6.29.2012

Short Story: ALL THE GODS OF THE GENTILES (Part 1 of 3)

By Nicholas Wansbutter       

WRITER'S NOTE: Firstly, a "content advisory warning" -- this story should only be read by mature readers due to foul language, violence, and (implied) sexual content. I believe all my readers are adults, but just in case, I thought I should mention that. This is the first short story I've written and finished in the last little while and represents my most recent work. It is about 8,500 words in total so I decided to serialize it. I hope you enjoy it.
 
          Private David Nowak peered through his magnoculars at the human forms a kilometre downhill from him. “Shackleton, I have eyes-on the target. I make seven ... eight bo’s and a four curves viz.”
          “Buildings?” asked his fireteam partner, Maeng, three feet to his right lying prone among the ferns.
          David moved his focus from the figures wandering slowly about the colony’s perimeter to the town itself. It was a typical startup colony: all pre-fab white igloo-like hab modules with few long half-cylinders interspersed for services and storage.  Everything appeared intact, just as it had in the orbital photos. He zoomed-in on the massive, hockey-rink-sized communications dish sticking up from the centre of the cluster of buildings. No damage apparent to that either.
          “Everything looks normal.”
          “Negative, this place is not normal,” Corporal Ogumbembi, invisible behind retro-reflective optical camouflage two miles to the north said, his voice dull and slightly distorted over the comm.
          “Eighty-six the chatter,” the recon platoon leader, Captain Ho, ordered from his position in the Shackleton orbiting above. “Keep panning.”
          A live feed relayed everything from the six reconaissance specialists’ helmets up to the orbiting ship that had sent them down. David dutifully moved his field of view slowly over the entire complex to give the non-expendable officers and UNICA staff a good view.
          “Everything looks peaceful and the colonists appear uninjured, but ...”
          “But what? You seeing something we aren’t, Nowak? Over.”
           But there isn’t supposed to be anyone here, he thought. UNICA had lost contact with the colony on Ladon, named Marianne, only a few months after the first settlers reported touch-down. After seven years, the Interplanetary Colonial Authority had finally allowed bids for a new colony. After three years in cryo-sleep at 10x light the new colonists arrived to find Marianne still inhabited. But that wasn’t what bothered David.
          “Well, they’re just standing around staring into space.” He panned slowly back and forth with the mags. “They’re not really doing anything. Something’s not right ... ”
          “Keep your opinions to yourself, Novak,” Captain Ho growled. “Hold position and keep eyes on.”
          David bit his lip and kept quiet. After twenty minutes no new orders had been sent from the orbiting ship. He wondered what was taking so long. No doubt there was much debate going on between the new colony’s C.E.O. and Mr. Louwen, the UNICA delegate. Although Ladon didn’t have as much land as old earth or even Mars, there would be plenty of room for two colonies. All the same there would be legal, political, and policy concerns. He was glad Mr. Louwen was in charge of such decisions and not him. He panned with the magnoculars around the complex twice more.
          “No way,” Ogumbembi said.
          “What?” David hissed.
          “Our position’s compromised,” Ogumbembi’s fireteam partner, Carter, called over the comm, a confirmation of the hand signal she’d given Ogumbembi that prompted the initial outburst.
          David could hear Ogumbembi chomping at the omnipresent wad of nic-gum in his cheek. “Negative, negative. They cannot see us.”
          “I said cut the chatter,” Captain Ho barked. “Carter, there’s no indication you’re compromised. Stay frosty people.”
          The retro-reflective material woven into the fabric of their uniforms and webgear was covered in tiny light-reflective beads, and microscopic cameras to all directions ‘projected’ onto them their surroundings. It was impossible they’d been spotted. David knew where the others were and couldn’t see them. Yet he put the magnoculars to his eyes again; though the Shackleton could see what Carter did, he couldn’t.
          “Call it out, J.C.”
          “Reference, far left hab,” she said. David got it within his vision. “Ten over, two down.”
          He keyed that into the ‘noculars and shifted his view as prompted by the glowing green arrows that flashed on the view. There he found the colonists Carter was talking about: two curves, standing completely still. One was facing towards Ogumbembi and Carter’s position The other, a blonde, seemed to stare directly at David. He zoomed in; her eyes seemed to bore right into his. Self-consciously, he looked away. Feeling foolish, he looked again, and she was still looking ‘at’ him as before. He stared into those eyes for several moments. They were a light blue, almost like the sky on earth. He zoomed out a little to get both of the observers in his view. Both were wearing the standard, close-fitting, functional attire common to space travel which nicely displayed the curve of their hips and athletic figures.
          He let out a a long, slow breath. Ogumbembi chomped his gum noisily and snickered. David bit his tongue, reminding himself that Captain Ho and the UNICA bureaus were listening.

         
          They were ordered to stay the night in observation of the town. The two curves had stood staring at them for two hours before finally turning and walking slowly back amidst the habs along with the rest of the colonists. As darkness descended, not a single light was kindled in the whole complex and all was cloaked in blackness.
          The ‘bots were unpacked and set up and put on sentry mode at each of the three positions their team of six had taken up and the human soldiers bedded-down in the moss-blanketed hollows between massive tree roots. David found sleep elusive, however, and was still awake when the gas giant Typhon -- which Ladon orbited -- rose above the horizon bathing the landscape in a subdued reddish-brown.
          Not a sound came from the colony. The only thing he could hear was the soft hiss of Maeng’s rebreather and the occasional barely-perceptible whir of their bot’s gun mount.  Maeng suddenly rolled over and he grabbed David’s thigh. David resisted the reflex to flinch and give Maeng -- or the night watch listening to their radio traffic above -- the entertainment of a reaction.
          “What you still doing up, sexy?” Maeng asked.
          “Did you notice how quiet it is here?” David said. “Not even any birds or animals.”
          “Wasn’t this place terraformed?”
          “No way, these trees are huge -- thousands of years old.”
          Maeng shrugged, released David’s leg and rolled over.


          They spent all morning the next day watching the colonists mill about before an order to move came: they were ordered to go to admin status and make contact with the settlers. Sarin, the team medic, had scanned and sampled the atmosphere constantly without detecting anything that could be dangerous. The Shackleton’s powerful scanners likewise deemed the place safe and they were ordered to remove their helmets and respirators for their meeting with the colonists. David couldn’t help but wonder if they were being used as guinea pigs.
          He walked down the hill with Maeng behind. With the cameras on their gear de-activated, he could see Ogumbembi and Carter descending to his left, with Sarin and Farro off to the right. Once out of the trees they moved through waist-high grass.  There were about thirty settlers visible -- briefing said that just over a hundred had been on the colony ship but who knew how many were here now? When the soldiers has closed to within a hundred metres, the colonists showed the first real life, darting about as if scared but unsure where to go. It put David in mind of feral cats.
          A group of them finally broke and ran back in between the buildings, but the remainder started running around in confusion, save a clump of a half dozen who seemed frozen. David headed for these. They got more skittish as he approached. He called out, holding his arms apart with rifle pointed at the ground in what he hoped was a reassuring fashion. “UNICA marines ... we’re here to help.”
          “Yeah, we come in peace, bo’s,” Ogumbembi said, grinning like an idiot and chomping away.
          “Knock it off, Maeng,” Captain Ho said. “Nowak, get in close and try to make personal contact with one of the braver ones.”
          David wasn’t sure the group standing still were brave, the way they stared wide-eyed at the approaching soldiers. Too scared to run was more like it. The blonde curve he’d seen staring at him through the magnoculars was in the group. His heart beating a little harder and his mouth going suddenly dry, he headed towards her. She was even more beautiful close up, seen with his own eyes. David had never bought into ‘love at first sight’, but he decided he was now a convert. She wasn’t, perhaps, the pop definition of beauty, being taller and fairer than the meat on adverts. But to him, she was more radiant than the sun. A longing to possess her throbbed in his chest.
          “Don’t be afraid.” he said.
          “We can see in your mind that you want to take us.” She said
          “Hey, no one said anything about that,” he said. ‘Hostile takeovers’ weren’t unknown, but he hoped that was true.
          “We can see your thoughts. You want us.” She looked at her friend, the same curve she’d been with yesterday. They seemed to be relaxing a bit now that they were talking.
          David stopped. Could they really read his mind? He was suddenly ashamed for the base thoughts he’d just harboured.
          “Look, I didn’t mean it like that,” he said. But he did, he knew deep down ...
          They grew frightened and started to back away. I’m not a damn rapist! he though, but could see he was only making them more scared. Holy Mary, Conceived without Original Sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee. Where did that come from? Then he remembered, a long time ago, Fr. Vinogradov had taught him that to help in times to resist temptation. He repeated the prayer in his head.
          They stopped cringing. “Uh, I’m Nowak. David ... ah, Private ... UNICA marines.”
          She only stared blankly back at him.
          “David is my first name. What’s yours?” He winced at the awkwardness of that.  They’d somehow heard his deepest, darkest thoughts, and how he was trying to make small talk.
          Maeng approached. They did not appear to fear him, yet as She moved away from the wall, she came towards David. Holy Mary ...
          “We can’t hear you anymore, where did you go?” She said.
          “Where’s the colony administrator?” Maeng asked.
          She just turned and walked away.

 
The hours that followed were frustrating and puzzling. Conversation with the colonists was impossible; they did not respond to verbal communication, making only vague or embarrassing comments on some inner thought of the marine nearest them. They seemed innocent somehow, growing timid and cringing whenever those thoughts were vulgar or turned to the craft of soldiery. Finally, the marines gave up trying to interact with the colonists and just wandered the complex themselves, filming everything for the decision-makers up in the Shackleton. Sarin moved about scanning them with her bio scanner, with her fireteam partner Ferro acting as scribe and videographer. Ogumbembi and Carter were the most unnerved and volunteered to set-up camp, choosing the foot of the hill well outside the colony proper. David and Maeng searched for any non-medical sign that might explain the colonists’ behaviour. Everything seemed not only intact, but new, as if the buildings had been abandoned shortly after construction. Through windows they saw framed photos on desks, clothes in closets, and blankets on beds, but it all seemed untouched as in an advertisement.
    After three hours of searching, Maeng insisted they actually go inside a hab. David felt uneasy at the suggestion, so Maeng went in and David removed his pack and sat on it near the door. While waiting he broke-down his rifle to clean it. Sarin sat down next to him and, resting her elbows on her knees, pondered the scrolling data and images on her tablet between her feet.
          “Find anything?” David asked.
          “Nothing useful,” she said, sighing. “Although I’m having some problems with the bio scanners; they’re giving me lots of dead spots. But what I can see looks completely normal.”
          “What’s wrong with the scanners?”
          “I don’t know,” Sarin shook her head. “They’re always finicky. I’d like to get one of these colonists up to the Shackleton for a full scan in the med lab.”
          “Don’t they have one here?”
          “Nope. Haven’t been able to find any medical equipment of any kind; but I haven’t looked everywhere yet.”
          “The locals aren’t too helpful, I guess.”
          Sarin sighed and got up. “I’m going to go do some more scans.”
          David pulled out some headphones and plugged them into his FIDO*. He selected some of his classical music to accompany his weapon-cleaning. It always helped him relax and think of higher things. With mind-readers about, he didn’t particularly want the images that his death metal collection conjured. And it was just as well, for by the time he’d extracted and oiled the bolt, She was approaching him, moving like a graceful long-legged gazelle.
          “Hello,” he said, hitting pause and draping the headphones around his neck. “Uh ... how are you?”
          “You have pleasant emotions.”
          David felt his face heat. “Um, yes, I guess so. Just listening to some good music ... ah, some classical music?”
          She just looked at him with that vacant stare all the colonists had, almost as if she were blind, or that She were only a holo-projection being controlled from elsewhere. He stood and took the phones from around his neck.
          “It’s pretty old stuff, but, well, I guess it’s ‘classic’ for a reason.”
          She didn’t react or move.
          “Here, listen to this,” David put the headphones on Her head and thumbed the screen on his phone. “This is a beautiful one here, fitting for ... ah, well, it’s Mozart’s Ave Verum Corpus ...”
          She suddenly screamed and threw herself backwards, tearing the headphones from the jack. She landed on her back and the phone automatically switched to ‘ambient’ mode, filling the air with the beautiful voices of a boy choir. She shreiked and started to thrash about on the ground. Other colonists nearby started wailing and convulsing around him.
          “Hey, turn that s--- off, bo’!” Maeng shouted, emerging from the hab, then stopping short. “What the--?”
          David fumbled with the controls, trying to turn it off, but accidentally switched to a Bach harpsichord concerto, then to some of his industrial rock collection. When the electronic instruments and pounding base took over, the colonists went silent. She sat up, then stood, and approached. Others did also, until a ring of colonists had formed around David, all looking intently at his phone. Then the music stopped; he’d been holding down the power button on the side and after its five-second delay, had finally deactivated the device.
          The colonists dispersed, although She stayed standing right in front of David, uncomfortably close. He pocketed the phone. 

###
 
* FIDO - Frequency, Instrumentals, Data, Orientation

CLICK HERE TO CONTINUE TO PART 2

6.28.2012

Dredd Trailer

A friend of mine posted this trailer on Facebook, I believe it was just recently released. Hard to tell whether this will be good or not -- it certainly doesn't appear to have the camp and cheese that made the Stallone version good. Considering I thought Prometheus might actually be decent based on the trailer and thought Snow White would be awful -- and was completely wrong on both -- I am losing faith in my ability to gauge any film by its trailer.


The dark and gritty may well work. The trailer didn't really get me much excited, so given my recent track record, maybe that means I'll enjoy the film. I am still encouraged by the fact that they took input from John Wagner while making the film.

6.25.2012

Your Bi-Weekly Update #8

After a very hectic three weeks following my trip to Toronto, I finally have a week where I'm not in court 3/4 days out of five. So I hope that this will translate into getting back on track a little.

1. Okay, the much promised "All the Gods of the Gentiles" ... I know I said two Fridays ago, then last Friday. Well, on Thursday evening I received a good critique from one of my colleagues at the Collegium Scriptorum Catholicae so I decided to hold-off one more week to incorporate his suggestions to give you the best possible. I will definitely start the serialisation of this tale this coming Friday no ifs, ands, or buts (I've already pre-posted them into blogger so even if something happens to me, they'll go up as scheduled).

2. Unfortunately Razorback has been set-back by some major health problems on the part of the writer. I was able to get a rough outline of the project from him so we'll see what I can do with that ... may end up becoming writer and penciller which will delay things yet more. Such is life!

3. The "What I'm Reading" page has been updated for the first time since April.

6.23.2012

Storm of Iron (Book Review)


Title: Storm of Iron (Warhammer 40,000)
Author: Graham McNeill
Publisher: Games Workshop (Black Library)
My Rating: 4 stars our of 5
Summary in a Sentence: An impressive work of military science fiction, even for those unfamiliar with Warhammer 40,000, which is full of tension and interesting characters, as well as a heavy dose of carnage.

Although I've been a fan of the Warhammer 40,000 board game for many years, I only relatively recently delved into some of their "Black Library" titles, which are novels based in the universe the tabletop game is set in. The Black Library works have a poor reputation because I think many see them as glorified "fan fiction" and it's true that some of the works are not great. But this novel, the first I read, was a great introduction to the series and I would gladly recommend it to anyone who enjoys military science fiction. You do not need to be a Warhammer 40,000 geek like I am to enjoy this.

The novel of course takes place in "the grim darkness of the 41st millennium" which features a sprawling "Imperium of Man" centred on "Holy Terra" where the Emperor rests entombed in his golden throne after being mortally wounded by the traitor Warmaster Horus 10,000 years previous. Those who followed Horus are now known as the Chaos Space Marines for their worship of the Chaos gods (demons). They are divided into diverse legions just as the loyal Space Marines are divided into chapters. Storm of Iron features the invasion by a massive force of the Chaos Marines called "Iron Warriors" of the planet Hydra Cordatus

Storm of Iron tells this tale from both the perspective of the sadistic, evil Iron Warriors and from that of the brave Imperial Guardsmen garrisoning the massive citadel on the planet which houses a treasure of inestimable value to both sides. I thought that one of the great successes of the author in this novel was his ability to portray the Iron Warriors as totally evil and unworthy of any sympathy from the reader, yet kept them interesting enough to hold the reader's attention.

The Imperial defenders were, of course, more interesting to me and the heroic stand of normal humans against genetically improved supermen (who've been further strengthened by demonic aid) was very stirring. It was among these that one found some very well-done characters from among both officers and regular grunts.

The plot was quick, with lots of action, but also a decent amount of story. There were many unexpected twists-and-turns that kept me guessing right until the very last pages as to what the outcome of this struggle would be. It is, admittedly, brutally violent in several scenes, but I thought this was realistic to a war novel. It may have been slightly overdone in some scenes, but on the whole was well done. There are is no foul language or sexual content in the novel. It gave the reader a very good feel for the Warhammer 40,000 universe, and did so in such a way that someone totally ignorant of that universe would not be lost. Again, I reiterate, that I recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys military science fiction, not just fans of the tabletop game.


6.19.2012

Prometheus (Movie Review)


Title: Prometheus
Director: Ridley Scott
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Starring: Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron
Excellence: 0.5 stars (out of 5)
Summary in a Sentence: The Alien prequel that really isn't, with generally impressive special effects but nothing else that impresses -- to the contrary, it's one of the worst films I've ever seen.

I'm not sure where to start with this film ... to attempt to enumerate everything that is wrong with it will be difficult, but given the inexplicably positive reviews this film seems to be receiving in general, I will attempt to justify myself. As I posted on Sunday, this was one of those rare films where I truly wish I could have the time I spent watching it returned to me. It was definitely one of the worst films I've seen notwithstanding special effects that were quite good and even a few pleasant surprises I had from it. The things I hated about it were not things that I went in expecting to hate.

As with other works that I do not recommend, I'm going to be free with the spoilers. But to start, here's the basic synopsis from the Internet Movie Database:

 A team of scientists travels through the universe on the spaceship "Prometheus" on a voyage to investigate Alien life forms. The team of scientists becomes stranded on an Alien world, and as they struggle to survive it becomes clear that the horrors they experience are not just a threat to themselves, but to all of mankind.

So now let's try to dissect what made it so bad and what left me sitting in the cinema in a state of shock after it was over, trying to comprehend what I'd just had inflicted on me.

Bad Science Fiction

As readers of this blog know, I'm generally quite forgiving of science fiction films.  Being more inclined towards science fiction, I'm even more forgiving of rubber science in films. I'm okay with stuff being totally made up -- for example, I was always fine with the original facehuggers being able to infect human beings even though hardliners like Sophia's Favourite would say it's completely junk science. But even my very forgiving ability to suspend disbelief was beaten and left for dead at the side of the road. Maybe some of the nonsense could be pulled off it it was presented with a science fantasy "feel", but it was instead presented as relatively hard SF.

First the aliens -- they took the facehugger idea to the next level and beyond in convoluted and silly ways that were at once unnecessary and made no sense at all. I mean, here's the basic gist as far as I could figure it out: there's some black goo that, a bit like the liquid in District 9, is able to transform people into aliens (and also seems to be able to spontaneously create silly snake-like things), and if one of those people has sex with another he impregnates her with a squid-like thing, which in turn can shoot a tentacle down a victim's throat creating a creature that sort of looks like the xenomorph from Alien. Really?

Of course, even that's a fair bit of guessing since the guy who gets the black stuff treatment gets barbecued by a flame-thrower about 5 minutes into the movie after he starts showing symptoms of infection. So we never really know what that stuff was doing to him (other than being able to get his infertile girlfriend pregnant with a squid-thing). Which I thought was rather poorly done since given that this character is one of the main characters, it seemed they were playing it up as if it had the makings of another classic horror scene like the chest-buster emerging from Kane. Nope, they just fry the guy, but a bit more on how stupider things got after that later ...

There's also way too many different aliens introduced with no attempt at showing what the connection is between any of them. And none of them seem all that tough. I mean, we see some sort of surveillance footage replay showing the Space Jockeys running away from something Considering one of these guys takes a shotgun blast to the face without flinching later in the film, I'd expect something pretty bad-ass ... but we never are given a hint at what they were running from. I had a bit of hope when I saw that scene because it had some beginnings of suspense wondering what were those guys scared of and then it gets totally forgotten.

The weaponry in the film was pathetic. It's a common complaint that in science fiction films they have fancy weaponry that makes cool effects but is actually less effective than a modern-day firearm. Well, again this is taken "to the next level" in Prometheus where the mercenaries brought along for protection are armed with weapons that look like modern firearms but do squat. The few times they get used they literally do nothing. About five mercenaries empty their guns into a second crew member who appears to have imbibed the black stuff (but we don't really know since the last we saw of him he was getting his face melted off by acid) without any visible injuries being inflicted. But driving over him with an APC-type thing and hitting him with the flamethrower works fine.

The ship Prometheus itself was just lazy ship design. There is, for example, a totally unnecessary gymnasium complete with basketball court in it. It provides a nice opportunity to show us Michael Fassbender's mad android skills as he throws swishes while riding a bicycle, but considering the rest of the crew is frozen until they are in orbit, it struck me as silly.

Also, no explanation whatsoever is given as to why 2,000 year-old corpses, that have been lying in an earth-like atmosphere of comfortable temperatures, show no signs of decomposition at all.

Bad Film

Not only was it specifically bad Sci-Fi -- or lazy Sci Fi at best -- it was just a plain bad film. By biggest gripe is that hardly any thing the characters do makes any sense. I mean, here's one example: Noomi Rapace's character gets impregnated and the android reveals to her that he orchestrated it and he's going to freeze her for safe transport back home to be studied. So she manages to escape when the doctors come to escort her to the cryogenic freezing pod. She gets to this emergency medical pod thing and it pulls the squid-thing out of her. Then, covered in blood and pumped full of drugs, she staggers into another part of the ship where android, the doctors, and Mr. Weyland are. And their reaction is along the lines of "hey, how's it going ... do you want to go with us to meet the space jockeys?" And of course, she just goes and puts on her space suit and joins them. What the???  Or even her boyfriend drinking and crying himself to sleep because on the first foray to the alien building they don't find any live space jockeys.  Or instead of running to the side to avoid the alien ship rolling like a wheel after it crashed, runing along the path it's rolling so you can get crushed.

Not only to they behave in incomprehensible ways, the characters are generally underdeveloped, and/or clichéd. The best character was the android played by Michael Fassbender (even the positive reviews seem to agree on this) ... you know there's something wrong when a non-human is the best character. This may be partly due to the fact that there were too many characters, yet there weren't really many more than in Alien and Ridley Scott did a fine job with that crew. Oh, and about half the crew mysteriously disappears near the end of the film. We don't know where they went. Maybe they were still on the Prometheus when the captain crashes it into the alien ship (a scene that was robbed of all its heroic drama by the underdevelopment of the captain and the fact we're given no explanation why he's willing to do this) but then why didn't they get into all those empty escape pods when the captain orders to abandon ship?

The plot in general tended to meander, probably due to the aimless and nonsensical antics of the crew. We had little sense of why most of them were even there in the first place. It also utterly failed to build any sort of tension and the "bad guys" kept changing and getting forgotten. For a film that claims to be "cerebral" (it certainly had little enough action) it needed a way more coherent plot. And while I loved the long establishing shot going through the Nostromo in Alien, the lengthy establishing scenes (plural) of Prometheus had none of that artistry, did not set a clear tone for the film, and didn't even succeed on explaining to the viewer what was going on.

I posted on Facebook that "even the score was bad". Well, I should revise that statement somewhat: if the score were in a different film it might have been alright. It was on the whole fairly bland and unremarkable. What prompted me to say it was bad is that it did not fit with the film at all -- in fact, it tended to clash with the visuals. The visuals tended to be an attempt at recapturing the feel of Ridley Scott's Alien, with a certain darkness, and even a lot more lived-in/"maculate reality" to the sets than I expected (one of the pleasant surprises). But the score contradicted this, with a sort of upbeat, idealistic feel that is suited to a film like Amageddon or The Right Stuff.

Bad Prequel

I suspect (but cannot prove) that Ridley Scott set this film in the Alien universe as a way to cash-in. Because it really has nothing to do with the original film, and certainly betrays it in many ways. I mean, making the space jockeys into over-sized humans that only wear elephant-like helmets was a cop-out, and making them diabolical Dr. Mengelas is a betrayal of even himself since he's on record stating that he and the original crew on the set of Alien believed them to be benign creatures. It's also totally clear that that was no helmet the giant fossilized guy was wearing, it was his skull (in Alien).

And it attempts to be an upbeat film while attempting the "dark and gritty" feel of Alien at the same time. It absolutely does not work. Trying to hijack the franchise for use in some (absolutely unoriginal and done-to-death) "life on earth was created by aliens" theme did not work either (although, at least, finally, the token Christian character asked "who, then, created the aliens?").

Conclusion

There is more I could write (maybe I should comment on how silly it is to have total nerd scientists with olympic athletes' bodies, especially cf. Noomi Rapace?), but I think the reader gets the idea at this point. It had some good -- it had probably the best CGI I've seen to date, such that I scarcely noticed it. They had some really cool effects with the space jockeys' navigational holograms. The Prometheus had a more lived-in feel than I expected and aside from the main characters the crew was refreshingly normal/average in appearance. But none of this could come close to saving a film with all the flaws noted above. In the end, I have to say that the film was rubbish. Save your money and valuable hours of your life!

6.17.2012

It doesn't look like an S.O.S. ... it looks like a warning.


Ripley: Ash, that transmission... Mother's deciphered part of it. It doesn't look like an S.O.S.

Ash: What is it, then?

Ripley: Well, I... it looks like a warning. I'm gonna go out after them.

Ash: What's the point? I mean by the, the time it takes to get there, you'll... they'll know if it's a warning or not, yes? 

I just got home from watching Prometheus at the cinema. It would seem that the trailers and such that I saw, which I thought were a signal telling me to go see the film were actually a warning. Or should have been. I'm sure I'll be ranting all week about this on here, but here's the short version: IT WAS ABSOLUTELY TERRIBLE.

It might just have been the worst film I've ever seen. I'll develop this in more depth. It was so bad in all ways that my brain will be "collating" for a few days before I can enunciate it. I mean, even the score was bad. Just ... everything was bad, except maybe the special effects. And I didn't even go in with high expectations (see earlier posts on Prometheus on this blog). Wow ... just, wow.

So please accept this post as your warning. Especially if you were a fan of Ridley Scott's original 1979 foray into this world, or just a science fiction fan in general ... be warned!

6.16.2012

Snow White and the Huntsman (Movie Review)


Title: Snow White and the Huntsman
Director: Rupert Sanders
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Starring: Kristen Stewart, Chris Hemsworth, Charlize Theron
Excellence: 4 stars (out of 5)
Summary in a Sentence: A surprisingly good new take on the well-known "Snow White" fairy tale that features a good and pure Snow White, aided by the Hunstman, at war with the evil Queen Ravenna.


Yet further confirmation that if the critics dislike it, I will like it. I went into it with very low expectations after seeing the trailer. As one reader pointed out, the trailer makes it appear to be yet another "grimdark" adult fantasy film with a large dose of Xena Warrior Princess. In my view, the trailer is in fact very misleading in how it portrays the film. First, a quick synopsis:

In a twist to the fairy tale, the Huntsman ordered to take Snow White into the woods to be killed winds up becoming her protector in a quest to vanquish the Evil Queen.

Now, first to the "darkness" -- I didn't find the film to be all that dark. I believe in the podcast I did not this, I said I find it really any darker than the Lord of the Rings films. Certainly, there are a lot of dark, occult, and black magic elements surrounding the evil queen Ravenna, but this is proper. A dark fantasy, like A Song of Rape and Torture A Song of Ice and Fire, lacks the good that opposes such evil. Snow White does have that good, not just in the person of Snow White, but we even see the realm of the opponents of the Queen which is not blackened and blighted as her realm is. There are faeries, and the Seven Dwarves (who I thought were great). There was a clear battle of good versus evil.

The film was refreshingly non-feminist, and even to the contrary had a good grasp on traditional "roles" and displayed them well. Contrary to what the trailer suggests, Snow White is not a warrior-woman, and only appears in armour at the end of the film for her own protection. She does not lead the men into battle, but is protected by them, serving as more of a Joan of Arc inspirational sort of role.


In a way, this film was like the "anti-Hunger Games":

  • Both films feature young ladies as the main protagonists. Katniss Everdine it is the adoption of male virtues and cynical, self-preserving gender-bending pugilism that wins the day. Whereas Snow White is victorious via her feminine virtues of kindness, gentleness, and empathy coupled with a strong spirit of self-sacrifice.
  • The Hunger Games features not only a post-Christian but a completely non-religious society where no character has a shred of Christian virtue. This is not the case at all in Snow White, where there is overt religion (Snow White's praying of the Our Father in one of the opening scenes, the presence of Gothic cathedrals and Caltholic-looking clergy) but more importantly a sense of a certain morality and honour beyond mere self-preservation. Although there were a lot of missed opportunities in this regard and there was no follow-through, the world presented was a much more realistic one.
  • Although Snow White is a young adult, in appearance and behaviour of a similar age to Katniss, there is no "adults = evil, youth = good" at play in this film; there is a good mix of adults on both sides.
  • Hope: although much of Snow White has an appropriate amount of tension and foreboding, in the end it has a happy ending and throughout the film there is that sense of hope that good can be restored. In the Hunger Games, there is no hope, just liberal despair.

In terms of technical aspects, the film was certainly adequate to the task, although it was no masterpiece of filmmaking. The sets were good, the costumes credible. The acting was on the whole pretty decent. All was solidly "good" if not anything spectacular. The soundtrack was appropriate and did a good job of setting the tone.

So, on the whole, not a masterpiece or a classic, but a good, solid fantasy film that I rather enjoyed. In fact, the more I think about it, the more I like it, as elements such as those listed above occur to me and I shall certainly be adding it to my collection when it's released on iTunes (which is rare -- I've averaged fewer than three movie purchases per year over the past 5 years). For more on this film, download the Restoration Radio podcast I did with Stephen Heiner: http://blogtalk.vo.llnwd.net/o23/show/3/352/show_3352503.mp3

6.14.2012

Bits and Pieces 2

Writing on this blog that I'm going to have something done by a certain date is always the kiss of death, it seems. After writing last Monday I'd have "All the Gods of the Gentiles" ready for your enjoyment by last Friday or this, I ended up having no time whatsoever to finish that last little bit. Last night for the first time in a week, our youngest went to bed at a reasonable hour and I was up-to-date on other duties so I was able to sit down and bang-off the last 1,000 words. I sent it out to the Collegium but doubt I'll have feeback and time to implement it by tomorrow. But at least I got some writing done.

I also missed posting on the big astronomical news of last week, the Venusian transit of the sun. Here's a great high-definition video (only 3 minutes) of the event to make up for that:



We have to wait 105 years before the next time this happens, but there are a few other rare astronomical spectacles to look out for before that. Here's just a few:
  • 9 May 2016 - Transit of Mercury
  • 2 August 2027 - Solar eclipse; this one will apparently be especially long, lasting over six minutes but will only be visible in Europe and Africa, it seems. Maybe a good time to make that visit to Somalia?
  • July 2061 - Return of Halley's Comet; I vaguely remember this being a big deal when I was a child, seeing as it was 1986 I was really young. In the summer of '61 it's predicted to pass near Earth again.
  • 22 November 2084 - Venus occults Jupiter; apparently this hasn't happened since 1818.
Prometheus has been out in theatres for a whole week now and I've not yet seen it (no time for writing, definitely no time for wasting at the cinema!). But as friends and family keep sending me reviews which I must avert my eyes from (I want to go in without any preconceptions or expectations) I'd better go see it soon. One can't live under a rock forever. Readers, please DO NOT post something in the comm box telling me anything about the film if you've seen it!

6.12.2012

Space Command: Rocketpunk Fan-Funded Movie?

On the message board for a local store I visit for my 40K toys, I stumbled across the following that caught my eye: "Legendary sci-fi writer Marc Zicree (Star Trek, Babylon 5, Sliders) and special effects wizard Doug Drexler (Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica) are behind the fastest funded film project on Kickstarter. They're using crowd-funding website kickstarter to directly communicate with and enlist the support of fans for their latest project Space Command" Have a look at the video below, it looks like they are aiming for a "rocket punk" style reminiscent of the 1950s Golden Era of science fiction. But happily it sounds like they are NOT trying to make it nostalgic or campy.



Sounds somewhat similar to how Iron Sky was made (will it EVER be released in Canada???). I like the idea of taking some of the power away from the big movie producers when it comes to decisions on what movies to make and how to make them. Unfortunately, the big hurdle remains distribution as Iron Sky is proving -- despite selling out all their shows they still aren't getting into the big theatres and despite being released in Europe months ago we still don't have a release date even given for North America.

I think stuff like this is worth supporting. Whether you think Hollywood has a deeper agenda other than just making money, it's clear that they do push a certain set of values. As technology gets better and cheaper we may be able to see more independent films like this.

6.07.2012

06/07: Restoration Radio - Snow White and the Huntsman

 
I'll be doing another episode of Restoration Radio with my very good friend Stephen Heiner (see the side bar) on a topic that relates to the subject matter of this blog tonight. This time we'll be discussing the recently-released film "Snow White and the Hunstman".

Restoration Radio Snow White The Huntsman 06/07 by Restoration Radio0 | Blog Talk Radio

We'll be starting at 8pm Central/9pm Eastern. Note that the same link can be used to access the live feed, or to download an MP3 recording later if you are not able to join us at the appointed time. We won't be taking live questions this time, but if there's anything that you'd like us to cover in the show, please post it in the comments box here or on Facebook at  facebook.com/swordsandspace.

6.05.2012

John Carter Released on iTunes Today


So, "John Carter" is available on iTunes as of today. Seems like it was in theatres for about a week before getting yanked. Seems to me that Disney totally fouled-up the marketing from what I saw especially as compared to all the clever marketing I've been seeing for "Prometheus" (less than a week's wait left on that). In any event, I never saw "John Carter" in theatre, so my question to readers is, do I rent or to I buy?

I am definitely a fan of the Edgar Rice Burroughs novels. They're perhaps not the best works ever written, and start getting a bit repetitive if one (re)reads them all back-to-back as I recently did, but they certainly portray a fascinating and alien world much better than most. The character of John Carter himself is a hero par excellence, and his qualities as a gentleman make the novels must-reads for my sons when they come of age. I believe the Burroughs novels rightly belong in the "good books" programme offered by placed like Angelicum Academy (if we end up homeschooling, regardless of what programme we end up using, I plan to use this).

It is the characterization of John Carter that gives me the most pause with the film. I am wondering if they pulled it off, or if they felt the need to modernize him? Also, while it's one thing to read about all these naked people, it's another to watch them so I'm wondering how that was pulled-off and if it was done in a tasteful manner that for us scrupulous guilt-ridden Catholics doesn't present a "near occasion of sin".

6.04.2012

Your Bi-Weekly Update #7

I managed to survive my week in Toronto although I definitely would not want to do that commute regularly, even on the train. So here's your update:

1. Well, the train trip did afford some time to get a solid bit of writing done when I wasn't preparing for my case. A story I've been working on for quite some time, entitled "All the Gods of the Gentiles" is now nearly complete -- I just want to send it to my friends at the Collegium Scriptorum Catholicæ for critique before I subject my readers here to it. I will post it in chunks of about 1,000 words each and it should then run for 8 weeks on Fridays. If it doesn't start this Friday, look for it on the 15th.

2. Also got some good work done on a short story that takes place in the setting I'm working on for my fantasy novel. If that doesn't make it into the anthology, expect it to follow "All the Gods of the Gentiles".

3. Expect June to be "Warhammer 40k" month in terms of content hereabouts. I didn't finish enough of my army to be able to enter the tournament I mentioned a while back, but I do intend to showcase what I did get done. And, since I'm in the mood, I hope to feature as this month's boardgame review a look at Warhammer 40K, plus review a few of the novels set in that universe. Maybe I'll even write-up a battle report if I'm feeling particularly cruel.

4. Finally, I never did post the finished product of my 5-year-old son's art project. Here it is:

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