MT VOID 01/22/99 (Vol. 17, Number 30)

MT VOID 01/22/99 (Vol. 17, Number 30)

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
Club Notice - 01/22/99 -- Vol. 17, No. 30

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.

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.

URL of the Week: The web page of the IAU (International Astronomical Union) discussing whether Pluto's status should change from planet to Trans-Neptunian Object. [-ecl]


Last week I was discussing my impression that dogs are actually no longer the species that occur in nature, but after living in human society they have forced themselves to become an amalgam of human and animal, not unlike the creatures in H. G. Wells's THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU.

There are some things that make dogs have a different viewpoint than we do. They have a different stature. They go through life in our world looking up at things. They don't see the tops of tables, they see the underside. They live in a world in which their fates are controlled by creatures that tower over them the way trees tower over us. In fact it is worse than the way trees tower over us because the most expressive part of the towering creatures is at the very top. And it gets even worse. A dog's anatomy is just not very good for looking up. Oh, they can do it, but their necks are really designed for them to look straight ahead or down. Imagine what a literal pain in the neck it would be if a lot of you information input was coming from about nine feet up. Whatever else human society offers dogs, it does not offer very good ergonomics.

The other thing making even domesticated dogs very different is the very different sensory balance and the fact that dogs are probably not even aware that they have a different balance. I wonder if bloodhounds ever get frustrated that we don't just sniff out things for ourselves. But the fact is that a dog's sense of smell is so much more acute than ours is that it almost is a different sense. The difference is analogous to the difference of living in a world of black and white or super-saturated Technicolor, multiplied by 1000. It is even more than that difference because being able to perceive color because we get very little useful information from our color perception. A color-blind man can pretty much pass for having normal sight under most circumstances. But a dog's mind is flooded with information about the world that we cannot detect. A dog just automatically knows things like what part of the house you have been in, what you ate at your last meal, and whether you have a cut on your hand. And one very strong smell does not deaden their ability to detect subtle aromas.

Dogs' eyes are somewhat weaker, though Elizabeth Marshall Thompson in her THE HIDDEN LIFE OF DOGS says they are much better at picking up on body language than humans are. They know your mood by your bearing. But a dog's eyes must be weaker than ours are if for no other reason than they cannot get corrective lenses. There is odd information about a dog's color perception. Dogs do not have the rods and cones in their eyes that would allow color perception. When I was growing up the word was that dogs definitely do not see colors. Then somebody actually tested it. I suppose you could have an experiment where dogs are rewarded for finding green objects but not red ones. What was discovered was that dogs had weak color-perception. Why a dog has any color perception at all could not be explained.

But in spite of these differences I have always wondered a little why canine intelligence has seemed so similar to human intelligence. One gets the intuitive belief that dogs think very much like us. A dog's mind seems not all that different from that of a human or at least what a human would have if he also had a dog's anatomy. Why I find that strange is that I most definitely do not feel that all humans are that similar to us. We humans, it seemed to me, have a tendency to overrate the difference between humans and dogs and tend to underrate the degree of variation in humans. The Disney idea that it is a small world after all and we are all really alike is far more the product of wishful thinking from an armchair philosopher than one based on actual observation. In fact I think the aborigine of Australia LIVING IN HIS OWN SOCIETY has a very different mind from my own. Yet I get just the opposite feeling for a dog living in our society. I had a hard time resolving those two opinions. But I am coming to accept both. First, the dog is much more similar than the expectation is that he would be. The aborigine is much less similar than the expectation says he would be. But of course they are two very different expectations.

But that does not account for the entire phenomenon. The key is that dogs raised in human society in China understand tonal language and I do not. Dogs raised in China will have similarity to Chinese people. Dogs raised in America are not wolves and wild dogs in different surroundings. They pick up our culture and really are like Moreau's creation an amalgam of the animal and the human. Having been raised in our society they may actually have minds closer to ours than have the aborigines who were raised and adapted to a very different culture. [-mrl]

THE THIN RED LINE: (a film review by Mark R. Leeper):

Capsule: Heavy on mood and texture, light on plot, this is sort of an APOCALYPSE NOW for World War II. It combines frightening realistic battle sequences with a sort of post-war literary style. The narrative is blunted by having far too many characters to keep straight. Rating: 7 (0 to 10), low +2 (-4 to +4). A non-spoiler section at the end of the review places the events of this film in an historical context.
New York Critics: 12 positive, 1 negative, 6 mixed

"There's only a thin red line between the sane and the mad." That is supposedly an old Midwestern saying. From it James Jones took the title of his semi-autobiographical novel based on his experiences in the Infantry Company C on Guadalcanal. That book was adapted into a movie by Andrew Marton in 1964. Now Terrence Malick, who has not made a film for two decades but who made the moody BADLANDS and DAYS OF HEAVEN, has filmed it a second time.

The story follows Company C and their experiences on Guadalcanal. There is very little real plot for a film of this length, about three hours. Basically the film simply has a company of soldiers comes to the island, has a hard fight against the Japanese, and finally leaves. We get to know the characters through their interaction and hearing their thoughts on the soundtrack. Their thoughts may well be accurate to the novel, but they are a little too poetic to be believed.

Commanding the action in Lt. Col. Gordon Tall (played by Nick Nolte). Tall is a bitter man past the age when most men retire from command but wanting to have command in a battle to prove himself. "The closer you are to Caesar the greater the fear," Tall thinks to himself. It is not entirely clear what he means by that, but it is the sort of think most of the soldiers seem to think to themselves. One soldier Bell (Ben Chaplin) thinks endlessly about his wife and we have inter-cut dreamlike scenes of her and of the two of them together. He has turned her into sort of the idealized woman. He remembers her over and over, her and his memories of telling her that if anything will happen to him, "I will wait for you on the other side of the dark waters." It is hard to believe GIs talked or thought like this.

The film goes from one character to the next as we hear their thoughts and see how they react to the experience. There are plot developments, like a conflict between Tall and commanding Captain Staros (Elias Koteas), but the point of the film is mood, not to tell a story. One of the problems with THE THIN RED LINE is that it is hard to keep so many characters straight on a single viewing. The names are new and so are most of the important faces. And it does not help that the viewer that he is seeing them in army helmets that cover up the top part of the head. There are some major stars in this film, but frequently they will appear in what amount to cameo roles. John Travolta and George Clooney appear in one scene each. Sean Penn is recognizable and has a larger role as a nasty sergeant who tells an idealistic soldier, "We are living in a world where man is trying to blow himself up as fast as he can arrange it. Just shut your eyes and take it." Frequently we are shut out of what is really happening. In one case we see one of the soldiers on the transport yelling for a door to be opened, but are given no explanation what that is all about.

The film is an uneasy balance of style and realism. While the scenes of battle are very realistic, much of the credibility is sacrificed by having the characters think in the free verse we hear in the voice-overs. Somehow it is not believable that when a soldier is in great danger, tracking through the high grass, constantly on the lookout for an enemy who could appear at any time, that he thinks in poetry. Far more than the novel, the film takes advantage of its location in the Melanesia tropical forest. Some of the nature photography is top notch. The film opens with an extended image of a crocodile submerging into water, giving the nature a sinister side. It is inviting but deadly. One interviewed veteran I have heard soldier says that he does not remember there being as much high grass but the sound editor uses it to create a lush feel to the film. Hans Zimmer, who has scored several films with African themes over the past several years, has provided a score that sounds as African as anything he has written. Whether this sound is authentic to the Solomon Islands is questionable.

The film is a powerful experience, one that undoubtedly captures much of the feel of battle in a new hyper-realistic style. But much of the film does not work or at least requires multiple viewings to take in. I rate the film 7 on the 0 to 10 scale and a low +2 on the -4 to +4 scale.


The stories in THE THIN RED LINE are from the point of view of soldier who did not see "the big picture." This film had little of the actual history surrounding this battle. Here is what was missing from the film. In 1942 Japanese military spearheaded south and captured the Solomon Islands, bringing the war almost to Australia's doorstep. Queensland, Australia, was just 1000 miles to the southwest. It was vitally important to the Japanese that they disrupt Allied Forces in the area or they would be pushed easily back out. To avoid this they needed a base from which to launch air attacks against Allied supply lines. They built their air base on Guadalcanal Island. New Evidence suggests that as early as five years previously, and before the war started, they had planned for what they saw was the coming war and were stocking Guadalcanal to hold the island.

On August 7, 1942, the day the United States had been in the war only eight months, the United States sent in 6000 Marines to capture the island, never expecting it would be a major battle. Repeatedly each side brought in reinforcements as the battle grew, first one side and then the other. The fighting spread from the island to a navy battle in the surrounding sea. The Japanese were well-entrenched and very difficult to dislodge. The natural protections of the Japanese and the malarial jungles took a heavy toll on the Allies. The Allied forces here were 90% American. The fighting extended from August 1942 to January 1943. Naval superiority eventually decided the battle for the Americans.

The effect upon the Pacific War was profound. There were 1600 Americans killed and another 4200 wounded. There were 7100 casualties in total. But the Japanese losses were more terrible. There were 14,000 Japanese killed or wounded. Another 9000 died of disease or starvation. About a thousand were captured. Guadalcanal together with Midway were really the turning of the tide of the Pacific War. At Guadalcanal the Americans proved the Japanese could make mistakes and could be beaten. Victory is usually the result of a combination of skill and luck. And at Guadalcanal the American forces could feel they had defeated the Japanese through genuine military skill unlike at Midway where the Japanese were beaten not as much by the Allies and much more by an incredible run of really bad luck. But these two great Japanese losses really sealed the fate of the Japanese in the Pacific War. [-mrl]

HILARY AND JACKIE: (a film review by Mark R. Leeper):

Capsule: Melodrama and beautiful music mix in a story loosely based on the relationship of Jacqueline and Hilary Du Pre, two sister musicians of very different degrees of success. Well-worn themes of sibling jealousy, the high price of fame and success, the comparative rewards of the simple life out of the public eye, and family tragedy combine in Frank Cottrell Boyce's screenplay, based on a novel by Hilary and her brother Piers. The film is entertaining and well-produced but falls short of its high reputation. Rating: 6 (0 to 10), high +1 (-4 to +4)
New York Critics: 9 positive, 0 negative, 4 mixed

From those who would make great music the gods extract a heavy toll. How many times have we seen this in film? We have seen this in films from A SONG TO REMEMBER to AMADEUS, SHINE, and this season's HILARY AND JACKIE. But the latter actually may be closer to a RICH AND FAMOUS or a BEACHES in plotting. It give us the lives of two women, lifelong friends (in this case sisters) and follows one through fame and fortune and the other through the simple life, concluding at the end that celebrity is not worth its price. And it tells this story, as SULLIVAN'S TRAVELS would say, "with a little bit of sex." If this was the first film we had ever seen on these themes it would get full marks. But there have been surprisingly many similar stories. The film is supposed to be the true story of Hilary and cello master Jacqueline Du Pre, but a heavy set of disclaimers in the closing credits suggest that it may not be even that.

The film opens with the two as children with a mother (Celia Imrie) who endows both with love and a sense of wonder for music. We see her transcribing and leaving them by their beds overnight new melodies for them to discover and excitedly play in the morning. Hilary is older and more accomplished on the flute. Jacqueline can barely get a decent melody out of her cello. Hilary gets attention for her flute skills, little Jackie feels left out and determines to catch up with her sister. So her abilities have to develop at a faster rate and they continue to do so. Soon the two are recognized as award-winning musical prodigies, though now it is Hilary who is jealous of the attention paid to Jacqueline. Both girls learned from their mother the supposed bad habit of putting too much body expression into their playing. To them playing is almost a little bit of dance. Jacqueline gets a good teacher who is tolerant of the body language. Hilary's teacher is an ogre who is intolerant of her having so much fun with her playing. The teacher ruins the joy of her playing. The film splits in two paths. First it tells the story of Hilary, the quiet young woman with a famous sister. While Jacqueline travels the world with apparent disdain for her family, Hilary wistfully follows her sister's career. She meets a man, falls in love, and then has her sister re-enters her life, a different and disturbed person. The film then returns to the splitting and tells the story of Jacqueline Du Pre and why she is so unhappy with her fame and remains envious of Hilary.

It has been suggested that this film puts the Du Pre parents and Jacqueline's husband, Daniel Barenboim, in a bad light. It is true that there is something unfavorable about each of them at some point in the film. The Du Pre parents are not shown to be perfect, but then what parents are? Certainly Mrs. Du Pre is the source of the genius of her daughters. Her husband is a bit obtuse at times, but not destructively. A little more of the film's criticism is reserved for Barenboim as Jacqueline's husband, but on balance he seems to be a more devoted and more reasonable spouse than Jacqueline was. There is little that Daniel does to Jacqueline that Jacqueline has not done to Daniel first.

Jacqueline Du Pre is played by Emily Watson of BREAKING THE WAVES, whose two big films have been about sexually disturbed women. Both films have allowed her to play women who are confused and a little opaque. It is hard to say if this is really good acting or not since the women she plays are so unusual. There are far more ways to be something out of the ordinary than to be commonplace. Rachel Griffiths as Hilary may have had the more difficult role, having to seem normal but playing off her strange sister.

HILARY AND JACKIE is more melodrama than serious drama. It is not exactly what would have been expected from the positive reaction this film has been getting. But even melodrama can be done well and as such films go, this is one of the better ones. Some of the music is superlative. I rate it a 6 on the 0 to 10 scale and a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]

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

Quote of the Week:

     The very purpose of existence is to reconcile the glowing
     opinion we hold of ourselves with the appalling things
     other people think about us.
                                   -- Quentin Crisp