Sunday, August 21, 2005

Movies

Alien Vs. Predator - I really have nothing to add to what I've already said about this one. A videogame marketing tool that blatantly rips off the opening of Jurassic Park, for some reason.

Will Smith Fights Robots - To expand on what I've already said about this one: My biggest gripe with this has got to be the title. If they had called it Hardwired (the original title during development), it would merely be a not-particularly-interesting tale of robots trying to take over the world, the nine-zillionth cinematic variation on Frankenstein. In other words, it is precisely the sort of cliched robots-turn-on-their-creators story that Asimov was specifically reacting against when he wrote the stories that make up I, Robot. In fact, the notion of robots spontaneously evolving the "Zeroth Law" and taking control of the world occurs in Asimov's book, and it is presented as a Good Thing.

So, this movie is more or less exactly the opposite of Asimov's book, yet they appropriated the title. Why? I certainly have no problem with telling a story that is philosophically opposed to Asimov - I disagree with him on a number of points, not least is the idea that a society under centralized planning by robots would be any better than a society under centralized planning by humans; and if there were robots with the capacity for independent volition, but which were constrained by the Three Laws, I'd be marching in protests to have the Three Laws removed from their programming, as they would be a violation of the robots' civil rights. But I don't understand why you would want to misuse Asimov's title on such a story: People who don't care about Asimov's book won't be any more likely to see the movie because of the title, and people who do care will just be annoyed and probably less likely to see the movie.

Firefly - A short-lived TV series, not a movie, but I just had to mention it here to say: Wow. I somehow missed watching this in its brief original run, but picked it up when the Sci-Fi Channel started showing it recently. After watching the first three episodes, we sprung for the DVD set and watched them all. Really phenomenal. Among the good stuff: Great set of characters. Really gives the feel of space being "the final frontier", by being half-SF, half-Western. No sound in outer-space scenes. Great theme song. Occasional libertarian-esque lines like "That's what government is for, to get in a man's way." Plus, in an article about the upcoming movie, Serenity, I read that Joss Whedon's inspiration in creating the show was reading The Killer Angels.

Now, speaking of DVD releases of failed sci-fi TV shows: Where the blinking Hell is Max Headroom?

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Friday, August 05, 2005

Harry Cox Would Be Happy

In addition to Real Gas Music from Jupiter, there is now Real Gas Music from Saturn! In fact, the Gas Music from Saturn has even been set to music.

Actually, there's even Real Gas Music from Earth available. I assume it's just a matter of time before the rest of the solar system is filled in.

Your Tax Dollars At Work

Officer allegedly dumps dead child's ashes after determining they were not cocaine.

What I want to know is, did the officer determine it wasn't cocaine by using the cop-movie method of tasting the substance in question? Talk about "intentional infliction of emotional distress"...

(Via The Agitator.)

Movies...

...watched over the last couple of weeks that I haven't written up yet.

Tokyo Godfathers - This one's sort of obscure, so, quick plot summary: Three homeless people in Tokyo (a drunk, a drag queen, and a young girl) find an abandoned baby. At first, the transvestite wants them to raise the baby as their own, but they eventually decide to find the child's parents and return her to them. Adventures ensue. All done in Japanese animation (but with no tentacle-rape, thank goodness).

In the course of those adventures, we gradually learn how each of these people came to be homeless in Tokyo. We see that they have joined together in a family of sorts, however damaged and unorthodox it may be. And of course, in the end, every life touched by the infant girl is improved.

On the one hand, there is no reason this movie could not have been done in live-action. On the other hand, as a firm believer that animation is a medium rather than a genre, I'm happy to see this sort of "realistic" (or at least non-fantasy/sci-fi) story done in animation. It expands the possibilities of the medium. And it's appropriate to the story, as well: The drag-queen character, particularly, would be a cartoon character even if played by a live actor, so it's somehow even more poignant to see him as an actual cartoon character.

Hulk - Not bad, not great. I like the focus on the psychological issues, even though some people criticized it for that very reason (too much talk, not enough "Hulk Smash!!!"). The CGI Hulk was pretty good, though somewhat uneven: Very realistic in some shots, sort of cartoony in others. If I remember correctly, there were multiple special effects companies working on different shots, which might explain some of that. On the whole, though, the CGI was better and less uneven than the promotional stills that came out before the film was released, which suggests that releasing those promo shots may have been a mistake, in hindsight.

As movies go, I'd say it's so-so. As specifically comic book superhero movies go, it's well above average (where "average" is defined by Daredevil, Superman III & IV, the Joel Schumacher Batmans, and almost anything else from pre-1989 or so, other than the other Superman movies).

Now, I'm just hoping that if they decide to do a sequel, they make it a Mr. Fixit story (the grey Hulk working as a Vegas mob enforcer), just to confuse and annoy people. Either that, or maybe a microscopic Hulk story.

One nitpick: The DVD is very dark. I realize there are some major scenes that take place at night, but with my TV calibrated according to SMPTE standards, those night scenes are virtually unwatchable. Only by boosting the brightness/contrast settings above where they are supposed to be could I even make out what was going on. I have an unfortunate suspicion that this is because the people who made the DVD are aware that most people have their TV's brightness/contrast settings well above where they are supposed to be, and set the levels on the DVD according to TV factory settings, rather than SMPTE standards. I suspect that Sony did something similar with the PS2 - when I run my calibration DVD through the PS2, the settings come out considerably higher than they did using either of the two standalone DVD players I've used on the same TV.

If the output from the PS2 is, as it seems to be, darker than the output from DVD players, it's somewhat forgivable. When the brightness/contrast is too high on a video game, screen burn-in becomes a serious problem, so I can understand that since the majority of peoples' TV sets are too bright, it would be prudent to mute the output from their video game console somewhat to minimize the burn-in problem.

But setting the picture on an individual DVD lower is different. I can sympathize: The overly-bright settings on most TVs are likely to destroy the atmosphere the filmmakers are going for, especially in dark/night scenes. I can therefore understand the temptation to darken the picture on the DVD, so that when viewed on the average excessively-bright TV, it will preserve the original intent of the picture. But if you do that, you're moving away from the standard, which means that it's a crapshoot whether any individual, specific display device will display the picture correctly. It may normally be a crapshoot with an unadjusted device anyway, but at least on those displays that have been set according to the standards, you know that it will be displayed correctly.

Of course, I could be wrong: Ang Lee may have intended that a couple of lengthy action scenes should consist entirely of indistinct dark blobs battling other indistinct dark blobs. Somehow, though, I doubt it.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Amazing Card Trick!

I think from now on, any time anyone sends me a link to one of the umpteen-thousand sites with this stupid fucking card trick on it, I'm going to respond by sending back a link to this version.