Underworld: Awakening and the great gender swap

I finally caught up with Underworld: Awakening, a movie I'd put off seeing because I liked the first two Underworld films so much. Although technically the fourth in the series, chronologically it follows the second (the third was a totally unnecessary prequel), and picks up the story of Kate Beckinsale's Selene after the events of Underworld: Evolutions. Why, if I'm Read more

Blade Runner: crocodile tears in rain?

I'll say up front: this is totally fanboy rambling.  Take it as such. In Ridley Scott's classic film Blade Runner, evil corporate head Elton Tyrell explains to hero Rick Deckard how the Nexus 6 replicants, the closest the company's come to true human beings, have emotional issues since they're born fully adult and live only four years. Tyrell: We began to Read more

High Hopes: is talent finite?

This weekend, I finally listened to High Hopes, the most recent Bruce Springsteen album. Yes, it came out on January 14, and I bought it then, but I hadn't listened to it. There  were many times when I listened to a new Springsteen album multiple times on its release day, and almost exclusively for days after that. But something's happened to Read more

Some thoughts on a Star Trek rewatch

  My oldest son and I just finished watching the first season of the original Star Trek series. We watched the episodes in "production order," meaning the order in which they were filmed. That way, we could see the growth of the show, the way the actors find their characters, and how the Enterprise itself is more and more developed. Read more

Writing on demand for MY BLOODY VALENTINE

Every writer has at least one weakness, something they don't do as well as they'd like. They know it, and their readers know it. Raymond Chandler knew he didn't do plots well, which is why the structures of his novels a) don't bear up to scrutiny, and b) are often cribbed from his previous short stories. Of course, what Read more

George Lucas and Elvis: Echoes from 1977

Posted on by Alex in corruption, creativity, criticism, Elvis Presley, fantasy literature, filmmaking, home, movies, music, originality, pop culture, science fiction | 1 Comment

Thirty-five years ago, two things that fundamental changed my life happened in the same summer.

In May, Star Wars was released.

In August, Elvis Presley died.

The arrival of Star Wars turned the thing that everyone in my small town mocked, that had gotten me teased and beaten up, into the hippest thing in the world. Spaceships, aliens and robots were suddenly cool. Everyone went to see the movie, and multiple times, too. I learned a great deal of the dialogue by heart, something my kids have made me promise not to demonstrate when their friends are over. I collected everything I could find about the movie, desperate to understand what made it so awesome. Even then, I knew I wanted to be a creator, not just a consumer. My friends all wanted to be Han Solo or Luke Skywalker, but I wanted to be the next George Lucas.

On the other hand, Elvis was something that was practically in the water. We lived an hour north of Memphis, and so I’d heard Elvis all my life. The album I recall listening to the most (and we’re talking vinyl album here) was 1970′s Elvis in Person at the International Hotel, Las Vegas, Nevada. It included live and rather self-mocking versions of his greatest hits, along with covers of the Bee Gees hit, “Words.” Yes, Elvis covered the Bee Gees. He was a fact of life for me, and when he was gone, it created a vacuum that, to this day, occasionally strikes me anew with its poignancy. It’s not that I don’t understand what happened–believe me, I’ve read enough books about him to grasp the tragedy that his life became–it’s that his fall was so immense, and so thorough, and happened so young (he was only 42 when he died) that its full scale takes a long time to be fully appreciated.

As I sit here listening to Elvis (specifically, to the awesome collection Greatest Jukebox Hits, the CD I’d recommend to anyone looking for a one-disc sampler of what made the King so great), I suddenly wondered what George Lucas thought of Elvis’s death back then. Did he glimpse his own future in it? Because except for the drug abuse and dying young, he’s pretty much done the same thing.

Consider:

Like Elvis, George is financially successful, even now. Elvis packed arenas until the day he died.

Like Elvis, George’s later work is derivative and shallow compared with his earlier breakthrough creations.

Like Elvis, George’s original fans consider themselves betrayed by what he’s become*.

Like Elvis, George refuses to listen to critics. Elvis had manager Tom Parker always preaching the easiest, least challenging path. George was his own Colonel Tom.

Like Elvis, George is willingly insulated from the outside world by his wealth and position of power.

And, the most obvious,

Like Elvis, George has become physically fat and morally complacent.

Both men are legends. Both men changed the world.  But if he’s not careful, George will become as big a punchline, as big a joke, as Elvis (consider the recent Gotye parody).

And both men, ultimately, brought their sad status on themselves.

*This didn’t really happen during his life, true. But once he died, and we began to really assess what he’d given us in those last years, the backlash was, and is, enormous. That’s why fat, Vegas-era Elvis is such an easy punchline. 

Maria Scholl, the overlooked great science fiction heroine

Posted on by Alex in heroes, movies, science fiction, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

The DVD cover

A while back I wrote about Meg Coburn (Mira Sorvino) of The Replacement Killers, the forgotten great action heroine. Now I’m spotlighting Maria Scholl, the overlooked great science fiction heroine.

Scholl, played by Cox Habbema, is one of the main figures of Eolomea, a 1972 East German (i.e., Soviet-era Communist) SF film directed by Hermann Zschoche. In a nonspecific future, spaceships traveling to and from space station “Margot” begin to vanish. Professor Scholl, head of the space program’s ruling council, leads the investigation, first on earth and then in space. It dovetails with the story of Dan Lagny, a space pilot doing thankless time on an asteroid station, who also has a past romantic relationship with Scholl.

Like Meg Coburn, much of what makes Maria interesting are the things she doesn’t do. As Erich Kuersten says on the blog Acidemic, she is, “shrewd, kind, and able to have a romance with the main cosmonaut Dan (Ivan Andonov) without it clouding her judgment or weakening her authority. She doesn’t overreact or have womanly issues, or pine for something ‘real’ in her life, something ‘better than command… like a child and a family,’ the way she would have to in the U.S. [at the time the film was made.]“ When another council member suggests that her presence on the rescue mission might, ahem, distract the all-male crew, she responds easily with, “The boys have had to get used to many things. They can get used to one more.” And that scene is the only one where it’s implied that her status as a woman is in any way an issue. In everything else, her competence, authority and intelligence are simply assumed.

Dr. Scholl at work…

And make no mistake, she’s a woman. When shown in flashbacks on the vacation where she meets Dan, she’s as free with her sexuality and attractiveness as any other woman on holiday might be. She wears tight shorts, she flirts, and in the one flashback scene where her job does arise, she wears a bikini on a beach while discussing Dan’s duty assignment. The implication is that women in this version of the future don’t have to choose between career and personal life: everything is open to them, and more importantly, no one expects them to pick one or the other.

…and at play, with Cosmonaut Dan.

In fact, Eolomea as a whole doesn’t do what you might expect. The space council is an international organization, and you see more faces of color that you’d ever encounter in an American SF film of the era (or heck, even now). The moments that would seem obligatory, such as the first declaration of love between Maria and Dan, or their reunion scene toward the end, simply aren’t there. The scenes that do exist imply these other scenes happen, but it’s as if the editors (and they’re ruthless: the film is only 80 minutes long) decided that they were too obvious to leave in. The antagonist might look like Blofeld from You Only Live Twice, but his nefarious plan is really…well, I don’t want to spoil everything.

East German cinema isn’t exactly known for its masterpieces, and in the popular Western mind, Soviet-era science fiction begins and ends with Solaris. But Eolomea deserves to be more appreciated, and thanks to a great DVD release (and its availability through Netflix), now it can be.

My favorite science fiction joke

Posted on by Alex in blogs, guest blog, science fiction | Leave a comment

I’m guest blogging at The Night Bazaar about my favorite science fiction joke.

Who, at the Beginning

Posted on by Alex in Dr. Who, science fiction, television | 3 Comments

I have a soft spot for the current incarnation of the British show Doctor Who that can be distilled down to a comment made by the title character during the recent Christmas special. When told by a villainous type than someone “wasn’t important,” the Doctor replied, “I’ve never met anyone who wasn’t important.” That sort of unabashed optimism and compassion, especially when so much TV SF tends toward the downbeat and dystopian, really appeals to me.

So I decided to check out the original episodes of the original show, made and broadcast in 1963 (the same year I was made and broadcast). The first episode, the Ur-Who if you will, is called “An Unearthly Child.” And in it, you will see nothing of the show that’s so popular now.

Well, that’s not true. There’s the T.A.R.D.I.S., still in the form of a police call box. But there’s no sonic screwdriver. The Doctor is revealed to be an alien, but he’s a crotchety old man with an equally alien teenage granddaughter in tow. Susan, for reasons not really revealed in the first eleven episodes (where I stopped), is enamored of Earth in the twentieth century and tries to blend in at the local school. Two of her teachers, Ian and Barbara, decide to find out why she gave the school a phony address, and end up antagonizing the Doctor (not hard to do) into proving the T.A.R.D.I.S. is real. First they travel into the past and run afoul of cavemen, then to the future where for the first time they meet the Doctor’s greatest enemies, the Daleks.

The dynamics are so vastly different that it’s hard to believe the current Doctor (Matt Smith) is actually supposed to be part of the same continuity. Made as a children’s show, the audience identification figure is Susan, while authority is represented by Ian and Barbara, two gigantically annoying companions. The Doctor is the anarchic wild card, omnipotent one moment and completely at a loss the next. Further, the humanistic determination to help those in need that characterizes the recent Doctor(s) is completely missing. This original Doctor is quite willing to run away, abandon Ian and Barbara (can’t argue with that, really) and look out for himself and Susan at the expense of anyone else. And yet he’s not the total dickweed this makes him sound like; he abhors violence, is resourceful in a pinch and, as played by William Hartnell, is generally a hoot to watch. There’s none of David Tennant’s wide-eyed lunacy, or Matt Smith’s quirky body language, but he conveys how fast the Doctor’s brain works and how tedious normal people must be to him.

Ten Doctors later, there’s virtually nothing from this original conception left in the show beyond the T.A.R.D.I.S. The new show has a budget, terrific special effects and casts that can bring this goofy universe to thrilling life. Yet there’s something delightful in the original concept of a bad-tempered, super-intelligent alien dragging his granddaughter’s snooty teachers through space and time for no good reason. While it seems unlikely that the current run of young, handsome Doctors will end anytime soon, I have a sneaking wish for a return to Hartnell’s conception. It’s in the same wish box that has Michael Keaton in a film version of The Dark Knight Returns and Alec Guinness playing Obi-Wan Kenobi in Lucas’ original concept as Ben Gunn from Treasure Island. None of them will ever happen. But thinking about them sure is fun.


This is me and Suzie Hunt on the campus PBS station circa 1983, hosting a fundraiser during the broadcast of The Five Doctors. I was chosen for this because I was one of the few people at UT-Martin who’d ever heard of Who.