MT VOID 07/10/98 (Vol. 17, Number 2)

MT VOID 07/10/98 (Vol. 17, Number 2)

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
Club Notice - 07/10/98 -- Vol. 17, No. 2

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
Back issues at
All material copyright by author unless otherwise noted.

URLs of the week: Bartlett's Familiar Quotations (1901). [-ecl]

Bartlett's Familliar Quotations: I think we need to talk about Bartlett's Familiar Quotations. Well, maybe you won't think so, but I do. All kinds of standard reference books have had overhauls over the last few years. The Encyclopedia Britannica is nothing like the staid 24 volumes that it was when I was a kid. Now they have their Micropedia, their Macropedia, their Orthopedia, their Centipedia, and their Millipedia (the latter two only are for the real bookworms, I suppose). But actually they have anything a pedophile could want, coming at you in a sort of Stampedia. But the Britannica has been a fraud for years. I think it is published in Chicago. Yup, the British sold off their encyclopedia. When they really started suffering from the brain drain to the United States, they let their brains take their encyclopedia with them. So both the Encyclopedia Americana and the Encyclopedia Britannica are actually American encyclopedias. That presumably means that there is no British national encyclopedia unless like us they have bought up someone else's. I know there is an Encyclopedia Italiana because it used to take up twenty feet of shelf space in the Springfield Library, Springfield, Massachusetts. I told my very Italian economics teacher, Mr. Rapucci, that the reason it was so long is that it included all the hand gestures.

But of course I am drifting. By and large, most of our better known reference books are fairly honest. If you buy a Webster's Dictionary it will genuinely be a dictionary, though I am told that the law now says that any dictionary publisher can call their dictionary "Webster's." I am not sure why that is. If you build a hotel, you can't say it is Hyatt's. But at least the part about it being a dictionary is true. And the last I had heard a book called "Roget's Thesaurus" has to be able to prove its lineage back to Roget.

But the people who publish these reference works at least have a well-defined task. A dictionary should have all the words and their definitions. Every few years they update it so that recent slang gets in. But what about Bartlett's Familiar Quotations? They have to decide if a quotation is really familiar or not. That's not easy. How do you decide if a quotation is familiar or not? Don't you have to include just about all the lines from the great tragedies like HAMLET, MACBETH, and TITANIC? Twenty years ago there was not much familiar in MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING. Then we had a popular film version and phrases like "converting all your sounds of woe into 'hey, nonny nonny'" become familiar even if they are not particularly comprehensible. For a little while after the film was released you may remember we had people who discovered they had been short-changed at the gas station dismissing the incident by saying "hey, nonny nonny." or "Oh, that police car caught me passing another car on the right. Oh, well. Hey, nonny nonny." Of course, eventually the good feeling of the film wore off and people went back to the ever-popular "oh, shit." I mean, how do you decide if a quotation is familiar right now? Bartlett's gets out of date faster than a World Atlas.

Now if they were serious they would have standards on whether their quotes are familiar or not. They would check quotes in front of a live audience and see "how many out there have heard this one before: 'with affection beaming in one eye and calculation shining out the other.' Nobody? Anybody have any guesses? No? Okay, Bob, drop CHUZZLEWIT." But do they do that? No. So even in the post-literate society Bartlett's is headed up toward 2000 pages of one-time familiar quotations. There are all sorts of has-been quotations, and perhaps no small number of never-wases. [-mrl]

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

Capsule: A group of working-class heroes is humanity's only hope to destroy a meteor headed straight for Earth. This is a very heavily cliched film. It uses comic-book-style editing, too many melodramatic plots, and too much over-ripe camerawork. Some of the visuals are undeniably impressive, but the script is aimed at twelve-year-old boys. Rating: 4 (0 to 10), 0 (-4 to +4). Spoiler: warning: I list some of the cliches that are used in this script.

They say that any film that opens with an overhead view of a city has got to be bad. Another bad opening is the words "A Jerry Bruckheimer Film." Bruckheimer's name indicates that it will likely have more action than sense. ARMAGEDDON is our second film of the season to deal with a possible meteor impact on the Earth and it out-Bruckheimers Bruckheimer.

What is there to say about the plot? An asteroid knocked from orbit is on a collision course with Earth. Such a collision, we are told in the pre-credit narration by Charlton Heston, destroyed the dinosaurs. (Curiously, the president of the NRA resists suggesting we could prevent collisions if only we were all armed with large rocks.) The film gets off with a bang as in the first minutes we see the first of the mini-meteor showers, all of which seem predominantly to target land masses and major cities. (Being fair, there is a line in the dialog saying that they are hitting a wider area.) Later in the film we see the destruction of three cities including Shanghai. The latter looks like the Aberdeen area of Hong Kong. (Jerry, there are no junks in Shanghai any more. It's a propaganda thing. They got rid of the junks.)

The survival plan is to place a nuclear bomb in the core of the asteroid. NASA, in an effort headed by Dan Truman (Billy Bob Thornton) needs to train its astronauts to drill to the core of the asteroid. Truman calls in foremost drilling expert Harry Stamper (Bruce Willis) to train the astronauts and Stamper convinces Truman it would be easier to train drillers to be astronauts. With the fate of the Earth in the balance Truman makes this dubious concession. Astronauts, it seems, can be trained to know all they need to know in two weeks, but it takes a lifetime to know how to be a good driller. So Stamper's drilling crew are on their way to space. Of course, first comes the training, with our high-spirited drilling team making life miserable for the NASA trainers. Then after the training comes the even more riotous R&R, and these drillers are really wild by NASA standards. At no point does it seem to dawn on our happy drill team that losing the whole Earth with its Michelangelos and its Pizza Huts could be a real bummer for all of them. Finally comes the dramatic cliche-ridden space mission, complete with gun threats, a "which-wire-to-clip?" ticking bomb threat, and a "success-with-two-seconds-to-spare" climax. It is amazing how much of GOLDFINGER they could shoehorn into this film.

That ARMAGEDDON should follow so closely on the heels of the similar but far more intelligent DEEP IMPACT is a near ironclad guarantee that ARMAGEDDON will suffer by comparison. Even so the difference in quality beats the point spread by a gap as big as the state of Texas. This film is a sort of THE DIRTY DOZEN IN SPACE, and if nothing else it proves you can get into space piecing together nothing but off-the-shelf cliches. It fact apparently it took six writers or more to find all the cliches necessary. The main character and his crew, for example, are based on the old John Wayne film, THE HELLFIGHTERS. There are some scenes of the astronaut training in which the viewer may not know what is happening or why it is funny without having seen THE RIGHT STUFF. ARMAGEDDON, it seems, was not so much written as assembled after a scavenger hunt. Then there are the in-jokes. Without knowing what films have been released this summer the viewer may not realize why one character is named Truman and or why the visual joke with the toy Godzillas. It is a pity that the film did not come out next year when the scavengers could have raided DEEP IMPACT to at least get some idea how Earth people react to impending world- destruction. The "we-all-wait-and-pray" reaction shown in this film seemed hokey when George Pal used it in WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE. And Pal's street riots in WAR OF THE WORLDS were more realistic than what we see in ARMAGEDDON.

Bruce Willis plays an unflappable expert, always keeping things on an even keel even in the face of trouble like the world as we know it possibly coming to an end. This means that he never has to do much in the way of acting. He just plays his usual bland character. Will Patton made a memorable Civil-War-esque villain in THE POSTMAN. Here as the second in command on the team he does not play so flamboyant a character, but he is always watchable. Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare who were the mismatched partners in crime in FARGO are reunited as a wisecracking American driller- astronaut and a burned-out (in more ways than one) Russian Cosmonaut. Together the two of them account for about 87% of the interest value of the crew in space. Liv Tyler, playing Stamper's daughter and the lover of another of the flying drillers, seems to dissolve into a one- woman Greek chorus in the second half of the film. She silently looks on, watching the action from Mission Control and strikes poses.

More and more we are seeing a style of film editing based on the comic book. It made sense for films like THE CROW that were based on comic books. Here we have in the action sequences many short cuts, each showing about what you would see in one panel of a comic. Sometimes the camera lingers over a single static and over-composed or melodramatic image, as if one is to pause over the composition. For example, Liv Tyler may be standing at attention in front of an American flag watching her father and her lover blast off. In another scene we see just her hand touching a television screen that a moment before showed what was happening in space and now has only static. Buried deep in the film are about fifteen minutes of beautiful state-of-the-art special effects. These at times reach the level of breathtaking. But everything else about this film is formula. The action cliches do generate the same suspense they always do. But the thought that went into DEEP IMPACT only points up the total cynicism about what the audience wants that went into making this overly familiar mess. As a science fiction movie, it has more action than thought. I give it a 4 on the 0 to 10 scale and a 0 on the -4 to +4 scale.

Nobody seemed to care much about my comment that the angle of tipping seemed to vary erratically from scene to scene in TITANIC, but I will make another comment about the geometry of the action. When cities are shown being hit by smaller meteor showers in ARMAGEDDON, the meteors should be coming in on parallel or near parallel courses. They come in from different directions. Is the idea that they blew apart and just happen to be converging again? [-mrl]

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

Quote of the Week:

     People commonly educate their children as they
     build their houses, according to some plan they
     think beautiful, without considering whether it
     is suited to the purposes for which they are
                                   -- Lady Mary Wortley Montagu