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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
11/10/06 -- Vol. 25, No. 19, Whole Number 1360
Table of Contents
The Trailers for CASINO ROYALE (film comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I just saw the trailers to CASINO ROYALE and I am quite optimistic that this film could fit my interpretation of James Bond. It could have in it what I have been saying I wanted in a Bond film. A long time ago they took the path of making James Bond a candy hero with knockdown villains and huge amount of dumb luck. I had the feeling that they decided not to make Bond a nasty, hard-edged government killer, but an idealized fantasy superhero. He rarely killed for any reason but self-defense. In the 60s and 70s and 80s there just were no films made that were really hard-edged so there was no proven market for what was needed make Bond a really good character.
What did come along were the British crime films that were hard- edged. Films like LAYER CAKE (which also starred Daniel Craig, incidentally) had a cold meanness about them, what Bond should have had all along. The trailers for CASINO ROYALE seem to be saying that that is the style they are going to use for Bond, at least in this film. The reason I liked Timothy Dalton is that he had sort of the potential to be the kind of character that the British were putting into crime films. James Bond should be a thug who can wear a tuxedo, not a fop who can get lucky as an agent. I think that the trailer makes CASINO ROYALE look like a Bond film for adults.
We shall see if the film lives up to the ad. [-mrl]
Nigel Kneale, an Important Force in British Science Fiction Drama, Is Dead (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I knew I was sticking my neck out. I was a member of the University of Massachusetts Science Fiction Club. The club did not get much (any?) funding from the school, but we were allowed to show films in a campus auditorium and charge some small admission, fifty cents. We had to pick science fiction films that we thought would be something that would draw in people. The Films Incorporated Catalog listed FIVE MILLION YEARS TO EARTH. I think it mentioned that it was a film with the character Bernard Quatermass. I knew this to be a sequel to two Quatermass films that I had seen, THE QUATERMASS XPERIMENT (in the United States called THE CREEPING UNKNOWN) and QUATERMASS II (in the United States called ENEMY FROM SPACE). I thought they were pretty good films. How much worse could the third in the series be? I really wanted to see it if I had a chance. So I told the club I would vouch that this was a good film and would be a good choice to show.
So we showed the film on Monday, April 12, 1971, and I sat there hoping I had not screwed up and picked a loser. That was until the film started. Even the rambunctious college audience watched this film transfixed. I decided on the spot that it was the best science fiction film I had ever seen. I still have not seen a better one. The projectionist that night laughingly said that he cursed us. He had expected to put on the film and then study for his French exam the next day. Once the film was on he could not even open the book.
But FIVE MILLION YEARS TO EARTH got very little release in the United States. Virtually nobody saw it. For literally decades I kept telling people there a really fabulous science fiction film, the best science fiction film ever made. I am still considered sort of a nut on the subject, though the film has finally become known in this country. At that time only the British seemed to know the film and they shared my love of it. In Britain the film's hero, Bernard Quatermass, the film (under its true title QUATERMASS AND THE PIT), and the film's author Nigel Kneale were all household names.
At this time there were three Quatermass BBC plays. There was "The Quatermass Experiment", "Quatermass II", and "Quatermass And The Pit". "The Quatermass Experiment", made in 1953, was unexpectedly a huge media event. It virtually emptied the streets of London as people were all home watching the play. "The Quatermass Experiment," was the United Kingdom's first science fiction serial, and Quatermass was the first British television hero. As two more plays were made each was more successful than its predecessor was until churches started rescheduling services so that congregations and clergy would not miss the plays.
Each play was adapted into a film by Hammer Films of Britain, a studio that incidentally built their great success on horror and science fiction after having success in the field with the first two Quatermass films. The third film was not made until the late 1960s. The titles of the films were the same as the BBC plays but EXPERIMENT was intentionally misspelled "XPERIMENT" to emphasize the X-Certificate. These films each got a modest release in the United States with the terrible respective names THE CREEPING UNKNOWN, ENEMY FROM SPACE, and FIVE MILLION YEARS TO EARTH. In 1980 a final Quatermass story was made for television, called simply "Quatermass". It was never re-adapted into a film, but a feature film was made by editing down the television movie. In 2005 the BBC again produced a television version of "The Quatermass Experiment", doing it as a live play, the first in several years. The Quatermass plays were the inspiration for the DOCTOR WHO series. Kneale was asked to write for DOCTOR WHO, but he did not like the series thinking it was too scary for a children's series.
But Nigel Kneale created much more than just the Quatermass stories over his long career. Kneale had lived on the Isle of Man, but had to leave for health reasons. He came to London as an actor, but decided that he would not have a distinguished career in acting and changed to writing, joining the BBC in 1948. In 1950 he won the Somerset Maugham Award for his collection of short stories, TOMATO CAIN. I am unaware of any science fiction stories that were published under his name and only one or two horror stories, yet he was one of the most important influences on British science fiction in the second half of the 20th century. His medium was drama, and his plays always had a strong feel for character, frequently missing from science fiction drama. In 1954--one year after "The Quatermass Experiment" and one year before "Quatermass II"--he adapted George Orwell's 1984 performed with then-obscure actors Peter Cushing playing Winston Smith and Donald Pleasance as Syme. The result had such a disturbing effect on the public that there were calls for controls on television in Parliament.
Kneale would frequently adapt other authors' books to film including LOOK BACK IN ANGER, THE ENTERTAINER, THE FIRST MEN IN THE MOON, THE WITCHES (a.k.a. THE DEVIL'S OWN), and SHARPE'S GOLD. Some of his work is still considered classic in England, but has not come to the United States. This includes a play, "The Stone Tape", and "The Year Of The Sex Olympics", a play that presaged NETWORK and THE TRUMAN SHOW. Kneale also wrote the screenplay for HALLOWEEN III, but removed his name after too many changes were made. But Quatermass will always be his most famous creation.
On October 29 Nigel Kneale died at the age of 84. [-mrl]
BORAT!: CULTURAL LEARNINGS OF AMERICA FOR MAKE BENEFIT GLORIOUS NATION OF KAZAKHSTAN (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: Wretched. Just wretched. Rating: low -2 (-4 to +4) or 1/10
The film BORAT!: CULTURAL LEARNINGS OF AMERICA FOR MAKE BENEFIT GLORIOUS NATION OF KAZAKHSTAN, henceforth just to be called BORAT, apparently got a very positive reception at the Toronto International Film Festival. It rates an impressive 8.5 rating out of 10 from the Internet Movie Database. At the Rotten- Tomatoes site 135 out of 141 critics, including all the "cream of the crop" critics give the film a thumbs-up. The film has been lauded on National Public Radio.
I felt impelled to tell you all the honors just to be fair. What did I think of the film? It was horrible. I think the studio is promoting it because it cost next to nothing to make and will probably reap a big profit in relation to its cost. But I never thought I would say this about a film intended to poke fun at bigotry. My recommendation is to stay away. Dreadful hardly seems to cover this film. BORAT is a barrage of is one stupid vulgarity after another. I will not claim that nothing was funny, but I can honestly say that there was little I found to chuckle at.
And while I feel no special loyalty (or enmity) to the Kazakhs, but this film really does slander them as much as Polack jokes slander the Polish. Adding more bigoted shock humor to the world does not fight bigotry. Actually, the National Conference on Soviet Jewry says about the country, "Anti-Semitism is not prevalent in Kazakhstan and rare incidents are reported in the press. None have been reported in the last two years." For more on the lot that Borat gets wrong and the little (but admittedly some) he gets right see http://www.slate.com/id/2152789/fr/rss/. Sacha Baron Cohen's goal is purely low-grade shock humor, not accurate reportage. Along the way we learn most Americans will choose politeness over confrontation when faced with bigotry. Now there is a big surprise. That fact may be regrettable, but there are far worse faults.
The plot suggests that Borat is an envoy from Kazakhstan who has been sent to the United States to learn American ways. He travels as a stranger visiting people and events, reminiscent of Andrei Cordescu's ROAD SCHOLAR, but rather than making philosophical observations, Borat (played by Sacha Baron Cohen) makes boorish comments and does even more boorish things supposedly reflecting on his fictional Kazakh upbringing and viewpoint.
This film appears to be reality TV in the same sense that "Candid Camera" was. It just creates a bunch of repulsive situations and catches people's reactions. Whether or not the bystanders were tipped off to the joke ahead of time is left as a matter of speculation. At one point a meeting of mortgage brokers is invaded by Borat and an obese friend having a nude wrestling match in their midst. That is how Kazakhs behave, I suppose. Real funny stuff there, Sacha. Not.
I firmly believe that if history has taught us anything it is these three principles:
BORAT was just not on my wavelength. If this film is on your wavelength, perhaps you need to recalibrate. I rate BORAT a low -2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 1/10. [-mrl]
BORAT!: CULTURAL LEARNINGS OF AMERICA FOR MAKE BENEFIT GLORIOUS NATION OF KAZAKHSTAN (film review by Evelyn C. Leeper):
What he said. [-ecl]
John Kerry and DNA (letter of comment by John Purcell):
In response to Mark's article on John Kerry in the 11/03/06 issue of the MT VOID, John Purcell writes, "My fears about the John Kerry comment run very much the line about how you think. I, too, had the initial reaction of, "Oh, shit! What did that idiot say now?" In 2004, I didn't want to vote for either major candidate--or any of them, including Ralph Nader, who means well, but has no practical political experience--because I didn't like them. I ended up voting for the 2004 vice-presidential candidate, thinking "who would I rather see a heartbeat away from the Presidency?" That's why I voted for John Edwards. Anyway, Senator Kerry has a habit of saying things that too easily get misconstrued. (In contrast, Bush simply can't speak English. Whatever happened to his Ivy League education?) Once I read the context of Kerry's comment, it made more sense, but was still a bit over the heads of his intended and unintended audiences. I got the impression that he was also referring to the general malaise of American public education, referencing our young people's inability to name countries around the globe. No matter how you slice it, your closing comment about our youth not learning how to read and think for themselves is definitely a problem our society is facing. I am afraid our society is dumbing down big time, which makes me fearful for the future." [-jp]
Mark replies, "Yes, Kerry does say a lot of things that can be easily misconstrued, although I think in many cases he is willfully misconstrued. But I am not defending him. I tried to make clear I am not a Kerry advocate. I just find it too much of a coincidence that so many advocates on issues so perfectly break down on party lines or religious lines. Years ago there were Democrats who saw a lot of logic in the Republican point of view and vice versa. There were more moderates. I guess it is part of the polarization, but a lot a political decisions people are delegating to their parties, and their moral decisions they are delegating to a book or worse to a religious leader. There seems to be more fervor and less individual thinking worldwide. [-mrl]
John also wrote, "Time to get off this rock before it crumbles to pieces. (And boy, do I hope and pray that this cynical joke of mine does not become reality, let alone misinterpreted.)" [-jp]
Mark adds, "We both do." [-mrl]
In response to Mark's article on DNA in the 10/27/06 issue and the letter of comment on it in the 11/03/06 issue, John writes, "The DNA discussion went a little over my head--I am not much of a molecular biologist, sorry; just an English geek--> but it was still understandable at a basic level. Interesting stuff, more so if I was more knowledgeable on the subject. That's it for now. Thanks for the issue, and I look forward to the next installment." [-jp]
Mark answers, "I don't think there was much beyond the basic level. I certainly do not know much biology. I do know that two twisted threads are hard to separate. And thank you for writing." [-mrl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
BLAME IT ON THE RAIN by Laura Lee (ISBN 0-06-0833982-1) is subtitled "How the Weather Changed History", and it is a series of short pieces on how various historical events were affected by weather. There are the obvious ones (Napoleon's invasion of Russia) and the less familiar ones (Truman's defeat of Dewey), the short-term ones (the Challenger accident) and the long-term ones (the susceptibility of Native Americans to disease). While not all are interesting (and I am not sure I completely agree with some of her conclusions), it is probably worth flipping through at the library. (Mark pointed out that the cover art has a picture of Kennedy with the caption "Would JFK have been elected President if it had been sunny on Election Day in 1959"-- but 1) the election was in 1960, not 1959, and 2) this day is not discussed in the book.)
(Does it seem like every non-fiction book these days has a subtitle? This did not used to be true, but that was because back in my day they gave more meaningful titles to books, or assumed you understood the title. If you saw a book titled "Franklin Pierce", you assumed it was a biography of Franklin Pierce. You did not need a subtitle such as "The Unknown President" or "New Hampshire's Son" or whatever.)
THE PHYSICS OF SUPERHEROES by James Kakalios (ISBN 1-592-40146-5) is yet another book in the current flood of books trying to teach academic subjects using popular culture. In the introduction, Kakalios says, ". . . over the decades physics teachers have developed an arsenal of overstylized scenarios involving projectile motion, weights on pulleys, or oscillating masses on springs. These situations seem so artificial that students invariably lament, 'When am I ever going to use this stuff in my real life?' One trick I've hit upon in teaching physics involves using examples culled from superhero comic books that correctly illustrate various applications of physics principles. Interestingly enough, whenever I cite examples from superhero comic books in a lecture, my students *never* wonder when they will use this information in 'real life." Apparently they all have plans, post-graduation, that involve Spandex and protecting the City from all threats." Be that as it may, Kakalios addresses such questions as "Can we calculate what the gravity on Krypton is, and can we have a planet with that gravity that supports life?" and "Could Atom punch his way out of a vacuum clean bag?" There is a lot of math, and this is more like a physics textbook than a light read about superheroes, but definitely good for all us geeks.
And one note: I commented a couple of week ago that I was gradually shortening my queue of books to be read. One reason it does not get shorter faster is that I read a lot of books from the library--the local library, inter-library loan, and the library where Mark goes every couple of months for a four-hour origami meeting. In fact, about a third of my reading is from the library. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper email@example.com Quote of the Week: I do not know what I may appear to the world; but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the sea-shore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me. -- Isaac Newton
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