Seeing It a New Way

In my teen writing class at the Mount Horeb Public Library last week, we segued into discussing Catcher in the Rye, and one of my students made the following observation (which I'm paraphrasing): Some of my friends have said that, since the characters in the book were rich, Holden's problems weren't that significant. But in so many other books I've read, Read more

A True Story of Frog-Gigging and Disappointment

I wrote the following piece for a memoir class taught by Michelle Wildgen, best-selling author of Bread and Butter and You're Not You (soon to be a movie starring Hilary Swank). When I was a kid growing up in rural Tennessee, my dad determined that I would follow in his footsteps and leave a trail of dead small animals behind Read more

For Halloween, Try EXORCISMUS

Every year around Halloween I try to recommend a horror movie you might not have seen, something off the beaten path and all the better for it. You can read previous recommendations here and here. This year, I worried that I wouldn't find anything. Then I discovered the 2010 film, Exorcismus. No, I can't explain the title, either. Yes, it's an exorcism movie, Read more

The Great Rock and Roll Secret

Suppose the great rock single had flickered over the airways just once, on the night you had passed out in the back seat?  Probably not, but still...rock and roll has always had this sense of possibility.  --Dave Marsh, Born to Run: The Bruce Springsteen Story, page 93 I originally read the above quote in the 1980s, when the first edition of Read more

Review: The Making of Day of the Dead

When I heard there would be a book entirely about the making of George A. Romero's third zombie movie, Day of the Dead, I was surprised. The movie had not been a financial or critical success at the time, and while its reputation has risen since its 1985 release, it's still nowhere near as well-known as its predecessors, Night Read more

Seeing It a New Way

Posted on by Alex in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

unnamed-2

In my teen writing class at the Mount Horeb Public Library last week, we segued into discussing Catcher in the Rye, and one of my students made the following observation (which I’m paraphrasing):

Some of my friends have said that, since the characters in the book were rich, Holden’s problems weren’t that significant. But in so many other books I’ve read, the problems seem to come out of the poverty and economic situations of the characters, or at least be so connected to it that it all gets blurry. When the characters are rich, you know that that’s not the source of the problem, that it’s something from within the characters themselves, and it makes it their problems much more vivid and clear.

I’ll admit, this idea had never occurred to me. I really doesn’t enjoy reading about the “first world problems” of people with no economic worries, which is one reason why many books, not just Catcher in the Rye, irk me (for example, don’t get me started on Eat, Pray, Love). But my student forced me to re-evaluate my position with this simple observation.

This was reinforced when I discussed this with a friend who’s also the editor of the local paper.  He said that’s exactly the reason he likes Batman so much. Again paraphrasing:

People complain that Bruce Wayne is just a rich do-gooder, but that’s part of the point. He’s trying to correct the one thing that all his wealth and power can never fix: the death of his parents.

In my teen class, I try to share mainly the practical aspects of being a writer, stuff I’ve had to learn the hard way since I had no mentor to guide me when I was their age. I never tell the students what to write, or how to write about it. As I say at the beginning of each six-week session, I can’t make them great writers, but I can make them better writers.

But as this indicates, it’s not one-way learning. These students are not burdened with thirty-plus years of experience; they see with fresh eyes, and uncluttered perspectives, and to negate that as being foolish simply because they’re chronologically young would mark me as a fool.

So after this epiphany, what did we do?

We spent ten minutes discussing what sort of noise zombie ducks would make.

 

A True Story of Frog-Gigging and Disappointment

Posted on by Alex in alcohol, biography, children, family, fatherhood, home, memoir, Parenting, tennessee, Uncategorized, west Tennessee | 4 Comments

I wrote the following piece for a memoir class taught by Michelle Wildgen, best-selling author of Bread and Butter and You’re Not You (soon to be a movie starring Hilary Swank).

When I was a kid growing up in rural Tennessee, my dad determined that I would follow in his footsteps and leave a trail of dead small animals behind me. We never hunted anything epic, like deer or bear; we went after squirrels, rabbits, and the occasional quail.  And, in the hot summer months, we went frog gigging.

This sport (and I used the term loosely) is how you acquire frog legs. You carry a long, six-to-eight-foot pole with a barbed trident on the end. You also use a flashlight, or ideally a miner’s light worn on your head, and creep around the edges of ponds, lakes or swamps in the dark.  The goal is to spot eye shine from bullfrogs.  When you do, you hold the light on it, to make it stay still. Then you stab it with the gig.

Frog Gig on Stick

The business end of a typical frog gig.

I was one of those weird kids who liked to catch frogs rather than kill them, and had no real taste for their meat.  It was fun, in a macabre way, to watch the disembodied legs jump around in the pan as they fried, but not so much fun that I wanted to go get those legs myself.

The other issue was that my father had to be the worst person in the world to try to teach you anything.  He had no patience, no concept of cause and effect, and no idea why once he’d explained something, it might need to be explained again.  And he was a drunk.  Not an overt one, but one of those sneaky drunks who hid his drinking from everyone.

So on those few instances when he’d insist that I go frog gigging with him, I was a nervous wreck.  His disappointment in me was never violent, but it was always withering, and heavy with the sadness that I, his only son, was such a failure.

My dad (far left) and me (second from right) at about the time of this story.

My dad (far right) and me (second from left) at about the time of this story.

I was twelve years old the night we went to a pond that seemed to be miles from where we left his old station wagon. We crawled through weeds, under fences, and across fields before finally reaching the tiny round pool, which was no more than forty feet across and perhaps six or seven feet deep. The deep thrump-thrump of bullfrogs told us we’d come to the right place.

We fired up our head-mounted lamps and split up, each of us taking a different direction around the pond. We had to walk right at the edge of the water, and shine the light ten or fifteen feet ahead, watching for the distinctive eye shine.  I heard the snick-THUNK! of my dad’s gig right away, while all I managed to do was startle every frog within range.  They leaped from the shallows and dove gracefully into the safer, deeper water.

Finally, though, I spotted one that was big enough, and transfixed by my light.  I crept through the weeds until I emerged onto a flat patch of mud, almost in range.

Then something moved in the corner of my eye, by my feet.  I tried to look down without moving the light off my quarry.  It wasn’t a frog, and it was the wrong shape for a turtle. My brain classified it at the same instant my head involuntarily turned and shone my light on it.

It was a snake. A fat, poisonous water moccasin.

A water moccasin, also known as a cottonmouth, for obvious reasons.

A water moccasin, also known as a cottonmouth, for obvious reasons.

I had no time to react, because it was already reacting.  It struck out and sank its fangs into my foot, right through my rubber wading boots.

I’m not a courageous person by nature, and I certainly wasn’t brave then.  My recently-descended testicles shot back up to their original spot, and my voice grew high and shrill as I screamed, “Daddy!  Daddy!  Daddy!”  I jumped in the air and tried to kick the snake away, but it was well and truly determined not to let go.

My dad ran over to me as fast as he could, saw the snake and quickly stomped on it.  Then he pushed me down on the bank, tore away my wading boot and ripped off my sock, exposing my foot.

My entirely bite-free foot.

We both stared at it, pasty white in the combined illumination of our lights.  I wiggled my toes.

Then my dad picked up my boot.  The snake hung from it, smashed and dead, fangs still caught harmlessly in the rubber seam where the sole attached.

We went home after that.  Dad had gotten enough frogs anyway, and I waited for my testicles to decide it was safe to come out again.  I’d like to say this marked some sort of change in our relationship, but it didn’t.  Since I don’t know how drunk he was that night, I have no real idea if he actually remembered it the next day.  And I’d like to think there was some sort of symbolic aspect to it, mirroring our relationship.  But truthfully, it was just one more instance of a man with too many problems and a son with no appreciable life skills failing, as always, to meaningfully connect.

Dad's Cross

This cross was put up in honor of my dad’s service to his church.

The Great Rock and Roll Secret

Posted on by Alex in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Suppose the great rock single had flickered over the airways just once, on the night you had passed out in the back seat?  Probably not, but still…rock and roll has always had this sense of possibility.

 –Dave Marsh, Born to Run: The Bruce Springsteen Story, page 93

I originally read the above quote in the 1980s, when the first edition of Marsh’s Springsteen book came out.  It’s stuck with me over the intervening decades, and at some level has informed a lot of my writing. That idea, filled with drama and potential, that I might’ve just missed the greatest thing ever, is one of the things that drives me to write stories that, regardless of their apparent genre, are at their hearts, mysteries.

But of course I thought about the idea literally as well as metaphorically.  What song might fit that description–a serious contender for the greatest rock and roll single that hardly anyone–well, anyone in my social circle–has ever heard or remembers?

And this is it:

 

This was also the very first music video I ever saw, sandwiched between two movies on HBO at a friend’s house.  MTV hadn’t been invented, and I remember wondering exactly what I was watching: a preview, or a commercial, or what?  And for years I had the actual 45 of this single.

Herman Brood

The late Herman Brood (1946-2001) is far from an unknown in his home country of the Netherlands. In fact, there he’s legendary. But it’s safe to say most music fans younger than me (which is most of them, sadly) have never heard of him. This was his one hit on the American charts, and even then it only rose to #35.

But as a contender for Marsh’s award, it’s perfect. It’s about something universal in rock and roll (i.e., Saturday night, the night the rules are broken and the boundaries shattered in so many other songs). It has an instantly recognizable guitar lick for a hook. It’s the perfect single length at roughly three and a half minutes. The name of his band–His Wild Romance–is so good I truly wish I’d thought of it. And it makes you want to enter the nighttime world it conjures, where the deadness of your mundane existence would vanish in a night of “chicks dressed to kill/surrounded by the boys like bees and their honey.” That, to me, is always at the heart of real primal rock and roll.

But that’s my take. What’s your contender for the greatest rock and roll song that no one’s heard of? Tell me about it in the comments.

Review: The Making of Day of the Dead

Posted on by Alex in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Making of day of the dead cover

When I heard there would be a book entirely about the making of George A. Romero’s third zombie movie, Day of the Dead, I was surprised. The movie had not been a financial or critical success at the time, and while its reputation has risen since its 1985 release, it’s still nowhere near as well-known as its predecessors, Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead. Still, it’s one of my favorites, and I was very curious to see what the book would be like.

 My initial response is…wow. No, wait, that should be…WOW.

A bit of background here: I’m been a longtime fan of several genre directors: I admire John Carpenter for his clean visuals and amazing genre range, I used to like Tim Burton before he became a parody of himself, and if James Wan continues as he’s started, I’ll add him to the list. But George Romero has always been special.

For one thing, he introduced me to horror, via a Sunday afternoon broadcast of Night of the Living Dead. And I’d never seen a midnight movie before I saw Dawn of the Dead in 1979, made memorable by a nurse loudly announcing to her date, “I see this shit in the ER all day, I ain’t paying to watch it now!” before she stalked out. But it was his non-horror film Knightriders that made me a real fan. It’s Arthurian tale of an SCA-like troupe battling the dragon of the modern world resonated (and still does) with me, to the point that it was one of the movies I showed my wife on our honeymoon. (Read my about my real-life encounter with this film’s Merlin here.)

That meant Day of the Dead, as the third film in his original zombie trilogy, came with high expectations. The first time I watched it, I was uncertain if I really liked it; although it was particularly suspenseful in its final twenty minutes, the prior seventy were about as different from Night and Dawn as you could get. Finally, though, I realized that was part of the point: why do the same story over? It’s a lesson I’ve tried to internalize as a writer, so that my own series don’t just repeat themselves.

Then there was the character of Sarah, played by Lori Cardille. A full year before Aliens made a splash, Romero gave us an emotionally tough yet entirely believable female lead who–and this was especially notably in the 80s–never takes off her clothes (not even for a shower scene), never relies on a man to save her in a pinch, and is resourceful, but not unrealistically so, in a crisis. It’s a shame that Cardille wasn’t able to use this as a career springboard, because she, again like Sigourney Weaver, was basically a total unknown who effortlessly carried her first film.

Lori Cardille

The Making of George A. Romero’s Day of the Dead by Lee Karr is the kind of obsessive tome that (and I’ve seen this observation elsewhere) I wish I had for all my favorite films. Not only did Karr collect the usual stories that all fans have heard, but he recreated day by day (no pun intended) the shooting of the film. Each day of principal photography is covered in detail, richly illustrated and laced with interviews from the participants. It’s also well written, with little of the amateurishness that tends to mar fan-driven works like this.

When I was a kid, in the days before any sort of home video, every major movie had a “making-of” book, usually written by someone in the studio publicity department. These tended to be just as one-sided as the “making-of” documentaries you now find on most DVD releases, so none of the really interesting stories got told. But this book is no PR fluff piece; it’s cinematic archaeology. The raunchy hijinks of Tom Savini’s makeup crew are detailed, as are the contentious relationships between writer-director Romero, producer David Ball and cinematographer Mike Gornick. You get a real sense of what it must have been like working in the Wampum mine during the winter of 84-85, creating what is now rightly regarded as a classic horror film.

I don’t know if a casual reader will enjoy this as much as I did, or even a student of filmmaking in general. This is for fans. And I sure hope there are enough of us to make it successful, because this book deserves it.

You can read an interview I did with author Lee Karr here.

A Radical Notion on Internet Misogyny

Posted on by Alex in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

My friend, director Lexi Alexander (Punisher: War Zone and Green Street Hooligans, among others) has recently come under fire for her pro-file-sharing stance. You can read her argument, which is more nuanced than my simple summary (she’s mainly against the criminalization of file-sharing), at this link. Needless to say, there’s been some controversy. So much, in fact, that she’s had to leave Facebook.

Director Lexi Alexander

Director Lexi Alexander

First, let me say that Lexi doesn’t need me to defend her, and that’s not why I’m writing. Again, you can find her article here, and believe me, she’s quite capable of making her own points, and dealing with any fallout.

Second, just so you know, I disagree with Lexi on this. I think file-sharing and e-piracy are wrong, no different than any other kind of theft and, certainly in my case, damage an artist’s bottom line.

But you know what?

(Watch this: I want to demonstrate something.)

I disagree with Lexi, and I’ve explained why, civilly. Her gender never even came up.

See what I did there? I said, “I understand, but I disagree.” I did not evaluate her position based on her gender. I have no desire to call her names, or imply things about her intimate life. And I certainly don’t feel the need to assert my masculinity by threatening her physical safety.

Someone asked me why I wanted to write this, since I very deliberately wasn’t white-knighting Lexi Alexander. It’s because as a man, as a father, as a partner and as a human being, this stuff pisses me off. It’s an old story now, one with a depressingly familiar refrain. A woman–in any forum, on any topic–says something provocative or against the norm, and the trolls emerge. But calling them “trolls” minimizes both their effect, and their responsibility.

These trolls aren’t mythological creatures: they are actual human males, usually with actual human women in their non-virtual lives (certainly a mother, at least). Yet online they’re so threatened by a woman’s mere presence that they assert themselves the only way they know: by tearing her down. Not her arguments: her.

Think about that. Thousands, maybe millions, of boys and men are so frightened of a female perspective that, when faced with one, they can only attack like a cornered animal. It’s not motivated by outrage, or even anger: it’s fear. These guys are, quite simply, terrified of women.

Why? It doesn’t matter why. Perhaps many of them don’t realize that their anger and misogyny comes from a place of fear. But to the rest of us, it’s pretty damn obvious. You’re scared of something, so you hate it, and you try to destroy it.

There’s only one cure, and it’s also obvious. It’s something people have been doing since we crawled down from the trees and developed these irrational prejudices. It’s called “maturity.” It’s a sign of adulthood.

Or simply put, guys: grow the fuck up.

Our society doesn’t encourage that, I’ll grant you. That’s what makes it the “radical notion” mentioned in this post’s title. But you’ll like yourself better if you do.

Do We Just Not Want Heroes?

Posted on by Alex in Uncategorized | 25 Comments

SPOILER ALERT for Man of Steel.  And, for that matter, for Superman II.

I remember, back in the 90s, seeing a promo for the TV show E.R., then starring everyone’s favorite bachelor, George Clooney. Over footage of Clooney carrying an unconscious woman into the emergency room, a grave voice announced, “Tonight on E.R., a hero falls.”

I remember thinking then, as I do now: who would want to watch that?

Lately my sons and I have been watching Star Trek TOS, them for the first time, me for the gazillionth. And I’ve grown to appreciate all over the primal appeal of telling a self-contained story in 50 minutes (fewer commercials back then). Further, there’s something incredibly pleasurable in watching characters you admire try to do the right thing whatever the circumstances. They’re not perfect–I wouldn’t want to work for Kirk, and Spock is one step from an emotional breakdown way too often–but they are heroes.

We don’t get that much anymore.

Even Superman, the quintessential modern hero, is now little more than a flawed character who, in Man of Steel, not only kills General Zod with his bare hands, but allows the deaths of hundreds, if not thousands, of people in Metropolis. This ain’t Superman, pal: this is just another alien-visits-earth movie disguised as a Superman flick, written and directed by people who, for whatever reason, don’t see Superman as a hero.* They let the villain, Zod, determine the kind of character Superman is going to be, instead of having Superman define himself. Superman becomes a killer because Zod makes him.

 

man-of-steel-zod-death

Because he can’t think of anything else to do, Superman has to kill Zod. That’s not super, man.

Why is that?  I mean, I know the world sucks right now, and there simply aren’t many real-world heroes, especially in positions of power. But have we totally lost the ability to even conceive of one?  Can we not accept a Superman who (as he did in Superman II) finds a way to outsmart General Zod rather than snap his neck? Can we not imagine a Superman who is a super man?**

superman2zod1

Not only does Superman trick Zod, he tricks Lex Luthor into helping him.

I write a lot of stories, and not all of them have a hero: many feature a protagonist, which is a different thing. But what I don’t do, and never want to, is to take a legitimately heroic figure and de-heroicize him (or her; for me, “hero” is genderless). That doesn’t mean you can’t make him or her flawed, and interesting, and even dark; it means that, at the end of the day, they fight against their flaws with the same drive, and with the same success, as they do battling the villain.

I mean, I’m unashamed to say I like heroes. I like Indiana Jones, who always seems to be working at the absolute limit of his abilities. I like Treasure Island’s Jim Hawkins, a boy who’s neither a fool nor a coward. I like Huckleberry Finn. I like Selene in the Underworld series. I like Philip Marlowe, going down those mean streets and trying not to turn mean himself. I like John McClane in the first Die Hard movie (he’s a caricature in all the subsequent films). I like Captain America, particularly in the films. I like Atticus Finch.

I could keep going, but the point is, these characters are heroes. Superman should be in their company, but as David Goyer, Christopher Nolan and Zack Snyder have given him to us, he’s not. He’s in the company of Walter White, Tony Soprano, Tommy Gavin from Rescue Me, Rayland Givens from Justified. And while I enjoy all those characters, they’re not heroes. And neither, alas, now, is Superman.

superman_vs_zod__spoiler_alert__by_rawlsy-d69y6le

*You want to see the true nature of director Zack Snyder’s soul? Watch his pet project Sucker Punch, if you can. I only made it about twenty minutes. And this is the guy they’re trusting with Wonder Woman.

**One of my favorite bits from Superman II is, as Superman rescues a boy from Niagara Falls, someone in the crowd exclaims, “He’s such a nice man!” No one would say that about the character in Man of Steel.

[An addendum about Superman II: the fate of the three Kryptonian villains is rather ambiguous in the final version, but scenes exist that show them, as well as Luthor, being arrested and taken away by law enforcement officers in special snow vehicles (see image below; you can find these scenes as special features on the “Richard Donner Cut” version). In addition, the overall tone of the scene implies they are not killed, but simply placed in some sort of confinement (it’s not a natural ice structure, remember, it’s the Fortress of Solitude).  Superman II was completed in chaos, and the fact that it holds together at all is a tribute both to the skill of the two respective directors, and truthfully, to sheer dumb luck.]

ric21

 

New Firefly Witch collection on the way

Posted on by Alex in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

A new Firefly Witch collection, Sight for Sore Eyes, will be available shortly.  Kelly Crimi designed the cover, which is my favorite in the series so far.

blue eyes A Sight for Sore Eyes FINAL 1000 Pixels

Watch for the release announcement, coming soon!

Underworld: Awakening and the great gender swap

Posted on by Alex in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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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 such a fan of the series, wasn’t I there opening night? Mainly because of the history of genre threequels.

The litany of sucky third films in SF/Fantasy franchises is legendary: Superman III, Batman Forever, Spider-Man 3, X-Men 3: The Last Stand, Men in Black 3, The Dark Knight Rises. Each of them built on the artistic and commercial success of the previous two films by coming up with shallow, convoluted and ultimately awful continuations. It doesn’t seem to matter if new creative blood came in, or if the same hands continued the series. Something about third films just spells disaster.

Underworld: Awakening isn’t a classic, but it’s a lot better than the mainstream reviewers (who also hated the others) would have you believe. It’s short (89 minutes according to the blu-ray box), and the absence of Scott Speedman’s Michael as a major character throws the story askew. Director Len Wiseman has been replaced by  Måns Mårlind and Björn Stein , two Swedes who apparently directed on alternate days (hey, whatever works).

But it preserves the most crucial thing about the first two films: Selene is the template for the total gender reversal of the male action hero. All those Hollywood nabobs who can’t seem to get a handle on how to approach Wonder Woman need look no farther than here.

I first wrote about this in an earlier blog post, but in Underworld: Awakening the ideas are developed in surprisingly new ways. Selene discovers that she’s a mother: Eve (India Eisley), her twelve-year-old daughter, was born while the humans had Selene in suspended animation. For Selene to suddenly be confronted with motherhood is a fairly brilliant step, and it’s handled very well. It allows her to be even more vicious than before, because now it’s not just her own life she’s fighting to preserve.

Maternity does not interfere with kickassery.

Maternity does not interfere with kickassery.

And it doesn’t come at the expense of her character. Selene still occupies the role in the narrative that has traditionally belonged to male characters. She has agency, self-determination and the defining decisions in the plot. She saves and rescues both female and male characters, the latter filling the traditional “girl” role. Nowhere is that more clear than in a brief scene where Selene tells the handsome, studly young vampire David (Theo James) that she’s leaving with Eve to continue the fight elsewhere. He begs, “Take me with you,” a line that’s so traditionally a woman’s that it should jar us out of the moment. But because Selene has been established so well, and is handled so consistently, it passes seamlessly, and only later do you realize how extraordinary it really is.

UnderworldAwakening-WereTheSameScreencaps97-1

In the Underworld universe, the damsels in distress have five o’clock shadow.

As long as this continues–as long as Underworld continues its trend of total gender reversal without making that the whole point of the story, and thus going from entertainment to didacticism–I’ll continue being a fan. And I’ll continue pointing to it as the least likely, but most accomplished, feminist action series around.

Blade Runner: crocodile tears in rain?

Posted on by Alex in Uncategorized | 13 Comments

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

Joe Turkel as Tyrell.

Tyrell: We began to recognize in them a strange obsession. After all, they are emotionally inexperienced, with only a few years in which to store up the experiences which you and I take for granted. If we gift them with a past, we create a cushion or a pillow for their emotions, and consequently, we can control them better.

Deckard: Memories. You’re talking about memories.

This is established through the character of Rachel, a replicant who believes she’s a human being.

Now, flash forward to the end of the film, to Roy Batty’s famous speech (written by actor Rutger Hauer).

Nope-not-Jared-Leto.-But-possibly-more-psychotic

Rutger Hauer as Batty.

Batty: I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser gate. All those moments will be lost in time… like tears in rain.

This is justly considered one of the highlights of SF cinema, and one of the great bits of cinema dialogue, period.  It points up the tragedy of the replicants, doomed to short and terrible lives.

Except…

Tyrell says they give the Nexus 6 memory cushions.

Roy Batty is a Nexus 6.

So…what if these memories never really happened?  

bryant-and-deckard

Bryant (M. Emmett Walsh) and Deckard (Harrison Ford).

In Deckard’s briefing, Bryant says about Batty, “Combat model. Optimum self-sufficiency.”  What better memories to implant in a replicant destined for combat than thoughts of other battles he’s won, or at least survived.  What if Batty has never seen actual combat, but only believes he has?  And that reinforces the parallel stories of Deckard and Batty, especially given what Deckard finds out about himself when he sees Gaff’s final gift outside his apartment.

I have no idea if anyone else has ever noticed this, but it struck me this morning.  Any obsessive Blade Runner fans out there?  Leave your two cents in the comments.

 

 

Some thoughts on a Star Trek rewatch

Posted on by Alex in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Classic_Star_Trek_Title_Card

 

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. Here, then, are some observations.

1) William Shatner hits the ground running as Kirk.

It takes most actors a while to find their characters. Leonard Nimoy doesn’t really nail Spock until several episodes in, which is understandable since no one had ever quite done a character like that before. But Shatner is the Kirk we know and love from his first episode, “Where No Man Has Gone Before.”

william-shatner-where-no-man-has-gone-before

The most surprising thing I noticed this time through the first season is how often Kirk loses his temper in a crisis. It’s never an explosion of violent anger, but he snaps at his people a lot. To his credit, he also (usually) immediately apologizes, but for the first time I got the sense that serving with Kirk might not be that much fun.

2)  The Enterprise was not always terribly thought out.

In “The Enemy Within,” Mr. Sulu and his team are stuck on a planet’s surface by a transporter malfunction, in danger of freezing to death. Subsequent episodes reveal that the Enterprise has a fleet of shuttlecraft (they first show up in “The Galileo Seven”), yet apparently at this point no one had thought of them, because simply flying down and picking them up is never mentioned as an option.

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3) Hi-def does the show no real favors.

We watched the episodes on blu-ray, which includes the option for new CGI effects shots. I’m ambivalent about them; they don’t bother me, and they let “modern” viewers (like my son) get into the show without the jarringly grainy, old-school effects. But the non-effects shots are not tweaked. Wrinkles on the paper bridge screen inserts jump out at you, there are obvious stray threads on the costumes, and you can occasionally see Kirk’s command chair shake when someone walks nearby on the bridge.

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This is supposed to be Kirk and Khan. How bad was TV reception back then?

But by far the most egregious thing are the stuntmen. In many fight scenes, Shatner and company are replaced in long shots by professionals; in the 1960s, when TVs were smaller and broadcast signals were analog, this probably wasn’t too noticeable.  But on big-screen TVs, in 1080p, there’s simply no missing it.

And finally,

4) The crew of the Enterprise are adults.

This may seem obvious, but I’m not talking about biological age. There’s an inherent maturity to the characters, in their responses and dilemmas, that marks them as grown-ups. Each of them has chosen their career in Starfleet because they believe in what they do, and want to do it to the best of their abilities. There are few slackers in Roddenberry’s Trek, no corruption in high places, and even when characters disagree and lose their tempers, they do so as adults. Even Kirk’s notorious way with the ladies isn’t depicted as anything immature; he simply likes women and is willing to spend time with them, but only when his job allows. In the whole first season, he has only one real romance; the cliche womanizing Kirk doesn’t show up until much later in the series. Contrast this with the immature, entitled “bro” Kirk of JJ Abrams’ films, who may chronologically be an adult but displays the emotional life of a seventeen-year-old.

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I’m glad my son wants to watch Star Trek; I’m looking forward to starting season 2 with him. It’ll be interesting to see if his opinions match mine (his favorites from season 1 are “Shore Leave” and “The Devil in the Dark,” both respectable choices).