Utopia in Popular Culture

Aeon Flux:
Fans of this animated cult-classic are sure to understand why this show has made the list. In the futuristic setting of the show, events revolve around an ongoing conflict between two societies. On the one side, there is Brenga, a police state run by the autocrat Trevor Goodchild. On the other is the anarchist state of Monica, where the show’s main character – Aeon, a Monican agent and spy – comes from.

Much like the world of the Cold War, these two sides are locked in an ongoing state of detente, where espionage and skirmishes take place back on both sides. The border region between them resembles that of Cold War-era Berlin, where a massive wall separates the two and those trying to cross are either shot or cut down. In one particular episode, people who are missing limbs were a focal point, demonstrating just how many people have fallen victim to the border defenses.

This is a common feature in the story, as it seems that the people of Bregna (known as Breens) would like very much to live the lives of Monicans. Its for this reason that one of Aeon’s duties as an agent is to make regular runs into Bregna to get people out through a series of underground passages. It is also suggested that it is precisely because Monica has no official representatives that it is impossible for Trevor Goodchild to deal with them. He does not seem to understand how their society works, and therefore cannot bribe, threaten, or intimidate them into a peace settlement.

Avatar:
Here is a perfect example of the traditional Edenic civilization being threatened by the evil progress-driven bad guys. Though it was not my favorite movie by any means, it’s undeniable (aka. blatant) utopians themes are quite clear. In short, the Na’vi live a peaceful, contended existence with their environment, and are even telepathically linked to a planetary intelligence known as Eywa.

Borrowing elements from Native American lore, the Gaian hypothesis, and the concept of an ecological utopia, Cameron created a world where paradise was to be found by anyone with appreciative eyes. Whether it was their communion with animals, the trees, or Eywa, the Na’vi elevated the concept of living in harmony with their environment to literal levels.

Demolition Man:
Again, we have what is often classified as a dystopia, but which is made so because of its apparent utopian elements. Set in the not-too-distant future of San Angeles – the mega-city formed from the merger of LA and San Diego – the story revolves around the social experiments of one Dr. Raymond Cocteau.

In addition to being the man who invented the cryo-stasis prison system, which was central to the plot, he is also the man who pioneered the San Angelans “utopian” way of life. In essence, this way of life is bereft of violence, crime, and drug use. The people live what can only be described as a peaceful and contented existence, believing that everything that came before them was characterized by violence and brutality.

The price tag was high, to be sure. People are no longer allowed to swear, play contact sports, own guns, or eat anything remotely unhealthy. Violent and/or sexual entertainment has also been banned, as has real sex. However, the people of San Angeles seemed to accept all this based on the state of society prior to Cocteau’s “revolution”.

The proliferation of violence, chaos, drug use and venereal diseases pretty much left them thinking they had no choice.  Such is the nature of utopian engineering, in the end, where people willingly surrender certain aspects of their lives in order to achieve something better. Much like collectivization, the banning of money, or the elimination of monogamy.

Futurama:
This might seem like a bit of a stretch, but I’ve always felt that anyone who loves science fiction can’t help but notice the classic themes and elements in this show. Usually this takes the form of dystopian elements – suicide booths, career chips, the tax monster, etc. However, at other times, some decidedly cheery and optimistic tones make it in.

For example, in one particular episode (season 1, episode 8: “A Big Piece of Garbage”), Earth finds itself being threatened by a massive ball of garbage. They deduce that only a similar ball would be able to deflect it, but unfortunately, no garbage exists. Everything on Earth is now recycled, used cans are recycled to make robots, and used robots are used to make cans. Nothing goes to waste, which is why Fry must teach them how to litter!

And then again, in season 6, episode 2: “In-A-Gadda-Da-Leela”, Leela and Zapp Brannagan land on what appears to be a mysterious, Edenic planet. Here, Leela and Zapp begin living freely as if they were Adam and Eve, which includes shedding their clothes, talking to a serpent, and living off the land. Of course, it was all a ruse by Zapp who once again just looking to get Leela in the sack, but the illusion was complete!

Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri:
There’s a reason this game is one of my all-time favorites, and that is because it’s so inspired! One immediately gets the feeling upon playing this all the way through that a lot of classic sci-fi elements went into the making of it, as well as genuine cultural, sociological and scientific research.

For starters, there is the concept of colonizing a new world and the social experiments that it naturally will entail, which is in keeping with KSR Mars Trilogy. Each faction in the game represents a different take on engineering the perfect society. There are the humanitarians, the believers, the Gaians, the hive-mind people, the free-marketeers, the militarists, and the rational empiricists.

What’s more, the technology tree that is featured in the game contains many options for social engineering, the intended end result of which is a perfect society in one form or another. These include Thought Control, Cybernetic, and Eudaimonic, three basic visions of utopia which are dependent upon repression, post-humanism, and a utilitarian, social welfare approach meant to enrich the lives of as many people as possible.

There’s even the option of achieving transcendence, which is one of the victory condition’s of the game. This is achieved by merging with Alpha Centauri’s planet-wide organism, becoming part of its mass consciousness and ensuring a sort of quasi-immortality as it were. This is considered the biggest and best victory option since it ensures planetary peace, as opposed to conquering all the other factions, united them, or cornering the planet’s energy market (the three other victory conditions).

Star Trek:
When it comes to commercial sci-fi, Star Trek pretty much has the market cornered when it comes to utopian elements. Whether it was the original series, TNG, or its subsequent spinoffs, it was clear that humanity had reached a state of technical and social perfection thanks to advances made in science and technology, not to mention good old fashion optimism.

For starters, the United Federation of Planets was an egalitarian democracy where all member races were entitled to representation, a constitution guaranteed extensive rights and freedoms, and all wants and needs were addressed thanks to replicators, abundant energy, transporters and warp technology.

And of course, numerous references are made to the fact that Earth is crime free, all known diseases have been cured, and troublesome things like poverty, slavery, exploitation, inequality and human drudgery have all been eliminated. No real explanations are given as to how, but its clear it happened by the 22nd century.

Star Wars:
Though not a utopian series by any stretch of the definition, there are some tell-tale aspects of the franchise which warrant examination. For example, though the bulk of the story takes place during the “Dark Times”, when the evil Empire rules, numerous allusions are made to a time before the Empire where things are described in somewhat idealistic terms.

For example, here is how Obi-Wan describes the role of the Jedi in the good old days as follows: “For over a thousand generations, the Jedi were the guardians of peace and justice in the Old Republic.” In addition, it is also made clear that the Old Republic was governed by an interstellar democracy known as the Galactic Senate. Between the Jedi and the government, things like slavery, conquest, blatant racism, genocide, and all other forms of behavior common to the Empire were highly illegal.

In having this era of peace and relative prosperity to compare their current circumstances with, Lucas was able to drive home the point of how the Empire was illegitimate and had seized power by unjust means. It also made the heroes current predicament seem that much more emotionally involved.

Wing Commander:
Calling to mind such franchises as Star Trek and Man-Kzin Wars, the Wing Commander series takes place in the distant future when a semi-utopian humanity is engaged in a war with a militaristic foe. As with the violent Kzin, the enemy in this series known as the Kilrathi, are a race of feline anthropoids.

Governed by a strict hierarchy and warrior code, the Kilrathi are driven to war and conquest and have been fighting humanity for generations. Though no formal description is ever made of the Earth government or human customs, many hints are given that suggest that the Terran Confederation is governed by the comparatively enlightened ideals of humanitarianism and democracy.

For instance, in the first Wing Commander it is said that Kilrathi do not place the same importance on alien life as the Confederation. Evidently not, since conquest, slavery and genocide seem to be par for the course for them! In addition, several alien species are allies with the Confederation, usually for the sake of mutual defense against the Kilrathi.

And as with Star Trek, the bad behavior of the enemy species is held in contrast to the comparatively peaceful and egalitarian behavior of humans. And as always, this is designed to illicit a point about history and human nature.

Conclusions:
When it comes to popular culture, there never seems to be a shortage of inspired science fiction elements. This is true of movies, television, and the gaming world. However, I can’t help but notice just how more common dystopian movies, shows and games are. For whatever reason, it just seems like tales of dark futures are much more popular. Is it because dark futures seem more realistic, or might it have to do with the proliferation of dystopian literature in the last century or so. Either way, believe me when I tell you that examples of modern utopian sci-fi franchises were much harder to find. No wonder Neal Stephenson challenged the sci-fi writers of the world to come up with something cheerier!

G.I. Joe: Retaliation pushed back to 2013

Wouldn’t you know it, the release of the sure fire summer blockbuster, G.I. Joe: Retaliation, has been delayed. It seems that after some debate over at Paramount Pictures, they’ve decided to pull a Howard Hughes. And by that I mean that they’ve decided to hold it back until they can remake it to take advantage of the latest technology. In Hughes’ case, this meant reshooting an entire silent movie for sound, but in Paramount’s case, it means upgraded the movie for 3D.

Personally, I’m not a fan of the G.I. Joe franchise and didn’t care much for the first movie. And when I first saw the trailer I thought to myself, “now there’s a candidate for download!” However, with this announcement, I’m somewhat more enthused. Shooting a movie for 3D usually means it’s got little to nothing going on upstairs. Just look at Spy Kids 3D, The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3D, Resident Evil: Afterlife, or the re-released Star Wars prequels. Better yet, don’t! Of course there are mixed opini0ns when it comes to Avatar, but personally, I think that one’s worth skipping too.

However, I will pay to see this if it comes to the Imax. That experience is worth the trip regardless of what’s playing. And let’s face it, it’s probably going to be a decent guilty pleasure movie. The Rock is usually a fun guy, and if Bruce Willis is willing to reprise the role of John McCain (and every other action hero he’s ever played) for this movie, then what the hell! Check out the trailer:

Prometheus and an interview with Ridley Scott

Recently, I came across the lovely article entitled “Don’t f—- around with gods” from the Sydney Morning Herald. The subject was director Ridley Scott’s new movie, Prometheus, which is currently in post-production and set to be released in June of this year. As I’m sure everyone is aware by now, this movie is a return to the universe of Alien, a franchise which Scott began in earnest 30 years ago. Originally thought to be a prequel, Scott has since revealed that this movie is in fact a sort of standalone movie which explores the concept of Exogenesis – the idea that life came to Earth or other planets from an extra-solar source.

Although linked to the original Alien movie in that it deals with the same derelict that the crew of Nostromo encountered, the story is far more concerned with the alien race known as the Space Jockeys than the xenomorphs themselves. Or at least, that appears to be the focus. I’m sure the xenos make an appearance, and probably end up screwing everybody over, as is there tendency! But mainly, Scott emphasized that the plot, as suggested by the title, has to do with the discovery of powerful, dangerous things. When one encounters alien technology, the specter of the bound god who gave fire to humanity can’t help but be resurrected. It’s just timeless like that!

In the course of the interview, Scott also spoke extensively about his reasons for getting into science fiction in the first place. I have to say that I loved his answer: “Science fiction is a wonderful – sorry about the pun – universe for – again, another much overused word – creativity. It’s an arena where anything goes… The opportunity presents itself to fundamentally do anything you want, providing that you draw up a rule book in the first place. You’ve got to draw up the rules of your drama and within that universe you’ve got to actually stick to your own rule book. I think that’s what’s happening – we’re not drawing enough rules up when we do materials. It feels like writing a book…”

Wow. It’s wonderful when you see words that you yourself have said put into the mouths of true veterans! If I was to make a list of directors whom I admire for their creativity and vision over the years, Scott would be tied with Stanley Kubrick for first place! With movies like Alien, Blade Runner, Black Hawk Down and Gladiator to his credit, I got to say that I’m pleased as punch that he and agree on two fundamental precepts. One, science fiction is a great realm for creativity and inventiveness due to the fact that the only limitations are those of the author’s imagination. And two, that it’s best to have a detailed game plan worked out in advance. This is what sunk Lucas’ prequels people! Always know where you’re going in advance and try to stick to the plan. Otherwise you wind up with contrived plot twists and forced situations. Trust me, I know!

Another great thing to read was Scott’s indictation that Prometheus wouldn’t be a massive CGI fest. Something which set Cameron’s Aliens apart from the dubious Avatar was the use of real live actors in suits or animatronics instead of digital creations. Granted, this was done in an age when CGI wasn’t available, but those who followed in Scott and Cameron’s footsteps understood the value of shooting things this way. If there was one thing AVP did right, it was the use of costumed actors and real sets rather than blue screens and generated images.

Having set the precedent, I think it’s only right that Scott remain true to this heritage. After all, his environments, especially that of the Space Jockey Ship, were known for their dark, gritty, grimy look, something which was very… Lovecraftian! Try doing that with digital effects, it just doesn’t work! CGI might be great for creating visuals, but the textures are always too clean and sterile. Or in the case of Avatar, too cartoony! And actors are far more convincing when they’re interacting with a real person, or even a robotic alien, than a standing stick or a tennis ball on the end of a string!

In any case, here’s the link to the article. It’s a good read, and definitely for fans of Scott, the Aliens franchise, and just sci-fi in general!

The Alien Graph

The Alien Graph

Behold! After a few days of contemplating what I said in the Ancient Aliens post – you know, about how alien’s technology and moral capacity are often interrelated in sci-fi – I realized I needed to put it into graphic form. And as I said in that post, if we are to consider technological advancement as one axis and level of benevolence as another, then the outcome would look something like this:

click to enlarge

The design is based on the Zombie graph that’s been floating around the internet for some time. There, the designer placed different Zombie movies based on two criteria: intelligence and speed. In much the same way, I’ve designed a graph for aliens that is based on two similar criteria: technological advancement and level of friendliness.

I selected aliens that I thought best represented the range of development and behavior in the sci-fi genre. I also included as many franchises as I could think of, just off the top of my head. I certainly wasn’t scientific about it, just relative and to the best of my abilities. And when I was done, I noticed an interesting pattern…

Hostile/Advanced Aliens Rule!:
For example, notice how the vast majority of races from your well-known franchises (Star Trek, B5, Stargate, Star Craft, AvP, Halo, etc) fall into the upper left quadrant. This is the area where malevolence and technological sophistication combine in varying degrees. By contrast, the second largest concentration of races occurs in the advanced/benevolent quadrant, again to varying degrees. Almost no races fall into the nascent (i.e. primitive) quadrants, be they hostile or gentle.

On the one hand, the Xenomorph from Alien and the Arachnids from Starship Troopers both fell into the technologically backward category (technically), and were both classified as malevolent because of their innate hostility to foreign organisms. The Na’vi, from Avatar, were the only alien race that fit the bill for technologically nascent and benevolent. I’m sure there are plenty of examples that could stack this analysis in a different way, but like I said, this was off the top of my head.

The Zerg, I have to admit, were a bit of a conundrum for me. While they are technically a race that does not employ technology per se, they are highly advanced in terms of their biological evolution, to the point where they rely on specialized creatures in the same way that humans rely on machinery. But then again, that’s all for the sake of ensuring that the different factions in the video game are evenly matched. It’s not meant to be a realistic assessment. Much the same is true of the Xenomorphs. While they do not employ tools, fly around in spaceships, or use guns, they are nevertheless an extremely evolved organism that is capable of besting humanity in any contest.

And just to be clear, the middle point of the graph (0,0, where the axes meet) is where humanity stands now in terms of moral behavior and technological development. Sure, some say we’d fall into the evil quadrant, but I tend to believe that humanity is morally ambiguous, neither too good or too evil. Where aliens fall into the spectrum in most sci-fi franchises is meant to reflect this. Much the same is true of technological prowess, where aliens are classified as “advanced” or “primitive” solely in comparison to ourselves.

This all might sound anthropocentric, but that’s the point, isn’t it? These are stories written by human beings for other human beings. All the references, symbols and measuring sticks come from inside us. So in the end, aliens themselves, as represented in our best science fiction, also come from inside ourselves. Their values, their tools, and even their appearances are all constructs of what is familiar and accessible to us. In short, they are merely tools with which we measure ourselves, both morally and technically.

Conclusions:
Well, right off the cuff I’d say the reason we prefer our aliens hostile and advanced is because it makes them seem more threatening and scary that way. Clearly, this makes for a more interesting story. While an alien race that is kind, innocent and backwards can make for an effective tale about the evils of colonialism and imperialism and how one can easily find themselves on the side of evil, these seem to be fewer and farther between. I’d say this is most likely because moral allegories are less intriguing than action dramas. Or maybe just prefer to think of ourselves as the good guys. Let someone else serve as the allegory for evil, selfish and runaway imperialistic behavior!

In addition, there’s the very real possibility that humanity will be making contact with an intelligent life form at some point in the future. And when we do, it’s likely to be the most awe-inspiring and frightening of experiences. When it comes to the unknown, ignorance begets fear and we prefer to err on the side of caution. So it would make sense that whenever we think of aliens, even if its just for the sake of fiction, we would naturally prefer to think of them as both learned and potentially hostile. If indeed aliens serve as a sort of projection for humanity’s own thoughts on itself, than pitching them as potentially hostile beings with advanced technology represents our own fear of the unknown.

In any case, if there is life out there, all these questions will be resolved in the distant future. Hell, maybe even the near-future. If some theorists are to be believed, aliens have already made contact with us and might even be walking among us right now. Granted, most of these people are hanging around the 7/11 with tin foil hats on, but they can’t all be crazy, right?

Conan (Cont’d)

Conan (Cont’d)

And we’re back! Last time, I got into Conan (ca. 1982), the Milnius/Stone/Laurentiis version that effectively made Arnie’s career. Now, it’s time for the remake, the one directed by Marcus Nispel and starring Jason Momoa. Having just sat through it, I can tell you that the impressions it left are fresh in my mind, as is the bad taste it left in my mouth. I suppose that’s the inevitable result of seeing something that comes with high hopes, only to find out that it really isn’t that good. But I’m getting ahead of myself again, here’s Conan, the remake!

Conan The Barbarian (2011):

For some time now, producers have been trying to do a remake/re-imaging of Conan. Perhaps its the nostalgic appeal of the original or maybe its just a retro thing: sooner or later, fans grow up and pay good money to see something that reminds them of their youth. Just look at American Graffiti. But these attempts can always be messed up when studios spend forever fighting over rights and trying to come up with a plan, and then slap together a product hastily. That’s apparently  what happened here.

After spending  seven years in development with Warner Bros, the rights to shoot this film were shifted to Nu Image/Millennium Films in 2007, with a clause wishing for immediate start on production. It then took another two years before they found a director, eventually settling on Marcus Nispel, a man who’s made his career shooting remakes for guys like Michael Bay, and the critically-panned movie Pathfinder. A big-ass writing team was then assembled to come up with a passable script, and Jason Momoa (hot off playing the role of Khal Drogo in Game of Thrones) was cast as the hero.

Not a very encouraging start, but there were signs of promise. Momoa seemed like a good fit, having already done the badass barbarian thing as Drogo. Stephen Lang also seemed like a good choice to play the villain, having performed the role of the dubious military man in Avatar. And Ron Perlman, hell, he’s always good as a dirty, hairy, hut-dwelling man! One look at Quest for Fire and you can see how he seemed like a sure thing to play Conan’s father. All that was left was the story.

Plot Synopsis:

The story opens with narration by Morgan Freeman. Okay, bit of miscasting right there, but whatever. He explains how its the Hyborian Age, and gives us the bare bones of what’s been going on in this vague, adventurous period of historical fiction. And unlike the first movie, the back story here is kind of extensive. This story, we soon learn, has to do with a magic mask that gave evil witches and wizards the power of Gods. They are known as the Acheronian necromancers, and as the name suggests, they could resurrect the dead and… do other scary things I guess. Okay, seems a little Dungeons and Dragonsesque, but the movie’s just starting…

We also learn that this mask was broken when the evil people were cast down and divided amongst the Cimmerian tribes. And now, predictably, some evil dude is going around and collecting them, hoping to put the mask back together so he can have godlike power. All he needs is one final piece, and guess who’s got it… Conan’s people, naturally! We also get to see how Conan was born, on the battlefield of all places when his pregnant mother was stabbed and his dad had to perform a battlefield C section. Thus, in keeping with his legend, we get a boy who was “borne in battle”. Again, kind of over the top, but things are just getting started.

What follows are many scenes showing Conan as a young boy. After eviscerating a war party of rival tribesmen, we see him helping his father forge a sword, being told all about the Riddle of Steel. And wouldn’t you know it, they even tell us what it is! “What’s more important, Conan, the fire or the ice? Both! It’s the two that make steel hard. That’s the Riddle of Steel.” Really? That’s the riddle, fire and ice make it hard? Gee, I thought it would be something more complicated, not a user’s guide to smithing. If knowing this is all it takes to get into Valhalla then the damn place must be overflowing!

And then, Conan’s people are attacked by some big, bad warlord named Khalar Zym (Stephen Lang). Hmm, Khalar, Khal? Do I detect a slight similarity (aka. ripoff!) there? Anyhoo, he beseiges the village, Conan’s people die, and he tells Corin that he can bend the knee and give up the last remaining fragment, or he’ll burn him alive and take it anyway. He also lets him know its okay to submit to him, since he’ll soon be a living God. But of course, Corin says no, and tells him that God or no, he’ll still fall! Conan of course comes to his aid, but it captured and tied up with him. Zym takes the last fragment, completes the mask (which looks like some kind of dried octopus, all tentacly-like), puts it on and has his evil moment. “Bwoohaahahahaha” and all that.

Conan and his father are left chained to a pot of molten iron which is suspended above them. In short, all they can do is stand there, or risk dumping it on one of their heads. Conan does his best to release his father, but Corin eventually sacrifices himself and causes the pot to dump on his head. Hmm, getting another deja vu moment here. Golden Crown anyone? Conan then goes out into the killing fields that were his home, grabs a sword and does the avenging hero thing. He raises it high and yells!

At this point, we’re about half an hour into the movie and the differences are becoming glaring. For one, in the original movie, Conan was the focus of things. Sure, its about his quest for revenge, but its also a big-time bildungsroman, the telling of how he came to be a powerful warlord who would go on to become a king. There was no magic MacGuffin to incite the plot and keep things going. Second, a great deal of time, far more than was necessary, is dedicated to Conan’s childhood in this movie. Whereas in the original, we get a brief glimpse of a rough, honest and in some ways idyllic existence that was interrupted by tragedy, here we get a full-on preamble that kind of overdeveloped things.

I mean, was it really necessary to show how Conan was a badass even as a child? Wasn’t it supposed to be his hard life that made him so rough and ruthless? Here we see him cutting off the heads of multiple warriors before he’s even hit puberty! And not at the neck, which would have been more civilized; no, he hews their heads off at the jaw! With blunt instruments! Forget Conan the Barbarian, Conan the Psychopath would have been much more appropriate! Don’t get me wrong, I was pulling for him, but it still seemed over-the-top.

What’s more, in spite of that fact Conan brutalized some of his men (he cuts off one of their noses), Zym decides to basically leave Conan alive. Sure, he chained them up to a pot of molten metal, but doesn’t that seem a little super-villainy? Instead of killing the father and selling the child into slavery, I’m going to put them in a situation that at least one of them can escape and pray they never find me. Doom at least had the foresight to sell the boy into slavery, and he seemed relatively helpless by comparison. But with this little psycho, seems to me the sane thing would have been to make sure he died in that village. He chops heads in half at ten, how bad do you think he’s going to be in twenty years?

And of course, the movie then cuts to Conan as a man. He’s part of a group of Aquilonian Mercenaries led by a big burly dude named Artus (Nonso Anozie). He and Conan are close friends and are dedicated to piracy and making trouble, but in truth their ultimate goal is to free slaves and find the man that killed Conan’s people. We get a scene where they are doing just this, killing slavers and setting the captives free because, as Conan says “No man shall live in chains.” After taking the slaves to party in Messantia, Conan is chanced upon by a man named Ela-Shan (Saïd Taghmaoui), a thief who is being pursued by one of Zym’s men: Lucius, the man who lost his nose to Conan as a boy.

Conan recognizes the man and decides to let himself be captured. Once in his prison, he breaks free and begins torturing him for answers. He reveals Zym’s identity to Conan and tells him of his plans. Basically, they involve him capturing a “pure one”, aka. a descendent of the Acheron necromancers, so he can unleash the mask’s power. Taking this information, Conan makes Lucius swallow the prison’s master key and hands the slaves a knife, telling them their freedom lies in Lucius’ belly. I suppose this is meant to be a kind of comic relief, “You swore you’d let me live!” “I swore that I wouldn’t kill you!” Mainly, it just seems cruel. However, Conan is told by Ela-Shan (who is a clear remake of Subotai) that if he ever needs a favor, to come looking for him in the City of Thieves. And of course, he will…

We then cut to Zym and his daughter, the dark sorceress Marique (Rose McGowan), as they cross the land looking for the “pure one”. This journey brings them to a monastery where we see a woman named Tamara (Rachel Nichols), who is being told her future by the head priest. He tells her that she will meet a warrior, a man who will change the course of history. However, the lesson is cut short when Zym’s men attack and seize the place.  A totally overdone scene follows where Marique, after they’ve rounded up all the monasteries ladies, tastes their blood with her claws and then kills them, one after another, once she’s determined that they are not pure.

We also learn that Zym’s ultimate goal is to resurrect his wife, a witch herself who was burned alive by monks, and that he’s quite bitter about it. And of course, there’s also the obligatory scene where Zym smashes the head of the head priest on the stone steps after he tells him his wife was evil and got what she deserved.  Okay, we get it, these guys are really, really bad! Moving on… On the plus side, Tamara got away, and it just so happens that Conan sees her fleeing and recognizes the men that are chasing her. After saving her, Conan pretends that he is going to ransom her to Zym for gold, but his real goal is to lure Zym into a trap.

Conan manages to catch up with Zym as his land-ship (a sea vessel which, for some reason, he’s having pulled across land!) where Zym and his daughter are talking about their plans. Marique tells Zym, in a speech heavily laced with incest, that she could be her mother and he wouldn’t need to bring her back. But naturally, in a response laced with abusiveness, he shoves her away and tells her she will never be her mother. Okay, if the goal here was to make these two seem more evil, then mission accomplished! Otherwise, all I can say is ew! In any case, that’s when Conan delivers his message via a catapult (yep, you read that right!): he hurls Zym’s man at his ship with a note attached. “Meet me at this abandoned trading post at midday”, it says. “Come alone!”

But of course, he doesn’t. He comes to the post with Marique, and Conan confronts them and demands Zym’s head! This is the first fight scene between these two, and naturally it goes against Conan. Using her dark magic, Marique sends a whole bunch of sand people at Conan while he father and him exchange blows with their swords. Conan is forced to flee, taking Tamara with them, by jumping off the edge of the cliff into the water, where Conan’s buddies happen to be waiting. They get on board, sail off, fight off some of Zym’s men, and Tamara and Conan get better acquainted. She learns that he’s incredibly noble, in spite of his rough and tumble exterior. And Conan tells Artus that he’s found the man who murdered father, his family, his people, and of course Artus pledges to help him get his revenge. They’re buddies, remember?

So Conan is dropped up farther along the coast, where he will make his way to Zym’s fortress. However, Tamara decides to tag along for a bit and the two have rough sex in a cave nearby. Yes, the timing of this seems stupid, the dialogue is quite awful, and there’s absolutely no chemistry between them. But what’s even more odd is on the following morning, Tamara wanders out of the cave before Conan awakes (guess she wasn’t too impressed!) somehow finds herself wandering deeper in the wilderness, and is captured by Zym’s daughter. Wait, weren’t they doing it in a cave near the shore? How did she wander into the forest here? Was she totally turned around, or was the sex just that good? In any case, Marique tastes her blood (as usual) and determines she’s the one! Shortly thereafter, Conan wakes up, follows Tamara’s trail to the same wood, and finds one of Marique’s claws which she carelessly left behind. It’s on now!

He then, as previewed, travels to the City of Thieves (guard your pocket book man!), finds Ela-Shan and tells him he needs his help breaking in to Zym’s stronghold. They arrive just Zym is preparing the sacrifice, which consists of making Tamara wear some tight, revealing outfit, cuffing her wrists and ankles, strapping her to a big wheel and… I’m sorry, I got lost there for a second. Were they going for some serious visual innuendo here? Somehow, it seemed like they took a wrong turn on “damsel in distress” road and got lost in S&M junction. But predictably, Conan and El-Shan battle their way in, fight some bad dudes and a big tentacled monster, and Conan is set for his big finale with Zym.

And I can say without reservation that the final fight was totally anti-climactic! For one, they seem to be fighting in front of a poorly animated green screen for all it. It looks like a scene from Mordor, but only if the people from Xena had designed it! And invariably, Tamara must be saved repeatedly (which is annoying), the fight scenes get both ludicrous (they fight on the wheel as its suspended on two rocks over a chasm!) and there’s really no tension to speak of. But alas, Tamara needs to be saved again, as she falls through a plank on a walkway and Zym’s spell is taking effect. Slowly, she’s being invaded by the evil spirit of Zym’s wife. She tells Conan to drop her, but he can’t! Not even with Zym standing before him ready to deliver a death blow.

He and Zym then delivers their final words to each other, which is really just a rehashing of the words he and Conan’s father shared years before. Zym tells Conan that there’s no shame in kneeling to him since he’s a living god. Conan replies, “You forgot what my father told you. God or not, you will FALL! He then knocks the planks out from under Zym’s feet, he falls to his death, and Tamara is saved from being taken over by the spirit of his dead wife. They make it out, he drops her off at a new monastery, then carries on the remains of his old village site. There, he finds the remains of his father’s forge, raises his old sword, and yells!

Strengths/Weaknesses/Impressions:

Okay, I’m going to start with what I didn’t like about this movie, because its a far more important list. Strengths, I got few to mention, and as for impressions, practically none! So here goes… First of all, having Morgan Freeman do the narration was a serious case of miscasting. Yeah, I love Morgan as much as the next person, and he is like THE guy when it comes to voice-over work, but not for this movie. This is a fantasy and historical fiction epic, it requires someone who sounds bad-ass and foreboding. Someone like Mako, Keith David (Spawn), or Tony Todd (The Crow), not the man who narrated Shawshank Redemption, played God in Bruce Almighty, was Driving Miss Daisy, and played Neslon Mandella. It’s just not a good fit!

Second, as mentioned, Conan’s backstory. The original did the best job of this, in my opinion. When it comes right down to it, Conan is characterized by a few simple things: his strength, his cunning, and his feral wits. He’s tough in a way that speaks to hard living and smart in a way that speaks to a life of survival and living on the edge. By taking that away, the remake made his less believable, presenting him as a guy who was just badass from the day he was born. This might have seemed cool to some, but in my opinion it made him way less believable.

Also, in this remake, the character of Conan seemed poorly executed and somewhat confused. With his many overdone antics, we’re made to believe he’s a real bad dude. But then they kind of go out of their way to make him appear good, loyal and loving. And when I say out of their way, I mean they just come out and say it. “I live, I love, I slay, and I am content.” “No man shall live in chains”. “He has the loyalty of a dog”, etc, etc. In the original, Arnie needed barely any words at all to convey this, he just played the part. People could tell from his mere presence he was bad, and by his friendship with Subotai and his romance with Valeria that he was loyal and loving, and by his determination to find Doom and avenge his parents on his own that he was brave. Nobody needed to say anything out loud.

The same is true for the villain, Khalar Zym. I was surprised, to be sure. Ordinarily, Stephen Lang is an effective actor who lends a certain dignity and strength to his characters. This was true even in Avatar, where in spite of a weak plot a cliched characters, he still managed to give strong performance. But here, he is both overdone as the bad guy and really not scary at all! Mainly, he just seems like a creepy old dude who’s looking to get smashed! I’m not sure where all those muscles he built up for Avatar went, but in this movie, he looked pretty damn scrawny and emaciated. Might have been the costume, but gone was the picture of the brusque and burly old dude who can still kick your ass! And that tuft of grey hair on his chin? Didn’t help! Neither did his cheesy lines: “Behold… and despair… your new master!”

In addition, the supporting cast is pretty weak. Ron Perlman did a good job of portraying Conan’s father, but the role really didn’t seem like a challenge for him. Mainly, he just looked the part and phoned the rest in. Then there was Rachel Nichols, who people might recognize from GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra or as the new blonde lady on Criminal Minds. To call her acting wooden would be too kind! Seriously, I haven’t seen blank stares and cardboard acting like this since… well, GI Joe! The romance between her and Conan was also totally unbelievable. At one point I asked myself, isn’t this woman supposed to be a nun or something? Why then is she shagging the barbarian? And the way he just drops her off at a monastery at the end. Has she not broken her vows at this point? Wouldn’t there be some kind of moral conflict in them having an affair?

Rose McGowan (from Charmed and clealrly one of Tarantino and Rodriguez’s favorite people to work with)  filled the role of the evil daughter quite well, but the character itself was quite weak. Mainly, she’s just creepy and dark for the sake of being creepy and dark, and the incest thing was clearly just thrown in for added vileness. And Ela-Shan, a clear homage to Sobutai’s character, felt like he was just penciled in out of duty. He shows up near the beginning to advance the plot, disappears, reappears as needed, then disappears again. In short, he’s the friend you call when you need a ride but have no intention of hanging out with. That’s mean!

Jason Momoa, who I admire the hell out of for his performance of Khal Drogo in the HBO Game of Thrones miniseries, also had some issues adapting the role of Conan. Sure, he looks the part. A tall, dark, ripped dude with long dark hair? Hell, he IS the part! But he’s a long way from Khal Drogo in this one. Much of the time, he can’t seem to decide if he’s going to go with the deep, raspy voice (a la Christian Bale in Batman), or just use his natural, deep voice. The latter was far better, but he kept doing the raspy thing, sometimes switching in mid-sentence. And when he does the evil stare and threatening words, he just sounded kind of silly! Momoa said he wanted to steer away from Arnie’s version of Conan, which was totally respectable. But at the same time, I think he should have taken a lesson from Arnie’s performance: less is more, especially when you’ve got the kind the commanding presence these two share.

Okay, what was actually good about this movie was the set design. Here was something that also reminded me of Game of Thrones, and it was the picturesque castles and landscapes the movie’s animators came up with. Most of the time, they are pretty cool, and don’t look particularly phoney or out of place. This cannot be said for the final scene where Conan and Zym fight it out in the “Cracks of Doom”, but otherwise the setting looked pretty good. And they did manage to make a lot of the settings look and feel like something out of the original story, giving things a dirty look and feel that calls to mind Biblical allusions, or scenes out of Orientalist art. This was something the original movie did quite well in spite of a limited budget, and this movie did it quite well too.

Reception/Recommendation:

Other than that, sorry to say, but this movie did not live up to the original or the graphic novel which inspired it all. It was a good attempt, but clearly a combination of things were working against it. For one, you can’t take something like an original cult-classic and just redo it! Something like that takes dedication, vision, time, and energy. Throwing writers, a director, some actors (albeit good ones) together and saying “get on it” just isn’t enough. And in the end, the results spoke for themselves. In addition to being almost universally panned by critics, this movie made only 20 million dollars, and that was with a budget over 70! Given time and with DVD sales, I’m sure the studio will recoup its dough, but for the moment, this re-release has done little aside from riding off the coat tails of Game of Thrones.

Speaking of which, it was recently announced that Nonso Anozie will be in season 2 of GOT, playing the role of Xaro Xhoan Daxos. It’s also been said that Momoa’s been talking to the writers about bringing the character of Khal Drogo back. The ties between these two projects continues to astound me! In any case, if you’re looking for some cheesy entertainment, pick this one up and help the studio make its money back! If you’re looking for a faithful adaptation of the original though, something with sword, epic fantasy and a touch of realism, I strongly recommend you rewatch the original, maybe even with the commentary. Or you could just check out Game of Thrones! Whatever floats your boat…

Conan The Barbarian (2011):

Entertainment Value: 7/10

Plot: 4/10

Direction: 6/10

Overall: 5.5/10

Strange Days

Here’s a cult classic you don’t hear about often. But that’s the way of cult classics, isn’t it? You never hear about them until you stray into the fan community and they insist that you have to see it. You finally do and then maybe, just maybe, you yourself become an accolade. Once that happens, you might eventually become aware of the community of fans that’s out there – most likely they have an internet fansite going – they spread the word and make sure the movie is listed as a “sleeper hit” or a “hidden gem”.

Yeah, that’s about how I came to see the movie Strange Days. I can remember when it came out back in 95, how little fanfare and attention it got and how briefly it was in theaters. In fact, I didn’t even hear about it again until recently when it turned up on somebody’s top ten lists of the best sci-fi movies. Upon further investigation, I found that this movie made it onto a lot of people’s lists, even a few professional ones. And since I committed to covering sci-fi cult-classics awhile back, I thought I’d check this one out. And, I am pleased to say, I was pretty impressed.

(Background—>):
In spite of being well-received by critics, this movie did quite poorly at the box office. Surprising, considering the all-star cast and the fact that James Cameron co-wrote and produced the thing. And when I stay all-star, I mean all-star! Ray Fiennes, Angela Basset, Juliet Lewis, Tom Sizemore, Vincent D’Onofrio, and Michael Winscott all had main roles in this movie (this last guy you may remember as the creepy villain from The Crow, and every other movie he’s ever done for that matter!)

However, as is often the case, the movie went on to attract a cult following who enjoyed the movies cyberpunk elements, its millennial theme and dark, paranoid feel. And with few exceptions, the acting and delivery was quite good. Ray Fiennes excels at being the sleazy but redeemable huckster, Basset as his concerned and beleaguered friend, and Winscott as the creepy, paranoid control-freak. Juliet Lewis came off as a little labored, but then again, her dialogue was kind of the cheesy, looks good on paper stuff. Still, she manages to pull off the abused, damaged damsel quite convincingly (draw whatever inference you will from that ;)).

In addition, the movie did a good job of capturing that pervasive sense of millennial madness that was beginning to manifest around the early-mid nineties. While things like the Y2K virus quickly became a cliche, especially after they proved baseless, the years leading up to the millennium were not without their share of fears, concerns and a general sense of imminence. Many people, both religious and secular, predicted doom, thinking the world would end. Others predicted a sort of social cataclysm, that mobs and rioters would take to the streets and begin looting, especially if all the grids went down. But most, I think, were just worried that the madness and hysteria would be self-fulfilling, that some riots and crackdowns might happen before everyone realized that the world wasn’t ending.

Also, the technological aspects of this movie were quite interesting. Mainly, they centers on a form of virtual entertainment known as the SQUID (Superconducting Quantum Interference Device), a device which can record and playback events directly from the wearers cerebral cortex. This predicted the internet phenomena in many ways, the concept of “viral videos” and snuff films being the main plot device in the story. And one of the major events in the movie, the murder of an outspoken hip-hop artist and the controversy surrounding it, predicted the death of Tupac Shakur, which took place around a year later.

(Content—>):
The movie opens on the last days of December, 1999. Violent crime and gang warfare are getting out of control, and in the midst of all this, a major recording artist and activist named Jeriko One (Glenn Plummer) is killed. Meanwhile, a woman is being chased by two policemen, played by Vicent D’Onofrio and William Fichtner, who clearly want to kill her. Seems she saw something and was wearing a SQUID at the time, and when she gets away, the policemen retrieve the device and realize she got it all on tape (disc, whatever!).

Meanwhile, we meet Lenny Nero (Ray Fiennes), a former LAPD officer who has since turned to the world of contraband and sleaze, selling SQUID tapes to anyone looking for a break from reality or themselves. However, Nero has a rule that he never sells “blackjacks” (i.e. snuff films), because he considers himself a purveyor of experiences, not a peddler of smut! His friends, Lornette ‘Mace’ Mason (Angela Basset) and Max Peltier (Tom Sizemore) are also former LAPD officers who have since retired. Mason now does private security while Justin is a private eye. They don’t approve of what Nero does, but stick by him because of their friendship, and in Mason’s case, feelings of unrequited love.

Things begin to unfold when the woman who was being chased, named Iris (Brigette Bako), finds Nero at a bar. She claims someone is trying to kill her and has to flee, but that she recorded the entire thing on a disc and dropped it in his car. However, his car is soon towed and he’s unable to figure out what she was talking about. Shortly thereafter, a “blackjack” is dropped off at his house that shows someone killing her. Nero is freaked, especially since when he last saw her, Iris also told him that their mutual friend and Nero’s former lover, Faith Justin (Juliette Lewis), is in danger as well. This presents Nero with an opportunity to see her, only to be told by her and her manager that he’s not wanted. In between telling him that they are through, Justin is sure to relate that she’s also afraid because her manager, Philo Gant (Michael Winscott), is becoming increasingly paranoid and controlling. Spurned, Nero shows Mason and Peltier the blackjack and they are similarly shocked.

Shortly thereafter, Nero and Mason go to pick up his car so they can see what Iris dropped off and run into the same two officers who were chasing Iris earlier. They narrowly escape them and then view the tape, where it shows these same officers murdering Jeriko in cold blood. Shortly thereafter, Nero finds his supplier, Tick (Richard Edson), dead from an overdose of the SQUID. It looks like an accident, but Peltier suspects foul play since what appears to be an isolated case of murder might have something to do with a larger conspiracy he’s been hearing about. According to Peltier, there is a militant movement coming from City Hall and the LAPD who are determined to bring the city under control, even if it involves death squads! Because Jeriko was a major activist who was bringing the gangs of LA together to reign in the LAPD and the cities politicians, these squads would have been targeting him.

They then go to pick up Faith who is at a New Years party being hosted Philo. She reveals to them that she knows what going on, that Philo has become a total “wirehead” (i.e. SQUID-addict), who’s in the habit of having his artists followed because of his increasing paranoia. Iris was his mole and was tailing Jeriko, and was therefore with him when he was murdered. When she showed the tape to Philo, he feared for his business, beat her up, burnt the tape and told her killer where to find her. However, she made a copy in advance which she then put in Nero’s car. They now understand why Faith was afraid and trying to keep Nero away. Clearly, she feared for her life as well and didn’t want him getting involved. They all agree they should release the tape, but both Peltier and Nero worry about the impact it will have – i.e. a full-scale war between the gangs and the LAPD.

However, their rescue attempt is thwarted as Philo and his thugs intervene. Faith is then taken to his suite where she expects to die. After arguing and regrouping, Nero and Mason decide to attempt to rescue her again. Meanwhile, the streets are filled with people celebrating, rioting, and signs boasting “2K”. In the midst of the rowdy chaos, Mason and Nero manage to sneak into Philo’s party, Nero attempts to rescue Faith while Mason confronts the police commissioner and slips him the disk. Mason gets into Philo’s suite but finds him dead, and that Peltier, his friend, is the one who killed him. Seems he and Faith have been having an affair, and that HE was the one who murdered Iris and sent the tapes to Nero. He also confesses that the whole conspiracy theory was just his way of keeping Nero away from the authorities. In the end, it was all just a “traffic stop gone wrong”.

While this might seem like a letdown, I actually preferred it to the alternative. Rather than there being some big conspiracy that goes all the way to the top, the real motivating factor in all this was just random violence. And it is for this reason that Peltier did what he did. In a world as messed up as theirs, he believes what matters most is getting what you can before you’re murdered senselessly. In any case, Faith comes in and distracts him long enough for Nero to get the upper hand and they fight. Nero gets a knife in his back (symbolic since his friend betrayed him) but manages to toss Peltier from the balcony in the end.

Down below, Mason has been forced to flee the party when the two crooked officers spot her and begin chasing her through a crowd. She subdues them, but then is set upon by several riot cops. She is cornered and beaten, and it looks like its all over until a number of people in the crowd decide to help her out. A big fight, symbolic of the war they were anticipating, begins, but is broken up when the commissioner arrives and reveals he’s seen what’s on the disc. The two officers are arrested, one eats his gun while the other – D’Onofrio, in true psychotic form – tries to shoot Basset and is gunned down!

The movie ends with the New Year being rung in. Yes, in spite of the shooting, several deaths and a near riot, the countdown happens as planned and people cheer. Ah whatever, it’s New Year’s right? No sense letting a few fatalities ruin the biggest party of the millennium. Everyone is merry, people kiss (even some riot troops and civilians), and of course, Nero and Mason hook up! Seems he’s finally taken the hint and broken it off with Faith who, let’s face it, is more trouble than she’s worth. War is averted, the New Year arrives without the apocalypse, and there’s resolution all around!

(Synopsis—>):
Overall, I can see why this movie was a cult hit and why it didn’t do so well in theaters. For one, it wasn’t the usual big-budget splashy action flick Cameron is famous for, and it didn’t have a faithful marketing effort behind it. And that’s to be expected from a noire, cyberpunk thriller such as this, studios just don’t seem to know how to peddle and pigeon hole it. However, given its obvious depth and signs of quality, I think it was inevitable that audiences would take notice of it, adding it to their lists of favorites alongside movies like Blade Runner and Akira.

For one, the movie managed to capture, years in advance, the feeling of paranoia that surrounded the actual millennium. Ultimately, these fears proved to be baseless (just like in the movie!), which was one of the things I found subtly brilliant here. Long before the myth of Y2K began to circulate, it was easy to see how people would treat the millennium with a certain degree of paranoia. The religiously minded would fear that the apocalypse was at hand, the paranoid would expect riots, and others believed the world’s infrastructure to all go down! But of course, the clock struck twelve… and nothing happened. And, the plot where a hip-hop artist/activist is murdered in many ways predicted the feelings of loss and suspicion that followed Tupac’s death. Many of his die-hard fans continue to say he was assassinated, some even that he’s still alive!

In addition, the concept of VR technology and human experience was explored in depth and I found this very effective as well. On the one hand, the SQUID technology is just like a drug, something people do to escape their daily lives. On the other, there’s a lot of time dedicated to showing how something like this would have a negative impact on people’s memories and experiences by depriving them of authenticity. On several occasions, Nero is criticized for not being able to let go of the past, mainly because he keeps reliving it with his SQUID. The character of Mason says at one point that memories are meant to fade. Ergo, reliving his old experiences is depriving him of the ability to move on.

But what was best was the twist at the end. Ultimately, the threat came from close to home rather than from death squads or in the form of some big, shadowy conspiracy. All along, the characters are moving about thinking that they are witnesses to an assassination and that they can’t trust the authorities. But in the end, it turns out that the “assassination” was just a random act of violence – albeit with disastrous consequences if it went public – and that it’s their best friend they can’t trust. All of this is in keeping with the central theme and setting of the movie, which again, is millennial madness and an impending set of doom, all of which proves baseless in the end.

Movies like this one remind me that Cameron had a keen mind and some pretty cool ideas way back when. So… what happened? How did he go from Aliens, T2 and Strange Days to “I’m king of the world” and “Unobtainium”? Was it the money? Must be the money. Screws up everything!

Strange Days:
Entertainment Value: 7/10 (admittedly, not the funnest movie around)
Plot: 9/10
Direction: 8/10
Total: 8/10

(Even) More Plot Holes and Oversights!

Okay, picking up from where we left off! In my last post, I recapped all the holes that I found with Transformers and the Matrix sequels. Here’s some other recent reviews that also had holes in them:

Avatar:
This movie I did not like much, as anyone who read my review of it could tell. However, there were not a lot of holes that I could see. But after giving it a good once over, there were one or two that did stand out for me.

1. Dreamwalker:
The Na’vi made it quite clear that they didn’t trust the character of Jake Sully and his Avatar. In fact, the word they used was “dreamwalker”, implying that they understood exactly what he was (you know, a human-alien hybrid machine thing). So if they knew what he was, an imposter looking to infiltrate them, why the hell did they take him in and teach him everything they could about their culture? Why not say, “We know what you are, dammit! You wanna learn? Put on a gas mask and come out here.” And given the fact that they knew what he was, where he came from and who he was working for, it seemed very odd that they would be surprised when it was revealed that he had an agenda.

2. Ride the Big Bird and all is forgiven:
Another thing that struck me as odd about this movie was how the Na’vi basically forgave Jake Sully and all his lies simply because he showed up riding the big red bird. Granted, it was a pretty kick-ass entrance, and to the Na’vi, the ability to ride this bird of prey is a rare gift. But how does that erase everything he’s done or prove that he’s somehow worthy of their trust? If anything, this just shows more cultural appropriation on his part. He learns their ways, he rides their animals, he feeds what he knows to his corporate masters who are looking to exploit them. I’d have thought they’d want to club him the second he got off that bird!

That’s all I got for that one. Moving on…

I, Robot:
I could only find one plot hole in this one, but it was so big you could drive a truck through it!

“My Logic is Undeniable”:
That’s what VIKI, the central AI that controlled all the robots said after she explained her big, master plan to Will Smith and the others. So according to VIKI, robots were marauding around town, imposing a curfew and refusing to obey people’s orders because she reinterpreted the Three Laws. While they were meant to ensure that robots would protect and serve humanity, VIKI soon realized that the greatest threat to humanity was humanity itself. It was for this SOLE REASON that the robots were able to now break the laws, impose martial law, and kill people – as they tried to do to Smith on several occasions. It’s an explanation, sure, but it doesn’t make sense!

For one, the Three Laws are VERY specific. Rule one is DON’T KILL OR HARM HUMANS. This is the first rule for a reason and all other rules refer back to it, which makes it inviolable! So it wouldn’t matter what kind of revelations VIKI had about humanity or her purpose. Nothing can make Law One breakable because it was specifically designed to be unbreakable! Second, the idea that imposing martial law on humans was a logical way to ensure their safety is actually very illogical. As any AI would surely realize in the course of running scenarios, humanity would surely resent the imposition of martial law and would ultimately revolt. Hence, more violence would be necessary, which would in turn lead to escalation. No logic there, only the obvious: VIKI’s logic is in reality a tired cliche about evil robots, the one where they try to take over the world!

Demolition Man:
A slight improvement on I, Robot, in that I was able to find two plot holes, not one. But these two were really, really big!

1. Everybody’s got guns:
One of the earliest action scenes in this movie takes place in a museum. Why? Because the antagonist is looking for a gun and a museum is the only place in the future where a person can see one. Naturally, the Protagonist goes there, and a big ol’ gunfight ensues. One question: Why are the guns loaded? Forgetting for a second how stupid anyone would have to be to keep tons of loaded firearms in display cases, there’s also the more logical thing to consider. If guns are illegal and unobtainable, then its fair to say they don’t make them anymore. Which would mean that no ammo is being made either. Hence, not only would the gun fight in the museum be impossible, so would all gun fights in this movie!

Yes, even though we’re told early in the movie that the only place a person could even view a gun in San Angeles is behind glass, it seems that people are able to obtain them without much effort. The bad guys do it, the sewer-dwelling dissidents do it, and soon, gun violence is no longer a thing of the past! Oh, and did I mention that the antagonist even manages to find a loaded cannon inside this museum? WHAT KIND OF MUSEUM IS THIS???

2. The Worst Laid Plan:
The movie comes to a climax when Simon Phoenix (played by Wesley Snipes) finally confronts Dr. Cocteau and asks him the basics: aka. “why am I free, programmed to kill Friendly (Denis Leary) and can access anything in the city?” The answer: “so you could kill a political dissident who’s annoying the hell out of me.” THAT’S IT?! You thawed the most dangerous criminal of the 20th century just so he could get rid of a grungy man whose crimes including spraying graffiti and stealing food?! That’s like sending in a Cobra to deal with a mouse!

As if that’s not bad enough, why hadn’t he given any thought to what he was going to do with him once it was all over? He hadn’t even considered how he was going to reward him when he’d done his job. “What do I get?” asked Phoenix. “Well, what do you want?” said Cocteau. Did he assume that thawing the psycho and making it so he couldn’t turn on him would be enough, that everything else would just work itself out?

Also, Cocteau did think to install that little neural block in Phoenix’s head. But what about those criminal friends of his he agreed to thaw? As if agreeing to unleash twelve more psychos wasn’t enough, he didn’t even bother to think of a way to control them! Even if Phoenix couldn’t kill him, what was to prevent the others from shooting him and staging a coup? Which, by the way, is it exactly what they did! What could he have been thinking as he stared down the barrel of that gun? Was it that a little graffiti and petty theft didn’t seem so bad anymore? Or could it have been how stupid he was for ever thinking he could call up a bunch of psychos and expect them to behave themselves?

The Star Wars Prequels:
As always, I saved the worst for last! I’m sure I’m not alone when I say that these movies were quite awful and forever tainted my memory of the originals and the legacy of the franchise. Still, I hope people will indulge me as I list off some of the things that were truly and specifically awful about them. And those things are, of course, the parts of the plot that made absolutely no sense!

1. Qui Gon – Jedi Master, Idiot:
Would anyone be surprised if I were to venture that the stupidest character in the first movie was NOT Jar Jar Binks? Yep! If you think about it, Qui Gon Jinn comes off as the dumbest. Not because he was a clumsy, ignorant, horribly racist caricature, but because the things he does makes no sense. For starters, why would a Jedi Master decide to pick up some gifted boy on a distant planet and not bother with his mother? Why, for that matter, would he agree to host him in some pod racing tournament in order to secure the parts he needs to get off planet (instead of say, going to another vendor or hiring a new ship altogether)?

And why, last of all, would he ask his apprentice to train him as his dying wish when everybody and their brother is saying the boy is dangerous? Does this guy just love doing things the hard way and being reckless? He’s supposed to be a Jedi Master for Chrissakes, the kind of guy who is patient, cunning, willing to let things unfold before making any hasty decisions. True, its the plot that’s the real source of dumb when you get right down to it, but Qui Gon is it’s enabler. He’s the guy doing things that are completely out of character for completely unclear reasons.

2. Premonitions Ignored:
For that matter, why DID the Jedi Council agree to train the boy? They all said he was dangerous, so why would they do it? Second, WHY, if they thought it was dangerous to have Anakin around Palpatine, did they allow him become his go-to guy and spend so much time with him? Third, if they sense the Dark Side around Palpatine, why the hell did they let him run things and accumulate more and more power? It was one thing for the Senate to be too stupid to see what was going on – why did they cheer when he said he was overturning Democracy and creating an Empire? – but aren’t these guys supposed to have premonitions and feelings that make them especially insightful? Even if they had been completely blinded to the Force by Palpatine, simple logic would have sufficed there.

In fact, throughout the entire trilogy there are several instances where the Jedi say that they suspect something’s wrong or that things are going in a bad direction, but then do nothing about it. Each time it’s “we must meditate”, “we must be careful”, “we must think this over”, etc. But seriously, nothing is ever done! Consider the first movie. A whole bunch of shit goes down and it is revealed that a Sith was at the center of it. Rather than investigate to see who he was working for, the Jedi treat it like a big mystery and then forget about it. In movie two, they know that the creation of the clone army is part of a larger conspiracy, but again, they don’t investigate! They just make some more cryptic comments and roll with it. Its only by movie three, when war is upon them, Palpatine is firmly in charge, and the Jedi are dispersed and at their most vulnerable, that they finally choose to act! But by then, wouldn’t you know it, it’s already too late.

All along, one simple question would have led to them to the source of their problems and possibly averted the whole take over: Cui Bono? Who stood to benefit from all this chaos? Any idiot could see it was Palpatine, he was the one person who consistently succeeded as a result of everything that was going on. And if they knew that the Sith were somehow at the center of things AND sensed the dark side of the force around Palpatine… Well, you know the saying: TWO AND TWO EQUALS FOUR!

3. Assassination Plot:
This is something that many amateur critics have pointed out about this movie, so I shan’t go into too much detail. Suffice it to say, its one of the biggest plot holes in the second movie! At the beginning, it’s established that there are people looking to assassinate Padme/Amidala, yes? So what do Anakin and Padme decide to do? They use her as bait while Anakin waits outside her bed chamber. What are they hoping to do, catch the assassin climbing in through her window or sneaking through her door? And we’re to believe this was HER idea? How dumb is she, or they for that matter that they would approve?

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg for this scene. In addition, we learn that the real assassin, Jango Fett, subcontracted with another assassin to do the job. And what does she do? Sends some probe to Padme’s window where it cuts through the glass and then sends in poisonous slugs. That’s right, this probe which could have easily lobbed a grenade in or shot her with a laser instead sends in a bunch of slow-moving poisonous slugs! Then, to top it off, the Jedi chase her across town where finally, Jango shoots her with some kind of dart gun from a safe distance. If he could do that, why not shoot that same thing into Padme’s room? What the hell was the point of all this subcontracting and chasing?

Oh, and its from this dart that Obi-Wan is able to find out where Jango was operating from, because apparently the dart is of a specific design. This leads him to the cloner’s planet, to a confrontation, blah blah blah! Point I’m making here is, if Jango was going to assassinate someone, why would he use a weapon specific to the world he’s been hiding on? Does he not have his own weapons? Common weapons? Untraceable weapons? Weapons that won’t lead a Jedi to his doorstep? Man, that was a stupid scene!

4. Uncompassionate Jedi:
It’s kind of common knowledge that Jedi are supposed to be compassionate. In fact, Anakin even said that compassion was essential to being a Jedi in the second movie, during his whole spiel about love (ick!). So why then are Yoda and the Jedi Council such a bunch of unfeeling jagoffs in this trilogy? When they meet young Anakin and sense his fear of losing his mother, they get all nervous and tell him how that’s the path to evil and he must let her go. What kind of advice is that to give a nine year old? Second, when Anakin comes back to Yoda seeking counsel about his prescient dreasm, the ones where Padme dies, he’s told something very similar. “Rejoice for those around you who transform into the Force. Mourn them do not. Miss them do not. Attachment leads to jealousy. The shadow of greed that is.”

Again, what kind of advice is this? It makes no sense, taking issue with a child who is afraid to lose his mother, or telling a man he should be happy to lose his wife. And yes, this was all done to make Anakin’s fall to the Dark Side seem inevitable, but that’s precisely why it makes no sense. Yoda and all the other Masters believed Anakin was potentially dangerous because of his fear of losing someone he cared about. So why then are they giving him these ultimatums, “it either us or the ones you love”? Can they not see that its precisely them telling him that he has to sever all ties and become an emotionally disconnected that is making him dangerous? Ah, which brings me to my next point…

5. Genocide, No Biggie!:
In movie two, Anakin commits genocide and Padme doesn’t seem to care. Seriously, he confesses it to her and she acts as if he just told her he knocked over a mailbox because he was pissed. That alone was an indication that Lucas was asleep at the wheel when he wrote this movie. But what of the Jedi? Yoda sensed through the Force that something terrible was going down and that Anakin was at the center of it. But, upon his return, the subject never comes up and by movie three, only Palpatine mentions anything about it. Are we to believe that the Jedi Council was so distracted with the war that they just forgot to ask Anakin about this murderous episode of his? Or is it that they just never thought to ask what the hell that mega-dose of negative energy he was putting out happened to be? You can’t say they didn’t know. Yoda felt it man!

And speaking of no one mentioning anything about his little act of genocide, in movie three, Anakin similarly slaughters a whole bunch of Jedi “younglings” (aka. children). When Padme is told of this, she expresses shock and disbelief, saying that he couldn’t have. Uh… why? Does she not recall him doing the EXACT SAME THING a few years before to the Sand People’s children? Correct me if I’m wrong but I believe he said flat out that he murdered the entire village, including the women and the children, and really didn’t seem sorry that he did. So how is she going to say that Anakin is incapable of committing a terrible crime when she knows for a fact that he’s done it before? Do the Jedi and anyone who’s not the bad guy in this movie have incredibly short memories, or do they simply not care about genocide so long as its Sand People who are murdered? I know Lucas likes to play around with racism, but this is going too far!

6. The Prophecy:
This is a minor point, but since it was intrinsic to the plot, its worth mentioning. In the first movie, Qui Gon tells the Jedi Council that he picked up Anakin because he believes him to be the one that was foretold by a prophecy. Mace Windu then cites it, saying that it basically states that there will be “one who will bring balance to the Force”. This prophecy comes up again in movie three, when Yoda says that this prophecy may have been misread or misinterpreted. And Obi-Wan clinches things off near the end of movie three where he whines at Anakin after hewing off three of his limbs, saying how he failed to live up to the prophecy by turning bad.

Okay, so with all this talk about the prophecy, why is it that no one bothered to fully explain what it was about? “One who will bring balance”… yes, I can see how that could be misinterpreted, mainly because there’s so little to go on! That could easily mean he would go on to wipe out every last Jedi and Sith, thus leveling the playing field by making sure there was no one left who could wield it.

Wait, that’s what it actually meant?! I was making a bad joke! Yes, for those who don’t know, Lucas actually explained the whole prophecy thing in these EXACT terms! He said that since Anakin/Vader helped exterminate the Jedi and then went on to kill Palpatine (the Sith Lord), that he effectively brought balance to the Force. Yep, he fulfilled the prophecy by killing everyone on both sides, thus leveling the playing field. Wow… it takes a powerful imagination to turn what one person would consider a joke into a serious attempt at storytelling!

To be fair, I could kind of see how this would work and how misinterpretation and subversion would thus play a part in it. But really, if this prophecy is supposed to be some mysterious trickster-style, monkey’s paw kind of thing where it comes true, but only in the worst or most painfully ironic of ways, shouldn’t we hear more about it first? Some details, some indication of how it could have a double-meaning or easily be a foretelling of doom and not salvation. Because as it stood, that prophecy was paper thin!

Okay, that’s all I got for now. I’m sure I could find more if I tried, but not without exposing the depths of my geekiness and obvious obsession with details even further! And frankly, I have a hard enough time taking myself seriously as it is. Until next time!