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BBC Two's "The Grid"


BBC Two's "The Grid"

Has anyone seen any of the trailers (I believe there are two slightly different ones) for the forthcoming terrorist drama The Grid, due to be shown on BBC Two across three evening this week? As someone who's never outgrown the interest in ships developed in his early teens, I was taken by the iconic image in one trailer of what looked like a small group of commandos storming up a beach, with a navy ship on the horizon. The image is only there very briefly, and at first glimpse, it looks convincing, but if you freeze the frame, disillusionment is quick to set in.

What on earth were they playing at!

Here's a snap of the ship itself (this is a detail from the full frame):

The Grid: warship on the horizon -- and a setting sun!

Now, the plot of this drama is supposed to be something to do with a joint US/UK operation against terrorist plot(s), so my expectation is that the ship is either a British or US navy vessel. My first reaction was that the prow of the ship resembled the old WW2 US Navy battleships (like the Iowa class, which were finally decommissioned years ago). Then there seemed to be some very big guns on the ship -- too big -- both forwards and aft, but for some reason they seem to be built into the superstructure! Then the funnel -- initially, I thought there was one, located amidships, and quite the wrong shape for a modern naval vessel (more like a cruise ship's funnel!), but then I realised there was some sort of smoky stuff just behind the mast, so I assume the thing there must be either the funnel, or a funnel. The mast itself seems modern -- too modern for the rest of the ship -- with an enclosed radar mounted at the top (to the best of my knowledge no ship currently in service in either the US Navy or the Royal Navy has anything like this, though planned designs do). All in all, a weird mix of the ancient and the futuristic. Something tells me that ship is jinxed! Why didn't they base the image on a present day design...

Here, for comparison, are some small "silhouette" pictures of modern British and US Navy ships

Royal Navy:

Type 42 Destroyer

Type 23 Frigate

Type 22 Frigate

US Navy:

Ticonderoga Class Cruiser

Arleigh Burke Class Destroyer

Perry Class Frigate

As a matter of interest, the panel on last Friday's Newsnight Review commented on this series, and just about the only person who had anything good to say about it was Germaine Greer, would you believe. 'Nuff said, the series itself is jinxed, I think!

PS: What's all this fascination with "grids"? -- very much like the BBC's comedy spy series, [spooks].

BBC Two's "The Grid"

Well, the final episode of this short series was shown last Thursday night (2004-09-09). Rather mixed, I thought, as indeed, could also be said of my ship-spotting skills, which I will continue to bore everyone with now...

It was this last episode which featured the scene with the team going ashore. Before that, very briefly, we had a different shot of the ship (see below), which was captioned as the fictional USS Bentonville.

"USS Bentonville" as pictured in The Grid

From the very distinctive bow of this ship, it's quite clearly one of the old Iowa class US battleships which came into service at the end of WW2 and were finally decommissioned in 1991. You might also be able to make out the three guns in the forward turret and two of the three in the second (easier on the full size picture -- the one here is half the transmitted size). Here's a picture of USS New Jersey taken back in 1943:

USS New Jersey in 1943

The four Iowa class battleships (Iowa, New Jersey, Missouri and Wisonsin) were taken out of mothballs during the Reagan presidency, brought up to date with new weapons systems such as Harpoon and Tomahawk, and recommissioned. They were in service for some years, seeing action in the middle east (eg the 1991 Iraq war). At least three are now museums, and one (Wisconsin, I think) is held in mothballs in San Francisco.

In the film, there's a rather clearer shot of the ship on the horizon than the one seen in the trailer:

Another shot from The Grid

This picture makes it much easier to see there are actually two turrets forwards and one aft (as per the Iowa class). I'm pretty certain this image is based on the Iowa class ships, although whoever did the CGI has obviously got the ship's proportions completely wrong, as may be seen from the relative sleekness of the New Jersey. I looked at a recording of this sequence frame by frame, and the poor CGI work can easily be seen. The smoke from the funnel doesn't move. You can see movement of the water, except that the waves seen on the horizon don't change at all!


This whole episode of the beach landing and the events surrounding it provides an illustration of just how unconvincing The Grid was.

The target was supposed to be a safe house located in a seaside town. We're shown pictures, supposedly of terrorist safe houses in "Jordan, Syria and Lebanon". The pictures which flash up, though, are all of the same seaside town, as can be seen from the network of streets.

The hunch is that the Syrian safe house is the one to go for and the CIA man suggests they "drop a CIA team on the beach, move inland, overwhelm Nassiriah's men, fast and strong". The MI6 operative, however, suggests "an SAS extraction team, small and stealthy, they'll be on top of Nassiriah before he knows what's happening".

Now, apart from one being CIA and the other being SAS, if anyone can tell me what he difference is between these two proposals, I'd like to know, but the second is ruled out on the ground that there is a need to "go in hard. If the shooting starts, we've got the bigger guns and more of them".

This CIA team with the "bigger guns and more of them" turns out to be a six-man squad, armed with assault rifles and grenades (quite beyond the SAS, I'm sure). We see them being briefed on board ship, out in an open area (they're sitting round their boat) and a sailor can be seen mopping the deck in the vicinity! "We'll zodiac to the Syrian coastal town of Tartous, and deploy from the beach there," the CIA chief tells them.

"Zodiac"? Is that a term used by intelligence agencies? It sounds like scriptwriter's babble to me!

We see the team pull their boat up the beach with the warship visible on the horizon (the scene from which the pictures above were taken). Now, bear in mind, the pictures we've been shown of the town indicate it is a fair-sized place -- it's not some sleepy hamlet. A 45,000 ton, 850-foot long battleship appears on the horizon, and, it seems, no one notices, least of all, the lookouts in the safe house! Because the boat slipped in under the cover of darkness and had gone again before any one saw them? Not so -- we saw the picture of the ship at sunset -- though it seems it was more likely sunrise, for the "move inland" takes place in broad daylight, not at dead of night. (How you manage to get the sun rising over the sea in Syria, though, is another matter, for the sea is to the west, and the sun rises in the east.)

The team makes its way through the town, and there's not a soul on the streets. Absolutely deserted. This is a seaside town, and, with a beach like the one in the pictures, it's bound to be a resort town, yet there are no fishermen or tourists out and about who might have seen a boat, the ship, or a team of people in military uniform. No, it's a ghost town. Except, of course, when they reach the street in which the safe house is located, when they're rumbled by the orphan boys who provide the safe house with its cover.

There's yet another problem with this sequence, and it's related to the scenes which are interleaved with it, showing events in the American mid-west (Dearborn, Michigan). There's snow piled up on the ground, so we know it's wintertime. We also deduce it must have been a sunrise in Syria for the CIA team was moving through town in daylight, not at dusk or in darkness. So, in Syria, it's morning. Working on the time difference between Syria and the US mid-west (I'm guessing 8 hours), it would either be late at night or in the very early hours in Dearborn. In other words, during night time. It wasn't: the events were shown taking place in broad daylight.

Unfortunately, the more you consider the plot and the circumstances of The Grid, the more implausible it becomes. It simply requires too much suspension of disbelief to be taken as credible. Accept it as broad brush strokes, or without thinking too much about it, and it may well be an entertaining adventure, but look for anything more and it's just very, very disappointing.

BBC Two's "The Grid"

Despite the complete lack of interest in this subject from anyone else, I'm going to post a transcript of the review of The Grid given on Newsnight Review. I particularly enjoyed Mark Kermode's description of [spooks] and its ilk as "fidgety"... I was also amused to read a comment somewhere that the Newsnight Review team slated The Grid "for all the wrong reasons". It seemed to me they had got it pretty much right!

For me, the annoying thing is that, having made this transcription, I've discovered the BBC has its own (but slightly different!) at Hamburg Cell and The Grid.

Newsnight Review Transcript — The Grid

Newsnight Review discussed both the Channel 4 programme The Hamburg Cell and BBC Two’s The Grid on 2004-09-03. This is a transcript of the parts of that discussion which dealt with The Grid. Most of the comments made about The Hamburg Cell have been omitted from this transcript.

Newsnight Review Presenter
Mark Lawson

Germaine Greer (“Writer and Academic”)
Mark Kermode (“Film Critic and Broadcaster”)
Kwame Kwei-Armah (“Playwright and Actor”)

Mark Lawson [Having already introduced The Hamburg Cell.] week BBC Two screens The Grid, a three-part, four and a half hour, US/UK co-production, which moves between Europe, Africa and America, as MI5 and FBI agents track an al-Qaeda cell, whose plans for an attack more devastating than 9/11 begin with a poison gas attack in London.

[An excerpt from The Grid is shown.]

One of the London scenes from BBC Two’s The Grid which we’re discussing together with Channel 4’s The Hamburg Cell. Um, Kwame Kwei-Armah, er, two very, er, different takes on the same subject really: um, Hamburg Cell is about what did happen, The Grid is about what might happen.

Kwame Kwei-Armah
...The Grid, I found, um, I found that the canvas was probably just a bit too big, and, er, consequently there were huge brush strokes. And, also I found that we really suffered, actually, in terms of the co-production [laughter from Mark Kermode] ’cos it seemed to be, you know it seemed to be very ... American, and very American made for movie, made for TV movie, and er...

Mark Lawson [reacting enthusiastically]
You keep fearing it’s all going to turn out to be our fault ... [ending smothered by others’ comments]

Kwame Kwei-Armah
Yeh, we kind of get the two explosions, don’t we, and the Americans get the heroes. And so, personally, I thought the canvas was just a bit too big, and it was too much "American made for TV movie" for me.

Mark Lawson
Mark Kermode, they both mix fact and fiction, but in very different ways. Um, everything is established fact in Hamburg Cell, the other one is pretty lurid fiction...

Mark Kermode

Mark Lawson
... What did you think?

Mark Kermode
Well, I think The Grid, it has wider problems than just the wide canvas — it’s essentially fairly silly. I mean, the first episode is totally baffling and confusing; by the time you get to the end of the four and a half hours, they’ve established a few characters and you care a little bit, but it is basically — it compares to things like spooks, or geeks or gooks, or whatever those other sort of, you know — fidgety — television programmes, you know, are like. On the other hand The Hamburg Cell ... [talks about that for a while]
... and in a way, it’s a real shame The Grid is coming on straight afterwards, because The Grid just looks dumb [heavily emphasised] in comparison with Hamburg Cell.

Mark Lawson
There are hopes for a cinema release for The Hamburg Cell at some point. Now, so far, Kwame and Mark both prefer, very much, The Hamburg Cell to The Grid. Er, Germaine... your decision.

Germaine Greer
Well, I had difficulties with the The Hamburg Cell... [continues on this subject making various points, but gets interrupted by the other reviewers before coming on to The Grid.]

Mark Lawson [intervening]
I got a sense, which deserves investigation, that Germaine was going to speak up for The Grid.

Germaine Greer
Well, I do want to speak up for it a bit, partly because there are so many Muslim characters in it and so many different ways of being a Muslim, so that you have Muslim heroes as well as Muslim villains, [look of bewilderment from Kwame Kwei-Armah] and at this stage of the game that’s a bit important.

Kwame Kwei-Armah [challenging]
Who was the Muslim hero then? I don’t know.

Germaine Greer
Well, there’s the brother ...

Mark Kermode
You’ve got an agent who’s a Muslim, who...

Kwame Kwei-Armah & Germaine Greer
No, no!...

Kwame Kwei-Armah
...He wasn’t a hero [emphasised].

Germaine Greer
No, there’s not just the American agent, there’s the brother, who actually shops his little brother, and stays with him and prays with him in prison and so on; there’s the sister, there’s — Reem is her name — who sells everything to get her doctor brother out of being bashed up by yet another group of ...

Mark Lawson [interjecting]
But, Germaine, could I just say something, because you’ve come on this programme and some of the greatest playwrights and novelists, you’ve said they can’t write. The Grid contained what I thought was the worst line of dialogue ever written in a television drama. [Refers to some papers he is holding.] At one point the actress has to say, “I’m sorry, I’ve also experienced anxiety about loved ones missing in action” [Raucous laughter from Kwame Kwei-Armah and Mark Kermode.] And you think, “Who wrote this stuff, do they think people talk like that!” [As it happens, I thought Gemma Redgrave did a pretty good job of delivering that line so that it didn't come across as dire.]

Germaine Greer [A little exasperated]
On the phone, sometimes — especially if they think they’re being listened to. Look, I don’t know. I mean, I wouldn’t argue that it was..., that it was perfect or flawless or anything else but I think it actually made the Muslim dimension, which for most people is, is unthinkable — they can’t deal with it at all — it made..., it made the Muslim dimension almost equally balanced.

Mark Lawson
But what I thought was really good about The Grid, wasn’t it, that it did show, and this comes out in the recent reports in Britain and America, it showed the turf wars that go on in these organisations. They have MI5, MI6 fighting. We have National Security Council, we have the FBI, we have them fighting with each other.

Kwame Kwei-Armah [Interjecting]
But we know all that, though!

Mark Lawson [Undeterred]
But I thought that was good to dramatise. And also good to dramatise — and frightening — just how vulnerable we are. I mean, every time they attack London it did come..., come to you, well, there’s no one going to stop this...

Germaine Greer
Yeh, well it also comes home to you terrorism and security are not symmetrical. Security can’t really engage with terrorism. Terrorism has got a great big target called “Security” and it can take off little bits of it, and that’s scary, and its serendipitous, and so on. And if we go back to The Hamburg Cell, we were actually trying to find out why people did this thing, and I don’t think we got there.

Mark Lawson [Interrupts and winds up the discussion]
Well, I don’t think it could have been addressed any other way; anyway, the general feeling of most of us is that we hope Hamburg Cell gets a DVD or cinema release. The Grid, though, begins on BBC Two next Tuesday at nine O’Clock.

BBC Two's "The Grid"

That's it! If anyone wants more on this, they can write it themselves. I'm off to find something else to occupy myself with for a while...

BBC Two's "The Grid"

Just a note to add to your comprehensive analysis of this drama that I didn't see: a Zodiac is a make of inflatable dinghy, so when they said they were going to "Zodiac to the Syrian coastal town" they meant that they were going to jump in a rubber boat and zzzzzzzzzzzzzz all the way in.

From your description it sounds like they might as well have sailed the battleship a bit closer and swum in....


BBC Two's "The Grid"

A cunning move to get me to break my self-imposed radio silence!

Thanks for your explanation of the "Zodiac" bit! The statement he made does now make sense rather than being the babble I took it for originally. (I had assumed the "zodiacing" was a description of what the warship was going to do to get to the coast, not what they were going to do once there.) When they were being briefed they were sitting on the sides of an inflatable boat -- with a flat bottom, but as it happens I think that might be another glitch for, the boat they pulled up the beach had a rigid hull. There again, who's to say the boat they happened to be sitting on during the briefing was the one they intended taking on the mission!

The CIA team on an inflatable boat during briefing

The boat they haul up the beach -- Is this a "Zodiac"?

As far as swimming ashore goes, nice idea, but with all those "bigger guns, and more of them" that they claim to carry!!!

BBC Two's "The Grid"

Hmm, now how can you tell that the "briefing" boat has a flat bottom? Was it sat on a hard surface rather than in the water at this point? It's hard to tell from the pic.

What I do know is that the boat in the second pic is a "RIB" (rigid inflatable boat) which combines the speed and efficiency of a rigid-hulled boat with the buoyancy and safety of an inflatable boat.

I wasn't able to find a good picture of that model here but you could spend a happy few minutes nosing around I should think Wink

If they had their hearts set on swimming to shore maybe they could attach their "bigger guns" to some sealed "bigger kitbags", whose buoyancy may be enough to prevent the operation sinking without a trace.

BBC Two's "The Grid"

Yes, they're on the deck of the ship at this point. Here's another shot of the briefing session, which I think shows it rather more clearly, but I'm afraid this is about the best which is available:

Another shot of the briefing session

There are definitely some tricks played with the camera's focal length in this, for the fellow swabbing the deck (who can be seen in the background in the first example) seemed to be right up close when viewed from the position of the second shot. Either he's a quick worker (the second example actually comes from earlier in the film than the first one) and he's swabbed all the way to the end of the compartment, or it's an effect of the photography.

As for "sinking without a trace", I thought you said you hadn't seen it? But, you're right, even with the bigger guns (I didn't see any kit bags), the mission was a failure, for the baddy managed to escape -- the CIA came in through the front door, he slipped out at the top of the building, and presumably across to an adjoining property.