Movie Time: Zombieland

October 22, 2009 by

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Zombieland
Directed by Ruben Fleischer
Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone, and Abigal Breslin

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How to sum up this movie? In a post-apocalyptic world filled with zombies, four individuals join up… sorta… in search of a safe place that at least 75% of them don’t even believe exists. And Twinkies. Oh, and along the way, they learn a little about themselves, family, and they kill zombies.

And, honestly, that’s about it.

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If you are looking for anything more than that, Zombieland is going to be a great disappointment. If you are just looking for a relatively fun film with some zombie killing, you’ll probably like it. But (and, this is where I differ from about 90% of the people that see this movie), if you are looking for a great zombie movie, you’ll probably be a little let down.

Parts of the movie were fantastic. Early on in the film, we are introduced to Columbus (Eisenberg), in all his nerdiness, and his rules for surviving in the new status quo, which is really funny.

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(By the way, I find that Eisenberg:

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… is completely interchangeable with Micheal Cera:

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… who I originally thought was in this movie before I actually saw the film.  Just sayin’.)

And, when Tallahassee (Harrelson) and Columbus are in the early stages of their road trip, the film takes total advantage of the contrast between the characters. The comic chemistry between the two was fantastic, and the zombie killin’ they commence to doin’ is top notch and entertaining.

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If the whole film had been just that, I would’ve enjoyed the whole thing much more.

Once Tallahassee and Columbus meet up with Wichita and Little Rock (Emma Stone and Abigal Breslin), though, the focus shifts away from zombies almost altogether to the bonding of the group of four individuals… which isn’t a horrible thing, but it kinda sapped away my enjoyment of the movie in the manner it was shoehorned into the middle of the film.

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At this point, you get the weakest portions of the movie – a sequence of destruction of a souvenir shop that was pretty “eh”, and the Cameo (which you likely already know about, but I’m not going to spoil). The Cameo was surprising to me (because I was fortunate enough not to have heard a thing about it), but it was also only mildly amusing. And, then you get more character bonding (which is undermined by some less than stellar humor).

Which then leads up to the big finale, where two of the characters, in maybe the greatest display of stupidity in the entire film, run off to an amusement park and turn every light and noise-maker on, so they can play for a while. This, of course, attracts every zombie for miles around, and the two idiots have to be rescued by the only two other remaining people on earth (okay, we aren’t expressly told that, but it is implied). This rescue, though, lacks the creative and comic sense of the zombie kills early in the film, and kinda seems a little easy, despite the overwhelming numbers involved.

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I enjoyed the movie as a sort of mindless popcorn film, but I wasn’t as blown away by it as most folks. As a result, I can only give Zombieland two and a half out of five Running Steves.

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I just wish they had kept up the momentum from early on in the film.

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Movie Time: Fido

October 20, 2009 by

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Fido
Directed by Andrew Currie
Starring Billy Connolly, Carrie-Ann Moss, Dylan Baker, K’Sun Ray, Henry Czerny

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Combining the nostalgia of Leave It to Beaver and the tender mercies of Dawn of the Dead, Fido is the story of a boy and his zombie.

In an alternative 1950’s era, the world is perfect in its innocence after recovering from the Zombie Wars (a time when the world was ravaged by space-dust reanimated dead). And, thanks to innovative technological advances, everyone can now even have their very own zombie servants!

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Sure, every once in a while, a zombie goes bad and has to be taken care of, but folks are prepared. Children hone their shooting skills during the school day, and there is always ZomCom, the company that makes the control collars for the zombies, and their security division that keeps normal folks safe.

In the idyllic setting, we meet the Robinsons – Bill, Helen, and their son, Timmy. Bill is the responsible father, making sure that each member of his family have a funeral savings, ensuring that they will not revert to zombies after their deaths. Helen is a loving wife and mother, perhaps a little too concerned with keeping up with the Joneses. And Timmy? Timmy is the average boy, who’d just like to play catch with his dad.

Despite Bill being against it (for pretty good reasons when you see the movie), Helen orders a zombie after the head of ZomCom’s security division moves into the neighborhood. After a short period, Timmy becomes truly attached to the zombie and names him Fido.

Unfortunately, Fido’s control collar goes on the fritz, and he attacks and kills a neighbor. Despite the best efforts of Timmy to keep this under wraps, it is eventually found out, and Fido is recalled to ZomCom. Then, it is up to Timmy to rescue Fido.

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I have to admit, when I decided to watch this film, I wasn’t expecting much. I had seen the preview, and thought, okay, I’ll give it a shot.

I’m very glad I did.

The look of this film is unbelievable. Despite the low budget, the feel is captured every bit as well, if not better, than in most movies that try the same. Everything from the costumes to the houses are era-perfect. It is a beautiful and lush setting, full of bright, synthetic colors that make for a great contrasting look with the zombies, clad in blues and grays to match their skin tones.

The acting throughout the film is pretty top notch. I wasn’t annoyed by the kid actor playing Timmy (which is a feat), and Carrie-Ann Moss as the mother was really fantastic, as, perhaps, the most dynamic character of the entire film.

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Henry Czerny stole every seen he was in as spot-on casting for no-nonsense Head of Security Mr. Bottoms. The delightfully creepy Tim Blake Nelson as Mr. Theopolis, neighbor to the Robinsons, is worth the price of admission!

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If there was any fault in the cast, I’d have to give that to Dylan Baker, who I usually really enjoy. In this movie, though, he seemed to be the only one playing a bit over the top, which was a contrast to the other actors that seemed to be playing the ridiculous as straight.

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Still, overall, no major complaints.

Oh, and, let me just say that it blows me away that Fido:

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Was played by this Billy Connolly:

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Which was a fact I didn’t realize until very nearly the end of the film! I knew Billy Connolly was in the film, but I just didn’t connect it until late in the movie.

For better or worse (depending entirely on your tastes), the gore of this film was very understated overall (especially considering that it is a zombie movie). As a result, if you are looking for a bloody mess of a movie, you’ll probably be disappointed. On the other hand, if you are looking for a zombie movie that non-horror fans might enjoy, this is a heart-warming film (with a nice touch of satire and a bit of gore) that will probably fit the bill.

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I’m giving Fido three and a half out of five Running Steves.

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While this film isn’t quite up to the level of brilliance of the amazing Shaun of the Dead, it is certainly high up on the list of wonderful zombie comedies. Check it out if you have a chance!

Micro-Hero of the Week: Zombie Edition!

October 19, 2009 by

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Welcome, friends, to the first of two very special weeks here at The Steve Austin Book Club.  This week, we focus on the life-challenged brain-cravers everyone loves – ZOMBIES!

And, to start us out this week, a special micro-hero from EG.  For those of you that have not seen the cinema masterpiece known as Plan 9 From Outer Space, you have lived far too sheltered a life.   Rectify this missing part of your life as soon as possible.

For those of you that have seen this epic film, we are proud to present one of the greatest zombies of all time – Tor Johnson as Inspector Daniel Clay:

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Stay tuned throughout the week for more zombie fun!

Movie Time: Surrogates

October 14, 2009 by

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Surrogates
PG-13
Directed by Jonathan Mostow
Starring Bruce Willis

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There was a time, not too long ago, when Hollywood offering a token of science fiction with good production values and name stars was unusual. It was a dark time. As a result, I still get excited when I see a movie preview from the genre, despite the greater number of offerings.

Enter, Surrogates.

I saw the previews for this film and was really amped to see it. Real life delayed me, until this past weekend, but now I’ve seen it, and thought I’d go ahead and give my two cents about it.

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In a future world quite similar to ours, technology has allowed the vast majority of people to purchase robotic surrogates, physically perfect avatars, to interact in the real world. No more need to fear the dangers of the outside world, people plug themselves in and live through these machines in perfect safety. Even if the surrogate is damaged, the operator is perfectly safe.

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That all changes, though, when a college student is somehow murdered via their link with a surrogate. FBI agent Tom Greer (Bruce Willis) investigates the death, running into roadblocks from the company that creates the surrogates, the military, and those that rebel against the use of surrogates.

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The movie is based on a limited comic book series from Top Shelf Productions.

I’ll admit, I haven’t read the comic book. I thought about seeking it out before seeing the movie, but I tend to believe that is a bad idea. Seldom to films live up to the source material, and I wanted to give this film every chance.

At the start of the film, I was completely struck by the look of the characters. I would bet that underwear companies had to delay their ad campaigns while every perfect underwear model in the world worked on this film. That isn’t a knock against the film – it establishes very early on the feel of the movie, and artificial perfection, a “fakeness” that allows the premise that people living through perfect machines is plausible.

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In fact, this is reinforced when we meet up with the plastic version of Bruce Willis’ character. I don’t know what all they did to Bruce Willis to give us the plastic/perfect look that blends in with the underwear model cast so well, but it is impressive.

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And, when his character is forced to go without his surrogate, the grizzled, wrinkled, and bald look of the actual human behind the puppet is also great for establishing the contrast of the film.

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Unfortunately, one aspect of this compare/contrast demonstration didn’t really work. In the movie, there are those that are resistant to using the surrogates. Resistant is probably too subtle a term. “Violently opposed” is more accurate. They have been separated from the general populace in various camps. To emphasize the difference between these “real” people and the surrogates, most of the real folks are too real – sloppy looking, craggy, unkempt. It made me wonder, as I was watching, why none of the “real” people looked basically average. You can’t tell me that only the least attractive members of society reject surrogates. There have to be a couple of average folks mixed in, or it seems too black and white, which actually took me out of the movie.

The movie does have several good action sequences, and I have no complaints about the effects within the film. And, with a running time of under 90 minutes, the movie certainly doesn’t drag!

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On the other hand, the film is pretty heavy handed in its moral. Not only does the main plot seem to revolve around the detachment of humanity, the sub plot of the relationship between Greer and his wife does as well. I think the makers of the film were trying to use the sub plot as a more personal reflection of the widespread issue of the main plot, but what results is the feeling of being hammered over the head in a “well, if you didn’t get the idea from that, how about this” sorta way.

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(Ooh, by the way, wanna see what that surrogate having its face pulled off looks like? Okay!)

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And, had the film stuck with the single social commentary of the detachment of humanity, I think they could have had a better product. Unfortunately, that non-dragging 90 minutes doesn’t really allow for the exploration of that theme, the violation of personal civil liberties, the question of justification in terrorism, and any of the other statements that the film failed to sufficiently elaborate on.

The movie failed to really offer anything new, though. We’ve seen this same sort of story done before, both better and worse.

The real problem with the film, though, is predictability. Every action seems to be telegraphed throughout the movie. Plus, I was able to figure out most of the film in the first five minutes, which is something I hate. OG tells me that this is partially my fault, because I never go into any book or film without overanalyzing as I go along. Maybe he’s right, but I still hate knowing how things are going to be put together at the beginning.

Overall, the movie was okay. Nothing spectacular, but it wasn’t unwatchable. I wouldn’t recommend running out to the theater to catch it before it moves to DVD. It isn’t worth that.

I’m going to give Surrogates two Running Steves.

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I don’t know that they could have really done enough to make the film great, but there was definitely room for improvement.

Micro-Hero of the Week

October 12, 2009 by

It is almost mid-way through the month of October!  Where does the time go?!?

Here is a special heads up for you, our faithful readers:  The last two weeks of October will be special focus weeks here at The Steve Austin Book Club!  We are not gonna let the cat out of the bag as to the themes we have planned, but we think you’ll enjoy them.

One clue?  Okay.  Halloween does occur this month, doesn’t it?  Yeah, those two weeks probably have something to do with that.

And, speaking of Halloween, since these don’t fall in line with the themes for the next two weeks, but should be put up this month…

EG put a lot of work into this week’s micro-hero… or, actually, micro-heroes!

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That, dear friends, is none than your hosts, EG as Batman, and OG as Robin!  Yes, costumed for Halloween, but long has EG hassled OG to dress up for a convention, but to no avail.  And, so, EG turned to the mighty art of the micro-hero to bring his dreams to life!

(Dreams may be a bit strong…)

This is probably as close as anyone will ever get to OG wearing green panties and showing off those fine legs of his.  ‘Tis the world’s loss I say…

It is a Mystery!

October 9, 2009 by

There is a mystery in Geekdom.

DC Direct has been producing some pretty neat action figures in relation to the Blackest Night mega-event that is taking place in the Green Lantern titles (and, soon, the entire DCU… my wallet is already crying).

In the first batch of toys, we were treated to a “mystery figure” in all the promotion:

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Soon enough, we learned it was Kal L, Superman of Earth 2 as a Black Lantern:

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In the next wave, we had another mystery figure:

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Turned out, it was Black Lantern Martian Manhunter:

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The next wave included Black Lantern Aquaman, but I don’t think his promo was blacked out. It might have been, but I don’t recall. The wave of figures after that, though, is where the real mystery is.

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In that image, we see the Black Lantern Firestorm, but there is another figure blacked out. The solicitation for this wave says:

“This series includes Wonder Woman, who is surprisingly transformed by the happenings of the Blackest Night (Read the comics to learn more!)”

What makes this figure so mysterious is that, unlike the previously blacked-out figures, this one hasn’t been spoiled. Kal L and Martian Manhunter were uncovered within weeks of the initial promo. This figure… it is well over two months now.

Don’t get me wrong, it is nice to NOT be spoiled… but it raises a lot of questions. All of the previous mystery figures were Black Lanterns, does this mean Wonder Woman will be a Black Lantern? But, each wave up until this one only has one Black Lantern, and this wave already has Black Lantern Firestorm.

Which leaves us to wonder (get it? wonder? ha!) if Wonder Woman will be getting a ring, and if so, which one?

A lot of folks are thinking that Wonder Woman will become a Star Sapphire. This is based on an image tucked away in the massive two page spread found in Green Lantern #25:

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See it? No? Down in the left hand corner. Still no? Okay, how about blown up a bit:

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As far as I can tell, the only thing that people are going by to connect this image and Wonder Woman is the mystery figure:

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Looking at the figure, it seems to have the same skirting that is seen in the drawing. And, thus a lot of folks seem to make a massive leap to say that the figure must be that Star Sapphire, and since the solicitation for the figure says it is Wonder Woman, Wonder Woman will be a Star Sapphire!

That… is a pretty flimsy reason to make that leap.

The whole “Power of Love” (man, I love Huey Lewis and the News) thing the Star Sapphires have going on doesn’t mesh with my idea of Wonder Woman.  Plus, the ouline of the figure doesn’t really match up with that Star Sapphire costume.

A lot of folks think Wonder Woman may become a Blue Lantern. But, as passive as those Lanterns are, I don’t see that either.

Green seems unlikely. Red? An angry Wonder Woman is a thing to behold, and might work. Yellow is possible, but less likely. Sure, she can inspire fear, but as an ambassador to the world, it seems against her nature. Orange? Nah.

Which leaves Indigo. And, while attaching an Amazon Warrior to the Indigo Tribe seems like a more natural fit, I’m not buying it either.

I’ve never seen Wonder Woman as a mercy killer.

Then what? Well… I propose that the solicit is deceiving. (That’s right, solicit! I’m calling you out!)

After all, Diana Prince isn’t the only woman ever to be Wonder Woman.

Alternate option #1: Wonder Woman of Earth 2

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She was seen again back during Infinite Crisis, so maybe she is coming back to take care of the Black Lantern Superman of Earth 2.

Alternate option #2: Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons, and Mother of Diana

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That’s right – for a time, Diana’s mother served as Wonder Woman. She even traveled back in time and served with the original Justice Society of America. I’m not sure if any of this has been retconned, but it is a possibility.

Alternate Option #3: Artemis

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Ah, the 90’s, when superheroines all had gravity-defying hair and broken backs! Yes, Artemis, the grim-and-gritty version of Wonder Woman! She served as Wonder Woman after Queen Hippolyta called for a new contest for the title of Wonder Woman in an effort to protect Diana. Could be her… and, she’s already dead, so she’d be able to slip into a Black Lantern costume pretty easily… which is necessary with that back condition.

Alternate Option #4: Donna Troy

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During the year that Diana took off for 52, Donna served as Wonder Woman in this far-superior costume! (Yeah, personal opinion, but, c’mon! That IS a much cooler costume!) Plus, if you are reading the Blackest Night: Titans comic, you’ll know that there is a real possibility here. Plus, she seems to be wearing the correct skirt (or possibly the sword) that is seen in the mystery figure.

Which is why Donna is my odds on favorite for this figure – a Donna Troy as Black Lantern Wonder Woman. Why as Wonder Woman? Well, her other costumes have been generally unremarkable. The Wonder Woman outfit is more distinctive, and should mess with the minds of the other heroes quite a bit, too.

To give an idea of what the figure might look like, I took this image:

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And, with a quick, not too detailed mock-up, I came up with this:

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I know – not the best, but it gives the idea. I could be completely off base here, but we’ll see!

I’ve come here to help you; I have what you need. My prices are low, and I work with great speed, and my work is one hundred per cent guaranteed!

October 8, 2009 by

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Any Dr. Suess fans out there?

On a side note, we here at The Steve Austin Book Club would support the addition of many other colors of Hulk in the comics.

Except fleshtone.

A musclebound angry guy who was fleshtoned would just look like some bodybuilder in the midst of ‘roid rage.

And that’s not something we want to see.

Micro-Hero of the Week

October 6, 2009 by

You know, there’s nothing that quite compares to monkeys and apes.  Folks love ’em.

And, when you put monkeys and apes in comics?  That is, like, twice as awesome.

Put that monkey or ape into a comic AND make him a detective?  My friends, that is pure, straight from the fountain awesome sauce.

This week’s micro-hero is the culmination of the amazing formula – Detective Chimp!

Once merely a highly intelligent chimp, Bobo became a full fledged detective after taking a dip in the Fountain of Youth.  The effects of the Fountain gave him eternal youth, amped up his intelligence, and gave him the ability to speak to any living creature.

Ladies and Gentlemen, we are proud to present, EG’s micro-hero of Detective Chimp!

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Secondhand Selections: Sphere by Michael Crichton

October 2, 2009 by

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Greetings, faithful readers, and welcome to another new feature here at The Steve Austin Book Club – Secondhand Selections!

What is Secondhand Selections? Recently, EG was in a thrift store (We’ve established he is cheap, right?), and came upon a shelf of books. As he started looking through the books, he noticed that there were several science fiction and fantasy books among the myriad of diet books, self-improvement books, and thirty-year-old textbooks.

Considering that the average paperback now rings in at $7.99 and up, the chance to pick up a couple of books for a dollar or less appealed to him!

And, thus was the seed of this feature planted!

The rules are simple – the books reviewed in this feature have to be purchased either at a resale shop (thrift store, Goodwill, whatever). It is a chance to prove that there is cheap, literary treasure out there to be had! Or, on the other hand, there is a chance that reading some of these books might also explain how they ended up abandoned to a resale shop.

Now, let’s get to it, with the very book that EG picked up on that day when the concept of this feature was born: Michael Chrichton’s Sphere!

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This review was written with as few spoilers as I could manage and still give you, the reader, an idea of what the book was about. I’m pretty sure that you’ll be reasonably safe reading this review, but if you don’t want to know anything about the book, STOP NOW!!!

Overview:

In the middle of the South Pacific, a spacecraft is located near the bottom of the ocean floor, and, based on the surrounding environment, it has been there for at least 300 years. The ramifications of the find spur the U.S. Navy to proceed with a top secret plan written during the Carter Administration, titled “Recommendations for the Human Contact Team to Interact with Unknown Life Forms (ULF).” The author of that plan, psychologist Norman Johnson, is called in, along with mathematician Harry Adams, biochemist Beth Halpern, and astrophysicist Ted Fielding, as the civilian team to assist Captain Harold Barnes as they investigate the finding.

The team sets up shop one in an artificial underwater habitat, and soon begins exploring the mysterious ship that yields yields more questions than answers – such as, why are all the signs on the ship in English?

In the exploration of the ship, the team locates a large, perfectly polished silver sphere about 30 feet in diameter, and completely alien.

Approaching storms require the team to return to the surface, but, before they leave one of the team members does the unexpected… and enters the alien sphere.

Unable to evacuate, the team is stuck as the storms come and they are cut off from the surface world until the weather clears. Eventually, the team member that entered the sphere comes out of it.

And, that is when things start to get really interesting, as an unknown entity begins to contact them.

Review:

I have to admit something – I saw the movie Sphere in the theater in 1998. And, I have not thought of it since then, other than to think, “Well, that was a waste of money.”

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In that case, why did I pick up this book? We all know that, generally speaking, books tend to be far superior to the films made of them. I’m not knocking film, it is just really difficult to transform a tapestry woven over 300 pages or so into a 90-minute film. As a result, a lot is lost… or changed.

Sometimes, the film can be pretty good as well, and then you seek out the book, which is what I did with a little art film titled Jurassic Park.

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I liked the movie, and a lot of people told me I should read the book, because it was even better.

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So I did. I read the book, and it was great. It was also different from the movie.

When I came across Sphere at the thrift shop, my immediate thought was, “blech!” Then, I realized two things: My feelings were based entirely on the film, and Sphere was written by Michael Crichton, who also happened to write Jurassic Park. Based on that, I decided to give the book a chance.

The book is, overall, a page turner. Crichton knew how to connect with the reader, as proven in his other books, and it is no different here. It also picks up speed as it goes along, until the reader is nearly racing toward the end. (That’s something I really like to feel in books.)

Despite some pretty “out there” concepts of science (and, by “out there” I mean both complicated and suspect), the book was accessible throughout, due in a great part to choosing as the main character Norman Johnson, a non-scientist that asks the questions that the reader has almost as quickly as the reader comes up with them.

Sadly, the other characters in the book tend to be one of two options – two-dimensional or non-existant. The other members of the team recieve the two-dimensional fill out in characterization, while other characters seem to simply be until they are no more. I can’t say for sure if this was by design, so that the reader latches onto Norman even more, but it does tend to make some of the dramatic moments of the book less impactful, because we don’t have an attachment to other characters.

The action sequences are well-built throughout the book, and do have that sense of urgency needed to drive the reader forward. Thankfully, it is written so that the reader doesn’t get too hung up along the way with techno-babble. I’ve read some books that get focus on that so much that you feel like you are reading a technical manual!

There are, though, some massive lapses in common sense that pop up throughout the book. As an example, when the characters worry about running out of air in the habitat waiting for the storms to abate, I immediately found myself asking why they wouldn’t go over to the spacecraft, which had already been shown to be able to support them.

Another problem is that there are some unexplained jumps in logic that are made. Toward the end of the book, there is a character that, despite having been unconscious for more than 12 hours, seems to be completely up to speed on what is going on upon waking, leaving the reader going, “huh?”

I think the biggest disappointment with the book is the ending, which is a little too simple, almost trite, in how it ties up all the loose ends. In that regard, the reader is left unsatisfied.

I don’t mean to be hard on the book. It isn’t bad, it really isn’t, and it is very exciting at times. And, trust me, it is sooooo much better than the movie. It just wasn’t as good as I wish it had been.

For that reason, I’m giving the book a solid two and a half Running Steves.

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And, maybe, since I haven’t seen the movie in eleven years, maybe I’ll watch that again and let you know how I feel about it in more detail sometime!

Micro-Hero of the Week

September 29, 2009 by

The Red Hulk – or Rulk!  Who is he?  Does anyone even care anymore?

That’s right, folks – Rulk has been around for over a year now, and they still haven’t told readers who he is.  And, while EG doesn’t personally read the Hulk books, OG has been strung along this whole time!  Sucker!

So, this Rulk guy, whoever he is, is the red version of the Hulk.  He is tactical and conniving, and uses mammoth weapons to kill things like the Wendigo and Abomination.  And, evidently, when he gets angrier, he doesn’t get stronger like the normal Hulk… he gets hotter.

Huh?

Okay, whatever.  Here is EG’s Micro of Rulk.

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