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Blast From the Past

Faster than Light

At the end of the millennium, “Blast From the Past” took a look back, tapping into the retro nostalgia that hit at the same time. Brendan Frasier plays Adam Webber, a young man raised in a bomb shelter by parents for whom the early sixties never ended. Adam’s father, Calvin Webber, played by the always amazing Christopher Walken, who mistook a plane crash for the beginning of World War III, has locked the family in a bomb shelter for thirty-five years.

Adam has never seen the real world. Instead he’s grown up a bubble boy, a cultural bubble boy, living in a projection of the early sixties as an ideal past. Adam Webber’s conception of the world was colored by the determined optimism and cultural inheritance of the early sixties, uncomplicated by the later events of the sixties or any fragments from the darker underside of real life. This makes Adam a virtual innocent, not ready for the technological advances and cultural turbulences that have changed the world by 1997, but not ready for the darker and more complicated sides of human nature.

Adam’s idea of the world is the idealistic one his father and mother have conveyed to him. An ideal world colored by classic American value and virtues, by Boy Scout ideals and a sunny optimistic approach to everything. Like a bubble boy, Adam has no immune system, but not against infection or disease (though in real life that would have been a problem as well), but against greed, cynicism, abuse, deception and manipulation. A golden boy, Adam is completely unready for modern day Los Angeles and the debauchery and corruption there.

The classic idea of Science Fiction futurism is to project a future that assumes that things keep on going the way they are. Thus Science Fiction written in the 50’s imagines a future where the trends and events of the 50’s kept on going. Science Fiction written in the 60’s assumed a future where the trends and events of the 60’s continued on producing a world very much like the futuristic version of the 60’s. Adam is a product of that miniature kind of the world. A world of three. Now he must confront a world of millions. A world of actual real people who are not ideals, but have lighter and darker sides, and complexities, rather than stereotypes.

Adam however is equipped with a number of advantages.His values may not be compatible with Los Angeles, but they give him an inner strength that allows him to cope with a difficult and dangerous world and still maintain his good cheer and that allow him to rise above the malice directed at him.

He is also extremely wealthy now. His father’s collections of bonds and baseball cards are worth a large sum now, enough of a fortune to let Adam and his parents live in style, if they can ever adapt to the modern world.

Adam is also physically agile and an excellent dancer thanks to decades of sessions with his mother and father in the fallout shelter. Of course his dancing is decades out of date, but luckily Los Angeles is retro enough that swing dancing is back, allowing Adam to impress Eve with his skills on the dance floor.

Like his biblical namesake, Adam is a new man in a new world, and searching for Eve. The world around him, from the sky and the busy streets to a multiracial society and cars all around, is a new creation for him. But what really drives Adam is finding a mate. The crux of the movie is whether Adam can succeed at winning the heart of his Eve (Alicia Silverstone) competing against the smooth sophisticated L.A. man. While Troy (Dave Foley) sneers at Adam’s backward ways and mores, Adam has the grounded values and character to win Eve over.

Adam shows his class and worth, but he doesn’t simplistically triumph over the decadence of modern day Los Angeles either. While that might have been the simplistic romantic comedy cliche, Adam is alternately pitied and treated as insane, nearly broken and institutionalized, before finally finding happiness with Eve and buying his parents a home in the distance, without letting them know that they squandered thirty-five years of their life living unnecessarily hiding underground.

Fundamentally naive and simple to a fault and nearly to the point of idiocy at times, the movie gives Adam an ace in the hole, in the form of wealth. Without it the ending might not have been quite as easy or happy to obtain. Ironically of all the values of the early sixties that the movie trumpets, it’s his father’s pursuit of money that allows Adam and his father and mother to live life on the surface on their own terms.

“Blast From the Past” glosses over the darker heritage of the fifties and early sixties. It invests Adam with chivalry and courtesy, but glosses over the sexism and misogyny of the time. It makes Adam an open and tolerant fellow, without any of the racism and prejudice of the period. Devoid of any of the paranoia, intolerance or narrow- mindedness of the era, Adam emerges as a kind of perfect man, lacking only in basic common sense.

While Adam Webber emerges to the surface, fearful of the mutants his father described, and seeking a non-mutant wife– in reality he is the mutant. The one who stands out and remains radically different in a strange new world.

Galaxy Quest Blasts to the Stars

There’s a long history of fan fiction that plays with the idea of the actors on a Science Fiction show actually ending up in a real life Science Fiction situation, most notably Jean Lorrah’s “Visit to a Weird Planet.” “Galaxy Quest” is likely the only piece of fanfic to actually make it to film. Originally written by a “Star Trek” fan and intended to showcase the real life “Star Trek” cast, the script eventually evolved into a story about a Star Trek-like classic SciFi series, whose actors bear a certain amount of resemblance to the Original Series cast.

Like “Star Trek”, “Galaxy Quest” is a canceled classic network series that became a cult classic in reruns. (Galaxy Quest was canceled at the end of its second season. “Star Trek” was nearly canceled at the end of its second season, but survived to continue in a disastrous third season on Friday nights sans creator Gene Roddenberry, before being canceled.) Like the Star Trek cast, its actors have become sufficiently identified with the roles they played, as to seriously damage their ability to find other work.

Star Trek relaunched with a new motion picture. So does “Galaxy Quest”, but it’s a motion picture inspired by a “real life” adventure that begins when a naive race of aliens which has modeled itself on the television broadcasts of “Galaxy Quest” reruns seeking aid from the actors. The idea of an alien race picking up fictional material from humanity to reshape their own societies has been done quite often. The original “Star Trek” series itself featured an episode titled “A Piece of the Action” that had an alien race transform itself into a gangster culture (Al Capone not Snoop Dogg) based on a book carelessly left behind. This proceeds from the idea that our concept of fiction might itself be foreign to an alien race.

The Thermians on “Galaxy Quest” follow this model, having no other way to comprehend fiction, except as lies. In that way the Thermians become the diametrical opposites of the society that rejected the fiction of “Galaxy Quest.” Where the mundane approach is that fiction is worthless because it is unreal and believe nothing, the Thermian approach is to believe everything.

“Galaxy Quest” begins and ends with a Science Fiction convention filled with fans whose devotion to the show is gently mocked. The Thermians are the ultimate fans. If the faith of the fans occasionally wavers, as when passionate fan Brandon (Justin Long) is temporarily shaken by Jason Nesmith’s (Tim Allen) rant that the show is not real, the faith of the Thermians never wavers. Being human, the fans believe in the show as an act of faith. The Thermians naturally believe, because faith is innate to them. Throughout the movie the actors are called upon to prove worthy of that faith by saving the Thermians, to be in turned saved by their fans, led by Brandon, who provide crucial technical information and even landing directions for the returning NSEA Protector.

“Galaxy Quest” is essentially a story of faith packaged as an action movie. Much like the two upcoming Star Wars fan movies, “1977” and “Fanboys”, “Galaxy Quest” spoofs the devotion to a SciFi movie or TV show, even while affirming it.

Tim Allen’s Jason Nesmith is part William Shatner and part every TV leading man whose time has come and gone, but still can’t let go of his glory days. Ultimately he learns the same lesson that Shatner did, that a Captain is nothing without his crew.

Tim Allen channels not just Shatner’s arrogance but his boundless self-confidence, the energy and focus that causes Shatner to be parodied endlessly. A good deal of the ribbing aimed at Shatner comes about precisely because he is so serious about himself, that it becomes funny. The popular clip of Shatner interpreting Elton John’s “Rocket Man” comes about because with the seriousness of an actor who spends a lot of time breaking down the most trivial things in terms of his studies in acting, Shatner interpreted the artistic “ideas” of a silly pop song in terms of ego, superego and id. That is also why Shatner never quite understands the parodies of himself. Allen thankfully avoids any all too obvious vocal Shatner parody, instead he captures the sense of faith that underlies an actor, who in believing in his own performance, believes in himself. Unlike the rest of the crew, Nesmith does not need to learn to beleive. He needs to learn a sense of proportion and to believe in others besides himself.

Alan Rickman lends dignity to Alexander Dane, echoing Leonard Nimoy’s discomfort with being typecast as a SciFi character, who comes to realize the effect his performance which he has held in contempt, has had on the character of his fans. Rickman is best remembered for his turn in “Die Hard” as Hans Gruber, here he manages to convey the petty arrogance and condescension which he infuses into his villains, and yet allow such a man to grow and learn, as Dane does throughout the course of the movie.

Sigourney Weaver brings style and life to a character that could have easily fallen by the wayside, just as her fictional counterpart did on the screen. Weaver’s Gwen DeMarco isn’t well written, but she is well acted. Weaver is one of those few actresses who can easily dominate a scene no matter what she is wearing or what her character is, and she duplicates that feat here as well.

Tony Shalhoub’s Tech Sergeant Kwan is the weak point of the movie. Besides wondering why an Asian actor was not cast in an Asian part, Shalhoub’s performance is weird, but not particularly entertainingly so. Another actor might have made it work, but he does not.

The always excellent Enrico Colantoni turns in a stand out performance as Mathesar, the leader of the Thermians. Full of naive goodness and yet vulnerable and capable of being hurt, Matlhesar is the alien as a child writ large.

Daryl Mitchell isn’t as irritating as he usually is, though his role is yet another minstrel show of cheesy racial stereotypes. Sam Rockwell overplays his part, but that’s almost expected in a character who was killed off and is desperate for the spotlight. Justin Long plays pretty much the same part he plays everywhere else and isn’t nearly as irritating as he is in the Apple commercials. Also look for Rainn Wilson, The Office’s Dwight Schrute in a small part as one of the Thermians.

What is particularly startling about “Galaxy Quest” is how much better of a movie it is, than all of the “Star Trek The Next Generation” cinematic features combined. With the Star Trek franchise, that “Galaxy Quest” is based on, in severe decline. Perhaps it’s time for Paramount to look back to “Galaxy Quest” in order to recapture the Star Trek spirit.

Dark City’s Dystopian Urban Nightmare

3.-Dark-City-film-still-1998One of the greatest terrors of the urban environment is a loss of identity. When people moved out from small towns and villages into the clustered mass of a big city, they also found themselves vanishing into the anonymity of that sheer vastness. The streets daily filled with people going about their business, buildings around them stretching into the sky. Stores that cater to tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of shoppers a day. A world where no one remembers you and no one notices you.

The world of the city is also an ever changing one. Buildings are constantly being demolished to make way for new ones. Construction is always going on, especially in boom periods. The landscape of the city changes. Its face and texture rearranging themselves constantly”

This is the world of the city, an urban dystopia or an urban utopia, depending on your perspective. In “Dark City” it is most definitely a dystopia. A true world without memory. If the city stripped away the traditions of the country, the jobs and houses passed from father to son, reducing you to your assigned job and title in the bowels of a vast echoing urban bureaucracy or the fiefdoms or its vast corporations, Dark City does this literally.

The world of “Dark City” is a trap, a prison, a circular urban plan from where there is literally no exit. If the average city is often a kind of unintentional sociological experiment, “Dark City” is a deliberate one. An experiment to discover the nature of the human soul. Sociologists often explored the structure of a city by way of class. In “Dark City” the experiment is advanced enough to pull a “Prince and the Pauper” scenario every night, turning rich into poor and the poor into rich and rearranging people’s social circumstances and memories to shape new identities for them. The ultimate experiment in urban sociology.

Like a number of films that came out in the last days of the 20th century and the former millenium, including the “Matrix”, “The Thirteenth Floor” and “eXistenZ”, “Dark City” was fundamentally concerned with the nature of reality. The end of the 20th century represented a watershed moment of cultural anxiety. The internet was exploding, the end of the Cold War had removed a pervasive threat that had helped provide a sense of identity to Americans and the future seemed strange and unknown. Playing with the nature of reality was inevitable. Like the Y2K panic, such fears represented the very real anxiety of venturing into the unknown reality of the future, from the reality of our here and now.

Those fears were neither contemptible nor wrong. Today we live in a world where privacy has in many ways all but disappeared, where the next generation is living their lives online beginning in their teen years and where we are constantly threatened by terrorist incursions in our cities. Telecommunications are everywhere linking us in a great invisible web, but security is nowhere. Seven years later the world no longer looks the same as it did in the far more naive times when “Dark City” was crafted.

So is the question “Dark City” asks. Who are we? Are we our memories or our souls. If we detach the details of class, culture and nurture; who will we become as a result? Are we infinitely malleable, or do we have innate unalterable properties that recur regardless.

Director Alex Proyas creates a beautiful but haunted metropolis in which to ask that question. Like many dystopias it echoes the classic urban architecture of the 20’s, the period of the zenith of urban architecture and at the same time often its darkest hour. Urban centers of the time were often soot stained and their skies were darkened by the smog of pollution rising from smokestacks. Dark City’s city is literally dark. Blacker than night with no escape from it.

John Murdoch, played competently by Rufus Sewell, is seeking to escape not only the city, but his own mind. The evidence around him says he is a murderer. He has no memory of who or what he is. But the city is really a space station, inescapable. Murdoch can only transcend the physical structure of his memories and the physical structure of the city with the force of his own identity. Devoid of purpose, he has power. Devoid of a plan, he has a destiny.

If John Murdoch is the moral tabula rasa, the blank slate of humanity, innately decent, but with no understanding of the world around him, Dr. Schreber possesses the understanding but lacks the moral center to openly resist the city’s alien masters. It is only when Schreber inserts himself into Murdoch’s memories that their union produces a man capable of resisting the alien occupiers. Injecting Murdoch with specially crafted memories, Schreber inserts himself in every memory to teach Murdoch what he needs to know to fight back and win. Instant nurture in a needle. Schreber becomes Murdoch’s conceptual father.

Liberated from the city and from memory, Murdoch brings light to the city and water, both symbols of life. The city is a collection of details, memory too is a collection of details. Times and places and locations. Everyone in “Dark City” possesses a full collection of these memories, that are artificially injected by Schreber in service of the aliens. These memories attempt to define people, but they have neither reality nor substance. A man might be a police officer one night and an assassin the other and a sidewalk vendor on the third.

“Dark City” defines the struggle between memory and soul. The showdown concludes with the destruction of memory. With the aliens destroyed by Murdoch, everyone is left with their irrelevant memories, to live in a new world, and a city damaged by Murdoch’s battle against the aliens.

The Dark City and memory are both innately physical structures. They are replaced by light and water and soul, innately spiritual ones. The aliens’ experiment was to see if Murdoch would become a killer, simply because the identity of a killer had been crafted for him. Murdoch’s soul though superseded it choosing to be true to his nature, rather than to the physical identity of the city.

Murdoch’s memories begin with the beach and his quest ends there. The beach is where the land meets the sea. The intersection point of the natural world that rises up beyond the city. Having transcended the physical, both in learning to tune and in defying the artificial identity he was saddled with, Murdoch opens the door for the embrace of a pure humanity undiluted by the artificacts of urban civilization.

Sarah Michelle Gellar to play Harley Quinn in The Dark Knight

Rumor has it going around that Sarah Michelle Gellar will be appearing as the Joker’s sidekick, Harley Quinn the Batman Begins sequel, The Dark Knight. Harley Quinn Dr. Quinzell, was a character created in the Batman animated series, which then appeared in the comic books and now will apparently make the transition to film as well.

Far Beyond the Stars and Race in Star Trek

“Science Fiction was a diverse field with both its racist and anti-racist elements. However “Far Beyond the Stars” positions Benny’s only hope as the emergence of Star Trek. “Far Beyond the Stars” further attempts to position Deep Space Nine as the true achievement of racial breakthroughs, but “Far Beyond the Stars” itself was an episode not written by a black man, but written by two white men. Deep Space Nine is a series with only two non-white cast members, one in the lead role and a completely white stable of writers and executive producers. What “Far Beyond the Stars” dishonest does, is create a black character to serve as their mouthpiece.

The value of role models is real. Nichelle Nichols recounts Martin Luther King telling her to remain on Star Trek. Whoopi Goldberg cited a similar desire for joining the cast of “Star Trek The Next Generation.” “Far Beyond the Stars” itself conveys Benny propounding the importance of a black role model for youth. But while Captain Sisko may be that role model, Benny is not. Benny is blackface painted on Ira Steven Behr, Hans Beimler, Rick Berman, Ron Moore and Michael Piller. All white men.”

Read more here Far Beyond the Stars Star Trek Deep Space Nine Speaks on Race

The Blob vs Body Snatchers

Horror is rooted in the fear of the unknown. With the transition of the United States along the road of a technological society through the 20th century, the locus of the unknown shifted increasingly moving from gothic themes, from demons, legendary monsters of superstition and curses to scientific experiments gone mad. technological monsters and creatures from beyond the solar system.

Horror had always resided in the fear of the unknown. As the world became known, its forests mapped, its cities lit by electric light, its deserts and jungles photographed and each corner of the globe surveyed by satellites from space, the unknown had to come from the mysteries of scientific laboratories, radiation and of course outer space. Science replaced myth as the wellspring of terror and is doing so its discoveries, methods and processes became terrifying.

Read the rest here The Blob vs Body Snatchers � Jelly or pods?

Battlestar Galactica Spoilers for Season 4

I know all Battlestar Galactica fans are just amped up over the amazing storytelling of the Season 3 finale. Now exclusively on Space Ramblings, we offer up some spoilers for Season 4. Don’t read on, if you don’t want to be spoiled.

* The entire crew of the Galactica and all of the humans on all the ships actually turn out to be Cylons.

When asked whether the show has a point anymore, now that the entire cast are Cylons, Ron Moore winked enigmatically and said, “That’s the point.”

* In a very special Christmas episode, Lee, Admiral Adama and President Roslin have random flashbacks of Caprica and contemplate killing themselves. Again.

* Baltar becomes reelected President of the Colonies after Lee delivers a long speech explaining that we’re all flawed, so who are we to deny a traitor the right to be President. All the extras applaud, except some extras who riot.

* Baltar’s inaugural address promises to betray everyone to the Cylons. The entirely Cylon crew applaud him heartily.

* Season 4 of Battlestar Galactica will briefly switch over to the launch of the Battlestar Galactica spinoff as a crossover with Who’s The Boss featuring Judith Light as a businesswoman on Caprica trying to raise her kids, with Tony Danza as their Cylon nanny.

* It will be revealed in a prophetic dream that all of Season 3 was actually a hallucination and everyone is still under Cylon rule on New Caprica.

* In the next episode, in another hallucination shared by everyone, it’s revealed that Earth never existed in the first place, that Battlestar Galactica is a hallucination and that everyone on the show is actually a patient in a mental ward.

Then Ron Moore runs out from behind the screen blowing a kazoo and waving his arms while yelling, “I fooled you! See, I fooled you,” over the closing credits.

Monsters and Madmen

“Coming from a time when cinematically horror and science fiction often blended together, both venturing into the exploration of the unknown, these movies date back to a time when horror was more than slasher flicks and science fiction was more than another asteroid about to plow into the earth.

All four of them treat the progress of science as opening up more doorways that should have perhaps remained closed and letting in the terror.

Boasting a heritage, long lost in both genres, what these four films have in common is that despite their awkward dialogue and plot twists that will appear cliched to the modern viewer who has grown used to watching movies whose filmmakers have the benefit of decades of experience, they are not the bland corporate studio products of the modern cinema, but a daring exploration into the unknown.

Long before transgressive art was transgressive, horror and science fiction flicks, even at their cheesiest, were transgressive summoning up monsters and madmen from the id, stalking the bloody corridors of human nightmares and digging out what was hidden within their walls. The classic horror film was the grandfather of nightmare, the ancestor of terror and their feeble progeny today that rely entirely on blood, gore and musical cues, cannot hold a flickering candle flame to their innate terrors.”

Read more here. Monsters and Madmen – Classic horror & sci-fi on DVD

Conversations on Rights – Part 3

> 18) You have to believe that waging war with no exit strategy was wrong in
> Vietnam but right in Iraq.

We have an exit strategy. Elect Kerry and run like hell.

> 20) You believe that government should restrict itself to just the powers
> named in the Constitution, which includes banning gay marriages and
> censoring the Internet.

CDA and CDAII were enacted under Clinton. There hasn’t been any
recurrence under Bush. The ignorance of Democrats about their own
party is downright shocking. Democrats have pushed internet censorship more aggressively and ruthlessly, not Republicans. Tipper Gore has pushed censorship, far more than any Republican.

> 22) You have to believe that the public has a right to know about
> Hillary’s cattle trades but that Bush was right to censor those 28 pages
> from the
> Congressional 9/11 report because you just can’t handle the truth.

Well shockingly enough we’re in a war which involves classifying
inteligence. Hillary’s cattle trades don’t come under this heading.

> 23) You support state rights, which means Ashcroft telling states what
> locally passed voter initiatives he will allow them to have.

Yeah he’s worse than that bastard Lincoln who destroyed state’s
rights. Why couldn’t that nice General McClellan have come in and made
peace with the south.

> 25) You have to believe that trade with Cuba is wrong because it is
> communist, but trading with China and Vietnam is just dandy

China is reforming, is Cuba?

The Last Unicorn

“Today’s animated films are increasingly creatures of computer animated graphics, three dimensional to a fault, shiny and crowded with textures and vivid vistas. While no one will deny that Pixar’s animated films are beautiful and inspiring, but there’s a certain longing for classical hand drawn animation, for stories that are charmingly two dimensional and harken back to the classic animated children’s movies we grew up with and loved.

For many of us, “The Last Unicorn” is one of those movies.”

The Last Unicorn – A family fantasy classic on DVD

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