Posts Tagged ‘star wars’

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?

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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.”

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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.

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.

I’m not even a Star Wars fan…

March 18, 2008

… but this picture is brilliant.

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