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Monthly Archives: May 2009

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Galaxy Quest Makes a Comeback in a Deluxe Edition DVD

Everyone loves a good comeback story, and the story here is really simple. Cheesy SciFi TV show airs and picks up a passionate fanbase. Cheesy SciFi TV show gets canceled and its cast seems doomed to spend the rest of their careers answering hokey questions from fans at conventions or opening supermarkets with their worn out catch phrases. That is until pacifist aliens with no concept of fiction mistake the actors for the characters and equipping them with real life versions of the weapons, gadgets and starship right off the show, recruit them to save their race.

Years before Tropic Thunder or Star Trek’s own comeback, Galaxy Quest was already there. It’s not Star Trek, though it could be, but with Star Trek itself making a big comeback at the box office, it’s long past time for Galaxy Quest to get its due. Ten years ago, while the Star Trek and Star Wars franchises were busy killing off the goodwill of their fans, Galaxy Quest appeared out of nowhere as a breath of fresh air bringing with it the energy and enthusiasm that mainstream Science Fiction movie franchises had lost along the way. Look back at Galaxy Quest and you can see the genesis of Star Trek’s revival, from the bright white eggshell sets, to the amazing diversity of aliens and that sense of awe, the “gosh factor” that kicks in when everyone from Tim Allen’s Jason Nesmith on down actually sets foot inside a starship.

All of those things are part of why we watch Science Fiction movies in the first place, and Galaxy Quest brought them back into theaters, ten years before Star Trek did, backed by that mixture of uneasiness giving way to absolute enthusiasm that sums up what being a fan is all about. So it’s only fair that ten years later, Galaxy Quest is making its own comeback in a well deserved Deluxe DVD edition.

Though the concept of Galaxy Quest started life as a more explicit take off on Star Trek, as the creative process developed (ably chronicled on the DVD in The Story of Galaxy Quest) it came to take on a vivid life of its own, and while the performances of Tim Allen, Alan Rickman, Sigourney Weaver or Sam Rockwell might remind you of famous Science Fiction characters and their portayers, they stand on their own as completely entertaining and believable characters on their own SciFi journey of faith.

Though this is a cast with some faces many will recognize, and others they won’t; no one actor steals the show. Instead they all come together with everyone getting their own moment. From Sam Rockwell’s comic nervousness, to Tony Shalhoub’s unearthly sleepy calm to Enrico Colantoni’s childishly enthusiastic adoration to Tim Allen’s bluff unrelenting confidence, this is a cast that really delivers.

And while Galaxy Quest is filled with inside jokes running across multiple Science Fiction shows and movies, the movie is easily enjoyable even without being able to get all that “inside baseball”, because it plays both as straightforward identifiable comedy and a heroic narrative, side by side. From the opening scenes, the cast know that what they’re doing is ridiculous, and so does the audience, and yet over the scope of the movie, the cast and the viewers come to believe in the ridiculous, and make that journey of faith with them.

“Never Give Up, Never Surrender” is the tagline of Galaxy Quest, both the fictional Galaxy Quest and the meta-fictional Galaxy Quest, holds by that belief. And what seems like a goofy slogan gets taken to heart as Jason Nesmith, Gwen DeMarco, Alexander Dane and Guy Fleegman find that Galaxy Quest is becoming real around them, thanks to the naive faith of a childlike alien race, of their fans and finally of themselves.

Galaxy Quest may have an alien planet, faster than light travel, a giant rockmonster, futuristic weapons and ships… but the story at the heart of it is a very human one, about believing in yourself.

The first time out in theaters, Galaxy Quest did a respectable amount of business and then faded away, the way cult classics usually do. Its comeback as a Deluxe Edition DVD gives anyone who never saw it a chance to discover it for the first time, and people who remember seeing it and enjoying it, a chance to get the full package. From the gorgeous holographic cover that just seems to shoot out at you, to the many extras and specials inside, the Deluxe Edition DVD feels like as much of a labor of love as the movie itself.

Though it has a healthy dose of parody and self-parody, Galaxy Quest also boasted groundbreaking visual effects and alien makeup for its time, with work from ILM and Stan Winston, that still hold up really well today. From the giant convention scenes to the gleaming interiors and exteriors of the NSEA Protector, to the Rockmonster smashing his way through or the near collision between the Protector and Earth, this is a movie that was meant to look good, not just feel good. Which means if you’ve been clinging to a dog eared VHS of Galaxy Quest like I have, it’s time to trade up to the Deluxe Edition.

The Galaxy Quest Deluxe Edition DVD’s specials such as “Never Give Up, Never Surrender: The Intrepid Crew of the NSEA Protector”, “Actors in Space” and “Historical Documents: The Story of Galaxy Quest” take you inside to show you just how much of a labor of love it really was. And there’s even an unbelievable bit with Sigourney Weaver rapping. And of course that’s not mentioning the deleted scenes and just the good feeling that comes from seeing an often overlooked SciFi classic get the treatment it deserves.

Insane FOX Decision: Dollhouse Renewed, Sarah Connor Cancelled

Yup they did it again. Cancel the show that actually has a fan base and a hit movie coming out, keep the senseless muddled show that only exists because you’re in the Joss Whedon business. Dollhouse had managed to drop down to 2.8 million viewers for its finale in only 13 episodes. Down from 4.7 million viewers.

By contrast Sarah Connor Chronicles pulled in 3.8 million viewers for its finale, and 3.8 million viewers for its season premiere. There were plenty of drops in between, but it’s clear that Terminator Sarah Connor Chronicles had a much larger fanbase and a larger viewership.

There might have been some justification here if at least Dollhouse was pulling in the kids, but with a 1.0 18-34 rating, it sure isn’t doing that either. Canceling both shows might have made some sense, renewing a failure like Dollhouse while canceling Terminator Sarah Connor Chronicles, which had steadier ratings and is sure to get a boost from the Terminator Salvation release is a completely incomprehensible decision.

This can happen when a network doesn’t get one show, but gets another show. But who exactly “gets” Dollhouse? The only way it can be justified is if FOX bit the bullet and ordered 13 more episodes of Dollhouse to stay in the Joss Whedon or Eliza Dushku business. Neither one of them seem like they’re worth 13 million bucks.

Star Trek’s Big Success

In two weeks JJ Abrams’ Star Trek prequel has pulled in close to a 150 million dollars domestic. Of course before you get too excited, that’s pretty much the movie’s budget. And that’s not counting the costs of the publicity machine that helped move into nearly 4000 theaters and on the top of a lot of people’s to do lists.

So is it just a matter of the money? Paramount had taken Star Trek movies for granted. JJ Abrams showed what could happen if you put some real money and publicity muscle behind one, but of course that’s not just it. The money did help buy special effects that actually made you want to go see the movies, as opposed to the slightly goosed TV effects the TNG movies had boasted for some time now. But that’s not all of it. No one invested 150 million+ to get a two week 150 million dollar run. That’s profitable but not nearly profitable enough. 150 million dollars was the money spent to reboot the image of an entire franchise. And from here on in, is where it gets interesting.

Ridley Scott to Slum Back to Lecter?

It’s been a while since Sir Ridley Scott had a hit. Quite a while really. In fact it’s been a bit of a glorious disaster, particularly when you take a closer look at huge bombs like Kingdom of Heaven or Body of Lies which dealt a severe financial blow to Warner Brothers. A 150 million dollar sized financial blow that the big WB is still recovering from. Going back to work with Russell Crowe didn’t pay off in A Good Year. It might still in Robin Hood, but then again it might not, especially if it features a drunken overweight Russell Crowe stumbling around and cursing everyone. Which it just might. So that leaves Ridley Scott with the alternative of going back to the roots of what made him a star director in the double oughts. A sequel to Gladiator might not be realistic, but there’s apparently always room for more Lecter. Just so long as it’s not his younger Samurai sword wielding self. Which is what makes the rumors of another Ridley Scott directed travesty sequel plausible.

Windows 7 Proves Microsoft Isn’t as Clueless as You Think

Not that long ago it was pretty safe to write off Microsoft as a dinosaur monopoly, a case of the clueless getting even more clueless. Sure Microsoft had money and a limited monopoly, but it had been shut out of the future. It was like Western Union chuckling over its telegraph monopoly, but unable to get into the telephone business. With Windows 7, Microsoft proved that there’s life in Redmond yet. Not so much through its soggy commercials or even the fairly decent Windows 7, but its willingness to hear a wake up call and take action. Handing out free evaluation copies of Windows 7 Ultimate to everyone that are good until next year is not Microsoft’s usual way of doing business. Nor is actually listening and fixing people’s complaints usually part of the game plan. What might be a small step for smaller companies is a big one for Microsoft, because unlike most dinosaurs, Microsoft realized what was wrong and what it had to do to fix it. If Windows 7 gets the dominant market share over XP, Microsoft will have shown that it can’t be ignored after all.

A Season of Disinterest

Looking so far at the shows the networks are bringing on board for the next season, the dominant word is conservative. Not in politics, but in risk taking. And the other word would be boring. First there are the conservative renewals, NBC bringing back Chuck or FOX bringing back Dollhouse are hard to defend decisions, except on the grounds that network heads don’t seem to be able to make decisions anymore. And with falling ratings, you’ve got to hang on to something. That’s particularly true for FOX and NBC. Then you’ve got CBS ordering the usual mix of dramas no one will watch, that and a NCIS spinoff, which is set to become the new Law and Order or CSI megafranchise killing television by replacing itself non-stop. If two seasons ago there was too much risk, now all the risk is gone. Just the usual two parts dramas, one part reality show and the occasional sitcom in between.

Is Wolfram Alpha a Preview of the Technology that’s Going to Destroy Google?

Probably not. Ask.com already bet its stake on natural language searching, but as it turns out most people don’t know the difference and don’t care. Sure Google’s results are famously bad, but there’s so many of them that most people can just muddle on through on their own, narrowing them down and finding the gold in all that lead and spam portals. Not too long ago Wikia was supposed to destroy Google. Slightly less long ago, Wikia folded its tent and went home. That’s because beating Google requires being simpler and easier to use than Google, or actually reliably producing better results. Wolfram Alpha is supposed to do that, but it doesn’t seem to be any better at it than Google itself. Sure there’s a Gee Whiz element to it, but when you brush aside the tech, you wind up with just more search.

Battling for Batman’s Cape

So last we checked Batman is still dead, except he obviously isn’t. Instead his numerous second bananas and assorted villains and loons are battling for it instead. And most of it is underwhelming. The new Azrael is exactly what you would expect from DC, and that’s a bad thing. Barbara Gordon or Oracle going to Hong Kong to stop the Calculator is almost as exciting as watching paint dry. Then there are the fun adventures of Jason Todd. Sure Neil Gaiman’s Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader was elegiac and somberly beautiful. The Secret Six issue wasn’t even that bad, though the only really good thing about it was Bane’s dignified tribute to Batman and Ragman’s occasional antics “Holy capital punishment!” The problem with having a battle for Batman’s cape is that hardly anyone is fighting and Gotham has a shortage of good guys anyone cares about.

Ding Dong the Locke is Dead

For anyone who hasn’t seen the Lost Season 5 finale yet, sorry I just spoiled ya. But as it turns out, Locke was actually dead for half the season anyway, and word down from Terry O’Quinn is it’s permanent. Which is really kind of a shame in more ways than just the obvious. Like few other shows, Lost has shown an ability to create strong memorable characters and then dispose of them without a second thought. Locke was a key figure in Lost, not just for plot mechanics, but in the human equation. His grin on rising from the wreckage all around him only to realize he was not paralyzed anymore was one of the key human moments in a show that decided to not only make him expandable, but turn him into a pawn and make his entire journey meaningless.

Helix by Eric Brown book review

If you take Ringworld, twist it into a Helix and attempt turn it into a eco-moralistic tale, the result might well be something like Eric Helix Eric BrownBrown’s Helix. Like Ringworld, Helix involves a large number of races settled in a strange and vast structure comprising different ecologies and landmasses, unlike Ringworld it’s shaped like a helix instead of a ring, resulting in the book’s title.

With its fairly generic book cover and blurbs, Eric Brown’s Helix is easily mistaken for another generic Science Fiction novel. Yet the wonderful first few chapters actually lead you to believe that the blurbs, mostly from fellow writers are correct, and Eric Brown has indeed produced a book worth reading. The first few chapters which take place on an earth which subject to aggressive global warming faces a complete global collapse focus on the perspective of Joe Hendry, a widower maintaining his lonely plot of land in an Australian starship graveyard. Unfortunately once Brown takes Hendry off the graveyard and to Helix, the novel implodes into a generic muddled narrative that is as tedious as it is predictable.

In one paragraph Brown destroys the Lovelock, the starship, which nevertheless manages to land on one of the Helix worlds. At this point the novel follows the misadventures of the cast of the Lovelock survivors, who include Hendry, his eskimo girlfriend, a medic with implants which implausibly allows her to speak any alien language within seconds of hearing it, the completely non-stereotypical macho angry African who may also be a warlord and a rapist and a number of aliens.

While Eric Brown did well enough in sketching Hendry and a decaying earth, he flounders when actually forced to create aliens and deal with the science of it. I’m no hard science purist but for a novel, one of whose subplots involves the triumph of science over superstition, Helix is all but empty of not only science but scientific plausibility. When Brown finds himself needing to create aliens, he simply has them think, talk and act like Renaissance Europeans in one case and Tibetan Buddhists in another. There’s even an alien Church complete with Bishops and crosses.

All this would be bad enough but Brown spools out a plot that requires most of the characters to behave like idiots. The Lovelock team wake none of the colonists and go fully leaving behind a ship of helpless frozen colonists behind. From there they do one foolish thing after another. The alien characters are little better, baiting the token religious fanatic figure even after being well aware that the Church can have them tortured and executed for heresy. The novel focuses on a quest for the Builders, who appear godlike and omnipotent and yet cannot even defend their own sanctuary without human help. Helix is filled with deus ex machinas that has lacks in logic and science and is choked with sentimentality and yet is meant to be some sort of paean to science and ecology.

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