Space Ramblings

Category Archives: Stray Thoughts

No More Philip K. Dick Movies, Please

I like PK Dick novels. I own almost all his stories. But has just got to stop. Ever since Blade Runner, Dick has been the go to SF writer for movies. Why? Because Blade Runner. Even though the movie was marginally related to the book. Add on Total Recall, which was even less related to the short story that gave birth to it, and it’s now a compulsive thing. Asimov, Clarke and Heinlein may have been bestselling authors, but in Hollywood, PK Dick is the only one who opens movies.

But the movies keep getting made. And they’re not very good. But Minority Report was a hit, and so onward we go.

Dick has a huge IMDB entry, almost all of it after his own death. Yes really. The Man in the High Castle is set for this year. Total Recall is getting remade. Blade Runner will be getting prequels and sequels. Someone made a sequel to Screamers starring Lance Henriksen. John Woo directed Nicholas Cage in Next. Ben Affleck appeared in Paycheck.

10 PK Dick movies in the last 10 years.

The Adjustment Bureau is terrible and opened in second place. If it manages to pass 60 million, which is iffy, then there will be more. And it must stop. Take a look at what looks like a direct to video production of Radio Free Albemuth as made by Alex Jones


Radio Free Albemuth movie trailer
Uploaded by blankytwo. – Classic TV and last night's shows, online.

There’s no end to this either. They keep coming and coming. They have nothing to do with Dick’s work anymore. And it’s the final postscript of an unpopular surrealist author to turn into a Hollywood gold mine after his death. It’s the kind of ending Vonnegut would have loved. Dick would just have been bemused by it.

Political Rabies

Forget political blogging, I don’t even read most blogs anymore. Why? Because Democrats and Republicans have decided to go insane and take everyone else with them. Yesterday I visited the blog of a well known Science Fiction writer and read an astoundingly stupid rant from an intelligent man. It doesn’t matter whether it was to the left or the right, they’re both crazy.

The one thing both sides agree on is that the other side is a bunch of evil morons brainwashed by evil billionaires Koch Brothers/George Soros. The other side is crazy, violent and dangerous and we need to prepare for the day when they try to kill us all. There are no words for this level of crazy and it’s being articulated by former disc jockeys and sports commentators and comedians who are suddenly experts on politics and broadcast by Viacom, FOX and Comcast.

It wasn’t this bad in 2003 at the height of the Iraq debate. People could still somehow have a conversation. It’s impossible now. Every topic is a fort. There are no more ideas, just attacks. Everyone is angry all the time and angry if you aren’t just as angry as they are. Liberals haven’t stopped being angry even after winning two elections and conservatives are angrier than the Clinton years. Comparing congressional procedures to terrorism is now normal. Screaming insults during the State of the Union is now normal. Both sides get egged on by their grass roots to get on in there and fight.

And somehow if we all scream at each other enough, call each other bigots, thugs, commies, nazis, murderers, fanatics and terrorists, one side will finally win. Or somehow the quiet majority will arise, put on earplugs and vote in elections by flipping a coin and leave them all choking on their impotent rage.

Is Zack Snyder the First Video Game Director?

It used to be that to direct a movie you had to want to tell a story. Post MTV, you had to direct a few music videos first to prove that you could connect with the kids. This approach wasn’t a complete dead loss and we did get some actual filmmakers out of it. But we also got a lot of directors who had no idea what a story was and thought that if they just kept moving the camera around enough, no one would notice. Movies began to be made that way even by directors who had never done music videos. Toss together some filters, mess with the sound and frame rate, use a steadicam and you’re a brilliant director. Not.

Zack Snyder doesn’t belong in that category, he might belong in an entirely new one. The video game director. 300 was a movie that came as close as possible to capturing the feel of playing a video game. He may not have known he was doing it, but it’s what he did. 300’s story came down to video game cut scenes and its action to the same aim that video games have, to let you kill enemies in cooler ways. Unlike George Lucas’ prequels, 300 didn’t look like a CG cartoon, it looked like a CG game. Which threw a lot of reviewers who didn’t understand what they were dealing with.

But then Snyder tackled Watchmen, a project that required a story. That made no sense without the story. And the 300 approach of throwing together some cool things and pushing you forward through the world he had built to the ending didn’t work. Sucker Punch is the closest Snyder has come so far to making a video game movie. And Sucker Punch is up front about what it is. It’s roleplaying. It’s a game projected on life. And that’s what video games are.

After Sucker Punch, Snyder tackles Superman. And what kind of Superman movie will he make? Probably a Superman movie that captures the feel of playing Superman in a video game.

Grub Street Here We Come

Let’s pretend that all ebooks are free. How will writers make money? The same way all media makes money. Advertising, merchandising, and licensing.

Joe Konrath

Now let’s say that we fill eBooks with a lot of ads. That’s still not an answer to piracy. What stops people from ripping and distributing ad free versions of those same eBooks. That does it for advertising. Not to mention that it means a writer is on par with anyone running a website, in selling content around ads. If we run things that way, then publishing ceases to matter.

On to merchandising. Merchandise what? J.K. Rowlings can merchandise, the average writer can’t. To merchandise, you need to be writing material that somebody would actually want to buy merchandise of, and you need a reasonable amount of popularity to do it. So another stupid answer. See the same thing for licensing.

The whole fantastic content is free model just reverts us back to Grub Street, in which there’s no copyright, and writing is something that bored rich people do in their spare time.

The Politics of Avatar are Stupid

Looking for yet another angle on Avatar, now that it’s been out for a few weeks, ABC and a bunch of others are running articles to discuss the politics of Avatar. Sorry but Avatar has no politics, or actually Avatar’s politics are generic Hollywood gibberish and sublimated racism in which the liberal white man’s burden is virtually indistinguishable from neo-conservatism. Avatar is certainly not post-racial, like everything Hollywood turns out, it’s rooted in a political worldview dating back to the 60’s and 70’s. A worldview that audiences naturally screen out while paying to see the special effects. Whatever else Cameron may like to pretend, Avatar’s appeal is 3D and a lot of stuff blowing up on screen. Its politics mix together the old Dancing with Wolves formula with a dash of fantasy environmentalism for an old formula that only looks new if you haven’t seen anything in 30 years. You can’t debate Avatar’s politics, just as you can’t argue about copyright law with a 4 year old. Cameron has no political consciousness, only egotism and derivative formulas in which the natives are backward yet morally superior, and in which technology is villain and savior at once.

Ebert, Scott, McWeeny, Movie Critics and the Public Taste

At HitFlix.com, Drew McWeeny, aka Moriarty of AICN, assails older movie critics for criticizing the audience’s lack of taste. But of course a headline like “Why do older movie critics suddenly want everyone off their lawn?” unfairly attacks the arguments of critics like Ebert and Scott on the grounds of age. It’s reasonable to argue that McWeeny is returning ageism for ageism, in the case of Scott’s essay, but answering a bad argument with a bad argument of your own isn’t much of a response.

The real issue isn’t age either. Movie critics for generations have lambasted public taste as lacking. The criticisms that A.O. Scott or Robert Ebert offer are variations of timeless attacks by critics in general on the public. It’s the business of movie critics to demand higher standards and the business of the public to run for the sugary treats. Scott is not wrong about the infantilization of America. Ebert isn’t wrong that younger audiences care much less about critic credibility. McWeeny though is correct that they’re overstating the case and that pop culture skews young, but his own blatantly ageist headline is a great example of what happens when you pander too much to a youth demographic.

When it comes to entertainment, the young have more disposable time to spend on it, place a higher priority on the mass consumption of it, and set the trends. But are revivals of Transformers, a toy whose biggest boom period was among kids who are today just under 30, or GI Joe, ditto, really about appealing to the youngest possible demo? Hollywood isn’t plowing a 150 million dollar budgets into making a Yu Gi Oh movie. They did that for Speed Racer though, a series whose young fans are middle aged today. And even the Twilight movies, despite the huge payoffs, are treated as third class citizens. Meanwhile Star Trek gets another reboot. Terminator keeps churning out sequels. And Battlestar Galactica will be getting a movie. It isn’t really about appealing to the kids, as much as it is about Gen X and a few younger Baby Boomer executives pushing their own pop culture to the front of the line, while dumbing it down in the process.

Twitter and Facebook as Tools of Social Change

If Iran’s election protests demonstrated the utility of Twitter and Facebook, the Russian DDOS attack on Twitter, Livejournal and Facebook in order to take down one single user, demonstrated how vulnerable these social networking services really are. Where the Iranian government worked to create a firewall that would cut Facebook and Twitter access at home, Russia went after Twitter and Facebook itself, which might be overkill but also shows would be Georgian activists that they can’t hope to rely on Twitter or Facebook in case of an invasion.

The Russian intelligence services have already reliably mastered social networking, as they demonstrated during the original invasion of Georgia. And they haven’t gotten lazy since then. A Cnet news story on the Twitter DDOS attacks has a series of comments, each of them repeating the same thing, that Russia had nothing to do with it, that the KGB doesn’t exist anymore (technically true, if besides the point, since the KGB has been renamed to the FSB, whoohoo three different letters), and that the user would have been dead if the KGB was really after him.

Twitter is still being hammered by the Russian Fail Whale, but the larger story is that activists abroad have become a little too reliant on American internet tools to maintain their organization and communications. Such tools are vulnerable to being subverted or blocked, as Iran did, or to being whacked completely, as Russia has done. While it’s idealistic to talk about the transformative powers of global communications, they remain a two way street. And while activists can harness the tools of the internet, so can the secret services who have more resources and more ruthlessness at their disposal.

And Now the Michael Jackson News

My television has been silent for a while now, and so has my radio. Today going shopping I made the mistake of unplugging myself from my MP3 player long enough to be treated to a radio host going on about Michael Jackson being in dreamland, or something equally absurd, before launching into an all Michael Jackson set. My earphones quickly went back in. If there’s any advantage of modern technology, it’s that it capably insulates from the things you want to avoid.

That’s where Ray Bradbury got it both right and wrong in Fahrenheit 451, and some of his stories which correctly postulated a media saturated future, but failed to predict that it would also give us the ability to tune it out. 15 years ago, there would have been no escape from Michael Jackson’s death and the media frenzy over it. Today I can mostly avoid it. Not completely. I still get funeral soundbites inflicted on me, photos in webmail, and scraps slipping between the cracks. But it only reaffirms my decision to unplug from the news and the rest of the media madness. The rest of the country might want to immerse themselves in a Michael Jackson nostalgia trip 24/7. I don’t. Increasingly flexible technologies let those of us who don’t want to live in an idiocracy get our escape hatch from the madness.

I’m almost reminded of the ending of Brazil. “He’s escaped us at last.”

The Internet, Good or Evil?

What is the internet anyway? Good or evil? Behind that question is the idea that a medium is either wholeheartedly good and pro-utopian, or it’s destroying everything around us. I came across the latest example of this all or none approach at Kathryn Cramer’s blog where she writes that,

A few years ago, I viewed the Internet as a vehicle for spreading compassion, spreading empathy, allowing the possibility that someone like me from her dining room could spontaneously arrive at ways to help individual people on the other side of the world

Lately, I have come to view the Internet as a vehicle for rapid re-socialization, much of it for the worse. I see a sudden Internet-induced lack of empathy, compassion, and even basic sympathy, in what I regard as a population of normal (by which I mean not sociopathic) people. I see mean-girl behavior in adult women that would get them sent to the Vice Principal’s office under no-bullying policies if they were sixth grade girls at my son’s school; I see violent ideation expressed publicly; I see demonization (sometimes literally); and I see this passing by without opposition from the communities within which these are expressed.

I find this very worrisome. None of the theories we have about how people behave in large numbers can adequately account for behavior on the Internet because the Internet is too new. A few years ago, I thought of the Internet as a potential solution to many things, and as a tool for spreading compassion across international and cultural boundaries. Now I begin to see it as the opposite: a tool used by others for the mass elimination of empathy, and as a problem rather than a solution.

Now this kind of “I thought the internet was good, but now I realize it’s a bad and scary place that makes people behave badly“, isn’t an uncommon approach. We’ve all seen things on the internet that make us think that maybe Vincent Cerf should have focused on designing birdhouses instead. Birdhouses don’t hurt anyone, except birds with vision problems.

But the internet is still a tool. It is a human tool, and a powerful one. Powerful tools allow people to do greater good and greater evil, which is as close as I’ll go to that inescapable Spider-Man quote. The internet is not one thing and not another, it is a tool and how people use it, is only a matter of scaling up their usual behavior by the ratio of the power they now have.

Cramer uses the term re-socialization to describe what is going on, on the internet, even comparing it to what went on in Nazi Germany. I would question the use of the term in both examples, but in the case of the internet, people are not adapting, so much as they’re using. Moving to Pakistan requires re-socialization. Using the internet is a matter of learning to use a particular tool. The internet we deal with on a daily basis is filled with people very much like us. It’s not a new environment. It’s our environment viewed through the filter of a digital toolset.

Nothing that people do on the internet is new, whether it’s helping people around the world or hurting people around the world. The internet has not changed human nature, only give it more range. The internet reflects the good and bad qualities of human nature. It projects as much empathy as antipathy. There is no single state for the internet, because there is no single state for us.

Sure morality mobs, Anonymous, sexting, twitter, terrorist instruction videos can be pretty horrifying. And the next generation always seems to have no more morals or sense of right and wrong. But hasn’t it always been that way? People have always been freaked out by the next generation and their hangouts and manners and attitudes. Everyone’s Greatest Generations was always someone else’s bunch of no good punks who need to get a good whuppin from their parents.

So like every tool humans ever invented, the internet is a bunch of problems and solutions wrapped in one. Think about cars, planes, computers, fire, dynamite, sharp blades, television and the printing press. It’s always been this way. It always will be this way. And if we ever get around to nanotech, FTL, genetically engineering humans and holodecks, they’ll be that way too. That’s always been a basic theme in Science Fiction, but Science Fiction cliches are a lot easier to deal with, until it actually happens, and the world gets very strange, and people begin putting the technology to all sorts of unexpected uses, that we really should have expected if we had been paying more attention to human nature.

Are Games and Movies Out of Ideas?

If sequelmania rules the box office and studios are scrambling to remake just about every classic movie ever made while digging up property after property to recycle, right down to classic cartoons (witness the Speed Racer, Scooby Doo, GI Joe, He Man, Thundercats and Transformers movies in just a few years alone), the news is little better from the gaming world as Electronic Arts solidifies its grip on gaming and churns out games based on classic movies like From Russia with Love with Sean Connery or Reservoir Dogs or Godfather, you can’t help but shudder to think of EA picking up Take Two and having them churn out a video game of Waiting for Mr. Goodbar where you stalk women in bars.

Are we really out of ideas or are we just out of executives and producers willing to risk an original idea? The real problem is that at some point executives turned to outright content mining losing any interest in developing new properties and turned the bulk of their attention to churning out sequels, remakes and developments of anything with brand recognition. And the worst part is that the box office has repaid them with billions of dollars. Any movie with brand name recognition tends to do better than it would without it. Even Underdog had a decent opening before it imploded. The two Scooby Doo movies alone would have justified this insanity in purely cash terms.

In gaming, sequels still don’t have the power that they do in marketing movies. While there are plenty of franchises out there, it’s a minor issue compared to what’s going on in the movie industry. And with the added cost of licensing, most game studios are not as eager to dive into the costs of churning out a movie game adaptation willy nilly. And generally speaking those adaptations don’t build franchises or sell well enough to justify the risk.

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