New Movie Trailer – 300: Rise of an Empire

300-rise-of-an-empire-thumbIt seems that Zack Snider and Frank Miller are back for another round of comic book adaptations! After bringing us 300, Watchmen, Sucker Punch, and Man of Steel, Snider has signed on for a sequel named 300: Rise of an Empire. This time around, the movie will adapting material from Frank Miller’s own comic sequel to 300, which was entitled “Xerxes”.

As you can see from the trailer, Lena Headey is back to reprise her role as Queen Gorgo of Sparta, while Roderigo Santoro is back as well, reprising the role of the ridiculously tall and pierced man-god Xerxes. David Wehnam is reprising the role of the narrating Dilios. Meanwhile, the beautiful Eva Green plays Artemisia, Xerxes’ ally and naval commander, and Sullivan Stapleton plays General Themosticles – commander of the Greek navy.

300-Rise-of-an-Empire1As you can also see, the movie picks up where events in the first movie left off, after the Battle of Thermopylae where King Leonidas and his 300 were eventually wiped out. In adapting real history to an over-the-top format yet again, Snider and Miller give us a souped-up version of the Battle of Salamis, the war at sea that followed shortly thereafter.

This confrontation between the Greek and Persian navies occurred off the tip of the Greek mainland, just 20 km away from Athens which had been abandoned to the Persians. It was a desperate fight, but in the end, the Greeks proved victorious, using the home field advantage to trap and defeat the larger Persian forces.

300-Rise-of-An-Empire3In many ways, this battle would prove to be the beginning of the end for the Persian army, since defeat at sea now meant they could no longer launch offensives into the Peloponnese (home of Sparta and where the Greek Allies were now based) by both land and sea. Marching across the thin and fortified isthmus of Corinth would prove slow and difficult, and Thermopylae had demonstrated that frontal assaults against fortified phalanxes were not effective.

In addition, Xerxes now feared the Greeks could mount a naval offensive on the Hellespont (the land bridge between modern day Turkey and Greece) and cut off his forces from their overland supply routes. On top of that, he was dealing with rebellions within the conquered territories and had to tend to those as well.

300: BATTLE OF ARTEMESIUMAs a result, the war would consist of sieges against rebelling states until the decisive land battle of Plataea, north of Athens, (shown at the end of 300) and the naval battle at Mycale off the coast of Turkey would take place a year later and drive the Persians out of Greece and the Aegean for good.

Honestly, not sure if I’ll catch this one. Sure, the last one was cinematic action porn, and fun if you ignored the historical inaccuracies and alleged attempts to draw a connection between the past and the “war on terror”. But I think its fair to say this is Snider and Miller’s attempt to cash in again and really doesn’t have much magic to it. And without Gerard Butler screaming martial slogans, it just seems flat.

“THIS IS SPARTAAAA!” No, this is a sequel. And oftentimes, they suck! But then again, I do love the history and there have been cases where the sequel was even better than the original… we shall see! And of course, we can all enjoy the trailers in the meantime!

Dredd 2012

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Hey all! My apologies for my absence of late, but life has been very busy on the teaching front. Cold season always brings big stretches of busy work, and I’ve been on call steadily for the past three weeks. Luckily, I find myself with a day or two to catch up on other things, and so I decided I’d get back on this horse and start things off right.

Today, I’d like to share a review of a movie I recently enjoyed, the summer remake known as Dredd. Based on the graphic novel Judge Dredd, this movie was an attempt by writer John Wagner and director Pete Travis to reboot the franchise after the semi-disastrous 1995 adaptation that starred Sylvester Stallone.

Though the film failed to recoup its production budget at the box office, which was expected, it was reviewed much more favorably than the original and earned a small following. What’s more, it is expected the movie will continue to gross now that it is released on DVD and will be available on cable and home movie providers.

Synopsis:
dredd-1920x1080-1024x576The movie opens in the streets of Mega City One, a post-apocalyptic urban environment that stretches from Boston to Washington DC. Dredd’s voice provides voiceover, describing the urban environment in all its bloody, crowded, and dirty glory. We then cut to a scene where Dredd (Karl Urban) is pursuing three criminals that have been spotted by an aerial drone. A tense chase ensues, during which time multiple civilians are killed. After taking out their vehicle and chasing the last man into a Block – one of the cities many massive apartment structures – Dredd concludes that the men were carrying a new drug known as Slo-Mo.

dredd_mamaWe then cut to Peach Trees, another major block, where we meet Ma-Ma (Lena Headey). She is a notorious crime boss that runs Peach Trees and is responsible for the manufacture of Slo-Mo, and who is plotting to expand production and bring it to the rest of the city. We get a glimpse into just how ruthless she is when she dispenses justice against three men who have been dealing in their Block and that she decides to make an example of. This consists of skinning them and then dropping from the top floor to the bottom level, but first giving them a hit of Slo-Mo so it will seem imperceptibly long.

dredd-anderson-2Dredd is then called back to the Grand Hall of Justice to inspect a new recruit named Cassandra Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), who is reportedly a psychic. She and Dredd are dispatched to Peach Trees as part of her final evaluation to investigate the dead bodies. After the paramedic examines them, he explains that they all had Slo-Mo in their system, and gives them a rundown on who Ma-Ma is and how she came to be the master of the Block.

They then proceed to the nearest distribution center on the Block and take it down, securing one of Ma-Ma’s men (Kay) in the process. Anderson probes his mind and deduces he was the one who threw the men over the balcony and they decide to take him in for interrogation. When word reaches Ma-Ma, she has her thugs seize control of building security and lock the entire Block down, which consists of external shields closing in around the structure to resist a nuclear blast. All communications with the outside are cut off, and Ma-Ma announces over the PA system that she wants the Judges killed.

dredd_gunsDredd and Anderson begin fighting their way through several groups of armed residents with Kay in tow. Eventually, Ma-Ma orders her men to bring out their greatest weapon, a bunch of Vulcan cannons, and use them to shoot up an entire level. Dredd and Anderson narrowly survive by breaching the outer wall and calling for help, and Dredd then tosses Caleb, one of Ma-Mas henchmen over the balcony in full view of her. Down below, two Judges show up on the scene, but are unable to get through the Block’s sealed walls, and Ma-Ma’s hacker insists this is all part of a security drill.

Retreating to a school house, Dredd concludes that Ma-Ma is desperate to kill Kay to keep him for revealing her secrets and begins beating him. Anderson intervenes and begins mind probing him instead, learning that Peach Trees is the center for the production and distribution of Slo-Mo. Shortly thereafter, Dredd and Anderson are distracted by some armed teens, which allows Kay to kidnap Anderson and escape using the freight elevator to get to the top levels.

Judge Dredd Still ImageDredd continues to work his way towards the top, prompting Ma-Ma to call in four corrupt Judges. They relieve the men at the front, enter without incident, and agree to take down Dredd for one million credits. Meanwhile, Kay attempts to kill Anderson using her gun, and loses his hand in the process. She escapes and begins working her way down, and becomes a target of the crooked Judges as well. Between the two of them, they manage to take out all four and meet up in the Slo-Mo production lab. Dredd is wounded by Lex, the last of the Judges, but Anderson saves him and the two carry on.

After finding Ma-Ma’s hacker, they manage to obtain the code from him to her private cell. Rather than Judge him, Anderson sees that the man only worked for Ma-Ma out of fear, and that she was the one who took his eyes, forcing him to get bionic enhancements. She lets him go, even though Dredd tells her it could result in an “automatic fail”. She responds by saying she was already taken hostage and her gun was confiscated, which is also grounds for an a fail grade, and they move on.

dredd-lena-headey-ma-maThey finally reach Ma-Ma’s cell and take out the last of her men, though Anderson is also wounded in the process. Ma-Ma then tells Dredd she has the upper levels lined with explosives and the detonator is mounted on her wrist. If her heart stops, the device will go off and everyone in the top 50 floors will die. Dredd shoots her in the stomach and responds by saying the he doubts the device has a range that can reach from the ground floor to the top, and Judges her. Sentencing her to death, he gives her a hit of Slo-Mo and tosses her from the balcony. She falls in slow motion to her death, and the building doesn’t blow up.

Convening with reinforcements and paramedics below, Anderson hands her shield to Dredd and walks away. However, when the Chief Judge comes to him and asks how she did, he replied that she passed. The movie then ends with Dredd providing voice over once again, about how the city is a corrupt mess, and the only thing standing between it and total chaos are the Judges.

Summary:
dredd_mega_city_oneConsistent with what I heard in advance, this movie was actually pretty good. And even though it didn’t do well at the box office, the result of the meme working against it, I can see it developing a cult following and becoming something of a personal classic to many in the coming years. Despite some flaws, such as the excessive gore and some self-indulgent special effects, it had some noticeable signs of quality.

For starters, the look and feel of the Megacity environment was pretty awesome. The gritty, grimy nature comes through immediately, and without any of the overdone campiness of the original movie. Rather than shooting it in a massively constructed environment with flying cars and lavish costumes, the movie is shot in Cape Town and Johannesburg and uses real locations as a backdrop and relies on CGI and models only to supplement the already dense and dirty urban environment.

dredd_atriumAnd of course there was the attention to detail with the centerpiece of the movie, the building known as Peach Trees. As a Mega City Block, this building is essentially an arcology where all the basic needs of the residents are taken care of in-house. This includes schools, medical care, food, entertainment, and all of these were illustrated at one point or another in the film. And you’ll notice that in all cases, their was graffiti on the walls, garbage on the floor, and metal bars on everything, signifying just how dirty and dangerous the environments are.

And I really enjoyed the whole “lock down” procedure, which was more than just a convenient plot tool. In a world where nuclear holocaust has already taken place and every Block acts as a self-sustaining arcology, the concept of shield walls was just plain genius in my mind. Visually it was quite cool, but it also made perfect sense and it beautifully illustrated the shock mentality and survivalist instincts that are so common to this world.

Dredd-1And of course the movie was thematically consistent. On the one hand, you had the nature of the city, which was packed to the brim with 800 million people and with a homicide rate of 1700 people a day. Whereas Dredd is the perfect symbol of social fascism in this context, a man who has little faith in people and absolute veneration of the law, Anderson is the bright-eyed rookie who wants to help people and believes there is good to be found, even in an overcrowded block like Peach Trees.

dredd_peachtreesThese archetypes are offset by characters such as Ma-Ma and Lex, the leader of the crooked Judge. As her back story presents it, Ma-Ma is essentially a sociopathic product of the Mega City environment, a former prostitute who killed her pimp after he cut up her face and who has been on a non-stop mission ever since to bring her own sense of order to the city. Lex, meanwhile, is an embittered veteran who has lost all faith in the system and helping people and is simply looking out for number one.

Through it all, Dredd is softened somewhat by his encounter with the corrupt Judges and Anderson’s gentleness. Naturally, his war of ideology with Ma-Ma ends with him taking her out, but not before a long battle of wills takes place. This is exemplified by the way the two dual for control over the hearts and minds of people in Peach Tree. Whereas Ma-Ma uses their fear to obtain their help in hunting Dredd, Dredd fights back with his unflinching dedication to take her down and anybody who gets in the way. Ultimately, Dredd wins in part because Ma-Ma’s insanity and willingness to kill her own convince people to keep out of the way and let Dredd do his job.

JWhat’s more, the movie was well cast. Karl Urban fits the bill as the surly, sour-faced Judge who never shows his face and is never to be found doing anything other than his job. And Thirlby pulls off the role of the green, untested rookie who comes through in the end quite well. And Lena Headey, whom fans know from 300, the Sarah Conner Chronicles, and (best of all) as Cersei Lannister from a the HBO adaptation of A Game of Thrones, was also very convincing as Ma-Ma.

I was surprised really, seeing as how the previews kind of lent the impression that her role was overdone or just too plain evil. But it is a testament to this woman’s ability to act that she pulls off the psychotic crime boss who knows no mercy. Somehow, between her cut up face, evil eyes and bloody grin, you become convinced she was a victim who turned her abuse into complete madness and shouldn’t be messed with! What’s more, Urban’s usual combination of deadpan frowns and monotone voice worked in his favor, much like how Keannu Reeves same combination of method and monotone allowed him to pull of Neo.

dredd_slomoAnd of course, there were the visual effects. There are those who would say that this movie was just an ultra-violent gorefest with overblown special effects. But to that, I’d say it was a lot more genuine that the original, and much of the gore and violence was appropriate given the setting and tone of the movie. Mega City One is a massively overcrowded, decaying cesspool of humanity, where thousands of murders happen a day and human bodies are recycled for food and goods.

Such a place is neither safe nor sanitary, and violence is a constant, pervasive element. And sure, the concept of Slo-Mo may very well have been an excuse to employ some over the top 3D and slow motion sequences. But after watching the movie, I was forced to admit, it was a pretty damn good one! In the end, you can’t help but feel that these two factors are somewhat excessive but still appropriate.

Naturally, the original movie tried to gloss over this since they wanted to give it as wide an appeal as possible. This failed, as much of the material was just too adult for kids, but the tone and feel of it was too cartoony to be taken seriously. Basically, the movie tried to hedge its bets and ended up flopping for it. But this time around, the directors and producers were going for a cult appeal and stuck to their guns, which I have to respect. By aiming for a smaller range of consumers and a less broad appeal, they were able to keep the movie honest and truer to the source material.

In short, I give it a 7.5/10. And man, I want to see more of Mega City One! That urban landscape had a kick-ass art team putting it together! I’d recommend the movie for that much alone, especially to fans of the Blade Runner, urban noire and post-apocalyptic series’, but the rest of the movie is fun watching too. So get it and contribute to the cult following people. The producers still need to recoup their dough!

Epic Rap Battles of History

You know what I learned recently? I am ALL about Epic Rap Battles of History! It was months ago when a fellow blogger (Thanks Dave DeMar) put me onto them with their Darth Vader vs. Hitler rap. Admittedly, that one had some humor which could be a little hard to take, especially if you mind such things as thinly veiled references to Hitler’s genocide. However, I’ve found they do just about everyone, from beloved historical figures to pop-culture icons. And there confrontation between the Master Chief and Leonidas was damn near hysterical! Check it out:

Star Wars: The Old Republic trailer

As far as the gaming world is concerned, this trailer is old news! But, it’s news to me, and I thought it was pretty darned cool. Not sure how I missed it, since during 2010 I felt I was pretty up on all the news surrounding SWTOR, the third installment in the Knights Of The Old Republic  (or KOTOR, for short) video-game series. Guess not. And of course, when fan reviews began to pour in saying that the game was not all it was cracked up to be, I kind of lost interest.

However, news is beginning to circulate that the KOTOR franchise might actually be the basis for the next Star Wars trilogy. I kid you not, not only is LucasArts deep into deals with Disney to produce the next three installments, there’s also a great deal of speculation as to whether or not they will be sequels or further prequels. But more on that soon enough. Right now, enjoy this video. It’s like Star Wars meets 300 with some Matrix for good measure!

The Hunger Games You Didn’t See

You know how Hollywood will announce an upcoming movie, and will usually precede any trailers by releasing special info like who’s attached to direct and who will be starring in it? Believe it or not, there’s actually an interesting selection process that leads up to this. Yeah, I was surprised too. Given what I’ve learned from Entourage and Hollywood’s many movies about itself, I would have thought that the whole process was done behind closed doors, and involved a bunch of sleazy executives, some martinis and many, many lines of coke!

But according to a recent article from Blastr, the process is a bit more complicated. It seems that prospective directors are also expected to make pitches to the producers, and often do so in the form of videos. When The Hunger Games was first being conceived, that’s precisely what prospective director Kevin Tancharoen did. Tancharoen is relatively new to Hollywood, the man behind the 2009 remake of Fame and the guy who has been on the radar of the sci-fi fan universe ever since he released a test film for the proposed Mortal Kombat: Rebirth film.

The trailer featured below is the mashup he created to show to the producers. It features footage from numerous movies, including Harry Potter, Serenity, Gladiator, Ultra Violet, X-Men, 300, Lord of the Rings, and a slew of other science fiction and action films. In the background you hear key lines of dialogue featured from the original novel, giving a sense of context and direction to the montage. Having watched it, I can tell you that it’s not bad, provided you don’t mind that not a single scene is original! Of course, Tanchareon didn’t get the job. But there’s still the sequel to think of…

Which reminds me, I’m due to review the movie they did make. I finally got around to watching it, and I think it would be nice to do a blow by blow comparison between it and the original novel. Expect it soon!

 

 

 

 

Robots, Androids and AI’s

Let’s talk artificial life forms, shall we? Lord knows they are a common enough feature in science fiction, aren’t they? In many cases, they take the form of cold, calculating machines that chill audiences to the bones with their “kill all humans” kind of vibe. In others, they were the solid-state beings with synthetic parts but hearts of gold and who stole ours in the process. Either way, AI’s are a cornerstone to the world of modern sci-fi. And over the past few decades, they’ve gone through countless renditions and re-imaginings, each with their own point to make about humanity, technology, and the line that separates natural and artificial.

But in the end, its really just the hardware that’s changed. Whether we were talking about Daleks, Terminators, or “Synthetics”, the core principle has remained the same. Based on mathematician and legendary cryptographer Alan Turing’s speculations, an Artificial Intelligence is essentially a being that can fool the judges in a double-blind test. Working extensively with machines that were primarily designed for solving massive mathematical equations, Turing believed that some day, we would be able to construct a machine that would be able to perform higher reasoning, surpassing even humans.

Arny (Da Terminator):
Who knew robots from the future would have Austrian accents? For that matter, who knew they’d all look like bodybuilders? Originally, when Arny was presented with the script for Cameron’s seminal time traveling sci-fi flick, he was being asked to play the role of Kyle Reese, the human hero. But Arny very quickly found himself identifying with the role of the Terminator, and a franchise was born!

Originally, the Terminator was the type of cold, unfeeling and ruthless machine that haunted our nightmares, a cyberpunk commentary on the dangers of run-away technology and human vanity. Much like its creator, the Skynet supercomputer, the T101 was part of a race of machines that decided it could do without humanity and was sent out to exterminate them. As Reese himself said in the original: “It can’t be bargained with. It can’t be reasoned with. It doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead.”

The second Terminator, by contrast, was a game changer. Captured in the future and reprogrammed to protect John Conner, he became the sort of surrogate father that John never had. Sarah reflected on this irony during a moment of internal monologue during movie two: “Watching John with the machine, it was suddenly so clear. The terminator, would never stop. It would never leave him, and it would never hurt him, never shout at him, or get drunk and hit him, or say it was too busy to spend time with him. It would always be there. And it would die, to protect him. Of all the would-be fathers who came and went over the years, this thing, this machine, was the only one who measured up. In an insane world, it was the sanest choice.”

In short, Cameron gave us two visions of technology with these first two installments in the series. In the first, we got the dangers of worshiping high-technology at the expense of humanity. In movie two, we witnessed the reconciliation of humans with technology, showing how an artificial life form could actually be capable of more humanity than a human being. To quote one last line from the franchise: “The unknown future rolls toward us. I face it, for the first time, with a sense of hope. Because if a machine, a Terminator, can learn the value of human life, maybe we can too.”

Bender:
No list of AI’s and the like would ever be complete without mentioning Futurama’s Bender. That dude put’s the funk in funky robot! Originally designed to be a bending unit, hence his name, he seems more adept at wisecracking, alcoholism, chain-smoking and comedicaly plotting the demise of humanity. But its quickly made clear that he doesn’t really mean it. While he may hold humans in pretty low esteem, laughing at tragedy and failing to empathize with anything that isn’t him, he also loves his best friend Fry whom he refers to affectionately as “meat-bag”.

In addition, he’s got some aspirations that point to a creative soul. Early on in the show, it was revealed that any time he gets around something magnetic, he begins singing folk and country western tunes. This is apparently because he always wanted to be a singer, and after a crippling accident in season 3, he got to do just that – touring the country with Beck and a show called “Bend-aid” which raised awareness about the plight of broken robots.

He also wanted to be a cook, which was difficult considering he had no sense of taste or seemed to care about lethally poisoning humans! However, after learning at the feet of legendary Helmut Spargle, he learned the secret of “Ultimate Flavor”, which he then used to challenge and humiliate his idol chef Elzar on the Iron Chef. Apparently the secret was confidence, and a vial of water laced with LSD!

Other than that, there’s really not that much going on with Bender. Up front, he’s a chain smoking, alcoholic robot with loose morals or a total lack thereof. When one gets to know him better, they pretty much conclude that what you see is what you get! An endless source of sardonic humor, weird fashion sense, and dry one-liners. Of them all “Bite my shiny metal ass”, “Pimpmobile”, “We’re boned!” and “Up yours chump” seems to rank the highest.

Ash/Bishop:
Here we have yet another case of robots giving us mixed messages, and comes to us direct from the Alien franchise. In the original movie, we were confronted with Ash, an obedient corporate mole who did the company’s bidding at the expense of human life. His cold, misguided priorities were only heightened when he revealed that he admired the xenomorph because of its “purity”. “A survivor… unclouded by conscience, remorse, or delusions of morality.”

After going nuts and trying to kill Ripley, he was even kind enough to smile and say in that disembodied tinny voice of his, “I can’t lie to you about your chances, but… you have my sympathies.” What an asshole! And the perfect representation for an inhuman, calculating robot. The result of unimpeded aspirations, no doubt the same thing which was motivating his corporate masters to get their hands on a hostile alien, even if it meant sacrificing a crew or two.

But, as with Terminator, Cameron pulled a switch-up in movie two with the Synthetic known as Bishop (or “artificial human” as he preferred to be called). In the beginning, Ripley was hostile towards him, rebuffing his attempts to assure her that he was incapable of killing people thanks to the addition of his behavioral inhibitors. Because of these, he could not harm, or through inaction allow to be harmed, a human being (otherwise known as an “Asimov”). But in the end, Bishop’s constant concern for the crew and the way he was willing to sacrifice himself to save Newt won her over.

Too bad he had to get ripped in half to earn her trust. But I guess when a earlier model tries to shove a magazine down your throat, you kind of have to go above and beyond to make someone put their life in your hands again. Now if only all synthetics were willing to get themselves ripped in half for Ripley’s sake, she’d be set!

C3P0/R2D2:
For that matter, who knew robots from the future would be fay, effeminate and possibly homosexual? Not that there’s anything wrong with that last one… But as audiences are sure to agree, the other characteristics could get quite annoying after awhile. C3P0’s constant complaining, griping, moaning and citing of statistical probabilities were at once too human and too robotic! Kind of brilliant really… You could say he was the Sheldon of the Star Wars universe!

Still, C3P0 if nothing if not useful when characters found themselves in diplomatic situations, or facing a species of aliens who’s language they couldn’t possibly fathom. He could even interface with machinery, which was helpful when the hyperdrive was out or the moisture condensers weren’t working. Gotta bring in that “Blue Harvest” after all! And given that R2D2 could do nothing but bleep and blurp, someone had to be around to translate for him.

Speaking of which, R2D2 was the perfect counterpart to C3P0. As the astromech droid of the pair, he was the engineer and a real nuts and bolts kind of guy, whereas C3P0 was the diplomat and expert in protocol.  Whereas 3P0 was sure to give up at the first sign of trouble, R2 would always soldier on and put himself in harm’s way to get things done. This difference in personality was also made evident in their differences in height and structure. Whereas C3P0 was tall, lanky and looked quite fragile, R2D2 was short, stocky, and looked like he could take a licking and keep on ticking!

Naturally, it was this combination of talents that made them comically entertaining during their many adventures and hijinks together. The one would always complain and be negative, the other would be positive and stubborn. And in the end, despite their differences, they couldn’t possibly imagine a life without the other. This became especially evident whenever they were separated or one of them was injured.

Hmmm, all of this is starting to sound familiar to me somehow. I’m reminded of another, mismatched, and possibly homosexual duo. One with a possible fetish for rubber… Not that there’s anything wrong with that! 😉

Cameron:
Some might accuse me of smuggling her in here just to get some eye-candy in the mix. Some might say that this list already has an example from the Terminator franchise and doesn’t need another. They would probably be right…

But you know what, screw that, it’s Summer Glau! And the fact of the matter is, she did a way better job than Kristanna Loken at showing that these killing/protective machines can be played by women. Making her appearance in the series Terminator: The Sarah Conner Chronicles, she worked alongside acting great Lena Headey of 300 and Game of Thrones fame.

And in all fairness, she and Lokken did bring some variety to the franchise. For instance, in the show, she portrayed yet another reprogrammed machine from the future, but represented a model different from the T101’s. The purpose of these latter models appeared to be versatility, the smaller chassis and articulate appendages now able to fit inside a smaller frame, making a woman’s body available as a potential disguise. Quite smart really. If you think about it, people are a lot more likely to trust a smaller woman than a bulked-out Arny bot any day (especially men!) It also opened up the series to more female characters other than Sarah.

And dammit, it’s Summer Glau! If she didn’t earn her keep from portraying River Tam in Firefly and Serenity, then what hope is there for the rest of us!

Cortana:
Here we have another female AI, and one who is pretty attractive despite her lack of a body. In this case, she comes to us from the Halo universe. In addition to being hailed by critics for her believability, depth of character, and attractive appearance, she was ranked as one of the most disturbingly sexual game characters by Games.net. No surprises there, really. Originally, the designers of her character used Egyptian Queen Nefertiti as a model, and her half-naked appearance throughout the game has been known to get the average gamer to stand up and salute!

Though she serves ostensibly as the ship’s AI for the UNSC Pillar of Autumn, Cortana ends up having a role that far exceeds her original programming. Constructed from the cloned brain of Dr. Catherine Elizabeth Halsey, creator of the SPARTAN project, she has an evolving matrix, and hence is capable of learning and adapting as time goes on. Due to this and their shared experiences as the series goes on, she and the Master Chief form a bond and even become something akin to friends.

Although she has no physical appearance, Cortana’ program is mobile and makes several appearances throughout the series, and always in different spots. She is able to travel around with the Master Chief, commandeer Covenant vessels, and interface with a variety of machines. And aside from her feminine appearance, he soft, melodic voice is a soothing change of pace from the Chief’s gruff tone and the racket of gunfire and dead aliens!

Data:
The stoic, stalwart and socially awkward android of Star Trek: TNG. Built to resemble his maker, Dr. Noonian Soong, Data is a first-generation positronic android – a concept borrowed from Asimov’s I, Robot. He later enlisted in Star Fleet in order to be of service to humanity and explore the universe. In addition to his unsurpassed computational abilities, he also possesses incredible strength, reflexes, and even knows how to pleasure the ladies. No joke, he’s apparently got all kind of files on how to do… stuff, and he even got to use them! 😉

Unfortunately, Data’s programming does not include emotions. Initially, this seemed to serve the obvious purpose of making his character a foil for humanity, much like Spock was in the original series. However, as the show progressed, it was revealed that Soong had created an android very much like Data who also possessed the capacity for emotions. But of course, things went terribly wrong when this model, named Lor, became terribly ambitious and misanthropic. There were some deaths…

Throughout the original series, Data finds himself seeking to understand humanity, frequently coming up short, but always learning from the experience. His attempts at humor and failure to grasp social cues and innuendo are also a constant source of comic relief, as are his attempts to mimic these very things. And though he eventually was able to procure an “emotion chip” from his brother, Data remains the straight man of the TNG universe, responding to every situation with a blank look or a confused and fascinated expression.

More coming in installment two. Just give me some time to do all the write ups and find some pics :)…

The Watchmen

Sometime last week, I finally got my hands on the original graphic novel of V for Vendetta. I figured that since I was going to review this movie at some point, I ought to read the source material and treat it like all the other adaptations I’ve covered so far with this blog. Interestingly enough, the creative force being the graphic novel was none other than Alan Moore, the same man who created The Watchmen! While I’ve never been much of a comic book guy – which I admit is both treasonous and weird given my obvious geekhood! – I can honestly say that this was one of the best graphic novels I have ever read. Hell, it was guys like Moore with such creations as Watchmen and V that helped to establish the very concept of the graphic novel. While the dividing line between them and comic books is pretty fine, one can’t deny that guy’s like Moore combine a great deal of thought and inspiration to come up with these things, certainly no less than what typically goes into a high-end novel.

Not only that, but with The Watchmen, we got a story that was equal parts satire on the traditional subject matter of comics (superheroes) and the history of the 20th century. This is done in true sci-fi form, employing an alternate reality to show how the existence of a certain phenomena altered history, and using the differences to illustrate what took place in the real world. Embracing such things as generational change, feminism, war, civil rights, the decline of America, politics, nuclear holocaust, paranoia, UFO hysteria, and the American Dream, the scope and depth of this book was virtually undeniable. And when it came time to adapt it to the big screen, the same spirit came through pretty clear. There were naturally some weaknesses that emerged out of the monumental task of adapting the voluminous text to the big screen, and some complained about the changes, but in the end, it felt like a pretty faithful adaptation, and one that was overdue!

(Background—>):
Zack Snyder must have seemed like the natural choice to shoot this epic, having directed 300 – another graphic novel adaptation – just three years before. The end result was an official release that left out various parts of the plot in order to cut down on run time, but still managed to be two and a half hours long. As expected, a directors cut and an “Ultimate Cut” were also released on DVD that contained much of the missing elements, and they run for approx. three and three a half hours respectively! That’s what you get when you try to adapt a classic to the big screen, I guess. In either case, the box office draw and DVD sales were through the roof, another result of a classic meeting the big screen!

Naturally, there were those who complained about the cinematic release, citing the things that were left out, the new ending which did away with the whole UFO theme, and what not. However, the thing that divided audience the most, ironically enough, was Snyder’s commitment and reverence of the original source material. While some praised him for his faithful adaptation, his biggest critics saw this is as a drawback, claiming that his commitment to the source material made the movie feel “stuffy” and “boring”. Some even found themselves falling in the middle, saying that they were impressed with the faithfulness of the adaptation, but unsure as to whether or not this made for a good movie. One thing was certain though, for fans of the graphic novel, the biggest source of contention was the changed ending! Squiddy or Manhattan, which was better? For those of you who read the novel, you know what I mean 😉 For those of you who don’t, read on!

(Content—>):
The story opens on the murder of a superhero by the name of The Comedian. Whereas the novel only shows the aftermath of this, the movie gives us the full fight scene in order to open with a bang and get our attention. In any case, we begin the movie knowing that The Comedian (played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan) is dead, and his friend, fellow superhero Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley), is on the case! This latter superhero, named for the mask he wears, is one of the few superheros in this day and age who’s not working for the government or gone into retirement. He believes The Comedians death is part of plot to eliminate the Watchmen, as superheroes have been turned on by popular opinion and outlawed by the state. We also learn quickly that due to the historical presence of superheroes, the world has unfolded quite differently. Due to their efforts, America won the Vietnam war, Richard Nixon remained president since, the Cold War escalated and nuclear war now seems inevitable. Society has also gone to hell in a hand basket, but at least there are electrical cars!

So, fearing a plot against his former superhero friends, Rorschach seeks them out and tries to warn them. These include Nite Owl (Patrick Wilson), Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup), his wife and partner Silk Spectre II (Malin Akerman), and Ozymandias (Matthew Goode). Most of them are retired, except for Dr. Manhattan who is doing nuclear research for the government (fitting since he’s a nuclear-powered, godlike man!) and Ozymandias who’s supersmarts have led him into the world of inventing and big business. Most of them are skeptical, until an assassination attempt against Ozymandias is narrowly averted. The movie then gravitates between filling in the characters back stories and the progress of the murder investigation in the present.

On the one hand, we see how The Watchmen, an organization of crime-fighting superheroes, evolved from the Minutemen, a similar group that was formed in the 1930’s in response to the rising tide of organized crime and gangsters. In showing the history of the Watchmen, we are made aware of how history unfolded differently since their own stories are so very intertwined with history. What is palatable in all this is the feeling of loss and betrayal that accurately portrays America in the 20th century. Much like in the novel, there is the pervasive sense of the “end of innocence” as we go from a rought but optimistic past through a series of shocks and upheavals, landing finally in a dark and gloomy present where annihilation seems inevitable. Most of this told from the point of view of Rorschach, a man who’s own cynicism reflects the mood of his age. His thoughts and findings, all of which he puts down in his journal (which will come up later), provide the narration. And I dare say Haley did a very good job portraying this dark, brooding superhero! The way Rorschach always said “Hrrrmmmm”, that I thought was done pretty well too.

In any case, Rorschach’s investigation soon leads him to a former villain named Moloch (Matt Frewer) whom he suspects because of him being a former enemy of The Comedian. However, his suspicions are allayed when he learns Moloch is dying of cancer. Interestingly enough, Moloch tells him that the Comedian showed up at his apartment shortly before he died, drunk off his ass and muttering something about how it was all a joke. This makes Rorschach even more curious, as he now believes the man was onto something that could shake even him. It’s been well established at this point that The Comedian was a real SOB, and that his alias is sort of an ironic joke. Like the Joker, his humor comes in a brutal, sardonic form, albeit somewhat less evil (only somewhat).

In any case, Rorschach soon finds himself framed when he returns to Moloch’s apartment, finds him dead, and that the police are upon him. He puts up a brave struggle, but the police soon have him and rip off his mask. They are suprised to find that this ass-kicking vigilante is actually a pretty puny man who wears lifts, but is a grizzled due nonetheless (Haley looked the part pretty well too!). While in jail, we get to hear some of Rorschach’s story as a shrink examines him, and the reasons for his cynicism and dark world-view quickly become clear. Seems Rorschach was the child of a prostitute who routinely beat him, until he ran away from home and began beating the shit out of bullies. In time, became a vigilante and donned a mask that looks exactly like a Rorschach diagram, dolling out justice to those who violated the law and/or his rigid moral code (which he clearly uses to compensate for his lack of moral values growing up). At first, he had limits, beating criminals up but never killing anyone. But then came the encounter that forever changed him, which he relates with brutal detail to the shrink while looking at (you guessed it!) Rorschach diagrams! I shant go into too much detial, suffice it to say that it involved a pedophile/murdered who’s crime demanded swift and severe retribution!

Meanwhile, Dr. Manhattan comes under fire during a televised interview. Seems some investigative reporter has turned up evidence that everyone he’s ever been in contact with is dead or dying of cancer. You see, Manhattan was created when a nuclear accident broke down ever cell in his body, only to later be recomposed out of pure energy. He can take whatever form he wishes, duplicate himself, teleport, vaporize his enemies, and so forth. However, it was assumed up until this point that his presence was benign and he was not a threat unless he wanted to be. When he learns this, he has a minor breakdown and teleports himself to Mars, wanting to break contact with humanity and spare anyone else the harm of being around him. His partner, Silk Specter II, has already moved out since his lack of humanity was driving a wedge between them. But when she hears of his departure, she is understandably upset. She has already moved in with former colleague and friend Nite Owl (Patrick Wilson) and the two begin a sort of affair.

With Manhattan gone, the Soviet Union, which has been at a strategic disadvantage since Manhattan first started working for the US government, decides to take advantage of his departure and invades Afghanistan. The Doomsday Clock gets closer to midnight! Similarly, Silk Specter and Night Owl decide to come out of retirement because of the impending crises and do what they can to help people in need. Their affair has been abortive up to this point because they feel afraid and impotent with all that’s happened, but after saving several people from a burning building, they feel on fire and do it right in Nite Owl’s hovercraft! To Halleluiah by Leonard Cohen no less! They then break Rorschach out of jail, knowing that he was right about their being conspiracy at work. With The Comedian dead, an attempt on Ozymandias and the confrontation that made Manhattan leave Earth, it now seems evident that someone wants The Watchmen out of the way. After all that is done, Silk Specter decides to confront Manhattan, which she does after he comes for her and brings her to Mars. In the course of a tense discussion, he reveals to her that The Comedian was her father. Seems her mother, Silk Specter the first (played by Carla Gugino) slept with him in spite of his violent behavior towards her, and she was the result. She is, again, understandably upset, but still manages to convince Manhattan to come back and help them.

Together, Rorschach and Nite Owl go to Ozymandias’ office and unlock his files. In them, they find compelling evidence that he has been behind everything. The smoking gun comes when they see that The Comedian was working for him in the last while, and that his death was obviously to prevent him from telling the others what he had found out. They also figure out that he staged his own assassination attempt and sent a false reporter to tell Manhattan the cancer story, thus getting him out of the picture. They then travel to his Antarctic retreat where they know he’s still working on whatever pet project The Comedian died to protect. And here we get another change just like at the beginning (aka. the addition of a fight scene). In the comics, Ozymandias reveals his full plot to them and only tangles with Rorschach briefly. In the movie, there is an extended fight scene between Owl, Rorschach and Specter before he shows them what he’s really up to. And that’s where the biggest change of all comes into play: the big finish! But first, his motive!

Basically, Ozymandias explains that his plan was to unify the US and USSR and prevent a nuclear war by exploding the world’s largest energy reactors which he and Dr. Manhattan created. This will level several of the world’s major cities. Naturally, they try to stop him, but he explains that its too late and the reactors are already set. The energy signatures of the explosions are consistent with Manhattan’s, in part because the technology is based on the same forces that created him. Ergo, it is believed HE attacked Earth, most likely out of some anger-fueled breakdown that happened as a result of his breakdown. As noted already, this is not what happened in the novel, but more on that later…

Silk Specter and Manhattan have already shown up, and Ozymandias tries to kill Manhattan by luring him into some kind of nuclear de-compiler that is similar to the one that altered him in the first place. However, Manhattan proves immune to it and manages to finally subdue Ozymandias. He, however, turns on his many TV’s and shows him the reports which tell how the US and Soviet Union are standing down in the face of this new attack. They both seem to think Dr. Manhattan is attacking them now and are combining forces to defend against him. The others are angry, but Manhattan cannot argue with the logic and agrees to take on the role of the bad guy and go back into exile, this time permanently. Rorschach refuses to play along, him being a no-compromises kind of guy, and Manhattan is forced to vaporize him to maintain their little secret. Manhattan then says good-bye for the last time and leaves them for good. Nite Owl and Silk Specter leave too, vowing to keep fighting crime as New York rebuilds and build a future together.

The movie then ends with people from a right wing tabloid named the New Frontiersmen talking about there’s no news now that the Cold War has ended. But it seems that in their incoming mail, there’s a strange journal… It’s Rorschach’s, which he happened to mail to them just before he and Nite Owl departed for Antarctica. Remember how he recorded everything in there? Well, it seems like the secret might get out after all! The movie and comic both end on this scene, offering the reader/viewer an uncertain and possibly open ending.

(Synopsis—>):
First off, the new ending. As I’ve said twice now, the part where Ozymandias blew up the world’s major cities and blamed Manhattan was not what had happened in the original graphic novel. There, Ozymandias was working on perfecting matter teleportation, and it was this technology which he also used to try and destroy Dr. Manhattan. In any case, what he was teleporting was the body of a massive, genetically engineered bio-organism that looked very much like a massive alien squiddy into the heart of New York. Sounds weird, I know, but the result was that New Yorkers became convinced that an alien attack was underway. The organism died in the teleportation sequence, and only a few people were killed, but the point is they believed that an invasion attempt had failed, but more could be coming. THIS is what united the US and USSR, the prospect of an external threat that came from another species, not Doc Manhattan.

To be fair, I saw the reason for the changeover. The Squiddy concept was weird, but it played into the whole UFO paranoia that also existed in the latter half of the 20th century, as seen with Roswell and Area 51. The idea of playing that against Cold War rivalry made sense, it was just the execution that seemed a little weird. By putting Dr. Manhattan at the center of the conspiracy, Snyder was able to rework the plot quite effectively, but he did away with an essential element as a result. In addition, the recurring side-story about the pirate comic Tales of the Black Freighter which a patron is reading at a newstand, was also missing. However, Snyder was sure to include an animated adaptation of this portion of the novel onto the DVD.

The concept of the Doomsday Clock was also something that was changed, albeit in a faithful way. In the novel, the clock is not an actual object but a device that tells the reader before each chapter how close they are to the climax. But in order to keep it, Snyder adapted it into the movie as a set piece a media personality used to capture people’s fears about the impending nuclear war. Other than that, the only real changes had to do with action sequences which were included for obvious reasons. And they’re actually quite entertaining, being at once over the top and brutal. In a way, it kind of adds to the satire, combining superhero-like antics with bloody realism, which is essentially what the comic book is all about.

So what else was bang on…? Well, the feel was almost exactly the same. The movie’s intro, done to “The Times They Are A-Changing” by Bob Dylan was quite masterful at establishing the tone and giving the audience a quick glimpse of the back story. In fact, the entire soundtrack is faithful to the time period being depicted, giving it all a sense of historicism. The only flaw I saw in any of this was the scene where Nite Owl and The Comedian (in a flashback sequence) are shown cracking down on protesters during the late 70’s before superheroes were officially outlawed. After dispersing the crowd, Nite Owl turns to The Comedian and says “What happened to this country? What happened to the American Dream?” This was a bit obvious, and it was never done in the comic. For the most part, the movie captured this theme very well so I didn’t see why any of the characters needed to come right out and say it.

But overall, I felt that the movie was a faithful adaptation. In fact, I was impressed with how closely the movie followed the novel until the end. However, this does not mean that it could ever hold a candle to the original. This is not an attempt at snobbery on my part, it’s actually just how I feel about all adaptations. They are fun and serve their purpose, but can never really be expected to provide the same meaning or enjoyment as the original. In addition, reading is always more enjoyable, in my humble opinion, because the reader is able to stop, think, and interpret what they are taking in. In a movie, the entire process is transmissive, no room for interpretation until its all over, and the key jobs of visualization and imagining are done for you.

So… yeah! Watchmen, people! Read it, see it, decide for yourself. And know that the second you do, you too will have an opinion on the subject and demand that it be heard. Hell, you might even shout at a person or two for not sharing your beliefs. See, that’s the thing about geeks. We’re passionate about interesting but inconsequential things!

The Watchmen:
Entertainment Value: 7/10 (run-time kind of brings it down)
Plot: 8/10
Direction: 9/10
Total: 8/10