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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
03/16/12 -- Vol. 30, No. 38, Whole Number 1693
Table of Contents
Southern Africa Trip Logs Available:
Our trip logs for southern Africa (South Africa, Swaziland, Zimbabwe, and Botswana, with bits of Namibia, Zambia, and Senegal) are now available at:
Michael Chabon Defends Science Fiction:
Michael Chabon attacks prejudice against science fiction in http://tinyurl.com/void-chabon.
Orpheus and Russell (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I saw a staged version of Jacques Offenbach's farce on the Orpheus myth "Orfee aux Enfers", or "Orpehus in the Underworld". In this, Zeus disguises himself as a fly. The producers added their own humorous touch by creating the effect of Zeus being a fly. Zeus has a wand with a fly on the end of it. Zeus has a big sign on his chest saying "invisible". It occurred to me that this is a logical paradox. You do not know Zeus is invisible if you cannot see his sign. But if you cannot see his sign you cannot read it. Zeus and his sign are invisible if and only if they are visible. If Zeus is visible then suspension of disbelief requires that he not be visible. If he is invisible then you cannot read his sign so he is obviously visible. [-mrl]
Pi Day (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I probably should have mentioned this last week, but it did not occur to me. Wednesday was International Pi Day. You may have missed it. Pi Day is March 14. Every year it is March 14 because Pi is what mathematicians call a constant. It does not change. You could surround it with dynamite and set it off with a nuclear device and it would not shift an iota. It would not shift a scintilla. For the benefit of those who did not have this in school (which I think encompasses all humanity and some primates) the following is the conversion table:
10 scintillas = 1 iota
10 iotas = 1 skosh
10 skoshes = 1 tad
10 tads = 1 smidge
10 smidges = 1 smidgin
(12 smidges = 1 smidgeon aka 1 Imperial smidgin)
10 smidgins = 1 speck
10 specks = 1 tad
10 tads = 1 lick
10 licks = 1 shread = 1 nano-scintilla
So when my parents informed me that I did not have a speck of sense, I could still claim to have mega-scintillas of sense. (Not that it did me any good. I generally lost those exchanges.) But I am digressing.
Mathematical constants are constant. I do not know what it would take to move Pi, but it is a heck of a lot more power than you have, puny, ape-descended Earthling. Why is March 14 called "Pi Day?" Well, you see if you write the date as 3.14, that is Pi. No it isn't. That is actually a long way from Pi. In fact I can find a number that is greater than that number that is still less than Pi. And take that number, I can find a number that is greater than that number that is still less than Pi. And take THAT number, I can find a number that is greater than that number that is still less than Pi. And take *THAT* number, I can find a number that is greater than that number that is still less than Pi. And take **THAT** number, I can find a number that is greater than that number that is still less than Pi. And take ***THAT*** number, I can find a number that is greater than that number that is still less than Pi. You can see this is not going to get us anywhere. You have to concede my point that any of these numbers is a long way from Pi. You might as well just concede it so we can move on.
All conceded? Okay. Actually there is no real Pi day, but there is a day to celebrate an approximation of Pi. Engineers, who invented the holiday, are satisfied to have the day on March 14. Engineers like approximations of Pi because they can deal with them. March 14 may not really be Pi Day, but it is close enough to the day or all practical purposes. Mathematicians are more interested in getting the correct answers to their calculations. An engineering student will tell you that the circumference of a circle is 3.14 times the radius. A mathematics student will tell you that the circumference of a circle is Pi times the radius. An actual engineer will tell you what team the Dallas Cowboys are playing this weekend and what time the half-time show will be. A real mathematician will tell you that both students lost a factor of two in their answers and that the engineer didn't even catch it.
Actually this is all based on false assumptions. March 14 is not 3.14 but 3/14. This means that March 14 is not really Pi Day. March 14 is 0.2142857142857142857... Day. It is the day to celebrate the number 0.2142857142857142857... If you just know it as 3/14 or make the last six digits a repeater you have the number exactly. You never have that kind of security with Pi. It's true there is a lot of glamour associated with Pi. But 0.2142857142857142857... is actually a better number. You can express it without every using Greek. You never have that kind of security with Pi. It's true there is a lot of glamour associated with Pi. You see it in the journals hobnobbing with e and i. Pi is a very high-profile number--a celebrity among numbers. You may think that Pi is your number and you may trust it, but you are fooling yourself. There is always something there you don't quite know. You never quite know Pi.
But don't get too excited about Pi Day. It is always followed immediately by the ominous Ides of March. [-mrl]
JOHN CARTER (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: JOHN CARTER is the lackluster title of Disney's film adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs's A PRINCESS OF MARS, just over a hundred years old. People who have grown up reading Edgar Rice Burroughs novels (or people like me who have failed to grown up but still have read the novels) will probably be startled at the imagination of this epic production. Newcomers and even some non- newcomers may find the story more complex and harder to follow than one would expect from the adaptation of a pulp fiction science fantasy. The viewer should not expect a great story--perhaps not even a comprehensible one. But it is fascinating to spend time with this visualization of Burroughs's Mars/Barsoom. Somehow a novel that just seemed like silly fun is transformed into an epic film. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
Back when the film THE PUPPET MASTERS was released I had a discussion with a friend about the film. I said that it had covered a lot of the same territory as the three--now four-- adaptations of Jack Finney's (INVASION OF) THE BODY SNATCHERS did. My friend was quick to correct me. Actually Robert Heinlein's novel THE PUPPET MASTERS pre-dated the Finney novel. Heinlein had done it first. I readily admitted that was true. The filmmakers had every right to rehash overly familiar material. But that does not make the content any less familiar was still going to count against the film for most viewers. Curiously I had almost the same discussion over the 2007 film I AM LEGEND, which rehashed a lot of familiar horror. I mention that to head off the same discussion with JOHN CARTER. Today's fantasy and science fiction, especially in films, owes a lot to pulp writers like Edgar Rice Burroughs, A. Merritt, and Robert E. Howard. These are not highly accomplished writers, but their leaping imaginations have inspired generations. When George Lucas puts a hero into an arena with a fierce gorog the size of an elephant, Lucas is doing homage to Edgar Rice Burroughs. As far as written fantasy is concerned, Burroughs got there before (probably) anyone else. But still putting it into a film now after decades of Flash Gordon and Star Wars and many more, it is going to be hackneyed and stale. The filmmakers' only hope is to try to make it feel new. Sadly they chose that image to center their ad campaign around.
For many decades there have been rumors of various filmmakers wanting to turn the Burroughs science fantasies into film. Of course, Burroughs writing was frequently the inspiration of films on the screen, but almost always it was a wildly inaccurate version of his Tarzan books. In the mid-1970s Amicus and American International Pictures cooperated on adaptations of THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT, THE PEOPLE THAT TIME FORGOT, and AT THE EARTH'S CORE. Sadly, of these only THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT took itself seriously and had a good script. In 2009 the exploitation film company The Asylum did versions of PRINCESS OF MARS and THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT. The former was terrible. I have not seen the latter but do not have very high expectations. But for years there were many projects attempting the making of A PRINCESS OF MARS into a film. Names like Ray Harryhausen and Tom Cruise were attached to projects that never reached fruition. Presumably it was too daunting a task to show the armies of alien creatures the film would have called for. Then the LORD OF THE RINGS films showed that such epic fantasy could be done with newer technology. One such project has finally come reached fruition.
The script by its director Andrew Stanton, Mark Andrews, and Pulitzer-Prize-winning novelist Michael Chabon somewhat embellishes the story by Burroughs. The film already gets into adventures before John Carter (played by an uninspired Taylor Kitsch) ever gets to Mars. The film even dramatizes the forward to the book in which Edgar Rice Burroughs is called to his uncle John Carter's deathbed only to arrive too late with Carter having died only that morning. The young Burroughs we are told had always been enthralled by his uncle's stories of his life in the Wild West and fighting in the Civil War. The amazed boy is given a sheaf of papers. This is Uncle John's account of his most amazing adventure, one that involved him being teleported to Mars where he is the keystone in ending a civil war.
Fleeing from a United States Army determined illegally to impress him into service, he runs afoul of a mystic something-or-other perpetrated by Holy Therns (who do not actually appear yet in the book A PRINCESS OF MARS). Carter finds himself on what he discovers is the planet Mars. Due the different gravity he finds he can leap tall canyons in a single bound. (Leaping tall buildings comes later.) Tharks, tall green men with white tusks and four arms each, capture him. The viewer is introduced to them and several other species, human and non-human.
Full disclosure: I had read the book, but not in years. With the flood of unfamiliar names, familiar names that I could not quite place, and actors who did not enunciate, I can say I still followed the plot at a high level, but don't give me a quiz on the names of animals, people, and places on Barsoom. I am reasonably certain that even if I could have run the film with subtitles and could stop it when I wanted, my life would not have been transformed by any great themes that were presented. This is all pretty much an American 20th century "Arabian Nights". Like the original "Arabian Nights" what is essential is not the deep story but the tone, texture, and atmosphere. When one reads one of Burroughs's science fantasies one visualizes what was going on. As I read I can visualize the scenery a little more ornately than the Amicus film adaptations did in the 1970s. That imagination was far surpassed by the visions on the screen. And remarkably that gives the story the feeling of more heft and even more complexity. This is not pulpish storytelling even if the century-old novel is.
The film is usually respectful of the Burroughs material, but within that constraint there is more than a little humor. Due to a miscommunication the Tharks all call Carter "Virginia". Carter seems to crash a variety of Martian flying machines that he tries to pilot. Carter is given as a pet and guardian Woola, a big sloppy dog-like creature.
The film has been released to very mixed critical reactions. However, the closer the reviewer is to the science fiction fan community and the people who respect Burroughs, the better reaction the film seems to get. The fans may be pleased that someone has made a decent film respectful of the original novel. I rate JOHN CARTER a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.
One problem with the film is that the title is so totally bland and colorless for such a colorful story. Apparently there were struggles over choosing the title, and the film still shows the title JOHN CARTER OF MARS in the closing credits. The filmmakers would have done better with the title of the Burroughs novel, A PRINCESS OF MARS. It has been suggest that a Disney film with "Princess" in the title might sound like it was for only young girls. I wonder if that was the reaction when Buena Vista released PRINCESS MONONOKE.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0401729/
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/john_carter/
JOHN CARTER (film review by Dale L. Skran, Jr.):
I last read Edgar Rice Burrough's (ERB's) "Mars" series at least twenty years ago, and I decided to see the movie fresh, without re- reading the original book, with is supposedly A PRINCESS OF MARS. I am writing this review first, next re-reading the book, and then planning on writing a post-reading update review.
JOHN CARTER has received a good deal of bad press, and is running about 50% on the Tomato-Meter (not all that bad for a "popular" film). I decided to rush out and see it right away because if the press is half-true, the movie will come and go faster than the teleporting villains John Carter fights on-screen. I was glad I did--the movie is great and I'm not sure what the fuss is all about. There is something very funny going on as it relates to JOHN CARTER. The articles about it in the United States always have a bad spin--I just noted one today where JOHN CARTER is being dunned as a failure since it only took in $30.6M domestically while THE LORAX took in $39.1M over the weekend. This is one way to look at it--but a more objective report might put more emphasis on THE LORAX international take of only $1.4M as compared to $70.6M for JOHN CARTER. Viewed globally, JOHN CARTER has pulled in more than twice THE LORAX. Of course, we wouldn't want facts to get in the way of a lamestream media crusade to run a movie down for no obvious reason. Among the many bad things being said about JOHN CARTER is that it cost $250M to make, and will almost certainly be a financial flop. If so, that would be sad, as is it would be great to see Hollywood take on more classic SF with large budgets and top-notch effects.
There seem to be two issues that so-called "critics" have with classic fantasy or SF material. Firstly, they cannot get by the idea that they are watching the *original* that STAR WARS and INDIANA JONES copied from!!! So they go on and on about how much this or that reminds them of something Lucas has done, when Lucas has shamelessly ripped off ERB and other pulp writers. It seems to me that this kind of criticism is completely unfair and carried to its logical extreme, we should no longer produce Shakespeare since it has been copied a lot and so must be considered tired and irrelevant. Secondly, the critics get stuck applying modern standards of political correctness to something written a hundred years ago. I've read one review that complained that JOHN CARTER is just another story about white Westerners lording it over poor exploited natives. These are the sort of critics that won't read HUCKLEBERRY FINN since it uses the word "n*gg*r". A related trap is to apply modern scientific knowledge and dismiss JOHN CARTER as bogus since ERB did not know in 1912 what we know today about Mars.
Classic SF/Fantasy also suffers under the hand of a kind of director that has no respect for the base material, and is making the movie only to mock the fans or the original material. Two examples are the filmed versions of DOC SAVAGE and STARSHIP TROOPERS, both of which simultaneously parody the original characters while unsubtly insulting the fans as either simpletons or fascists. The recent success of the Marvel comic book movies stems directly from a decision to hire top actors, the best screenwriters and directors, have big budgets, and TREAT THE MATERIAL WITH RESPECT. The movies that succeed in doing this for the most part include the "Spider Man" trilogy, IRON MAN, IRON MAN 2, the second "Hulk" movie, THE FIRST AVENGER, THOR, the "X-Men" trilogy, and X-MEN FIRST CLASS. Some other efforts that had good elements but fell short include DAREDEVIL, ELEKTRA, and the "Fantastic Four" movies. The failings of these last four movies all derive from a failure to respect the source material. Of the four, ELEKTRA is surely the best. The "Fantastic Four" movies fail mainly by ruining Dr. Doom, after Magneto, one of the best Marvel villains. DAREDEVIL has too many problems to list them all in one sentence.
Thankfully, JOHN CARTER brings to ERB the respect a classic SF tale deserves. As best I recall, the story more or less faithfully follows the book, and captures the characters very well. Taylor Kitsch performs well as John Carter, bringing some understated acting to the role that is plausible for the man of action he portrays. Tars Tarkas, voiced by William Dafoe, is especially well done. Lynn Collins brings to life the original ass-kicking princess, Dejah Thoris, on whom to a large degree Padme Amidala in "Star Wars" is based.
The Tharks, the flyers, the city of Helium, and the Martian landscape are all wonderfully portrayed. We are treated to fantastic air-to-air battles, cities of amazing beauty, and a striking wedding. And action--lots of great pulpy action! The writers had added an interesting framing sequence set back on Earth that is easy to follow, deftly fills in the character of John Carter, and actually adds some clever touches to the story.
What's not to like? Well--not that much--this is a really good movie, well worth your time--in the +2 range. There is one sequence of John Carter getting thrown about on a fly-cycle that seems inserted for broad comedic effect and that does little to advance the plot, unlike most of the other action in the story. Dejah Thoris seems a bit hesitant, a bit uncertain sometimes, and there are some shots of her talking to herself that could have been cut out with little loss to the movie. Some may complain that Dejah Thoris wears too few clothes, but she wears a lot more than she had on in the book--as I recall she is nude when she first meets John Carter.
One thing I like about Lynn Collins is that unlike a lot of Hollywood starlets pressed into roles as action heroines, she has a black belt in Shito-ryu Karate, and muscular arms to prove it. She also looks a bit older than some of the ingénues, which fits the character well as I recall the Dejah Thoris was very long-lived in the book.
JOHN CARTER is rated PG-13 for action violence (lots of it). This is a movie the whole family can enjoy, with the exception of very young children. I think most ten-year-olds would have a blast, as would most eighty-year-olds. If you are looking for a modern, politically correct treatise on how white Americans are guilty of exploiting rainforest natives, go see AVATAR. If you want to see a Southern rebel travel to Mars, find a cause worth fighting for, win the love of a princess as smart as she is brave, and gain the friendship of a lizard with four arms, all while defying god-like overloads who think they ought to be in charge of our lives, check out JOHN CARTER. Highly recommended +2 on a -4 to +4 scale. [-dls]
MOEBIUS (1996) (film review by Evelyn C. Leeper):
There does not seem to be as much science fiction based on mathematics as there is on, say, physics, or even geology. So it is not surprising that there are not very many science fiction movies based on mathematics. The result is that when one is made, fans of mathematical science fiction will go to ridiculous lengths to see it. And so it was with MOEBIUS, a 1996 Argentinean science fiction film written and directed by Gustavo Mosquera R.
However, this meant that I watched a full-length movie in Spanish, with no subtitles. While I can read Spanish, and can understand basic Spanish when it is spoken slowly and clearly, my ability to understand Spanish spoken at normal conversational speed, often with background noise or mumbled, is minimal at best.
I was reminded of the time I watched MALEVIL at a convention in the Netherlands. Unluckily, it was in French. Luckily, it was subtitled. Unluckily, it was subtitled in Dutch. Luckily, it had very little dialogue. Only I and one other person in our group of six stayed for the whole film. He could pick up some of the Dutch because it was like German, which he knew, and I could recognize some of the French and some of the Dutch, and he remembered the story from the book fairly well, so between us I think we pieced together what was going on.
(By the way, this is another argument for subtitling rather than dubbing--I am sure that what familiarity I have with spoken French or German I got from watching French- and German-language films and listening to the original dialogue while reading the English translation.)
In the case of MOEBIUS, I also had familiarity with the story, which is the classic "A Subway Named Moebius" by A. J. Deutsch (which first appeared in ASTOUNDING and has been anthologized over a dozen times, but is probably most widely known from Clifton Fadiman's anthology FANTASIA MATHEMATICA). Luckily, I also found a plot summary of the film online. Unluckily, it was in German. Luckily, there are on-line translation tools available. Unluckily, they are not perfect. So one gets sentences such as, "Some time later, reports one of the subway stations in Biasi and claims director, suddenly there was an empty subway emerged." (It also says that the author of the original story was "A. J. German"!)
Warning: Spoilers ahead! (Though if you have read the story, you pretty much know them all.)
The original story takes place in Boston; Mosquera has translated it to his own Buenos Aires (which conveniently has its own subway system). The premise of both the story and the film is that the subway system has become so topologically complex that it has folded into another dimension. A train has disappeared, and signals seem to be turning on and off randomly. They are supposedly indicating the train's approach, but the train never appears.
The film is very faithful to the story. The train is number 86 in both cases. Much of the dialogue from the story is identical (modulo translation) with that of the story. For example, at one point in the story a subway official says sarcastically, "In the tunnel under the river, the train turned into a boat. It left the tunnel and sailed for Africa." In the film, I think he says (in Spanish), "At the South Dock, the train turned into a boat. It left the tunnel and sailed for Africa."
Another duplicated scene is where there are search parties on two adjacent levels who hear a train. The ones on the upper level say it passed below them, and the ones on the lower level say it passed above them.
The (spatial) translation to Buenos Aires has had some felicitous effects. When you see maps of the subway they remind you of the labyrinths of Buenos Aires's most famous literary son, Jorge Luis Borges. The visit to the city archives to find the plans of the subway evokes the National Library, where Borges was director. And in case you did not think of these, at one point the characters walk in front of a subway station name sign that says simply "Borges". (There is [currently] no such station.)
This is not to say that there are not goofs. A newspaper headline says that March 4 will bring the final solar eclipse of the century (well, of something--the paper is angled so that the headline is not entirely visible, but nothing else makes sense). Unfortunately, there were no eclipses on March 4 anywhere near the turn of the century. (This is in keeping with the great tradition of imaginary solar eclipses started by Mark Twain in A CONNECTICUT YANKEE IN KING ARTHUR'S COURT.) They used March 4 because that was the date in the original story, but in that there was no mention of a solar eclipse. And I suspect that the mathematical formulae that the main character writes are not meaningful.
But the film adds a real visual element: the eeriness of the darkened tunnels and empty subway stations at night, the seeming endlessness of the city archives, the way the sweep of the path of a roller coaster reminds one of the Moebius strip the characters have been looking at.
I am sure I missed a lot because I could not understand all the dialogue. In particular, a couple of reviewers mentioned how Mosquera connected the missing train (and passengers) to "los desaparecidos" ("the disappeared"--the thousands who opposed the military government in Argentina and just disappeared with no trace and no explanation).
I would recommend this to fans of mathematical science fiction who have some familiarity with Spanish. It can be found on YouTube. (There may be a Region 5 DVD somewhere, but that is not going to be very useful for most people.)
This is not the first un-subtitled Argentinean film I have watched and reviewed--see my review of EL AMOR Y EL ESPANTO ("Love and Fear") at http://leepers.us/evelyn/reviews/amor.htm for my last such attempt. [-ecl]
Phantom of the Opera at Royal ALbert Hall (television review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: A new production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA has been made for television to be shown on venues like Public Television's Great Performances. This is "a full stage production," but presumably the tightness of the Royal Albert Hall stage and the inability of the producers to modify the theater created technical problems that may have been imperfectly overcome. Still, it is the good story that people have come to know. Quite unexpectedly Sierra Boggess as Christine Daae proves to be accomplished as an actress as well as singer. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
[I will not give a plot synopsis. I assume the reader can look the story up on the Internet if it is unfamiliar.]
Really popular musicals go through life stages just as people do. They open to large audiences. Soon it is impossible to buy tickets for them. People have to wait months for tickets. Some people want to see the plays over and over while others are satisfied seeing the plays once. There may be openings in other cities, but the demand for seats slowly drops. When there are not a lot of people willing to pay theatrical prices, there will be a film to bring the musical to people who do not want to pay the cost of a live performance. And finally when the performances and film are not bringing in much revenue, its last stage is to be produced for Public Television where the play is given away free to anyone who wants to record it and is willing to sit through long pledge drives. Many people have seen plays like CAMELOT or LES MISERABLES only on PBS. Andrew Lloyd Webber's THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA has gone through all the stages and in now in the PBS phase with PHANTOM OF THE OPERA AT ROYAL ALBERT HALL being shown on PBS's "Great Performances".
The plot is, of course, almost identical to every other production of the Webber musical. What specific make this production different? Is this a good production?
I have been told by a friend who knows ballet that the dance portions of the performance were not really up to snuff. She said they seemed dull to her. I am not that much of an expert. I noticed problems I previously had seen in other productions. Christine Daae's victory over Carlotta seems to come from singing a song with naturalistic style while Carlotta seems to be singing with coloratura. The two performances cannot be compared directly in that way. If an opera calls for an aria (in this case "Think of Me") to be sung with coloratura, that is how it is sung. The singer is not given a choice, I believe. We modern listeners prefer a naturalistic style, but the fact that Christine sounds better to our ears when she sings in that style means little.
In the inner play, the production of the Phantom's opera, the Phantom secretly replaces another singer and sings in his place. I think that opera fans know singers' voices enough so that when the Phantom takes the place of another singer it would be noticed immediately by a lot of people. It is like if Bobby Darin was substituting for Frank Sinatra--people would notice it is a different voice.
I did notice something positive about this production. Most Christines have limited facial expression. They may smile or frown but give not much expression. Emmy Rossum in Joel Schumaker's film version and she has very limited facial expression. This production's Christine, Sierra Boggess, acts and reacts with her face. She was not only a good actress; her created Christine was a better actress in the Don Juan subplay than the real Emmy Rossum was in the Schumaker film.
There are several visual problems with this production. Generally for a play, particularly a major one expecting a long successful run, architectural modifications to the theater can be arranged. If a trap door is needed in the floor, for example, one can be cut. Sets may take weeks to build. I suspect that a theater requires a good deal of tailoring over a period of weeks for a spectacular play like PHANTOM with its swinging chandelier and underground grotto with boat. Staging PHANTOM for one made-for-TV performance it is unlikely that Royal Albert Hall could be so obliging. Certain expedients would have been necessary. The chandelier does not fall on the audience as written in the play but instead just explodes a bit. It is hard to believe it as a real, effective terrorist act--which is what the play calls for it to be. There was probably insufficient room for the massive sets the play calls for. Instead this production makes use of giant flat-screen televisions for the backgrounds. It is an ingenious solution to their problem, but it is not very convincing for the viewer. The television scan lines are much too obvious and distracting. The mirror that the Phantom appears behind also seems like a flat screen television. This gives the audience a large image of Christine that can be seen from the back row, but it was prerecorded, so Boggess on the stage has to try to mimic its moves like Groucho and Harpo in DUCK SOUP. Another thing that does not work, though it is common musicals these days, is to put all too visible and obvious sound mikes on the singers.
In the casting there is sort of a visual joke that the major opera singers are corpulent. Wendy Ferguson as Carlotta is rather portly, but this does not work. The Webber play calls for Carlotta to be lithe enough to play a pageboy. Admittedly in producing an opera a singer's voice is considered more important than the singer's appearance. But that would not be true of the pageboy, which is a silent role.
The costumes are as ornate as in the stage versions I have seen, but I think that the Schumacher film is more ornate. That film is really a visual masterpiece. One place where the Albert Hall version works better than the Schumacher visually is with the Phantom makeup. The Phantom is supposed to look acceptable while he is wearing the mask but to look really nightmarish without the mask. That is a difficult constraint, but the Royal Albert Hall makeup is probably as effective and horrific as from any dramatic version of the story.
In what appears to be an error, at least twice when Phantom Ramin Karimloo appears to be singing, his voice seems to be cut from the soundtrack. His mouth moves but there is no sound on the soundtrack issuing from his mouth. In the roof scene and just after the kiss at the end, his mouth is seen to move, but nothing is heard. I am guessing this is an editing mistake or it was decided that some lines had to be cut.
The pacing feels slow in the early parts of the story, but that might have been because I am used to the released album, which is somewhat cut down from the play as it is usually performed.
Originally when the play was new, the audience was kept in suspense as to what the Phantom would look like. His face is first seen dramatically in Christine's mirror. This production, directed by Nick Morris and Laurence Connor, has the Phantom on stage, apparently playing an organ, shown under the opening credits. I suppose it is assumed that people now know what the Phantom from the Webber play usually looks like.
By this point any production of Webber's THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA should benefit from the other productions that have gone before. And this is still a very moving play. It has its own virtues and its own faults, many of which might be the result of staging in the Royal Albert Hall. This staging has its own unique faults among its virtues. I would rate PHANTOM OF THE OPERA AT ROYAL ALBERT HALL a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2077886/
What others are saying: http://tinyurl.com/void-phantom
RULE 34 by Charles Stross (copyright 2011, Ace, $25.95, 358pp, ISBN 978-0-441-02034-8) (book review by Joe Karpierz):
Charles Stross has a very twisted mind. Don't get me wrong--that's not a bad thing when it comes to being a writer. Lots of strange, weird, and interesting ideas can come out of a mind like that. RULE 34 is an example of Stross' twisted mind.
So, from urbandictionary.com:
Rule 34: Generally accepted internet rule that states that pornography or sexually related material exists for any conceivable subject.
Or, more simply put:
If you can imagine it, there's a porn of it.
Scotland sometime in the near future. Inspector Kavanaugh (from HALTING STATE, of which this is something of a sequel) of the Rule 34 division is investigating a rather, uh, unique and gruesome murder of a spammer. Anwar is a paroled identity thief--trying to stay clean to gain and keep the respect of his wife and be a good father to his kids--who is clean now, and who has been offered the job of an honorary consul for a brand new Asian country that has just come into existence. The Toymaker is an employee of the criminal organization known as the Operation. The story is told from the points of view of these three characters, and as you might guess, their stories eventually intertwine and meet up, more or less, at the climax.
So, back to Kavanaugh for a minute. As she's investigating one murder, other murders of the same vein are showing up all over Europe. And it's not just a handful. It's bunches and bunches of them. She and her staff are getting overwhelmed. The murders are all of the same M.O.--targeted spammers being killed in a rather kinky sexual manner.
Anwar is trying to become acclimated to his new position, but the more he learns about how it came about, the less happy he is. There is something sinister and sneaky going on, and he is afraid that keeping his job will break the rules of his parole. One man delivers a large number of packages of bread mix, giving Anwar instructions to hand a package out to whoever comes in. He suspects something illegal, but since it all seems on the up and up, he just rolls with it.
The Toymaker is looking to build up local corporation that will be part of the operation. The last fellow who had the job ran it differently, and the Toymaker wants it to be run his own way, with his own people. So he's starting from scratch, and happens to stumble on to the investigation scene of the first murder, for which he is now a person of interest of sorts. The Toymaker also has a very debilitating and nasty psychiatric disorder, for which he must take certain meds other wise he will hallucinate and go off the deep end. The Toymaker eventually drops in on Anwar, because Anwar has the Toymaker's new identity papers--he needs a new identity after stumbling on to the murder scene--and leaves Anwar with a very nasty present that he must take home and hide from every one until the Toymaker needs it.
The story gets more complicated by the page. One of Liz' old lovers is in town to perform an audit, but stumbles upon (there are a *lot* of stumbles upon in this book) the Toymaker in their hotel, and, well, one thing leads to another, and yet more coincidences begin to pile up.
Of course Liz by now is trying to figure out how the Toymaker fits into all of this, with all of it seeming to be coincidence, but of course it probably really isn't.
Sure, this is a detective novel--just a very twisted one. It takes place in a world that is both very different and yet the same as ours. The real trick is, of course, figuring out who or what is committing the murders. It's a very interesting idea, and one that is worth exploring further. Not necessarily in another book in this series, although that would work. What's going on in the background is fascinating and makes for good material for future works.
RULE 34 is a pretty good novel, and one that is worthy of a Hugo nomination in my opinion. And since I'm going to be casting my nominating ballot today (as I write this, it's the afternoon of March 11th, the deadline for nominating for this year), I will certainly be including it. [-jak]
AMC Best Picture Marathon (letter of comment by Jerry Ryan):
In response to Mark's questions about the AMC Best Picture Marathon that Jerry Ryan described in the 03/02/12 issue of the MT VOID, Jerry writes:
They charged $60 per ticket. It was at the AMC Empire 25 on 42nd Street [in New York City], just a block from the Port Authority. They reserved one of their giant theatres for the marathon. For your admission, you got a lanyard with the movie schedule on it that served as your admission ticket; you could come and go as you pleased. They also gave out a guidebook to the movies, a poster on the way out the door, and a $10 gift card for use at the snack bar. If you have a Stubs card (worth it!) you also got the online booking fee waived, and you got an additional $10 credit on your stubs card.
Between most of the films, they had a ten- to twenty-minute break, and they had trivia contests and various goodies to give away. I brought home a MONEYBALL commemorative baseball for knowing that the first baseball-themed movie to be nominated for Best Picture was PRIDE OF THE YANKEES. Later in the day they had about an hour break between two of the films so that you could sneak out and hit a restaurant for dinner.
They had technical difficulties starting HUGO, and during the run of it ... so they *also* gave everyone a pass for a free movie and popcorn for their trouble.
The thing was supposed to start at 11AM on the Saturday. As I had a conflict in the morning, I expected that I would miss HUGO, but I'd seen it before anyway. When I arrived their technical delays meant that I managed to catch the last thirty to forty minutes of it anyway.
The snack bar deal included the usual free refills on popcorn and soft drinks, so I basically bought once and refilled between some of the movies.
I dozed a bit during MONEYBALL, but as I'd seen that before, too, it was okay ... and I ended up needing to leave in the middle of the last film ... but I had seen that one as well.
So I paid $60, got $20 worth of credits to buy stuff at any AMC theatre, and got a free movie pass for a later date to boot. I had already seen four of the nine, but my friend and I liked the idea of the adventure. All in all I was glad I did it. Didn't seem like a bad deal. [-gwr]
You paid $60 a ticket, but what did parking and/or transportation cost to get there? [-ecl]
I drove into the city (so tolls for the turnpike and the Lincoln Tunnel), and I parked in the lot on 42nd right near the exit to the tunnel. I *think* parking was about $35 for the almost-24-hours.
So all in all it was two of us: $120 tickets + $35 parking + $8(?) tolls. Spent no $ for food in the theatre (it was all on the cards they gave out). So ... $163 / 18 is about $9 a film ... slightly cheaper than the AMC dinner place by me.
Walked out with $20 of credit on Stubs card, about $6 left on the food card, and two free movie and snack tickets ... so maybe a more accurate calculation is $137 / 20, or $6.85 a film??
Of course, how does one price the fun of the adventure? :=) [-gwr]
Murray Hill (letter of comment by Charles Harris):
In response to Evelyn's explanation in the 03/09/12 issue of the MT VOID of the many designations for the area where the used book store used to be, Charles Harris asks:
What is/was Murray Hill? It used to have its own zip code and post office, but that was years ago. [-csh]
According to Wikipedia, Murray Hill is an unincorporated area within portions of both Berkeley Heights and New Providence, New Jersey. It shares its ZIP Code 07974 with the neighboring borough of New Providence and, so far as I can find, it is a New Providence post office these days, not a Murray Hill one. [-ecl]
Translation (letter of comment by Denise Moy):
In response to Evelyn's comments on translation in the 01/20/12 issue of the MT VOID, Denise Moy sent a link from the NEW YORK TIMES, http://tinyurl.com/void-poetry-translations, which begins:
Versions Tomas Transtromer's Poems and the Art of Translation By DAVID ORR Published: March 9, 2012 If you're a poet outside the Anglophone world, and you manage to win the Nobel Prize, two things are likely to happen. First, your ascendancy will be questioned by fiction critics in a major English--language news publication. Second, there will be a fair amount of pushing and shoving among your translators (if you have any), as publishers attempt to capitalize on your 15 minutes of free media attention. ...
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
11/22/63 by Stephen King (ISBN 978-1-4516-2728-2) is an 842-page time-travel alternate history novel. It is *not* the first book of a trilogy. I only mention that because so many alternate histories are these days. And if you are looking for this outside the United States, it is still called "11/22/63", even though by rights it should be "22/11/63".
King spends the first hundred pages setting up the premise and giving you all the rules. Basically, there is a time portal in Al's Fatburger Diner that goes back to 11:58 AM, September 9, 1958. Every time you go through it everything resets ("Every trip is the first trip"), and when you return it is always two minutes after you left, no matter how long you spent in the past. You can bring items forward with you into the present. And this is where there is at least one big plot hole.
How does Al manage to sell his burgers as cheap as he does? Well, he goes back every few days or so and buys ten pounds of ground chuck from Mr. Warren the butcher at fifty-four cents a pound. He agrees that this sounds a little like the loaves and fishes, since he is always buying the same ten pounds of meat, but waves that off with a sort of "it's a mystery, my son" attitude.
But here's the problem. Before Al ever goes back, the newspapers from 1959 that he looks at in the present show that Carolyn Poulin is shot and paralyzed in a hunting accident. On day N, Al goes back and saves Carolyn, so the newspapers from 1959 that he looks at when he returns to the present have no record of the accident. On day N+1, he goes back again--thereby resetting everything ("Every trip is the first trip")--and does not save her, and voila! the newspapers from 1959 that he looks at in the present again show that Carolyn is shot in a hunting accident.
So assume that on January 2, 2005, he goes back, buys ten pounds of meat, brings it forward, and serves it from January 2 through January 5. Then on January 6, he goes back again to buy more meat, but ... bingo! everything resets and the meat that was served in his diner from January 2 through January 6 was never there. In fact, everything he has brought forward (cash, identification, etc.,) should vanish each time he makes the next trip. (As presumably should his memories, but one can argue that they are of a different substance than material objects.)
King does eventually attempt to explain his way out of this. But the problem is two-fold: First, why doesn't the paradox occur to Al in all the time he has had to think about it? As I noted, he does mention it, but then basically ignores it as trivial. It is not-- it is crucial. And second, the explanation eventually given seems as though it had been designed for the novel, rather than the way things might actually work in the real world--albeit a "real world" with time travel.
From a structural point of view, it appears that King presumes a "base time line", called Timeline A, which is what would happen if no time travelers interfere with events. The arrival point in 1958 is a universe with a certain state, call it X. Left alone, it will develop in a manner determined by state X. When a traveler goes back to 1958 and does something, he changes the state and creates a branch, Timeline B, at that point, and when he "returns" to the present, he goes to the present on that branch. But if he returns to 1958 again, it is the point at which the universe is in state X and Timeline B has disappeared (or rather not formed yet). He can create a new branch, Timeline C, but he cannot go down Timeline B again.
The reset feature here seems very similar to that of GROUNDHOG DAY, except that King has decided to allow his "time looper" to carry back items from previous trips. (Even in GROUNDHOG DAY, though, Bill Murray can bring back his memories.)
I have said that 11/22/63 is an 842-page time-travel alternate history novel. But more precisely, it is a 700-page time travel novel, and 142-page alternate history novel (and a not very good one), so if you're looking for alternate history per se, this may not be what you want. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: If people are good only because they fear punishment, and hope for reward, then we are a sorry lot indeed. --Albert EinsteinTweet
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