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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society 02/19/16 -- Vol. 34, No. 34, Whole Number 1898
Table of Contents
Digital Backlash (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
As just about everybody knows, digital technology is now used more than traditional film technology in the movie production industry.
A very large piece of the entertainment industry has seen the advantages of digital recording over analog. Major movies are now being shot in digital and sound is also recorded on video. With digital recording a picture is broken up into very tiny pixels and the content of each pixel is recorded as a series of 1s and 0s. Those digits can easily be stored, processed, and manipulated by electronic means. The adept of digital technology has a great deal of power and freedom in processing information stored on a computer and which can be sent over a telephone line. Digital movies can be made very inexpensively with an advantage that the market is much more inviting for neophyte filmmakers and low-budget production companies. Some people are even making short movies on their cell phones.
The quality of digital images improves with time. There was a time when it was easy to look at a film and see problems with boundaries of moving objects in the image and they would not look quite right. But the answer to image problems was in large part just to increase the number of digits stored.
The same revolution has hit the music industry. I was surprised to see in my local bookstore a rack of vinyl records being sold again. And they were being sold at much higher prices than I used to pay for vinyl records. There are people who can hear, or think they can hear, imperfections in digital recordings of music that the original performance or an analog recording did not have. To be perfectly candid, I myself cannot hear the flaws some people detect in digital recordings. But I do not have a trained ear. Now people who can hear the difference are going back to collecting recordings on vinyl.
Now I see that Colin Trevorrow, who has been chosen to direct the next "Star Wars" film, says that it will be shot on film, not in digital. I take it that STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS was shot digitally and Trevorrow thinks that digital photography just did not stand up to real film. I can say I did not consciously notice any difference, but it will probably make for a better image. Digital technology no doubt will be used to create a lot of the visual images anyway.
I can see some advantages for filmmakers to go back to film for a while longer (or for some even permanently).
1) Shooting in digital is very cost-effective and also much faster. But it is tempting to just do a lot of shooting and hope a few shots will be really good. Shooting on film is more expensive and that can be a virtue. Shooting must be more carefully planned.
2) There are already a lot of experienced craftsmen around who know how to use film very effectively. Not everybody in the industry knows digital technology yet, but the experts do know how to effectively create subtle images on film.
3) Film is physical. You can feel it in your hand. It does not go away if a battery dies. That adds a level of satisfaction.
4) Digital imagery divides an image up in discrete pixels. That makes each little point of light an approximation of what it should be. It can be a very close approximation, but it will never be precisely right.
STAR WARS: EPISODE 4 [A NEW HOPE] was the first film to really go heavily into digital special effects. As Wikipedia: Digital Cinematography says, "In May 1999 George Lucas challenged the supremacy of the movie-making medium of film for the first time by including footage filmed with high-definition digital cameras in STAR WARS EPISODE I: THE PHANTOM MENACE. The digital footage blended seamlessly with the footage shot on film and he announced later that year he would film its sequels entirely on hi-def digital video." Now that the property belongs to Disney the next "Star Wars" film will be going back to being shot on film. That is ironic. [-mrl]
ADMIRAL (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: This is the epic biopic of the career of Dutch naval hero Michiel Ruyter who fought against the English and the French in the second and third Anglo-Dutch wars, 1665 to 1673. It features several exciting cannon battles between ships. The filmmakers frequently create spectacular visual effects using CGI like it was meant to be used. Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4) or 8/10
[The film is in Dutch, English, and French with subtitles where they are needed.]
I never much was interested in the French and Indian Wars when they taught it in school. I suppose I could not identify with the people fighting or picture the conflict. Then I saw the film THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS and I was hooked. It always seemed to me that history should be taught at least in part on the movie screen. Films should be used to make historical times come alive for students. The Dutch film ADMIRAL has been made in two versions. One is for general release and one has less sex and violence for showing in schools. And I think it will work wonders to involve students in history. It is, after all, an exciting ride, even if it does not always get its history correct. As a Hornblower fan I would rather see two ships from the Age of Sail battling in than see two superheroes fighting each other. Particularly since along the way I am learning a little about real history. Not that the history is necessarily 100% accurate, but one learns the issues and gets an idea of the times.
ADMIRAL (a.k.a. MICHIEL DE RUYTER) is the story of Dutch Admiral Michiel de Ruyter's career over what appears to be several months, but historically was several years. The film begins and within minutes we are on the shore at Scheveningen watching a battle on the North Sea. De Ruyter (played by Frank Lammers) proves himself to be an excellent commander and when Dutch Lieutenant-Admiral Tromp (Rutger Hauer) is killed, de Ruyter is chosen to replace him. We then are presented the story of de Ruyter's naval victories. There is a re-creation of the Four Days' Battle that is explosive even if it does not give a good summary of the battle. In the real world the battle ended with the British retreating to the safety of the Thames and de Ruyter blockading the Thames for fifty-one days before being forced to retreat. In the ADMIRAL dramatization, de Ruyter simply returns home after the battle.
The reason the film gives for the wars was that the Dutch had a republic and the royalty of England did not want that egalitarian idea to spread. Inside the Netherlands the Orangists and the Republicans join forces temporarily to defend the Netherlands from the English, but the monarchist Orangists and the Republicans were still tearing their own country apart in a political conflict verging on civil war. Though battle scenes are featured, the film is as much about political strife in the Netherlands at the time. De Ruyter is dragged into the internal conflict of the Orangists who wanted a king and the Republicans who had a more democratic vision.
In the version I saw there is nudity and some torture is depicted. I assume I saw the general release version. The dialog talks down a little to the viewers who are intended in large part to be school students, but it pays the viewer back in thrilling visual images. The film uses rather obvious CGI, but the complexity and intensity of battle could be done no other way without a much bigger budget.
The cast of the film is almost entirely Dutch and consists mostly of what were for me unfamiliar faces. Two exceptions are Rutger Hauer as Tromp, a Dutch Naval hero, but he is on the screen for only a short time. The other is Charles Dance, who does sinister oh-so-well, as fans of GAME OF THRONES can attest. Dance plays reprobate English king Charles II, though he is much older than the historical Charles would have been.
People seem to be awed just by the trailer for ADMIRAL (I know I was) and the film does live up to the trailer. The trailer can be seen at the address below. Though the trailer gives the impression that this is predominately an English language production, it is mostly in Dutch. ADMIRAL will be on VOD and iTunes on February 23 and in theaters March 11. I rate it a high +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2544766/combined
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/admiral_2016/
"Almost" (letter of comment by Charles S. Harris):
In response to Evelyn's comments on "The Greek Interpreter" in the 02/12/16 issue of the MT VOID, Charles S. Harris writes:
You wrote, "I'm not sure I would call an hour and forty minutes 'almost two hours.'"
But you also said, "'Nero Wolfe' has almost all its letters in common with 'Sherlock Holmes'
100/120 = .8333+
6/9 = .6666+
So there's almost a blatant inconsistency here. [-csh]
Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.
Seriously, the first one doesn't *feel* like "almost" to me and the second one does. [-ecl]
Charitable Investments (letter of comment by Leland R. Beaumont):
In response to Mark's comments on charitable investments in the 02/12/16 issue of the MT VOID, Lee Beaumont writes:
A good site for researching the best place for charity giving is http://www.givewell.org/.
They list their top charities at http://www.givewell.org/charities/top-charities. [-lrb]
Mars Rover (letter of comment by Philip Chee):
In response to Steve Milton's comments on the Mars rover in the 02/12/16 issue of the MT VOID, Philip Chee writes:
The NASA engineers also noticed that the Martian winds, slight as they are, are capable of blowing the dust off the solar panels. They took advantage of this by orienteering the rover to maximize the effect of those winds. [-pc]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
THE WOMAN WHO WALKED IN SUNSHINE by Alexander McCall Smith (ISBN 978-0-307-91156-8) is number sixteen in the "No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency" series and it is pretty much more of the same. We do get to see that Mma Makutsi has matured, but that is about the only change. And I am getting tired of Violet Sephotho being dragged in as the evil villain in every book. Even Sir Arthur Conan Doyle mentioned Moriarty in only seven stories, and he was an active character in only two ("The Final Problem" and THE VALLEY OF FEAR).
SEVEN DAYS IN MAY by Fletcher Knebel and John Bailey (ISBN 978-0- 553-131697) was chosen for our film-and-book discussion group. Well, it is marginally science fiction, supposedly taking place about a dozen years after it was written. In fact, it might be considered a proto-techno-thriller, though the "techo" level is pretty low. The film hews fairly closely to the book, although it drops a few characters: in the book Jiggs Casey is married with a family, and the person involved with Scott is a friend of Eleanor Holbrook, not Eleanor herself. The entire Yakutsk subplot has also been dropped.
A couple of items jumped out. It is mentioned in passing that someone had $1500 in deductions disallowed, so owed $1000 more in income tax. We forget that there used to be 67% (and higher) tax brackets. Also, when Lyman is presented with some incriminating documents about Scott, he says, "You don't really think I'd use a thing like that, a man's relations with a woman, to defend my oath of office, do you?"
At the beginning of the film, we see two groups of demonstrators. The anti-Lyman "hawks" are almost entirely white men in shirts and ties with only a few white women. The pro-Lyman "doves" are a much more diverse group, with African-Americans, Hispanics, more women, and more obviously working class people.
But I think in an attempt to make Senator Ray Clark a good guy Serling slipped in a bit of an anachronism. I just don't think that a older Senator from Georgia in the early 1960s (which seems to be the milieu of the film) would address an African-American woman in the airport as "Ma'am".
Watching the rally at which General Scott was speaking, his speech and the crowd reactions to it reminded me strongly of a Donald Trump rally.
The scenes in the desert around Site Y (and some of the scenes at Site Y) had the feeling of a "Twilight Zone" episode. I don't think it because Rod Serling did the script, because it was more a visual thing than based on dialogue. It may just have been that so many "Twilight Zone" episodes were set in deserts. In fact, it would not surprise me to find out that they were filmed in the same desert as SEVEN DAYS IN MAY. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper email@example.com Quote of the Week: Some men love truth so much that they seem to be in continual fear lest she should catch a cold on overexposure. --Samuel ButlerTweet
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