6/27/2009

I recently read the classic science-fiction novel, Rendezvous with Rama. The plot revolves around a mysterious alien spacecraft (nicknamed "Rama") that enters Earth's Solar System, and the expedition sent to intercept and explore the ship. I must say that, from a technical standpoint, the novel is incredible. Rama is described in detail with a lot of interesting and intricate structures to explore and discover. If someone wanted to imagine what it would be like to stand on a generation ship (i.e. a spaceship designed to support generations of life during centuries-long travel from one solar system to another), this novel is the best I’ve ever seen.

Unfortunately, I didn’t come to this book to see what it was like to walk around on a generation ship. I came to read an actual story. In that sense, the novel fails miserably. There’s no real plot, other than “astronauts dock with Rama, astronauts explore Rama, astronauts leave Rama with data.” Sure, there are some minor moments of tension when they first board Rama, a crew member seems to be lost, and a human government tries to destroy Rama. But those moments are few and far between, and are really just gimmicks that are resolved far too quickly.

I’m going to spoil part of this novel because it’s critical to my point; there are no living alien beings on Rama. It’s a dead ship. That’s established fairly early on in the novel, taking away a major portion of interest and tension for me. Besides losing out on the classic “human meets alien” moment, the novel then becomes a frustrating mystery that is never resolved. We never do find out who built Rama or why, because there’s no one to answer the question. This leaves the novel showing astronauts wandering around a dead ship. There are some creatures that they encounter, but all of them are “biological robots” that literally have no brains, and do not interfere or interact with the astronauts in any significant way. Another missed opportunity – the robots could have added some tension if they attacked the astronauts as intruders or even accidentally injured them in the course of their duties.

I didn’t even think Rama was that realistic as an alien spacecraft. It’s constructed perfectly and logically from a human standpoint, but it’s an alien ship. Everything on Rama seems designed and constructed for human life forms. Even the handles on hatches were designed for human-like hands. For a moment in the novel, it looked like there was an explanation for why that might be…but that turned out not to be the case. So we have to believe that Rama’s alien creators function in exactly the same way as humans. That stretches credibility for me, especially given the extremely realistic approach the rest of the novel had. The idea that extraterrestrials beings would be physically that similar to humans seems too convenient to me.

Rendezvous With Rama is considered a classic in science-fiction and has won both the Hugo and Nebula Awards, the highest awards in science-fiction. Some would argue that proves it's a solid novel. I would argue the opposite. I think the fact that such a dull novel is so popular is Exhibit A on what’s wrong with science-fiction today. Everyone who praises this novel is praising the realistic and detailed portrayal of the spaceship, not the actual novel. Rendezvous with Rama is more of a dramatization of a schematic for a generation spaceship. This could have been an essay published in a science magazine and would have achieved the same effect. Scientists writing novels and short stories that are focused more on proving or describing their scientific theories than telling an actual story are taking the "fiction" out of science-fiction.

6/18/2009

"Shut up baby, I know it!"
EW reports that Comedy Central is bringing Futurama back with 26 new episodes in mid-2010.  The studio cites the success of the DVDs and reruns as the reason for bringing it back.

"When we brought back Family Guy several years ago, everyone said that it was a once in a lifetime thing -- that canceled series stay canceled and cannot be revived," 20th Century Fox TV Chairmen Gary Newman and Dana Walden said in a joint statement. "But Futurama was another series that fans simply demanded we bring back, and we couldn’t have been happier when Matt and David agreed that there were many more stories yet to tell." 

While the first movie was very funny ("Futurama: Bender's Big Score"), I actually was disappointed in the second ("Futurama: The Beast with a Billion Backs"). I still haven't seen the third or fourth films ("Bender's Game" and "Into the Wild Green Yonder").  That said, the humor has held up very well considering it first aired in 1999. None of it feels dated or exclusionary and still makes us laugh.

Best news we've heard in a long time.
Futurama Returns!



10. AVP: Alien versus Predator (2004): While it's true that the Alien and Predator properties were movies first, the battle royale between the two appeared in the comics first long before it hit the big screen. The movie was radically different from the original comic, but just as satisfying. Set in the desolate wastes of Antarctica, we were treated to everything we wanted; Aliens tearing into humans, Predators tearing into humans, and both alien races tearing into each other (especially in one epic scene), and humans caught in the middle. Word is that James Cameron, director of "Aliens," was opposed to the team-up, but even he turned around when he saw the finished product. The sequel was blah, but at least they got it right the first time.

9. V for Vendetta (2005): What’s more remarkable about this movie? The fact that it was written by the same men who brought us “Matrix: Revolution” and “Speed Racer?” Or the fact that it’s adapted from an Alan Moore comic series, notoriously tricky to adapt? Or the fact that it’s better than the original comic? That’s right, I said it. This movie captured the subversive message of anarchy and rebellion from the original mini-series, while adding more coherence and direction to the story, as well as jettisoning the unnecessary characters and plotlines that padded out the original comic. When V takes out a room full of armed police with slow-motion martial arts moves and a handful of knives, it’s hard not to be impressed. Add to that the cautionary tale about the dangers of political power run amok that is oh-so-timely. And does that grinning V mask get any cooler?

8. The Incredible Hulk (2008): After the yawner that Ang Lee released under the name “Hulk,” comic fans were deeply despairing of ever getting a good Hulk movie. After all, any other Hulk movie would have to follow that clunker, right? Wrong. The studio was gracious and ambitious enough to allow the sequel to reboot the series, develop a whole new origin, dump all the convoluted family history, and take the character back to its roots; the Hulk smashing stuff. We had a geekier version of Banner with Norton, a better villain with the Abomination, and action sequences that we could actually see because they took place during the day. This is the Hulk we wanted to see in the first place.

7. Iron Man (2008): Oddly enough, this movie is now considered the gold standard of comic book movies. I say “oddly enough” because I didn’t think it was that great when I saw it. Not that it wasn’t a good movie, but most of it was spent building the suit. I wanted more action once he got the bugs worked out. Still, this movie had what most comic book movies don’t have; a great actor of the caliber of Robert Downey Jr., and a perfect portrayal of the flawed but noble hero from the comics. In the beginning, you almost hate him, but by the end you love him. That made the movie accessible to comic fans and non-comic fans alike. We come for the Iron Man suit, but we stay for the drama.

6. X2: X-Men United (2003): The original X-Men brought us Wolverine and is the first comic book movie to completely eliminate the superhero costumes in favor of black leather duds. The sequel brought us even more mutant love. Besides more Mystique and the mutants Lady Deathstrike and Nightcrawler it also featured a showcase for the other mutants in Professor Xavier's school. The struggle between mankind and the mutants was brought into greater focus and Bobby Drake's (Iceman) visit home Wolverine's origin was put in the spotlight. The progression of Pyro and the tenuous truce between the X-Men and The Brotherhood allowed them to explore the characters in greater depth and the mutant

5. Batman Begins (2005): As great as the 1980’s Batman movie was, the time had come to redefine it. The debacle of “Batman and Robin” had all but killed the Batman series. That’s where Christopher Nolan came in. With a more realistic approach and a grittier feel, he brought Batman roaring back into the new millennium with an origin that is so well-done that it feels like it should have been told from the beginning. Add to that two solid villains with Ras Al-Ghul and Scarecrow, and some incredible new gadgets, and you have a new classic.

4. Spider-Man 2 (2004): The first film drove fans crazy with it's cross between incredible faithfulness to the comic book (ex. costume) and complete distance from it (ex. organic web-shooters). In the end was a film that was unique and lovingly faithful at the same time and brought our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man to life. But, then Sam Raimi took the gloves off and brought us the classic that is Spider-Man 2. Having covered the origin he was able to carry Peter Parker through a roller coaster of emotions and inner turmoil. From his pathetic job as a pizza delivery boy, failing in college, his hot and cold relationship with Mary Jane and his best friend's obsessive desire for revenge, Parker ran the full gamut of emotions and we hung on for the ride. Plus, he brought us Doctor Octopus. The sight of his maniacal mechanical arms controlled by the brilliant actor Alfred Molina brought chills to our spines even when he wasn't wearing a shirt.

3. The Dark Knight (2008): A close second to "Batman Begins", this movie stands on it's own as a worthy sequel with breath-taking effects and emotional roller-coasters for all the main characters. It's said that a hero is only as good as his villain and what makes it better than the original was the "Joker". While "Two-Face" was a surprisingly menacing figure, it was the over-the-top acting and violence of the "Clown Prince of Crime" that out shined everything. Nicholson's Joker took on a vicious twist and brought him into the year 2008 to a whole new generation of fans.

2. Batman (1989): This film managed to single-handedly redefine the view most people had of Batman as the jovial sixties television hero. That show, in turn, had redefined the comic books for a decade. This movie brought the character back to his roots with a modern twist. It was also the first time a superhero was clearly defined as a menacing and scary anti-hero. Add an unlikely hero in Michael Keaton and a scene-stealing turn for Jack Nicholson and the mix is complete. Christopher Nolan himself (director of Batman Begins and The Dark Knight) called this "...a brilliant film, visionary and extraordinarily idiosyncratic...".We agree.

Finally, we come to the all-time greatest comic book movie...


1. Superman (1978): As the first comic book movie to be made specifically for adults, and not for kids, it stands on it's own. The director Richard Donner used the word Verisimilitude to describe the film saying, "It was a constant reminder to ourselves that, if we gave into the temptation we knew there would be to parody Superman, we would only be fooling ourselves." Ground-breaking special effects and a truly well-cast hero made this movie stand the test of time. Add the venerable Gene Hackman and Marlon Brando and you have an instant classic.

What do you think?


BONUS LINK: Read our list of the Top Ten Worst Comic Book Movies of all time.

6/17/2009

"Well...I got better..."
Shocking to no one, and a surprise to few, Steve Rogers (aka Captain America) is back alive and well.  Marvel announced in the Daily News the return of the First Avenger two-and-a-half years after his assassination in an upcoming five-issue series titled "Captain America: Reborn."  He was originally supposed to be "dead" for six months, but the series popularity actually increased with his untimely death. Ed Brubaker, the writer of Captain America said, "...The story kept growing and growing and becoming more popular. We didn't originally have a plan for anyone else to become the new Captain America, but that just grew out of the story we were telling." Marvel hasn't released details about Roger's return, but hints that he was "on a Vonnegut-esque metaphysical journey," and "while he seems to be dead, his mind and his spirit" are alive elsewhere.

While fan-boys are ecstatic, no one really believed Marvel's flagship character would stay deceased. After all, he was dead in the comics for almost thirty years, but it is unique in the sense that Superman, the other high-profile superhero death, was only dead for a year.
EXCLUSIVE FIRST LOOK: Steve Rogers is back as Captain America | Hero Complex | Los Angeles Times

6/11/2009

U2 On The ‘Spider-Man’ Musical: Peter Parker’s Story Is ‘Like Every Rock-And-Roll Star’s Story’ - Bono and company explain why they decided to write the music and lyrics for the upcoming musical "Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark". I'm still dying to see how they do the web-slinging, but that's about all I'm looking forward to. Exit stage left.

Life-Size Gundam Built In Japan - One more reason to go to Japan. If the sight of a 60 foot giant robot isn't enough, it also has lights, steam and a moving head. It's the 30th anniversary of Mobile Suit Gundam...which I still haven't seen.

‘Robocop’ Returns To Comics With New, Ongoing Series - It could be interesting, but I doubt it. The conflict inherent in the character doesn't translate into a series. As for the image of a cyborg cop blasting crooks. I guess it could be ok.

Eddie Murphy Addresses ‘Batman 3’ Riddler Rumor On ‘The Tonight Show’ - Eddie Murphy addresses persistant rumors he's cast to play the Riddler in the next Batman film "The Caped Crusader". Not as ridiculous as Cher playing Catwoman, but still he denies it. He then goes on to do a brilliant impression of Vincent Price as Egghead. “Egg-cellent! Egg-squisite! … They’ll never crack this hard-boiled case!”...Nolan, are you listening? You made it work with Ras AlGhul.

Is The First ‘Iron Man 2’ Mickey Rourke Image A Bad Sign? - I ignored all the claims that Mickey Rourke is in Iron Man 2 as a hoax until now and it's not looking good. Apparently playing a character called "Whiplash" who is a cross between "Crimson Dynamo" and the character of the same name. How to describe it? Imagine if "Fat Albert and the Cosby kids" made a gladiator outfit. Yeah. Kind of goofy looking.
We now present the review of Star Trek XI (2009). Please be aware that the more obvious spoilers have been partially obscured, but there may be some minor plot reveals. Enjoy.

Q: What’d you think of the new “Star Trek” movie?

Hotshot: I will say that I thought it was excellent and also very provocative for the hardcore fans.
Geek #2: In a word: Awesome. It jumped into my top ten list and is the best star trek movie since “Wrath of Khan”. While some of hardcore fans lament that change in tone of the characters (Spock more emotional, Kirk more rebellious) I think it works really well in making the characters deeper and more interesting.
Hotshot: I agree, it was an excellent “Star Trek” movie, definitely in second place in my opinion of all-time best.

Q: What do you think of the changes to the characters?

Geek #2: I really liked the way they were handled. I thought all the characters were different, but truer to the essence of themselves. Uhura is a perfect example. In the old series, she was a glorified phone operator. Her character was basically “I have Starfleet on the line.” They gave her a background in xeno-linguistics and all that stuff, but none of it was on the screen. In the new movie, she was definitely more complex and capable than the old series character. She was also sexier and her quiet confidence from the old series became more arrogance. I liked it. It’s true that Spock was more emotional, but the old series always established that he struggled to control his emotions more than other Vulcans. That struggle was just more to the surface in this movie. Kirk was more rebellious, but (again) the old series always established him as a rebel. I think “Star Trek” just took the personalities that existed from the old series and made them stronger and more complex. Then you also have to consider that these are younger versions of the old series, so are less controlled. How about you?
Hotshot: That was my take too. Maybe Spock learned to control himself when he got older and Kirk learned how to play by some of the rules. It works and frankly Spock never seemed all that different from other Vulcans before. Now he stands out from them. Uhuru was great really well done. A great homage to the character. And her relationship with Spock just gave a whole new layer to each character. We could go on and on with the other characters.

Q: Ok. Who’s your second favorite character besides the "Big Three"?
Hotshot: If you count the Big Three as Kirk, Spock, and Bones, then I would have to go with Uhura. She was cool. I never thought of Uhura as hot before, but she was in this movie. If we count Uhura as a Big Three, then I would say Scotty was my next favorite. They really took him and made him an eclectic character that’s way more interesting and funny than the original Mister Scott.

[SPOILER ALERT]
Speaking of Uhura’s relationship with Spock, I was just blown away by the romantic angle. I was trying to explain the significance to my wife, and she didn’t get it. I mean, just the fact that Spock was romantically involved with anyone outside of his mating season was a bold change to the character. And then: Uhura? I can’t think of any more surprising pairing they could have made in the series, short of having Kirk and Spock fall in love...and I would even consider that slightly less shocking than Uhura and Spock.


Q: [SPOILER ALERT]
What was your take on the destruction of Vulcan?

Geek #2: I won’t get into the fan fiction I’ve heard about Kirk and Spock (gross) but I agree it really was amazing. I also like that it wasn’t just a gimmick. It felt genuine. The loss of Vulcan was shocking and bold. Very nice and gave the entire race a purpose other than just “Spock's race”.
Hotshot: I have to say, I thought the destruction of Vulcan was the most bold and (to me) controversial move. I’d call it a kick to the crotch of every hardcore Star Trek fan. That’s because the Vulcans are one of the three big alien races in Trek; human, Vulcan, Klingon. By destroying Vulcan and most of the Vulcan race, the power and importance of the race is diminished, and establishes that this universe will never be the old Trek universe. I expected by the end of the movie to have them go back in time and save the Vulcan world, and couldn’t believe it ended that way. Bold move.

Q: What about the special effects?

Geek #2: The special effects were dynamite to me. Subtle in spots and bold in others.
Hotshot: I had no problem with the special effects, but I saw the movie on a drive-in screen, so it was kind of hard to make out sometimes. I do like that they gave the movie a more realistic feel - like the engine room wasn’t just a comfortable little room, but a huge and sprawling chamber of pipes and tubing. Sort of the “Lord of the Rings” approach to “Star Trek.”

Q: What did you think of the story?
Geek #2: Phenomenal. I thought it was a perfect way to start. It was a world expanding romp through space and time. Plenty of action even when none was necessary (ex. Scotty stuck in a pipe).
Hotshot: I agree about the plot. I thought it was very well constructed. I never realized how badly most Star Trek stories are written until this one. Most “Trek” stories tend to rely on some technological McGuffin (i.e. “We’re trapped in this solar system. Let’s rig the ship’s warp drive to the teleporter and beam the whole ship out!”) to solve the problem. This movie was more accessible with solutions based on the characters’ ingenuity, not their technology. Spock shooting Kirk onto another planet was awesome.
Geek #2: Plot was dynamite to me too (“beam the whole ship out” LOL). It had lots of twists and turns without being cartoonish. The Kirk thing was great too.

Q: One article listed Nero as one of the top ten Star Trek villains. Was Nero one of the best villains in trek?
Hotshot: Honestly, I didn’t think Nero was that great a villain. He had great weapons and great ambition, but other than that, he didn’t stick in my mind. You can’t credit him for the great weapons because he was from the future - he was more advanced and powerful by default. I really thought they could’ve done better, but the villain was kind of incidental to the story. The biggest obstacles to the heroes’ goals were the heroes themselves.
Geek #2: I thought Nero was pretty good actually. Menacing and driven with a kick of a back story. You’re right about the technology, of course, but even then I liked him.

Q: How about the Kobayashi Maru bit?
Geek#2: I know they established that Kirk was the only one to beat the Kobyashi maru by sabotaging the test, but it was still cool to see how it all played out. Having Spock the designer of the test was a hoot.

I agree that there was a really nice mix of old and new to help ground the series in reality. He’s driving a vintage sports car through a corn field while being chased by a cop on a hover bike. The most advanced spaceship in the galaxy looked like a boiler room in the lower decks.

The list of nods to the original series could fill a book. Besides the obvious quotes (“I’m giving it all she’s got captain!”) there are the less obvious ones: The worm implanted in the victim, Pike in a wheelchair, Kirk with a green babe. Plenty for everyone.

Q: Final Rating?
Geek #2: Me, I’m giving it four and a half out of five. Solid plotting, great acting and plenty for the whole family. You?
Hotshot: I would agree with that rating. Four half stars out of five.
FINAL RATING: ****1/2 out of *****

6/10/2009

As much as I love Mythbusters for being funny, irreverent and just good science, every now and then they take their Mythbusting too far.  I like when they take on common movie myths like shooting a lock off, jumping in water to slow down a bullet or climbing a wall with suction cups I do have my limits.  While I didn't mind when they tried to prove if a Ninja can catch a sword (no), cut a sword with another sword (uh...no), or walk on water (uhh...no again). When they take on movie myths that are flat out impossible in an obvious fantasy it takes it over the line. Tonight they're trying to see if it's possible to curve a bullet like in "Wanted".  I can answer that question in one word: No. See?
No complicated set-ups. No robot guns. No measuring the speed of a bullet in relation to the air-speed velocity of an unladen swallow.  If they're going to do that they should see if it's possible to run off a cliff, hang in the air and land in a hole with a perfect outline. Or look into the barrel of a shotgun and see if it leaves you black, sooty and slightly disheveled. You know why they're not going to? Because it's not meant to be taken seriously. Just like "Wanted". Guys, please stop. You're hurting America.
Splash Page » ‘MythBusters’ Takes On ‘Wanted’ In Special ‘Curving Bullets’ Episode

6/08/2009

Long time fans of the Star Trek franchise say JJ Abrams' enjoyable, engaging prequel betrays what Star Trek is all about.

YouTube - Trekkies Bash New Star Trek Film As 'Fun, Watchable'

6/01/2009

Very well-written and succinct article about Land of the Lost. Favorite quote:
The most important thing I learned? That nostalgia is a blinding force and this show, which I watched avidly during my formative years, was awful in just about every way. The special effects were beyond bad, the acting was worse and the plots were both boring and incomprehensible. But when you were a kid in the early 1970s, before DVDs of JURASSIC PARK and WALKING WITH DINOSAURS were sitting next to every TV in America, you took your dinosaur-themed entertainment where you could get it.
Five things I learned while wasting time watching the Memorial Day LAND OF THE LOST marathon on the Sci-Fi channel

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