Thursday, December 18, 2014

Dune


Without realizing it, I finished reading Dune by Frank Herbert at almost the same time as the 30th Anniversary of the film adaptation directed by David Lynch. It’s a funny coincidence. Dune is regarded as one of the great works of science fiction. After finally reading it, I can’t argue. Making it even more remarkable is that at the time of it’s writing, there was little other point of reference to build this world of religion, politics, and no intelligent machines. I’ll get back to that last part. Even thought authors like Herbert, Heinlin, Asimov, Tolkein, etc. had other works to read and embrace before them, they built upon our cultural memory and continue to influence others. Today we have authors like Neil Gaiman and George R. R. Martin. And when I speak of point of reference, I mean how should I describe Dune to you? What can I compare it to? The story is like Game of Thrones. Great royal houses all ruled by an Emperor. There are wars, political intrigue, assassinations, and magic of sorts. Unlike Game of Thrones, there is no sex or incest. Well, obviously there is sex or else there would be no children, but you know what I mean.


Dune is the story of Paul Atreides, son of Duke Leto Atreides and the Duke's concubine Jessica, a Bene Gesserit (basically a society of women who follow rigorous physical and mental training who also covertly control the bloodlines of humanities leadership).
Paul Atreides was not supposed to be born. His mother was ordered by the Bene Gesserit sisterhood to give Duke Leto a daughter. She would have been married to a Harkonen heir so that the fighting between the two houses would end and both bloodlines would be saved. Jessica instead chose to give Leto a son, who would become the Kwisatz Haderach, the fabled male Bene Gesserit. He who could look into the past of his female and male ancestors when female Bene Gesserits could only look down the lines of women. And what is the draw to Arrakis, a plant that is nothing but desert? It is the only place in the universe where the "spice" melange can be found. It's a substance that has allowed humanity to gain new mental powers and even bend space, allowing for faster interstellar travel. 


There is a lot on this story to describe. But the basic plot is that the Padishah Emperor Shaddam IV conspired with the Atreides bitter rival, the House Harkonen, to set up Duke Leto and his house for destruction. The Atreides are to take control of Arrkis from House Harkonen on the orders of the Emperor. The Emperor then secretly aids the Harkonen in retaking the planet. The Duke is killed and it is assumed Paul and Jessica were killed as well. They find their way to the Fremen, the native people of Arrakis. Paul then becomes the Fremen's leader and leads an uprising. There is a lot of detail in teh book. Herbert did an excellent job in world building. He even sampled the Arabic and Persian languages for names and terms used by the characters. Some words are direct samples, others are just inspired.It makes the story feel even more exotic. Well, maybe more exotic sounding to western ears. I can say that having seen the film quite a few times, it gave me a better handle on the pronunciations.

For those who have not seen the film, it is most definitely a stripped down version of the story. As every adaptation is from one extent to another. But for all it's flaws, I think the film is pretty good.



I have also seen the documentary about Director Alejandro Jodorowsky's attempt to make a Dune film.


He had intended to give the audience a sense of having an acid trip without having to take any drugs. It would have been trippy and bizarre. But it could have been good. And I really recommend checking out that documentary. It's really insightful and explains how an unmade film influenced Alien, Blade Runner, etc. Lynch's film only came after the studio decided to go in a different direction. It's flawed but I still enjoy it.

But back to the book, I was not sure what to expect when I read it. I knew it would be good. And it was. Herbert did an amazing job creating the world and it's mythology. It's no surprise it is a solid foundation for the squeals that he wrote and for the books that his son Brian has written Kevin J. Anderson. But don't worry about having to read the other books too much. They broaden the story, but Dune by itself is a complete story that any fan of science fiction should enjoy.

Friday, December 12, 2014

The Lost Daughters of Gallifrey


Until the end of Series Eight, we had been under the impression of that The Doctor was the last of the Time Lords. Gallifrey had been lost in the final battle of the Time War and as far as he knew, every other Time Lord that had been alive was lost in that battle too. Of course what we didn’t know is that the planet was literally lost, hidden from the rest of existence by The Doctor. He didn’t know this until recently either. It's a long story if you have not seen the series. But even when we thought he was the last, there were still other Time Lords unaccounted for. Specifically The Doctor’s family. More specifically, his granddaughter and daughter.


In the very first episode of Doctor Who, over fifty years ago, we met a member of The Doctor’s family before we even met The Doctor himself. His granddaughter, Susan Foreman, was the first Time Lord on screen and his first companion. Like The Doctor, Susan is more than likely a name she chose to blend in. No Time Lord has ever used their given name. Anyway... She fell in love with a freedom fighter in the 22nd century but would not leave her grandfather. The 1st Doctor, believing that Susan deserved a different future, locked her out of the TARDIS and left her behind so she could have a better life. Besides appearances in books, radio dramas, and unpublished works, no reference to Susan having died has been made. She being a Time Lord would have 12 regenerations and therefore would go on living for centuries or longer. And I'm just assuming Susan was on her first life at the time. Theoretically she could have made it back to Gallifrey in a later regeneration if the timelines match up. That is, if she went back in time, right? Too much timey wimey stuff here. Either way, The Doctor has never referenced what happened to her after he left. That is if he knows at all. She could have been kicking around the various human civilizations over time for all we know. And then there is The Doctor's daughter/sort of clone, Jenny.



The 10th Doctor had a sample of his DNA forcibly removed by a "Progenation Machine" which remixed his DNA and out popped a fully grown Jenny, with added combat programming. The irony of course being that the Doctor isn't too fond of soldiers and he ends up with a soldier for a daughter. Initially not accepting his militaristic progeny, The Doctor came to accept Jenny after she demonstrated that she can move past her military programming. In the same episode, she was shot and failed to regenerate. The Doctor, believing she was dead left. She later came back to life, stole a ship, and shot off into space. Other then a brief appearance in a comic, nothing has been said of where she is or what she is doing. She is the only Time Lord not trapped on Gallifrey and no one knows she even exists. It's surprising no one has given her a spinoff series.

So.... there is also Missy.


Not a daughter of The Doctor, but definitely a daughter of Gallifrey. Missy (aka The Mistress) has known The Doctor longer then any of his enemies. They grew up together. As fans know, Missy is the latest regeneration of The Master. This is important because it's definite confirmation that gender is fluid for the Time Lord Species. This is The Master's first regeneration into a woman. That we know of anyway. She was "killed", but The Master/Mistress has been "killed" before. It appeared she was disintegrated, which is probably the only sure way to kill a Time Lord, but some have speculated it was most likely a teleport. Where The Master is concerned, nothing is certain unless there is a body. And even then I would never be too sure. But lets say she was just mortally wounded. Unless turning into Missy used up her 12th regeneration (Time Lords only get 12), The Master, or Mistress, or whichever gender he/she is at the moment, is still out there.

Which brings up a different point. If Susan and/or Jenny ever appear again, there is the possibility that they could be men. Wibbly wobbly applies to time as well as gender when it comes to Time Lords.

And of course with Gallifrey lost and not destroyed, there is also the outside chance we'll also meet other members of The Doctor's family. That is if the shows producers feel the need to use any of these characters in more then just a passing reference.


Feel free to message me/comment to correct any details. I'm a fan, by by no means an expert.

Friday, December 5, 2014

The Wind Rises




Let’s forget the fact that even though I am a fan of Hayao Miyazaki, it took me this long to see The Wind Rises. It is his final film. It is also different from what has come before. Not in how it looks, but in the story itself. This is not the story of a magical fantasy world. But it is a story about magic. This is not the story of a man who performs magic. Not in the fantasy sense anyway. But it is the story of the magic that comes from imagination. This is a story based on the life of Jiro Horikoshi who designed the Zero, the premier Japanese fighter plane in World War II

It is a simple tale of an engineer and an artist. Though it takes place in the real world, we still see Miyazaki’s fingerprints in the Jiro's dream sequences where his inspiration comes together. His canvas is the wind and the aircraft he would come to design. He has no illusion that what he would create, as beautiful as it was, would be a weapon of war and the bringer of death. But so do the engineers and designers of all war machines. Sometimes if not for the opportunities given them by governments, they would have no place else to perform their artistry. It’s a weird thought to consider the art and beauty of a war machine. But it is a surreal truth in this life.

This is also the story of how he falls in love. Love that would be lasting, but would only last in life for a short time with a woman who never had long to live. Nahoko, who became his wife, was ill with tuberculosis. In an interesting parallel, Jiro knew loving her would only bring him pain and loss. But like he could not deny the desire to create a beautiful flying machine that he knew would bring glory and then death to his country, Jiro could not deny the love he had for Nahoko. He knew how loving her and marrying her would end. But love cannot be denied. He loved Nahoko and he loved aircraft.

In his dreams Jiro meets and talks to his mentor, the Italian aircraft engineer, Giovanni Battista Caproni. Caproni tells Jiro that an artist is only inspired for a certain amount of time in his life. I have to wonder if this was also Miyazaki telling his fans something. This is Miyazaki’s final film. Maybe he could have continued, but this feels like his love letter to his fans and to his work. It is not a grand tale of adventure. It is the simple tale of a regular man who found his place in the world. I think we can all agree Miyazaki earned his place in our imaginations.

Mockingjay Part 1





By now most of us have probably seen The Hunger Games: Mocking Jay Part 1. It’s an easy guess considering its box office success. (And SPOILER ALERT for those who have not yet seen.) The surprising part has been the negative reviews it has gotten. Well, not exactly negative, but more along the lines of "I thought it would be better." I have to wonder what movies these professional reviewers actually expected? There are the claims from some that they have read the book. But if that were the case, they would know that the final story in the Katniss Everdeen saga is a different story all together. While there is a kind of game still going on, Mockingjay is a story about a civil war, not about a sadistic reality show forcing teens to kill each other. The tone is darker. While the games are dark, kids killing kids and all, this is goinginto different territory. We also get deeper into Katniss post traumatic stress and we even get to see the effects of the games on Finnick. We also get to hear the grim details of how he became a sex slave.

I do suppose that there is a bit of a valid complaint in that there is a trend to split up the final book in a series into two films. Some complained about the Hobbit being turned into a trilogy even though it was only one book. But money aside, if we only had one film, we would be craving more and complaining about our favorite details being left out. I happen to think Part 1 of Mocking Jay is a good film. It proves, as does I think The Hobbit, that if done correctly, stretching these stories out is a win win for everyone. The suits get their coveted money and we get more of the world that we so crave to see on screen.

Part 1 is a setup for Part 2. But then again, the first two films are setting up the last act as well, so what is the big deal? Again, going on the tone, this is no longer a game. We all knew what was coming, well most of us anyway. So what was it about? (For those who have not seen the film.) It is, as President Snow says, about “moves and counter moves.” I would compare it to another series that got its final story split into two, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1. Both sides are making their last moves on the chess board, preparing for their final moves.

From here on out, we will not see the Capital as it was. In the first two films, it was an over the top utopia of excess for the privileged. Now we only see it from the outside, as everyone else does. The far off ivory tower in the distance. The world we see up close is the other side of the coin, District 13 in all its drab, militaristic efficiency. In 13, there is no time and space for luxury.

Katniss finds herself as the tip of the spear for the District 13 war machine. Plutarch Heavensby has convinced D13 President Alma Coin that Katniss can be the rallying cry for revolution, their Mockingjay. Even though Katniss’ eyes have finally been opened to all the things going on around her, she is still not in control of her fate. But at least now she is in a position with an ally, or at least the enemy of her enemy. It shouldn’t take reading the final book to tell that Coin has more going on than she is letting on. By the way, is it me or are Pres. Coin's eyes looking a little... off. Not in a disfigurement kind of way. And maybe it's just me, but the coloring of her eyes (contacts to add a little something to the character?) makes he look not quite human.

Mocking Jay Part 1 follows the closer to the book than the previous film has. This is an added benefit to the final story being split into two. It would be hard to say what would have been left out. But for example, in the last film, we missed out on Peeta grilling chunks of mutant rat on the arena force field, much to the elation of Katnis and their allies. There is no doubt that if Mockingjay were a single film, we would enjoy it, but we would be talking about all the things that we missed, the bits of story that had to be left out for the sake of time.

Friday, November 21, 2014

MST3K


In the not to distant future there is this guy named Joel. He's a regular guy, like you or me. Joel works at Gizmonic Institute as a janitor, just another guy in a red jumpsuit. He did a pretty good job cleaning up the place but his bosses didn't like him so... They shot him into space. They send him cheesy movies and monitor his mind while he watches and riff on them with his robot friends, Crow and Tom Servo. He has no control over when these movies begin of end because... Well, he used those parts to build his robot friends.
 

The recent announcement that PBS is trying to bring the cult favorite TV series, Mystery Science Theater 3000, back to television. Three episodes are being shopped around to public television stations nation wide to see if there is an interest. The potential for the series to be back on the air had brought back some good memories. My cousins and I would stop whatever we were doing on Saturday nights and gather around the TV at my grandmothers house to see what bad film was up next and what Joel and his robot pals Crow and Tom Servo would say about them. I unfortunately lost track of the show during high school and never got back to it before it's final cancellation. But those memories of Saturday nights still stay with me. Recently I have been rediscovering it with my wife thanks to the local library stacking up on some of the DVDs.


Mystery Science Theater 3000, also known as MST3K, started airing in Minneapolis, Minnesota on KTMA on November 24, 1988. It would be picked up by Comedy Central, get canceled in 1997, picked up by the SyFy network (which was still SciFi at the time), and again get canceled in 1999. In it's eleven years, 197 episode and one movie, it earned a Peabody Award, two Emmy nominations, and a CableACE Award nomination. Series creator Joel Hodgson would watch B-movies with Crow and Tom Servo and riff on them. Their silhouettes would be onscreen appearing like you would be watching them from behind in a movie theater. Another robot, Gypsy sometimes takes part in the live action skits of the show. Joel built her to run the Satellite of Love's higher functions. The SOL being the ship they are all stranded on.



Joel left the show in 1993 and head writer Mike Nelson took over hosting duties on the Satellite of Love. The series is very funny. Well most of the time. Sometimes the movies are so bad or boring it seems like they struggle to get the jokes going. And sometimes their references are pretty obscure, on occasion being true inside jokes. Over all though, it is comedic gold.


In a weird way, MST3K is sometimes somewhat educational. Some of the films and shorts that got selected might only be found in archives and would never otherwise see the light of day. The series also brought notoriety to some obscure films. Although some would label it more along the lines of infamy. And even though the theme some label the films as "cheesy" and "the worst we could find" some of the filmmakers who had their works ripped apart were appreciative of MST3K giving their films new life. Some actors who appeared in these films, Including Adam West, even hosted a "Turkey Day" marathon in 1994. And some didn't take to kindly to it either, notably the rights holders to the Japanese monsters Gamera and Godzilla. You won't find the Gamera episodes on DVD and the episodes with Godzilla can no longer be published.


Though the series has been off the air for some time now, it still has a loyal following. So loyal that Mike Nelson created RiffTrax, which allows fans to download riff audio tracks they can sync to both B-movies and well known, and even popular films. RiffTrax features some of the voices and crew of MST3K and has some special guests including "Weird Al" Yankovic and Neil Patrick Harris.


If enough public television station are interested, the block of three Mystery Science Theater 3000 films will be packages as a "Best of MST3K". If this proves to be successful, more "Best of" packages could be in the works opening this cult series to a wider audience than it ever had. Hopefully MST3K will be back in the not to distant future.
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