Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Desolation of Smaug

SPOILERS to follow if you have not seen it yet.

Smaug… The stories and songs of his magnificence fall utterly short. And honestly, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug felt like ti could have been longer. But then again, the pace of the move was a lot faster than An Unexpected Journey. Even though there was less plot and character development in this second part of The Hobbit trilogy, the movie was still a fantastic spectacle and in no way disappointed. Most undissapointingly was what we all wanted to see most, a very large, materialistic, and destructive dragon. Smaug’s scale is amazing and it is made even more so on a theater screen. Benedict Cumberbatch does a very good job of adding a menacing voice to this fire drake from the north. Another thing fans of the book craved was a look at the man bear, Beorn. I only wish he could have had more screen time, but his character is not central to the story. Although we will get to see Beorn in the 5 army free for all if they keep following the book.

As with the first part of the trilogy, we are getting to see more of Gandalf was up to when he seemed to abandon Bilbo and the dwarves on their journey. At this point you begin to wonder about Gandalf as he seems to get himself captured yet again, or technically possibly the first time, but this secondary plot to the film adds more backstory to The Lord of the Rings trilogy. It also gives the events of the Hobbit more of a Cold War feel as the sides of the light and dark are pushing and manipulating events to their own advantage while not directly coming into conflict.

Some things we learned along the way:

Logoelas was kinda a jerk and a racist.

But that’s because his dad was kinda a jerk and a racist.

Wood elves are the unsophisticated branch of the elven family tree. They like to party and get drunk
Thranduil, King of the Wood Elves and Legolas’ daddy, had one good reason for not coming to the aid of Erebor. He has fought dragons before and it didn’t always go so well. He literally has scars to prove it.

Dwarves on occasion have a thing for Elf women. Gimly falling in love with Galadriel seemed like an anomaly. But apparently there was some Dwarf/Elf jungle love between Fili and Tauriel. Tauriel was attracted to Fili. But then again, Fili is a vampire in a different life. (Look it up if you don’t get the reference.)

Bombor can run pretty fast if properly motivated and can fight even when he is stuck inside of a barrel.

Gandalf might have a habit of getting in over his head and need saving from time to time.

The biggest surprise of the film was what we all thought we knew was going to happen. No SPOILER ALERT needed. Really, you should know by now that Bard of Laketown is gonna kill Smaug. But it doesn’t happen in this movie. We end on not really much of a cliff hanger seeing Smaug on his way to Laketown and Bilbo saying “What have we done?” And scene. Fade to black. So, Smaug’s desolation will end at the beginning of the next film, The Hobbit: There and Back Again. Presumably we’ll also see how Gandalf gets saved and how Sauron gets defeated again, but not destroyed… again.

So the stage is set and all the players are in place. The orcs are on the move, the Dwarves of Erebor have returned to their home, and the men of Laketown will regain their pride with the defeat of a dragon. Bilbo has gone there and will not go back again until five armies have met on the field of battle.

Almost Human so far

 Almost Human is another great science fiction series that might end too early if more viewers don’t give it a chance. Currently it is not in danger, but the viewers are in the decline. Honestly, I don’t know what the show is missing that keeps people from viewing. Maybe it’s because it’s a sci-fi show and not a teen drama or some sort of reality competition. But if you have not watched so far, here is what you are missing:

Almost human is essentially a buddy cop/police procedural (where police investigate something) that is set in the future. The increasing speed at which technology had advanced has given criminals an edge over law enforcement and now police are given androids as their partners. Most of these standard issue MX-43 androids, which act like you would expect from an intelligent robot assistant, only with a human face.

Karl Urban plays Detective John Kennex. I hope at this point people would recognize that Urban is the guy who has done a great job as Dr. Leonard McCoy on J.J. Abrams Star Trek Reboots. He was also great in Dredd. Kennex has recently returned to duty after suffering from traumatic injuries that happened when a sting operation went wrong. He lost a leg but it was replaced by a mechanical prosthetic that looks like the original one. After literally tossing his MX partner, Kennex was assigned a new one. Or rather, an older one. Kennex ends up with a DRN that goes by the name Dorian.

Dorian is played excellently by Michael Ealy. The DRN androids were designed to mimic humans in both looks and emotions. But apparently there were problems that have not been detailed yet. Before Dorian is reactivated, Kennex mentioned that he is one of the “crazy ones.” So far, Dorian has been anything but crazy. I would say Dorian is very similar to Data on Star Trek only with emotions and a good grasp of humor. Dorian is very thoughtful and kinda makes a better human than most humans. Given his intelligence and concern over how he and other androids are treated, there it feels like the series could delve into some really philosophical themes over what makes someone real and deserving of rights. A topic that was covered in Star Trek: The next Generation with Data.

Urban and Ealy have great chemistry. They could easily do an average buddy cop film together successfully. Fortunately for fans of this show, they are bringing Kennex and Dorian to life. Their in the car scenes are already providing gif fodder on tumbler with joked about tactical scans and the thoughtfulness given to the detail of android anatomy.

The rest of the supporting characters feel like they are beginning to be fleshed out. Lili Taylor plays Captain Sandra Maldonado, who it seems like there is potential for some interesting back story. Minka Kelly is Detective Valerie Stahl. Stahl is kind of the obviously going to be the possible love interest of Kennex. To me the character is a little flat though. And Detective Richard Paul, Michael Irby, is Kennex’s rival/antagonist. But not much has been given as to why he dislikes Kennex so much. The most fleshed out supporting character at this point is Rudy Lom, the department’s technician who is the techi/CSI guy on the series. Think the loveable nerd of the show. Lom is played by Mackenzie Crook, who some might recognize from Pirates of the Caribbean. He was the one with the wooden eye. There is room to grow with the supporting characters, but there is great potential in them as well.

What the series also has going for it, to me anyway, is how close it feels to another sci-fi series, Fringe. Which is understandable since it shares some of Fringe’s creators, including J.J. Abrams and J.H. Wayman. Although where Fringe was about our world starting to be affected by new science and technology, in the future world of Almost Human a lot of those cats are already out of the bag and are the responsibility of Police instead of a secret FBI unit. The special effects are good and the writing has been equally so. We’ll see if further hints are dropped about the mysterious Insindicate criminal organization as the series progresses. No mention of them, or of Kennex’s ex who mysteriously disappeared has been made since the pilot/premier.

There is some room for improvement, but all the parts are there for a great show. I think it’s good already and I hope the series can continue. To me, the question is do people even want these shows anymore? Fringe was an excellent show but it had to fight for survival every week during its five season run. Even if ti comes down to fighting for viewers and rating every week for Almost Human, I hope it lasts a few seasons. If for nothing else, the bromance between a cop and his android partner is worth an hour of your time on Monday nights.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Star Trek: Enterprise Season 1

I finished watching the first season of Star Trek: Enterprise, which at the time of broadcast was simply Enterprise. First broadcast on September 26, 2001 on the UPN network (United Paramount Network) it was an attempt to reinvigorate the franchise and bring in new fans. While the idea of going back to the beginnings of Star Fleet was good, the end product fell a little short. Well, maybe that is too critical. I am enjoying the series enough to keep watching, but there are hurdles to that enjoyment.
It feels like producers, with every episode, feel the need to remind the viewer that this is not the Star Trek that you can come to know and love with a theme song that is very unlike Trek. Now, you can argue, probably with every one of my issues, that the series takes place before the events and characters of the Trek canon we have come to know. But it still does not feel right. The theme song has a stock music, just dialed it in, kind of feel. The end musical sequence feels equally generic. I’m not musically talented or trained in any way and it is unfair of me to make any real kind of musical judgment, but the music feels like it has no soul and does nothing to move me. If anything it makes me want to hit the “Skip” buttin to get to the first scene.

T’Pol… I think you could say that one of these things is not like the other.

Okay, firstly I don’t want to criticize Jolene Blalock for the way T’Pol turned out. She is an actress and it was a job. The problem is, or was, she does not seem suited to the role or got bad direction on how to play the role. First of all, and the most obvious is her wardrobe. She is the only Vulcan I have ever seen wear a skin tight body suit. And you can’t blame it on the Vulcan fashion of the time because every other Vulcan in the series wears robes. It is an obvious attempt to sexualize a character, to make some eye candy in order to attract male viewers. The formula sort of worked with Seven of Nine on Voyager, but it felt even more forced here. But basically it makes no sense to make a pinup version of a character whose species suppresses emotion and mates only once every seven years. Maybe it would not have been so bad if not for the fact that T’Pol was featured more often than the other female characters in the series. So far, anyway. And speaking of characters, it feels like I have gotten to know some about T’Pol and Archer, and a few things about the other characters, but I don’t feel like I really know them as much as I’d like to. It is the first season though, so I’ll withhold further judgment on that.

There is also this Temporal Cold War plot that is getting on my nerves. Time travel and alternate universes have always been a part of Trek lore, but this has become a central theme. And introducing new species that have never been in any Trek series does not make any sense. I’d rather see more stories about the first meetings with other species that have been around. Particularly, the whole Andorian/Vulcan spy games seems to me like a way better sub plot to be in the background. With the Andorians there probably wouldn’t be as much time wasted with special effects and more time spent on character development and story. With the Sulayban, it like “what new genetic trait can we give them this week” kind of a thing. In general though, for a first season I think it was way to early to introduce such a huge subplot. Or at least not commit so many episodes to it.

The original Star Trek accomplished a lot with very little in the ways of special effects. It made its mark with storytelling and being socially forward. It had a racially diverse cast and even TV’s first interracial kiss. Which brings me to my next point, still no gay people? It’s not like it’s that big a deal to have at least one gay character in a television series these days. In this respect, Star Trek has fallen way behind when it used to be more progressive then anything on the air. What gives?

I guess I could list other details, but I think the bigger issue is that the series creators are trying to sell me on a product I was already sold on by adding extra frosting. More flash and less substance. Hopefully when the next Star Trek series makes it in the air, the story and characters will be first.