants. Boo hoo hoo! No, I'm not crying over their plight, I'm crying for the death of a few of my brain cells. I quickly bade Darna goodbye.

Several months later I rediscover the show not because of its rave reviews but because Darna usually comes right after the cleverly-written Medabots over on Cartoon Network. I decide to give it another shot.

I was hoping time would improve the show and give the writers the chance to find their legs. Some things improved: they got rid of the love pentangle subplot, they de-emphasized her job at the fish market and as a janitress at Valentina's modeling agency, and they stepped up the internal conflict between her lives as Darna and Narda. Some things took a turn for the worse: the introduction of the Wonder Twins, for instance.

So just why is Darna so bad? Is it the special effects? Maybe, but given limited budgets and time, that's easy enough to overlook. We can live with bad special effects and just chalk them up to a willing suspension of disbelief. Is it the acting? Maybe, but again, this is a fantasy show, and bad acting is forgiveable, even encouraged, to give it that comic book feel. Oh, if the younger actresses only knew how to overact! But if you want to know why I think the show is so bad, reread my summary of the scene from last week's show.

Poor scriptwriting, that's what. Damn poor scriptwriting.

Never mind the flimsy excuse that Valentina has for loathing Darna. Is it asking too much for Valentina to act like a vicious supervillain? Why bother going up to Darna's house? Just blast the whole house to bits, for crying out loud! Better yet, blast the whole neighborhood, and have a good laugh while you're at it! Instead, we have the Snake Queen stomp into a house like a wronged housewife seeking a confrontation with her husband's mistress. Imagine that: a quarrel of cosmic proportions, reduced to a domestic disturbance, with the antagonist leaving in a huff.

It's sad because the show's concept was obviously on to something that had not been done in Philippine superhero-dom before: the conflict between a superhero's public and private personas. How it affects the people around him or her. So many exciting stories could have been written around this theme, interspersed with some slam-bang action. It's a shame it was never fully developed.

The show could have added to the Darna canon. This is the first real update of the character in over a decade. They took a step in the right direction with the more varied cast of colorful villains. Couldn't they have broadened the supporting cast of heroes as well? Instead we only get weepy relatives and the Wonder Twins.

Most essentially, the show forgets that it is the hero who moves the story forward. For all her super powers, Darna is a wallflower who doesn't know what she wants and meanders from one situation to another, whether it's trouble on a cosmic scale or trouble on a personal scale. Darna has no quest. Darna simply reacts. Everybody else has an agenda: Braguda wants the magic stone; Valentina wants revenge; The Old Woman wants to keep the stone from Braguda. But not Darna. Darna has no overarching moral or emotional investment in doing the things that she does. Darna is a wimp.

Contrast this with the motivations of the lineup of more established heroes. Spider-Man is driven by the guilt of his inaction which cost him his uncle. The Batman is driven by a desire to never let crime take the life of an innocent. Superman, despite his god-like powers, is driven by the small-town values ingrained in him by his adoptive parents. Wonder Woman, the closest analog to Darna, is driven to uphold the Amazon warrior code in the world of Man. What about Darna? What drives her?

Darna's scriptwriters obviously don't know how to do superheroes. I say: move the franchise somewhere else while it can still be saved.

As it stands, not even Angel Locsin's twin stars are enough to keep the show shining.

Clark Kent
Barbara Gordon
Peter Parker
Selina Kyle


  1. makaguol lagi.i was looking forward to darna too.i watched 1 episode.the trauma!!save us save us...from horrible writing that is darna.

  2. Darna sucks because they try to make it mushy. Uberly mushy @_@

    Fight scenes - they are terrible.

    And let us not talk about Sugo or Encantadia, please!

    Btw, the suman post is on my tech blog. Couldn't update the pnioyweb a while back. Error 500.

    By the way, I tagged you on a book meme. Check my main blog :D

    Can't wait to see you when you get here ;) More books! Hehhee. And I have to ask you some tips with regards to work etc. Thanks! :D

  3. Interestingly enough, the TV show has its own weblog:


    No mention of how bad the Valentina-visits-grandma's-house episode is, though.