Total Recall (2012)

total_recall_farrellRemake season continues for me, this week with the 2012 remake of the 1990 original movie Total Recall. Back when it came out, I was seriously questioning what the hell was going on in Hollywood, as this was just another remake in a summer that was packed full of them. But as the saying goes, “put up or shut up” – i.e. if I’m going to complain about the tide of remade movies, I might as well know what I’m talking about.

And much like last time, I figure that a review of this movie should start by paying a little lipservice to the original (which this remake did in spades!)

Total Recall 1990:
total_recall1The film is set in the not-so-distant future, where a man named Douglas Quaid is haunted by dreams of Mars and a mysterious woman and seeks an escape from his humdrum life as a metal worker. He learns of a memory-implant service named Rekall which he believes might be the solution, since they can provide a simulated adventure that he has always wanted – to go to Mars and live a life of adventure.

He then goes to Rekall and selects a package that includes a simulation where he is a special agent on a top-secret mission. However, things go terribly wrong when he begins acting out his secret agent character before the company has even had a chance to implant it. They sedate him and put him in a car, hoping to wash their hands of the incident. But when he wakes up, his friends and wife try to kill him, claiming he is not who he says he is.

https://i1.wp.com/www.fmvmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/Total-Recall.jpgHe is given a briefcase by a former associate which contains a recording, in which he is telling himself that he’s really a man named Carl Hauser, and that the governor of Mars (Cohaagen) erased his memory because of a secret he carries. Quaid/Hauser then goes to Mars, retracing the path his old self has given him, and finds his way to Melina and the resistance. She then takes him to Kuato, leader of the resistance, to unlock his memories.

They help him recover the secret he’s been carrying – which involves the discovery of an alien artifact under the surface of Mars – but the base is then found and overrun. He and Melina are taken prisoner, and he learns that Hauser was never a double-agent, but a mole working with Cohaagen all along to lead them to the resistance. They strap him and Melina into chairs and try to force Hauser to recover his old self.

total-recall-originalHowever, Quaid and Melina escape and enter the alien artifact. Cohaagen tries to stop them, claiming its a doomsday device that will destroy the planet, but Quaid manages to activate it before the three of them are sucked out onto the surface. The reactor turns out to be an atmospheric generator that turns Mars’ icy core into breathable air, which then pours out onto the surface, saving Melina and Quaid and making the planet livable.

Quaid kisses Melina, still not sure if what he has experienced is real or a dream.

Total Recall 2012:
TotalRecall2012PosterAt the end of the 21st century, the world has been devastated by chemical warfare, rendering all but two regions unihabitable. Whereas the wealthy live in the northern hemisphere – in the United Federation of Britain (UFB) – and in the Colony (former Australia). Tensions between the two are high due to the latter demanding independence, and a series of terrorist bombings attributed to a man named Matthias.

Enter into this Douglas Quaid, a factory worker who makes the transit between the Colony and the UFB every day on a massive subterranean lift called “The Fall”. At night, he dreams of fleeing for his life with a woman, and then being taken captive. He attributes these dreams to feeling trapped in his dead end life, and then hears of the memory-implant service known as Rekall.

https://storiesbywilliams.files.wordpress.com/2014/08/0e021-total-recall-movie2b252882529.jpgAgainst his friend Harry’s recommendation, he goes to Rekall and requests a memory in which he is a intelligence service agent. The chief technician reveals that any duplication will cause problems, and then stops the process when he learns that Quaid really is a secret agent. Federal agents then break in and shoot everyone and try to take Quaid prisoner. However, he kills his captors and escapes.

Coming home to his wife Lori, he tells her of what happened and she tries to kill him as well. After escaping again, a pursuit begins, and Lori is told by UFB Chancellor Cohaagen to bring Quaid in alive. Meanwhile, Quaid is told by a former coworker to find the “key”, and a hidden message in the call leads him to a safety deposit box containing fake IDs, a holographic disguise, and a recording in which he explains what is happening.

https://i1.wp.com/www.fxguide.com/wp-content/uploads//2012/08/TotalRecall_TwoWeeks.jpgApparently, Quaid is actually a man named Hauser who worked for UFB intelligence. He was given the task of infiltrating the Colony’s resistance until he met Melina, who convinced him to change sides. He is instructed to go to the UFB and find it, but upon arrival, he is found out and forced to flee again. He is then rescued by the woman he keeps seeing in his dreams and escape Lori for the second time.

Together, they make it away and Quaid takes them to his old apartment to hide. Here, he finds the “key”, which is a recorded message on his piano that tells him that Cohaagen has been behind the bombings, and that he is planning an invasion of the Colony with an army of synthetics so he can level it and rebuild it as a new living space for the UFB. Luckily, Hauser discovered a kill code for the synthetics, which he must get to Matthias to stop the invasion.

https://i1.wp.com/www.thewallpapers.org/photo/59772/Total-Recall-013.jpgAs they attempt to leave his apartment, they are interrupted by Harry, who claims Quaid is still at Rekall and that he is an implant there to help him wake up to reality. Quaid chooses to shoot him and save Melina, and they are once again pursued by Lori and once again escape. They travel via the Fall to the Colony, where they meet with Matthias to hand over the memory that contains the kill code.

Unfortunately, the memory proves to be a recording of Cohaagen telling them they’ve been had. He then shows up with Lori and several security forces, kill Matthias, and take Melina away. Hauser is told he was given a false code to lead them to the resistance, and that a backup of his memories that predate his betrayal will be restored. Hauser realizes his old colleague is with them, has left his restrain undone, and escapes.

https://i0.wp.com/www.themaninthemoviehat.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/caps-total-recall.jpegA fight takes place aboard the Fall, and Hauser and Melina plant a series of bombs on the rails. The Fall arrives and the synthetics begin to deploy, and Hauser begins fighting it out with Cohaagen and his forces. Hauser and Melina defeat Cohaagen and then detonate the bombs, which causes the Fall to begin falling backwards towards the center of the Earth where it explodes.

Hauser loses consciousness and wakes up with Melina inside a medical vehicle. He realizes it is actually Lori wearing his holographic disguise and they fight again, and he finally kills her. He and Melina are reunited, and they stand together and hear how the Colony is now expecting full independence. He sees a Rekall signs and has a moment of doubt, but ignores it and kisses Melina.

Summary:
Once again, I am forced to give this one to the original. Whereas the remake had some signs of quality, which included decent enough performances from Farrel, Biel, Beckinsale, and Cranston. But unfortunately, some decent sets, a whole of lot of chase scenes and big budget special effects were not enough to save this movie from a relatively weak plot and a whole lot, too much CGI, and a whole lot of borrowing.

We-Can-Remember-It-for-You-Wholesale-Dick-Philip-K-9780806534459First of all, why did they do away with the whole Mars plot? The story which both the original and the remake are based on – “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale” by Philip K Dick – centered on Mars, though it did not take place there. Including it in the plot seems like a no-brainer. But for some reason, the writers of the remake wanted a story focused on Earth and the dangers of chemical warfare and rezoning.

Second, the story did away with a crucial element this time, which was the good old fashioned mind-fuck of the original. In that version, not only did we not know for certain whether or not Quaid/Hauser was dreaming the whole thing, we truly thought he was a good guy up until they showed otherwise. The plot involving replacing his memories was a ruse by Cohaagen in order to get Hauser past Kuato’s psychic detection.

https://i2.wp.com/filmesegames.com.br/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/total-recall-comparison-trailer-thumb-550x295-94147.jpgIn other words, in order to infiltrate the resistance, he had to believe he was an actual traitor. Thus began the convoluted process of making the resistance think he was genuine by erasing his memory and dumping him on Earth, then leading him to retrace his path and find his way to Kuato. Though the information he had about the Martian artifact was real, it was just the bait they dangled in front of the resistance’s nose to get them to give up their location.

Which brings me to item two in the weak plot front. The fact that Quaid/Hauser was actually a good guy in this version made me respect the plot way less. It was cool finding out the hero was a villain, and then seeing him chose to remain with his implanted identity rather than allow himself to be turned back into his old self. It was a big reveal, added a solid twist to the plot, and even raised an existential question or two.

https://i1.wp.com/img2-3.timeinc.net/ew/i/2012/08/02/TOTAL-RECALL-RED-PILL.jpgAnd then there was the key moment where Quaid/Hauser has to decide what is real. In both versions, this takes the form of someone telling him he’s still dreaming and has to do something he won’t like in order to wake up. In the original, it involved Quaid being handed a pill which the man from Rekall says is a symbol of his desire to wake up, but could just as easily be a sedative. He realizes the man is a fake by the way he’s sweating and shoots him.

In the remake, it takes the form of him being confronted by his friend Harry who tells him he’s dreaming and to shoot Melina, a figment of his imagination. He chooses to shoot his friend Harry and accept that what he is experiencing is real because Jessica Biel begins to cry. But isn’t that be exactly what a fantasy woman would do in that situation? Seemed like quite the gambit there.

https://i0.wp.com/img576.imageshack.us/img576/8643/totalrecallf.jpgAlso, the “secret” that Hauser had stumbled upon in this version was really quite lame. In the original, it involved an alien artifact, which is oodles more interesting than than Cohaagen planning to rezone Australia for more living space. Sure, the idea was laden with scientific inaccuracies – melting an ice core doesn’t instantly terraform a planet! – the ridiculousness of it could always be circumvented by arguing that it really was all a dream.

Last, but not least, there were the many parts of this remake that were obvious shout outs or references to the original. First, you had the three-breasted hooker, who was well cast and easy on the eyes. You also had key lines like – “If I’m not me, then who the hell am I?” “How would I know? I just work here.” And of course, the redheaded woman at the customs line. But these seemed a bit too many and obvious to be a simple wink and a nod.

https://i0.wp.com/iteenacgppesam.wikispaces.com/file/view/Total-Recall-Vilos-Cohaagen-Actors.jpg/493570572/Total-Recall-Vilos-Cohaagen-Actors.jpgAlso, Bill Knighy had barely any screen time at all, and only really comes on to paraphrase what Kuato said in the original film. And the bad guys? No comparison! While Kate Beckinsale was believable enough as a villainess, Brian Cranston simply did not hold a candle to the original’s Ronny Cox and Michael Ironside. Those two were perfectly cast as the evil, somewhat over-the-top bad guys, the perfect counter to Arnie’s over-the-top good guy.

But getting past that, there’s the matter of what the movie kinda-sorta did right. The settings were all quite artistic, with the world in the Colony being gritty, crowded, dirty looking, and consisting of a great deal of cultural influences. By contrast, the UFB looked cleaner, brighter, and the design seemed singular by comparison. And the emphasis of shortages of space was summed up nicely by the massive, overlapping layers of structures.

total_recall_setsAnd the “synthetics” were artfully done and kind of cool looking. As were the flying cars, the aerial traffic lanes, and the three-dimensional elevator pods that crisscrossed the sky. And “The Fall” was a pretty neat idea, especially with the whole “gravity reversal thing”. But in just about all cases, these things have been done before. The sets are reminiscent of Blade Runner, with it’s gritty, crowded streets, signs in Asian characters, and the synthetic humans wandering around.

The robots also looked like a cross between Storm Troopers and the machines from I, Robot, and the flying cars called to mind another Philip K Dick adaptation, namely Minority Report. What can be said about a movie who’s set designs and concept art are quite impressive, but which borrow heavily from several other franchises? It’s like this movie is subtly mocking itself for a lack of originality – which makes sense since it’s a remake.

https://i1.wp.com/futuredude.com//wp-content/uploads/2012/07/total-recall-2012-reboot-robot.jpgAnd with all the special effects, things looked entirely too fake. People today might find the Kuato puppet and the molded plastic suits of the mutants to be outdated, but those showed a lot of heart versus the extensive use of CGI in this one. In fact, seeing movies like these make me long for the days of old-style effects where costumes, real actors and real sets were built rather than generating everything digitally. George Lucas, I’m looking at you as I say this!

I’d say its blatantly obvious at this point, but this one definitely goes to the original. And much like the Robocop remake, it begs the question: why redo a movie when the original got it right? Sure, the 1990 version of Total Recall wasn’t perfect. It had a lot of cheesy elements and some massive scientific inaccuracies, but it managed to both entertain and impress with the way it played with perceptions, twisted things around and kept people guessing until the end.

In this remake, there really is no mystery, the plot is simplified, the most important element (i.e. Mars) is dropped, some of the best elements are missing, and it borrowed too heavily from multiple sources – not the least of which was the original. So really, why was it even made? In this season of remake review, I find myself asking that question quite a lot! Not a good way to start…

Okay, onto new things. Which may, at this point, include The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles relaunch. No promises though 🙂

Fan-Made Film: Transformers “Attack on Giant”

https://i2.wp.com/onetechavenue.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/transformers-stop-motion.jpgMichael Bay has earned his fair share of notoriety for taking popular 80’s franchises and completely ruining them. With his crass remakes of nostalgic classics like Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and a soon-to-be-reviled remake of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, he might just best George Lucas for the title of who raped 80’s childhoods the most.

But it is arguably his work with the Transformers genre that has earned him the most scorn. From it’s beginning as a semi-decent movie that still had all the Bay staples (racist caricatures, sexist portrayals, stupid dialogue, action porn, eye-candy visuals), it quickly degenerated into a franchise that produced equal parts convulsive laughter and vomiting over just how bad it was. And with a fourth movie on the way, its clear he has no intention of stopping.

https://fbcdn-sphotos-h-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-xpf1/t31.0-8/p417x417/10321100_703313716407853_1238366140818904261_o.jpgLuckily (as is often proving to be the case these days) fans of the franchise have stepped up to fill the void left by Bay’s hackish, opportunistic attempts to recreate a childhood classic. Entitled “Attack On Giant”, this mini-film was shot entirely in stop-motion using Transformer toys, sound effects from the original series, and focuses on a fight scene between two original version toys: Battle Tanker and Giant.

Sure, the visuals may not be as intensely colored as in Bay’s movies, and the stop-motion might be a little clunkier than seamless CGI, but the quality and the heart are there in spades. And you got to admit, this was a very fine effort for a fan-made film. This is just one of several stop motion fan films made by Harris Loureiro, a Malaysian amateur filmmaker who has created five Transformers fan-films to date.

So if you like this video, be sure to check out of some of his other videos:


Sources: theverge.com, techtimes.com

Bad Lip Reading: Game Of Thrones

game-of-thrones-air-guitar_510At long last, the people at Bad Lip Reading have tackled the first season of A Game of Thrones. And wouldn’t you know it? They even provided a theme this time around! It’s called “Medieval Land Fun-Time World”, and chronicles the attempts of Eddie (Eddard Stark) and a gang of misfits as they try to save their medieval-themed fun park.

Yeah, if that sounds like the plot of a really cheesy comedy, that’s because this is what they were going for. The whole thing is pitched like an extended preview for a film jam-packed with bawdy fart humor and cheap jokes, with hilarious results. And they even managed to squeeze in some CGI and special effects to make the illusion complete.

Seriously, this has to be their most elaborate video to date. Check it out:

Cool Video: “Kara”, by Quantic Dream

KaraI just came across this very interesting video over at Future Timeline, where the subject in question was how by the 22nd century, androids would one day be indistinguishable from humans. To illustrate the point, the writer’s used a video produced by Quantic Dream, a motion capture and animation studio that produces 3D sequences for video games as well as their own video shorts and proprietary technologies.

The video below is entitled “Kara”, a video short that was developed for the PS3 and presented during the 2012 Game Developers Conference in San Francisco. A stunning visual feet and the winner of the Best Experimental Film award at the International LA Shorts Film Fest 2012, Kara tells the story of an AX 400 third generation android getting assembled and initiated.

Naturally, things go wrong during the process when a “bug” is encountered. I shan’t say more seeing as how I don’t want to spoil the movie, but trust me when I say it’s quite poignant and manages to capture the issue of emerging intelligence quite effectively. As the good folks at Future Timeline used this video to illustrate, the 22nd century is likely to see a new type of civil rights movement, one which has nothing to do with “human rights”.

Enjoy!

Star Wars News!

Star-Wars-Luke-Skywalker-TatooineEver since Mark Hamil announced that he would be returning to the Star Wars universe, courtesy of Disney and Lucas’ multi-billion dollar payout, fans have been wondering exactly how the aging star could reprise a role that occurred over thirty years ago. Well as it happens, Hamil had his own thoughts on the subject, and shared them during a recent interview with Comingsoon.net.

In essence, he believes that the new stories will be focusing on the offspring of the original cast, rather than simply picking up where the old stories left off. This would put Luke in a senior role, making him the sort of mentor figure that Obi-Wan was to him:

I’m assuming, because I haven’t talked to the writers, that these movies would be about our offspring — like my character would be sort of in the Obi-Wan range [as] an influential character. … When I found out [while making the original trilogy] that ultimate good news/bad news joke – the good news is there’s a real attractive, hot girl in the universe; the bad news is she’s your sister – I thought, ‘Well, I’m going to wind up like Sir Alec [Guinness]. I’m going to be a lonely old hermit living out in some kind of desert igloo with a couple of robots.

RS_fightHe was also keen to give some pointers to Abrams, the director of the new trilogy. Of particular interest was the fact that he advised that the new director steer away from a rather controversial aspect of Lucas’ newer films, which many fans felt placed special effects above substance and elbow-grease.

I said to George that I wanted to go back to the way it was, in the sense that ours was much more carefree and lighthearted and humorous – in my opinion, anyway….hope they find the right balance of CGI with practical effects. I love props, I love models, miniatures, matte paintings — I’m sort of old school. I think if you go too far in the direction of CGI it winds up looking like just a giant a video game, and that’s unfortunate.

Sage advice. In Hamil’s day, the sets were made to look like Franz Oz and Jim Henson were in charge, not a million computer geeks saturating every single frame with digital effects while actors spoke to tennis balls suspended from strings.

But most important of all, Hamil was sure to let people know that he hopes and intends to have all of the original cast back for another swing. Rumors abounded after he signed on to the project that others might be as well, which he quashed. However, he did let people know that he hoped they would:

Another thing I’d want to make sure of is are we going to have the whole gang back? Is Carrie and Harrison and Billy Dee and Tony Daniels, everybody that’s around from the original [returning]? I want to make sure that everybody’s on board here, rather than just one.

RJ_leiaAnd as it turns out, he may get his way yet. In a more recent interview with Palm Beech Illustrated, Carrie Fisher announced that she will be joining her “brother” as part of the cast and reprising her role as Princess Leia. In the course of a little QandA with the magazine, she was quite direct about what her plans were with the new movies. And she was more than a little cheeky about what it might look like:

Disney is going to continue the Star Wars saga, producing movies set to hit theaters starting in 2015. Can you confirm whether you’ll reprise the role of Princess Leia?

Yes.

What do you think Princess Leia is like today?

Elderly. She’s in an intergalactic old folks’ home [laughs]. I just think she would be just like she was before, only slower and less inclined to be up for the big battle.

And still wearing the bagel buns?

The bagel buns and the bikini, because probably she has sundowners syndrome. At sundown, she thinks that she’s 20-something. And she puts it on and gets institutionalized.

Solid enough for ya? So if I’m not mistaken, that just leaves and aging Harrison Ford, Billy Dee Williams, Frank Oz and a few extras to wear the Chewbacca, C3P0 and R2D2 suits, assuming the originals have retired. How hard could that be? Disney’s at the helm, not Lucas, and they’re sure to pay through the nose to get the old nostalgic-cast factor going. So c’mon, people, you got something better to do?

Source: Blastr, IO9

The Real Robocop! Of A.I.D.’s and video hoaxes.

Not a bad video, and actually quite convincing. And yet, I couldn’t help but feel that there was something distinctly District 9-y about it. And wouldn’t you know it, I was right! The video’s director, Neill Blomkamp, was actually the man who gave Peter Jackson the concept for his 2009 movie District 9. Apparently, that film was based on Blomkamp’s earlier short film Alive in Joburg, which featured seamless blending of GGI with lo-fi documentary style shots. To anyone who has seen D9, this ought to sound familiar. The entire movie was shot in documetary style fashion, everything was made to look as real and gritty as possible, and the CGI blending was quite good! Unlike some other movies I could mention, here were visual effects that actually looked pretty real.

And as it turns out, this faux documentary piece about the Tetra Vaal corporation and the development of Artificial Intelligence Defense unit (A.I.D.) was one of the things that brought the Blomkamp to Jackson’s attention in the first place. Shot entirely with camcorders in the streets of Johannesburg’s poorer districts, Blomkamp and his team then added state of the art CGI to several scenes to simulate the robot and even used an animatronic stand-in for non-action shots for some added realism. Mock interviews completed the film, making it look and feel like it really was a documentary about a corporate concept.

Too bad too, I was hoping this was the real deal. And I’m sure some people still think it is, years later. But as they say, if it seems too cool to be true, probably is!

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!

Babylon 5, Farewell…

Babylon 5, Farewell…

We come at last to the final season, the fifth and final year in Babylon 5’s planned lifespan. According to legend, Straczynski had been told repeatedly that he was crazy to think that he could ever pre-plan a series like this, that actors quit, budgets got slashed, and time slots got changed around. And that certainly happened in the course of the show, a couple of times. However, somehow he made it work, though apparently he had to take on a huge burden as a result.

And even after making a season four finale, season five eventually got the go ahead and was made in full. It was a season of epilogues, goodbyes and even a few more threads, previewing events which were portended to take place later in the show’s projected plot. Even with its tight five season storyline, there were still a lot of things that had been previewed for the future, and some explanations needed to be made.

Babylon 5 Season Five:

The last season ended with Earth being liberated, Sheridan being elevated to the status of President of the new Interstellar Alliance, Sheridan and Delenn being married, and Ivanova being saved by Marcus. As the new season opens, Sheridan assumes his presidency, Ivanova leaves the station, and a new captain assumes the role as commander of B5. In an interesting twist, it turns out to be Sheridan’s ex.

Another early development is the establishment of a colony of telepaths aboard the station. There presence becomes an immediate source of trouble, as the psi cops want to bring them in, and Lyta becomes very drawn to them and their leader. Essentially, they are looking to establish a colony for free telepaths, but in time, they learn the truth of their existence from Lyta. In the course of having sex, Lyta’s mind opens and the leader of the telepaths, Byron, comes to learn that the Vorlons were responsible for creating the majority of known telepaths.

When he learns this, he and the others are incensed. All their lives, they’ve operated under the assumption that their gifts were a matter of personal responsibility. Now they see that they were made, and hence were never given a choice as to what they are. They then demand that Sheridan and the Alliance provide them with a home, or else they will begin revealing every member races secrets, which they gathered from having followed the diplomats around for days.

Soon, everything hits the fan, the psi cops and Bester come for them, and Byron sacrifices himself to end the conflict. The telepaths are taken away, but Lyta vows that she will protect them and make sure that Byron is avenged. She begins running stockpiling weapons in preparation for an eventual war with the telepaths, and is soon arrested for her trouble. A showdown with her takes place on the Zocallo, which would have been messy had Sheridan not been there. As the only other person who’s been touched by the Vorlons, he alone is able to withstand her psychic influence.

At the same time, Garibaldi confronts Bester. Once aboard the station, he corners him in his quarters and demands that he confess everything he did to Garibaldi at gunpoint. However, Bester refuses, and when Garibaldi tries to make good on his threat, he can’t pull the trigger. Seems Bester had placed an “Azimov” in his head, preventing Garibaldi from harming him or allowing harm to come to him. Feeling completely helpless, Garibaldi begins drinking again. It’s not long before it interferes with his job, and his wife, Lyse, shows up just in time to ask him to come back to Mars with him.

However, Garibaldi comes up with another plan. He meets Lyta and asks for her help. She agrees, but tells him that in exchange for his help running money and guns to her planned resistance, she will remove the block and let him get even. He agrees, and returns with Lyse to Mars to run Edgar industries (which she inherited since Edgar’s murder), promising to see Lyta again in two years, at which time, everything will be set. The “telepath war” which was hinted at in season four, is thus on its way…

Meanwhile, something is rotten on Centauri Prime. After an assassination attempt on Londo, G’Kar agrees to become his body guard and travels to Centauri Prime. The regent is apparently under the influence of something dark, and preparations are being made for war. Londo narrowly escapes a second attempt, and it seems that whoever is controlling the regent was responsible, and hopes to work with him soon… he returns to B5 with a very bad feeling. And we are made aware that Centauri ships are being used to prey on shipping…

The attacks intensify, and member worlds of the Alliance begin to accuse each other. However, an investigation reveals that Centauri agents are involved, and soon Lennier, now a member of the Rangers, witnesses an attack take place. Centauri Prime is kicked out of the Alliance and put under embargo, a full-scale firefight erupts when they challenge the blockage, and war is declared! Londo returns home, again with G’Kar, to see what is going on. After several weeks of fighting, some frightening facts become clear.

For starters, the Centauri ships that are performing the attacks are using Shadow technology to control them. This is a clear indication that the Drakh, one of the Shadows old friends have infiltrated Centauri Prime, as Morden threatened, and are using the regent to create chaos. This becomes clear to Londo as Alliance forces arrange for an unsanctioned assault on Centauri Prime, and the regent himself performs one last duty… shutting down the planet’s defensive grid. The assault begins, with a combined Narn-Drazi force devestating the Centauri capitol.

The regent and his Drakh masters reveal themselves, and tell Londo that it is his turn to wear the Shadow device that control a person’s actions, otherwise they will blow up the planet. Londo agrees, the regent dies, he assumes the role of emperor (which was also foretold and which he feared for some time), and Centauri Prime surrenders. Now that he’s their unwilling servant, he lies to Sheridan and tells him the Shadow technology was bought on the black market, not acquired from the Drakh. He also declares that Centauri Prime will be an isolationist power and have nothing more to do with the Alliance.

From all this, we are given a detailed preview of what was hinted at in earlier seasons. For one, we now see how Londo became Emperor, how this would lead to his death at the hands of G’Kar years later, how his world would be devastated, and how he would capture Delenn and Sheridan – ostensibly so he could punish them for happened to his world, but would then release them. And as hinted at, we also see how it would be the Drakh who were responsible for Centauri Prime’s devastation, a final legacy of the Shadow War.

Oh, and a couple other side stories take place in the midst of all this. One involves Lennier, who was told by a vision he had of Morden that he would commit an act of betrayal. And he does! During an accident in which Sheridan is sealed in a room with a poisonous gas leak, Lennier is about to help him, but then chooses to leave him there instead. He has second thoughts and returns, only to find that Sheridan freed himself. Shamed by his betrayal, he flees, leaving Delenn only with a message saying how sorry he is.

The other side story involves G’Kar. For some time, he has been garnering popularity among his people since he was the leader of the resistance and the one who liberated their world. Upon returning to B5 from Centauri Prime, he finds that the book he’s been writing since his revelation has been making the rounds. In fact, its even been published and has outsold the book of G’Quon (which is like outselling the Bible!) Despite his resistance, the problem only gets worse, and when a spurned acolyte tries to kill him, he decides its time to leave. Having learned much from his years on the station among other races, he decides he will set out to explore the known universe. He also decides to take Lyta with him, hoping he can help her overcome her pain and hatred as he did his.

Sheridan also discovers that Delenn is pregnant after she collapses and is examined by Franklin. This too matches up with what Sheridan foresaw in the future, that they would have a boy named David. Delenn’s pregnancy begins to take a toll on her health, since her physiology is part-human, part-Mimbari. However, she and Sheridan are committed to making sure she and the baby survive. They also announce that they will be moving the HQ of the Alliance to Mimbar for the next few years, hence they too are leaving B5. A big send-off is held, and Zack Allen remarks how its sad to see everyone go, but that he’ll probably still be there until they “shut the lights off”.

They are met on Mimbar by Londo, who professes his friendship, despite the circumstances of their last meeting. However, it quickly become clear he’s on an errand from the Drakh, delivering a similar device to the one that is controlling him that is meant for their son when he comes of age. After making the delivery, Londo asks them “what now”, to which they reply “now we await the passage of years… we are very patient.” The last hint of whats to come is given!

The final episode takes place roughly twenty years later when Sheridan is about to die. In keeping with Lorien’s prediction that he could only prolong his life by twenty years, Sheridan’s health begins to fail and they arrange a farewell party for him. He says goodbye to Vir, Ivanova, Garibaldi, Franklin and Delenn, and they toast those who couldn’t be amongst them – Londo, G’Kar, Lennier and Marcus. After all this, he has a tearful goodbye with Delenn and flies off to say goodbye to B5. He sees Zack there, who tells him the station is about to be decommissioned. Sheridan then flies off to Coriana 6, the site of their major battle with the Shadows, where he encounters Lorien.

Lorien tells him that he’s not so much dying as taking the next step, that he and the others have not forgot about him and are taking him beyond the rim to where they are now living. Sheridan laments that he can’t ever come back, but is ready. He dies in a blinding flash of light, remarking “the sun’s coming up”. Ivanova then gives the final narration, saying how the Babylon project taught them all how to stand together and look out for each other, calling to mind what was said in the season four finale. The station is then given a big send off and demolished, and the show ends with it being said that Delenn spent every morning thenceforth watching the sun rise and remembering Sheridan.

A poignant and fitting ending! In many ways, season five was an epilogue season, not as exciting or consequential as the previous four. However, I was glad they made it in the end. One finale episode was just not enough of a send-off for this show. What’s more, there were still a lot of plot elements and threads that needed to be expanded on.

Conclusion:

In the spirit of epilogues, let me say some final words about Babylon 5 and what made it such a good show and franchise. Well, to break it down, there was its epic feel, its solid writing, its great and memorable characters, and its tight narrative feel. Unlike many other franchises that start with a sort of open, shoestring plot, B5 was plotted out well in advance, everything that happened in it was part of a single, unfolding story. That meant it didn’t have any of the usual contrivances, plot holes, or third act revelations that other shows are famous for (Star Trek is a perfect example!)

What’s more, the episodes didn’t end with everything going back to a state of balance, with everyone happy. If anything, they ended with a sense of “what’s next?” In every episode they were either in the midst of a conflict or worrying about the next one. That’s where the realism was truly felt. Even in season five, when all things are wrapping up, there was a strong sense of the problems that were to come. Though we got a preview of how things ended happily for the most part, we knew that there would be plenty of speed bumps along the way.

These two elements, a tight plot and realistic tone, are two lessons that have remained with me years later. Whenever I write, I find myself trying to follow Straczynski’s example, both in terms of how he constructing a storyline as well as the tone he struck. In short, when I’m working on a story, I try to write out the plot well in advance so that there’s plenty of hints of what’s to come and as few inconsistencies and plot holes later on. But whereas I am an acolyte, Straczynski was the man who really wrote the book on this for sci-fi serials. I know nothing comparable to his work except for maybe the re-envisioning of Battlestar Galactica… something for another review!

The same is true when it comes to characters, those that are best are the ones who are flawed and complex, ones that have backgrounds and back stories rather than being one-dimensional in nature. And the acting, for the most part, was classical… Shakespearean even. My favorite characters have to be G’Kar and Londo, played by Andreas Katsulas (RIP) and Peter Jurasik. Not only are they great actors, they had some of the best lines between them, especially when paired together in a scene. Jerry Doyle was also great as Michael Garibaldi; in addition to some great lines, he was probably the most realistic character, combining a workaholic’s personality with genuine vulnerability, all the while punctuated by a very irreverent sense of humor!

That, and the fact that the show was really fun to watch! Even now, years later, the CGI and sets are still impressive, which is surprising considering its limited budget. Given all that, its really too bad that the franchise didn’t pan out in terms of spin offs. Crusade and the tv movie Legends of the Rangers were both commercial flops, and weren’t too well received critically either. But that tends to happen with cult hits, they don’t have the deep pockets and mass market appeal of major franchises. On the other hand, the other B5 movies (River of Souls, A Call to Arms, Thirdspace) were well-received, for the most part anyway. I strongly recommend that fans and prospective fans check them out, in addition the full five seasons!

So long B5, you will be remembered…

(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!

Avatar!

Oh, I was dreading doing this review. Although I do LOVE trashing bad movies, there a couple reasons why I wasn’t looking forward to doing THIS one. For one, I didn’t want to have to see it again. Second, it’s kind of a controversial subject, this being such a big movie and all. Those that liked it seemed to really like it, those who didn’t REALLY DIDN’T! That’s the funny thing about James Cameron movies, I guess. At least when it comes to everything since Titanic. But I’ve got little to say on the subject that isn’t directly to related the movie’s content, hype, and how it was TOTALLY OVERRATED! Yeah, this is Avatar… whatever.

Avatar (the Cameron flick, not the Japanese anime!)
Yes, that’s another well-known fact about this movie. In addition to sharing so many plot elements with other films (most of which James Cameron did himself), it also shares a name with a Japanese anime of the same name. To keep things differentiated, the anime and the live-action adaptation, directed by M. Night Shyamalan (huh! another terrible director!) went by its alternate name The Last Airbender. Personally, I think Cameron should have changed the name of HIS movie. Avatar, the anime, came first, and Cameron’s movie had far more to be ashamed of!

In any case, this movie was treated favorably by critics for a number of reasons. Foremost were the visual effects, which everybody agreed were pretty damn impressive! Then there was the powerful story-telling. Uh… okay. Then there was the multi-layered thematic nature of the film. Right! However, those of us who aren’t superficial morons who aren’t ignorant of cinematic history (or real history for that matter) noticed a few things that didn’t quite measure up to all the hype. Here they are…

1. Insipid Plot:
So many critics liked the story, huh? Odd, because what I saw was cheesy, cliched, and actually kinda racist film. And here was what made it all that… and by that I mean, really really bad! For one, the idea of an idealized native culture that is being ruthlessly exploited by evil corporations and their military stooges. Sure, sounds familiar enough, and its pleasing that in this context, the native species would be given its due considering how the opposite attitude – that of Europeans “civilizing” the “savages” of the world – has been so widely accepted for so long.

But it’s still pretty insulting. Simply flipping old racist constructs on their head and idealizing the victims doesn’t set the record the straight or undo the harm. If anything, its more for the sake of the victimizers that this is done. In short, its easier to vilify one’s ancestors in fiction that to actually address how that kind of shit went down in the real world. In fact, one thing I loved about the popular response to this movie was the people who came forward and demand that audience who claimed to love the movie do something about actual exploitation and genocide in the real world. Love the Na’vi, you gullible fops? Then fucking stop the ongoing oppression of First Nations!

Second, if you think about it, this movie was kinda racist itself. The Na’vi were helpless before the onslaught of the human corporation and their armed forces, until a defector came along and led them to victory. Can you say “Great White Hope”? Bingo, these people had to be rescued! What is that if not a heaping dose of the more recent, but not less racist notion that the indigenous people of the world who’ve been traditionally wronged by westerners can only be saved by them? God forbid you’d ever think that these individuals can help themselves, or need a break from being saved! Hell, it was the idea of “saving them” that created this whole problem in the first place! But I’m getting preachy here, moving on! Sure, there were lots of fitting elements that are taken from real history, such as the residential school which they had set up for the Na’vi, and the whole “negotiations for their land” angle, but it was all so painfully obvious! Which brings me to point two…

2. Obviousness:
Where to start? How about “Unobtainium”? Seriously… how lame was that?! We already have the many, many instances in the movie where people go on about how rare and valuable this mineral is. You don’t have to give it such an blatant name! Second, the name of the planet… Pandora. Also a patently obvious reference to the heavy handed moral of the story, which is that humanity shouldn’t be messing with people and places it doesn’t understand! There was that horrid speech the CEO (played by Giovanni Ribisi) gave where he talks about how precious and valuable “Unobtainium” is, and how the “flea-bitten savages” are getting in the way. And did anyone else notice that their was a Dream Catcher and other Native artifacts being prominently displayed on the wall behind him? Was that not just the most blatant case of symbolism ever? We get the allegory, and we also get that the guy’s a greedy little bastard. You don’t have to show AND tell us is such an insistent way.

And of course, there’s the divide between the scientists and the corporation and its military enforcers. Whereas the former appreciate the planet and its people and want to understand it, they wanna rape it. Add to that the clear and obvious indications that Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) was going to defect and that he and Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) were going to get together. All of this stuff has been so done to death that it was obvious how it was all going to play out as soon as the introductions were finished! Sure, its nice to have a script that writes itself, but man, a few surprises would be nice!

3. Weak Characters:
To put it simply, the characters in this movie are cardboard cut-outs. On the one hand, you’ve got the conflicted hero with the sympathetic injury, the hardened military man who doesn’t give a shit, and the corporate sleazebag who only cares about the bottom line. On the other, you’ve got the down-to-death native characters: the wizened old chief, the stern second in command, and the beautiful chiefs daughter who loves the foreigner. Holy shit were these last elements stolen out of Pocahontas, and it wasn’t even original when they did it! The former characters were largely stolen from Dances with Wolves, though just about any movie about the closing of the frontier would do here! As I’ve said already, there’s absolutely nothing original here, just a rehashing of old ideas and things that have been done to death.

4. Recycling:
According to Rotten Tomatoes, critics praised Avatar for its “imaginative, absorbing storytelling.” That’s also funny because when I watched this movie, all I saw was a whole heap of things Cameron’s already done, of course with some Pocahantas/Dances with Wolves stuff thrown in for good measure. For starters, you’ve got the theme that was present in Aliens, of the evil mega-corporation that is motivated by unbridled greed and using the military to further its aims. And let’s not forget those armored mechs, which very much resemble the cargo loaders from Aliens as well! Hell, even Sigourney Weaver was in this! I know Cameron likes to reuse actors, but given all the parallels he made to Aliens already, her presence was just a little tongue-in-cheek. Oh yeah, then you’ve got the unlikely love story between star-crossed lovers who managed to succeed against all odds. That’s Titanic right there! And the whole human-machine hybrid (some alien DNA sliced in there for good measure)? That’s right out of Terminator!

So really, the only thematic element in this movie that Cameron hasn’t already done was the whole raping the virgin planet and exploiting the natives thing, but that he simply ripped off from half a dozen other movies! So really, nothing this movie did was original! Sure, some would say that the concept of a massive, planet-wide organism who’s neural pathways connect everything is cool, but that’s been done too, by Stanislaw Lem no less. And when he did it, it was original, hence better (see Solaris)!

5. The F/X ARE The Movie!
The best criticism I’ve heard yet about this movie has to do with Cameron’s motivation for making it. I mean, if you think about it, what was the purpose of creating this… thing? It certainly wasn’t to tell a story that needed to be told. And it sure as hell wasn’t to add to the already impressive array of original franchises Cameron has under his belt (see Aliens and Terminator). Overall, it really seemed like the only motivation Cameron had in making this movie was to test out the latest in F/X technology. That and making an obscene amount of money! But really, one of the biggest selling points of Avatar, which the studio and distributors advertised ruthlessly, was the fact that it boasted the latest in CGI effects, 3D, and fully mapped-out virtual environments. Kinda reminds you of Lucas, huh? Another guy who makes movies simply so he can create something that has the latest in F/X… and no story. In fact, you might say that Cameron was even hoping to replace Lucas as Hollywood’s pioneer in the field of F/X. There’s something cool about being on the cutting-edge, but as many people have told Lucas, F/X do not a movie make!

And while we’re on the topic, what was the hell was all that stuff about people feeling depressed and experiencing withdrawal symptoms after they left the theater? I kid you not, apparently some people felt so depressed after returning to the real world that they reported suicidal thoughts! WHAT? Did they really think the movie was that beautiful? Sure, it was impressive, but personally, I also the whole set-up looked artificial and overdone! In addition to the Na’vi looking like a bunch of cartoon characters, the “rich” 3D environments were so obviously rendered. Some people obviously found that impressive, but really, all I could think was how CGI it all looked. Far from being immersive, it was actually kind of repellant. If the Matrix sequels and Star Wars prequels taught us anything, it was that saturating every scene with digital effects doesn’t make a movie look or feel any more real. It those case, it had the opposite effect; people were very much aware of the fact that they were watching something that WASN’T REAL. And when it comes to movies, suspension of disbelief is everything!

Okay, now for the good stuff. It WAS entertaining. And I liked the fact that this time around, the natives kicked ass! I was totally set for a sad ending when the final fight scene was happening, which would have been far more realistic considering that’s how it happened in the real world. But I think we can all agree, this way was much better! Screw you ya corporate-military asswipes, Eywa don’t take shit from nobody! But alas, I couldn’t get over the way this movie was pitched at sort of a fifth-grade level. It was cheesy, cliche, full of obvious references, recycled elements and themes, and really didn’t give us anything new aside from the special effects. And even those felt cheesy, and definitely weren’t enough to overcome the weaknesses of the plot (and I saw it in Imax!)

Clearly, the movie was a confluence of motivations that came down to money and testing out the latest digital effects. It pioneered the use of the new 3D technology – yet another thing that’s being recycled here – and as expected, other studios and movies are following Cameron’s lead (which was clearly the point!) And of course, Cameron made his obscene amount of money, once again earning the prize for top grossing-film of all time, as well as half a dozen Academy Awards for best visuals, effects and art direction. Mercifully, Cameron did NOT quote the movie when he got up to accept this time. Remember that dreadful “I’m king of the world!” speech after Titanic? Douche…

All in all, I think this movie is best filed in the guilty pleasure column, somewhere between Independence Day and Army of Darkness. Maybe you got other titles in mind, point is, don’t expect a lot from this one!

Avatar:
Entertainment Value: 7/10
Plot: 3/10
Direction: 8/10
Overall: 6/10