Alien Day

For the past few years, each April 26th I have to look up why it’s “Alien Day”. The date is named after the plan­et LV-426, where the xenomorphs are first encoun­tered in the orig­i­nal, 1979 Rid­ley Scott film. Well, I’ve been a fan of the hor­ror-sci­fi fran­chise since I saw the sequel, Aliens. I’ve since watch any film in the series (good and bad) and read a lot of the comics. So, any­way, hap­py Alien Day to my fel­low sci-fi fans.

Some comics, graph­ic nov­el col­lec­tions, and my attempt at draw­ing a xenomorph from cir­ca 1996.

Star Trek: The Animated Series Online

When I was a kid grow­ing up in the eight­ies, in a very rur­al part of the coun­try, my expo­sure to Star Trek was some­what lim­it­ed. I was too young to the orig­i­nal series that much, opt­ing for Lost in Space reruns if they were on, instead. How­ev­er, when Nick­elodeon began show­ing reruns of Star Trek: The Ani­mat­ed Series
, I was very much into it.

Unlike the orig­i­nal series (and, for that mat­ter, sub­se­quent ST series), this show had very alien-look­ing aliens1. Though some of the sto­ries were cribbed almost line for line from the orig­i­nal series, some oth­ers were new and even more fan­tas­tic than any­thing with live actors. My wife is a die-hard ST: The Next Gen­er­a­tion fan and I’d ven­ture most folks either go for the orig­i­nal series or TNG. The Ani­mat­ed Series has always been my favorite.

So I’m very excit­ed that CBS is stream­ing all of the episodes on

Decent ani­ma­tion, good sto­ries, and voice act­ing from the orig­o­nal series stars (includ­ing, the won­der­ful James Doohan as Arex as well as his more famous char­ac­ter, Scotty)

I just watched the first episode over lunch and I can’t wait to watch more with the fam­i­ly. Giv­en the very dif­fer­ent bud­getary con­cerns of ani­ma­tion, where spe­cial effects are cheap but each frame costs a lot, the show has lit­tle move­ment in any giv­en shot but the shots are often dra­mat­ic. In fact, rather than look­ing as dat­ed as one might expect, much of the show looks like a mod­ern flash-ani­mat­ed series for those very same rea­sons. The sto­ries are excel­lent; on par with a good sci­ence fic­tion nov­el and with less tech­no-bab­ble than many series in the genre suf­fer from2. Though

  1. I have read that part of this was Gene Roden­bury’s desire to nev­er cov­er the actor’s fea­tures. He seemed to feel that a more real­is­tic por­tray­al of an alien’s emo­tions and facial expres­sions was more impor­tant that make-up and pros­thet­ics. Admirable, though there is absolute­ly no rea­son to believe that alien species would express things in the same way as us (or even have the same emo­tions or log­ic), giv­en that pret­ty much no oth­er species on Earth does. []
  2. The jar­gon used in the first episode is actu­al­ly all pret­ty sound sci­ence and very lit­tle of it is just science‑y sound­ing filler. []


I watched Pan­do­rum over the course of a cou­ple of days this past week1. I real­ly had­n’t seen or read a lot about the film, oth­er than a trail­er and a very short inter­view with Den­nis Quaid on Leno (or some evening talk show). I was­n’t real­ly sure what to expect; but what­ev­er I was expect­ing, this film was­n’t quite it.

Need­less to say, this is going to be filled with spoil­ers. You have been warned.

This poster of Pan­do­rum makes sense. The one with the wiring in the man’s arm does not. The lat­ter per­haps let to some of my mis­placed expectations.

The film is real­ly like two sci­fi films spliced togeth­er, with only a min­i­mal attempt and bring the sto­ries back togeth­er at the end. This, I think, was where I felt most dis­ap­point­ed in the film. And I mean dis­ap­point­ed. I real­ly want­ed to love this movie. The act­ing is real­ly quite good, I thought. Quaid gave one of his stronger per­for­mances in some time2. I real­ly liked Ben Fos­ter as Bow­er. I could­n’t help but think that he remind­ed of a younger Edward Nor­torn; and that is a very good thing. Cam Gigan­det was tru­ly un-nerv­ing as Gal­lo and one of the high­lights of the movie. The remain­der of the cast were strong and all of the action was believ­able 3.

As a tech­ni­cal effort, this film tru­ly shows off the Ger­man film indus­try exceed­ing­ly well and cred­it should be giv­en because almost all scenes employ phys­i­cal sets and real actors & mon­sters. That’s a rar­i­ty in the age of hyper-real CG films like Avatar; and this film looks great. I’ll cer­tain­ly be watch­ing direc­tor Alvart’s oth­er films and would love to see him write/ direct more sci­ence fic­tion. If any were to be set of the plan­et of Tanis in the 32nd cen­tu­ry, all the better.

But at the end of the film, I felt emp­ty. I want­ed some­thing more out of this movie that I real­ly want­ed to like. It sort of stayed with me for the past few days. Name­ly, what I think this movie real­ly need­ed was one strong plot. Instead, it had two weak ones.

In plot A, we have the pro­tag­o­nist who rep­re­sents san­i­ty and human­i­ty fight­ing hordes of mon­sters4 with a few sur­vivors to reach a goal and return. It is pret­ty clas­sic scifi/ horror/ apocalypse/ sur­vival stuff. There’s noth­ing wrong with that genre and this film does a mod­est effort at that.

In plot B, we have a phys­i­o­log­i­cal thriller as we try and fig­ure out which of two char­ac­ters tru­ly suf­fers from Pan­do­rum (aka — space mad­ness), either the good Lt. Pay­ton or the edgy Gal­lo. We soon find what pass­es as the sto­ry’s one nov­el twist in this plot line. That is, that they are Tyler Durden.

Some Issues

Pan­do­rum’s treat­ment of hyper-sleep for sub-light speed space trav­el is sci­fi gold and is right­ly used to advance the plot (both of them, actu­al­ly). From the grog­gi­ness and “mild” mem­o­ry loss to the absolute gross clean­ing off of hun­dreds of years worth of shed skin5, it all real­ly helped to give Pan­do­rum a bit of its own style right from the begin­ning. It said to me that the writer and direc­tor had thought about this and were going to show us their own vision here. It real­ly helps to set why a lot of these events unfold and was a bit of bril­liance; and I real­ly hate to see that not play out in the end.

We see the psy­cho­log­i­cal effects of deep space trav­el as well, in the form of the film’s name­sake ill­ness. We get a school-book expla­na­tion from Pay­ton ear­ly on as Bow­er asks about him about it. Lat­er, we seen both men seem­ing to suf­fer from some of the symp­toms. How­ev­er, oth­er than some weird looks and what we can only assume are hal­lu­ci­na­tions on the part of Bow­er, his issues are nev­er real­ly explored (Pay­ton’s & Gal­lo’s are pret­ty well explained in full, bad guy mono­logue style). The polar­i­ty of Bow­er and Payton/Gallo as human­i­ty ver­sus insan­i­ty real­ly could have been bet­ter dealt with in the film’s cli­max. We’re left with a sense of con­fu­sion. What caused Bow­er to be able to over­come the ill­ness? What strug­gles did he face in doing so? Sim­ply hav­ing him shake it off seems a bit weak for the ill­ness which so impor­tant the film was named after it. Oth­er­wise, we could have called the movie Space Mutant Hunters.

The biggest fail­ure in terms of sto­ry is tying the two pro­tag­o­nists togeth­er in some mean­ing­ful way: Payton/Gallo and the mutant hunters. Just to say that Gal­lo slept and the hunters evolved is like try­ing to assume the but­ter­fly effect as a plot device. Sure there may have been some domi­noes from one that result­ed in the oth­er, but why not give us a bit more of a con­crete rela­tion­ship? This would have woven the two plot lines togeth­er, instead of just lick­ing the back of one and hop­ing it stays on the other.

Some Suggestions

So, what would I have done dif­fer­ent­ly? I mean, after all, I’m just throw­ing spit­balls if I don’t offer some­thing con­struc­tive, right?

I think the reac­tor core should have been relat­ed to hunter mutants in a more con­crete fash­ion. There seems to be no ratio­nal as to why they all sleep there. It may be a trite sci­fi con­ven­tion to claim that expo­sure to radi­a­tion caus­es rapid (and often hor­rif­ic, back­wards) evo­lu­tion, but it isn’t so com­mon­place that it can just be assumed (if that is even what has hap­pened here). So, in very clear terms we should state to the view­ers that the ship decid­ed to wake Bow­er up specif­i­cal­ly for his exper­tise with radi­a­tion leaks in reac­tor cores (most of the flight crew are dead, so the ship has to wake up the one spe­cial­ist it has left). Unbe­known to the ship and to Bow­er, some of the pas­sen­gers clos­er to the core who were wok­en by Gal­lo cen­turies ear­li­er began to get sick (Pan­do­rum!) nev­er went back to sleep nor­mal­ly. They began to try to use pow­er from the reac­tor core, but instead dam­aged it. After gen­er­a­tions (and hav­ing been giv­en the evo­lu­tion-enhanc­ing drugs for set­tlers), they devolved into the hunters we see today. They live near the reac­tor core as they have learned that it mutates their off­spring faster, mak­ing them more effec­tive hunters.

As I said, the hunters and Payton/Gallo need a more con­crete rela­tion­ship, as well. Since it is stat­ed that Gal­lo tried to act like a god, why have the hunters wor­ship him as such. Fear of him and his whims is one of the few human-like thoughts they have passed on. The reac­tor core room could be strewn with cave mark­ings (as opposed to the can­ni­bal cook’s cham­ber) telling this sto­ry, which serves to tip off Bow­er6. In fact, they could see him as the destroy of Earth since he deliv­ered the mes­sage to their ances­tors and revere him as a hunter of whole worlds. To what­ev­er extent the hunters revere him, in the final encounter with Payton/Gallo, the hunters can be sneak­ing in and just when Bow­er thinks they’ll do in Payton/Gallo for him, they refuse to and begin advanc­ing on Bow­er. This would ad a huge lev­el of fear for the pro­tag­o­nists as now both the antag­o­nists are work­ing togeth­er. Water & eject­ing in a sleep pod due to hull breach would still be an accept­able end to stop­ping these unstop­pable vil­lains of the story.

Also, as stat­ed ear­li­er, see­ing the dif­fer­ence in how Pan­do­rum affect­ed both Bow­er and Pay­ton would have been sat­is­fy­ing. It would have made it clear to us the kind of strug­gles that both went through but only Bow­er could over­come. I think if Pay­ton (while in his right mind) had giv­en Bow­er the advice which allows him to over­come bits of anxiety/ Pandorum/ space-mad­ness; but that Pay­ton him­self doesn’t/didn’t fol­low when he is Gal­lo. This would tie the two char­ac­ters togeth­er while set­ting their paths apart in the story.

I would also have liked to have seen the symp­toms of Pan­do­rum, specif­i­cal­ly the vivid hal­lu­ci­na­tions aspect, play a lit­tle more promi­nent­ly into the sto­ry for Bow­er. Clear­ly, the hal­lu­ci­na­tions were a major com­po­nent of Payton/Gallo’s sto­ry. So why should Bow­er only see one such hal­lu­ci­na­tion for a short peri­od at the cli­max of the film? Were more of his inter­ac­tions actu­al­ly hal­lu­ci­na­tions; maybe even ones which he and oth­er human sur­vivors shared? Not to go all deus ex machi­na here, but what if the whole hunter prob­lem is just a shared hal­lu­ci­na­tion brought on by para­noia and hal­lu­ci­na­tions of wak­ing crew? Per­haps Pan­do­rum isn’t a rare ill­ness at all, but in fact the norm when a human has been in sus­pend­ed ani­ma­tion for cen­turies? Just seems like a host of missed oppor­tu­ni­ties here in terms of ways to lever­age what set this sto­ry apart; all giv­en up in favor of the mutant attack movie.

Last­ly, while I appre­ci­at­ed the hunters, I think the at some lev­el detract­ed from the strong part of the sto­ry. Too much screen time was spent on them when the tru­ly nov­el ele­ments of the sto­ry were left for us to guess at. Though it pains to me to say it, I’d have actu­al­ly rather had less killer mutant hordes in this film (and I am indeed a huge fan of killer mutant hordes, to be for sure). Instead, I’d rather seen more on the inter­nal and human/human conflicts.

This notion struck me as a laid down to sleep the evening after hav­ing fin­ished watch­ing Pan­do­rum. It was­n’t the hunters that made me take that one last glace over my shoul­der before going to sleep. It was the thought of Gal­lo creep­ing up behind me. That’s a great villain.

And there it is. Some of the rea­sons of why I felt like this movie gar­nered three out of five stars. I want­ed to real­ly like it, but could­n’t shake the nag­ging feel­ing that in the enor­mous effort to craft such a well-styled film that much of the plot ele­ments got left in the direc­tor’s note­book or on the edit­ing room floor. It is a good sci­fi film and worth the time of any fan of the genre, just the same.

Note: I haven’t done a film review on this site in quite a long time and I sin­cere­ly regret doing so. I hope to get back into that and often it is a book or film such as this — where I felt that it fell just short of being great — that moti­vates me to do so.

  1. It’s real­ly not Ange­la’s sort of movie, so I watched it over the course of two lunch breaks. One of the perks of work­ing from home, I sup­pose. []
  2. Though, giv­en that this film came out around the same time as G.I. Joe, that’s a real­ly low per­son­al bar. I haven’t seen Legion, but I’m also not hear­ing any­thing pos­i­tive there, either. []
  3. Noth­ing ruins fight scenes like bad wire work for me. This film has some aer­i­al, Hong Kong style fight­ing and it is all done well and blends into the film. []
  4. The mon­sters are essen­tial­ly the Reavers from Firefly/Serenity with a bit of orcs from Lord of the Rings thrown in to make them seem a bit more alien. That being said, they are creepy as hell and work well. []
  5. Not that I’m want­i­ng to be over­ly picky here, but how could Bow­er have had a thick sheet of skin to pull off and only the kind of beard I grow in a few weeks. I’d have gone with a crazy beard and hair. []
  6. Instead, we have Pay­ton’s wife. A mem­o­ry of a char­ac­ter who is nev­er explained, nor — for that mat­ter — is Pay­ton. Why is Gal­lo in his cham­ber? He sort of has to be for the sto­ry and yet I don’t recall any expla­na­tion of who Pay­ton was or why Gal­lo would end up there. []

Eight Years and Still Suffering

It’s been eight years today since the coor­di­nat­ed attack on New York and Wash­ing­ton D.C. in which almost 3,000 peo­ple per­ished. Most of us have gone on with our lives; I know that feels like a life­time ago when I recall where I was and what I was doing. How­ev­er, for many of the first respon­ders and res­i­dents in low­er Man­hat­tan, life has­n’t gone on. I watched the doc­u­men­tary Dust to Dust: The Health Effects of 9/11 ear­li­er today after think­ing about these peo­ple. I sup­pose I had the impres­sion that ill health effects from the recov­ery and clean-up efforts were lim­it­ed to a few indi­vid­u­als. If this doc­u­men­tary is even half true1 (and it does seem legit based on some addi­tion­al read­ing I did today), the effects were far worse than I imagined.


It is trag­ic how the peo­ple that the nation — and indeed the world — lined up to thank as heroes have been treat­ed since. The doc­u­men­tary lays the blame at the EPA and the Bush admin­is­tra­tion for mis­han­dling the health issues and rush­ing back to a sense of nor­mal­cy (some­thing which was not with­out rea­son; though does­n’t jus­ti­fy the lack of safe­ty pre­cau­tions). Once we learn about the treat­ment of these peo­ple who ran toward dan­ger and worked tire­less­ly to help, we all get to shoul­der some of that blame, too. We can­not allow peo­ple who serve the pub­lic to be treat­ed as throw-away tools. It is entire­ly dis­re­spect­ful to their sac­ri­fice and it ensures that no one will step up to fill these roles for future gen­er­a­tions. I’ve not found any­thing that sug­gest these indi­vid­u­als are ask­ing for hand­outs. They want to be treat­ed with the respect deserved them, those respon­si­ble for plac­ing them in unsafe con­di­tions to be held respon­si­ble, and to get the care they need. That’s real­ly not ask­ing for much, in my opinion.

So, if you can find an hour to spare, I high­ly rec­om­mend watch­ing this doc­u­men­tary. This isn’t some left- or right-wing polit­i­cal agen­da film. It is a inti­mate look at how mod­ern Amer­i­ca, in her rush to get back to our nor­mal way of liv­ing, has indeed for­got­ten about some of those we swore we nev­er would forget.

Inci­den­tal­ly, he doc­u­men­tary is nar­rat­ed by actor Steve Busce­mi. Busce­mi, as it turns out, was a for­mer New York City fire­fight­er and returned to New York on Sept. 12 to help aid in recov­ery efforts for a week. Though no men­tion is made of this in the doc­u­men­tary (nor if Busce­mi him­self suf­fered in ill health effects), he clear­ly is in a posi­tion to help speak out about such an issue.

  1. It is sad in light of such a tragedy that I feel the need to have to include this but I want to be clear that I am not some con­spir­a­cy the­o­rist nor am I look­ing for some­thing to com­plain about the Bush admin­is­tra­tion. This just strikes me as a very real and ongo­ing prob­lem asso­ci­at­ed with the Sep­tem­ber 11, 2001 ter­ror­ist attacks. []

Terminator Salvation

I got the tip via Twit­ter the day pri­or to the film’s offi­cial release that my favorite local burg­er shop (Burg­ers ‘N Creme) was giv­ing away free tick­ets to an advance screen­ing of the movie (with a burg­er and fries bas­ket — some­thing I love for din­ner, any­way!). It was part of a fund rais­er for the Chil­dren’s Mir­a­cle Net­work and so atten­dees were also asked to make a small dona­tion before the movie (again, some­thing I was more than hap­py to do). Angela was cool with me going so long as I got Ains­ley put to bed ear­ly. Ange­la’s not real­ly a Ter­mi­na­tor fan, so she declined a tick­et with her meal and stayed home with the kids. I’ll spare every­one any fur­ther details on my sneak­ing out to the movies expe­ri­ence oth­er that to say that I learned that this sort of thing goes on all the time (the pre­view screen­ings that is; and like­ly hus­bands sneak­ing out to see them). I owe Angela a night out and if I could get her and advance tick­et to Har­ry Pot­ter & tHBP, I’d love to.

General Review

Don’t wor­ry; no spoil­ers here

Ever since I first read about this film in pro­duc­tion, I’ve had my reser­va­tions. The direc­tor — McG (not a real­ly big fan of pro­fes­sion­al­ly nick­named peo­ple, but what­ev­er) — was­n’t some­one whom I real­ly had much con­fi­dence in. My inter­est in the Ter­mi­na­tor films (and their cul­tur­al sig­nif­i­cance) kept me read­ing more over the past year. I even­tu­al­ly decid­ed that maybe McG does get what makes a film like this good (or, con­verse­ly, bad) and in the end I’d say he deserves cred­it for mak­ing a sol­id action sci­fi flick.

I know that there was a great deal of ani­mos­i­ty towards the film and film­mak­ers online. Fur­ther, it’s been get­ting some pret­ty bad reviews ever since and has­n’t been a huge sum­mer block­buster. Frankly, I’m not real­ly sure on what scale these state­ments are being made. The film stands on its own as (at least) a bet­ter-than-aver­age action movie. The plot, while not over­ly com­plex, is far from dull. The main char­ac­ters have a jour­ney with a pur­pose. The spe­cial effects (both visu­al and audio) are top-notch. Last­ly, it finds some­thing to add to the ongo­ing sto­ry in the Ter­mi­na­tor series. I’ll expand (of course), but I just want­ed to point out that this is, in my opin­ion, the kind of film we should want more of from Hollywood.

So, my rat­ing of four out of fiv­er stars that I tweet­ed the night I saw the film sticks. Prob­a­bly even more so in light of all the unde­served flack this film seems to have generated.

This film is meant to serve as the first of a tril­o­gy telling how John Con­ner — who we last saw as a home­less, job­less bum at the end of the world as we know — some­how man­ages to live up to the des­tiny his moth­er told him he would have: leader of the human resis­tance. He starts rel­a­tive­ly small. He is well-known, if not uni­ver­sal­ly liked or respect­ed, due to his pre­science 1 He feels as though he is floun­der­ing and fails to con­nect his cur­rent life with that he’s been told he’d lead. Enter the cast of this film, who help to con­nect those dots. The most impor­tant — and I hope I’m not spoil­ing any­thing as it’s been a Ter­mi­na­tor fran­chise-sta­ple since the sec­ond film — is a new Ter­mi­na­tor ver­sion. This is done in what feels to be an orig­i­nal way while still rec­og­niz­ing the pre­vi­ous films.

Speak­ing of Ter­mi­na­tor fran­chise sta­ples, the entire con­cept and plot line of the films is a headache-induc­ing para­dox. So, and let’s just get this out of the way, to com­plain about minor plot holes in a Ter­mi­na­tor film real­ly is a waste of time. It does­n’t stop me from doing it (see below), but to com­plain that they ruin the film is a bit far-fetched. The largest plot holes of the sto­ry were opened long before one ever got rolling (thank you, James Cameron) and as long as the char­ac­ters keep the train rolling, I’m okay with it. We’re not try­ing to solve a mur­der case here; we’re just look­ing for some awe­some robot vs. human action.

Of course, this film is both a pre­quel and a sequel. It tells how John Con­ner becomes the per­son we know he must be (or, else, para­dox) while con­tin­u­ing the sto­ry of who he was in the pre­vi­ous cou­ple of films. And, as it con­nects these to points, it is some­what rail­road­ed onto a lin­ear and, at times, pre­dictable path. But even then, the film man­ages to do some­thing mag­i­cal. At the very end of the film, despite know­ing John Con­ner has to live (again, the oth­er films would cease to exist … and my head hurts again); I still felt myself for­get this fact for a few moments. The movie pulled me in enough to make me believe and that’s a cor­ner­stone for what makes a good movie.

Some Other Bits I Liked

The movie con­tains loads of great homages to the series in here; par­tic­u­lar­ly to the 1984 film. Lines like “Come with me if you want to live” and even “I’ll be back” are used to great (and even more impres­sive­ly — sub­tle) effect2. They’re aren’t deliv­ered in some sort of over-the-top fash­ion; but rather, they fall in with the plot and the dia­log. It’s the sort of thing that could have end­ed up just feel­ing sil­ly. Instead, the film mak­ers and actors went to trou­ble to make it work.

There are many copies. And they have a plan. Skynet is a pret­ty smart cook­ie. It has near lim­it­less CPU cycles as it has basi­cal­ly tak­en over every net­worked com­put­er in 2003 (Judg­ment Day)3. So, this film gives us the sol­id impres­sion that SkyNet spends a great deal of this time cook­ing up new ways to destroy human­i­ty. It nev­er sleeps. It nev­er eats. It just. Keeps. Com­ing. Sound famil­iar? That’s right. The relent­less onslaught that was por­trayed by AS, et al. so well 25 years ago is shown to be inher­it­ed from a giant net­worked com­put­er whose very exis­tence is pret­ty much just that same trait. And with that much time, it’s Cyber­dine divi­sion just keeps crank­ing out new mod­els to try again. Like some sort of evil, soul-less Wiley Coyote.

The sound in this film is awe­some. Imag­ine the sounds gen­er­at­ed by an 80’s arcade machine (like Don­key Kong, for instance). Now imag­ine that being blast­ed at 180 dB from a 60 foot tall mech (aka — giant, scary robot) with a mag­ma can­non. I know that it is just a low-fre­quen­cy, clipped sine wave tone. But, the thing is it sounds ter­ri­fy­ing and real­ly works. The same gen­er­al sound is used to great effect by many of the ter­mi­na­tors oth­er machines in the film.

Warn­ing: Here be spoilers!

Arnold is back — and I mean that as in “that body-builder turned actor from the 80’s”. Using a CG face of him from the 80’s was the right thing to do. Why would a machine age? Oth­er­wise, we’d be won­der­ing why a machine sud­den­ly looks a quar­ter cen­tu­ry old­er a decade before he is sent back to the past.

Some Bits I Didn’t LIke

Yep, still some spoil­ers here.

One huge issue that near­ly had me shout­ing out loud is when John Con­nor (Bale) cap­tures and re-wires a Moto-ter­mi­na­tor to ride across the desert to SkyNet. Could some­one please explain to me why such a machine would have han­dle­bars for him to dri­ve it? I’ve tried to ratio­nal­ize it to myself (SkyNet copies more than it inno­vates and since exist­ing motor­cy­cles had han­dle­bars …) but it just does­n’t work. If you’re a com­put­er pro­gram who has any sort of effi­cien­cy con­cerns, you’re not going to waste effort to add han­dle­bars on a moto-ter­mi­na­tor in the same sense you would­n’t waste time mak­ing repro­duc­tive organs on a T‑600.

Why does the main­frame ter­mi­nal screen which is mak­ing the great reveal to Mar­cus change faces the way it does? There is a flick­er of a ter­mi­na­tor-like skull as the faces change. The ter­mi­na­tors are in the soft­ware, they are machines that go about doing its bid­ding. This felt a lit­tle sil­ly to me; like a heavy-hand­ed attempt to remind you of the con­nec­tion between the two.

I’ve read some reviews pan­ning Chris­t­ian Bale’s per­for­mance as flat. I thought the inse­cu­ri­ty of John Con­nor try­ing to live up to the prophe­cy of John Con­nor came across well. Fur­ther, not to say that Sam Wor­thing­ton (Mar­cus) does­n’t put on a great per­for­mance, but his rever­sion to an Aus­tralian accent was a bit dis­tract­ing to me. I’m not entire­ly sure why he could­n’t have just used his native accent through­out the film (its not as though no one in all of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia has a for­eign accent; nor did a thick Aus­tri­an accent deter Arnold in pre­vi­ous films). I think in pref­er­ence of a sound, con­sis­tent per­for­mance, I’d have asked the actor to have done so. There real­ly seems to be noth­ing about the role that pre­cludes it.


So, for those of you who longed to see more of that dark, des­o­late future world we glimpsed back in 1984 as kids where met­al-skele­toned robots walked beside tanks lit by the spot­lights of machine air­craft, this is a must-see. If you enjoy a sol­id, if lin­ear, action movie then this is going to be your movie. I’m even going to go out on a limb and say that if you only watch one film this sum­mer where giant robots attempt attach humans to take over our plan­et (and, yes, we actu­al­ly have some choice in that regard), then Ter­mi­na­tor: Sal­va­tion is going to be a lit­tle more fulfilling.

  1. Real­ly, just recit­ing what his moth­er had always told him sec­ond-hand from his father. []
  2. They wise­ly left out “Has­ta la vista, baby” show­ing sound judg­ment that not every­thing should be shoe­horned in []
  3. Which would­n’t have been near­ly as smart as if it had wait­ed until about now, what with our mul­ti-core proces­sors and wide­spread broad­band. But, I digress … []

Maybe McG Gets It After All

Speak­ing of sum­mer movie thrills, I’m cau­tious­ly opti­mistic about Ter­mi­na­tor: Sal­va­tion, which opens next week. Direc­tor “McG” — of Char­lies Angel’s mon­ey grab remake fame ” makes a good case for going with a PG-13 rat­ing:

“It just became clear that the things that would take it to an R or an NC-17 would be: There goes the arm, and now the blood is squirt­ing on my face,” McG said in a group inter­view last Fri­day in Bev­er­ly Hills, Calif. “That was­n’t in ser­vice of the char­ac­ter or the sto­ry. The ele­ments that would have tak­en it to R just end­ed up feel­ing gra­tu­itous in the edit­ing room. There’s a top­less scene with Moon Blood­good. I was try­ing to echo that scene in Wit­ness where Kel­ly McGillis turns and says, ‘I’m not ashamed’ to Har­ri­son Ford. But it just felt like, ‘Oh, there’s the genre stunt of the good-look­ing girl tak­ing her top off.’ And it felt coun­ter­pro­duc­tive in the spir­it of what we were look­ing to achieve on a sto­ry­telling lev­el, so way to go.”

I am in full favor of cut­ting gra­tu­itous vio­lence and nudi­ty if it can open the film to a wider audi­ence, make the movie a greater suc­cess, and ensure that good sci­ence fic­tion gets atten­tion it deserves. 

The New Star Trek

With two kids now, find­ing time to go out to watch a movie is only a great chal­lenge. Giv­en that Angela is a long-time Trekker and that this was Moth­er’s day week­end, we real­ly want­ed to get out to see the new movie. We’re also big Lost fans and had real­ly high hopes for this film. 

I should point out that Angela is a big fan of Next Gen­er­a­tion in par­tic­u­lar. That was what she grew up on 1 where­as my first expe­ri­ence with Star Trek was the ani­mat­ed series on Nick­elodeon2. I was prob­a­bly always more of a Star Wars fan, myself, but we’ve come to embrace one anoth­er’s dif­fer­ent nerd her­itages in our years togeth­er. I’ve been to a Star Trek con­ven­tion before with Angela and her cousin, Jonathan; and we’ve gone to see the recent films with TNG cast togeth­er. So of some of the big hit films this sum­mer, we real­ly were glad that we could orches­trate an after­noon of Star Trek together.

You Don’t Have to be a Fan

I hon­est­ly have no idea if JJ Abrams, et al are huge fans of Star Trek or not. It would cer­tain­ly seem so but, more to the point, they are excel­lent sto­ry tellers. What this lat­est movie is is a high-action, emo­tion­al, bril­liant­ly told sto­ry. While it most essen­tial­ly boils down to a bud­dy-film, it real­ly draws on loads of sto­ry ele­ments. A favorite ele­ment of mine was that the crew of the Enter­prise as we have known them are real­ly a bunch of sec­ond-string mis­fits; either with author­i­ty issues or per­son­al con­flicts that would pre­vent them from ris­ing to the top on their own. How­ev­er, when put togeth­er their odd­i­ties feed off one anoth­er. Each char­ac­ter is intro­duced to us one at a time as the film pro­gress­es. There­fore, what start­ed as a bud­dy flick about two guys now con­sists of a ensem­ble, each the audi­ence has a spe­cial con­nec­tion with. The writ­ers knew bet­ter than to bring in more than a half-dozen char­ac­ters all at once and assume the audi­ence would just rec­og­nize them.

I had read enough on Zachory Quin­to’s desire to play Spock that I had real­ly focused my excite­ment on that char­ac­ter. I had­n’t real­ly giv­en more than a pass­ing thought to Karl Urban as Bones (“Oh, he was in LotR, right?”). As it turns out, he was excel­lent at Dr. McCoy3. The rest of the cast did not dis­ap­point, either. No one hammed up their roles. Instead, the actors all seemed to get the essence of the char­ac­ters with­out resort­ing to just doing impres­sions of the actors from decades ago.

Being a Fan Doesn’t Hurt

There were plen­ty of ref­er­ences to the fin­er points of the Star Trek uni­verse, though. From all the lit­tle bits like props that matched much of the style of the orig­i­nal series, to sound effects and music laden with heavy brass, to those won­der­ful pre­quel moments of ‘oh that’s how that came about!’ It’s those lat­ter ele­ments that are always the funnest for the fans, I think. They feed our sense of nos­tal­gia for our youth and our (not always) guilty love of pop cul­ture. With a his­to­ry as long as Star Trek, a film like this could have eas­i­ly begun to drown in them. How­ev­er, the writ­ers and direc­tor reached what felt like a per­fect bal­ance here. Enough of these lit­tle mem­o­ry jog­gers to bring smiles to a fan’s face but not so many as to keep the gen­er­al audi­ence feel­ing their miss­ing the joke.

So much of this film was a bal­anc­ing act that is real­ly remark­able that it plays as well as it does to such a wide audi­ence. You would­n’t need to have any more knowl­edge of Star Trek than sim­ply hav­ing grown up in the West­ern hemi­sphere to appre­ci­ate some of the lines and visu­als. Even if you weren’t a fan at all, you could appre­ci­ate some of those enough to enjoy them. And there is plen­ty of plain old damn-good-sto­ry to enjoy the movie even if you would­n’t get those bits. You don’t have to appre­ci­ate any of it to under­stand sac­ri­fic­ing your life to save crew and fam­i­ly or to seek approval and accep­tance. These plot fun­da­men­tals are what too many of the Star Trek films lacked in an effort to make them solid­ly Star Trek. Like all great sci­ence fic­tion, the best parts of the sto­ry have noth­ing to do with sci­ence fiction.

More to Come? I Hope So.

I am con­vinced this will be one of the top movies of the sum­mer (and there­fore, the entire year). Though this film suc­ceeds at what Enter­prise4 tried but ulti­mate­ly could­n’t do: pro­vide both those pre­quel moments while also giv­ing a sexy, sleek new edge to what it means to be Star Trek. Many films that attempt to re-envi­sion, re-boot, or regur­gi­tate sto­ries just to so with no rea­son for exist­ing oth­er than the obvi­ous mon­ey grab. This film — much to our delight — stands on its own. Fur­ther, in so far as the sto­ry line goes it is a lit­er­al re-boot. It ends with an alter­nate, par­al­lel uni­verse as a result of the events of the film For once, time trav­el in Star Trek actu­al­ly results in things unpre­dictably chang­ing. It’s hard to argue when the most impos­si­ble part of the sto­ry actu­al­ly results in a log­i­cal out­come. This cer­tain­ly leaves us with some like­ly sequels to this pre­quel that aren’t the pre­vi­ous films. Okay, when I put it like that it still sounds like a mon­ey grab. But at least this one was enjoyable!

I can watch a lot of films more than once, but this one I could have bought anoth­er tick­et for as soon as I walked out. Angela — who nev­er likes to watch films twice; at least not in the the­ater — said she would love to go back again. I hon­est­ly can’t say much more than that. It real­ly is just that much fun.

  1. I did­n’t get Fox until after the show had begun and only watched occa­sion­al­ly until lat­er in col­lege. []
  2. I’m still very dis­ap­point­ed that an Edosian has nev­er made a re-appear­ance in Star Trek since. []
  3. You might even say he was the real McCoy … but you real­ly should­n’t. []
  4. I want to go on the record and say that Enter­prise was prob­a­bly my favorite of all the Star Trek tele­vi­sion series. And, yes, I liked that theme song. It was one of the few I nev­er fast-for­ward through on TiVo record­ings. []

Who Watches the Watchmen?

Best description/review of the Watch­men film I’ve read yet that sums up my exact feelings:

Ful­ly deserv­ing of its R rat­ing, this is a sad, vio­lent film about sad, vio­lent peo­ple where the only one actu­al­ly sav­ing the world is the vil­lain. While most super­hero movies are about action and dra­ma, this one’s a straight-up tragedy and def­i­nite­ly not for kids. And yet it works very well, both as a movie and as an adap­ta­tion of the com­ic book.

Sny­der is also putting out a cou­ple of sup­port­ing films: an ani­mat­ed ver­sion of the sea-pirate/hor­ror sto­ry and a live-action ver­sion of the Night Owl’s auto­bi­og­ra­phy. Though some would argue a film must be judged only on what hap­pens with­in the lim­its of it’s time-frame, I think this is more like mixed-media art or even a film trip­tych. Why should film be lim­it­ed to its for­mat when for­mats change? Hold­ing onto lim­i­ta­tions of a for­mat can be worth­while when it serves a pur­pose (like album art for an .mp3 file) but should­n’t be dogma.

Live Blogging the BSG Final Season Premiere

The begin­ning of the end of Bat­tlestar Galac­ti­ca. Angela and I are watching:

  • Well, Earth sure a drag.
  • Hey! Hera uses the same plas­tic spoons as Ainsley.
  • That beach where Tyrol is hav­ing some flash­back to old Earth… is that actu­al­ly the beach at Stan­ley Park in Van­cou­ver?
  • Well, Star­buck. I guess you’re the twelfth and final cylon. At least that sure seems to be only way this makes sense.
  • I’m so glad they’re using the creepy lost-five Cylon tune again.
  • So is there some Cylon res­ur­rec­tion ship/facility near Earth that Star­buck acci­den­tal­ly discovered?
  • Dee is going to go psy­co, isn’t she? I mean she’s about to go third sea­son Star­buck crazy, right? Trag­i­cal­ly, yes.
  • Looks like pret­ty much every­one is going nuts. As if it were the end of the world or some… oh. Right.
  • I’m glad the show did­n’t over use the pop­u­la­tion count­down ele­ment. They real­ly used it spar­ing­ly, and to max­i­mum effect.
  • Wait, Ellen, whoa!
  • Angela: “So it’s not Kara! What is she?”
  • Where’s Ellen? If there was a res­ur­rec­tion ship near New Capri­ca, would it have brought Ellen back? If not, would­n’t she be gone forever?
  • So, is “the har­bin­ger of death” some­thing dif­fer­ent all togehter?
  • We may do this again next week. If so, I’ll prob­a­bly just update this post.

    Update: There is a ter­rif­ic inter­view with Ronald D. Moore, BSG’s exec­u­tive pro­duc­er, that I found via Adam Sav­age. Here’s a quote from Moore dur­ing that interview:

    My atti­tude was pret­ty much, “Look, we’re in the last chap­ter here. Any­one who’s come this far and doesn’t want to watch the rest — they’re a minor­i­ty at best.” Peo­ple are going to want to see how this turns out. And yeah, this is a very dark chap­ter. This may not even be the dark­est chapter. 

Much More Fun Than You Might Think

So, you might have picked up that I’ve been on some­thing of a fan­ta­sy kick late­ly. One thing that I’ve con­sid­ered doing off and on for sev­er­al years now (Okay, ever since I got out grad. school — what­ev­er) was pick­ing up role-play­ing games again. I played them a lot as a kid and loved every minute of it. They appealed to me on so many lev­els: tons of maps, loads of math & tables, and open end­ed stories.

I end­ed up find a group on who run some 4 hour games, once a month; most of which were aimed at begin­ners and peo­ple get­ting back into the game. This sound­ed like a per­fect fit. Sat­ur­day evening, I broke out an old Play­er’s Hand­book and cre­at­ed1 a pret­ty basic char­ac­ter for myself. I was nev­er very good at com­ing up with fan­ta­sy char­ac­ter names (I once named a rogue char­ac­ter Robin Steal­er. Sub­tle, no?), but I know of a group that is great at it: Ikea. So, I named my first lev­el, dwarf fight­er after a very taste­ful and mod­ern cof­fee table (Ramvik, if you’re curious).

Sun­day, we all drove down to Murfrees­boro to the com­ic and games shop. I got a seat at the D&D table while Angela and Ains­ley looked around briefly at some comics. They then took off to tool around the mall while my game got underway.

Now, I sup­pose on some lev­el, the sev­en peo­ple around the table fit exact­ly the descrip­tion of D&D play­ers you like­ly have in mind right now: white males sit­ting indoors on a per­fect­ly nice sun­ny day. How­ev­er, despite that gen­er­al stereo­type, these were a fair­ly diverse lot: a grad. stu­dent, a down­town lawyer, a high school math teacher, a father and his son — who had recent­ly got­ten his dad back into gam­ing, and the father of a 1 1/2 year old (who seemed hap­py to get out of the house and play a game with adults). What’s more, they were all out­go­ing and fun per­son­al­i­ties. While the game ran a bit long (even at five hours, we did­n’t quite fin­ish); a good bit of the time was spent jok­ing around. Instead of dice and pen­cils, we could have just as eas­i­ly had pok­er cards and chips in our hands.

Oth­er than the fact that I end­ed up los­ing my voice by the end of it (as much from all the laugh­ing as any­thing else), I had a real­ly great time. So much so, I plan to make it a month­ly event. Angela said she might even join in for a game in the future (by the way, there are females in the Meet­Up group, just none hap­pened to be play­ing this past weekend).

Oh, and the game itself? It was a fair­ly tough mod­ule, actu­al­ly. For­tu­nate­ly, we had a decent mix of a 7th lev­el bar­bar­ian, a 3rd lev­el cler­ic, a 3rd lev­el rogue, a 1st lev­el ranger, and two 1st lev­el fight­ers (includ­ing my Swedish fur­ni­ture name­sake). I end­ed up dying at the end, but the DM allowed for the NPC cler­ic whom we were help­ing to res­ur­rect my char­ac­ter out of grat­i­tude after the fact. I think the DM felt bad since my char­ac­ter died on my first game and that I might not have enjoyed it. Quite to the con­trary, I had had a great time and I was actu­al­ly kind of glad that it was­n’t a cake­walk. I got to feel like I was work­ing on a team try­ing to fig­ure out a mystery.

As I said, I can’t wait until next time.

  1. I would have for­mer­ly said “rolled” instead of cre­at­ed, but there’s no rolling involved in char­ac­ter cre­ation any­more — at least not in the method employed by this group. []