Tuesday, January 22, 2008

What Do Transformers And Beowulf Have In Common?

Due to the release of Cloverfield, and all the anticipation surrounding it, I choose to wait a little bit until everyone had a chance to see it, before the words SPOILER WARNING scares you away from a blog that might ruin the movie. SPOILER WARNING! You have been warned. There are two (2) reasons to see Cloverfield; the obvious one is to actually see the movie, the other is to see the first trailer for Star Trek. The movie only began filming in the past couple months so I wondered exactly what they could show. No actors, an all effects trailer. With the sounds of successful NASA endeavours and Spock's chanting of the opening narration we are given quite a few scenes of Enterprise NCC-1701 being welded together and such. Actually quite moving but I wonder if any of it will be in the movie this christmas. JJ Abrams already said he's not breaking cannon (or at least that's how I've interpreted his interviews) but it is commonly accepted, even by the Creators of Trek, that the Enterprise was built in 2245, 20 years before Kirk got it. According to The Animated Series (not exactly canon), and some unofficial novels (not to mention some of Roddenberry's "making of" notes), the first captain of the Enterprise was Robert April. Then it passed to Christopher Pike for two (2) five-year missions before Kirk took the reins in 2265. So, if we're seeing the Enterprise being built then Kirk is 12 and everything is all wrong. There must be a hell of a lot of time travel and flashbacks going on. Either that or the trailer just looks awesome and has nothing to do with the movie. Sigh. We'll probably have to wait till after summer for real previews.

Last summer during the glorious eye/soul spectacle of Tranforsmers we were all witness to the first Cloverfield trailer. The one without the name. As much a gimmick to get your attention as it was to raise interest in the movie, the excitement was infectious. Was it Godzilla, Voltron, HP Lovecraft in New York? WTF? How could they make a preview so tantalizing without letting us know what's up. And the date was so far away, 1-18-08. For the next 6 months I played all the possibilities in my head. What kind of movie did I want this be? Once I/we learned it was something Godzilla-inspired but new the movie in my head began to solidify. I pictured all the moments I wanted if I were to make it. This is something that should be said about most previews these days is that they leave little to the imagination. They generally hit the major plot points and don't leave too much to the imagination. I blame this on the studios for not treating us as clever adults. Not Abrams. It was months before the he let anything out about the plot. And Beowulf was the next vehicle to drive Cloverfield into our brainpans. How about studios just show enough to get my interest but don't let me know where its going. If the previews for Jumper were just about him in the kitchen, I think they would be far more effective. I'm digressing. Sorry.

Friday I went to see Cloverfield and it was sold out. I can't remember the last time I saw a soldout movie; Titanic or ET or Star Trek II maybe? As nauseous as the movie made me (sitting way up front and drinking Mountain Dew) I loved almost every minute of it. The first thing that struck me as genius was the whole DOD video tape label, making it seem like you're watching a video briefing. Without the label the movie would just be trying to make you feel like you're there. It's a subtle difference, but important. At the end of the movie I fully expected there to be a segment showing the military in a small theater discussing the events and what really happened. There's always the possibility of a sequel, though.

As straight forward as the movie is, the plot isn't anything new, the use of the handheld camera and 9/11 imagery (as much as reviewers have complained about it), I thought it did the genre justice. Almost everything the characters did I wanted to see happen. Calling this a predictable movie doesn't give credit to what Abrahms made. I like the simple outline of these five (then four, then three) people trying to save Beth in Manhatten while "The Cloverfield Thing" stomped the living hell out of everything. These guys aren't my crowd, as I'm much older, but I began to sympathize with them in a crazy survival situation. As a person given some crazy survival training, my first instinct was to "cut and run." "Beth who? Sorry, wrong number," and haul ass across the Brooklyn Bridge. (This is like that moment in Silent Hill when Radha Mitchell is looking down the dark alley where her daughter ran. I yelled mentally, "that ain't your kid anyway, cut your loses and get the hell out." But no, Radha wandered down and became trapped in Silent Hill.) Okay, I probably would have been killed when the bridge fell, but that's something else. But, had I chosen to help Beth out like Rob did I would have gone to a gun store and loaded up. They saw the little dudes fall off the big dude and kill some of the troops, they need weapons. Look what happened to Marlena. Pop! To that point, WTF kind of infection makes you pop. I'm still trying to figure that one out.

This movie is what we call in video game terms, a rail shooter. There isn't any shooting on our part, but I wouldn't play this game 'cause all you could do is run. What I mean by "rails" is the movie is like a ride that follows a path you can see in front on you. This is, however, okay, because the predictable is thrown out the window since you've never seen a movie like this (and Blair Witch doesn't count). Eventually you are given a full view of the creature, but for the most part we only see bits of it in the dark, harking back to the days of Alien. When you do finally see it at the end of the movie it didn't really inspire as much horror in me. And why would it eat Hud. This thing was stomping tanks and buildings and lobbed the head of Miss Liberty. Why would it care about a human? Just curious. I think it was one of the smaller things that grow bigger as they eat people, even though there really isn't any evidence they "eat" people, just bite them. I refuse to believe the Big Creature ate Hud then sort of spit him out. At least it didn't eat the camera.

Being a military guy I loved the use of the Army. I'm even betting they're the Nation Guard. The M-16 doesn't sound as heavy as FX guys made it to be but the rest of the sounds of war were spot on. I began to become unsettled with the chatter of 50-cal in the distance. It's a sound you never forget. Nothing was more awesome than seeing the B-2 carpet-bombing the creature. I tended to feel better when Bob and pals hooked up with the military but it wasn't a military journalist filming events, it was Hud. So we had to get them away from the military often just to move things along. Forgivable, in that Rob had to find Beth and not hang out with the Army. And speaking of sound, Hud the Camera-man is hysterical. For a character that you don't really see I felt we got to know him more than Rob, Beth, Lily or Marlena. I never thought of a camera as a character until I watched MST3K, when Cambot is established. Not that it did much but Joel/Mike and the Bots would talk to Cambot during the episode, and he can even be seen in a mirror in the opening credits.

All in all I loved the ride. I've never seen my favorite genre, sci-fi, handled as surprisingly well as this movie. Monster movies of the past tend to be viewed as the paranoid fears of the political reality. Look up The Blob and The Day The Earth Stood Still. Cloverfield is no different, and Abrahms uses our new post-9/11 fears and imagery to tell this story. I have a feeling this movie is going to polarize viewers, it's either going to be loved or hated. The part most people are going to have trouble with is the same thing the new War Of The Worlds, lack of information. What the hell happened in Cloverfield. Don't expect an answer. War Of The Worlds came up with dumb answers when it should have kept it's mouth/script shut. Cloverfield keeps you guessing, looking for tidbits. Those tidbits are probably going to come from the internet and comics and novels. NOT THE MOVIE. You will see a vague answer during the final Coney Island scene with Beth, but I blinked and missed it. And I think the movie is better off without answers, paving the way for more Cloverfields, hopefully one with a steady-cam. Star Trek better not be handheld. If only we could convince Godzilla and The Cloverfield Thing to go stomp on the Middle East. See you next broadcast.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

I Am Not A Number, I'm A Gatchman

Yesterday I was all proud of my Terminator blog. But when I went to the URL to check it out, the whole thing was a mess. All sorts of different fonts going on, and a whole group of text removed from it’s native paragraph and thrown to the end of the blog. I don’t know what was going on, but I had to manually go into the HTML and clean up all the messy code spewed everywhere. There really isn’t a lesson in all this, just maybe keep an eye on your work and don’t assume the “sys admins” will take care of things behind your back. So, go back to the last blog and read it now, it should make some sense, or at least look pretty.

In the past couple days I've watched a few episodes of The Prisoner. As I've said before it is currently enjoying it's 40th anniversary and the most recent episode to celebrate it's birthday is Living In Harmony on Monday. I was first introduced to the series when I was in High School, about 20 years ago. The one episode that made the most impact on me was this episode. It was my favorite, and after 20 years it still is. What makes it so special? The series is re-imagined as a western. No.6 is now a sheriff who retires, turning in badge, gun and horse. While walking across the country side, carrying his saddle, he's attacked by highwaymen and wakes up in a western village called Harmony. The local Mayor/Judge keeps harassing him to become the new sheriff, but No.6 refuses. He is attacked on a number of occasions but won't even wear a gun. Eventually after threatening to kill an innocent bar maid, Kathy, No.6 relents. This one creepy dude, who has been stalking Kathy and challenging No.6 to a gun fight, finally goes too far and kills Kathy. No.6 gets strapped and manages to kill everyone that gets in his way, except the Mayor who shoots him.

No.6 wakes up on the floor of a deserted bar, wearing his usual contemporary '60s clothes, and sees cardboard cutouts of all the people he met in town. As it turns out it was another trick by the new No.2 (as if there was doubt) who admits he drugged No.6 and had actors playing parts around him, hoping to keep him off balance long enough to learn why No.6 left "The Service," the whole point of the show. I think this episode gets the closest to explaining his motivations. More so than any other episode he shows a reluctance to fight, until an innocent is threatened. My guess is No.6 is the top operative of Her Majesty's Secret Service and he developed moral issues with what he was doing, assassinations and what not, I assume. Since it rare for anyone to leave "The Service", there is a psychological debriefing center, "The Village," to determine why someone wants to leave. No.6 has clammed up and refuses to cooperate, having been kidnapped and all, so a succession of No.2s try each week to break him. I've always had trouble deciding whether the other people populating The Village really live there in peace or are part of "The System." I've always thought it was all part of the act, but that's just my paranoia. I wouldn't trust anybody for anything. In fact, why he doesn't snap and kill his way out is beyond me, except that maybe that has to do with why he quit.

The Prisoner wasn't aired in America until a couple years after the series ended, still in the height of the Vietnam war. When the US Broadcasters came across this episode, a British western about non-violence, they decided to cut it. It never aired, until years later. It was controversial and thought to be anti-war. That could be said about the whole series, but this episode in particular stands out. It kind of reminds me of High Noon, except the exact opposite. Everyone wants to fight and No.6 doesn't. There's even a lynching in the episode as the Mayor/Judge "feeds" Kathy's brother to an angry mob. I always find myself drawn to the rifle rack, next to the front door of the police station, and how easy it would be to just unload on these people and "fix" the town. But, much like the Emperor tempting Luke Skywalker, the easy way out was the last thing No.6 wanted. I wouldn't recommend this one as a first episode because it requires you to know No.6's circumstances prior to messin' with yer mind.

In a previous blog I had discussed Speed Racer and briefly touched on Astro Boy. Something I had failed to mention at the time was just how important Astro Boy is to anime. It lit a torch that passed to Speed Racer, then to Starblazers, Battle Of The Planets, Voltron, Tranzor-Z, ROBOTECH, Sailor Moon, Pokemon & Yu-gi-oh (sadly), Dragon Ball Z, and (not finally) Adult Swim. This is just in America. The explosion that Astro Boy/Tetsuwan Atom ("Mighty" Atom) caused was even greater in Japan. Based on the manga of the same name written a decade prior, to entertain children during the post-war rebuild of Japan, the animated version (in black & white no less, just like manga still is) was first broadcast January 1, 1963. Thus, anime was born. It's distinctive style, an adaptation of the Disney character look, helped Japanese anime became it's own unique entity. And if my math serves me well, that means this year (this New Years, in fact) is Anime's 45 birthday. Tanjoubi Omedeto, Anime.

I am not as old as anime but there was a defining series that began broadcasting around the time I was born. SCIENCE NINJA TEAM GATCHAMAN. Currently it is 35 years old, just like me, and I've been watching a few episodes, to refresh my '70s memory. This series was "retooled" a couple times before coming to America, going by such names as Battle Of The Planets, G-Force, and Eagle Riders. In the past few years the original Japanese version has been released, subtitled, on 18 DVDs, and fairly cheaply from rightstuf.com. So I acquired the first four (4) volumes and began watching. The frame-rate of the series is about twice that of Speed Racer (twice nothing is still nothing) but the detail and character animation is unique for the time. With a room full a people only those that are talking are animated, but several other cinematic tricks are done to make it look like more is going on than the budget allows. And the stories are good, your usual "monster-of-the-week" encounter, but this is one of those series that defined the genre, so it comes off more fresh than it should. I love this series, but it looks dated. If you can handle it, then go get this series.

Gatchaman has an important role in anime. In its 105 episode run it created a legend on both sides of the Pacific pond. The "hero shows" of the time were general about one or two good guys versus evil. This was the first time a team of people, specifically five (5), assembled to fight the bad guys like Galactor. The five of Gatchaman started the trend of The Leader Guy, The Skinny Guy, The Fat Guy, The Short/Young Guy (in English has a goofy voice), and The Female Guy... I mean The Princess. In Gatchaman they wore specific bird outfits. This trend directly lead Battle Team or Sentai live action series we all know and love as The Power Rangers. This is the start of the colored outfits and vehicles and such of the main characters. I'm not going to get into the dynamic of the sixth person introduced later with a specialty color, but who can forget Tommy, The Green Ranger. This genre still stuck to sci-fi anime with such series as Voltron (aka GoLion) and Voltes V, and even to the Magical Girl genre with Sailor Moon. As girled-up and soap opera-like as Sailer Moon was, it followed every convention of the Sentai story arch-types. These types of stories general have secret identities, multi combining vehicles/robots and (sometimes) super powers, was an attempt to emulate the superhero stories of America. At least Gatchaman was, and it sparked a huge trend.

The episodes I watched were The Fearful Jellyfish Lens (my favorite title) and The Indestructible Machine. The latter title is a lie, as thanks to Jinpei, he stole some plans for this cool mech/vehicle thing that transforms into whatever the pilot needs. Stupid Galactor. Gatchaman took that thing out, but the nifty idea in it was the pilot who had to insert a Video Tape into a slot to make it transform. It so impractical its awesome. The Jellyfish Lens episode is about a group of modified Jellyfish with lots of eyes that can combine into a giant blob, with lots of eyes, and reflect the suns rays into deadly laser beams. Cool. Then the God Phoenix (that's Gatchman's ship made from combining their five vehicles) has to take it on. I don't want to spoil the ending, but it involves the Fiery Phoenix, the best anime attack along with Voltron's Blazing Sword. This show rocks. See you next broadcast.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

What Doesn't Kill Me Makes Me Stronger

This weekend I was occupied with the Army so I have blogging to make up for. I would like to point out this weekend that our commander sat us all down on Friday and wanted us to brainstorm any ideas we might have on how to entice people to join the CT National Guard. My two-cents involved changing the name of the Army to “The Justice League Of America.” It sounds way cooler and the name implies you could be issued a cape with your rifle. While in Iraq, I even saw a group of Blackhawks with Superman’s symbol painted on the Engine Covers. This goes to show a preponderance of DC support in Military aviation. Even my dad’s P-3 unit back in the 90s used Batman’s “batwing” symbol on their unit patch. Whenever I can I try to push “geek friendly” initiatives within the unit.

Last night (and Sunday before it) FOX aired the Terminator TV series. I’m not sure why it’s called subtitled “The Sarah Connor Chronicles” since John tends to be more important in the long run, but you’ve got no complaint from me. The series in the timeline of Terminator takes place a couple years after Terminator 2 and appears to completely ignore Terminator 3. I love time travel stuff because they tend to weave intricate threads of plot and timeframes to the point of self contradiction. Even in Back To The Future 2, Doc Brown had to explain stuff on a chalk board. Let’s not even mention Doctor Who. So far I like the show. I could watch Summer Glau all day. There are some creative ideas that are defining the show beyond its movie origins and it may become more of a serial than a “Terminator-of-the-week” drama. Hopefully the writers have mapped out a plan and aren’t here to insult our intelligence. With a fourth Terminator movie in the works, slated for summer 2009, the whole timeline threatens to become even more confusing with this line I read on Wikipedia; “Executive producer James Middleton confirmed in Variety that the series will contain a link to Terminator 4.” I guess pick your flavor of time line and prepare to be entertained. As odd as the fractured timeline the franchise is creating sounds this isn’t without precedent. The anime series Space Cruiser Yamato, aired in America as Starblazers, is made up of 3 TV series, 5 movies , and an OVA. Depending what order you watch them in creates a different timeline. The movies are all sequels to the first TV series, but tend to kill most of the characters. The later TV series are retellings of the movies but half the crew survives, where they originally died. Then new sequels are made from these altered versions and the timeline splinters more. It’s not as confusing as I make it sound, so track them down and watch them, already.

To understand the future lets see where The Terminator series has been:

1963: A bank is founded and is modified, by operatives from the future, to contain an isotonic weapon and a time machine for use by future Tech-Com resistance. (from TV)

May 12, 1984: The Terminator.

February 1985: 9 months after the main story of The Terminator, John Connor is born.

1995: Terminator 2: Judgment Day. John is age 10. New timeline created when Cyberdyne is destroyed, pushing Judgment Day from 1997 to 2004.

August 4, 1997: Skynet goes online in original timeline.

August 29, 1997: Judgment Day in original timeline.

1997: Sarah Connor dies of Leukemia in the new, post-T2 timeline, but only in the T3 timeline.

August 24 – September 10, 1999: Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles Pilot. John is 14 (he appears a little older). John, Sarah, and Cameron (a new protector) fight a new Terminator (T-888) and travel to the future.

September 11, 2001: A time point mentioned in the TV show explaining why it’s harder to "stay off the grid."

July 24, 2004: Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines. John is age 19. The new Judgment Day. (This time reference doesn’t occur in the TV show.)

2005: Sarah Connor dies of cancer in the new, new post T2, pre-TV timeline, if she didn’t jump to the future.

September 2007: Terminator: TSCC TV series. Sarah, John, and Cameron reappear in the timeline to bring the war to Skynet.

April 19-21, 2011: Skynet activated, bringing about the next new Judgment Day (ignoring T3).

2013: Assuming Sarah Connor doesn’t die during Judgment Day, she’ll die of cancer, as she only has 6 years to live when she jumped to 2007. (From the TV show)

2014: Terminator Salvation: The Future Begins. John is age 29 (21 on the TV show). He leads the war between Tech-Com forces and Skynet.

2027: Cameron is sent back to protect John in 1999. (This is two years before Skynet started sending back units in the movie so something must have happened in the TV series to speed up the creation of the time machine.)

2029: Skynet creates a time machine, the “Continuum Transporter,” and begins sending Terminator units into the past to kill key personnel. The human resistance, led by John Connor, succeeds in defeating Skynet and sends operatives into the past to protect himself and his mother. Note: Kyle Reese sent back in time and becomes John’s father (take that Doc Brown).

2032: John Connor, age 48, is killed by a Series 800 Terminator unit. His widow, Kate Brewster, reprograms and sends the unit back to “New Judgment Day 2004” to save John.

I don’t know if the above is more confusing or less confusing. John always seems to be older than he should be, but having the weight of humanity on your shoulders probably does that to you. The TV series has seriously F’d up a linear sense of the Timeline, but is easily accommodated by ignoring T3. One can also say that by removing John and Sarah from time for eight years changed Judgment Day a second time. I’d like to know how Salvation will reference both movie and TV timelines. Arrgghh. Inconsistencies are slowly cropping up but could be easily dealt with if the writers are paying attention. It seems to me that Sarah is fated to die, no matter what. In fact, I don’t think John can become the man he should until his mother dies. Now, thanks to the show, our present time (in the South-West anyway) is littered with Tech-Com resistance fighters and Terminator units. The FBI has it’s work cut out for it.

It seems to me though that every time the Connor’s try to save humanity they just keep pushing Judgment Day a little farther in the future. At this rate John could die of old age before the war even happens. These people just need to stay off the grid for a couple years and let it happen. Then John, and his wife(?), can go about saving the last billion people on Earth. If Terminator Salvation represents John’s first successful actions against Skynet then the war must last about fifteen years, (13 if the TV show date is now correct). I’m still curious as to why Skynet developed time travel to begin with. That seems an odd choice of weapons do use against your enemy. It’s a great choice, actually, don’t get me wrong, but I got the impression from the first movie that Skynet develops and deploys time travel only when it realizes its losing. So, what prompted it to do that? The Machine Intelligence in The Matrix didn’t employ time travel, but Neo didn’t really defeat them, either.

If you like future, AI-controlled post-apocalyptic worlds, check out an old Manga that was translated in the late '80s called Grey. Same idea is The Terminator, in that an AI named Toy becomes sentient, changes its name to Big Mama, and forces what few humans are left alive in towns to fight each other. Trust me on this, it's better than it sounds. It very dark toned manga, and it was also made into a movie in 1986, Grey: Digital Target. One of my favorites in high-school. See you next broadcast.

Friday, January 11, 2008

10 Things You Hopefully Forgot About The Next Generation

Tonight my mind is slowed by Tequila so I'll cover a strange topic. While conversating with bwane111 we were discussing the worst episodes of The Next Generation. One week we would get a fantastic episode about Picard and crew that gets an Emmy and the next week is worst garbage ever seen. I exaggerate a little but some episodes made me wonder who got payed for the crap coming from the tube, Star Trek is better than that. So, I'm bringing to you my Top 10 worst Next Generation episodes. There were Seven (7) seasons of TNG. The majority of my list comes form the first two (2) seasons, mostly because the creative minds behind the show were trying to find the tone of rhythm of the characters and universe. Mostly they failed. It wasn't until season 3 (with better uniforms) did the show suddenly shine. That's not to say there weren't good episodes in the first two (2) but three was the charm. The fourth season is my favorite as almost every episode is a sequel to a previous one and began to show consequences to the characters' actions, for the first time breaking out of "status quo" mindset of the prior plotlines. Season 5 slipped a lot but had a few good ones. Season 6 made up for the last one and even reintroduced us to Scotty. At this time Deep Space Nine began airing and all the best writers went to that show leaving us with Season 7, which alternately had some of the best and worst writing. The below was a harder list to put together than I thought. I may have to expand this to a top (bottom?) 20 list of worst episodes. To any writers/creators/producers of Star Trek that might read this, I love all the TNG episodes, just some more than others.

#10 Shades Of Gray: The Second Season finale. Like now, there was a writers strike in 1989 and it cut the second season short. The best they could do was turn the finale into a flashback episode. There wasn't enough plot to go around so the plot relives more exciting times with Riker. You see, he beamed down to a jungle planet and became infected when stabbed by a plant. The remainder of the episode had Riker unconscious in sickbay. Troi stands by as useless as ever, sensing the dreams he was suffering. And we get to watch every dream, which happened to be a past episode. Boring. To kill the virus Riker has to relive all the exciting moments of his life, and so do we. Sad.

#9 Birthright: A Season 6 low point. If this had been a single episode it wouldn't be here, but the Trek writers stretched it out, and it shows. This 2-parter is about Worf learning his father wasn't killed by Romulans at Khitomer so many years ago, but was in fact captured. A disgrace for a Klingon, and Worf goes in search of the internment camp for Klingon survivors. This could have been interesting, but Worf's real father isn't there (he really did die) and some love-child of a Klingon and a Romulan meet him. I guess this was the allegory to Viet Nam POWs after a generation. Maybe there's some truth to this, but the Klingon captives now wish to live in the camp and not go home in shame. This makes sense but the episodes don't. Worf tries to teach the captives what its like to be a Klingon. Eventually he leaves with some Klingon children who want to learn about their heritage. On top of this is Data, who learns to "dream" about his creator and can see visions and dream and stuff. The Klingon story was marginally tolerable, but Data's was just terrible.

#8 Emergence: Season 7. The Enterprise computer has learned so much that it becomes sentient and "gives birth" to an artificial life form. Um, okay. The crew tries to figure all this out by hanging out on the holodeck, which now has become the "dreams" of the Enterprise. As the ship becomes self-aware, its goals become metaphors on the holodeck. Typing this was more interesting than the episode. However, I would like to know what happened to the artificial "baby" Enterprise. I generally hate holodeck episodes, and this episode didn't help.

#7 Descent: The Season 6 finale and Season 7 opener. Data's brother Lore, who took Data's emotion chip from Season 4, is back and is leading a disconnected group of Borg in a religious cult. And Lore wants Data at his side. The chip was never meant for Lore (who reacts badly to it, some would say insane), but he can broadcast the chip's effect to Data, like a drug to get him addicted. This whole story was supposed to show a David Quresh-type character and the cults that follow him. Wako was a disaster and so was this episode. Nothing is believable in the two-parter, and you had to wait all summer just for the let-down. I'm glad Lore is dead. The emotion chip will reappear in Star Trek: Generations and, indirectly, First Contact.

#6 Gambit: Oh look, another season 7 episode. And to make it worst, its a two-parter. Picard, established as an archaeologist by hobby (NOT TRADE) goes under cover to expose a group of treasure hunters, digging up early Vulcan relics. Picard and a Vulcan, both on the staff of a pirate, try to determine the hidden meaning of the relics. Eventually it is discovered that The Stone Of Gol, a weapon used by Vulcans during a war on the planet over 2,000 years ago, before Surak preached logic to the masses (and the Romulans left). There is some nifty blanks filled in on the Trek back story and history of cultures, but it barely makes up for travesty of an unbelievable plot. Picard just leaves the ship without telling anyone what he's doing? In the long run it pays off, but the story doesn't. Another example of a one-episode idea being stretched into two episodes.

#5 Skin Of Evil: This episode from the first season is just terrible. Never has a main character been killed so uselessly, and by a living tar pit no less. Tasha Yar (chief of security before Worf) gets hit with an energy bolt and dies. That's it. The tarpit monster feeds on fear and likes torturing people, and that's it. Apparently some alien race used to live on the now deserted planet, and were able to leave all their negative thoughts and energies behind, inadvertently creating a malevolent tar pit. Then we have to suffer through a funeral and last rights service on the holodeck. Picard seemed particularly affected but no reason is ever given, other than later on it is established he hand-picked her for the job. The death was so terrible, a third season episode altered time to allow her to die a second time. That episode is one of the best episodes ever made. Seems ironic. You might wonder why I hate Yar over Wesley Crusher. Wesley was so bad he was kind of good at times, Yar was never fleshed out and died before we got to know her. At least I can be nostalgic about Wesley (remember that episode where he saved the Enterprise when all the officers were powerless). Oh yeah, and Troi is injured and trapped in a crash shuttled being harassed by the tar pit. Terrible drama. RIP Yar.

#4 Haven: Another first season masterpiece. Troi's mother's, Lwaxana, first appearance (played brilliantly by Majel Barret) is about the only plus in this. It turns out when Troi was a child she was promised to a human boy (Troi being half human/half Betazoid its interesting her mom wants to "muddy the waters"). You can see Riker is pissed and all this drama happens over the planet Haven, a veritable garden of Eden in space. Along comes a ship full of plague victims that have such a horrible disease the rest of their species have been hunted for sport to protect the healthy beings of the galaxy. There is one hot blond (80's hot, that is) on board the disease ship and Troi's mate realizes he dreamt about her his entire life, and sacrifices himself to join her and help cure their ailment. We never know if he's successful but, thank God, the episode ends before I gouged my brain through my eye socket. Even the music was horrible and Trek music is generally good, or at least a background melody. I hated Troi in the first season because of this episode.

#3 The Royale: A promising beginning with a mystery of an American Space Craft in orbit of a planet it should never have been able to reach. It then spirals downward into a crappy story of Riker, Data, and Worf finding a hotel on an uninhabitable planet based on a novel carried by one of the astronauts from the missing ship, wrecked in orbit. Aliens had apparently relocated the American Ship 300 years before but didn't understand human physiology or psychology and made an environment, based a bad novel about a hotel form the 40's, for them to live out their days. I got the impression the last astronaut of three committed suicide, which is how I felt during the story. The opening, however, fills in a lot of background details connecting the future of our current space program with the Star Trek future. According to TNG America will have two (2) more stated added in the next few decades. I vote for Puerto Rico and Guam.

#2 Code Of Honor: The first season didn't have many bright spots and this wasn't even close. The idea was to show the Federation as the British Empire encountering a planet, Ligon II, which represents India. I'm guessing the episode was supposed to show the effects of an Empire on people who don't want them. Picard is trying to negotiate for a vaccine needed elsewhere but the locals are more primitive and not as culturally advanced as the Federation would like. Still, Picard needs his stuff, and, thanks to Yar, who fights in battle to the death after being kidnapped, he and his crew accidentally replace the head of the planet with someone more friendly. This episode comes off showing black people as primitive versus the "white" peoples' Federation. It is so un-Roddenberry, I'm surprised it was made. Maybe in 1987 this was acceptable, but I groaned through most of this lemon. Not knowing this episode is knowledge enough.

#1 The Outrageous Okona: What's one of the big differences between Star Wars and Star Trek. Pirates. Han is the baddest space pirate ever, followed closely by Spike from Cowboy Bebop and Mal from Firefly. We've heard of pirates in Trek but never really seen them. Then we have Okona. A space pirate so local the Federation, including Picard and crew, think he's charming and funny. Wesley looks up to this guy, and he becomes pivotal in the relations between two warring planets. In the style of Romeo and Juliet he is the messenger between the lovers, unfortunately causing as much grief as help. This is a perfect example of the Mary Sue story blunder. As defined, a new character used in a writer's wish-fulfillment fantasy to insert him/herself into an existing franchise. In this case Star Trek. Way too much screen time is given to Okona, which never seems cool even though he hits on every woman in sight, like a bad Kirk imitator. Of note, the transporter chief who beams him to the Enterprise is played by Teri Hatcher, of Loise And Clarke fame. Even Joe Piscopo (was this dude ever funny?) tries to teach Data how to do stand up comedy. There is so much wrong and uninteresting in this episodes I don't know where to start, or stop. Really the story has nothing to do with the crew as we watch Okona do his thing, but Wesley (great, another crappy Wesley episode) talks Okona into doing the right thing, and staying on board Enterprise to help the two warring factions. Starfleet has nothing to due but cater to him. This is the worst episode ever. See you next broadcast.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Here He Comes...

In the beginning, there was no Anime. Then Japan created their first animated TV show. The date was January 1, 1963. Based on a popular comic it was incredibly successful. So successful, in fact, that it crossed the Pacific and invaded American airwaves, dubbed in English but covered up all evidence of its origin. This show was Tetsuwan Atom, better known as Astro Boy. Thus began the first wave of anime in America. It wasn't limited to Astro Boy. Soon, titles like Kimba The White Lion, Gigantor, and 8 Man appeared as well. In all this foreign goodness was a title that grabbed everyone's attention. That title was Speed Racer. Originally Mach GoGoGo, it was renamed as were all the characters, except the most important one, Speed's racecar, the Mach Five, aka Mach Go in Japanese, where the first two (2) words of the title come from. Speed's name was originally Go Mifune (note the M on his helmet) and is the second "Go" in the titled. The third "Go" is English for "Go" as in "move fast."

I digress. This show was about driving fast and winning races with a racecar that had all sorts of gadgets. Each episode Speed would get in a race and usually had to beat a bad guy who was cheating and running others off tracks (think Sebulba). In the background he was supported by his father, Pops (Daisuke), a brilliant racecar mechanic ; his girlfriend, Trixie (Michi Shimura), advising Speed from the air in her helicopter; and his younger brother, Spritle (Kurio), known for hiding in the Mach 5's trunk to hang with Speed. Don't forget Chim Chim (Senpei), Spritles pet chimp who goes everywhere with him. And, don't forget the most important character, Racer X. A masked racecar driver that tended to help Speed during races more often than not, and then disappear. Speed also swore to beat him in every race, so they were rivals as well. It took some time to determine that Racer X was Speed's older, disowned brother, Rex (Kenichi), who wrecked Pops first racecar and left the family in shame. On his own Rex vowed to be the best driver, ever, but also wanted to look out for Speed, as these races tended to be deadly.

The stories, 52 episodes worth, were full of technology and conspiracies and had their own style distinct from everything else on TV. The most notable thing about the show was the English dub. It should be known that Japanese don't necessarily try to match spoken word with animated lip movement. Close but not perfect. However, the English dub was designed to match those lips, and in doing so made for quirky, high speed dialog. The primary voice actors were Peter Fernandez and Corinne Orr. These two (2) alone should be hailed for bringing Speed, Racer X, Trixie, and Spritle to life. Jack Curtis and Jack Grimes fleshed out the vocal cast. Much like South Park today, this limited number of voice actors spoke for everyone in the series.

On a side note, I was listening to the morning radio show I like on WPLR, last month, when the radio guys started talking about Speed Racer. Normally there is a certain amount of morning sarcasm and wit to start the day, but these guys (the one lady present never saw the show) regressed back to their childhood and started reliving the show on the air. They were remembering their favorite moments and car gadgets and such. They impressed upon me the love of the show they have. Its hard to find people that know about Speed Racer these days. Then, of all things, they put Peter Fernandez on the phone. He now sounds like an older Racer X. As it turns out Fernandez and Orr were appearing at New Yorks first Anime convention since 2001. Apparently a new Speed Racer show is coming and Fernandez will now play an adult Spritle (age 40ish), now a mechanic, but Speed is nowhere to be seen. That's all he said. He humbly played of his role in Anime history but it was awesome just to here on the radio. Thanks WPLR.

I'm not old enough to have seen it first run, but luckily I was an MTV junkie in college, in the early 90s, when the reruns began to air. As a huge anime I couldn't pass it up and became hooked immediately. Regardless of the fact anime had improved in the 25 intervening years, the plots were just as strong. We're not talking Masterpiece Theatre here, but a fun show about a dude with tricked-out, gadget-filled racecar that can beat anyone. I tried to get my friends to watch it too, but it was hit-or-miss. Some liked it, some didn't. If you've never seen it before it can be quite a shock. I think the frame rate is about 10 frames a second. I don't even think they employed inbetweeners back then. Its all hand drawn goodness. I am an Anime purest, though, and I don't like how much the edit (or "kid-ify" as I like to call it) more adult oriented themes. There was one episode about a father who doesn't want his daughter racing for fear she might die. The "Red Shirt" drivers die by the dozen in this show. So he tries whipping her for punishment then sabotages her brakes, before the big race, to prove she can't handle it. Gee, thanks pop. All these elements were edited out to "sanitize" the show, just a little bit. I suppose I can't blame them, but I like to see Anime the way the Japanese intended. I wish some company would release a subtitled version.

One of my favorite episodes is the Volcano race episode. Once everyone bunch of years a passage opens up in a volcano and people can race through it. Why this is a good idea I don't know. All the drivers had like an hour to race through the miles of lava filled tunnels before the passage closed again and you die. Everything is going smoothly but the bad guy starts messing with stuff and suddenly lava is all over the paths killing people left and right. I think more people died in this one than any other. At one point the drivers, including Speed come to a large cave with a statue in the way. The drivers stop to admire it when it suddenly crumbles and crushes half of them. Crazy.

Another A+ about this series is the way to catchy theme song. The music is the same, just the words re-sung in English. How can you not sing the theme when plays. Even the intro is distinctive. Of the many "geek" jobs I've had I did a two (2) year stint at an arcade, working at the Q-Zar arena in the basement. Then one day the Speed Racer video game was placed near the front counter and all day the game played the theme while in demo mode. I miss those days.

Several attempts have been done to re-make the show but none have ever come close to essence of the original. If anything, the only other anime I've seen that reminded me of Speed Racer is Initial D. A very different series, much more serious, and is probably the source of demand for the AE86 model Toyota Trueno. Then of all people, the Matrix brothers decide to make a live action version, their first family film. I've heard the rumor for years but never actually believed someone was going to try to tackle the project. And the people who found a way to combine wire-fu and over-the-top anime styling are the perfect directors for the project. When I find the preview I'll post a link, but locate it and observe it repeatedly. I can't believe they actually made a life size Mach Five and it looks cool. All the gadgets look intact and the hydraulic jump pad things look even better than the show. Okay, they were kind of corny in the show but who doesn't want a car that can jump. I want to know the saw blades are in the movie. Everything looks right down to the colors, with Spridle and Chim Chim hiding in the trunk. And John Goodman as Pops somehow makes sense. Man, the details look awesome, Speed still has the "M" on his helmet. He's a demon on wheels. See you next broadcast.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Fox Hunts, Quatloos, And Techno

This weekend I mostly watched TV and DVDs. Below are some of my edited highlights. Lately I've been addicted the the Law & Order and CSI marathons on all weekend. I won't be talking about those but I have thought CSI might be considered a geek show. Especial "CSI: Miami." This one practically borders on Science Fiction. Their computer systems and forensic collection equipment borders on Gattaca and The Island.

Kitsunegari: This episode is now ten (10) years old and as I saw this when it was first on, this fact begins to show my age. This episode is from the fifth season of the X-Files and is actually a sequel to a third season episode called "Pusher." The first episode dealt with a serial killer, named Modell, who had a "Jedi Mindtrick" ability to make other people kill themselves. He put his sights on Mulder, and Mulder shot him in the face with his Glock. Nice. Unfortunately Modell was in a coma and after two (2) years he wakes up, power intact, and escapes. More murders start popping up but Mulder thinks Modell isn't behind them, but the new wife of a recently killed judge. The name means "Fox Hunt" in Japanese, but there is little to do with Japan in either of these episodes. Modell thinks of himself as a Ronin and refers to himself as Osu, or Pusher. He can push his will on others, due to enhancement from a brain tumor. I don't usually like repeat performances in sequels, as I thought Mulder would have to jail Modell again, but this plot surprised me and in fact Modell was trying to warn Mulder. As it turns out Modell has a sister who wants revenge on her brother's capture. She has the same brain tumor so she has the same power. Luckily Skully comes packing heat and blows her away in the end. This second Modell story isn't as good as the first one, but there is some mystery in all this worth watching. But, some moments had me wondering if the script writers were paying attention. Mulder calls a real estate agent to find out her itinerary and the secretary gives all the information without once asking who Mulder is. She needs to be fired. Also, to add drama, Mulder faces Modell early on and Modell let's him go, only giving Mulder a warning message. When he reports this to Skully and AD Skinner they think he's been co-opted by Modell and refuse to listen to his theories. So Mulder strikes out on his own and is almost killed. Modell has never shown the ability to alter minds for this long so I don't get why Skully, at least, doesn't support Mulder. This is still before Skully is fully swayed to Mulder's way of thinking, but to believe in Modell's power may be all she was capable of. I still think the mid-episode drama between Skully, Skinner, and Mulder was forced. However, while Modell is in the hospital, after being shot by Skinner, his sister pays a visit (pulling a mass Jedi Mindtrick to look like an anonymous nurse) and kills him by talking his brain into shutting his body down; the creepiest scene in the episode.

The Gamesters Of Triskelion: Saturday continues the 40th anniversary of Star Trek with The Gamesters Of Triskelion. This is a classic episode from the second season most people, even non-Trek fans, have probably seen. Kirk, Uhura, and Chekov are abducted off the Enterprise to the planet Triskelion to play in gladiator games. Spock is left in command of the ship trying to figure out what happened while McCoy annoys him to death. This first thing that comes to most people's minds when you think Kirk is his love of alien, and sometimes human, women. I wish to point out he never slept with a green alien woman (Orion Slave Girl, yum) but the female, Shahna, at least had green in her hair. This is one of those episodes Kirk woos a woman just to get something out of her. I especially love the part where he kisses her, twice, then punches her in the face to knock her out. This isn't really a favorite of mine, but Kirk gets some fighting in. We are also introduced to a Quatloo, a money(?) system used by the disembodied brains that rule over Triskelion. The three brains watch (somehow) their Thralls (slaves/gladiators) fight. Kirk, who is used to out-thinking computers, meets the brains and gambles his crews freedom against a fight with three Thralls. Kirk wins and Shahna has final, really corny, soliloquy, and everything ends happy. This is a great campy episode, but I have always hated the episodes where the crew is kidnapped for one reason or another. Another moment to add drama is McCoy who thinks Spock is doing everything wrong and second guesses him, on the bridge no less, in front of everyone. Spock eventually puts a stop to this bu quietly asking Bones if he intends mutiny. This is so unnecessary in the episode and was added for drama instead of plot. However, I can't not recommend seeing the episode at least once. When most non-Trek fans think of Star Trek, this is the episode they think of. And everyone knows what a Quatloo is, just not how brains in a tank can spend them.

Tekkaman Blade #47: Tekkaman Blade is 49 episode TV series from 1992-93, intended as a remake of the '75 Tekkaman series (that aired in America in eighties), it is animated in the classic non-CG, fully hand drawn style. This new series also ran in America under the name Teknoman, which is how I first saw it (on UPN if I remember). And you can't have Teknoman with Tekno in the background, so all the music was stripped out and replaced with club music, which in some ways worked. The dub wasn't too bad, and the story was pretty good, reminding me of the glory years of the eighties with Voltron, Robotech, and SilverHawks. Basically Earth is invaded by bugs Venomoids/Radam from space and some Tekka/Tekno enhanced humans. One of these enhanced humans joins Earth's side in the invasion and can become Tekkaman/Teknoman to save the day. Lots of things blow up and justice is dealt to the bad guys. The mechanic designs and Earth's tech level are outstanding. Humans have a Space Ring around the Earth attached to the ground by several Orbital Elevators. In the episode I watched alien tree pod things planted by the bugs (operating off the Moon) begin to blossom and grab the nearest human to absorb them. Earth is ordered to evacuate and everyone on the planet has to get to the Elevators. Neat stuff. The Japanese version is much better than our edited/butchered version, but I do miss the Techno. This series is 15 years old and if you're a fan 80's anime this is a definite hit. If you're used to the newer styles of anime this may be a bit of a shock as to how dated it looks. And it comes in two (2) flavors, American dub (43 episodes) or Japanese sub. The subtitles one comes in three (3) box sets for about $30 each. I hope I can find a soundtrack to the American version someday. See you next Broadcast.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Matheson Is Legend, (And So Are Price, Heston, And Smith)

Now that I have seen I Am Legend I feel the need to compare and contrast the evolution of the story. Thanks to Gandry, who has actually read the book, he’ll help keep me on the straight and narrow. This story has evolved over time and spawned new ideas as well. It all begins with the novel, I Am Legend, written by Richard Matheson in 1954. To quote Gandry (from a prior eMail), “The story actually is about the monotonous day-to-day life of Neville, which suffers because he has learned how to survive so well.. Along with that, his battle with insanity, loneliness, and his will to live, which is a puzzle to him in a world that has stacked the deck against humans...” The book takes place in Southern California of the late 70’s, after a plague mostly wipes out humanity. The antagonists (or “bad guys” if you will) are vampires and a small group of infected that have not lost their humanity, called the “still living.” Neville hunts the undead, while they sleep during the day, never realizing a difference in the groups. The “still living” are terrified of him and send a woman, Ruby, to spy on him, who is then captured by Neville. He learns the nature of the “still living” through her and their fear of him. Eventually they attack Neville and take him back to their lair, intending to execute him. The woman gives Neville suicide pills so he won’t suffer and it eventually dawns on him that he has become the terror that Vampires once represented to humans. At his death he has become a Legend to the new society of the “Still Living.”

This book has some firsts on the sci-fi/horror genre. To quote Wikipedia, it “popularized the fictional concept of a worldwide apocalypse due to a disease.” A fairly powerful and oft repeated back drop in many sci-fi movies. 12 Monkeys jumps to mind here. Director George Romero, having read the book and seen the 1964 version, “The Last Man On Earth,” was greatly influenced for his 1968 movie, “Night Of The Living Dead.” And both undead genres, vampires and zombies, have been reinvented and retold countless times since, with such examples as Blade and Resident Evil series, 28 Days/Weeks Later, Vampire Hunter D, Blackula, “... Of The Dead” titles, The Lost Boys, Buffy, Evil Dead series, Bio-Zombie, From Dusk Till Dawn, Versus, 30 Days Of Night, Ultraviolet, and even Ghosts Of Mars taps into some of the Zombie mythology. I point this out because I’m interested in what ideas spark further ideas.

The Last Man On Earth is the first attempt, in 1964, by Hollywood to put the book on the big screen, with Vincent Price no less. I'm going to have to get this movie. Since I haven't seen it I'll bring you to the second try, Charleton Heston's "The Omega Man," from 1971. A cult classic, but viewed from today comes off very campy. This movie picked up some of the books ideas but did their own thing. Robert Neville in this movie has a mass amount of hardware to put the National Guard to shame and flippantly uses it to off the near-undead cultists that bother him. These cultists are the only villains, no actual Vampires, and refer to themselves as "The Family." These humans appear to be mutant albinos with light-sensitivity that are slowly being killed off by the biological agents that killed the rest of humanity much quicker. The cultist, much like the "still living" of the book, retained their humanity but feel their survival by mutation is the next evolution of humanity, brought on by the evils of the 20th century. To them Neville represents the old "technological" world that led to the germ warfare used in the conflict between Russia and China. When "The Family" tries to execute Neville he is rescued by a woman, Lisa, living in the outskirts of town, with some children and her brother. When queried why she hasn't shown her face until now she replies that they were staying out of the hunt between Neville and The Family. She, and her brother, used to be members but didn't like the direction The Family was headed so she left. I have problems here because she isn't a mutant, but her brother is turning into one. It's a week part of the story, but gets Neville talking to humans again instead of the mannequin in his house. Neville is immune because he's an Army Doctor who tried an experimental serum that saved him, after a badly filmed helicopter accident. He then uses his blood to find a way to reverse the plague and save humanity, right before he is stupidly shot by the cult and bleeds out in a fountain. The girl, her brother, and the children live on. Yeah. As I pointed out in a previous blog, The Family has got to be the inspiration for the cult in the game Dead Rising.

36 years later Will Smith takes on the role, and I Am Legend hits theaters. This is a much more engaging movie and does everything right (with small exceptions) that The Omega Man did wrong. I believed Smith's Neville was fighting for survival every day. His dog was the one companion that kept him sane, and he had a singular obsession with developing a cure, like the weight of the world is on his shoulders. He's a soldier and a survivor, so in his mind its his duty to turn the undead mutations back into humans and resume living on the Earth. IAM handles this idea so much better that TOM did. However, since the title of the movie shares the books title you would expect things to be a little more accurate to the novel. Still no vampires. No cultists either but humans degenerated in zombie like things that ought to be scary but due to CG used to create them, come of as something unreal. They actually filmed abandoned New York City in the real not-so-abandoned New York City and it looked great, but the bad guys, the reason to be afraid of the dark were CG puppets. But that's my only real complaint. The plague is changed to be a genetically engineered virus that goes haywire, which is a fear today as opposed to biological WMDs, which was more a Cold War fear. The lady (in this movie, named Anna) that saves Neville in TOM also saves Neville in IAM, just more dramatically. And she's used to show how far he's slipped psychologically when talking with her, something TOM didn't really try. Heston's Neville hit that ass though, Smith's Neville didn't have time because those stupid Zombie things attacked. The setting being in NYC as opposed to LA also fits. As we learned in Escape From New York, you can section off NYC from the rest of the world, it just doesn't help in IAL's case. And, once again, Neville sacrifices himself to get a serum to the lady to save humanity, and all ends right as she finds the fabled Zion, last human city against the machines... Oops, wrong movie... as finds a human settlement in Vermont. Neville then becomes a Legend to the human race as it's savior, a quantum shift from what the book wanted.

In seeing this I was actually really interested in Anna, who had her son in tow. Where Neville had a complete city and its arsenal at his disposal, not to mention military training, Anna had a boat, a pistol, some UV weapon thing (like Blade I imagine), and her son Ethan. They survived pretty well on the move, and I would have like to see what the rest of the country was like to survive in. Even a side story of how people try to survive in Upstate New York would be interesting as a pilgrimage to Vermont is undertaken. Did Anna drive from NYC to Vermont in one day? How did she get across the Hudson? Probably her boat, but there was more there that could have been added.

There are an amazing number of ways to interpret the story but a couple things remained intact. A microscopic plague of something kills most of humanity, creating a race of mutants that hate or feed of the few "regular" humans. Neville, living in America, survives day-to-day hunting the mutants and talking to himself. Neville meets a woman. He dies at the end of the story. He becomes a Legend to somebody. Doing some research for the above I ran into a reference to a movie from 1924 also titled, The Last Man On Earth. This one is about a plague, dubbed "male-itis", that kills all men over age 12. Anyone under 12 that is vaccinated becomes sterile, so no more babies and women rule the Earth. Until a man is discovered in the Ozarks and every woman on Earth begins to fight over him. This movie has its origins in a Mary Shelley novel (yes, that Mary Shelley) written in 1826, titles "The Last Man," which also has similar plague and apocalyptic wipe-out of humanity. The Last Man, along with Frankenstein, can be considered as some of the earliest work of Western Science fiction as these stories go on to influence the likes of HG Wells and Arthur C Clarke. I must admit the 20's movie sounds more like "Children Of Men" but I see a root of an idea that Richard Matheson might have picked up. I've also got to get the IAL graphic novel, if only to see if he has a dog, or not. See you next broadcast.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Unmutual Dubtitles

Last night I saw a commercial which shows a teenage girl going about her life as strangers (ie sinister adults) approach her and ask when she’ll post a new blog. She’s happy prior to each incident, but becomes pensive as more strangers engage her. I guess this is some attempt to explain to kids/teenagers that blogging or internet use in general isn’t a private affair, anyone can see it. It made me feel guilty for not blogging as much I used to. I didn’t catch the whole ad so maybe there was something more to it but she must have an awesome blog to have all these random people in her town reading her stuff. I wish I had this problem. I want more people to read my stuff.

I have been quite remiss on my coverage of anime of late. As a huge anime fan that I am this seems quite odd, but so much to garner my attention from movies, TV, and Xbox. With several days off during the holidays I decided to watch an older series I acquired for around $8 called “Green Legend Ran.” I wish to point out how much I bought it for because I’m an “old school” collector of anime back in the days when anime was only on VHS. Each tape was $30 to $40 and you got like one or two episodes of something on it. These were the fledgling days (the dark ages) of anime when you had to go to the local comic shop for titles. I would save up what measly minimum wage I received to buy a couple new tapes every month or so. Green Legend Ran is a 3 episode OVA (original Animated Video), also known as Direct-To-Video, and as such was sold on three (3) Tapes for about $30 each, or $90 for the complete set. With great satisfaction I can now say I own the series on one (1) DVD and saved about $80 in the process. This time of anime is still a wonder to me. Many older titles are so cheap I can grab them up in bundles.

And, I am happy to report that Green Legend Ran (GLR) was worth it. Pioneer in the early nineties produced quite a few quality OVA’s (Tenchi Muyo! and Moldiver come to mind), not based on pre-existing manga or novels (which tends to be the norm now), but original work that spoke volumes of the creativity of the animators and story tellers. Tenchi was so successful it has spawned several TV shows, movies, and more OVA episodes. Sadly, GLR goes no further than it’s three (3) episodes. What you do get is decent. GLR was animated during the transition from traditional cell animation to CG based work, and as such, looks much older than its 15 years due to the completely hand drawn art. Sometimes the characters look too simple but the backgrounds are all hand painted, no CG anywhere, just the way I like it. The story is nothing new; In the future humanity is fighting a war after ruining the Earth when aliens, known as Rodo, land in giant stature-things and drain all the water and life out of the environment. Over a hundred years later a religion has cropped up around the Rodo (which are still as mysterious as when they landed) and the few people still living have to eek out a life in shanty towns of a post-apocalyptic desert. Like I said, nothing really new, and the first 45min episode is about a teenager, Ran, who has to grow up quick when he gets caught up with terrorists, known as Hazard, that are against the Rodo-based military, which hold a water monoploy over the people. If the first episode is all I ever saw, I probably wouldn’t have continued, but episode 2 (another 45min) and 3 (almost a whole hour) make up for this.

I tend not to like the current batch of teenager anime on TV (Pokemon & Yugioh come to mind) for their sterility, but Pioneer pulled no punches in GLR and people get killed and there are consequences to Ran’s actions. Ran’s mother is gunned down by a man with a scar on his chest and he wants revenge, so he joins the terrorists and learns the scarred-man is the leader. Ran gets involved with a silver haired girl, Aira, who becomes a pawn of both Hazard and the Rodo. Priests of Rodo wander the streets looking for silver-haired chosen ones and kill any child who is an imposter. The true chosen ones have a psychic link to the Rodo and any child captured by the Priests (all deformed in some way), and are tortured until the truth behind the original invasion is exposed, or the child dies. Episodes 2 and 3 are set on the back drop of desert that acts like an ocean, as desert skiffs and battle ships move about. Hazard’s main ship, with Aira as a captive, is attacked by four (4) Rodo ships, taking Aira to Green 5, the main city of the Rodo, and the location of the prophecy of the chosen one. In all this Ran has to put aside his desire for revenge and chases after Aira (he always seems one step behind), whom he realizes is in great danger no matter who possesses her.

This may all seem confusing, but the last two (2) episodes more than make up for the first one in plot and characters. There are cliche characters in a number of places but that doesn’t hinder you too much as you are able to focus more on the mysteries at hand than worrying about a lot of odd characters. There is something in all of this that seems more than familiar and that is because the writers borrowed heavily from the look of the movie Dune. From the desert back drop to deformed priests, these are re-dressed elements that actually work in the story. The ending is a bit predictable though, borrowing from Total Recall it seems, but how the events unfold are interesting. Sadly, they don’t spend a lot of time with the Priests, each with a different deformity due to their proximity to the Rodo statues. The Priests are slowly turning into trees. Weird. If you are not a big anime fan I would steer clear of this, but the title is a good example of the better stuff coming over the Atlantic during the early nineties. The characters become more interesting over time as their secrets start coming out. Ran changes the most over the course of the 140 or so minutes as he starts to make choices about the future, save the girl or kill the dude with the scar.

The DVD itself is the worst aspect of the anime, as it is one of the early Pioneer DVDs from 1998 (prior to them becoming Geneon), and it shows. There is no menu, so you have to jump forward and backward across the chapters on your own. There are two (2) different subtitle tracks without an explanation as to which one to use. The first (and best) are actually “dubtitle,” a fabricated word meaning subtitles of the English dub, not the actual Japanese translation. These tend to be more different than you realize. The second track is closer to the original Japanese but for the hearing impared, so sound effects are also subtitled (usually before the sound, ruining the surprise). I didn’t bother with the English dub, but I was never impressed with early US dub attempts. Streamline (American translation company that made Robotech, under the name Harmony Gold) was the best at the time, but they were going out of business. Maybe in five (5) years someone will make a 20th anniversary special edition and show off this title for the quality that it is.

Speeking of fabricated words I came across one in an episode of The Prisoner; Unmutual. My spellcheck is going nuts on the word as I type it. Unmutuals are people who don’t fit into a regimented society. Specifically “The Village” of The Prisoner, which requires a certain amount of penance from the accused and a small lobotomy. This was all faked for the benefit of Number 6, who was drugged to believe he was lobotomized, just so Number 2 (what an jerk) could learn why 6 left “The Service.” (I’m reminded during 6’s lobotomy scene of “The Host” which has a similar [much more graphic] part, but the lobotomy in the movie was real, the reasoning for it was fake.) This series is a strange “what-if” series for a James Bond type character who leaves the service and is being debriefed in “The Village” with someone playing mind games with him, or he is in the hands of the enemy. It's hard to tell. Only a handful of episodes were ever made, but they were brilliant. And it currently shares the 40th anniversary spotlight with Star Trek as The Prisoner aired from 1967-1968. The episode I watched, “A Change Of Mind,” was a little different than the others (like any two were alike) in that 6 wasn’t trying to escape, just harass everyone around him in charge. I love the image at the end when prison doors slam over the image of him, the metaphor of a failed escape, but in this episode it just seems out of place. 6 did turn the tideon his captors and managed to get Number 2 labeled “Unmutual” with a mob of villagers chasing him off. The Prisoner is open to so much interpretation that anyone can almost see anything, anywhere. My feeling on The Village was that it was all a front and all The Citizens were all designed to elicit reaction from 6. I’m sure there are a number of instances this is contradicted, but that’s my story and I’m sticking with it.

Star Trek had a term Klingons used that was like “Unmutual.” The word is “Discommendation.” it took a while to define in the series, but applied to Worf it meant he was no longer considered a Klingon and neither was his family; less that livestock. Discommendation is harsher that Unmutual but I like these Orwellian 1984 made-up words that define something we already have a word for. Outcast would be fine in both instances, but Unmutual just sounds creepier, implying Mutuals must be happy, law-abiding, do-as-you’re-told citizens. Damn The Man. For those keeping track track Worf was Discommendated as a way of helping the Klingon Empire save face during The Next Generation, Season 3 episode “Sins Of The Father.” It will be some time before he Worf is Undiscommendated or Recommendated or Commendationalized or something. Trust me, Worf survives the dishonor, and the Klingon Empire almost collapses.

Today is Deep Space Nine's 15th Anniversary. The pilot episode "Emissary," a 90 minute feature, aired 15 years ago today. Deep Space 9 lasted seven (7) seasons on the air, from 1993 to 1999. The series lasted so long that while the "Head" of the proverbial snake is 15 today, the "Tail" (in this case Season 6) is 10 years old. I didn't like "emissary" that much, aside from the action parts, when I first saw it in college. I've watched it a few more times since then, including tonight, and I've come to appreciate what the creators of the show wanted to do. This isn't traditional Star Trek and it was the first series made without Roddenberry. His vision of a future of humans with "evolved sensibilities" exporing the galaxy to make the Federation a beter place to live is inspiring, and unique during the 60s (and the height of the cold war and racial tension). He then went on to create The Next Generation, set about 100 years later, with the same ideas that humans put aside their prejudices and try to run a collective group of alien worlds for mutual benefit. There was generally no strife between characters, until Deep Space Nine. The creative staff wanted to make a show where there were issues between people and cultures and religions and the future. This is more real and made for greater drama (or space opera) than the previous two (2) shows. At first the whole idea didn't settle with me, since everyone is on a space station, not exploring anything. But after a year they tackled many more issues and created a grand story arc as the Federation, of the Alpha Quadrant, went to war with the Dominion, of the Gamma Quadrant.

This all starts with a Pilot Episode that introduces us to the galaxy's first stable wormhole, in orbit of Bajor (a planet established during TNG), and a crew of mixed Starfleet and Bajoran nationals working to protect the wormhole while serving on a former Space Station used to mine the Bajor. Renamed Deep Space Nine by Starfleet, the new Commander, Sisko, has some deep seated issues over the loss of his wife and ship during the battle of Wolf 359. To any Trek fan this is the most recognized battle in Trek history, next to the Battle of the Mutara Nebula. Wolf 359 is Starfleet's Alamo against the Borg. Led by Locutus (an assimilated Picard), a single Borg cube wiped out most of Starfleet and continued to Earth, before Enterprise-D stopped them. This battle was only heard over subspace during the two-parter "The Best Of Both Worlds," but "Emissary" flashes back to the battle and shows it to us. This is a huge geek moment in Star Trek history, and it was awesome. Once Sisko takes command we're introduced slowly to the rest of the cast and the religion of the Bajorans and the militarism of the Cardassians, Bajors former occupiers. The part I hated before, but I understand and applaud now, is Sisko's meeting with the "wormhole aliens." They have no sense of linear time or death so he has to use baseball as a metaphor for the human condition. They finally understand and let the Federation use the wormhole for scientific exploration of the Gamma Quadrant. Deep Space 9 becomes the most important "border outpost" on the frontier. Most Trek has shied away from dealing with religion but DS9 embraced it and showed a spirituality to the Bajorans which flares up on more than one occasion as the see the atheistic Federation as evil.

While Deep Space 9 enjoys it's 15 year, the Season 6 episode "The Magnificent Ferengi" enjoyed it's 10th anniversary on New Year's Day. Loosely based on "The Magnificent Seven" (and "The Seven Samurai" before it), the story tells the tale Quark, Rom, and Nog putting a team together to rescue their mother from the Dominion, without Federation help. DS9 became (in)famous for its Ferengi episodes. Either you love them or hate them, there is no middle ground. I hated the Ferengi from TNG but the writers of DS9 were allowed to develop them and they are much better for it. This episode is almost a comedy as three (3) other Ferengi join the group and do a prisoner transfer for Quark's mom. Ferengi and money-loving greedy things, but manage to negotiate their way up the creek without a paddle and save the day. Of note is guest star Iggy Pop as a Vorta named Yelgrun, who has the best line. Quark explains the odd behavior of his brother, Rom, and his mother, "Family. You understand," and Iggy Pop follows up with, "Not really. I was cloned." Perhaps an unintention tip-of -the-hat to the classic episode "Spock's Brain" occurs when one of the Ferengi accidentally kills they hostage to trade and Nog hooks up a device to make him walk down the corridor with the appearance of life, (think Weekend At Bernies). In the classic Trek episode Spock has his brain removed and McCoy must hook up a remote control to make him walk around. I guess in the hundred years since then a Junior Officer in Starfleet can cobble this device together. An amusing story if you can stomach Ferengi. One other nice touch is that every character, save Iggy Pop, who shows up is from a previous episode, helping to push a continuity of episodes. I love Space Opera. See you next broadcast.