I almost hardly know where to start with a review such as this. Battlestar Galactica is finally over, after an unprecedented run over the past five or so years. Over the course of four seasons, a miniseries and film, Galactica has far and above exceeded expectations, and will likely be known as one of the greatest Science Fiction television shows to appear on our screens, indeed, one of the best television programs to have ever been created. There will be spoilers for the finale of this episode, so be warned.
The final episode has come amidst years of speculation and expectations, and was something that seems almost impossible to have been able to successfully wrap up a show with so much momentum and story behind it; yet, while watching on Friday night, I found my expectations blown away and replaced with genuine surprise throughout. There were many things that I had essentially accepted would happen – I predicted that Adama would die aboard the Galactica in a blaze of glory, that Lee and Kara would be finally united, that we would have a fundamental happy ending for the show, something to redeem the last four seasons of misery and heartbreak for the colonial survivors. But, in the way that good stories often are, Ron Moore and his fantastic team of writers have crafted something more. None of those predictions happened – Adama survived (although the Galactica was destroyed, for sure), Kara and Lee go their separate ways and the result is a fulfilling end, something far better than what I had predicted.
From the miniseries, Battlestar Galactica has remained a show that was consistently good, and one that held broad appeal to a wide audience. On the surface, for the first couple of seasons, the show was mainly a science fiction adventure, with space ships, action, robots and the vague notion that the fleet would continue on towards earth, giving the show’s creators an easy out once the show started to wind down. But at the end of Season 1, the seeds of something far greater started, with the discovery of Kobol, which brought the show to something much more interesting, injecting religion, destiny, fate and a number of other heady concepts into the plotlines.
The finale itself has been described as brilliant, fullfilling and uneven by a number of reviewers, and each point has its merits. The finale is indeed well done, and a fantastic end to the series, but it is at the same time uneven, with the first half essentially an entire season’s work of special effects work, and some of the best action that we’ve seen in the entire series, from ground combat against Cavil’s forces, to some spectacular space sorties (although I have to say, my favorite space battles include the Battle of the Asteroid in Season 1, and the opening battle for Season 4). This first episode essentially brings everything to an exciting head, and brings out some of the best in the most unlikely characters. Baltar has his heroic moment after his talk with Lee about his self-centered nature, Cavill agrees to negotiate, and Boomer sacrifices herself to hand over Hera. It is here that we essentially learn the nature of the shared visions between Baltar, Roslin, Athena and Caprica 6. The climax of this part helps to fulfill Kara’s destiny as well, giving purpose to the song that she has been hearing, and brings the story to its natural conclusion that has been building since the miniseries: she brings the fleet to Earth. Not the bombed out and uninhabitable Earth that they discovered earlier in the season, but the Earth that we now call our home.
Starbuck has been one of show’s hallmark characters since the beginning, initially, because the character had been turned from a male in the original to a female in the new version, which caused much uproar from fanboys before subsiding. Since early in the show, Starbuck has been singled out as a special character, one with a growing significance over the course of the show, the highlight of this coming with her ‘death’ in the Season 3 episode Maelstrom, and her rebirth at the end of the episode Crossroads.
Kara Thrace’s story arc has been an interesting one throughout the show, especially between her tent pole episodes You Can’t Go Home Again, Scar and Maelstrom. Her story is complex, and where it would have been easier for Moore & co. to have simply explained away her special nature as being a Cylon, they resisted this temptation and made her something more – her true nature is never explained away, but in the finale, when Starbuck simply vanishes into thin air, her true nature almost doesn’t need to be explained – there is a certain mystery and allure to her character that enriches the experience, and I believe that a straightforward explanation of her character would cheapen that.
Gaius Baltar is possibly one of the characters that has changed the most over the course of the series, beginning his life as a brilliant scientist who rejects the notion of a supreme being and religion, to someone who not only accepts the idea, but embraces it and that he holds a purpose in a larger picture. He fills the role between the side of faith and religion and reason and science.
Intertwining with Balter’s evolution has been the presence of model # 6, known as Caprica. For the first chunk of the series, she really only existed in Baltar’s head, until later on, when the Cylons split, and a number were captured or fled to the fleet. Capica, the flesh and blood model, likewise saw Baltar in her head. Both stated that they had destinies, that they had a place in god’s plan. To someone like Baltar, this provided both amusement for the audience, but also an excellent story mechanism that helped drive his character, and provided some of the initial development. In the end, this ties together with Hera’s fate, as well as the hallucinations that Sharon and Roslin saw.
Hera was a central part of the story from fairly early on, and she is essentially responsible for the last story arc of the series, with her capture and experimentation, and the subsequent rescue that the remains of the Colonial Fleet mounted to get her back. This has been building from the end of Season 1, where we learned that an upcoming hybrid child would have enormous consequences for the fleet. While a lot of the fanbase suspected that there was something to this, such as that she had abilities or something along those lines, this was something more simple, more elegant – Hera united the fleet and Cylon/Human factions, and brought forth a new era on their new home.
Halfway through Season 4, Kara leads humanity to Earth, where they find it bombed out and uninhabitable, after having found Kobol and New Caprica and left them. Having left Earth for new pastures, Starbuck once again brings humanity to salvation by randomly jumping the Galactica to safety after the battle with Cavill’s forces, jumping right on top of the Moon and is joined shortly thereafter by the rest of the fleet, hundreds of thousands of years in our past.
As Adama notes to Roslin, Earth is an idea, and this is their Earth. In a way, this explains why the colonists never settled on the Kobol and New Caprica after the fall – this wasn’t their Earth. Obviously, the story wasn’t finished, but neither location would have provided any fulfilling conclusion to the human race – neither location was Earth. Earth, in this show, essentially provided humanity with hope, a reason to continue, and a home in which the slate was wiped clean, where they could completely start over. Kobol had too much history wrapped up in it, too much blood, while New Caprica was a convenient stopping point to appease political pressures, while sporting an unpleasant climate. The second Earth, our Earth, represented everything that Kobol and New Caprica didn’t – a rebirth of society. The refugees rejected technology and in essence, everything that had happened before, to break the cycle and bring about Six’s conclusion that humanity would not follow the same path that is had been consigned to before.
The last five minutes of the show proves to be the most on the nose and profound when it comes to delivering any sort of message in the show, as the episode jumps forward 150,000 years to modern day New York City, while Baltar’s 6 and 6′s Baltar (whom we now know are Angels or similar messenger) observes that society has become decedent with commercialism and technology, much like it had before in Kobol, the first Earth and Caprica, part of the repeating nature of parts of the show’s mythos: “All of this has happened before, and all of this will happen again.” Yet, as Caprica notes, any complex system that tends to repeat itself will have its anomalies. The real question at the end of the episode, of course, is did the colonists break the cycle, or did they merely slow it down?
The balance between science / technology and human maturity is a theme that has long been used in science fiction. Numerous writers have talked about the subject, noting that our ability to create is often not outpaced by our ability to utilize our creations wisely. Such has been the case in Galactica’s world, where humans create, but are ultimately destroyed by their creations, as we see throughout the show on Capria, Kobol and the first Earth. As the episode draws to a close with Jimi Hendrix’s version of All Along The Watchtower, we are treated to a short series of clips of modern day robots, which had an odd prophetic feel to it – will we, in this world, follow in the footsteps of stories past, or, will we follow in Six’s prediction that we will be the anomaly in god’s complex series of systems?
The episode Crossroads ended with a Galactica version of Bob Dylan‘s fantastic song All Along the Watchtower, and so this episode ended with Hendrix’s version, playing on a boom box in Times Square. While this was a bit of an odd choice for a musical selection for the show, there are many elements of the song that make this a fitting choice, one that has a lot of meaning wrapped up within it – in particular, the imagry of a god overlooking his creation, with its subjects trying to figure things out within – this fits very closely with the show, especially with this conclusion, to the song. It is an appropriate and fantastic way to conclude this fantastic show.
So Say We All.
There is a scene in the middle of David Fincher‘s latest film, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button that really struck me, and seems to fit the entire theme of the movie. In it, Benjamin narrates a short section in which a woman is delayed when she hails a cab. She talks on the phone, grabs her jacket. The cab driver had gotten a cup of coffee earlier, and because of this, he picks up the woman. The two of them are further delayed when the package that she goes to pick up hadn’t been wrapped, because the girl who was supposed to wrap it had been late because she had just been broken up with. Once the package had been wrapped, a truck pulled out in front of the cab, and at that point, Daisy, while talking with a friend, left the building, in time to meet the cab as it passed by, knocking her to the street, shattering her leg and ending her career as a dancer. Benjamin notes that had any one of those events not occurred, Daisy and the passing cab would have never met.
This point resonates throughout the film. Benjamin Button is a strange man, and his tale is even stranger. When he was born, he came into the world with the body of an eighty year old on death’s door. From that point, he goes backwards, getting younger as time passes him. He lives with his adoptive mother, who lives and works in a retirement home. It is there that he meets Daisy, whom he falls in love with from the first moment that he catches sight of her. Because of their different ages, his advanced, hers not, they form a curious relationship, one that intersects at various points, before they finally meet in the middle, before each continues onwards.
This film is nothing short of brilliant. It is complicated and deliberate throughout, with a touching, tragic and somber story throughout. The entire film has given me a lot to think about with a number of the themes that are presented here. Loss is probably the most prevalent theme throughout the story. Benjamin grows up in a nursing home, and as someone who appears old, he grows up in the company of elderly. Those whom he makes friends with don’t last long, and the only constant in his life is Daisy, and even then, because of their respective ages, lose one another throughout their lives, only really finding each other as they grow closer in age, at which point, life reaches perfection. But, like all things in life, this doesn’t last long. A woman that he meets in the beginning says the following: We’re meant to lose the people we love. How else are we supposed to know how important they are?
It is because of this, she says, that people realize the importance of one another.
The film itself is a masterpiece of coloring, scoring and direction. From the beginning, there is a stark difference as the film opens in 2005 in New Orleans – Blue, gray, drab and modern, and this appears periodically as the film flashes forwards to a dying Daisy, as she lies on her deathbed. When the film goes back in time, the colors deepen and feel like the earlier 1900s. As the story progresses, the lighting and coloring changes to match the time period; Grainy, grayish and rich during the 1930s and 40s during the second World War, washed out and bright during the 1950s and 1960s, and so forth. This works well with a film that covers a number of periods, and helps give even more of an appearance of forward progression.
One of my favorite composers, Alexandre Desplat, scored the film. The music here is absolutely gorgeous. It has a light touch, that is flowing and dramatic, and it fits with the film absolutely perfectly, and is easily Desplat’s best work since Syriana.
Another theme that’s present in the film is destiny. Not so much in a religious or spiritual sense, but more in the way that the story described. Another quote from the film helps to describe this: Our lives are described by the opportunities in our lives, even the missed ones. Everyone’s lives in the film follow this, especially Benjamin’s, and he is in a unique position in life to really see this – he is starting life from the end, where his body is failing him, and throughout the film, he seems to be able to really understand life, and to live with very few regrets. His life is guided by opportunities throughout his life, and ultimately, defined by them.
Ultimately, despite the constant theme of loss and death, the film is about life. The characters here are in a unique position to witness it, and, while their circumstances are tragic, their story is one that is full of insight. I personally took a lot from it.
I’ve been missing London a lot lately. Just this week was the two year mark since I first got on a plane to go overseas for the first time. I remember that entire day with an incredible clarity. The flight, not so much, but meeting our Resident Director Barbara, learning the ins and outs of the Tube and watching London fly past as we rode into central London and to our flat at Doughty Street in Camden.
Looking back at my entire time there, I’ve only begun to realize just how much going abroad changed me. It was a huge change in how I lived – I’d never had a roommate, nor had I lived in a city.It was a bit of culture shock for the first day, but I adapted to life quickly, and picked up a lot of things from my experience there.
There’s a number of things that I really miss about the city. The biggest thing that comes to mind is just the environment. I miss the traffic, walking down the streets to get to class, hell, even the commercials on the television. London was extremely easy to get around, and there was plenty to do when I had downtime, from visiting the vast number of museums, historical sites and parks to just finding a random place around the city to explore. My biggest regret is not getting out more often, and not making the effort to meet new people while I was there.
One of the best parts of living over there was the ease to which I could make my way around the country. Through my class, I visited Bath, Bristol, Cambridge, Norwich, Stratford-Upon-Avon, Oxford, Windsor and York, while on my own, I traveled to Edinburgh and Eastbourne (as well as Athens and Munich). I really looked forward to those classes, every other week, when we got to see something completely new. I loved the trains – I loved sitting and watching the countryside go by while I read my book and listened to my music. I especially miss Oxford, the bookstores and Forbidden Planet, not to mention Eve’s, the little sandwich shop off of Tottenham Court Road. I miss the pubs, and the museums and galleries.
There’s something about England and London that I’ve never really been able to find here in Vermont. I miss living in a city.
Cinematical, a movie blog that I check up on every now and then just posted up an interesting article called The Geek Beat: Defining the Geek Genre. Actually, when I say interesting, I mean somewhat misguided. It provides an interesting starting point when it comes to this sort of genre, but the conclusions that she comes to are very misguided when she says things such as : “That’s why I restricted “geek films” to be movies based on (or accompanied by) graphic novels and comic books.”
Okay. Backing up for a moment, geek is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as the following:
• noun informal, chiefly N. Amer. 1 an unfashionable or socially inept person. 2 an obsessive enthusiast.
When it comes to films or media in general, items that fall under the Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Genres are generally lumped together. It’s not too hard to see why this happens – all three share the same notion of the fantastic, whether it takes place in the future, past, alternate worlds or even this world. In general, the definition of geek here refers to the human component. When it comes to a genre, it’s hard to really describe films as socially inept or obsessive. (Unless they’re a documentary or some really obscure, brilliant film that nobody watches, etc).
Rather, a sort of Geek demographic would seem to include the films that the ‘traditional’ image of a geek (sci-fi/fantasy/horror fan who lives at home, collects comics and has never been within five feet of the opposite sex1) tends to frequent. You can pretty much include any sort of film that has the science fiction, fantasy and horror elements. Star fighters, aliens, ghosts, wizards, magic, weird creatures, things like that all seem to be fairly common elements, and genre (for lack of a better word at the moment) fans tend to be attracted to these elements and stories that come along with them, generally because there are many things to be examined about them, but also because they tend to be somewhat escapist in nature. (Discussion of escapism is probably an entire discussion for later).
The problem that I have with the article here is that the author is limiting it to things with media tie-ins such as books and comic books. That falls incredibly short of where the interests of this sort of geek demographic fall. Comics and cartoons are certainly part of this demographic, but they are only a small part of this genre. Additionally, some science fiction films are well received by mainstream audiences. Star Wars has grossed billions of dollars, as has Star Trek, and these are arguably some of the more geeky franchises out there. Shows such as LOST, Heroes, Battlestar Galactica and Firefly have likewise been well received critically, and in some cases by mainstream audiences that don’t generally go for the typical geeky genre.
In general, I had thought of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror in terms of separate genres. Science Fiction had space ships and robots, Fantasy got the wizards and magic, and horror got the guys with the axes and blood. Obviously, that isn’t the case, and while often times there are a number of superficial differences between the genres, I’ve come to believe that these differences aren’t the best things to judge by – oftentimes, it is the type of story that really counts, and why fans of the various genres tend to be attracted to them as a whole. You will always have people who are interested more in SciFi than fantasy (I tend to go more towards SF than I do the other two.) but when it comes down to it, there are common elements.
The article cites a number of films such as Transformers: Rise of the Fallen, Star Trek, Dr. Who, Terminator, and seems to label them different, a geek or a nerd sort of genre. Lump them all together here, and more. I consider things ranging from Robot Chicken, Indiana Jones, Fawlty Towers, Monty Python, Sherlock Holmes, Life on Mars, Battlestar Galactica, and Chuck to be part of the same demographic. Not all of these have the elements that one might consider to be in a sci-fi, fantasy or horror genre, but they do tend to attract people who are fans of those genres – they all contain fantastic elements that has to do with a escapist or speculative story, and thus, you can’t really apply any of the SciFi/Fantasy/Horror genre titles to this sort of thing because not all of the content falls under those titles. I don’t necessarily want to label the overall genre as a ‘Geek’ genre because it’s not necessarily accurate, if you go straight by the definition. I’m a self described geek, but I tend to also be a geek when it comes to music, history, reading, etc. By labelling this sort of genre a GEEK genre, you’ll get some of the cultural connotations right, but would that mean that films that history buffs and music affectionatos would also be included? No, because when one thinks of a sort of Geek Genre, they think of the content that tends to be attractive to your traditional/typical geek/nerd/etc. Additonally, in and of itself, it’s not necessarily something that only appeals to geeks, but to those who like the fantastic.
This is the Fantastic Genre, something that covers the Science Fiction, Fantasy or Horror genres, and what their fans tend to be attracted to.
There is a concept that I learned when I was in high school that is applied to history called Micro/Macrocosm. It’s one of the main things that I took from my studies there and I’ve used the concept before to make parallels with various historical concepts and events.
This year was a year of change. The concept and words were everywhere this year. We just elected a new president on a platform based on major reforms and changes to the way that the country is governed, to counter the past eight years. The price of oil has gone from a record $130 + per barrel to $35, the result of which is a drop in demand for automobiles and a change in the way that we drive. This change is part of a global slowdown in demand for goods, resulting in recessions across numerous countries around the world. Change has been present in other, smaller things as well. Several of the bands that I’ve listened to for a while have released new albums, exhibiting changes in their styles and sound – Coldplay, Death Cab for Cutie, Ray LaMontagne, and a couple others. It’s been an interesting and gratifying shift, and with these changes came commentary from others, which has made me realize: with change comes thought, and changes are both good and bad.
I’ve been working to change. Since my final years of college and the first years out, I’ve changed many things. I’ve had some things in my life shift, over the past couple years, but it really hasn’t been until this year that I’ve really begun to question things – how I interact with people, what my personality is and how that guides me to approach life, and in the past year, I’ve realized that there’s a lot about me that I’ve come to dislike. I’ve been selfish, shallow and insecure. I don’t like that.
Looking back over the year, I’ve realized that there was one point where I was able to throw all that away, and I didn’t realize it at the time. It’s only been in the past couple of months that I’ve realized this and been prompted to make changes to how I do things. I’ve questioned much the assumptions that I had about my life before this summer began. I’m returning to that point, because that’s who I am.
The changes don’t stop. My job and my school is on the brink of major changes because of the economy and internal issues. On January 20th, we’ll see a major historical milestone, and hopefully the changes promised over the past eighteen months will begin. In August, I’ll finish my master’s degree in Military History, which will hopefully have some additional changes for me professionally. There will be other, unexpected things that will happen that I can’t predict, that any of us can predict.
It’s interesting how the micro/macro can be applied to almost everything. With the changes in the world, I’ve found changes in my own life at the same time. I can only imagine what next year will bring.
Today, 40 years ago in 1968, Apollo 8 orbited the Moon, taking the famous Earthrise photograph. This mission was incredibly important for manned space exploration as it’s the first mission to completely escape earth’s gravity and orbit another celestial body. The mission’s crew was Commander Frank Borman, and pilots James Lovell (who was later the commander of Apollo 13) and William Anders. They were also the first humans to see the far side of the moon.
Interestingly, I came across this article today on MSNBC News:
NASA awards $3.5 billion for space deliveries
NASA has awarded a pair of contracts worth $3.5 billion through 2016 to two private aerospace firms seeking to haul vital supplies to and from the international space station, the space agency announced late Tuesday.
The Hawthorne, Calif.-based firm Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) and Orbital Sciences Corp., of Dulles, Va., beat a third competitor for NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services contracts with their proposals to privately develop and launch spacecraft capable of delivering cargo to the space station and returning supplies back to Earth.
This is really interesting, and I suspect that we’ll see more of it in the near future as NASA plans on grounding the Shuttle Fleet in 2010. Commercial space programs are coming!
I see this as important because I believe that the future of space exploration will be firmly rooted in commercial enterprise, not as much with public institutions, such as through NASA, although they’re certainly to play a role in the coming decades. Commercial interests will be able to take the necessary risks that NASA’s unable to do, and because of that, we will be able to leap into space again.
It’s interesting that our first huge trip into space with Apollo 8 on Christmas eve, given its significance with many of the world’s religions, and somewhat ironic. I’m not a religious person by any means, but the implications of leaving a world that many consider to have been created by divine hands is huge, and opens up huge questions, theories and thoughts when it comes to our place in the universe. The crew read from the first ten verses of Genesis during their broadcast, an incredibly touching and humbling thing to read, and entirely appropriate for the occasion, in my opinion.
When it all comes down to it, we’re very small, and alone in the universe. Merry Christmas to all of you on the good earth.
It’s coming up to the end of the year, and looking back, 2008 has been a very fun year for geeks everywhere – in books, television programs and films, among other things. Over the past couple of days, I’ve been thinking back over the year to see what was the best and worst of 2008.
Starbuck returned from the Grave; The Fleet reaches Earth. (Battlestar Galactica Season 4)
The third season of Battlestar Galactica was a little rocky in the middle, but the last episodes set up a real bang. Starbuck was presumably killed, only to turn up during a major confrontation of the Human and Cylon fleets. Season 4 opens even bigger, with one of the best space battles that I’ve ever seen. Our four new cylons are freaking out, Starbuck’s back and everything culminates in the discovery of Earth in episode 10.Galactica has long been one of my favorite shows, and with a certain end point in mind, Season four was where Galactica got somewhat back onto the tracks, with a fairly tight story arc, only to get to another long wait for the final ten episodes. It’s been well worth it though.
Pushing Daisies… back from the Grave, and back to it
After a long hiatus due to the writer’s strike (more about that in a bit) my favorite show of 2007-2008 came back with a new set of episodes. There are not enough good things that I can say about this show. We left off last year with Chuck learning that it was Ned that killed her father, only to end up at the end of this season with him being awoken. It was another season of fantastic storytelling, character development and extremely fantastic dialog. Unfortunately, the show has been axed due to low ratings. Fortunately, Bryan Fuller will be going to Heroes for the latter half of Season 3.
Lost Gets Better – Again.
Here’s the situation. LOST season 1 blew everyone away. Season 2 drove them away. Season 3 brought some people back, and Season 4, everything got interesting again. This season was the best since Season 1, in my opinion. We had several new characters (my favorite was Daniel Faraday, the physicist), and a couple people killed off. We started seeing flash-forwards, where Jack has a beard and addicted to pain pills, Hurley’s in a mental institution and Sayid is channeling Abram’s Alias. Oh, and they get off the island. Then the island vanishes.
I have Leonard Nemoy’s DNA? (The Big Bang Theory)
This show started in 2007, where I was annoyed by its laugh track and annoying characters. But this year, I started watching it and enjoying it. While it’s certainly a very stereotypical portrayal of nerds and geeks, it’s fun, because the creators have put in place a series of fun characters, and the writers make some jokes that are actually funny. This week’s episode was absolutely priceless, when Sheldon gets a napkin signed by Leonard Nimoy. Now, if they’ll just ditch the laugh track. This show’s likely to be around for a while longer – it’s been getting better and better ratings as the year goes on.
Back in a Nick of Time (Life on Mars)
One of my absolute favorite shows of all time was Life on Mars. Up until this year, it was only a BBC drama, until ABC picked it up and made a pilot. That pilot sucked, horribly, so the cast was ditched, except for Jason O’Mara, and the show was redone, set in New York City, given a good cast and started up. The result? A solid TV series that’s mirrored the original (but it’s starting to diverge a bit now), a wonderful soundtrack of classic rock and a story that’s actually interesting. I can’t wait for its return in 2009.
The Joker raises worldwide GDP. (The Dark Knight)
First, there was excitement when it was announced that the Joker was going to be the villain. Then Heath Ledger signed up for the role. Then he died earlier this year after filming was completed, leaving some people to wonder if the film would be released on schedule. Then Warner Brothers covered every surface they could find with Dark Knight ads. When the film was released, it went on to gross $996,680,514 in theaters. The film was a huge success, and a fantastic film at that. It was a comic book movie with true darkness, some real symbolism and good storytelling throughout. It’s a pity that we won’t see Heath Ledger reprise his role of The Joker, because he’s done the best portrayal of a villain in recent film memory.
I am Iron Man (Iron Man)
Before The Dark Knight blew the doors off the box office, there was Iron Man. Iron Man has long been a favorite marvel superhero of mine, and everything fell into place for this film. Good story, well directed, fantastic casting (Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark was brilliant) and of course, the Mark II set of armor. Marvel proved that they could make a good superhero movie, one that was relevant and not stuck in the low-humor that characterized other comic book adaptations. Already, I can’t wait for Iron Man 2. And Iron Man 3. And The Avengers.
Pixar has released what is possibly their best film to date. (Except maybe Toy Story and The Incredibles). Following a robot far from home, Andrew Stanton has presented a film with a cute, romantic science fiction story with some social commentary (said to be unintentional) woven into the CGI. Wall-E is easily the most appealing robot since R2-D2 hit the big screen in 1977, and his antics as he’s pulled along for the ride (literally) are cute, heartbreaking and funny.And with very little real dialog.
Roar. Crunch. Repeat. (Cloverfield)
Monster movies meets social networking video and America gets its own monster. This film was brilliantly shot with an extremely fun concept. A monster comes and plays t-ball with the statue of liberty, and it’s caught on camera by a bunch of twenty-somethings as they escape. The project was conceived of by LOST creator J.J. Abrams, and his fingerprints are all over it. From the lack of explanation of everything to the weird stuff, this is a very fun film to watch. Rumors are that there’s a Cloverfield 2 being talked about.
With My Freeze Ray I Will Stop… The World (Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog)
This project was a huge success for Joss Whedon & Co. Conceived of during the Writer’s strike, Whedon presents an aspiring supervillian, Dr. Horrible (Neil Patrick Harris), his buddies and his quest to finish his freeze ray, avoid Captain Hammer (Nathan Fillion) and win over Penny (Felicia Day). We’re treated to musical numbers, crazy plots and a fantastic venture to prove that the internet is a viable place to release content.Take a look here.
This year was NASA’s 50th year in operation, and the Discovery channel released a fantastic documentary entitled When We Left Earth that touted its major achievements and failures throughout the years, bringing viewers some of the most incredible footage of space that I’ve ever seen, and telling a fantastic story of how NASA has come to be, with interviews with astronauts and support personnel. I get chills when I watch it, and wonder when we’ll return to the moon and beyond.
Hobbit’s Labyrinth (The Hobbit)
After long rumors, production problems and drama with Peter Jackson (who directed Lord of the Rings), Guillermo del Toro signed on to direct the upcoming Hobbit film and prequel. (Or two Hobbit films?) This is extremely good news, because the people who can adequately fill Jackson’s shoes after LOTR are few and far between. del Toro is the perfect director for this project, and has already proven that he can do fantasy brilliantly, with his masterpiece Pan’s Labyrinth. Plus, he can play in other people’s universes, as per his work with the Hellboy films. (Which weren’t as good, but fun)
Watchman Trailer (Watchman)
What’s called the greatest graphic novel ever is coming to the big screen, much to the annoyance of its creator, and to FOX, apparently. A trailer for Watchman aired with The Dark Knight, and it made fanboys everywhere sit up and take notice. There’s still complaints about how it’s unfilmable and that it’ll be too short or too long, but from my eyes? This looks like it’ll be THE comic book film to see next year. It looks like it captured the feel of the comic book pretty well, and it’s embellished a bit to look badass. Plus, Rorschach looks dead on. Just like I thought he’d be like.
Large Hadron Collider (Science)
The Large Hadron Collider was turned on on September 10th, to many worries about the world ending. Contrary to popular opinion, the earth didn’t vanish in a tiny black hole. It was set to uncover the mysteries of the universe, but then it broke down again nine days later and won’t be up online until 2009. But, it’s still cool!
Geeks in Politics (Obama [spiderman, conan, superman] Patrick Leahy [Batman Cameo])
There’s been a lot of geekiness in politics this year. No lightsaber waving from McCain this time around, but President Elect Obama has claimed to be a big Spiderman and Conan fan, and did a superman pose in Metropolis, IL. In addition to him, VT senator Patrick Leahy, a huge batman fan, had a cameo in The Dark Knight. He’s also the head of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Ironic.
Superheroes: Fashion and Fantasy (Costumes)
The New York Metropolitan Museum of Art hosted an exhibit earlier this year (it’s since closed) called Superheroes: Fashion and Fantasy. It featured a number of costumes from a number of classic films, such as the original Superman and Wonder Woman films, but also things as recently released as The Dark Knight and Iron Man. The fashion section was a bit of a miss for me, but the exhibit as a whole was just outstanding. Plus, they had several original copies of Superman and Batman, Spiderman and Iron Man on display. Covered in a plastic shield of course…
Star Wars Encyclopedia (Star Wars)
Del Rey released a new and expanded Star Wars Encyclopedia this year, one that is not only complete, but still remarkably up to date. That’s not likely to last as long, given how fast LFL churns out canon material, but it’s a beautiful repository of information in the universe. I can spend hours just paging through reading things.
I actually have yet to read this book, but it’s caught my eye, and it’s made a splash when it comes to the sci-fi literary world. All I really know about it is that it takes place on an earth-like world, and doubles as a philosophical text for knowledge and religion. I’ll have to pick it up, and only expand my to-read list further.
A Game of Thrones picked up by HBO (Song of Fire & Ice)
Another book that I have yet to read, but I actually own this one. HBO has picked up the book for a series. If there’s one thing that HBO does well, it’s TV shows, because they can pour money into them and get a good result. And, they have a good track record with adaptations, with things such as Band of Brothers and John Adams. I’ll watch this when it’s released.
We’ss Har Wars End (Karen Traviss)
Several years in the making, Karen Traviss has finally finished her Wess’Har Wars series with book 6, Judge. Starting back in 2003, she introduced readers to a fantastic story of first contacts filled with alien races, political commentary and expert storytelling. Judge didn’t deliver quite as well as I’d have liked (It certainly wasn’t the strongest of the series), it carried the momentum well, and proved to be a good read, one that finished up one of my favorite series satisfactorily. Hopefully, Karen will be back to writing hard scifi again, because she’s incredible at it.
This year I got back into trooping with the 501st Legion. All in all, I did a total of 30 or so events, ranging from small affairs here in VT to much larger ones. The most memorable ones were the Boston St. Patrick’s Day Parade, Burlington Kid’s Day, the Weird Al Concert, St-Jean-sur-Richelieu Balloon Festival, Walk for Autisms, and the 2008 Woburn Halloween Parade. All my events are listed here.
With all the good things that have happened this year, there’s the other side of the coin, and some letdowns, disappointments and pure flops.
Okay, this started in 2007, but it messed up television for the foreseeable future, by ending some shows and putting others on a long hiatus that has really hurt ratings. Pushing Daisies was one casualty, Terminator was almost one, LOST was put off for a year, as was 24, and already, we’re on the eve of another major strike over pretty much the same issues – internet distribution. Hopefully, some lessons will be learned.
Surviving a Nuclear Detonation (Indiana Jones)
Indiana Jones came back, and he came back bland. Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull was an impossible undertaking to fill the hopes of fans for the past twenty years. While it’s not a horrible film, it’s nowhere near as high quality as Raiders or Crusade (although I did like it better than Doom). There was no passion, a crazy storyline and some annoying characters. It does have its moments, but they are few and far between.
Skyguy/Snips/Roger Roger (The Clone Wars)
Star Wars was another big LFL franchise that came back this year, and while The Clone Wars certainly had its moments, even high points, this film just extends the image of money grubbing that LFL is involved with, which is a shame. There’s too much bad dialog, characters and situations to make this a good part of the Star Wars universe, but the TV show has been making some improvements. The animation is stunningly good, some of the stories are actually good, but every time the battle droids start talking, I want to throw something at my TV.
Michael Crichton Eaten by Cyborg T-Rex and Flesh eating Space Bacteria from the Past.
While my interest in Michael Crichton has waned over the years as he began to write crappy books (Such as Prey and State of Fear), there’s no doubt that he’s shaped my reading. I’m still a huge fan of Jurassic Park, The Andromeda Strain, Terminal Man and a number of his older novels. He’s one of the most popular scifi authors (although he’s resisted the genre title) out there with his works, most of which were made into films. It’s a shame that he’s passed – I was always hoping for another good story from him.
Gary Gygax failed his saving throw
Geek-God Gary Gygax likewise passed away this year, leaving behind a legacy that has shaped nerd-culture in the US forever. His creation, Dungeons and Dragons, along with co-creator Dave Arneson, was one of the defining features of geeks everywhere, something that I got into back in 2001. Along with giving geeks something to do in groups, it helped define a generation’s activities, reading materials and conceptions of fantasy through to this day.
Arthur C Clarke becomes the Space Child
Arguably one of the greatest science fiction authors ever, Clarke’s death hit the world hard. He helped to define the literary genre, and the actual science behind it, and was responsible for such classics as 2001: A Space Odyssey, Rama, Childhood’s End, and numerous others, as well as the telecommunications satellite. He will be sorely missed, and is one of the last of the golden age of science fiction to be with us.(Today would have been his 91st birthday)
On election nigh, CNN touted their new thing in news casting, a hologram of Will.I.Am. Looked cool, and it looked like a hologram, but it was nothing more than a lot of cameras and empty space plus some CGI. Blah. Let’s see some real technology in action please.
Close the Iris! (Stargate Atlantis)
I was a huge fan of Stargate SG-1, and same with Atlantis for the first couple of seasons. This season has just plain sucked. It’s a shame, because there’s a good concept there, amidst the horrible characters, stories and situations. Not long now, because Atlantis has been canceled, and will be replaced with Stargate Universe next year.
Even more Confusing and Confounding! (Heroes Season 3)
Heroes Season 1 was brilliant. It introduced a new spin on superheroes, only to fall to its own success and have a fairly slow and boring second season. (To be sure, the writer’s strike had something to do with it, because it got better). Season 3 was promised to be bigger and better. And it was certainly bigger, with heroes coming back from the grave, more time travel and action, but none of it really made the same impression that season 1 did. I’m still behind episodes, but apparently it’s been getting better. Now that Bryan Fuller’s returning to the show, can we PLEASE start off really good and get better? Please?
Weird Science (Fringe)
I was really excited for Fringe, the latest show by JJ Abrams. It was a fun concept, and had a good couple episodes at first, but just became so dull that I stopped following it. I might pick it up again at some point, but only when I can marathon the entire thing at once.
Forrest J. Ackerman Dies
Forrest J. Ackerman, one of the first science fiction fans out there recently passed away. He was a key element of the spread of science fiction fandom, and he helped to found the LA Science Fantasy Society, among other numerous achivements, as well as influencing numerous authors over his long life.
Borders Downsizes SciFi Sections
I ranted about this earlier, as did a number of authors. Borders has been downsizing their sci-fi sections. While it’s understandable that they have to sell items, and that they can’t put everything on the shelf, you can’t predict what the next big hit will be, and you can’t know that until you actually start selling things.
That’s it for this year. Next year, there’s already quite a bit coming up. Should be a fun year.
I know exactly when my tastes in Science Fiction and Fantasy began to change to what they are today – December, 2003. While driving a friend up Burlington, we stopped by the University Mall in South Burlington, ostensibly to do some Christmas shopping. Earlier that week, I was reading a copy of SciFi Magazine, which had run a review of the recently released Firefly DVD set. It had an outstanding review, and with a little more followup research on Amazon.com, I was stunned to see this with a full five star review almost universally. I hadn’t seen any of the show, so picking it up from the mall that day was a somewhat whim purchase. It looked interesting, and with the coming vacation, I would have plenty of time to watch it.
When I returned home, I sat down and watched the first episode. It wasn’t until a couple minutes into the show, after the opening introduction that the show hooked me, hard. There was something about it – the superior CGI, witty dialog and interesting storytelling that I really hadn’t seen in a whole lot of television shows before. To be fair, I hadn’t really watched a lot of SciFi TV prior to this – some Stargate, some Star Trek, but not a whole lot beyond that. For the next three days, I watched the entire series, bouncing around the house humming the theme song, before telling my siblings about the show and marathoned it with them over the next couple days.
I can extoll the virtues of the show endlessly. After Star Wars, Firefly became a new series for me to completely obsess over. Watching the show from that point, and eventually watching the commentaries, I began to view science fiction in a far different manner than I had before. Whedon’s technical commentaries on how the show was shot – how they did the lighting, what the dialog meant, and how the characters came to be – as well as seeing something completely different – made me begin to look at television and how science fiction should be in a far more critical level.
Shortly on the heels of Firefly came a second franchise that I like just as much – the 2003 version of Battlestar Galactica, which was released as a pilot miniseries in December. I watched it after reading several articles (again from SciFi Magazine) and like Firefly, fell completely for the show, but in a different way. Like Firefly, Galactica presented a non-conventional approach to space sci-fi with its presentation and storytelling, and I really liked that, along with the fantastic CGI, characters and stories.
Both shows are rarities in the genre. There are very few shows that have similar content, which is a huge shame. I like space ships, visiting new planets, especially in the manner that Battlestar Galactica and Firefly went about it. A third show that I came across several months later, Farscape is also up there.
The way that I viewed these shows percolated down to other elements of how I viewed television shows, movies, books and comics. I began to take in these while paying far more attention to the story, characters and the smaller details that I’d previously missed or never paid a whole lot of attention to. Instead of taking things at face value, liking things simply for the sake of liking them, a critical perspective helps to fully realize and enjoy the story for all of its points.
So, this December, I’ll be back to my roots and revisiting some of my more favorite episodes. It’s liely been a year or so since I’ve actually sat down to watch an episode of Firefly, and it’s been a while since I’ve watched Battlestar Galactica. It will be a fitting thing to do as that paticular show draws to a close with the final season this spring.
My copy of American Nerd came in last night, and it proved to be a fairly short read, only 222 pages, which took me the better part of my evening to get through. While it is very short and somewhat abbreviated, it proves to be an interesting read that brings up some interesting points about American Nerd culture.
Ben Nugent’s book seeks to examine the roots and definition of the Nerd. In doing so, he teases out two large factors in culture that have helped bring about the popular nerd image, and that’s isolation from the main population and an affinity for rules and structure. From my own experiences and observations, these are relatively accurate assertions that these elements do help to influence those who call themselves nerds or geeks.
Nugent’s book looks to history for some of the background on the subject. What I found most fascinating was his take on elements of the progressive movement on society and how this has some root causes for nerds and for why they are generally abused by popular culture in general. One thing that is made clear – nerd/geek culture is created, in part, by isolation from the rest of the population. Nugent goes back to the 1880s to the first Ohio school that introduced mandatory physical education, through to Theodore Roosevelt and building of a ‘all American’ sort of culture. Athletics in schools, by nature are exclusionary – they seperate out the weaker, meeker and smaller. There are many tales of the nerds/geeks in high school being picked off one by one by one in dodge ball.
One aspect of this is duality, a theme that comes up multiple times throughout the book, and through different means. Nugent brings up several racial and social theories to help explain this. One example of this is how he examines and compares geeks vs. jocks. Jocks tend to draw more from the animal side of the spectrum, tend to be more empathic and emotional while geeks tend to veer more towards the machine side, where logic and reason take precedent. The animal, emotional and empathic side of things, because of the progressive movement, has become the more accepted social position in the US.
While the book does take a good look at the background history of nerds in the US, there are serious flaws in the book’s structure. It bounces from history to social theory to biography and guide to nerdom, with very little overall flow. While the book brings up a number of points, is up to date (items such as Robot Chicken, Freaks and Geeks, Battlestar Galactica and other geek fare) and is fun to read – it doesn’t get drowned by the bulk and density of some historical events.
This book is too short and doesn’t go far enough to examine the history and cultural factors in nerd/geek subculture. The history is abbreviated and the methodology is inconsistent. There is no bibliography, despite his criticism of another book of not having one, although there are some footnotes throughout the book.
While it purports to examine the story of Nerds in the US, there are some very obvious gaps here that undermine the history. There is no discussion of the rise of computers – I don’t believe that Steve Jobs is mentioned with the creation of Apple computers, nor is NASA talked about, which seems like a huge thing to overlook when talking about geek/nerd history. Nor is there any discussion on the impact of Sci-Fi films during the 70s and 80s. There’s some talk about Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, a little more about Dungeons & Dragons, but there’s precious little talk about the impact of these huge juggernauts on the geek/nerd community. While it’s unreasonable to expect that this book would be anything comprehensive (or any book on history, for that matter), leaving things out such as this seems to be a gross oversight.
To some extent, this book feels uncompleted. There are short sections that cover a broad range of subjects, so it feels like it covers a lot of ground. This is good, but unfortunately, it only seems to cover the surface of much of the issue. That being said, it is an interesting read. It’s certainly a book that can be expected as nerd-culture has gotten far more popular in recent years.
The best thing that we have here is a good definition of the term, of the entire population that’s out there. It’s a good start, and hopefully, we’ll be seeing some more work in this aspect of history soon.