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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
03/20/09 -- Vol. 27, No. 38, Whole Number 1537
Table of Contents
Turner Classic Movies Science Fiction Festival (March 31):
It's coming... IT'S COMING...
The following is the Turner Classic Movies schedule for the night of March 31 into April 1.
8:00 PM I Married A Monster From Outer Space (1958) A young bride suspects her husband has been replaced by a space invader. Cast: Tom Tryon, Gloria Talbott, Peter Baldwin. Dir: Gene Fowler, Jr. BW-78 mins, TV-PG, CC, Letterbox Format 9:30 PM Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) Soulless pods take over the inhabitants of a small California town. Cast: Kevin McCarthy, Dana Wynter, Carolyn Jones. Dir: Don Siegel. BW-80 mins, TV-14, CC, Letterbox Format 11:00 PM 27th Day, The (1957) Aliens give five people from different nations the power to destroy their enemies. Cast: Gene Barry, George Voskovec, Stefan Schnabel. Dir: William Asher. BW-76 mins, TV-PG 12:30 AM H-Man, The (1958) Nuclear tests create a radioactive man who can turn people into slime. Cast: Yumi Shirakawa, Kenji Sahara, Akihiko Hirata. Dir: Ishiro Honda. C-79 mins, TV-PG 2:00 AM Forbidden Planet (1956) A group of space troopers investigates the destruction of a colony on a remote planet. Cast: Walter Pidgeon, Anne Francis, Leslie Nielsen. Dir: Fred M. Wilcox. C-99 mins, TV-PG, CC, Letterbox Format, DVS 3:45 AM Lost Missile, The (1958) Scientists try to stop a mysterious missile from destroying the Earth. Cast: Robert Loggia, Ellen Parker, Phillip Pine. Dir: William Berke. BW-70 mins, TV-PG 5:00 AM Hidden Values: The Movies of the '50s (2001) A look at some of the movies that defined the decade and what they said about Americans and American culture. BW-47 mins, TV-PG, CC
Science Fiction Discussion Groups:
March 26: WORLDS OF WONDER edited by Robert Silverberg, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM Four in One, (1953), by Damon Knight No Woman Born, (1944), by C. L. Moore The New Prime, (1951), by Jack Vance Home Is the Hunter, (1953), by Henry Kuttner and C. L. Moore The Monsters, (1953), by Robert Sheckley Common Time, (1953), by James Blish Colony, (1953), by Philip K. Dick April 9: "Return of the Master" by Harry Bates, Jr./THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, Middletown (NJ) Public Library, original film at 5:30PM, discussion of film and story after film
Puzzle from FERMAT'S ROOM:
See below for a review of FERMAT'S ROOM, but here is the first puzzle from that film:
What determines the order in the following sequence:
The Shape of Things That Came (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
The country has fallen on hard times. The magic is gone. These days "Meet the Press" is more like "Meet. Depress." [-mrl]
Jackie the Embarrassment (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Comedian Jackie Mason is in hot water for calling President Obama a "schwartza" during a performance. He says, "It's not a demeaning word and I'm not going to defend myself." The word is simply Yiddish or German for "black." Whether it is racist or not depends on the person who uses it. I doubt that he would take kindly to a Baptist calling him "Jackie the Jew." If Mason's brother says he is a Jew it means one thing and can mean something quite different if an anti-Jewish person applies the word. Enough people have used it in a racist way that it was stupid for Mason to use it. Mason is a funny comedian, but he has a penchant for being a bad boy and has a way of intentionally getting under people's skins in a way that Don Rickles only pretends to. It may be an accurate term to use, but I myself have no doubt he did it to get a laugh drawing on the racist usage. [-mrl]
DOPPELGANGER and Symmetry (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Last week I was talking about DOPPELGANGER known in the United States as JOURNEY TO THE FAR SIDE OF THE SUN. I was a little less than reverent about the film because it has a lot of ideas that do not bear close scrutiny. An astronaut has landed on a planet that sits in Earth's orbit, is exactly like Earth, everybody on one Earth has an exact copy on the other planet, but for one thing. Everything is the mirror image of what it is on our planet on the counter-Earth.
So we have the question can the so-called "solarnaut" get back, and if so, is it worth it? After all, he has everyone he misses right here. They are just flipped-around versions of people he already has here. Well actually, an astronaut in such a pickle would have much better reasons for wanting to get home. One problem that the filmmakers skipped over is sugars. For every sugar you eat, there is a mirror image sugar. One is right-handed and one is left- handed. Our sugars are right-handed. And I am told that mirror- image sugars would taste just as sweet. There is just this one problem. They are less digestible by any Earth creature. The mirror-image sugars do not naturally occur on this planet and they have less nutritional value. We have right-handed sugars on our planet, and on the other earth, they also have right-handed sugars, but their right hands look a lot like our left hands. So what they would call a right-handed sugar, we would call a left-handed sugar. And the chemistry is not the same. This all fits into a study in chemistry called "chirality." This deals with molecules that are mirror images but cannot be super-imposed. They would cause our astronaut a great deal of trouble.
But what I found really interesting is the question of symmetry between the two planets. What kind of symmetry was there? I had to do some thinking about what symmetry really is in various dimensions. There are multiple kinds of symmetry. You really have to look at what things are symmetrical around. Are they symmetrical around a point, a line, or a plane? In three dimensions they must be symmetrical around a space of fewer dimensions. Subtract the dimensions of the space they are symmetrical around from the number of dimensions of the space. If you get an even number, the two parts will be indistinguishable-- not mirror images. If you get an odd number they will be mirror images. In fact, a mirror is a two-dimensional plane in three- dimensional space. 3-2 = 1, 1 is odd so the two are mirror images.
A valentine heart is symmetrical, and so is the King of Diamonds in a pack of cards. But these are different kinds of symmetry. The King of Diamonds is symmetrical around a point. There is a point at the center of the card that is the point of symmetry. You could stick a pin in this point and rotate the card only 180 degrees and it would look a lot like it started except that some idiot had ruined the card by sticking a pin through it. You have a two- dimensional object that is symmetric around a zero-dimensional object, a point. If you mounted the King of Hearts on plywood and cut it out you would now have a three-dimensional object symmetrical around the long pinhole which is now one-dimensional. 2-0 = 3-1 = 2 and 2 is even, and the two halves are identical and indistinguishable (i.e., not mirror images).
Now consider the valentine heart. It is two-dimensional. It is not symmetrical around a point. There is no point you can put a pin through the valentine (as ungallant an action as that would be) and then be able to rotate it less that 360 degrees for it to be indistinguishable from the original heart. But there is a line down the center. It cuts the heart in two halves that have all the same measure (that is what symmetrical means) but they are just reversed. Thicken the heart with plywood and you now have two thick pieces that symmetrical around a plane, or if you prefer a mirror. But the two pieces remain distinguishable. You have a two-dimensional object that is symmetric around a one-dimensional object, a line. If you mounted the heart on plywood and cut it out you would now have a three-dimensional object symmetrical around a plane which is two-dimensional. 2-1 = 3-2 = 1 and 1 is odd, and the two halves will be distinguishable (i.e. mirror images).
The two Earths are distinguishable (i.e. mirror images), and they form a three-dimensional system. Can they be symmetrical around a one-dimensional line? No 3-1 = 2. That would not create distinguishable worlds. It would be like the symmetry on a merry- go-round. Imagine a merry-go-round in which all the horses are identical and evenly spaced. No matter where you get on the horses they look like they look everywhere else on the merry-go-round. That is because the merry-go-round is three-dimensional and it is going around a one-dimensional axis. 3-1 = 2 which is even. So two halves are indistinguishable.
Now the situation in JOURNEY TO THE FAR SIDE OF THE SUN is that the two worlds are not identical. That means that they are now symmetrical around a one-dimensional axis or you would have a situation like the merry-go-round. 3-1 = 2. The two worlds must be symmetrical round either a plane or a point. They could be symmetrical around a plane, but there is a problem. This would be like each is a mirror image of the other and they are symmetrical around a plane. That would make the two Earths distinguishable mirror images, but they would go smashing into each other. It is like you taking your hand and punching a mirror. The mirror-image hand would come to meet your hand. That is no good. The two worlds have to be symmetrical around a point. To see this, think of yourself as a schizophrenic Roman attending a gladiatorial event. You have to choose if a gladiator who has been defeated will life or die and one of you says "live," and the other says "die." With your right hand give a thumbs up indicating death. With your left hand give a thumbs down indicating mercy. (Yes, thumb-down meant "mercy," thumb-up meant "death." It got reversed a long time ago, before Siskel and Ebert.) Now touch a joint on one hand to the corresponding (symmetrical) joint on your other hand. Your hands are now symmetrical around a point. And they are distinguishable. (More so with me because I bite my nails.)
But notice that the thumbs are pointing in opposite directions. This is a problem in the movie. No, this time it is not Mars causing the problem but Polaris. Only one of these Earths can have Polaris above its North Pole. So on only one can have Boy Scouts learn that Polaris is always north in the sky. So once again the film does not work.
But it was a nice try, and at least it gave me something to write about. [-mrl]
Sale Weirdness (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
I am a big fan of courses from The Teaching Company (http://www.TEACH12.com). They sell college-level "courses" on DVD, CD, and audiotape, and I have reviewed a few here. The regular price for the courses is fairly high (e.g. $255 for 24 half-hour lectures on DVD, or $180 on CD). But all their courses go on sale at least once a year, and then it is more like $70 for 24 lectures on DVD, or $50 on CD.
But their current sale catalog is really peculiar. They have a 36-lecture course on "Biblical Wisdom Literature" on sale for $100 (DVD) or $70 (CD). They also have a set of that and the 36-lecture "Jesus and the Gospels" for $180 (DVD) or $130 (CD). But if you want *only* "Jesus and the Gospels", that is $374 (DVD) or $269 (CD). In other words, if you want only "Jesus and the Gospels" they will pay you $194 or $139 to take the other course and throw it away! [-ecl]
WATCHMEN by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons (copyright 1986, 1987 by DC Comics, $14.95, graphic novel, ISBN 0-446-38689-8) (book review by Joe Karpierz):
I am an original when it comes to a lot of things: I watched the original "Star Trek" series as it aired in the 1960s; I saw 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY when it came out in the theaters in 1968; I saw MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL in the theaters when it first came out; and I read WATCHMEN in the original 12-issue comic book series when it first came out all those years ago (for those immediately wondering what happened to those original issues--along with the original issues of V FOR VENDETTA--I sold them when I ran out of room in the house for my comics collection. At least I had already bought the graphic novel edition.). I was an avid comic reader in those days, and when I went into the comics shop for my monthly fix I was told by the owner, "You have to read this, it's fantastic", and "this" was WATCHMEN.
I knew at the time that I was reading something special--comic books were *never* like this. I just didn't know *how* special. I didn't know that what I was reading was going to change the face of comic books forever.
I read Watchmen again recently so that I could be up to speed when I went to see the movie, and I'd forgotten a lot of it--I haven't read it for at least twenty years. But man oh man, does it hold up well over time. If I didn't know it was written over twenty years ago, I certainly never would have guessed it was written over twenty years ago.
Well, this *is* supposed to be a review, so I might as well get on with it, although my guess is that everyone knows the story. It's set in an alternate version of the United States in 1985, a version where Nixon is still president, having been able to get the Constitution changed after winning the Viet Nam war in short order with the help of one of our "heroes", Dr. Manhattan. Super-heroes have been legislated out of existence by the Keene Act, which outlawed all costumed vigilantes except those sanctioned by the government after the police strike of the 1970s. All of the heroes the story follows either are retired--Nite Owl II, Silk Spectre II, Ozymandias--or working for the government--The Comedian, Dr. Manhattan--except for Rorschach, arguably the most popular of all the characters in the story. It is October of 1985, and The Comedian has just been thrown out a window to his death. The ruthless vigilante Rorshach is investigating, and has come to the conclusion that someone is offing all the "masks"--and it indeed he is correct, as costumed characters from the 1940s and now continue to be negated--the original Nite Owl is killed, Dr. Manhattan, the omnipotent being, exiles himself to Mars, and even Rorshach himself is framed and sent to jail. So, what's going on? The present day Nite Owl and Silk Spectre set out to solve the puzzle, but only after they free Rorshach from prison. While all this is going on, World War III is approaching, the world is a mess, and everything is going to hell in a hand-basket. What scares our remaining heroes is who they find behind everything that's going on, and why it's going on, and they don't know how to stop it.
As noted in numerous places elsewhere recently, WATCHMEN is an extremely densely packed graphic novel. There are layers upon layers of story-telling going on here. We get characters' back- stories in various types of prose pieces at the end of each "chapter"; chapters correspond to the original comic book issues. We get an intriguing story-within-a-story with the pirate adventure of the man who has to deal with pirates--and his own demons--who attack him and, he believes, the island where his family resides. The pirate story is nicely woven into the fabric of the main story, including adding the fictional author of the pirate story into the main story. The characters are *extremely* well done and developed, and their stories intertwine more than we could ever guess. Through the masterful writing, we come to loathe The Comedian, we're intrigued and sometimes disgusted by Rorshach, we feel sorry for Nite Owl II (and Silk Spectre II), and are just plain old puzzled by Dr. Manhattan (the only character with true super-power) and the world's smartest man, Ozymandias. This is great writing.
The artwork is terrific as well--no panel is wasted, including the background. Pay close attention as you read WATCHMEN--there are things going on in the background art that will astound you when they fit later on in the story. Absolutely amazing.
The ending is probably very well known as well, but for the three people out there who haven't read it yet, I won't spoil it. It worked well enough for me, although I suspect that some folks (as well as the filmmakers, as I understand it) found it a tad on the hokey side.
But for my entertainment time and money, WATCHMEN is the real deal. If you haven't read it--do so right now. You'll be happy you did. [-jak]
FERMAT'S ROOM (LA HABITACIÓN DE FERMAT) (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: Luis Piedrahita and Rodrigo Sopeña write and direct a very different sort of suspense film in the Spanish language. Four strangers, mathematicians, must solve mathematics puzzles against a time limit. Each time they fail to solve the puzzle in time the walls of their room close in on them like the jaws of a vice. Can they solve the individual puzzles and the mystery of the room before being crushed to death? Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
Mysteries and thrillers occasionally have side themes of problem solving that become as interesting as the main storyline. In DEAD CALM the main character is thrown off of his yacht mid-ocean and has only another boat, one at the point of capsizing, with which to stay alive. He must save the doomed boat to get back to his own boat where a psychotic holds his wife. The main plot is a clich but the seamanship makes the film fascinating. FERMAT'S ROOM is an Agatha Christie sort of murder mystery about four mathematicians who must solve puzzles to slow the walls of their room from closing in and crushing them. Anyone who has ever been given a tough mathematics exam understands what it is like to try to beat a clock to solve a difficult mathematics problem. It is that experience that is at the center of FERMAT'S ROOM.
Four unnamed mathematicians each receive by mail a puzzle to solve. If they can solve it they will be invited to a nice dinner with other mathematicians. Each will, for the party, be assigned a false name, that of a great mathematician. The party night begins at a very remote house. Their host, Fermat, greets them, but tells them little of why they are here. A phone call summons Fermat away. In Fermat's absence the problems begin, but each time they do not find the answer to a problem in the allotted time the walls of their room crush in on them like the jaws of a very powerful vice. Can they solve the problems and of the mystery of the night before they are compacted.
Mathematicians are generally not the type of people that hold much interest for most movie audiences. However, the nifty plot and the puzzles that keep coming should be a pleasure for any thinking viewer. Perhaps this film owes some of its success to television's "Numb3rs" which has romanticized mathematics in the same way that "CSI" has romanticized forensic detection.
The idea of throwing puzzles into a film is not totally new. Most mystery films are puzzle films. That is what makes them a mystery. In DIE HARD WITH A VENGENCE Bruce Willis's character must solve puzzles to prevent crimes. The problem is given explicitly to the audience to solve them also. CUBE similarly has people in a bizarre sort of trap in which mathematical problems give clues for which cells are dangerous. There is less emphasis there on having the audience participate on solving the questions. I saw FERMAT'S ROOM in near perfect conditions. I watched it on video in a group of four people. None of us were professional mathematicians, but we each had an interest in math. We stopped the film and tried each puzzle. How did we do? I am happy to say we solved every problem. It was not always with the film's solutions, but with a workable solution for each.
That brings me to my major complaint with the film. If these were real mathematicians it is unlikely that any of the problems would give them much trouble for long. A more realistic set of problems would probably have been incomprehensible to most of their audience and certainly would not be so easily solvable. Of course one accepts substitutions in films to make them more comprehensible. Spartacus speaks English and not Latin. Outdoors scenes that are supposed to be at night are sometime obviously shot in the daytime ("day for night"). It is a more enjoyable film if simpler problems are substituted for tougher ones.
This is certainly one of the most enjoyable thrillers of the year. I rate it a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10. One final question is how you would design a room for which the four walls can each crush in without getting in the way of the two contiguous walls. The solution is in the film and worked into the wallpaper pattern in the room. The answer is also in the poster of the film, but not made obvious.
This film is available from Blockbuster by Mail and it has been shown on the Independent Film Channel.
Film Credits: http://us.imdb.com/title/tt1016301/
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/fermat's_room/
WATCHMEN (Letter of comment by Nick Sauer:
In response to Mark's review of WATCHMEN in the 03/13/09 issue of the MT VOID, Nick Sauer writes:
While I'm sure some hardcore fans might take offense at your review I don't feel it is all that unfair and their are a couple of points I find myself in agreement on.
The first is that of Richard Nixon's portrayal in the film. He was not featured in the novel at all (other than being the sitting president at the time of the story). His addition would have been fine except that, like you said, he was given a comically long nose. If this was an attempt to inject some humor into this otherwise darkly serious film it was extremely misplaced. In fact, I sort of got the impression that they added Nixon and Kissinger largely because they could. The injection of these characters also added unnecessary length to the film. In the novel the revelation of the date of the war came when Rorschach and Nite Owl searched Veidt's office. They find this huge graph on one wall with around a dozen factors plotted on it. The data is extrapolated out into the future and, there is a point where all of the data converges which is Veidt's predicted date of the inevitable nuclear exchange between the super powers. I guess it was decided that this would be too hokey for the film but it would have shortened the already long film considerably if it had been left in.
I was not as put off by the costumes as you seem to have been. To some extent, the characters in the movie, like most superheroes, tend to fall into some specific (some would argue Jungian) archetypes. In fact, Moore specifically re-enforced this in the novel because he was afraid people would not be able to associate with the new characters to the point necessary for his points to have the impact that he desired. So, yes Nite Owl = Batman and Dr. Manhattan = Superman with Rorschach and Ozymandias being variations on the same two themes, respectively. As far as Manhattan's blue tally-whacker goes, I have seen enough naked women in films that I felt this was acceptable and not overdone here.
Since this story is primarily about people and what being brave/foolhardy enough to done a costume and "fight crime" entails, I will focus on the characters at this point. I felt that the two best-acted characters in the film were Rorschach and The Comedian in that order. I was especially impressed with Rorschach's "origin" scene with the child molester. The collapse where he goes from mere vigilant policeman to vigilante judge, jury and executioner was an awesome bit of acting considering the actor had to project through a full-face mask. As a side note, I didn't find the mask all that distracting and, given that it is a metaphor for the character's black and white view of the world I thought it was appropriate. Dr. Manhattan, while well acted, was made considerably more human in the movie. For example, my recollection (albeit a number of years old) of the romance between him and the junior Silk Spectre was totally initiated by her in the novel. Manhattan very impassively mentions during a conversation with her that they will be making love four hours from now. He didn't seem to have anything invested in it other than as a cold statement of fact.
This leads directly into what I consider the two biggest re-writes and/or weakest acted characters, those being the aforementioned Silk Specter and Nite Owl 2. Back when the novel was being released, I had a friend who called Silk Specter "codependency lass". This was an aspect of the character that was basically completely removed from the movie. Nite Owl suffered from the same problem himself to a lesser degree which is why it was somewhat inevitable the two ended up in each other's arms by the end of the novel. I can only guess that this aspect of the characters was removed to make them more "heroic" and/or accessible to the audience. To a large extent, one of the subtexts under-running the original novel is that to make the leap that one feels they have the right to done a costume and subject one's fellow human beings to their unique interpretation of the law requires some sort of underlying mental disorder. So, I am not sure really how to critique these two performances other than to say I didn't find either of these particular characters all of that engaging. The other statement I would agree with is that you found parts of the movie to be pretentious. This is, for better or worse, directly ported from the novel itself and is a hallmark of Alan Moore's writing style. The more recent series Promethia, by Moore, is a perfect example of this (which I will state for the record is one of my favorite of Alan's stories but, you are getting his philosophy of life presented to you very unapologetically). This leads into something I found to be a puzzling weakness of the film, given that it is clear Mr. Snyder didn't have a whole lot of reservations about tampering with the story where he felt it was needed, and that is a slavish attention to getting details from the novel right for the audience. I don't know whether Mr. Snyder was operating from a fear of alienating the fans or his worship of the original work but, he seemed loathed to removing some stuff that really should have been. I could have lived without the sophomoric Freudian release of the flamethrower during the love sequence on Archimedes and, I really don't get why the Outer Limits was shown playing on the older Silk Spectre's TV when the ending had been changed from the original novel's Architects of Fear ending.
One thing that Snyder did change, and for much the better in my opinion, was the nature of the ending. Making Dr. Manhattan into the boogey man to unite humanity made considerably more sense, and would raise considerably fewer questions, than teleporting an alien cadaver into the heart of Times Square. It also had the added effect of making the whole ethical question a lot greyer than in the original novel. Of all the characters in the original novel, Ozymandias was the one I most empathized with and in the end found the most truly heroic. Saving the world at the cost of a few hundred thousand was within my personal acceptable loses limit and, even though I still think I side with the actions of the character in the movie, the price tag gives me a lot more pause to think whether I *really* do or not.
I'm wondering if our different expectations of the film are what might be resulting in the difference of opinion on the film. I like to refer to the most recent Batman film as a movie that happens to have superheroes in it. In the case of the original Watchmen novel this is even more so. However, even with this, our opinions are not too far apart. At the moment, I would rate the film a +1 but, really need to get a second viewing in before I finalize my opinions on the film although I don't expect that number to move up or down by more than one point. The problem was I watched the film the first time through the lens of one very familiar with the novel. I would like to try and watch it again as just a movie in its own right and see how I feel.
Overall, I think Snyder made some mistakes that a more experienced director probably would have avoided. He might have been well served to have an older colleague act as associate director to help with the film. One thing I will say about the director is that he definitely knows how to start a film. I thought the credits on Watchmen were pretty amazing much like I found the first 10 minutes of his Dawn of the Dead to be some of the most amazing film I have ever seen (unfortunately, that's really all that is worth watching of the latter film as the rest is a huge pile of disappointments heaped on top of one another).
One last thing, Alan didn't want his name on V for Vendetta either which is a mistake I think he will ultimately live to regret later on in his life.
[And here are comments] specifically with respect to your comments about the film examining what "real" superheroes would be like. I play an online game called City of Heroes and, my son and I have a common thought that if it was at all a model of what people having actual super-powers would be like, there wouldn't be heroes and villains, there would just be jerks and bigger jerks. Watchmen pretty much agrees with this assessment but, predicted it 18 years before the online game did.
There are a number of really interesting ideas that I feel did manage to make it into the film (and one that stands out in my mind that didn't). The fact that they would ultimately used as weapon systems (sort of human sized weapons of mass destruction, before the term existed) was fairly unique at the time. This then leads into the whole history-altering concept of such a use by the US government in the victory in Vietnam. I liked the concept that Dan couldn't perform sexually until he "was" Nite Owl (i.e. in Archimedes). That is a thesis that Moore would mention again in Tom Strong and, one that I think is very believable. Of course, the possible effect on the individual was rather graphically illustrated through Rorschach's transformation from Walter Kovacs into just Rorschach. The Keane anti-mask laws where a new idea as well (also used in The Dark Night Returns by Frank Miller a year earlier but, rumor has it that Miller and Moore were in close association during the authorship of both novels so, the idea might have been a joint concept). This idea was certainly the inspiration for some of the plot of THE INCREDIBLES. The one piece that got left out of the movie that I really wish had been included was a scene in the novel involving the original Nite Owl. When Dan reactivates his superhero career he arrests a drug dealer who has a number of friends in the neighborhood where the retired Nite Owl lives. Upon hearing that the Nite Owl arrested their friend, they realize that they know where he lives and break into Hollis's apartment and, ironically, beat him to death with the civic service award (shown on the desk in the film) given to him for his years of service as the Nite Owl. The assailants never realize that they have the wrong Nite Owl. Even without this scene though, I think the movie did cover some interesting, if somewhat dated, territory with regards to a more hard-science fiction examination of superheroes and their impact on society. Unfortunately, this will probably all be lost on people who are turned off by the film. [-njs]
I had a bunch of comments on your mail about WATCHMEN.
1. For the most part you are finding different pieces to dislike in the Nixon character. I probably agree with most that you say. But there is also something I think I wrote about in the past given a nickname like "the uncanny valley." A robot that looks nearly but not quite humane will look more creepy than one that looks entirely different. The Nixon makeup was just enough off to not even look human. It was just the wrong note.
2. I have to look up the graph scene. I am not sure what kind of factors would converge at one point unless it is resources all running out on a certain day. Even then it is probably not the best use of your resources to have them all run out on the same day. If you have resources of machine-gun bullets, sides of beef, and oil reserves, their usage curves are not likely converge on some given point.
3. I am not sure that a former human would run around starkers as his costume. Of course he had been through a lot of changes. Could you figure out when he wore the thong and when he went around "sky-clad?"
4. Rorschach's mask was a distraction for me because it was constantly moving. Humans and animals' attention is instinctively attracted to motion, and that was probably bred into us as an obvious survival trait long ago in our evolution. Later the tribal meeting place in the evenings was the fire because it provided heat and a moving visual image. That is why ads on web pages frequently move. They are attracting attention.
5. To me The Comedian looked like Robin grown up and having gone to pot. He looked old enough to be Nite Owl's father. That might make sense in the plot, but it just felt like Batman had gotten younger and Robin got older.
6. You talk about Jungian archetypes. The audience I saw it with did not seem to really be noticing the archetypes, but I suppose different people react to different things. The father of the family I mentioned in the review was reacting on a baser level. He seemed to be really getting off on the violence in the film. He really enjoyed the fight with the hot grease. (And said it was cool in front of his kids. Thinking about it now it does not make sense. Ask yourself who puts a hot-oil frier on a serving line? Any serving line I have ever seen has several feet between the "customers" and the cooking, particularly with hot oil. Anything else would be criminal negligence. The writers were not asking themselves what would a fight in a prison be like. They were instead rationalizing a scene in which somebody could throw hot oil in someone else's face.) To me it was a sort of violence pornography we see multiple times in the movie. This film seems to ratchet up the level of violence. I got tired of seeing fights and particularly slow motion in fights so you don't miss a single detail.
7. THE DARK KNIGHT dealt with what I considered engaging moral dilemmas. These are dilemmas that show up in the real world.
["The chief of police of Ciudad Juarez resigned after his deputy was murdered and the drug cartels threatened to kill a cop every 48 hours if he stayed on." http://tinyurl.com/cs8ask]
I just do not see any real world relevance to the issues in WATCHMEN. WATCHMEN is about what would it be like if there were really superheroes. DARK KNIGHT was about how someone faces the problem that continuing on his mission, a benevolent one, was getting people killed.
8. You say that our different approaches to the film is about differences in expectation. It is hard to envisage any set of expectations that would make WATCHMEN a good film for me. But I did say in my review that other people would think differently. I think if you are really into the concept of super-heroes and have thought a lot about them WATCHMEN becomes a much more interesting film.
9. You use the phrase "hard science fiction view of super-heroes." This is just not what I would call "hard science-fiction." [-mrl]
Nick replies (context entered in s):
Thanks for the refresher on [Nixon]. It's interesting in that I am not as put off by this as you are (I tend to be different like this a lot). So, I saw the Nixon make-up as more of a poorly placed caricature. I can see rereading the article now how most would find it creepy.
My recollection of [the graph scene] was that he was plotting more than just resources. It sort of fell into this idea I've had for a long time that while people are irrational, that doesn't make them unpredictable. In fact, it's quite the opposite in that humans are particularly poor random number generators (if asked to pick a number from one to ten there are strongly favored numbers most people will choose). So, if I remember correctly, Veidt was tracking stuff like crime rate and other social changes as well. Like I said, it was something that most people might consider hocum which is why I suspect it was replaced with the Nixon scenes in the film.
In the comic [running around starkers] was clearly a function of time. In fact, when he first joined the Watchmen Manhattan was wearing more of a 1950s style full-body swim suit. The Speedo showed up around the Vietnam era and he was naked as a jaybird in all of the current scenes. Of course, given Manhattan's view of time, this chronology wouldn't make sense to the character himself.
I appreciate [that Rorschach's mask was distracting] but, somehow still didn't find the mask distracting. Maybe I surf the web enough that I've gotten desensitized to it? I don't know. It's something I'll have to think about more.
I can see [that the Comedian looked old enough to be Nite Owl's father] but, they were enough their own characters in the novel that I didn't make the Batman and Robin connection. This is one of the reasons I want to see the movie again and try to assess it as its own story. Given the relative shortness of the film compared to the novel, I could see this being a problem. Have other reviewers commented on this as well?
That's okay [about Jungian archetypes not being noticed]. Most people don't. I'm unusual in that I am actually interested in studying super-hero literature as its own genre.
[The people described in the audience] are the people that Diane and I think should have their parenting licenses revoked immediately.
["Ask yourself who puts a hot oil frier on a serving line?"] In a prison (as you said), no less. Yes, this was yet another scene taken directly from the comic that probably should have been re- written for the film. I remember that even when I read the comic I thought the idea of a prison food line arranged that way was not right.
[The "violence pornography"] was all Snyder. The comic really didn't get into the violence pornography aspect. Snyder added that in the film big time. Given that his first film was remake of Dawn of the Dead it is not surprising to me that he would go down this road.
"I just do not see any real world relevance to the issues in WATCHMEN. WATCHMEN is about what would it be like if there were really superheroes. DARK KNIGHT was about how someone faces the problem that continuing on his mission, a benevolent one, was getting people killed."
This is an excellent summation of the difference between the two films (you should put it in the VOID somehow). This was part of my concern about the movie being made in the first place. How accessible is the film to a non-comic reading audience? You sum this up nicely here...
"I think if you are really into the concept of super-heroes and have thought a lot about them WATCHMEN becomes a much more interesting film."
...and that may very well be the difference in our views on the film. Given that I study the genre (such as it is), I would find the film more interesting than a casual viewer. If this is the case then the film definitely has a problem. I wonder if there is some way to correlate reviewer's opinions based upon whether they read super-hero comic books or not. That would be interesting data to look at and see if there was any sort of correlation. It is definitely not hard-science. Actually, that was a poorly thought-out metaphor on my part. What I meant to say is that Watchmen is a an attempt to take a more realistic look at how the existence of super-heroes would impact our society.
I really want to say that I am very much enjoying this discussion and hope that you are finding it as interesting as I am. [-njs]
[I enjoyed it also but it may be becoming too much of a good thing. This is going to be a really long issue. I want to thank Evelyn for editing it so that it would be readable here. -mrl]
WATCHMEN (letter of comment by Susan de Guardiola):
In response to Mark's review of WATCHMEN in the 03/13/09 issue of the MT VOID, Susan de Guardiola writes, "While I haven't yet seen the film, I'm curious as to what you thought of the opening credit sequence. That's been posted all over the net, and I've watched it several times. I think it's brilliant, and I'm seriously considering it alone as a nominee in DP-SF next year. I've no idea whether I'll like the film itself as much." [-sdg]
Mark replies, "I seem to remember it as being a dramatization of what looks like newspaper photos. Is that right? It was a nice idea if I am remembering it correctly. I tried to find it on YouTube but apparently it has been pulled down for copyright reasons. Do you know of a link that still has it up?" [-mrl]
Susan writes, "It's still here, for now [at www.marty.com.au]: http://tinyurl.com/ajztx6. The studio, in all its wisdom, is attempting to prevent effective viral marketing by sending out DMCA takedown notices, which mainly has the effect of chasing it from one site to the other. So watch it quickly before it vanishes from this one too." [-sdg]
Mark answers, "Thank you for reminding me that early in the film I was enthusiastic about what I was seeing. Yes, I do very much like the credit sequence. I was too busy watching the screen to make note of it and by the time the film was over I had too much material to remember that had counterbalanced the credit sequence. There was some good stuff in the film. This is the type of film I say to myself is a film of "high standard deviation." That is a statistical way of saying that there is some stuff that is very good and some stuff that I really don't like. Thanks for a chance to see the credit sequence again. That one sequence must have been a big project all by itself." [-mrl]
JOURNEY TO THE FAR SIDE OF THE SUN (letter of comment by Andre Kuzniarek):
In response to Mark's comments on JOURNEY TO THE FAR SAIDE OF THE SUN in the 03/13/09 issue of the MT VOID, Andre Kuzniarek writes, "The primary virtue of this movie is in the quality of the special effects. While still flawed, they are mostly quite impressive, as is true for most all of their productions, and tends to be the primary attraction, at least for me. I would be happy just splicing together all the effects shots, and in fact, I seem to recall there being Japanese LaserDiscs that did exactly that (saw them in a specialty video store in Boston once), with some kind of pop music background. Do you know anything about these? I think they might even be a genre that has a Japanese name."
[The closest I come is DVDs of film trailers. They would be of some interest. Come to think of it Toho special effects and G&S Anderson special effects are quite similar in approach. -mrl]
And in response to Evelyn's comments on Rush Limbaugh in that same issue, Andre writes, "The thing about Rush is that he is primarily and foremost an entertainer. This is a point Camille Paglia insists on making in his defense (and that he is good at it). If you take him to be just and only that, he simply says stuff that his audience wants to hear, making them feel validated in their worst thoughts, and them tuning in regularly makes good business for him. Nothing he says has to be logical, responsible, or well intentioned since he is not bound by any obligation to anyone. In that sense he is no different than the filmmakers of the current remake of LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, a reprehensible, meaninglessly crude and violent indulgence of an audience's basest entertainment threshold. The current 'conversation' in 'conservative' circles about Rush's relationship to the Republican party needs to take this into account as well. While he services a particular party, he does not represent it, though there seems to be some confusion about that." [-ak]
Evelyn responds, "That's as may be, but since I find Republicans quoting him, and citing him as a representative, I can only assume that they actually believe or endorse what he is saying." [-ecl]
Star Trek Fragrances, Barbie, WATCHMEN, and Rush Limbaugh (letter of comment by John Purcell):
In response to the 03/13/09 issue of the MT VOID, John Purcell writes:
You had me giggling with the prospects of assorted other "Star Trek" fragrances, like "Adversary" (assorted episodes involving Klingons and Romulans), "Man Puppet" ("Is there in truth beauty?") or "Lick Me" (based on the salt monster from the very first aired episode, which title I forget offhand). The possibilities, are shall we say, boundless?
[The Star Trek idea is to get men to wear their perfume more liberally. Wear this perfume boldly where it has gone on no man before. ?mrl]
The latest issue of AARP NEWS--yes, I am getting that now since I joined this organization a few months back--has a full page illustrated history about the Barbie Doll turning fifty years old. It includes an artist's rendition of what Barbie would look like if she had aged normally. That in itself is a bizarre thought: dolls that age. That makes me wonder if Barbie will ever retire, or become a Wal-Mart greeter since her social security payments won't cover all of the cool stuff she has acquired over the decades. I mean, think of it: cars, wardrobe, pets, boats, assorted homes, nieces and nephews, accessories, etc. Barbie will need to hold a massive garage sale to afford the mortgage payments on her dream house.
Two final quick comments: First off, I haven't seen WATCMEN yet, but would like to. It looks like they did a very good job of recreating the graphic novel (I won't call it a comic book, for reasons of semantics). And second, I never pay attention to Rush Limbaugh mainly because I agree with the presumptive new United States Senator from Minnesota, Al Franken, that Rush Limbaugh is a big fat idiot. The sad thing--no, the scary thing--is that many, many believe in what that big, fat idiot is saying. Why, oh why, pray tell, do conservatives gather so many blind sheep under their fold? This is one of the things about politics in America that bugs me. I know there are good and intelligent people in the Republican camp, but none of them seem to take center stage. America is certainly polarizing, it appears.
Nice selection of movie and book reviews, Mark and Evelyn. Many thanks, and I thank you for the ish. [-jp]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
SHAMBLING TOWARDS HIROSHIMA by James Morrow (ISBN-13 978-1-892391-84-1, ISBN-10 1-892391-84-8) is an alternate history in which the United States developed a secret biological weapon towards the end of World War II: Gorgantis, a giant lizard designed to stomp Japanese cities. But in order to demonstrate its power, they enlist the aid of Hollywood to fake a demonstration using a man in a suit, and that man is horror film star Syms Thorley.
Now, Syms Thorley is a fictional character, as are many of the other Hollywood personages, but many others are real (though in our world not involved in a giant reptilian weapon). Just to cover a few that appear relatively early: James Whale and Willis O' Brien are of course real, and THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS is a real movie. Gorgantis is obviously a copy of Gojira/Godzilla. Kha-Ton-Ra is obviously a copy of the cinematic Im-ho-tep (who is also mentioned). Crepuscula is completely made up. Siegfried K. Dagover appears to be a fictional relative of Lil Dagover (from THE CABINET OF CALIGARI). Producer Sam Katzman, director William ("One-Take"), cinematographer Mack Stengler, and art director Dave Milton are real.
All this should make clear that the book is aimed at fans of the horror films of the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s. If you like Morrow's other work, but are unfamiliar with the films, this book is not going to be very meaningful.
The Middletown science fiction discussion group chose PLANET OF THE APES by Pierre Boulle (translated by Xan Fielding (ISBN-13 978-0-345-44798-2, ISBN-10 0-345-44798-0) for March. Now, I recently read a book (to be reviewed in a future issue) in which the author seemed unfamiliar with Newton's Laws of Thermodynamics. Boulle seems to be similarly unacquainted with Newton's Laws of Motion. On page 4, he describes a solar sail: "Thus, when Jinn wanted to increase his speed, he gave [his spherical sail] the biggest diameter possible. It would then take the blasts of radiation on an enormous surface and the vessel would hurtle through space at a furious velocity.... When, on the other hand, they wanted to slow down, Jinn pressed a button. The sail would shrink until it became a sphere just big enough to contain them both, packed tightly together. The effect of the light became negligible, and this minute bubble, reduced to nothing more than its own inertia, seemed motionless, as though suspended in the void by an invisible thread." No, its own inertia would keep it moving at that "furious velocity." Boulle, I believe, confused inertia with friction, and forgot that the spaceship was traveling in a vacuum.
It is true that Boulle is writing social satire, not "hard science fiction." But he seems to forget his characters are on another planet when the narrator describes the humans as being perfectly human, even saying, "I saw she belonged to the white race," [page 29] and having the gorillas wear shirts and jackets "which seemed to be made by the best Paris tailor" [page 60].
I commented in my review of Leopoldo Lugones's "Yzur" that in Spanish there is only a single word which encompasses both monkeys and apes ("mono"), and the translator chose to use "monkey" when "ape" would have been correct. Well, here too, one finds Fielding using "ape" and "monkey" interchangeably as a translation of the French word "singe" (I assume--I don't have a copy of the novel in French).
Boulle also writes something that may have been scientific belief in 1963, but has since been discredited. "He told me there were learned scientists who spent a large part of their time trying to teach primates to talk. They claimed that there was nothing in the conformation of these animals to prevent it." [page 79] As it happens, I read PLANET OF THE APES during the same period I was listening to the Teaching Company course "The Story of Human Language", and the first lecture discusses the impossibility of speech in non-human primates because of the lack of a gene named FOXP2, which is necessary for the development of language skills. And *then* I also read a "National Geographic" article on Neanderthals which *also* discussed gene FOXP2, and its presence in Neanderthals!
A big problem with the movie is that, due to limitations in prosthetics, special effects, etc., in 1968, we are presented with apes who are shaped like humans with ape heads. In the book, the apes are apes, down to the detail of wearing gloves rather than shoes on their feet. In the movie, their skeletal structure is clearly human, and their feet have boots on them. In addition, in the movie, the ladders, stairs, etc., are clearly designed for humans, and the apes are no better at climbing a ladder than a human would be. (The more recent film was able to use digital effects to somewhat overcome this problem.)
In the 02/13/09 issue, I wrote about a pun in a Spanish-language cartoon which was funny in Spanish, but not in English. (Actually, it relied on the meaning of a proper name, so it was literally untranslatable.) Well, we just watched a Spanish film in which there is a group of people in a room, with the implication that there may be a murderer among them. When it is discovered that only one of them has a cell phone, someone else says (in the subtitles), "He must be the murderer; he's the only one with a cell phone." This makes no sense in English, but in the Spanish dialogue, he is the only one with a "móvil" (a mobile phone)--and another meaning of "móvil" is "motive".
And in my review of Horacio Quiroga's THE DECAPITATED CHICKEN AND OTHER STORIES, also in the 02/13/09 issue, I wrote of "Juan Darien", "... a tiger cub adopted by a woman turns into a human boy, although still retaining some of his feline nature. I am a bit confused, though, about whether Quiroga talked about a tiger or not, since the story seems to take place in Argentina, and I did not think they had any tigers there." A footnote by Roberto Gonzalez Echevarria in THE OXFORD BOOK OF LATIN AMERICAN SHORT STORIES says, "The South American 'tigre', of course, is not a tiger at all, but a jaguar, erroneously named by the Spanish conquerors." So it would probably have been better to translate "tigre" as "jaguar" in Quiroga's story than to perpetuate the confusion. Apparently the conquistadors also miscalled the puma a "leon" or lion, which may be where we get the alternative name "mountain lion". All this led Carlos McReynolds (whom I mentioned earlier) to wonder if the tigers that constantly show up in Jorge Luis Borges's work are truly tigers, or whether they are jaguars. Or perhaps sometimes they are one, and sometimes the other. That would be so very Borgesian! [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: Get the fools on your side and you can be elected to anything. -- Frank Dane
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