What is a Bad Movie?

Campy films aren’t necessarily bad and cult classics really can’t be deemed good. There have been more than a couple of posts on Facebook (maybe as many as ten) asking me to pick films that I liked but I thought were bad films. I picked two movies (Joe Vs. the Volcano and Buckaroo Banzai) because I love them and I really can’t defend them. They don’t hold together and/or loose their audience halfway through. They didn’t make enough money in the box office and they haven’t gotten beyond a core cult following as time progresses. As an additional condition of love/bad I should add that I’ve seen both of these movies more than 10 times each and I never tire of watching them. I never tire of watching them while people who watch movies with me regularly object if I propose watching them again. The Wife’s film is ID4. I’ll scream if I have to watch that one again. But then she has about ten films that she cycles through, as well as two or three series that she has on repeat in the room while she’s constructing some art project or other, just as background noise, and I run screaming from all of them. That is the hallmark of a bad movie (or bad TV) that you love. You end up watching it by yourself.

Plot. Theme. Characterizations & cinematography. All of those bases have to be covered if you are going to make a good movie. Carpenter is the king of camp, and I consider Prince of Darkness one of his best films of all time. Big Trouble is another one. I wouldn’t put a Carpenter film in a list of bad films. His films (even his bad ones) are campy enough to be watchable. I’ve sat down and watched any one of a dozen Carpenter films with family more times than I’ve sat down to watch the two I’ve listed, and I still get takers to watch them (especially The Thing) I could go on for several more paragraphs but I’ve been a lifelong movie buff and I’m married to a woman who has been involved in more productions than a good number of professionals in the business. I know whereof I speak, even if I don’t have degrees to back my critical opinions up with.

Visual and written media are different, this is an understood fact.  The adaptation of a written work to film is an important subject of discussion, not just a pedestrian piece of entertainment. Why a film adaptation of a written work is perceived to be better or worse than it’s inspiration is a subject of high importance to the funders of film ventures.  The buy-in of the author of the written work, and their involvement in the making of the film does indeed seem to be key to a successful adaptation.

Let me offer a few examples.

The Harry Potter films all had the direct involvement of the author from the beginning of the film franchise.  I find the study of J. K. Rowling’s evolving talent fascinating.  I read the books myself, and read them out loud twice to my children. We then all went to see the movies. Now, while my daughter lamented at some of the parts left out of the story in question, I could see Rowling’s growing understanding of the film medium evolve from movie to movie, just as I watched her understanding of the written work evolve over the course of the several books she has authored. The films, just like the books, get tighter and more interesting as her understanding of the two different mediums grows. I would offer them as some of the best examples of book to film adaptation.

It can also be a good idea for the author to know his or her own limitations. I’ve read the Hunger Games series and watched all four movies. I find the movies far more interesting than the books were, and more believable.  The characters are far more sympathetic on screen and the actors that were chosen have all performed admirably.  I don’t know the level of the author’s involvement with those films, but I haven’t encountered her promoting them like Rowling did. Yet the films do seem to capture the essence of what was compelling about the Hunger Games novels. A worthy effort.

Fight Club is another instance where the film retains the essence of the book, and yet is actually better as a movie than the book was as a book. Very few adaptations not only don’t insult the original work, but mange to improve on it. It’s also one of the few internal stories that works on the screen, largely because the internal is external (as it is in the book) without the viewer knowing this. If you don’t understand the reference, then you haven’t seen the film. Stop reading and go watch it now.

On the other end of the scale we have every attempt to adapt Dune to the movie screen. I’m not convinced that any of the parties involved (much like the 007 movies and Ready Player One) ever read the books. Frank Herbert was still alive at the time of the filming, but never seemed to have taken an interest in the first movie produced. If Alejandro Jodorowsky is to be believed, then Frank Herbert was very much involved in the project when he was developing it. The final product of the effort taken over by Hollywood bore almost no resemblance to the book that I’ve read, and I’ve read it (and Dune Messiah and Children of Dune and God Emperor of Dune) more times that I’ve read the Lord of the Rings. The mini-series from SciFi comes close to capturing the essence of the novels, but still manages to fumble capturing the theme. The subtleties of the realpolitik have never been captured by any movie that I’ve seen. Most books that I’ve read also fail at giving it life (Hunger Games being the latest to attempt it that I’ve read) unless they are biographies of real historical figures. Even some of those fail at being interesting and real at the same time.

I, Robot remains the epitome of failed adaptations. Rather than simply destroying one character, as Peter Jackson did with Faramir in the Lord of the Rings adaptations, the entirety of Asimov’s work on the robot series was completely thrown out the door. None of the characters share more than a name with their counterparts in the books (a series of short works and novels) the tone of the film is luddite in nature, with all technology representing a fearful threat. This is a framing for the film that Asimov would have rejected out of hand. The plot hinges on a point that contradicts all of Asimov’s writing on the subject (the ability for a robot to kill a human) only to be countered at the last minute with a physics defying descent to an inexplicably located central computer system that isn’t even in Asimov’s works. The continued existence of the film serves as firm proof that there is no afterlife, because I can’t imagine Isaac Asimov not returning from the dead to correct this blasphemy enacted in his name.

The people who complain about minor character details being missed, or sections of the work, like Tom Bombadil (again, in Lord of the Rings) that don’t lend themselves to plot progression, simply don’t understand the constraints of the visual storytelling medium. However, it is clearly important that the filmmaker not only be a fan of the written work, but has to understand how to pull the plot, theme, and narrative out of one medium and place it in another in such a way as to be recognized by the literary fan, so that the people who paid to read the written work will also pay to see the movie. If the producer, director, writer and actors all don’t agree on this and make their best efforts to pull this feat off, you end up with just another blockbuster that you hope makes it’s exorbitant production costs back in the first few weeks of it’s public release. Because you won’t have fans buying it and talking about it years later.

Understanding the limitations of the medium that the story is told in can be key to being more forgiving. For example: A keycard is familiar and its purpose is understood by the viewing audience. Using a keycard to bypass security serves to advance the plot more easily than how you might describe the problem and its solution in a book. You don’t have to spend time explaining how to transfer fingerprints or the knowledge needed to understand bypassing security through the software, if you just have the protagonist steal a keycard. This simplification of the storyline removes at least 10 minutes of film time and who knows how many dollars from the budget. Most of the changes that are made to a literary work being adapted to the screen are done for just these kinds of reasons.

Putting Tom Bombadil into the Fellowship of the Ring movie introduces relationships and characters into the story that really don’t advance the plot and don’t increase the viewers engagement in the story itself. In the book, the brief aside of Tom Bombadil between Buckland and Bree serves to draw the reader into the story, into the world of Middle Earth. Bilbo never encountered any of the problems that Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin did because he stayed on the Great Eastern Road when he traveled from the Shire to the Lonely Mountain in the Hobbit. Tom Bombadil, for the reader, serves to illustrate the problems of leaving the road unsheparded. This makes the Hobbit’s willingness to follow Aragorn more believable when they meet him at Bree. They’ve just survived death at the hands of ghosts and magic because Tom Bombadil was there to save them. The screenwriters rightly decided that shortening the narrative there was without any real cost to the overall storyline. The only people who object to going straight from Buckland (mentioned as the ferry in the movie) to Bree with a single scene cut are the people who are anchored in the literary narrative, incapable of appreciating the different demands a viewing audience brings to the theater with them.

I loved Fellowship of the Ring when it came out as a movie. It remains a testament to what Peter Jackson thought he could sell to a bunch of rabid fans ready to tear the heart out of his three-movie project before the first movie was even cold in the film canisters.

The Two Towers is a completely different matter. The Two Towers is a bad movie in pretty much the same way every second movie is, plus a few other insults thrown in. I’ve already mentioned Peter Jackson’s treatment of Faramir as one of my objections. Dragging the Hobbits to Osgiliath served the purpose of having a crisis moment for Faramir where he and the audience see the danger of the ring for themselves. In my estimation it is unnecessary.

As a film editor I would have sliced off all hints that they ever left Ithilien, had the Witch King show up, have Faramir renounce the ring (he does anyway) and send Frodo and Sam on their way. No need to draw out the crisis moment. No need to have Sam utter that heartfelt speech about not being here that always makes me laugh and agree with him. No. You shoudn’t be in Osgiliath. Now you have to come up with a device to get the Hobbits back onto the borders of Mordor. Oh, look! A tunnel! Just what we needed.

The less said about Treebeard and the ents as they appear in the movie, the better. I don’t think that Jackson had all those sequences worked out in advance. They have a hurried quality to them, which (bararum) Treebeard himself would not have appreciated. The second movie was always going to be the connector between the grand achievement of Fellowship of the Ring, and the closing moments of Return of the King. The book The Two Towers is a long slog, too. That the series of movies were completed at all is a tribute to Peter Jackson and his crew.

…and then he went on to destroy the Hobbit. Peter Jackson’s the Hobbit is J.R.R. Tolkien in name only, just like I, Robot having the name Asimov’s in front of it makes it his movie in name only. I haven’t watched the third Hobbit movie, but I will eventually. The elf/dwarf river dance in the second movie combined with the liquid gold surfing was more than I could take. You strip out Jackson’s love of overly-long action sequences and you might have a set of movies worth watching (see Jackson’s King Kong) his weaving of the various themes that predate Tolkien’s writing Lord of the Rings, themes that aren’t in the Hobbit, was clever if not at all like the book itself.  The first movie announced Jackson’s intentions to not follow the book so I wasn’t too upset when he didn’t follow it in the second movie.

Since they weren’t really J.R.R. Tolkien and they were definitively Peter Jackson, warts and all, I saw no need to rush out and watch the last movie in the movie theater. Now that I am longing to see movies in a theater again it may be time to dust off some of the movies I’ve put off watching and try them out. See if I think differently about them now.

So what is a bad movie? It is up to the moviegoer at large to determine this, just as it is up to the reader to determine whether any given book represents good writing or not. Let me put it this way. On my laserdisc copy of Star Wars Han Solo is the only one who fires a weapon in the Cantina scene. That is the way it was supposed to be before George Lucas screwed up all the original movies re-editing them. It is because of the re-edits that I have said for awhile now that neither Disney nor the Abramanator could screw up Star Wars. George Lucas already did that.

…But then the Abramanator said “hold my beer” and proved me wrong. That is also why I won’t buy Star Wars on any of the new formats that are available. Not unless I get an original version of the movie to view. A New Hope is a bad movie. Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back were great movies. It’s just too bad you can’t buy them anymore.

Or you could just ignore the critics and go see the movie.

Stonekettle Station

The Rise of Skywalker?

The release date for the ninth and last of the originally slated sequels to the 1977 blockbuster, Star Wars, has been announced. When George Lucas was rewarded for his work on the original film, put together with a shoestring budget (judged by today’s movie budgets) he was floored by the fanbase that he had unwittingly created. People who willingly shelled out money for tickets to see the same film, over and over again for over a year, a feat that hadn’t been witnessed in movie history since Gone With the Wind had been released, a full human generation previously. When George Lucas saw how much money he could make in creating sequels to his original work, he abridged his stand-alone creation and let it be known that he had a lot more story to tell, if people were interested.

Star Wars: Teaser Trailer
Star Wars Original Trailer 1977

…and they were interested. The Empire Strikes Back was the second-best selling film after Star Wars when it released. Mr. Lucas went outside of the group that made the first film possible in order to realize the second film, but the movie made big bucks and set us on the course that we’ve been on, Star Wars and movie-sequel-wise, ever since.

Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back – Trailer

Return of the Jedi, the third film in the franchise, didn’t do as well as the previous two films, even though Mr. Lucas brought the film back home to have it made under his direct supervision. It was at this time that the nine film series narrative emerged. After the third film was in the can and George Lucas was looking for his next project. This was when Star Wars became Episode Four, and the plotting of the three prequels began.

Of course, we had to have the digital updates of the original trilogy first. And then we got the forgettable Star Wars episodes one, two and three. The kids liked them, so they sold well enough. There was a cartoon series about the Clone Wars and there were other spin-offs too numerous to mention. For someone who was let down watching the first Star Wars because the novelization was better than the film, it is hard to imagine waiting on the edge of your seat for anything Star Wars after those prequels dropped.

There were no theaters in Leoti, Kansas or Stinnett, Texas, the places where I was trapped during the year 1977, when Star Wars first hit movie theaters. The family had zero funds and bigger problems than my desire to see the epic adventure of our time, to deal with. So I didn’t get to see the movie when it released. I had to borrow a paperback copy of the novelization from the library in one of those two places. It was probably Stinnett. I didn’t get to see the original film until Empire Strikes Back was in release, and then I managed to catch the two films back to back in a new-fangled, dual screen twin cinema, constructed on the edge of my place of exile in 1980, Garden City, Kansas. One of the last things I did in that town before being shipped back to Texas.

My Star Wars diorama

It should be no surprise to long-time readers of the blog that I was much more impressed with the second Star Wars than I was with the first. An impression only strengthened after watching the third film, and then in witnessing the digital cheapening of the first trilogy in preparation for the release of the prequels.

I knew that what would come out after that would be questionable, and my impressions of all six of the later films is filtered through that doubt, the unwillingness to be suckered once again into paying money for an experience that couldn’t possibly be as good as what my own imagination could create in just reading the screen plays. Enjoying fantasy requires the suspension of disbelief, and I don’t have the willpower to suspend disbelief for something so clearly created just to manipulate my feelings with familiar characters. One. More. Time.

Is anyone waiting to see this film? Waiting like I waited to see Empire Strikes Back? Wanting to know what will happen next? Will Luke and Leia get together? They blew up the Death Star but the Emperor is still out there. Surely he has more versatile weapons at his disposal? We know all that stuff now, and none of the original characters have survived to be part of this last film.

Everyone has known the name of the ninth film for awhile now. The Rise of Skywalker. Does anyone care about these new characters? Just curious. I don’t. I’d like to care about Rey, but episode seven was just an orgasm of special effects loosely hung around the bare bones of the exact same story that George Lucas used in the original Star Wars. I watched episode eight specifically because Mark Hamill was going to be in it. It too was largely forgettable and I have mercifully forgotten it over the course of the last few years.

The best Star Wars film I’ve ever seen isn’t even one of the nine films. The best Star Wars film was Rogue One, with Solo coming in for a close second. Rogue One spins out a tale about how the plans that are mentioned in the original film’s crawler came to be in the hands of the rebel alliance. (h/t to screenrant) no, the film does not follow the previously established narratives for how the plans were stolen. None of them were in movies, so their relevance to the canon as established in film is really irrelevant, unless you are a die-hard fan.

Solo of course is all about Han Solo, my favorite character from the first and second films. I followed Harrison Ford from then to now, watching every film that I could afford to go see that has had him in it. Harrison Ford has been worth the effort to follow. His career has encompassed many movies that cannot be described accurately with words. You simply have to experience them to appreciate them. Movies like Blade Runner. The man is a master on screen, like few movie stars can be. The actor for the Solo movie did a passing good job of capturing Han Solo, the character, not Han Solo as portrayed by Harrison Ford. A subtle but important difference lost on people who aren’t movie buffs. He did well enough on screen following the master that I have to give him credit for trying, even if he fails to be Harrison Ford in presence on screen. No one but Harrison Ford could be Harrison Ford, in much the same way that no one but Morgan Freeman can be Morgan Freeman.

Harrison Ford has been worth the effort, even having to suffer through episode seven just to see the ignominious end of the character of Han Solo. As Harrison Ford said, when asked about the film “I got paid”. His were the only scenes in episode seven that were worth the price of admission. Episode nine has the abramanator once again in the director’s chair. Nothing the abramanator has done has ever been worth the price of admission when viewed in hindsight. I doubt that episode nine will be, either.

It is scheduled to be released on December 20th.

wait til it comes to cable

Mark Hamill

Abramanations Multiply

It doesn’t matter if it premieres the resurrected Great Bird of the Galaxy himself, I won’t be going to see this film in a theater. This will be the first film in Star Trek history that I’m actually hostile about before I’ve even seen it, and one of three that I loathe ever having been created (FYI, it’s the last three) I cannot express the level of revulsion that I feel when I contemplate what kind of depraved acts will be enacted on the corpse of one my most cherished memories from another time. Better to just pretend it isn’t happening, I guess.

I did catch a “edited for television” version recently. It was every bit as bad as I imagined it would be, and then some. Somehow the internet haters really failed to communicate just how ridiculous this farce of a film was. I’m not sure how this is possible, but it is. Magic blood. A Khan that isn’t South Asian. Starfleet officers engaging in conspiracies, taking the lives of their own people when they fail to submit to aggression.

That Khan failed to pervert the crew of the Enterprise in the TOS episode “Space Seed” because future man is no longer susceptible to terroristic threats of this kind is a philosophical achievement lost on the creators of nutrek and the Abramanator himself. 

The number of violations of Gene Roddenberry’s vision of the future are almost uncountable. They will remain uncounted by me. It was enough for me simply to confirm that the film was bad and not just bad Trek.

My apologies to the ghost of Gene Roddenberry for having witnessed this narrative of depravity.

My review for Star Trek: Into Darkness on Rotten Tomatoes

I give the film half a star on the Rotten Tomatoes 5 star rating system. I can’t rate it lower than that or I would. Having failed to keep up my end of the bargain and actually never watch the film as the first paragraph of the review goes into, I felt I had to come clean and admit to my transgression after having watched Abramation II. However, this article isn’t just about Star Trek: Into Darkness.  I haven’t been a Trek fan for quite a few years.  I quit following the show or hanging around with fans of Nutrek ages ago, not long after declaring Star Trek dead in 2009. I have no interest in being an internet hater.  I have even less interest in spending time in the presence of people who like things that I think are unforgivable violations of the intellectual property of a long-dead inspiration.

I am quite happy sitting here alone in my office. I am forced to revisit this subject because the abramanations continue, and the general movie-going population remains vacuously enamored of J.J. Abrams’ tripe. I sat down and watched Star Wars VII a few weeks ago with the Wife. We had planned on watching that film on the big screen and we missed it because it left theaters within a month of coming out, it left screens and moved to video release quicker than any other Star Wars film in history. I distinctly remember saying, when it was announced that J.J. Abrams would write and direct, that Given what George Lucas has done to Star Wars, I can hardly imagine how J.J. Abrams could fuck it up more than he has. Having now watched Star Wars VII I can honestly say I owe George Lucas an apology.

I owe George Lucas an apology because Star Wars VII is just Star Wars IV told even more poorly as a story, while millions upon millions more are spent on meaningless effects sequences.  It is a marvel to watch from an effects standpoint (much like Mad Max 4) while being almost incomprehensible from a plot and story perspective (also like Mad Max 4) And since George Lucas filmed Star Wars IV with less money and with no example to script by, I have to conclude that his is the superior intellect when contrasted with the abramanator.

It is nice to be proven wrong on occasion, even when the proof takes a few hours out of my life and a few yards out of my intestines due to the indigestion caused by stress.  Stress caused by having to watch bad filmmaking being rewarded so lavishly.

I blame LOST.

I never did do a post series write-up on that show, even though (as the link illustrates) I was quite the fan, following all the crumbs and clues and waiting for the next episode and the next season with breathless anticipation.  Until the story stopped making any sense at all, sometime during season four. I doggedly continued to catch every episode even then, and bought the DVD collections for each season, trusting that somehow it would all make sense in the end.

Except it really never did.  LOST is singularly the worst written story arc ever to be completed in a television show. It is the only show that, having gotten to the end, I really wanted all my invested time back. Not only does the story not make any sense, but the finale attempts to make every possible fan prediction about what the island was, and how the characters survived, be true simultaneously.  It is the series that best manifests the truism trying to make everyone happy is the surest way to piss everyone off.

Every season following the third season became harder and harder to watch.  Far from being the finale that ruined the show for me, it was the reliance on tropes and heuristics to ‘sort of’ move the show along to the conclusion that most of us saw coming years before the confirmatory finale; the finale which so deflated everyone’s expectations about the meaning of it all.

Why season three?  Remember the season three cliff-hanger ending? (I despise cliff-hanger season endings. Loathe them. What happens if the stars die or back out of their contracts? Just pretend the viewers weren’t left hanging?) Charlie’s big sacrifice? Didn’t mean anything.  It might have meant something if the Oceanic 6 hadn’t then gone on to… What? Go home, become helpless invalids? Fail to raise children and then return to the island? Return to the island in the past (a past that the smart guy in their midst says can’t be changed) Return to the island and be blown up by a nuclear explosion (an event that historically didn’t happen) which traps them in a time bubble. For all eternity. With people they hate as well as the friends they love.

I hate to break it to this guy, but if you have to explain what the ending meant in order for people to get it, then it really wasn’t closure of any kind, much less a good ending for a series.  The only reason people still talk about LOST is because J.J. Abrams is Hollywood gold for some inexplicable reason, and so people feel obliged to say nice things about the series that launched him to success.

I watched in disbelieving horror when Damon Lindelof was paraded out a few years back on The Nerdist, which was airing on BBC America at the time.  Damon Lindelof paraded out and held up as some kind of authority on time travel stories, horrified as I watched him taking apart what were, in my estimation, more interesting stories that used the story-telling vehicle in question.

Damon Lindelof? An authority? An authority on time travel? An authority on time travel as a storytelling vehicle? An authority on stories about things which most scientists will tell you are theoretically implausible, which is about as close to impossible as you can get a scientist to go. The mind boggles.

Let me put it this way. My reading of time travel stories and watching time travel movies, my being obsessed with the concept of time travel for as long as I can remember. My discovery of Doctor Who in 1972 on a hotel television screen in Denver, Colorado (on a channel called PBS that I’d never heard of) makes my left testicle more of an authority on time travel than Damon Lindelof or J.J. Abrams himself.  They so screwed up time travel as a story vehicle in every episode of LOST and in the Abramanation, making the story vehicle a distraction from rather than the method of telling the story that I can’t even begin to explain how they might fix it other than to tell them to go talk to actual speculative fiction writers about what they did wrong.

Which brings me to the real reason I started this post. I ran across a clip on Youtube (see, I said it was bad news) advertising an HBO series that riffs off of another movie and story that I grew up on. That would be Westworld.

This is one of those rare films I was allowed to go see as a child. What is most interesting to me looking back at it is this; Westworld and Andromeda Strain mark the beginnings of my exposure to Michael Crichton, a lifelong dance which ended with his death in 2008 and the novel State of Fear, a novel which many people mistake for non-fiction. In the middle was Jurassic Park as a high note and the poorly adapted Congo as a low note (the novel was much better than the film) it seems that his imagination has served as punctuation marks along my journey through science and speculative fiction.

I liked the original film. It is quite campy now and probably barely watchable. I don’t know for sure. I haven’t rewatched it in at least thirty years.  What I do know is that J.J. Abrams is highly touted as having a hand in the HBO series.

Westworld promo trailer courtesy of Youtube and HBO

J.J. Abrams having a hand in the series creation spells doom for the series from the outset, in my less than humble opinion.  I doubt that most people will agree with me since most people think that Star Wars VII is a good film. However, I’ll stand by this equation,

The watchability of any media offering will be in direct inverse correlation to how much actual control J.J. Abrams has over it.

Westworld could be a good series, but I won’t be holding my breath.  I won’t be able to watch it anyway until it hits Netflix or some other third party site since I don’t pay for HBO any longer.  That is one fine trailer though. Gunshots and partial nudity. Deep bass vibrations in the music to amp up the fear. Lots of famous actor cameos. It hits all the marks that advertising executives require. Just like the trailer for Star Trek: Beyond. Haven’t seen that Star Trek either, but I might watch it. I might even pay to watch it. Someone else wrote and directed it, so it might be OK as an experience. Remember, an inverse relationship to Abramanator control. The Star Trek trailer sports the Bad Robot logo, though. Not a good sign.

HBO is riding the crest of a wave that they hadn’t expected to be on.  Who would have thought that George R.R. Martin would hit it big on television, with HBO as a backer, creating the adaptation of his long running A Song of Ice and Fire fantasy series which only people who live in caves without the internet won’t recognize as Game of Thrones. I am now obliged to offer an apology to George R.R. Martin as well as George Lucas. Not just because I’ve first mentioned him in this article about the dreaded Abramanations; but also because, unlike the rest of the family and probably the rest of Austin if not the entire US, I haven’t seen, read or listened to his stories. I can’t name one title of his I’ve read even though I distinctly remember sharing a table with him at an Armadillocon somewhere in the murky past.  For that, and for mentioning you here, I truly am sorry George.

But HBO is the channel riding the wave now, as AMC was riding the wave of popularity following Breaking Bad and the first few season of The Walking Dead. We’ll just have to see if AMC continues to ride the wave with the next seasons of The Walking Dead and Better Call Saul (which I like more than Breaking Bad, but my liking things is usually bad for their continued existence. Just a word of caution) After the lackluster reception for the cliffhanger ending season 6 of The Walking Dead, they’ll just have to keep their fingers crossed.

Since Westworld isn’t likely to include nuclear weapons or time travel, it is probably a safe bet to watch it. A safe bet for HBO to back it. I’d be on the lookout for the Abramanator to find some way to include those devices in the show, if I had money on the line. If he does, take your money, run and don’t look back.  You’ll thank me for it later.

Top Ten Science Fiction Movies. Can’t Do It.

This is going to be a bit like stream of consciousness to the reader. My apologies in advance for this if you find it impossible to follow.


I clicked a Youtube video link not realizing I was going on a journey that would take all day.

Archangel Films Unbelievable!!!!! The Movie – Official Trailer 2016

This kind of slapstick comes across as too funny. Too funny as in 90 minutes of this would kill me with stupid. I might watch it. I might not. I can’t say. It is billed as featuring 40 previous iconic “Star Trek” actors so I might have to see it. But then that is what the filmmakers are counting on when they make these kinds of movies.

While I’m sitting there contemplating whether to hazard my diminishing quantities of brain cells watching so much stupid at one time (like a Marx Brothers film) the dreaded Youtube autoplay kicked in. First it was this short.

Looper, 6 Movies That Audiences Walked Out Of

Camera motion, blood effects. Chopping one’s own arm off. Yeah, I can see walking out of all of these (I haven’t watched any American Horror Story. It’s just not my style. I am surprised the wife hasn’t wanted to watch it) which is why I haven’t seen some of them. Infrasound would explain a lot of things about certain horror films and my reactions to them.

Crap. Autoplay kicked in again while contemplating Tree of Life (Should I, shouldn’t I? Have I already? Is this me thinking?) What the hell will be next is anybody’s guess.

WatchMojo, Top 10 Underrated Science Fiction Movies

I’ve seen all but three of these (those three are now in my Netflix queue)  Two or three of them are on my “must see” list when someone asks me what to watch next (hint; I have a soft spot for Bruce DernRoy Scheider and Sam Rockwell) For the inquiring minds, Heavy Metal was a movie about an adult comic book which apparently nobody ever admits to reading, not about the rock music which may or may not have been either inspired by or the inspiration for the magazine.  The artwork in the movie is drawn directly from the various illustration styles in the magazine. Yes, I will admit to reading a few copies in my youth. Regrettably I don’t own any of them anymore.

Had Pitch Black made it on their list, it would have been four movies. I am once again victimized by autoplay.

WatchMojo, Top 10 Best Sci-Fi Movies You’ve Probably Never Seen

Not sure all of these films are worth watching, much less being best films you should watch but haven’t. Foreign language films are not for everyone, so I don’t generally recommend them to people I know who won’t be up for reading subtitles, even if I might watch them myself.

I would personally recommend A Boy and His DogThis is where the list starts to go sideways for me. This and the list that follows this one. It starts with the still image that introduces the list.

Don’t get me wrong, I think 2001 is a fine film. I think you should watch that and 2010 back to back. But 2001 is a snooze-fest. It is glacially slow as a movie.  I don’t think a lot of people watch that movie over and over. They remember watching it as a child, but haven’t tried to watch it recently. I have, several times.  Like the 60’s it was created in, it takes the right kinds of drugs to appreciate this film properly.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Stanley Kubrick.  He has three films at least that I would put in the category of best science fiction films. Not just 2001 but also A Clockwork Orange and Doctor Strangelove.  Most film critics will speak highly of Stanley Kubrick and his films. He is an auteur, his films bear the indelible mark of his authorship.  But few of his films are light or fun to watch.  You don’t just pop in A Clockwork Orange for a bit of light afternoon entertainment.

If they can recommend Strange Days without a caution (and I wouldn’t do that. Be prepared for murder and rape scenes conducted in the first person) then A Clockwork Orange is a walk in the park to watch.

WatchMojo, Top 10 Sci-Fi Movies of All Time

No top ten list of science fiction (SF) is complete without Metropolis and Forbidden Planet.  You cannot be a SF film fanatic without having seen those two films and recommending those two films. They can’t be on a list of films you haven’t seen; and if they are, your fan credentials will be subject to revocation.

Metropolis is arguably the mother of all modern SF, a film that has been revisited and reimagined in nearly every tale of dystopia, every film that questions who we really are, any film that posits the difference between man and machine.  In the same vein Forbidden Planet is the forebear of Star Trek, Star Wars, etc.  Those two films have to be on the top ten list or the list is invalid, in my opinion.

Especially any list that credits The Empire Strikes Back as the best SF film of all time. I doubt very much that anyone who wasn’t raised on Star Wars will think that Empire Strikes Back (much less any other Star Wars film aside from the original) should be on the list, much less topping it.  Well, perhaps the original Star Wars; not the now-titled Episode 4, but the film which aired back in 1977, the film that may single-handedly require my maintenance of a functioning laserdisc player in my home.  You remember, the movie where Han is the only person to fire a blaster in the famous bar scene? That film goes on a top ten list, if I could ever settle for ten.

I’m lying by the way. I won’t maintain the laserdisc player just for Star Wars. I will do it for the making of disc for The Abyss, for Tron, for the pressing of Highlander 2 Renegade cut and the copy of 1776 with the bits Jack Warner personally cut out of the film spliced back in and the splice marks still visible. I can link the version of 1776 that says “director’s cut” but there isn’t any way to watch the version I like other than on laserdisc. Same for the making of the Abyss which goes into the ordeal of constructing a set inside of and then flooding an abandoned nuclear reactor vessel so that real underwater shots could be pulled off with that deep water feel. The Abyss (special edition only) is one of the many, many films I would have to include in any list of SF films worth compiling.

There are a lot of good films included in their list, but I disagree with most of the films in the top five. I like them but they are all modern films. Derivative works of derivative works, unless you are talking about the Matrix or the Terminator (Not Terminator II. It’s good and a decent rewatch, just not as good as the first movie which it is derived from) both of which should be way up the list, higher than the Matrix actually appears.

Ten through six are all good solid films. I need to rewatch the War of The Worlds. I haven’t seen it since the 70’s on broadcast TV.  I have the box set of all the original Planet of the Apes films. They all rewatch well aside from the last one.

Children of Men was a heart-wrenching film to watch, but I have little doubt it will survive as a cautionary tale of meddling with mother nature. The original version of The Day the Earth Stood Still was almost unique in its time period with the portrayal of aliens as not being hellbent on destroying us (a fact that the equally good but not as memorable remake decided to change) which lends it the credibility to withstand time. Children of Men is actually one among many films which portray humans as our own worst enemy.

Jurassic Park is showing signs of age, despite their insistence that it isn’t. Maybe it is the weight of the miserable sequels that colors my impression of it. Can’t tell yet. But Aliens? Really, Aliens but not Alien? I agree the sequels that follow are best forgotten, but how do you watch Aliens without first watching Alien? Can’t be done.

Which is the problem with derivative works and especially sequels.  Without context the film is divorced from most of its meaning and has to survive on its own merit alone.  This is why The Empire Strikes Back will not be remembered as the best SF film ever. Because without the first film (1977 Star Wars) you don’t know who the Empire is. Why the villain being Luke’s dad is a problem. Who the hell Luke is in the first place.

If we’re just going to recommend sequels, movies that you have to have watched the previous versions to be able to appreciate, I’d like to put in a shameless plug for Terminator Genisys (deja vu if you’ve read my last post carefully) As I’ve noted when recommending previously, the first 10 to 20 minutes of the film (after the first time jump) is a shot for shot tribute to the original film. It is the most beautifully made and scripted film that I’ve seen for awhile now, and it builds on established previous entries into the film canon, builds on them then knocks them all down, in ways that the viewer will not see coming. If you want to watch a good sequel, this is one for you to enjoy.

If I was going to make a list of ten films you probably haven’t seen recently (if ever) but speak highly of, 2001 is going to be top of that list. In fact, most of the Top 10 list that WatchMojo put together are films that I guarantee the compilers have not rewatched recently.

If you surf over to the WatchMojo website you will notice that they do an awful lot of top ten lists. Way, way more of them than is healthy, quite frankly. In fact, I can’t even find the films-by-decade lists that are mentioned in the Top Ten list just to see if the films I think are relevant are on those lists. I think that creating these endless list films that they produce keeps them from taking the time to enjoy the life that they rate in top ten increments several times a day.

I appear to have stumbled upon the kind of site that internet surfers loathe.  The dreaded clickbait. The site that sucks up all your life and time, without giving you much in return. This explains why their films list is mostly modern films, or films recently remade with modern versions, like War of the Worlds and The Day the Earth Stood Still. Not an in depth analysis of any real kind at all. And I’ve written how much on this subject now? Several pages, at least.

So what about a real Top Ten List? The ten best SF films ever made? I don’t think I can create a list of only 10 of them. I tried to create one of those kinds of lists ages ago on Flixster. I soon found out that limiting the list to ten films requires that I eliminate films that are essential to understanding the artform.  Films like Metropolis and Forbidden Planet.

The profile link for my list says I have 15 films on it. I can’t see them because their website enters an error when I go to click on my own created content.  The web 2.0, more broken than the web 1.0 and now featuring more advertising. Luckily I copied a version of it off and posted it to this blog. I have no idea if it is the last one or not, but here is at least one of my lists.

Avatar should be in the top five. We can start with that. A lot of people love to hate on Avatar, but it is the film that inspired the resurgence of 3D and it wasn’t the 3D in the film that was remarkable. It is the fact that you cannot tell the animation from the real images in the film that makes it so remarkable. That you can have such a realistically animated film and not cross the uncanny valley in the process.  It is an amazing film, soon to be a series of 4 films.

Top Ten worthy films produced since Avatar? I can offer a few.

Ex Machina. Highly rated and very watchable, it explores the boundaries of what is or isn’t human better than any film I’ve seen on the subject.  A film worth mentioning that is also in the vein of Ex Machina is Transcendence, one of those poorly received for no good reason films, consequently not a film that would make a top ten list.

Why won’t Transcendence be a top ten listed film? Because commercial success figures into the calculation of what is or isn’t good, what is or isn’t preserved, what is or isn’t watchable by people who pick up the material to watch later.  If the film was highly rated and it made a lot of money, then it is also still a valuable experience to have, even though I don’t know who Luke Skywalker is (spoken figuratively, from the future) if you want to make lists that don’t make you sound like an idiot, you have to take all of those metrics into account. And since future prediction is something we humans suck at, most of our lists will be utterly worthless.

Take, for instance, Gravity. This is a fine film. Highly rated. Made lots of money. Probably won’t be remembered (my apologies to Sandra Bullock) because it deals with current technology and doesn’t do that really well, even though the cinematography is excellent an the acting is nearly faultless.

In the same vein of discussion, the mainstays of current cinema, the sequel, the franchise, none of those films survive without the other films in the series, just like the Saturday morning serials of old.  Consequently no Star Wars, no Star Trek, no Mad Max, no Alien will go down in history as worthy of mention, unless the first in the series merits it, or there is established a place for serial media (like television) to be consumed in the order it was produced.  This gives the viewing experience context, gives it meaning it doesn’t contain within its own constrained run-time.

That is why Alien appears at number five in my old list, and Aliens at number 10, and those are the only sequelized films on the list. Because films that are part of another genre, that can’t hold their own alone, will not be remembered. This means most of the comic book movies will also not be on any lists, if we can call those SF and not Fantasy. And whether they would be considered SF is an open question, so don’t dismiss it.  If we’re talking fantasy films, we’ve opened an entirely different discussion. A discussion where the film Legend figures prominently.

Continuing the SF list. Blade Runner would also have to be on the list. It is iconic. Worth mentioning is Dark City a twisted little film with the same feel and a completely different storyline. Both of those border on fantasy, so I could see how they would be excluded from a hard SF list.  That is, if anyone actually knew what hard SF was, could meet others who thought they knew and that group could then agree on what the term meant.  I consider that presumption fantasy in and of itself.

As I go down that old list, I can discard several films as being temporarily relevant. Films like Serenity. I still love it, but I am reconciled with the show never returning now. I keep hoping the Firefly online game will release, but I’m beginning to suspect that is also not going to happen.

Vanilla Sky and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind really are hard to rewatch. The Truman Show is still watchable, but really not surprising in the current age of reality TV. You can easily see someone pretending not to be on camera, deluding themselves into thinking the illusion is real. Sadly, it is all too believable now. Truman not knowing he was on camera? That is hard to believe.

I think A.I. should still be on the list, but it may fall off soon. We are just now getting to the point where robots are real things, much less making them capable of passing for human. The singularity that futurists are still fascinated with is portrayed loosely in that film, making it still relevant. Once the robots are among us, there is no telling what will happen next.

The last film that I’ve seen that should probably be included in any top 10 list is The Martian. Worlds better than Red Planet or Mission to Mars (Hollywood is so incestuous) both of which I paid money to see (Red Planet is good fun, just not good SF) The Martian holds up to the most intense scrutiny of scientists (other than the storm at the beginning) making it the most solidly science based fiction film since 2001.

Worthy of mention is Interstellar. Almost a time travel story (almost!) it mixes science and fantasy and comes up with a decent little film exploring the near future and what we might be facing soon if we aren’t careful.

Which brings me to the last great film that Robin Williams was in before he died, the movie The Final Cut; the story of a man afraid to live his own life, so instead spends his time authoring the stories of other people’s lives.

What else would be on the current list? I’m still working on that.

SciFi vs. Fantasy; worst moments in SciFi part 2

An old friend of mine recently submitted the opinion that there is no true SciFi except:

I would like to enter into the court Exhibit A: 2001, A Space Odyssey! Based on a book by Author C. Clarke and directed by the late and Great Stanley Kubrick.

Because 2001 contained only real science, and it’s the only film that has; so my whole problem with canon, and jumping the shark, was pointless because it was all a fantasy, not required to be internally consistent. Don’t take it seriously, it’s just entertainment.

It was a nice try, but not even 2001 stands up to that high standard for deeming something as ‘SciFi’. The climax of the film (if anything that moves so glacially slow can be said to have a climax. Don’t get me wrong, I like the film. The book was better) when Bowman transcends mere mortal existence and returns to Earth as the star child.

Depicting higher planes of existence takes the film outside the realm of science, and into the realm of speculation and/or fantasy. Technically all the ‘science’ in the film was speculative, because none of it could be proven to be possible at the time.

So, I’m sorry, but either everything from Forbidden Planet to the Matrix is in the realm of Scifi, or there hasn’t been a film made that can be called SciFi.

As for the shortcuts Gene took in depicting Trek (such as warp speed and the transporter) a good portion of them have been dealt with seriously by serious scientists, and they aren’t willing to state that the ideas would be impossible. I suggest you check out How William Shatner Changed the World for more on the subject, if you are really interested.

Which brings us to the objection about judging Star Trek (Star Wars, etc.) harshly based on canon. There’s nothing religious about the use of the word canon, at least in this context. It has to do with working within the established framework that defines the fictional future. I’m more than willing to grant creative license where retconning some small part of a character’s history just makes the story easier to tell (such as the origin of Zefram Cochrane which is alluded to in the classic episode Metamorphosis) it’s another thing entirely to sign on for complete re-writes of long held traditions within the framework (such as introducing a dune buggy in Nemesis just so Paramount can make a few extra bucks off product placement and merchandising; or accepting that Vulcans were in Star Fleet before Spock) if individual fans don’t have a problem with this, fine by me, but it still doesn’t make the film or series fit into canon.

At some point the weight of contradictions simply overloads the suspension of disbelief, and what is supposed to be entertainment is simply not entertaining anymore. Enterprise and Nemesis both fit into this catagory. The movies Final Frontier through First Contact, while they are all entertaining in their own way, really are bad Star Trek when taken in context; which is the only way a fan who has been watching since 1967 (me) can view them.

I have a complete sense of ambivalence about First Contact; and have had since I first saw it. As far as plot, story line, action content, etc. go, it’s a great SciFi film; one of the best Star Trek films as far as keeping the viewer involved in the story. At the same time, the Borg are cheapened for the sake of giving the movie a concrete antagonist for the audience to identify; simplified in a very un-Borgish way, giving a self-described collective (a collective of equals that could not sever the link to any of it’s parts) a leader. From that point onward, the Borg are no longer frightening in a back-brain creeping zombie-like fashion, but are in fact just a meaner, badder version of every other bad guy that Star Trek has encountered. For someone who understood the philosophical reasons why the Borg were so frightening as originally conceived, that modification is too much to accept without protest.

Did Star Trek become a parody of itself with First Contact? Not in my opinion. Like I said before; that happened much earlier, With Spock’s brother, Uhura’s fan dance, Chekhov becoming a clueless ensign again after 30 years in the service, Kirk’s dialog with the shapeshifter, etc., etc., ad infinitum (don’t even get me started on that what’s-her-name character again) Becoming a parody of itself wasn’t the killing blow though. Not being entertaining was.

Since, as was pointed out in the counter opinion, this is about entertainment; and since I was not entertained by Nemesis and Enterprise, I’m understandably hesitant to trust Paramount to do anything right with Star Trek from now on. That will be the end of the franchise unless Paramount does the right thing with Star Trek XI. I’m not holding my breath on that one.

Worst Moments in SciFi

I was blindsided a while back by a friend’s post that a linked to this little gem on TechRepublic:

Q: When did Star Trek jump the shark? A: Star Trek: First Contact

Most Trekkers would count First Contact as the last good Trek movie, and at first blush I’m inclined to agree with them, even if the film rather significantly retconned Zefram Cochrane’s history (He was originally from Alpha Centauri, not Montana) and paved the way for the four-year punch-to-the-brain that was Enterprise.

In the plus column, we had a big screen showdown with the Borg, a new movie-worthy starship Enterprise, actual gunfights, Worf back with his real crew, and even a little rock & roll, all set on some their-past-our-future Earth. It was like all five of the good ideas from the entire NextGen era of Trek fan fiction made their way into one really decent script.

But then there was the Borg Queen, and that ruined everything.

Sci-fi rant: When did Star Trek jump the shark?

It’s a rather entertaining piece, in a lightly pseudo-misogynistic sort of way, you might want to finish reading it. There are two other entries in the series at TechRepublic; Sci-fi rant: When did Star Wars jump the shark? and Sci-fi rant: When did Trekkers jump the shark? Both adequately penned by geekend host Jay Garmon.

His work is a derivative work much like Deep Space 9 is derivative of Babylon 5, which makes anything I have to say on the subject twice removed from the original work he’s riffing on over at Something Awful. So I took the time to peruse the list of awful moments in SciFi, of which the list itself probably counts as one of the most awful moments in SciFi considering how broadly the realm of SciFi is construed to be within the list.

The cheap shots at James Cameron aside. The clearly irremediable lack of taste in what is or isn’t good Science Fiction. I mean, if we’re going to be picking on Dr. Who aliens, the phosphorescent painted garbage bag that is the Rutan really ought to rank as the most awful. However, believability was never a requirement for filming Dr. Who, or any British television programme for that matter. Suspend disbelief. Have another Guinness. Getting to the point, I just have to question what dart board the author picked the worst moments off of, including the number 22. Perhaps it’s like 42, the answer to life, the universe, and everything. Seriously, the love scenes from Attack of the Clones are fresh on your mind, and the best awfulizing you can do is summon the ghost of Reagan? For shame.


As for the derivative work at TechRepublic, the fact that he uses the phrase jump the shark without further explanation establishes his true geek credentials (or at least his bona fide age) when it comes to judging media. Not everyone breathing today was around to watch Fonzie in that episode of Happy Days. I’m surprised that most people around today would realize that Happy Days ran for so many years that towards the end it began to be a parody of it’s former (more engaging, more interesting) self. But he makes several valid points.

I would have to agree that First Contact represented a beginning of the end for Star Trek as we knew it. I liked Insurrection, but it was little better than a two hour next generation episode. First Contact was the last good film, but it also appears to have started several trends that lead to Nemesis a aptly named film if there ever was one and Enterprise.

Nemesis (as I’ve pointed out elsewhere) is so disconnected from cannon that it doesn’t even count as Star Trek, and the same can be said of Enterprise. But those are just the end of the franchise at the moment. The road to hell is paved with good intentions, as the saying goes, and the road to Star Trek irrelevancy is similarly paved.

I’ve always traced my abandonment of hardcore Star Trek fandom to Paramount’s ham-handed attempts to start their own network on the backs of Star Trek fans; But truthfully, it started much earlier. It started with Final Frontier and Undiscovered Country; with poorly executed scripts on the one hand, and the sabotaging of a potentially good film on the other. Both films suffer from both ills, and I’d be hard pressed to say which one is more flawed at this point in time.

…and for those people who love Undiscovered Country, let me just say Valeris. Kim Cattrall as a Vulcan. I’m not buying it. I would have bought her as the third actress to play Saavik much easier than as yet another Spock protege. At least I could have pretended she was Kirstie Alley had she simply been named Saavik. Also we have Chekov reduced to a comic element. (“Why not just waporise them?” You were in security once, remember?) Those two pieces alone are enough to make me dismiss the film. Like Generations that followed it, The opening sequence is the best part of the film. The rest of it is just filler.

Those two films mark the beginning of the end of Trek for me. Final Frontier was shafted on effects to such an extent that I began to wonder if Paramount thought the fans would buy anything (Enterprise proves they will, at least for a time) no matter how low budget it looks. Undiscovered Country had a lavish effects budget, but suffered from a complete lack of plot and consistent characterization.

I would go so far as to say that Undiscovered Country foreshadows what First Contact hints at, and then Nemesis drives home with a vengeance; that Star Trek is just another franchise to Paramount, and that the only thing that matters to them is dollar figures in the financial ledger. They don’t care what the fans think, they don’t care what the latest offering does to the overall saleability of the franchise, and they certainly don’t care about established cannon or WWGD. (What Would Gene Do) Just spend more on effects, and the fans will eat it up.

Truthfully, a corporation is only going to care about dollar figures anyway. As long as the fans keep buying, they’ll keep turning out Star Dreck. The only thing the fans can do is stop buying, and I am solidly on that bandwagon.

Fool me once, shame on you to paraphrase Mr. Scott. I’m done with being fooled by Paramount. J.J. Abrams may be able to walk on water in Hollywood, but that still doesn’t make him Gene’s equal in my book. He’s going to have to prove his product is worth my investment in time and money before I’m shelling out for tickets to this one.

J.J. Abrams getting his hands on the next Star Trek film could well rank in the top ten most awful moments in SciFi, but that remains to be seen. Paramount (a subsidiary of Viacom, which is really all that needs to be said on the subject) owning the rights to Star Trek definitely ranks in the top five.


The moment when Star Wars jumped the shark was the moment when George Lucas was convinced he could script a motion picture. That also happens to be the same film in which the Midi-chlorians are introduced, but the parody wasn’t in the introduction of the plot device, it was in the brain of the director who could in fact only parody what he had shot on film before. This becomes quite obvious in Attack of the Clones. Several of the lines are word for word repeats of lines in previous films. I’m sure it was done as a tribute to the previous film, but the line between tribute and parody is very fine indeed, especially if the previous work is your own. Think of M. Night Shyamalan casting himself as a major character in Lady in the Water which, if it was SciFi, would count as one of the most awful moments. Paying tribute to yourself isn’t something one should do in public.

Star Wars having jumped the shark actually means less, in the scheme of things, than Star Trek. Star Wars never pretended to be anything other than a rollicking space adventure (at least the original film did not) so it’s becoming something more contrived than it was before really is a moot point. If you didn’t enjoy the first film, you didn’t bother to watch the rest. If the later films aren’t entertaining, don’t watch them. Works for me. As far as I’m concerned there were only two Alien films before AVP showed up. (Alien3? Never heard of it) So your Star Wars saga only has three films (pick any three) in it? no problem. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.


Which brings up the last post in the series, When did Trekkers jump the shark? I’m not sure that fandom itself can Jump the Shark, but if it can, then it should apply to all forms of fandom. Quoting again:

Once upon a time, Trekkers (or, if you prefer, Trekkies) weren’t universally mocked as basement-dwelling pointy-eared social reprobates who were more likely to have a working knowledge of fictional faster-than-light propulsion systems than they were the mating rituals of their own species. Though it may be hard to fathom, there was an era when Trekkers were seen as quaintly optimistic hobbyists fascinated by a vision of the future that saw mankind as better off socially, intellectually, and technologically than it is now, and who supported an amusing little sci-fi show that had a good heart and was boldly ahead of its time in social commentary, if not production values. Trekkers were no more unusual than folks who passionately followed a sports franchise or popular musical act, though they probably had better costumes.

Any Trek fan that cares whether he’s called a Trekker or a Trekkie is automatically a Trekkie; and the get a lifers amongst the Trekkies make up a very small percentage of Trek fandom on general.

Deriding the whole of Trek fandom for the excesses of the few is no different than deriding all of sports fandom for the actions of the face painters in the endzone of every football game; and declaring that thereby all sports fans are no better than the average ignorant Roman citizen cheering the violence at the coliseum while waiting for their promised loaf of bread.

Something I take great pleasure in doing every chance I get.
…what was your favorite sports team, again?


What are my worst moments in SciFi? Do you mean other than the first ten times some busybody with a camera decided to shoot a film purportedly based on a book near and dear to my heart? (name a film, any film) Or perhaps the unavoidable blurring of the lines between Horror and SciFi that all those 50’s monster movies created? Is Slither SciFi? Is it awful? Awful disgusting. Cardboard cut out characters voicing unconvincing lines?

I’m haunted by the kiss that you should never have given me

That line and the entire host of Star Wars prequels would easily be the worst moments in SciFi for me, except that the next film I watch could easily supplant them as worst. I’m not seeing a lot of good film these days. I did learn a few things reading the awful list. I learned that Robocop 2 & 3 are good enough reasons to hate every subsequent thing done by Frank Miller. Saves me the trouble of having to see The 300 after the disappointment that was Sin City. And I learned than nobody ‘gets it’ when it comes to wrestling on the SciFi channel. What’s up with that? It’s fiction, yeah; and it is horrifying. But SciFi? I’d have ranked that one much higher on the list.

Lastly I learned that good ideas, like the government not being free to spy on me, or robots being designed to be prevented from harming people, were superfluous; just forget ’em. That camera watching your every move really doesn’t remind you of 1984, and the idea of deadly machines should comfort you like the cold embrace of The Terminator. Maybe it’s just me, but I prefer to think the future will be a bit brighter than that, even though it makes for good cinema.

Seen a good film lately?

Well, I have. And I’ve been hanging out at Flixster rating those films. Now, the wife and I seem to be engaged in a ratings competition. She’ll eventually beat me because she has actually seen more films than I have. In the meantime, I have more free time than she has, so the total number of ratings seems to be going to me.

At just under 1300 films rated that I can reasonably state “I’ve seen that”, I can’t think of a single film that’s missing (and yet I just changed the number from 1100 to 1300. Two hundred films that I went, “Oh yeah, that one!” Either the senior moments are increasing, or the films just aren’t that memorable, I guess) On the other hand, She’s rated a few hundred films less than I have, has a list of films shes seen that tops out at over 1500, and is complaining that a large section of films that she remembers seeing aren’t listed on the site.

…and here I thought I’d spent way too much time in front of a movie screen, myself. My hats off to you babe.


When I first started building a list of films that I’d seen over at IMDB, one of my co-workers was incredulous that I could have wasted that much money on watching movies. At the time the list was around 600 films, and I didn’t have the heart to tell him that it was composed of just those films I remembered seeing well enough that I went looking for them. It didn’t even begin to address the even larger number of films that I watched while half asleep in front of the boob tube at home; or had seen in a theater but didn’t remember because I was more interested in my date than the movie.

Part of the reason that the Wife has seen more films than I have can be credited to the fact that she had a movie theater in her hometown, while I had to travel at least a half hour to the next town in Kansas (that would have been the thriving metropolis of Tribune, Kansas; for any of you who care) in order to watch a film that wasn’t “edited for television” .

Edited for Television. Even today those words are enough to make me turn the TV off and go find the real version of a film. I will never understand the need to take a film that really isn’t made for children, and then attempt to make it safe for children by removing all the sex, some of the violence (and most ludicrously) a specific set of “bad words” from a film.

George Carlin said it best, there aren’t any bad words. And the unintended consequences of removing the “objectionable material” from the film is generally to make the antagonist in the film appear less objectionable. The Terminator doesn’t empty entire clips into already dead bodies, or mow down entire bars full of people in order to take out his target, thereby making his ruthless pursuit of a specific goal, the death of Sarah Connor, almost acceptable, in the edited for TV version of the film. And 48 Hours becomes a spoof of itself as the dialog becomes not just juvenile, but truly lame, and the violence in the film becomes totally inconsequential.

Why more directors don’t put their feet down and insist on not allowing chances to their product by middlemen is beyond me. I’m sure it’s a contractual thing, but I think I’d insist on modifying those contracts. I certainly wouldn’t want anyone to see the modified versions of my films for the first time, and falsely believe that was the way I intended it to be seen.

Don’t even get me started on Pan and Scan versus Widescreen. Just don’t go there.

There were only two channels on the TV anyway, both fuzzy, and neither of them was PBS. What about cable, I here you say? Cable was unheard of until the year we moved away, and even then we couldn’t afford to pay for it. The cable guy would occasionally be invited over for dinner, and we would mysteriously have more channels to watch on the TV that night, but they would just as mysteriously be gone the next day.

There had been theaters in Leoti (my hometown till the age of 14) at some point in the past. My Grandfather, who had one of the longest running businesses in town, would point out the buildings that had been constructed as theaters originally, but had been converted to some other use after the newness of theater going wore off. One of them was a block away from my house, but it had been turned into an IGA grocery by the time I rolled around town on my bike (did my only bit of shoplifting, ever, there. Mom made me take the gum back and apologize) and it had burned down by the time I left there (one in a series of mysterious fires in businesses owned by the same businessman. He was cordially invited to leave town, if I remember correctly) It would have been cool to be able to walk down the street and see a movie. But it didn’t happen. Instead, it was 30 minutes to Tribune, or we could have driven to Garden City (an hour away) and watched a movie there. They even had a zoo. So film watching wasn’t something I got to do a lot of until we moved away from rural Kansas.

Because I saw so few films, most of them were memorable though. I couldn’t sit through the Poseidon Adventure the first time I saw it (I was 9) and spent a good portion of the film sitting out on the curb waiting for my older brother to come back out with his date and take us all back home (we ran out of gas that time, I think. I remember sitting in the back of the car waiting for them to get back with the gasoline) One of my most vivid memories. I missed the first Star Wars film, but watched the first Star Trek film, with a date (so much for trekkies being unable to get dates, by the way) in the same theater that I watched several films from my childhood, the State Theater in downtown Garden City. I managed to catch the first and Second Star Wars films (Empire Strikes Back remains my favorite to this day. I made the mistake of reading Lucas’ own novelization of the first Star Wars script. The movie was a bit of a let down after that) back to back at the brand new Twin Theater (two screens? who has heard of such a thing?) also in Garden.

I wonder if the owners of such grand old movie houses as the State would have imagined that they would soon be put out of business by the smaller screen multiplexes that appeared over the next decade or so. The only theater listed for Garden City these days is a 9 screen multiplex on the outskirts of town.

Drive-in theaters. There was one just down the street from our house in Garden City. I used to drive my dates there while I was in High School. I don’t recall a single film I saw there specifically, and don’t ask me why that was. I actually passed a drive-in a months back, while on a road trip from Oklahoma. I had thought them as dead as the downtown single screen movie houses. Or at least they were dead until Alamo Drafthouse came into existence.

I have saved most of the ticket stubs from the movies (and concerts) I’ve seen. I don’t even remember when or why I started doing it, but it has turned into a rather large collection of torn paper. The thing I like least about Alamo Drafthouse is their heat sensitive paper ticket stubs that fade inside of a week. Pointless to save any of those.

The point of this long and rambling post? I love movies, I guess. But it’s a bit more than that, too. I love going to the movies. Finding just the right seat. Getting the right supplements for the film (will I need alcohol, or not?) bringing the right group of people along to enjoy the film with me. When everything clicks, it’s just a joyful experience. Watching movies at home, even with pay-per-view and DVD movies, doesn’t even compare with the real movie house experience.

Will the Real Star Wars Please Step Forward?

Turns out that Fox actually has more clout, when it comes to Star Wars, than George Lucas does. Or maybe, George still needs a few more millions in the coffers before he closes the bank on the Star Wars debacle.

In any case, recent news is that the original Star Wars Trilogy will be released in their theatrical versions. This, in spite of the statements by Lucas that the “special editions” were definitive, and that he had no intention of re-releasing the original versions.

The Yahoo story on the subject states “Fan attachment to the originals is strong”. I can’t speak for the rest of the fans, but this SciFi buff wasn’t wasting a dime on Lucas’ watered down version of the Original, Original film. Like his buddy Steven Spielberg who digitally removed the guns from the hands of the gov’t goons in his DVD version of ET. Lucas decided that being a shoot first, ask questions later rough and tumble (read as “more realistic”) pirate was the wrong image for Han Solo, and consequently altered one of the more powerful scenes in the film, Han shooting Greedo in order to escape Mos Eisley with his skin intact. I was OK with the rest of it. I could look past the suddenly populated desert planet (don’t ask where the food and water come from) appreciated the improved space effects and soundtrack; but that revised scene was so jarring that I still take out the “Special Edition” Laserdisc (that’s right folks. Laserdisc) at that scene and replace it with the Original Theatrical release version LD, just to watch it done right. I was beginning to think I was going to have to produce a version of my own (similar to the LOTR Purist edit) for my own personal DVD use.

I’ll never understand the magnitude of self-absorption involved in the decision to modify a film that is the contributive effort of hundreds of people, a film that was more successful than any other film of that year (a kind of success that you can’t create even if you plan it, the last three SW films being a case in point) a film that inspired a whole new series of films on the same subject; and somehow you, the rights holder, can make it better.

Please, enough meddling. Can I just have my old films back? Thank you. Government agents carry guns, and pirates don’t wait for their enemies to shoot first. No amount of wishing for a kinder, gentler world is going to change that.