Thursday, May 13, 2021

Movie Review: ENOLA HOLMES (2020)

In that long-lost year of 2019, I decided to enter the 21st Century and get Netflix streaming. Although the main shows I watched--The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance and V-Wars--weren't renewed, there was other fun content to be found. The Netflix production I ended up enjoying the most was Enola Holmes, so much so that I wrote a review of it for my Mailchimp newsletter and wrote an earlier post about the casting of an Indian actor to play Inspector Lestrade.

Now that a sequel has officially been announced, I figured I'd share my review with a broader audience.


The Plot

Britain's greatest detective Sherlock Holmes (Henry Cavill) didn't have just one sibling, older brother Mycroft (Sam Claflin), but a much, much younger sister Enola (Millie Bobby Brown). Sherlock and Mycroft were adults (or nearly so) when she was born and their father died soon after, leaving her to be raised by her eccentric mother Eudoria (Helena Bonham Carter). Eudoria taught her all sorts of things that Victorian society wouldn't approve upper-class young ladies knowing (i.e. martial arts, explosive chemistry, etc.) and Enola is as extraordinarily intelligent and perceptive as her brother.

Then Eudoria disappears. Mycroft and Sherlock  investigate and Mycroft, vexed that Enola isn't by his standards particularly "ladylike," sends her to a ladies' finishing school run by the domineering Miss Harrison (Fiona Shaw). Enola runs away, seeking clues her mother left behind and stumbling across a conspiracy to kill the young Viscount Tewkesbury (Louis Partridge) that's connected to legislation that would expand voting rights in Britain. Meanwhile her two brothers are looking for her...

The Good

*Millie Bobby Brown does an absolutely amazing job as Enola. Seriously, she's the best part of the movie. She puts so much emotion into the part, both positive and negative, and she's so entertaining to watch. Her facial expressions in particular are often hilarious. Cavill and Claflin are good in their parts as well--although they're much less entertaining than Enola is, Cavil projects Holmes' intelligence and Claflin is downright hissable as Mycroft (more on that later). Although she's not in the movie very much, Carter's very good as well and the scenes between her and Enola have real poignance.

*The script is generally well-written. Enola has a running commentary on everything (including at times breaking the fourth wall) that made me laugh out loud several times. I'm sure the people near me at the gym (I watch a lot of Netflix on my Kindle on the elliptical or the bike) really appreciated that. :)

*The movie moves along at a quick clip and is rarely dull. It make running on the elliptical and ironing clothes so much more tolerable.

*The film gets a lot more political than I remember the Holmes stories being. The stories I've read seem to focus on him solving crimes and what-not, but during the time Sherlock would have lived (the last story is set at the start of WWI and he's a very old man), British society was rapidly changing. A major plot point are the Reform Bills (based on the time period I'm guessing The Representation of the People Act of 1884) and there was also a lot of agitation by women for the right to vote. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle might not have been interested in making his stories about "issues" (and in-universe Holmes might be too monomaniacal about solving crimes to care about politics), but this is a pretty interesting vein to mine.

*The importance of women being able to control their own money is a major plot point. To quote TVTropes, Some Anvils Need To Be Dropped.

The Bad

The characterization of Enola and Sherlock's older brother Mycroft is grossly unsubtle. The filmmakers needed a villain and apparently the people involved in a plot to murder a teenage boy weren't good enough. So they depicted a man characterized in the original books as being as smart as Sherlock but just too lazy to do anything with it into a cranky, snide reactionary (he's clearly disdainful of the Reform Bill) who's downright mean to Enola and is explicitly depicted as not having either of his siblings' intelligence. That last part is just really petty on the filmmakers' part, especially given what I said a minute ago about how in the source material he's as smart as Sherlock, just lazy and hidebound.

Yes, I imagine most Victorian men of their social class would find her exasperating and embarrassing, but she's still his younger sister. He can want to send her to a mind-numbing ladies' finishing school against her wishes and pull rank as her older brother (and legal guardian in the absence of her parents) without being that nasty. He also doesn't seem particularly concerned for well-being--a pretty young woman without much real-life experience on the run in Victorian Britain is probably in great danger and that should worry both him and Sherlock, but he seems more vexed that she's gotten out from under his control than concerned about her not getting raped, killed, etc. And as I mentioned earlier, just to make sure we know he's Bad, he thinks letting more people in Britain vote will be the downfall of the nation.

If the goal is to critique Victorian society as a whole rather than a few bad apples, he could still love his sister and mean well but still plan to to shove Enola's square peg into society's round hole because He's A Man And He Knows What's Best. It is possible for good people to make bad and even downright cruel decisions thinking it's The Right Thing To Do, so there was no need to make Mycroft into such a spiteful, mean-spirited jerk.

The Verdict

An absolutely delightful film and I hope there's a sequel. After all, the film is based on a book series. 9.0 out of 10. Oh and by the way, Netflix came up with a clever way to promote it.

Monday, May 10, 2021

Two THE ATLANTA INCURSION #BookTube Reviews In Two Days

One strategy I've been using to promote my work is seeking out booktubers to discuss my books on their channels. Early-mid May has been, to quote the great Borat, "Very nice." I have gotten two largely positive video reviews on YouTube for my novel The Atlanta Incursion, the sequel to The Thing In The Woods.

Here's the one posted May 9 from Jeremy Fee, a Texan who liked the small-town feel of the original Thing and followed the survivors to the big city for the sequel:


And here's the one posted May 10 from Lady Jane Books, who got very excited about it:


This was a very nice couple of days. If you're interested after watching these videos, you can find both The Thing in the Woods and The Atlanta Incursion on Amazon. They're both in Kindle Unlimited. And if you're not, check out their YouTube channels--they might have books you would enjoy.

Saturday, April 24, 2021

Movie Review: MORTAL KOMBAT (2021)

Once upon a time, the fighting game Mortal Kombat set the gaming world on fire, sowing controversies about video game violence and spawning not just multiple sequels, but two live-action movie adaptations. After the failure of the second film Mortal Kombat Annihilation (listen to some friends and I absolutely destroy it on a podcast here), the planned third movie languished, but now in this plague year of 2021, it's back. And it's a lot of fun.


The Plot

The film begins with Chinese warrior Bi-Han (Joe Taslim) murdering Japanese ninja Hanzo Hashashi (Hiroyuki Sanada) and his family in 1617, but his baby daughter is rescued by none other than the thunder god Raiden (Tadanobu Asano). Fast forward to the present day and we meet Cole Young (Lewis Tan), a past-his-prime mixed martial artist reduced to short-notice fights for $200 a pop. However, he's approached by soldier Jackson Briggs (Mehcad Brooks), who wants to discuss a mysterious dragon birthmark they both have. However, Briggs, Cole, and Cole's wife and daughter are set upon by Bi-Han--now the sorcerous centuries-old killing machine Sub-Zero--and Cole finds himself meeting Briggs' military comrade Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee) and captive criminal Kano (Josh Lawson). Kano has the dragon icon himself and soon the three are pulled into the mysterious world of Mortal Kombat, a tournament fought to protect the Earth against invaders from the desolate realm of Outworld. Outworld has won nine of the last ten tournaments and its agents, led by Shang Tsung (Chin Han), are intent on winning the tenth tournament and invading Earth by hook or by crook.

The Good

*The movie is simply an absolute blast. It's fun and over-the-top and is never slow and boring. And the film integrates the characters' specific moves and supernatural powers into the storyline in clever and fun ways.

*The performances are pretty good. Lawson is clearly having the most fun as Kano--although I was skeptical of his being the comic-relief character instead of Johnny Cage, he is an absolute riot. McNamee manages to play Sonya as having a bit of a chip on her shoulder without being unsympathetic and obnoxious. Asano channels a bit of Christopher Lambert's 1997 Lord Raiden with his accent, although he's avoids being the clumsy exposition machine of the original.

*The characterization is generally an improvement over the original, especially the Sub-Zero/Scorpion rivalry. All the original did was have Shang Tsung brag that although they were "the deadliest of enemies," they were both slaves to his will. This movie straight-up makes Sub-Zero a heavy and much more than just a ninja who can freeze people--we're talking Elsa from Frozen levels of ice-sorcery with all the different types of havoc it can wreak. And they made Sonya a bit of a conspiracy theorist complete with a board covered in news articles, which is an interesting tweak on the character. She is much more useful than in the original, where she spent much of the first movie getting perved on by Shang Tsung and/or getting taken hostage. And Briggs is definitely an improvement over his appearance in Annihilation in which he mostly came off as Butt Monkey to salvage Sonya from the various indignities the original put her through.

*The film kind of pokes fun at itself and asks the obvious questions, like why "Kombat" is misspelled.

*There's a lot more Asian actors playing Asian characters, which is an improvement over the original film in which the Asian thunder god Raiden is played by the French-Swiss Lambert in such a way that my podcast crew straight-up starting laughing upon seeing him in the original film. And the almighty TVTropes claims that Scorpion and Sub-Zero were portrayed by white actors in the original, although given how they were masked I couldn't really tell. Here they're played by actors of the appropriate ethnicity.

*Just like the games, the film presents an elaborate mythology with plenty of room to play with in future films.

The Bad

*The setup for a tournament structure of fights is rather forced, albeit not as badly as in Annihilation.

*The original set up Johnny Cage, Liu Kang, and Sonya Blade as a power trio, but this one is more focused on Cole Young as the protagonist. And although there are some interesting things they hint at (his hardscrabble orphan upbringing, the demonic ninja he sees in his nightmares), they're not developed enough. He's not bad, but kind of meh.

*On that note, many of the other characters are underwhelming, especially the villains. Tsung is all right, but Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa was a much better actor playing a much more developed character. They're not on-screen enough and don't have enough to do. And Asano's Lord Raiden is much less entertaining than Lambert's. Liu Kang also takes a major demotion in this film, even though there are some hints of a more interesting back-story than in the original.

*Where was the original song? That song is one of the most iconic musical parts of the whole franchise.

The Verdict

An improvement on the original and hopefully the start of a new franchise. Everybody go see it and make sure that happens. After all, Taslim has a multiple-film contract in the event this film performs well. :) 8.5 out of 10.

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Chapter One Readings: BATTLE FOR THE WASTELANDS and LITTLE PEOPLE, BIG GUNS

Using a strategy inspired by my little sister, I have decided to put my YouTube channel to work. I'd posted a video of my reading part of the prologue of The Thing in the Woods up earlier because someone else shot it and sent me the video, but I upped my game by recording my reading the first chapters of my steampunk military fantasy novel Battle for the Wastelands and my bizarro comedy-horror novella Little People, Big Guns.

Owing to how Blogger is integrated into the Google platform, posting them there was the next logical step. Behold...

Battle For The Wastelands


Little People, Big Guns


Enjoy! The next video I'm going to post will be a reading from the first chapter of "Son of Grendel" and then maybe the first bits of the short stories from Flashing Steel, Flashing Fire. Not sure when that's going to be.

Monday, April 19, 2021

Two WWII Alternate Timelines: Sweden Attacks Germany In 1945, Smarter German Defense Post-1942

Even though I'm still self-banned from the Internet's premiere alternate history forum, I still check out cool stuff in the public forums. Here're my latest finds:

Footsteps In The Snow: The Swedish Intervention, April-May 1945-Historically Sweden was neutral during World War II and over the course of the conflict had built up a large military for a country its size to deter or fight off an attack by either Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union. However, this neutrality involved selling the Germans iron ore and even allowing the passage of German soldiers through Swedish territory, something that raised eyebrows among many in the Allied camp. The Swedes also trained Norwegian and Danish exiles as "police troops," provided intelligence to the Allies, hosted Jewish refugees, and allowed U.S. planes to use Swedish airbases, so it wasn't like the Swedes were semi-allies of Germany either. 

(This article describes Sweden's WWII policy in more detail and includes some rather critical commentary from British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.)

It's not early on why Sweden chooses this time around to break neutrality to attack the weakening German army in Norway, but it's hinted the goal is to strengthen Sweden's position in postwar Europe and in particular give them a say in what's done with Norway. The Swedes also assist with the ejection of the last German forces from the Nazis' former ally Finland--perhaps this time around, the Finns will avoid getting, well, Finlandized. And the timeline's author suggests that Soviets could have been the ones liberating Denmark from the Nazis and it took conniving between the Germans and Western Allies to keep them out. Keeping Denmark out of Soviet hands might be another reason.

Prolonging the Futility-Hitler dies in 1942 after a bite from his dog (with whom he was playing too roughly) becomes infected, much like how a king of Greece died twenty-odd years before after being bitten by a monkey. However, the Germans still lose at Stalingrad. The Allies are coming and they're angry. Without Hitler's micromanaging and bad military decisions, how long can the Axis drag things out? The author admits the Germans in some cases are rolling sixes and the Allies are rolling ones, which might explains how the Germans are doing better than expected even without a drug-addled lunatic in charge, but it's not completely without reason. If you've read An Army At Dawn, you'll see how incompetent the U.S. Army was early in the war and how skilled the Germans were, even with the Germans running their North African operation on a shoestring and with the Allies' massive materiel superiority and control the air. And it's Goering, more flexible and less fanatical than Hitler (IIRC he was the only top Nazi diagnosed as a sociopath, which would explain his being self-seeking rather than serving a Goal greater than himself), who succeeds Hitler and that would explain a lot of it. I think some of the events later in the timeline are starting to stretch disbelief, but that's my main quibble.

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Summer and Fall 2021 Convention Schedule (So Far)

Given how lucrative conventions are for me--one convention's profits equate to several months' Amazon royalties--and COVID seems to be waning, I'm getting events lined up for this summer and fall. This is still in-progress, so I might come back and edit this post as necessary. Hopefully there won't be any COVID spikes or political nonsense that could interfere...

Confirmed Events

June 5, 2021: The Middle Georgia Comic Convention in Macon, GA. I want to expand outside of the Atlanta market without hotel expenses cutting into my profits, so a one-day event an hour and a half or so outside of Atlanta is just perfect.

August 6-8, 2021: Atlanta Comic-Con-This is the big kahuna--I made all the money I mentioned above when I split the table cost with C.S. Johnson and I've got a partner for this one as well, fellow Atlanta Horror Writers Association member Venessa Giunta. And last time I only had two books, The Thing in the Woods and The Best of Heroic Fantasy Quarterly Vol. 2, the latter of which I straight-up sold out on. This time around I'll have seven books available, including the Thing sequel The Atlanta Incursion (great for two-for-one deals) and the completely new (to ACC) steampunk Wastelands series. I'm also going to set Thing and Battle for the Wastelands e-books to $0.99 and hand out a lot of cards with QR codes linking to them, a strategy that has ginned up e-book sales before.

Also, Cineprov, an Atlanta film comedy troupe whose membership overlaps significantly with Myopia Movies, may be performing there as well. Come for the humor, stay for the products. :)

August 14, 2021: FarleyCon-I found out about this event at Toylanta in mid-March. Although I'm leery of out-of-state events due to hotel costs eating my profits, this event takes place in a suburb outside of Chattanooga, pretty close to the Georgia line. Table costs were pretty low, although owing to the distance mileage is going to be an expense.

October 2, 2021: NextChapterCon-This event is dedicated to independent authors and books solely. I attended two previous events and served as a panelist on multiple panels, so it's good to carry on the tradition. Furthermore, this year's event will be in Dalton rather than Ringgold, meaning hopefully a larger audience given how it's a larger community to start with and Dalton State College is located there..

In-Process

October 8-10, 2021: Monsterama-This is another relatively new convention. It's a bit of a hike from my day job and so last time I dawdled so much that I ended up not being able to get a table when I finally decided to apply. However, Toylanta showed that going straight from work to a convention that officially starts Friday night in the northern suburbs is completely doable.

October 15-17, 2021: MultiverseCon-I applied for a guest spot and in case I don't get it, I'll apply for a vending table. I was one of the vendors at the first event, made a good profit, and even met the woman who edited Thing first edition for Digital Fiction Publishing, so hopefully the next event will be even better.

Monday, April 5, 2021

How I Would Have Done STAR WARS: THE PHANTOM MENACE (1999)

Although the film podcast Myopia Movies covered Star Wars Episode III: The Revenge of the Sith awhile ago — listen if you want to see my fan-rage in all its glory — we didn’t critique earlier prequels. So at the request of regular guest Evan, we did an episode on Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace. Although I remember liking it when it came out (I was at the very tail end of eighth grade), watching it again I see why it got mocked. Daniel recommended I do another one of my “how I would have done it” write-ups, so here we go…



In General

*Other than Jake Lloyd, the casting is good. However, I’m not sure whether it’s Lloyd, the script, or both, but I don’t really like him as young Anakin Skywalker. I know they’re trying to emphasize the tragedy by depicting one of cinema’s great villains as an adorable little boy who wants to help people, but he comes off too much as a 1990s precocious kid. I would probably go with both — a different actor (and an older one too so it doesn’t, per a podcast colleague, come off like a nine-year-old crushing on his babysitter) and cut dumbest lines like, “This is podracing!”

*Make the Jedi Council more overbearing. This article from Tor.com shows how one really needs to watch the animated Clone Wars cartoon to really understand why Anakin turned like he did and apparently the show depicts the Council at its worst — mistreating Anakin’s apprentice Ahsoka Tano and refusing to admit fault, jacking Anakin around, etc. However, although the Council in TPM is rather pig-headed and annoying, they’re all bark and no bite. Obi-Wan repeatedly chides Qui-Gon for refusing to follow the Jedi Code, but Qui-Gon has apparently been doing this for years and all the Council does is…not seat him on the Council. After Qui-Gon’s death, Obi-Wan flat-out tells Yoda he’ll train Anakin even if the Council forbids it…and they let him.

Why did Anakin and Padme have to keep their marriage secret if that’s all the Council would do if they got caught? Anakin might have liked the honor of a Council seat, but the bureaucratic stuff would bore him to insanity. If they caught him and decided his punishment would be that he’d never sit on the Jedi Council, he’d probably be relieved they aren’t turning him out onto the street.

It would have been better if the Council were more cultish, Qui-Gon’s relative free-spiritedness is only barely tolerated, and that Obi-Wan is more in line with the Council than with his master. Remove the one influential Jedi who doesn’t have his head up his own ass and have the Jedi marinate in their own nonsense for a decade and by Attack of the Clones, Anakin has very real reason to fear the Council. According to people who know the old Expanded Universe better, Obi-Wan was a martinet who was unduly harsh with Anakin and fond of threatening to kick him out of the Order. This might be in-character for an inexperienced teacher whose first pupil is a gifted but also troubled youth who isn’t much younger than he. Add that Obi-Wan is drinking the Council’s Kool-Aid because his own mentor is no longer around to moderate it and you have a recipe for a not particularly healthy relationship. This would in turn make Anakin more vulnerable to Palpatine’s manipulations, since he’d have a much greater reason to resent the killjoy Jedi Council in general and Obi-Wan in particular.

*Jar-Jar. Episode II shows how a well-meaning but not very smart person could be easily manipulated (he’s the one who convinces everybody to give Palpatine emergency powers), but he’s so annoying. I’d tone down the accent, although the clumsiness and well-meaning ineptitude are a major part of his character and an occasional source of legitimate comedy.

Act One

*When we first come to Naboo and see the Trade Federation blockade, there’re 10-20 carriers, but by the time the final battle rolls around, there’s only one. If Palpatine had ordered the Trade Federation to weaken the blockade and then the heroes pull this amazing come-from-behind victory, they’d never trust Palpatine again and Clone Wars of canon would have never happened. I would depict only two or three, since this is an age of peace and so Naboo simply might only have ten to twenty fighters, the equivalent of a police force. Three military-surplus carriers carrying hundreds of drone fighters can easily blockade the planet. That the Republic can’t slap the Trade Federation down shows how weak the central government is — either their military has withered in the millennium since defeating the Sith or like the United Nations of today it never really had much power of its own to start with.

*More variety of Neimodian accents. I’m not going to complain about them all dressing like Confucian officials, but the fact they all have stereotypical quasi-Chinese accents too? Racism aside, we’re also getting into Planet of Hats territory. An entire species is unlikely to be monocultural, even if there’s a single dominant group. If there was some kind of human space empire today, it might be American-dominated, but you’d see contingents from China, the European Union, etc.

*I had no problem with Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan. Their conversations do a good job depicting their differences in philosophy and illuminating their characters. And when the time comes for fighting, they’re great.

*However on the matter of fighting, Palpatine is supposed to be this mastermind whose convoluted plots turn out just how he likes. Ordering the Jedi killed to prolong the crisis to his own benefit makes sense, but I would imagine he would explicitly order the Trade Federation to make it look like an accident. Although the Trade Federation’s desire not to escalate would explain why they use poison gas in the meeting room rather than go in with guns blazing, it wouldn’t explain why they destroy the Republic cruiser. That’s not just an escalation, that’s an act of war against the galactic government and even a weak one wouldn’t tolerate that. I’d have depicted the poison gas and then then droid attack, but Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon have to flee because they simply cannot fight their way back to the cruiser, not because the cruiser’s been destroyed.

*Ditch the elected middle-schooler queen. If Padme is a hereditary monarch it could explain why a 14-year-old is in that position, but nobody in their right mind is going to elect a teenager. Some of the old EU said it was a Naboo custom to involve children in public service from a young age and the downside is they could be manipulated by ill-intentioned adults, but there’s a difference between Padme the legislative page and Padme the chief executive of a planet. I’d have her inherit the throne recently (i.e. still mourning her father or mother) and depict her advisors squabbling among themselves as to whether they should fight the Trade Federation or continue diplomacy. If Padme leans in the peaceful direction due to personal temperament, that would lend weight to the peace faction whose support for a diplomatic solution is more pragmatic (the Trade Federation would crush them) rather than ideological.

*When the Jedi meet Boss Nass, make it clear the Gungans and the Naboo are historical enemies rather than just his resenting the Naboo for (allegedly) thinking they’re smarter. In the novelization, a character (Jar-Jar?) references past fighting and now the Naboo stick to the plains and the Gungans the swamps, something when combined with how widespread humans are in the Star Wars galaxy implied the Naboo are not natives. The Gungans are the indigenous race who, like the Native Americans, have lost most of their lands to outside invaders. That would make Padme’s humbling herself before Boss Nass later and the ending parade much more meaningful. However, I’d make sure it was handled subtly — this is Star Wars, not Dances With Frogs. Maybe I’d just have Boss Nass say something like, “now they-sa know what it’s like” and let the audience figure out the implication.

And while I’m at it, Boss Nass’s verbal tics and Nixonian face-waggling is really annoying.

*A planet core is full of water and monsters? Naboo is pretty normal-looking, so I would imagine there’s a molten core generating a magnetic field and all that. I’d have made it a little more subtle — Boss Nass is sending them through an underwater cave system connecting Otoh Gunga with a lake or river near Theed. There’ll still be the cool monster chases and what-not, but it’s less ridiculous. Bonus points if we see obvious Gungan remains near where the submarine surfaces, further hinting Theed used to belong to them. The queen is rescued and off they go.

Act Two

*I liked the Tatooine connection with the original films, so Padme and the Jedi fleeing there to evade the Trade Federation can stay.

*Having C-3PO being built by a young Anakin was a little too much, given how Star Wars takes place over an entire galaxy. Although this allowed for a well-done moment in one of the comics, it makes the world seem small. Having Anakin build a robot to help his mother shows his technical genius and helpful character, but it doesn’t have to be C-3PO. I’d have had Anakin have built a similar robot, possibly a simpler design a skilled child could manage.

*I’d have tweaked Watto’s design. Someone online reported children seeing the movie called him a “weird little Jew guy with wings.” Although making Watto into a Borscht Belt comedy figure (the constant complaining) might be funny, I’d have ditched the giant nose and later on, the skullcap. Aaron Freedman did say that as a Jew he identified with Watto and this could be given a more positive spin, even though Watto is a minor antagonist given his greed and owning slaves. Maybe just keep the voice and mannerisms?

*The dinner at the Skywalker home and the romantic subtext between Qui-Gon and Shmi Skywalker were fine. We also get to see Padme’s naivete breaking when she sees that slavery is legal and Watto, who seems to have a bark worse than his bite (the way Anakin argues with him and how the Skywalkers have their own home away from his shop), has surgically implanted bombs in Shmi and Anakin in the event they try to escape. The podracing was generally fine, although per fellow podcaster Daniel that could be tightened up to save time. Reduce the number of racers?

*I would have our heroes making some effort to free Shmi’s too. Even if Qui-Gon doesn’t want to push his luck given how they’re dependent on Watto for the ship parts, perhaps the humanitarian Padme (in her persona as the queen’s representative) offers to trade some of the queen’s wardrobe or jewelry? Watto, however, refuses since slaves are a status symbol in Tatooine society and without slaves he’s just another junk dealer. The naïve Padme tries to make an issue of this, but it’s Shmi who shoos them away and tells the tearful Anakin not to look back.

*The first duel with Maul was pretty cool. I’d have kept it as-is, since Maul is clearly getting the better of Qui-Gon and it foreshadows his eventual defeat. However, it’s a pretty big jump for Qui-Gon to tell the Jedi Council that a Force-using goon with a red lightsaber is a Sith when the Sith are supposedly extinct and there are lesser Dark Side users, fallen Jedi, etc. I’d have thrown in some comments about how he needs to meditate on this or depict him reviewing some of his Jedi books.

*I liked the arrival on Coruscant, especially since this is the first time we see the legendary city-planet outside the Expanded Universe. It’s also a good character moment for Padme, who shows compassion for the lonely Anakin despite the fact her people are suffering vastly worse, and Anakin himself who cares for Padme despite the fact he misses his own mother.

*When Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan come before the Council and reveal their suspicions that Darth Maul is a Sith, I’d have the Jedi leadership more skeptical. The conflicts with the Dark Side were long and bloody and it’s an article of faith that the Jedi triumphed, proving the superiority of the Light over the Dark. The possibility the Sith survived is almost heretical. Although they promise Qui-Gon they’ll look into it, it’s more pro forma and they don’t seem to take it particularly seriously. And I’d make “more to say” a bit more sarcastic, although I wouldn’t go so far as to make Yoda a complete asshole. The Jedi are individually good people — it’s the ossified system and their rigid thinking that’s the problem. Qui-Gon represents what the Jedi should be, and it’s a sign of the failing of the late Order that they only tolerate him rather than listen to him. I’d depict Obi-Wan as being torn — he saw Maul getting the better of his master in a way that some random fallen Jedi shouldn’t, but at the same time he has the Council’s rigid mindset and is skeptical of Qui-Gon’s freethinking ways. The Council agrees to see Anakin, but it’s clear they don’t take this seriously.

*I also liked how Palpatine maneuvers Padme into calling a no-confidence vote in Valorum’s leadership. The way they cut to his face when she calls for the vote shows that this is one of his evil plans and it’s falling into place nicely.

*The Council tests Anakin and acknowledges his potential, but rejects him due to his age. “Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, and hate lead to suffering” has to stay because that foreshadows Anakin’s fall later in the trilogy — fear for his wife’s life leads to anger toward the Jedi, that leads to outright hatred when he kneels before Palpatine, and after the duel on Mustafar, the rest of his life is suffering. Having some of the Council looking uneasy at “bringing balance to the Force” would help — with the Sith gone, the Light is so predominant that any rebalancing would likely be very bad for the Jedi. They aren’t going to send him back to Tatooine given the risk he might be re-enslaved, but they order Qui-Gon to make arrangements for him on Coruscant. Anakin is heartbroken by this rejection and is comforted by none other than C-3PO, a Jedi protocol droid who somewhat resembles the droid Anakin made for Shmi.

*Although Valorum has been voted out as Supreme Chancellor, who will replace him hasn’t been decided. Growing bored with the political games and knowing her people are suffering, the Queen decides to return to Naboo. As her assigned bodyguards, Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan go with her. Having not found a place to safely leave Anakin, Qui-Gon decides to take him, having a feeling from the Force he might be useful.

Act Three

*The return to Naboo and the alliance with the Gungans was generally fine. Panaka’s belief the Trade Federation “wiped out” the Gungans shows the Naboo snobbery Boss Nass griped about. However, on the way in I’d have had someone remark about why there’s only one Trade Federation ship. Maybe someone theorizes the Trade Federation is overconfident that they can control Naboo with the queen having fled or the vote of no confidence in Valorum prompted the Trade Federation to withdraw some of its forces to protect its core holdings from possible Republic reprisal. Padme, Captain Panaka, or both decide now is the time to humble the Trade Federation themselves, especially if they know that Viceroy Gunray and the other top leaders are still on Naboo and can be taken hostage. However, no “bombad general” Jar-Jar. Boss Nass isn’t stupid. He gives Jar-Jar a lesser military rank and makes him an aide to Captain Tarpels, the gray-skinned Gungan officer who spends most of the canonical battle trying to protect his “general.”

*When the land battle of Naboo begins I’d have given the Gungans more mixed equipment. If they’re a less-advanced, occupied people their using more “traditional” weapons like horse (or in this case vaguely dinosaur-like) cavalry, catapults, infantry phalanxes adapted to fight blasters, etc. would make sense, but they should have blaster rifles too. After all, the Native Americans had guns as well as bows and arrows and Otoh Gunga looks like a modern city rather than an impoverished Indian reservation. They probably have at least some ability to make more advanced weapons, plus they could have gotten blasters from the Naboo resistance movement or looted Naboo military depots during the invasion.

*With the Trade Federation’s droid army leaving Theed to engage the Gungans, Padme, her guards, whatever resistance is left in the city, and the two Jedi seize the guarded hangar where Naboo’s small space force is. Although they couldn’t realistically defeat two Trade Federation carriers, they might be able to defeat one. Things get complicated when Darth Maul appears and the two Jedi engage him. The battle with Maul will stay roughly as-is…not only is it one of the most fun parts of the movie, but one reason I bought the soundtrack when it came out was because I loved “Duel of the Fates.”

Emphasis on roughly — there’s no reason for random energy fields to keep the combatants separated when convenient. I’d still have Maul separate Qui-Gon from Obi-Wan (which seemed to be his strategy from the get-go) and mortally wound him, then Obi-Wan defeat Maul. However, I’d use the fighting style Obi-Wan is known for in the Expanded Universe — defend until your opponent tires and then strike — rather than have him essentially get lucky against an arrogant opponent.

*The Naboo pilots, not knowing what to do with Anakin with his Jedi babysitters busy, hide him in a damaged fighter while they launch against the Trade Federation carrier. However, Anakin starts playing with the controls and between the fighter not being as damaged as they think and something that’s pretty obviously the Force, Anakin is able to launch. The Naboo pilots engage the enemy carrier and although they’re able to damage it, the droid fighters are too much. Meanwhile, the ground battle is starting to go against the Gungans, although being better-armed they don’t break and run so easily. However, then Anakin gets a lucky (or perhaps “lucky”) shot on some power systems exposed by earlier attacks and the carrier shuts down, disorienting its waves of fighters and shutting off its antiaircraft batteries. Having something as big as a small asteroid blowing up because one reactor near one hangar got blown up was stupid. The Naboo fighters are able to finish it using something resembling a WWII torpedo strike mission.

*The fact the droid army shuts down after their control ship is destroyed makes no military sense. If I remember right the Trade Federation in later films even acknowledges that and redesigns their systems accordingly. I would have made it so the droid armies default to their local commander-bots, but the process doesn’t go smoothly and this allows the Gungans to defeat them. With their carrier destroyed and field army defeated, the Trade Federation’s cowardly leadership essentially throws themselves at Padme’s mercy.

*I would definitely keep Palpatine becoming the Supreme Chancellor for obvious reasons, as well as how he would be “watching [Anakin’s] career with great interest.” However, I would add that given recent events, Padme has decided to abdicate in favor of someone more experienced in order to learn public service from the bottom up. Palpatine uses his “great interest” comment to Anakin to segue to offering Padme an entry-level position on his staff with “the possibility of advancement.” That would explain why in Attack of the Clones she’s the Senator from Naboo in her own right. It could also impact her romance with the adult Anakin in Episode II — Palpatine is her political mentor and possibly a father figure (if she’s queen because her father died) and he’s encouraging this to alienate Anakin from the Jedi Order. However, before she leaves office there’re a couple more things to do…

*Obi-Wan is granted the rank of Jedi Knight for defeating Darth Maul and to honor Qui-Gon, requests the honor of training Anakin himself. However, I would have toned down Obi-Wan’s insistence on training him even if it means defying the Council. This would contradict my more authoritarian depiction of the prequel-era Jedi and the characterization of Obi-Wan as the good boy as opposed to the rebellious Qui-Gon. Obi-Wan lobbies to train Anakin to fulfill his master’s dying wish and the Council reluctantly allows this, although I would have Yoda comment on the importance of training him “properly.” Obi-Wan nods, clearly taking Yoda’s desires to heart. Anakin is going to be trained by the orthodox try-too-hard Obi-Wan and not a more experienced or more flexible teacher and this is going to have consequences. It also emphasizes Yoda’s role in Anakin’s eventual downfall — something else for him to feel guilty about and push him to send himself into exile rather than play a more active role in resisting the early Empire.

*Everybody is appropriately respectful at Qui-Gon’s funeral, but Yoda and Mace Windu are more secretive about Maul being a Sith. I liked Yoda’s “always two there are” because I find the whole concept of The Rule of Two pretty cool, but I’d make it clearer that Yoda and Mace are keeping their suspicions secret. They plan to covertly find and kill the other Sith Lord themselves rather than cause a panic or call into question the Jedi’s past claim to have destroyed the Sith and saved the Republic. This would sully the Order’s reputation — although Yoda and Mace think this would result in legitimately bad things happening with the community no longer trusting the Jedi, there’s still the more selfish PR angle. You could imply a similarity between the Jedi concealing the return of the Sith with the Catholic child molestation scandal — the leadership doesn’t grasp the gravity of the situation, they’re too concerned with their image, they bungle their own attempts to solve it,  and it comes back to bite them big time. This would be another show rather than tell in regards to the late Order’s incompetence. And we definitely need to keep the shot of Palpatine when Yoda and Mace are talking about how they don’t know if Maul is the master or the apprentice, especially if they conclude the surviving Sith “must” be in the Outer Rim, hidden from their sight. This wouldn’t take long — just another sentence or two.

*We keep the Theed parade, since it sets up Anakin as a Padawan and the solidifies his crush on Padme. You could even hint at reciprocal interest — someone online read into her smiling at him that Padme was some kind of pedophile. I thought that absurd but would be more sensible with an older Anakin. And if we go with the Gungans and Naboo as ancient enemies, a Gungan army permitted to parade through the capital is an even greater sign of friendship than Padme giving Boss Nass a fancy trinket.

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Two Different Versions of Alexander's Empire Surviving

One of the great hinges on which history turned is the death of the Macedonian conqueror Alexander the Great. Using the combined war machine of Macedonia and the classical Greek city-states, he conquered the gigantic Achaemenid Persian Empire and even some regions outside it in a very short time. He ruled from northern Greece to Egypt to outer India and Central Asia, but before he could consolidate his government and create a lasting dynasty ruling over most of the known (to Europeans) world...he died of a fever, excessive drinking, or a combination thereof. And his generals tore the empire apart, sidelining and killing his wife and son in the process. Had Alexander lived, it would have been a very, very different world, and people have been wondering about what might have happened for a very, very long time.

(One of the earliest works of alternate history is the Roman writer Livy, who wrote a short scenario in which a surviving Alexander fought Rome. He thinks the Romans would have still won, which is...dubious.)

And the alternate history forum which I still check in on even though I'm self-banned (which keeps me out of the cesspool that's Political Chat) has two different versions of one surviving-Alexander timeline, "Blood and Gold." Here's the first version and here's the second.

Some highlights...

*Apparently before his death, Alexander was planning a campaign to subjugate Arabia, which was the crossroads of a rich spice trade. Given how he lives longer this time around, we see that campaign.

*Alexander's Macedonian supporters were growing increasingly resentful of his adoption of Persian customs in order to govern his enlarged empire. This continues to be an issue for Alexander himself and his successors, who govern from the Middle East rather than Greece. And since the Argead (Alexander's family) often practices polygamy, this leads to all sorts of harem intrigue and problems.

*India continues to be a thorny issue for Alexander and his successors, as by the time Alexander heads back for round two (his army mutinied rather than try to advance further the first time), Chandragupta Maurya has founded his empire. Maurya is Alexander's equal and western India is going to be contested zone for generations.

*Alexander soon finds himself embroiled in the politics of Rome and Carthage, the two great powers of the Mediterranean. This is is also going to be an ongoing issue.

Both the original version of the timeline and the revised timeline are dead now and there's apparently a third that's also dead, but they're long and they're fun reads while they last. Enjoy!

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

How I Would Have Done PREDATOR 2 (1990)

Once upon a time, Myopia Movies did an episode on the original Predator film that I was unable to participate in due to attending a friend’s wedding in North Carolina. Given how Predator 2 may have been the first of the two films I actually saw (on TV, long ago), I didn’t want to miss participating in this episode. And although it was a broadly enjoyable film, there’s nothing that can’t be improved on.

So in my usual fashion, here’s how I would have done Predator 2


In General

*Keep the general storyline and the cast. The plot is fine as-is and the cast, particularly Danny Glover, works very well.

Act One

*I liked how the film begins in what looks like a jungle and then scrolls into modern Los Angeles. This is a nice callback to the first film, which took place in a fictional Latin American country during the Cold War. We also just go straight into the action with the police confronting an incredibly well-armed drug gang.

*Although the film premiered in 1990 and (I assume) predicts Los Angeles gang warfare would continue worsening until that far-future date of 1997, having drug gangs openly battling the police in the streets and at one point shooting down a police helicopter is a little much. Most gang violence is criminal-on-criminal or criminal-on-civilian — openly fighting law enforcement is a good way to get the hammer dropped. If the Crips and Bloods are too much for the cops, that’s when the National Guard or even the regular military comes in. It’d be better if we see the fight is between the Colombians and the Jamaicans from the get-go and then when the cops arrive, the gangs attempt to flee rather than openly attack the LAPD. Perhaps the two officers are wounded by Colombian leader El Scorpion (Henry Kingi), who is armed to the teeth and clearly high as a kite. That’s when Lieutenant Mike Harrigan (Danny Glover) does his death ride. This allows him to rescue the two officers and kill some Colombians who’re serving as the rear-guard to allow the others to escape. Then Harrigan orders his men after the Colombians because he’s angry that they’ve injured two officers and he doesn’t want them to get away and cause more problems later.

*I would keep the cops’ battle with the Colombians as-is after that. They’re trapped in the building and probably more scared of their deranged commander El Scorpion than the police outside. However, Danny Glover seeing the Predator on the rooftop gives the game away too fast. Instead I would have the police proceed as they do in the film, but no explicit depiction of the Predator. It’ll be something the gangsters can see and fight, but although they can see it, the viewers can’t. Based on the ritualistic display of the corpse and the fact the Jamaicans and Colombians were fighting in the area earlier, the cops assume it was the Jamaicans that killed the Colombians inside the building. However, I’d have some clues that make it obvious in hindsight it’s not them. We see a little of that with no guns and drugs missing when the police finally take the building, but to give a more explicit clue, I’d have them find a bit of neon-green blood from a lucky hit. Although the gangsters aren’t nearly as well-trained as the military guys from the first film, they’ve got a lot of weapons and they’re in a confined space they can’t escape. They’re more likely to wound a Predator, especially a less-skilled or experienced one, in such an environment than in a more open place like the jungle. Most of the cops assume it’s part of the Jamaicans’ voodoo-based terror tactics, but Harrigan is suspicious. Especially once the MIB types show up and take possession of the scene. Owing to Harrington’s greater age and experience, he’s probably worked with the DEA before and these guys are clearly not DEA.

*I’d definitely keep the Predator-POV sequences in the opening, as this would be the first clue the Predator is the main antagonist. This is very similar to the original film, where the first focuses on fighting the guerrillas and the Predator is simply watching the fun until the opportune time to jump in. I would also make sure to keep it clear the Predator is specifically focused on Harrigan — a bad-ass, aggressive police officer would be a much more impressive trophy than a bunch of gang members.

*Even though their particular precinct is depicted as the worst in the city, openly fighting a superior officer and even attempting to physically attack him seems like something Harrigan wouldn’t get away with no matter how dystopic the situation. If he was prone to this sort of behavior he probably wouldn’t get as high up as he does — a police lieutenant is only three steps away from becoming chief. I’d tone down him a bit and make it clearer he gets away with whatever overly-aggressive behavior and insubordination he does display because he’s publicly viewed as a hero for things like rescuing the wounded cops and alluded-to previous incidents that would make disciplining him politically difficult. Maybe hint that he’s in the worst precinct in the city because they can’t find anybody else for the job and stuff that would get an officer fired in a less dangerous environment they have to put up with. This would also make him leery of Jerry Lambert (Bill Paxton) — who in their right mind would WANT to transfer to this part of town?

*And speaking of Lambert, the interaction between him and Leona Cantrell (Maria Conchito Alonso) is kind of cringey. He hits on her and she goes into full-on Groin Attack mode until he backs down. Given how the movie was made in the late 1980s when there were a lot fewer rules about sexual harassment, Leona might have had to deal with things herself and hope her police record and/or the boss recognizing the perpetrator as a slimeball helps her get away with it. Since Harrigan sees it, maybe have him remark to himself something like “more XXXXth precinct crap” (indicating this is a symptom of the precinct’s dysfunctionality) and perhaps have words with Lambert about it later. When Harrigan gives his speech about putting the team first (this clip also includes Lambert being obnoxious and Leona putting him in his place), that’d be a good place to work in that he needs to be careful about…certain things. Leaving aside the moral issue of how Leona obviously doesn’t want to listen to his stories or put up with him hitting on her, there’s also the fact this behavior undermines the team and puts everybody at risk.

*I’d actually keep the voodoo ritual scene, although since the gang is supposed to be Jamaican it’d probably be better to call it obeah. Although I can easily imagine someone claiming it’s racist, it’s pretty clear to me the voodoo stuff is something they play up to terrorize their enemies and from a strategic perspective, that makes sense. Also, if we’re trying to keep the viewer thinking that it’s the Jamaicans who wiped out the Colombians as long as possible, their whole “hang your captive upside down and mutilate him” schtick and the Predator’s display of its kills are very similar. Given how the police have no reason at all to think aliens are involved, whenever they’d see this sort of thing they’d just believe it was the Jamaicans. That will be the first scene where I’d reveal rather than just imply the Predator. At this point the Jamaicans have been the red herrings for a fifth or so of the movie, much like the Communist guerrillas in the first film, and their exploits against the Colombians have set them up as something to be feared. Then the Predator just walks in and obliterates them, showing the viewers that he (it?) is the new king of the urban jungle.

Act Two

*Given how improbable it is that the MIB types under Keyes would leave the site of a Predator killing unsecured, I would have simply had Harrigan’s team capture the Predator’s weapon before Keyes’ men hustle them out. Having Danny Archuleta (Ruben Blades) sneak back into the crime scene undermines Keyes’ men’s competence, since not only is the site poorly-secured, but Keyes and Harrigan have butted heads before. This is something the MIB should see coming, especially given how Harrigan’s team is willing to join him in insubordinate behavior. This means Danny dies differently — perhaps he stakes out the building where the Colombians died in hopes of seeing what Keyes is up to and is killed by the Predator instead? This would be another clue that the Predator has fixated on Harrigan specifically.

*I would have kept the broader arc where Harrigan and his loyalists begin their own investigation into Danny’s killer despite the anger of Harrigan’s superiors. This includes Harrigan’s meeting with King Willie, the leader of the Jamaican gang. I actually liked his depiction as a sort of Rastafarian Master Splinter. He even uses the correct terminology, like referring to Harrigan (a police officer) as a representative of “Babylon.” However, I would have included King Willie’s fight with the Predator, since one of my problems with the original was that Billy’s duel with the Predator  (on a log over a river where the Predator can only attack from one direction) was never seen.

*When the police scientist Irene Edwards (Lilyan Chauvin) studies the captured Predator weapon, having it made wholly of elements that aren’t on the periodic table is overkill. Virtually all elements on Earth and in the broader universe are made in stars. I would have made it so that it’s made of elements that are recognizable but associated with very advanced technologies (“niobium—they use that in superconductors”) or are very rare on Earth (“iridium—isn’t that something they only find in asteroid craters?”). Although the viewers at this point already know we’re dealing with something inhuman, this is something that would help the cast realize they’re dealing with something not of this Earth and King Willie might not have been completely full of it.

Act Three

*The train sequence can stay broadly the same, although I had some suspension-of-disbelief issues with how Lambert wasn’t able to injure the Predator at all despite repeatedly shooting it with a handgun at close range. The Predator when we see it is wearing largely fishnet and not a lot of metallic armor. The later film Predators shows they can be injured and killed by human-made swords and the main Predator’s skin is repeatedly penetrated by shotgun blasts later, so it’s not like the hide is bulletproof. I would have had Lambert miss a couple of times in the pandemonium of the train car and his remaining shots bounce off what’s obviously metallic armor. Maybe Lambert can wound it a bit like the Colombians would have in my version, but in the end he goes down. Leona is spared like in the film due to her pregnancy — the fact the Predator has an honor code (or at least a hunting code of ethics) is a character moment for it.

*Harrigan’s pursuit of the Predator to avenge Lambert and his capture by Keyes’ MIB stays broadly the same. However, given how they were clearly trying to take Harrigan alive, I would have made the vehicular mayhem a little more subtle — they pin his car against something rather than slam into him full-on in a larger vehicle, something that could easily kill or injure him.

*The rest of the movie works pretty well as-is. Fast-moving, entertaining, some good one-liners (like Harrigan’s exchange with the old lady in the apartment complex), and the reveal that the Predators’ trophy room has a Xenomorph skull sets up the wonderful crossover video games and novels (and less wonderful crossover films) we get later. The other Predators sparing Harrigan and even giving him a 250-year-old trophy pistol (implying the Predators have been hunting humans on Earth for centuries) as a matter of honor was pretty cool too. I also liked how the MIB Garber looks to throw his weight around until he sees the LAPD coming – he might be a federal agent, but the LAPD of the early 1990s didn’t have a great reputation and I’m sure he didn’t want to fall down the stairs in a one-story building for trying to push around an LAPD officer on his own turf.

Sunday, March 28, 2021

How I Would Have Done STARSHIP TROOPERS (1997)

As those of you who’ve listened to the merry crew of misfits we call Myopia Movies for awhile know, an early episode covered the controversial 1997 film Starship Troopers. Opinions on that one were mixed — Nicolas and Daniel liked it for its antiwar satire, while I very much disliked its deliberate mockery of the source material. I hesitate to go any further lest we get political (you want that, go here) and again, anybody can complain.

 So here’s how I would have done it:


In General

*The original novel refers to protagonist Johnny Rico as “Juan” and it’s referenced that he speaks Tagalog at home. Though they live in Buenos Aires, the Rico family are Filipino. Ergo, to be faithful to the novel, they should have cast an Asian or Hispanic lead if a specifically Filipino one isn’t available. The Filipino actor and later politician Alfred Vargas would’ve been a little young (16 in 1997), but given how Johnny is graduating high school when the book begins, that’s not impossible. Given the prevalence of Dawson Casting in Hollywood, Antonio Aquitania would’ve probably been better given he’d be in his early 20s in 1997. If that’s something Hollywood at the time thought too risky (see what happened with the all-black movie Eve’s Bayou, where the suits were so desperate to have a white character they even suggested a white racist villain), an American Hispanic actor like Carlos Ponce (25 in 1997) or Michael Peña (21 in 1997 and acting since 1994) might have worked too.  Although casting a non-white actor goes against the point Verhoeven was trying to make with all the Nazi imagery, screw him it’s me adapting Starship Troopers this time. J

*The rest of the casting is fine, or at least tolerable. The book is a bit of a boys’ club (for starters, Dizzy Flores is male), so I’d keep Carmen’s larger role and keep Dizzy female. From a Hollywood perceived risk/money perspective, if you’re going to take a “risk” with a foreign and/or non-white lead, bringing in more well-known white American actors like Denise Richards, Neil Patrick Harris, etc. for the rest of the cast is probably necessary.

*The Bug designs are pretty cool, but in the book the Pseudo-Arachnids (that’s what they’re called, with “Bug” being the soldier-slang for them like “Kraut” for Germans) have advanced technology. I would keep the design of the warrior bugs, but attach weapons. Perhaps the Plasma Bugs could stay for Rule of Cool purposes (or as some kind of backup in the event technological weapons fail), but the Bugs will be a technological civilization with their own spacecraft.

*The film looks to only cover a year or so, while the book covers a longer time span and features Johnny going to Officer Candidate School. Given how this is a movie and not a TV show, I’d keep the film’s relatively compressed timeframe. Plus one of the book’s flaws was just how much talking and how little action there was and I’d like to avoid that.

*I’d definitely keep the Basil Poledouris soundtrack. Even though I wasn’t allowed to see the movie when it came out, I did receive the soundtrack CD for Christmas and for a long time it was one of my favorite things to listen to. Check out “Klendathu Drop,” for example.

Act I

*The canonical film starts with the Federation’s invasion of Klendathu going to crap and then cuts to a year-ish earlier with everybody finishing up high school. I’d start with a Federation spacecraft exploring a new section of space when it’s set upon by unknown foes. In the book it’s not clear who actually started the war and this new opening could play on that — the Federation might’ve been trespassing in Bug territory, but it was accidental and the Bugs overreacted by attacking and destroying the ship without warning.

*Then we jump to the high-school stuff. My main issue was that it went on too long, so I’d tighten it up. I’d also make the History and Moral Philosophy class (the one with all the “violence is the ultimate authority” stuff) less unsubtle and ham-handed. Finally, I’d make Xander Barcalow, instead of being the same age as everybody, somewhat older. He’s the brother of one of Carmen’s friends who joined the military a few years back and is home on leave, giving Carmen a serious case of hots for the man in uniform and making Johnny rather jealous. He’s also the bearer of bad news — there’ve been skirmishes with an unknown alien force and the Federation is going to war footing. Being young and naive, at least some of our heroes take this as a sign they should enlist in the military as soon as they graduate high school. Although Johnny is rather cynical toward the Federation’s form of government (in which one has to serve in the military or some other sufficiently dangerous federal service in order to vote and hold office), he signs up to follow Carmen and perhaps win brownie points with possible future in-laws (in a deleted scene she reveals her parents don’t like him because they earned their citizenship and his parents haven’t). This is something his parents, being older and wiser and in the case of Johnny’s father, an ideological pacifist, find absolutely horrifying, so we keep some of the family drama. Although Carmen qualifies for pilot training and Carl’s psychic abilities get him a spot in military intelligence, Johnny finds himself assigned to what Heinlein called “the poor bloody infantry.”

*Next comes boot camp. Johnny meets new friends, including the sort of people he’d have never met in his privileged life in Buenos Aires, and learns how to a be soldier. This was one of the slower parts of the movie even though it’s necessary for Johnny’s character arc, so I’d tighten it up a bit. None of the stupid crap like coed showers or sergeants deliberately injuring recruits to make points (the knife scene comes to mind). However, when Johnny is placed in charge of some recruits and makes a mistake that leads to a man’s death in a live-fire exercise, he still gets flogged. The novel’s Federation, although not the fascist dystopia Verhoeven tried to make it, is still a much rougher society than our own. Wracked by guilt for his role in the other soldier’s death and thinking the whipping insufficient punishment (growing up in Latin America maybe we can get some Catholic guilt going), Johnny decides he’s going to resign.

(This is something that’s allowed because the Federation only wants the most willing soldiers/citizens and the situation hasn’t reached the sort of emergency levels where no manpower leakage can be tolerated. Yet.)

*Just as Johnny is bringing his resignation papers to the camp office, the war with the Bugs takes a severe turn for the worse. Rather than the frontier skirmishes escalating like the undeclared naval war with Germany before the US formally entered World War II, the Bugs have done something as unexpected as Admiral Yamamoto’s attack on Pearl Harbor. They’ve launched a naval assault on Earth itself. The unsuspecting Federal Navy is hit hard. Johnny and his boot-camp friends can see the battle unfolding from the ground, while Xander and Carmen, despite the latter being in roughly the same place in training herself, are rushed into an increasingly-desperate fight in space. The Bugs eventually retreat, but Johnny trashes his resignation papers when he learns that Buenos Aires was nuked. His parents and friends who stayed home are dead. Now it’s personal.

Act II

*With the public in a frenzy after the destruction of Buenos Aires and heavy military losses in the home system, the Federation prepares a rapid counterstrike — an attack on the alien homeworld of Klendathu. To this end, everybody’s training is rushed, something the more experienced soldiers don’t like. Preliminary reconnaissance of Klendathu sees the system is relatively empty — perhaps like the Federation did earlier most of the Bug forces are deployed to the frontiers. Johnny, Dizzy, Ace, and a few other boot-camp characters are placed in a company named Rasczak’s Roughnecks after their commander Jean Rasczak, played once more by genre staple Michael Ironside. Our heroes, like many new soldiers who haven’t “seen the elephant” and in this case have lost people to the Bug attack on Earth, are eager for combat. Despite the misgivings of the more experienced, the assault on the Bug home system is launched…

*And turns into a complete disaster. The Bugs had considered the possibility their assault would be replied to in-kind and allowed the Federation to think that Klendathu’s defenses had been depleted for the frontier conflict. Instead the Federal Navy runs into a massive ambush, the kind of home-court “decisive battle” the Japanese were planning to fight during WWII. Despite this failure, the Federation manages to bash through Klendathu’s orbital defenses and land troops on the planetary surface. Unfortunately they run into massively heavier-than-anticipated enemy numbers on the ground and have to be almost immediately recalled when the Bugs threaten to reclaim orbital control. The campaign intended to win the Federation the war, like in the book, nearly loses the Federation the war instead. Casualties are enormous, including many human prisoners taken by the Bugs. Johnny is badly injured and Carmen gets the false report that he’s been killed.

Although like in the canonical film the Klendathu assault is a massive screw-up on the Federation’s part, the soldiers actually fight competently. They’ll have combined arms — armor, aircraft, artillery, etc. —  supported by orbital bombardment (when available) instead of guys (and girls) in flak jackets bumbling around trying to win a battle of attrition against an enemy that vastly outnumbers them on unknown ground, surrounding a single Bug and emptying their guns into it (how they didn’t all kill each other in that one scene I don’t know), ships colliding like demolition derby, and various other exercises in stupidity. The mission fails due to Bug strategic deception, home-field advantage, and vastly superior numbers, not poor human equipment and (likely racist) arrogance.

The book references the Federation’s Sky Marshal — a sort of combined general and admiral—commanding the rear-guard and giving his life to allow the human forces to evacuate, so I would depict this on-screen, with one of the soldiers he saves being Johnny himself. Given how I’m not planning on introducing the powered armor until later, perhaps he’s flying spacecraft into the teeth of a combined space-air-ground Bug assault until the last possible second and his ship gets destroyed holding the line for the final transports.

*In the aftermath of the disaster, Johnny and Dizzy enter into a romantic relationship largely prompted by how glad both of them are to be alive. They’re both the same rank at this point—in the film they start sleeping together after he is promoted to corporal, something that would be a real issue given that he’s her legal superior. Perhaps with Rasczak killed in the battle his subordinate Jelal becomes the new commanding officer and Johnny and Dizzy become non-commissioned (corporals or sergeants) officers?

*After recovering from his wounds, the Roughnecks are deployed in various raiding missions to keep the Bugs off-balance and on the defensive so they don’t launch another attack on Earth, an attack that (in the book) the Federation’s leaders thought would succeed. This is analogous to the naval raids the US launched against the Japanese after Pearl Harbor with broadly the same goal — bleed the enemy while buying time for the Federation to replenish its forces. Here we see the Federal military functioning like it should, although the Bugs’ technological parity and superior numbers makes each battle a near-run thing. During this part of the storyline, Carmen learns that Johnny is still alive — but he’s in relationship with Dizzy and she’s in a relationship with Xander despite his being her superior officer. Owing to the urgencies of the manpower situation their superiors are turning a blind eye rather than booting one (probably Xander, as he should really know better) or both out, but this is clearly awkward and a bit shameful for all involved. There’s no unprofessional bullshit like Xander disregarding his rank to challenge Johnny to a fistfight, especially since in my version Xander is more experienced and mature even if he’s sleeping with a subordinate and kind of a prick.

Over the course of the campaign, Johnny’s unit is chosen to test out new powered armor intended to counterbalance the Bugs’ superior numbers. Although they’re much more successful wearing armor the book describes as allowing one infantryman to kill multiple tanks, on one of these raids Dizzy is killed. I would depict her death somewhat less stupidly. In the movie Johnny pulls shrapnel from her wound and makes the situation worse rather than bandaging it up and waiting for an actual doctor. Instead play it for horror — they’re retreating after another hit-and-run, she’s the last one on the shuttle ramp, and some dying Bug spears her or kills her with a laser. Dizzy’s funeral scene goes as canon — as much as I disliked the film, Johnny’s speech at Dizzy’s funeral shows he’s grown from the privileged teenager who sneered at the Federal values of service and sacrifice to someone who believes in these values wholeheartedly.

*Then Carl arrives, bringing word that the Roughnecks are needed, pronto. A Federal cruiser has been shot down reconnoitering a possible Bug POW camp on Planet P and the crew, including Xander and Carmen, is in extreme danger. Owing to their ranks, Xander and Carmen in particular need to be kept out of the Bugs’ hands (claws?) lest they get squeezed for information. Carl goes along for the ride — military intelligence reports that one of the higher-caste commander bugs is there and they want to capture it for its intelligence value and possible use as a bargaining chip.

Act III

*On Planet P, Xander and Carmen and some survivors of the crashed ship are being hunted by Bugs. We get some good action sequences, but they end up being captured and brought to cavernous POW camps where human prisoners are being kept in deplorable conditions. Xander and Carmen are recognized as officers by the Bugs and taken away for special attention.

*The Navy launches a diversionary raid on nearby Bug targets, allowing the Roughnecks to land on Planet P itself. Using the powered armor, they go through the Bugs like a chainsaw and blast their way into the prison camps. They learn from the prisoners that Xander and Carmen are being taken deep underground where captured officers go and don’t come back.

*Xander is confronted by one of the Arachnid hive-queens. Although he goes out defiant (however much a tool he is in the canonical film he dies well), the supreme Bug uses the psychic abilities the high-caste bugs use to command lesser bugs across vast distances to straight-up mind-rape him, leaving him dead. None of that brain-eating stuff here — that was just shock value for the sake of shock value and doesn’t even really make sense scientifically. The hive queen turns her attention to Carmen when…

The Roughnecks and some of the more functional POWs they’d armed up blast their way in. A burly brawl breaks out between the human attackers and the hive-queen and her praetorian guard. We can even have cool stuff that’s kind of touched on in the later animated film Starship Troopers: Invasion, like Carl using his own telepathic abilities to set the Bugs against each other and even have a Jedi-like psychic duel with the hive-queen. Things start to go against the humans even with their powered armor when…

*Reinforcements arrive led by Johnny’s old boot-camp Sergeant Zim, who was sent to frontline duty and ended up getting a battlefield commission to command his own unit. The Bugs are shredded and Carl manages to telepathically subdue the queen. And serving as Zim’s chief sergeant is none other than Johnny’s father. Although Johnny heard he was missing and presumed dead in Buenos Aires, it turned out he survived and, realizing that unlike past wars this one is morally justifiable, enlisted himself. This was in the book and although I initially thought this kind of disconnect wouldn’t happen in a society as advanced as the Federation, there were people missing and presumed dead after 9/11 and other mass-casualty events later found alive. If Johnny is deployed far from Earth (and thinks his parents are dead, so he doesn’t bother trying to contact them) and Mr. Rico is isolated in military training and later deployed in a separate unit, it’s possible he simply never learned his father had survived.

*At the end, there’s a ceremony on Earth. Everybody gets medals and perhaps Johnny gets commissioned an officer like in the book, making the unit “Rico’s Roughnecks.” The capture of the Bug queen is celebrated as a major victory, but the war is far from over. Sequel Hook!

In conclusion, although the movie was often entertaining in its own right, it doesn’t sit right with me to have someone who hates a book adapt it for the explicit purpose of mocking it (and his mockery shows he doesn’t understand the message of the book in the first place). My version includes the areas where the film was better (more women, a more compressed time-scale, more exciting), but at the same time isn’t so schmucky.