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.


*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.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

How I Would Have Done TRANSFORMERS (2007)

One of the more fun episodes of Myopia Movies that I've participated in was our episode on the 2007 Michael Bay film Transformers. The episode was notable for Nic's hilarious impersonation of Bay, which he used to criticize how the film often objectified Megan Fox's Mikaela Baines.

(Someone online said that if you had just the script she'd be a very capable and competent heroine, but the way the film is shot it often comes off as the camera leering at her. Fellow podcaster Daniel said the movie made him want to take a shower.)

I had my own set of criticisms of the film, but as I've said before, complaining is easy. Here's how I would have done it...

Act One

*We begin with Optimus Prime’s voice-over about the civil war on Cybertron, the AllSpark, etc. Then cut to Earth orbit when two mysterious extraterrestrial craft appear. One approaches a human satellite and transforms into the Decepticon Soundwave, who attaches himself to the satellite with tentacles much like he does in Revenge of the Fallen . He scans through various data-streams and finds the eBay page of Sam Witwicky (LaBeouf), which has some piece of obvious alien technology on it. Upon seeing Sam is located in California, Soundwave dispatches the other mysterious alien toward what is obviously the Middle East.

*Cut to Sam and his father shopping for the car. All Sam can afford with his savings and the money his father is willing to give him is the “piece of crap Camaro.” Yes, this means Bobby Bolivia (Bernie Mac) will stay, but since my proposed revisions cut the entire hacking subplot to save time, preserving one wacky comic relief character can be tolerated.

*Meanwhile in Qatar, we meet Captain William Lennox (Duhamel) and Sergeant Robert Epps (Tyrese Gibson) while they Skype with Lennox’s wife and his baby daughter, born while he was deployed. They’re interrupted by the arrival of a mysterious helicopter that does not respond to human hails and whose pilot it turns out is a hologram. The helicopter transforms into a humanoid warrior robot — the Decepticon Blackout — who begins attacking. The human soldiers flee to their Hummers, tanks, etc. like they do in the canonical film, but we actually see the fight this time. Deploying parasite creatures like Scorponok and able to withstand quite a bit of human firepower, Blackout triumphs, but the prolonged firefight allows Lennox, Epps, and a few others to flee to a nearby Arab village. They’re pursued by Scorponok, but Lennox, other survivors, and the villagers with their bolt-action rifles manage to hold the Decepticon off long enough for Epps — a forward air controller — to “bring the rain” with with AC-130 gunships and A-10 Warthogs. Scorponok loses his tail and flees. This is the kind of spectacle Michael Bay is good at and cutting the hackers means cutting a bunch of actors (including Jon Voight as Not Donald Rumsfeld, who probably cost a lot), freeing up cash to expand the first battle sequence.

*Back to California, Sam and his best friend Miles (John Robinson) crash a party attended by Mikaela Banes (Fox) and her odious football player boyfriend Trent (Travis Van Winkle). The broad strokes of Sam and Mikaela’s story work fine. Sam is amusing and Mikaela is a pretty cool character overall. However, although Sam’s dork to Mikaela's "evil jock concubine" is funny (and we contrast Sam's earnestness with Trent’s arrogance, condescension, and sexism), there are times he’s straight-up creepy. Furthermore, Bumblebee is the world's most unsubtle wingman and Sam's "more than meets the eye" from the original TV series was just lame. Although Sam is not supposed to be the king of social skills, he is so annoying in that scene we’d need some dialogue changes to make him even remotely convincing as a suitor for Mikaela. I would have also toned down the unsubtle Mikaela body shots. Yes, she's very pretty. No, we don't need endless close-ups of her midriff while walking down the road or her semi-posing in short-shorts and a crop top while tinkering with Bumblebee's engine. While Mikaela examines Bumblebee, we see them being stalked by a police car driven by an obvious hologram police officer. This unnerves Mikaela, who has Sam take her home.

*Back in Qatar, we see there’s an emerging crisis in the Middle East attracting the attention of the entire world and something is interfering with the military network. This keeps Lennox from contacting his terrified wife, who knows only that her husband’s base in Qatar has been attacked and many soldiers are dead. The soldiers examine Scorponok’s tail and comparing it to the composite armor American tanks use. It’s similar in structure, but it’s made of materials unknown to humans and its technique is vastly more advanced. Cue the arrival of Tom Banachek (Michael O’Neill), who has heard about what has happened and is very interested in hearing the soldiers’ report. When Lennox asks where he’s from, he only says “Sector Seven.”

*Back in California, Sam sees his car driving away on its own and follows, seeing it transform into the humanoid Bumblebee for the first time. He gets arrested after the police think he’s on drugs, alerting the lurking Barricade at the police station. When his father retrieves him, Bumblebee returns. Sam flees on his mother’s bicycle with Bumblebee in pursuit. He runs into Mikaela again, who follows him when he flees pursued by a car with no driver. He encounters a police car — who it turns out is Barricade. The resulting sequence plays out very similarly to the canonical film, since it provides good character moments for both humans.  Sam is self-sacrificing (jeopardizing his own escape to keep Mikaela from getting too close to Barricade) but prone to panicking, while Mikaela is level-headed, takes no crap, and is quite handy with power tools. Since the whole Air Force One/hacker subplot is dispensed with, Frenzy is simply some parasite creature of Barricade that attacks Sam and Mikaela while Barricade fights Bumblebee. And even though Mikaela chops him up, his head can survive to mimic her phone and hide in her purse.

*With Barricade defeated, Bumblebee collects the kids and reveals his purpose. Not only is he an alien, but he’s called for friends. And they’re arriving.

Act Two

*The arrival of the Autobots is appropriately majestic (see here), but how they introduce themselves to Sam and Mikaela needed work. For starters, Jazz is a millennia-old alien robot who acts like a ghetto stereotype. Although Jazz was always depicted as being "hip,” (watch this scene here from the TV show and this scene from the animated movie), Jazz's voice-actor was Scatman Crothers, not 2 Live Crew. Surely Optimus Prime's able lieutenant merits a more dignified portrayal. Meanwhile Ratchet's commentary on how he can detect Sam wants to "mate" with Mikaela was stupid on two levels — an alien robot older than human civilization isn't realistically going to care, and the empathetic Autobots won’t want to embarrass their human allies. And although I didn’t mind, "We learned your language from the World Wide Web," Optimus Prime would never say, "My bad."

*Optimus Prime explains what the Autobots are searching for. Sam was unknowingly in possession of part of Megatron, the overlord of the evil Decepticons, and they need to collect it before the Decepticons can confirm their missing master is on Earth. Furthermore, said part might contain information about the AllSpark, which the Decepticons absolutely cannot have. That was why Bumblebee was sent to Sam — the Autobots were investigating on their own and once they learned what Sam had, they wanted to protect him from the Decepticons.

*The Autobots take Sam and Mikaela back to Sam’s house, where they search for the Cybertronian artifact. His parents arrive and, suspicious of his evasive behavior, think they’ve caught him masturbating. Mikaela emerges from behind Sam’s bed to put a stop to it, prompting even more embarrassing commentary from Mrs. Witwicky. I found that sequence in the movie amusing, so it can stay. However, rather than engaging in increasingly-creative contortions to stay out of sight and destroying the Witwicky yard in the process, the Autobots just stand guard in the nearby streets in vehicle form.

*Then Sector Seven arrives and detains everybody, ignoring the vehicle-form Autobots (and thus demonstrating their questionable competence). John Turturro’s Agent Simmons will still be creepy and obnoxious (getting unduly poky with Sam's crotch with the Geiger counter, calling Mikaela "hot"), alluding to his portrayal of "pederast" Jesus Quintana from The Big Lebowski. Mikaela mouths off at Simmons, who reveals her father’s criminal past and her own juvenile record. S7 takes everybody away, only for Optimus Prime and the Autobots to intervene and capture them. Simmons ends up handcuffed to a streetlight in his underwear, part of the humiliation he deserves for, as someone online put it, “sexually baiting an underage female detainee,” but no Bumblebee “lubricating” (i.e. urinating on) him like in the actual movie. That was stupid. Then S7 reinforcements arrive and Sam and Mikaela are recaptured along with Bumblebee. The Autobots don’t intervene, since Optimus values confirming that Megatron is on Earth and that he has not claimed the AllSpark over a rescue that would likely take many human lives. This is where Ratchet can demonstrate his medical talents examining whatever artifact Sam had, confirming that it is part of Megatron and it contains information about the AllSpark. Once this is done, then they set off in pursuit of S7.

*Next is a scene that wasn’t in the actual film — rather than the Decepticons coming from all over the world at short notice when they hear from Frenzy, they’ve taken advantage of the Qatari distraction to gather in the United States. The characterization of the Cybertronians who aren't Bumblebee or Optimus Prime is a big weakness of the first three live-action films (that’s when I gave up) and one in particular is Starscream. In the cartoons I watched as a kid, it’s clear he covets Megatron’s position, he’s probably the smartest Decepticon, he prefers subtlety to Megatron's frontal assaults, and he's too cowardly to openly claim power. Some of the film’s promotional material stated Starscream views Optimus Prime's Autobots and Megatron's Decepticons as morally-equivalent personality cults and that in contrast he is solely concerned about the dying Cybertronian race. However, once in power he makes many of the same bad decisions as Megatron. That would be a pretty interesting interpretation.

But it's in none of the movies! Instead he's only a blathering sycophant that Megatron regularly abuses. In my rewrite, we see Starscream is clearly not interested in finding Megatron and the other Deceptions are suspicious, something the prequel novel Ghosts of Yesterday touches on. However, between Soundwave’s infiltration of the military network and Frenzy transmitting his location, they now know where Megatron and the AllSpark are. Although he’d clearly rather not, Starscream has no choice but to act.

*Everybody converges on Hoover Dam. Lennox and his men come with Banachek to assist S7 in fighting the Cybertronians (at this point nobody other than Sam and Mikaela knows there are two warring factions, with one friendly to humans), Simmons is transporting the detained Sam, Mikaela, and Bumblebee, the remaining Autobots are chasing them, and the Decepticons are in turn following them to liberate Megatron and take the AllSpark. The AllSpark is revealed to be something smaller from the get-go rather than somehow shrinking a house-sized machine to something a human can carry. And Simmons doesn’t credit all 20th Century technology to Megatron--for starters, cars already existed before Megatron was stored beneath Hoover Dam in the 1930s. When the Autobots arrive, Sam forces S7 to release Bumblebee and wipe Mikaela's juvenile record. That was another good character moment and explains why Mikaela, who no doubt has lots of options in the boy department, falls for him. However, Frenzy (or at least his head) makes his move, reawakening Megatron and setting the final battle into motion.

Act Three

*Megatron is awake and clearly pissed off and the Decepticons are attacking Hoover Dam. Rather than risk their breaking the dam and all the havoc that would cause, Lennox and friends propose leading the Decepticons into the desert, where American air power can be brought to bear without risking civilians.  Even though it’d be easier to hide in nearby Mission City than in the open where the Decepticons could easily do to American ground forces what the Coalition did to the Iraqis in 1991, the U.S. military is generally not known for Soviet-level callousness toward civilians. Simmons, jackass that he is, suggests the film strategy of disappearing into a populated area, only for Lennox to shut him down, with a gun to his head if necessary. While the Autobots and Army guys "roll out," Simmons and S7 battle Frenzy so Epps can use the 1930s-era radios not in the compromised military network to call in reinforcements.

*The city fight in the real film had some cool moments, so the Autobots and Army guys find some one-stoplight town they didn't realize was there. This lets us keep Mikaela hotwiring a tow truck to carry the injured Bumblebee into battle and Lennox's motorcycle power-slide that kills Blackout. Starscream infiltrates the F-22 squadron that Epps called in and attacks, but enough survive to hammer Megatron to the point they force him to his knees (and do enough damage to Megatron's chest that what happens next works). Optimus will still duel Megatron with "one shall stand, one shall fall," a callback to the 1986 animated film.  Sam still Takes A Third Option and rams the AllSpark into Megatron’s damaged chest to kill him rather than killing the defeated Optimus with it to deny it to Megatron.

*The film ends in Washington with a treaty between the U.S. and the Autobots to fight against the remaining Decepticons. A public treaty, since good luck covering up the Autobots’ arrival in California, the battle in Nevada, etc. in an age of smart-phones and YouTube. Sam and Mikaela are there, clearly a couple without that weird make-out scene on Bumblebee’s hood like in the actual film. Miles is there too, indicating that Sam didn't just abandon his hitherto best friend (and that Miles is willing to put aside his own prejudice against an "evil jock concubine"), as are Mr. and Mrs. Witwicky (for once) acting appropriately. The film ends with Bumblebee assigned to protect Sam against any Decepticon revenge and Ironhide transporting Lennox home to meet his baby daughter, setting up the establishment of NEST in the next film. Meanwhile, the dead Decepticons are dumped into the Laurentian Abyss, not because it’s the deepest part of the ocean (that's Challenger Deep), but because it's right off the East Coast. If the Decepticons attempt to salvage their comrades, it can be more easily defended than something way out in the Pacific.

This version preserves the film’s broad strokes while remedying many of its flaws. If you like this, you might like my Fix Fic of the second film, The Revenge of the Fallen Reboot. That one had potential too, but like this one wasn't executed well.

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

NIGHTMARES IN DIXIE, Or Short Stories That Make Good Movies

On the recommendation of T.S. Dann, a fellow member of the Atlanta chapter of the Horror Writers Association, I read Nightmares In Dixie, a collection of horror stories set in different states in the American South. Some were by authors I already knew about like Manly Wade Wellman or Karl Edward Wagner, but others were new to me, like Henry S. Whitehead.

(Whitehead as a person was particularly interesting to me, since not only he was he a horror and fantasy writer who corresponded with H.P. Lovecraft, but he was also an Episcopalian pastor. He served as Archdeacon of the Virgin Islands, where he learned about voodoo and through his fiction brought it into American popular culture.)

This reminded me of something S.M. Stirling once said at DragonCon--books make good miniseries and short stories make good movies. Some of the stories in the collection are too short to justify making an actual film out of them, but they could be put together in an anthology film in the vein of Creepshow or V/H/S. Here's how I'd break it down...

Full Films

"Coven" by Manly Wade Wellman-You could have a prologue set during the Civil War, with the main thrust of the story set in the 1880s. A young Confederate soldier, who'd been captured by a Union sergeant at (I think) the Battle of Shiloh, comes across the sergeant working as a preacher somewhere out west decades later. And said sergeant is fighting a group of Satanists.

"Ooze" By Anthony M. Rud-A man who's the legal guardian of the young daughter of a close friend after the death of said friend and his wife decides to investigate just how they died. He ends up running into some mad science down in the Delta. This is very stylistically like Lovecraft.

"Dark Melody of Madness" By Cornell Woolrich-A New Orleans band leader follows a bandmate whom he suspects has black ancestry into the black part of town and ends up involved in voodoo. He tries to incorporate voodoo rituals into his music and trouble ensues. Given how trendy it is to complain about "cultural appropriation," this might be timely.

"Where The Summer Ends" By Karl Edward Wagner-This is probably one of if not my absolute favorite story in the collection. Who or what is living under the kudzu that's slowly overgrowing a decaying part of Knoxville? You could make this a 1970s period piece, which would explain things like an old-but-not-too-old WWII veteran, the lack of cell phones to call for help, etc. Some stuff that's told could be shown to ensure it's the proper length. Also here's an audio version of the story.

"Beyond The Cleft" by Tom Reamy-In a small mountain town, the children start attacking other children and their parents. It's like a pint-sized zombie apocalypse.

"Night of the Piasa" by J.C. Green and George W. Proctor-A young Native American woman who thanks to a Spanish ancestor can pass for white has adopted a European-style name and has been doing her level best to conceal her heritage. However, she finds out she has a downright supernatural link to her past. Owing to increased awareness of sexual abuse of Native American women this could be a timely movie.

Parts of An Anthology

"The Fireplace" by Henry S. Whitehead-This is a ghost story involving a man murdered in a hotel.

"Fast-Train Ike" by Jesse Stuart-I couldn't even really understand what was going on here. I'm only including this for completeness' sake.

"The Legend of Joe Lee" by John D. MacDonald-This could conceivably be stretched into a film, but it would work much better as a short in a collection.

"The Wait" by Kit Reed-A young woman and her overbearing mother are stranded in a small town in rural Georgia where weird stuff happens.

"Cry Havoc" By Davis Grubb-This was not one of the stronger stories in the collection to say the least. Think the "Chief Wooden-Head" sequence of Creepshow 2, but with toy soldiers. Maybe work in some wartime PTSD for the father's character? With the prolonged wars in Afghanistan and Iraq leading to a whole new generation of veterans suffering from it, that could be timely.

Sunday, March 14, 2021

A Friend's Short Stories, Free To Read

A friend of mine is disabled due to an antibiotic mishap and hasn't been able to regularly work since she started getting sick. She's gotten a gig posting these short stories online and she gets paid if you read and like. So here are her first few stories:

"Daffodils"-This one features a police officer responding to a call in a neighborhood of predominately elderly residents.

"Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Jews"-She's not only Jewish, but she's also a convert to Judaism, which is not particularly common. Here are her thoughts on Jewish religion and culture.

"Hiccup"-A woman deals with aging, but it's got an upbeat ending.

"Testify"-Near-death experiences.

Hopefully more short stories will be coming. Enjoy!

Friday, March 12, 2021

How I Would Have Done ALIEN RESURRECTION (1997)

Awhile back as a Patreon-only series, Myopia Movies covered the Alien series. One of the films we did was the controversial Alien Resurrection. I actually found it more enjoyable than Alien 3 — that was a serious “shots fired” comment on the podcast when we recorded it in late February — but there were still areas where it needed improvement. 

So, per my usual philosophy of offering constructive criticism rather than just whine, here’s how I would have done the movie.


*Having pirates kidnapping colonists seems like a very risky way to get human Xenomorph hosts. Assuming Perez or Wren wanted human subjects specifically (as opposed to using animals), I’d simplify the plot by having them use military convicts sentenced to death or life without parole. This is a lot more deniable — everybody already thinks they’re dead or simply doesn’t expect to ever hear from them again. The characters needed to be more active could be “trusty” inmates given some responsibility (but under threat of being Xenomorph hosts if they screw up) or prison guards. I’d make Call, Elgin, and maybe Johner and Hilliard the guards and combine the rest of the pirates with the colonists into a gang of prisoners.

Yes, I know this potentially sounds a lot like Alien III with the prison, the inmates supervising other inmates, etc. but it’s different enough (a brig aboard the Navy ship Auriga rather than some kind of privatized prison, in space and able to realistically travel to a populated planet) that it’s not a total retread. And since these are military convicts, they’ll be more realistically able to use guns than the general-population types of Fiorina 161 when all hell breaks loose.

*Although the casting is broadly fine, General Perez (Dan Hedaya) is so hammy and ridiculous. Although it works for laughs exactly once — he dramatically salutes the men in an escape pod a Xenomorph has gotten into before he blows all of them up in space — this is supposed to be a serious film and not a comedy. I would definitely tone him down or, if that’s not an option, replace him completely.

Act One

*The opening sequence in which Ripley is cloned and then the queen Xenomorph is removed from her can stay. One thing I liked about the opening is it gets to the point without draggy exposition. However, I would have had Ripley kept in some quarantined quarters with an actual bed after the queen embryo is removed rather than having her wake up in what looks like a garbage bag on the floor of a prison cell. If they think she’s worth keeping around, it’s in their interest to keep her at least somewhat healthy.

*However, I would have had Ripley amnesiac, not knowing where she is, who she is, etc. Aliens I have no issue with because they’re completely outside of our existing science and people can be creative. However, there’s no science I’m aware of that links genes and specific memories. Given the later reveal that Ripley isn’t fully human and that she has genetic memory inherited from the Xenomorphs, I’d have her original memories and personality slowly reappearing.

(Obviously she can’t be a complete blank slate, since people are seeing this movie for Ripley and not Sigourney Weaver playing someone else most of the time. I’m sure a happy balance can be achieved.)

*That Ripley doesn’t remember her prior life makes the military guys view her as less threatening. Given the severe hush-hush nature of the project it seems like they would deal with any security threat harshly, and Perez is already threatening to kill Ripley if she even looks at him funny. Ripley telling everybody they’re all going to die, that the Xenomorphs cannot be tamed, etc. is going to cause drama and given the lengths Perez and his gang are already going, that would be the sign to start shooting. A disoriented amnesiac isn’t going to be as threatening, at least at first.

*Then a group of convicts from a military prison who’ve either seen something they shouldn’t or misbehaved so badly that the military has decided to dispose of them show up. In true Con Air or No Escape fashion, you’ve got a bunch of legitimate scumbags and maybe a prisoner of conscience or victim of gross injustice or two for sympathy value. If they’re convicts, it would explain Vriess’s paraplegia — he’s being deliberately denied the sort of treatment that would allow him to walk again because he’s a lifer or on death row. We see most of the prisoners being infested by the Xenomorphs, while the trustees (pretty much everybody except Johner and Elgin) and guards like Call, Elgin, and Johner are given some downtime.

*The basketball sequence was pretty well-done. Given Sigourney Weaver’s height, if Ripley did play a sport as a hobby, basketball makes sense, and per the almighty TVTropes, Weaver actually did manage that shot — possibly twice. Furthermore, if we go with my idea of having the memories of her prior life slowly seeping back in, having her interested in basketball but not really knowing why could be a good clue that her old self is beginning to appear. If the guys who mess with her are inmate trustees (although Johner could be the type of guard so thuggy he’s little better than the prisoners themselves) it could explain why they can use the Auriga’s gym but at the same time are odious enough to cause trouble. And in addition to the unusual strength and toughness Ripley demonstrates, that her blood eats into the floor is a major clue that she’s not fully human. Foreshadowing is our friend, ladies and gentlemen. J

*The scene where Dr. Jonathan Gediman (Brad Dourif) interacts with the captive Xenomorph can stay. Not only is there a kooky and slightly creepy character moment (his trying to make out with the Xenomorph through the glass), but the scene with the switch that blasts the alien with liquid nitrogen allows even the lesser Xenomorphs to demonstrate their intelligence. That’s going to be important later, several times.

Act Two

*Having Annalee Call (Winona Ryder) attempting to kill Ripley makes sense if her role taking convicts to the Auriga is cover for being a military intelligence agent sent to investigate Wren and Perez. If Ripley is always watched, the first clue Call isn’t the innocent waif she seems could be that she disables the security cameras and incapacitates the guards outside Ripley’s room. I’d keep the confrontation between Ripley and Call largely as-is (it explains why Ripley is being kept alive), but I’d have had Ripley hint she knows that Call is an android — during the scene where they get weirdly touchy with another I’d have Ripley sniff her. That her sense of smell is so acute is another clue Ripley is more than human. It can also explain why Call is so intent on leaving Ripley to die aboard the Auriga — Ripley knows Call’s secret (both that she’s a spy and she’s an android) and is thus a liability.

*When Call is exposed as a secret agent due to her attempt to contact Ripley, Perez panics and orders the remaining prisoners and their guards immediately fed to the Xenomorphs. The guards and the ex-military prisoners, however, turn the tables and wipe the floor with Perez’s men. No surviving soldier who tries to read charges to the mutineers — that was so stupid. Elgin is killed in the process, as are enough characters to thin the herd. DiStephano, one of Perez’s soldiers, joins the group because he’s gotten so disgusted with Perez and Wren feeding people to the Xenomorphs that he wants to blow the whistle. And like in the canonical film, Wren is taken hostage.

*The alien escape sequence is well-done and well-foreshadowed, including how the aliens use liquid nitrogen to kill at least one human soldier investigating the devastated laboratory. The aliens rampage and the soldiers evacuate, with Perez being killed in the process.

Act Three

*The bones of “escape the Auriga” plot are fine. I did like Ripley’s response to Johner, when he asks her if it’s true she’s faced the Xenomorphs before and what she did, “I died.” Not only is it in-character for her, but it’s a nice bit of comedy.

*The “hall of monstrosities” and the discovery of the agonized deformed Ripley clone was well-done and provided a suitable bonding moment when Call hands Ripley her flame-thrower to mercy-kill the clone. But as one of the characters pointed out, there’s no time for sight-seeing. I’d have set it up so they had to pass through the laboratory to get to the freight elevator rather than make it a prolonged detour.

*In the canonical film it’s rather forced that the pirates decide to take the colonist Purvis, who is gestating a chest-burster, with them. If he’s a fellow prisoner and was possibly in the same military unit with them before they were all jailed, that would make more sense that they might be willing to risk it to potentially save him. And it’s not even that big a risk — a chest-burster is much easier for armed men to kill than a full-grown Xenomorph.

*I liked the swimming Xenomorph sequence. It’s also realistic that at least one character (in the canonical film Elgin’s lover Hilliard) dies — their air supply is limited and speaking as a licensed SCUBA diver, panicking in a low-oxygen environment is a really bad idea. And then things go from bad to worse when they find they’re in an egg chamber.

*However, Christie’s self-sacrifice in the canonical film as it was written came off as unnecessary. The dead alien was hanging onto his foot. Although he was wounded due to acid and I imagine Johner probably hit him a couple times while shooting the Xenomorph that was climbing the ladder after him, he could have at least tried to kick the alien’s claws away rather than go straight to “kill myself.” Given the need to reduce the number of characters, I’d have made it clear he was hurt worse than he looked (blood coming out of his mouth, for example) or the alien’s claws had impaled his foot (it’s rated R anyway, so why not) and it was a much more obvious either-or choice between sacrificing himself alone or trying to survive and dragging Vriess to his death as well.

*I generally liked the canonical reveal that Call was an android, although the way the other crew reacted seemed confusing. Although I expected mixed reactions (Johner’s bigotry, Vriess’s sympathy), it’s not clear if DiStephano is honestly fanboying over Call and simply too socially inept to realize how upset it’s making her or if he’s being bigoted and threatening. His words sound very fanboy, but his body language is very aggressive, including getting in Call’s face and personal space, and he yells a lot. His verbal exposition is also very clumsy. I’d have tightened it up a bit. DiStephano expresses his surprise there are “any of you left” after the “recall,” something that causes Call to visibly flinch as it’s clearly bringing back some very bad memories, and perhaps he then explains a little bit of the history to Ripley, who obviously wouldn’t know. The “machines designed by machines” bit, although TVTropes theorizes that it was the result of androids rebelling against cruel diktats by the government or various mega-corporations by building a new generation of robots with freer wills, is a little clumsy. Maybe DiStephano or the more bigoted Johner says something to the effect that “the newest models were a little too human and didn’t like doing what they were told.” I would definitely kept Ripley’s reaction to Johner’s bigotry — she threatens to tear out his tongue and give it to Call as a souvenir — since that was the part that got me thinking that Ripley was beginning to view Call as a sort of surrogate for her own lost daughter, like how she’d viewed Newt in Aliens.

In case anybody wonders why my version of Call is in military intelligence, Call could simply claim her superiors never knew (unlikely given the medical tests she’d likely have to undergo) or that the higher-ups for whatever reason covered for her. This sort of thing wouldn’t be unheard of — there were full or partial Jews who served in the German Army during WWII and thus managed to escape the fate of their relatives and there might’ve been isolated sympathetic individuals like the Berlin police commissioner who helped a Polish Jewish family get visas to America in 1939 or Georg Duckwitz, the German ambassador who leaked German plans to round up Danish Jews that in turn led to their mass flight to Sweden.

*I did like the idea of Call being a Catholic. After all, Pope Francis said he would baptize a Martian if it asked and a sufficiently-intelligent robot would fall under the same category as “not human but containing a spiritual capacity.” The novelization goes into more detail about her religiosity—it’s legitimate (she’s not just programmed to show respect when entering a place of worship), but she does wonder if she has an actual soul destined for an afterlife or if her death would be just turning off a light switch. That’s something that could be elaborated on a little when Call crosses herself and Ripley asks if this is her programming. This is an area where one could engage in a lot of interesting thinking, but unfortunately it was a bit before its time — thinking machines that believe in God were a big deal in the Battlestar Galactica revival, which came out six to seven years later.

*In addition to establishing Call’s faith, the chapel scene also explores her self-loathing for being an android. Given how Call earlier tells Ripley to her face that she’s not a person but a “construct,” this might be a nice case of what TVTropes describes as You Are Who You Hate. The scene also demonstrates how her condition makes her valuable. I would keep her plugging into the ship and definitely keep “FATHER’S DEAD, ASSHOLE” and her antagonizing Wren over the PA system. That was pretty funny. So was “no she won’t!” when Wren gets aboard the Betty, takes Call hostages, and tells everybody “the synthetic bitch” will guide the Auriga to Earth.

(Call overall is my favorite character in the film and her characterization should stay as close to canon as possible.)

*However, the death of Wren is a moment of unintentional hilarity that really needed to be re-done. Having an infested guy hold an enemy close so the chestburster will kill him too is creative, but in the canonical film it’s ruined by Purvis running at him, getting shot repeatedly, and engaging in a prolonged beatdown while the chestburster erupts. It’s shot at bizarre angles and it looks like it’s sped-up. I would have simply had Wren ignore Purvis as too sickly to be a threat. Then Purvis comes up behind him and it’s over-and-done. No prolonged running sequence, no beatdown, no camera going down his throat to show the chest-burster about to pop, just grab and go. Done. Also, Daniel pointed out in the podcast in past movies people go into seizure when the chestburster starts to emerge. If Purvis is able to grab hold of Wren and then go into terminal spasm, it would be more consistent.

*When Ripley is taken by the Xenomorphs, the shot is so dark it’s hard to tell what’s actually going on. Is she being slowly-slowly swallowed by a gigantic mouth? It looks like later on that she’s being carried off by lesser Xenomorphs, but between the darkness and how they keep fading in and out, it’s really hard to tell. It would have been better just to cut that scene completely. Ripley gets dragged away by the Xenomorphs and when we next see her, she’s in the Queen’s lair.

*I generally liked the design of the Newborn, a new species of Xenomorph with human and alien elements born in a quasi-vaginal fashion from the Xenomorph Queen. The very human-like eyes in particular were a nice touch. It reminded me a lot of Pumpkinhead, a franchise known for its advanced practical effects. I also liked the reveal that it had followed Ripley aboard the Betty by closing the door that Call couldn’t and I also liked how it was probing Call’s bullet wound. It didn’t appear to be motivated by sadism (especially since I don’t recall Call looking like she’s in pain), but by curiosity, like a toddler. The world’s biggest, ugliest, most dangerous toddler, but still.

*However, I thought the Newborn’s death wasn’t handled very well. Firstly, Ripley’s interactions with it seem more sexual than familial. I’ll give them points for creativity with the whole “sucked into space through a tiny hole in the porthole” thing and it’s my understanding they’re going for heartstring-tugging at this human-ish creature dying a prolonged and ugly death, but it didn’t work for me. Maybe if they played up Ripley’s horror at having to kill a creature that views her as a mother, given the role the death of her daughter played in her actions in Aliens (and in her relationship with Call in this film, at least how I interpret it) it might be more impressive. Bonus points if the Newborn is more imploring, reaching out to Ripley to save it, and Ripley has to force herself to refuse. I’m not sure if having the Newborn actually talk would work — there’s scuttlebutt online that you can hear it screaming “Mommy!” and in the podcast someone said the subtitles read “Oh no!” That could crank up the horror for Ripley, but it also risks going from poignant to, in TVTropes terms, Narm (something that’s supposed to be dramatic but unintentionally hilarious).

*When the Auriga hits Earth, based on the size of the explosion it looks like another dinosaur-killer. At minimum, even if it doesn’t cause an impact winter, the Betty crew has just killed millions of people and did quite a lot of local damage even if they didn’t kill the whole biosphere. Given how the Xenomorphs are essentially big carnivorous termites and there aren’t even that many of them, it seems highly improbable this was the least bad option.

(If they wanted to go with that they should have depicted Earth as being this super-urbanized hellhole where even one surviving Xenomorph could become a queen and then breed an army, but Earth from orbit looks rather empty.)

Given what just happened, I imagine a lot of cops and soldiers are going to be converging on the Betty when it lands, especially since the soldiers who evacuated the Auriga are going to be telling their side of story well before them. However, nobody is worried about getting arrested or shot by whoever is governing Earth— instead everybody is gawking about how beautiful the planet is and we get a lot of mediocre cloud shots and overhead shots of what appears to be a relatively unpolluted and intact world rather than what Johner describes as a “shithole.” I’d have made it clearer the Auriga was targeted at an uninhabited area, something I think is in the director’s cut. Bonus points if Call had set up retro-rockets to fire as it enters the atmosphere to reduce its momentum. The Auriga would still strike with the force of multiple nukes, killing the Xenomorphs on board and anybody unfortunate enough to be under it, but no mass murder or ecocide.

*In the alternate ending, Call and Ripley talk about what to do next while looking out over the ruins of Paris. Given how Ripley had been trying to get back to Earth in Alien and the other survivors might be colony-born and never been to the old homeworld, I would think their arrival on Earth and the sacrifices they made to protect humanity’s home should have been a lot more impactful. The deleted scene doesn’t go into a lot of detail on Earth (other than depicting Paris as a desert-like ruin while the rest of the world from orbit seems green), but it would have been an improvement over what we got.

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

"Remember the Texas," Or WWII Starts In The Atlantic

Here's another fun alternate timeline from the public section of the alternate history forum: "Remember the Texas! The United States in WWII." It diverges from real history in June 1941 when a German U-Boat captain mistakes the American battleship USS Texas for a British battleship and sinks it. Although the U.S. and Germany had an undeclared naval war going at this point, this represents a truly massive escalation. The United States declares war on Germany (even the isolationists are not going to tolerate this), despite the U.S. military being absolutely nowhere near ready.

(If you read An Army at Dawn, you can see how horrendously unprepared the U.S. was for Operation Torch, and that was much later against a much less motivated and less competent opponent.)

Highlights of the timeline include:

*Different British generals commanding in different theaters, which almost certainly means a more competent defense of Singapore when the Japanese come south. The author argues that Japan will attack Western colonies in Asia due to the same issues that drove their attack in our world, and with the Pacific undermanned they might have an easier time. In this world, that war begins in the Far East and there's no Pearl Harbor, so American society as a whole is not going to be as vengeful. Hopefully no Japanese Internment in this history--even J. Edgar Hoover thought that was a bad idea and he wasn't exactly a champion of civil liberties.

*A lot of experienced personnel are pulled out of the Philippines for the European war, which will make the islands' almost-inevitable fall much less severe for the U.S. in terms of personnel and equipment losses.

*Per the above, Douglas MacArthur commands U.S. forces in China. Given his blunders in the Philippines (this paper makes a strong case that the Japanese conquest was largely due to his mistakes), this is going to be another improvement on real history, although one wonders how an ego the size of MacArthur's would coexist with an ego the size of Chiang Kai-Shek's. Hopefully they can keep each other's yes-men away--as someone points out in the thread, MacArthur when he didn't have cronies telling him what he wanted to hear could come up with pretty clever stuff like the Inchon Landings.

*Operation Chariot, in real history the St. Nazaire Raid, gets beefed up with U.S. aircraft carriers and battleships into a much larger operation intended to hash the German fleet based in French ports and eliminate (or at least greatly diminish) the U-Boat threat. Most of the timeline so far consists of this world's Operation Chariot and discussion about how plausible this would be.

Monday, March 8, 2021

How I Would Have Done THE GUYVER (1991)

I know I said earlier that future "how I would have done it" posts would be going on the Myopia Movies Patreon newsletter, but sometimes changes of strategy are a good idea. So here are my thoughts on how I would have done The Guyver, which we discussed once upon a time. This movie, notable for featuring once and future Luke Skywalker Mark Hamill as a chain-smoking CIA agent with a mustache, wasn't nearly as good as I remember it being on the Sci-Fi Channel when I was in elementary school.

But many times a badly-done movie can still have a good concept. So here's how I would have done it...

Act One

*The canonical version had a Star Wars style opening crawl and a voice-over, which was so stupid. Instead we have a cold open with Dr. Tetsu Sagawa (Greg Paik) running from what seem to be a bunch of gang-bangers in the not-so-nice parts of late 1980s Los Angeles. You think it’s a robbery or some kind of hit and the suddenly everybody starts turning into the monstrous Zoanoids. Their leader, the bald and brutal Lisker (Michael Berryman), still kills Dr. Sagawa and retrieves the box he was carrying. Unbeknownst to him, Sagawa had stashed what was inside in a random lunchbox he found just before the gangsters caught up to him. Lisker takes the box back to the offices of the sinister Chronos Corporations and his boss CEO Fulton Balcus (David Gale). Balcus is none too pleased to find that the Guyver Unit is still missing and does that weird psychic-torture thing to Lisker like in the main film, hinting that he’s a lot more than he seems.

*Cut to a Los Angeles karate dojo, where Max Reed (Mark Hamill) has to deliver the bad news to Dr. Sagawa’s daughter Mizuki “Mizki” Sagawa, who this time will be played by Billie Lee. In the sequel Guyver 2: Dark Hero (which I liked a lot better), she did a better job in her one scene than Vivian Wu did in the entirety of this one. Her fellow student and love interest Sean Barker, played by David Hayter from the second film who did a better job than Jack Armstrong in the first, follows her and Reed to the dumpsite where they found Dr. Sagawa’s body. There he discovers the Guyver and takes it with him. Attacked on the way home by gang members — who I’d initially let the audience think are associated with the crew from the beginning — Sean is overwhelmed by their numbers despite his training. In the process of getting whupped, he gets his head slammed into the Guyver and it forms a suit of powered armor around him. His defeat of the gang members and accidental reversion to his human form play as in the actual film, although hopefully Hayter would do a better job conveying Sean’s shock and horror than Armstrong did.

Act Two

*While Sean is still processing just what is happening to him, Lisker and his crew strike again. They attack Mizki at her apartment, killing an inconvenient witness, and carry her off. Sean and Max both arrive at roughly the same time looking for her and pursue them to an ominous warehouse. They manage to rescue Mizki, but are then set upon by Lisker’s full brute squad. Here we can elaborate on the Zoanoids a bit—Lisker and fellow Chronos enforcer Weber (Spice Williams-Crosby) are a couple and Sean’s killing her drives Lisker into a fury, the aspiring rapper M.C. Striker (Jimmie Walker) is a reluctant villain in over his head and has to be egged on by the others into doing evil things like hitting Mizki and generally thugging it up, etc. There’s a prolonged chase scene — including Striker stumbling into a horror film shoot in his monster form and everybody assuming he’s the movie monster, which I thought was pretty funny — with some of the lesser Zoanoids getting killed along the way. Much like in the canonical film, the Zoanoids eventually overpower Sean and Lisker kills him by tearing the control unit out of his head in front of the terrified Mizki. With Sean literally melting before everybody’s eyes, both her and Max are taken captive.

*One problem I had with Mizki, in addition to Wu’s mediocre acting and unbelievably bad accent, is that she was terrified and passive most of the time except the one moment when the plot demanded. If she and Sean are both martial arts practitioners, I would have made her a better fighter in the scenes where the Zoanoids abduct her. Yes, the Zoanoids are a different class of enemy than a rapist or a mugger — significantly bigger, able to take more damage, and scarier in appearance — but that doesn’t necessarily mean she’d dissolve into a quivering mess, especially if she has some awareness of what her father’s been up to. Even though the Zoanoids eventually defeat her and take her captive, it doesn’t have to be that easy for them. For example, many judo techniques are intended for a smaller person to use a larger opponent’s size and momentum against them. These are the kinds of things Mizki could have used against the Zoanoids, especially given how most of them are comparatively-untrained gangbanger types.

*Balcus receives Mizki in his lair at the Chronos Corporation office and does his expository villain monologue, perhaps hoping to recruit her in place of her dead father or simply because he’s a gross old pervert and wants to get into her pants. In the process he takes her to the lab where they’ve put Max into some kind of experimental tube and are transforming him into a Zoanoid, perhaps reasoning that once he’s become one of them, they’ll get some Transhuman Treachery and he can be their mole in the CIA. Mizki spots the control unit torn from Sean’s head beginning to regenerate flesh and takes it hostage, throwing it at one of the lesser Zoanoids when he tries to rush her. He starts to choke and seize and the Guyver is reborn out of his body like a man-sized chest-buster! The resurrected Sean breaks Max out of the experimental tube and the battle is on.

Act Three

*Sean proceeds to battle all of Lisker’s remaining Zoanoids and brutally kills them, with the exception of the cowardly Striker who’s just too pathetic to bother with. Lisker still gets his ironic death of having a chunk of his head ripped out much like he’d done to Sean. However, in my version Max and Mizki’s contributions are somewhat less ridiculous than getting chased around the lab by a couple of minion types in a sequence that looks like a Benny Hill routine. Seriously, they needed the Yakety-Sax for that sequence. In addition to Mizki’s karate techniques, we see earlier in the film that Max is handy with a gun. Even if Zoanoid hide can shrug off bullets, he could still get one in the eye or provide a useful distraction.

*Once Lisker and company are dead, Max undergoes the grotesque transformation into a man-faced, man-sized roach and dies. I’ll give Mark Hamill credit—he does a much better job conveying genuine agony in this one than he did as Luke Skywalker in The Empire Strikes Back and The Return of the Jedi. This allows for Balcus to guilt-trip Sean over ending the transformation sequence before Max had time to stabilize. Rather than succumbing to his manipulations, however, Sean has had enough of this crap and lashes out, sending Balcus flying much like he does here.

*But Balcus isn’t dead. Instead he transforms into the monstrous dragon-like Zoalord. Mine would be smaller due to the whole “conservation of mass” thing, but still clearly superior to Sean. Rather than have the New Powers As The Plot Demands reveal that the Guyver has energy weapons, I’d simply have Sean use his karate training to outmaneuver the comparatively-unskilled and larger Balcus and slowly bleed him to death with a thousand cuts. Think the duel between Oberyn Martell and Gregor Clegane in Game of Thrones before Oberyn gets cocky. My more karate-savvy Mizki can help fight the Zoalord herself or, if she’d much rather not go hand-to-hand with the monster of monsters, throw things or blast him with fire extinguishers rather than just cower behind pillars. Balcus’s death is more brutal and less silly rather than him getting blown through a door, coming to a stop, and then EXPLODING.

*With the Zoanoids destroyed, Sean and Mizki walk away together. All is well. But then we see they’re not alone — Striker and Max’s CIA partner are watching. Sequel Hook!

As you may have gathered from my contribution to Myopia so far, I see a lot of potential in many films that on the surface kind of suck. As you can see here, The Guyver is one such movie. If you want to listen to the actual episode, join the Patreon. If you want to listen to newer episodes, here's the podcast website.