Monday, April 28, 2014

Why I'm worried about Godzilla

There have been a lot of commercials lately for the upcoming Godzilla movie.  And with each one of them, I get more and more worried.  US film companies just don't seem to get it.

It's about the monster.  Godzilla movies are always about the monster(s).  Godzilla is the star.  Whatever army, weapon, robot, alien, creature, or force of nature it's fighting is/are the costar(s).  Miniature little princesses come next.  Regular humans come last.

The last US Godzilla movie failed because it wasn't about Godzilla; it was about Matthew Broderick. (I know his character had a name, but I don't care enough to look it up.)  About him, his ex-girlfriend, her camera man, and an army guy.  Godzilla was glimpsed and teased (because it had been redesigned to be more modern) before finally being revealed.  And then it was gone. Basically this was Cloverfield before Cloverfield.

Godzilla needs to be more Pacific Rim.  The people and plot exist to set up encounters with the monsters; leading to the big mondo battle at the end.  And the human plots get wrapped up as we watch Godzilla swim away and the credits roll.

That's a Godzilla movie.  Any subtext is about Man's inhumanity to Nature. (There's a touch of that in the commercials, so some hope.)  But while Godzilla is a force of nature, it's not some fire or storm to serve as a back drop for boyfriends, girlfriends, husbands, wives, parents, children, and friends separated by disaster to find their way back to each other.

This is not about Man triumphing over the odds.  Man doesn't beat Godzilla, only learns from it. And, often, is saved by it.

Learn you stupid movie studios. Learn!

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Star Trek Sunday

So Epix Drive Thru Channel was showing a marathon of TOS* Star Trek movies today.
*(The Original Series - Garrulous Greg)

Watching The Motion Picture reminded me have much I loved the original Star Trek series.  And watching The Wrath of Khan and The Search for Spock made me realize how different the old guard films were from the current versions.

Yes, yes, go ahead and laugh at the old special effects.  And I know even old school Trekkers pan the length and plot of The Motion Picture.  But that movie and others in the series were 'bad' for one reason only -- they tried to take a classic Trek episode style plot and somehow meld it with the sensibilities of blockbuster sci-fi movies.

The first series wasn't about gadgets and space battles.  The tech served as set dressing, a way to show viewers this is the future, and occasional plot device. (transporter, Mirror Universe, any questions?)  The battles, and tension leading up to them, served the story.  Blockbuster movies serve these things up as visual eye candy, whether there is purpose or not.  Star Trek in it's original conception is a philosophical series, defined by commentary on what are the best of qualities of humanity. It's idealistic, thinky sci-fi.  A true to form TOS movie would be the science fiction equivalent of the historical period piece movies that tend to suck at the box office by take home critical acclaim.  The Motion Picture tried to be both, and did neither well.

As for new series vs old, look no further than the last parts of the second movies of each.  In both The Wrath of Khan and Into Darkness a main cast member dies saving the ship.  But in Khan this death holds resonance because of the relationship of Shatner-Kirk and Nimoy-Spock.  A relationship seen across 100 hours of Star Trek.  The funeral and final scenes are schlocky to those without this emotional connection.  Into Darkness doesn't carry the same weight for simple reason that Pine-Kirk and Quinto-Spock have known each other for only 4 hours of screen time, and for much of that time despised one another.  The relationship between Spock and his brother suffers the same problem in the TOS movie The Final Frontier.

No doubt the current Star Trek films will be better at the box office.  Their conceptualization is built as a blockbuster action movie franchise rather than a sci-fi exploration of the human condition.  And there's no shame in that.  But at this point in the relaunch, there is not sufficient underpinning for moments like the destruction of the Enterprise in The Search for Spock, which for this old Trekker was every bit at poignant as the death of Spock.

I leave you with a few quotes that even today, 30 years later in some cases,  strike an emotional chord with me:

Well, Bones, do the new medical facilities meet with your approval.--They do not. i'ts like working in a damn computer center.
Mister Sulu, you may indulge yourself.
I have been, and always shall be, your friend.
What have I done. -- What you always do. Turn death into a fighting chance.
Of all the souls I've encountered in my journeys, his was the most...human.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Just redo it?

"Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey" is a new series by FOX being billed as a follow up to to the classic "Cosmos: A Personal Voyage" from the 1980's which starred the late Carl Sagan.
Ann Druyan and Neil deGrasse Tyson
I'm not a fan of the idea.  I get that Sagan's widow, Ann Druyan, is an executive producer on the show.  I don't have a problem with star Neil deGrasse Tyson. (At least, not outside of the "Pluto is not a planet" thing.)  And I'm not that worried about Seth "Peter Griffen" McFarlane also being an executive producer. (Though I am going to keep an ear out for Stewie's voice.)

But I do have a problem with remakes, reimaginings, and 'sequels' in name only.  I don't mean evolutions of a fandom into something that disappoints me. (*cough, cough* Stars Wars: The Phantom Menace *cough*) And it's not a HUGE problem.  I don't let it keep me from enjoying a good show.

But ultimately, I believe there are some shows/movies/books that have either a defining foundation of concepts or a style that is so emblematic of the author, creator, or actor/personality that you can't separate the two.

Prime example: Battlestar Galactica

Was the reimagined BSG a good show?  Yes, it was.  But was it Battlestar Galactica? 

The original was about a group of human war survivors voyaging across space in search their lost 'cousins' on Earth.  The series had a very positive tone.  Starting with the reason for the war: the cyborg/reptilian Cylons had attacked a neighboring species and the Twelve Colonies of Man came to their defense.

In the reimagining, humanity had created sentient machines and enslaved them.  The machines came for revenge.  And the people of 'Earth' had destroyed themselves.

Other than proper names (Cylons, Adama, Galactica) the two series are very different.  And in that light the Battlestar Galactica name strikes me as a merketing to ploy to sell a series the creators were afraid Hollywood wouldn't give a chance otherwise.

My concern for Cosmos is that in trying to replicate the 'Cosmos experience' (it's already been stated that the 'ship of the imagination' from the Sagan series will return) that Tyson will be asked to emulate Sagan's style.  Tyson is a very good teacher, but Sagan had a very artistic sense that Tyson just doesn't possess.

It wouldn't have been too difficult to sell a Cosmos like series designed around Tyson.  There was no need to invoke the name "Cosmos".  There are expectations that will come with that name; nd unlike BSG, which had a low bar in terms of story to leap in terms of comparisons to the original.

But the entertainment industry loves to hedge it's bets.  They recycle ideas, franchises, and plots to play it safe.  And that, children, is how we got "Prometheus".

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

New dreams

National Signing Day is almost over.  Smiling young men locking in a college education and at the same time acquiring the opportunity to play college football.

Or so it would seem.

If you check the numbers, a lot of these schools have signed more players than they have scholarships available.  Some have even signed more than the 25 per year they are allowed by NCAA rules.  How?

First, teams are counting on players not being able to qualify academically.  Many of these kids will attend 'prep' schools with hopes of being eligible the next year.  Second, transfers of existing players will free up scholarships.  Finally, some of these recruits will be told to enroll at their own expense and walk on.

All these options are available, because the system is weighted against the players.  It starts with the National Letter of Intent.  This is not necessary to play college football.  But college football programs love them, because they bind the player to the school.  Once so bound, a player cannot leave a program without permission, unless they want to lose two years of eligibility.  They are stuck, coaching changes, mistreatment, or personal circumstances be damned.

The schools are not so bound.  Their only commitment is the scholarship agreement.  And those are one year agreements.  Many of the previously mentioned transfers are because the players were told there would not be a scholarship for them the next year.

In short, the players' options are taken away and schools' options are left wide open.

I love college football.  I'm not a big proponent of cash payments to players.  But giving all the power of these young men's futures to football coaches whose commitment to winning and climbing the coaching ladder, that's just wrong.  I don't doubt that at lower levels of college football the dangers of abuse of power are few.  But at the levels where the stakes are highest, the money greatest, and winning ever more important, I have no doubt abuses do occur regularly.

And that is why I can't celebrate Signing Day.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Bad endings, New beginnings - The US Year in Sports

Well the Super Bowl is over and I'm having flashbacks to the 80s and 90s.  Most of the folks born into the Internet Age won't know this, but there was period of 15 years the where excitement of the Super Bowl was due to the commercials not the game.  In that time frame only 4 of the games had a margin of victory of 10 points or less.  And only two games were within one score.  Hopefully this year was an anomaly, because lately the commercials are getting lackluster too.  Several of the ones on Sunday we the same commercials companies had been running for weeks or longer.  (I'm looking at you Geico.)

I like her better in "Bones"

It's a shame really, because Super Bowl Sunday serves as the New Year's Eve party of the US sports year.  Football is the overwhelming definer of US sports culture.  There's an entire industry growing around the evaluation of the talent of preteens!  The NFL Draft will attract higher ratings than the major events of many other sports.  That's why the sports year ends with the Super Bowl and begins 3 days later with college football's "Signing Day!".  (Though this is somewhat of a misnomer, as it actually is the beginning of a long signing period.  But you gotta have an event for TV.)

So the redeeming factor of a BGB (Big Game Blowout) is that with old year gone, a fresh new year awaits.  Depending on your sports bent in addition to Signing Day you can look forward to the Winter Olympics,  March Madness, The Masters, the Daytona 500, and the NBA and NHL playoffs.

So remember fondly the Muppets, Doberhuahuas, the friendship between a puppy and a horse, and The 80s calling. 

Just don't go anywhere near ESPN for a few days.  Unless you're a Peyton Hater.  Because, ouch.