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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
07/06/01 -- Vol. 20, No. 1
Table of Contents
Science and Science Fiction (pointer from Mark R. Leeper):
If you are interested in an article about how science mimics science fiction, the June 30th issue of Science News discusses the possibilities of power suits with nods to Heinlein's STARSHIP TROOPERS, the film ALIENS, and the comic book character IRON MAN. If you don't subscribe you can get a copy at http://www.sciencenews.org/20010630/bob8.asp. [-mrl]
The Tyranny of Books (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I think we have to take a look at how technology is spoiling our very existence. Technology and time seem to destroy all of the great arts. And I can tell you when it started to happen. I think it was the printing press that did us all in. There was a time when we could appreciate great works of art like the Iliad. Nowadays who really listens to the Iliad any more? Nobody. And Iíll tell you why. Itís that damn printing press.
When the Iliad was first told, that was really something. People used to wait for weeks, looking forward to hearing it presented. And what a show it was. The poet would sing it and play the lyre. You never got tired of it because it was different every time. Different singers would tell it differently, stressing this aspect or that. You could really feel you were taking a voyage on that wine-dark sea. The story really lived for you. Then what happened? That German guy found a way to take a press and squash this living thing onto a piece of paper like a bug. Now anybody can get it smashed onto paper and read it any time. But what have they got? Is there lyre music to go along with the story? No! Can the teller read his audience and tailor the telling to the audience? NO! Are there even any differences from one telling to the repeat? No way, Jose!
But it just takes one printing press to make hundreds, or thousands of copies. The power of big money just lets the presses roll. And there are always chuckleheads who are willing to shell out good money for this printed abomination. And they get what they deserve, a lifeless thing on paper.
Look what books are doing to family values. When the poet came to retell the story of the Iliad, whole families got together to hear it. It was something the family could do together, to enjoy together. Now as soon as dinner is over you have the kids going off to read some book by themselves. They are in their own little world, cut off from everybody else. Parents these days are lucky if they even remember what their children look like. And who knows what they are reading? Who knows what ideas are being put in their heads? Oh, we all know that parents should monitor what books their children are reading, but how many really do? Let me tell you, some of the things written in these books shouldnít be shown to a dog, much less an impressionable child.
Now I want you to try a little experiment. Take your favorite book, if you have one. Take a funny passage and cut out an "r". Take a sad passage and cut out an "r". Donít worry about damaging the book. You cannot damage so worthless a thing; you can only make it harder to read. Now mix up those two letters "r". Which was which? You canít tell can you? Your book was printed with movable type. On the printing press it may even be the same piece of metal that printed those two letters "r". I can tell you if a singer sang you the story he would not pronounce those two letters exactly alike. But the two letters were put on the paper by a dead piece of metal. Probably it was a piece of lead. The stupid senseless piece of metal does not know that one of these portions is so sad and the other is joyously happy. It just knows how to stamp one letter "r" just like every other letter it has ever stamped it its whole, long, senseless life.
And what about plays? It is just such a small part of a play that is what the actors say. There are a hundred different ways to say a line, but they all write the same way on paper. Try saying "Hello" as if to your lover. Try saying "Hello" as if to your worst enemy. Try saying "Hello" as if to your boss. They are almost three different words. I say almost because once they are applied to paper they are all identical. "Hello" is "Hello" is "Hello." That is how the printing press treats them. But you and I know they are almost entirely different.
The venerated Plato did not trust his great arguments to be put on paper. What if someone reading them had a question? What if they wanted to counter argue? They have not a chance. Try arguing with a piece of paper. Try arguing with a book. And these pitiful readers think they are in contact with the great Plato by reading these dead skins, these books.
And still these printing presses roll on and on and on. As long as there is money to be made promising to sell wisdom and instead giving people these dead paper things. And the people who profit from them do not care a bit about how they are affecting the world. It is all merely a question of profit. The people who spend their time not seeing the real world but engrossed in these lifeless paper things, reading these books, they are almost degenerates. They have lost their humanity and what a poor thing they are selling out for! I guess we have to get used to technology taking everything of value from our lives, sucking it dry for profit, and spitting it out in these lifeless things, this printed form. The genie is out of the bottle and there is no way to stop it now. But we donít have to like it.
"Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body." - Ecclesiastes 12:12
FINAL FANTASY: THE SPIRITS WITHIN (a film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: This very dark sci-fi fantasy is magnificent visually but it has a nearly incoherent plot. FINAL FANTASY is a Japanese-American co-production entirely animated but with a very real three-dimensional look and with very real-looking characters. In the year 2065 aliens that appear to us as translucent images, but still very deadly creatures, have invaded Earth. Saving the Earth requires resorting to semi-mystical means to understand and halt the enemy. If this film had been done in live-action the scenes more spectacular than those of BLADERUNNER would have been hailed as a triumph. Rating: 6 (0 to 10), high +1 (-4 to +4)
The art of the animated film continues to evolve before our eyes at an incredible rate. It seems that one animated film after another is released and advances the art of animation. I personally was very impressed with the visual images created in TITAN A.E. But there are images in FINAL FANTASY that go well beyond the power of that filmís animation. The one problem is that if I applaud this film it will have to be mostly on the imagination of the concepts and on the visuals. I donít think the story was a very good one. And the uncertain terms in which I say that are intentional. The telling of the story and the explanation of what is going on lies somewhere in the range between terse and incoherent. I frequently had no idea what was happening in the plot, thought FINAL FANTASY was never failed to be an enjoyable film to watch.
The greatest part of what was remarkable about the film was the animation work. The entire film is done in a three-dimensional technique. Every single image is as three-dimensional as a live action film. Of course, I am afraid one could always distinguish the images from real live action. And that is (intentionally) praising the animation with faint criticism. The computer- generated images were almost photographic. And what images they were! There were planet-scapes and futuristic battlefields. There were alien monsters of towering height. There were things that cannot be described; they have to be seen.
The story opens in 2065, with the Earth already mostly destroyed and conquered by a diaphanous life form from space. Well, not just one diaphanous life form, but a whole class of gossamer life forms. There are things that are insect-like and things that look like floating dragons. It is like a whole planet of creatures are cooperating and taking part in the invasion. Why? Dr. Sid (voiced by Donald Sutherland) and his protege Dr. Aki Ross (Ming- Na) want to find out. The creatures seem to burrow into the ground then attack with deadly potency. Humans have reacted by retreating to force-field protected cities. A guard of power- suited soldiers protects these cities and what is left of the human race. Dr. Sid believes in the Gaia theory that planets are like a living organism with self-protection mechanisms. Perhaps they can be triggered to protect the planet. But Sid and Aki have to act fast. Akiís body has been invaded by one form of the aliensí essence. AIDS-like it will prove deadly if the nature of the aliens is not better understood soon. Hironobu Sakaguchi, who is connected with the Final Fantasy video games wrote the story for this film as well as directed and acted as executive producer. Jeff Vintar and Al Reinert wrote the screenplay. Generally in an animated film of this sort, I complain that any starving actor could have gotten a good job doing the voice of an animated character. It usually seems wasteful and useless to give these voice roles to established and successful actors. In this film it really did serve a purpose. The animation technique makes the characters realistic and even gives them some marvelous facial expression, but it leaves them seeming cold and without much personality. That makes it hard to keep straight who is who. One thing that helped was that I found it easy to track four of the characters because they spoke with voices I immediately recognized. Those were Alec Baldwin, Steve Buscemi, Donald Sutherland, and James Woods. I probably should have recognized the voice of Ving Rhames, but did not. The main character is played by Ming-Na best known for her roles in THE JOY LUCK CLUB and in the various Disney productions in which she plays the Chinese historic figure Mulan. What is a little disconcerting is not that the voices are familiar, but that the faces do not resemble those of the actors. Dr. Sid may have unmistakably sounded like Donald Sutherland, but he looked very different. I kept expecting to see Dr. Sid with the Sutherland face.
This film from Square Pictures (whose logo is a rectangle) is animated to be just one step from live action. The viewer may come away not understanding the story or the future Earth on which is it set, but he will have seen some marvelous images set to the tune of some really terrible music. I rate the film a 6 on the 0 to 10 scale and a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]
JURASSIC PARK III (a film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: A short punchy action sequel to the two dinosaur films made by Steven Spielberg. Joe Johnston directs a straightforward story of an excursion back to the island of the dinosaurs. It lets us see some new dinosaurs (is that an oxymoron?) and gives us a nice and generally reasonably written adventure. The film is neither ambitious nor pretentious. I had a good time. Rating: 7 (0 to 10), low +2 (-4 to +4)
Here goes my credibility. This is a film on which I expect to be in a minority. I liked the third JURASSIC PARK film. I even liked the second JURASSIC PARK film. In a lot of ways JURASSIC PARK: THE LOST WORLD was a creative three-way braiding together of Michael Crichton's novel THE LOST WORLD, Arthur Conan Doyle's novel THE LOST WORLD, and the classic silent film version of the Doyle. JP2 was an adventure, as Doyle said, "for the boy who's half man or the man who's half boy." That is what all the JURASSIC PARK films are. Expecting them to give the viewer insights into the human condition is like expecting your car to vacuum your house. The classic adventure films like GUNGA DIN or KING SOLOMON'S MINES had under-written characters also.
JURASSIC PARK III is an all out adventure on an island inhabited by dinosaurs. The characters are a little more complex than they at first appear to be, and even that is a little more complex than I was expecting. Some of the characters who start out looking stupid and useless prove to be neither as the film proceeds. That degree of complexity combined with those very realistic looking dinosaur effects is just about as much as I require. I feel I got my money's worth.
The story opens with Eric (played by Trevor Morgan) and friend parasailing near the forbidden island of Isla Sorna off Costa Rica. This was the research island where the dinosaurs were created for the now defunct Jurassic Park. They hope, no doubt, to get a look at the island's dinosaurs from a safe height. The height is safe, but driving the boat in the water is not. The two soon find themselves in trouble and have to ditch their parasail onto the island where they do indeed get a better look at the dinosaurs than they had intended.
Flash to the United States and someone is offering to fund paleontologist Alan Grant (Sam Neill) in his research if he will go and fly over Isla Sorna and act as a guide. He has said that no force on earth or heaven could get him back near real dinosaurs. But again money convinces him to drop what he is doing and go. Doing the convincing is a wealthy and eccentric couple (William H. Macy and Tea Leoni) who has been just about everywhere else in the world and wants the adventure of seeing real dinosaurs. They too plan to see the island from a safe height Grant is relieved to learn. He will fly over this island at a safe altitude just this once. Right. Guess what happens next?
JP3 probably functions better as a sequel than JP2. First it has Alan Grant and Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) back rather than the much less appealing Ian Malcolm. Sattler has a much smaller part in JP3, but is still present to tie this story to the first. Curiously each film seems to arrange to have a signature scene with characters holding on to some large metal object that is about to fall some great distance.
One thing that does not quite fit with the earlier films is just as Grant discovers that raptors may be able to talk to each other, suddenly they seem to be doing it all the time. They did not appear to be conversing in the previous films. Of course, these raptors look a little different also, so perhaps they are a different related species. Not only are they more intelligent than in the past films, they are also more sympathetic. In this story they are not just killing machines, they have reasonable motives for what they do beyond nutrition. This time around they may be a little too anthropomorphized.
Each new film in the series introduces us to some new dinosaurs, of course. In this film a major threat is from a spinosaurus, not as common or as popularly known as a Tyrannosaurus, but larger and presumably more nasty. It has a crocodile's head and the body that looks like a dimetrodon walking upright.
Perhaps as an economy measure or just to create a mood the visual effects team frequently obscures our view of the dinosaurs. Sometimes they just move too fast to see. Occasionally darkness or fog obscures our vision. A few times we get unconvincing matte shot, particularly of the laboratory. But there is less money on the screen in terms of dinosaur effects than in the two previous films. The musical score by Don Davis borrows heavily from John Williams's score for the first film. Joe Johnston, who directs, already has to his credit two very good films I recommend THE ROCKETEER and OCTOBER SKY. A team including Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor known for ELECTION writes the screenplay. The film they have made is a long way from great cinema, but it still is fun. If you get a thrill from seeing what look very much like live dinosaurs alive today, the film is for you. I rate it a 7 on the 0 to 10 scale and a low +2 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]
THE SCORE (a film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: This is a 1950s or 1960s style heist film, set in the present. Robert DeNiro stars as a risk-adverse safecracker who wants to retire form crime but takes one last job at the request of a personal friend (played by Marlon Brando). Edward Norton plays a hotshot young sharpster who is also in on the crime. The plot is mostly straightforward suspense with little nonsense. Rating: 7 (0 to 10), +2 (-4 to +4)
I am sure I must have seen almost the identical plot before. This is a heist film made for an adult audience who probably wanted a crime film like they had seen in theaters when they were teens. There are no superhuman acrobats taking nosedives off of buildings like in ENTRAPMENT. There is no rock score. There are no ballet- like martial arts. This is just a basic heist film with a decent and distinctly credible and un-flashy script.
Nick (played by Robert DeNiro) is a safecracker who has managed to be successful by never taking risks. If a job is not a safe bet (pun intended), he backs out. Sometimes even the safe bets turn out not to be so safe. When one job very nearly goes wrong Nick is unnerved enough to decide that it is Nature telling him that it is time to get out of the game. He returns to his home in Montreal where he owns a jazz club, and decides to manage it full time. He proposes to his girl friend Diane (Angela Bassett). She has one condition. He must stay retired from crime. But before the deal can be cemented, Max, a Montreal kingpin and personal friend, has one last supposedly easy job for Nick. Nick wants no part particularly because the heist will be right in his hometown of Montreal. More and more details seem to complicate the job. Nickís partner in the crime is to be a smart, but uncontrollable young crook, Jack (Edward Norton). Jack treats a locked front door like a welcome mat, even at his associatesí homes. The young crook is a know-it-all who seems good at everything he does but at avoiding rubbing people the wrong way. Together they plan to steal a priceless historic artifact from the Montreal Customs House.
The script by Kario Salem, Lem Dobbs, and Scott Marshall Smith works like an episode of the old "Mission Impossible" television series. We see pieces of the heist being put together, last minute changes, and things that go wrong, much like a good episode of "Mission Impossible." This team might not be bad choices to write scripts for the Tom Cruise "Mission Impossible" films. The complications are, however no more and no fewer than are needed to make the story believable. The telling is cold and noirish, which is just what it is supposed to be. Director Frank Oz, the voices of Yoda and Miss Piggy proves surprisingly good at directing a serious crime film.
THE SCORE has a more than adequate cast with little flashy or scene-stealing acting. Edward Norton probably has the flashiest role and even that is low-key by todayís standards. He plays what is nearly a double role. Jack pretends to be a brain damage victim to be hired for a job in the Customs House. One nice (?) character I have not mentioned is Stephen (Jamie Harrold). Stephen is a master hacker who lives in his motherís basement in a house with a lot of screaming in both directions. He seems like the last person the risk adverse Nick would want to depend upon.
The film itself remains low-key up until the time of the climactic heist. Then the pace really picks up. Before that the plot even stops twice for jazz interludes. Though Oz never lets the music steal time from the story the way Woody Allen does in SWEET AND LOWDOWN. On the subject of music, the score of THE SCORE is by Howard Shore. It adds tension to the suspense scenes, but never seems to have much of a melody.
Angela Bassett is the one misused celebrity in a totally minor role that should have been played by a less famous actress who needed a break. She has nothing to do in the film but demand that Nick give up crime and to look like an attractive reward if he does. Speaking of being attractive THE SCORE seems to be attracting an older audience who learned to appreciate much the same sort of film in the 1950s and 1960s. It does the job. I rate it a 7 on the 0 to 10 scale and a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: It is dangerous to be sincere unless you are also stupid. -- George Bernard Shaw
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