Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (Retrospective)

First off, it's not a good movie. I would never make that claim.

But this film gets unfairly lumped along with genuine cinematic travesties like Battlefield Earth and Batman & Robin. I've seen dozens of big-budget sci-fi films worse than The Final Frontier in the last twenty years...including Star Trek: Insurrection. There are a few moments that work quite well - which I'll discuss in a minute - but the main story is weak, obvious, and downright goofy. And Shatner's inexperience as a filmmaker - not to mention various other setbacks and budget constraints - does nothing to help the translation of one of the weaker Trek scripts to the big screen.

Did Paramount make a mistake giving Shatner a chance to conceive Star Trek V's story and direct it? Probably. No matter the quality of the film, having Shatner as a credited writer and director painted a giant bullseye on Star Trek V. It's a punchline that practically writes itself. The film was never going to get a fair shake - and the end product is, to me, quintessential Shatner: big, over the top, dopey, yet strangely enjoyable. It's a guilty pleasure. I won't lie: along with II and VI, this is one of my sick movies.

The story is built on an interesting but flawed premise: Kirk and company go on a quest to meet God. Of course, any Star Trek fan above the age of ten only needs read more than that one sentence plot description to know that they'll never actually find God, nor would the filmmakers dare to prove or disprove His existence. The film ends with a trite - and obvious - "maybe God is within us" message: inoffensive to both doubters and believers. I don't know exactly what Shatner's original intentions were - but The Final Frontier has nothing meaningful to say about religion or humanity's need for a God.

The film doesn't even dare to have an actual villain.  Sybok, a Vulcan mad prophet of a sort, is neither formidable or credible as an antagonist, since Sybok's powers and his vision from "God" are never properly explained. There's nothing wrong with a sense of mystery - but there's a difference between leaving things open to debate and not knowing what the hell is going on in your script. Sybok's gifts (not to mention all that "Great Barrier" bullshit) fall squarely into the latter department.

And it doesn't help that the filmmakers went the Days of our Enterprise route and made Sybok the half-brother of Spock. This makes Sybok someone that Spock has to care about, instead of wanting to care about. The idea of a passionate Vulcan - and a young Spock being attracted to his beliefs, his passion - could've made for one heck of a story. A quick rewrite defining Sybok's powers and making him an old friend of Spock's could have saved the last hour of this film from plodding melodrama and bland, inoffensive philosophizing.

And Shatner's ego is on display throughout the picture. This is Kirk's story, with Spock and McCoy the co-stars and the supporting cast that and only that. Kirk is the only one immune to Sybok's powers, and even has the balls to stand up to "God." A good chunk of the film's needless jokes are at the expense of the supporting cast.

OK...I meant to defend this film, but I've spent the last few hundred words giving The Final Frontier the finger. So what does the film do right? Why would I even want to defend it in the first place? The answer is simple: no other Trek film dedicates as much time to the relationship between Kirk, Spock, and McCoy, or nails the affection these characters have for each other and the affection that audiences have for them. I have always said this film works when the trio share a scene together - especially when it's just the three of them - even if the main story sucks. I stand by that.

The campfire scene in the first act and the reveal of "their pain" near the end of the second are the film's two most successful scenes. This is pure Trek - and if you don't agree with me, go back and watch the original series, which was often as cheesy, melodramatic, and silly as this film. Whether Shatner the director rises to the occasion or these scenes were strong enough on the page to be relatively foolproof is open to debate, but these scenes do work. Few other moments in the history of the Original Series capture the loneliness of these characters, or the regard these men have for each other...and, most importantly, how much they hate to admit it. True, this beat would have worked better if Shatner had regarded the entire cast as family, instead of just DeForest Kelley and Leonard Nimoy, but it's the one thing that makes The Final Frontier work for me, the only reason I own it on DVD, and the only reason I still watch it every few years.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Weekend Plans of the Nerd Kind (April 24th - April 26th)

Internet was down for most of yesterday, which screwed up most of Friday's writing plans. So here's a quick list of this weekend's geek-out.

WRITING: My weekend's pretty much booked (damn you, last vestiges of a social life!), so I won't get much done. Getting back into a proper schedule this week didn't work out (damn you, Resident Evil 5!). Plus, I was in general a lazy bastard this week (damn you, me!).

Plan on getting this right come Monday.

Season 2 of Star Trek or finish the first disc of Spaced. Superman II: The Richard Donner cut or JCVD (the latter is not out on DVD, but can already be streamed from Netflix).

GAMES: Going to go through Resident Evil 5 again, to upgrade weapons and collect achievements. Also going through Resident Evil 4 for the first time on the Wii. Also doing some online Mario Kart Wii this weekend with old friends who are now out of state.

BOOKS: Should finish The Yiddish Policeman's Union, but can't get into it right now. Probably start Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, which arrived in the mail yesterday.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (Retrospective)

" dying, no fighting, no shooting, no photon torpedoes, no phaser blasts, no stereotypical bad guy. I wanted people to really have a great time watching this film [and] if somewhere in the mix we lobbed a couple of big ideas at them, well, then that would be even better." - Leonard Nimoy

To be honest, I've been dreading the retrospective for this film. Going into this project, I knew what I wanted to say about every film...except this one. It's such a strange, unique, and carefree story - and despite its environmental message, it's a movie that should simply be enjoyed. Some movies shouldn't be analyzed too much - and Star Trek IV is one of them.

I only have a few slight criticisms with the final story - all of which are in the final act - but I'll leave them to myself. I don't want to influence your opinion of this film. If you want to post a comment on your thoughts, I'll read it and respond. Other than that, I'm out.

Next retrospective in a few days. Star Trek V is going to be a toughie - since I plan on defending that film.

Yeah, you read that right.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Resident Evil 5 (First Night)

* Clocked in two and a half hours on the first night. Stopped at the end of Act 2.2. It certainly held my attention, but not in the same way that Bioshock, Grand Theft Auto IV, or Mass Effect.

* The controls are decent enough once you get used to them - but almost all my deaths so far have been because my fingers and thumbs have tripped over each other in the game's more frantic moments. Knife attacks are especially troublesome to me - which should have been a single button press, preferably a click of the right analog stick. Using your knife in a Resident Evil game is a final, desperate measure, and taking seconds to think, "Ok, I hold down the left bumper and..." is not only frustrating, but it also takes you out of the game.

* Is the game racist? I still haven't made up mind, having not finished the game, but I'm leaning towards no. I'm not an expert on race relations, but I am a gamer who writes about games, so I'd like to think I'm more qualified to discuss this particular matter than Newsweek editors or college professors (see link above).

Most importantly, I've played Resident Evil 4, which this game is a direct sequel to in terms of plot, monsters, and gameplay. So I know that the African villagers in this game are possessed by the same parasites that possessed the Eastern European villagers, who also brought knives and pitchforks to a gunfight, in RE4. Last time I checked, no one ever accused Capcom of having an agenda against Eastern Europeans. The game presents allies that are both African and American, and the game's two real villains (i.e. not possessed) are white. The RE series has never been subtle, and it's obvious that Capcom's contempt is with big business and colonialism, not with Africans.

I can easily see how those not familiar with series could take offense. Whether or not you're familiar with the RE series, you still play as a white guy who spends most of his time shooting endless waves of black guys. No matter how you look at it, that simple facts remains. Call me a pussy if you want, but I wouldn't have told this story - no matter how good my intentions were.

* Wish the game was scary, but it isn't. There haven't been any good jumps, nor does the game create any sense of dread. True, RE5 has a lot of competition with other games of this generation, like Bioshock and Dead Space, but it seems like Capcom isn't even trying to scare you. I find that rather disappointing.

* Going to get back to it now. I'm certainly enjoying this game, but I don't think I'm going to buy my rental copy from Gamefly.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Weekend Plans of the Nerd Kind (April 17th - April 19th)

WRITING: Plan on dedicating several hours a day on the main story I've been working on. I'm nearing the end of the second act, and, oddly enough, I have both too many and too few ideas of how to end the story. The most important thing to do this weekend is to get settled into a schedule again - hard to do when the wife and I work odd hours. For the first two months of this year, I got a schedule locked down around our hours - but it all fell apart last month thanks to illness and other stupid things. I'm just now settling back into a productive groove.

I want two pages of script written a day, and/or 1,000 words of prose (blogs sadly count) completed. Friday and Sundays are my days off - so I want more out of those days.

As the old saying goes: practice, practice, practice...

TV and MOVIES: Need to watch Star Trek IV again for the retrospective, which I haven't seen in a few years (watched it way too much as a kid). I'll probably get in an episode or two of the original series, as well. I'm nearing the end of the first season and I'm surprised by how few episodes of the show I've actually seen - which is pretty cool, because it means I have new Trek to watch. Of the episodes I hadn't seen before, I was especially impressed with this one.

Also have the first season of Spaced checked out from Netflix, and it's also quite rad to have new Simon Pegg/Edgar Wright material to watch. It doesn't have as many laughs as Hot Fuzz (a movie I know hold in the same esteem as Young Frankenstein, Airplane!, and The Naked Gun!) but these guys - along with Jessica Stevenson - know their funny. It's been a real treat.

Speaking of British TV, I bought the fourth season of the new Doctor Who - the best sci-fi going on TV these days - almost three months ago and I'm not even a quarter of the way through it. I'm rationing the last full season of David Tennant's Doctor (Christoper Ecceleston is still my favorite - but that's doesn't mean Tennant isn't damn good at what he does), so I can savor each episode. I might treat myself to an episode this weekend.

GAMES: The gaming group is getting together tonight for Heavy Gear. The wife and I have been doing some Wii Mario Kart. Also, Resident Evil 5 is in the mail from Gamefly. Might be a few days until I get to RE5 - need to wait on my brother for co-op.

BOOKS: Reading The Yiddish Policeman's Union, by Michael Chabon. Love the story, though it can be tough to follow, thanks to my lack of knowledge of Yiddish culture and Michael Chabon's florid prose. Chabon tones down his prose style so the story can emulate classic hard-boiled fiction. Personally, I don't think he toned down enough. Simplicity and striking images are, to me, essential to good noir, but Chabon often plays an ace when a deuce would do. But, man, can Chabon write...

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (Retrospective)

When the reviews come in for each new Trek film, some critic invariably makes the dig that the latest film "feels like a TV episode with a bigger budget." Star Trek III is the only time where that's actually true. There's a lot of individual moments that work in the film, but those moments can't hide the story's true purpose: to reset the franchise back to normal after the events in The Wrath of Khan.

It's hard to remember a time when Trek appealed to a wide base of casual fans - but the original series achieved this with broad characters (there was a Scotsman named Scotty, for God's sake) and self-contained stories. You can jump in at any point in the original series and not feel lost. The same goes for the books and comics that were released steadily during the 80's and early 90's. The Wrath of Khan changed this, with life-changing events for the characters and lingering plot threads. All of these threads are hastily resolved in The Search for Spock so the franchise could return to its standard "tune in next time" mode of operation - which is why The Search for Spock seems so cold and calculated.

This film wasn't made just to resurrect Spock, but also to eliminate the Genesis effect and Kirk's son from the franchise. It's hard to believe that the filmmakers blew up the Enterprise, because it's the only thing stopping the film from having the cast fly off on their next regularly scheduled adventure at its conclusion. True, the resurrection of Spock works well enough. Personally, I can't think of a way to do it better. Where the film fails completely is with David's death and the unstable Genesis planet - the latter making no sense whatsoever.

There are numerous plot holes in The Wrath of Khan (Reliant fails to notice that an entire planet is missing), but the story works so well that you either don't notice or don't care. The Search for Spock's plot holes are so large and so egregious that it's shocking that the movie works at all.

How does Kirk fail to put together that McCoy carries Spock's soul after McCoy breaks into Spock's quarters and speaks in the dead man's voice? If Genesis is now a galactic controversy, why is there one tiny scientific vessel orbiting the planet when there should be an entire peacekeeping force? Why does Kirk hijack the nearly crippled Enterprise, making him a wanted man, when he could buy a small working ship? How does the Federation not go to war with the Klingons after the events in the movie? Most importantly, if the Genesis wave is so unstable that it blows up a planet -- where, mind you, all life on preexisting life would have been destroyed -- like hot dog left too long in the microwave, how does that make it in any way a less effective weapon to those who would use it so?

The answers are simple. Kirk remains oblivious so the exposition can play out. The film's modest budget equals modest special effects. The filmmakers thought they couldn't have a Trek film without the Enterprise (something the next film would disprove). You can't have a happy ending if the better part of the galaxy is at war. And the filmmakers wanted to sweep the Genesis effect under the rug, and they thought killing David, one of its inventors, and making the effect unstable would do it. Harve Bennett's script isn't strong enough to support such obvious plot devices and unbelievable leaps in logic.

It's also a strangely conditional story, nervous about the risks it takes. So what if Kirk blows up the Enterprise? It's going to be decommissioned anyway. All Kirk does is take out the trash. All the new Federation characters are douche bags or officious pricks, so Kirk and company can stuck it to the man. (And why is every Admiral in Star Trek a dick, anyway?) Kirk's son also gets douched up a notch, since he's responsible for the Genesis effect being unstable - which makes his death more of a punishment for his sins. Instead, it robs his death of its proper impact.

Speaking of the Klingons, their actions and motivations are never explained. It's hinted that they're the Klingon equivalent of the Michigan Militia - paranoid men who see everything and everyone as a threat, who are working independently of their government. That could have worked, because something - anything - needed to be added to their section of the story.

The Search for Spock is clearly the work of a first time screenwriter and a first time director, though both men came into their own with Star Trek IV. Any faults in Nimoy's direction don't come from a lack of talent: he's just not suited for much of Star Trek III's material. He has a gift with actors and his camera work is simple, unobtrusive, and effective...letting the story play out with natural ease. The quiet scenes work quite well, but action and adventure are a bit lost on Nimoy. There's nothing wrong with what action there is, but there's not enough of it and what's there is in no way exceptional. The battle between the Enterprise and Klingon Bird of Prey can barely even be called that.

And I don't how much of this has to do with Nimoy, but it's the ugliest Trek film of them all, with terrible costumes, make-up, and production design. Only ILM's effects hold up twenty-five years later. The color pink is all over the place, all the new aliens look downright goofy (even for Trek), and Chekhov looks like Freddy Munster for most of the movie. Normally, I wouldn't knock a movie -- especially an 80's movie -- for this, but it's so awful in places that it's hard to take an otherwise well-made scene seriously.

It's still a pretty decent sci-fi film - better than most give it credit for - but I don't care for its impact on science fiction stories. I was still very young - five or six - when I first saw the film, and the idea of a character coming back from the dead was mind-blowing. It's not the first sci-fi/fantasy story where a character is resurrected, but it became obvious as I grew older that bringing Spock back from the dead was a business decision first and a creative decision second. Maybe I'm too close to this one, but so many sci-fi stories - Trek and non-Trek - have used this same trick so many times now that death rarely feels final. It's especially bad in later Trek stories. When a character dies now in sci-fi/fantasy story, my first thought is almost always "Oh, they'll be back..." Thanks in large part to Star Trek III.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Random Thought #23

Though it will never replace my love for the regular french fry, that doesn't mean that I'm not glad that the sweet potato fry exists.

Team Fortress 2 Pictures (4/12/09)

Man, that's going to make the blooper reel.

A Badass in Repose (The Sniper)

"It was the best of "BONKS!" It was the worst of "BONKS!"

He died without a jar in sight.

"I once blew up a fish this big..."

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Mike Tyson's Punch-Out !! (A Quick, Angry Outburst)

Goddammit, before I die I'm going to beat Mr. Sandman and actually make it to Mike Tyson.

I shit you not.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (Retrospective)

Is The Wrath of Khan my favorite film? Don't know - got too many favorites. Would it be on the desert island list? Certainly. More important than anything else, it is the film by which I judge all others. I'm not joking. If I ever write a script half as good as Nicholas Meyer's shooting script for this film, I will be able to die a happy man.

Everything I want in a story can be found in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. For me, it strikes the perfect balance between action, excitement, wonder, humor, and poignancy. At its core, Khan is a film about aging, mortality, and the legacy we leave behind. When I first saw it long ago, in the early 80's, as a young child overly preoccupied with his own mortality, it filled me full of joy and comfort. It still does.

In the last post, I said I wouldn't chronicle the history of each film's production. I know for some people, hearing how a film was made and why it was made that way spoils the magic. But it's important when talking about Wrath of Khan to take a moment and talk about Gene Roddenberry - and his almost complete lack of involvement in this film and every subsequent Star Trek film until his passing in 1991.

Roddenberry received almost all the blame for The Motion Picture, and Paramount took his baby away. He got an "Executive Consultant" credit on each sequel, a paycheck, and the knowledge that the studio didn't give a damn about his opinions. I won't go into more detail on the matter - it can easily be found online. I'll leave all but one of my opinions to myself, but the one I want to talk about is the main reason for The Motion Picture's failure and The Wrath of Khan's success.

After being unable to have any real involvement with the films, Roddenberry went back to television and created The Next Generation, which he, to my knowledge, had full control over until his death. And the first few seasons of that show have all the same problems as The Motion Picture - boring characters, bland plots, too many ideas and not enough drama, and an emotional distance from the audience that all but one of the Star Trek spin-offs never fully recovered from. In Roddenberry's Star Trek, humanity has already evolved into a near-perfect society, with our baser emotions and instincts always under control. That's all well and good, a nice sentiment - but it makes for terrible stories.

Nicholas Meyer, Khan's writer and director, is somewhere between a realist and an optimist in his Star Trek stories. People are still people, full of the same flaws and weaknesses that humanity has always suffered from, but his characters overcome their weaknesses and better the world around them...or they are consumed by them until they are undone. That, to me, is Star Trek.

It's interesting to note that, besides a couple of brain slugs and two Vulcans, Khan is a story without aliens, solely focused on human beings. And what few aliens there are don't really count: the brain slugs are a plot device, and the Vulcans have never been more human than they are in Meyer's three Trek stories. I think that's one of the main reasons that this film appealed equally to Trek and non-Trek moviegoers when it came out in 1982.

Also, it's just a damn good story. All the pieces fit together perfectly, with each plotline strengthening and enhancing the other - The Kobayashi Maru simulation, Kirk's mid-life crisis, Khan's lust for revenge, Carol Marcus, Kirk's son and Khan's protégé, The Genesis torpedo, and Spock's sacrifice.

By today's standards, there isn't much action - but every moment of action is gripping. Meyer's love of Horatio Hornblower and other swashbuckling tales is obvious: the Enterprise and Reliant act like two giant battleships in space, slowly passing and flanking the other, unloading devastating cannon fire until both ships are all but crippled. There is an honesty to these scenes unique to Trek - people die terribly and there is no quick fix to each ship's damage. At the end of the film, both the Enterprise and its crew have received deep wounds from which they may never fully recover.

That makes it sound like Khan is a dark, depressing film - but really it's not. Of course, before the studio added Spock's casket on the Genesis planet and Leonard Nimoy's narration which ends the film, it may have been. Setting up the sequel so obviously does marginally cheapen the impact of Spock's death - though his death scene is still incredibly powerful - but it's for the best that the film ends with a sense of hope. The joy of simply being alive.

There's lots of other things I'd like to talk about - ILM's incredible effects, James Horner's rousing score, and Meyer's direction of the Trek cast and Ricardo Montalban - but I think it's time to wrap this up. I want to talk Khan's impact on science fiction and then I'll be done.

First, I find it highly doubtful - and depressing - that almost every major studio going today would not allow Meyer's script to be filmed without serious script-doctoring. It would most likely be considered by today's standards as too serious, too weighty, without enough humor, action, or appeal to male moviegoers 15 to 25. I can easily picture some studio exec's sole note on the script being "too much talk about death, not enough time spent actually killing people."

But people love this film, and more than one story - Trek and non-Trek alike - has chased its tone, its quality, and its resonance. X-Men 2 is the most obvious example, with almost the same exact ending as Khan, down to the dead character's final narration. Other Trek stories like Deep Space Nine, Enterprise, and Star Trek X: Nemesis tried to evoke Khan's sensibility, with only DS9 succeeding.

As for me, I watch it at least once or twice a year. It's always in my mind when I'm writing a story. As I said at the beginning of this rant, if I write a story half as good as The Wrath of Khan, I'll die a happy man.

Bioshock 2 (New Trailer)


As I've said before, I'm not sure Bioshock needs a sequel - but, man, do I want to play this. It looks like you no longer have to switch between plasmids and conventional firearms, which is a welcome improvement. My fingers got confused more than once in the first game while switching between attacks, leading more than once to serious injury and/or death. And I find it hard to believe that using the Big Daddy drill on Rapture's spliced-up vagrants will ever get old for a guy like me.

My only lingering doubt is the story. Bioshock is quite possibly the best single-player game I have ever played, and so much of that has to do with its brilliant, compelling story. No matter how good the gameplay is, I won't consider Bioshock 2 a complete success without a rich story that alternates between wonder and terror with deceptive ease.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Team Fortress 2 Pictures (4/08/09)

"Dibs on his ammo!"

Ah, that look of surprise and agony...

"What do you mean, 'behind me?' "

A Badass in Repose (The Scout)

Not very sneaky, but you can't argue with the results...

Star Trek: The Motion Picture (Retrospective)

One month to go until the new Star Trek movie. So I thought I'd spend the month leading up to its premiere doing a retrospective of the previous Trek films featuring the original series cast. Why? Because I've got nothing better to do - that's why.

So, before we begin with The Motion Picture, let me explain to you what kind of Trek fan I am.

* I own every film, save Insurrection on DVD. And I own a good portion of the DVDs for the TV shows, with the complete Deep Space Nine collection and a complete lack of Voyager. Star Trek II and VI are two of my sick movies - so, being the gimp I am, they get a lot of play in this house.

* I have never been to a convention. I don't read the books, collect the memorabilia, or write fan fiction. I just like the TV shows and the movies, and the stories they tell.

* Thanks to DS9, I know way too much about Klingon politics, religious beliefs, and mating rituals.

* I can argue successfully why Kirk is a better captain than Picard in ten words: double karate chop, drop kick, making out with green aliens.

* I don't know the difference between a "Trekkie" and "Trekker." And, frankly, I don't want to know.

* The wife and I may use the word "Qapla' " at anytime during an average day, even for very minor daily triumphs.

So, that being said, let the retrospective begin:

Star Trek: The Motion Picture

If you're still reading this, I assume you're familiar with the films, so I'm going to skip writing a plot synopsis or chronicling the history of each film's production. Also, for this film, I'm going completely off the 2001 Director's Edition. It is, without a doubt, the best version of The Motion Picture.

Mad props go to the late Robert Wise, a consummate professional, who wanted to deliver to fans the best possible version of the film he could with the existing footage. And, no doubt, Wise wanted a sense of closure for what was probably the most turbulent production in his eight-decade long career. The Director's Edition mixes elements from both the theatrical cut and the longer home video edition into a tighter, more cohesive story - a story that almost gains momentum and emotional resonance as it heads to an interesting climax. The new digital effects mesh almost seamlessly with the original optical effects and successfully clarify some of the more confusing sequences in the film - especially in the second act when the Enterprise first encounters V'ger.

The Director's Edition is unable to fix the fundamental flaw of this film: that this story could have worked - and worked better - if it was not a Star Trek film. Only Spock's character arc, which provides what heart and soul the film has, makes The Motion Picture a Star Trek story. The final shooting script could've been easily rewritten as a stand-alone sci-fi film with new characters and a new setting and play out almost exactly the same way. The classic characters feel off throughout the entire film, lost in a story in which they don't fully belong. And buried under the endless effects sequences, needless reaction shots, strange, stilted dialog, and pastel outfits (because nothing says "command authority" like baby blue), is the seed for a truly great, thought-provoking story.

Forgive me for getting all English Major here, but I find it fascinating that V'Ger's search for identity and spiritual belief is so violent, impulsive, and destructive - not to mention the fact that it's prejudiced against anything that isn't like it. Few stories illustrate so well a fundamental truth about our search for a "creator": deep down, we want God to be in our image, not the other way around.

But all this gets lost in the translation to the screen. It lacks the drama and relevance of the best of Trek. All the characters, save Spock, merely react to the plot. One essential element of a good Trek story is having the captain take command, to make hard decisions, to make sacrifices, and since it's Star Trek, to learn and grow. Besides spending the first act being a complete dick in his pursuit to get the Enterprise back (another idea with potential that goes nowhere), Kirk has nothing to do but keep the Enterprise alive to reach the climax, in which he plays only a small part. Kirk has no stake in the story, besides, obviously, saving the world - but that's something he does, like, every other week, so that's not interesting by itself.

The supporting cast doesn't fare much better. Only Bones, an unstoppable force of cantankerous nature, rises above the script. Worst of all is the casting of Persis Khambatta, a model turned actress, as Lt Ilia, who is abducted by V'Ger and becomes the physical personification of the creature. With a different actress in the part - and a quick rewrite removing all that weird Deltan nonsense - some real stakes could've been added to the story.

Personally, I'd call the film an interesting failure, with some beautiful effects sequences, a stirring score, and a handful of memorable character moments. But its effect on Star Trek - and science fiction films in general - is monumental. The Motion Picture completely redefined the look of Star Trek, with only the uniforms getting a complete redesign in The Wrath of Khan (thank God). Certainly the look of each Star Trek film and TV series evolved over time, but its point of origin comes more from The Motion Picture than The Original Series.

More importantly, The Motion Picture is one of the last "old-school" science fiction films ever made by a major studio, in the vein of films like 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Day the Earth Stood Still (the latter directed by Wise). From the beginning overture (Jerry Goldsmith at his best) to its introspective conclusion, it is a slow, thoughtful picture short on action and humor, a film out of touch with what audiences wanted in 1979.

A lot of people blame Star Wars completely for reshaping sci-fi. Some would even accuse of it "dumbing down" the genre. But the success of Alien in 1979, the critical failure of this film (The Motion Picture made a lot of money - but few people liked it), and the initial financial failure of Blade Runner in 1982 are also instrumental to the "summer blockbuster" mentality that sci-fi films are still stuck in to this day. Though it has its failings, I wish studios still made films like The Motion Picture.

Also, 1982 saw the release of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, quite possibly the very best Star Trek story of all time, full of action, humor, and poignancy. Qualities that The Motion Picture often lacks.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

A Letter to Wizards of the Coast

Dear WOTC,

Suspending the sale of all .pdf titles?

Dick move, guys. Dick move.

Let's just get one thing clear right now: it's 2009. Anything you publish, in any medium, is going to be pirated. As of today, April 7th, 2009, I can find a work print of the upcoming Wolverine film online. Today is a Tuesday, the usual new release day for books, CDs, DVDs, and videogames, and with the possible exception of some of the videogames, I bet it would take me all of five minutes on Google to find pirated copies of any of those items.

Frankly, I'm glad you took it to the pirates that stole your intellectual property. I hope it's a warning to those who would illicitly distribute your copyrighted material in the future. You see, I don't illegally download any of my entertainment. Haven't since college. And I think one could make a credible argument that the ease and frequency of pirated media has led, at least indirectly, to ten dollar movie tickets and twenty dollar CDs. I don't do it nor do I support it. But, as a realist, I know it exists and will continue to exist.

So, you potentially lost some sales from pirates. Big whoop. Theft is a part of the business. And did it stop the Player's Handbook 2 from making the New York Times best-seller list? No.

Digital Distribution is a new medium, I get that. But are you going to have Barnes and Noble stop selling your books because some of your titles were stolen, which I'm sure is an almost every day occurrence? No.

Crying "no fair!" and hurting Internet businesses like Paizo and RPGnow because of Internet piracy, an inevitable outcome of releasing a book, album, movie, or game in the 21st century, is not the way to conduct good business. Piracy of your material will only increase because of this, since people who run their games off of laptops (which you have heartily encouraged again and again with 4th edition D&D, by the way) have no choice now but to illegally download your books.

There's been more than one accusation on gaming forums that this is an excuse to muscle out third-party distributors of your product. That, in the following months, will begin selling digital versions of your books exclusively. This is, of course, at the moment, nothing but a rumor. But I can't stress how disappointed I would be to find out that this was true.

It's a brave new world out there, Wizards. And you have to be brave in it. I hope you rethink your decision to halt digital sales of your products.

Jeremy Wickett

Monday, April 6, 2009

Hunter Prey (first trailer)

Hunter Prey teaser

Lot of buzz for this on geek film sites, and I see why they're excited. Good costume design, striking visuals, and the old school, late 70's/early 80's vibe director Sandy Collora wants to evoke is in full effect. Hope this movie has a story to match the visuals and that the meager budget wasn't too limiting.


Saw it yesterday. Liked it a good deal more than I expected, though the film loses its way in the final act. I've got a lot I want to say about the film, but I want to wait until more people have a chance to see it.

But there's one thing that really sticks in my craw which I have to get off my chest (SPOILER): So, the aliens or angels or whatever, who have known about the end of the world for at least fifty years, choose to clue in Nicolas Cage, who seems predestined to become both a prophet and savior to the human race, a whole twelve hours before the rest of the entire fucking planet finds out about their impending doom? Personally, if I was some grand all-knowing being, I would have hedged my bets and given Mr. Cage a little more prep time. At least a good week.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Weekend Plans of the Nerd Kind (April 3rd - April 5th)

WRITING: New laptop, baby. The desktop in my office, almost ten years old now, was in a different room from our router and was without a wireless card. The lack of Internet was not only annoying but slowing me down. More importantly, the even older CRT monitor started emitting a high pitch ringing a few weeks ago which is now constant. I figured I had two options: get a new monitor or laptop, or keep using that monitor steadily until I went deaf to that frequency of sound. While the latter was free, I chose the former.

Still getting everything set up the way I like it - and taming Vista (this is my first real experience with the infamous OS) is proving to be more of a challenge than originally anticipated. Got Celtx and OpenOffice installed. I have five writing projects set up for myself, listed here by priority.

1) Screenplay
2) Comic script
3) Geek 101 test & quizzes
4) D&D campaign
5) Geek Emporium Posts

I'm going to start with the screenplay every day and work my way down the list until I find the right fit for my daily temperament. I work best this way, and I want to make the investment of a new writing computer worth it.

TV and MOVIES: First season of Eureka if I find the time. I picked it up used for the wife this week. Also have Max Payne checked out from work, though I know it will hurt me.

GAMES: Hope to spend some time with the 4th ED. DM Guide and Monster Manual this weekend, since I picked them up along with Eureka this week (total purchase was under 40 dollars - I love my connections). Since our group isn't playing 4th ED., because most of us didn't particularly care for it, I may have to come up with something on my own for the "geek 101" test subject.

Also, if there's time, I plan on painting my first mini. Picked up some plastic primer while the wife and I were already out at the hardware store this morning. The wife, being the "crafty" person she is, already has some old paints and brushes. The minis are from our friend Mike's unpainted Warhammer Quest box sets, which we used for our 4th ED campaign. Mike gave us his blessing to paint some, since poorly painted minis still beat unpainted minis any day. So, even if I really suck at this and don't enjoy the hobby, I'm only out five bucks for the primer. I'll post some pictures if my Sunday is suitably lazy enough to undertake this task.

Lastly, the Wii Virtual Console released Super Punch-Out!!! this week. Never played it before, but we all know how I like my Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!!!

: Nearing the end of Jonathan Strange - only 200 pages left. I have loved every page of this novel - but, right now, I just want the fucking thing to end. When I finish it, I'm going to spike it like a football and do a victory dance.

I shit you not.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Geek Syllabus and Test Update (4/01/09)

All right, I have week one planned for this girl. It's important to mention that we both work at a used bookstore which sells not only books but CDs, DVDs, videogames, etc. She can check this stuff out for free. If not, I will supply her with the necessary books and DVDs. This should not cost her a dime (see comment listed below).

* Read The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

I went with this because it's short, funny, and British humor failed to make the rough draft of the syllabus. Also, Douglas Adams successfully ridiculed and embraced his philosophies and passions, which included technology and science fiction.

* Watch the original Star Wars trilogy (all three edits are acceptable, but the original theatrical version is preferred).

It's Star Wars. To some degree, everyone likes the original trilogy. It's a great piece of entertainment with which to ease her into this.

* * * *

Three more questions for the geek test:

11) What do you get if you multiply six by nine?

12) What science fiction character is known for his or her unusually long scarf?

13) Fill in the blank: "Save the _____, save the _______." (*)

(*) Thanks, Tom