Author Archive

Comic Con 2008 Day 2: Con-Gorilla!

July 25, 2008

Welcome faithful reader(s?)  EG thought it was important that we blog tonight and for this I hate him.  My body hurts.  I have the stink of other geeks upon my person.  And, the destroyed remnants of a Burger King Triple Stack and a couple of their Taco bombs just laid waste to my lower intestine.

But, EG tells me that the peoples they demands the updates. 

So, here you go. 

With the continued growth of ComiCon and the hope-dashingly long lines for nearly every panel (I’m looking at you “Ghost Hunters.”  Seriously?  Ghost Hunters was at capacity?  Really?  Did actual ghosts appear at the panel?  Were they captured before a live audience and then given corporeal form only to feast on the souls of the innocent leaving an ectoplasmic residue in it’s wake?  Perhaps that’s what I sat in.) we only managed to get to handful of panels.

Oh, but what glorious panels (except for that Batman one with the corpse of Jerry Robinson) they were!

Here’s what ended up in along with both of our brief reflections on each followed by a few photos that’ll make you feel like you were actually there with impaired vision…

WARNER BROS. THE WATCHMEN PANEL (In which the director, cast and co-creator of the Graphic Novel presented new footage, some expanded from the recent trailer):

EG’s Thoughts:  Despite my still lingering misgivings about the project I can’t deny that the footage is impressive and that the makers of the film really do have a love for the project and the best intentions.  I still can’t see it being able to adequately translate the work from the sequential page to celluloid but we’ll see.

OG’s Thoughts:  While there’s not much in the world that’s worth a three hour wait in line behind the world’s biggest “Drew Carey Show” fan (not EG), this came pretty darn close.  Unlike most of these big Hollywood panels, the cast were unusually well spoken and knowledgeble of the source material.  (The scars from Sarah Michelle Gellar’s heat-vision blasts of disdain from six years back still burn.)  The footage knocked me out of my sweat-soaked socks and I’m just as excited about this movie as I was when we saw our first glimpse of “Superman Returns.”  Sadly, I think we all know how that turned out.

DC: BATMAN: NO REST FOR THE DARK KNIGHT (Starring writer’s Paul Dini, Brian Azzarello and Grant Morrison and Joker creator and aforementioned corpse Jerry Robinson): 

EG’s Thoughts:  I regularly buy both Batman and Detective Comics.  I’m enamored with both of the writers of those books (Dini & Morrison).  So, you’d think I would’ve been thrilled with this panel.  Unfortunately, there was no new information given, the writer’s seemed generally unaware of what each other was doing and most of the talk seemed to be rife with spoilers from “The Dark Knight” (which we won’t actually be seeing finally until Sunday!!!).  All and all, it was a generally disappointing panel that not even the lilting brogue of Grant Morrison could redeem.

OG’s Thoughts:  I second all that and would only add that it would have been nice if some of the questions asked of the creators were about the actual comics they create.  This panel sucked.

EG Adds:  And I desperately would have liked to have seen an actual fist-fight between Dini and Morrison who certainly seemed not to respect one and other very much.  (Despite lip-service to the contrary.)

ADULT SWIM: VENTURE BROS. & ROBOT CHICKEN:

EG’s Thoughts:  We have been to these panels before and they are consistently fun and entertaining and this year was no different.

OG’s Thoughts:  These two shows are the only programs in the Adult Swim line-up that don’t seem to be cobbled together from non-sequiters and bong resin.  And, while this panel has always been fun in the past, the creators have always seemed a little too-cool for school and kind of annoyed to be there. (Aqua Teen Hunger Force being the primary offender)  So, I really dug this year because these guys seemed to geniunely like interacting with the fans and were enthusiastic about what they had coming up.  

EG Adds:  The only down side – NO FREE SWAG!!!  Say you want you want about the Aqua Teen guys, those green Mooninite socks were awesome!

And, finally…

MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000 20th ANNIVERSARY REUNION (Patton Oswalt hosts the entire cast and writing team of this landmark in geek programming):

EG’s Thoughts:  If we had only managed to get to this panel for the entire Con I still would walk away satisfied.  As a long-time fan and member of the “Information Club” I was delighted to see both the clips and the cast united on this historic occasion.  I only wish that they had been able to announce a new re-launch of the series to heal my aching heart of the loss their cancellation brought.

OG’s Thoughts:  Really, probably one of the best things I’ve witnessed our 5 Con-going years.  Only that sad, miserable part of myself was disappointed that the Riff Trax people didn’t go to fisticuffs with the Cinematic Titanic people.  But, that’s a small part of me.  Mostly, I was happy to see them all together celebrating their excellent work.

Tom Servo, from MST3K.

Tom Servo, from MST3K.

     

Crow T. Robot, from MST3K.

Crow T. Robot, from MST3K.

 

Seems Emil Hirsch, following the failure of the recent Speed Racer film, has fallen on hard times.

Seems Emil Hirsch, following the failure of the recent Speed Racer film, has fallen on hard times.

Any guy willing to come to a hot, crowded Con, dressed in a furry Scooby Doo costume just to promote his comedy act and website deserves the link.  Here you go - Andre Meadows!

Any guy willing to come to a hot, crowded Con, dressed in a furry Scooby Doo costume just to promote his comedy act and website deserves the link. Here you go - Andre Meadows!

 

Okay, seriously - maybe the best Two Face costume weve ever seen.

Okay, seriously - maybe the best Two Face costume we've ever seen.

 

Is there anything I can type here that wont make me seem like a total perv?  No?  Okay, nevermind then.

Is there anything I can type here that won't make me seem like a total perv? No? Okay, nevermind then.

Alright, that’s it for Friday.  Due to an expected late night on Saturday, look for Saturday’s update on Sunday after we return to Los Angeles!

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BOOK CLUB DISCUSSION: DUNE by FRANK HERBERT

July 15, 2008

Howdy there, folks, and welcome once again to the Book Club Discussion. 

Today, we look at Dune by Frank Herbert.  As always, this will be a SPOILERIFIC look at the novel, so if you don’t want to know what happens, don’t read this!!!  If you have read the novel, feel free to add your thoughts by commenting at the bottom.  Now, prepare yourselves…

SYNOPSIS:
In the far distant future, humanity has spread throughout the universe. Planets are ruled by various Houses, held together under the ruler of an Emperor. 

Among the Houses are the Harkonnens (a despicable group that rule by deception, oppression, and force) under Baron Vladimir Harkonnen, and the Atreides (a group of true nobility and just ways) led by Duke Leto. As you might guess, there is no love lost between the two Houses.

Unfortunately for Leto and his people, the Emperor sees Leto as a threat to his power, and he hatches a plan with the Harkonnens

Leto is instructed by the Emperor to leave his planet and take control of Arrakis, a desert planet that is nearly unlivable. Arrakis has one resource, though, that is precious – Spice Melange. The Spice is mined in the sands of the desert. Ingesting the spice allows one the ability to see possible paths into the future. And, it is very addictive. As such, it is highly valuable and much sought after. 

By taking Leto from his home planet and moving him to the unfamiliar and inhospitable wasteland that is Arrakis, his enemies hope to make an opportunity to destroy him and his house. The Emperor eliminates a threat to his power, and the Harkonnens eliminate a rival House.

Though Leto senses the trap, he is obligated to follow through. Along with his military force, he is joined by his concubine, Jessica, a Bene Gesserit (an religious order of women who serve as advisers, being somewhat prescient and able to control the actions of others verbally), and their son, Paul.

Unbeknownst to anyone save the Bene Gesserit, breeding has been manipulated to bring forth a prophesied leader, the Kwisatz Haderach, a male trained in the ways of the Bene Gesserit. Jessica believes that Paul is that leader.

The Atreides move to Arrakis and take control of the planet. On arriving, Leto is introduced to the “natives” of the planet, a group called the Fremen. Through constant exposure to the Spice, the Fremen’s eyes are blue on blue, with no whites. While the Harkonnens saw the Fremen as merely uncivilized desert dwellers, Leto sees them as the key to Arrakis – a force of people that have learned the ways of the desert planet and adapted.

Before long, the House of Atreides is attacked from within. The action ignites accusations of betrayal, causing an atmosphere of mistrust to form. Unknown to any is that the betrayer is actually Dr. Yueh, a trusted confidant to the family. His betrayal, though, is not so simple – he loves the Atreides and hates the Harkonnen. As we learn later, his reasoning for the betrayal is actually an attempt to destroy the Baron Vladimir.

Essentially, Yueh delivers the Duke into the hands of the Baron, while the forces of the Harkonnen (along with the disguised forces of the Emperor, the Sardaukar) attack and scatter the Atreides forces.

Paul and his mother manage to escape, thanks to Dr. Yueh, and eventually take refuge with the Fremen, thanks in no small part to their fighting abilities, which the Fremen refer to as the “weirding”.

Paul thrives in the new environment, to the point that the Fremen begin to wonder if he is actually the Lisan alGaib (or Voice from the Outer World), the Mahdi (Messiah) that will transform Arrakis into a paradise. Paul takes on his Fremen name of Paul Muad’Dib (a mouse native to Arrakis) and quickly is seen as a great leader. His mother, Jessica, takes on the role of the Reverend Mother to the Fremen.

Years pass and under the leadership of Paul Muad’Dib, the Fremen grow stronger, until the moment comes when Paul Muad’Dib decides the time has come to retake his rightful position of Duke of the House of Atriedes, ruler of the planet of Arrakis.

An all encompassing, well planned out attack is made and Paul Muad’Dib and the Fremen are victorious. In a final blow to the Emperor, Paul threatens to destroy all of the Spice on the planet, a move that not only secures his position as Duke and ruler, but also leads to a marriage to the Emporer’s daughter, making him next in line to ascend to the throne.

DISCUSSION:

OG: Well, this one’s a whopper; and, not just because it’s a big book with lots of them pesky words to read, but more so because of all of the even peskier ideas Herbert packs into it. Huge, important ideas and themes piled on top of the already massive amounts of plot, intrigue, character development and world, nay, universe building he shoves between the covers.

EG:  It is quite the layered novel.

OG:  Indeed.  So, where to begin discussing this thing? I had a lot of trouble deciding until I remembered reading this 1979 quote by Frank Herbert in which he said:

“The bottom line of the Dune trilogy is: beware of heroes. Much better rely on your own judgment, and your own mistakes.”

I read this quote directly after finishing the book and it really opened up my understanding of what I had just been through. After some more digging around, I then located where Herbert expanded on this thought in his essay “Dune Genesis” (found here: http://www.dunenovels.com/news/genesis.html) in which he basically lays out the short story of how and why he came to write this series in the first place. Here’s a couple more choice quotes from there that give you the flavor, but I’d recommend anyone who read this book to read the whole essay when they have the time…

“…superheroes are disastrous for humankind. Even if we find a real hero (whatever-or whoever-that may be), eventually fallible mortals take over the power structure that always comes into being around such a leader.” 

And…

“Don’t give over all of your critical faculties to people in power, no matter how admirable those people may appear to be. Beneath the hero’s facade you will find a human being who makes human mistakes. Enormous problems arise when human mistakes are made on the grand scale available to a superhero.”

I think the reason I want to start off here and why this idea resonates with me so much is that as I read “Dune” I read it under the penumbra of all the other stories out there about heroes rising to their rightful place as savior of their people/land/world/universe. I mean, you can’t get through this book without thinking that Herbert is riffing on the thousands year old tradition of the “heroes journey.” Even if one hasn’t read any Joseph Campbell, they’ve at least seen “Star Wars” and can probably fill in the major beats the story hits along the way. (Heck, EG, didn’t you, like me, think at many point, “Man, George Lucas totally read Dune before he wrote a word of Star Wars and just ripped it off all over the place!” I can just hear his thoughts, “Hmm, two moons, huh? I’ll just make it two suns and nobody’ll notice.”)

EG:  Um… actually, Star Wars didn’t come to MY mind… but the different view of the heroic journey did.  But, please, go on.

OG:  I suppose my hatred of the prequels (and Indy IV, to boot) have got me looking for other things to accuse George Lucas of.  Maybe plagiarism isn’t one of them.  Anyway, that said, reading the above quotes and getting into Herbert’s motivations here, made me realize that though he was using the basic skeleton or formula of the heroes journey, unlike Star Wars, he was using it as a means of, if not tearing it down (at least not in the first book), then definitely scrutinizing it and calling it into question.

On the one hand, you read about the horrors of the Harkonnen rule over Arakkis and the scheming of the Emperor within that, and you recognize that the Fremen and the rest of the universe absolutely need a savior to come. A Kwisatz Haderach or Lisan alGaib has to rise to stop this great evil and bring peace and tranquility to the world. But, while that’s true, rarely in these types of stories do we reckon with the flip side of that. And, Dune magnificently explores that side of things. This person is a human being. This man (well, child really), Paul Muad’Dib has loves and hates and flaws and all those things that great power and authority can only eventually tarnish and inflate.

And, as he journey’s along to find his place of power, the inner struggle that he goes through, the conflict with his mother over her place in that journey, and the feeling of inescapable doom and anxiety that outlines his prescience is what separates this story from the rest.

So, I’ve just kicked us off with a big, fat mouthful. What do you think about this EG? Did you finish this book thinking that the day had been saved and all was right with the world, which is how I initially put it down before more thought and more insight from the author. Or, did you, ever wiser than I, flip the last page and say, “Yeah, things are okay now, but there’s a dark moon on the rise?”

EG:  Actually, the flashing visions of the future that Paul could see did clue me in.  You said the word “inescapable.”  That is what really turns the heroic journey on its ear.  Paul, through his own prescience, quite literally “sees” the problems with him assuming the role of the Kwisatz Haderach and the Lisan alGaib, and yet, despite that knowledge, he finds himself locked into that path.  He was bred for it, he was trained for it, and even with his own misgivings, at each turn he finds himself falling into or even embracing those positions.  His reluctance in thought helps give us a nice reminder that despite outward appearances, things are probably not going to be coming up roses later on down the path.  It is really quite a contradiction, because through Paul’s eyes, we see that what he’s doing is leading up to, among other things, a holy war, and Paul, in thought, is desperate to prevent that, yet instead of avoiding the decisions that will lead to that, he runs toward them.  In theory, Paul could have joined the Fremen and then merely lived out his life among them, with his wife, Chani, and their children.  In actuality, though, the person we come to know as Paul really would not, possibly could not, take that passive route. 

OG: Okay, so putting all that high-falutin‘ talk about heroes journeys and the greater themes of Dune aside, what did you think of the book just as a reader? Were you entertained? Did it make you want to read more?

EG: I enjoyed the book, overall.  It was very slow going at first, but after a time, I was able to really get into the story.  Knowing that the book was set up from the outset to be a trilogy, I knew that there was going to be a lot of groundwork laid that would only really come into play in later books… which is something I found that I had to remind myself of on several occasions.  What I mean is, toward the end of the book, I’d think, “Nothing was done with _____?  Why did they bring it in at all?  Oh.  Yeah.  Trilogy.”

OG: Well, as you already know, I already read the second book, “Dune Messiah” immediately after finishing this one. So, I guess that’s as good an indication as any about how much I enjoyed “Dune” purely as a reader. And, I must say, it’s quite a contrast to how I was feeling early in the book. I am often quite disoriented when thrown head-first into a universe with no warning. I appreciate the author’s intention in doing that and admire it from a storytelling standpoint, but I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you that I often want to be talked down to at the start of a book. It’s sad, but true. I’m often too lazy to do the work that’s required for keeping up with this kind of writing. The text from Princess Irulan’s writings and the usage of words, alien languages, and concepts that aren’t immediately explained made me a bit foggy in the first chapters and I struggled to find my footing.

EG:  Oh, let me interject here!  I ABSOLUTELY understand what you are saying!  The start of this book reminded me a lot of something my father said after he read Frank E. Peretti’s This Present Darkness.  I had read and enjoyed the book, so I loaned it to him, lo those many years ago.  After he read it, I asked what he thought, and he said, “Well, it was okay.  I don’t know why the angels had to have bizarre names, though.  TalGuiloArmoth?  Why couldn’t they just have normal names?  In the Bible, the angels had names like Michael and Gabrielle.”  I don’t think I fully appreciated that statement until Dune.  Slogging through those first pages… my mind kept searching for anything familiar, which was a bit of a distraction.  It was a huge relief once I got to “Paul” and “Jessica.”

OG:  Amen to that, brother.  So, once I did find that footing and had a sense of this universe and it’s history, then I was off to the races and ripping the pages aside as fast as I could. Though it was definitely a challenging read and one where I wasn’t always clear on what was happening, I still would call this book a page-turner.

EG: I don’t know that I’d go quite that far.  I probably didn’t get that feeling until maybe the last 100 pages of the book or so – once Paul was prepping to ride the maker.  At that point, the action seemed to shift gears for me.  You asked, earlier, if I would be interested in reading more of the Dune novels in the future, and, yeah, I will, but not right away.  Some time away will do me good.

I did find what I consider to be two glaring shortcomings in the book, aspects that I don’t see being resolved to my satisfaction in future books.  You, having read the second book though, can correct me if I’m wrong.

First, the death of Paul’s son, Leto.  For me, it registered almost zero impact.  Leto was an entirely off camera character – we, as readers, never met him, never saw any interaction between him and his father, and then his death was something we only heard about.  Mind you, not that I wanted a gripping tale of how the Harkonnens came in and killed a child, but I did need something to give the character a little substance.  Especially since Paul is so in control of his emotions, saving his grief for another time on repeated occasions.  The whole thing was dealt with in a way that completely disconnected me, and so I didn’t “feel” the death.

OG:  I’m with you there.  Come to think of it, I can’t imagine what kept Herbert from including more of Paul’s family life.  It’s not like he was afraid of making the book too long.  It’s down right strange, now that you mention it.  The final showdown is what so much of the book builds towards and since nothing short of the fate of the universe is hanging in the balance, the added weight that that death brought to it and Paul’s decisions couldn’t have been overdone.  Definitely a missed opportunity.

EG:  The second shortcoming I’d note is the upstaging of Thufir Hawat.  Baron Vladimir Harkonnen came up with the plan to enlist Thufir Hawat as his own Mentat, despite the fact that Thufir was loyal to the House of Atreides.  The Baron cultivated the deception in Thufir’s mind that the betrayer of the House of Atreides was none other than Jessica, Concubine to Leto, Mother to Paul, and Bene Gesserit witch.  Thufir accepts the position of Mentat for Vladimir, with the idea that one day he could finally gain his vengeance on her.  For what seemed like hundreds of pages, I waited, wondering, is he going to kill her, forcing Paul to kill him?  Is he going to find out too late that it was all a Harkonnen trick and be driven mad by his actions?  I waited and waited, anticipating this moment…

…and when the moment came, Thufir Hawat wasn’t even in the room.  Come to think of it, I’m not sure he was even on the planet, yet.  What happens instead of the confrontation I was looking forward to is the reintroduction of Gurney Halleck, who has taken a position aboard a smuggler’s ship, and felt the same way about Jessica that Thufir Hawat did.  The scene comes where Gurney takes Jessica and threatens her life in front of Paul, who explains the truth to him, and Gurney is so grieved at his own actions that he offers his life to both of them.  They forgive him, and the story moves forward.  At that point, I thought, “That whole scene should have been with Thufir Hawat instead.”  At the very least, I thought that having that scene occur really took the wind out of the sails of a forthcoming scene of confrontation that did include Thufir Hawat.  But, then, it didn’t matter, because at the end of the book, again, off screen, someone had explained the truth to Thufir Hawat and that was that.  It was very anticlimactic to me.

 OG:  Well, just as I’m starting to think of this book as this perfect, smooth block of marbled cheese, aged to perfection, you blast a couple significant holes through it and suddenly I’m dealing with plain ole’ Swiss!   Well, I shouldn’t overdo it.  I still adore Dune, but this second shortcoming you’ve noted is a pretty big stumble plot-wise.  I think I did have the thought in the back of my head that Hawat would be a bigger player at the end.  I think that’s a seed that Herbert planted early on and sort of lost track of as he lost the plot.  Then, when it became more expedient to bring Gurney back into things in the last act, I think he transferred that motivation to him.  Ultimately, while a misstep, I think it doesn’t undo the drama completely.  I mean, what that plot development led to, for me, was the most emotionally satisfying moment in the book – where Jessica fully realizes the damage that the Bene Gesserit meddling has done to Paulas and her part in it.  It was the closest that Jessica and Paul came to healing between them and I really felt the impact of that, despite the fact that it should have been Hawat holding a knife to her throat.  

Regardless, I’m quite willing to forgive those two incidents of narrative sloppiness.  Dune has greatness to burn in it’s pages which, for me, cover a multitude of sins.  So, I’m gonna do it.  I’m giving this book a full 5 Running Steves, EG.  How about you?

 Photobucket

EG:  Wow, you sure do like to throw around those Running Steves, don’t ya?  

OG:  Sure do!  As long as Steve Austin has nothing to do with the book, that is.

EG:  Well, for me, Dune really does land somewhere between 3 1/2 Running Steves and 4 Running Steves.  The two major shortcomings are gonna cost this one.  I’m giving it 3 1/2 Running Steves.

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OG:  Well, that’s just something you’ll have to live with for the rest of your life!!!!  Well, I guess that about does it.  Honestly, there’s a lot more I thought I’d get to in this discussion, but it being mid-July already and my fingers being tired, I think we should cut this puppy down.  If I get the energy up, I might bring up a couple more points in the comments section.  That is, unless that section is so flooded by our many readers that I can’t get a word in edge-wise.  Tee-hee.

Oh, and speaking of July, we’ve made no announcement of the book of the month because there isn’t one.  This is turning out to be a pretty busy Summer in anticipation of EG and OG’s great hajj to the San Diego International Comic Con!  

So, look forward to the next book in August.  Max Brooks’ “WORLD WAR Z.”

HERE’S MUD IN YOUR AFI! (aka Our Own Top Ten Sci-Fi Films Lists)

June 24, 2008

As mentioned in our previous post, the AFI has returned again to anger and confuse the weary filmgoer.  In fact, it’s high time that AFI assemble their “Top 100 AFI Crimes Against Cinema in AFI Top 100 Lists” or something like that.  Don’t you think?

But, if they did that, then we wouldn’t get to participate in America’s new national pastime – correcting the AFI’s mistakes.  So, both of us (OG and EG to the uninitiated) have cobbled together our own top ten sci-fi film lists.  At first, it should be said, OG was convinced that the lists would differ wildly.  But, as you’ll see below, there’s a good reason the two of us have joined in bloggy bliss together.  (Ew.  That sounds a little gross.)

Now, we should preface this by saying that lists like these are obviously a pretty personal thing based on your own tastes and interests.  For instance, there are probably precious few sci-fi geeks who would quarrel with the inclusion of “Blade Runner” on the AFI list if not it’s placement on it.  But, as you’ll see, neither of us has included it.  As he said before, EG doesn’t like it.  And, if you’ve read OG’s lists of shame from a month or so ago, then you know that he hadn’t seen it.  (Well, he’s seen it since then and is working on his review.  He’ll only spoil that review a little to say that he liked it okay and might have even loved it if not for the barfy Vangelis score.  Ugh.)  

But, we come not to tear films down.  We come to praise.  And, with that, we’ll start at number ten… 

OG’s #10:  ROBOCOP

I’ll never forget begging my oldest brother to drive me down to the Toledo dollar theater to see this one and riding home in his truck afterwards just giddy, knowing I’d seen something completely new and amazing.  This particular dystopia, while much more grim than the wild west feeling of the Road Warrior pictures, probably hit home even more for me as it was set in a future Detroit that didn’t feel like much of a stretch at the time and, frankly, doesn’t seem like much of a stretch today.  The gore was probably what got me the most excited back then, but what continues to work for it is the melancholy performance of Peter Weller at its center as well as the hard-edged satire of the script.  (Not to mention “That 70’s Show’sKurtwood Smith in unleashed, foaming-at-the-mouth, maniac mode.  Something awesome to behold.)

EG’s #10:  THEY LIVE 

I love this film.  It’s social commentary, the limited effects, the fantastic fight scene over putting on a pair of sunglasses, and the fact that my favorite wrestler, Rowdy Roddy Piper, is the star.  It is definitely a throwback in style to the science fiction films of the 50’s, cashing in on the paranoia that still lurks just under the surface of modern America.

OG’s #9:  THEY LIVE

Heck yeah, I’m with you on this one bro.  Sure, it’s got a boat-load of flaws and is no where near as proficiently made a film as some of the titles in my below honorable mentions.  But, I can’t help it.  I love this movie like the “mutated puppy-dog left in the woods to die and only found because I was about to pee on it on a hiking trip” that it most certainly is.  “I have come here to chew bubble gum and kick a**, and I’m all out of bubblegum.”  Oh, yeah.  One single, perfectly delivered line by our mutually favored kilt-wearing wrestler is all it takes to land yourself on a top ten list.  But, in all seriousness, this not only riffs, as you say, on the sci-fi films of the 50’s, it also adds in an extra level of humor and gut-punching action to the paranoia that makes it so much fun to watch and re-watch.

EG’s #9:  CONQUEST OF THE PLANET OF THE APES 

My favorite of the Ape films.  This is the darkest of the films, chronicling the story of Caesar, who rises up to lead the revolt of the enslaved apes against their human masters.  But, it isn’t perfect.  The reason it is this low on the list is that it is another film that has a tacked on “happy ending.”  The speech given by Caesar at the end of the film wasn’t actually part of the original film.  Such a shame to cop out at the end, but the entire rest of it is so good that I can forgive.

OG’s #8:  THE MATRIX

Much like Empire Strikes Back, this is a movie that could have quickly dropped off of this list due to the films that have come after it.  But, despite the Wachowski’s self-immolation as masters of modern sci-fi, and despite the utter dumbness that pervades the sequels, this original film still stands up as sci-fi greatness.  Yes, it re-invented the modern sci-fi film. Yes, Keanu Reeves really is good in it.  And, yes, it’s the greatest Phillip K. Dick story that he never wrote.

EG’s #8:  THE MATRIX

I swear, I had my list already done before I looked at yours.  This movie gazed at the current landscape of humanity – the feeling of isolation and being an outcast despite the increased “connection” we all have with each other today – and gave a very science fiction reason for that continuing feeling of disconnect.  We aren’t wrong – the world is.  The rise of the machines in this movie, I think, is handled better than in the Terminator films… which is why this made the list and those movies did not.

OG’s #7:  JOHN CARPENTER’S THE THING / THE FLY (1986)

So, I’m a rotten stinking cheater.  This is the first of two ties that I’m putting on my list.  Yes, I realize that it’s shameful.  But, this tie I’m less ashamed of than the one that comes later.  Because these two pictures really are uniquely entwined together for me and I couldn’t imagine which film would be above which. 

Both are remakes that outshine the originals, both are directed by men working at the very top of their craft, both are capable of making this jaded gore-hound put his popcorn down this many years later, and both are as much about the psychological breakdown of it’s human characters as they are about the evil science (from without and from within respectively) attacking them.  If this were a horror list they’d be in the top five.  But, so strong are they as sci-fi, they easily make this top ten.

EG’S #7:  INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1956)

Another great film that blends science fiction and horror.  The majority of the film is flashback to what has led the main character to his current state of mind – nearly stark raving mad.  The idea of near perfect copies of friends and family replacing the originals is more than disturbing, and creates a near perfect atmosphere of paranoia.  As I said previously, though, the power of the film is taken away a little by the tacked on “happy ending.”  But, if that is my only real problem with a film, it is one I can overlook.

OG’s #6:  THE ROAD WARRIOR

Oft imitated, the Road Warrior films, this one (and, the clunkier, but no less beloved Mad Max before it) in particular, are the gold standard in dystopia for me.  I even perversely enjoy the Tina Turner one.  Now, this film is an action film first, but because of all its imitators and because of its singular vision of a world gone to seed, I couldn’t not put this puppy on here.  Mel Gibson can verbally assault a thousand more cops and I’ll still love Max and this masterpiece forever.

EG’s #6:  THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL

One of the finest crafted science fiction films of all time.  And, you know what?  My favorite aspect is something no one talks about – the film is touted as one with a message against the violence of the world… but every time I watch it, I’m struck with the fact that the “paranoid and xenophobic” people of the world are proven right in the film.  The aliens have come to inflict their will upon Earth… and despite the best intentions, it is still oppressive.  Just my thoughts.  Great film.

OG’s #5:  ALIEN

Don’t get me wrong, I love Aliens as much as any red-blooded American boy should.  But, that’s just it.  Even more than “The Road Warrior,” I always think of it (and the Terminator films, by the way) as an action film first.  A brilliant, chest-beating action film with great sci-fi madness dripping from the walls.  But, Alien is ultimately the one that sticks out to me as a MUST INCLUDE as I’m assembling my list.  I suppose it’s as much a horror film as Aliens is an action film, but I think what supersedes the horror is that Ridley Scott re-invented what space travel could look like in film and gave it a working-class grime that’s been copied ad infinitum since he did so.

EG’s #5:  ALIEN

See, I said this should be in the top five!  And, after much thinking, I concur that Aliens is more of an action film.  It is amazing, though, how often science fiction combines with elements of horror.  Here, it is done so well, though, that I’m still calling this one science fiction.  It was absolutely cutting edge, and there are many imitators, but they all pale in comparison.

OG’s #4:  BRAZIL

As much as it pains me that Gilliam’s “12 Monkeys” or “Time Bandits” are just edged out of my final list (definitely in the top 20 for me, though), this is the one that I keep coming back to.  I love the whole bizarre, brain-blending thing.  The first time I got to the end credits I stopped the tape, said “What just happened?” and then immediately re-wound it and watched it again without missing a beat.  I’ve been watching it over and over ever since.

EG’s #4:  STAR TREK II:  THE WRATH OF KHAN

Yeah, I’ll say it – I’m a Star Trek fan.  Still, this is the one film in the series that even non-fans look at and say, “Yeah, that’s a good movie.”  This is the one Star Trek film that all others strive to be… and too often fail.  The characters are written perfectly, the story is tight, and the acting (which, admittedly, might have been over the top in another movie) is perfect.  This movie transformed what was merely an extension of a TV show into the franchise it is today.  As for The Empire Strikes back (that other beloved second film in that other beloved sci-fi franchise) … I know I’m making enemies here, but it isn’t going to crack my top 10 in science fiction.  I still see the original Star Wars films as more fantasy (a retelling of the Arthurian legend) than science fiction.  Still, it is a great movie.  Oh, and Brazil?  Its not making my top 10, either.

OG’s #3:  THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK / STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN

This is a cowardly attempt to appease two warring fan groups and I should really be ashamed of myself for not taking a firm stance on the matter.  Go ahead.  Call me a sissy, nancy boy.  But, I refuse to seperate the two, and if I did, how do you think that would make Robocop feel?  (He does feel, you know.  Robot or not.  Don’t you remember.  “What’s your name, boy?  (dramatic pause) “Murphy.”  (score swells)) 

Anyway, despite this tie and the cowardice it reveals in me, if I’m being completely honest, as much as I love Empire, Khan is secretly my preferred film.  (Don’t tell my brothers)  Both are the pinnacle of their respective franchises for me.  Both are basically flawless.  But, Khan, man. It’s just awesome all the way through, but then the final act comes and the epic conflict between the two Jupiter-sized personalities at the center of it along with the single most moving character death ever filmed just bring the whole enterprise (pardon the pun) up to the level of high art for me.  It’s like having popcorn with a nice bottle of chardonnay.  Wait, what?  That sounds disgusting.  But, you get my drift.

EG’s #3:  THE ABYSS

This is probably the most divisive film I’ve got for this list.  I think it a fantastic film.  The special effects are groundbreaking and the acting is top notch – something you don’t get often enough in science fiction.  In my head, it is a blend of Close Encounters and The Day the Earth Stood Still, but, even so, it manages to find its own voice.

OG’s #2:  CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND

EG, you were so right to be incredulous at the AFI’s omission of this film.  It’s the only one on my personal list that can give an as yet unnamed film a run for its money.  And, while I do ultimately put it at number two, it’s nudging right up cozy to that number one slot.  There’s maybe just a Gundar’s hairs-breadth between them.  (That’s my vote for nerdiest sentence of this blog entry, by the way.)

EG’s #2:   CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND

So much for our lists differing wildly, huh?  AFI not including this one automatically renders their list invalid, in my opinion.  And, we also agree – this is just barely out of that number one slot.  The hard science of then next film just edges it out.  Still, I can watch this one more often, if that counts for anything!

OG’s #1:  2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY

This was not just the obvious choice for me, but the honest choice.  This movie never stops blowing my mind.  The first sci-fi movie without lasers that I gave the time of day to and the one that pretty much changed me as a film-watcher from that moment on.  I can completely understand why this might not hit your top 5 EG, but I also think that it doesn’t need me to sing its praises any more than has already been done by countless fans before me.  (Funny story:  In college I had read about a guy who stayed awake for 5 days straight and had hallucinations.  I decided I would do the same thing.  I was 48 hours into this experiment when I had the brilliant idea of throwing on 2001 for a viewing.  Yeah, I was flat on my face asleep in the center of my dorm room at the first appearance of a man-ape.  College does not make you smarter, kids.)

EG’s #1:  2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY

2001: A Space Odyssey:  Surprised you, huh OG?  Yeah, me too.  My statement from the AFI posting holds true – not necessarily my favorite, but deserving of the spot.  As a matter of fact, after I posted that, I went and watched the film again (thanks Netflix!), and I couldn’t put it any lower.  It is probably the purest science fiction film ever made.  The extrapolation of modern science into a plausible future is amazing, especially when you consider that this film is 40 years old.  It is also a beautiful film to watch – from the early scenes in the wilds, to the docking of a space plane, to the psychedelic “travel” scenes near the end.  It also inspires discussion.  The film is very open ended, and while that loses a lot of people, it allows a lot of speculative dialogue from folks willing to accept that the film DOESN’T answer all the questions.  Now, is this one that I would want to pop in and watch everyday?  No, but if someone had me at gunpoint and demanded I show them the best science fiction film ever made, this one wins.  (OG’s NOTE:  I have not stopped crapping my pants from this revelation.  EG putting a Kubrick film at the top of any list!??!  As well as I know you brother, I would never have predicted this in a million years.  And, for this, I now love you with a boundless love that my heart never knew I was capable of!!!!)

And, with that, OG and EG joined hands and frolicked through the aisles of Blockbuster together, agreeing on every film that they laid eyes upon.  Two atoms smashing together to spark the beginning of a new, more perfect universe!

Um, er, this blog is getting uncomfortable.

So, let’s end this on a less disturbing, more triumphant note. 

TAKE THAT, AFI!!

We sure showed you!  Yeah, maybe we didn’t have the likes of Jessica Alba and Morgan Freeman singing the praises of our choices, but we have the truth on our side.  These are perfect lists and you would be wise to revise yours accordingly.

Oh, we almost forgot.  Here are the films that just missed our lists…

OG’s HONORABLE MENTIONS: 

E.T. (kept off due to the same “family film” caveat EG employs), The Day the Earth Stood Still, Planet of the Apes, Delicatessen (don’t be scared by the French speaking.  See – This – Now), Children of Men (give it another 10 years and it’ll probably creep into the top), Gojira, and Gattaca

EG’S HONORABLE MENTIONS:

Alien Nation (I wanted this one to make the list sooo bad, but I feared my love of the TV show made this one better than it really was), Westworld (would there have ever been a Terminator had there not first been a Gunslinger?), Robocop (Weller was amazing in this movie), Logan’s Run, Fantastic Voyage, E.T., and Forbidden Planet.

BOOK CLUB DISCUSSION: CYBORG by MARTIN CAIDIN

June 4, 2008

It’s finally here! Herein is contained the Book of the Month review of Martin Caidin’s Cyborg, much delayed, and sent out with the heartfelt apologies of the two tardy losers who post this blog, EG and OG.  As always, beware! There are SPOILERS within! If you haven’t read the book and want to and don’t want to know anything about it yet, now is the time to bale! 

 

If you’ve read the book and want to participate, we’d love it if you left a comment or 12 at the bottom of the post. Now, if we are all set, please settle down, sit a spell, kick your shoes off, and let’s take a look at Cyborg! 

 

SYNOPSIS:

 

“Steve Austin, astronaut. A man barely alive.  Gentlemen, we can rebuild him. We have the technology.  We have the capability to build the world’s first bionic man. Steve Austin will be that man. Better than he was before. Better, stronger, faster.” 

 

And, so goes the original opening of “The Six Million Dollar Man,” the TV series based on this month’s book, Cyborg by Martin CaidinCyborg is indeed the tale of Steve Austin, but a different one than most of us who watched the series are used to. Not completely different… but different enough. 

 

Air Force Colonel Steve Austin is a former astronaut who had become a test pilot. During a test flight, there is a catastrophic accident, leaving Steve Austin barely alive. As a result of the accident, he loses his left arm, both legs, and his left eye.  But he survives. 

 

Dr. Rudy Wells, Austin’s physician and friend, is approached by Oscar Goldman of the Office of Strategic Operations (OSO), with a proposition. Using the cybernetic breakthroughs of leading researcher Dr. Killian, Steve Austin could return to a relatively normal existence, not a crippled shell of the former man.  Wells, knowing that Austin would rather die than live in his condition, decides to allow the procedures.  We follow as Austin is implanted with his cybernetics and given a great amount of detail about how they work, their advantages, and their limitations, as Steve Austin becomes the first true Cybernetic Organism (or Cyborg). 

 

As Austin recovers from the procedures, we also follow his mental state, from his feelings of less than a man, to freak, moving toward acceptance of his state, and even to a place of gratitude for the advantages he has.  The reader is treated to the testing of the cybernetics of Austin, as he learns his abilities and limitations.  Before long, the OSO decides that it is time for Austin and his new cybernetics to serve their country, and begin sending him out on missions. This first is simply a recon mission, but an amazingly dangerous one, infiltrating a secret Russian base near the southeastern perimeter of the United States. 

 

Shortly after a successful completion of that mission, Austin is sent into the Middle East to steal a Russian MiG-27. 

 

On with the discussion! 

  

DISCUSSION:

 

EG: This is the first book we’ve taken a look at that has some “hard” science fiction elements to it. That is, it has really in-depth scientific description and explanation, focusing on theoretically accurate possibilities for the future of real science. Not simply, “Yeah, we gave him robot legs!” OG, I’m really interested in your reaction to this book, since you’ve admitted to having less experience with science fiction in book form. 

 

OG: You’re right, I have.  And I’ve really been looking forward to bringing some hard sci-fi into my diet. I love reading about new developments in technology and other futurist type writing, so I think I’d enjoy that stuff within the context of a greater work of fiction. That said, in a novel, I think I can only truly enjoy it if it’s been woven seamlessly into the narrative. My problem with Cyborg was that it didn’t handle that balance properly. My understanding is that before writing fiction Martin Caidin was an aviator or aeronautics engineer of some sort. That doesn’t surprise me in the least because many of his science-based passages were so dry that they chapped my lips.

 

That difficult reading (and, as short as this book is, I really did have a hard time slogging through it) only had a real payoff in terms of narrative as Steve began to deal with the psychological implications of what he’s become and his upgraded body. And, while that character stuff was much darker than I expected from the source material for “The Six Million Dollar Man,” (at least I don’t recall any scenes where Lee Majors attempts suicide!!!) it made the earlier stuff worthwhile because Caidin really forces you as the reader to understand how the “bionics” would work in conjunction with the body and therefore puts you squarely inside Austin’s head. 

 

EG:  That is true.  As for the character, no, in the TV show, Steve Austin never attempted suicide.  I’ve read some articles that refer to the Steve Austin in the book as “bloodthirsty,” but I don’t think of the character in that way.  To me, he is what I would call more “militaristic.”  He has a job to do, he has been trained and prepared to do that job, and he does that job.  In that frame of mind, in those situations, moral debate is left for a later time, perhaps by other people entirely.  And, the description of the cybernetics, to me, actually helps fill out Steve Austin as a character a bit.  Instead of seeing the cybernetics as an arm and legs, they very much became more “tools” in my head.  For example, when they talked about the limitations of the legs in side to side movement, or when they described the arm as a piston-like sort of battering ram, I saw them more clearly as tools of the man, rather than a part of the man himself.  Steve Austin was being equipped.  Modifications are even made from mission to mission.  The science-based passages helped cement that in my mind. 

 

OG:  Well, I can see that.  I did like all of that stuff, but it could have been done so much more fluidly by another writer. Caidin, to me, seems like the prototype for Michael Crichton, someone I feel does a better job of mixing the sciency exposition with the story and character. Well, from what little I’ve read from him, that is. 

 

EG:  I can’t argue with that.  It was infinitely easier to read through, for example, Jurassic Park (you did know that was a book before it was a movie, right OG?) than it was to get through Cyborg.  I gotta warn you though, my friend – a lot of hard science fiction suffers from this same problem. 

 

OG:  Well, yes, Mr. Smarty Pants, Jurassic Park and The Lost World happen to be two of the Crichton books that I have read. 

 

Anyway, what might have worked better from a storytelling point of view would be to start the novel in first person following the surgery as Steve begins to deal with what has happened and then, through third person flashbacks (better) or through conversations with one of the three exposition-mad characters in this book (worse), we could slowly learn about the accident and the technology that was integrated into his body. That way you dole out the science in bite-sized chunks that also serve the greater story. Instead of what you have now, which is kind of like drinking a gallon of NyQuil prior to eating a delicious piece of cake. 

 

EG:  Yeah, I went in expecting something closer to the TV show, but instead I got a hard science fiction book that turned into a spy thriller.  And, being totally honest, I’ll admit – I was very happy once we moved beyond the hard science fiction and into the spy stuff. I didn’t dislike the hard SF, it is just that, as you mentioned, long sections of pseudo-science technical explanation and testing can become…tedious. Getting to the application of Steve Austin’s cybernetic enhancements was much more interesting.  Perhaps Caidin could have focused on each of the cybernetics as they were about to be used, giving the explanation, and then immediately going into an application. 

 

OG: I think so.  And, I too welcomed the fact that this wasn’t just a big hunk of American cheese with dubious “science” on top.  I mean, the TV show is cool for what it was, but had that been all the book was, it might have been easier for me to get through, but wouldn’t have been as interesting. That said, I wouldn’t have minded in the slightest if Caidin had dropped the dusty realism just long enough to give our boy that cool telescoping eye from the show. A camera is fine and all and perhaps more plausible. But, come on! We’d all gladly suspend some disbelief in favor of a telescoping eye!  By the way, do you recall Steve Austin having a dart-shooting finger in the show? 

 

EG: No, Steve didn’t have the dart-shooting finger.  I also found the science-based book version of Steve Austin more interesting than the Steve Austin of TV.  I liked that  he couldn’t run at super speed or bend steel girders.  I was even fascinated by the explanation of his endurance abilities – that the heart and lungs that supported him when he was all man actually supplied much more for him after his accident, since they didn’t have to “feed” one arm and two legs.  I honestly didn’t miss the telescopic eye at all. 

 

OG: You didn’t miss the telescopic eye!?!?  Oh man, I don’t think there’s a single book I’ve read in my life that wouldn’t benefit from a telescopic eye or two.  I mean, imagine if Atticus Finch had had one.  Well, I don’t know what he would have done with it, but it probably would’ve come in handy when he had to shoot the rabid dog.  Of course, he did all right in that regard without it.  But still.

 

Okay, so I majorly digressed. 

 

Anyway, yeah, I also started to turn the pages at a faster clip once it became the spy thriller that it became. Again, it reminds me of another writer and, based on the characterization of Steve Austin that Caidin gives us, it’s a writer I wouldn’t be surprised to find he was an avid reader of. That would be Ian Fleming. And, this is not just because of the obvious comparisons to James Bond in terms of secret missions, cool gadgets, etc. Fleming also began as a technician in the field he later wrote fiction about and also wrote about a dark, manly man character that dispenses with human life without passion and views his employer with more than a smidgen of cynicism; a character who seems to hate himself while being simultaneously confident in his ability to do the job at hand. I will risk beating the proverbial dead horse here to point out that the primary difference between Fleming and Caidin is that Fleming made the transition from practitioner of spy-craft to fiction writer much more smoothly and entertainingly than Caidin did from aviator to sci-fi novelist. 

 

My hunch is that Caidin’s following three Steve Austin novels improve without having to do all the heavy lifting that’s taken care of in this one. Do you have any interest in reading any of those? 

 

EG:  I think we can plan on putting those on a list for a future date. 

 

OG:  Shonuff!

 

EG:  Maybe we’ll get through one in less than two and half months! 

 

OG:  ‘Nuff said.

 

EG:  For this book, though, despite the dry portions of theoretical science, I enjoyed it.  And, though it seems somehow a sacrilege to give the inspiration of this little club a less than 5 Running Steves rating, I’m gonna have to go with 3 1/2 out of 5 Running Steves

 

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OG: Yes, it does seem like a sin, but I’m gonna go just a bit lower and give it 3 Running Steves

 

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Hey, I don’t know if you caught any of NBC’s “Bionic Woman” re-tread debacle, but I kind of wonder if the makers of that show read Cyborg prior to putting it together. Now, they were hampered by some bad writing and not great casting. Also, they went a little too “Battlestar” on the thing and basically drained any fun out of what should be a little fun on principle alone. That said, they did try their hand at injecting some of the melancholy and moral quandary of becoming a cyborg (against your will) that you only really get from this book and not from the previous TV incarnations of these characters. And, while they failed completely, I can see better what they might have been attempting and it makes me wonder if it couldn’t have worked, or if a “Six Million Dollar Man” remake would be worth a thought. NBC certainly won’t be trying that any time soon. But, it makes me wonder.  Maybe some day. 

 

EG:  I did see the first four episodes of that series.  I don’t know if the book inspired it at all; I would say it was just the writing staff infusing a common “angst” into the show for the purposes of conflict.  (Get ready, because I’m about to go all geeky trivia here!)  I would say that the issue of melancholy and moral quandary was actually handled pretty well in the TV film “The Return of the Six Million Dollar Man and the Bionic Woman,” in which Steve Austin’s estranged son was in a similar crash to his father, and his father asks OSO to implant bionics in him. 

 

Afterwards, he deals with the issues of not wanting the bionics, particularly because of his feelings toward his father.  He even has to be counseled about it.  I remember liking the movie… but it has been 20 years since I saw it.  To further my geeky cred, though, there was another reunion movie a couple of years later called “Bionic Showdown,” and it starred a bionic Sandra Bullock.  I remember it stunk though, a lot, in spite of my crush on Sandra Bullock.  And, I don’t think the near 20 years since my last viewing will change THAT opinion at all. 

 

OG:  Wow.  “Return of…” sounds like a Netflix candidate for me.  Awesome. 

 

In that vein, I must say I’m excited at the forthcoming “$40,000 Man” about an astronaut involved in a terrible accident and is then rebuilt by the government on a shoe-string budget. Could be some comedy gold in there and maybe distract Jack Black away from any Green Lantern project he may have been thinking of in the past. 

 

EG: Uh… yeah.  You know, I have not been thrilled at the thought of any of these comedies that have been proposed over the years, be it the Jim Carrey “Six Million Dollar Man” or this one.  Then again, there haven’t been all that many comedies that have looked good to me in recent years.  But, if it keeps Jack Black away from Green Lantern, well, I’m all for it. 

 

OG:  Well, I think that just about does it.  Onward and upward.  And, dear readers, you should know that we here at the SABC are working feverishly to make sure we get “Dune” read and discussed in time for the end of June, beginning of July. 

 

We look forward to that and hope to see you in the comments section on this one or the next!

  

Well, they got my eight bucks now…

June 2, 2008

I had pretty much resigned myself to just saving the upcoming “Incredible Hulk” film on my Netflix queue for its eventual DVD release months from now.  But, then I pushed play on the latest trailer (apparently shot from the inside of someone’s trenchcoat at a trade show or something) and I am trying to figure out how to get a sitter so I can see this thing in the theater.

For anyone who remembers the opening of the original TV show, this trailer is the perfect shot of nostalgia and an excellent tonic for anyone wanting to wash away the taste of the previous version by (you wouldn’t like me when I’m) Ang Lee. 

Take a look…

What’s funny is that this trailer has been cut together from most of the footage I’ve already seen in previous trailers that left me underwhelmed.  But, somehow, the addition of the music and the attempt to connect this flm more directly to the TV show has won me over in a big way.   

Big Mac & Me

May 15, 2008

“Don’t worry Mac, this delicious, refreshing Coca-Cola is just the thing to revive your dying, alien parents!”

1988’s classic “Mac & Me” is famous for two things…

 

1)  Being a rip-off of “E.T.” (which was originally entitled “E.T. and Me”)

 

and

 

2)  PRODUCT PLACEMENT!!

 

Well, three if you’re like me and you count it as one film in director Stewart Raffill’s 80’s trifecta of masterpieces.  (“Ice Pirates” and “Mannequin: On the Move” round out that brilliant trinity, by the way)

 

Anyway, the product placement, which is quite obvious in an prolonged sequence in a Sears as well as Mac the alien’s exclusive diet of Skittles and Coca-Cola, reaches it’s apex in an extended, out-of-left-field dance sequence/musical number at a McDonald’s starring Ronald McDonald and culminating with Mac (incognito as a large teddy bear) dancing on the counter and running out the door to flee evil government operatives. 

 

But, this isn’t just the height of product placement for this film in particular.  No, no, no.  This, dear ones, is pretty much the height of product placement for all of filmmaking history.  In fact, it gets to such a surreal and mind-shattering level that having watched the below sequence now as an adult I am more convinced than ever that this is really the work of some subversive filmmakers embittered by studio interference and sinister marketing executives that decided to turn the lemons of product placement into the lemonade of pop art. 

 

How else can this be explained?  What dark, shameful, behind-the-scenes story must be behind the creation of this sequence?  What horrors must have gone down on the set of “Mac and Me” the fateful day that this was shot? 

 

I can hardly imagine it.  But, enough of my rambling.  You watch this right now and imagine for yourself what circumstances led to this, one of humanities darkest days…

BOOK CLUB DISCUSSION: ENDER’S GAME

April 3, 2008

Folks, it’s that time once again.  So, sit a spell, kick your shoes off, and get to reading!  Oh, and as always, our review/conversation is filled with SPOILERS.  If you haven’t read the book and want to, don’t read this.  If you have read the book, jump in to the discussion via our all too seldom used comments section!  Without further ado… 

THE SYNOPSIS:

“Ender’s Game” by Orson Scott Card is the story of a young child on whom the fate of humanity rests.  In this futuristic tale, the Earth has come under attack twice by the devastating “buggers.”  United by the shared threat, the world government of Earth tasks itself with finding the one person that can lead humanity to victory in the next battle.  That government looks to its children to find that leader.  Andrew Wiggin, aka Ender, is the third and youngest child in his family.  Most families are only allowed to have two children, but the government found both of Ender’s siblings (ruthless Peter and compassionate Valentine) to be so close to the type of leader that they were looking for that they allowed a third child hoping that one would be a cross between the two.  (There is a subplot in the book of how Ender’s siblings rise to political prominence on Earth, and it is pretty good, but a lot to go into right here). 

After monitoring young Ender from the age of three to the age of six, the International Fleet decides that it is time to begin training Ender for his life’s mission.  Ender is removed from his family and sent to Battle School.  At Battle School, children are trained for war using games, both computer and physical scenarios, that only get progressively harder.  Ender is surrounded by other elite children but, in an effort to make him into the leader he needs to be by his instructors, Ender is systematically isolated socially from his fellow students in obviously cruel yet (to the instructors, at any rate) necessary ways. 

Despite these measures and the pressure and stress of the environment, Ender excels, advancing quickly, moving from shunned child to awe-inspiring leader.  It is a path that makes enemies and repeatedly Ender finds himself having to defend himself from violent attacks.   Throughout the novel, Ender and the situations he is placed in are manipulated by his instructors.  Despite realizing this, Ender continues his training for a greater purpose.  The manipulation comes to a dramatic conclusion when Ender discovers that the latest series of “games” he has been training with are actual remote battles near the Buggers’ home world, and he is responsible for the genocide of that race of beings.  The book ends with Ender coming to learn about his enemies and, in fact, becoming their hope for a future existence.  But, that is another book altogether.   

THE DISCUSSION: 

OG:  As referenced in on of my recent blog postings of shame, “Ender’s Game” is on that list of revered sci-fi books that I’ve regretted never having read.  And, to be honest, until the idea of the book club came about it was one that I think I never would have gotten around to.  Something about seeing the letters YA on the spine of it at the library made me think that the time for this book in my life had passed.  I assumed (very, very wrongly) that it must be geared towards kids only, wouldn’t resonate with me anymore, and would perhaps be too simplistic due to its designated audience. Well, I couldn’t have been more wrong on all counts.  This is a challenging, complex, and heady novel in all the right ways.  In fact, I’m gonna drop this little hyperbole bomb early in my reaction here so as to make it clear what direction I’m going to go:  “Ender’s Game” is a masterpiece. 

There, I said it.  And, before I go any deeper into that sentiment, I suppose I should give you the equal opportunity to make any similar or contrary declarations at the outset here… 

EG:  Ender’s Game blew chunks!!!  It was horrible!  It was…actually, all that is a lie.  I just wanted to find some way to disagree with you about this, but I can’t.  I have to say, I thoroughly enjoyed this book, despite the unconscionable acts of the adults within, the obvious child abuse, and the systematic destruction of a kid’s psyche.  The book is one of the best science fiction novels I’ve ever read.  My copy didn’t have the “juvenile fiction” stigma emblazoned on its spine, so I went in without any thoughts that this could be a book for the younger set.  Of course, now having read it, I can see the definite youth appeal of the book. 

OG:  I agree that it totally works for guys our advanced age, but I will say, my biggest regret having not read this until now is that I sure could have used this book back in middles school or high school.  Granted, the character of Ender Wiggin is a remarkable child, one far smarter than I was then or am even now, but the alienation and distress he experiences in the battle school is drawn so effectively by Card that I can’t imagine many children who wouldn’t respond to it in some deeply personal way.  But, not only that, I would wager that over the past two decades this book has probably given a lot of kids the insight into the bullies and thugs in their lives which helped them to cope with and endure the special kind of cruelty that kids can visit upon one and other. 

EG:  Exactly.  I mean, when I was a kid I was stuck in some advanced programs (not bragging her – those things only breed social retardation – nothing to be proud of there), so I immediately related to the main character.  But, as you said, virtually any early teen could relate to the alienation factor.  Which, actually, while I’m thinking about it, is my one gripe about the book.  There was one aspect of the whole novel that I simply couldn’t suspend disbelief on – the ages.  A six year old going through all of this?  Even granting it being the future and the advanced intelligence of the characters, I could not resolve that in my mind.  What I ended up doing a lot of the time was moving the age up by about four years in my head.  Somehow that was enough to overcome my disbelief…until the text mentioned the ages again, and I was momentarily taken out of the story by those speed bumps.  But, if that is my only gripe about a book, I’m thankful.  

OG:  I’m really glad you brought the age issue up.  Much as I loved this book, I had the same trouble you did.  It was really off-putting at first.  Somehow I was eventually able to suspend disbelief sufficiently enough, but I still can’t imagine why Card chose to make the kids in the story this young.  After reading this I even looked up a lot of interviews with Card and commentary on the novel trying to find this out and never found anything where this was addressed.  I think I only ultimately made peace with it while reading because I kept assuming that the story would leap ahead a few years at some point and make my concerns moot.  Even though it never did, I think that that false assumption coupled with the strong distraction of a really well-told story got me to a point where I wasn’t even thinking about Ender’s age anymore.  Like you, it only flooded back into my thoughts and became a distraction whenever the author made a point to bring it up. 

Actually, if anything, the character’s ages had me thinking a lot of another book along the way.  And, again, it’s a book that I didn’t get around to reading until quite recently – “The Lord of the Flies.”  In many ways, “Ender’s Game” seems very much like the complete inverse of that premise, but I could only focus on the obvious similarities.  The biggest difference between the two is that of the presence and influence of adults.  While authority figures are completely absent in “Lord of the Flies,” they are critically influential on the events and overall plot of “Ender’s Game.”  But, despite that, the adults at the Battle School are hardly seen and never intervene overtly.  So, ultimately, both books end up being about boys left to their own devices and what happens in that situation.  And, if Card is to be believed, it doesn’t matter if there is chaos (as on the island of “Flies”) or order (as in the Battle School) boys will be boys and that can be a very bad, very devastating thing.   

EG:  Actually, I think the difference is that the behavior of the boys in Battle School were not the simple result of their own tribal de-civilization, but rather the organized and reasoned manipulation by the adults.  In that way, I see it really much more along the lines of “Anna to the Infinite Power” or “The Boys from Brazil.” 

OG:  Curse you EG!  Always reminding me of more things that I haven’t read.  Go on. 

EG:  Mind you, both of those dealt with cloning, but they also dealt with manipulating the cloned children so that they would grow up a certain way.  And, since I brought up “The Boys from Brazil,” which deals with the cloning of Hitler, I’ll throw in my Nazi reference here as well.  The manipulation of Ender by Graff seems very Mengele-esque to me…he fully realizes that what he is doing is destroying Ender, yet continues to do it for the greater ideal.  And, there is no real guarantee any of it will work – it is all an experiment, one which we are given indications has not worked on other children, causing them to commit suicide.  In the case of Ender, there are camps that would say that the greater good is served, but there are also camps that would say that losing one’s soul in the process negates the greater good. 

OG:  Well, I definitely want to delve into the Nazi comparison because I have some thoughts on that.  But first, regarding “Lord of the Flies,” I would say you’re absolutely correct about the difference between the two, but I think there is still something in both books that wants to explore the inherent cruelty of children and how they deal with it in social groups.  The biggest difference between the two really is how the different heroes of the books deal with it.  Ralph in “Flies” is unable to keep control or keep the chaos and cruelty at bay.  Ender, in contrast, fulfills his role as leader and overcomes all obstacles, bringing many of the boys with him as he does so. 

But, that comparison isn’t as interesting a conversation as the Nazi thing.  As I said, I read a lot of reviews and articles after finishing the book and came across one that was apparently a big deal right after Ender first came out.  It’s an essay by Elaine Radford entitled “Ender and Hitler: Sympathy for the Superman” and can be found here: 

http://peachfront.diaryland.com/enderhitlte.html 

To boil it down, her argument is that “Ender’s Game” is a defense for Hitler and other perpetrators of genocide because it makes the argument that Hitler, like Ender, can be excused for his actions because of a rough upbringing and because he thought what he was doing was right.  I think her argument completely misses the point of the book.  You can’t even argue that Ender is engaging in the faulty “I was just following orders” Nuremburg defense because he was completely in the dark the whole time.  He was hoodwinked and the real comparison to the Nazis, if one is to be made, is the one you made to Graff.  He’s the one making the “genocide for the greater good” excuses.  And, while Card tries to portray Graff’s struggle in human terms I don’t think he ultimately lets him off the hook or gives him an easy excuse. 

EG:  Yeah, I’m going to have to call that comparison faulty.  There is a big difference between having a rough upbringing and being purposefully manipulated.  (A quick aside – The Boys from Brazil focuses on the idea of trying to place clones in similar situations to the original person to get them to develop in the same way – and raises the same sorts of questions about whether a person is condemned by circumstance or able to rise above.)  I would even argue that Hitler could’ve risen above his circumstances, but that Ender, as long as he was seen as the “great hope,” never had that chance because they were not going to stop manipulating him into their ideal military commander until he succeeded or lost his mind or died.  We are talking about a teenager who has been tricked into committing genocide, something he might have figured out on his own if their measures had not deprived him of sleep and rest for such an extended period of time.  And to finally reach the completion of your “training,” only to be told it was all real?  That your orders and actions and plans had resulted in not only the death of your own forces, but the obliteration of an entire alien race?  If Ender is to be considered a monster, then how much more so are those that “created” him? 

I suppose, if I had a second gripe with the book, it would related to how quickly Ender recovers (or, at least, manages to cope) with discovering he has committed genocide.  And, then the kicker – discovering that the first two attacks from the Buggers was a mistake, that they had no clue humans were intelligent life?  Top that with the fact that the Buggers realized they were going to be destroyed and left their legacy to the architect of their destruction?  I don’t know.  I mean, I think I wanted something more from Ender.  I guess I could be wrong here, now that I think about it.  I was thinking I wanted a more fiery and fierce righteous indignation against the people that manipulated him, maybe more grief over what he had done to the Buggers…but by that point in the story, his head had been played with so much that maybe all that was left was what we were given. 

OG:  True.  And, I see where you’re coming from in your wanting more from him in the way of rage at that moment.  It’s certainly what we feel as the reader.  But, since we know how incredibly intuitive Ender is in his understanding of his opponents every stop along the way, I think we can infer that he immediately realized that righteous indignation or any outburst would be fruitless.  At the moment the truth is revealed to him, he can see right away that the whole system is rigged so completely and he knows that there is no benefit to striking out at that point.  Instead, he bides his time, gets to the bottom of things, and once he has the egg-sac he plots to renew the Bugger race to try and counterbalance what has been done and redeem it in some way. 

Of course, there’s no way to truly make it right, but it’s all he can do at that point.  And, that’s why I think the criticism I pointed to above is so off the mark.  It’s as if the writer of that essay just didn’t read the last part of the book.  Clearly, Ender is deeply troubled by the part he played in the Bugger genocide, knows how he was manipulated, understands that it was morally wrong, and seeks to make it right.  In that way, the message of this book is extremely moral. 

EG:  But that does give me a thought.  What if the story had not included the “redemption” of Ender?  Suppose, we get to the end, after the Buggers have been destroyed, and we merely see Ender leave Earth with Valentine?  I mean, yeah, it is a moot point since the Bugger legacy is left with Ender and obviously future books deal with that, but I have to admit, I would still have sympathy for the tragic figure of Ender even without him coming to discover the truth about the Buggers and taking on the role of “Speaker For the Dead” for them.   

OG:  I hadn’t considered that but it’s true that as I was reading it I was completely sympathetic to him before I even had read the concluding portions detailing Ender’s discoveries.  That’s a very good point. 

So, one final thing I wanted to address concerning the major reveal of the book (that the battle simulator is not really that at all and that Ender is in fact really killing Buggers) is how it works narratively.  I believe I effectively demonstrated in our “American Gods” discussion that I am quite dense.  Not getting the obvious Low-Key/Loki clues and the like.  But, I have to say that I remarkably knew exactly what was up once Ender and his compatriots were in the simulator.  And, not because I’m especially smart (I have to believe that you weren’t fooled by this at all EG), but because I read the back cover of the book prior to reading it.  The blurb on the back begins… “Andrew ‘Ender’ Wiggin thinks he is playing computer simulated war games at the Battle School; he is, in fact, engaged in something far more desperate.”  Just the words “thinks he is playing” was enough to reveal it all to me. 

How obvious is that!?!?!  I’d see that blurb every time I picked up the book to read and the phrasing never left my head.  And, once we got into the simulator room, the words were banging me in the forehead saying “SEE!  SEE! He only THINKS he’s playing a game!” Stupid blurb.  It didn’t ruin my enjoyment of the book really, but just really irritated me.  Of course, you’re probably about to tell me that this should have been obvious to anyone just reading the words from left to right.  Go ahead. 

EG:  Okay…well, I wasn’t going to mention it.  I mean, seriously, I made doubly sure not to say, “You know, I figured out that the ‘simulations’ were actual battles relatively soon after the introduction of Mazer Rackham,” but since you brought it up…yeah, I figured it out  But, to make you feel better, I think you would’ve figured it out as well just from straight reading.   Since you talked about reading the back of the book and receiving a bit of a spoiler, let me just say I’ve stopped reading the backs of books, the prefaces, the introductions…even most reviews.  I was spoiled pretty badly in the intro of a book about a year ago, which blatantly revealed the “twist” of the book, and it completely ruined the book for me.  So, I now wait until I’ve already read the book before I read any of those things.   

OG:  I think I’ll be adopting that practice myself from here on out. 

EG:  But, that is really neither here nor there.  Back to the topic at hand! 

OG:  You know, the best thing I can say about how good this book was is that I’m dying to read “Speaker for the Dead” now.  I want more of this world and want to see what Ender does next.  Knowing that “Speaker” was actually conceived of first and is considered by many to be the superior of the two only amps up my excitement.  How about you?  Any concluding thoughts? 

EG:  Actually, while I was aware of the sequels to this book, I hadn’t heard that “Speaker” was supposed to be superior.  Hmm.  We’ll have to keep that in mind for the future.  Oh, and one more thing:  Knowing you are the third born in your household, I feel compelled to refer to you as Third from now on. 

OG:  I shall wear the title with pride!  (And, while neither of my older brother’s skinned any squirrels alive, I did witness them shooting frogs with BB guns, so that probably counts.)  Oh, by the way, I’m busting out the full 5 Running Steves for this one.  Easily. 

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EG:  Well, Third, I’m going to give this one 4.5 Running Steves.  I might’ve gone up to a 4.75, but I don’t want to fool with making a new graphic for that, so this book will have to settle for next best thing from me. 

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OG:  Cool.  You know, I heard there’s a movie in development for this one.  You think they’re really gonna keep the characters the ages they are?  I can’t imagine.  I mean, he does a good enough job making it work in the book, but there’s no way a modern movie audience will be able to get on board with that. 

EG:  Honestly?  Even advancing the kids by four or five years wouldn’t work.  I don’t think a screen adaptation of this book would remotely work.  I mean, if people wanted to sit in a darkened theater watching kids playing video games for a couple of hours, the long-form commercial known as The Wizard (starring TV’s Fred Savage) would have been a blockbuster. 


OG:  HA!  Well, I won’t argue with that.  Instead, I’ll let this clip from The Wizard do the arguing for me…
 
 OG:  And, I guess that’s as great a place to stop as anywhere.  We’ll meet up again in a month for a conversation about Martin Caidin’s “Cyborg.”  Until then, I’ll hopefully be posting a little more regularly and EG will soon be regaling us with his promised, but much-delayed review of 1998’s “Lost in Space.”

ENDER DISCUSSION – DELAYED

April 1, 2008

Hey kids,

 Obviously, we’re a day late for the “Ender’s Game” book club discussion.  And, we’ll probably be another day or two more. 

 If you need someone to hold accountable, please send all your blame to me, OG.  It’s all my fault.

In the meantime, now’s a good time to announce that we’re moving the reading of Frank Herbert’s “Dune” to the month of May.  For April, we’ll be reading Steve Austin’s origin story…

 CYBORG by Martin Caidin

This book was adapted into the TV series “Six Million Dollar Man” and we thought it’d be fun and fitting to have a discussion on this one since neither of us have  actually read it. 

Unfortunately, it’s currently out of print, but is still available at many libraries and second hand book outlets. 

Again, my apologies for the delay on March’s discussion.  If you are a regular reader of this blog (which is technically not possible since there would have to be regular posts in order for it to be regularly read) than you’re already well aware of how lame I am.

 Now you have one more thing to add to that list.

 Love you,

OG

Garfield of Dreams

March 28, 2008

“The Assasination of James A. Garfield” aka “I Hate Mondays”

In case you hadn’t noticed, we are currently in the midst of a “Garfield” renaissance.  Despite the best (worst?) efforts of Bill Murray in two recent feature film abominations and Jim Davis himself (or at least the staff of anonymous artists that he chains to easels each week while he sips mai tais and screams “When in doubt, lasagna!”) in the still active comic strip the ole’ orange feline is seeing a pop cultural resurgence. 

I, like many who grew up in the ‘80’s, once loved the character without the slightest bit of irony.  I thought he was hilarious.  (To my credit, I never found “Beetle Bailey” funny though.  Not once.)  I bought the books (up through “Garfield Eats More Stuff: His 27th Book!”), read the strip in the Sunday paper, and even got a not-too-cuddly, yet beloved stuffed Garfield in my stocking when I was eight which I have to this day.   

And, speaking of dolls, I remember how thrilling it was just to see a stuffed Odie attached to the bow of John Cusack’s sailboat in the classic “One Crazy Summer” and also how subsequently infuriating it was to watch with horror as the evil Teddy Beckersted’s cohorts cut off his tongue.  

But, we all get older and wiser.  One day a “Far Side” or a “Calvin & Hobbes” comes along and suddenly renders your once beloved strip as obsolete.  And suddenly, you find yourself walking right past the Garfield books in the “Humor” aisle of Waldenbooks to pick up a “Bloom County” collection instead.  It happens.  It’s how it goes. 

That said, there are two locations currently making waves on the intertube that have rekindled the deadened embers of my affection for Garfield, Jon Arbuckle, Odie and the rest of the gang;  Two websites independent of each other which equally and obsessively chronicle the sublime and, dare I say it, metaphysical underpinnings of Jim Davis’ life’s work. 

And, if you’ve got nothing else to do (which, clearly, you do), I’d like to share them with you quickly… 

LASAGNACAT:  Beautiful in its simplicity.  Lasagnacat.com contains a treasure trove of live action recreations of “classic” Garfield strips, each followed by a musical tribute.  Take a look at a sample of their earth-shattering genius right here…   

If you’re going to head over to their site after this I’d recommend getting yourself a nice, snug pair of Depends ‘cause if you’re like me you’ll be sitting in front of your computer screen for a long time enjoying it.  And you also probably have some issues with leakage.  Here’s a helpful hint on that:  Creatine is great for building lean muscle mass, but you’re just tempting fate by following it up with the Olestra-laden chips.  Come on now.  Use some sense!

GARFIELD MINUS GARFIELD:    I think it best if I let this website set it’s own premise up through the magic of cut & paste.  Here’s how they describe what they do – 

“Who would have guessed that when you remove Garfield from the Garfield comic strips, the result is an even better comic about schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and the empty desperation of modern life? Friends, meet Jon Arbuckle. Let’s laugh and learn with him on a journey deep into the tortured mind of an isolated young everyman as he fights a losing battle against loneliness in a quiet American suburb.” 

And here’s a sample… 

And the link where you can find a host of much better examples of this brilliant mix of tragedy and comedy that is hidden in every one of Davis’ strips:  http://garfieldminusgarfield.tumblr.com/ 

I, for one, won’t look at the Sunday paper the same way again.  For instance, what would happen if you took everyone else out of each “Cathy” strip except for Cathy?  Oh, wait, I guess you get the same thing. 

So, there you go.  Let the Garfield revolution begin!  

And, if you just haven’t gotten your fill, here are a couple more pieces of Garfield internet oddity… 

Some place called cheesebikini.com has posted a truly remarkable series of late 80’s Garfield strips in which Jim Davis put aside the comedy for a few weeks (not too hard to do) to tell a strange, Twilight Zone type story of Garfield waking to a world in which he never existed.  Seriously strange.   Witness now, Garfield’s crisis of existential dread: 

Finally, we have perhaps my favorite Garfield destination simply because it proves that Garfield is just as funny in Hungary as he is here.  Here’s a sample from the world-famous website www.hungarfield.freeblog.hu …

Man, that was a good one, right?  Ahh…Hungarian Garfield never disappoints.

Well until next week…

Viva Lasagna!

My Great Shame, Part 2: The Shamening

March 24, 2008

“Something tells us that Freejack won’t be making your list.”

And, the shame train keeps chug-chug-chugging along. 

On Thursday I embarrassed myself enough that I really should be banished from the internet for quite a while.  But, here it is Monday and I’m back for even more.  This time I’m talking about the sci-fi films that I’m most ashamed that I haven’t seen.  (I would say “sci-fi/fantasy” but fantasy is still scant enough that I think I’ve seen all the one’s worth seeing.  Oh, sorry “Legend,” did I hurt your feelings?)   

Now, I like to think of myself as a film buff and when it comes to sci-fi I really thought I was doing pretty well.  I knew there were about 5 films that I needed to see, but I didn’t think the shame would really be too great this time around.

Boy was I wrong because now I’m more red-faced than ever.  As I delved into this, I found myself wincing and groaning with each title that I came across or thought of.  So, if you thought the book list was bad.  Get a load of this… 

THE TOP 20 (Yes, I said 20!!?!?!) SCI-FI FILMS I HAVEN’T SEEN (to my even greater shame): 

In alphabetical order, they are… 

Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension, The, Dir. W.D. Richter:  I am nutty for “cult” movies of all stripes.  If the choice is between some polished, high-budget, big studio money grab or a late night viewing of “Plan 9 From Outer Space” then you will find me comfortably seated in my living room with Mr. Edward D. Wood Jr. and a big bowl of popcorn every single time.  (Okay, not every time.  I do wish I had stayed home with Tor Johnson and the gang the night I subjected myself to Michael Bay’s “The Island.”  Ugh.)  But, I wear my cult movie love as a badge of honor; which is why it’s appropriate that this film should find itself at the top of this list because it’s probably the one I’m most ashamed of for not having seen.  Everything I know about it screams “THIS IS A MOVIE FOR ME.”  Frankly, the presence Peter “Robocop” Weller should really be enough all on its own. 

Akira, Dir. Katsuhiro Otomo:  Anime.  Manga.  Many pasty white guys my age go absolutely bananas for the stuff.  Frankly, I just don’t get it.  I’ve watched “Ninja Scroll” and “Nausicaa of the Wind” with a shrug and a “huh?”  I’ve read, well, okay, I haven’t actually read any Manga.  But, I’ve flipped through some.  Well, that’s not even true.  I’ve passed them by at Borders while stepping over the legions of anti-social, aisle-sitting, punk kids that always crowd that section as if blocking an entire shelf from view is a perfectly acceptable practice.  Seriously, what gives?  I guess I should be happy the kids are reading comics and the art form won’t die the long promised death that cultural observers have been predicting since the 60’s.  But, I’m not.  Get out of the way you little jerks!  Anyway, my point is, I don’t get the stuff.  I’m glad there are people that do and don’t want it to go away.  But, it just doesn’t seem to connect for me.  That said, I do realize that any sci-fi fan worth his salt should at least see “Akira” before completely turning his back on the genre.  The question is – if I don’t get around to ever seeing this, do I still get some credit for loving Voltron?  Or, does that even count?   

Alphaville, Dir. Jean-Luc Godard:  Alphaville (and a couple other titles below) is where the genre-loving, pop culture consuming half of me is supposed to meet up with my pretentious film snob side and grow to love and embrace him instead of engaging in the never-ending civil war that has caused fits of uncertainty for a long time now.  I mean, I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve shifted “Zardoz” and “The 400 Blows” back and forth on my Netflix queue.  Still, I have a nagging suspicion that “Alphaville” will probably only satisfy the film snob in me, but I’m hopeful that it will have enough for my other side too.  

Barbarella, Dir. Roger Vadim:  Again, I love the cult movies and a good dose of campiness.  So, goofball 60’s space movies are certainly right up my alley.  So, what gives, right?  There is one reason and one reason only that this film has not made it from the video store to my entertainment center lo these many years and it’s pretty simple:  JANE FONDA.  I can’t explain my distaste for the woman.  I mean, I’m a mealy-mouthed, limp-wristed liberal and love almost everything that Henry Fonda ever made.  Hanoi Jane easily satisfies both of those categories.  But, despite it all, the woman grates on me.   To echo Kahn, “She tasks me!”  But, as a sci-fi artifact of that era, Barbarella is pretty indispensible and the completist in me really needs to give it a watch. 

Blade Runner, Dir. Ridley Scott:  Forget what I said about Buckaroo Banzai.  This is clearly the one to be most ashamed of.  I know this.  I can’t even look you in the face right now as I talk about it.  Please stop groaning.  It only makes this worse.  What can I say, really?  I’ve tried a handful of times and maybe because I’ve always attempted it late at night and because that opening shot going into the city is about ten very slow minutes long or something I’ve never stayed awake into the main part of the movie.  Add to that that there is about sixteen different edits of it out there and that Sean Young makes me want to jump off a five story building onto a bike with no seat and maybe you can start to understand.  Anyway, the FINAL CUT has been at the top of my Netflix queue since it came out and still says there is a “very long wait.”  I’m gonna try this one more time for the sake of all credibility.  I’ll let you know how it turns out. 

Capricorn One, Dir. Peter Hyams:  The plot description puts this one fairly easily into my wheel house.  I love a good conspiracy theory and I know for a fact the moon landing was shot on a soundstage in Burbank, so it’s just a matter of time before I get my eyeballs on this one.   

Dark Star, Dir. John Carpenter:  Carpenter, for all his later day sins (Vampire$, Ghosts of Mars, Memoirs from an Invisible Man, etc.), is still very much the “Man” in my book.  I will easily slap the masterpiece label on at least five of his films (and yes, before you ask, that absolutely does include “Big Trouble In Little China”).  I’ve avoided this one for a while because I’m generally disappointed by the first films of my heroes and have always assumed the worst.  But, I’ve heard “Dark Star’s” praises sung in various places and am definitely encouraged by the name Dan O’Bannon on the co-scripting credit.    

Earth vs. the Flying Saucers, Dir. Fred F. Sears:  I’ve probably seen most of the best footage from this film since they seem to be the go-to shots in any movie that calls for a 50’s B-movie playing in the background.  But, I’d really like to see all the stuff in between those shots.  Plus, I’m a huge fan of any film whose title also serves as a plot description.   

Flash Gordon, Dir. Mike Hodges:  Apparently, this one is a seminal film for many from my generation.  It managed to slip through the cracks for me though despite the fact that its theme song has found its way onto my iPod.  Seriously, I don’t know how it happened but I had it on shuffle one day and the song came on.  I don’t own any albums with the song on it and I’ve not intentionally downloaded it.  Weird.   

Forbidden Planet, Dir. Fred M. Wilcox:  I think I gave this one a chance back in college and turned it off only a few minutes in.  When your only exposure to Leslie Neilsen has been the Naked Gun movies it can be a little off-putting to see him in a “straight” role.  I do recognize that this is the antecedent to a lot of stuff I love and also happens to be an adaptation of sorts of my favorite work by Billy Shakespeare – “The Tempest.”  So, I’ll give it another shot.  But, if OJ or George Kennedy show up half way through I won’t be able to handle it. 

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), Dir. Don Siegel:  I have no good excuse.  I’ve seen the 70’s remake.  I’ve seen the early 90’s remake.  I very nearly saw the Nicole Kidman remake.  And, this original version was even recorded on my DVR for about a month until it shamefully got deleted in favor of an episode of “The O.C.”  Something is wrong with me.  

La Jetee, Dir. Chris Marker:  I am absolutely kooky for “12 Monkeys.”  I love it just short of getting the poster image tattooed on my back.  Until recently, the French short film it was based off of was not readily available.  Now that it is I should really give it a watch.  I guess I have a little trouble renting a “short” film.  Kind of want to get as much bang for my buck, ya know.  But, still, as a fan of Gilliam’s adaptation, I owe old “La Jetee” a watch.  (By the way, I know for a fact that EG skipped right down to the next entry after reading the words “French short film.”) 

Logan’s Run, Dir. Michael Anderson:  This will be a treat when ere I finally see it.  It’s a rare sci-fi film that I know absolutely zero about.  Seriously.  The title is the only thing I know.  I think it might take place in the future.  But, that’s it.  Don’t know even the sketchiest of plot descriptions.  So, that’s kind of fun to come to something with no preconceptions.  

Seconds, Dir. John Frankenheimer:  I’m not certain this one qualifies as straight-up sci-fi, but a secret organization that specializes in giving rich folks someone else’s identity fits the bill enough for me.  “Island of Dr. Moreau” withstanding, I love Frankenheimer.  Heck, I love just saying that name.  Frankenheimer.  Ahh.  

Silent Running, Dir. Douglas Turnbull:  Similar to “Logan’s Run,” I don’t really know all that much about this one.  The one thing I do know gives me great hope for it though:  BRUCE DERN.  Give me that cranky, world-weary face any day and I’m a happy man.  As a quick aside, I really love “The ‘Burbs” and I don’t care what you say.  And, Bruce Dern’s scene-stealing performance as the ex-military, conspiracy theorist neighbor is one of the primary reasons.   

Solaris (1972), Dir. Andrei Tarkovsky:  I know that a 3-hour Russian film most often described by critics as “meditative” firmly ensconces this one in the aforementioned “pretentious film snob” category of this list.  But, putting that aside, there’s a sentient planet in this movie and as big a fan of both Mogo and Ego as I am I’d like to add a third planet to that very exclusive list.  I guess I could cheat and watch the much shorter Clooney version, but where’s the fun in that?  I’m just not happy with a sentient planet movie unless my buttox has completely fallen asleep by the end.   

THX-1138, Dir. George Lucas:  I always said I’d give this one a gander before my patience with Lucas had completely run out.  Well, my patience ran out a few years ago.  Should I still watch this?  Honestly, could “experimental” filmmaking by the early Lucas be much worse than the mainstream filmmaking by the late Lucas?   

V: The Miniseries, Dir. Kenneth Johnson:  In many American homes (mine included) the eldest male holds complete control over the television remote.  However, this wasn’t the case in my house as a child.  My Mother had both the best seat (the La-Z-Boy) and the remote at all times that she was in the living room.  Somehow, I had convinced her that we should watch the first night of this miniseries when it came on and went to bed in a trance that evening after it was over, so excited for the next installment.  Well, turns out Mom wasn’t as eager to find out what happened next and that, despite my heavy tears, was the end for me and V.    

Videodrome, Dir. David Cronenberg:  I’m sorry Mr. Cronenberg.  I don’t know how I let this one slip by me.  You know I love you.  Heck, I even watched Jason X because you were in it.  And Nightbreed.  Come to think of it, I do owe “Videodrome” a viewing.  But, what do you owe me for what I lost watching “Nightbreed?”  Street goes both ways pal.   

X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes, Dir. Roger Corman:  Ray Milland in a film by Roger Corman.  As if not seeing the above 19 titles wasn’t shame enough.  I don’t have enough shame to contain this one too.  One of the true, sort of forgotten greats of film acting in a Corman film with perhaps the greatest title in cinema history.  Geez.  Where do I get off? 

Okay, that’s all the shame this little nerd can handle.  I’m going to go back into my corner for a little until the urge to bash my head in passes you by. 

And, EG, you are more than welcome to make some disapproving comments below, but if you choose to do so I will also require you to write an essay for this blog in which you defend your love for the 90’s film adaptation of “Lost in Space” starring Joey from “Friends.”