Sylar, live long and prosper.

November 19, 2008

When I was in grade school, I was Captain James T. Kirk. The little girl down the street, of course, was Yeoman Janice Rand. We jumped out her bedroom window to simulate the transporter and matchbox cars served as our Type I phasers and communicators (I had no idea then I’d one day have my very own Motorola flip-top communicator). Star Trek was on every day at 3:00 and I rushed home from school to watch it for many years to come. But I wanted more adventures, and soon Kirk and crew debuted on the big screen wearing pajamas and Klingons wearing bumps (the opener of that first flick with the Klingon cruisers was almost as good as the Star Destroyer opener in Star Wars…almost.). And still more came. Kirk had to face his most feared enemy, Khan Noonian Singh, embarrassed by having to wear his glasses (I’m allergic to retinox5). Reverend Jim converted to a Klingon. Spock got to be hippie and save the Whales. Kirk finally met God and found out, much to his dismay, it wasn’t William Shatner. And we finally got to hear Captain Baron von Trapp’s Klingon descendant recite Shakespeare as it was meant to be heard, “taH baH taH beH!” (I’m sure someone will correct my Klingon). And still more came. We had to start using acronyms to keep it all straight. When TNG premiered, I was so excited for a weekly dose of Trek that I completely overlooked that the melodrama of TOS had just been replaced by cheese. I was sure Trek was ruined when DS9 premiered, but Worf came along and saved it. However, by the time VOY showed up, Trek burnout was starting to settle in. I was so apathetic about Trek when ENT was in prime time, that I couldn’t even find myself caring that the captain of the ship looked liked he was always smelling a bad fart. Not even TNG movies were spared the trend. They started as pleasant as a mild cheddar, but ended up like a stinky old camembert. And so I was ready for Trek to die. Wondered why it didn’t. Thought maybe it should. And then J.J. found Sylar…
'Star Trek' Trailer
‘Star Trek’ Trailer

The Empire Strikes Me Again

September 12, 2008

I dearly love MST3K and sometimes I like to pretend I am Joel. Together with my trusty sidekicks Crow T. Robot and Tom Servo (the lamp and vacuum cleaner filling the roles) I sit down to watch a movie, crack wise, and amuse myself with a running dialog of trivia and observations (hm… come to think of it, I think this is my job description at work),

So this week when I noticed Spike was airing “The Empire Strikes Back” I hurriedly extracted the vacuum cleaner from its long closet slumber, plugged in the lamp and settled on the S.O.L. (Joel had his “Satellite of Love” and I have my “Sofa of Laziness”) to crack wise, harp on all the cheesy lines, and make merry at the expense of one, Mr. Lucas.

Now it has been a number of years since I have watched Empire (I think it was last viewed in its entirety on VHS) and for the first 15 minutes I was able to get off a series of riffs that would have made Joel proud. But then I started watching the movie and the wise cracks became less and less.

It is amazing to me that a 30 year old movie (well almost.. 1980) holds up so well. I have heard people say that this was the weakest of the original trilogy, but watching it the other night reminded me of the first time I saw it. To me, in 1980, this movie was like only one other movie I had seen (that being the original Star Wars). Back then it was the special effects and science fiction that captured my imagination. Even watching today the special effects are cool (yeah, today’s are better and you can tell when green screens were used) and when held in the context of time are still spectacular.

But the thing that I really enjoyed about this viewing was the story. Not the dopey superficial story of Darth Vader extracting his revenge, but the mythological story going on. Joseph Campbell called it the “monomyth”. Loosely the monomyth involves an epic, dream-figure hero who stands in for the entire culture. Campbell wrote, “The hero gives battle to the nursery demons of his local culture, and brings back from his adventure the means for the regeneration of the society as a whole”. He also described three stages to this myth: Departure, Initiation, and Return. Each of these 3 elements are present in the original Star Wars movie, but then they are repeated in the overall trilogy with the Empire installment being another “Initiation” stage. This movie hit home and I enjoyed it because it was a familiar story, one I have read repeatedly in literature. It actually has a deeper meaning beyond dialog and effects.

After a while it didn’t bother me that Yoda sounded a bit like Miss Piggy, or Lando had a funny way of saying Chewbacca, or Princess Lei is scared of Mynoks (yet can single-handedly take on a whole Death Star in a previous installment), or that Imperial ships have no shields that can deflect asteroids; I found the story very entertaining and left me wishing more movie makers would spend time building a credible classic story rather than figuring out how to make cars morph into robots and back again.

So my vacuum cleaning is once again relegated to the closet, the lamp has gone back to being a lamp and I will now cut Mr. Lucas some slack next time Star Wars is shown (but not too much).

Steampunk, of course. What is steampunk, you ask? Well, let’s ask the most reputable source on all matters, wikipedia:

Steampunk is a subgenre of fantasy and speculative fiction that came into prominence in the 1980s and early 1990s. The term denotes works set in an era or world where steam power is still widely used—usually the 19th century, and often set in Victorian era England—but with prominent elements of either science fiction or fantasy, such as fictional technological inventions like those found in the works of H. G. Wells and Jules Verne, or real technological developments like the computer occurring at an earlier date…[read on]”

Here’s where you need to stop imagining Johnny in a corset. But seriously, I like a good steamy tale with a bit of punk in it. Who wouldn’t? Think of it! Feeding punch cards into a steam powered analytical engine. Siding with Sir Rodger Fitzpatrick Rutherford III on Mars while quelling a native rebellion with etheric oscillators. Signing onto an zeppelin crew in search of Her Majesty who has been kidnapped by clockwork steam robots. (All previous ideas copyright (c) 2008 by crodrazine.wordpress.com). The possibilities are only bound by what could be in what once was.

Here’s my top six favorite steampunk odditites (this week anyway):

1. Dr. Grobdbort’s Rayguns: http://www.wetanz.com/holics/index.php?catid=4
2. Steampunk Sith: http://ericpoulton.blogspot.com/2007/02/steampunk-star-wars-lord-vader.html
3. Movie – Steamboy (I even own it): http://www.sonypictures.com/homevideo/steamboy/index.html
4. TV – The Secret Adventures of Jules Verne (when will this series be on DVD? Come on! Maybe you’re lucky and have Space instead of SciFi channel, eh? I might finally give in and pirate it off ebay…): http://www.spacecast.com/shows_3313.aspx
5. Novel – The Time Ships by Steven Baxter: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Time_Ships
6. This cool steampunk desktop. Read about it on http://steampunkworkshop.com/lcd.shtml

Honorable mention – Dr. Who Episode, The Girls in the Fireplace: http://www.bbc.co.uk/doctorwho/episodes/2006/girlinthefireplace.shtml

All in all, though, I like my steampunk to be in a movie, on TV, or in a book. I’m not too sure about steampunk music and fashion. I find it a bit creepy, like adults who trick or treat without kids. There’s a lady where I work who wears black petticoats and corsets and she’s all old an wrinkly. It’s good entertainment from far away, but up close, it gives me the shivers.

OK… if you read this blog you will know that I read “Wired” with all the fervor I can muster during daily “library” breaks.

I just received the latest copy and almost died laughing over the article on the “Star Wars Continuity Cop”. I was so loud that they guy several tables (stalls) away asked me if I was OK. I momentarily had a vision of paramedics breaking through the door only to find me dead from being oxygen deprived and “Wired” resting on my chest. And one of them says, “another victim that laughed himself to death over those stupid “Wired” articles….

Anyway, do we really need someone to keep track of the Star Wars universe for us? Is it so out of control that we need a master? Who cares if things aren’t nice and tidy (BTW… same goes for all those people who keep track of star dates.. Hello people, its a TV show!!!). For those of you who have saved a few dollars (and are missing out each month). Here is the article on-line (read it all and watch all the videos, Especially the Star Wars Christmas special one):

Meet Leland Chee, the Star Wars Franchise Continuity Cop

I wonder what would happen if I started publishing my own Star Wars stories on-line and didn’t get all the details and time-lines exactly right? I suspect instead of the paramedics some guys in Storm Trooper outfits would bust down my door with an order to cease and desist or pay George and his evil empire and stick to the prescribed time-lines and stories.

On returning to my office chair I decided to look the article up on the web to see what other kinds of items I have been missing out on. Low and behold someone at wired had posted an interactive time line that gives me some of the important dates and events in the Star Wars Universe AND they let people add their own:

Plot the Star Wars Galaxy

Be sure to read them all. My favorites so far include:

Terminator sent back to 1993AD (little did I know there was a tie between Terminator and Star Wars… Thanks Wired)
Star Wars Finality – George Lucas is hung for treasonous acts following re-release of episode 3 using neural retinal display networks
The Madness of King George – Happened somewhere last year or this. News to me also

Seems there is still a lot of crap for the master of the universe to clean up because some of the entries seem to disappear and new ones are continually appearing.

Apes Rule Then and Now

July 31, 2008

If you are a regular reader of this blog you will know that there are a couple of postings that  make reference to perhaps the first American science fiction franchise of the modern film era…  Planet of the Apes.

Several days ago AMC aired the entire film series (of which I admit to watching sections throughout the day) and I happened to watch a recorded episode of the “Big Bang Theory” in which they went to an Apes film festival.  Of course this reminded me of (hold on to something solid, it’s coming…) my childhood memories of the Apes.  I remember one summer being dropped off at the local theatre with a ticket from the PTA in-hand and 50 cents for a Dr. Pepper.  We all sat in the dark, pelted each other with crazy caffeine energy using whatever wasn’t stuck to the floor and whooped and hollered at the Apes.  To this day I still have flashbacks of the dream/nightmare that followed where the Apes invaded my childhood neighborhood.

For all of its B-movie knocks, in many ways, the Planet of the Apes series developed the blueprint used by many science fiction endeavors (such as Star Wars, Star Trek, and, to a lesser extent, Superman, Batman, and Spiderman) that followed. Not only did Planet of the Apes spawn four sequels, but also a television series (short-lived but entertaining), a Saturday morning cartoon, countless books, comic books, and the other spin-off material – the “action figures”, costumes, lunch boxes, and various other crap that are now mandatory to the success of any summer blockbuster (and trade fodder for “collectors”).

When originally released, Planet of the Apes was strongly received by critics and the public alike and became a victim of its own success. The Planet of the Apes original team had gone into the film without thoughts of a sequel, so, when the desire arose, no one knew exactly where to take the story. Predictably, the resulting motion picture, Beneath the Planet of the Apes, turned out to be a muddled, poorly conceived, B-movie adventure turd that did to the series what entries like Alien 3, Return of the Jedi (sorry Ryan :-)), Superman 3, and Star Trek V did to their franchises. Fortunately, things got better with the third (and my favorite) installment, Escape From the Planet of the Apes.

Like most good science fiction, Apes combines action, adventure, futuristic settings, and allegory into entertainment. It’s by no stretch of the imagination a masterpiece, but, even after almost 30 years, it holds up reasonably well (especially if you look past the logic flaws and just watch). The special effects are hokey, but set design, costumes, and makeup are great. The apes look like advanced simians (and indistinguishable from several extended family members), not just men in monkey suits. This, I think, is (and was for me as a kid) a key to the film’s success. The creatures are believable enough that we accept them, rather than laugh at them. Once you buy into the concept of a planet ruled by apes, everything else slides easily into place.

Wow! I was just joking, but someone actually created a fanfilm on YouTube that brings together Glen A. Larson’s iconic SciFi greats.  

Nice, but I call for a reimaging! Buckaroohawk if you should choose to accept this mission you will be rewarded by having a whole new generation of Battlestar geeks hitting your site. Of course, you’re going to need to reimage Buck before Frank Miller mucks with it. One suggestion, though, would be to go back to the orignal source. Yes, reverse reimage it! Bring back inertron, anti-gravity belts, rayguns, and air ships.

After negotiating a small bank loan, buying a lot of overpriced and under flavored popcorn and being forced to watch a dozen previews for animated movies containing lost, talking animals trying to find their way home I was finally treated to “Wall-E”.

One of the things I noticed about Wall-E was the level and sophistication of the animation.  Particularly the background details and simulated camera angles, zooms and pans.  Computer animation has come a LONG way in the last decade.  While the story was very shallow, I was impressed anyway.

While watching the movie I couldn’t help but draw parallels between Wall-E and the 70s classic film “Silent Running”.  There are robots, space travel, environmental themes, and crazed people (or computers).  Wall-E even kinda looks like the Hooey, Dewey, and Louie trio from “Silent Running”.

Don’t get me wrong, Wall-E is no remake.  There are differences and I think these differences mirror some of the sentiments of the respective eras the films were made.  The 70s were a time of environmental uncertainty and activism. I think this is when we as a society first came to grips with man’s potential to drastically change the environment and it wasn’t always a pretty picture being painted.

It seems sentiment has shifted a bit and even though rampant consumerism (I loved the BNL logos and messaging everywhere!!) may be destroying our environment, Wall-E has at its heart a message of hope.  Hope for rebuilding the environment and the hope of love (always great fodder for movies) and coming together instead of going it alone.

To me the last scenes of each typify the differences….  One sends the environmental hope into space and blows up his ship and we see the lone robot going it alone.  The other returns to Earth to begin again and of course robot love instead of loneliness.

Both movies are worth a viewing.

Sometime close to Christmas 1985 I plopped down my $5 (or perhaps $4.50), entered a darkened theater and sat through a movie called “Brazil”. When it was over I thought to myself, “Perhaps I should start a non-profit group that goes after the major studios for taking money and giving nothing in return”. There were no bikini clad girls on a beach, no shots of Rio, not even a hint of the Amazon. I had been tricked by a title!! Of course, as with most of my thoughts, I was soon on to something else and had forgotten all about it.

Several years later I happened to see the same film again at a friend’s house (on.. shudder… VHS). It started as one of those “being polite” situations we all find ourselves facing. I figured I could watch for a while and make some polite excuse about gum surgery or a forgotten weekly enema appointment and duck out without too big of a fuss. However as I started watching the movie I became hooked and I stayed for the entire movie (forgetting the gums and bums).

Terry Gilliam once described Brazil as “Franz Kafka meets Walter Middy”. If you have never seen the movie it is set in a nightmarish, fantasized future that has somehow achieved the ultimate in all that is wrong with a technocratic society. It is a story about humanity attempting to escape a technocratic reality by retreating into dreams and fantasies.

The runaway, controlling, technocratic bureaucracy portrayed in Brazil has its tentacles in every part of humanity. Symbolized by the ducts that seem to dominate every room. But in the end we are shown that the only freedom we ultimately possess is within our own perceptions and thoughts.

There are many aspects to the slightly out of phase society I find amusing, but for me the most entertaining premise is that collection and storage of information is paramount (hm… sounds like most jobs today). For the techo-bureaucracy of Brazil the real horror is finding a piece of paper without a home, or even worse, acknowledging that the “mistake” that caused this out of place paper belongs in your department! The fact that a person dies and a family is destroyed by this paperwork glitch is completely irrelevant.

After all these years and several more viewings I find Brazil simply stunning. The story is incredibly creative, the acting is great (I love De Niro and Pryce) and the dialog is terrific. Gilliam’s sense of humor is what won me over ( I love the idea that the information retrieval department never retrieves any information :-)) I now have to admit that Brazil’s visuals and themes stay with you long after the film has ended and deserves a watch by all who are interested in having movies provoke deep thoughts.

Star Wars: Clone Wars

June 12, 2008

OK… So I am sure I will have my gold tier membership in the Star Wars fan club either reduced to just member or perhaps revoked all together for this posting but here goes anyway…..

I saw the theatrical trailer for Star Wars: Clown Wars on the big screen over the weekend and I gotta tell ya I wasn’t that impressed. Don’t know if it will be worth my $10 admission and $1M worth of crap I have to buy at the concession stand.

As I watched the trailer The story line semed OK and the animation of the backgrounds and ships seemed OK but the animation of the people (am including Yoda and Jabba in this even though they aren’t people in the strictest sense of the word) seemed like they decided to animate clay figures.

Now it may just be me (has happened many times before) but I think they could have spent a weee bit more time on the character animation. I mean I watch [adult swim] on a regular basis and love a lot of the Japanese anime out there. Even the most mediocre anime is better than what I saw in that trailer.

For comparison look at a scene from Star Wars: Clown Wars and a 5 year old Ghost in the Shell

You tell me which is better……

Anyway my 2 cents, perhaps I am due some change

More Human Than Human

June 6, 2008

So the other day I happened to catch part of that wonderfully animated Disney classic Pinocchio. Everyone knows this story (at least Walt’s version) and have at some point in their existence seen this heart warming tale.

To me this same theme is recycled over and over in SciFi films and TV. It is that plot device where things/entities/machines want to be more human (More Human Than Human is our Motto). I guess it is a natural way to explore “what it means to be human” by using a story that is drilled into our childhood memories.

Star Trek has made a franchise out of this: Mr. Data (the robot who wants to be human), The Doctor (the A.I. who wants to be human), Mr. Spock (the alien hybrid who wants to be human), Constable Odo (the alien raised by humans who wants to be human) and Seven of Nine, the human (raised by aliens) who wants to be human.

Some other examples: Roy Batty in Blade Runner, Annalee in Alien Resurrection, Kal-El from Superman, the T-800 in Terminator 2 , Andy the Android in Bicentennial Man, Boomer from Battlestar Galactica, the Starman from Starman, and all the characters from Third Rock From the Sun.

How about a robot who’s happy to be a robot, like Bender from Futurama? Or an AI happy to be an AI like Agent Smith from the Matrix? (who was perfectly happy as a program and couldn’t stand the stench of humanity)