Sunday, January 24, 2010

How quickly can lava burn through your shoe?  

Not fast enough:
There was a case a few years ago where a geologist accidentally stepped into some lava. The nylon laces of his boots burned off almost instantly but the thick leather did not, and he had only minor burns on his foot. After that we all made sure that we only wear real leather boots out on active flows, not the lightweight part-nylon kind.
Revenge of the Sith, it ain't. Still, I'm not swimming in it.

-the Centaur

UPDATE: Reading around a bit on the site, it turns out if you aren't wearing one of those metal bunny suits you can catch on fire from radiant heat, so Revenge of the Sith, it is.

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Saturday, January 23, 2010

That's Sir Captain Picard To You, Ensign  

Patrick Stewart was knighted on Dec 30th 2009. So it's Sir Patrick Hewes Stewart, OBE, from now on. The man is pushing 70 and he's still a total stud: make up your own "tea, earl grey, hot" jokes. Geez. I need to eat right and go the gym.

-the Centaur

Image of Patrick Stewart by UrbanTog, used under a Creative Commons license.



Friday, January 22, 2010

The Sexiest ... Brain on Earth?  

From Coilhouse's shoutout Stephen Hawking - "It matters if you just don't give up":
Hey, guess who else was born on Jan 8th? World-renowned theoretical physicist, Stephen Hawking. He turns 68 today. Here’s a small assortment of reverent (and not so reverent) clips and quotes concerning a brilliant and resilient man whose mind is arguably Teh Sexiest human organ on this entire planet:
One of my favorite of the clips in that article follows:

"I hope I would not use the [robotic boxing glove the Simpsons gave me]. But sometimes I'm sorely tempted."

Filed under "Thank You, Carl Sagan" because, well, he's practically the next best thing to Carl we have now.
-the Centaur

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Also candidates for next best thing to Carl: Steven Pinker; Richard Dawkins. Both are esteemed scientists who write well for the general public. Dawkins also has the resemblance to Carl with his skepticism.
# posted by Blogger Jim Davies : 9:36 AM
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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Real Fortress of Solitude  

More than a sixth of a mile underground. 122 degrees Fahrenheit. 100% humidity. An environment that could kill a man in ten minutes - filled with 35 foot long selenite spears straight out of the Fortress of Solitude.

They're the Naica caves, one of the most beautiful environments on Earth:
No images, they're copyright, so click through to the links.

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

TV Dinners: Doctor Who and Whole Foods Sushi  

No pictures this time, forgot to take them.
  • Dinner: Whole Foods to-go sushi and tabbouleh. What can I say? Yum.
  • TV: Doctor Who: Survival. Not so yum. The last serial aired from the original series. I wish I hadn't seen it; outside an extraordinary career-ending performance by Anthony Ainley as the Master, it was one of the silliest and most nonsensical Sylvester McCoy episodes ever. What was the Master doing on the Cheetah planet? Why is it called the Cheetah planet in the first place? And how did the Doctor get back?
Must go re-listen to Enemy of the Daleks, the audio drama to rekindle my fond memories of the Seventh Doctor and Ace. Now that was some Doctor Who - and it made sense.

Back to my regularly scheduled sniffling, coughing, and bleary attempts to write code...



Tuesday, November 10, 2009

TV Dinners: Doctor Who and 'wichcraft  

doctor who enemy of the world and a sandwich

From the Doctor Who - Lost In Time DVD Set: Enemy of the World, a bit cheesy in parts but proving that Doctor Who can handle intrigue, Patrick Troughton can indeed act like two completely different persons, and Jaime McCrimmon (pictured) can be written as sharp and resourceful rather than a complete idiot. Overall, the Lost in Time collection both shows both the creaking corners of the old Doctor Whos as well as stunning moments when the show was just "on", as sharp or sharper as anything on the air today. Hint: almost anything involving the Daleks usually has a nice, tangy metal edge.

bacon, egg and frisee sandwich on ciabatta with gorgonzola

From wichcraft restaurant's cookbook of the same name, a bacon and egg sandwich with olive oil / red wine vinegar tossed frisee on a split ciabatta roll toasted on the inside with a thin layer of gorgonzola cheese, proving that you can make a sandwich into a gourmet meal. And that I don't particularly like gorgonzola, but that's not the fault of the sandwich; it actually went quite well with the rest of it.

-the Centaur

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Sunday, October 18, 2009

Writers in Their Creative Spaces  

the centaur in his native habitat: a forest of books
Recently a few friends (most recently Jim Davies) have sent me pointers to the Where I Write project, which shows off the creative spaces where many science fiction and fantasy artists do their writing. Some of the writing setups are amazingly spare; others are simply amazing. Check it out!

-the Centaur
Pictured above is one of my "creative spaces", though a fully accurate picture would probably show me at my local Barnes and Noble writing group or at Borders with the laptop and a Javakula from Seattle's Best Coffee.

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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Three Things You Should Be Reading If You're Not  

Note I said "you should be reading", not "you should read". That's because "you should be reading" means something special to me: I'm talking comics. A great novel or story is like a meteor: it flares too briefly to watch its passing. Even when there are ongoing series worth reading, like Harry Potter or the Inheritance Cycle, each book is still a flare. The primary written medium in which you can watch a work of fiction blaze a trail of excellence as it goes by is comics.

SO. Here are three things you should be reading if you're not:

detective comics 857
Batwoman in Detective Comics. For essentially first time in 70 years, Detective Comics is being headlined by someone other than Batman - and by a female lesbian of Jewish descent to boot! But you should be reading the book for more than its stunt value. Greg Rucka's interesting choices are highlighted by JH Williams III's solid art and spectacular layouts: for example, when Batwoman's alter ego, Kate Kane, attends a dance in a tuxedo and is asked to dance by Maggie Sawyer, a lesbian on Gotham's Major Crimes Unit, Williams draws them dancing through a sea of musical notes, and in those notes inserts tiny mini-panels showing details of the scene that let us know they're dancing comfortably close, but not yet too close for comfort. Sometimes the panels are overwhelming and on the currently running "Elegy" arc there are a few threads left loose, but the quality of the work is so high I find myself carried along.

star trek: crew #1
John Byrne's Star Trek: Crew and its sequels. Featuring Number One, Captain Pike's first officer from Star Trek's original pilot the Cage, Star Trek: Crew is what a reboot of Star Trek could have and should have been (and I'm saying that even after I warmed up to The Future Begins). Using only the original series designs, Byrne nonetheless manages to make them exciting by taking them completely seriously. The writing is great, the art is solid and the fan service is enough to stoke a fanboy's wet dreams. John Byrne has a whole set of forums on his work in Star Trek and I encourage you to check it out.

usagi yojimbo #123
Usagi Yojimbo by Stan Sakai ... it speaks for itself.

So go check them out.
-the Centaur

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Friday, September 11, 2009

Saga of the Nameless One  

Cthulhu was never so cute, but then he didn't have the help of the Laugh-Out-Loud Cats. I for one welcome our nameless overlords.

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Saturday, September 05, 2009

Blogging from the Convention Floor  

marriot marquis at night

Ah, Dragon*Con: that magic time in September when 50,000 of my closest friends get together to transform four hotels in Atlanta into a gateway to another world.

most aliens are less cute than alf

Dragon*Con has some of the best costumes you'll see this side of an Anime convention - much better than what you'll find at the much larger San Diego Comicon. Practically everyone is dressed up and some of them are amazing.

the panels

Another real draw is the fantastic variety of panels. There are literally dozens of tracks at Dragon*Con and programming goes on until 11:30 pm or later - and there are often social events until 2 and 3 in the morning.

the costumes

After the panels it's fun to just peoplewatch; you can do it for hours.

a picture of me? but why?

Women dressed up get quite a bit of attention - though sometimes, as in this case, they seem more surprised to have people taking their picture than you'd expect for all the effort they've put into their costumes.

cylons are less impressive without helmets

Another piece of the fun is the sheer variety of fans. You see of course people pulling off Cylons ... somewhat less impressive with the helmets off...

omg it's dakota frost

You see costumes that mean something only to the viewer, as in this Dakota Frost lookalike...

force push

The ubiquitous Jedi, in this case posing for a photo taken by a Sith ...

a heartwrenching tale

... and then finally sheer randomness by simply creative people.

even sith love slave leia

Fans love taking pictures of fans - it was quite interesting sitting with a Sith shutterbug, watching him take pictures of passing Poison Ivys and Slave Leias.

jedis gone wild

But then some people wanted to take pictures of him ... and then, bizarrely, two women wanted to have their pictures taken fellating his lightsabers. Utterly weird, and a great source of amusement to us and the other people at our table.

derrick and doublebladed sabers

But ultimately that's the fun of Dragon*Con: not just seeing Jedi taking pictures of Sith, but running into old friends dressed as Jedi taking pictures of old friends dressed as Sith. Because in the end its the friendships that make Dragon*Con more than just a fan playground or a party: it's a family.

centaur blogging from the convention floor

From the Dragon*Con Convention floor(1), this is your Centaur reporting. Good night, and good luck.

-the Centaur

(1) Technically, sent from my hotel room because connectivity on the con floor was too poor.

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Sunday, August 23, 2009

Now we know where your loyalties lie...  

... in case there was any doubt:

tell me about your webcomic

No, really, I'm interested.
-the Centaur

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Not being very nice ...  

... even to myself:

tell me about your blog

But sometimes it is necessary.
-the Centaur

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Saturday, July 25, 2009

At San Diego Comic Con 2009  

My current excuse for not posting (other than feverishly trying to finish Blood Rock) is attending San Diego Comic Con 2009, the largest comic convention in the world. Here I'm seeing talks, meeting friends, working on Blood Rock, leaving flyers for Dakota Frost: Frost Moon, and enjoying the fantabulous nightlife in San Diego's Gaslamp Quarter:

Comicon and the Gaslight District

You cannot explain how large Comicon is; you must see it yourself. I could show you the mammoth Exhibit Hall / Show's Floor / Noah's Ark of a Dealer's Room, but it is hard from a single picture to get the scale:

Comicon Dealer's Room

I could show you the external architecture, the huge steps and rounded escalator leading out of the upper levels (actually, the round escalator had just moved out of the picture at this point), but it is still hard to get the scale:

Convention Center Architecture

Perhaps only by showing the huge tide of people leaving after the Dealer's Room had closed can you truly see how large the San Diego Comic Con is:

Comicon Human Tide

It can take up to thirty minutes to reach your car in the parking lot, as we unfortunately found out today when we joined for lunch some friends who had driven. Halfway to the parking lot, you can see the length of the Convention Center, and can see why it takes up a significant part of the city on Google Maps:

Comicon Megastructure

Comicon has been held 40 times over the last 39 years, making it a cultural event only slightly younger than I am. This year is also Green Lantern's 50th anniversary, and the Con and its attendees are celebrating with special T-shirts, movie premieres, and of course, fan costumes:

Comicon at 40, GL at 50

It's all sold out this year, officially 126,000 but rumored to be as many as 140,000 strong ... but if you have even a passing interest in comics, movies or other popular arts, you should make at least one pilgrimage to check it out.

More later. Must crash.
-the Centaur



Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Ogre Mark ... 0.1?  

Ogre T-Shirt

As a teenager I used to play OGRE and GEV, the quintessential microgames produced by Steve Jackson featuring cybernetic tanks called OGREs facing off with a variety of lesser tanks. For those that don't remember those "microgames", they were sold in small plastic bags or boxes, which contained a rulebook, map, and a set of perforated cardboard pieces used to play the game. After playing a lot, we extended OGRE by creating our own units and pieces from cut up paper; the lead miniature you see in the pictures came much later, and was not part of the original game.

Ogre Game

In OGRE's purest form, however, one OGRE, a mammoth cybernetic vehicle, faced off with a dozen or so more other tanks firing tactical nuclear weapons ... and thanks to incredible firepower and meters of lightweight BCP armor, it would just about be an even fight. Below you see a GEV (Ground Effect Vehicle) about to have a very bad day.

Ogre vs GEV

OGREs were based (in part) on the intelligent tanks from Keith Laumer's Bolo series, but there was also an OGRE timeline that detailed the development of the armament and weapons that made tank battles make sense in the 21st century. So there was a special thrill playing OGRE: I got to relive my favorite Keith Laumer story, in which one decommissioned, radioactive OGRE is accidentally reawakened and digs its way out of its concrete tomb to continue the fight. (The touching redemption scene in which the tank is convinced not to lay waste to the countryside by its former commander were, sadly, left out of the game mechanics of Steve Jackson's initial design).

Ogre Miniature

But how realistic are tales of cybernetic tanks? AI is famous for overpromising and underdelivering: it's well nigh on 2010, and we don't have HAL 9000, much less the Terminator. But OGRE, being a boardgame, did not need to satisfy the desires of filmmakers to present a near-future people could relate to; so it did not compress the timeline to the point of unbelievability. According to the Steve Jackson OGRE chronology the OGRE Mark I was supposed to come out in 2060. And from what I can see, that date is a little pessimistic. Take a look at this video from General Dynamics:

It even has the distinctive OGRE high turret in the form of an automated XM307 machine gun. Scary! Admittedly, the XUV is a remote controlled vehicle and not a completely automated battle tank capable of deciding our fate in a millisecond. But that's not far in coming... General Dynamics is working on autonomous vehicle navigation, and they're not alone. Take a look at Stanley driving itself to the win of the Darpa Grand Challenge:

Now, that's more like it! Soon, I will be able to relive the boardgames my youth in real life ... running from an automated tank ... hell-bent on destroying the entire countryside ...


Somehow, that doesn't sound so appealing. I have an idea! Instead of building killer death-bots, why don't we try building some of these instead (full disclosure: I've worked in robotic pet research):

Oh, wait. The AIBO program was canceled ... as was the XM307. Stupid economics. It's supposed to be John Connor saving us from the robot apocalypse, not Paul Krugman and Greg Mankiw.

-the Centaur

Pictured: Various shots of OGRE T-shirt, book, rules, pieces, and miniatures, along with the re-released version of the OGRE and GEV games. Videos courtesy Youtube.

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He is cute. It would be nice if science was for enhancing life instead of destroying it.
# posted by Blogger Sandi Billingsley : 1:08 PM
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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Layman's Guide to the Fanboy View of Star Trek  

There's been some confusion recently about the "fanboy reception" of the new Star Trek movie - some people going so far as to say "fanboys will hate it because they changed everything". Well, speaking as a fanboy who recently was seriously arguing with my high school friends about whether J.J. Abrams shitted or pissed on our childhoods (and no, I'm not joking, those literal words were used), I beg to differ: my problems with the movie are with the movie as a movie, and particularly with its plot logic, not with its degree of Trekkiness.

I'll deal with the problems the movie has as a movie later (e.g., Nero is mad at Spock because ... Spock tried to save Romulus? WTF?!), since the movie is so good on an acting/directing level I don't want to give it too much bad press. (No, really, if good acting is your bag, run to the theater, baby; similarly if you like humor, excitement, action or adventure you won't be disappointed. If you care about a movie making sense ... eh.) Right now I want to show that it is indeed a good Trek movie. To see why, let's go through the Fanboy's Official Star Trek Movie Checklist and see how J.J. Abrams fares.

Oh, wait. One thing. SPOILERS AHEAD. Ok, moving on...

First off, the big three that we need in any Star Trek movie:
  • Kirk makes bold command decisions. Taking a shipful of cadets toe-to-toe with a Romulan war machine that's already wiped out Klingon and Federation fleets? Check.
  • Spock is conflicted about logic and emotion. Face it: this is is Spock's movie, and we get this quintessential Trekkiness in two flavors, old Spock and young Spock:
    • Old Spock: "Trust me, I'm emotionally compromised." Check.
    • Young Spock: Oh, where to begin, there are so many - I'll take the Vulcan Science Academy and his neat little speech where his voice says "The only emotion I wish to express is gratitude" and his face says "you stuck up racist prigs." Check.
  • McCoy gets Kirk and Spock working together: Well, this one doesn't happen, but it is a prequel, and he does act as a counselor to both of them. We can see where this is going, but still ... Miss. But a near miss.
So we're two for three, but if we give them two points for Spock they're batting 1000. Now let's look at the fan service angle:
  • Kirk bangs a hot alien chick. And she's green. Check.
  • Spock does something brilliant. See "Stupid Transporter Tricks" below. Check.
  • McCoy says "I'm a doctor not a..." Check.
  • Sulu buckles some swash: Check.
  • People make fun of Chekov's fake Russian accent: Check.
  • Uhura contacts an alien life form: You know who I mean. Check.
  • Scotty saves the day with some engineering fu: "If we eject the core..." Check!
  • They pull a Stupid Transporter Trick: We get this not one, not two but THREE times:
    • Chekov: Beams up someone falling. Check.
    • Scotty: Beams three people on two ships to one platform. Check.
    • Spock: Gets the grand prize for beaming two people onto a ship in warp, using only what looks like the transporter system on Scotty's dilapidated mobile home. Check.
Now, what about the other things, the fanboy nonsense? The phasers and transporters are off, and we see starships with odd numbers of warp nacelles, but those are nits - the special effects get redone in every movie and every show, and if Enterprise can believably portray a Vulcan ship with a donut-shaped warp nacelle then J.J. Abrams can have the one-warp-engine Kelvin.

Now, I admit I think some of the changes J.J. Abrams made undermined himself - for example, I think the change of the phasers both made them harder to see visually as well as disconnecting them from Star Trek's heritage. But those are minor nits. Get over it - I did, and I'm probably a bigger fan than almost all of you.

On the broad scope, Star Trek was Star Trek. No two ways about it.

-the Centaur

Pictured: the first pic is my desk at the Search Engine that Starts With a G, including a model of the original Enterprise from TOS. The second is my bookcase, including a model of an original hand phaser and a model of the U.S.S. Prometheus from Star Trek: Voyager. The blue box USB hub and the salt shaker with the plunger and ray gun are both from Doctor Who. For those who are confused by the horse without a head, it's a centaur from Narnia.



Friday, May 08, 2009

Star Trek - (Not Really A) Spoiler Review  

If you can't think of anything nice to say---

No, seriously, Star Trek was very entertaining, with some extremely strong performances, great cameos, lots of eye candy and a surprisingly good motivation for the reboot which makes J.J. Abrams's changes to the traditional Star Trek storyline actually pretty logical. Beyond that, the retold story of how the Star Trek crew met gives their relationships unexpected heft, depth and even tenderness.

Neither fanboys nor fans of movies should be disappointed in this rejuvenation of the traditional Star Trek franchise, and I heartily recommend that you all see it.

So, go see it, and when you come back we can talk about what I did and didn't like about the reboot.

No, seriously, go see it. I'll still be here when you get back. Go.

-the Centaur



Just saw it yesterday. It was amazing...sat through 2 hours without looking at my watch!
# posted by Anonymous Penny : 3:40 PM
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Sunday, April 19, 2009

-o-\_== @ warp factor 100  

While it lasts ... Star Trek 11 has a 100% rating at Rotten Tomatoes:

(Picture used under fair use thingy, all rights reserved Paramount and Rotten Tomatoes, yada yada.) I'm sure this will drop once a broader selection of reviewers tackles it, but here's hoping.

-the Centaur
P.S. I'm officially in my blackout period for Star Trek, so don't tell me anything else, I already know too damn much, unless they move the opening to May 7 at 7pm or something.



Monday, May 26, 2008

I want to say something snarky about Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull...  

... but I'm not.  I really respect what Messrs. Ford, Spielberg and Lucas pulled off and I really enjoyed it, so I shouldn't say anything bad.  And as a couple of friends pointed out, they worked hard to make the movie accurate: they used the 48-star flag as was flying over America at the time of the movie; they used period-appropriate villains (Communists) and monsters (aliens) and I've even heard that they used shots more typical of a 50's B-movie.


A friend who hates a lot of modern movies described the 48-star flag bit as "the only good thing in the film, if it can be called that."  A lot of us made fun of him saying, of course he'll hate the movie ... but when The Last Crusade came out, he hated that movie right away, whereas I was lulled into enjoying it for at least 15 minutes - and that movie has aged very badly (more like milk than cheese, no offense to Messrs. Ford, Spielberg and Lucas).

On some fundamental level, I can take Raiders of the Lost Ark seriously ... and the rest of the movies, I can't.  And I don't think it's just "saw it when I was young" or any such nonsense ... I will argue that the on-call troupe of swinging monkeys that appear in Crystal Skull are somehow goofier than anything that showed up in Raiders, and that cheapened the movie without aiding it.   In fact Crystal Skull has oodles of the same X-marks-the-spot goofiness that makes Last Crusade so embarrassing to watch.

But at least it was a *pretty* movie and was nowhere near as astonishingly gawdawfully craptacular as the Temple of Dumb. And I had a lot of fun, and there are scenes in it which I will probably remember for the rest of my life, particularly the "this is how they should have done it in the Mummy Returns" ending.

But, I recall the snark I made before seeing Kingdom: "Wouldn't it be nice if they made another Indiana Jones movie? Cause they haven't made one yet." At this point, I tend to think, yes, at this point they have now indeed made a second Indiana Jones movie, and I'm glad. Maybe 15 minutes from now, I will go over to my buddy's side and think they still haven't.

Or maybe not. After all, I'm the guy who saw Phantom Menace 10 times in the theater, so what do I know from bad?
-the Centaur



Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The Florist is Strong with This One  

"You don't know the FLOWERS of the Dark Side!"
-the Centaur



Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Serenity Crashing to Earth  

Well, Serenity has lost half its take:

Serenity rustled up $5.4 million in its second weekend for a 10-day tally of $18 million. The $39 million space western's 47 percent drop was precipitous but solid for the genre—such similar pictures as The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow and The Chronicles of Riddick each had greater falls. However, they were generating much more business, and, at its current pace, Serenity is aiming for a final haul of around $28 million.

Did none of the (other) browncoats wish to see it more than once?



Tuesday, October 04, 2005

The Lesson of Serenity Valley: You CAN Stop the Signal  

Well, Browncoats, time to admit it: we've lost another battle.

Despite a huge grassroots marketing campaign, in which I and every other rabid fan donned our browncoats and begged, borrowed and cajoled all our friends into the theaters to see Serenity, Joss Whedon's attempt to resurrect his failed TV series Firefly, it nonetheless got off to a dismal start, earning just over ten million dollars in its first weekend of release. Universal Studios, to their credit, claims not to be disappointed: "The fan base turned out ... over $10 million is a lot of business for a niche appeal picture, and I think the ancilliary will be spectacular." But honest fans know better: Serenity failed to change the course of last week's critically panned Flightplan as it led box-office receipts back to the slump after September's hopeful rise.

Now, I don't know the future; it's certainly possible that Serenity could become a sleeper hit, make back its money, and convince Universal Studios to give it its fan-desired and possibly-deserved sequel. But I have to face the facts: Serenity didn't break a record. It didn't break number one. In fact, it didn't even really help the box office, which went into a slump. And all I keep hearing ringing in my ears is something I never heard spoken aloud: a snark from a reviewer of Serenity, mystified by the reception the fans gave the movie:

Suffering through, I mean watching SERENITY is like starting at the 84th episode of a convoluted and silly sci-fi soap opera. Sure, fans of Joss Whedon's cancelled TV show "Firefly," upon which this movie is based, are certain to love it. Our packed audience of rabid fans burst into thunderous applause when the words "Feature Presentation" came on the screen. Various characters from the series got similar but smaller accolades. As a non-fan, it made me appreciate the wisdom of TV executives who aborted the show.

Emphasis mine.

So, time to hang up the Browncoat, review the losses of the war, and rethink things. Clearly, science fiction and fantasy can survive on screen. Star Trek, Doctor Who and the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy were all resurrected. Despite everything working against it, Babylon 5 survived, spawned a sequel, and several TV movies. Even children's books like Harry Potter made it to the screen, in increasingly successful segments. How, how do they do it? I don't pretend to know. All I do know is that it's possible for an indie filmmaker to graduate from ultra-low-budget fare like Evil Dead and Bad Taste to films like the record-setting Spiderman (Sam Raimi) and the Oscar-winning Lord of the Rings trilogy (Peter Jackson).

And that it's possible for indie filmmaker George Lucas to go on from American Graffiti and THX-1138 to create the beloved classic Star Wars, a saga that will be told and retold a long, long time from now in galaxies far, far away.

Who's your master now, Joss?

-the Centaur
P.S. Remember, while you're falling into that airshaft, that loss of a hand is only temporary: all you need to do is invest in a new sharp black wardrobe and rebuild your lightsaber and you can not only get back in the game, but ultimately win (though your chances of redeeming Lucas are dubious). In the meantime, your friends will be waiting for you on the sanctuary moon, standing in line for your next picture with a Browncoat on over our Wookie suits.



Sunday, May 22, 2005

Obi-Wan Kenobi is Redeemed  

Ok. Sith made 50 million in its first day, and by now almost 1 in 10 Americans have seen it, so we can proceed without spoiling anything for anyone:

At last, Obi-Wan Kenobi gets to kick ass.

For almost the entire Star Wars saga, Obi-Wan gets pantsed by everyone he encounters. Sure, he lops off arms in bar-room brawls, bats blaster ricochets into legions of droids, and even kills Darth Maul, but outside that, put him toe-to-toe with a Jedi or trained bounty hunter and he falls to pieces. In the Phantom Menace, he's basically a young punk who can't even keep his lightsaber charged - Qui-Gon carries him through the whole movie until whacked by Maul, which apparently energizes the young Kenobi enough for him to pull his weight. But by Attack of the Clones Obi-Wan had devolved into a pompous, dismissive arrogant twat that Anakin carried through the whole movie.

Now, don't get me wrong - I thought it was stone cold of him to leap through that window onto a fleeing assassin droid to try to track it back to its master, and thought he held his own pretty good against Jango Fett while being fired on by an entire starship. But one of my good buddies put it best: in the end, he loses just about every fight. The bounty hunter picks him off at a quarter mile, after which he's rescued by Anakin. Then baby-faced Boba Fett gives him the Slave II smackdown. Finally he gets schooled by Count Dracula - excuse me, Dooko - only to get saved by, yes, you guessed it, Anakin - who in Attack of the Clones can't pull his weight either, requiring a Muppet-ex-machina save by Master Kermit - excuse me, Yoda - and his newly energized CGI powers.

Now, Sith starts off the same way. While he does well against legions of the can't-shoot-straight stork droids, Obi-Wan still can't fly, gets re-schooled by Dooku and then literally carried out by Anakin. But almost immediately he starts showing signs of maturity. He credits Anakin for his hard work and derring-do, rather than smacking him down, tries to help him cope with the Jedi council's duplicitous ways, and ultimately flat-out tells Anakin how much he admires him before hurling himself into the forefront of the war.

Where. He. Kicks. Ass.

Unlike the reckless Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan is shown to think carefully about his moves, even the boldest of them: leaping straight down into an enemy army to call out Grievous. For the entire rest of the movie, Obi-Wan out-fights, out-thinks and out-plans all of his foes, smacking down Grevious' troops, slicing up Grevious himself, and even outwitting his own clone troopers when they turn on him. In the final climactic battle with the newly minted Darth Vader, Obi-Wan excellently plays above his weight, staying toe-to-toe with someone More Powerful Than Any Jedi while at the same time constantly manipulating the battlefield to his advantage. Like Darth Maul luring Qui-Gon before him, it's Obi-Wan that lures Anakin out onto catwalks and platforms where his sheer power can no longer help him; it's Obi-Wan that keeps an eye out for lava around them, and it's Obi-Wan who maneuvers himself out of danger, always with an eye for Anakin's sword as he's doing so. In contrast, Anakin whacks away at Obi-Wan like he's trying to cut down a tree, and is constantly suprised when he finds himself dodging lava or trying to escape from a sinking platform while Obi-Wan is waving at him from the high ground.

At first I was disappointed that Obi-Wan had to use the terrain to defeat Anakin - as the same friend said earlier, the cool thing about the fight between Qui-Gon and Darth Maul is that Maul didn't throw sand in his eyes or make him slip on a banana peel: Qui-Gon just got beat by a superior opponent. But upon reflection, that's the point. Obi-Wan saw how Qui-Gon went down, and knew how he took Darth Maul out with Maul standing on the same high ground he now held over Anakin. He had experience. He distilled it into wisdom. And when Anakin came a-chopping, Obi-Wan held him, thought him off, and struck him down.

Anakin never really had a chance. When he intoned, "This is the end for you, my master," and leapt over Obi-Wan onto the platform, Obi-Wan could easily have nailed him in the back. Then when he landed, he stumbles, and Obi-Wan actually waited for him to get his footing and to bring the battle back to him, rather than press the advantage.

In reality, Obi-Wan was stringing him along - because he couldn't bear to kill hisfriend. But in the end, he did what needed to be done.

Obi-Wan Kenobi, you're my hero.
And you kick ass.

-the Centaur



Friday, May 20, 2005

And The Force Struck Me Like a Physical Blow  

I saw Sith at midnight on Thursday, and while I decided to wait to comment on the *content* of the movie to avoid spoiling it for anyone, I find I cannot remain silent about the *effect* it had on me.

I enjoyed Sith, recognizing both strengths and weaknesses. Some moments we'd waited twenty years for: other, unexpected moments gave the original trilogy new resonance. But the real effect came the next day. My whole body felt like I had taken a physical blow. I was tremulous, hearing lightsabers and blasters echo through my head. Minor comments by characters stayed with me again and again, and my senses were finely tuned towards commentary by others around me who had seen it. Now, a day and a half later, I still hear the sabers clashing.

In short: George Lucas's patented sensory overload worked. The force was strong with this one.



Wednesday, May 18, 2005

The Day "Star Wars" Beat "Star Trek"  

Now, at last, after decades, we know the truth:

Obi Wan Kenobi can kick Captain Kirk's ass.

Speaking as a long-time Star Trek fan, the evidence is unavoidable. After almost 2 continuous decades on the airwaves, Star Trek finally bowed out last Friday with the season finale of Enterprise. And tonight, after almost three decades, a rejuvenated Star Wars brings its *latest* trilogy to a close with a flourish, just as new TV series, games and countless comics spring to life.

It's not that Star Trek and Star Wars were ever *really* in competition. As I see it, Star Trek laid the groundwork for the particular brand of space fantasy that George Lucas later capitalized on and perfected in his myth-making Star Wars franchise, just as Star Trek rejuvenated itself with a movie franchise after Star Wars changed the rules for movie blockbusters ... and just as the current Star Wars TV show owes its roots to a renaissance of science fiction television that began with Star Trek: The Next Generation. But this give-and-take, while it made the careers of new science-fiction auteurs like Whedon and Strazynski possible, cannot sustain itself forever; and now, Star Trek has petered out.

Not that I don't expect Star Trek to be reborn eventually. Doctor Who was resurrected, after all, as was Hitchhiker's, Lord of the Rings and even Star Wars itself (not to mention Batman, Superman and a host of older properties ... even House of Wax is a remake of a remake). But I think it will take some time for Trek to find its way again. Why?

Certainly NOT for the reasons that the fanboys will pop forth with on their latest self-serving conspiracy theory sites and blogs:

"They violated too much continuity" --- oh, grow up. Star Trek has been self-INconsistent since the first handful of episodes and that's not going to change now. The writers are telling stories, the best they can, and care about the continuity a hell of a lot more than you do --- after all, they made the career decisions that made it possible for them to be writers on Star Trek, and you're still stuck in your parent's basements.

"They had too much time travel" --- oh, shut up. Time travel has been one of the strongest elements of the new Star Trek over its last twenty years and if you're complaining about it, you obviously haven't been watching it, at least not as a fan. And if you were watching it not as a fan --- that is, watching in the hope it would fail --- then just shut the fuck up.

"Rick Berman is the spawn of Satan" --- well, maybe you have a point. I've heard some pretty bad stories about Mr. Berman from people who would know. But every artistic and technical success that I can think of off the top of my head had some quirky overbearing figure at the top --- The Macintosh's Steve Jobs, Star Wars' George Lucas, Titanic's James Cameron --- who makes bad decisions from time to time, but makes up for it with his incredible vision of what's possible to be achieved and his skill at pulling it off.

In the end what the fans think they like --- like continuity between episodes, as was tried with the Klingon arcs of the Next Generation and in the 3rd season of Enterprise --- end up repelling viewers. I think the real problem with Star Trek is purely pragmatic --- they did it too long, too consistently without enough of a break to rejuvenate themselves.

Say what you want about Lucas, but he works his ass off to make each and every Star Wars movie and learns after each one. Star Trek, in contrast, seems to have been caught on the endless network treadmill. It was on the wrong network in the wrong time slot with too much competition. It's blunders were big ones --- a controversial theme song, a captain miscast (or an actor misused) --- and when it changed, it changed too slowly. The third and fourth seasons of Enterprise were some of the strongest Trek since the final few seasons of Deep Space Nine, but by then the audience was draining, the show moved to a bad timeslot.

It's the curse of science fiction television: for a show to get really good, it has to have a free hand to maintain an audience. Farscape worked not just because it worked, but also because the Sci Fi Channel could fire-hose fans with entire seasons over a weekend (where I got hooked) rather than squeezed in one night a week. Stargate worked because it could find its legs on Showtime, rather than die in the network shuffle. And Firefly worked, even though it got shuffled off the network coil, primarily because the DVD was cheap enough for fans to buy it and spread the word by word of mouth, rather than try to choke down the ridiculous hundred-buck bricks you see for other series. And somehow I think the straitjacket of network TV had to have a chilling effect on the creators of Trek that perhaps made them a little too slow on the draw to make the dramatic choices they ultimately did ... too late.

So, Trek will return. But let's hope that when it does return, it returns to a place that lets it have the flexibility it needs to make it a success.

Until then, there's always Star Wars --- coming soon 8pm Eastern, 9 Central.



Thursday, April 28, 2005

Take a walk on the Darth Side  

Hey! Vader's got a blog! Some highlights:

Have I mentioned before that I am surrounded by idiots? Let me cut to chase and just tell you up front: the rebels got away. All of them ... My elite squadron of StarDestroyers proved itself utterly incapable of a securing a single unescorted freighter travelling less than the speed of light.

I mean, come on. I've seen drills that were more challenging.

...You try to be an effective manager, you weed out the bad apples like the late Admiral Ozzel -- only to find that an insidious culture of incompetence has somehow transformed your deadly pan-galactic armada into a fleet of spaceballs...

Do you want to know what the worst part is? My left leg is still on the fritz. Whose trachea do you have to crush with your mind to get a little service around here?

I can only say BWAH HA HA HAAAA! Oh. Ha. Whew ... where's my spleen?

-the Centaur



Saturday, September 18, 2004

Perhaps I was too hasty...  

... for others who just saw "Drek Captain and the World of Stupidity" questioned whether I was seeing the same movie they were. I can't answer that; all I can say is that what I was watching was the moment visual style finally vanquished intellectual substance. Perhaps I was too hasty. Certainly the movie was visually imaginative.

But I guess after September 11 I want a little realism in my escapism: I think wonderful tales told of heroes who save the day for all the little people who can only sit back and do nothing end up with the little people who did nothing ending up dead.

Because there are no heroes.
If you want to save the world, stand up and do it yourself.



Friday, September 17, 2004

Sky Captain & the World of Tomorrow: Review  

I walked out halfway through.



Monday, September 13, 2004

Resident Evil 2: Aqualitylapse  

I and my old high school buddy William just came back from seeing "Resident Evil 2: Apocalypse".

And while there were many things I enjoyed about the movie, and even think it had the skeleton of an interesting plot, both William and I had the same reaction.

Simultaneously, we *tried* to excuse its suckitude by dissing it as a "B" movie, but immediately realized it was at best a "C" movie.

"Aliens vs. Predator", how we miss thee.



Saturday, August 21, 2004

The Alternate Phantom Menace  

Somewhere in an alternative universe, there is a version of Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace starring Haley Joel Osment as Anakin and Robin Williams as Jar Jar.

And it rocks.

In that universe, George Lucas broke his hip just before filming began and handed the directorial task to his good friend Steven Spielberg. Busy with his own projects, Spielberg hired M. Night Shalayman to smooth out some problems in the script, and Shalayman in turn introduced Spielberg to Osment, starting a collaboration that would later continue in Spielberg's critically acclaimed movies Artificial Intelligence in 2001 and Harry Potter in 2003.

The real turning point in the production was the hiring of Robin Williams to replace Ahmed Best as Jar Jar Binks. Spielberg was reluctant to replace another of Lucas' chosen cast but after repeated attempts to tone down the character, Best's creative differences with Spielberg reached the breaking point and he quit the production. Almost simultaneously, Lucas suggested Williams to Spielberg for some role after seeing him perform at a charity fundraiser at Skywalker Ranch, and Williams heartily agreed.

The completed film was two and a half hours long and made over seven hundred million dollars in its domestic release. Lucas, Spielberg and Williams threw their marketing weight and star power behind the film, but it was Olsment's Oscar-winning portrayal of Anakin Skywalker that generated real audience buzz. Fleshing out a role already greatly expanded by Shalayman, Olsment brought quiet dignity and heartrending pain to the boy who would be Vader, and became the youngest winner of the Oscar for Best Actor.

While Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace would go on to win nine academy awards, the biggest upset of Oscar night was Robin Williams' shutout for his portrayal of Jar Jar Binks. Acting largely from an improvised script, Williams brought both gravity and humor to the role of the exiled Gungan warrior --- providing a much-needed element of comedy in Spielberg's often grave treatment of the fall of Naboo --- and later proved the perfect foil for Olsment's tortured Anakin in his moving death scene at the hands of Darth Maul. However, since the physical appearance of Williams' character was computer generated, he was technically shut out of the category of Best Supporting Actor, despite the extensive write-in campaign on the part of the Academy voters.

After recuperating, Lucas returned to the executive producer role on the Star Wars saga. Despite his injury, he had remained intimately involved with the production of the movie and was pleased with the final outcome, despite his initial resistance to changes made by Spielberg and Shalayman. Shalayman and Spielberg both attempted to bow out of the saga, reluctant to continue without the magic of Williams nor Olsment, who could not realistically return in later sequels. However, after intense personal lobbying Lucas convinced both Shalayman and Spielberg to return to the project, and work on the sequels began in earnest.

Episodes II and III are being filmed back to back in Tunisia and England as we speak. However, despite the critical buzz already being generated about the project and the remarkable collaboration of the three directors, there is little doubt that the Star Wars creative team will be hard pressed to top Jar Jar's poignant death scene in Anakin's arms. As Obi-Wan Kenobi and Qui-Gon Jinn watched helplessly on, young Skywalker is first touched by death as Jar Jar utters words that echo later in the series:

"Remember, Ani. Inna Force, I be with you always."

-The Centaur
Renaissance Engineer



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