Monday, August 24, 2009

If I Hear One More Thing about Avatar I'm Gonna...

How I Learned to Stop Hating and Love the Uncanny Valley

Warning: The following post is little more than an incoherent rant. Read at your own risk.

That tears it! I'm officially tired of hearing about this stupid movie! This hype is driving me nuts, and we're still a good 4 or 5 months away from its release! I just read an article claiming that it'll "change the face of cinema forever." Really? Avatar? Granted, it is an English rag, they probably think Guy Ritchie changed-the-face-of-cinema-forever too.

Anyway, after reading about how James Cameron is going to single handedly alter the course of cinema history using nothing but his bare hands and a velcro suit covered in ping pong balls, I figured, "I might as well watch the stupid trailer." And I did. And I have to say: For shame geek world. This is what you're all getting excited about? Far be it from me to point out that the Emperor has no clothes, but this thing looks like garbage! Naked, parading-down-the-street garbage! I know, I know, trailers aren't the same as seeing the movie... it could be very different. I've hated the trailers for many movies I ended up loving (Finding Nemo, I'm looking at you!). BUT everyone in the world seems to be losing their shit over this trailer, and I just don't get it! There is a mythical 15 minute screener that was showed at ComicCon and select IMAX theaters... but unless the 15 minutes features an entirely different alien race that doesn't look like a glowing, zombie-eyed version of a furry's wet dream, then I'm not sold. Neither is Roger Ebert-who knew I'd ever agree with Roger Ebert?
First complaint: completely unnecessary and disappointing CG. We've been dealing with this for years now, and there's been some minor grumbling. But overall, modern day CG has been lapped up by movie going audiences. Sure they can complain about the appearance of characters like Jar Jar Binks-but that's because they hate the character to begin with. But people seem unable to accept the truth that Gollum was, in fact, a glowing, plastic monstrosity.

James Cameron has promised us that his movie would be different-he had created CG characters that were "photo-realistic." (apparently he's never seen a photo?). At this point, I almost don't care about bad CG anymore... the film industry is so enamored with its own technology that they can't see its downsides. That's fine. What's offensive is that the aliens in Avatar are blue skinned dudes with spock ears! There's absolutely no reason they need to be CG. None. Haven't we learned from Guillermo Del Toro that makeup almost always trumps CG? Why is it we always seem to forget how powerfully a well done makeup and costume job can sell a character. Maybe in a decade, CG will finally actually look right... but for now, people need to accept the fact that motion capture is a just a scenic tour through the Uncanny Valley.

Secondly (and I'm sure alot of you will disagree) can we finally give up on 3D? Yes, yes, its cute and fun when the Muppets at Disney World seem to come alive on screen, but in an actual movie, 3D inevitably falls flat (Hey-Oh!). At it's best, 3D is little more than a cute gimmick... at it's worst its a distracting, headache-inducing pain in the ass. Hollywood keeps trying to convince us that it "really works this time!" And, again, they are so enamored with their toys that they fail to realize they still don't work the way you want them to! I could complain more about 3D, but I haven't seen the actual 3D used in Avatar, and I'm open to the slim possibility that it may change my opinion about the whole ridiculous gimmick. Anything's possible.

Now that we're done with the form, let's get to the content! Really Mr. Cameron, this is the story you've been working on for 20 years? For a movie with so much hype, you'd think there'd be more of an attempt at giving us a unique story. Instead, we get another "noble savage" tale? Ignoring Dances With Wolves, Pocahontas, FernGully, and others-wasn't there a movie that came out a year or so ago that seems to have the exact same plot... you know the one... no one saw it... Oh yeah! Terra! It looks like basically the same movie. I guess James Cameron is lucky no one saw that. Even Cameron himself admits: "I don't know whether it will be a great film from a narrative and critical standpoint, the experience of Avatar will be an experience unlike any other movie.." Way to sell it! Really sounds like he's putting all his eggs in the "oooh-lookit-that" factor. Also, haven't people realized by now that the whole "noble savage" concept is just condescending, liberal racism?

I guess so much of this hype stems from the fact that he's supposedly been working on this film for 20 years. Ironically, if this had come out 20 years ago, it probably would have been pretty great and unique. But let's be honest guys, it's James Cameron. I love the first two Terminator movies, The Abyss, and Aliens as much as the next guy, but it's not like Stanley Kubrick or Orson Welles is returning from the grave to deliver us his true masterpiece. And hasn't enough time passed for us all to admit that Titanic really wasn't that good. It didn't change cinema like everyone wants to think, it changed cinema marketing. A 13 year old girl could enjoy the same movie as her 46 year old father-that's all that's special about Titanic. So let's quit acting like Cameron is some movie messiah, and Avatar is his Second Coming. On second thought, don't worry about it. Let the hype machine do its thing-it'll only make the inevitable letdown that much richer to us early adopting cynics. Rant over.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Battlestar Flashback! My Crazy Guesses for the Final Five

I'm well aware that all self-respecting sci-fi fans have already watched Battlestar Galactica in it's entirety, but I've only just reached the end of the third season. My laziness is your gain, because I will now guess the identities of the heavily promoted FINAL FIVE cylons, and you will be able to laugh at my stupidity, or in a less likely scenario, marvel at my near-prophetic intuition.

NUMBER ONE DRAFT PIX after the jump (with MAJOR SEASON 4 SPOILERS, obvs...)

Full disclosure: I have already been spoilered on the point that Starbuck is at least SORT of a Cylon, so I'll assume she counts as one of the final five. So I'm really only guessing the identities of four Cylons.

One more thing. I'm splitting this up into two groups. The writers could either go awesome with this and make really intense dramatic choices, or they could cop-out. The show varies in quality enough for me to think they could go either way, so...


Why It's Awesome:
We'd have Billy back! And Roslin would totally lose her shit!
Why It's Possible:
The show is in dire need of a male cylon who isn't physically repulsive, at least when compared to the ladybots. Billy isn't exactly GQ cover boy material, but he's sort of cute and he certainly seduced and destroyed Duella (and Roslin, in a less sexy way).

Why it's Awesome:
What sort of Cylon God would build a model so full of grossness and hate? Tigh is already nuts and ready to die, if he found out he was a Cylon he'd snap for sure and I'd love to see that.
Why It's Possible:
There was all that weirdness in his past with Adama, getting fired from the military or whatever happened behind the Scary Door...I was never satisfied with the non-explanation as to what was such a big deal, and why it warranted a million dramatic flashbacks.

Why It's Awesome:
Cally is one of the worst most boring characters on the show (and that is SAYING something), having her be a Cylon would totally spice up her life.
Why It's Possible:
Well, she loves her man! That's a very Cylon thing to do.

Why It's Awesome:
It's actually not that awesome, but he's the only other character I could think of that wouldn't be OBJECTIONABLE as a Cylon.
Why It's Possible:
Again, the cylons need a hot guy model, and he would definitely fit the bill. Also, what has Anders done for humans, REALLY? That guerrilla fighting stuff didn't seem to get us much in the long run.


Why It's Lame:
Dualla is a weak character who has never done anything interesting on the show except fret over boys, which is in fact a very Cylon thing to do, but there are no interesting ramifications to her being a Cylon. I mean, Lee would be sad, but who cares?
Why It's Possible:
See above.

Why It's Lame:
Again, a boring personality-less character, who is just under the radar enough to be poised for a big "surprise!". WHO CARES? It's almost as if they created a character, and kept him from doing or saying anything too engaging just so they could make him a Cylon later and not have to deal with why he would have been programmed to do anything unique or interesting.
Why It's Possible:
I think Baltar pretty much told him he was a Cylon when Gaeta came to visit him in his cell, so yeah, I think this is a lock. Booring.

Tory Foster
Why It's Lame:
Who is this person? Have we met?
Why It's Possible:
She's close to the prez, and she's inconspicuous enough to avoid any sort of messy plotholes the writers could be looking to avoid. And if fans cry foul they can just say, "Look, she was here THE WHOLE TIME, okay?"

Doc Cottle
Why It's Lame:
Just a boring, unadventurous choice. Yes, he's been in a lot of episodes, but having him be a Cylon leaves zero emotional impact, and feels very mechanical (haw).
Why It's Possible:
It makes sense; why not have a Cylon on board as a doctor? He's probably been impregnating all the ladies on board with Cylon babies for the last 50 episodes.

Those are my picks! Now to watch the Season 3 Finale and see where the chips fall.
I watched it! A little from column A, a little from column B. I was really hoping Chief wasn't going to be one, because they already teased us with that prospect back in the earlier seasons. It's s a bit anti-climactic to find out, "Yep, he was right the first time." Also, he was in love with Sharon! Cylons loving Clyons? That's just crazy. I'm really sad that Billy and Cally weren't in the Final Four, because A) Billy would have been such an incredible mindfrak and B) Now I have to deal with boring Cally for a whole 'nother season. Oh well. Season 4, ho!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Reviewed: Silber Media Comics

These are the smallest comics I've ever seen. Seriously, look at them. Their palmable size and tiny plastic baggies bring to mind illicit substances, or secret messages that you have to destroy after reading. Each page has only one panel and a line of text, requiring the storytelling to be as compact as the packaging.

These match-book sized comics are written by Brian John Mitchell and put out by his indie distribution company, Silber Media. Issues of each of the four serialized titles can be ordered for a dollar each, though several issues are also available for free on the Silber site.

The books cover a range of genres; XO is a hitman power fantasy, Just a Man is a slow burning western, Lost Kisses is an sardonic, self-effacing confessional about Mitchell's personal life(illustrated almost entirely with grinning stick figures), and Worms is a paranoid headtrip that invovles worms, questionably ethical medical treatments, and other unpleasant things.

The common thread in each book is an understated, almost deadpan style of narration. Take for example the narration that accompanies the opening three pages of XO:

"I just killed someone for free.

I guess you could say I killed some people when I was younger....

...but none since I consider myself an adult."

This irrisistibly macabre hook is made even more distincitve by it's context; an adorably small booklet with illustrations that look more like a daily comic strip than the sort angular grit usuallly found in a crime graphic novel. The story unfolds with similarly passive descriptions of crime and murder, and the series ends up feeling like a slice-of-life diary comic by a sociopath. Whether it reads as creepy or funny is probably a matter of taste, but it's entertaining either way.

While several issues of XO can be read online, the highlight of the Silber Comics stable really needs to be read in print for the full effect. Only a single issue of Just A Man has been released so far, but in that 56 panel issue Mitchell and artist Andrew White tell a wild west story of revenge that evokes dread and suspence on every miniature page.

The dramatic weight of Just A Man is entwined with it's formal elements; having to focus your attention on stamp sized panels creates an bond between the reader and the stark desert world of the story. The limitations of size and length force the reader to consider the meaning behind each image and sentence, and as the plot turns more and more grim, the effect is hauntingly intimate.

Just A Man is a serious tale in a small package, and I highly reccomending spending the dollar it costs to have one delivered to your house. Read it in a public place for maximum effect; people will wonder what the hell you're holding that has you so engaged, and you'll feel like you're getting away with something.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Fake Campaign Shirts 09

I'm still making my way through Battlestar Galactica for first time, because I refuse to watch good TV shows until everyone else in the world is already over them. Some of the election episodes got me itching for a good "Baltar/Zarich 01" shirt (01 of course referring to the calendar restart following the earth getting blowns up...that's how it works, right?) I couldn't really find what I wanted, except for this officially licensed merch by the Sci-Fi Channel, which you can't even get anymore.

Disappointing, yes, but it did lead me on a quest to find other awesome fake campaign shirts. Because nothing says "I Refuse to Draw A Line Between Fantasy and Reality" like wearing a campaign shirt for a candidate in an election that takes place in a made up fantasy land.

This is probably the greatest shirt ever. You don't need to read the rest of the post, cause it's all downhill from here. You don't even need to be a fan of Futurama to enjoy this shirt; anyone can enjoy the horrific comedy inherent in the idea of a Mecha Nixon running for public office.

More less good shirts after the jump...

This is a dumb cheesey font and unimaginative design. I think Zaphod would have his campaign team go a lot, A LOT, flashier. You should have to plug this shirt in. There's so much potential. It's a good thing D. Adams is already dead, because seeing this shirt would kill him. Someone please make a better one.

Sometimes a show does all the work for you in designing the campaign iconography; in the 3rd Season of the Wire, we saw this plain and simple campaign logo all over the place, but it took a weirdly long time for someone to make a decent shirt out of it.

You'd think there'd be like a million awesome Harvey Dent shirts online, right? Nope! The official viral campaign shirts are lame and no one has made any cool ones. This Obama knockoff is the best the internet has to offer. Sad sad state of affairs. Get it, state? State official, election, district attorney....eeheh. I guess there's no need for re-election campaign materials anyway, because one party with Bruce's friends and he'll never need another cent! Also he's dead.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Charting Tim Burton's Hits and Misses

After watching the Alice in Wonderland trailer, I started thinking about Tim Burton. What's his problem, anyway? What went wrong? I believe all questions can be solved with over analysis and charts, so...

Alice in Wonderland appears to be headed for the fearful nexus of visually stylized camp, but hope springs eternal.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

More Anakin Skywaker Redux

Hey! Regular readers may be wondering where we've been...well, occasionally real life intrudes on one's commitment to fandom, but things are settling back down and we should be back to a regular posting schedule by next week.

Of course, there's ALWAYS time to write and record fun things for Anakin Skywalker to say. Here's Part II in the Anakin Redux series, with more dark humor and projected psychosis.