MT VOID 05/29/98 (Vol. 16, Number 48)

MT VOID 05/29/98 (Vol. 16, Number 48)

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
Club Notice - 05/29/98 -- Vol. 16, No. 48

Table of Contents

Outside events: The Science Fiction Association of Bergen County meets on the second Saturday of every month in Upper Saddle River; call 201-447-3652 for details. The New Jersey Science Fiction Society meets on the third Saturday of every month in Belleville; call 201-432-5965 for details.

MT Chair/Librarian:
       Mark Leeper   MT 3E-433  732-957-5619
HO Chair:     John Jetzt    MT 2E-530  732-957-5087
HO Librarian: Nick Sauer    HO 4F-427  732-949-7076
Distinguished Heinlein Apologist:
       Rob Mitchell  MT 2E-537  732-957-6330
Factotum:     Evelyn Leeper MT 3E-433  732-957-2070
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All material copyright by author unless otherwise noted.

URL of the week: On-line edition of LOCUS, the leading newszine in the science fiction field. [-ecl]

The Obvious: Hold on to your seats, this may be going to be one of my more controversial pieces. I could get a lot of people angry with me on this one. This would be particularly true if I leave just a tiny hole open to be misinterpreted. So let me just ease up on it.

There is a story about a mathematics professor who is giving a particularly abstract lecture. One of his students stops him and asks for some justification for the last step of a proof. "What do you mean? It's obvious." The student is just as puzzled. "Is it obvious?" The professor stares at the board for a minute. Then he sits at his desk, never taking his eyes off the board. He turns around and starts violently writing on paper. After a few minutes he crosses out everything he has written and moves on to a second piece of paper. Suddenly he jumps up and runs out of the room. Ten minutes later he comes running back into the room. "Yup, it's obvious."

The student in the story was perhaps not so convinced. The thing is that it is one of the weakest forms of argument to simply declare victory. Nobody is going to find you very convincing on some controversial issue if you say simply, "My beliefs are self- evident and so do not need any sort of defending." This is particularly true if there is controversy and there are people who sincerely disagree with the point of view. Basically instead of a convincing argument it belittles the other side saying they are too stupid to see the most obvious. Now this may be intentional, but it is also high-handed. One is effectively calling anyone who disagrees an idiot. It is like saying one holds truth in the palm of ones hand. If there is any basis for disagreement, people will jump on it and ride the original speaker into the ground. It is a strategy that infuriates ones enemies and even alienates ones allies. Hopefully all this is obvious.

Now, what kind of country takes some of the most controversial issues not only of its time but of all time and starts out by saying its point of view is obvious? And I mean literally starts out. The very first official words of the country are a pompous "We hold these truths to be self-evident." And then what are these so- called truths? "That all men are created equal." That was slaveholder Thomas Jefferson saying that. "Equal" really is a very strong word. It goes beyond what government has the power to mandate. Even identical twins are not created equal. There are discernible differences. Equal means precisely the same, a promise that no government could ever deliver or would want to. What he really meant was, first of all, that all people that count are created equal. But does he actually mean even that? What he is really saying is that the laws should apply equally to all people who count. They should all have equal rights. But that was not what he said. Even in 1776 politicians were not saying what they meant and not meaning what they said.

It continues saying that they-men--are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights. This presupposes that they have a Creator. Now Jefferson may well be right that there is a Creator but is it self-evident? That among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. No government and certainly not ours treats Life and Liberty to be inalienable. On the other hand no government that has ever existed has ever been able to prevent the Pursuit of Happiness in anybody. It is not clear even what that would mean. Nobody has unrestricted right to pursue happiness, but nobody can prevent anyone from at least trying to be happy. The person may be a miserable failure at it, but nobody can stop him from trying to be happy. Nobody I have asked has ever been able to give a very good explanation of what a right to the pursuit of happiness is.

Well, you get the point. The Declaration of Independence has a reputation for being a superbly well-written document. But that is mostly because it is interpreted as verbalizing some high ideals. But it may be the ideals that are high and fine and not the way they are expressed. Luckily the Supreme Court does not have to interpret the words of the Declaration of Independence nearly as closely as they do the Constitution. The Constitution is considerably drier, and not nearly so elegant and concise, but it is a much better written document. At least it works. I think that the Declaration of Independence still needs work. Luckily there is still time since I take it that it never actually got sent to King George. I know we still have it here in the National Archives. I seriously doubt that King George read it and returned it. I can only conclude that something went wrong and it never got sent. I think that Jefferson decided he liked it so much that he couldn't part with it. [-mrl]

GODZILLA (a film review by Mark R. Leeper):

Capsule: This film has little to do with the Japanese monster Godzilla. A mutated iguana grown to giant proportions gets loose in New York City. Most of the thrills are really warmed-over JURASSIC PARK. Matthew Broderick is wasted, but Jean Reno has some nice moments. The comic approach too often falls flat and does little for the story. Rating: 4 (0 to 10), low 0 (-4 to +4)

In 1954 there was an anti-American uproar in Japan. A Japanese fishing boat had unknowingly caught fish contaminated by an American nuclear test. The fishermen had been sickened but not in time to stop the fish from going to market. Japanese newspapers called the incident another American atomic attack on Japan. The Toho film company took outrage from this incident as inspiration. That combined with the recent successes of the film THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS and the re-release of KING KONG inspired them to make their own monster movie. This was the bleak and very angry film GOJIRA. In the story Gojira was a mythical beast identified with a 200-foot radioactive dinosaur who comes out of the Pacific. Made on a very small post-war budget, it very ingeniously stretched some inexpensive special effects to massive effect. Some of the sets initially used wax miniatures of large structures to save money. Under harsh studio lights these props wilted and melted. As an inspiration an aerosol spray was added to the hand puppet that was Gojira's head together with the wilt effect combined so Gojira had breath that would fry chicken.

American film entrepreneur Joseph E. Levine saw GOJIRA and seemed oblivious to the anti-American tenor of the film. He crudely added additional footage with American actor Raymond Burr. The name "GOJIRA" probably sounded too Japanese for a country that had so recently been fought a vicious war with Japan, so the name of the monster was slightly modified to be less Japanese sounding but to still fit the same lip movements. The resulting film was redubbed GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS. The Americans turned this little anti-American film into a big international success, the first such success that there had ever been in the Japanese film industry. Godzilla has remained an enduring character in Japanese film, even as the character has been repeatedly modified. Two series of monster films have been built around him. Finally it was decided little more could be milked from the character, and Toho killed him off and licensed the copyright to be used by other studios. Roland Emmerich who made the films STARGATE and INDEPENDENCE DAY apparently wanted to do his own giant monster film. No name they could give their creature would have the marquee value of calling their beast Godzilla.

While the new Godzilla may indeed have been inspired by Toho's monster, the thing that they have ended up with has more differences than similarities. The new Godzilla is a mutant marine iguana owing its unusual genetics to French nuclear testing in French Polynesia. (Incidentally, there are no marine lizards in French Polynesia. The only marine lizard in the world is the marine iguana, and it is found only in the Galapagos Islands.) The creature, who would appear to be about a hundred feet high, with powerful enough hind legs that it walks bipedally, though bent over. The massive creature destroys a number of boats on its way from Polynesia to New York City, fulfilling a mission of his own.

Called in to investigate is Dr. Nick Tatopoulos (Matthew Broderick), an expert in atomic mutation called from a three-year study of earthworm mutation at Chernobyl. Nick follows in the wake of destruction left by the never-seen titanic beast destroying ships. Also following in the wake seems to be a sort of French secret agent, Philippe Roche played Jean Reno of LEON (in the US: THE PROFESSIONAL) and of MISSION IMPOSSIBLE.

A full scale Godzilla movie with the sort of quality special effects that the Japanese could not afford to lavish on the film was, at least for me, an exciting idea. Unfortunately, this was not the film I was hoping for. The approach of GODZILLA is intended to be in large part comic, but only Jean Reno manages to make the humor really funny. Michael Lerner plays New York City Mayor Ebert and is made up to look like Roger Ebert. His assistant is Gene and looks just enough like Gene Siskel for us to realize that that is the point of the joke. But the joke just falls flat as often as it is used. As with INDEPENDENCE DAY there are several scenes that are homage to previous films, also just not very amusing. The film painfully lacks logic. People do some totally unmotivated actions to keep the plot going, though it often slows to a snail's pace. Or the plot will move forward by contrivance. Nico suddenly get the urge to do a very specialized chemical test on Godzilla's blood. It turns out he is looking for a result he apparently had no reason to suspect and which on the face of it seems impossible. But of course it turns out to be just the key chemical test to move the plot forward. Many of the effects and the thrill scenes are borrowed directly from JURASSIC PARK. The love story awkwardly thrown into the mix is totally superfluous. The empty plotting and failed humor attempts are certainly not new to Godzilla films, but it was hoped that they would be left behind with the low-budget special effects flaws.

The Japanese I have talked to have been anxious to see what GODZILLA was to be like with good effects and a serious plot. I am sorry to say that I expect that they will be disappointed. I rate this one a disappointing 4 on the 0 to 10 scale and a low 0 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]

                                   Mark Leeper
                                   MT 3E-433 732-957-5619

Quote of the Week:

     Television is a medium of entertainment which permits
     millions of people to listen to the same joke at the
     same time, and yet remain lonesome.
                                   -- T. S. Eliot