The Brain Will NOT Turn Off

So John Scalzi, SF author, had a book event at Mysterious Galaxy last night, and even though I was suffering a sore throat my wife and I attended. It was funny, and fun, and well worth the time, however that’s not the point of my post.
Mysterious Galaxy is also the locale where my writers group meets, thank to the lovely hosting from the store. at the meets we take turns reading about 1500 words from out works and listening to feedback from the other members.
John read out about 1500 words of a new piece and i could not for the love of god shut down the critique parts of my brain. I did not say anything, I do have self-control no matter what some people may think, but my minds raced along making notes just as it would for anyone in my writing group.
‘hmm too many dialog tags’
‘it’s a little info dumpy in the middle that can probably be crunched down’
‘overall a good scene that clearly advances the plot, just needs a bit of tightening.’
I am sure the last thing he needs to hear is my opinion.


Sunday Night Movie: Battle for the Planet of the Apes.

I am quite tardy in posting this essay, but I did finish the original franchise out as I had intended.

battle-for-the-planet-of-the-apes-noah-keenSo after the racie war implications driving the plot of Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, 20th Century Fox, fearful that they had driven the kiddie away, took the next, and final, installment of franchise in a lighter and more optimistic direction. The screenwriter for the previous two sequel relinquished his duties, in part due to the dark nature of his proposed script and in part to ill health, while the husband wife team that penned the screenplay for The Omega Man came onto the scene.

In many ways this film is the most direct sequel of the entire franchise. Where Beneath the Planet of the Apes introduced a new astronaut the Ape Planet, nothing in the first film set up the silly concept of a rescue mission. Escape from the Planet of the Apes heavily violates continuity by introducing an unknown Ape genius “Milo” who is able to repair and launch Taylor’s crashed spacecraft. Conquest played buffet with elements put forth in Escape, picking and choosing what they wanted to tell a story with some of the same characters, and throwing away anything that didn’t fit. (retconning long before the term became standard in fandom.) That is not the approach with Battle for the Planet of the Apes.

Battle takes the situation and characters established Conquest and continues the story, playing mostly fair and extrapolating from the scenario already in motion. Despite this, or perhaps even because of it, Battle for the planet of the Apes is the least ambitious, least transgressive, and least daring of the franchise. The budget was again cut, and the situation reduced to the most simplistic elements. A colony of apes, lead my Caesar from Conquest, is building an ape community with humans as second-class citizens, but not slaves or property, amid the ruins of a nuclear war. Racial animosity against the human divides the apes, while a colony of surviving humans, scarred by the constant exposure to radiation in the bombed out city, led by a brutal security man from Conquest, plots a war of ape extermination.

The too small budget hampered the production, reducing the screenplay to one rather lackluster battle and a few set locales. The film ends on a note of optimism, putting it in direction conflict with the tone of the series while implying that the events of the first film were no longer possible.

While the franchise limped on with a short lived and poorly conceived television series, this film represented the end of the series until the terrible attempt at a reboot with Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes. That failed and the franchise again went dead until the next film Rise of The Planet of the Apes, a success which in many ways was a rebooting of Conquest in that it told the story of how the planet got started on the path toward humanity’s fall and the rise of the apes.

This year saw the next film in the new franchise, Dawn of the Planet of The Apes, and in reality it is a rebooting of Battle, but done with real style, a real budget, and far better written. I will be interesting to see where this new franchise series goes.


Sunday Night Movie: Conquest of the Planet of the apes

Now in my re-watch of the original Planet of the Apes franchise I have arrived at my conquest-the-black-mans-burdenfavorite film of the series, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes. While I love me Planet of the Apes and it is wonderful film, more often than any other in the franchise I will pull out the blu-ray of Conquest and sit back to watch it over and over. Once I did get it on Blu-ray I also stopped watching the theatrical cut and exclusively watch the unrated directors edition. When the film was released in 1972 they had hopes of getting a ‘G’ rating, but thee scene of revolution were so intense the studio feared they might get an ‘R’ and ordered the ending re-written and the footage edited to be considerably less graphic.

Conquest is set twenty years after the end of Escape from the Planet of the Apes. During the twilight years of Bush 41’s presidency (that’s snark because the film is set 1991, now more than twenty years in out past) apes have become a slave population, having 1991thumbnailImageprogressed from pets, replacing the cats and dogs that died in a global pandemic into a servant and slaves. Armando, the kind hearted circus owner last seen saving the time-traveling apes’ baby has returned to the city, bring the circus for a need tour, and along with it the now adult intelligent ape Caesar. (Whom was named Milo as a baby in the last film but hey retcon is nothing new.) thing go badly and before long Ceasar is a slave himself, alone and friendless, subject to the same brutal treatment as his ape brothers and sisters, including the producer’s wife in appearance number 3 in the ape movies. In the end Caesar lives up to his new name and leads a revolt overthrowing the fascist power structure in a brutal, bloody, and revenge filled night. The film ends with images of the city burning and nearly all of our principle human characters dead.

It is grim, dark, and very deliberate metaphorical statement on violence generating more violence. This is an example of 70’s cinema that I truly enjoy. It is dark, it is grim, it is cynical, but it is also stuffed with ideas. This is a film that using the pretext of science-fiction and adventure tries to talk about the very real troubles and issues plaguing the United States then and today. SF films of the 70s really began to turn to adult themes and ponder serious questions, and even a film such as this one, with limited budget and an eye firmly fixed on the bottom line, did not jettison the idea for the spectacle. Today all too often SF movies are nothing more than extremely big budgeted action films devoid to content and thought. (I’m looking at you Transformers and pretty much anything from Michael Bay.) If you have not seen this film, or it has been many years, get the blu-ray and watched the uncut version. It’s quite a shocker. (next up, shudder, Battle for the Planet of the Apes.)


Sunday Night Movie: DOUBLE FEATURE Beneath the Planet of the Apes & Escape from the Planet of the Apes

The double feature does not represent a long night at the home video screen but rather last week’s and this week’s Sunday Night Movie feature combined into a single essay.

After watching 1968’s Planet of The Apes the idea struck me that I should watch all five of the original Ape movies in order. A coupe of years ago I scored a blu-ray box set that had all the films and tons of bonus feature, so logistically I saw no issues. That said I knew that meant I would be watching the crap with the imaginative. Oh well, I decided to do it.


beneath_1Beneath the Planet of the Apes is the hastily consider sequel to 1968’s smash box-office success Planet of the Apes. However due to financial troubles at 20th Century Fox and boardroom infighting the film suffered from a trouble production from the get-go. Heston, the star of the first film hated the very idea of any sequel and only reluctantly agreed to participate as a favor to Daryl Zanuck, but even this came at the price with Heston insisting that his character of Taylor — spoiler alert stop reading if you care, serious stop reading — be killed off in the story.

The plot of Beneath is one that makes little to no sense. Another crew has been dispatched following Taylor’s into space. Now Taylor’s team knew that they were on a one-way trip into the future, proving Dr. Hasslien’s theories. In this film Brent (James Franciscus) and his crew have been dispatched to find Taylor. (Apparently Landon, Dodge, and Stewart were utter berks and no one wants them back,) Brent crashes, and has a much abbreviated repeat adventure of Taylor’s first encounter with ape society. Escaping the apes, he and the mute animal/human Nova go into the forbidden zone searching for Taylor. They find mutant humans with psychic powers who are at war with the Apes. (First appearance of the Producer’s wife as the mutant Albina.) Taylor and Brent find each other, have a manly fight (thanks, mutants!) and then are caught there when the Ape army arrives. Everyone panics, there’s lot of gunfire, and a nuclear device that is over 2000 years proves that there is no beating American manufacturing when it goes off and destroys the world.

This film was a hit. It practically  relaunched the idea of major studio, major money sequel. Except for the Universal horror franchises, series films before Beneath were usually constructed like episodes, each film could be watched on its own and did not effect the continuity of other films. After the major success of Beneath, film sequels were seen not as episodes but a continuation of the same story. Quite a change.

escapeapeslandingI can clearly remember seeing Escape from the Planet of the Apes at the Sunrise Theater in Fort Pierce Florida. That was 1971 so I would have been 10 years old, and I remember laughing a full belly laugh as the ‘unmasking’ scene at the film’s open. Escape faced the challenge of crafting a continuation of the story when in the pervious film not only did your principle characters get killed, but the entire freakin’ world was turned to ash as a gravely toned narrator informed the audience that the world was now dead.

Hollywood turned to the now familiar trope, time travel. Thee apes, apes that in the first film believed flight to be a physical impossibility, have figured out the operation of an advanced spacecraft repaired it, launched it, and through a freak incident are thrown back in time to 1973. So instead of a story about men on a planet of apes, it is a story of apes stranded on a world of fearful humans. While there are a number of comical bits, this film does plumb interesting depths. What actions are morally justified to prevent a terrible future from coming into reality? What is the place of the outsider?

Something I only noticed on this viewing is the continuity of a secondary character. In Planet of the Apes the flight is done in part to prove Dr Hasslein’s theories, but not much more than that is mentioned of the good doctor. (Clearly a script stand-in for relativity and Einstein.) Beneath mentioned the good doctor not at all, but in Escape he is a principle character. (Played wonderfully by Eric Braeden, who also star in another 70’s SF film in my library, Colossus: The Forbin Project.)

The ape time-travelers quickly transit from curiosities, to celebrities, and into hunted fugitives. Though they find allies, second appearance of the producer’s while as a kind and sympathetic vet, in the end there are more enemies than friends. Like so often in film of the 1970’s it ends darkly, but the producers this time left themselves a thread for another film and this upcoming Sunday I’ll watch Conquest of the Planet of the Apes.


Mini-Review: Guardians of the Galaxy

So this weekend Phase Three of the Marvel Cinematic Universe launched with the release of Guardians of the Galaxy. (Phase One lead up to Avengers, Phase Two leads to Avengers: Age of Ultron.)

hr_Guardians_of_the_Galaxy_46Guardians of the Galaxy (GotG) must count among the strangest concepts ever used to launch a major franchise. GotG concerns a collection of criminals and riff-raff that are thrown together with conflicting motives with the fate of the galaxy resting on their actions.

There is one actual human character for the audience to identify with, Peter Quill, and the rest of the main character cast are various aliens. Some or rendered with traditional make-up effects while other exist solely as CGI creations. When major characters include a modified raccoon and a talking-tree, you know that you’ve taken a journey to the far reaches of high-concept. The amazing thing is that it all works.

My reaction to GotG is very similar to my initial reaction to 1977’s Star Wars. This film is also a space-opera, not science-fiction, and one it gets going it never slows down. The action speeds like a meter heading for planetary impact. The non-stop action however is masterfully paced keeping from numbing the audience and allowing enough space so that each and every one of the major characters has moments to shine not only in physical prowess but also in heart-touching scenes of inner motivation.

This is a film I keeping thinking about not in a deep philosophical manner, but rather in a ‘wow I had fun’ mode. Your mileage, of course, may vary, but if you remember the sense of scale and deeper universe that the original Star Wars created while giving  thrilling action then this film is for you.

My biggest complaint is that for the first time the post-credit scene exists entirely for laughs and in no way sets up another story in this expanding universe.

(This post has been edited because the author is overly fond of typos.)


The Two Most Influential Science-Fiction Films of 1960’s

Even though the 60s, or at least the start of the 60’s, now lies fifty years in the past, we are rapidly approaching SF films that are well known, and quite familiar to a larger audience. This of course makes the selection of just two as ‘most influential’ even more fraught with controversy and argument. Good!

The 1960’s is a rich field to for SF movies, particularly if we keep in mind a wide definition of SF that may include many films not generally thought of as part of that genre.

For example Dr. No, released in 1962, not only launched the Bond film franchise that runs strong to this very day, but it also birthed the entire super-spy genre which morphed, with Tom Clancy’s help, into the techno-thriller genre, a genre that is SF wearing fancy dress. By any reasonable observation and definition Dr. No is both SF and influential. So read one and see how I have selected one films that I think will scarcely surprise anyone, and another that will be received quite the opposite.

2001: A Space Odyssey – 1968

2001-a-space-odyssey-originalStanley Kubrick’s brilliant and baffling masterpiece, 2001 is truly not only one of the most influential SF films of the 1960s, it is one of the most influential films of any genre of all time. It is groundbreaking in its style, scope, depth of concepts, technical mastery, and sheer artistry. Coming at the end of the decade, this movie raised the bar on what could be expected of a science-fiction film. Where Forbidden Planet brought in literature, 2001 demonstrated that SF, the genre of ideas in print fore decades and decades, could also be the genre of ideas on the silvered screen. Eschewing a traditional plot driven narrative, this film took us from the dawn of humanity through its eventual evolution beyond the cradle of Earth. It did this will a level of technical competence that forever changed what would be expected of a major SF film and set the stage for the dazzling spectacle in the next decade of Star Wars.

Co-written by one of the grandmasters of hard SF (science-fiction that is devoted to scientific accuracy) Arthur C Clarke, 2001 took a solid believable ground in science, capturing the realities of projected space-travel with a near documentarian style, and made this all accessible to the general public. I have twice seen this film screen in theaters and both times the audience is held in its powerful and hypnotic grip. While I prefer my films to have a more traditional narrative, I can see and appreciate the art, power, and brilliance exhibited in the film.

My second film, released the same year, is about as far as you can get from 2001: a Space Odyssey. This movie is a film assembled by amateurs, shot on grainy poor stock, limited in scope, with a traditional narrative about survival, and yet it is a small independent film that shook the foundations of film making and spawned a new genre unto itself.

Night of the Living Dead – 1968

What, I hear you scream, that’s not a science-fiction movie, that’s a horror film, a zombieNight-of-the-Living-Dead film! Yes it is both of those things, a horror film, just as Frankenstein was a horror film, and it is not just a zombie movie it is the progenitor of all modern zombie movies. It is also, quite clearly, a science-fiction film. First off, co-writer and Direct George A. Romero has mentioned in interviews that the inspiration for this film was Richard Matheson’s novel, I am Legend, a story about a world overrun by scientifically explained vampires. In the film Night of the Living Dead, quite unlike Romero’s other zombie films, there is a clear explanation given for the rise of the dead and their transformation into murderous cannibals – radiation from the Venus probe. This radiation is what ‘activates’ the ghouls’ brains (the term zombie is never used in the movie and was grafted onto these revenants later) and it is what destroyed the brain destroys the ghouls. The cause and explanation is grounded in a scientific reason, though it is terrible science. So, like Dr. No, this is a movie that one rarely thinks of as SF, but clearly falls within those borders.

It’s influence would be hard to overstate. It has been called the most successful independent film of all time. (Only a mistake in the editing room prevented Romero and company from being richly rewarded for their creation and instead plopped the film directly into the public domain.) Where Dr. No spawned a single franchise and a fad, that quickly died out, in super-spy movies, the zombie films not only continues to be popular, the tropes of the zombie movie can often be found in other films far afield. The scene in Burton’s version of Sweeney Todd where the ‘mental’ patients attack their doctor is straight out of any zombie movie. The very concept, one that didn’t exist in 1967, has fully permeated our society today. Quibble all you like, I do not see how you cannot rate this as one of the most influential SF movies of the 60’s or of all time.


Sunday Night Movie: Planet of the Apes(1968)

I guess my essay series on influential SF films has –eh hm – influenced my selection for this week’s Sunday night Movie.
planet-of-the-apesReleased in 1968 Planet of the Apes would certainly be on the short list for best SF movies of that or any decade, but I can tell you that it is not one of the two films I selected as most influential from the 1960s.
While Planet of the Apes spawned 4 direct sequels, two television series’, 1 re-make and 2 sequels to the remakes, I would say that it’s impact beyond the franchise is limited primary to its advancement of special effect make-up.
The said it is a marvelous piece of political parable, taking the explosive issues of race relations and dealing with it under disguise of SF adventure.
The film concerns a crew of astronauts launched from Earth in the early 1970’s, ah the halcyon optimistic days when we simply assumed that our trajectory in space exploration would bend upward as sharply as a Saturn V thrusting for the moon, that through traveling at near the speed of light and by the use of cold-sleep, find themselves thousands of years in the future, crashed on a planet orbiting a star in the constellation Orion.
The surviving crew is made up of a scientific idealist who would ‘walk naked into a volcano’ if it meant he learned something no one else every knew, a egotist for whom glory has driven him to this one-way mission, and a misanthropist for whom mankind is something to be despised and dreams of finding something better than humanity amongst the stars.
Aside from a crashed ship, limited supplies, and inter-personal conflict, the mission is threatened when the crew discovers that this planet has humans, but one that have never progressed beyond mute animals, and that the dominate life are apes.
Captured and experimented upon, it reduces down to one survivor who eventually unlocks the puzzle of the planet, and despairs as the answer.
Truly a classic film, this one is well worth the viewing, and I am quite happy to have it on blu-ray. (As part of a boxed set containing all five of the original films.) If you have never seen it, crawl out from under that rock you hide under and do see it at once.


Some Economics Inspired Thoughts

A few weeks ago I signed up for an on-line college course in Macroeconomics. I am not taking the course for credit, but rather my own enlightenment. Economics is one of those fields of study where I do not have the sort of grounding I would like have, and as an SF author it has also bedeviled me in world-building.

The course has been very interesting and I do not doubt that some of my ignorance is being shaved away. As I have been going over the material I had an idea occur to me. Now I am sure brighter minds than I have already plowed this ground, but it is virgin territory to me and it is certainly something that has captured my attention.

First a re-cap on the Tragedy of the Commons.

Imagine you have a common – a pasture of grass that is owned by no particular individual. A group of people graze their sheep on the common, 2 sheep per person and every sells the wool from their sheep. As long as the number of sheep is not so high as to overgraze the common and kill the crass everything is fine. The trouble comes from the individual’s incentive. Each person can make more money for themselves by grazing more sheep, it cost that person nothing and gains them more wool to sell. If all the people do this, the common is destroyed and all are destitute. The idea of the Tragedy of the Commons is that individual incentives can work against both the common and individual good.

Now out modern economy is driven by a supply of goods and services which are purchased by consumers. The consumption by regular individuals is the largest factor in the equation. As people have greater incomes and more wealth they consumer more, causing greater production and the economy expands. It works best when all person have the greatest possible income that does not endanger production. All is well and good, until we consider the incentives of the individual producers; those who employ and distribute income.

Their twin motivations are to sell their goods and services for the highest possible price and to make the greatest possible profit from their production. In addition to seeking greater efficiencies, and lower cost materials, the producers have an incentive to lower the wage as far down as they can and keep the difference as increased profit. The Tragedy of the Commons rears its head in that if all or even most producers do this, then income falls, consumption falls, and in the end their sales and profit falls. Like the overgrazed common, it becomes a disaster for all.

This brings me to the concept and setting of a minimum wage. Like restriction on how many sheep can be grazed, a minimum wage, as I see it, could be used to stave off a contracting spiral in an unregulated economy. The best argument for a minimum isn’t justice, or fairness, or what kind of apartment can people earning it afford, it is what is the effect on aggregate consumption? When does having it too low become a drag by strangling consumption and when does having it too high choke production? Those, in my mind, are the truly critical questions.


The Two Most Influential Science-Fiction Films of the 1950’s

Ah, we have emerged from the SF desert of the 40’s into the rich garden of the 1950’s. For many people this is when SF movies really started. It is certainly when they came into their own as a genre.

My last post I suffered from few films to select from, and this post has quite the opposite trouble. The 1950’s were such a golden age of SF movie that entire books have been devoted to the movies and their history. (I would heartily recommend Bill Warren’s Keep Watching the Skies! as an invaluable resource.)

It was during the 60’s that we got Creature from the Black Lagoon, the first full body suit monster movie. We are also got Them! which spawned countless giant insect movies. The Day the Earth Stood Still is a prime example of SF film addressing the concerns of the day while Invasion of The Body Snatchers terrifically captured tis terrors. Of there are so many to chose from, but of course I have already made my picks. One I expect bears no surprise, but my first pick is rather unknown to most people today.

Destination Moon – 1950.

Destination MoonThose who know me might suspect I selected this film because of the close association with one of my favorite SF authors, Robert A. Heinlien, but they would be wrong. This film, as a movie, is in my opinion flawed, but I am not selecting for best SF movies in each decade but most influential and on that count there can be no arguing with Destination Moon. This film, released in 1950, was a box office hit, both domestically and over-seas. It launched George Pal into his love affair with SF film, and for that alone it is an important film but it also launched the SF film crazed of the 1950’s. Without this film we do not have the rich fertile treasury of SF films from this decade and without those movies we do not have modern SF cinema. Destination Moon, while dry and flawed, is one of the most important SF films of any decade.

Forbidden Planet – 1956.

Forbidden Planet (1956)This selection should be less surprising. It is a well know movie, beloved and rescreened often. I had the good fortune to catch it in a theater and the special effect and images still hold up quite nicely. The characters are quite a bit dated, very much the writing is a product of the repressed 50’s, with the Production Code still in full effect, but this is still a movie well worth watching. It is influential because until Forbidden Planet science-fiction films were not literature. Most SF films were heavily plot based, being either adventure stories, such as Destination Moon’s exploration of the adventure inherent in a trip to the moon, allegorical story, or arguments for a particular worldview, such as The Day the Earth Stood Still. Forbidden Planet, an SF adaptation of The Tempest took the SF movie, with credible science, beyond the solar system and into the soul of humanity. It asked, with typical MGM glitz, deep questions about revenge and power and to price might they extract. In addition to opening up SF film to deeply internal stories, though they might be about aliens and robots on the surface, Forbidden Planet also inspired Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek. The production design of the movie strongly influenced the look of the television series, and the very concept of a paramilitary exploration of new worlds and new life-forms start here. There is no doubt that you can draw a line from Forbidden Planet, through Star Trek, to many shows and films today.