14 December 2015

Mystery Science Theater is... coming back?

For those not in the know by now, Joel Hodgson started a Kickstarter campaign in November in order to fund a new production season of Mystery Science Theater 3000.  The principals have been cast  -- Jonah Heston as the human riffer, Baron Vaughn and Hampton Yount as Tom Servo and Crow respectively, and Felicia Day alongside Patton Oswalt as the new Mads Kinga Forrester and TV's Son of TV's Frank.

The Kickstarter raised $6.3 million dollars between direct donations ($5.7MM) and add-on purchases ($600k) over the typical thirty-day open solicitation period.  The amount raised set a record for film/television projects, but just barely... by only a few thousand over the Veronica Mars film.  Joel Hodgson set a graduated goal, stating that $2 million was necessary just to get on the board with three episodes but that the ultimate target was a twelve-episode season, which would end up costing $5.5M.  Joel received that and a bit more, with all of the extra money raised going into creating two additional episodes to bring the first season up to fourteen episodes.  The final amount was gained through one of the goofiest trainwrecks of a telethon you'd ever watched.  This was even more awkward and technical-issue-ridden than the fake fictional one that "Weird Al" Yankovic envisioned in his movie "UHF".  Far less money, too...  And if there ever was a quintessential Joel moment, it was when he looked drowsy when announcing that the Kickstarter hit his *first* stretch goal of $5.9MM to get the thirteenth episode.  It was like watching him helm the Satellite of Love twenty years ago.

At present, there is no outlet for broadcasting these episodes.  However, being fully-funded for one season was Joel's goal so that he could literally bring "free" content to a provider and show the support of the show.  The provider would receive any sort of advertising revenue, with the hope that the advertising from the provider would induce the provider to fund more seasons, while being able to sell the show's audience to advertisers.  This brings us to the present day with the situation, awaiting Joel's post-mortem tomorrow.

So, the last month really did happen.  Fifteen years have passed since the Sci-Fi Network decided that they would not fund more episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000.  Oddly enough, every single one of the principals from MST3k ended up going on to do projects that were.... just MST3k in different forums other than television.  Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett, and Kevin Murphy seem to be making a very good living from Rifftrax since 2006 (nine years!).  Joel reformed the old guard into Cinematic Titanic, which ran for another six years between 2007 and 2013.

It was always odd to me that these side projects ran for such a long time yet there was no ability or way to get MST3k on the air again.  Cable television has exploded with so many channels through the last five years, and now that Netflix and Yahoo are creating new content for delivery via internet there's even more media options available.  On top of that, according to Joel, MST3k was always a low-budget affair.  The very last time Joel was onscreen as principal riffer, "Mitchell", the crew simulated static on a video feed by literally tossing white shredded paper in the shot... they couldn't even afford the extra monitor and camera to film while degrading the signal in 1993.

Now, some outlet or another will get the opportunity to bid on this show... and they'll have a reel of fourteen episodes, multiplied by ninety minutes of footage -- twenty-one hours of content of a fully realized show, fully funded by fans, and all they have to do is add advertisements.  Joel's Ask Me Anything said that he conceives that the show can last another thirty years with support.  It seems though that the the only current support are the fans... who by the way ponied up an average of $120 per person in order to fulfill the Kickstarter campaign.

I can't help but be apprehensive for where this project will end up going.  New riffers means that there will also be people that need to learn how to write riffs for movies.  Joel made the point that he tapped people from a wide range of previous occupations to write for him (and yes, sadly neither of your blogging hosts are on the list....), and these people will need to get up to speed.  Every single character is new and will need to be fleshed out, given a solid voice, and will need the sympathy of an audience in order to get away with some of the funniest riffs... putting three Donald Trumps in a shadowramma would end the show very quickly.  And this is on top of the fact that the show is cheap, has a built-in audience, and has had multiple successful online knockoffs through the last decade and a half but has not been brought back to television in any way, even by someone that was considered to have a business acumen (Jim Mallon).

One last point to make about the reboot is that this is happening with what seems to be an all-West Coast cast.  All of the guest-stars and guest-writers are also in the showbiz mold, having earned fame from other projects.  I don't know a whole lot about the new writing crew, bit the hope is that they can bring some balance to the finished project.  The writers used to be proud that they were performing in a "midwestern puppet show", and I am not sure how it will go if they lose the sense of confrontation and being wayyyy outside the halls of coolness that Minneapolis brought them.

This is not to say that I didn't put my money down on the table.  I anted up for this project, and I don't exactly have a lot of pocket change that I can devote to things like this... and the main reward that I was looking for from the Kickstarter will not be available until fifteen months from now.  Joel is helming the project and I am hoping that he can train up the next denizens of the Satellite of Love and Deep 13 into a fighting force.  And to be perfectly truthful, when I heard that Patton Oswalt was involved, it made me feel at least a little bit better.

So the Satellite of Love will float on.  I also hope that it will float on for many years to come... I love the characters, I love the concept, and I do still enjoy writing my own content within the idea of the show even if there's not a lot of time to produce free content within my schedule anymore.  I may even meta-MST some of these new episodes if the time and fancy strikes.

Though apprehensive, I am hopeful that this is the right time for Mystery Science Theater 3000 and that the show will work well.  In this day and age a provider only needs to market to perhaps two million people to get enough support and profit in order to keep a production going.  Even with the likes of Rifftrax around, I hope that both Rifftrax and Mystery Science Theater 3000 will be able to find the audiences and support it needs to do battle with pop culture into next Sunday A.D.  (And yes, I'm still available to write!  Follow the link above to my portfolio!)

13 December 2015

#2LR Too Late Reviews -- Europa Universalis IV (EU 4)

Weirdly enough, strictly speaking this is not one of my too-late reviews... the thoughts that I have below are directly related to changes that Europa Universalis IV has undergone since I've purchased the game in March of 2015.  I bought EU4 during one of the discounted Steam sales.  I had heard that it was more complex and interesting than Civilization V, which is definitely one of my favorite strategy games of all time.  The reviews weren't kidding, EU4 was complex and it has a learning curve associated with it.  This learning curve was not helped by the fact that I had an extremely hard time finding any sort of instructions for the game... I played it for about two months until I realized that I could do diplomatic annexations of vassals, for instance.

I was finally getting the hang of the game though, until I ran into the dreaded update cycle.  The developers pushed out an update to the gameplay of EU4 (titled "Common Sense").  When I read about the update it seemed like it would bring a lot of interesting things to the game.  But when I opened the game and started to play it, I was even more confused over what was happening in the game, going to the forums to try to figure out how things were happening, even going to Youtube.  And that's when I found out that unless you paid for the "full" DLC upgrade rather than just getting the pushed-out half-updates, you wouldn't get all of the interesting benefits.  And as far as I can tell, waiting out any of the DLC is not worth it... the developers will still charge for the previous DLC even though they've pushed out a new DLC, so there's no benefit to try to hang on through the game's updates when you don't have much money to spend.

I have played EU4 for a bit over 100 hours, while I have played Civ 5 for somewhere close to 1500 hours.  And there are two reasons that I can play Civ 5 for far more time and have started far more Civ 5 games.  The first is that while the Civ 5 folks have put out paid DLC upgrades to the game, they don't alter the gameplay for the people who don't want to pay for the DLC upgrades.  And the second is that I feel that Civ 5 has a lot of replayability compared to EU4, in that Civ 5 has multiple different ways to "win" the game, where you have to manipulate all of EU4's different strategies in service to basically one goal, expansion... for instance, I have won games in Civ 5 with only one city, but I do not believe that it's possible in any way to "win" a game of EU4 with only one province, or to build a military purely to dissuade others from attacking.

The last note might be related to only having played EU4 for a bit over 100 hours and only against the computer on "normal" difficulty.  However, I would have thought that by this time I would have understood the mechanics of the game much better.  I continue to end up with bad beats rolling dice on military expeditions.  There are more than a few times that I have declared war as a stronger country against a weaker country only to find out in the next forty-five minutes that I can't win... and when I restart the game and try to use the knowledge I just gained from the previous forty-five minutes, I'll get defeated in a new and less creative way.  I can tell stories of armies skirting my main force, of getting beat to a province by a day but getting the complete and full crossing penalties in the subsequent fight, of defeating a lesser force to only 5% of their morale only to have a far larger force join in the nick of time to completely upend the battle, of having better generals and equal forces yet losing anyway, and having my allies never consolidate their forces with mine against my foes when my foes consolidated all their forces the whole time.

TL;DR: I had thought that I was right in the wheelhouse of this game's target audience.  I love history, I love geography, and I enjoy the alternate histories that EU4 can spawn.  However, between an inability to learn the game over 100 hours, not being able to pay for each DLC that comes out, and the fact that the game is somewhat broken without the DLCs, it's not worth playing unless you have a LOT of time and the money to keep up with the updates.

This review has been cross-posted to some Steam board or another as a review.

24 January 2015

#2LR Too Late Review: Puella Magi Madoka Magica

I suppose if anything was going to get me to write Too Late Reviews again, it would be a show that I obtained a couple years ago and didn’t bother attempting to watch for thirty months.  Better yet, I finished watching this show about two months ago and didn’t bother writing anything about it until now.

The anime series that I will review today is the show “Puella Magi Madoka Magica”.  Yeah, it’s not the best title for an anime.  I’m going to be quite hampered in writing this review by the fact that this show is one of the best misdirection shows that I’ve run across.  I suppose that the best thing to do in order to review the show is to write a paragraph describing the things that the show does generally and then to put up a “spoiler space” sign below so that I can discuss the plot on more depth.
The back-of-the-envelope summary of this show is that it is a magical-girl anime. Middle-school girls are tasked with the protection of the world against creatures that would do havoc to the people around them.  While the animation in the “real world” segments of the show is conventional, when the magical girls are fighting their foes, the animation changes to a hybrid of CGI and the previous 2D, and the segments are very interesting as a fan of design. 

The other point to make about this show is that it is very short, only twelve episodes.  This is an anime that can be consumed in a very short time, over a single Saturday if you so choose.  The shortness does help, it’s a complex show and the viewer may very well want to rewatch the show, I know that I really wanted to see it again when I finished the first time.  If I may though, I think that the best method is to watch one episode every day or perhaps two at the most, because it’s also a show that needs to be digested.  Its short length means that the plot goes by pretty quick and if you run it through too quick, you may miss a couple of rather important points. 

It’s hard to come up with a good analogy with this show, because it is legitimately one of the first shows of its kind that I watched.  This show is like watching a building come together.  The show builds a solid foundation, gets to work on its first floor, builds out a fascinating plot, and then next thing you know you realize that the foundation is completely different than you realized at first, but that the building is that much more fascinating as a result. As previous warning, about the only complaint that I had about this show would be its ending… but the complaint is minor, and the show itself is worth watching just for the imagination put into the plot and the design work.


As before, this IS a magical girl anime.  Madoka is the sweet little girl of a rich family in Japan, whoise mother is a kick-butt VP and her father is a stay-at-home dad to her baby brother.  She goes to school at a rich private academy with all the latest in school gadgets.  A new student comes in, who has been “sick” for the last couple semesters, and she (Akemi) takes an immediate interest in Madoka.  While Akemi needs medicine at the nurses station (and knows where it is, oddly) she also manages to be the best athlete.  Akemi also manages to drop cryptic warnings to Madoka about only being who she should be.

Madoka ends up getting into trouble later and runs into the ‘cute anime mascot’, Kyube (think Q-Bay), who was hunted by someone.  It turns out that the hunter is a huntress – Akemi.  Akemi lets Kyube go, but not without more warnings to Madoka. In the meantime, one of the evil beings in this anime – witches – shows up and causes havoc. Madoka and Kyube watch as Mami, a magical girl, takes care of the problem. Mami and Kyube know each other, and Mami serves as the first backstory guide.

In essence, Kyube helps these girls to become magical girls, and also gives the girl a wish in exchange for her services.  The girl then starts to fight these witches, who when defeated drop “grief seeds” that allow the Puella Magi to recharge their magic. 

Mami is rather clear-headed about the whole process, talking to Madoka and her friend about the choices that they have to make about becoming Puella Magi.  Madoka is content to listen mostly to Akemi’s warning, but her friend does decide that she’s going to become a Puella Magi, and uses her wish to wish that a classmate she has a crush on is healed from his injuries in an accident, allowing him to play the violin again.  With that, Madoka is pulled ever more deeper into the story… even though she’s not defeating any witches, or having any of the story elements affecting her… … yet…


The plot starts running fast and furious at this point, and I really can’t do this show justice if I keep reviewing the action.  Suffice it to say that this is one of the few shows that display actual consequences to characters’ actions and that this is also one of the few shows that I have seen that really raises the stakes and ends up being somewhat of a roller-coaster through the end of these twelve episodes, including the redemption of characters that come straight out of left-field.  Practically everything in this show is explainable and logical, and for someone who reads thin plots as a matter of fandom, I was floored.

There is no sequel planned for this show. In a way, that is actually somewhat satisfying, because if ever there was a self-contained story with few loose ends, this is it.  If you are a person that wants to find out what happens to the characters “after” though, you might be slightly disappointed.

This review might not be as humorous as past reviews, but I definitely want to show how much I regard this show. It receives a 4.0 on my four-point scale.  This is because if you’re anything like me, you’ll want to watch this show again to see all of the little clues that added up to the ending that was written for the show and realize the subtlety that the writers and director used… and if you’re a writer or similar, you might find some awesome hints for good writing in the future.  This show is highly recommended.

24 October 2014

Let's Play/MST... Witch Night

Hey guys, long time no post!

It's been a busy last few months for me but the last couple of weeks have been busily spent producing my second Let's Play of the AGS Game 'Witch Night' in time for and in honor of Halloween. Zoogz and I both wrote the script and my sister KizzyCaspy and I performed the voices. You can find both the Let's Play and the Blooper Reel on YouTube at the following links:

-- Let's Play... Witch Night

-- Blooper Reel

All comments and criticisms are greatly appreciated and we sincerely hope you enjoy it. :)


Megane 6.7 and Zoogz

02 April 2014

Post-mortem of the #CancelColbert situation:

I very rarely get exercised about things as they happen nowadays.  My whole presence on the Internet is predicated on trying to analyze things after-the-fact, to try to come up with new ways of looking at old movies, or fanfiction that has been published before.  After all, writing a too-late review means that there's something to try to add to the discussion that happened months/years/decades ago...

In some ways though, I'm more than happy to write about an issue related to Twitter that happened only six days ago.  This is the Internet, and as far as the Internet is concerned the issue is pretty much over.  It's Twitter after all.

The issue in question is the #CancelColbert tag that was propagated over the weekend by quite a few Internet activists.  I read about this story from more than a few angles, and I might suggest reading the Wikipedia page of the originator of this line of tweets, Suey Park, in order to get some of the story behind her and what she does to bring issues to the attention of others.  The link section has some articles, though if you're reading this more than a couple months in the future they may already be down.

There is an alternate point of view to the articles as well, which are fairly sympathetic to Suey Park's point of view.  Another person on Twitter posted about Suey Park's past tendencies and Tweets, and the article can be found by through going to her blog, Joslyn Steven's Opt Out.

The issue can be summed up rather quickly.  On The Colbert Report, Wednesday March 26, Stephen Colbert reported on the Washington Redskins (football team) owner Dan Snyder.  The Redskins were named the Redskins in the 30s by their owner back then.  In this more enlightened day and age, the Redskins have obviously never changed their team nickname, despite at least some pressure to do so.  Snyder very recently set up The Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation in order to provide financial support to Native Americans.  Colbert told a joke on his show which compared this act to setting up the "Ching-Chong Ding Dong Foundation for Sensitivity to Orientals or Whatever".  In the show, he also topped it off by doing his impression of a man trying to be as racist against Asians as possible.

The show on Wednesday didn't cause the ruckus... a follow-up tweet on Thursday Night that included the following did: "I am willing to show #Asian community I care introducing the Ching-Chong Ding-Dong Foundation for Sensitivity to Orientals or Whatever".  At this point, the #FireColbert tag was instigated by Suey Park, posting on Twitter by retweeting this tweet and telling her followers to "trend it".

The aftermath of the situation included Colbert disavowing the tweet, which was honest... it originated from a Comedy Central staffer, as the tweet was an official "show account" rather than Colbert's personal account.  Colbert took to the air on Monday to address the situation, saying that he bore no responsibility for the tweet, and the "show account" was quickly removed.

So.... why am I here then?  What dog do I have in the fight?  Well, my largest issue in this matter is this; I have watched The Colbert Report and I enjoy Stephen Colbert's work as well as his writers -- the list of whom can be found at Wikipedia here, they really deserve a lot of credit for Stephen's ability to tell good jokes consistently.

I have never heard of Suey Park prior to this, and while some of the research on her was not positive (such as what was posted by Joslyn Stevens), when I viewed her Twitter account, she was using her bandwidth to try to raise money for charity rather than making any money from all of this.  She also did endure a bit of a backlash from people who were not the most respectful in tone.

It's not as if there's a clear-cut "bad guy" in this.  Stephen Colbert tried to illustrate how ridiculous Dan Snyder's attempt at healing is when he's not willing to do more than token efforts.  Suey Park tried to illustrate how racism is sadly pervasive, because the joke that Stephen Colbert used has been utilized in the past to demean others.  And after all of this, Dan Snyder manages to get off the hook for his own tone-deafness, while Colbert is obligated to try to defend himself.

What can someone do to try to reconcile their thoughts and feelings about this?  Well, it's to realize that not everyone will be right 100% of the time, no matter what.  (I'm sure you've noticed that of me and my typos over the years.)  My thought is that Suey Park should use more of her bandwidth to explore ways that she can call out people who are directly benefitting from racism.  Stephen Colbert's racism amounted to one joke out of the... near to how many thousands that he's told on the show.  He is not making a single dime from the "Ching-Chong Ding-Dong Foundation"... meanwhile, Snyder is raking in quite a bit of money from all sorts of shirts, mugs, and other memorabilia emblazoned with a racist caricature, and refuses to change this.  There's got to be some sort of level where the pervasive, money-grubbing, profit-seeking racism gets seen as a far larger issue than the joke that serves to HIGHLIGHT the money-grubbing, profit-seeking racism.

By the same token though, satire doesn't get to be utilized as a complete get-out-of-jail-free shield.  Of course Colbert was trying to highlight how tone-deaf Snyder's move was, but it's not as if this joke was the ONLY joke that could be told in this situation.  There's a full room of writers in the back, and there's times that they have to realize that yes, even the cringe-inducing jokes that elicit a weak chuckle might not need to be said.  Worse yet was Stephen Colbert's reaction to this.  Yes, he did not tweet it, but he absolutely did say it.  Yes, it was out of context... but that's what needs to be addressed.

Overall, I feel that the worst offender in this situation is Twitter in general as well as the news media that reports about Twitter.  There's too little actual reporting about what goes on in this country, ways that people gain their money either illegally or immorally... but we can absolutely stop our 24/7 coverage of the Malaysian Airlines crisis in order to cover this... non-news.  There's no context on Twitter because it's the very nature of Twitter.  This post is not 140 characters for a reason.  There's shades of gray that can't be drawn in only 140 characters.  Those shades of gray are absolutely vital to this issue, but they are completely absent.

Just know, that in this world there's space for satirists to call out the abuses of others AND there's space in this world for the viewers of this world to call out the satirists when one too many lines are crossed.  We need the Colberts to work on the big issues of the day.  We want the efforts of Suey Park and others to shine a light on our discourse, even if we think it is unnecessary or incorrect, so that we can reevalute if the joke is worth it, or if there's ways that we can try to help everyone, not just the people who "get the joke".

At least, that's my 7,086 characters.

04 March 2014

#2LR Too Late Reviews -- Star Trek Into Darkness and the art of the reboot.

Sequels have been around for pretty much forever in the annals of storytelling.  Even the Iliad had its Odyssey following it.  The continuity of characters and of relationships or situations makes it easy for viewers of the original to be able to relate to the sequel very quickly.  Of course, the authors of sequels are helped as well, as they've already created the groundwork for the story to go forward, they can then spend less time on the nuts and bolts and get to the plot, the rising action that will allow their readers or viewers to really enjoy what they're seeing.

Reboots, however, are a more recent vintage.  It's thought that the term literally comes from the computer term for "reboot", where a computer system comes up after being shut down.  There are BIOS instructions for the computer system to set up and run an operating system so that it will act as if it did before, and it will clear up any errors that may have been introduced in the RAM by other programs.

It's a fairly apt term when applied to the literary equivalent and most recently, movie equivalent.  Comic books had to deal with this constantly even decades ago... when artists move on but leave their creations, it's a property that has already been invested in and built up.  When a new artist comes to fill in on that continuity, what are they to do?

A reboot is not necessarily a remake... remakes have been happening for ages.  It's not as if the original actors of Hamlet can come out of retirement to show us how it's done.  A reboot is in a different world its own.  A remake may be straightforward or it may reimagines the source material in a different light and introduces few if any plot changes.  The remake might emphasize or deemphasize certain aspects of the source work, but overall it does not vary nor is there much added to the source work plot-wise.  A reboot keeps the characters and some of the situations of the original work, but ends up moving off in a completely different direction, managing to make up its own plot distinct from the work that it first used as its basis.

With that said, how do reboots work, and what do they do right?  I recently had a chance to rewatch Star Trek Into Darkness and felt that talking about the high points and low points of reboots would be the right thing to do in the context of this movie.

[Spoiler Space ahead]

The movie opens up on Spock being lowered into a volcano and Kirk and Bones fleeing a group of pale-skinned natives on a planet.  It turns out in the prologue that the volcano is literally slated to destroy the planet that they're on and without Spock's direct assistance this rock might never see the miracle of cheez in a can realized someday.

To escape the natives running after, the two end up taking a flying leap off of a cliff into the water below where we find the Enterprise curiously "docked".  (Ha?)  Why the heck it was placed near the planet's surface instead of safely orbiting I don't honestly remember... much less the nerdy objections to how it can operate in a pressure-filled environment when it is supposed to be in a pressure-less environment.  Or, if the volcano is imminent to explode, why have the starship anywhere near the surface??  Technerd objections aside, Kirk and Bones appear in the airlock and Kirk immediately asks about Spock.  Spock, meantime, is doing his level best to reenact the Mount Doom sequences from Lord of the Rings.

The plot contrivance volcano is giving off too much "magnetism" for the Enterprise to just beam Spock back aboard.  The crew theorizes that they need to get into "line of sight" with Spock, so they have to lift the starship out of the ocean.  Spock vehemently vetoes the idea as he places the Prime Directive above his own safety but Kirk overrules him.  Spock is picked up in the nick of time, the planet's natives start to worship a picture of a starship instead of their previous artifacts, and the Enterprise is returning to Earth at warp-speed.

On Earth, Kirk is caught lying on the report of the incident by Spock counter filing his own report.  Kirk gets busted down to first officer and Spock gets reassigned.  (Here's one of the two spots that I'm highlighting below.)  At around this time one of Starfleet's libraries gets bombed and that draws in the senior command for a meeting.  Kirk rightly figures out that the library bombing was purely a feint to get senior command together in one spot.  Too late though... just as he figured it out, the bullets start flying and the body count continues to grow.

The perpetrator escapes.  He leaves behind one major clue... he's going to the Klingon homeworld to hide out.  Starfleet comes up with a massively cockamamie idea to shoot missiles at the Klingon homeworld from neutral space, even providing 72(!!) of them.  Kirk's crew has major misgivings, from Spock's protestations that it is a military rather than exploratory mission and Scotty's resignation over not knowing the missile's contents.  Kirk cares less as it was shown that Captain Pike, who pulled him into Starfleet and gave him his first commission, was one of the casualties of the terrorist attack.  Kirk just wants blood.  Chekov replaces Scotty as head engineer because they didn't train a SINGLE PERSON in Engineering how to work ALL the parts at once.

The Enterprise gets to the neutral zone point but then warp core problems start.  (I think it was sabotage, at least it would have made more sense to the plot, but I don't remember exactly how).  Kirk, Spock, and Uhura then take a shuttlecraft to the Klingon home world... all the while Uhura and Spock are fighting because Uhura thought it insensitive that Spock considered the Prime Directive over HER FEELINGS.  (If the dude was literally ready to die in order to not break the rules, I think that the relationship was like second place...)  After the odd snit, they manage to get captured by the Klingons... but then the fugitive shows up and takes out about thirty of them via hand-held phaser and massive phaser cannon.  The fugitive asks Kirk about how many missiles are pointed at his head.  When Kirk answers "72", he immediately surrenders... and tells us his name is Khan.

(Sigh.  Yes, Khan's back.)

At this point things get even weirder.  First, one of the missiles is opened and it turns out to be a cryogenic pod containing one of Khan's crewmembers.  All of these dudes are packed in those tubes and it is Khan's intention to recover them to recreate his own group of followers.  He also tells Kirk of the skunkworks he worked at somewhere around Jupiter where one of the Starfleet admirals (Marcus) was creating major weapons of war. Khan has been helping to design and build battlecruisers.  I didn't quite catch if it was the case, but it may have been verboten by agreements with other groups (e.g. Romulans, Klingons, etc.).  Kirk messages Scotty back on Earth to investigate Khan's story.

Marcus wants Khan dead because Khan knows too much... and now by association, so does the Enterprise.  Kirk first attempts to run, but the battleship is just as fast and can shoot at them while in warp-speed travel. After enough of the Enterprise is beat up, Kirk stops near Earth, but is unfortunately far enough away for anyone to figure out what's going on.

The Enterprise is helpless... the engines are out, shields are out, and weapons are offline.  Kirk's love-interest, Carol Marcus, pleads with her father to spare the Enterprise.  Marcus responds by transporting her to his battleship and continues to prime the weapons.  It turned out that Scotty had managed to sneak his way onto the battleship and has disabled the weapons in order to spare the Enterprise, even briefly.  Since there's no way to do anything to the battleship from the Enterprise, Kirk and Khan decide to don spacesuits to get from one to the other via space.

Scotty opens a porthole, both fly in, and then they make their way to the bridge.  Kirk and Khan manage to subdue the skeleton crew of the battleship including Marcus.  Kirk then swings his phaser around to stun Khan.  Khan does not stay stunned.  Khan takes control of the bridge of the warship, parlaying with Spock for the return of his crew.  Spock instead pulled all of the cryotubes from each of the missiles and replaced them with explosives, wired to detonate when transported to the battleship.  The weapons explode and both starships are sent towards Earth's gravity.

The Enterprise can't escape gravity because their engines are still down.  Kirk does his best imitation of one of those human fly performers to climb up the warp core.  At the top he literally kicks one of the two "contacts" in the core to bring them back in alignment.  I am amazed that there are not septuple-redundant systems to do this NOT within the warp core, as going in will subject him to Chernobyl-level radiation doses and death.  He does anyway... and he and Spock reenact the scene at the end of the original "Wrath of Khan", but in reverse... Kirk inside and Spock outside.  Yes, there will be complaints below.

Meanwhile, Khan manages to crash the battleship into Starfleet headquarters in San Francisco, and even manages to survive and run away from *this*.  Spock (and Uhura) ends up chasing him down, capturing him, and returning him *to a cryopod*.

Hokay, I've got to take a break to address this.  Hey, movie, mind executing the dude who massacred many civilians by crashing a starship into the middle of a city?  Not to mention the library explosion, a squad of killed Klingons, the senior command shooting in the beginning?  Heck, what about the skeleton crew of what looked like Blackwater contractors flying the Starfleet dreadnought, that were all "stunned" rather than killed and ended up perishing in the final crash?  No, you need him for future sequels?  *sigh*

Last but not least, we find out that Khan's blood has "regenerative properties"... I suppose Wolverine is still alive and kicking somewhere in the universe's equivalent of a Yellowknife dive bar.  This time though it doesn't take another movie to bring Kirk back, just a plot contrivance.  Yeah, I know that Khan's blood was needed for Bones' super-serum to heal Kirk (hey Starfleet, who will you be sharing THAT formula with...), but there's TONS of time afterward to execute him.  THIS is why reboots end up becoming necessary, by the way, these throwaway "super serums" that end up mucking up a continuity.

As the movie rolls further past the two-hour mark the epilogue is a rededication of the Enterprise, which I am surprised even managed to get *re*built... I would have absolutely believed "built again" considering the massive hull holes that sucked out numerous people.

The summary for this movie is over... though some people may consider the below discussion of the nuts and bolts of the ending spoiler space as well. I've attempted to hide as much as possible, but it can't all be pulled from view. You've been warned...

I wanted to point out the best reason for a reboot.  It was in the beginning when Chris Pine's Kirk and Zach Quinto's Spock are getting dressed down for the actions they took in the prologue to the movie.  Spock protests that Admiral Pike is not considering the overall details of the mission, how it was supposed to have happened, and what then subsequently made the mission fail.  Pike dismisses Spock's concern by telling him that they were merely technicalities... Spock then not only tells Pike that technicalities are the soul of a Vulcan, but managed to get into the technicalities of the technicalities.  I absolutely loved the scene even if it was just a minor thing, and to me this showed the heights that a reboot can provide... it may be a new person writing Spock, but they're trying to stay as true to his character (or perhaps Quinto was improvising?) and I thought that it was a cool touch.

However, the reboot has the awkward task of *reminding* people of the original while not hewing too closely.  I can respect that they would bring back not only old characters but also old villains.  That's fine and fair game to me.  However, the scene between Kirk and Spock that I marked with complaints above is getting mentioned here.  I thought it was not only really unnecessary, it was almost as if the movie had to contort its plot just to make sure that the scene could be included.

See, the problem for me was that getting Kirk into the situation was not easy.  They also had a very tough time trying to establish the stakes of the situation... firstly, Kirk's "killer" was much like the "killer" from The Happening... silent, invisible, and "deadly".  There was an "against the clock" situation accompanying it (as the starship was currently non-operational), but according to the internal logic, the moment that Kirk stepped inside he signed his death warrant.  I remain extremely surprised that the equipment to be able to deal with the situation was not present, especially since it seemed that the problem he fixed was something that could possibly happen in other contexts.  This is Starfleet.  There should be systems backing up systems backing up systems... unless of course, the problem Kirk fixed can be dealt with by a few Ensign Throwaway redshirts.

I couldn't find this final scene even halfway believable either.  After two new Star Trek movies, there'd be no way that they'd kill off one of the marquee stars this easily.  So it was almost as if the movie telegraphed the fact that it would be breaking its own continuity.  And it did, in pretty spectacular form.  At this point, they put in the scene between Spock and Khan at the end of the movie.  There was a lack of suspense in knowing that they would bring back James T. Kirk, but you even knew during the *fight scene* who would win because of it.  So, this scene destroyed the suspense for BOTH of the resolutions.

The screenwriters knew that they couldn't spend a movie bringing Kirk back (like the original series did by bringing Spock back in Star Trek 3), so why even attempt it?  And lo and behold, it wasn't attempted.  As above, they used a method that was outlandish for even comic books to bring Kirk back in about fifteen minutes flat.

This is what I just can't get behind with a reboot.  If you're going to have to change your story to try to incorporate plot points, make sure that it's going to fit in your overarching plot.  Yes, there's a touch of the technerd in me, but it felt like they had to open up a few holes in the fabric of the story in order to get these aspects into the movie... and I can't get behind that.  Give me more "The Universe Hates Jim Kirk's Face" compared to this.

[spoiler space officially over]

It's gotta be the first time that I nested spoiler space warnings.  As far as the more generic judging of the movie, I did feel that it went on about twenty to thirty minutes too long (at almost 2:15, it really could have used an editor or two).  Looking back, the previous Star Trek film was just over the two-hour mark at 127 minutes... but the first film also had to carry the task of introducing the whole reboot setup, so I can forgive it the extra time.  This one really didn't have to carry the introduction issues.

I already explained my love-hate relationship with reboots in general and in the plot of this one in specific.  Please don't think that I disliked the movie though... just like in the August Rush review I posted, I enjoyed the movie but felt that it could have worked out even better.  As far as my scale goes, I popped it into my DVD player only yesterday, so that satisfies the level 3 criteria really well.  However, I will also say that I stopped it about three-quarters the way through the movie... and I'm perfectly fine stopping it where I have it, as I remember enough of the rest of the film.  So, it occupies a weird area where I sincerely enjoy the first one hundred ten minutes and can take or leave the last twenty.

So, I suppose that I will give it a flat 3, as an average of the 3.5 that it sustains for an hour and change and the 2.3 that it finishes with.  It's not as if it's the modern equivalent of The Girl in Lovers' Lane, but it does get my nitpicky hackles rising... if you want to lose yourself in the action sequences or the twisty-turny plot, then you'll enjoy it.

02 March 2014

#2LR Meta Navel-Gazing Part 2 -- Inspiration

In the first meta navel-gazing post, I tried to go into part of the reason that I write these reviews... wanting to talk about art to other people, finding methods that make movies / television shows / anime series / video games work or not work, and wanting to share my opinions of such.  In this post though, I wanted to go into the idea of inspiration a bit more, and to discuss a bit of how it works as far as a critic (slash MST3k writer) goes.

Firstly, I absolutely love Wikipedia.  I collect trivia like other people collect shotglasses, spoons, or other knickknacks.  There's just a wide range of amazing stories... such as the Great Chicago Fire happening the same day as massive fires in both Wisconsin and in two different places in Michigan.  One of these many places happens to be my hometown, yet I hadn't the slightest idea that this coincidence existed until reading Wikipedia articles.

Another favorite story is about an eighteenth-century queen of Denmark, Caroline Matilda.  In twenty-three short years, she managed to provide an heir to the Danish throne (plus a daughter), ended up taking some sort of charge of the kingdom when her husband became mentally infirm, going as far as to dress as a man to rally the troops, embroiled in scandal when it was implied that the king's doctor was the true father of both her children... it's really just a fascinating story to me, and it happened in only a few short years.  At some point, I think I need to find more books about this because I'm sure that the backstory will be even more surprising.

Cruising Wikipedia became my go-to for stories about accidents and other catastrophes for a while too... for me, I enjoyed reading the accounts of aircraft accidents or other disasters, finding out which decisions were the fateful ones, realizing that there's sometimes just that thin thread even if it didn't seem thin at the time.  I wrote a whole post describing more of my enjoyment of "disaster porn" that can be found at the link.

I suppose that one of my favorite subjects recently has been reading the articles posted about music.  The Beatles in specific have been covered quite a bit, but there are more than a few other artists that have articles up about their songs on Wikipedia.  I'm interested by these because I really enjoy hearing about the creative process... pulling just the most random thoughts out of midair, adding lyrics and music to these thoughts, and then bringing them to life to the point that millions of people want to hear more and more.  In all frankness, I've never been a big fan of the Beatles, but hearing the stories behind their work has actually encouraged me to listen a bit closer to their music, and I have been slowly becoming more and more of a fan.

It's really odd where one finds their inspiration, yet I think that the parallel activities of writing MST3k treatments of fanfiction and writing reviews of various types of media dovetails quite nicely.  As I look back, I find myself wanting to comment most on what other people have done, or said, or played, or acted... it's almost like I care just as much about the execution of the idea as I care about the idea itself being shown.  My inspiration and enjoyment comes in writing humor about creative situations, or commenting about the creative situations, and trying to find the thin line between the creators and their creation on one side and how the creations are perceived by the other.

I'm not sure if I'd ever really write anything original, at least not at present.  I suppose I would need to figure out a way to get inspired by my own thoughts, by bringing life to something completely internal rather than something that piques my interest because of how it affects me and makes me feel.

At present though, I'm more than happy to offer my thoughts on the experiences I share with others.  I certainly can understand the critics' soul far more than I did before I started doing this... right now, I'm comfortable in telling what audience we have my thoughts on watching/listening/playing, and hopefully we'll get a few interesting conversations scraped together sometime about how things will work for some but not for others.