Sunday, April 15, 2018

A Grimdark Alternative Ending for the 1994 Stargate

The following discussion contains spoilers for the 1994 science-fiction film Stargate, although given how the movie is 24 years old I don't know why that's important.

In the film, Ra plans to send an American nuclear warhead back to Earth, enhanced with the type of materials his advanced technology uses (in Stargate SG-1 it's called naquadah). He states this will enhance the warhead's power 100 times and claims that he created human civilization and now he will end it.

Hold it right there. Assuming that the military sent a W78 nuclear warhead through the Stargate with O'Neill, that's 350 kilotons. A nuke enhanced with naquadah to 100x its force would be around 35 megatons. That's around a third more than the 1960s-era B41 nuclear weapon. Mount St. Helens' eruption was 25 megatons of explosive power, while Mount Pinatubo was around 70 megatons. So Ra sends the nuke back through the Stargate and it detonates in the decommissioned nuclear silo that was the base of operations for the mission. Assuming he can remotely detonate it through the gateway, he's basically just caused a volcanic eruption in the U.S. Rocky Mountains, and that assumes the mountain on top of the explosion cannot contain it. After all, underground nuclear tests generally don't disturb the surface that much.

Mount Pinatubo caused a worldwide temperature drop of one degree, and that was with smoke, gas, and other crap continuously pumping into the atmosphere from the bowels of the Earth and spreading all over the world rather than a one-time big bang and, depending on what's around it, a big radioactive forest fire. Assuming the equivalent of Mount Pinatubo, Ra has just caused--maybe--a repeat of the Year Without a Summer in 1994. That would suck if it causes drought and famine in marginal areas, but it would not destroy modern civilization.

That said, there's a more grimdark possibility here. If there's a major nuclear detonation in the US, it could potentially lead to a confrontation with Russia, although I doubt President Clinton would have ordered a nuclear strike not knowing what happened. Assuming the US panicked and launched on Russia and the Russians fired back, you could have a civilization-ending nuclear exchange depending on what missiles are fired, where they detonate, etc. Bonus points if there's a nuclear winter to cause famine and ecological collapse in otherwise unaffected areas.

Ra (or some other opportunistic Goa'uld who notices) could wait a few years or decades for civilization to collapse, show up and pull his "I'm a god" trick on the debased, uneducated descendants of the exchange survivors, and assume control over Earth. I'm now imagining the Earth's surviving libraries as the equivalents of the fresco Sha'uri showed Dr. Jackson that depicted Ra bringing Earthlings to Abydos and the rebellion that ended his rule on Earth thousands of years ago.

Of course, Ra in the movie doesn't actually seem powerful to pull that off, even if post-nuclear civilization is reduced to medieval levels. He's got a couple fighter jets, one spaceship, and a few guards with armor resembling that of Egypt's gods. The basis of his rule is deception, not raw strength. He might not be able successfully take control of Earth, although one of the TV series' Goa'uld with their planetary empires, navies, etc. would.

That said, I could easily imagine him taking control over part of it. Maybe he keeps Dr. Jackson alive using the sarcophagus long enough to see him returning to Egypt and re-establishing himself as god there once more.

How's that for a Downer Ending?

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Geekly Oddcast: The Prequels Nobody Wanted

I'm not a regular participant in The Geekly Oddcast the way I am with Myopia: Defend Your Childhood, but I do show up from time to time. The last episode I appeared in was another game like turning children's stories into horror movies, making animated children's films into live-action movies (I'm holding out for Bart the Bear in costume as Little John), and casting a 1970s version of The Avengers. For this, one, the focus was on prequels nobody wanted. The idea was that we'd agree on one film and then "Rogue One" it, plotting out a full story and actually try to make it good.

The film we ultimately chose was Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure. Time travel gets put to all sorts of interesting uses in that one, plus I annoy everybody by bringing up Denver the Last Dinosaur. Here's the full episode if you want to hear more, including some thoughts about a prequel to Friday the 13th featuring Pamela Voorhees in the vein of Cher in the film Mask (if Cher's son had died due to camp-counselor negligence and Cher went violently insane). However, it was my understanding we were to come with a few ideas already. Here're the two I provided for the podcast itself:

Highlander-A prequel focused on the Kurgan or Ramirez would have been pretty cool without much effort, but making one about young Connor would be tricky. Maybe a back-story of the feud between the Macleods and the Frasers, with the Kurgan making a dramatic entrance by killing a bunch of people in the vein of Vader's appearance in Rogue One? You could have the love story between Connor and Kate (you know, the one who later demanded he be burned at the stake) and perhaps go with the fan theory that Dugal "comforted" Kate after Connor's death and their insistence Connor was demon-possessed or a witch was driven by guilt.

Since the ultimate goal is potentially making this into a good film, it could be some kind of semi-Braveheart, possibly with a teen love triangle thrown in for good measure, and an occasional appearance by the Kurgan to remind us that this is actually a Highlander film.

The Guyver-The protagonist could be Tetsu Segawa, the scientist father of love interest Mitzi Segawa from the original film. We see how he got involves with the Chronos Corporation, how he became a Zoanoid, and how he ultimately attempted to steal a Guyver unit and defect to the CIA. You could get an early appearance by the Zoanoid gangbangers of the first film and even the dragon-like monstrous form of evil CEO Fulton Balcus much like how Rogue One gives us some of the pre-Alderaan outings of the Death Star. It could give Mark Hamill a chance to reprise his role as the CIA agent Max, although he's aged so much since the movie was made that this really wouldn't be a good idea unless they CGI de-aged him a la Tony Stark in Captain America Civil War or Rachael in Blade Runner 2049 or went full-blown Tarkin or Leia like in Rogue One.

(Granted, you could do an all-new cast, but including Mark Hamill might be the only way to get this off the ground.)

I never really got the chance to contribute any more ideas, but other notions I had included expanding the 1970s opening of Master of Disguise into a full movie, making a prequel to That's My Boy that's basically a Lifetime Original Movie about creepy teachers with the genders swapped, making a prequel to Stargate about how Kurt Russell's character's son killed himself with his dad's gun (basically an "issues movie" about accidental shootings), and making a prequel to Gigli (probably one of the worst movies ever made) following Ben Affleck or Jennifer Lopez's characters before the kidnapping that dominates the film's plot.

Blast from the Past Movie Review: Highlander (1986)

When I was in middle school, I enjoyed watching Sci-Fi Channel re-runs of Highlander: The Series. The show features Adrian Paul as Duncan MacLeod, an immortal Scotsman who must battle other immortals for "The Prize." Highlander: The Series is actually a sequel to the 1986 film Highlander, in which Christopher Lambert plays Connor MacLeod, a similar character.

(Connor is from the same family, but from a couple generations back. The opening episode of the television series features him intervening on behalf of Duncan when the latter, who has abandoned pursuit of "The Prize" to live a quiet and normal life, is attacked by the evil immortal Slan Quince.)

I also taped (yes, on a VHS tape) Highlander on USA Network's Joe Bob Briggs' MonsterVision program and enjoyed it, even though Briggs mocked the movie's ponderous terminology ("the Quickening and the Gathering and the roaming and the gloaming"). The medieval incarnation of the villainous Kurgan (Clancy Brown) is the inspiration for the appearance of Grendel, the first lord of the Northlands and antagonist of my as-yet-unpublished steampunk-Western Battle for the Wastelands. And of course, the opening song by Queen is awesome. So when the podcast Myopia: Defend Your Childhood picked the movie, I was eager to participate.

Here's the podcast. Now for the review...

The Plot

Connor MacLeod is a young man in medieval Scotland who is mortally wounded on the battlefield by a barbarian mercenary known only as the Kurgan. He recovers miraculously, but is cast out by his superstitious kinsmen. He soon encounters the Spaniard Ramirez (Sean Connery), who was actually born thousands of years before in ancient Egypt. Ramirez introduces him to the secret world of the immortals, who are destined to someday be called to "a distant land" for the time of "The Gathering," where they will behead each other until one wins "The Prize."

Mishaps ensue, and we catch up to Connor years later in 1980s New York City. His taking the head of another immortal attracts the attention of police forensic scientist Brenda Wyatt (Roxanne Hart). Unfortunately, it is also the time of the Gathering, and the Kurgan is still alive and ready to claim the Prize.

The Good

*The movie is never boring. I watched it on my Kindle (via an Amazon "movie rental") on the elliptical at my gym (much like I did with Tomb Raider for an earlier episode) and an hour went by pretty quickly.

*The aging and death of Connor's medieval wife Heather while he stays young, all set to "Who Wants to Live Forever," is legitimately poignant. No wonder Ramirez advises him to leave her for her own sake, especially since she seems to blame herself for their not having children. For the record, it's part of the mythology that immortals are sterile.

*The version I saw seemed to be an extended version which included just who Rachel, who seems to be Connor's modern-day assistant, is. When I first saw the movie I thought he might be Connor's modern lover who he intends to leave for someone new as soon as she ages to the point the age difference starts getting noticeable (which would make Connor a gigantic asshole--per one of the graphic novels, even the dastardly Adam Monroe from Heroes pretended to be his wife's son and then grandson until she passed, and Connor himself did that for Heather), but the version I saw revealed that Rachel was a little girl he'd rescued from the Nazis and kind of adopted. It also makes it clearer that Heather's death has traumatized Connor so much that he's abandoned any effort at romantic relationships, as Ramirez had advised him to do.

*Brenda Wyatt is a very active female character--she becomes interested in Connor after the police investigate the opening battle in Madison Square Garden and investigates him on her own even though the police seem to give up on investigating Connor for the other immortal's death. She even sets up a date with him and sets up a tape recorder recording and stashes a gun just in case in order to find out more. She also searches the archives for information on Nash and the owner of his house. She's also very interested in ancient sword-making, which is what clued her into his immortal nature in the first place. Some shrinking violet she is not.

*The vile Kurgan gets some interesting character development in the modern day--he has a rather twisted sense of humor, which he gets to indulge in without consequence owing to his immortality.

The Bad

*One wonders if Christopher Lambert, born to French parents and having grown up in Switzerland (and thus having a very French-sounding accent), was the best choice to play the Scottish Connor. Although one could imagine him adopting a different accent and mannerisms over the course of centuries of life, he doesn't seem too different in medieval Scotland as he does in 1980s New York City.

Sean Connery's Ramirez, who was born in ancient Egypt but is living as a Spaniard in medieval times, is even more blatant. It's my understanding that ancient Egyptians were a Semitic people like Jews or Arabs; although there might be exceptional-looking individuals like Ramesses II who was apparently a fair-skinned redhead, I imagine Ramirez would be more Jewish or Arabic-looking than the Scottish Sean Connery. Omar Sharif might have been a more sensible and equally commercially-viable alternative--take a look at his character in the 1980 Chevy Chase film Oh Heavenly Dog or in the 1986 Peter the Great miniseries. He even kind of looks like Sean Connery.

*Lambert's delivery in many cases, especially when he seems to be trying to assume a Scottish accent, isn't very good.

*When Ramirez battles the Kurgan in medieval Scotland, he has several chances to take his head but doesn't do so. That weakens both characters--it makes the Kurgan seem less dangerous and makes Ramirez, who is over 2,000 years old and has been doing the whole "battle other immortals for their heads" thing the whole time, seem less competent. The filmmakers missed a chance to make the Kurgan seem truly deadly, as befitting the man whom Ramirez claims is the strongest immortal.

*Wyatt's discovery of Connor's immortality basically requires him to have been living in New York City continuous for over 200 years--or at the very least returning to the same house after years- or decades-long gaps. That doesn't reflect well on Connor's intelligence--even with the kind of turnover pre-modern disease-ridden cities had, surely someone might notice. And that assumes nobody pays too close attention to ownership records.

*I don't get the romance that develops between Connor and Brenda. Connor's will to never repeat what happened with Heather might be starting to crack after 400-odd years of not being in a serious relationship and he might glom onto an attractive woman pursuing him, but Brenda seems to be motivated more by intellectual curiosity than love or even desire.

*How on Earth can Brenda afford such a gigantic New York City apartment on the salary of a police forensics official, even with some extra income from her books on sword-making? At least in the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, it was made clear April was living above the store she inherited from her father and owned property outside of the city as well, which perhaps she made additional income renting out. Maybe Brenda's living in New Jersey or somewhere else outside of New York City proper, since it takes some time for her to get back into the city the last time we see her in it. This article from Cracked.com of all places shows that Hollywood often misrepresents just how expensive housing is.

*When an immortal character is killed, monsters and demons and what not appear in his Quickening. In previous Quickenings, it seems to be just lightning everywhere. Not really sure what was going on there.

The Verdict

A pretty good movie, but could be better in many ways. 8.0 out of 10, but barely.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Blast from the Past Movie Review: Deep Blue Sea (1999)

As some of you may know I'm an Eagle Scout, having earned the rank in 2001. As part of my experiences with Boy Scout Troop 1011 in Marietta, GA, I visited the Scouts' major oceanic campsite Sea Base in the Florida Keys twice, once to go sailing and once to go SCUBA diving. During the first trip, several of my peers and I decided to go see the movie Deep Blue Sea after we got back. I remember really liking it at the time, but how well did it hold up? That's what Myopia: Defend Your Childhood is for.

Here's the episode. And now for the review...

The Plot

Dr. Susan McAllister (Saffron Burrows), who took care of her Alzheimers-afflicted father during his dying days, presides over a laboratory in which mako sharks with enlarged brains are being bred to harvest for a compound intended to treat degenerative brain disease. After the escape of one shark makes national news, she brings Russell Franklin (Samuel L. Jackson), her chief investor, to her oceanic lab in a bid to prevent it from being shut down. There he meets other members of the staff, like parolee "shark wrangler" Carter (Thomas Jane) and "Preach" (L.L. Cool J), a former clergyman who's now the facility's cook.

Unfortunately having a larger brain-to-body-size ratio means that these sharks are more intelligent than the norm, and they want out. As a hurricane bears down on the facility, the sharks enact their plan to escape...

The Good

*The concept is pretty interesting. In shark attack movies, the default "bad shark" is almost always a great white simply due to the being the biggest overtly-predacious sharks (the larger basking shark and whale shark feed on plankton and krill). I think there was at least one horror movie depicting a tiger shark as the villain and the upcoming sequel depicts bull sharks (which are much more likely to be aggressive toward humans) as the villains, but other than this movie, I have never heard of mako sharks being movie monsters before.

*This being a monster movie, there are some pretty creative kill scenes. I'm not going to go into a lot of detail to avoid spoilers, but one involves a gurney and the other involves a character being torn in half.

*There's some decent acting, especially from Samuel L. Jackson. Burrows does a decent job with McAllister's intensity, although I would have expected more emotion from her when recounting her father's last days.

*The only real villains in the film are the sharks, and they're just animals acting according to their nature rather than being truly malicious. It's true that McAllister's poor judgement and excessive zeal caused the problem in the first place, but given the back-story where she had to care for her dying father, that she'd be so monomaniacal in pursuit of her goal of curing degenerative brain disease makes a lot of sense. She's not evil or malicious.

*The sharks in this film's greatest danger isn't their destructive physical power, although there's plenty of that, but their intelligence. They're dangerous smart creatures and put our heroes in jeopardy quite a bit. Seriously, given some of the things they pull off in the movie, one could make an argument that these sharks are smarter than humans.

*This is something I got some pushback on from other members of the podcast, but I liked the depiction of Preach as a Christian character. He's not a preening holier-than-thou jerk, a domineering authoritarian fundamentalist (think Escape from L.A.), or a hypocrite loudly condemning some sin that he secretly practices. Nor is he unrealistically perfect. He has a drinking problem (cooking sherry!) and admits having failed as a preacher, a husband, and a father, but when things go down, he's the one who keeps it together and even leads other characters in prayer. At one point he compares his own situation to Daniel being thrown into the lion's den.

*I liked the brief interplay between Preach and Russell. I've taken a class on portrayals of different ethnicities in movies and they riff on the "black guy dies first" trope that comes up quite a lot.

The Bad

*The CGI used to create the sharks has not aged well since 1999. Although I said on the podcast that this is something to be expected, the more I think about it the less valid an excuse that is. Jurassic Park, which came out several years earlier, had vastly superior CGI, as did Men in Black. It might've been better to use more practical effects, or Jaws-style "don't see much of the sharks until the end" to get around this, especially if the poor CGI was a consequence of its budget rather than incompetence.

*The middle part of the film kind of drags.

*There's a scene involving McAllister needing to get out of her wetsuit that is pretty ridiculous fan-service.

*Although I liked Preach, there is a little too religious anti-science for my taste. Preach at times becomes convinced the shark is a straight-up demon (i.e. a supernatural evil entity) and Carter criticizes McAllister for giving God's greatest killing machine "will and desire." Pursuant to my next point, McAllister's only straight-up sin I can think of was dishonesty about just what she was doing with the sharks. Bad judgement, even the kind that deserves legal sanction (I'm thinking there'd be a lot of charges of reckless endangerment in her future, and since several people died, not just due to the super-sharks existing, but due to her actions when one of them attacks a scientist, probably involuntary manslaughter too) doesn't equal immorality. And moralizing about "playing God" aside, I am not aware of any strong religious justification for opposing genetic engineering, cloning, etc.

(I used to be a member of an Internet forum dedicated to the Left Behind novels and I remember someone online claiming that human clones would not have souls. I cannot think of any biblical justification for that statement.)

*Per the above, there are strong anti-intellectual and Science Is Bad vibes in this movie, as TVTropes would put it. Again, although McAllister wasn't being honest about what she was doing to the sharks, it took a series of unlikely events for the sharks successfully break into the facility and start hunting the people. Even though McAllister prevented a shark that had attacked another scientist from being killed (which Nick pointed out was Not A Good Thing), it took a problem with the helicopter nobody could have foreseen for the next events to happen. Yet when things go wrong, it's the "street smart" but less-educated characters like ex-con Carter and the facility's cook Preach who are more effective than the scientists, especially Janice (Jacqueline McKenzie).

Yes, many people are book smart and lack good judgement and common sense or are prone to panicking, but still.

*To that end, one could also argue that the way "book smart" and "street smart" break down, the female characters end up portrayed worse than the men. Janice is panicky and hysterical and it was McAllister's poor judgement that caused the whole situation in the first place. Meanwhile, Carter and Preach are the ones who save the day. I am NOT accusing anybody of deliberate bigotry, sexism, etc. but that's still the vibe I got.

The Verdict

Another one of those "see it once" films. 6.5 out of 10. There is a sequel coming out this year, which seems to go even further into the "man was not meant to play God" mentality than this one and looks like a bad-CGI direct-to-video schlocker on top of that. I don't think I'll be seeing it.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Adapting Mercedes Lackey's "Werehunter" for Film

A few years back I attended a panel at DragonCon featuring author S.M. Stirling in which he said that short stories make good movies, while books make good miniseries or TV shows. Although I don't watch nearly as much television as I used to, The Stand and Moby Dick are good examples of books adapted to 3-4 hour miniseries and Game of Thrones and The Expanse are excellent of examples of making each book in a series a season for a television show. I even plotted out a nine episode adaptation of my novel The Thing in the Woods as a short TV series in the vein of British shows.

At my various day jobs I typically run YouTube videos to have a soundtrack while I work. The other day I found the song "Golden Eyes" by Heather Alexander, which is an adaptation of Mercedes Lackey's short short "Werehunter." Here's the music video for your entertainment:



I remembered what Stirling said about short stories making good movies when I read the story. "Werehunter" tells the tale of Glenda, an impoverished and friendless young woman who, pursued by some young men with bad intentions, ends up at a creepy old house presided over by a "crazy" woman. Said woman offers her the chance to go to a different world if there's nothing for her here, an offer that she obviously accepts.

Soon after arriving in this new world she learns that thanks to a ring passed down to her by a mother she never knew (she was raised by an unpleasant aunt who didn't like her brother's choice of a wife) she can change her form into a leopard. She finds life as a leopard a lot better than living as a human, but the villagers whose livestock she preys on soon hire a hunter with secrets of his own.

"Werehunter" could be adapted as a film. From the beginning of the story (her getting turned down for welfare from a clerk who clearly has better things to do) to her arriving in another world and her first transformation into a leopard could take fifteen to thirty minutes. There could be a montage of her learning the ropes of living as a predator and how to outwit the villagers and their dogs by using her shape-shifting ability to confuse her tracks and scents.

(That could make adapting it in a movie tricky, as until the very end whenever she appears as a human she'd be naked. The nudity wouldn't be sexual in nature, but that would still jack up the rating for a movie that could otherwise probably be PG. Unless, of course, it was shot at clever angles.)

However, in terms of material resources needed to adapt the film, you wouldn't need that much. Glenda and the hunter are the most distinctly described--Glenda is brunette and plain with odd yellow-brown eyes (and given the nature of the role, the actress would need to be rather...adventurous) and the hunter is a brunette man and strikingly handsome. The welfare clerk, the "crazy" woman, some thug types, her unpleasant aunt for flashbacks, and some peasant-villager types get much less description, so there's more flexibility in casting them. The beginning would take place in the student ghetto in what sounds to me like the Pacific Northwest, but most of the book would take place in the forests and plains of a fantasy world. There're references to a war being fought in the past with "strange" technology that could imply a Dark Tower-like situation that could make flashbacks more expensive if the creators decide to "show" and not "tell" the hunter's back-story. However, if the money's not available or if it's too distracting, that could be elided over or left out completely.

The movie could also be very timely--Glenda ends up the situation in the first place due to predatory men and chooses to spend almost all of her time as a leopard because as a woman alone in a strange world she's vulnerable, but as a leopard she's a fearsome predator. It's a #MeToo fantasy movie, but it wouldn't beat the viewer over the head with a message and thus possibly alienate people.

What do you think?

Sunday, March 18, 2018

HERE BE TYGERS Podcast Interview!

Thanks to Thomas Herman of The Brothers Herman YouTube Channel and the podcast The Geekly Oddcast, I met Jarod Cerf, a writer and podcaster from New York. He interviewed me about The Thing in the Woods for his new podcast, Here Be Tygers and this past week, it went live.


Highlights of the podcast include:

*How The Thing in the Woods came to be. The tale dates all the way back to 2006 and the dead wonderland known as Borders. I'm obviously not going to give a lot away here, but it also involves the infamous Atlanta Snowpocalypse.

*Tips on writing, both from my own experiences and that of Delilah S. Dawson, another writer I know who manages to be far more productive than I am with far more real-life responsibilities.

*Creating good villains, in particular cult leader Phil Davidson. Remember, everybody is the hero of their own story and nobody lacks at least some good qualities.

*Who would play what character in a film or television adaptation. A fair number of The Walking Dead cast members are proposed, including Norman Reedus as the thuggish Reed and, although he doesn't look the part, Jeffrey Dean Morgan as the conflicted Sam.

Here are the places you can find the podcast:


This might not be the last time I appear on the podcast--Jarod and I have briefly discussed future segments on "history's losers" like the Kadet Party in early 20th Century Russia or the Albigensians in medieval France.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Blast from the Past Movie Review: Tomb Raider (2001)

I never played the Tomb Raider video game series, but back when I was something of a gamer I do remember thinking the original game looked pretty cool. When the film adaptation starring Angelina Jolie came out in 2001 when I was a junior in high school, I remember going to see it and finding it at least somewhat enjoyable.

Well, as the podcast Myopia: Defend Your Childhood is wont to do, we re-watch childhood (or in this case, later adolescent) pleasures to see if they're still good. Here's the podcast. And now for the review...

The Plot

Lara Croft (Angelina Jolie), a British aristocrat served by butler Hilary (Chris Barrie) and technician Bryce Turing (Noah Wallace), uses the freedom her wealth provides to go adventuring, in particular exploring ancient ruins and tombs for treasures. However, she's haunted by the death of her father Lord Richard Croft (Jon Voight). But when a clock she doesn't know exist starts ticking, she's thrust into an adventure featuring rival "tomb raider" (and possible former love interest) Alex West (Daniel Craig) and sinister Illuminatus Manfred Powell (Iain Glen).

At stake? The Illuminati seizing an ancient artifact that would allow them to control time!

The Good

*The movie starts out quick and entertaining and is never dull. Perhaps that's why I enjoyed it as a high-schooler. To re-watch it for the podcast I "rented" it off Amazon for $4, downloaded it to my Kindle, and watched the second hour of it on the elliptical. It made the workout go by pretty quickly, which is always a plus.

*When Lara finds a letter from her father, we get a voice-over/flashback sequence to him writing the letter rather than her just reading it out loud. That's more interesting, especially since it allows the filmmakers to work in the origins of various artifacts with Lord Croft providing the explanation.

*It's interesting to see the different actors playing against type. Daniel Craig, who would later play none other than James Bond, plays an American "tomb raider" rival to (and possible ex of?) Lara who came off to me as a dork. Glen, whom I've only seen as the lovelorn Ser Jorah Mormont from Game of Thrones, plays an ambitious and backstabbing member of a dangerous cult.

*Lara's fighting style is predicated heavily on speed and skill, which makes a lot of sense for a woman who isn't big and burly like Brienne of Tarth. This would allow her to take on larger, stronger male opponents without difficulty. And when faced with a male opponent who's just as skilled and quick (not going to say whom for reasons for spoilers), it's a lot tougher.

The Bad

*The Illuminati's plan operates on a very tight timetable and all Lara would need to do to foil the Illuminati for the next 5,000 years would be to cause delays, refuse to cooperate, etc. Instead, she often assists them. She even puts herself in a position where they no longer need her and, if so inclined, could kill her. West states that she's in it for the glory while he's in it for the money--she'll help them retrieve the artifact so she can take it from them, rather than simply prevent them from getting the artifact in the first place.

*When Lara mocks West for his business-like attitude toward tomb raiding, there's a missed opportunity for character development--West can point out that unlike her, a British aristocrat with a landed estate who goes on adventures and robs tombs for fun, he has to work for a living. This would develop his character further and reveal Lara's disdain for his greed owes much to her privileged wealthy status, but it would also make Lara look kind of bad, so no wonder it didn't go into the film.

*The way Lara acts about her father, it's like he hasn't been (presumably) dead long and she is still mourning him. However, he's been missing since 1985 and assuming the movie takes place in 2001 and she was in later elementary school in the flashbacks (age 9-11 or so) before he went away, he's probably been gone for half her life. If Lara were younger and this movie was her origin story, this movie could be about a young woman taking up her father's sword to fight a sinister world-domination cult, but given the allusions to past adventures and the amount of time it would require to develop her sheer physical skill, instead she kind of comes off as emotionally stunted and even obsessive.

*Complaining about sexual objectification/fanservice in a movie based on a game known for following an attractive female character around from behind the whole time (aka a continuous butt-shot) may seem like a waste of time, but the way it's done in the film is kind of lame. The beginning battle features her moaning in exertion while pinned beneath a hostile robot, there's a completely gratuitous shower scene soon afterward, and she annoys her traditional-minded butler who wants to make her a proper lady by walking around naked in front of him. The latter seems to me to be a character moment at least (see the bit below about how him being traditional and her being rebellious might be a dynamic that's been going on so long it's a ritual or a game), but the first two were kind of annoying.

*Hilary, who is Lara's butler or personal assistant or something, lectures her about the need to be ladylike, but rather than being an Old Retainer, he looks to be around her age or only somewhat older.  The actor is only 15 years older than Jolie. I could imagine she might put up with that from somebody who was a surrogate parent (and at this point it might be an inside joke more than anything else), but not someone reasonably close to her age who works for her. His hair could have been dyed gray to make him look older or, since a widowed British aristocrat with only a daughter would probably remarry to have more children to ensure the name is passed down, it would've been more interesting if the character were instead Lara's more traditionally-inclined stepmother who has been trying to "manage" her tomboyish stepdaughter for the last decade or more.

(Lara's father being missing and not yet legally dead could be a reason why she's still there, or perhaps Lara has much younger half-siblings who have just as much right to live in the house as she does. In the latter case, Lara's adventuring might be in part to gather money for herself if she has a younger half-brother who upon reaching a certain age or if her father is declared legally dead will take control of the property. A bit too much Sense and Sensibility or Pride and Prejudice for a video-game action film, but perhaps it can be done subtly.)

Of course a more traditionalist British aristocratic wife isn't going to arm up when mercenaries barge into the house, but you could still have Hilary in a more reduced role for that purpose.

*It's never made particularly clear why the Illuminati getting hold of the artifact would be such a bad thing. Obviously nobody should be trusted with that type of power, but it's never discussed over-much.

*The CGI hasn't aged well.

The Verdict

Entertaining, but kind of stupid. See it once, preferably by renting and not buying. 6.0 out of 10.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

ENDER'S GAME, Hive Civilizations, and STARSHIP TROOPERS

A few days ago, I hosted a guest post by my fellow writer Matthew Stienberg about how Robert Heinlein's science fiction novel Starship Troopers would make an excellent television series, which would allow for a greater exploration of the characters and world than a feature film would. I followed it up with a post of my own on how the novel's depiction of a conflict between the Merchant Marine (whose personnel don't earn the franchise for service) and the military (which does) could allow for a nuanced critique of the Federation without descending into Verhoeven-level idiocy and provide for complex storylines.

Well, here's my third post, on how we could explore the civilization of the Pseudo-Arachnids, the "Bugs" that the Federation fights against. In the novel it's never really described, although the warrior and worker bugs are depicted as being non-sentient and under the direction of senior bugs never depicted on-page. The 1997 film gives us the Brain Bug, whose appearance I didn't really like. The role-playing game book The Arachnid Empire apparently has some description of the Bugs' history and culture, such as it is, but it's not in the free-to-read material and I don't like this stuff enough to buy it to find out.

However, if that back-story proves lacking, Orson Scott Card's novel Ender's Game, which was adapted into a movie I enjoyed, has an interesting explanation for how a "Bug" civilization might function. Here there be spoilers...

Among the Formics or "Buggers" of Ender's Game and its spin-offs, the only truly sentient beings are the queens, with the majority of the species being non-sentient workers and drones. In the vein of Earth's insects, queens would be born in existing colonies and would leave to start a new colony. Each new colony would battle the others until one day a queen managed to persuade a daughter to work with her rather than attacking her (and only leaving to establish a new hive if she failed to topple her mother but survived). The mother-daughter pair spawned new queens that they kept as allies, pattern leading to a Formic civilization consisting of a coalition of sentient queens commanding billions of drones that defeated all single-queen nests and united the species.

The Arachnid caste system in the novel is a bit more complicated, with the Brain Bugs being the overall commanding intelligence of an Arachnid hive, to the point if a Brain Bug is killed, the colony will die with it (novel) or the subordinate Bugs will run mad without them in control (the Roughnecks animated series). However, there are queen bugs whose purpose is breeding that warrior-bugs will kill queens to keep them from being captured, which could imply the queens have some degree of sentience, or at least there's something about them while alive that makes it too risky (for the Bugs) for humans to capture them. Either way, the "ordinarily-singular sentients with masses of non-sentient slaves learn to cooperate" theory could apply, only with Brain Bugs instead of the queens.

In the Starship Troopers universe, human prisoners are discovered when the Federation invades Arachnid-controlled Planet P, which in Matt's chronology would be Season Three. That would be a good time for the viewer to learn about this, since these humans would have the most interaction with the Bugs, possibly including the leadership caste if the Arachnid leadership is interrogating them or studying them. Alternatively, if the viewers are getting impatient, this is something the Federation could learn from the Skinnies, since Matt suggested Season Two would consist of an attempt to forcibly detach the Skinnies from their alliance with the Bugs in which the Federation learns of the Brain Bugs. The Bugs might've been more forthcoming about their history with their allies than with their enemies, or the Skinnies might have found this out on their own. After all, they might be concerned that they could be next if the Arachnids triumph over the Federation.