Terraforming in Pop Culture

Welcome back to the wonderful world (pun!) of Terraforming. In my last post on the subject, I came to see that it emerged in fiction in the early 20th century as part of our growing awareness of the universe and humanity’s place within it. As western civilization grew and came to encompass the entire world through exploration, conquest and colonization, human scientists simultaneously discovered that our universe was much larger than previously thought, and began to postulate that life could exist on other planets.

In short, while our world grew smaller, the universe grew much, much larger. With no more nooks  or corners left to explore and conquer, we began to set our sights to the heavens for the next frontier. It’s such a fertile topic, but I shan’t get into it here. If I start waxing philosophical on all the thought that goes into exploring new worlds, we’ll be here forever.

Onto to the subject for today, which is terraforming in popular culture! As you can guess, there are quite a few instances of this taking place, and for good reason. Wherever science fiction and exoplanets have shown up in pop-culture, the concept terraforming was sure to follow. In some cases, this constituted a mere mention, but in others, detailed descriptions were given. Here is a list of just a few examples that I could find:

Aliens:
Central to the plot of Aliens was the fact that LV-426, the planet where the Nostromo and its crew encountered the Xenomorph in the first movie, had become a settler colony. As the executive at Weyland Yutani told Ripley, it was what they referred to as a “Shake and Bake Colony”, where terraformers were sent on ahead to run the atmospheric processors and make the planet suitable for human use. This was all in keeping with WY’s motto of “Building Better Worlds”. Pshaw!

Shortly after they arrive on LV-426, Ripley and the compliment of Colonial Marines determined that the colonists had been moved into the atmospheric processor, specifically to its lower levels where the air was hot and humid. Apparently, these conditions were favorable to the Xenomorph hatchlings, which began to use the colonists as hosts to breed”Chestbusters”.

After their disastrous confrontation in the hive, the atmospheric processor suffered a rupture to its coolant systems, which meant that the entire thing would go thermonuclear in just a few hours. After being all but eradicated in their first encounter with the Xenomorph and losing their only transport back to the ship, this served to add further urgency to the plot. And in the end, it was the destruction of the atmospheric processor which ensured that the Xenomorph colony was destroyed and all traces of them (with the exception of the Queen) wiped out.

Cowboy Bebop:
Set in the not-too-distant future, this anime from from the late nineties was set in a universe where humanity lived throughout the Solar System. This was made possible due to the discovery of hyperspace gates; however, due to the explosion of one near the Moon, Earth found itself being bombarded by meteorites which devastated large sections of the planet. As a result, much of the human race had to relocate to the Inner Planets, the Asteroid Belt, and the moons of Jupiter.

Many episodes of the show take place on the planets of Venus, Mars, Ganymede, Io, Callisto, and Titan, where terraforming has rendered them partially of fully habitable. Though the concept is treated as a sort of given, some degree of explanation is given as to how it took place and the varying degrees of success that resulted. In the case of Mars and Venus, the terraforming was so successful that Mars became the new hub of human civilization and Venus a major population center.

With this background firmly in place, the series plot arc – which involves a motley group of bounty hunters patrolling the system Space Western style – is then able to unfold. Though the show last only 26 episodes, it did achieve a cult following and a level of influence, similar to Joss Wedon’s Firefly (another Space Western that died prematurely).

Firefly:
Speak of the devil, or in this case, a show that made good use of the concept of terraforming. Intrinsic to the plot of this show, so much so that they opened every episode by referring to it, is the fact that in this future, the human race was forced to relocate to a new star system after Earth had been “used up”. Arriving at the “White Star”, they found dozens of planets and hundreds of moons around the system’s central sun and its many dwarf suns. These planets were then terraformed, a process which took generations, and began populated them soon after.

Another fact which is central to the story is the fact that while the central worlds were terraformed successfully and boasted large, advanced populations, the outer planets were poorly terraformed, leading to dry, desolate worlds that became havens for crime and backwards populations. Though life was show to be difficult in these colonies, they were also the only places where people can still enjoy a life free of the repressive Alliance regime.

But more importantly, this back story gave Joss Whedon an excuse for the look and feel of his acclaimed Space Western! It also played perfectly into the show’s historical narrative, where the expanding Alliance represented the closing of the American frontier and the death of a way of life. For not only were the First Nations and their culture being sacrificed in the name of “Manifest Destiny”, a great deal of the American Dream of an open frontier was as well.

Red Planet:
Set in 2056 AD, the plot of this film centers around ongoing terraforming efforts on Mars. Faced with the dual problems of overpopulation and pollution, NASA and other space agencies begin sending automated probes to Mars that contain atmosphere-producing algae. These probes have been seeding Mars for twenty years as the first stage in a terraforming effort that will make the planet suitable for human settlement. When the oxygen production is inexplicably reduced, a crew is sent to investigate so that the  terraforming efforts can be put back on track.

When the mission arrives, and endures numerous disasters,they eventually discover that the introduction of Earth algae has stirred up the native Martian life. This consists of nematodes that have come to the surface to feed on the algae, emitting oxygen in return. This, they realize, has changed the parameters of the original project, but leaving it otherwise intact.

Star Trek II and III:
What is generally hailed by fans as the best movie of the franchise (Wrath of Khan) opens up with a rather unusual take on terraforming. In fact, the plot of both the second and third movie revolve around a project known as Genesis, a means of instantaneously transforming a planet from a lifeless husk into a habitable M-class planet.

In Wrath of Khan, things begin when the starship Reliant, while searching for a lifeless planet in the Ceti Alpha system, is taken over by Khan Noonien Soong and his band of genetically-modified people. Having learned of their mission, Khan becomes obsessed with finding the Genesis device so that he can restore the desolate landscape of Ceti Alpha V, presumably with the intention of resurrecting his dead wife.

In the end, Kirk and the Enterprise disable his ship inside a nebula, prompting Khan to set the Genesis device to self-destruct in the hopes of taking Kirk with him. With their warp drive non-functional, the Enterprise could not escape, prompting Spock to sacrifice himself in order to bring the engines back online. Though he dies from radiation poisoning, the ENterprise escapes as the Genesis device detonates, which has the effect of turning the nebula itself into an M-Class planet.

At the very end of the movie, Spock’s body is placed inside a torpedo casing and fired into orbit around Genesis. After landing on the surface, the “Genesis wave” heals Spock’s body and he is reborn. This, as all fans of the franchise know, was the basis for the third movie where Kirk and the Enterprise come back to Genesis to retrieve him. In the course of doing so, the Genesis plant is examined in more detail and the effects of the project. Ultimately, though the device was capable of creating life out of lifeless, it proved unstable and resulted in the total collapse of the planet created.

Total Recall:
The film adaptation of Philip K Dick’s “We can Remember it for You Wholesale” differed from the source material in many key ways. For example, in addition to the central theme of memory and the dividing line between real and artificial, there was also an extensive backstory involving Mars. Ultimately, the character of Quad (played by Arnold Schwarzenegger) learns that he is drawn to Mars because that is where he is from, and his false identity implanted because of something he witnessed there.

In the end, it is revealed that this secret has to do with an ancient alien device that lies at the heart of the planet, a device which has the power to terraform Mars into a habitable world. Apparently, this involved some super-heated coils that, when activated, would plunge into the planet’s watery core, evaporating them and filling Mars’ atmosphere with water vapor. When Quad activated the device, it had the effect of creating breathable atmosphere within a matter of minutes.

Not the most realistic depiction of terraforming, but it did have it’s upsides. For one, it took advantage of contemporary scientific theories that stated that Mars might have underground sources of water and ice. Second, it incorporated speculation of how these could be used to eventually create oxygen-creating plants on the surface and hence, an atmosphere. Last, it worked into the plot in that the villain, Coohagen, knew that if Mars had a natural atmosphere, it would destroy the basis of his power (controlling the air supply).

“Synthetics” and “Artificial Humans”, the AI’s of Alien!

David:
Also known as “David 8”, the first in the line of Weyland Industries fully functional AI’s, which have the ability to proximate human emotions, even though they cannot experience them. In addition to his impressive machine intelligence, he also comes equipped with a characteristic intrinsic to all Alien androids – moral flexibility!

Yes, in addition to assimilating all known info on Indo-European languages, the “Engineers” biology, and the nature of their bio-weapons, he also managed to unleash the bio-weapon within a human crew just to shake things up! And he did it all on the orders of Mr. Weyland himself, mainly so to help him find a way to cheat death.

In the end, David didn’t prove to be all bad. After having his head ripped off by an Engineer and witnessing Weyland’s death, he went on to help save Dr. Shaw and agreed to assist her in her mission to find the homeworld of the engineers. But that didn’t come as a huge surprise. As he had intimated to Shaw earlier in the movie, the death of Weyland would set him free. Once free, he became a much nicer guy!

Ash:
The same cannot be said for this next example, who comes to us from the original Alien movie. Originally thought to be a human who served as the Nostromo’s chief medical officer, Ash was revealed to be a synthetic that was taking his orders directly from the ship’s AI, which in turn was instructing him to follow company’s directives. And all who say him in the first movie can agree, this particular android was a complete and utter douche!

Not only was he willing to let the cry did in order to get the Xenomorph back to his handler’s alive, he tried to kill Ripley when she found out and even expressed open admiration for the Xenomorph. “I admire its purity,” he said. “A survivor… unclouded by conscience, remorse, or delusions of morality.” Jackass! Needless to say, Ripley’s experience with this synthetic severely soured her towards all androids.

Bishop:
Luckily, this next example was able to restore Ripley’s faith. As the Sulaco’s android executive officer, he was responsible for planetary maneuvering, but also acted as the away team’s science officer and performed various other functions as well. But unlike Ash, he was unable to allow harm to come to humans thanks to the inclusion of his “behavioural inhibitors”, which were tantamount to Asimov’s Three Laws.

Also unlike Ash, Bishop was loyal to the crew of the Sulaco and to Ripley in particular. When Burke tried to circumvent military authority and order Bishop to preserve the alien specimens, he alerted Ripley to the incongruity. He also managed to save Ripley and Newt from certain death when the Alien Queen had them cornered.

As if that wasn’t enough, he even prevented Newt when Ripley decompressed the Sulaco’s landing bay, and he was ripped in half at the time!

Annalee Call:
Taken from the universe of Alien: Resurrection, Annalee Call (aka. Call) was a secret “Auton” who managed to infiltrate a crew of mercenaries. This put her aboard the Auriga in time to meet Ripley 8, the clone produced by the military for the sake of resurrecting the Xenomorph species. After failing to kill Ripley before the Xenomorph could be extracted, she and the others were forced to band together to make it out alive.

Her agenda in all this was unclear, aside from a sense of displaced humanity which Ripley mocked when she said: “No human being is that humane”. As a member of the race of “second generation” synthetics known as “Autons”, which were apparently built by other machines, she was part of a dying species. Apparently, these synthetics were outlawed after they rebelled against their masters. Hmm, echoes of Blade Runner there; and by echoes I mean a total ripoff!

Eisenberg:
This next example comes from the expanded universe, specifically the 2001 game AVP 2. As the leader of Weyland-Yutani’s research facility on LV-1201, he was responsible for investigating the planet’s extensive ruins. This world was apparently discovered roughly a century and a half after events in the first movie, once the company traced the flight telemetry from the “Derelict” alien ship (aka. “Space Jockeys”/”Engineers”)

In the course of the game,it is revealed that Eisenberg was once human, and that during the initial mission to LV-1201, he was apparently the only survivor after a xenomorph attack. Due to terrible acid burns suffered during his rescue, he had his consciousness downloaded into an artificial body. As a result, he harbors a deep sense of fear of hatred for the xenomorphs, and unfortunately dies at their hands.

Katya:
Here we have a synthetic who refuses to go by that or any other of the more progressive monickers, preferring the term android instead. As Weyland Yutani’s administrative android for the Freya’s Prospect colony, this example comes from the 2010 video game relaunch of AVP. After the colony went to hell after the xenomorph’s escaped and began wreaking havoc, she is the one who called in the Marines.

Due in part to her enhanced empathic and morality processing, she became intrinsic to helping the “Rookie” (i.e. the protagonists in the Marine campaign) contain the outbreak and get the last human survivors to safety. In so doing, she went against Weyland’s orders and company policy. Good thing she was there to help out, one would have to wonder if what the company was thinking stationing a conscientious android there…

Karl Bishop Weyland:
The final example in this list also comes from the 2010 relaunch of AVP. As a descendent of the Charles Bishop Weyland, chairman of Weyland Industries, he was in charge of the facility on Freya’s Prospect and the director of the experiments involving the captured Xenomorphs. As such, he was also the main antagonist in the Marine campaign of the game.

Ultimately, his purpose in conducting research on Freya’s Prospect went far beyond breeding Xenomorphs. Within the planet’s jungles, and even more so beneath surface, Predator (aka. Hunter) ruins were discovered which he believed held ancient secrets, much of which was information about Hunter history, culture, and the Xenomorph itself.

By the end of the Marine campaign, the Weyland synthetic is killed and his research facility within the Hunter temple is destroyed. However, another android of the same make was still able to retrieve the information gleaned within, the most important part of which was the location of the Xenomorph homeworld.

Final Thoughts:
As you can see, the AI’s of Aliens have undergone some changes over the years. Beginning as conscienceless synthetics that seemed to admire the Xenomorph because it mirrored their amoral worldview, they went on to become the sympathetic characters who seemed, to quote another franchise, “more human than human”. Every other incarnation that has since appeared in the Alien and AVP franchises has been a reiteration of either of these concepts, being the tool of its corporate masters or a savior that was willing to risk its life to help its human brethren.

The one exception to this rule is also the most recent incarnation, Prometheus’ David. Of all the synthetics to inhabit the Alien or AVP universe, he is the only one who demonstrated both cold amorality and humanity. I believe Scott did this intentionally to provide a sense of synthesis to the characters of Ash and Bishop, honoring both archetypes as he attempted to return the Alien franchise to its roots.

Be they the kind of cold, calculating and inhumane androids that fueled our technophobia or the kind, gentle, and overtly “human” robots that made us question our own humanity, the Alien franchise certainly covered both ends of the spectrum in their portrayal of AI’s. Much like the Terminator franchise, they presented artificial intelligence as a double-edged sword, capable of being just as good and evil as any human being. And in the end, isn’t that really the point?

Recall how in Prometheus, Dr. Holloway told David “We built you because we could”? Well, that is only true to a point. Yes, new technologies are often is made simply because the means exist to do so. But the purpose in creating an artificial intelligence is to create life in our own image. And in the end, the consequences of that vanity is pretty obvious. Things created in our image will behave just like us, good and bad!

Alien Versus Predator (2010 game)

Welcome all to my first video game review! It took me awhile to figure out which I’d start with, but after some thought, I figured AVP – the 2010 game – would be as good a place as any. And given the recent release of Prometheus, I thought it would also be appropriate, not the least of which was because some of that movie’s content ruled out certain aspects of this game.

But mainly I’ve decided to review it because it was very cool. The game play, the graphics, and the storyline were all consistent with some of the best traditions of the Alien versus Predator franchise. And of course, there were plenty of weaknesses too, which were also consistent with the AVP game series. And above all, it was a fun play, assuming you can get it to work. No offense to the makers, but this game required a beast of a machine to run at a decent resolution and with all the bells and whistles!

Oh yes, I should also mentioned that this is a Steam game, meaning it’s uploaded and played through the Steam interface and is networked to the site during game play. As such, players get to unlock achievements and gain points for completing various levels, beating difficulty settings, and accomplishing assorted tasks. Now that’s all covered, onto the game’s story!

Storyline:
The plot of the game involves three intertwining plot threads which come together in a grand climax once all three campaigns are played. The first involves the perspective of the Colonial Marines, which have been dispatched to the planet to deal with a Xenomorph outbreak.

As usual, they are enforcing Weyland Yutani company policy, which as usual involves rescuing a research outpost which has been conducting Xenomorph research. Once in orbit, the Marine ship is attacked by an unidentified alien ship which blows it apart and sends its drop ship tumbling towards the surface.

The Marine campaign begins shortly after the dropship forced to crash land on the planet. The gamer then wakes up on a stretcher in the cargo bay, the others having left you behind to go off and deal with the problem. This necessitates that you find your way to them and begin reinforcing them. For the most part, this involves fighting xenos on your own, but here and there, you get to shoot it out with some backup. Of course, they usually die in the process…

Things change when your team leader, Tequila, is captured and you have to go and rescue her. At this point, you are being directed by an android who is deep within the facility and reveals what’s being going on there. And of course, this leads to an eventual confrontation with a Predator (aka. “Hunter”), which just happens to be one of the most challenging parts of the game. But of course, confrontations with a Queen and Praetors (queens that have not fully matured) are also pretty tough. Once that is done, you work your way to Tequila who has been placed inside a cocooning room, a la Aliens, and who is already infected.

Once you save Tequila, you and she work your way to the android helper and the medical facility where the outbreak took place. Here, she explains that the experiment went wrong (as always) and begins a procedure to remove the parasite from Tequila’s stomach. This is interrupted when another android, who has been programmed with the mind of Mr. Weyland (played by Lance Henriksen), cuts off the power to the lab. You are therefore forced to put Tequila into cryo-stasis to keep her safe and alive until help arrives.

Your next mission is to find your way to the Weyland droid and find the tracker he has so you can summon a new dropship to you. He is currently hiding in an underground temple which WY have been excavating. The temple, like just about everything else on the planet, is of Hunter construction and its hundreds of thousands of years old. And of course, they came upon preserved specimens of Xenomorph eggs, which prompted them to begin hatching them. Once you defeat the Weyland droid and grab a hold of the transmitter, the dropship arrives and carries you and Tequila to safety in orbit.

But of course, there’s a double-cross. It seems that the personnel aboard the dropship are taking their orders from another of the Weyland droids. They signal that they have a live Xenomorph specimen (in her) and also the emergency transmitter, which just happens to contain all of Weyland’s research. The key bit of information, which he uncovered from his extensive research inside the underground temple, is the location of the Xenomorph homeworld!

Onto the Alien campaign where things take place from a single Xenomorph that has been bred inside the WY facility. This campaign, as noted, overlaps with the Marine (and later Hunter) campaigns, and involves the Xenomorph’s mission to escape the facility and begin breeding. The first step is to escape confinement from the medical bay and set the others free.

Once this is done, you work your way through the facilities sewers, taking down all personnel you see and attaching “Facehuggers” to them. All the while, the Queen directs you via pheromones, which act as a sort of telepathy, to help her establish a hive on the planet’s Refinery. Here she rests, until the arrival of the Marines causes things to come to a head.

From this point onward, your job is to fight and kill the Marines while simultaneously taking out the facilities systems. After that’s done, you work your way into the temple complex where Hunters show up to intercept you. After killing them, you are forced to battle an Elite Hunter until he’s weak enough to be subdued and then infected by a Facehugger. This gives rise to the hybrid Hunter-Xenomorph (aka. Predalien) that is central to the Hunter campaign.

However, things go awry when the Refinery is destroyed and the Queen is trapped inside. This event, which is part of the Marine campaign, causes the Xenomorph to be stunned and captured. It is taken back to the Marine vessel, where it then escapes and sets up a new hive, becoming the new Queen!

And thus the Predator campaign begins, with the arrival of the Hunter ship and its destruction of the Marine vessel. As an Elite Hunter you are then deployed to the planet to begin hunting the Marines, as punishment for desecrating their temple site, and killing any Xenomorphs that have escaped. You are also responsible for locating any dead Hunters and retrieving their trophies, as well as collecting weapons and sacred artifacts.

Your missions then involve infiltrating the Marines bases, disabling their systems, and releasing the xenomorphs. You then find yourself following the “Rookie” Marines path, which leads to the sacred temple where you are forced to battle Praetorians. Moving inside to the underground temple, you come upon the Weyland Yutani party and its compliment of combat androids. After destroying them and retrieving the last Hunter artifacts, you are forced to do battle with the hybrid Predalien.

Once this is done, you are ordered to set the temple to self-destruct, in order to cleanse the taint of the human’s presence and ensure that none of the secret’s within ever fall into their hands again. However, unbeknownst to you, WY has already retreived the vital inro about the xenomorph’s homeworld. Once you return to your ship. the same info is shared from the sacred Hunter mask which you retrieved from the planet below. Apparently, this information has been lost to the Hunters, who have been breeding Xenomorph’s in captivity for training and now seek to contain them, lest someone else (i.e. the human race) try to breed them as a weapon.

Hence, all three storylines come together and point in one direction: the Xenomorph homeworld, where the next chapter is sure to take place!

Good Points:
This game’s positive aspects should be obvious to anyone. As an AVP game, the game play is automatically very fun and intense. This applies to the Marine campaign, with its assortment of Pulse Rifles, Incinerators and Smartguns, though I honestly didn’t care much for the hand guns, shotguns and sniper rifles. Those weapons just seemed clunky and kind of primitive, given the time period in which everything is happening.

And of course, the Predator campaign was pretty damn awesome, given the claws and plasmacasters. The way the equipment was updated to be a little more limiting in terms of energy requirements was also a nice touch, since in AVP2 the Predator’s arsenal was a little too easy to maintain and hence pretty overwhelming. However, the new limitations they put on available weapons was something I did not like. Aside from your claws and plasma gun, all you get is the disc and the combistick. What happened to the net guns and claw launchers?

But what really impressed me was the Xenomorph campaign, where your cheif weapons are your claws, tail, and sheer mobility. You can climb walls, jump from surface to surface, and sneak attack like nobody’s business! You can also facebite with your little mouth, which is pretty damn gory and awesome! The way you can retrain people to put a Facehugger on them also adds to the overall level of detail and coolness of this aspect.

On top of it all, the feel of the game is spot on. When dealing with AVP, one immediately expects a level of intensity and intrigue which can only come from dealing with scary Xenomorphs and deadly Hunters! As the Marine, you constantly have the feeling of vulnerability and impending doom. And in the end, the only way to win is to stay mobile and be conservative with your ammo supply. As the Hunter, stealth and patience are your ally. If you engage too quickly or easily, you will be discovered and overwhelmed by superior numbers of Marines or Xenomorphs. And as the Xenomorph, the ability to move hide, move quickly, and use the surrounding environment to your advantage is the key to success. This balance of abilities and weaknesses is key to making the gaming experience feel faithful to the franchise and as realistic as possible.

Bad Points:
But alas, there are some weaknesses. The first is the most obvious, and one I mentioned already. This game has some pretty cool graphics and game play features, such as the blurring effect which you can turn off and on. With it active, you experience blurring whenever you turn fast. This adds to the overall suspense and intensity of the game and makes it that much harder. But this, like everything else in this game, requires you have a fast machine with a good graphics card. Otherwise, expect things to be slow, choppy, and look pretty grainy!

Second, there’s the rather tired duty of the storyline where reasons have to keep being given for why you are on your own as the Marine. With the Hunter, it’s obvious why you’re fighting solo. That’s simply the way they fight, every Hunter in his own domain stalking and killing his prey and taking trophies. But for the Marines, the standard deployment tactic is by squad, coordinated and covering each others’ back. The fact that you’re constantly alone as a Marine just doesn’t make sense.

Sure, in previous versions, when the game just wasn’t sophisticated enough, this was understandable. A single person, first-person-shooter was simply the best they could do with what resources and money they had available. But now? With the kinds of AI’s and sophistication the latest games boast, there really isn’t much of a reason for making the majority of the Marine campaign single person FPS . That, and the constant reasons for why you’re on your own (i.e. the rest of the squad got killed, the last dropship got shot down, the door slammed shut and separated you from them) just gets annoying after awhile.

And lastly, there is the storyline which is a bit confusing. The part about scientists in a WY facility breeding Xenomorphs, that’s perfectly understandable. In fact, that’s the setup of every single AVP story: the evil corporate goons breed Xenos, they get loose, the Marines go in to clean up, they find Hunters there doing the same thing, and everything devolves into a three way fight.  But why are they breeding Xenos if the purpose of the colony was to uncover ancient Hunter ruins? Kind of seems like the traditional plot was laid on top of this other one in order ensure that all the plot elements are there.

Prometheus’ Plot Changes (Spoiler Alert!):
In the end, the purpose of this game was to bring all sides together so they could learn the location of the Xenomorph homeworld. That way, something that was never revealed in the original franchise was now being previewed, the gamer being left with the distinct impression that it would serve as the backdrop for the next game. Unfortunately, the movie Prometheus ruled this out by saying that the Xenos were a “Engineer” (aka. Space Jockey) bioweapon. If they are in fact weapons this race engineered, then they don’t have a homeworld.

Granted, this can be explained away by simply saying that the Engineers set up a “colony” for the Xenos, an entire world that was set aside for keeping them and breeding them in isolation. Since the retreat of the Engineers, this colony could have since evolved to become a festering hive of Xenos, with multiple Queens battling for supremacy and conflict giving rise to new and frightening sub-species. That could work, and it could be downright interesting.

And hey, if there is to be no sequel to this latest AVP game, someone will probably do some fan fic dealing with it. Who knows, it might even be me. I’m a fan, I can kinda write! Pay me to do it!

‘Prometheus’ writer Jon Spaihts on science fiction worldbuilding

Recently, iO9 – the online technology magazine – caught up with Jon Spaihts, one of the writers for the upcoming Prometheus movie. In the course of their interview, they discussed what it takes to build sci-fi worlds and the challenges facing sci-fi writers. Of particular interest was Spaihts inclusion of hard science in his sci-fi scripts, the nature of the movie, the Alien universe, and what it was like to work with Ridley Scott. Interesting reading, follow the link below to read about the whole interview:

Prometheus Writer Jon Spaihts Interview

Cool Ships (volume V)

Back again! More ships, more designs, more franchises too. Like I said last time, there’s just no limit when you get right down to it. And in the course of doing my homework on cool sci-fi concepts, I’ve found that there are hundreds of franchises out there that I’ve never even heard of before. Of those I have heard of, I always seem to miss a few obvious candidates. That’s the beauty of ongoing segments though. Here are the latest, with some suggestions thrown in too 😉

Colonial Raptor:
Another late entry from the Battlestar Galactica universe, the updated version. Designed for reconnaissance, transport, atmospheric and space flight, and capable of making short range FTL jumps, the Raptor is the workhorse of the Colonial fleet and one of its most versatile vessels. Ordinarily, the Raptor is operated by a crew of two, one pilot and one Electronic Countermeasures Officer. Given it’s size and shape, it cannot launch from a launch tube and must take off and land from a Battlestar’s forward launch bay.

Having served with the Colonial fleet for over 40 years, making its debut in the first Cylon War, the versatility and reliability of this craft have prevented it from being phased out by newer generations of Colonial ships. During the second Cylon War, Raptors were used regularly in order to dust off survivors from Caprica and other colonies. Relying on a fly-by-wire system, rather than the new defense network systems, it also proved invulnerable to the virus the Cylon’s used to cripple the fleet.

Cygnus:
Now here’s one that people probably won’t remember. In fact, I didn’t recall it either until I did some reading and realized I had seen the movie which featured it – The Black Hole – as a child and quite enjoyed it. Though a little Buck Rogers-y by modern standards, the concept and the movie and this ship still stand the test of time.

Released in 1979 by Walt Disney Pictures, The Black Hole was one of many movies that sought to take advantage of the sci-fi craze that Star Wars had unleashed. The plot centers on a derelict ship, known as the Cygnus, which is run by an android crew and a brilliant (albeit mad) scientist named Doctor Hans Reinhardt.

In addition to looking pretty cool, with its glowing transparent sections and old-school design, the Cygnus is apparently able to withstand the gravitational pull of black hole due to its ability to generate its own gravity well. In addition, its commander, Dr. Reinhardt, theorized that he would be able to fly it through a black hole and see once and for all what lay on the other side… It didn’t take, but still a cool idea!

Guild Heighliner:

Artist’s concept for a Guild Heighliner

Here’s one I couldn’t believe I had forgotten. In fact, I will accept any and all chastisements for my failure to include Dune craft in this series thus far. This can include physical beatings, just stay away from the nads… not quite done with those yet!

Anyhoo, when it comes to Dune ships, the Heighliner definitely takes the cake! Massive as all hell, this ship was the backbone of all commerce, diplomacy, travel and tourism in the Dune universe. Like all shipping, it was the exclusive property of the Spacing Guild and subject to their many controls, laws and whims.

Boasting Holtzman engines – a FTL drive system that was capable of “folding space” – the ship still required the services of a Guild Navigator. This person, a semi-prescient mutant due to years of living in a spice tank, would see a path through time and space and thus navigate the ship safely to its destination.

According to the original Dune, a single Heighliner was capable of lifting an entire planet’s worth of personnel, goods and supplies from one point in space to the next. As Duke Leto tells Paul in Part I of the story: “A Heighliner is truly big. Its hold will tuck all our frigates and transports into a little corner — we’ll be just a small part of the ship’s manifest.” Later in that same installment, House Harkonnen used a single Heighliner in order to lift an entire army to Arrakis for a surprise assault on the Atreides, and the cost was nothing short of punitive!

Given that the Heighliners are the sole means of commerce in a Empire as massive as that of the Dune universe, its little wonder why Heighliners are so freakishly big. Chartering one aint cheap, and if you do stowe aboard, you are expected to mind your business and wait until you arrive at your destination. Due to their high level of secrecy and sensitivity, no one is even allowed to venture beyond their own boarding craft when on a Heighlinger, and virtually no one outside of the Guild has ever seen a Guild navigator. Considered to be neutral territory by Imperial law, any and all acts of violence aboard Guild Heighliners carry stiff penalties.

Gunstar:
Ah, another childhood classic! Taken from the film The Last Starfighter, the Gunstar was the first line of defense of the Star League against the evil Xur and the Ko-Dan Armada. Sounds pretty cheesy, huh? Well, it was the eighties! And this was yet another Disney franchise that seemed to be riding in the Star Wars wake. Still, this movie was one the first to make extensive use of CGI (Tron being the only other) and had a none-too-bad storyline too boot!

Boasting multiple guns, missiles and a “Death Blossom” trick that is nothing short of devastating, the gun star is a rather unique and innovative design. Apparently, it was meant to be a class of ship that would never go out of style, merging functionality with lethality and being able to take on any class of enemy ship.

Every Gunstar is a two seater, with the starfighter (gunner) in front, and the navigator in the rear. While the navigator flies the ship, the gunner directs fire from a swivel chair, which gives them control over the ships moveable weapons batteries. Although it has no shielding to speak of, the hull is protected by armor plating which can withstand multiple direct hits. When cornered, it is also capable of unleashing the “Death Blossom” where it will begin to rotate at a furious speed and unleash gun and missile fire in all directions. This however, is considered a weapon of last resort, since it will drain the ship’s power supply completely.

Heart of Gold:
Now here’s an interesting, and highly improbably, entry! Coming to us straight out of The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy, the SS Heart of Gold is rather unique in that it merged scientific theory with Douglas Adam’s notoriously quirky sense of humor.

Being a prototype vessel, it was the first ship ever in the universe to boast the “Infinite Probability Drive”. This drive system is essentially a Faster-Than-Light engine which is actually based in quantum theory. Essentially, the theory states that a subatomic particle is most likely to be in a particular place at a particular time, but that there is also a small probability of it being found very far from its point of origin. Thus, a body could travel from place to place without passing through the intervening space as long as it had sufficient control of probability.

Pretty cool huh? In the original radio series, the shape of the vessel was not specified. In the novelization of the series, it was described as a “sleek white running shoe”. For the sake of the movie, artists went with a tea-cup design, and added some brake lights for good measure. Originally built as part of a secret government project on the planet of Damogran, the ship was stolen by President Zaphod Beeblebrox during its launching ceremony and became the means through which the main characters began exploring the universe.

Minbari Cruiser:
Back once more to the B5 universe for another fine example of kick-ass shippery! Known officially as the Sharlin-class Warcruiser, this Minbari vessel is the mainstay of the Minbari fleet in the original series. Big, bold, stealthy, and packing a sh*tload of firepower, this vessel is veritable nightmare for all but the most powerful of races. Even Shadow vessels mind their business when some of these are in the field.

Making its appearance in season one of the show (episode 17: “Legacies”) and went on to become a regular feature. When Sheridan assumed command of the station in season two, the renegade cruiser Trigati was destroyed in the course of a standoff. After B5 broke away from Earth in season 3, a force of Sharlin cruisers arrived just in time to prevent the station from being captured by forces loyal to Clarke. Many went on to serve alongside Sherian and Delenn in the Shadow War and even went on to help liberate Earth from Clarke’s forces.

According to Delenn, Minbari ships do not rely on conventional engines like other ships. Instead, a system of gravitational and electromagnetic fields for propulsion, which have the added benefit of supplying artificial gravity. This frees up their ships from the needs of rotating sections and makes for a more effective combat platform. Sharlin cruisers also boast a significant amount of weaponry, which consists mainly of heavy beam cannons, but also includes missile launchers, neutron guns, and electro-pulse cannons.

During the Earth-Mimbari War, Earth Forces were completely outmatched by this class of Cruiser. In addition to being highly resistant to Earth force weapons, the Sharlin cruiser also boasted a stealth field which prevented Earth ships from being able to lock onto it. In the course of the war, only one human Captain ever survived combat with one, Captain John Sheridan. Relying on a phony distress signal and several well placed tactical nukes, Sheridan was able to lure the Black Star, the Minbari flagship, into a trap and destroy it. Though the Minbari considered it a cheap victory, Sheridan’s fame and renown quickly spread throughout the fleet.

During the battle of Sector 83, the Sharlin-class Cruiser proved an effective weapon against the Shadows. Although somewhat slow and providing a large target for Shadows, their powerful beam weapons were capable of destroying a Shadow ship unassisted. When protected by smaller, faster craft like the White Star, it proves to be a very effective combat platform.

Nebula-B Escort Frigate:
More Star Wars! God, I think I’m OD’ing on this franchise. But the sign says “Cool Ships” and this one is no exception. Known as the Nebula-class frigate, this ship is probably best remembered as the “Medical Frigate” which appeared in Empire and Jedi. 

Measuring some 300 meters long and designed to defend Imperial convoys from Rebel attacks, this ship was more famously used by the Rebellion as a hospital ship. During heavy fighting, Nebula-B’s would be on hand to pick up pilots that had ejected and provide them with life-saving assistance, ensuring that Rebel pilots could live to fight another day.

The most famous appearance of a Medical Frigate was during the Battle of Endor, when several medical frigates were on hand to service Rebel pilots who had been shot down by superior Imperial forces. It was also on board the Medical Frigate Redemption that Luke Skywalker received his prosthetic hand after losing it in a lightsaber duel to Vader.

In addition to providing escort and as a hospital ship, the Nebula-B was proved useful as a deep space scout and reconnaissance ship, due to its sophisticated sensors. During raiding missions or less intense combat operations, many also served as command ships given their speed and defensive capabilities. One weakness of the Nebula-B however was its thin fusilage. Though this made the ship an inexpensive vessel by most standards, it also made it a poor choice for heavy combat. Hence why it was relegated to support, scouting and medical roles.

The Nostromo:
You know, I really thought I covered this one already. I already mentioned how the Alliance Cruisers from Firefly appeared to be inspired by this baby. And it just makes sense that if you’re going to cover ships from the sequel, (the USS Sulaco and the Cheyenne Dropship) that you cover the original first. But alas, the Nostromo was somehow passed over by me, another act of wanton insensitivity! Beating shall continue until my attitude improves!

Okay, now that we got my punishment out of the way, allow me to pay this ship it’s due homage. The main set for the movie Alien, the USCSS Nostromo was a deep space commercial vessel which belonged to the Weyland-Yutani corp (much like everything else in this universe!).

Overall, the Nostromo was a curious design which made perfect sense from a space-faring point of view. Doing away with such things as streamlining and aerodynamic sleekness, the ship was well suited to deep-space travel and hailing. In addition, it was also taller than it was long, another common aspect to spaceships which are confined to the whole sea ship/airplane paradigm.

It’s massive refinery, which it towed behind, would process its manifest of mined ore while it made its way back to Earth from wherever it had been deployed. Thus, in addition to providing transport and amenities for a crew of miners and spacers, it was also a mobile refining platform that could deliver processed materials to factories rather than just unrefined ore.

While on return from the distant planet of Thedus, the Nostromo was rerouted to LV-426 where it picked up the alien organism known as a xenomorph. After all but one of the crew were killed the by creature, Ellen Ripley, the ship’s Warrant Officer, set the ship’s to self-destruct and escaped aboard the ship’s life craft with the crew cat, Jones. According to Weyland-Yutani execs, who were some pissed when she returned without her ship, the destruction of this vessel cost them 24 million in adjusted dollars. Damn penny-pinchers!

The Sathanas:
What do you call the most fearsome, intimidating and powerful ship in the universe, without being too obvious, that is? The Sathanas, that’s what! Being the Latin name for Satan, this title is very apt when applied to a massive juggernaut built by a race known as the the Shivans (i.e. Shiva, Hindu god of destruction).

This last entry, much like The Colossus and Deimos from my last list, comes to us from the game Freespace 2. Making its appearance midway through the game, this terrifying vessel was the most powerful space-faring ship ever encountered by the human race or its allies.

Boasting four massive beam cannons which are situated at the end of its claw like appendages, this ship best exemplifies the offensive fighting spirit. Jumping into a field of battle, it is capable of dealing devastating blows on a target head on, keeping its flanks and rear hidden from the enemy.

Above all, it is clear that the Shivan built the Sathanas to act as a terror weapon in addition to a capital ship. One look at its design confirms this, given its clawing appendages and thorny skin. Defeating this ship outright is quite difficult given its reinforced plating and terrible array of weapons. Disabling this ship, through EMP missiles and guns, is not much easier given the incredibly density of its hull and many redundant systems. In the end, the only way to beat it seems to be for lighter craft to take out its “claws” while heavier vessels strike at it from a distance. However, this still proves to be a suicidal mission given the Sathanas’ many missile and defensive batteries.

Ultimately, taking down this ship in the game is much like the real-life campaign to sink the Bismark. This dreadnought, which was the pride and joy of the German navy in WWII, also boasted massive weapons, a heavily armored hull and superior systems. In the end, the Royal Navy brought it down through a combination of luck, persistence, and careful engagements, taking their time to disable it and then closing in to pound it relentlessly! Hmmm. I guess good history makes for good gaming 🙂

Final Thoughts:/strong>
The suggestion box, as always, is still open. Thanks to Goran Zidar for suggesting the Gunstar, I knew I’d have to include it sooner or later and I’m glad someone asked. Anything else? I got another installment on the way, and probably a few more after that. No? Sigh, alright, bring on the beatings! No nads!

Cool Ships!

God, what an obvious extension of the whole conceptual sci-fi thing, I can’t believe I didn’t think of it sooner! After all, what is a sci-fi franchise without some cool spacefaring vessels? Sometimes, these come in the form of exploratory ships that chart the unknown regions of the galaxy. Sometimes they are battleships which kick ass and don’t do much else. And sometimes they are generational ships, spending decades, centuries or even millennia cruising through space, ferrying people to new star systems and new galaxies.

But whatever their purpose, futuristic vessels are a constant source of enjoyment and interest. A lot of imagination and creativity goes into creating them, and what comes out is often a testament to the allure of speculative sci-fi. Anyway, today I thought I’d explore some choice examples of sci-fi ships and what makes them so cool. Here goes…

Defiant:
Making its debut in Star Trek: DS9, the Defiant became the workhorse of the station and the first line of defense against it’s enemies. Originally designed for combat with the Borg, the Defiant was a prototype for an entire generation of warship. Smaller than most starships, but also faster and boasting very powerful weaponry, the Defiant quickly gained a reputation for being the most dangerous vessel in the quadrant!

Yep, when this ship made its debut, I started watching the show. Every episode that featured space battles with the Defiant were worth watching, in my estimation. Blasting those rapid-fire cannons, firing those quantum torpedoes, blowing up anyone stupid enough to cross it; the Defiant did it all!

It’s prototype version even boasted a cloaking device, something the Federation borrowed from the Romulans so they could slit into Dominion territory once they found out about them. In time, the Defiant was lost, but more of its kind appeared to take up its role. The Valiant, the Sao Paolo, and a host of others were pressed into service as the series went on and the Dominion War became the focal point of the show. Much like their predecessor, these new Defiant-class ships kicked plenty of asses and never went down without a fight. A big, brutal, hard-slogging fight!

Galactica:
This ship is the namesake of the original movie and series and got a makeover for the re-imagining which was released back in 2005. And though her appearance has changed somewhat since the 1970’s when the original movie came out, the Galactica’s role and importance has remained the same. The last surviving Battlestar of the Twelve Colonies, she is the sole protector of the human fleet as it flees the Cylon onslaught and makes its way to an elusive world called Earth… and salvation!

One thing that did change between the old and new series was the sophistication of the design. Whereas in the 1970’s version, the Galactica was a state of the art, modern warship with laser cannons and a full crew, the newer version was an older, outdated vessel with projectile cannons and flak guns that had been retired from active service. As the series opens, we see that the Galactica was being converted into a museum ship that was meant to commemorate the last war against the Cylons which had ended over twenty years ago. It’s crew was skeletal and its senior officers were also due for retirement.

However, all of that changed when the Cylons launched their surprise attack on the Colonies. Being an obsolete vessel which used outdated computers and had no wireless networks, the Galactica was the only ship that wasn’t crippled by the virus the Cylon’s used to disable the Colonial fleet. After hastily equipping themselves with ammunition and some equally outdated Vipers from their showroom, the Galactica was forced into service. But by this time, the war was effectively over, and the Captain and crew dedicated themselves to a new mission: to find the only other human colony in existence (Earth) and begin repopulating their species.

Despite her age, the Galactica could still surprise her enemies when she needed to. Unlike her more modern companions, including the Pegasus which she met in season two, she had a habit of getting out of some rather tight spots. You could say that in the new series, this ship was a metaphor for humanity; aging and endangered, but a survivor nonetheless!

Millennium Falcon:
Here she is, the centerpiece of this list! For what ship is more cool than the Millennium Falcon? I mean really! Sure, she’s not the biggest or the most heavily armed ship on this list, but she is the fastest, nimblest, and she’s definitely got the most character. In some ways, she was almost part of the cast of the original Star Wars series, and I’m sure everyone felt bad for her when she got scuffed up during that last battle in Return of the Jedi ;).

Officially, the Falcon is a modified Corellian transport. Corellia, the planet Han calls home, is renowned for producing good ships in addition to good spacers. They’re fast, sleek, and infinitely modifiable. It’s little wonder then why they are a favorite amongst smugglers. And Corellian spacers especially are known for being very monogamous and loyal when it comes to their ship selection.

Prior to joining the Rebellion, the Falcon was primarily used to smuggle spice from Kessel to other regions of the Galaxy, usually at the behest of Jabba the Hutt. In spite of its speed, the Falcon would occasionally get boarded by Imperial patrols. When this happened, Han and Chewi relied on a secret compartment to stash their goods. However, on one of his final runs, Han was boarded by an Imperial patrol and was forced to ditch his manifest.

Shortly thereafter, Han and Chewi joined the Rebellion and the role of the Falcon changed considerably. Now, it was involved in attack missions, the most notable of which were the assaults on the first and second Death Star. At other times, it continued to do what it did best – fly fast and elude Imperial ships!

Nostalgia for Infinity:
Here we have an interesting ship, which comes to us from the mind of Alastair Reynolds and the Revelation Space universe. Known as a “Lighthugger”, this class of vessel was one which could travel close to the speed of light thanks to its massive “Conjoiner Drives”. These engines, which were attached to the outsides of the ships, relied on a controlled singularity to generate the necessary inertia to push the ship as close to light speed as was physically possible for a vessel of its size.

The crews of these ships were known as “Ultranauts”, or Ultras for short. Typically, these were the kinds of cybernetically enhanced human beings who were capable of interfacing with the ship’s advanced machinery, prolonged space travel and withstanding the inertial stresses caused by near-light speed travel.

In the case of the Nostalgia, the ship was commanded by a Triumvir, three Captains who took turns commanding the ship while it was in deep space and the others were in reefersleep (i.e. cryogenic suspension). This included Ilia Volyova, Sajaki and Hegazi, three Ultras who had taken over after the Captain and ship had succumbed to what was known as the “Melding Plague”. This virus is a key element to the story of RS, being alien in origin and which infects and perverts nanotechnological matter.

In the course of running their various missions to and from the many worlds of the RS universe, the crew came into possession of a series of “Cache Weapons”, missiles and gun platforms which were apparently of Conjoiner design, and were officially known as Hell-class weapons.  As the series progressed, both the Nostalgia, its crew, and these weapons played an increasingly important role in defending the human race from the alien threat of the “Inhibitors” (see Planet Killers, The Inhibitors, for more detail).

Red Dwarf:
The eponymous spaceship from the BBC series, the Red Dwarf – otherwise known as the “giant red trashcan” – was a huge mining vessel measuring 10 km in length, 6.5 km in height, and 5 km in width. Built for mining and owned by the Jupiter Mining Corporation, the ship is immense, largely self-sufficient, and run by an AI named Holly. And for some reason, it has an asteroid embedded in its hull (this is never explained).

In the beginning of the series, a radiation leak killed the entire crew, except for the protagonist Dave Lister, a technician who was apparently in suspended animation at the time. In order to ensure his survival, Lister is kept in suspension by Holly until all the background radiation dissipates, a process which takes over three million years. As a result, Lister wakes up to find that he’s the last living human in existence. His only companions are the hologram of his former bunk-mate Rimmer, and a humanoid feline named Cat who evolved from Lister’s cat (Frankenstein) over three million years that he was asleep.

Over the course of the show, the crew encounters new planets, species and time distortions aboard the Red Dwarf, all the while trying to make their back to Earth. The largely self-sufficient ship takes care of their every need, though it has begun to run out of certain supplies after three million years (including Shake n Vac and all but one After Eight mint!).

Serenity:
I’ve spent quite a bit of time talking about Firefly as of late, but the list says cool ships so I don’t see how the Serenity can possibly be left off this list! As the centerpiece of the single-season series and the movie, the ship has a long story and a lot of character, much like her crew! Originally designed as a class of cargo freighter, the Firefly is apparently an older model of ship that is no longer in use with the Alliance but remains popular out on the rim.

All references to it in the early episodes indicate that the series is essentially obsolete, but due to their ruggedness, shelf-life and the presence of secret compartments, they remain a popular item amongst smugglers. Hmmm, echoes of the Millennium Falcon there. Nevertheless, as the series progresses, this reputation is illustrated in how Mal and the crew are able to stow illegal goods and how Kaylee is able to keep the ship running under tight conditions with all kinds of improvised repairs. And despite the fact that it is no longer being constructed, most of its parts are still available and easily attainable on the open and black market.

Much like all ships in the Firefly/Serenity universe, the Firefly is apparently a sub-light vessel, incapable of traveling faster than the speed of light. Though unarmed, it is fast and maneuverable in both space and planetary atmospheres. This is made possible by the addition of two external multi-directional thrusters which allow for takeoff, landing, and the occasional crazy Ivan (which the crew pulled in the pilot episode). It also boasts two shuttle pods, which can be used as escape vessels or as secondary transports. Inara, the Companion crewwoman, uses one such pod as her quarters and transport for personal away missions.

The ship also has its own medbay and crew quarters, which is another feature that makes it popular amongst spacers. In fact, the availability of a private room was intrinsic in Mal’s offer to “recruit” Jayne Cobb from another gang, which was illustrated in a flashback sequence during the episode “Out of Gas”. There was even room enough to accommodate River and Simon and Book, which would indicate that the ship contains eight bunks in total. A communal dining area and food processors also see to their needs while not sleeping, gun-slinging, or generally doing something illegal!

USS Sulaco:
After barely surviving her first encounter with the xenomorph in Alien, Ellen Ripley and a crew of Colonial Marines returned to LV-426 in Aliens to settle the score! The ship that brought them there was none other than the USS Sulaco – a big, bad, military vessel boasting big-ass guns and enough Marine firepower to level an entire colony. Much like the Nostromo, the Sulaco is a reference to the work of Joseph Conrad, writer of Heart of Darkness (significant? Oh, I think so!).

Apparently, the Sulaco is a Conestoga-class warship designed for ferrying Marines to and from conflict areas in the future. While it was only carrying one platoon of Marines and two dropships in the second movie, this class of ship is capable of carrying 20,000 tons of cargo, eight UD4L Cheyenne-class dropships and a crew of 90 personnel (according to other franchise reference material). Hmm, too bad they didn’t pack the Sulaco to capacity, otherwise Ripley would have never had to take matters into her own hands to kill the Queen Alien!

Much like everything else in the Alien franchise, the Sulaco and all other Conestoga-class vessels are built by the Weyland-Yutani corporation, military division. Clearly, their purpose is to enforce the law, hunt down (and capture) xenomorphs, and maintain the peace aboard its many, many colonies. All part of their commitment to “Building Better Worlds” I guess 😉

White Star:
My personal favorite of this list, the coolest and most badass ship to come from the Babylon 5 universe! Fast, small, and boasting incredible firepower, the White Star was the workhorse of the Shadow War, Sheridan’s campaign to liberate Earth, and the early military campaigns of the Interstellar Alliance. In a lot of ways, it is much like the Defiant from the DS9 universe… I do believe they stole the idea from Straczynski!

As a collaboration between the Mimbari and the Vorlons, the White Star ships were partially based on organic technology. This meant that the ship was essentially alive and could heal itself when damaged. In addition, its organic armor was capable of deflecting energy, giving it a sort of shielding which could protect it from anything other than a physical impact.

The ship’s main weapons consisted of pulse cannons and a single beam cannon mounted in the nose. This gave it the ability to pepper targets with rapid fire shots while conducting high-speed maneuvers, and slicing them with focused bursts while on an attack vector.  All of this came in handy when dealing with Shadow vessels, which are notoriously hard to kill! It also proved useful when up against larger, heavier ships like Earth Force cruisers, Drakh vessels, and anything else the known universe could throw at them.

From the initial prototype, the Mimbari would go on to construct thousands of White Star-class vessels which were crewed by the Rangers and members of the Religious Caste. After the formation of the Alliance, Sheridan proposed the creation of a heavier version which culminated in the design of two White Star Destroyers, the Victory and Excalibur. This latter ship was the centerpiece of the spinoff series, Crusade.

Final Thoughts:
Well, that was fun! No final thoughts today, as I really have none to offer. I just really like cool ships! And much like most toys for grown ups, they are made cool by the fact that they are used for some fun purposes – like smuggling, fighting or exploration – and generally boast one or more of the following factors: speed, firepower, special abilities, visual appeal, and maybe some secret compartments. Any or all of these will do, thank you very much. Until next time!

New Prometheus Clip

I came across this clip this morning and was absolutely wowed. Not only is this yet another awesome preview of the upcoming Prometheus movie, it manages to establish the movie’s deep background even further and does so in a way that’s both plausible and relevant to today. Exploring the upcoming technological singularity, the birth of nanotech, biomedical and AI, and previewing the birth of the Weyland Corp – which as we all know went on to become Weyland-Yutani, the biggest monopoly in the history of the human race.

But don’t take my word, check it out for yourself. I feel like writing now, which is how I feel whenever I see something really inspiring! And God damn if this wasn’t a far better use of Guy Pierce’s talents than that cheesy movie Lockout!

Weyland Industries “David 8”: a Prometheus preview

Just caught this, thanks to a scholar I follow (thanks Owl!). It certainly is an interesting way to go about previewing his new movie, but then again, Ridley Scott has always been known for being a creative bastard! In addition to revisiting the universe of aliens, he seems to be doing everything in his power to give it some genuine subtext and backstory.

As I’m sure we all remember, in the universe of Alien and Aliens, Weyland-Yutani was responsible for running… well, everything. In addition, “artificial lifeforms” or “synthetics” like Ash and Bishop were considered commonplace on board company ships, it seemed only natural that we that this movie give us a preview of their predecessors.

Good watching. Click on the video below and you’ll see…

T2!

Normally, if I do a review, I try to re-familiarize myself with the material before writing about it. That way I’ll be sure not miss anything. It’s only been on occasion that I’ve done one strictly from memory, and that’s assuming it’s still fresh. That was certainly the case with Independence Day and Terminator: Salvation, the latter I had seen just a few weeks before, and the former I’d seen so many times that I really didn’t need to see it again! However, this was not the case with The Terminator. Here was a movie I had not seen in years. Make that MANY years, and yet I penned my review almost entirely from what I could remember of it. Not smart! Even less smart to watch it immediately thereafter and realize all the points I missed! Luckily, I still have two more movies to do in the franchise, and most of what I noticed applies directly to the sequel!

First off, James Cameron was guilty of recycling actors even more than I thought. Michael Beihn, Bill Paxton, and Jennette Goldstein all played prominent roles in Aliens (Hicks, Hudson and Vasquez) and were around for either T1 or T2, in some cases, both. But I forgot about Lance Henrikson, the man who played Bishop in Aliens. Turns out, he played one of the LA detectives in the first movie who got his ass shot off when evil Arny came knocking! Wish I hadn’t glossed over those guys in my T1 review, turns out they were actually pretty important. In any case, that makes four actors whom he used for both franchises, and I’m betting there were more in the background somewhere…

On top of that, I came to see just how many action sequences were reused in T2. I don’t want to get too specific just yet, but let’s say that action scenes involving motor bikes, big-rigs, car jumping and pile ups were also reused from the first movie. The only real difference was the budget, and of course Arny was now a protagonist instead of a force of pure malevolence. And there was also one all-important theme that made it into both Aliens and T2, and that was the theme of reconciliation between man and woman and humans and machines! But more on that later. Having just watched the movie and it still fresh in my mind, let’s get to the specifics of T2, one of the biggest and most successful sequels of all time!

(Background—>)
T2 was generally lauded by critics, all of whom thought that Arny did a great job reprising the role that complimented his particular brand of talents (his natural grandeur and presence, for example). Cameron’s gift for action direction was also seen as a big plus, and with three successful movies under his belt (T1, Aliens, and The Abyss), he now had a bigger budget and a degree of creative freedom he did not have with the before. And as I said in my first Terminator review, T2 also did better at the box office, not proportionally speaking, but certainly in terms of overall gross. And according to some, it was one of those rare movies that was believed to be better than the original. I’m not one of them, but I can certainly see why others might think so. On the whole, T2 was bigger, glitzier, and a lot more fun than the first. It’s mass appeal, made possible by its awesome action sequences, intense pace, and cutting-edge special effects which involved the use of CGI (something brand-new at the time) were sure to please. It also did a good job of wrapping up the temporal paradox presented in the first movie, and offered a way out of said paradox that was both believable and consistent with it. It may not have been as gritty, realistic or smart as the original, but that was to be expected. Originals are meant to set the tone and establish the parameters, sequels to expand on them. And in that respect, T2 was a fitting follow-up to the first, superior in some respects but certainly not better.

(Content—>)
The movie opens with scenes from modern day LA, moving from traffic jams and pedestrian crossings to a playground with children at play. This is clearly a “before” scene, where the music is foreboding and things suddenly slow down, with the sound of children laughing in the background. And then, the big white out. If this isn’t indication enough that something terrible has happened, we immediately cut to the “after” scene – a blackened ruin littered with skeletons and rubble. We are told that is what Los Angeles looks like in 2029, cold, dark, and dead. Linda Hamilton’s voice over then reminds us of the relevant facts, how billions died on Aug. 29th 1997 (“Judgement Day”), and those who survived lived only to face a worse horror… the war against the machines. We then get a moment of pure symbolism as a machine foot crushes a human skull, followed immediately thereafter by one of pure action porn!

All over the post-apocalyptic landscape, machines are attacking, purple tracers fill the sky, and human resistance fighters mobilize to fight back. This sequence was certainly superior to the ones in the first movie. There, the post-apocalyptic battle scenes involved just a few people and models, fighting in a limited fashion that gave the impression of guerrilla-warfare rather than an epic confrontation. In T2, there were literally hundreds of people and models being used, and the pace and scale was faster and bigger. The humans aren’t hiding here, they are out in full force, fighting, dying, shooting and killing. This gives the impression of a genuine war: ugly, awesome, and epic! Naturally, this was due to budgets, but that doesn’t change the fact that T2’s opening action sequence was far more kick-ass! We even get a shot of John Conner, the future version. He’s grizzly, determined, and surveying the field while his mother continues to let us in on things: Years back, a Terminator was sent back in time to kill her before she could give birth to this illustrious man – who is looking mighty heroic right now – and failed. Now, another one is on the way, hoping to strike at Conner himself. But the resistance has sent another warrior, and only time will tell which one reaches him first…

And, much like in the first movie, we cut back and forth between three points of view: Arny, the T1000 (played by Robert Patrick), and the main protagonists – in this case, John and Sarah. She’s in an insane asylum. The character of Doctor Silberman (Earl Boen), who in the first movie pronounced Kyle Reese insane, is back and saying the same thing about her. John is in foster care, is clearly disillusioned over the fact that his mother is locked up, and chooses to take it out on his foster parents. That’s an immediate selling point to this movie: the idea that anyone who knew the future would be a Cassandra, shouting to the wilderness and being totally ignored by the people (or in this case, committed). Conner’s delinquency is also a realistic touch. We know he will grow up to a hero someday, but right now, he’s a pissed-off adolescent who’s confused and bewildered. On the one hand, he hates his mother for apparently lying to him for so many years, and on the other he obviously misses her. Remember that photo he gave Kyle Reese, the one she had taken of herself at the end of the first movie? Well, turns out he’s kept it. Must be some embers still left in that hearth, huh?

Anyway, Arny has his scene where he wanders into a biker bar naked and wrecks the place up in order to get his hands on some badass looking clothes and a Harley. This is of course a retake from the first movie, but unlike the first where the evil Arny killed to get them, the good Arny in this one merely brutalizes a few people. Yep, this is the good guy… baby-steps I guess! And just like in the first movie, the bad guy has an easier time, simply killing a police officer and then commandeering his vehicle. Turns out when you’ve got liquid metal for skin, you don’t need clothes. You just morph your surface layer and boom, you’re good to go! But alas, the T1000 (as Arny explains later) cannot form complex machines, so he still needs the policeman’s car and weapons.

The three finally meet and, just like in the first, we get a tense, climactic moment with slow-motion and intense music. John sees Arny as he pulls his shotgun out of a box of roses (product placement, Guns and Roses did the theme music!) and thinks he’s out to kill him. But those fears are generally allayed when Arny levels the gun and yells his famous tagline, “Get down!”, and shoots the T1000 behind him. A gun fight ensues, followed by a wrestling match, followed by a big-ass car chase. Again, elements of the first are at work here again. In T1, Arny was chasing Sarah and Kyle on a Harley, followed shortly thereafter by a truck. Much like in the first, it all ends with the truck crashing and exploding. This is not to say that it wasn’t awesome this time around though. As usual, Cameron’s flare for action-direction makes the scene tense and beautiful, and the way Arny keeps flipping that gun around to reload it? You look me in the eye and tell me you didn’t think that was badass the first time you saw it! And of course, the sequence ends with the T1000 walking from the fiery wreckage unharmed, provided by some of those cutting-edge digital effects I mentioned!

John then has a chat with Arny about what’s going on. Some funny lines here: “Don’t take this the wrong way but… you’re a Terminator, right?” Keen grasp of the obvious. “Okay… And you’re not here to kill me! I figured that part out for myself!” Well he did save your as several times in just the last few minutes so… duh! What makes this funny is that while freaked out, John clearly has a framework in place for understanding what’s going on. In spite of the fact that he’s spent the last few years thinking his mom was crazy, he still remembers everything she taught and what he’s just witnessed just confirmed it. Sure he’s freaked out by all the violence and near-death, but one he’s not is shocked. He doesn’t even get that phased when Arny tells him that it was HIM – John Conner – who sent him; his future self, that is. Somehow, it all just makes sense given his upbringing. And of course, Arny takes the time to explain the particulars of their enemy. Let me see if I can condense it all into a few bullet points here:
> T1000, advanced prototype, liquid metal, here to kill you.
> Can’t form weapons beyond knives and stabbing tools.
> Can also morph into things, but only things of equal size
> Can impersonate other people and knows where you will go
> Oh yeah, and its not known if he can be destroyed or not

Yikes! That’s another thing that I enjoyed about this movie. At first, it seems like Arny can defeat the T1000 as he manages to save John Conner from his repeated murderous attempts. However, as more confrontations ensue and Arny is forced to go toe to toe with him, the T1000 begins to show his superiority. Not only does he managed to take Arny’s arm off, he even manages to take Arny out. Well, temporarily deactivate, but you get the idea. In the end, Anry’s only able to win by outsmarting him, and relying on the help of John and Sarah.

But getting back to the storyline, Arny soon confirms that the T1000 has already killed John’s foster parents and warns him that his mother could be next. But not before John has an expository scene where he expresses all his angst over how his mother taught him everything he knew, only to be taken away from him and declared a delusional psychotic. And now, it appears she was right all along, so naturally he wants to find her. But no, Arny reminds him, the T1000 would have anticipated that, and will try to impersonate her and will kill her in the process. John freaks, a ruckus ensues, and it ends with John realizing that Arny must obey his orders. So naturally, he orders Arny to help him save his mother (Oh, and not to kill anyone, on a count of he almost killed two people during that ruckus).

They then get to the asylum where Sarah is attempting to make her escape. Seems people told her that a dead-ringer for the man that shot up a police station and killed 17 officers in 84′ was spotted at a local mall. Thus why she needs to escape tonight. If things are happening again, she needs to make sure her son is safe! She does this smashing the face of the guy who’s been physically and sexually abusing her for the last few months and taking Dr. Silberman hostage. Naturally, we don’t feel sorry for either of these people, since the attendee is a dick and Dr. Silberman is a cynical douche! John and Arny are simultaneously breaking in, which begins with Arny knee-capping the guard at the front (he said he wouldn’t kill, wasn’t nothing in there about knee-capping!) They meet up inside as Arny steps off the elevator right in front of her, and a slow-motion scene ensues where Sarah recognizes him and becomes so terrified that she runs back in the direction of the guards she eluded not a moment previous. Arny saves her and issues one the tag-lines from the first movie: “Come with me if you want to live”. John is also there and lets just her know that Arny’s cool, right before the T1000 shows up right behind them and tries to kill them. Dr. Silberman witnesses all this, and is no doubt going to need therapy himself!

Another chase scene ensues. Arny and Sarah protect John, steal a police car, and start driving backwards while shooting. The T1000, for his part, sprouts swords and crowbars from his arms and pursues them. Here too we see a scene being rehashed from the first movie, where the evil Terminator jumps on their car and starts smashing through the window, trying to get his hands on his target and almost succeeding. But in the nick of time, they manage to shake him with some keen maneuvering and shotgun blasts. This time around, its Arny who does the rescuing, blowing off one of the T1000’s limbs and sending him flying off the back end of their car. Having made it away for the second time, the three of them start make their way out of town in great haste.

While in the desert, we get some pacing scenes as Arny, Sarah Conner, and John get to talking, and in the course things, learn some things about each other. For example, Sarah wants to know how Judgement Day happened, how Skynet was created and who’s responsible. Arny reveals that a man named Mr. Miles Dyson is responsible for the breakthroughs that led to Skynet’s creation, and that the key developments are happening pretty much as they speak. We already know from a rather telling scene earlier that Mr. Dyson, over at Cyberdyne systems, was the recipient of the remains of the first Terminator and is working on a big AI-related breakthrough. Seems that Conner was right, that someone conspired to remove them from the factory where Sarah left them, and made sure they got into the “right” hands. Sounds… conspiratorial! In any case, it was the first Terminator’s broken CPU and remaining arm, which came from the future, that ended up being the basis for Dyson’s research, and hence Skynet’s creation… The temporal paradox strikes again!

There are echoes of Alien and Aliens here. In those movies, the megacorp Weylan-Yutani kept screwing over its own people in order to get their hands on the alien specimen. Here, however, we are getting it more in the form of the dark future/cautionary tale, where networked, intelligent computers are responsible for nearly wiping out humanity, largely because we made the mistake of trusting our fate to them. But unlike the first movie, T2 introduces us to the human side of that equation, how it was human avarice that led to Skynet’s creation, and how Skynet decided to kill humanity because they tried to pull the plug on it. Doesn’t make Skynet any nicer, but it was a nice touch, as is the humanizing of the people responsible which follows later on. But at the moment, Sarah is obviously perturbed by this information, and we can tell she’s going to do something about it very soon…

Also, there’s a very important scene in all this that didn’t make it into the original movie but came with the director’s cut. This is the scene where Arny reveals that all Terminators have their CPU’s set to “read-only” when they are sent out, a provision against them exercising too much independent thought. While they are held up in an abandoned garage and nursing their wounds, John proposes that they remove Arny’s chip and switch this fail-safe off so he can be of more use to them. After removing it, Sarah tries to smash the chip with a hammer but John stops her. She tells him this could be their last chance to be “it”, and that John doesn’t understand this because he’s never had to kill one of them. But John insists that they need Arny, that “it” is a “he”, and that if he’s to be a great leader someday, his mom ought to start taking his ideas seriously. She decides to go with him, although just barely, and lets Arny live. This scene is important because it establishes that in spite of the fact that the good Arny saved them, Sarah still doesn’t trust him and is willing to kill him as soon as the opportunity arose. One would expect this considering what the first Arny bot put her through.

There’s also the amusing scene where John tries to teach Arny to smile. This is just one of many where John is trying to teach him how to “be more human”. Most of these are pretty cheesy, consisting of one-liners and hand gestures, but this one was actually funny and even made sense in the overall context of the movie. Later, we see Arny pulling facial expressions, and the more anal-retentive critic would surely want to point out that this is supposed to impossible. Cyborg’s don’t feel emotion, hence they don’t smile, smirk, or shrug. The subtleties of facial expressions and how they convey emotions would surely be beyond them. But, if they knew someone was teaching them what faces to pull and when, they just might find it realistic and shut the hell up!

Anyhoo, John, Arny and Sarah show up at Enrique’s hideout. This would be the former Green Beret gun-running dude John mentioned with earlier, one of several dude’s she shacked up with while he was growing up. While at Enrique’s hideout, they start stockpiling guns and getting some new vehicles together. Arny gives us a preview of things to come when he hoists up the mini-gun and smirks at John. “It’s you, definitely,” John says. And in the course of things, Sarah watches her son and the Terminator talking and carrying on and has a revelation. Turns out that of all the father figures that had come and gone, the Terminator is actually the most ideal father figure for John. He’d never neglect him, never abuse him, and would die to protect him. We see at last a reconciliation between humanity and technology with this, not unlike the one that took place in Aliens between Bishop and Ripley. Once again, James Cameron is showing his fondness for certain themes. Still, it works here. After all the paranoia and hatred Sarah has been living with over the years, she finds herself finally able to trust her enemy – a killing machine – with John’s life. Irony!

But then, Sarah has another one of her apocalyptic dreams, and this one is particularly graphic! She even sees an alternate version of herself playing with a baby. This is a particularly symbolic moment, we get the impression is seeing what she’d look like if history had worked out just a little different. And like everyone in the playground, she doesn’t appear to be able to hear Sarah as she screams at them to run. In any case, they are all vaporized when a nuke goes off in the distance, graphically! I tell ya, that shot scared me when I first saw it. I believe it was the first case of the effects of a nuclear blast being caught on film. Sarah then wakes up with a start and she sees the words that she herself carved in the picnic table not a moment earlier. “No Fate”, which paraphrases what John told Reese to tell her: “The future is not set, there is no fate but what we make for ourselves.” Ironic, given the temporal nature of the story, but it certainly convinces Sarah that its time she acts. She grabs her guns, a truck, and tells John and Arny she will meet them later. It doesn’t take long for them to figure out what she’s got in mind (killing Dyson) and they head off to intercept her. Arny warns John that this is bad strategy, that the T1000 could anticipate this move, and that Dyson’s death might actually prevent Judgement Day. But of course, John tells him they have to. It’s a human thing!

They arrive at Dyson’s just in time to find that Sarah has shot up the place, put a bullet through Dyson’s shoulder and just about to deliver the coup de grace. But alas, she couldn’t. He’s still human, and she’s not a monster. So instead, they decide to fill him in on things and give him the benefit of the knowing everything his work will lead to. Arny starts by pealing the flesh off his arm and letting his robot innards tell the story. Dyson immediately recognizes the arm, since he’s got an identical one at his office. We get the distinct impression that some pretty messed up possibilities are going through his mind. In any case, Arny has his full attention now and he tells him to “listen to me very carefully.” Sarah’s voice-over fills in the rest and says that Arny told him everything – about Skynet, Judgement Day, and the war – as we cut to what is clearly several hours later. Naturally, he’s shocked and professes that he never intended for any of that to happen, but Sarah is naturally unconvinced. Seems “men like him” are the reason the hydrogen bomb exists. They think themselves creative, but only know how to create death and destruction, so fuck em, they’re evil! Uh, remind me now, who shot up who’s place here in a homicidal attempt? But alas, because he didn’t know, and maybe to prove he’s not a bad guy, he agrees to help them, which includes destroying the lab and also the remains of the first Terminator. Hello! This is the first time those remains have even been publicly acknowledged. Everyone is surprised, except Sarah who is both feels both angry and vindicated. She’s known all along that there was some kind of cover-up and nobody believed her. Now, she’s hearing from the horses mouth that she right. Still, right or no, she still gotta feel pissed!

What follows is another tense series of scenes as they rush to Cyberdyne, commandeer the facility, and begin laying explosives. Meanwhile, the police show up, thinking they got the man who shot up the police station back in 84′, and cordon off the building. Sarah’s voiceover and a shot of them driving up a dark highway convey the significance of these scenes perfectly before they actually unfold. Essentially, after years of trying to ensure that the machine’s didn’t alter the future, they are now trying to do the same. Whereas they were just players before, doing what was required of them, they are now free-agents who have the power to change history. Arny has his scene with the minigun too where he levels all the cop cars out front, firing a couple thousand rounds and a handful of grenades into the police cruisers to gives Sarah, John and Dyson the time they need to finish rigging the place to blow. But, as promised, does so without hurting or killing a single person. Not bad, Arny! Way to respect human life! Of course, the police are pissed and start firing back at him, and their SWAT team goes on in with blood on their minds.

There’s also what appears to be a sort of reconciliation taking place between Sarah and Dyson now, paralleling once again what Ripley experienced in Aliens. Obviously, Sarah had become embittered towards her male counterparts after years of being ignored and condemned by them. After losing Reese, she wasn’t able to find a single stable father figure for John, not one who would stick around after she told him the truth at any rate. Then there were all those who condemned her and put her in an insane asylum. On top of that, there’s men like Dyson who were responsible for Skynet’s creation in the first place. But now, she and Dyson appear to be coming together thanks to their common cause. There’s even a symbolic moment where Sarah passes him the detonator and we get a close-up of it changes hands. This reconciliation is cut short however when about a dozen SWAT team members comes breaking in and fills Dyson full of holes! But once they realize the place is totally rigged, they pull back! And the three protagonists managed to make it out right before the bomb goes off and levels Cyberdyne! But the front door is still blocked and there’s no way they can make it out without some shooting. That’s when Arny issues his famous tag-line from the first movie: “I’ll be back”! He gets about a hundred bullets to his face before knee-capping and pelting all the SWAT team members with their own tear gas canisters. He then steals the SWAT van and drives it through the front foyer, thus ensuring their escape. Meanwhile, the T1000 has shown up and steals a helicopter, much as Arny stole that 18-wheeler in movie one, and is even sure to include the “get out!” tag-line to its driver.

Which brings us to chase number three! This time, the good guys are in a SWAT van and the bad guy in a helicopter. True to the first movie, there’s a change-up when the bad guy is shmucked and has to switch vehicles. Having lost his helicopter, he commandeers (what else?) an 18-wheeler and chases them into a Foundry. Really? They have Foundries in LA? Right beside of the highway to boot? Just asking… Point is, more action porn follows: Arny delivers his “Hasta la Vista, Baby” line and shatters the T1000 with a bullet. This was after he forced him to crash his truck that was apparently carrying liquid nitrogen (…really?). The bits begin to melt because there’s hot metal all around (Foundry, remember?), and the three protagonists are forced to flee again. But with nowhere to run, they have to fight it out inside the Foundry, and get pretty beat up in the process! As a climactic scene, this was quite effective, being in such a hostile environment and everyone already being wounded. You can feel the tension and danger, which is made all the more palatable since it’s clear that there is no chance of escape. With Sarah already reeling from a gunshot wound in her thigh, and Arny twisted up from the crash, it really seems like they might not make it.

And yet, they do! And I don’t think I’ll ever forget the last scene where Linda Hamilton empties a whole shotgun into the T1000’s body, one-handed! Or how Arny shows up at the last second and pops a rocket propelled grenade into his belly that blows him in half! The T1000 then falls to his death in a bath of molten metal (how’s that for irony, liquid metal man!) and things end tidily when John realizes that the metal will make a perfect disposal spot for the remains of the first Terminator. But alas, Arny realizes that he too much go into the cauldron. As long as any evidence of the future remains in the past, there will always be a chance that Skynet could still be created and Judgement Day still happen. And so the movie ends with Arny being heroically lowered into the molten metal and giving John the thumbs up before disappearing beneath the surface (John taught him how to do that, which makes it all the more sad!)

Then, there’s the very last scene, which is kind of a controversial issue for me! In the original movie, it took the form of them driving along the dark highway again, a clear metaphor for the future, with Sarah giving jer final voice-over that wraps things up nicely. She says she is finally able to face the future with hope because, as she says, “If a machine – a Terminator – can learn the value of human life, maybe we can too…” Cue music and roll credits! I get tingly just thinking about it. But in the director’s cut, the last scene was altogether different. Instead of the still uncertain but hopeful future, we get to see the picture of that future, and its totally disappointing! Apparently, its 2030 or so, Judgment Day came and went without incident, and Sarah is making another recording where she explains how she got drunk and celebrated the fact that it never came. Everyday thereafter was a gift (a line that would make it into T3). And now, she’s sitting on a park bench and watching John play with her grand daughter in that same old playground. The background shows LA of the future, a skyline that looks like something out of a bad sci-fi movie or a rerun of Star Trek (the original version). Oh, and apparently John is not the grizzled leader here, but a Congressman who fights the good fight on the floor’s of Congress.

Where do I begin? Well, for starters, this whole franchise was gritty and dark and never did more than it had to. So ending it with a scene that lays things on way too thick just seems inappropriate. There’s also the fact that its totally sappy! John becomes a peacenik Senator and everybody lived happily ever after? C’mon people! This is supposed to be a movie about post-apocalyptic nightmares and murderous machines! I can understand wanting to end it on a happy note after all the darkness and extended horror shows, but this was ridiculous! But luckily, this scene never made it in to the original. Clearly, someone felt that it would be better to let the movie end on the same note it had maintained throughout. Thus, they went with the highway ending which was best: succinct, serious, symbolic, yet still hopeful. And it wrapped up everything from the first and second movie nicely, with no wasted effort or needless screen time. Last thing you want after tying up all the loose ends is to drop a fresh load of crap on the audience! It brings the whole production down!

(Synopsis—>)
This time around, I think I’d like to start by mentioning what was weak about the film. For starters, the themes that were present in Aliens that had a way of making it into this movie too. The theme of redemption, be it between man and woman and man and machine, was present in both. As was the theme of the evil corporation working behind the scenes so it could get its hands on something dangerous, and in so doing, condemning people to death. It was only recently that I even noticed this, and it kind of brought the movie down in my estimation. However, I am hard-pressed to argue this point too finely. These themes worked too well for them to be considered weaknesses, in my estimation. It was good and fitting to see Sarah find common ground with her fellow man after so much time of being at odds with them. It was also cool and ironic that a Terminator was capable of learning the value of human life and was ultimately the greatest protector/father figure that John Conner would ever have.

And of course the action scenes that were re-hashed from the first movie. Like I said, one could take the position that this was somehow lazy or uncreative, but I’d be hard-pressed to argue that as well. Mostly, they felt like homages, inside references to stuff the audience already saw and would instantly recognize. Those are desirable in a movie, they are like punch lines that make the audience go “Ahaaaa!” And done properly, they are also amusing and entertaining. And they certainly were in this movie. Arny’s big one-liners, “Come with me if you want to live” and “I’ll be back” were both deliberate references to the first movie and they worked. The way they zoomed in on Arny’s face and that intense expression as he said the latter; everyone in the audience knew it was painfully significant!

As for the other weaknesses. These mainly took the form of the extended and deleted scenes. For the most part, they kinda sucked. The alternate ending, where Sarah and John are alive decades down the road and the world is peaceful. SUCKED! The scene where we see Dyson at home explaining his work to his wife, how he’s creating the basis for AI… that one was a tad obvious. We already get that his work is revolutionary and will pave the way towards machines that will be able to think and become self-aware. No need to come out and say it. The ones I mentioned, where they switch Arny’s CPU from read-only mode and John teaches Arny facial expressions, those were good and should have been included in my mind. There were also a few from the Foundry where we see the T1000 having some problems re-resolving after being frozen and shattered, which were also good. But of course, running-time is a factor and that’s why we have director’s cuts.

Last, but certainly not least, there’s that one big, possible plot hole in the movie. Essentially, we are told from the get-go that the machines have once again sent back a Terminator and the resistance has once again sent back a fighter of their own. Now didn’t Kyle Reese say in the first movie that they found the Terminator’s time machine when they trashed Skynet’s HQ and only one Terminator had gone in? Didn’t he also say that he was the only other one to go through and they destroyed the machine immediately thereafter? Well sure! So theoretically, John should have been safe from then on. All of this meant that the future would unfold as promised, Judgement Day would happen, and John Conner would grow up to lead the resistance to victory over the machines. There’s simply no way the machines would have known that they had failed, they don’t have a crystal ball that shows them the past or how alternate time lines are unfolding. So its not like they could just say, “Woop! We missed! Send another one!” The very act of sending Arny back was a desperate act, they’d just have to expect that however things were unfolding for them in the future was the direct result.

But, this can be explained away easily enough. For example, how could Kyle know for sure that they destroyed the time machine after he left? For all he knew, they found out that the machines had actually sent two Terminators back in time, one T101 Arny bot and one T1000 advanced prototype. The first one was sent to take out the mother, the second to take out John should the first one fail. The resistance could then say “Oh crap! We need to send another fighter of our own to deal with the second one too! Any ideas?” They looked around, saw another Arny bot, figured it would have a better shot of protecting John from a T1000, decided to reprogram it, and sent it on its merry way. THEN they destroyed the machine! Okay, that works, more or less. Only problem is… you can’t keep doing it! A third batch of Terminators would just make things stupid!

Okay, now the strengths! The movie’s action scenes were awesome! Cameron has shown again and again that he has an eye for making destruction, shoot-em-ups and car chases beautiful! Its little wonder then why he’s a renowned action director. His ideas tend to be old fashioned, but they work in the context of classic sci-fi and his directorial style brings a sense of grandeur and epicness to his work. And of course Arny, a man who embodies those traits, was well suited to what he had to offer. Not the best actor in the world, but he’s nothing if not grand and epic. And this time around, he went beyond those simple attributes to bring some heart and humanity to the Terminator, which is ultimately what makes him him. He’s Arny, the action hero with a heart of gold and a keen sense of humor!

T2 also had a very good plot. Aside from the one possible plot hole which I don’t think anyone cares about anyway, it was virtually seamless. The future that Reese knew and told Sarah about was the direct result of everything they did together in the past. The Terminators exist because the wreckage of the first one was found, John Conner exists because Reese and Sarah had sex, and so on. Kyle Reese told Sarah in the first that he was from the future, but that it was one possible future, maybe… He didn’t know. But alas, we do! It was all foretold thanks to a temporal paradox where the future influenced the past and vice versa. But this time around, they found the fulcrum of this would-be future and removed it. Anal retentive critics might say “Well, if they destroyed all of Cyberdyne’s research, wouldn’t that mean that Skynet would never exist?” Well, good point actually. Once Cyberdyne was destroyed, shouldn’t Arny and the T1000 just have disappeared? Ah, but they had that one covered! You see, as long as the T1000 and Arny were alive and in the past, there was still the chance that Skynet would be created. Hell, for all we knew, that was HOW it got created in the first place. So technically, the future could not be altered til both the T1000 and Arny were destroyed and there was no chance whatsoever that their wreckage would fall into the wrong hands… again!

Another thing worth mentioning was that this movie was made in 1991, a full seven years after the first movie and five after Aliens. In between, he did the Abyss in 1989, but that was it, and had already begun working on Aliens back in 84 when he was shooting The Terminator. So really, he and his people had years to work out the script for T2, and it really showed. I can remember seeing it when it first came out and being blown away, in part because it had such a big feel! This was the long-anticipated sequel to the first movie and just about everyone agreed that it was fun, cool, and awesomely good. Like I said, Cameron already had a reputation for being a sci-fi director after Aliens and T2 really cemented that for him. The use of cutting-edge special effects, the big-budget action scenes, the way the plot really came together; he really topped off the Terminator franchise big time with this movie. The only downside would be if someone got the bright idea to do a third movie. Worse yet, that they’d shoot it sometime after August 29th 1997, when Judgement Day was supposed to have happened! Why, then they’d have to come up with some contrived explanation for why it didn’t happen on schedule, or why the Terminators were still being sent back in time! And that would be just downright nutty…

Terminator 2:
Entertainment Value: 9/10!
Plot: 8/10
Direction: 8/10
Total: 8.5/10

… and Aliens

Hello, and welcome back to talk about all things Alien! As I talked about, at length, in my last post, Alien is a sci-fi classic that was both novel and original, not to mention faithful in it’s execution. Then, years later, the studio that brought us the original came back, this time with a bigger budget and a new director, a man who would make his name directing big-budget action flicks and blockbusters. I am of course referring to James Cameron. And with the added s in the title, we were given a preview of what was to come. Maybe not specifics, but anyone looking at the titles could probably tell that in the second, the ante was being upped! And it certainly was. In this movie, as was hoped, we got a dose of action, plenty of awesome sets and characters, and of course, some much needed explanations about the alien species.

(Background—>)
According to many sources, Cameron was the one who approached 20th Century Fox and producer David Giller and asked if he could direct a sequel to the movie. In addition, it was while working on The Terminator that he hammered out the initial script to the movie, and impressed the studio to the point that they willing to foot the bill. Choosing not to follow the lead of the first, he decided that the sequel would be a combat action film that focused “more on terror, less on horror”. In other words, this movie would have more shooting, more explosions, all the fear and suspense, but less gore. And of course, it would also have to illustrate the relationship between the two alien species, the spidery-parasite on the one hand and the hunter-seeker on the other! Strong hints were dropped in the first movie as to how these creatures bred and propagated. Remember the fields of eggs? Yeah, well… something was going to have to be done about that, and I think we all knew that it wouldn’t be pretty. It might be fair to say that the original trailer said it best: “Aliens. This time… it’s war!”

(Content—>)
Picking up where the first left off, the movie opens with Ripley’s ship coming back to Earth after being adrift for over fifty years. The opening sequence, where not a line of dialogue is spoken for several minutes, sets the tone of the movie quite well. Its eery, cold, and kind of suspenseful. There’s also the opening nightmare sequence to remind everyone of what happened last time, and illustrates how Ripley is haunted by the memory of it. Anyway, once she’s up and around, she learns that much has changed since her departure. The big, bad folks at Weyland-Yutani – the ones who screwed her over before, remember? – are still in charge. And now that she’s awake, they’re looking for answers! For example, why did she blow up their multimillion dollar ship, what happened to her crew, and whats all this business about an alien? As their is no physical evidence to corroborate her story, and no recorded instance of this alien being encountered anywhere else, they aren’t inclined to believe her. But in the midst of this strained testimony, she tries to warn them, especially since the derelict ship her crew encountered was full of eggs and the planet they set down has now been colonized! If just one of those things gets loose, she warns, it’ll make what happened to her crew look like a Sunday picnic!

But of course, they don’t listen, she is blackballed and spends the next little while languishing as she tries to find a new job and continues to have nightmares of her encounter. But then, wouldn’t you know it, the company comes calling! Enter their douchey, but seemingly nice corporate laison officer, named Burke (played by Paul Reiser), and the prickish Colonial Marine, Lt. Goreman. Contact with the colony has been lost, and wouldn’t you know it, the company higher-ups think it might have something to do with that alien ship she mentioned. And since she had first-hand experience dealing with the things, the company has decided to let her ride shotgun and offered to reinstate her. She initially refuses, but after another sleepless night of nightmares, she begins to think Burke might be right, that she should go back and face her demon. She agrees, but only on the condition that they are going back to kill it, not capture it for research. The cat, however, is staying behind (no really, what was the purpose of that cat?)

Cut to the Marine vessel establishing orbit around the planet. Ripley and her Marine cohorts are waking up, as is the douchey Burke, and Bishop, the ship’s android (played by Lance Henriksen). After discovering he’s an android, Ripley flips out just a little, since the last time she had a run in with an “artificial human”, it tried to kill her. She then attends the Marine briefing and gives them the low down on everything she knows, but the salty Marines don’t seem too shaken, especially the bad-ass Latina named Vazquez (Jenette Goldstein). Now already this movie has dropped a few hints as to whats to come. We’re pretty sure Burke is going to screw her over, that the aliens are likely to kick their asses, that Hudson (Bill Paxton) is going to be a whiny little bitch, and that Bishop is going to save her (or something) and gain her trust. Yes, unlike Scott, Cameron was a bit conventional. But the funny thing is, back then (as opposed to with Titanic and everything after) it worked for him. He knew how to appeal to an audience without going for the cheap payout. And besides, the movie’s given us plenty to be excited about up until this point, and even a few really kick-ass lines. “Is this going to be a standup fight, sir, or another bug hunt?” “I only wanna know one thing. Where-they-are!” “We’re on an express elevator to hell; going down!” Cue drop sequence!

The scenes that follow are infinitely re-watchable. The Marines drop into the colony, take to the main building and begin sweeping it from room to room. They find no one, but there are obvious signs of a fight. The tension is palatable as they stalk the corridors with their cool weapons and kit, their motion detectors making that eerie beeping noise. Everyone’s literally on the edge of their seat waiting to see what jumps out at them. However, what they find instead is a survivor – a little girl no less – named Newt (Carrie Henn). Apparently, she’s the only one who made it through the alien onslaught, and when she gets to talking, she’s got some cryptic words for them. “These people are here to protect you. They’re soldiers,” says Ripley. “It won’t make any difference,” replies the freaked out Newt. Then, by the one hour mark, we get our first combat scene! After finding the colonists by homing in on their beacons, the Marines go to their location in the neighboring atmospheric generator (Apparently, everybody in the company has these things implanted in them. A bit Big Brothery, you might say, but they sure are handy in the event of an alien abduction!)

As for the action sequence itself, I can honestly that it – and everything leading up to it – is timelessly awesome, made especially so by a number of factors. For one, it takes advantage of all the tension the movie has built up until this point. Second, the scene when the Marines catch a first glimpse of the remodeling the aliens have done. Wow! I mean, the way it was shot, how we see it from the point of view of Ripley and the others who are watching via remote camera, and then from up close, the scary music cutting in for the first time! Not to mention the dialogue that manages to punctuate the moment perfectly. “What is that?” asks the Lt. “You tell me man, I just work here!” says Hudson. Then we get an up close look at the nightmarish, twisted decorations they’ve lined the walls with. Holy Lovecraft, Batman! And last, but not least, there’s the added worry when they realize that they cannot fire their heavy weapons inside the place because they are right beneath the buildings thermonuclear reactor. If they fire, they risk rupturing the cooling tanks, yadda yadda yadda, big explosion! You might think this is a bit contrived, but whatever man, it works! Put it all together, and you got one scary, nerve-wracking scene. And I don’t think there was anyone who didn’t jump out of their seats when that woman hanging from the wall suddenly opened her eyes!

Okay, so then comes the intense fight scene where most of the Marines get killed, they pull back and Ripley finds herself saving the day. After returning to their base to discuss options, they decide to lift off and nuke the facility from orbit. Here we get two previews of whats to come, the first being that Ripley will slay her demons and kiss some ass, and that Burke will betray them. It seems obvious at this point that he wants to bring some of these creatures back, considering the way he’s changed his tune. At the beginning he was giving his word they’d wiped out, now he’s saying that no one has the right to arbitrarily exterminate them. Yeah, way to feign humanitarian concern, asshole! “Watch us,” is about all the Marines have to say in response. But of course, the plan fails when the dropship crashes and goes down in a fiery ball. Seems the little buggers found it while the Marines were out getting their butts kicked and got on board. With their dust-off ship destroyed – cue Hudson’s whiney one-liner (“Game over man!”) – they have no choice but to go to ground and wait for a rescue. And as Newt points out, they better do it soon, because as we see on the far horizon, the sun is setting. And as she says: “They mostly come at night. Mostly…” Woooooo! And so they seal themselves in to their HQ, cover the approaches with remote guns, and wait…

I should make a quick mention of the additional scene that’s included in the Director’s Cut. When I saw the movie on TV as a child, the scene with the remote guns and the aliens trying to find their way in was included. But on video, it was nowhere to be found. Luckily, this scene made it into the Director’s Cut, and its definitely worth while. However, if you’re not watching the DC, this scene doesn’t happen and instead we’ve got the scenes of Ripley, Bishop, Newt and Burke held up in the main building and fortifying their position. Though I prefer the version where the added action sequence made it in, I should say that the movie is still well paced without it, mixing expository dialogue with a lot of strung out talk about how they are going to survive for the night. You can feel the anxiety and desperation, but also the resolve, Ripley having come into her own at this point, her frostiness and fear turned to gridiron, ass-kicking determination. It also becomes pretty clear that she’s formed an attachment to Newt and doesn’t want anything to happen to her. In the DC, there’s a scene that helps explain this at the beginning, how she had a daughter who died while she was adrift in space. Call it transference, but it works! Her attachment, like her resolve, seems downright genuine.

Speaking of exposition, we then get to the part where Burke’s betrayal manifests. Basically, he attempts to infect Ripley and Newt while they are sleeping by letting two of the parasite specimens loose in their room. We already know Burke is a liar and a cheat, thanks not only to his “we don’t want to wipe these creatures out scene”, but also because prior to this, Bishop admits that Burke ordered him to pack some specimens up for transport (seems the colonists took some of the spider’s intact, one that was still alive even). After looking into this, Ripley discovers that Burke was the one who gave the order to send the colonists out to investigate the derelict alien craft. Again, there’s a scene in the DC showing this early on in the movie. But in the original, it is established through dialogue alone (I think I prefer the latter in this case. Sometimes, less is more, even though it means you don’t get to see the alien ship in the second movie). So basically, we are told that Burke is responsible for the situation in the colony. He then tries to buy Ripley’s silence by promising her a share of the money he’s going to make by bringing them back alive, but she tells him to sit on it and rotate! The betrayal seems inevitable at this point, but alas, it fails as both Ripley’s quick thinking and the timely intervention of the Marines sends the parasites to hell! Afterwards, they are deciding what to with Burke, when wham! Darkness! The creatures are coming, and they cut the power…

Bring on action sequence number two! The aliens have managed to bypass their defenses this time and are coming straight for the HQ! Get to the chopper! Hehe, always wanted to say that. So they’ve managed to get a dropship to come down on remote at this point, thanks to Bishop, but in the course of the action, Newt is taken alive! Ripley and Hudson are the only others to survive the attack, the other Marines having died selflessly and Burke dying like the pig he is! Unfortunately, Hudson was seriously burned in the last encounter, leaving Ripley alone to do what she’s gotta do! Namely, go rescue Newt. Strapping into a shitload of artillery, a moment has that lived on in cinematic history as pure gold, Ripley heads straight into the den of the beast. Finding her just in time before a parasite could infect her, we get to the movie’s climax. While holding Newt in her arms, one gun aimed forward, Ripley comes face to face with a field of eggs… She then looks up, and sees the Queen. Her existence is already hinted at during an earlier expository scene, the one that precedes Ripley confronting Burke. But now, we see her up close for the first time! What a perfect metaphor huh? One mother confronting another, the one rescuing her young, the other standing guard over her eggs. The latter is even willing to let Ripley live in order to keep her from blasting them, but wouldn’t you know it, Ripley does it anyway! Screw you, aliens! After blasting the whole field with her flamethrower, she fires several grenades and then hightails it out. And the mother alien, wounded but pissed, breaks free and follows her. It also seems this mother is a lot smarter than her children, for she manages to work the same elevator Ripley used to escape and follow her to the roof. Cornered, Ripley grabs hold of Newt and prepares to die at the Queen’s hands, but she narrowly gets out when Bishop comes to their rescue! Thus we see the android confounding her expectations and proving his worth! Echoes of Blade Runner here…

But wouldn’t you know it, there’s a final action scene, drawing its inspiration from the first movie where the alien snuck aboard Ripley’s escape craft and had to be blasted out the airlock. Ripley does the same here, but not before getting into a mechanized cargo loader and fighting the Queen in hand to hand combat! Sheerly awesome, if just a little bit cheesy! I tell ya, final fight scenes can easily go wrong, but this movie made it work (unlike Lucas who forced us to endure that lightsaber fight between Yoda and Dooku!) The whole thing is punctuated perfectly by one line: “Get away from her, you BITCH!” The whole dueling mothers thing is elevated to true visual art here. The movie then ends with Bishop, eviscerated but alive, telling Ripley she did good, and with Ripley telling Newt they’ll sleep all the way home. And were it not for one inadvisable sequel, they would have done just that! But more on that later…

(Synopsis—>)
You know, looking back on this review, I realize one thing about this movie. It’s got a LOT going on. Many a time I tried to skim past things, but couldn’t because they were just too relevant. And even then, I find that I minimized some things or left them out entirely. Bishop’s performance, for example, which contrasts starkly with Ash’s from the first movie. Whereas the former tried to kill Ripley and was an unfeeling automaton, the latter was genuinely empathic and saved her life (the incorporation of Asimov’s “first rules of robotics” was also a nice touch!). The mention of the name Hyderdine Systems (the androids’ manufacturer) was clearly a shout out to Cameron’s recently-released movie, The Terminator, where Cyberdine Systems was the company responsible for manufacturing the Terminator robots. And then there was the quasi-romance that took place between Hicks (Michael Beihn, also from Terminator fame) had with Ripley. Though nothing romantic ever materializes, you get the feeling that their relationship served as a sort of redemption, not between man and machine, but between men and women. All throughout the movie, Ripley is ignored and dismissed by male colleagues, but this one man listens to her and swears he will protect her. She, in turn, saves his bacon and goes on without him when it comes time for her to save Newt (her surrogate daughter) and confronting the Queen (the enemy’s mother).

Yep, this movie has lots going on, far more than just some kick-ass action sequences. But the funny thing is, you don’t realize it. The plot, pacing and tone wrap all the content up quite succinctly; at no point do you feel bored or overwhelmed. If I were reaching for something bad to say about it, I might try the flip-flop that happens with Burke. Initially, he seems like a nice guy, gives Ripley his word that the company doesn’t have ulterior motives, and then pulls the double-cross. But then again, that’s what you’d expect from the guy, isn’t it? From the beginning he’s oozing an evil sort of charm, you expect him to lie! And then there was the bit about them realizing, 11th hour like, that they can’t use their guns in the aliens lair. You might think they would have thought of that sooner, but then again, it really does seem like something that wouldn’t occur to them in the thick of their pursuit. The way they figure it out before any firing actually takes place actually seemed timely and believable to me. And yes, the somewhat predictable elements I mentioned. Are they predictable because they’re obvious, or because they work? I’d be inclined to go with the latter.

And of course, there was all the stuff it did deliver on. Awesome action sequences, lots of cool gear and sets, Ripley coming full circle, and of course, the full nature of the alien species being divulged. And let’s not forget about the theme of dueling mothers! This movie was downright original in that respect, its action sequences becoming staples of the industry that have often been imitated. Sigourney Weaver herself become an icon thanks to this movie, her gun-toting, mec fighting scenes something that have been imitated many times over! And once again, literary critics and philosophers found lots to praise, all those maternal themes and the conflict between machines and human and men and women mentioned earlier. Overall, the movie was not original in quite the same way that the first movie was. But still, it captures the same key themes and expanded on them quite well. The hostile species, the terror, the evil corporation that wants to possess it, all the while adding in original ideas of its own. Different but comparable, seeking what the original sought without following in quite the same footsteps. Aliens: damn good movie, awesome sequel!

Aliens:
Entertainment Value: 9/10 Hoora!
Plot: 9/10
Direction: 9/10
Total: 9/10 (Pained as I am that this movie has gotten higher marks than the original, the numbers just add that way! Fans of the original, please don’t hate me!)