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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
05/28/10 -- Vol. 28, No. 48, Whole Number 1599
Table of Contents
50 Beautiful Posters:
The art of the film poster is becoming a thing of the past. In this day of home video, fewer film posters get seen. A retrospective of very striking posters is at:
[Thanks to Janice Gelb for pointing this out in her blog.]
Mathematics Department All-Nighter (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Wouldn't this be a fine triple feature for a mathematics department get-together:
(If you don't get the joke, don't worry about it.)
Short Reviews of the First Five (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
We retired our old 32-inch TV and got ourselves a 46-inch HDTV. When we get a new DVD player or TV we calibrate it with JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH. It is partially because we love the film and partially because the opening credits offer circles that are useful. Somehow we ended watching three Verne adaptations. These were the first five films we watched.
JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH (1959)
This is by far the best adaptation of the Jules Verne novel. Actually it was a badly flawed film that was saved in the editing and the editor's fingerprints are all over the film. Two songs to have been sung by Pat Boone have been excised. They are gone but not lamented. They are credited in the titles but do not appear in the film. And you do hear the melodies worked into the score. There are places where rocks in the background look like sheets of plastic film. There are a lot of problems in the script, but the film really clicks. There seems to be a constantly running theme of serendipity. Most of what happens does so by a happy accident. Some are as strange as crossing a whole sea and beaching exactly where Arne Saknussemm did. The original expedition of Saknussemm required far more courage than the current expedition in the film. Dressing up lizards to make them supposedly prehistoric animals is inhumane, but it was never done better than the dimetrodons in this film.
LEGEND OF THE WEREWOLF (1975)
Tyburn Studios was one of a handful of studios made to try to make films in the style of Hammer Films. They made only three or so films. This film is about a boy adopted by wolves and who lived for a while as a feral child. When angered he turns into a man- wolf that strongly resembles Oliver Reed's look in CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF. After some time as a sideshow freak he takes a job at a Paris zoo. He sees enough nastiness that he turns into a man-wolf frequently. Several of the tangential roles are played by some good British actors. These include Hugh Griffith, Michael Ripper, and in larger roles Peter Cushing as a police surgeon well-acted, and a twitchy Ron Moody as the zookeeper. An unimaginative touch is to use a red filter for wolf-vision.
TWENTY THOUSAND LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA (1954)
This may be the most faithful film version of a Verne novel and it is still miles wide of the mark. Probably the most remarkable fact is that the director is Richard Fleischer, son of Max Fleischer. Disney and Max were competitor cartoonists and hated each other in the 40s. Max was famous for Betty Boop and Superman cartoons. Richard directing this film ended the enmity between the two great cartoonists.
MYSTERIOUS ISLAND (1961)
Take away Ray Harryhausen's creature effects and this would be fairly faithful to the Verne, but it also would be somewhat lackluster. The Bernard Herrmann score is a classic. Having everybody promising to dedicate themselves to peace at the end is a little condescending.
As far as I know there are only five live-action, English-language films that feature dinosaurs rampaging in a contemporary city. Three are directed by Eugene Lourie, including this one. He directed one with Harryhausen stop-motion, one with O'Brien stop- motion, and one with a man in a suit. The score by Angelo Lavagnino is terrific. (I love the sound when Gorgo's mother topples Big Ben. That probably is about what it would sound like.)
WHIZ KIDS(film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: Three students vie to win in the Intel Science Talent Search, the most prestigious science competition for high school students in the United tatesS. Tom Shepard follows the hectic lives of three young students with very different ethnic backgrounds doing impressive scientific research and learning to present it under the extreme pressure of competition. The film is exciting, but is somewhat handicapped by the non-public nature of the final competition. Rating: high +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10
The United States high school student ranks very poorly against students of a similar age from other industrialized countries. Sports accomplishment gets far more attention in the US than do mathematics and science achievement. But our best students get attention when they compete against each other in the annual Intel Science Talent Search. Here. high school science students present areas of their own research and are judged and ranked. WHIZ KIDS follows three students, each a high achiever in science, each hoping to compete in the Intel STS for fame and for college scholarships. Tom Shepard directs this film, which follows three students hoping to compete in the Intel STS. He documents their preparation and their success or lack of success. The gold standard of similar films, documentaries of high school students preparing for large competitions, is Steve James's film HOOP DREAMS about two African American basketball players struggling to become major athletes. That film was well-made but very much a lucky production since it turned out to be a more dramatic story than the filmmakers could have expected. More on that film later.
WHIZ KIDS follows three high school students, already research scientists, who are hoping to be chosen to show their work at the Intel STS. Pakistan-born Harmain Khan from New York is doing research into discovering a new way of finding the age of crocodile fossils to date other fossils found in the same strata of the earth. Kelydra Welker from Parkersburg, West Virginia, has found a new approach for removing from water a carcinogenic by-product of the production of Teflon. This creates some problems for the family because her father is a retiree from DuPont Chemical, the company that makes Teflon and is likely leaking the byproduct. Ana Cisneros Cisneros, whose parents are from Ecuador, is from Long Island, New York doing research on the communication between neighboring plants of the same species. But having the ideas implementing them in experimentation is not enough. The presentation is of paramount importance. To place high at the Intel STS requires a heavy workload with strong demands for students who are already carrying a full workload from school. That pressure is strong enough to deflect some students from their planned career paths.
Through the film we are introduced to the three young scientists. We get to see what their research is, its surprising degree of sophistication, but we do not see it in great detail. Shepard seems a little overly shy of going into scientific detail in the film for fear of losing his audience. We get a little superficial explanation, enough to whet our appetite for deeper explanation that we expect to come later, but it never transpires. We could have had more detail about the three projects and we could have gotten more information about what the other competing students' projects were. We get only a sketchy idea. Most of the audience for such a film was probably brought up on NOVA and perhaps listens to the T.E.D. Talks and would welcome some well-presented science. In HOOP DREAMS there is a lot of basketball footage, and similarly in WHIZ KIDS the science content could have been increased. In addition much of the judging of the Intel STS takes place behind closed doors. We see contestants preparing for their time before the judging and we see them after the judging, but we just cannot see the really dramatic moments when they are presenting under pressure. Again, HOOP DREAMS had an advantage being about a very public competition. And HOOP DREAMS director Steve James was lucky enough to stumble on what was going to be a very compelling story. These three candidates in WHIZ KIDS were not destined to be key participants in the 2007 competition. Tom Shepard says that his goal was as much to tell a story of the maturing process of the three candidates he follows as it was to cover the competition. And, though that aspect is less dramatic, it does become the core of the film.
Some of the interesting material is about just the mechanics of creating a presentation for the competition. There is one almost humorous sequence in which a student is desperately trying to get his application in much too close to a midnight deadline. The errant applicant gets guidance of navigating the late-night streets rushing in an attempt to get his application in just under the wire.
Even though the subject of this film is much more vital to this country than was the subject of HOOP DREAMS, WHIZ KIDS is merely good without being really compelling. We are given three people, who though they are still in high school are already mature scientists and are perhaps beyond the level of "whiz kids". I rate this film a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10.
Film Credits: http://uk.imdb.com/title/tt1303821/
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO JESUS CHRIST by Josá Saramago (translated by Giovanni Pontiero) (ISBN-13 978-0-156-00141-0) is easier to read than some of Saramago's other works, even though it has the same quirks: incredibly long sentences and paragraphs, no quotation marks, and no new paragraphs with each change of speaker. But maybe Saramago's point of view is what makes it interesting. For example, when Jesus was serving as an assistant to an old shepherd named Pastor, Pastor tells him to choose a sheep ("unless you really are a eunuch"). Jesus is horrified and tells Pastor this is an abomination. "Then Pastor raised his arms and called out to his flock in a commanding voice, Listen, my sheep, hear what this learned boy has come to teach us, God has forbidden anyone to copulate with you, so fear not, but as for shearing you, neglecting you, slaughtering you, and eating you, all these things are permitted, because for this you were created by God's law and are sustained by His providence."
And Saramago's style is very immediate, as if we were actually there when everything was happening: "Distracted by these reflections, which are not entirely irrelevant to the gospel we have been telling, we forgot, to our shame, to accompany Joseph's son on the last leg of his journey to Jerusalem, where he is just now arriving, penniless but safe."
This book is not for everyone. Saramago has his own perspective on what is important in Jesus's life and what isn't, on what various events meant, and indeed on exactly what happened (which does not always exactly match the gospels). But I found it intriguing.
HOT, FLAT, AND CROWDED: WHY WE NEED A GREEN REVOLUTION--AND HOW IT CAN RENEW AMERICA by Thomas L. Friedman (ISBN-13 978-1-607-51627-9) is a sequel to his book THE WORLD IS FLAT. Just like a lot of people, he makes the point that "going green" is not going to be cheap or painless or easy. In one chapter titled "205 Easy Ways to Save the Earth", Friedman says that people tell him we are having a green revolution and he responds, "Really? Really? A green revolution? Have you ever seen a revolution where no one got hurt? That's the green revolution we're having. In the green revolution we're having, everyone's a winner, nobody has to give up anything, and the adjective that most often modifies 'green revolution' is 'easy.' That's not a revolution. That's a party."
Another chapter is "China for a Day (But Not for Two)", where Friedman says that the one aspect of China's government that he envies is its ability to "simply order top-down the sweeping changes in prices, regulations, standards, education, and infrastructure that reflect China's long-term strategic national interests." Well, of course one problem with this is that occasionally (or perhaps not so occasionally) these sweeping changes are disastrous, such as the "Great Leap Forward" with its backyard smelters.
But the examples he gives are still thought-provoking. Consider unleaded gasoline. "America started the process of removing lead from gasoline in 1973, and it took until 1995 until all gasoline sold in our country was unleaded. China decided to go lead-free in 1998; the new standard was partially implemented in Beijing in 1999, and by 2000 the entire country's gasoline was lead-free." And another: In late 2007 The State Council announced that starting June 1, 2008, no stores could give out free plastic bags.
But why only for one day? Because, Friedman acknowledges, a lot of these Chinese directives are ignored at the lower levels. In the United States, we have a system that (according to him) mandates enforcement. Well, this does not actually seem to be the case-- consider the laws prohibiting the hiring of illegal immigrants. But the other problem is that we don't *want* a system where the government can just mandate whatever it wants without any sort of recourse by the citizens. It sounds great when you're talking about banning plastic shopping bags, but what if the next decree was that no one was allowed to own more than three pairs of shoes, or that anyone whose house had more than 400 square feet per person would have to take in enough homeless people to get it down to that amount? To some extent, the slackness of enforcement in China is there because there is no discussion of the laws, and the enforcement of our laws is there because we have more input in the making of them.
As with most serious books on the environment, HOT, FLAT, AND CROWDED has some interesting ideas, but (alas) these ideas all have their problems.
At our godson's confirmation recently, the rabbi told the Hasidic tale/teaching that everyone must have two pockets into which to reach from time to time as the need requires: in the one pocket it shall read, "For my sake were the heavens and the earth created," and in the other pocket, "I am but dust and ashes." And I had a satori (if I may mix religions): one pocket is the "Great Man" theory, and the other is the "Tide of History" theory. So the Hasidic teaching seems to be that both are true in their own way. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: A cynic is a person searching for an honest man, with a stolen lantern. -- Edgar A. Shoaff
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