New Movie Trailer – 300: Rise of an Empire

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dredd 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2012: the Year of Reboots

If you’ve been paying attention to the trailer circuit lately, you might have noticed some new previews making the rounds. A few weeks ago, it was the trailer for the reboot of Spider-Man, this time with the prefix “The Amazing”. Shortly thereafter, a new trailer came out previewing the relaunch of the 1990 movie Total Recall, this time starring Colin Farrell, Jessica Biel and Kate Beckinsale. And now, there’s a third trailer making the rounds. This last one previews a relaunch of the 1994 Judge Dredd, the one-time Stallone vehicle that will star sci-fi/fantasy veteran Karl Urban and Lena Headey, who’s fame is exploding due to her role as Cersei in Game of Thrones.

What do all these movies have in common? Well, for one, they are relaunches of relatively recent movies. Second, all these movies are scheduled for relaunch in 2012. That means for anyone old enough to have seen the originals, this summer is going to be jammed packed with remakes of movies they’ve already seen… I’m thinking Hollywood needs to just come out and admit that they have no new ideas left!

Now to be fair, some of these movies can get away with being remade. The original Total Recall came out 22 years ago, but for most people in my generation, it was a hit while we were tweens. I can’t imagine many people are going to be seeing it for more than the nostalgic appeal, even if it is packed with headliners. And you can just tell that casting it with Ferrell, Biel and Beckinsale and pitching it as a big FX romp was done to ensure it has a big draw. Still, expect people to comparing it endlessly to the Schwarzenegger original!

Dredd is even more recent, with most fans of the comic being the age of majority when it came out. But a relaunch of this movie seems good given that the last one was such a disappointment. But judging by the trailers, it seems like just another excuse to shoot something in 3D. The storyline also looks pretty contained, focusing on a single mission rather than the larger picture of Mega City One, the Judges and the irony of trusting quasi-fascists to bring order to a chaotic society.

And Spider-Man? Hell, the third movie in that trilogy aired just five years ago! And the original was produced when, in 2002? That’s just a ten year gap between this new one and the first of the originals! Isn’t there a statute of limitations on this kind of thing? Why does this movie even need to be remade, and now of all times? The others featured perfectly good CGI effects and good story lines, and was ably acted by Toby McGuire and Kirsten Dunst. And of course, most people seeing this one already saw all the others.

So really, what possible reason is there for making this version? I have heard some people speculate that it’s because they want to include Spider-Man in the next Avengers movie. So… what happened to Toby McGuire? Is he too old? Was he not returning the studios calls? Did he say there was no POSSIBLE way he’d ever do a Spider-Man movie again? Is that why they’re doing this, so people won’t be surprised when a new guy shows up to play Spidey in Avengers 2? That seems silly!

Oh Hollywood. When did you lose your way? Was it the money, the phoniness, the mountains and mountains of blow? Yeah, I’m betting somewhere between the money and the nose candy, you all just went a little batty and stopped being able to come up with new ideas. So here’s a few ideas. Hire some new people. Pitch to new writers. Try making something though-provoking and avant-garde. Do something other than throw up the same old formulaic crap and rebooting old concepts!

And before you make the excuse that audiences are stupid and won’t buy into something half-way decent and brainy, might I remind that you guys pioneered those low expectations in the first place? Were it not for you constantly trying to appeal to the lowest-common denominator, you wouldn’t be in this creative tailspin. You might say this trend is the end result of underestimating the intelligence of the average person for so very long. Them chickens roosting in your backyard seem to have brought a batch of avian flu with them! In short, Hollywood, back your shit up, get your shit together, and then get your shit off our floor!

Sorry, that got a little rant-y towards the end there. But for me, this is just the straw that broke the camels back. I’d like to see some better movies, and these guys are the one making it hard for independent producers and studios simply because they suck up so much money and produce so much PR. Still, I might see one of these movies. During Prometheus, my wife was more than impressed by the preview for Total Recall, so we’ll see. If I seem stupider once I get back, blame Hollywood!

Robots, Androids and AI’s

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Game of Thrones

Or as its known by its literary name, A Song of Fire and Ice. This is the series which inspired the recent HBO series, named after the first novel in the series, and which is apparently destined to keep that name for the duration of the show. After watching the first season, I was inspired to pick up the second book, then I was inspired to buy the Kindle set of all four books. And then the author George RR Martin released the fifth book in the series and two more are planned… Wow. I tell ya, this series could go on forever! But apparently, that’s the thing about these books. As many fans have told me, his work is expected to take the same route as Wheel of Time. Aptly named, because it just keeps rolling on and on and on…

But I digress. A while back I decided I would tackle this series and give it a full review. Having loved the miniseries, I sought to delve into the source material and get a sense of what it was all about. And of course, I wanted to see where the story was going and what would come of all the characters, and I was quite pleased. While Martin’s notorious characteristics as a writer – his level of detail, his willingness to kill of main characters, his ability to really flesh out a storyline – were all abundantly apparent in later installments, I also found examples of his strengths in abundance. These included, but were not limited to, his ability to create rich, engrossing worlds, his drawing on historical sources, his ability to make readers emphasize and identify with characters, and his ability to keep people guessing. I tell ya, nothing about these stories seems predictable! The downside of that last aspect is, people keep dying, and not always the ones you hope will! But in the plus column, it keeps the reader on their toes!

Down to specifics: George RR Martin was already famous before writing A Song of Fire and Ice. During the 1980’s, he worked in Hollywood as a writer for such shows as The Twilight Zone and Beauty and the Beast. His early fantasy novel, The Ice Dragon, became a best-selling children’s novel. However, it was with A Game of Thrones and subsequent novels that his fame as a fantasy author was cemented, earning him the nickname, “The American Tolkien”. This is an appropriate description, given the fact that the depth and breadth of his fantasy novels are rivaled by only The Lord of the Rings. Several differences have been noted, however. For starters, his stories are much more gritty and realistic. Fantasy elements – that is to say, supernatural things like magic, dragons and mythical creatures – appear sparingly and only as the story progresses. And, as I’ve already mentioned twice, he kills his main characters! In short, Martin’s books revolve around realistic human characters and their goings on, with all the sex, violence, betrayal and intrigue that that entails!

The world of George RR Martin is a fictitious world set in a medieval period, hence why it falls into the genre of medieval fantasy. In this world, something transpired long ago known as “The Doom”, which has had the effect of making the seasons longer. Summer and Winter, for reasons no one can explain, last years instead of months. The coming of winter is a time of fear since it means that the White Walkers, a supernatural force from the frozen north, will be returning to threaten the Seven Kingdoms. As the story opens, a particularly long summer is coming to an end, and in the north, dark forces appear to be on the move. Further south, throughout the land known as Westeros, King Robert “the Usurper” is facing a conspiracy within his own Kingdom which could lead to another civil war (the last one is what made him king). Meanwhile, on the nearby continent of Essos, the exiled Targaryens are plotting their return to Westeros. The deposed heir, Viserys Targaryen, is planning on marrying his sister, Daenerys, to a Dothraki warlord named Khal Drogo. This marriage, he hopes, will provide him with the army he needs to return to Westeros and reclaim the Iron Throne.

The first novel thusly opens with these three story lines and ends with all three being poised on a cliffhanger note. At the Wall in the north, the giant ice-barrier that separates the Seven Kingdoms from the north, the Wildlings are apparently fleeing their villages, prompting the Night’s Watch to go and investigate. When only one man returns, he claims to have witness White Walkers, but is executed for desertion. Meanwhile, Lord Eddard Stark, Warden of the North and head of House Stark, is visited by King Robert, the man he helped become king. Robert needs a new Hand of the King, seeing as how his old one, Lord John Arryn, has died suddenly. Ned agrees and travels to King’s Landing to take up the role, and quickly become privy to the conspiracy that took his predecessor. Meanwhile, on the continent, Viserys succeeds in wedding his sister to Khal Drogo, an arrangement which begins to backfire on him when he realizes that Drogo and Daenerys are actually falling in love with each other, and are perhaps planning on cutting him out of the deal.

(Spoiler alert!): Things come together as John Snow, Lord Eddard’s bastard son, joins the Night’s Watch and begins to witness for himself what is happening the North. An attack by wights, the resurrected bodies of people killed by White Walkers, begin attacking the Wall itself. After his own uncle fails to return from a patrol beyond the Wall, Lord Mormont prepares a campaign to go north in force and meet the threat head on. For John, this means turning his back on the troubles of his family to the south. When news reaches him that his father might be in danger and his half-brothers riding to war, he is tempted to desert and ride to their aide. But as a sworn Brother of the Night’s Watch, he is bound by honor to serve until death, even at the expense of his true family.

At King’s Landing, Eddard soon uncovers the conspiracy that claimed the life of John Arryn and even involves an assassination attempted on his own son. It seems that the Queen, Cersei Lannister, is engaged in an incestuous relationship with her brother Jaime, who is one of Robert’s Kingsgaurd. Before he can inform King Robert, Robert is crippled during a hunting expedition and dies shortly thereafter. Eddard is forced to move quickly to ensure that Joffrey, Cersei’s eldest son, does not take the throne. However, his attempts are thwarted when Lord Petyr Baelish, the Master of Coin, betrays him to the Queen. Eddard is executed by the brutal and stupid Joffrey, and his daughter – Sansa, who was betrothed to him – is now his hostage. Ned’s youngest daughter, Arya, escapes with the help of a Night’s Watch brother who disguises her as a boy recruit, and they travel north together. In response to his father’s death Ned’s oldest son, Robb Stark, declares war on the king and mobilizes every house in the north to march on King’s Landing. They are joined from forces to the far south, led by Robert’s brothers, Renly and Stannis who were next in line to the throne. However, rather than declare their fealty to either of Robert’s brothers, Robb’s bannerman declare him “King in the North”, using this war as a pretext to declare independence from the south.

On the continent, Drogo and Daenerys fall in love and she learns that she is pregnant with his heir. This, plus the fact that his sister is able to stand up to him now, leads Viserys to force the issue with Drogo. During a feast, a drunken Viserys threatens Drogo by declaring that he’s taking his sister back and will cut his son to be right out of her belly. Unless of course he gets what he wants, which is the golden crown he covets. Drogo responds by having his men break Viserys’ arm and then hold him down while he prepares a pot of molten gold which he proceeds to pour on Viserys’ head. His promise of “a golden crown” is thus fulfilled! Free of her abusive brother, Daenerys tries to convince Drogo to take the Iron Throne for their son, but Drogo is reluctant, until a would-be assassin sent by Robert’s court tries to poison Daenerys. Enraged, Drogo declares that he will conquer and ravage Westeros, but unfortunately succumbs to a festering wound during combat with one of his own men. Daenerys tries to save him using a slave’s witchcraft, but is betrayed and loses her son as well. Most of the Dothraki move on, and she is left with just a small host, her advisor Jorah Mormont, and the dragon’s eggs he gave her as a wedding gift. When she burns Drogo on a funeral pyre, she walks into the flames with the eggs, and miraculously survives! The Dragonborn, which all Targaryens are said to descend from, are immune to fire, and the eggs hatch to become the first dragons the world has seen in generations. Mormont and her host declare their loyalty to her, the true Dragonborn, and plot to reclaim Westeros with her!

Thus ends book I. And as I said, one can see the influence of real at work almost right away. On the one hand, Westeros is clearly styled on the British Isles, its northern/southern divide clearly an allegory for the divide between the English south, and the Scottish North. The Wall is clearly analogous to Hadrian’s Wall, the barrier that kept the “northern barbarians” at bay during the Roman occupation of Britain, and which serves a similar function in the book. The continent of Essos is also a clear reference to the European mainland, the Dothraki styled on the Huns or Mongols (invading horsemen from the East), whereas the free cities and slave cities are inspired by Asia Minor and its vast, ancient metropolises (more on that in book II). And of course, the royal intrigue, the very concept of the “Game of Thrones” – a reference to the never ending fight to claim the crown – is a fitting rendition of the actual royal intrigues taken from medieval history. Much like real wars of succession, it is loaded with secret alliances, plots, backstabbing, and of course, bloody civil war.

And the miniseries did a very good job of adapting all this to television. Naturally, any adaptation of Martin’s work would be hard pressed to adapt all the interwoven storylines, detail and events that characterize his writing. Still, the HBO miniseries did a pretty good job of getting all the relevant info in, making time for secondary perspectives without moving too far away from the main characters. And of course, there was the shocking scene where Eddard Stark is killed, much to the chagrin of television audiences who don’t expect main characters to die. Yes, that was masterfully done too. I myself was appalled and even angry at first, but respected them all the more for doing it. It’s what’s in the book and you can’t go changing major elements just because the audience might object. I hope they keep this in mind come season two. Rumor has it Jason Momoa is hoping they’ll bring Drogo back from the dead. Clearly he hasn’t read the books!

Furthermore, the casting was SUPERB! Sean Bean, a man who brings a touch of awesomeness to just about everything he does, was perfect as Eddard Stark. Mark Addy was also superb as King Robert, capturing his pudgy, teddy bear exterior and his bitter, angry personality! Lena Headey, of Terminator: The Sarah Conner Chronicles and 300 fame, achieved a sort of perfection in the role of Cersei. I’m telling you, you seriously think she’s an evil bitch after seeing her in this, a tribute to her acting talent! Jason Momoa, who went on to play Conan in the remake of the Schwarzenegger classic, fit the bill perfectly as Khal Drogo. He was brutish, strong, manly and scary, but also endearing and loving at times. A good thing too, since the Conan remake kind of sucked! Emilia Clarke, a relative newcomer to the acting scene, was nevertheless very convincing as Daenarys, capturing both her frailty and quiet strength quite well. And last, but certainly not least, was Peter Dinklage, who played the role of the dwarf Tyrion Lannister to absolute perfection! Seriously, this guy has the best lines of the entire series as the rude, crude, but brilliant and bawdy black sheep of the Lannister clan. You love him, love to hate him, and sympathize with him, even when you’re shaking his head at his antics!

The rest of the cast, which is just too extensive to mention, was similarly awesome. Understandable given the fact that most of them are classically trained actors, people who cut their teeth doing Shakespeare and are therefore accustomed to performing epic roles. I wish I could do them all justice, but like I said, too many to count! I hope its enough just to say they were awesome!

And like most fans of the book and miniseries, I can’t wait for season two. The book was quite spectacular, picking up where book I one left off with war on the horizon and major battle in the works. And word is, cast and crew had a real hard time adapting the damn thing, it was just so epic in scope! But that only ensures that the outcome is likely to be that much more awesome to behold! A Game of Thrones, everybody. Read it, watch it, and then read book II because the series will be back soon! Not soon enough…

Stay tuned for my review of book II, A Clash of Kings, coming up next!