Monday, February 28, 2011

The Cape - ''The Lich, Part 2''

Spoiler Level: High

More of a straight forward story than Part 1, Part 2 follows The Cape in his attempts to rescue Orwell from The Lich and stop The Lich's nefarious plan of gassing the Founder's Day Parade.

Voyt is moved into the background this time, so there's no deeper insights into his motivations here, although we do see him behaving like a good cop for the first time.  When The Cape needs help to get in to jail to see the Linch's captured henchman, going to Voyt again doesn't even occur to Faraday this time; he feels the only person who can accomplish that is his wife.  So at last, they get to see each other again, and I get to see the family reunited.  Kind of.

I suppose I should just accept the conceit that since Vince Faraday is wearing a cape and a mask, no one is going to recognize his voice either.  It's a bit old fashioned, but it's definitely the approach this show is taking.  Now I suppose if I had seen my spouse blown up on TV and I heard a masked vigilante with her voice later, I might just chalk it up to wishful thinking on my part.

And the scenes with the two of them are great, especially their final shot together when The Cape puts his hand on the one-way mirror and it matches up with her hand perfectly.  Dana and Vince both seem to have hope again. The romantic in me is pleased.

Orwell is a major focus of the episode, even though she spends most of it drugged out of her mind.  Her dream sequences are of course revealing; an attraction to Vince, yet knowing it's wrong by its nature and can never be; her father being Peter Fleming; and learning that her real name is Jamie.  It's also great to see her become more deeply acquainted with Max and Rollo.  My only dislike of how she's handled is this episode is the scene where she turns the needle back on Lich's "handmaiden" Netta; wasn't Netta just drugged by the Lich as well?  The drug was said to have a 70% fatality rate; now since she was one of the Lich's zombies, it stands to reason she was one of the surviving 30%, but does that mean she's guaranteed to survive a second dose?  And in Orwell's defense, she was probably drugged up when the Lich mentioned the survival rate and probably didn't hear it.

Rollo's great in this episode, as always.  He gets to kick some serious butt.

And then there's that final scene, where Orwell sees the "escape door" in the Carnival of Crime. This can mean many things...

(1) She's still drugged, or has suffered brain damage, and everything we've seen / will see from this episode on is a delusion;
(2) She's still recovering from the drug, and is just hallucinating;
(3) It's symbolic, implying to her that she needs to leave the Orwell persona and/or The Cape and/or the Carnival of Crime behind her;
(4) Max just likes to keep extra doors lying around;
(5) It's a message from the network, warning the cast to prepare their resumes;
(6) The writers just wanted to be mysterious.

And on a completely different note, this episode was directed by Roxann Dawson, who is known to the fandom community as B'Elanna Torres from Star Trek: Voyager!

Okay, one last nitpick... there's absolutely no mention that the parade is now going to be safe.  It is mentioned that The Lich has been captured and locked up, so presumably they were able to prevent his trucks from getting into the parade.  Still, after all the build-up, a resolution line would have been nice.

Overall, I think the different approaches to parts 1 & 2 make the combined story stronger as a whole.  Even though I wasn't totally keen on last week's episode, I think it compliments this episode well.  The Cape continues to entertain, and I'll be sorry to see it go.


This episode will be available to watch for free with limited commercials at NBC's website at http://www.nbc.com/the-cape/video/ until April 2, 2011. It's also available to purchase from Amazon.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

TiMER

Spoiler Level: Medium

You gotta love Sci-Fi Chick Flicks.

What drew me to TiMER is that it's a "what if" story; around twenty years ago or so, a company invented a device that, when implanted, counts down to when you're going to meet your one true love.  There's a brief explanation given on how it can tell based on body heat or something, but the point isn't really about how a TiMER works; the point is how such an invention changes the world.

For your TiMER to work, your one true love (generally referred to by people simply as your One) also has to have a TiMER implanted; once you both have one, it starts counting down.  The TiMER will reach zero at midnight before the day you're going to meet; then, at some point during the next 24 hours, you'll meet him or her, and when you do both your TiMERs will make a matching chime.  So now you both know.  It literally takes the guess work out of relationships.  Divorce is a thing of the past.

The story itself follows two step sisters, Oona and Steph.  Steph's TiMER says she won't meet her true love for another 17 years, while Oona's TiMER is nothing but blinking dashes.  Apparently, her One still hasn't gotten his TiMER.  At least, that's what she hopes; the only other alternative is that she'll never have a true love.  As a result, neither one sees the point in getting involved in a relationship that's not going to work.  Steph spends her time having one night stands, and Oona spends her time dating any TiMERless man she can find no matter how disinterested she is in them, in the hopes that one of them will turn out to be her One.

And the reasons why some of the men are TiMERless is part of what makes the movie so fascinating.  Relationships are at the core of our society, and now that the TiMER will let you know who your relationship is going to be with, every facet of how society functions has changed.  People hold giant parties on their zero day, often with the attitude that their One is going to be at that party.  And while no one gets divorced anymore, the number of casual encounters is way up, because people don't see the point in investing themselves in a relationship that they know won't last.  And what of all the children of divorced parents?  Oona's mother is divorced and remarried to her One, and Oona astutely points out that if her parents had known that they weren't going to be each other's One, she would never have been born. 

The romantic story is great just for that reason; like all good SF stories, TiMER uses science to hold a mirror up to our own society and really examine why we do the things we do; in this case, why we sometimes fall in love with the wrong person, and how that could still be just as important as finding the right person.

The world could use more Sci-Fi Chick Flicks.


TiMER is currently available on Netflix Instant View, and probably lots of other On-Demand services as well.  Support independent films and check in to this one.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Transformers: Prime - ''Scrapheap''

Spoiler Level: High

Wow, now this was a fun episode!  And I have to give credit where it's due-- the human kids, Jack, Miko & Raf, work really well in this episode.

The Autobots have found something Cybertronian buried in the arctic, so they bring it back to base.  And something starts to make its way out...

Wandering the base, Raf meets a cute little  robot critter, and instantly befriends it.  He still has it with him when he sees the rest of the Autobots, who immediately freak out like elephants confronted with a mouse.  The scene is humorous enough on its own to begin with... of course we know the little robopet is not going to be all that it seems, but I was expecting a Tribble homage or something.

But then the cute little bugger sprouts rows and rows of sharp pointy teeth and starts tearing into the Autobots like a buzzsaw!  "Oh, it's just a cute little bunny!" my daughter called out, imitating John Cleese in Holy Grail.

It totally shocked the heck out of me, and yet I should have seen it coming from the moment they called it a Scraplet!  I've read the original G1 comics, and I definitely read the Scraplet issues, but (shame on me) I had absolutely no memory of it.  So instead of being a Tribble knock-off, this episode was bringing a comic book element to the screen, something that I always love.  So this show gets mega bonus points for that touch.

And wow, was it done well.  Hearing Bulkhead describe how they devour Transformers from the inside out was down right horrific.  Counter that with Bulkhead screaming like a little girl when the lights go out, and you have a balance between terror and humor worthy of Peter David or Robert Shearman.

Miko's assertion that "because we're not metal, the Scraplets can't hurt us" seems pretty flawed to me.  I mean, look at those metal teeth!  If those critters wanted to hurt humans, they obviously could; but luckily for them, they only want to eat metal. I would imagine that human flesh would be pretty nasty to them.  So it's not that the Scraplets can't hurt them so much as they won't hurt them.  Therefore the humans actually serve a very useful purpose in this episode-- rather than being the hindrance I usually accuse them of being, they were the only ones who could save the Autobots.  That's a good, balanced portrayal.

All in all, this may have been the best episode yet.

As of this writing, this episode is still available to watch for free at http://www.hubworld.com/transformers/shows/prime/videos.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Star Wars: The Clone Wars - ''The Citadel''

Spoiler Level: High

It's back to the war, with lots of big time space battles, close combat, and Clone Troopers getting offed!

Lots of cool moments that made me go "woah!"  The planet of Lola Sayu, which is missing a great big chunk out of it and yet still manages to have a burning core, won the honors for top image to become my screen capture for this episode.  The scene where Obi-Wan sets off the charges and blows a Battle Droid all the way down the corridor right into the camera was pretty impressive as well.

And of course, the top surprise has to go to Captain Tarkin.  The look that's exchanged between Tarkin and Anakin when they first meet is fantastic... you can almost hear Tarkin thinking, "Someday I'm going to be the one holding your leash."

Am I the only one who remembers Lando saying "We only use this facility for carbon freezing, you put him in there it might kill him"?  In The Empire Strikes Back, carbon freezing a person was a radical concept.  That was the whole point of testing it on Han.  Why would Vader need to test if a person could survive carbon freezing if he'd already been through it himself?  Well, I guess you could say that it was because he was a Sith Lord at that point and just did it to be eeeeevil.  Or it could be that Cloud City's carbon freezing facility was more "crude" and a higher risk than the Jedi Temple's carbon freezing facility.  Really though, I thought it was bad enough that carbon freezing people had become a run-of-the-mill thing in the Fate of the Jedi novels, but this episode really treats it as something even more humdrum, and that's some 25 years before Vader does it to Han.

But despite that nit-pick, it's still an interesting tactic and an enjoyable episode.  It's great to see Echo and Fives back, and it's nice to see Even Piell and Plo Koon get a lot of screen time.

Bit of a sudden ending; it's not so much a cliffhanger as much as it just stops.  It's a shame it couldn't have been structured to end on the scene where Obi-Wan was dangling over the cliff by one hand!

As of this writing, this episode is still available to watch for free at http://www.starwars.com/theclonewars/guide/episode318.html.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Smallville - ''Masquerade''





Spoiler Level: High

After what feels like a very long break, we've finally returned to the Darkseid storyline with Desaad getting the center stage.  The actor they got to play him wasn't bad; stick Steve Byers in a purple robe, and he's got a long enough face that it would work.  And he's certainly got Desaad's sadism down.

I also absolutely loved the scene between Chloe and Oliver when they're locked up in a trunk, and all Oliver wants to do is sort out their relationship.  Chloe says, "Really?  Now?" and I'm thinking, sure, why not now, it's not like either of you are going anywhere for a while.  Plus it really made Ollie feel more endearing.  He went through hell with Chloe gone, and now that he has her back he's totally serious about her.

But of course, the big part of the show for me was watching Clark finally take that next step and donning the glasses -- for keeps, this time.  Now that the Vigilante Registration Act has been repealed Clark's started taking the Blur global, and he's... wait a minute, the VRA was only a law in the United States.  If anything, it would have made sense for him to go global as the Blur while the VRA was in effect!  "Okay, it's illegal for me to save anyone in the US, but nobody seems to mind when I save them in Canada!"

Okay, forget that piece of logic for a moment... now that he's taking the Blur global, people are starting to connect him with the Blur, so he's decided the time for a disguise has come. 

At first I was wondering why he was explaining everything to Lois all over again since he was talking about having seen his future self wearing glasses last episode, and then I realized, no wait, that was Martha he was talking with about it.  It's all new to Lois.  I don't really care for the approach of "Clark Kent is just a name.  The Blur is who I am."  I was always more of a fan of the 90's approach-- as Dean Cain's Clark said, "Clark Kent is who I am.  Superman is what I can do."  But hey, if Smallville wants to go with the more classic approach, I can live with that.  At least for, say, the next 8 episodes.  And besides, Clark's still growing, he may find that he feels differently in the future.

Lastly, I want to give a shout-out to Home of the Nutty (dot-com) for this week's screen capture.  You can always tell when I use their screen captures instead of making my own, because (a) they look much nicer, and (b) they don't have that giant "CW" logo in the corner that I get due to watching it online.  Thanks, guys!




As of this writing, you can still watch this episode for free (with commercials) at http://www.cwtv.com/cw-video/smallville/, or you can buy it from Amazon at the links below.  Buying it through these links helps support ICE, so if you're going to buy it anyway, please consider doing it from here.  Yes, I'm back to trying the advertising thing again.  As you may or may not have noticed, I've been working with a few friends to expand the whole "It's Called Entertainment" thing to be more than just me, and cover a wider variety of topics, and the advertising might help fund it and help it grow.  Or maybe just pay for a few DVDs for us to watch.  At any rate, it's still a work in progress, so have patience with us.  But I digress.  Here's the Amazon links:

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Nicholas Courtney, ''The Brigadier,'' 1929-2011

Damn.  What can I say?  This saddens me deeply.

Nicholas Courtney was of course best known for playing Brigadier Alistair Lethbridge-Stewart on Doctor Who. He played alongside the first 8 Doctors, although he didn't get his scene with Colin Baker (#6) until the "Dimensions in Time" charity special, and Paul McGann (#8) as an audio drama.  He was supposed to appear alongside David Tennant (#10) in the Sarah Jane Adventures story "The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith," but sadly wasn't able to due to health issues.

Rich is already rearranging the Whofest picks for this year so we can make it a tribute to him.

Thanks for doing so much for us over the years, Mr. Courtney.  We're all saddened to see you go.  We salute you, Brigadier.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Star Trek: The Next Generation - ''A Matter of Honor''





Spoiler Level: High

Now we're getting some- where!  Riker serves in an officer exchange program aboard a Klingon vessel, the Pagh.  This is the second episode to focus on the Klingons, and while it still suffers from "we don't know how to use Klingons if they're not bad guys," it takes a huge step in the new direction of establishing the Klingons as an honorable race who like to party hearty.

It's also the episode that introduces Klag.  Although this is Klag's only film appearance, he goes on to become the lead character in Keith R. A. DeCandido's excellent IKS Gorkon novels.  Here he starts out as something of a foil to Riker, until Riker wins Klag's repsect by smashing his head into a viewscreen.  (Incidentally, the Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion accidentally refers to Captain Kargan as Klag throughout the description!)

The dining hall scene is probably the best part of the episode, since shortly afterwards Captain Kargan gets it into his head that the space bacteria eating the hull of his ship is somehow the Enterprise's fault, which requires only one response-- he needs to blow the Enterprise up.  On the one hand it does set up some good drama with Riker's loyalties being divided between his oath to Starfleet and his oath to Kargan and the Pagh; the scene where Kargan confronts Riker's loyalty to both oaths, bellowing "They are in conflict!" and Riker bellows right back in his face "No sir, they are not!" is fantastic.  But on the other hand, it still shows the problem early Next Gen had with Klingons; just as in "Heart of Glory," we have to come up with a reason for the Klingons to attack the Enterprise. At least in this case it's out of a misguided sense of honor, and we see Klingons on both sides of the argument as Klag questions Kargan's judgment.  Which is why I call Kargan's offense to his honor misguided-- if every Klingon captain leaped to the conclusions he did here, the peace treaty between the Klingons and the Federation wouldn't have lasted a year.

But the episode still works well.  Twenty-two years after it aired, this episode still stands up as the template for the Klingons we know, love, and dress up as at conventions.

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Men Who Stare at Goats

Spoiler Level: High

Does this count as science fiction?  Well, it's the story of Operation Jedi, a special military program where a unit is trained to develop their psychic abilities, so yeah, I'd say it counts.

Except it's only partly fiction.

It's a dramatization of a real military program that actually happened, called the First Earth Battalion, fictionalized here as the New Earth Army.  Jeff Bridges' character Bill Django (based on real life Lieutenant Commander Jim Channon) has a goal of changing the military into something new, a force that turns aggression aside before the need for combat arises, using new age attitudes and unlocking the inner abilities of the mind.

George Clooney plays Lyn Cassady (based primarily on Glenn Wheaton), a retired soldier from the program who meets Bob Wilton (played by Ewan "Obi-Wan" McGregor, and based on Jon Ronson, the writer of the original book).  The two meet in Kuwait and end up heading into Iraq together, giving Wilton the chance to learn all about the New Earth Army program.

And there's where the fun really begins.  Cassady's flashback scenes to the New Earth Army program are all from his perspective, so we see them all as successful.  And you think, wow, this guy is really on to something here, this is incredible.  Then you see him try to apply it in the real world and you think, wow, this guy is completely delusional.  And that's where the humor comes in.

If I can get a little too personal for a review and speak to my peeps in the fanboy community here... we know these people are real.  We've met them.  Hell, some of us are them.  I think if you did a survey, you'd find most of us in fandom are at least open to the idea of psychic abilities being real, with a sizable percentage believing yes, absolutely they're real, and a somewhat smaller percentage going as far as to say they have them.  I've known quite a few in my time who believe they have psychic abilities, and although one or two them were a little unhinged, the majority were very well balanced, educated people.

Personally, I have to put myself in the open-minded category; I've always been a believer in the persepctive that "there are more things in Heaven and Earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy," and I've seen a few things over the years that have made me raise an eyebrow in wonder, but my inner skeptic keeps me from being a full-on believer.  I've never seen anything that could be repeated per the scientific method's requirements. As Michael Shermer pointed out in his wonderful book Why People Believe Weird Things, we tend to remember the hits and forget the misses.

And to be frank, the concept of psychic abilities is something that people in our community really want to believe.  I don't mean that in the slightest derogatory way; the idea that there's something special, some great potential inside us that can be unlocked is naturally appealing.  And unlike starships or dragons or vampires, where it's easy to point to the details of it and say "it doesn't exist," this is a concept that resides inside the human mind, so the idea that there's someone out there who has mastered it is nearly impossible to disprove.

And that appeal is where the humor lies in this movie, especially for those of us in the fandom community.  Is this guy the real deal, or someone who's just bought too heavily into the fantasy?  We want to believe in him, but man, sometimes you just can't.  Sometimes he just reminds you of that guy at the con who won't stop talking to you about how he's planning on building a working transporter.

And in the end, the message that really comes out of it all is that as long as your heart is in the right place, as long as it inspires you to be a better person, it doesn't really matter if it's real or not.  If it works for you, and in turn helps you be just a little bit nicer to your fellow man, that's what counts.  The parallels to religion are obvious, if not overtly touched on; we see the New Earth Army program from two approaches, one lead by a man who wants to better the world and the people in it, and then by one who sees the potential tactical applications of psychic abilities, such as killing someone from a distance just by staring at them.  For good or ill, you're going to get out of it what you put into it, be it religion, the military, your mind or your life.

In the end, it doesn't matter if it's real; what matters is what you decide to do with your belief.


Sunday, February 20, 2011

Star Trek: Typhon Pact - Rough Beasts of Empire by David R. George III

Spoiler Level: Medium

The Typhon Pact series continues, this time focusing on the Romulans and the Tzenkethi.   The Tzenkethi, while mentioned in Deep Space Nine several times, were never seen on screen, and the name is almost an anagram for "The Kzinti," the race created by Larry Niven in his own books and used in the Star Trek animated episode "The Slaver Weapon."  I gather it was meant more as a tribute than as a way to try and sneak the Kzinti back into the Star Trek universe, since the reason for them not being used isn't a matter of the animated series being decanonized so much as it's a matter of the Kzinti being owned by Larry Niven.

This means that the writers of the novels can do a bit of world building when it comes to the Tzenkethi, and they've come up with a fascinating species. (I'm not entirely sure how much of what's portrayed here was created by David R. George III, and how much was established by other authors before him, but his portrayal here is fantastic so I want to make sure he gets the credit he deserves.)  The Tzenkethi are somewhat humanoid on the outside, although with more exotic skintones such as red, orange, yellow and green, and with a flexible internal structure that allows them to bend in completely different ways.  They also put artificial gravity to its utmost use, treating walls and ceilings as workspaces, and find it incredibly wasteful that other cultures don't.  It's the kind of race that would have been ridiculously expensive to portray on TV, and as such makes for interesting reading.

The book itself follows a three-chapter structure; first we get a chapter on Spock and how his Reunification Movement is doing on Romulus.  The second chapter follows Ben Sisko, and what he's been up to since returning from The Celestial Temple.  The third chapter focuses on the many different aspects of the Typhon Pact, sometimes from the perspective of the Romulans, and sometimes from the perspective of the Tzenkethi.  Then the cycle repeats again. The book stays loyal to this format for the entire novel, and as you'd imagine the elements start to overlap as Spock's Reunification Movement affects Romulus's role in the Pact and vice versa.

Like most things in the TrekLit world, Spock's Reunification Movement can be taken to the next level now that TrekFilm world is focused on the new JJ Abrams timeline.  Of course, we know that Romulus is destined to be destroyed in five years or so, but Romulus is part of an entire Romulan Empire (one of two Romulan Empires at this point, actually), so this doesn't mean there won't be any Romulans after that happens.  In fact, much of Spock's story crosses over into dealing with the reunification of the currently split Romulan Empire, as Spock hopes such a move would then lead to a reunification between the Romulans and Vulcans.  The many different approaches reunification could take are discussed, and it's a concept that -- now that it can be done in the books-- I'd actually like to see happen some day.

Sisko's story catches us up on what's been happening to the the characters of Deep Space Nine.  The fates of Kira and Vaughn, which we were only teased with in Zero Sum Game, are shown in detail here. We also get some glimpses of what's happened to the Sisko family since we last saw them.  Ben Sisko himself is not a happy man here; he's haunted by something that I don't particularly want to give away, but it's his driving force throughout the entire book, and it's something I found horribly heartbreaking because it's causing him to distance himself from his family.  I'm a big fan of happy marriages in fiction, mostly because they're so few and far between, and it pains me to see Sisko's marriage which was so happy in the TV series falling apart here.  I also have to wonder how Avery Brooks would feel about it; Sisko's line in the final episode, "I will be back," was added at his insistence, because he felt the issue of parental abandonment in the African American community was too important to have Sisko not be there for his child.

As far as the Typhon Pact is concerned, this is probably the best book yet, as it starts with the Typhon Pact just starting to come together, and heavily details how the Romulan Empire joins (or more specifically, the Romulan Star Empire;  the splinter empire, the Imperial Romulan State, is not a member of the Typhon Pact.)  From there we start seeing the political manipulations, both between the two Romulan empires and the Tzenkethi, and we get a real feel for how the face of the galaxy is drastically changing.

Deep Space Nine itself is barely in the book, but it's definitely an important chapter in the lives of the series' characters, so if you're a DS9 fan it's a must read.  And if you're just curious about the Typhon Pact in general, this book is probably the best place to start.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Cape - ''The Lich, Part 1''

Spoiler Level: Medium

I'm with Rollo on this one.  Voodoo is not my speed.

 It's not a bad story, in fact it managed to surprise me a few times, which is always good.  And it's not really Voodoo per se, as there's no real supernatural element to it, which works for me because I'm more into science than magic.  But for me the episode didn't really start getting interesting until the various mysteries started coming together at the end.

And I have to take serious issues with the scenes between The Cape and Voyt.  Voyt was Vince Farady's best friend.  You're telling me Farady is going to talk to Voyt from the back seat of his car and Voyt's not going to recognize his voice?  Or worse yet, over the phone?  And Farady actually gave Voyt his phone number?!?  Perhaps in Part 2 we'll learn that Voyt did recognize his voice, and guilt over what he's done to his best friend is what lead to his change of heart.  It would seem a bit out of character for him, but I always like a good redemption story.

And the scene of  Vince's wife was just heartbreaking.  These family-torn-apart scenes are even tougher for me to watch now that it's unlikely that we'll get a resolution to them.

But on the positive side, Rollo continues to be a cool character, we get a better glimpse into Chess's psychosis, and as I mentioned earlier, the episode did surprise me in spots.  I'm hoping that since all the cards are now out in the open, Part 2 will grab me more.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Transformers: Prime - ''Masters & Students''

Spoiler Level: High

I am very happy to report that The Hub is streaming full episodes of Transformers: Prime on line!  I was able to watch this episode for free at www.hubworld.com/transformers/shows/prime, but since I discovered it late in the week I don't know how much longer it will still be there.

So how is the first regular episode?  Not bad. Not impressive, but enjoyable.  Starscream hatches a plan to recover Skyquake, a massive Decepticon buried on Earth.  Optimus Prime and Bumblebee take him on by themselves, because the other Autobots are... umm... helping the kids with their science projects.  Okay, that part was a little much.  But on the plus side, watching Ratchet get maniacal in taking the projects over was a good laugh, and seeing the kids have to show the results to their class was amusing.

Skyquake himself is very cool.  He's got a great look.  Although it's very odd that Optimus says Skyquake hasn't chosen a vehicle form yet, because he's got a giant cockpit on his chest and wings sticking out of his back.  When he does scan a jet, it's a good one-- it reminds me of a cross between a VF-17 from Macross 7 with the coloring and nose of an Alpha Fighter from Robotech.

And Soundwave looks really cool.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Star Wars: The Clone Wars - ''Ghosts of Mortis''

Spoiler Level: Atomic

Welllll, now...

This is an interesting way of having your cake and eating it too.

"Always in motion, the future is."  And while this episode shows us --and Anakin-- the future that we already know lies ahead for him, it also says this future is not set in stone.  Which I'm glad about; I understand the temptation (no pun intended) to play with the fact that we know what Anakin will become, but as I've said before, from Anakin's point in time, that's the future, and that future must have alternate outcomes based on Anakin's choices.  Anakin's story is a tragedy tale, and in any well-written tragedy story, the hero who is about to fall must have several chances to turn back. 

But part of the tragedy is that the character flaw that leads to his final downfall also leads to his not taking those chances.  Just as Anakin's fear of losing Padmé leads to his final fall to the dark side, his fear of that fall leads him to side with The Son here.  In his desperation to not become Darth Vader and do the terrible things Vader does, he's willing to do anything.  But it's a very twisted, distorted logic; by joining The Son he may be changing his future, but umm, you've still got those Sith eyes goin' on there, Anakin.  Perhaps he hopes that by uniting with The Son he can do things differently; yet he seems ready to go to battle with Obi-Wan and the entire Jedi Order if it's necessary. 

From that moment on, as a viewer we realize a reset button is going to have to be pushed at some point here.  This is just too much for Anakin to be aware of before Revenge of the Sith.  And although The Father wipes the information from him, Obi-Wan and Ahsoka still have all of their memories of the entire incident, including how Anakin turned on Obi-Wan.  And while I'm sure Obi-Wan's willing to chalk that up to the strong influence of The Son and Mortis, you'd think that the fact that he now knows Anakin could be turned would make him a little more wary.  In that sense, I feel this episode may have taken it too far.

While The Father is very specific that Anakin is in fact the Chosen One and will bring Balance to the Force, he isn't really clear on whether Anakin's falling to the dark side is a necessary part of that path.  The Father says "You have brought balance to this world.  Stay on this path, and you will do it again for the galaxy."  Now this can be taken in two different ways; he's destroyed The Son as a Jedi, and if he stays strong he can do the same to the Sith;  or that just as he fell to the dark side here, he must become a Sith to destroy them.  The Father's final words, "But beware your heart," seems to imply the former, but you can't really escape the obvious parallels of the latter.  So that part of the Prophecy remains vague; but then again, prophecies usually are.

Back to more straight-forward Clones vs Battle Droids next week.  This trilogy of episodes provided a very thought-provoking diversion from the usual Clone Wars formula; I can see fandom either loving or hating these episodes when this show is looked back on.  Personally, I think I'll need a little more space from them to make up my mind, but my initial impression is that these episodes were necessary to reconcile the heroic Anakin of The Clone Wars with the Anakin we see in Revenge of the Sith.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Smallville - ''Beacon''

Spoiler Level: High

The Earth-2 Lionel Luthor finally makes his move, seizing control of Luthorcorp and uniting with Lex's young clone. Lionel starts out trying to pull his usual smarmy double-talk, but luckily no one buys it for a minute so he resorts to just being straightforward for the rest of the episode.  Which is good, because we know this Lionel is totally evil, so as a viewer I'm not buying it either.  The whole "I care about my family and I want to make amends" shtick doesn't really work with Lionel-2, because there's no way to believe he might be sincere on any level.  I can't blame him for trying because, after all, he is Lionel Luthor, but I'm glad he quickly gave up on it.  Seeing Lionel and young Lex standing united as flat-out bad guys was much more enjoyable.

Similarly, now that Chloe's back Tess feels like a lost character again.  She starts off being distrusted by Lois, which I felt was pretty unfair of Lois since she knows at this point that Tess is at the very least on Team Clark and at most a member of the Justice League.  She's caught with her hand in the cookie jar (or more literally with her hand in Clark's trunk of Kryptonian knick-knacks), giving Clark a guilty look when he catches her doing it.  And then there's the final scene, where Clark, Ollie & Chloe re-open Watchtower (again) and Tess is nowhere to be seen, because she's busy deciding whether or not to kill Alexander.  It's a shame, because she was doing so well the rest of the season.  Although she does have that great moment where she tries to show Alexander that it's never too late to turn to the light.

It's great to see Martha Kent back again, and seeing her champion Clark's cause from the political angle.  And it's even better that she's inspiring Clark to take those final steps to becoming Superman-- it looks like the glasses are going to be coming for good next episode. In the Silver Age version of the Superman mythos Clark has outlived both John and Martha Kent, so with Smallville being down to their last 10 episodes Martha is no longer bulletproof, which helps create some real drama on whether she's going to survive or not.

So all in all, while it really wasn't up to the quality of the rest of the season, it certainly had some very good moments that I've waited a long time to see, and was enjoyable overall.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Star Trek: The Next Generation - ''Unnatural Selection''

Spoiler Level: High

In trying to write about this episode, I've found it has a lot to nit-pick about.  The first and most obvious is that it's a heavy retread of the classic Trek episode "The Deadly Years."  It doesn't just have a similar premise, the whole first two acts follow the same pattern.  The second most obvious is that while many of the Enterprise crew show an obvious distaste for genetic manipulation, it's not the crime here that it's portrayed to be later in Deep Space Nine. Although you could argue that the second most obvious nit-pick is how much they go on about using the transporter to restore someone to their original condition has never been done before, when it was done twice in the animated series, one of which was even to restore the crew to their proper ages!  Then there's Pulaski having yet another parallel to McCoy in hating the transporter.  And finally, when we first see the shuttlecraft Sakharov in the landing bay it's a new design with a sharply angled nose and nacelles close to the body, and a moment later when it flies out of the landing bay it's now the first season egg-shaped design.

But when all that is said and done, what's left is really an enjoyable episode.  Pulaski is actually likable here; she's stubborn, but it comes across more as strong-willed and determined than as abrasive, and she actually comes across as warm to Data when they're in the shuttlecraft together.  While the plot is the same as "The Deadly Years," the fact that it's not an exact follow-up like "The Naked Now" and it's a new mystery to figure out why it's happening makes it more interesting.  And to be honest, I always found the concept that the Federation outlawed genetic engineering due to the Eugenics Wars too Earth-centric, and a bit cowardly when it came to exploring mankind's potential.  And now I can appreciate that part of having Pulaski hate the transporter was to provide more drama; if they had just said "oh okay, let's just use her pattern on record" it wouldn't have been as dramatic as having to scour her quarters for anything containing a piece of her DNA.  I still remember my then-girlfriend and I referring to it as "that damn hairbrush" from then on!  The first time this episode aired, we were actually hoping that they might kill her off since the character was proving to be unpopular, especially in our crowd.  But looking at it now, I think we were being unfair to her.  She did a good job in this episode, and if she had gotten more moments like this, she might have won us over.

And just for the fun of it, here's a comparison shot of those shuttlecraft scenes!  It's a lot more obvious when you click on it to see it full-size.

Monday, February 14, 2011

The Cape - ''Goggles & Hicks''

Spoiler Level: High

First off, it's nice to finally have a title that's not just one word.

Secondly, Goggles & Hicks are very cool villains.  Goggles is the eccentric genius who hunts the victim down, Hicks is the gunman who takes them out.  Goggles is verbose, Hicks is silent.  Goggles enjoys his work and is a kid at heart, Hicks is serious and down-to-business.  And the opening scenes set them up as master assassins.

Too good, actually.  After building them up, it's too unbelievable that they can't take out The Cape given the circumstances they're in.  They're foiled by things like trees, interference from tunnels, and plain old missed shots.  Which would have worked fine if we hadn't already seen them shoot through brick walls from a ridiculously long distance to take out a man hiding in Afghanistan.  Their surprise at their initial failure due to The Cape's cape being bullet-proof is understandable, but after that they should have brought their "A" Game, or been foiled by things that were much more unpredictable.  Really, if you guys are that good, tunnels and trees should not be what stops you.

But as usual, what makes the episode work is the characters.  It's nice to see Trip making a new friend, and being able to do it because in his heart he believes his dad was a good cop.  The cracks in Hoyt's armor are staring to show, and Dana's starting to see him for who he really is.  Each episode she gets closer and closer to the truth.

Sadly, I'm starting to lose hope of getting a pay-off from the series.  According to this report at TV by the Numbers, the ratings have been dropping, and NBC has cut the season down from 13 episodes to 10.  And of course, they just wrapped on episode 10, so unless it's renewed, we probably won't get a conclusion.  And if it is renewed, the odds of this arc being wrapped up in the first few episodes is pretty unlikely, as shows prefer to do season long story-arcs.

This is a real shame.  Sure, this show has its share of angst, yet it's the kind of positive attitude show that we could use more of.  If it could at least be given a chance to wrap this story line up it would have a chance at a second life on DVD, but as it stands now it's more likely to fall into the bin of forgotten shows.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Infestation #1 and Star Trek: Infestation #1

Spoiler Level: Medium

I've said a million times that I'm not into horror, but I couldn't let IDW's zombie crossover event Infestation go without commenting on it.

When IDW announced they were doing a crossover between Star Trek, GI Joe, Transformers and Ghostbusters, I was all for it.  Of course, I was hoping that it would be a story with all the characters interacting with each other, and not just be a crisis that affected each universe independently.

However, I really, really have to give IDW props for how they're playing it.  For starters, they're not pushing all of the books out in one month.  The first month we get Star Trek: Infestation and Transformers: Infestation; the next month we get GI Joe: Infestation and Ghostbusters: Infestation.  Each mini series is only two issues long, so they won't break your wallet.

And on top of that, they're going with a weekly format for publishing them all.  It started in the first week with Infestation #1, with the second week being the first Transformers issue, and the third week being the first Star Trek issue. This way, you can skip the parts you're not interested in, or follow the entire story as a weekly ongoing if you're so inclined.  I like weekly series, so this really appeals to me.

And by keeping each series in their separate universes, you can read as few or as many as you want.  I had originally planned to read only the Star Trek issues and the Infestation framing mini, but now I'm tempted to pick up the others.  And having read Star Trek: Infestation #1 I can honestly say I didn't need to read the main Infestation book.

But I'm glad I did.  I actually enjoyed it, because it does the same thing I like about Ghostbusters-- mixes supernatural and science.  The zombies are brought into the main universe using an interdimensional Stargate.  (They call it a portal, but that's because if they called it a Stargate, they'd have to pay MGM.  It's a Stargate though, right down to the seven chevrons.  It's in a gate room that looks exactly like Stargate Command, although it's not in the Cheyenne Mountains.  So since this series deals with alternate universes, let's just say this is this universe's version of the Stargate and leave it at that.)  The zombies are brought through from a parallel universe.  To stop them, the heroes (a group of Vampires) try activating a bunch of robots left at the base.  Only in this world, you can have magic-enhanced machinery, so the zombies can actually infect the robots.  Obviously they've got to get these zombies back through the Stargate, but when they do it winds up sending them to four different universes.  And thus our crossover is in full swing.

This clever set-up brings us to why you don't need to read Infestation #1-- because the zombies are just as new to each of the characters in the separate minis as they are to the reader.  Don't know who these zombies are, where they came from, or what their deal is?  That's okay, neither does Spock.  You can learn along with him.

Which leads me to Star Trek: Infestation #1. First off, look at that cover.  I always thought that old Gold Key logo was kind of creepy, and never before has it been used so perfectly!

The story takes place during the post-TMP era, which I personally love.  I know a lot of people hate that era and rag on the uniforms, but I love them.  When TMP came out I was 10 years old, and everything's always more exciting when you're that age.  I had been waiting for this movie for as long as I could remember, and I just ate it all up.  I loved the look of it, the new Enterprise, the new special effects, the new uniforms, all of it.  It just felt like Star Trek had been elevated to an all new level.  I was never fond of the militaristic uniforms of Wrath of Khan and beyond-- I always felt they would make nice dress uniforms, but were far too formal for duty uniforms.  Oh, I got used to them eventually, but I still think the TMP uniforms are better, and I welcome any opportunity to see them again.

Unfortunately the entire story is about a landing party, so everyone's in their landing party jackets, which aren't as cool.  Oh well.  The landing party consists of Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and three security guards.  Who do you think's going to end up as zombie fodder here?

You have to admire zombies getting the Star Trek treatment-- Kirk figures out the zombies are the planet's colonists, and thus considers them innocents and is holding out for a way to cure them, so the landing party feels compelled to not use lethal force.  The zombie colonists don't have any such feelings towards the crew, of course.  Meanwhile, Spock's trying to figure out just what happened to everyone here.

It really works.  Star Trek runs into plagues all the time, and since zombies are always spread like a plague, it actually fits.

So I have to congratulate IDW for finding a way to do a major crossover that doesn't violate the natures of each of its properties, is still huge in scope, and yet still manages not to milk your wallet.  Good job, guys.  This is the way a crossover should be done.

DC Showcase: Superman / Shazam! The Return of Black Adam

Spoiler Level: High

The collection of DC Showcase shorts has finally arrived!  Well, okay, it arrived a long time ago, but Rich and I finally made time to watch it!

The lead feature, "Superman / Shazam!: The Return of Black Adam," is up to the usually DCU OVA high standards.  The animation is fantastic, as usual.  It's a somewhat different take on Black Adam, as he can now shoot lightning from his hands, but his origin is closer to the his classic pre-Crisis origin of having been banished from Earth and spent 5000 years returning.  It's also Captain Marvel's origin story, as we meet Billy Batson and get to see him meet the wizard Shazam and be given his powers.

The only complaint I'd have about it is that Billy Batson's voice is a bit too young; he's drawn as a young teen, but his voice sounds like a pre-teen.  But I can live with that.  Black Adam's lightning blasts don't bother me, because I can never remember if this was a more recent comic change or a change made for the video, and besides, it works really well with Superman's vulnerability to magic.

It also had a few surprises and some great lines. I always liked Captain Marvel, so I'd love to see this lead to more, including the introduction of Captain Marvel Jr. and Mary Marvel in future shorts.

I've already reviewed the Spectre, Jonah Hex and Green Arrow shorts.  I wanted to comment on the extended versions here, but all I can say is that I can't tell what was extended.  I realize it's been a long time since I saw the ones for the Spectre and Jonah Hex, but Green Arrow wasn't that long ago, and really, every single scene seemed familiar.

Rich tells me there's no DC Showcase short announced for the next DCU OVA, All-Star Superman. While my initial reaction is disappointment, I'm hoping this is because they're saving them all up this time so all the shorts on the next DC Showcase collection will be new ones.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Music of DC Comics: 75th Anniversary Collection

This is a great concept.  For DC Comics 75th Anniversary, they've gathered together a collection of music from many of the movies and television shows starring the heroes of the DC Universe.

The album starts off with 7 tracks from various versions of Superman and Superboy, followed by 7 tracks of Batman music, 5 different themes from the Justice League (including the Super Friends), and then more solo themes for the individual heroes such as Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Plastic Man and others.

Now, I figured there would be a lot of notable exceptions.  For example, the Smallville theme song "Save Me" by Remy Zero isn't there, but the end credits theme from seasons 8-10 is, and it's a much more rare piece of music, so that works for me.  And presumably it costs them less than "Save Me" would have.  But I wouldn't have expected staples like the classic TV theme for "Adventures of Superman" to be missing.

Also, very few of these are clean versions.  Now I realize there's probably no surviving isolated audio track from the 1960's Filmation cartoons to pull from, but I would have thought we could have gotten a version of "Lois & Clark" without the sound effects left in.  Often the end theme for the TV series was the same as the opening theme but without the voice overs, so in a lot of cases using those would have made a much better choice.  (Especially with "Legends of the Super Heroes."  I loved that theme music as a kid, and here it's pretty much drowned out here by the voice over and sound effects.)  But these are all pulled from the openings, and after eight or nine tracks in a row of a dramatic voice over, it starts to sound pretty monotonous.

But this collection does have quite a few gems on here; the aforementioned "Smallville Season 8," which is still being used for the end titles and which I never would have been able to appreciate if I hadn't started watching Smillville online; "Green Lantern: First Flight," which I've already gone on record as having really liked, so it's now wonderful to own it; the end titles to the Wonder Woman animated movie; and of course, the classics such as John Williams' "Superman" movie theme, and the Wonder Woman TV theme. 

The Batman TV theme is on here, but it's the album version instead of the TV version, which means its missing the trumpet blasts that were used in the opening "Sock! Pow! Zok!" sequence.  Now that may seem like I'm contradicting myself, but in this case those were musical notes and, to me, an important part of the song.  The Batmobile sound effect at the end of the opening, by contrast, is not.  So they get points for including what they felt was the best version of the song, even though I'm personally disappointed that version never included those notes.

And really, to be fair, I'm sure they felt that by picking all the openings, they were picking the versions everyone wanted to hear; as I've said before, no one plans to put out a disappointing product.  I just think if this was intended to be about The Music of DC Comics, they should have forgone the dialogue and tried for as many fully instrumental versions as they could.

So all in all I can't recommend it as an album, but it is a  good source if you want to cherry pick your favorites from Amazon, eMusic or iTunes.

Star Wars: The Clone Wars - ''Altar of Mortis''

Spoiler Level: High

A pretty straight- forward follow up to the previous episode.  There's still talk of Anakin being the Chosen One, but now that that's been established the story is focusing completely on the power struggle between the Son and the Daughter.

The Son wants Anakin to join him, tipping the scales to the dark side.  To bring that about, he abducts Ahsoka and infects her; not so much turning her to the dark side as much as just "turning her bad," and then finally killing her.  It's actually a good ploy, since we know it's Anakin's fear of losing his loved ones that will in the end tip him over to the dark side; but while Anakin does show desperation at Ahsoka's imminent demise, he faces it much stronger and with more resolve.  Of course, he also refuses to let it stand, and his ability to be the vessel that the Daughter uses to heal Ahsoka may be another element that leads to his later overconfidence that he should be strong enough in the Force to turn back death in Revenge of the Sith.

So all in all it's a good story and a very enjoyable episode, but I'm a bit disappointed that it doesn't follow up on the implications of Anakin being the Chosen One and exactly what the Prophecy is meant to be.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Tron: Legacy Original Soundtrack - Daft Punk

Despite being heavily into synth music, I've never been a huge Daft Punk fan.  I guess because I felt their music leaned towards trance, and I'm not a big fan of trance-- I'm a big fan of melodies with wild sounds.  Hence my favorite artists have more been along the lines of Information Society, Pet Shop Boys, Adamski, that kind of thing.

But I've always had respect for Daft Punk.  I mean, you've got to respect any band that hires Leiji Matsumoto to do an entire series of music videos!  Not to mention I always enjoyed their music when I saw their videos, starting with "Around the World" back in the 90's.

So when I heard they were doing the music for the new Tron, I was familiar enough with their sound to be very pleased.  This was a move on a par with getting Wendy Carlos for the original, and I could see their trance sound working great with the Tron universe.

And now that the movie and soundtrack have been out for nearly two months and I've gotten to spend a good amount of time with both, I can honestly say that it looks like having not been a Daft Punk fan has actually worked in my favor.  I went into the movie with few expectations of what the music score would sound like beyond having synthesizers.  What I got is the kind of music I love best: a blend of different styles (in this case, synth and orchestral) and recurring themes.  The opening music ("The Grid") grabbed me right out of the gate, I absolutely loved "End of Line" (and in fact all the music from the End of Line Club), and the end titles just blew me away.

After seeing the film a second time, I knew I had to buy this soundtrack.  So I did, and for the next few weeks, I was hearing it in my head no matter what I did.  In the morning when I was moving slow and trying to start my day I'd hear "Outlands" or "Armory" in my mind.  When I was rushing to get something done, I'd hear "Fall."  And when I was excited, well, then I'd really be jamming, so it would be the "End Titles."

I was also pleasantly surprised to hear Jeff Bridges' opening dialogue left in on "The Grid." His son's line, "You got in," and his reply, "That's right, man," are left out; while they're perfect for the movie, leaving them out so it goes "Until one day... I got in" gives it a better flow as a piece of music.  It's the only vocal sample on the entire album, and it works great.

So I was playing this album a lot, and the more I played it, the more I had this itch to see the movie yet again.  Now, I can't tell you the last time I saw a movie in the theaters three times, but I knew I couldn't wait for DVD.  Every piece of music conjured up the stunning images of the film in my head, and it was an itch I had to scratch.  I had to at least see this movie one more time, now knowing the music, so I could really let myself fall into both the visual and audio spectacle of it joined together.

I can't remember the last time that's happened to me.  The last time that I've loved a soundtrack so much that I don't just grab the one or two tracks off of it for a playlist, but really just appreciated it as a complete musical work and can't stop listening to it.  The last time I've loved a soundtrack so much that I've actually gone to see the movie again just to pay attention to how the music flows with the visuals.  That is a remarkable achievement, and Daft Punk has created a remarkable work of art with this album.

Smallville - ''Collateral''

Spoiler Level: High

Oh.  Okay, the flash of light wasn't Hawkman being reborn, or the light of the New Gods rising to fight the Darkness... it was a trap by the government to catch all the unregistered "vigilantes."  The VRA somehow knew where the heroes were going to bury Hawkman and figured that their time of mourning would be the perfect time to jump them.  Wow, and I thought the Westboro Baptist Church was harsh.

What we get from there is an homage to The Matrix, as our heroes are plugged into a virtual world where they can be controlled. It works well enough as a story, and it's great that the show finally lets Clark fly for a moment, even if it is only in the VR world.

And best of all.. the return of Chloe!!  She's right back in the opening titles and everything!  I'm very pleased.  And while it would have been heartwarming if Clark could trust her right away like Ollie did, I thought Clark's distrust of her makes sense; as someone pointed out, her judgment was pretty screwed up during the whole Doomsday season, and hey, this is Smallville, where people do The Wrong Thing all the time for the lamest of reasons.  Clark realizing his double standard in not trusting Chloe for not telling him all her secrets also worked well, and is another sign of how he's finally growing this season.

It's kind of odd seeing Green Arrow and Black Canary together and yet Green Arrow's in love with Chloe instead.  And along those lines, it'll be interesting to see how things play out with Tess now that Chloe's back.  Tess has finally found her place, and I'm hoping the two of them can work together instead of against each other.  I'm assuming Chloe's new role is going to be leading the Suicide Squad, leaving Tess free to still be Watchtower.  We'll see how it goes.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Star Trek: The Next Generation - ''The Schizoid Man''

Spoiler Level: High

Another fun character episode.  I've mentioned before that I'm a fan of W. Morgan Sheppard thanks to his portrayal of Blank Reg on Max Headroom, and Ira Graves is one of his better characters.  Ira Graves was one of the teachers of Data's creator, Noonian Soong.  I say "one of" becuase  Star Trek: Enterprise established that Noonian Soong's ancestor Arik Soong developed an interest in artificial life, and presumably his notes were handed down to his great-grandson Noonian.

I also find it very amusing that Sheppard's previous show Max Headroom was all about a guy whose brain was downloaded into a computer, and here Sheppard plays a character who plans to do the same thing!  Ira Graves has been working on a system to download his brain, and therefore cheat death.  Then of course Data happens to arrive at just the right moment, so he decides that downloading himself into Data would be much better.

So in effect this is another "possessed" episode, which makes at least one a season so far. However in this case it didn't bug me, for several reasons.  Firstly, just as with "Lonely Among Us" this is an early one, and it's been 25 episodes since the previous one, so the concept hasn't been overdone yet.  And secondly, we know exactly who has taken over Data and why he did it, so the story doesn't hinge on "Gee, why is Data acting this way?!?"  We know why, we realize what the threat to Data is, and Ira Graves is a complex enough character that we can even relate to his desire to cheat death, and hope that there can be a solution that works for both of them.

Speaking of which, I always like in stories like this where the actors take on parts of the other actor's speech patterns, but I guess if Data walked out saying, "Oi, that Graves fella... 'e's dead,"  it would have been a bit obvious.  So instead of taking on his accent, he takes on his mannerisms, as in when calling Wesley "boy" when he lectures to him.  It's interesting that he still can't use contractions; apparently, that's a limitation of Data's cybertronic brain that Graves is stuck inside of.  It's interesting that his feelings could be brought across with him, but his speech patterns can't.

And lastly, it's no secret that this episode introduced Dr. Selar with the intention of her becoming a love interest for Worf.  Sadly, The Powers That Be nixed the idea, and Selar was changed to the Klingon woman K'Ehleyr, still played by Suzie Plakson.  I for one would have loved to have seen how a romance between a Klingon and a Vulcan would have played out!

Star Trek's Forbidden Love

K9 - ''Alien Avatar''

Spoiler Level: High

This episode starts off really well, with Starkey on his way to go fishing and trying to explain the concept to K9, who of course doesn't get it.  They run into a pair of CCPC Robo Fuzz, and K9 has a humorous moment with them in their mutual incomprehension of humanity. It's a great opening scene.

Sadly, from there the dialogue takes a nose dive.  A lot of it was very reminiscent of "Liberation," in that it was cliched, predictable and fairly tedious.  Which is a shame, because the plot itself is pretty decent.  The fish are all dead, poisoned by something which can also affect K9, and everyone's started seeing alien ghosts.  It's all connected of course, and in a way that makes sense and works well.  It's a shame that the story is dragged down by so many cliches.

To be fair, there are a few other good lines in it.  Starkey tells Darius to be a man, and Jorjie quips "He doesn't do impressions."  That was witty.  K9 gets a great line in when he comes across Darius trying to untie Jorjie.  And Professor Gryfen hollers "Blood of Pythagoras!"and "What the Heisenberg...?!?"  I don't know if those are good or bad, but either way they made me laugh so I'll go with good.  Actually, there are quite a few good bits in here.  But it flip-flops between good moments and tiring moments in the same scene, making the end product come across as unbalanced.

An interesting note, K9 refers to the CCPC as cyborgs.  So are there actually organic parts in there, or are the writers just confused between the difference between cyborgs and robots?  It's something I'd like to know more about, but I suspect this show isn't going to go into depth into the CCPC's origins.

So while this episode does have some good qualities, overall I just didn't enjoy it. So, K9's score to date: 7 wins, 5 losses.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

You Know You're Truly a Fanboy When...

So my local Barnes & Noble is where I usually buy my Star Wars books.  They always had a wonderful display, with all the nice, shiny Star Wars novels in chronological order according to the guide in the front of the books.  It was quite a sight.  And since I've started reading so many of them at my local library and have long since given up on owning them all, seeing that beautiful display every week always gave me a little thrill.  It's one of the few times I could say "Wow, what a great rack!" in public and not get slapped.

Then sometime before Christmas, Barnes & Noble rearranged their shelves.  No big deal, most stores do to prepare for the holiday sales.  But when they moved the Star Wars books, they just tossed them on to the new shelf.  No order at all, not by author or title or series, and certainly not in the nice chronological order it had been in.  Eh, whoever organized it before will probably get to it eventually, I thought.  It's not like it really matters.

But then December came and went and no one had organized them.  And then January.  Then February hit, and last week I found myself just, kind of... organizing the first shelf.  Just the first row of books.  Just a little.

I came back this week and found my first shelf more or less intact... more or less.  So I decided to tidy it up again and work on the second shelf.  Then I thought, you know, this would really go quicker if I just move all the Prequel books to the top shelf and all the Classic books to the middle shelf and the New Jedi Order books to the third shelf... it was like a puzzle, and I was starting to have a lot of fun solving it.  I was going full steam now, and before I knew it a half hour had passed.

Then, while checking the listings in one of the books, I happened to notice my shirt out of the corner of my eye.

I only own two Star Wars shirts.  One is a design I picked up while vacationing in Disney World, from their Star Wars Weekends.  The other was a gift from a friend of mine, a Clone Wars T-shirt that he gave me for my birthday.  And --honest to God-- it was on the top of my pile of clean shirts that morning, so I had just grabbed it and put it on.

I was organizing all the Star Wars books, that weren't even mine, into chronological order, while wearing a Star Wars t-shirt.


I might as well have been wandering around the bookstore wearing a Jedi robe and a lightsaber.

It's one of those Hall of Fame/Shame moments.  One of those moments of startling clarity when you realize just how much this silly little enthusiasm you have for something truly rules your life, how deeply it truly runs through your blood, and how absolutely absurd it must look to anyone who doesn't get it.  I literally started laughing out loud, and -- once I'd finished organizing the books, of course-- went to get to my wife and have her immortalize this moment with her camera phone.

Sometimes, your inner geek just bursts out of your chest like an Alien, refusing to be denied!

 

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Family Guy: It's a Trap!

Spoiler Level: Low

You know, I've gotta say, while I've enjoyed these Star Wars spoofs, I haven't been a huge fan of them.  I wasn't even going to watch Blue Harvest, but my DVR accidentally recorded the second half of it instead of The Daily Show one night, so I watched it and found it amusing enough.  Never did go back to find the first half, but y'know, it was cute.  Then Something Something Something Dark Side came out as a DVD only realease, and since I had Netflix by then I rented it.  I considered posting a blog about it at the time but came to the conclusion that I didn't have much to say about it besides "I wish they would have had more jokes and less footage just aping the original's ship shots."  And I love ship shots.  Now don't get me wrong, the jokes were good ones and I had quite a few belly laughs, but I just felt there weren't enough jokes in it.  But again, I thought it was cute enough.

So when It's a Trap! showed up at the top of my Netflix queue, I was up for it, but had low expectations.

Maybe that's why I found this one to be the funniest yet.

I mean, right from the opening crawl it had me really laughing.  Laughing hard.  And the jokes came a lot quicker this time, and didn't feel like they were playing second to the animation.  And it stayed funny-- I have favorite scenes in Jabba's palace and in the Endor attack.

My only complaint is that this one actually had a good deal of blood in it.  Now I know people find blood funny these days, but it just doesn't work for me. I find it gross and generally disturbing and it doesn't make me laugh at all.  That's probably the main reason I quit watching Drawn Together.  But hey, that's just me.

I don't want to hype it up too much because I think part of why It's a Trap! succeeds so well is the low expectations I had after the first two-- which in itself is great, because people tend to bash Return of the Jedi so much because they're expectations were so high after the first two.  As such, it's the perfect counterbalance to the Classic Trilogy.  So if you were going to skip this one, go ahead and at least rent it anyway.  How's that for a ringing endorsement?

Monday, February 7, 2011

Star Wars: Outbound Flight by Timothy Zahn

Spoiler Level: High

I was expecting a different kind of Star Wars book with this one; You don't often get a Star Wars premise on taking a great big ship to explore deep space.  And I knew this was supposed to be a first contact story with the Chiss.

What I did not expect was Thrawn himself, Jorus C'Boath, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker.  As a result this is much more a story of political intrigue.  Both among the Chiss, as Thrawn tries to stop threats to the Chiss Ascendancy that Chiss policy won't let him address until he believes it's too late, and among the Republic, as Darth Sidious takes further steps to thin out the Jedi in preparation for his upcoming rise to power.  And being a proper Star Wars book, it has lots of big battles between the Chiss, the Vagaari and the Trade Federation.

Outbound Flight (the ship itself) is intended as a colony ship, which simply intended to pass through the Unknown Regions on its way out of the galaxy, with the intention of setting up a colony in another galaxy before returning. C'Boath's motivation for doing this is he foresees a dark cataclysm coming for the Jedi, and wants to make sure there is a Jedi colony outside the Republic, guaranteeing the Jedi Order will survive. In that sense, he's on the right track.  We know the Purge is coming, and his plan may very well have been the Jedi's salvation.  The only problem is, C'Boath is quite full of himself and thinks he knows what's best for everyone. and he quickly becomes a tyrant.

This book does address one thing I never liked about the prequels:  the implication that the Jedi were baby snatchers.  When Qui-Gon talks to Shmi Skywalker about Anakin's midichlorian levels in Phantom Menace, he tells Shmi "Had he been born in the Republic, we would have identified him early."  That always sounded to me like midichlorian checks were one of the standard health checks a baby got, and if your kid's results were positive, then it's "Sorry, we're taking your kid for everyone's own good."  I mean, how terrible is that?  We go from the Force being portrayed in the original Star Wars as something special inside all of us that can be unlocked with the right training, to something in your blood that means you're now part of the Master Race and have to be ripped from the arms of your parents to be trained properly, lest you fall to the Dark Side.  Brrrrrr.  That's another one of the reasons I felt that the Jedi Order had become corrupt and needed to be rebuilt from scratch.

But this book paints a completely different picture.  Here, Zahn states that testing for midichlorians is optional.  Only families who are willing to take the test do it, and the families consider having a member of their family join the Jedi Order a great honor.  It's definitely a much more palatable interpretation, and while I still don't feel it completely meshes with Qui-Gon's statement, it's another example of why Zahn's books are so enjoyable.

Another concept raised here is that Darth Sidious foresees the arrival of the Yuuzhan Vong, and that's part of his motivation for setting up the Empire.  It's often been said in New Jedi Order that had the Empire still been around, they would have been more equipped to deal with Yuuzhan Vong invasion, and while I have no doubt that's true I hardly think Palpatine's motivations were that altruistic.  More likely this was the angle Sidious used to sway his servant Doriana, or simply the angle Doriana felt he needed to sway Thrawn.  I can see Sidious taking advantage of the knowledge of the impending Yuuzhan Vong threat, but I sincerely doubt it was his goal to protect the Republic by turning it into an Empire; I feel it was more that he felt as Sith, he deserved to rule.

But these aren't complaints; if anything, these are examples of what make Timothy Zahn's books fun to read, and things that make me have fun pondering the details of the Star Wars universe.  (Like, for example, how did a clone of C'Boath get made if he wasn't a part of the Clone Wars?  Okay, maybe that one's a bit of a nitpick; perhaps it'll be explained in one of the later books.)  His characters are always engaging and the stories are always filled with enough intrigue to keep me interested, and his endings are always big.

Along those lines, Thrawn's origin story is fantastic.  He always was a great character, and I really enjoyed getting to revisit him.  I'm hoping Zahn's later books set during the classic trilogy, Allegiance and the upcoming Choices of One, delve more into how he came to be in the service of the Empire.

Lastly, while I love the original cover, I have to point out how amazing the Japanese cover to this novel is.  There it was split up into two novels, and in addition to the Outbound Flight itself and Thrawn, we also get Master C'Boath, his Padawan Lorana Jinzler, Palpatine, Car'das, and wonderful interpretations of how Anakin and Obi-Wan would have looked a few years before Attack of the Clones!  Thanks to Outer Rim and their international cover gallery for the image below!