Monday, January 31, 2011

Star Trek: The Next Generation - ''Loud as a Whisper''

Spoiler Level: High

Next Gen's stories continued to improve with this gem.  The Enterprise escorts peace negotiator Riva to a world that has been fighting amongst itself for 1500 years.  Riva is deaf, and communicates by using a Chorus, a group of people who are in tune with him and can convey his thoughts.

According to Larry Nemecek's Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion, this episode was specifically written for Howie Saego, the actor who plays Riva, after he met with Next Gen's producers.  The originally draft called for Riva to learn to speak, and Saego helped to set them straight that deaf people weren't looking to be "cured" [emphasis mine].  The new ending, with Riva planning to teach the different factions sign language so they would all have something in common, is much better and much more fitting of Star Trek.  The scene between Geordi and Riva, where they discuss that they enjoy being who they are and they way they were born, is touching one.  It's underscored more later when Pulaski offers Geordi the opportunity to have his eyes regenerated and see normally.  While he doesn't flat out refuse, he doesn't jump at the idea either;  he likes the benefits of his VISOR and doesn't necessarily want to be like everyone else.  It's something that I think resonates with anyone who feels like they were born "different."  At times it can cause you pain, but you wouldn't want to change who you are.

Riva's choir is a very cool concept; one voice speaks for his scholarly mind, one speaks for his passionate feelings, and one speaks for all other matters. Cool idea, but man, what a giveaway for when you're attracted to someone.  You can't play it down when your passion literally has its own voice. Thank God I don't have that, I'd probably get into more trouble just trying to say hello than Captain Jack.  And while Deanna respects Riva, it's obvious that Riva only talking to her through his Passion choir member makes her a little uncomfortable as well.  Not to mention Mr. Passion being a part of the wooing process.  Ah yes, a romantic dinner together... just you, me and this other guy who's going to actually say all the romantic things I'm thinking to you.  I think it would have struck me as less creepy if Riva and Mr. Passion were both attracted to her and hitting on her together; as it is, he's mostly treated like a non-person, and that inability to get into the translator's head is what makes it feel uncomfortable to me.  But hey, maybe I'm just being a prejudiced 21st Century human.

This is also the first episode this season where we get off the ship and see a planet.  Granted, we're not exploring it, but at least we're finally off the ship.  It's also Next Gen's best looking planet to date, with what I assume is a very well done matte painting.

There's also a good wind blowing the clouds and the people's clothes around, which this screen capture can't really... well... capture.

Lastly, Riva is said to have "negotiated several treaties between the Klingons and the Federation.  Before him, there was no Klingon word for 'peace-maker.'"  Which is very interesting, and of course never followed up on again.  At the time this was the first clue we got as to how the Federation and the Klingons became allies.  Of course we now know the Khitomer Accords from Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country were the start of that alliance, and unless he ages reeeeeeaaaallly slow, there's no way Riva could have been a part of that.  But we also now know that if it hadn't been for the Enterprise-C sacrificing herself to defend the Klingon outpost on Narendra III relations between the two would have broken down and led to war.  So I guess it's possible to say that the Khitomer Accords led to a cease of hostilities, and it wasn't until Riva came along that they actually made peace and became allies.

Or, y'know, it might just be all inconsistent make believe.  ;)

Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Cape - ''Scales''

Spoiler Level: High

Bit of a mixed bag this episode.  I thought the elements with the Carnival of Crime going back to actually being a Carnival of Crime were good, and wish there had actually been more of that part of the story.  But I tend to find them to be some of the more interesting characters in the show in general.  I had felt Max's one-eighty degree transition from hardened criminal to super hero mentor was a bit too extreme, and between last episode and this episode it feels more believable that he hasn't completely gone straight.

The main story itself was pretty good; The Cape hoping to drive a wedge between Chess and Scales, in the hope that Scales will expose Chess and clear The Cape's name.  It's a good plan, but if it worked that well the storyline would be over already, so of course it's not that easy.

Which makes me wonder:  if this show lasts long enough, will they have Chess be defeated at the end of the season and then introduce a new villain next year?  Or will they fall into the Heroes trap of feeling you have to always use the same villain?  I hope not-- with only 4 episodes under their belt, they've already built up a good rogue's gallery for The Cape.  I think they could let this story arc with Chess play out, and then next season pick Scales or Greggor the Great to move into the spotlight as the main villain.  Hopefully they'll learn from Heroes' mistakes.

Now for the bad:  I'm pretty easy going when it comes to bad special effects, but wow that fight on the top of the train was pretty poorly green-screened.  And having the ARK Cop that ticked off Scales at the beginning of the episode wind up being unconscious in the caboose with him at the end just felt forced.  Did we even see that there was a cop in there to begin with at all?  I certainly don't remember it.

And lastly, apparently the original title for this episode was "Scales on a Train," which is a bazillion times cooler than just "Scales."  So y'know, minus several points for missing out on a great opportunity there.

So all in all, I'd give this episode a 7.5 out of 10.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Surrogates

Spoiler Level: Medium

Very, very cool.  I love stories that are willing to shake up the entire world.  In this film set 14 years in the future, android bodies are created that can be mentally controlled by an operator.  These "Surrogate" bodies were originally designed to help people with disabilities, but the technology soon spreads to the military, who loves the idea of sending soldiers into war without endangering the actual soldiers.  From there it spreads like wildfire to the general populace, to the point where 98% of the world's population are using them.  Why endanger yourself in the world?  Stay home, stay plugged in, stay safe, and still experience everything the world has to offer through your Surrogate.  The remaining 2% of the population who don't want to use Surrogates are now living on reservations.

It's a fascinating concept, and while the film is mostly an action film, it has the mystery that most good science fiction stories have and is peppered throughout with decent dashes of social commentary.  War has become nothing more than a VR game.  And while it's never stated outright, the implication is made that the government isn't hesitant to resort to military force anymore because lives are never in danger.  To take that to its logical extension, there's probably very little interest in ending any war that the country has gotten into.

Also, the humans-only reservation is very poor, which led me to wonder, are they poor because they've abandoned the outside world when it turned to Surrogates, or are Surrogates something the poor simply couldn't afford?  Again, this subject is never broached at all, but what we see gives me clues and makes me wonder.

The film does a good job of asking what makes us human, as Bruce Willis's character Tom Greer finds himself forced farther and farther outside life as he knew it in his Surrogate.  Humans are instantly recognized on the street, because they look imperfect.  The cities are full of nothing but young, perfect, attractive people.  And the more Greer finds himself having to experience the world in his own imperfect body, the more he comes to appreciate it, both good and bad, and the more he comes to resent not being able to connect with anyone else except through their Surrogates.  It's no wonder the remaining non-Surrogate users have banded together.

The ending is typically Hollywood, but the span of 14 years that the Surrogate program lasted leaves room for lots of these concepts to be explored in more depth.  This is a concept that would make for a great series, where the questions this movie raises could take the time to explore the possible answers in much greater detail.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Star Wars: The Clone Wars - ''Witches of the Mist''

Spoiler Level: Very High

See, now this is why the Sith set up the Rule of Two in the first place.  You get more than two Sith, and they all start turning on each other.

I'm actually surprised that neither Ventress nor Savage were killed in this episode.  Dooku is bulletproof of course, as he can't die until Revenge of the Sith. But Ventress is only bullet proof if this series is determined to stay consistent with the comics, and I think it's safe to say it isn't.  The only problem there would be if they killed her off here was Lucasfilm would have to come up with another explanation how she survived / returned from the dead to make the comics fit.

And speaking of returning from the dead... Savage's long-lost brother hiding in the outer rim is Darth Maul?  Really?  I know bacta tanks are good, but they can heal a guy who's been cut in half?  Well, we're at least meant to think he's Darth Maul... we'll see.  This is the Clone Wars, after all.

Kudos to the makers of the episode for acknowledging the whole Iridonia / Dathomir thing in the dialogue.  Still haven't referred to Savage's species as Zabraks that I've noticed, but at least they've addressed the discrepancy up front, which reassures me that they are paying some attention to this whole Expanded Universe they've built.

I also loved that the Toydarian ship that Anakin and Obi-Wan appropriated had it's entry hatch a good ten feet up in the air!  It makes sense for a species that flies around.  It's little touches like that that make me really love this series.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Star Trek: Myriad Universes - Shattered Light by David R. George III, Steve Mollman & Michael Shuster, Scott Pearson

Spoiler Level: Medium-ish

I love the Myriad Universes books.  I love alternate timelines and divergent histories; for a while, "What If?" was the only Marvel comic I was reading.  And as ashamed as I am to admit to this, reading this book right after Jack McDevitt's excellent Time Travellers Never Die has driven home to me how much  more I know of the history of the Star Trek universe than I do of real history!  There's got to be a special geek hall of shame for that somewhere.  At any rate, Shattered Light is a trade papeback that offers up three more juicy morsels of alternate Star Trek timelines...

The Embrace of the Cold Architects by David R. George III - This one is promoted on the back cover as being "What if Riker had succeeded in killing Locutus of Borg?" but that's really a misdirect.  the changed outcome of Riker's attack from the cliffhanger of "Best of Both Worlds" in this one is actually an effect and not a cause-- the real divergent point is, "What if Lal survived?"  The cybernetic conference Data attended in "The Offspring" was delayed a few months due to weather conditions.  So Data didn't start constructing Lal until right before "Best of Both Worlds," and her presence changes the course of events.  From there history starts unfolding in two very different directions, both for the Federation due to Captain Riker making different decision than Picard made during the events of the fourth season, and for Data because of the impact that Lal's survival means for the future of sentient androids.  It's a compelling story that has Starfleet going to extremes you wouldn't think they would do-- except it's all grounded in the very things they tried to do on the actual show itself.  It ends in a very logical spot for the story, but could easily be continued and expanded into a full length novel and cover years more.

The Tears of Eridanus by Steve Mollmann & Michael Schuster - "What if there had been no Surak?"  This one is a story of the 23rd century starship Kumari, flagship of the Andorian-dominant Interstellar Guard, and commanded by Hikaru Sulu.  Sulu's daughter Demora is stationed on an obscure planet full of pointy-eared savages who have been fighting each other for over 12,000 years, and can't even decide on a name for their own planet... 40 Eridani A-II, T'Khasi, Minshara or Vulcan.  When they attack Demora's outpost, Sulu takes the Kumari to try and rescue her, and we learn about how Surak not being there has changed the shape of the entire quadrant.

With no Surak, there were no reforms-- with no reforms, not only did the Vulcans never turn to logic and instead nuked themselves back to the stone age, but also the splinter group of Vulcans never left, so there are no Romulans.  With no Romulans, there's no third major power to keep the Klingons in check, so they're now closing in on the Interstellar Union.

Who's the Interstellar Union? Well if there's no Surak, then the Vulcans never developed warp drive, so Earth's first contact couldn't be with Vulcan-- it was now with Andor.  With no Vulcans, there were no hostilities between Vulcan and Andor for Earth to mediate, to result in an Earth-centric Federation-- so instead Andor becomes the leading force in their corner of the quadrant.  Therefore, instead of Starfleet continuing on to become part of the Federation, the Andorian Imperial Guard instead continues on to become the Interstellar Guard, and part of the Interstellar Union.

So in that sense, it's a great "two-fer" for "what if" stories... not only do we get to see what Vulcan would be like if they never turned to logic, we get to see what Star Trek would be like if Earth wasn't in charge of everything.  For anyone who's ever complained that Star Trek is too human-centric, this novel is for you.  It's totally Andorian-centric in the exact same ways.  Humans contribute, of course, but Sulu is one of the few humans on his ship.  It's great fun to see all the differences, some in large and others in subtle ways.  My personal favorite was one of the Andorian officers referring to the Vulcans as "a fairly typical andorianoid species, with similar deviations to the norm as humans."

And of course at the heart of it all is Hikaru and Demora Sulu, making this is another father-daughter story.

Honor in the Night by Scott Pearson - "What if the Tribbles weren't any trouble?"  There's an explosion in the landing bay of Deep Space Station K-7, caused by a newly arrived merchant ship.  The only casualties are one deck officer, the ship's captain Cyrano Jones, and his cargo of Tribbles.  Without the Tribbles to find the poisoned quatrotraticale, the Klingons succeed in sabotaging the colonization of Sherman's Planet, which changes the life of Niles Barris.  From there he goes to toe-to-toe with the Klingons as often as he can, becomes President of the Federation, and succeeds in bringing peace between the Federation and the Klingon Empire years earlier.  So why are his dying words "Arne Darvin"?

Like The Tears of Eridanus, This novel shows how one small change in history can change the entire shape of politics throughout the quadrant.  However, where Tears of Eridanus is more of an action story, Honor in the Night is more straight-forward politics and mystery.  The story uses a framing method of a Federation News Service reporter who is simply doing a tribute article on President Niles Baris after he's died, and ends up discovering a lot more than she wanted to know.  This method of storytelling gets confusing at times, as we get flashbacks inside flashbacks inside flashforwards inside... sometimes you really have to work to figure out what point in the timeline you're at.  But it pretty much has to be told this way, as each flashback (or flash-forward) reveals another clue, like layers of an onion being peeled away until we finally learn the truth.

I had been under the impression that Shattered Light was going to be a collection of short stories, although I may have just assumed that since that's how the third Mirror Universe trade paperback was handled.  Instead, this volume contains three novels, just like the previous volumes.  Part of me is disappointed, as I was really looking forward to so many other ideas in one book; but since each story here left me wanting to see more, this may be a format that's just too big to be contained by short stories.  Whatever the case,  I loved this volume just as much as the previous two, and I hope there's more.  I don't care if they're short stories, trade paperbacks of novels or stand-alone novels, it's a concept that never gets old.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Batman: Gotham Knight

Spoiler Level: Medium

A very dark yet very enjoyable anthology of short stories about Batman, all done in the vein of the Christopher Nolan Batman movies.

The animation is done by different anime studios, and while each one is done in a different style often with different looks, the changes never feel jarring.  And with this being anime, it truly is an OVA!

My favorite short is probably the first one, where four skaters exchange stories of the encounter they've just had with Batman, and each one sees him as something totally different;  a supernatural shadow, a living man bat, or a high tech mecha warrior.

While each short is self contained, there are small connections between them, which is part of what makes it fun.  It has some truly gory scenes, which isn't so fun, but drives home how terrifying a place Gotham is and what Bruce Wayne has been through.

So all in all, not my favorite DCU OVA, but still enjoyable.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

K9 - ''Oroborus''

Spoiler Level: High

Another episode in the plus column.  Not great, but not bad, and definitely enjoyable.

Everyone is experiencing time distortions.  Once the distortions have passed, the people affected by them have lost a small bit of time.   K9 can tell the distortions are happening, but since he's being affecting by them as well he can't figure out the details of why they're happening.  Starkey seems to be the only one who can remember the missing segments of time. Professor Gryffen discovers it's because he's received alien immunizations, something only done by a controversial married scientist couple who disappeared years ago. They discover the culprit to the time distortions is an Oroborus, a snake that can eat time itself.

It's nice to get some clues to Starkey's past.  Darius is his usual antagonistic self, but doesn't come across as a jerk this time.  K9 doesn't get to save the day this time, but instead plays a great role as Starkey's friend and confidant, which makes him more endearing. (Although I hope he doesn't make laughing a regular thing; it doesn't really work on him.)

K9's score to date: 7 wins, 4 losses.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Star Trek: The Next Generation - ''The Outrageous Okona''

Spoiler Level: High

The Enterprise encounters Okona, a vagabond whose ship has broken down.  While Geordi helps him repair his ship, he charms up the Enterprise crew, especially Transporter Chief J. G. Robinson (played by Teri Hatcher).

It's another fun character episode.  Data's failure to understand any of Okona's jokes leads him to experiment with concept of humor.  Luckily he goes to Guinan and not Pulaski.  While Guinan may be a little rough on him, it's always done with a smile and a sympathetic tone.  Watching Data try to learn humor is actually a little sad this time around; since I know he's not going to get it until he has his emotion chip installed in Generations, I know he's doomed to fail.  The first time around there was the hope that he would make a breakthrough.  Still, he closes out with the great line, "Take my Worf... please," which got a genuine laugh from me both times I saw it, so there is at least a little breakthrough there.

It's not long before trouble shows up looking for Okona; one ship with an irate father of a pregnant young girl, and another ship with an irate father of a young man who befriended Okona and now one of their family jewels is missing.  It's not too hard to connect the dots; The two young kids are obviously starcrossed lovers, and Okona was helping them out.  But the predictability of the main plot doesn't detract from its charm, and again, I think it's because of the strength of the performances of Okona and Picard.

I'm actually disappointed that the show never used Okona after this.  I kept hoping he'd show up again because he's a really fun character, but alas, this is his only appearance.

I also find it somewhat amusing that although this episode has a strong guest appearance lead in Okona and a big name guest-star (at the time at least) like Joe Piscopo, the guest appearance everyone remembers this episode for is then-unknown Teri Hatcher!  It just goes to show, you never can tell what people will remember you for.


UPDATE: While doing a IMDB search on Jeffrey Combs, I discovered that William O. Campbell, who played Okona, is the same Bill Campbell who played Jordan Collier in The 4400!  Wow!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Cape - "Kozmo"

Spoiler Level: High

The back story gets expanded this week as we learn the origin of The Cape's cape.  I had assumed it was just a trick cape for the circus acts; but no, it's actually the cape of Kozmo the Unkillable, a villain who used it for his own nefarious means and passed it on to his successor, who would then take on the role of Kozmo in a cycle that has lasted for generations.  Max had been the latest Kozmo and was training someone else to take over for him; but when he saw just how dark his apprentice was, he sold him out and decided to put Kozmo to rest.  Once Faraday came along, he saw the chance for the cape to be used for something better.  But now Max's apprentice is back, and he wants the cape back as well.

It fits in nicely with what I remember of the pilot episode, and gives Max a little more depth.  And Orwell finally meets up with the rest of the Carnival, so it's nice to see that progressing along.

And then there's the extra digging into Chess's past; the revelation that he has a lost daughter, and the implication that she's Orwell.  This actually comfirms suspicions I started to have last episode.  I usually make a few screen captures before I decided on which one I'm going to use here, and last week's effect of Chess's holographic chess board was pretty cool, so I did a few screen captures of that scene, and I noticed this:


See that picture in the lower right hand corner of him with a little girl?  I didn't catch it when I actually watched the episode.  So I saw it here and thought, "Hmm, he has a daughter... that'll probably become important.  Oh wait a minute, I bet that's what Orwell's all about!"  So it was neat to have been given this hint and then have it pretty much confirmed in the next episode.

I also liked that Faraday's wife is starting to piece together how he was framed.  That's got the potential for something good.

The episode did feel like it had a few holes in it from time to time, but nothing bad enough for me to quibble about.  Overall, The Cape continues to entertain.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Star Wars: The Clone Wars - "Monster"

Spoiler Level: High

I'm going to review this episode in two ways:  First, on its own merits as a stand-alone episode in a stand-alone TV series based on six movies; and secondly, in a sort of silly high-pitched whine as a nit-picky fanboy who has spent a good deal of time in the "Expanded Universe."

This episode continues the story arc of Count Dooku and the Nightsisters of Dathomir, as Dooku comes to them for a new replacement.  They direct him towards the tribe of men on the other side of the planet, saying this is where Darth Maul came from, and that they can provide him with another assassin of Maul's proficiency.  It's all part of a trap, of course; the Nightsisters of Dathomir are still out for revenge against Dooku for betraying Ventress, so they send Ventress to bring back this replacement.  So we see a tribe full of Nightbrothers, aliens all the same species as Darth Maul, some red but most of them yellowish-orange.  There are absolutely no women there, so the implication is they've split their species in half.  The Nightbrothers are aggressive but honorable, and totally ruled by the Nightsisters.  As Ventress tries to weed out which one is strongest, we meet Savage (pronounced "Sah-VAHGE") Opress, who is ultimately chosen.  He's tough, an excellent fighter, yet he also cares for his brother.  It's easy to see how Darth Maul could have come from a place like this, and it all fits quite nicely with what we've seen before.  It's also heartbreaking to watch the Nightsisters wring all his compassion out of him to turn him into a true monster, ready to be handed over to Count Dooku.

Now, the show works fine if you stop there.  But this is Star Wars-- we can never just stop there. See, according to the Star Wars: Legacy comics, the tribal tattoos are a Sith thing, not a Zabrak thing.  Oh, and I suppose Nightbrothers can cover multiple species, but Maul was always said to have been a Zabrak, and that the Zabraks come from Iridonia.

 Ahh, but never fear, it's the starwars.com episode guide to the rescue!  Zabraks have colonized lots of planets.  Okay, I'll buy that.  Many artists and writers have assumed that Maul's tattoos were Sith, but they're actually more of a warrior thing.  Hmm.  Okay, I suppose that'll fit. But... well...

...I think it's become pretty obvious that the makers of the show are simply trying to make a good show based on what they know-- the six Star Wars movies.  The writers don't necessarily have links to wookieepedia fused into their word processors, and they're probably working under production deadlines or something inexcusable like that.

Which would also be fine if, y'know, Star Wars treated its properties like everyone else treats theirs-- film trumps print.  But no, in Star Wars, it ALL has to be canon.  So what appears to be happening is after the episode is completed, its thrown to the starwars.com staff, who then get the apologist work of trying to find ways to make it all fit together.

Really, it's absolutely no plastic off of my nose (as 2-XL used to say) if Darth Maul got his tattoos as a Nightbrother warrior, in a Sith ritual, or if he just went out on a drinking binge on Coruscant one night and woke the next morning going "what the--?!?" And while I admire Lucas's staff trying so hard to come up with reasons why it all still works together, the bigger the Star Wars universe gets the harder it's going to be to keep doing this.  I enjoy reading the episode guide for inside views on points I didn't catch and such, but I really think they're making it harder on themselves by not simply declaring that only the films are canon and everything else is just for fun.

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Green Hornet

Spoiler Level: High

Okay, my usual disclaimer... once again, I'm not familiar with any of the source material.  I've never heard the radio show, I've never read any Green Hornet comics, and I've only seen clips of the TV series.  So I can really only evaluate this movie on how well it works completely on its own.

In that regard: pretty good.  Not great, but definitely enjoyable.  There are buddy comedies out there, and buddy action movies, and this is most definitely a buddy comedy action film.  It is not a super hero movie with witty moments; it's definitely a comedy from start to finish.  It's not  just for laughs; it definitely has action from start to finish.  And it is most definitely the story about the friendship between Britt Reid (Seth Rogen) and Kato (Jay Chou).

The thing is, it does successfully juggle all three aspects.  It's genuinely funny and made me laugh quite a lot, the action is intense and very cool to watch, and the friendship between the lead characters is never dull.

I was surprised with how violent it is; it's a very, very strong PG-13.  It manages to say a lot of naughty words in just about every scene without dropping the F-bomb, but hey, that's Seth Rogen for you.  It also manages a very high body count without very much blood. There are lots of great scenes with the Black Beauty, which is their tricked-out car loaded with machine guns, missiles, a flame thrower and lots of other cool gimmicks.  Chase scenes can be pretty boring if not done right, but when it turns out there's hidden machine guns in the car doors, that keeps it pretty interesting.  And Kato has some fantastic martial arts scenes.

The only ball that may be considered dropped here is Lenore (Cameron Diaz).  She's there to be the expert in criminology and journalism that Britt & Kato need, and of course to be the center of Britt and Kato's rivalry.  But she never really gets fleshed out as a character.  She's not interested in either of them; why not?  Is she just out of a bad relationship?  Is she just serious about keeping things professional?  Are they just not her type? It's never really said.  In fact, nothing's really said about her life besides that she's studied criminology and wants to be a journalist.  Now, to be fair, I'm not too bent out of shape that the movie doesn't explore a romance between her and either of the guys-- there's enough in the movie already, and adding a romance might have been too much.  But for being such a prominent character, she could have used just a few more scenes of exposition to make her seem a little more human.

The only other gripe I have is that Britt never really gets it together; he has a wonderful scene at the end of the film where he begins to come into his own, and we start to see him as the hero he wants to be... and then he flubs it.  It's a bit disappointing to see him constantly fail throughout the film.  I suppose that would be the only place where the balance between the comedy and the action doesn't work.  Britt's heart is in the right place, he's risking his life in a hail of bullets... at that point I want to cheer for him when he makes it, not laugh at him for failing yet again.

But other than those quibbles, the film was a lot of fun to watch.  My friend and I chose to see the 2D version, because I'd heard that the film had a few scenes shot in 3D, but the majority of it had been shot in 2D and had the 3D effects added on.  It's real easy to tell which scenes were shot in 3D, and to be honest I didn't feel they lost anything by being in 2D.  And I mean that as a compliment; they still looked that cool, even without the glasses.

Oh, and one side note... I didn't intend for this to be a green-themed week, but I wound up reviewing Green Arrow, Green Hornet and Soylent Green all in the same week!  If I had realized that was what I was doing, I would have waited until St. Patrick's Day!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Robotech - "To the Stars Special Edition" fanvid by Jaeson Koszarsky

The SDF-1 & SDF-2, together at last.  Composite by Jaeson Koszarsky.
Spoiler Level: High

Reba West, the voice actress for Minmei in Robotech, posted this little gem on her blog this week.  It's a fan-edit of the final episode of the first generation (aka The Macross Saga) which, if you're a Robotech fan, you know is a bit of a mess.  The dialogue refers to the new SDF-2 a lot.  The only problem is, there was no SDF-2 in the original footage.  So the finished product just left a lot of fans confused.  I explained events to a friend of mine like this:  Khyron sees the SDF-2, mistakes it for the SDF-1 and fires upon it, it's destroyed, then we cut to Lisa running through the halls of the SDF-1.  I honestly think that's what Harmony Gold and Carl Macek (or whoever wrote the actual script for that episode) intended.  But you really have to stretch your imagination for the scene to work.

Well, thank heavens for Jaeson Koszarsky.  Using modern composite technology, Jason has actually put the SDF-2 in to the footage.  Now it really, honestly works.  If I worked at Harmony Gold, I'd see what mountains I needed to move to make this the official version on all future Robotech releases.  (But knowing HG, they'll probably pull it from the web.)

The episode is posted below.  Jason Koszarsky has posted it as an entire episode, and I definitely recommend watching it that way, but the key moments are at 8:21 and then from 15:22 onward.  Great work, Jaeson!


Lisa launches SDF2 from jaesonk on Vimeo.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Soylent Green

Spoiler Level: Medium

"Soylent Green is..."  Is there anyone out there who doesn't know the rest of that famous line?  Heck, if you Google Soylent Green, it comes up as a suggestion prompt.  How's that for a spoiler you can't avoid?  For me, the first time I heard it (that it really stuck with me) was from a Saturday Night Live sketch where John Goodman played a movie producer on a talk show discussing all the sequels he made to Soylent Green.

So I have to admit, for a long time I figured there was no point in watching the movie if I already knew the ending.  But then I started to want to see it; after hearing only the punchline for years, I wanted to at least hear the set up once.  So last weekend I finally sat down and watched it.

Well, now.

That was a surprise.

To everyone out there who thinks, like me, that just because they know what Soylent Green is then they know what this movie is about...  It doesn't matter if you already know.  Not one bit.  This movie is still just as shocking and horrifying even when you do know.  Because the point of it isn't what Soylent Green is; it's about the kind of world that think that Soylent Green was a reasonable solution to their problems.

It's a story about overpopulation.  The weight of humanity has broken the back of the Earth.  New York City alone holds 4 million people, 2 million of which are unemployed.  People fill the stairwells because they have no where else to sleep.  All the resources are used up, and nothing works anymore.  Attractive women are practically property of the rich, and so dehumanized they're actually referred to as "furniture."  Charlton Heston plays Ty Thorn, a police officer who's considered a good cop.  He steals from crime scenes, searches without a warrant and beats suspects he knows aren't allowed to lift a finger against him... and he's considered a good cop.  And the scary part is, for this world he actually is, because things have gotten so bad the people don't know of a better way to do things anymore.  It's a frightening view of humanity in decline, and what makes it frightening is it's not so far ahead as to seem unidentifiable.  Their world is just close enough to ours that it's entirely possible to see how it could happen.  And, heaven help us, why the Soylent company would think Soylent Green was a solution to their problems.

So if you're like me and had been putting off this movie because you thought knowing the ending would lessen its impact... stop waiting. Go watch it.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Star Trek: The Next Generation - "Elementary, Dear Data"

Spoiler Level: High

Another wonderful character piece, as Geordi invites Data to take his interest in Sherlock Holmes to the next level and play at being Holmes on the holodeck.  At Pulaski's prodding, Geordi attempts to create an adversary capable of beating Holmes to challenge Data, but ends up asking for an adversary capable of beating Data himself.

And so we get the first sentient hologram, as Moriarty begins to become self-aware.  It's a subject that will be studied more in depth on Voyager in years to come, but the questions are first raised here when Moriarty asks Picard, what makes Data alive and not him?

The only real drawbacks are that, for there to be drama, the episode has to recycle elements of "The Big Goodbye."  The holodeck is a wonderful concept, but for it to make for good drama, the emergency failsafes have to fail so that the characters are in real risk.  And it won't end here; it's also continues through Deep Space Nine, and probably Voyager as well.

Pulaski's skepticism of Data's abilities to intuit and deduce are a little harsh, although she's not as bad towards him here as she was in "Where Silence Has Lease."  It probably would have come across better if she had been merely skeptical, as opposed to being so certain she was right.

Lastly, this episode is generally believed to have gotten the Star Trek crew in a bit of hot water.  I had always heard that Paramount thought at the time that Sherlock Holmes had fallen in to public domain, but it had turned out he hadn't.  Well, according to io9, that's just a myth.  Paramount knew all along the copyright on Sherlock Holmes was still good, and had already worked things out with Arthur Conan Doyle's estate ahead of time.  Go figure.  Presumably, Holmes is finally in the public domain by the 24th Century and his estate didn't need to get paid for the holodeck program itself.

Monday, January 17, 2011

DC Showcase: Green Arrow

Spoiler Level: Medium

I liked this "DC Showcase" the best out of the three they've made so far, but I would;  Green Arrow is more my speed than Jonah Hex or The Spectre.

It's a straight-forward super hero tale, with Ollie stumbling upon an assassination attempt and jumping in to protect a young princess.  It has great action scenes, and Green Arrow gets some nice witty dialogue, but at 11 minutes long there's not really room for much more than that.  Still, Green Arrow's personality manages to shine through, both in his dialogue and in his getting to use trick arrows!

I'll probably be watching the expanded version of this in two weeks when we get to see the Superman / Shazam!: The Return of Black Adam DVD, where it appears with expanded versions of "DC Showcase: Jonah Hex" and "DC Showcase: The Spectre."  Apparently they haven't announced any new DC Showcase shorts for the future DCU OVAs being planned, but I haven't given up hope.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Star Wars: The Clone Wars - "Nightsisters"

Spoiler Level: High

The Nightsister of Dathomir!  I'm always happy when something from the books makes it into the TV show.  Sadly there are no Rancors to be seen (in the books, they ride Rancors!) but it's still cool.

So, Dooku has turned on Assajj Ventress.  I liked how his conversion with Darth Sidious mirrored Vader's conversation with the Emperor from The Empire Strikes Back.  Will this fit in with the other ways that Ventress was used in the comics and the Cone Wars micro-series?  Beats me, but I kind of doubt it.  I'm coming to the conclusion that the previous Clone Wars tales (the comics, books and video games) make up one timeline, and this TV series makes up a completely different timeline.  Folks are trying to shoe-horn them together, because for some crazy reason everything is canon in Star Wars except the old Marvel comics.  I say, give it up, guys.  Enjoy this as its own version of events.  Heck, cartoons are the first things to get decanonized when new film projects come up anyway, so it wouldn't surprise me at all if the events shown in this series get contradicted when the live action TV show finally comes along.  (Case in point, consider the animated Star Trek, Star Wars: Droids, and Doctor Who's "Scream of the Shalka" as previous examples.)

I also loved that the battle droid commander said "By your command" to Dooku.  The notes at starwars.com say that it was a deliberate homage to Battlestar Galactica.  Never thought I'd see the day when that happened!

As of this writing, this episode is still available for viewing at http://www.starwars.com/video/view/001176.html.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Cape - "Tarot"

Spoiler Level: High

Not quite as good as the first episode, but still enjoyable.

This episode starts off with Vince Faraday trying to innocently buy some supplies at an Army/Navy store, and then a couple of crooks attempt to rob it.  So Vince takes the opportunity to don his Cape and kick some badguy butt.  Now as a former small business owner, all I could think of was "Yikes!  He threw him into the vending machine!  Replacing that glass is gonna cost the shop owner at least a hundred bucks!  Oh no, not the display case!!  Those things are like five hundred, easy!!  Geez, it would have cost the poor guy less if he'd just handed over the money in the register!!"  But luckily the shop owner doesn't see it that way and is thrilled to have had The Cape catch the bad guys.  Maybe his insurance covers super hero battles.  And seriously, it is a much more enjoyable and heart-warming scene played this way, with him gushing, "You're a real super hero!"

The second episode is also continues The Cape's origin story, as Faraday learns the need for a mask to go along with the cape and sets up a new headquarters.  I hope this doesn't mean we won't be seeing the circus gang anymore, because they're pretty cool.  As far as helpers go, this episode focuses much more on Summer Glau's character than Keith David's.  I guess that's why NBC chose to run both episodes for their premiere; the first episode may have been The Cape's origin story, but this episode fine-tunes it.  Hopefully Orwell will open up to Max soon, and we'll have more of a team.

As the title suggests, this episode also sets up Tarot, a league of assassins.  It's a good step; while Chess is a good villain, by necessity of the set-up he needs to be playing it low key so everyone still thinks Faraday was Chess.  So this way Chess can be pulling the strings as he sends in his minions.  Or I guess a more accurate metaphor would be sending in his pawns.

The only real complaint I have with the episode (my earlier bit about the damages to shop owner doesn't count; that's a nitpick based on my previous career.  It would be like an airplane pilot going "But that's not how you actually land a plane!!" when he sees it happen on TV.  For the average viewer it's just meant to be drama, so I realize that's just me being picky.  But as I was saying, the only real complaint I have with the episode) is that I don't like how The Cape burned Cain's face against the grill.  Just a few seconds earlier we're shown Cain pushing The Cape's face towards the grill, heat waves rising up off of it, which lead me to think "Wow, what an evil, evil man!  How horrible!"  Then The Cape gets the upper hand and does the exact same thing.  I've said before how I like my heroes to be heroic, and acting the same as the villain doesn't do it.  Now of course we get to see Cain tied up after wards and we see the burns on his face are light, so that's somewhat redeeming; I'm sure Cain would not have been as merciful when the situation had been reversed.  But the entire scene just makes The Cape come across as very unheroic.

And lastly, I have to comment on the commercials that NBC streamed during the episode.  Partially because they don't have very many and I was watching the same commercials over and over during each commercial break.  First off, I'm not a dog person, and it may just be because I had to watch him six times, but the puppy in the Beneful dog food commercial may be the cutest puppy in the world.

And secondly, after seeing the Nicorette commercial about six times, I began to wonder if this is what fanboys use to rate stuff:
(You see that, Warner Brothers and ABC?  Not only am I sitting through the commercials, they made such an impression that I felt I had to mention them.  Those could have been your commercials.  Just pointing it out.)

If you'd like to see these commercials-- oh yeah, and The Cape too-- this episode was still available as of this writing at http://www.nbc.com/the-cape/video/.

Friday, January 14, 2011

The Cape

Spoiler Level: High

As I mentioned a few days ago, I might have missed this series if ABC.com had been streaming Season 2 of V.  But for whatever reasons they aren't, and in the week I was waiting for them to start a friend told me about this show, so I figured I'd give it a try.

It's a very solid pilot.  (I hate when TV shows call the first episode "Pilot."  I mean okay, I realize that's what it is, but now that it's gone to series, can't you give the episode a real title?  Back in the old VHS days, I just called the first episode the name of the series.  The only show where "Pilot" would have worked for the first episode was Farscape, and what do they do, they go and call the first episode "Premiere"!  What a wasted opportunity!  But I digress.)

It's a very solid origin episode.  Vince Faraday, one of the few good cops in Palm City, is framed by a villain named Chess for Chess's crimes, and then believed to have been killed.  He's rescued by the Carnival of Crime, whose leader Max Malini eventually comes around to Vince's way of thinking and decides to help Vince stop Chess and clear his own name.  Vince wants to do it in the guise of his son's hero, the comic book vigilante The Cape, to let him know there are still good people in the world he can look up to. So Max teaches him how to use his cape as a weapon and how to become an escape artist.  And so the battle between The Cape and his arch enemy Chess is on!

When I first heard the hero was actually called "The Cape" I was kind of surprised, because the sentiment ever since the 1989 Batman movie seems to be that capes are a liability more than a benefit, something that the classic heroes are stuck with that no modern super hero would be caught dead with.  So I really, really enjoyed the way this show takes the approach that a cape can be an asset to a crime fighter.  Sure, at times the CGI for the cape in action looks a little obvious, but I'm never one to let an imperfect special effect stand in the way of my enjoyment of something.

David Lyons gives a good performance as Faraday.  He drops his voice as The Cape, but not to the point where it sounds unnatural gravely like Christian Bale's Batman or Michael Shanks' Hawkman.  And Keith David is fantastic as Max Malini, especially in his closing scene.  Martin Klebba plays Rollo, part of Max's Carnival of Crime, and has some pretty cool fight scenes.  I'm hoping he sticks around as a regular.  And of course there's Summer Glau, who's playing the mystery girl like she usually does. Her part is small but crucial in this first episode, and I'm sure she'll be even more important as the series goes on.

Another thing I liked about it was that it was able to be gritty without being gory or ever taking it too far.  We all know that super heroes rise out of tragedy, and seeing Vince so happy with his family in the beginning, reading comic books of The Cape with his son and discussing his career with his wife, I couldn't help but fear he was going to get the Punisher's origin.  And in fact, that's the Chess's main bargaining chip-- he likes to threaten people's families a lot.  But thankfully, since he thinks Vince was killed, his family is safe.  So Vince must keep the fact that he survived a secret from everyone, especially Chess.  The show is violent, and there's some blood but not so much it disturbed me.  With a show like this, it could have easily stepped over that line, and I'm glad it didn't.

And I have to give major kudos to the opening credits.  In an age where opening theme songs are an endangered species, The Cape not only has a full-on opening title sequence, but it's completely comic book oriented!  And I was very surprised to see in the end credits that Bear McCreary does the music.  This is the same guy who did the music for the remake of Battlestar Galactica, which I occasionally found beautiful but more often than not just fell flat with me.  Yet here he creates some great super hero anthems, proving he's got a good range as a composer.

The only real flaw I felt the show had was towards the end, when Chess decides to re-emerge in costume.  Now the fanboy in me is going "Oh yeah, you gotta have everyone in costume for the big throwdown!"  It's a lesson I wish Smallville had learned a little earlier.  Only in this case, it doesn't make sense.  Chess has framed Vince by having Vince be stuck in Chess's outfit and turning the police on him.  The police corner him under a gas tank that goes BOOM, right on TV.  The world thinks Chess is dead but the real Chess gets away, which was all part of his plan.  So why would you go back out in public in costume?  Why throw away your victory where anyone can find out you're really not dead?

One last note... check out the other comic on Vince's son's shelf:

Ultimates 3Really? I have to admit I didn't read past Ultimates 2, but for his kid's sake I hope they toned it down some.  Ultimates was most definitely not a kids' book.

[UPDATE: I just checked with my friends at Joy's Japanimation.  They definitely did not tone things down, they ramped it up.  Definitely not a comic for kids!  What was Vince thinking?!?]

NBC did a double premiere, but they're posted as two separate episodes.  As of this writing, you can still watch them at nbc.com for free with limited commercials. I'll definitely be checking out episode 2 in the next few days.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Superman / Batman: Apocalypse

Spoiler Level: High

Another enjoyable offering from the DC Original Animated Movies.  Again, having not read Superman/Batman I wasn't familiar with the source material, but Rich says that from what he can remember,  it was a very loyal adaptation.

It also includes a nice touch with mentioning the impeachment of President Luthor, a direct reference to the previous Superman & Batman OVA, Public Enemies.  It doesn't feature in the plot at all, but it's a nice touch of continuity, letting us know the two stories are connected.

This is the story that re-introduced Kara Zor-El, the Silver Age Supergirl, back into the DC Universe.  Personally, I'm not a big fan of the reSilvering of the DCU; I rather liked that the modern Green Lantern was Kyle Rayner, the modern Supergirl was Matrix / Linda Danvers, and that Wally West had inherited the mantle of the Flash form the late Barry Allen.  Now Hal Jordan, Kara Zor-El and Barry Allen are all back, and the DCU doesn't feel like it's grown as much as it had 10 years ago.

But on the plus side, at least the stories are enjoyable, and that's what really counts.  Kara arrives on Earth and her powers come to her in a rush;  they feel like too much responsibility to her, and really all she'd rather do is lead a regular life.  (And Lois is conspicuously absent in the scenes where she learns to go shopping.)    But of  course, everyone else has other plans for her;  Wonder Woman feels Kara needs to master her powers in the safety of Paradise Island, and Darkseid would rather have her lead the Female Furies.  All of which gives Kara opportunities for some good teenage angst on how she wants to choose her own life.  Batman manages to hold his own against the big guns (literally) in Apokalips.  Oh, and Krypto has a cute scene too.

Pretty much my only complaint is with Darkseid's voice.  No offense to Andre Braugher, but his voice just isn't deep enough.  Darkseid looks like he's made of stone, and as such his voice should be more gravely.  It needs to rumble.  But as complaints go, that's not much of a complaint at all.

I have yet to see a DCU OVA I didn't like, and this one is no exception.  Really, how great is it that we live in an age where we're getting animated movies of acclaimed comic storylines? I'm certainly enjoying it.  Only two more to go!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

No V for Fer. :(

A screen capture of ABC's statement.
I've been waiting for ABC to start streaming Season 2 of V.  Normally they post it fairly quickly, but there seems to be something of a backlash to online streamline starting.  Syfy, for example, now has a delay of 30 days after an episode airs before they'll post it on their website.

Well, after waiting a week, ABC's finally made an announcement.  Here it is:


Fellow V fans,

It is with much regret that we must inform you that full episodes of V will not be available on ABC.com or Hulu for Season 2. Just like you, we truly wish full episodes were playing here. But we also hope our detailed recaps will keep you informed and entertained should you ever miss an episode.

Best always,

The ABC.com Team


Well, that's a bit of a bummer.   Now, I don't mind waiting a week or two weeks or even a month, but in this case it looks like I'll have to wait until it comes out on DVD.  Hopefully it'll be sooner than November this time, but if it isn't, oh well.

Now someone on some message board somewhere (sorry, I don't remember the details, so I can't give proper credit) pointed out that shows from Warner Brothers seem to not be getting streamed this year.  If that's the case, then that would explain why ABC would be acting like it's out of their hands.

My family gave up our satellite dish a year ago now, so we now get all of our TV off of the internet.  I could hook up an antenna, but now that broadcast TV has gone digital I'd have to buy a converter box, and I don't really feel like V is worth the extra effort.  So I guess I'll be waiting for the DVDs.

On the plus side, this frees up some time in my schedule to try out that new super hero show, The Cape. NBC's got the first two episodes online already.  I guess ABC's loss is NBC's gain.

K9 - "Curse of Anubis"

Spoiler Level: High

Chalk up another one in the "win" column!  This episode of K9 is a classic alien invasion story.  The Anubians arrive on Earth in their spaceship pyramid, and immediately fall down in worship of the Almighty K9, who liberated them many millennia ago against another race that was enslaving them.

K9 of course has no memory of this, but since his memory has been scrambled ever since arriving back on Earth he thinks there might be something to their claim, especially when they provide their Book of Anubis as evidence:


I for one was very happy that the K9 pictured in the Book of Anubis was the classic K9.  I was afraid it would end up being the new K9, because (a) the producers of the show might not trust the audience to remember that K9 originally looked different, or (b) while Bob Baker may have co-ownership of the K9 character, this likeness of K9 is owned by the BBC, so this show might not have been allowed to use it beyond the first episode.  Not that it couldn't have been explained away if it had been the new K9 in the book; you could say that the regenerated K9 would end up traveling back in time or some other timey-wimey thing.  But thankfully, they didn't do any of that.  The pictures of K9's past were of his original look, as it should be.  So major points to a story that was already going well for that touch.
 
Upon seeing this, K9 immediately starts burying himself in trying to restore his memory, to the extent of tuning out everyone else.  In the meantime, the Anubians start their takeover of Earth, starting with Professor Gryffen.  Their mind control over him is subtle at first, but when he banishes Darius from his home, Starkey and Jorjie immediately realize that something's wrong.  Which is good on two levels; firstly, because they didn't miss the obvious like they did in "Jaws of Orthrus," and secondly, because all I did was cheer, I didn't particularly care if the Anubians had done something to Professor Gryffen if it meant that Darius got kicked out.

So Starkey and Jorjie swipe the Book of Anubis to get a better look at it, and discover-- no, it's not a cook book-- that after K9 freed them, the Anubians went out into space and started taking over other races.  Including Alpha Centauri!

Now is that awesome, or what?!?  How's that for connecting this show to the Doctor Who universe?!?

So of course the Anubians catch Starkey and Jorjie, and it's up to the banished Darius to save the day.  Which he does quite nicely, and not in the least bit annoyingly.  I mean that in all seriousness.  If the show would flesh out his clever side more like they did here and toned down his annoying side (which they didn't do in the first half of the episode), he might become a likable character.

Another thought occurs to me that the reason K9 doesn't remember the Anubians might not be because of his memory being scrambled; he might have never met them.  Perhaps that happened to K9 Mk II?  (K9 Mk III or IV are more unlikely, since they seem to have never left Earth.)  Probably not, since this show is supposed to be following the adventures of K9 Mk I, but it occurs to me as a possibility.

So if you're keeping score (and I am), this makes 6 good episodes out of 10 for the new K9 show.  That's over half, and I'm willing to forgive a bumpy start if the quality keeps up like it has for the last two episodes.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Star Trek: The Next Generation - "Where Silence Has Lease"

Spoiler Level: High

I rather like this episode, because it has the feel of a classic Trek episode without feeling like it's actually rehashing anything.   We have a strange space phenomenon, an advanced intelligence testing and judging the crew, and a red shirt gets to die a screaming death.  (Poor Ensign Haskell.  You can even see the look on his face when Nagilum starts naming the crew and then comes to him; it's like the comprehension has just hit him, "Uh oh, he's noticed me.  I'm gonna die.")

Nagilum himself is a very cool effect, as his approximation of human form isn't quite right, and his various facial parts keep moving out of sync with each other.

We get some nice character moments here.  (See? I told you all Denise Crosby had to do was hold out for a few more episodes and she would have got the character development she wanted.)  Picard's speech on what he believes comes after death is very inspirational.  Worf gets a lot of exposure, although he's somewhat feral and slow-witted here; but hey, we were still at the beginning of developing the Klingons as a culture.  Pulaski is especially brutal to Data in this one.  There's none of the curiosity and potential for future friendship here, just her being irritated with a machine that she feels is not working properly, and treating Data with all the courtesy and respect that someone would give a printer that wasn't working.

This one's also got great music.  Ron Jones delivers a great score with lots of dramatic plays on the Next Gen/TMP theme, a dash of the Klingon theme, and some great stings in the scene with Worf's "calisthenics" program that were very reminiscent of the TOS fight music.

And then there's the USS Yamato, NCC-1305-E.  Not only do I love the fact that it establishes a Yamato in the Star Trek universe, but since it's an "E" it also sets a precedent that there have been five others before it throughout Starfleet history.  (Well, unless they all lasted as short as this one will.)  I don't recall any of the previous Yamatos showing up in books, but it's cool that they can.

Last but not least... this is my 300th post!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Time Travelers Never Die by Jack McDevitt

Spoiler Level: Medium.  Probably less than the back cover. 

I love Jack McDevitt's novels.  I love time travel stories.  And now Jack McDevitt has written a time travel story?!?  HOT DIGGITY!

As usual for Jack McDevitt, it's a page turner that kept me up way past my bed time every night since I started reading it.  And just like in Infinity Beach, the text on the back reveals a story element that doesn't happen until page 294 out of a 385 page book.  This is why I deliberately no longer read the back covers of books that I know I'm going to read anyway.

Part of what makes McDevitt's books so wonderful to read is that they have the thrill of exploration all through them.  In Eternity Road it's a future generation rediscovering our world, in The Engines of God it's mankind discovering the secrets behind alien monuments, in Infinity Beach it's humanity daring to not give up on discovering if we're alone in the universe.  All of them do a great job not just of crafting an amazing world, but in conveying the thrill of discovery of that world and the exploratory spirit of the characters in the books.   And McDevitt takes that same approach here, using his version of a time machine called a "converter" -- something of a cross between an Omni from Voyagers! and a Nintendo DS -- not just for traveling in time, but for using time travel to explore time.  To actually explore history itself. 

In addition to the risks inherit with getting caught up in dangerous moments in history, McDevitt adds a new reason to be cautious:  it seems that if you try to do something that's going to upset the timeline or create a temporal paradox, the universe attempts to correct the paradox by eliminating the element creating it, ie by eliminating the time traveler in question.  As a result, our heroes end up coming up with a lot of very, very creative uses for the converter time machines to get out of jams, but they have to do them all in a very cautious way so as not to create even the smallest paradox.

The book is engaging from start to finish, his temporal mechanics are fun to follow, and he makes many different points and people in history come alive.  The book is everything I'd hoped for.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

K9 - "Dream-Eaters"

Spoiler Level: High

Hurray!  Another good episode of K9!!

In this episode, a recently uncovered monolith is emitting a signal that's put all of London to sleep and feeds off of their nightmares.  The monolith's avatar assembles an army of yawning, sleepy zombies to stop the only ones who haven't fallen under its spell-- K9 & Company!

It helps that this episode is played for laughs.  What's the best way to keep the signal from putting the gang to sleep?  Why tin foil hats, of course!  Jorjie wakes her mother by sharing a dream with her where she's gotten a tattoo with Darius's name on it.  K9 takes great delight in Darius's nightmares of clowns, which, let's face it, is pretty funny in its own right. And the sleepy zombies are just great.  And yes, when K9 does get to dream, he dreams of electric sheep.  How cool is that?

I realize the quality of this show does change dramatically from episode to episode, but really, I'm surprised it's not more popular.  It is a Doctor Who spin-off after all, and even if the BBC doesn't have any involvement it's still the same K9.  John Leeson still delivers a great performance for his voice. The effects are decent.  I've heard people complain about the acting, but it seems fine to me.  The character of Darius may be a bit annoying, but I rather like Starky, Jorjie and Professor Gryffen.

I've been getting quite a few hits for my reviews of K9, mostly because my screen captures seem to be some of the only ones on the web.  I had a tough time picking which picture I wanted to use this time, so in the spirit of giving this show a boost, here's a gallery of all the other K9 screen captures I made.  Enjoy!

K9 wakes Starkey
Can't sleep... Clowns will eat me.
Darius... Still Strange
Darius Acting Strange


Sleepy Zombies & Future London
Sleepy Zombies


Well, this would scare ANY parent.
Yes, Androids DO Dream of Electric Sheep.
Tin Foil Hats!
The Whole Gang with Tin Foil Hats.

K9 Flies Over Future London

K9 circles in for a landing



K9 on the ground
K9 Shoots

K9 Hovering
BONUS: K9 Growls at Darius
Starkey's Shirt Design

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Sarah Jane Adventures - "Goodbye, Sarah Jane Smith" (Parts 1 & 2)

Spoiler Level: High

The last story of Series 4 of Sarah Jane Advent- ures, can you believe it?  This is The Little Show That Could.  Story #24,  episodes 46 & 47.  (I love that they do that, by the way; it's like recapturing the old serialized format that Doctor Who used to have.  Maybe someday we'll get some stories that runs longer than 2 episodes.)

So, it's the end of the season, and the title of the last story is "Goodbye, Sarah Jane Smith."  Which is a great concept for making one think that this might be the send-off for the entire show... if they hadn't announced that they've already filmed part of the next series!

The story itself holds up to the usual high quality of the rest of the season, albeit with a few somewhat large holes in logic towards the end.  Sarah Jane & crew meet up with Ruby White, another alien hunter who's just moved into the area.  After a shaky start she begins to fit in nicely with the group, while Sarah Jane starts to have memory lapses.  You know something's up when she asks Luke "And how's... oh, what's his name... the metal dog?"  And Sarah Jane continues to fall apart, to the point where she's ready to hand it all over to Ruby.

There's some very good developments in the second half; Luke comes back to try to help, so it's nice to have him back.  Unfortunately, even though he knows something is so radically wrong that he races on the scene cursing "What the hell is going on?!?" he didn't think to actually bring K9, so they have to consult him via videophone.  That's the first of those big gaps in logic I mentioned. Perhaps in this case they couldn't actually get the K9 prop to the set, so his scenes had to be literally phoned in?  Maybe it was a requirement by Bob Baker to keep K9 from being over exposed on both his own show and Sarah Jane adventures?  Beats me.  But it sure came across as odd.

It turns out Ruby is an alien that feeds off of extreme emotions such as excitement and despair, with the energy going into a very large stomach that's kept outside of her body. She intends to help out the alien invaders that Sarah Jane usually stops, which will raise the emotional level of the world, which she'll feed off of until the Earth is used up.  "Want to colonize the Earth? Pick a continent!" she shouts with glee.  Okay, so far so good.  So Luke hatches the plan to use a hologram system to make it look like the entire Earth is being bombarded with asteroids, which will raise the excitement level of the entire world at once and send Ruby into overload.

Umm, see the logic problems here?  Rich and I each saw a different one.  Rich pointed out that Luke has intentionally sent the entire world into a panic. This means that at the very least, there are going to be people dying from heart failure, if not auto accidents, suicides, what have you.  And I pointed out, umm, didn't Ruby just say that letting the Earth get attacked was part of her plan?!?  What was she planning on doing, saying "Yeah, could you please not all attack at once?  I can't take that.  Only attack one continent at a time, thanks!"  So really, what was Luke thinking?

The final bit of trouble is when she's banished back to her orbital prison cell.  They send Ruby back, but not her external stomach.  Wouldn't that mean she would keep getting powered up from the people of Earth?

So yeah, some big holes in the plot in the last half, but it was nice to see Luke and K9 again.  When things start to work out Luke blurts out, "Rani, I love you!" which might be intended in the vein of "You rock!" ...or might be intended to set up a love triangle, as Clyde and Rani were definitely clashing in this episode over Sarah Jane's leaving.  With all the set up they did for Clyde & Rani, I'm surprised that it didn't culminate in anything in this story, so I can't believe that Luke's comment wasn't intentional.

Sarah Jane Adventures will return in 2011, and I'll be looking forward to them.