Posts Tagged ‘science’

Movie Time: Surrogates

October 14, 2009

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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.

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Secondhand Selections: Sphere by Michael Crichton

October 2, 2009

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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!

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!

AFI: 10 Top 10 – Science Fiction

June 18, 2008

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So, the American Film Institute (AFI) once again made a list.  That seems to be what they do.


On Tuesday, June 27, 2008, The AFI: 10 Top 10 was broadcast.  Basically, they took ten genres (TEN?!?  Really?) and declared the top 10 movies in each genre.  And, as usual, they were wrong.


I don’t want to go into all of the various lists, but since this is The Steve Austin Book Club, I thought we’d take a look at what the AFI is calling the top 10 science fiction films of all time.


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10 – Back to the Future – Okay, I liked this movie a lot… but putting it on a top 10 list for science fiction?  Seems a little much.  When I think “science fiction,” I gotta say – I don’t think, “Back to the Future.”  Yes, I know, it does revolve around time travel… it just doesn’t leap to my mind.  Still, for mass appeal and movie quality, I suppose I can go along with this, especially since it is this low on the list.


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9 – Invasion of the Body Snatchers – This one should be in this list.  Maybe even a little higher.  My only complaint with this film is the sorta cop-out “happy” ending – which was tacked on.  But, without a doubt, I think that this one does belong on the list.


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8 – Terminator 2: Judgment Day – Yeah, I’ll go with this.  At first, I was thinking that the original film should be here, but I can’t deny how much better overall this sequel is to the original.  This one seems right, and probably about this spot.


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7 – Alien – Now, some would argue whether this one or the sequel, Aliens, really belongs here.  I won’t get into that, but I will say that this seems a little low.  I would’ve thought this film would be in the top five, but I could be wrong.  At least it is on the list, right?


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6 – Blade Runner – At the risk of losing more geek-cred, I don’t like this movie.  I know I’m in the minority here, but I can’t help it.  Despite that, given the popularity of the film, I can see it in the top ten… I suppose… but certainly lower than the sixth position.  Like I said, though, my personal taste is factoring in on this one.


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5 – The Day the Earth Stood Still – I would’ve made it a little lower, but the 5 spot is perfectly acceptable.


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4 – A Clockwork Orange – I don’t know that I can adequately express how much I hate this film.  As such, and regardless of the way others feel about it, I can’t believe this is on any top 10 list, especially when I factor in the ridiculous number of other science fiction films that could have been on this list.  I… I have nothing more to say on this.


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3 – E.T. – The Extra Terrestrial – And as much animosity as I have for the previous film, I have an equal amount of love for this film.  Great movie.  That said, I don’t know that it would’ve made my top 10 for specifically science fiction films.  I probably throw it more in with family films.  And, if it had made my list for science fiction, I think it would’ve been a little farther down.


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2 – Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope – Of course a Star Wars film was going to be on this list.  I’m just surprised by two things – which one, and how high it is on the list.  I suppose A New Hope, being the original film and essentially self-contained, could make the list, but in my experience, most people seem to agree that The Empire Strikes Back is the best of the Star Wars films overall.  As for position, I would’ve put the representative of the Star Wars films somewhere in the fourth to sixth position.


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1 – 2001: A Space Odyssey – Not my favorite science fiction film, but I can absolutely understand it being on this list, and why it is 1.  If there is to be a flagship for science fiction film, this one fits the bill.


My biggest complaint with this list are the things that are missing.  I’m not positive that films like John Carpenter’s The Thing, Star Trek II – The Wrath of Khan, Twelve Monkeys, Planet of the Apes, Total Recall, or Robocop would’ve made my top 10 list for science fiction films, but they would certainly have been more likely to be on this list than some of these offered by AFI.  And what about films like Forbidden Planet and Fantastic Voyage?  Or even The Running Man and The Matrix?


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Without a doubt, though, what makes this list most suspect is one ommission that is completely unacceptable in my mind – Where is Close Encounters of the Third Kind, AFI?  How can there be a list for the best science fiction films of all time that doesn’t include Close Encounters?!?


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Bah!  AFI, you have failed again.  Hang your head in shame.