A review of Star Wars The Force Awakens (with some slight spoilers)

SW-THE-FORCE-AWAKENS

There are 7.125 billion people on this planet. On Christmas Eve I became the 7,125,000,001st person to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens. This is a brief review with minimal spoilers.

I was just the right age to enjoy the first Star Wars movie. Now, by first movie I mean FIRST movie, back in 1977, before it was a trilogy, or before that a nine-part-epic, then before that a trilogy, then before that just the one movie… 🙂 . The opening fanfare still brings back floods of memories. Every time I hear it, just for a brief second, just a nano-second, I am 12 years old again.

The only comparable feeling is the smile on my face when I hear THAT portion of the William Tell Overture. People of a certain age can’t help but shouting, “Hiyo Silver!” at just the right part of the song. The opening fanfare of Star Wars creates a logarithmically greater chill.

The archetype of the first Star Wars is well known to anyone who read (or saw) the Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, the Wheel of Time series, etc.: a strange wizard whisks a youngster and his friends off to fight the forces of a dark lord.

***

The story of Star Wars boils down to this:

The movie opens with the forces of good losing a devastating battle against the forces of evil. One of our heroes has vital information that may finally defeat the bad guys once and for all. To prevent the information from falling into the hands of evil, it is hidden in a droid that is sent to a barren desert world.

After fighting off scavengers, the droid befriends our main hero. We meet the rest of our heroic band who join together to take the droid to the main HQ of the good guys – whilst in the meantime visiting various places in the galaxy including an odd bar filled with bizarre aliens and unusual – yet strangely familiar- music.

We discover that the bad guys have created a planet-size machine that can destroy an entire world in one blast. They discover a flaw that can destroy the machine, but first they have to infiltrate the machine and shut off the shields.

Then the good guys in their space fighters head to the planet’s one weak spot. Can they destroy it in time, before the machine can fire upon the good guy’s home base?

***

The rest is cinematic history: the merchandising of the first movie, the comic books, the Holiday Special (shudder), Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, the Empire Strikes Back, the Han Solo books, the Lando Calrissian books, Return of the Jedi, the cartoons, more comic books, Heir to the Empire, more and more books from the distant past and distant future, the Phantom Menace (slight chill), the other two movies of the second trilogy (shudder), the purchase by Disney … and on and on.

***

And now here we are at Star Wars Episode 7: The Force Awakens.

A brief plot descriptions (with only MILD SPOILERS):

The movie opens with the forces of good losing a devastating battle against the forces of evil. One of our heroes has vital information that may finally defeat the bad guys once and for all. To prevent the information from falling into the hands of evil, it is hidden in a droid that is sent to a barren desert world.

After fighting off scavengers, the droid befriends our main hero. We meet the rest of our heroic band who join together to take the droid to the main HQ of the good guys – whilst in the meantime visiting various places in the galaxy including an odd bar filled with bizarre aliens and unusual – yet strangely familiar- music.

We discover that the bad guys have created a planet-size machine that can destroy an entire world in one blast. They discover a flaw that can destroy the machine, but first they have to infiltrate the machine and shut off the shields.

Then the good guys in their space fighters head to the planet’s one weak spot. Can they destroy it in time, before the machine can fire upon the good guy’s home base?

END OF SPOILERS

***

Star-Wars-The-Force-Awakens-poster

I say the above with tongue planted firmly in cheek, of course. The plot of Force Awakens is an homage bordering on plagiarism, yet despite this slight similarity in plot 🙂 , it worked! Force Awakens is a great film!

And leave us not forget that the original Star Wars was itself an homage to old serials of the sci-fi and pirate genres …

It is not a complete reboot ala JJ Abrams’ two recent Star Trek movies, it is a continuation.  We meet new heroes and villains. All are interesting and I cannot wait to see them again. Each seems, again, to be an homage to those-who-came-before: Rey, the main hero from the desert-world whose past remains unresolved, Poe the pilot extraordinaire/lovable rogue (although despite such comparisons to a certain Correllian smuggler, from the first moment of his introduction Poe’s being a hero of the rebellion is never in question), Kylo Ren as the Darth Vader wannabe (SPOILER: when he takes off his mask I whispered to my wife; “Abrams couldn’t get Marilyn Manson?” END OF SPOILER), and even BB-8, the R2D2-spunky-and-cute-droid of the movie.

The most unique starring character is Finn – by that I mean he has no real original movie equivalent – as a storm trooper/deserter. He starts as a coward but his attraction to Rey, and his eventual discovery of his bravery and sense of right and wrong, turn him from the dark side.

By far my favorite character is the Palpatine-equivalent Supreme Leader Snoke, “played” by CGI-king Andy Serkis with a disturbing resemblance to Bill Nighy.

Our old friends are also present. No spoilers here, there are as-yet undiscovered tribes in the Amazon who know that Han Solo, Princess Leia and Luke Skywalker are also in the film. As are Chewbacca, C3P0 and R2D2. I heard the voice of Obi-Wan during one intense scene and although I read Yoda’s voice is also heard I must have missed it.

Certain characters (or their alien race) from the second trilogy have been happily omitted. Mesa happy about that.

Most of our old friends appear in vital slightly-more-than-cameos. Carrie Fisher’s Leia gives us more emotion here than she had in all three of the trilogy. She is wonderful in her role.

No spoilers here: I am very pleased to report that Harrison Ford’s Han Solo is more than a cameo – he has more of a roll in the movie than Poe. Captain Grumpy excels in the role that made him a superstar – I loved this Han Solo. Here is he is older and not necessarily wiser. And funnier!! “You’re cold.”

There is much more humor here than in the prior six films, but not enough to lower the movie into spoof territory. The humor comes from the characters and the situations and is realistically done. Poe and Finn especially give us some very canny quips to uncanny situations. “Why are you nodding your head at me while I am trying to talk?”

The Force Awakens is not perfect. No movie is perfect. Okay, Godfathers 1 & 2 are perfect. No OTHER movies are perfect.

But this is close. The only real issues were the deux ex machina of some of the rescues and sudden and coincidental appearances of the cast. But, to be frank, that is expected in this kind of genre, isn’t it?

The direct parallels to the first movie made for a pleasant homage to we old fuddy-duddies and still made for a great story.

The original fanfare opening the movie made me feel like a 12-year-old for that split second. The plot homages helped continue that feeling. An original plot – and remember Phantom Menace, for example, had a very original plot – might not have done so.

Perhaps it might be best Abrams is not involved in the rest of this third trilogy. If only because of his track record of his Star Trek movies: the first, a redo of the original series. The second, a redo of Wrath of Khan. I would worry about his plot of a second Star Wars movie: After a First Order assault decimates a rebel base, Finn & Poe seek refuge at a base they thought was run by an ally, but are betrayed. Meanwhile, (SLIGHT SPOILER ALERT) Rey goes to a swamp world to be trained in the Force by a reptilian Fozzy Bear … (END OF SPOILER)

For the first time since the first movie, I want to see more of this universe. Empire succeeded in doing that. Let’s hope Episode Eight does that, too.

And remember Empire had an original plot. We’ve now known the thrill of knowing this universe we love so much is back, so now let’s move forward instead of looking back …

Original Material Copyright 2016 Michael Curry

Happy Birthday, JRR Tolkien & Isaac Asimov!

A quick blog entry, but of utmost importance!!

Yesterday was Isaac Asimov‘s birthday, today is J.R.R. Tolkien‘s, born 122 years ago. Tolkien created the fantasy genre eventually named after him (although as his book “Children of Turin” shows he still wrote “high” fantasy). My book shelves (other than the Asimov shelf) is lined with books he influenced. Thank you for everything, Professors – both of you – and I mean everything…

National Adoption Month Spotlight: The Six Million Dollar Adoptee!

November is National Adoption Month! Throughout the month I’ll feature famous folk who have been adopted!  

six-million-dollar-man-lenticular-image 

Today’s Spotlight: Lee Majors

 Culled mostly from Wikipedia:

 Lee Majors was born born Harvey Lee Yeary on April 23, 1939 and is best known for his roles as Heath Barkley in the TV series The Big Valley, as Colonel Steve Austin in The Six Million Dollar Man and as Colt Seavers in The Fall Guy.

His parents, Carl and Alice Yeary, were both killed in separate accidents (prior to his birth and when he was one year old, respectively). At age two, Majors was adopted by an uncle and aunt and moved with them to Middlesboro, Kentucky.

 

Be sure to visit Abby’s Road on Facebook for more Spotlights!

  cover

“Abby’s Road, the Long and Winding Road to Adoption and how Facebook, Aquaman and Theodore Roosevelt Helped” leads a couple through their days of infertility treatments and adoption. It is told with gentle (and sometimes not-so-gentle) humor from the perspective of a nerdy father and his loving and understanding wife.

Join Mike and Esther as they go through IUIs and IFVs, as they search for an adoption agency, are selected by a birth mother, prepare their house, prepare their family, prepare themselves and wait for their daughter to be born a thousand miles from home.

 

Winner, Honorable Mention, 2014, Great Midwest Book Festival


Abby’s Road is available at Amazon here: 
http://www.amazon.com/Abbys-Road-Long-Winding-Adoption/product-reviews/0692221530/ref=cm_cr_pr_top_recent?ie=UTF8&showViewpoints=0&sortBy=bySubmissionDateDescending


at Barnes and Noble here: 
http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/abbys-road-the-long-and-winding-road-to-adoption-and-how-facebook-aquaman-and-theodore-roosevelt-helped-michael-curry/1119971924?ean=9780692221532


and at Smashwords here:
 https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/457270

 

Copyright 2014 Michael Curry

 

 

 

 

 

Thoughts on Guardians of the Galaxy…

Guardians of the Galaxy: not a review, just some thoughts…

                 What gives, Mike? You boast that your blog is about comic books, science fiction, fantasy and all things nerdy and what have we gotten lately? Reviews of historical fiction, updates on your book Abby’s Road (now available as a Nook and in paperback from Amazon – gee, this corporate whore stuff is getting easier and easier!) and blogs about your health!! Where’s the nerdly goodness!?

                OK, OK, good point. This will make up for it. It has Marvel, Star Wars, Superman, lots of memes and links to websites – geeky enough for ya?

guardians2

                Along with .02% of the world’s population, I saw Guardians of the Galaxy this weekend. I enjoyed it very much – I will likely get the blu-ray when it comes out and will look forward to its inevitable sequels.

                The web is filled with reviews of the movie – Entertainment Weekly gave it a wonderful review and an A- rating. That’s the magazine’s highest rating possible for a non-Harry Potter or non-Tom Hanks movie. This blog review is probably the best and closest to the truth:

http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2014/08/03/an-academic-critique-of-the-film-guardians-of-the-galaxy/

                (really captures the feeling while watching it, doesn’t it?)

                So I’m not going to review the film itself – there’s plenty of those out there. Instead I’ll share the thoughts that popped in my mind before and during the film whilst munching my popcorn.

                1) this is Marvel’s first foray into its current movie blitz with unknown characters. I’m a big comic book fan, but even I did not know much about these characters. My Marvel Universe knowledge is not as great as some, I will admit. And my knowledge of current comicdom (especially with the “Big 2”: Marvel and DC) is certainly lacking. But if you are stuck on a game show question regarding DC in the 1970s, phone-a-friend me.

                We’ve seen all the Marvel big guns lately from the various film companies that own the rights – X-Men, various Avengers (Thor, Captain America, Iron Man) and Spider-Man. (And I think it’s time – especially considering the success of Guardians – to give serious thought to a Fantastic Four redo).

                I wouldn’t put the Guardians even on Marvel’s second tier – they’re third or fourth-rate characters down there with the Squadron Supreme, Omega the Unknown and Night Nurse (don’t ask).

                “Horse Hockey!” you say. “I’m a huge fan of the Guardians! And they have a fan base that makes the Legion of Superheroes pale in comparison!” I’m glad you enjoy it; and no, they don’t.

                I barely knew most of the characters: Star Lord was more a science fiction than a superhero character from the Marvel magazine line. Gamora was a secondary character from Jim Starlin’s superb Warlock saga. Drax was a villain who fought Captain Marvel (Marvel’s Captain Marvel, not the Shazam guy), Rocket Raccoon came along during the 1980s when I stopped reading most “Big 2” comics who was in (I think) the Hulk comics. Groot was in a few Marvel horror comics in the 1950s and 1960s: one of a long line of atomic monsters with names akin to onomatopoeias of bowel movements (“Behold the Terror of Vluum!” or “And Now Comes Splart!”).

                And this is ME, who is a bit of a comics historian! I, along with most movie audiences, walked into this film with NO expectations or knowledge of the character’s history. Captain America these folks ain’t. No baggage or history to fume over. “But Bucky was a kid!” “Nick Fury’s BLACK!!??”

                THESE were my Guardians, published at the beginning of my comic book fandom:

guardians

                Recognize and remember any of them? Frankly, neither do I.

                So if the producers wanted to coast – they certainly could have. With expectations much lower than with the Avengers (expectations they met, by the way), there was no reason they needed to put on their A-game. Let’s have some fun, make a good story, use the budget we have and be satisfied with a job well done. The movie-goers would say, “It has a lot of heart and I liked it.”

                But they put on an A-game. They put as much time and consideration into all parts of the movie as they have with each of the Marvel franchise movies to date. Instead of making a movie that was good (“At least it was still better than the two Hulks”), they made a movie as good as Avengers or Winter Soldier.  They kept the fun in while telling a good story, too. The movie goers said, “It has a lot of heart and I LOVED it!”

                Putting humor in a science fiction movie is a dangerous thing to do. It could very quickly turn campy. But here (as with any good story) the humor was driven by the characters. The storyline was played straight – the humor came from the character’s reaction to their situation. This is where most humor works well and kept us riding along. It kept us connected in this alien setting.

                2) Comparisons to DC comics movies.

rocket

                I hate to join in on all the DC comics bashing, but dammit DC deserves it. I saw Guardians with a friend who saw the movie earlier that weekend. He commented that when he left Man of Steel, the audience was still woeful during the “happy” ending and bloggers argued over the movie’s merits and controversial ending (the destruction porn, Superman doesn’t take a life, etc.). People left Guardians smiling and the blogs continued the raves. You leave Guardians feeling good – you just spent a fun two-plus hours enjoying yourself. No one left Man of Steel feeling good.

                3) A peaceful world attacked by a brutal and near-omnipotent overlord and his powerful minions. Spaceship dogfight battles! Swordfights! Blasters blasting! Wretched hives of scum and villainy!

star wars

                The producers of the new Star Wars movie are tugging at their collars right now. “Eep.” Stop production right now, take pad and pencil and everyone – that means you, too, Hamill, Fisher and Ford (someone may have to help Harrison limp along) – go see it and take notes. And don’t sit near the producers of the upcoming Superman vs Batman movie – you’re there to learn how it’s done, not to listen to them mope about “but at least we have a built-in audience of basement-dwellers …”

                4) There are lots of 1970s tunes on the soundtrack. I didn’t like that too much when I first heard about it – it would lend to camp – but it fit. It gave us a connection to the main character (the only earthling) and linked us normal earthlings to the story. It was also cannily explained in the movie too. I liked that – too many movies forget about things like that!

                But it got me thinking about creator’s rights. During the movie and afterward I said how ironic that David Bowie and Eric Carmen will probably make more money from this film than Jim Starlin (who created Thanos and Gamora) and Bill Mantlo (Rocket Raccoon) will.

                This story is making the rounds:

http://io9.com/marvel-screened-guardians-of-the-galaxy-for-the-co-crea-1615584469?utm_campaign=socialflow_io9_facebook&utm_source=io9_facebook&utm_medium=socialflow

                The brother sounds a bit too satisfied, doesn’t he? He was likely blinking “SOS” into the camera.

                Go see it. Enjoy yourself during a movie. That will make for a nice change, won’t it? Go home and read about the actors and the history of the characters and the movie. Give Bill Mantlo the exact amount you spent on admission and snacks as a donation. He needs it. http://gregpak.com/love-rocket-raccoon-please-consider-donating-to-writer-bill-mantlos-ongoing-care/

                Then eagerly await the sequel. I’ll be in line with you.

                 One final thought: 

firefly

 

 

Original Material 2014 Michael Curry

 

Prose and Cons: A GenCon 2013 Report Day One: Old Friends

Prose and Cons: A GenCon 2013 Report
Day One: Old Friends
            The shuttle dropped us off at 8:03 a.m. The seminar started at 8:00. I walked into the convention center at the west end. The symposium was at the far east end.
            I marched a city block, up an elevator and to the door of the seminar. I apologized to the ticket-taker for being late. He said it was fine and said I could go in and have a seat. That early in the morning the 200-seat room was less than a quarter full.
            This was my introduction to GenCon.
           
            My sister asked what GenCon stood for. I didn’t know but guessed it was named after the city of Lake Geneva – where once upon a time the company that created Dungeons & Dragons had their headquarters. The next day I discovered I was right! It WAS named after Lake Geneva.
            GenCon is a gaming convention and features gaming industry creators, genre authors and artists, costumes, movies and classic and new games of every sort. 
            Role-playing, table-top, live-action, card games – even an arcade. They did not have Galaga. Thank god. If it did I would still be there. Ah, the fortunes I lost pumping quarters into that game in the early 1980s…
            They had Ms. Pac-Man, too. I didn’t play that – it wouldn’t be the same without a pitcher of beer and a pizza waiting across the restaurant while “Freebird” blared from a jukebox.
            41,000 people went to GenCon from August 15th through 18th this year.
            Most of my first day was spent in this little room listening to writer’s symposiums. For the next three days I would listen to panels discuss career building, short fiction vs novels, creating characters, plots and storytelling, what is mystery, what is horror and what is adversity?
            I learned so much and met some wonderful and friendly authors – all of them willing to share and discuss the craft with us amateurs (we amateurs … us … we …) . Some were tired (and probably hung over), but every one of them shared their experiences and gave advise. Not one was of the “that’s-MY-secret-and-I-don’t-want-the-competition” type! This is not the place for the sulking and brooding. It was a joy to attend and to meet all the wonderful, professional authors.
            GenCon is not cheap and you need to go out of your way to save money. I went with some of my gamer friends. They had been there before, I had not.
            We stayed at a motel near the airport – Bill (one of the gamer friends) had points to spend so the entire motel cost was free. For $50.00 we could drive to one of four pick-up points throughout the day and a bus would take us to the convention center. It had to combine some routes due to lower-than-expected participation so their schedule changed – the bus from the Wal-Mart on LaFayetteleft at 7:00, not 7:05. We made it on time that first day anyway…
            But with combined routes it arrived at the convention hall at 8:00 instead of 7:40.  This meant I was late for both of my 8:00 sessions on Thursday and Friday. But both days the ticket-taker welcomed me and said it was perfectly fine to go on in.
            I hope the bus service did well enough to make money. It encourages me to want to return to the Con if there is an easy way to get there (shuttles ran from seven in the morning until three at night!). Since it costs the same as two days of parking downtown, if you are there for more than three days you’ve saved money. That is never a bad thing. More quarters for Galaga…
            It is advised you take some food and drink. You don’t want to pass out from hunger in Hour Three of a four-hour game session. I was more practical – I did not want to spend five bucks for a bratwurst and three bucks for a bottle of Diet Coke. I loaded up on granola bars, peanuts, and bottled water. They had water fountains at the center, but the water was just colder than room temperature. If you wanted the cold stuff, either bring it yourself or shell out the coins.
           
            I spend Day One in seminars and symposiums – from eight until five with one hour free at 11:00 and 1:00. I wish I wrote down all the authors and editors on the panels, but I didn’t think to do that until later in Day Two.
            Pathfinder, the role-playing game company, gave away five of their fiction paperbacks at the end of each session to an attendee that “purchased” a ticket.
            Most sessions were free and if there were seats available after all the ticket-holders went in, anyone could attend.
            I won’t go into ALL the things I learned – editing your own work, speech tags, active-passive verb usage, self-publishing, maintaining professionalism, the vile adverb, dialogue usage, self-promotion and on and on. I hope you will see the results of my work as I get published haha!
            At the end of each session they announced the winners of the paperback books.  Attendees had to leave the room to re-queue, even if you were in that same room for the next session. I hoped I could just sit in the middle and stay there all day. Nope. I suppose it prevents some folks from staking their claim in the front row and staying there.
            The ticket-taker was also the ringmaster – he walked in with a “5 Minutes Remaining” Sign, brought in the books (and presumably pulled the winners names from the ticket pool), organized the lines of participants and got coffee and drinks for the panelists. He had a few helpers but otherwise he did the leg-work for the entire 3-1/2 days. 
            The symposiums (writing, role-playing game design and artwork) were all in rooms whose hallways overlooked the entry to the exhibit hall and a game room (I say room – it was half a city-block long and filled with enough tables and chairs for thousands of gamers). At 9:45Thursday, they had opening ceremonies – a band, a speaker, and thousands of people talking and cheering. I do not have the best hearing even in a quiet room – twenty years of rock music and a screechy toddler have seen to that.  I could barely hear what was being said – and the panelists had microphones! Fortunately, the ticket-taker closed the session room doors thereafter. Thank goodness.
            On my way to the 8:00 symposium that first day I waited for the elevator to the second floor. Later I realized it was quicker to walk down the hall to the escalator. But for now I waited for the car with three custodians. One of them, taller than me, asked, “Michael? You don’t remember me, do you? We went to school together.”
            He was taller than me, heavy-set and African-American. “Donnie?”
            By now we were in to the elevator, “No, man, I’m just kidding.” We laughed.
            “You could have been Donnie, it’s been thirty years…”
            I was not interested in any of the 11:00writer’s sessions so I went down the escalator to the Exhibit Hall.  
            The Exhibit Hall contained hawkers of role-playing and board games, books, clothing, DVDs, artwork, booksellers and publishers.  The larger companies – Paizo, Fantasy Flight and Mayfair among others – had rows of tables with games set up for one-hour play exhibits. If they had room, you could sit and play for free. If it piqued your interest, you could pay for a full session in one of the gaming rooms. Of course, you could buy the game, take it home and play all you want. The game is available in our kiosk for only …
            I entered one end and hugged the wall. At the far end a yellow banner read “Clearance Books” – ah! I must check that out at my 1:00break.
            A booth sold game dice – several did, this was the first one I saw – and I bought a set of polyhedron of my own. This was one of my four goals for the Con.
            If you don’t know what polyhedron dice are … BOY are you reading the wrong blog. Dice aren’t just six-sided squares anymore – there are also dice with four sides, eight, ten, twelve, twenty and even thirty and one hundred. I need more dice like I need more blood sugar, but it is GenCon. I HAD to have a set of dice from GenCon. I asked the salesman if I could get my money back if these things roll crappy. “I’m just kidding, thanks.” He laughed and bid me a good day. 
            There were dice specifically packaged from GenCon, but they looked like ordinary dice in a GenCon box. Meh… If they had GenCon 2013 etched on them I’d be interested.
            A few booths later I saw a vendor selling large-sized dice. I bought a 20-sider and percentile dice each the size of a golf ball for my daughter to have. Will this help her leave MY dice alone? Of course not. But these ARE hers. They were purple – her favorite color. Goal Two was complete.
            At the back of the Exhibit Hall I checked the time on my cell phone. It was 11:30. My next writing panel started in thirty minutes.
            I realized I was in front of the Guest of Honor autograph booth. Twenty feet away from me at the end of a common-feeder bank-like line maze was Peter Davidson and Walter Koenig signing autographs and posing for photos. There were ten people in line. I was eleventh.
            I asked an usher if I could get both to sign autographs or did I have to re-queue? She said to tell the main usher I wanted both and he would take care of me. He asked the first four people in the line “Davidson? Davidson?” and a few raised their hands.
            “Koenig? Who’s here for Walter Koenig?” The rest raised their hands.
            When it was my turn I asked, “Both?”
            “Okay, you’ll get the next one that’s free and then come back here to me and you’ll be next when the other one’s free.”
            He waved me to Peter Davidson. I knew him as Tristen Farnon from “All Creatures Great and Small” in 1979. My mother loved that show. A few years later he was the fifth actor to play Dr. Who (oh shut up you Cushing completists – you know what I mean). While he signed a photo for another attendee I talked to his assistant. “Can I get him to sign two photos (they had a stack of several photos I could choose)?”
            “Yes, of course.”
            I shook Davidson’s hand and told him how much I enjoyed his work at Tristen and the Doctor.
            “Thank you.” He autographed the photos, one for me, one for my sister (Goal Three).
            “I especially enjoy your commentary on the Doctor Who DVDs, they are wonderful to hear and your sense of humor really came through.”
            “At first they didn’t want us to do it. All we did was giggle and make fun of the other actors. But the fans loved it so they kept it.”
            I said I wished I could have seen him in Spamalot. I saw a production in St. Louis and I knew he was a Python fan from his DVD comments.
            “Oh yes, it was tremendous fun, I was glad to be part of it.”
            An usher dressed as the Brigadier took our photo and I shook Davidson’s hand again and thanked him.
            I went back to the usher and some seconds later I was face to face with Walter Koenig.
            Chekov from Star Trek (the original show) and Bester from Babylon5, a show I have never seen (no comments! Just get over it!). He also had roles in Mannix, the Virginian, Columbo, all kinds of great 70s shows.
            I hope he was feeling well.  He looked feeble. He was hunched and spoke in a whisper. I thanked him for his great work and I appreciated his signing my photo (he also had several prints available to sign). “Thank you, sure…” To be frank, it was disappointing compared to the energy of Davidson. But Koenig was pleasant and appreciative and I was thrilled to meet him! Walter Koenig!! Maybe he was sick; maybe that is just his way… that’s okay. Walter Koenig! My first Star Trek star! Heehee!
            His assistant took our picture. He looked perky and energetic in the photo.
            Goal Four. I was done! If I had to go home right now … I’d be happy!
            Happier than I was a 5:00. All my symposiums, sessions and panels were done. I called my sister. She was to pick me up for dinner and take me to the motel.
            She was sick that morning, could we have dinner tomorrow night?
            Of course, I said. No worries, you just get some sleep and feel better. Big brother loves you!
            I called Bill. He gave me a key to his van, so I told him I will take the bus to the Wal-Mart and drive to the motel. When he gets on the bus, call me and I will pick him up.
            I still don’t quite know what happened, but that afternoon Bill went back to the motel and had to take a taxi in to the convention center. He signed up for a game at seven. There was no van to drive back from the drop-off point.
            Lisa, the other gamer who drove to the Con with her daughter and a mutual friend Anna, wasn’t done until 9:00 that night. I wasn’t going to wait that long.
            The bus dropped me and others at the far end of a Wal-Mart parking lot. I called a taxi from the nearby Staples which took fifteen minutes to get there. It was such a beautiful sunny day I didn’t mind waiting outside. The next morning my head, face and arms were sunburned as I waited for the taxi.
            Am I the only person who goes to GenCon and get a tan?
            The taxi drove to the motel; I ate a gyro at a nearby restaurant, walked back to the motel and went to bed.
            Bill came in just before mid-night. He woke me but I fell back asleep quickly.
            And the evening and the morning were the first day…
Copyright 2013 Michael G Curry

The Synergy of Science Fiction and Horror: the lost potential of “Event Horizon”.

The Synergy of Science Fiction and Horror: the lost potential of “Event Horizon”.
                The film “Event Horizon” was on television over the weekend. I saw it in the theater when released in 1997 and I wondered if it was really as laughably bad as I remembered it.
                Time has mellowed my opinion of it. It wasn’t bad.  It wasn’t good either, but it wasn’t bad.
                Some of the movie’s worst crimes mellowed on the small screen; by that I mean the cheap scare tactics weren’t as bad when not amplified. When I left the theater in 1997 I told my friend (and fellow movie-attendee) Jon, “Next time let’s save some money. Instead of paying to see this movie, we should just randomly startle each other every two or three minutes and achieve the same effect.”
                This led throughout the night and the next week or so with our conversations peppered with the following routine.
                “Jon?”
                “Yes?”
                “BOO!!”
                That was the total sum of the scariness of “Event Horizon” – build-up, build-up, build-up, soundtrack getting more and more ominous … and then … and then …
                The music stopped, the character’s fear was unfounded. The strange thingie he thought was approaching him was … nothing. Sigh of relief.
                Boo!  Oh no! The thingie attacks!
                Actual scene – Sam Neil hears his dead wife’s voice. The lights fade in and out. “Sara?” Lights on, Sam is on the right of the screen. Lights go out. Lights go on. Sam is still alone. Music swells.
                “Get it over with!” I shouted.
                Lights go up. Nothing. He turns to his right. Oh no! The ghost of his dead wife is to his right, not left! Music swells! He screams! The horror! The horror!
                A member of an as-yet-undiscovered tribe in the Amazon would see that coming. And the movie is filled with this tactic.
                I still dislike the movie despite the amazing cast. Sam Neill, Lawrence Fishburne, Kathleen Quinlin, Joely Richardson, Sean Pertwee (the son of Doctor Who’s Jon Pertwee) and a pre-Draco Malfoy Jason Isaacs.  Richard Jones overplays the black crewmember in all his token glory. He was the first one I wanted to go… Of all the shortcuts taken in this movie his was the worst. The other characters at least TRIED to appear three-dimensional. It was obvious the writers, producers and directors could not handle horror. They apparently can’t handle a black character that possesses dignity and self-respect either. The film made LL Cool J from “Deep Blue Sea” seem like Poitier…
                I was (and am) disappointed. With the right tweeking here and there it could have been a horror masterpiece up there with 1963’s “The Haunting” and perhaps even passing that OTHER famous scary sci-fi movie … the mother of them all … but more on “Alien” in a moment.
                Horror and science fiction fit very well together. It’s like peanut butter and jelly. Some like peanut butter with other things, some like jelly with other things, some like only one and not the other, some like neither. But you cannot deny their popularity as a team.
                Or compare it to two brothers who are identical yet a decade apart in age.  They go together even though at times they are vastly different.
                “Frankenstein” is arguably the first science fiction novel. If so it is definitely the first science fiction/horror novel.
                Of course, a movie or a book with science fiction elements doesn’t make it science fiction; no more than a book or movie with scary moments makes it a horror flick.
                If that were the case “Godzilla” and almost every monster movie would be labeled “sci-fi/horror”. They are monster movies. Some are very good monster movies, but not sci-fi/horror.     (“Deep Blue Sea” could be considered a sci-fi/horror film, but it was more of a monster flick…)
                Any sci-fi/horror blend has to be compared to the movie “Alien”. Isn’t that a monster movie too? In a way, but only in the way that a serial-killer movie is a monster movie. If “Alien” is a monster movie, then so is “Silence of the Lambs”.
                “Alien” had horrific situations folded in science fiction trappings. Want an easy way to describe it? “Jaws” in space. Or better – “Halloween” in space.
                But making it that simple misses the greatness of the movie. In “Alien” we have solid characters (not necessarily likeable one, which is important) and truly frightening and/or intense scenes. Hitchcock would have approved of the monitor scene. The alien is shown as an electronic blip slowly approaching the captain in an access crawl space. We see it coming and all we can do is what Ripley did, “Run! He’s getting closer!”
                It is good science fiction and scary as hell. The sequel “Aliens” is also a good movie, but it is works better as an action movie than a horror movie. That’s not a bad thing, but it does make a difference. You watch “Aliens” to be thrilled and cheer on the good guys, not to be scared or creeped out.
                The bad guys in “Event Horizon” were originally written to be an alien race. The movie-makers wanted to wisely avoid the “Alien” comparison and decided to get their horror from another vein. They went Lovecraftian.  The pitched it as “The Shining” in space.
                This is why I had such high hopes for the film. The few moments of true creepiness were overshadowed by “the startle” – the cheap way to get a scare (“Boo!”).  They should have let a horror writer come up with ideas.
                Ironically, Sam Neil appeared in one of the most genuinely scary movies out there – “In the Mouth of Madness”. A flick firmly ensconced in the Lovecraft/Stephen King mold. Plus it was directed by John Carpenter. That kind of fear-making should have been incorporated into “Event Horizon”.
                I’m reminded of an episode of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” called “Night Terrors”. The crew finds a missing Federation starship as a derelict with the crew missing (except one). They discovered that the crew of the missing ship killed each other and the Enterprise crew starts exhibiting the same symptoms – paranoia, violence and hostility. That’s the plot of “Event Horizon” too…
                There are moments when the “Star Trek” could have been horrifying. When Dr. Crusher was in the morgue with the dead crew of the missing ship, she hallucinated the bodies had sat up (the audience never sees the bodies move). She clenched her eyes shut and the scene pans out to show the bodies lying on their slabs again.  I waited for the next inevitable moment, but it never happened. The show moved on to the next scene.
                The bodies should have flailed.  They should have thrashed around while the doctor screamed her pretty red head off. A scary moment missed.
                That was “Event Horizon” – the scary moments were right there. Right. There. Ready to be exploited. But it went for the “Boo!”
                Or it went for the gore. Evisceration is not scary. The before and after, if done right, can be.
                A shame, really. Such potential. That’s why I still don’t like “Event Horizon”.
Copyright 2013 Michael G. Curry

Fall of the Titans

Fall of the Titans
 
            In the last two months we’ve lost some giants. They were icons of their individual fields that were imitated and emulated but stood alone on their own shelves – no one coming close to their level.
***
            Ray Harryhausen died in May at the age of 92. His stop-motion animation made the fantasy sequences of his movies real, especially to an impressionable youngster with a love of fantasy and monster movies. The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms was real. Mighty Joe Young was real. The skeletons that fought Jason – real. The Kraken, Medusa and Pegasus from “Clash of the Titans” were better actors than Olivier.
            And “The Valley of Gwangi”. Ray assured himself a special place in heaven with “The Valley of Gwangi”.
            Without him I would be taking Jean-Luc Godard and Dziga Vertov seriously.
            A friend’s mother went to high school with him. Her mother still has the year book. Isn’t that cool?
            It’s very easy in this cynical age to look back and say how cheesy his artistry was. “Look at Lord of the Rings,” one would say, “how can any of his work compare to that?” The answer is simple – the son always strives to be better than the father. Peter Jackson would be the first to agree.
            Watch the battle between Jason of “…and the Argonauts” and the undead skeletons near the end of the movie. Imagine you are eight years old. Did you fold your legs under you on your seat?  Were you afraid of a boney hand brushing your ankle from under the sofa? No? You are lying.
            He made me believe in monsters said “Shaun of the Deaddirector Edgar Wright in a memoriam.  Thank you, Ray, for making us believe.
***
            George Jones died in April at age 81. He was one of the last great country singers of his era. For almost sixty years he ruled the country music roost. If there was an award, he won it. His music was of a kind only imitated now.
            His signature tune, “He Stopped Loving Her Today” has been called the greatest country song of all time. It is certainly one of the saddest songs of all time. But that is saying the same thing, isn’t it?
***
            Jonathan Winters died in April at the age of 88. He was a comedian. No one, no one, has been able to match his styling. He didn’t do stand up, he didn’t do monologues, he didn’t do wry political commentary. He did one-man acts; skits with his own sound effects.
            Some comedians start with, “two Jews walk into a bar…”  Winters started with “Colonel, the Apaches are lining the hills…”, or
            “(affecting an elderly lady’s voice) Oh, what a lovely day for a drive…”, or
            “Did you ever undress in front of your dog?”  I laugh out loud still thinking of this bit. I smiled while typing it.
            “Are you queer?” “No, I’m homosexual. My little brother’s queer. He collects little bugs.”
            Marvin Kaplan, his co-star in “It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World” said he worked with two geniuses in his life – Charlie Chaplin and Jonathan Winters. Watch him discuss his time in that movie with Winters giggling alongside at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JD5WeFCcu68.
            Jonathan Winters was on Scooby-Doo, he was Papa Smurf, and he was on the Muppet Show. You can see the exact moment Frank Oz as Fozzy Bear gave up trying to improvise with him. The crew’s laughter drowned out the laugh track.
            Robin Williams is the only comedian who has come close to the weird and manic ways of Winters comedy-style; and even he admits he didn’t come close.
            Was he insane? He spent time in a mental institution. But he channeled any mental illness he suffered into a useful and beneficial way. He made us laugh. He made us laugh until our bellies hurt.  Goodbye old friend.
***
            We’ve lost two other artists who I will miss as well. Not the titans of their genre, but I was still saddened by their deaths.
            Richie Havens was a folk artist with a very unique guitar playing style. He died in April at age 72. He will be renowned for being the opening act at Woodstock, but he should also be known for his music. Among his accomplishments include something extremely rare: He remade “Here Comes the Sun” in a version more beautiful that the Beatles’ version.
            Ray Manzarek died at 74 in May. If he had not founded the Doors with Jim Morrison, he would have been known as a great keyboardist – either in rock or jazz. If he would not have stayed in the music business he probably would have been a professor of music at a distinguished university.  I interviewed him in the late 1980s and he was extremely intelligent and funny. He talked about the influence for his opening riff on “Light My Fire” and his relationship with Jim Morrison. He sang on a few Doors song – notably “Close To You”. 
Copyright 2013 Michael G. Curry