Astronauts > Ninjas

A common scene of the day: Joe on a rock. Posing.

From here on out, I’m decreeing that Zombies, Ninjas and Pirates are no longer cool, and that Astronauts, Mongolians, Vikings and Robots are taking their place as the ‘cool’ things to geek out about.

Let me explain.

Over the past couple of years, these three character types have become more popular than usual. Pirates, Zombies and Ninjas have long been popular with the geek crowd. Recent films and games have only thrown the fuel on the fire. At camp, there were endless debates as to whether Pirates or Ninjas were better, or who would win in a fight, and I remember at least a couple of camp-wide games that revolved around these types of characters.

A couple weeks ago, I watched one of Yatzhee’s Zero Punctuation reviews for a game called Left 4 Dead, which is essentially a point and shoot at the undead, and where he says the following: “It’s my observation that Zombies are second only to Pirates, Ninjas and Monkeys in the list of things nerds like and need to shut the fuck up about.” After listening to that, it got me thinking – He’s certainly right, but but necessarily for the reasons that he presents in the game (basically, he rants about how Zombies have been overused for just about everything.)

I’ve never really gotten the whole pirates vs. ninjas vs. zombies thing. Sure, they make some interesting stories, but not to the level at which they’re really adored at. I think that it’s easy to atribute much of the hype to films because geeks and nerds like the various films that they’ve been portrayed in, and like to talk about it. The endless discussions are informed by the imaginations of screenwriters, and not necessarily fact, and as a result, 90% of the discussions are pure crap in the first place, a sort of rosy-nostalgic look at what we think these things should be.

The root complaint that I have at this point is that for such an inventive, interesting and imaginative genre, there’s very little actual innovation and imagination going on amongst the fan community. We obsess over pirates, ninjas and zombies because we’ve seen them before in films, and know all there is to know about them, reading over books like the Zombie survival handbook and Under the Black Flag if you’re really into the subject.

I’ve seen the fan community in action – we’re an incredbily handy bunch, and especially when it comes to things like costuming, there’s very little that people can’t do, and do it well. But, I try and think back to the various conventions that I’ve gone to, and wonder, when was the last time that I’ve seen something truely original. I’ve seen amazing costumes, especially from the 501st Legion that I’m a part of – and I’m not trying to disparage their work in the slightest – but everything revolves around existing media – Star Wars, Star Trek, Indiana Jones, Batman, Spiderman, you name it, you go to a big convention, you’ll likely see them. Even for halloween, unless you’re five, you’re unlikely to see any originality when it comes to costumes.

Forrest Ackerman, who recently passed away in December of 2008, was the first Science Fiction fan, appearing at the 1st World Con science fiction convention in a costume that he made himself, a sort of astronaut, essentially starting the trend of fan costuming. While I’m sure that there have been more cases of originality, I really haven’t seen anything like it. I’ve thought to myself that it would be really fun to try and construct something new and original for a con, before I remember that I’m really not that into costuming or conventions, but should I ever have the time and inclination, it’ll be something to attempt, for sure.

But this is something that falls beyond costuming – it’s largely affecting the entire genre. There are two specific examples that I can think of where this is happening – Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: The Classic Regency Romance – Now with Ultraviolent Zombie Mayhem! and the downsizing of the science fiction sections in Borders Books.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is a book that’s unoriginal to its core – it takes most of the text of Jane Austin’s Pride and Prejudice and inserts Zombies into it. I’m not necessarily against this by any stretch of the imagination, but I’m more worried about what it stands for in the greater sceme of things – a general trend of unoriginal thinking when it comes to the genre, especially in popular circles. The big comic book giants in particular are guitly of this sort of thing, running their characters for years on end, without rest or retirement, without replenishing the ranks with new characters that might be more interesting or more relevant. This sort of thinking penetrates all levels of fandom, from the top down. Fans don’t necessarily demand anything particularly original, and the production end of things doesn’t seem to mind turning over the same franchises to them. And I don’t blame them – much of this is a business, and this sells – keep it up, because there are good stories there. But the fan community should demand better.

Borders, last year announced that they were reducing the numbers of SF/F books that they’d have in their stores, a move that would likely hurt smaller and up and coming authors, as it put them in a catch 22 type postition – they weren’t selling enough books to warrent shelf-space, but at the same time, they’re not selling well because they don’t have the shelfspace, at least in theory. The trent here seems to favor more of the media-tie ins that sell far better. While that works for authors who are writing media-tieins, what about the authors who want to tell their own stories?

I don’t think that it’s any coincidence that books that are part of a larger franchise, such as Star Wars or Star Trek do excepetionally well, and they should – there are some excellent reads out there, and I know a bunch of authors who view their works as far more than a simple paycheck (Karen Traviss, Michael A Stackpole, to name two), and it shows. But, they sell, because they contain familiar concepts, characters and ongoing storylines.

I have no issues with tie-in media, so long as it’s well written. But for me, tie-in media is a form of advertising. That’s fine, especially because it’s generally entertaining, and features stories that are fun, but I’ll always value a story that’s original (and there will be those that will argue about just what originality is – in this instance, not tied in with someone else’s works) over everything else, just because it’s something new, a different way at looking at a story or story type. And there are good arguments here – because technically, there are only a handful of different story types – I mean, how many stories about space ships can you really expect? In a recent article that I wrote for io9, I was almost shocked to find that the main villian in most of the military science fiction stories were insectoids – Starship Troopers, Armor, Ender’s Game and Alien – all used similar elements to tell their stories. But, their stories are all very different, and I always find that I get more out of them, and most other standalone SF/F novels than I do for 90% of the tie-in books that I read. You just can’t compare Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell to Spider-Man: Down These Mean Streets, no matter the protestations of tie-in authors, you just can’t.

Sadly, this originality is something that seems to be lacking within the geek community, and we’ve become fans of the pre-existing. My complaint here is that Science Fiction and Fantasy has been an incredibly innovative and creative genre , and those qualities have become very far and few between when it comes to a good book or film. The imagination is still there, but the originality is not, and this is why we have the endless Zombies vs. Pirates vs. Ninja debates, I think – we just can’t seem to think of anything else to geek out over. And while it’s not completely original, how about Astronauts, Robots, Mongolians and Vikings? They’re totally better than Zombie Ninja Pirates any day of the week.


I saw Watchmen on opening night in Williston. Over the past couple of weeks, genre media has been talking much about this film. Advanced reviews, speculation, talk on forums and everything else has been booming, and much of this discussion has been focused on the comic’s creator, Alan Moore, and his stance towards the film. Moore’s attitude towards filming of his materials has been extremely negative, and for good reason; prior adaptations, such as League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, From Hell, Constantine and V for Vendetta have all been fairly poor adaptations (although V wasn’t too bad, comparatively), and Moore has disavowed any part of the film process. It’s an understandable thing, but I think that it is a bit misguided and arrogant. In reality, it really doesn’t mean much. The film was made, and I for one largely enjoyed it.

Watchmen has been called the world’s most celebrated comic of all time. It made Time Magazine’s 100 best book list, and it’s won numerous awards. It is a fantastic and compelling read. The movie, in my opinion, is a faithful adaptation, but will never gain the same status as the book. Rather, it plays out like an homage to the comic book, celebrating, rather than telling the story. I think, given the circumstances, this is probably the best that could have been hoped for. Watchmen, like most print stories, is a comic that is incredibly difficult to adapt to film. The sheer volume and density of the story makes it a challenge at best. The film is a good one, but it is almost too much like the comic book, to stand on its own as a movie.

Comic books are a huge thing for the movie industry. They have accounted for some of the biggest blockbuster hits in the past decade, and after Spiderman, studios realized that with the advances in computer imaging, there was an entire backlog of stories and characters that could be adapted for the big screen. And as such, we’ve seen a number of very good and very bad comic book movies, ranging from Spiderman 1-3, Iron Man, The Hulk, X-Men 1-3, Hellboy, Hellboy: The Golden Army, Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, Superman Returns, Fantastic Four, Fantastic Four 2, Sin City, and others. There’s a number in the works, from Wonder Woman, Iron Man 2, Justice League, Green Lantern, and I’m sure many more.

Comics are both difficult and easy to adapt, based on the many differing results when it comes to quality. Films such as Batman Begins, Iron Man, Spiderman and Sin City have been absolutely fantastic to watch, while things like the Fantastic Four, Superman Returns, The Hulk and Spiderman 3 have largely been failures, although not necessarily at the box office.

Comic books provide a fantastic medium for stories. They are highly visual, and can pretty much accomplish anything that can be drawn upon a piece of paper (or now, a computer screen). In a way, they are an entire set of story boards for a film that allows a storyteller to tell a fantastic, visually stimulating story in a way that a novel really can’t do. And comic books are extremely popular – it isn’t all the Comic Book Guy from the Simpsons – there is a huge and growing audience for comic books.

Therefore, adapting a comic book for the silver screen presents some different challenges for screenwriters. They don’t have to imagine how characters look and interact with one another – that element is already present on the pages. Obviously, because of this, and a large fanbase, there is much pressure on the part of the production team to get things looking right, just like in the comic.

This is really the case with Watchmen. It looks fantastic, and it positively oozes from the comic’s pages. The characters largely look just as I imagined them (and I’m not really one to nitpick over some of the minor differences in costumes and appearance), but the team that worked on Watchmen did a fantastic job, getting the backgrounds right, shaping the overall look and feel of the comic. This is essentially how I imagined it would look.

Another film that I’ve really enjoyed did the same thing – Sin City. Frank Miller‘s comic was presented in a neo-noir style that was excellently replicated by the film team, who used CGI to get the colors (and lack of colors) to essentially match that of the comics. Sin City, I maintain, is not so much a movie, but a moving comic, one that has jumped from the pages to the screen almost seamlessly. The stories are largely intact, the same outrageous and ludicrous characters and situations, and it looks good.

But to what extent is a direct adaptation, or even a copy, a good thing for film

s? Critically, Sin City made a splash because of the unique nature of the comic books, and how that translated right over to the screen – it looked different. But other comic book films, such as Spiderman and Ironman, which enjoy very long lineages in the print world, had to be adapted to tell the origin stories of their title characters, and that worked excellently. Both were updated – Spiderman for 2000-era New York City, rather than the 1970s when the comic first came out (although, a period piece of Spiderman in the 1970s? That would be cool), and featured a far different story than what might have been featured in the comics originally. Ironman was updated from the Vietnam War origin to the current conflict in Afghanistan to give Tony Stark a start, which worked very well, and proves that a literal translation from page to screen really isn’t necessary all the time for the story to work. Spiderman and Ironman are aided by having good scripts, where the writers seemed to understand the characters and the thematic elements of the stories. There are examples of where this hasn’t really worked, such as Hellboy, where the production team went in a different direction from the stories of the comics, creating a fairly different entity. The comics are fantastic, and stand well on their own, but so does the movie, which is not nearly as good, but captures much of the feel, although not the story, of Hellboy.

Other films just fail utterly. Fantastic Four, the Hulk, Spiderman 3 and X-Men 3, all failed to really capture the essence of the characters and opted more for a CGI type of film that had a transparent storyline, weak characters and overblown effects. The translation process here essentially went for the glamour and exciting points of the films, but not their story core.

DC comics in particular are hard to translate, and the Batman franchise has had an extremely mixed history. The first major Batman film went more towards the darker story that really exemplifies the story, while later installments went for the visual elements. This has largely changed with the release of Batman Begins and the Dark Knight, where the creators fully understood the characters, but also how to make the film look good. Neither Batman Begins nor The Dark Knight are perfect films, but they do stand very well on their own, and are a good demonstration of a good adaptation.

Superman is a harder one to adapt, because of the nature of his story. I haven’t seen the original Superman films, and intend to, but when I watch Superman Returns, I leave feeling very unsatisfied. Clearly, the production team liked the comic, and it looked very good, but the story was a rather poor one that was predictable, and didn’t present the same depth as something like Batman Begins.
This, I think is true with Watchmen. The creators, essentially, were too in love with the story, and essentially focused on getting it perfect to the comic. While this is admirable, it is flawed because the comic really can’t be adapted, not in its full nature, and when things are dropped from the story, there is no work done to try and tie together the remaining parts. While I’m not nearly as familiar with Watchmen as some, I did see that there were parts that had been eliminated, while other parts were kept in, that probably shouldn’t have. The film moves fairly slowly, going from point A to point B at a pace that allows you to take in the story, but it is at times hard to keep the entire thing in perspective. Some parts were changed, such as the ending, to the point where I felt it worked better for the film, as it simplified and clarified things for the audience. While this certainly would get fanboys annoyed, it just goes to show that a movie generally needs to be simplified for a mainstream audience.

So, should comic books be adaptations as is the case with Ironman or Spiderman, or motion comics, such as Sin City and Watchmen? I think the answer lies somewhere in between. Film and comic books are both separate mediums, and because of that, there are far different expectations and differences in how they are presented. Screenwriters certainly did a good job changing the dialog in some of the movies based off of the older comics, because expectations have changed for modern audiences. Watchmen was a difficult story to carry over to a film, and I think that the few changes that they did make helped it along, while the rest is a couple hours of the Zack Snyder fanboying the film. The results are absolutely fantastic, and we have an adaptation that looks like the comic, but feels a little off as a movie. It’s certainly something that I’ll watch again, but with all the hype that this movie has brought on itself, it is a bit of a letdown. But then again, anyone expecting a perfect film out of Watchmen is quite a bit unrealistic.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

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.

Far above the moon, Planet earth is blue, And theres nothing I can do.

I just came across some new clips from an upcoming Science Fiction film that’s coming out later this year, Moon. The movie is starring Sam Rockwell, and is due to premiere later this month at the Sundance Film Festival.

Here’s the plot:

Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) is nearing the end of his contract with Lunar. He’s been a faithful employee for 3 long years. His home has been Sarang, a moon base where he has spent his days alone, mining Helium 3. The precious gas holds the key to reversing the Earth’s energy crisis.

Isolated, determined and steadfast, Sam has followed the rulebook obediently and his time on the moon has been enlightening, but uneventful. The solitude has given him time to reflect on the mistakes of his past and work on his raging temper. He does his job mechanically, and spends most of his available time dreaming of his imminent return to Earth, to his wife, young daughter and an early retirement.

But 2 weeks shy of his departure from Sarang, Sam starts seeing things, hearing things and feeling strange. And when a routine extraction goes horribly wrong, he discovers that Lunar have their own plans for replacing him and the new recruit is eerily familiar.

Before he can return to Earth, Sam has to confront himself and the discovery that the life he has created, may not be his own. It’s more than his contract that is set to expire.

There are some clips of the film here. There’s a couple of things that have me interested. 1 – Clint Mansell is doing the soundtrack. 2 – It’s starring Sam Rockwell, Kevin Spacey and Matt Berry. 3 – from the clips on Collider, there looks to be an incredible attention to detail, and while I have some ideas about the plot, I’m excited because it’s another new and original film in the genre – that’s something that we don’t see very often.

The plot, most of all, is what’s really appealing, above the actors and soundtrack (although Clint Mansell is fantastic – his score for The Fountain is just brilliant). I’ve seen things that seem to imply that this film will be darker comedy, which would certainly work, but from everything that I’ve seen thus far, it looks like there’s going to be a very solid psychological plot as well. My guess, based on the plot and clips, that Rockwell’s character is not the original, a copy. Not the most original of science fiction stories, but in this instance, it looks very intriguing. I could be completely wrong.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t look to be a film that’s going to blow away the box office. No, this looks more like it’ll be along the lines of Solaris and The Fountain, which received a lot of critical praise, but didn’t have people lining up around the block for them, because they’re certainly films that are more intelligent than the average science fiction film.

At this point, what’s really blown me away so far is the way the clips have played out. It’s only a little bit, but the production values look just brilliant, as does the CGI. The director’s style looks to be very good as well. This should be a film to really keep an eye out for. According to Mansell’s myspace blog, it looks like the music will be out around April, so I wonder if the film will get a wide release this spring.

2009 Movies I'm Excited for

Okay, not really two-thousand and nine movies, but a couple that are coming up this year that I’m thinking will be worth watching. Looking over the list, there isn’t that many that I’m wanting to see in theaters this year. At some point during the next week or so, I want to see The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, because it’s supposed to be excellent. But, there are a couple that I do want to catch.

Fanboys: This film has been delayed so many times, I’m almost ready to give up on it. This seems like it’s the most solid release date thus far for the film, about a group of Star Wars fanboys and their misadventures while they break into George Lucas’s Skywalker Ranch to show a dying friend the Phantom Menace. The trailer is solid, and this should go up as a good Star Wars Parody.

Watchmen: This is another iffy release date one as Fox has just been granted the rights to the film, and I’m sure that we’ll see some drama with that. However, the trailer looks fantastic, and barring any major reshoots or problems, it’ll easily be a huge geek movie for sure.

Wolverine: This will likely be a DVD rental for me, but if I can, I’ll catch this in theaters. We’ll finally get to see some of the origins of Wolverine, but there’ll also be Gambit, and lots of slashing, snarling and fighting.
Star Trek: Odd as it is for a Star Wars fanboy, I’m looking forwards to this one. J.J. Abrams has gotten together a really good cast of people for the early years of Star Trek, and while I’m not ultimately familiar with the original show, this looks like a lot of fun.
Terminator: Salvation: This one is a must see for me. The trailers have been stellar, with some fantastic looking CGI and action scenes. I mean, who doesn’t love seeing giant robots running amok?
Up: This is Pixar‘s next one, and I’ll see it depending on the reviews. It looks a little iffy to me – an old guy in a house with a ton of balloons? We’ll see.

Public Enemies: I haven’t heard a whole lot about this one, but it’s about an FBI agent taking on a gangster in 1930s Chicago. I like period dramas, and it has a good top bill of Christian Bale and Johnny Depp.

District 9: A sci-fi/action story set in a fictional world, where extraterrestrials have become refugees in South Africa. Sounds interesting. I’ll wait until I see a trailer before finally deciding.
Inglourious Basterds: Quentin Tarantino is back with a film set during World War II. I’ve heard about this project for years, and I’m a huge fan of the guy and his work. I’m expecting lots of fun dialog, violence and profanity.

Sherlock Holmes: Guy Richie + Robert Downey Jr. + Sherlock Holmes. Richie did Snatch and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Sherlock Holmes is one of my favorite fictional characters ever, and RDJ was in Iron Man. What’s not to love?

Unknown Release Date:
The Road: This was supposed to be released in 2008. Easily one of my favorite books of all time, this adaptation has had me waiting for a very long time. I’m eager to see how well the story goes to screen, because it’s a fantastic, dark and emotional story.

I’m sure that we’ll see some more interesting ones come up over the course of the year. I hope so – it’s a pretty light year, at least for geek things…

Top Geek Things of 2008

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.

The Best:

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.

Eeeeevvvvvaaaaaa (Wall-E)

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.

Up, up and away! (When We Left Earth/NASA)

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.

Anathem” By Neal Stephenson

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.

Trooping (501st)

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 ConcertSt-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.


Writer’s Strike

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)

CNN Hologram technology

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.

The Clone Returns to the Homeland

I came across this film on io9 earlier today, and it really caught my eye: The Clone Returns to the Homeland. It’s a Japanese film that has been rated fairly highly and compared to Andrei Tarkovsky’s “Solaris“, which is supposed to be one of the best SciFi films out there. I have yet to see it, but I’m a fan of the remake. (A lot of people really didn’t like it for some reason – I thought it was brilliant).


The story follows Kohei Takanara, a Japanese astronaut, who is killed in an accident in space. His wife expects compensation, and receives a clone of her late husband in his place, with all of his memories implanted. Unfortunately, the memories haven’t settled right, and the clone is fixated on his twin brother’s death. From the trailer and plot descriptions that I’ve been able to find, this one looks like a very good film, on all levels.

Unfortunately, being a Japanese film, it’ll take a while to actually reach the US, and will most likely be hard to find. Plus, I don’t speak Japanese. That being said, I’ll be interested in watching it whenever I can find it.Here’s the film’s official site.