Posts Tagged ‘Michael’

Secondhand Selections: Sphere by Michael Crichton

October 2, 2009


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!


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!!!


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.


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.”


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.


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


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.


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!


EG’s Movie Review – Knight Rider (2008 TV Movie)

February 18, 2008


To the NBC executives:

Just… just stop, okay?


I beseech you.  Seriously.

Stop raping my childhood.

Okay, now that I got that out of the way, let us talk about the recently aired Knight Rider TV movie. 

A day that will live… in infamy…

Here is what I came away with:  2008 Ford Shelby GT 500 KR Mustang.

Buy it.

Buy it now.

It is too cool not to buy.

Why aren’t you buying it?

If you were cool, you’d buy it.

Ah, yes, I sat through this 2 hour commercial.  Actually, I taped it so I could skip through the commercials.  Shockingly, I was able to watch the entire movie in about 8 minutes.

Just kidding. 

I subjected myself to the entire debacle, though, with so many of the actual commercials starring K.I.T.T. and the new guy driving the car, it was hard to figure out where to stop sometimes.

Oh, where do I begin with this?  How about an overview?

It is 2008, and Charles Graiman, the developer of the original K.I.T.T. has developed a computer program, called Prometheus, that basically controls every military computer for the United States.  And the bad guys come looking for it.

(Please note – in an effort not to offend anyone, the bad guys are the current standard, which include a British guy, an Asian guy, an African American guy, and a guy that is probably German, but not really focused on.  You looking for diversity on TV?  Look to the bad guys.  They may be evil, but they are openly welcoming of all races.)

They break into Graiman’s home and steal all his hard drives, but can’t access the information because it is encrypted.  Unfortunately, Graiman died of a heart attack when they broke in and threatened him.  Whoops.  They decide to go after his daughter to help them access the hard drives.

While rummaging through Graiman’s house, the bad guys “wake up” the new K.I.T.T., who goes speeding off to save Graiman’s daughter, Sarah.

What do you mean?  I am acting!

Sarah teaches at Stanford, so K.I.T.T. goes there to pick her up.  Unfortunately, so do the bad guys.  K.I.T.T. saves her, and they go to find someone to help them – Mike Traceur, teenage sweetheart of Sarah, former Army Ranger, current sleazebag.  Why?  Because Graiman programmed K.I.T.T. to do that… for reasons that really don’t make much sense, but become obvious later.  They don’t make any more sense later, either, but you can see why the writers decided to go that direction.

I’m a dork!

Meanwhile, we find Graiman wandering in the woods.  Turns out it wasn’t him in the house, but his body double.  Yep.  His body double.  He goes and finds Mike’s mom for help… for some reason.

Sarah and K.I.T.T. go pick up Mike in Las Vegas, and then get a message to meet her father.  And they drive… and drive.  Occassionally, the bad guys catch up to them, but they get away.

Finally, they all meet up at this dumpy little hotel.  Here is where Mike learns from his mother that his father is actually Michael Knight, who drove the previous K.I.T.T. 

Meanwhile, the bad guys start hacking into K.I.T.T., because, even though this Graiman guy could encrypt all of his computers to prevent the bad guys from getting access to Prometheus, he obviously couldn’t do that with K.I.T.T., because that would make sense, and we can’t have this movie making sense.

Then the bad guys come.  And, they kill Mike’s mother.  Because they are bad guys.

The leader of the bad guys leaves, telling his men to kill Mike and Sarah.  That’s right – he leaves, and just assumes they will be killed.  He doesn’t just shoot them right then and there.  He drives away while his men are just standing there, with the guns aimed at the good guys.

Guess what?  That’s right – Mike and Sarah manage to escape!

Shocking, huh?

Mike and Sarah take K.I.T.T., and, via defying any sense of realistic physics, save her father.

Next, we go to Mike’s mother’s funeral, where Graiman, master of tact that he is, offers Mike the chance to drive K.I.T.T. for the Foundation for Law and Government (just like his dad did).  Mike, to upset over all of this, declines.

But (you knew there would be a “but”), at the funeral, Michael Knight (the Hoff himself) shows up to lend the words of wisdom, “One man can make a difference.” 

The things I will do for a paycheck…

(Of course, Mike seems all too accepting of his long lost father just appearing out of nowhere, let alone trying to give him advice at his mother’s funeral… but maybe its just me.)

Of course, Mike decides to accept the position of driving K.I.T.T., and things are all set for an ongoing series.

(By the way, there were about a dozen extra characters we met along the way, including a lesbian FBI agent and Mike’s comic relief buddy, shoehorned in for no real reason, but I didn’t really feel the need to highlight them.  You’re welcome.)

First off, I’m a huge fan of the original Knight Rider.  I also concede that the show doesn’t hold up that well, but it is still fun to watch.

I think that was the big problem with the new incarnation – it wasn’t fun to watch.

The movie just tried way too hard to be be taken seriously.  It wanted to be innovative and edgy.  It wanted to be dramatic.

Oh, man, did it want to be dramatic!

I am of the opinion that, generally speaking, action movies and new TV shows need to be plot-driven and not character-driven.  With action movies, I’m not really looking for character development, and with TV, there will be time enough for character development after an audience is hooked.  Trying to completely flesh out characters right at the start comes off laughible at best (forcing situations to become a microcosm of the character’s beliefs), and terribly tedious at worst.

With this movie, it went for the worst.  It seemed like entire chunks of this movie were just K.I.T.T., driving along, so that Mike and Sarah could “talk.”  As in “we need to talk,” not just shooting the breeze.

The dialogue was just atrocious.  Bad, bad writing.

The exchanges would’ve been horrible even with good actors, but, trust me, we didn’t have to worry about that.  The cardboard stand-ups they cast in this movie managed to amplify the terrible, forced characterization.

You wanna know how bad the acting was in this movie?  When David Hasselhoff came on the screen for his little cameo at the end, he comes off like Lawrence Olivier compared to what we saw up to that point.


A spoiler?  Really?  Like this blocky car is going to lift off the ground?!?

Besides the writing and acting, everything else is just nit-picking for me.  I don’t like that K.I.T.T. is a boxy Mustang, I miss the low “woo-woo” sound from the red scanner on the front of K.I.T.T., there was no sign of the famous “Turbo Boost,” and, while Val Kilmer was fine, he was no William Daniels.

Overall, I wouldn’t sit through this movie again, and I doubt I’ll be checking out any future series based on it.  If I want to watch Knight Rider, there are DVD’s out there of the real thing; I don’t have to depend on this pale imitation. 

Ooh, stylin’!

Besides, there is always the big budget Hollywood film that is supposed to be coming to theaters in 2010.  It certainly couldn’t be any worse.