Caprica’s mirror

I caught the two-hour series pilot of Caprica on On-Demand a few weeks ago and I have been meaning to comment on it. It’s definitely not a replacement for Galactica, but it clearly wasn’t intended to be. Galactica took an ancient science fiction idea, the question of what makes us human, folded it into religious belief, and created a literal mythos. But Galactica never really asked the question itself – what makes us human? – it showed us the answer as a given. The skin job cylons were presented as human from the start, both the original Earth/Kobol variant and the Colonial variant. The idea that they were still fundamentally machines was never really broached, except as “toaster!” epithets – with the exception of Model One, John. He was the only one to rage at his creators for making him merely human.

spoilers – Continue reading “Caprica’s mirror”

Spider Man 4 dies so that Warcraft may live

I don’t really care about the news that the Spider Man franchise under Sam Raimi’s hand is over, except for the much more important fact that it frees Raimi to work on the Warcraft movie instead. As Harry says at AICN,

I feel confident in saying that the next film we’ll see from Raimi is going to be WARCRAFT… which after AVATAR, the concept of world building that particular universe could be astonishing – especially in 3D – especially after what Cameron just unleashed upon the globe. World creating Science Fiction & Fantasy… done by visionary filmmakers … well, it is a premium. We got THE HOBBIT coming, looks like an AVATAR 2… but the word I hear is that today – the phone lines were burning between a certain legendary locale and Raimi’s folks about firing up the furnaces to forge the weapons of war.

Some time in the next few months, I expect progress. I’ve heard that Robert Rodat (SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, THE PATRIOT) has put together one helluva script.

A movie technology arms race between Jackson, Cameron and Raimi with the Hobbit, Avatar and Warcraft franchises is going to be one fun hell of a ride.

Just look at this again – click on it, zoom in, and really look at it – and imagine it on the big screen, alive:


The Geminid Meteor Shower peaks tonight

The Geminids are coming tonight!

“It’s the Geminid meteor shower,” says Bill Cooke of NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office. “and it will peak on Dec. 13th and 14th under ideal viewing conditions.”

A new Moon will keep skies dark for a display that Cooke and others say could top 140 meteors per hour. According to the International Meteor Organization, maximum activity should occur around 12:10 a.m. EST (0510 UT) on Dec. 14th. The peak is broad, however, and the night sky will be rich with Geminids for many hours and perhaps even days around the maximum.

Cooke offers this advice: “Watch the sky during the hours around local midnight. For North Americans, this means Sunday night to Monday morning.”

Geminids are pieces of debris from a strange object called 3200 Phaethon. Long thought to be an asteroid, Phaethon is now classified as an extinct comet. It is, basically, the rocky skeleton of a comet that lost its ice after too many close encounters with the sun. Earth runs into a stream of debris from 3200 Phaethon every year in mid-December, causing meteors to fly from the constellation Gemini: sky map.

As the NASA page explains, the Geminids are relatively recent in origin, first appearing in the early 19th century, and have been gradually intensifying since then, because Jupiter’s gravity has been pulling the debris stream towards Earth’s orbit.

The reason meteor showers interest me is not the light show (truthfully, I’ve seen very few, due to viewing conditions or simply missing them) but rather the cometary aspect of them. Meteors are comets’ bones. I’ve been obsessed with comets since grade school. I remember making every effort I could to see Halley’s comet when I was 12 years old, but the geometry of that sighting was suboptimal – all I remember is a light smudge. I’m hoping that when I turn 87, I’ll have a better show.

For more information on the 2009 Geminids, see the International Meteor Organization’s live tally page, which is already recording an increase in sightings.

The Avatar of politics

James Cameron’s AVATAR is the kind of film that moves the industry forward – and not necessarily just the movie industry. The movie’s 3D technology makes Gollum look like Max Headroom. The scope of Cameron’s ambition in terms of redefining the baseline for movie-making technology is utterly breathtaking; this is the kind of stuff that George Lucas or Steven Spielberg should have been doing with their sacred franchise cash cows’ spoils. This film was something Cameron wanted to make decades ago but was restrained by technology; the story goes that he saw Peter Jackson’s LOTR trilogy and realized, “the time is now”. And Jackson will surely step up his game in response – but this isn’t just a game of techno-wizardry, it’s an arms race from which every moviegoer will benefit from in terms of how movies are made, filmed, and most importantly, viewed.

So of course, some people are mad because the film hates America. WTF?!?!

GOOD GRIEF FOLKS. These are MOVIES. This one is set on an alien planet, with 10 foot tall blue natives and (regrettably the only non-original aspect of the film) a generalized Earth Military which could have been ripped straight from Starship Troopers or the Alien trilogy. If there’s a message here, it’s Pocahontas, not The West Wing.

Not every army on film is a metaphor for the US military. In fact, as is the case with Heinlein, sometimes it’s a metaphor for something else. And AVATAR is above all, a love story, and about an individual who questions the dogma he’s lived by and embraces his own conscience and beliefs. What’s more conservative than that?

What we need is a entertainment-industry equivalent of Sigmund Freud, to make the arch-observation “sometimes a movie is just a movie.”

And what a movie it will be!

Official Avatar Movie

disliking Avatar

I think that part of the reason some otaku get so fervent about shoving their favorite series on other otaku is because at some level, we want to share our experience of joy and discovery. This is a simple human impulse but it gets somewhat twisted by the enthusiasm (an overabundance of which is a defining characteristic of otaku). It can also be a validation of sorts when others acknowledge the greatness of a given series that you have been evangelizing – ego is also a defining characteristic, it seems 🙂 However, we must simply accept that not all of us like the same things. This is why Steven’s decision to drop Avatar is not particularly bothersome to me; I am disappointed I wont see any TMW essays on it, because those are invariably enlightening and stimulating, but it would be pretty foolish to argue that Steven is missing out on something or is somehow making a mistake in not choosing to push forward. He didn’t like it. That’s fine by me.

One of Steven’s commenters makes a good point about Avatar’s overall season dynamic:

If season one feels like filler, its probably because, on a certain level, it is. As near as I can tell, the writers were mainly aiming to produce a reasonably fun, but not great, story for season one. . . with plot threads to be developed later, if the show didn’t get cancelled. Their goals, and targets, thus rose at that point.

Honestly, if you had asked prior to checking the show out, and bearing in mind what I know of your tastes? I would have suggested something along the lines of “Watch the two part intro, watch the Northern Water Tribe sub-arc, then skip to Season 2.” As otherwise? Its a series that’s not going to sell itself to you, because the first part you’ll watch is the part that’s selling it to someone else. Given that, honestly, *I* wouldn’t have have given it more than a passing glance based on season 1 either, not shocking this outcome.

I heartily agree (and subsequent dissenters who argue that every single thing that happens in season 1 was utterly critical to the overall story are both missing the point, as well as simply factually wrong). The bulk of what Steven casts as filler is really character development that really rewards the second viewing of Avatar, rather than driving the plot forwards on the first. In fact this is why I think that I am cautiously optimistic about the live action movie, because they won’t be under the same constraints as the series was (on Nickolodeon, etc).

On another level, though, I think a meta critique of Steven’s argument for dropping Avatar is warranted. Given how much otakusphere complaining exists about how little good material there is to watch nowadays, dropping series too easily seems counter-productive. I’m not arguing that we should force feed ourselves but rather than we do need to recognize the creative environment and real-world constraints that operate on the anime industry – especially the american animation variant (which I called Amerime). It is no coincidence that Samurai Jack – the best Amerime series ever produced – is unfinished. Had Jack been produced for Nick instead of Cartoon Network, there might have been an annoying sidekick character or a lot of filler episodes too – but it also might have actually been seen through to completion. Artistic purity is great but doesn’t always suffice for simple survival. Whether such a scenario would have been worse or better depends on implementation, as well as viewer preferences, so its at best an open question. Arguing that all series must meet specific standards of plot advancement and being too stringent about filler sets a certain bar which may be impossible to meet.

UPDATE – J makes a related point (though not in response to Steven’s post) about the patience of the Japanese consumer:

Anime is often like this as well. It’s not unusual for a series to spend most of a season meandering towards the plot, with a sudden burst of (usually rushed, over-compressed) activity towards the end. In many cases, there’s an obvious production or financial reason, but my point is that the target audience doesn’t seem to mind.

Anime bending

Steven has ordered the first season of Avatar, largely based on my recommendation, which both gratifies me and also makes me squirm, because my reputation is on the line now 🙂

The first season is in many ways a very straightforward one. It aims to set the scene, introduce the characters, and give them a nice clean goal and a clear-cut villain. At least, that is what you’re supposed to do in a first season of a multi-season arc; the genius of Avatar is how they subvert every one of those aims, both subtly during season 1 itself and then in a major way in the later seasons. For season 1, though, the viewers’ job is simple; to fall in love with the characters alone. There are plenty of things going on right before your eyes that have massive significance later on, but on the first viewing that stuff is just not as important as understanding who Aang, Kitara, Sokka, Iroh, and Zuko are. The storytelling is simply effortless in this regard – the season ended far too quickly for me, but then I realized looking back just how much actually happened (quite a bit, plotwise, though you are barely aware of the larger arc at this stage).

very mild spoilers follow, so I am putting them below the fold… Continue reading “Anime bending”

Hellsing looks interesting

Mark talks about Hellsing and manages to pique my interest – not necessarily because of the blood and gore, but because of the description of Alucard:

One of the big problems with the series for me is actually that Alucard is way too powerful. There are several villains who crop up in the series, but most don’t even come close to Alucard’s power, and even the one climatic battle in the series is kinda lacking in suspense because even when it seems like Alucard has been defeated, he always manages to come back somehow.

For some reason, I am reminded of Aang in Avatar here. In his Avatar state, Aang is essentially invincible, but those scenes are incredibly exciting instead of dull – especially the final episode, where Aang fights the ultimate villain of the series, and (not to spoil it too obviously) wins, big time. Another example of this is the Terminator (original movie), where Arnold is literally unstoppable and his eventual demise is almost purely providential rather than because of any strategizing by the overmatched human protagonists.

Regardless of whether its a hero, villain, or something in between – there’s something very satisfying about a character who wields sheer power. Handled deftly, it can be a fresh change from the usual “hero tested beyond his limits and then succeeds against all odds” formula.

In fact the ultimate example of this is probably the character of Superman – in my opinion the best stories are those where he has to use his powers, not the ones where he loses them, faces a more powerful being, finds himself weakened by Kryptonite, etc etc. Superman being, well, super is what makes Superman fun.

thoroughly enjoying The Last Airbender

We’ve been watching Avatar: The Last Airbender and are already on Book 3. This has been a fantastic series. It’s what I call Amerime (American animation expressly inspired by anime, like Samurai Jack or the Dark Knight prequel) and follows the story of a hero who has to master his innate power and save the world. Yeah, you’ve heard that before, but what makes Avatar so enjoyable is the sheer fun that the writers have with the characters. Main protagonist Aang is 12 years old an acts like it – goofing off, possessed of that maddening childhood overconfidence one moment, and stressing about facing off in his destined battle with the Fire Lord like a kid worries about an exam the next – including the mandatory dream about showing up without his pants. The basic premise of “benders” who can manipulate each of the primary elements of Earth, Air, Fire and Water is both familiar and unique, with the bending styles drawn from real-life asian martial arts styles (with the same attention to choreographic detail as Samurai Jack). The world is richly detailed and the secondary characters are never two-dimensional. It’s just… fun.

I was also quite excited to hear that M. Night Shymyalan was tapped to make a live-action version of Avatar next year, but my enthusiasm for this has suddenly cooled given how the design for the Dragonball Z movie seems to be going. Not that I know anything about Dragonball, mind you, but it just serves as ample warning of just how profoundly Hollywood can take something and make it suck. That which is truly great has farther to fall.

In its pristine animated form, however, I can’t recommend Avatar enough. It’s derailed all my more traditional anime watching right now.