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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society 09/23/16 -- Vol. 35, No. 13, Whole Number 1929
Table of Contents
Problems I Found in JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH (1959) (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I think CASABLANCA is a great film and most people I talk to seem to agree. But the truth is that there is a lot in that film that makes little sense. There was no such thing historically as "Letters of Transit" and certainly nothing that the Gestapo would accept. And absolutely nothing that the Germans were not allowed to even question. Later in the film when the letters are actually used they seem to be barely examined. Some films just seem to click and you accept them even with their problems. And as for Rick and Louis walking off into the fog at the end, where do you find fog in the Moroccan desert? Still we just accept it because it is a good film. That is how I feel about JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH.
Last week I wrote an evaluation of JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH (1959), one of my favorite movies of the 1950s and what I consider one of the great adventure films of all times. I find what is wrong with the film forgivable. But I would not feel right about just ignoring the many problems I saw watching the film recently. This is effectively an appendix to that essay listing problems with the writing of JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH.
Jules Verne's novel leaned rather heavily on lucky coincidence. He started with a note falling out of a book where just the right person could read it. But that is a small coincidence compared to those in the 1959 adaptation. Walter Reisch's and Charles Brackett's screenplay seems to consider this a carte blanche and over and over has fortuitous accidents pushing the story forward. Consider Arne Saknussemm who, knowing he would not return from his expedition, scratched his message into a plumb bob. Somehow this tool made its way back up to the surface from near the center of the earth. Along the way somehow this tool was lightly coated in lava so it look much like another rock. It managed not to fall into the sea surrounding the volcano. Then someone found the rock and sold it individually to a shop in Edinburgh where a student volcanologist found it. What do you figure are the chances of all that happening? Later an explosion blows off the lava jacket and the plumb bob is left shiny and legible once the lava is removed.
Much of the coincidence driving the story is bad luck that turns out to be extreme good luck. Consider:
If Lindenbrook and Alec had not been kidnapped and waylaid, they would never have found Hans to provide the great muscle power needed for the trip.
The three men stop what they are doing to have a moment of silence for Goetabaug. That slows them a bit, but it was in this moment that Lindenbrook notices the smell of potassium cyanide, which tells them how Goetabaug died.
If Goetabaug had not died, the Lindenbrook expedition would not have had the equipment it had.
Perhaps the biggest coincidence of all was that there was a path and Arne Saknussemm was able to find it, saving the Lindenbrook Expedition a lot of trial and error. I have no idea how Saknussemm could have not only gone by himself on this trek but when he found a way he could have proceeded he went back and marked it. How did he know that a path continued for several days' walk and then became impassable?
The duck also seem to know the path both when first entering the cave and later when Count Saknussemm gives them a fraudulent way marking. It is an unfortunate expedition that gets its best advice from a duck.
Chased by a boulder, Lindenbrook throw himself to the ground and immediately finds the three notches he might have missed.
If Alec had not fallen in the darkness, they would not have found the crystal grotto.
In the flooding grotto Carla grabs for a stalactite to support herself and it breaks off, but that gives them an escape.
The gunshot wounds Alec but helps Lindenbrook to find and save him.
In spite of my love for this film (and it is a film I have loved from when I first saw it) when I see it to say I am willing to give it a pass in spite of the film's stretches of credulity. Here are problems I have noted (in addition to the coincidences already mentioned).
As I said, without help Arne Saknussemm must have been able to find his way to the center of the by trial and error and then go back and mark the whole path. This seems unlikely. This is a problem that goes back to the novel. It is unbelievable that Arne Saknussemm could do everything needed to prepare a way for later expeditions.
The plumb bob covered with lava, which is then roughly removed, but the message on the tool is still readable. And it is a long message that seems unlikely to be written on the surface of a single plumb bob.
Lindenbrook lightly throws off that Alec will lose his acrophobia after the first million fathoms or so. A million fathoms is about 1136 miles. It is hard to believe he thought they be walking multiple thousands of miles.
On top of the mountain Alec throws down the jacket for his accordion and apparently just carelessly leaves it there. That is not a very good way to treat Jenny's gift.
Lindenbrook is delighted to find a room full of exploration equipment. We are never told how four people with light knapsacks carry all that gear *and* sufficient food.
How useful are charts of underground springs? After all, they were made on the surface.
Lindenbrook seems to have some intuition about which direction, left or right, the path should be going. How can he any such knowledge? Why is there even a rule of which way to go at a fork?
In the crystal grotto I can see that minerals could form a barrier, but it is unlikely they could form a vertical wall holding back water.
When the crystal wall breaks, how does Alec avoid even getting his feet wet?
Lindenbrook says that the last echo of the gunshot will give the direction of the gunshot. That seems unlikely even if it were the first echo. It is not even clear which is the last of the many echoes they hear.
When the electric coils are turned off, the rooms seem to get lighter, not darker.
The band eats the mushrooms they find without even knowing if they are safe or poisonous. Don't try this at home, kiddies.
It is hard to judge the size of the dimetrodons, but in our pre- history at the longest they were about twelve feet and they seemed longer.
Apparently at the very center of the earth there is a sea to one side and not the other. And you can tell you are there because there is "a field of force that snatches gold away." The physics makes no sense at all. (Also in this scene Jenny seems to have some sort of psychic link to the explorers.)
After traveling across the sea they find land almost exactly where Arne Saknussemm came ashore. And it just happens to be where Atlantis was located.
It is unclear how the sacrificial dish got over to the chimney and drags the crew over to the chimney and up without injuring or burning anybody. At the top of the column they are lightly tossed into the sea (except for Alec thrown into a tree) all without anyone being harmed.
In spite of it all, this is a film that clicks for me. It may well be second to KING KONG (1933) as the film I have seen the greatest number of times.
One-Word Film Titles (quiz by Evelyn C. Leeper):
Mark observed that there has been a spate of "one-word" film titles in the last few years, particularly in science fiction, and they are difficult to keep straight. So here's a quick list (okay, "Ex Machina" is two words, but it fits the type; can you match the titles with the plots?:
3. Ex Machina
A. A building is a gateway to parallel Earths.
B. A comet opens doors to parallel Earths.
C. A covert team tries to use dream-sharing to affect a CEO's actions.
D. A lonely man takes new medication and thinks he is a superhero.
E. A man falls in love with the operating system on his smartphone.
F. A man has his consciousness transplanted into a younger body.
G. A man takes a drug to increase his intelligence.
H. A new technology lets you polish up your favorite memories.
I. A programmer is invited to meet with a genius and the robot that he has.
J. A reporter is invited to meet with a genius and the robot that he has built.
K. A scientist develops techniques to see people's memories.
L. A scientist uploads his consciousness into an AI program.
M. A woman has her consciousness transferred into a younger body.
N. After an alien war, two people are assigned to clean up Earth before it is abandoned.
O. The crime world uses time travel as a way to commit unsolvable murders.
P. The film adaptation of Robert A. Heinlein's "All You Zombies."
The solution will appear next week.
SOMNUS (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: A commercial spaceship from the year 2252 runs into technical problems followed by the ship's computer guidance system trying to kill the crew, an idea perhaps borrowed from 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. The problems on board cause the ship to divert to the asteroid Somnus. There they find a cult whose believers are implementing a plan to take control after the Earth's coming destruction. Sorry, that makes the film seem better than it really is. It is a stylistic mess, almost impenetrable that seems to borrow a lot and not give very much in return. A good science fiction story can be told without a lot of computer effects, but this film shows how not to try it. Newcomer Chris Reading directs a script he co-wrote with Russell Owen, but neither seem to have much relevant to say. Rating: -1 (-4 to +4) or 3/10
SOMNUS (the name means sleep, not too inappropriately) is a science fiction film that tries to communicate its story with a minimum of words and with relatively crude visual images. The story is told in three chapters. The first takes place in 1952 and sets the tone for the confusion to come. In 2252 a space cruiser has serious problems with its guidance system, Meryl (voiced conveniently by Meryl Griffiths), decides to kill the crew on the ship. The third chapter takes place on the asteroid Somnus and involves the long- term life of planet Earth.
The film began with that incident in 1952 England involving a professor who gets on a train without a document he intended to carry. Flash forward 300 years and the crew is in space. How will the missing document connect with whatever is happening three centuries later? Somebody forgot to put it in the script. It is just a loose end the size of a planet. Then again maybe it does connect up, since we never really understand what is happening in the 23rd century, so it could connect up somehow.
SOMNUS mostly comes off as an attempt to copy DARK STAR (albeit without the humor). There are also parts of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, and bits imitate Andrei Tarkovsky's style. It has no CGI and almost no effects of any kind. Much of the film we have the actors in a spaceship most of whose sets look like they were cobbled from parts found in an electronic junkyard. While the film takes place in a year something like 2252, the electronic equipment we see looks very 20th Century.
When the filmmakers want to add some visual interest they do things like use starscapes and maybe stock footage of sea life. Most of the story is carried by short talking interludes embedded in long sections of silence. The main action is not shown on screen. There are lots of long takes with no payoff. Most of the action that would lead to visual excitement happens off-stage.
We see some nice lush space-scapes, but then we knew the ship was in space. We also get some nice stock footage of jellyfish. How does this image connect up with our story? I don't know. Maybe the jellyfish have the missing document. At 83 minutes this film is short and at the same time seems way too long.
While some of the sky scenery seems polished, that is about the only thing about this film that looks accomplished. I rate SONUS a -1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 3/10.
SOMNUS had a small theatrical release on September 9th and will go to digital platforms on October 4th.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3078932/combined
What others are saying: https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/somnus
I.T. (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: Pierce Brosnan plays Mike Regan, a very-wealthy entrepreneur who is about to start a new enterprise that will make him super-wealthy. But no sooner is his new corporation started then his efforts are hit by an Internet hacker with seemingly unlimited cyber-powers. Regan finds he must fight to save his business and his family. John Moore directs a screenplay by Dan Kay and William Wisher, Jr. What Regan's nemesis can do is chilling enough, but it all seems fairly credible. The film gets points for being as scary as it is plausible. But it loses points because if you take out the software speculations, what is left is a rather pedestrian stalker film. I.T. pits a man played by a former James Bond actor against a hacker. And Bond does not come off so well as he does in the films. Rating: +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10
We are seeing a lot of films about people with super-powers. They are all fictional. But there really are people with super-powers. Their powers take the form of tech savvy. Technical expertise is a superpower that really does exist. And what technical hackers really can do is fairly frightening. We do not see them often in films just because Internet hacking is not visually very exciting. There may not be someone looking at you or your private personal data at this instant. But there are a lot of people who could if and when they want to. As one of the characters of I.T. observes, privacy is over.
I.T., pronounced "eye-tea," is short for "Information Technology." It can also refer to a person who does I.T. works with information technology and if such a person chooses to be a hacker he/she can find a frightening range of Internet information including personal data. The I.T. in I.T. seems to have unlimited powers. Is all that he does in this film possible? I do not know. Anything I could tell you about what an I.T. can do would be hearsay and I should not state it as fact. Is what we see in this film plausible? It certainly seems that way to me.
I.T. is a fairly common stalker film combined with some frightening and--yes--plausible suggestions as to what a data hacker might well be able to do if so inclined. Pierce Brosnan plays Mike Regan, very rich now and soon to be much richer. His new enterprise is to create for private airplanes what Uber is to cars. His new app will make him very, very, rich. He knows business and he knows running companies. For his cyber connections he has a top-flight staff to solve any technical problems he runs into. And that is just what happens. As he is officially announcing his new company, he has a computer failure. Up pops on of his ITs, Ed Porter (played by James Frecheville). In seconds Ed is able to diagnose and fix the computer problem. Mike is very impressed and invites Ed to his high-tech home to meet his family and, incidentally, to fix up his house's cyber-networking. Ed is happy to oblige and fixes up the electronics all over the Regan house. At this point, dear reader, if you cannot figure out what is coming, I hope you enjoy the film.
Pierce Brosnan is actually an interesting choice to play Mike. Having played Remington Steele and James Bond we see him as someone effective at getting what he wants and he is successful at eliminating his enemies. He is the best ... uh ... of the Old School. Here he is matched against someone who is the best from the new school. Ed is not very good in a physical fight. He nonetheless has the technical power to take away his victim's entire life in just a few hours. Which is the more powerful? It is fairly clear that Mike is over-matched. When they are in the same room Mike has a physical edge. But with a modest room of equipment it is rather clear that Ed is a much more powerful force. Ed can crash automobiles and drop planes from the sky without ever leaving his desk chair. At least from what we see in this film it looks like the future belongs to the hackers.
I.T. is worth seeing not for the strength of the basic story, but for an idea of the sort of damage a technical hacker would actually be able to do. I rate I.T. a +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2679552/plotsummary
What others are saying: https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/it_2016
SEED: THE UNTOLD STORY (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: SEED: THE UNTOLD STORY educates the viewer about the importance of seeds to stave off famine. It foretells the coming seed crisis with the loss of biodiversity in our varieties of fruits and vegetables. There are serious threats to that biodiversity as mega-corporations genetically modify plants and are allowed to patent and own plant varieties. They are getting dangerous control of our food supply. Rating: low +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
The international diversity of seeds almost by itself saves us from having famine. The Irish potato blight happened because the Irish depended so much on one variety of potato. When it was hit with fungus, the fields of potato essential to the local diet became useless mush. When the famine was over, there were two million people no longer there. In about even numbers a million had migrated to elsewhere and a million remained at home and died of starvation. There was just not another variety of potato to replace the one they had lost. Plant diversity is extremely important. Our modern society is also dependent on fewer and fewer varieties of plants. For each 25 varieties of vegetable seed alive at the beginning of the last century, only one is left alive. The multiplicity of vegetable varieties is being lost.
SEED: THE UNTOLD STORY is a report on why the many vegetable seed varieties are so important to us and an account of the loss of diversity, who is working to save seed, and what threats are sweeping down on important crops from climate change, genetic modification, and the legal recognition of plant genetic modification and patenting. Mega-corporations like Bayer and Monsanto control the seed crop and pesticides required to be used with the genetically modified crops so that the source of seeds cannot be from the previous year's crop and has to be from the corporation.
Perhaps the narrative could have used some fine-tuning. The filmmakers start with lore of the seeds and of seed culture. They seem overly concerned with creating a pretty film. and they wait too long to get to the most important message, (My wife was waiting to hear about the agricultural crisis, but when the on- screen experts started having people say that the seed is their grandfather she decided instead to go read.) Anthropomorphizing the spirit of the corn seems to me to be of less value than presenting a serious account of the problem. The film should earlier get to a serious and straightforward account of the danger to the food supply. The extent of the problem is discussed in interviews with scientists, farmers, native Americans, and even Jane Goodall. The film is directed by Jon Betz and Taggart Siegel, respectively the producer and director of QUEEN OF THE SUN: WHAT ARE THE BEES TELLING US? That is a beautiful and colorful film that also takes a while to get to its most important subject message. Betz and Siegel see a bleak future with no bees to pollinate plants and without necessary seed varieties.
SEED includes accounts of Monsanto, these days a biotech company that is frequently in court as defendant or plaintiff against farmers. The film gives an account of one farmer who was sued by that company because his crop had been contaminated with a leak of Monsanto's genetically modified seed that had been made resistant to Monsanto's Roundup herbicide.
SEED: THE UNTOLD STORY, once it gets to the point, certainly gives and effective case that we are losing control of food production around the world. The filmmakers make a case for how serious the threat is of corporations like Monsanto getting control of our crops. I rate SEED: THE UNTOLD STORY a low +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10. SEED will open in New York on September 23 and Los Angeles on September 30.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5971724/combined
What others are saying: https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/seed_the_untold_story
1493: UNCOVERING THE NEW WORLD COLUMBUS CREATED by Charles C. Mann (book review by Greg Frederick):
If you would like to understand more about how the World we live in came to be then this might be the book for you. Charles Mann who also wrote the well received book, 1491: NEW REVELATIONS OF THE AMERICAS BEFORE COLUMBUS, followed up that book with 1493: UNCOVERING THE NEW WORLD COLUMBUS CREATED, which explores the changes that occurred after Columbus arrived in the Americas. The world-sweeping changes are so immense and numerous that actually one book can barely contain all of the information.
Plants like potatoes, corn, sweet potatoes, tomatoes and many others which previously were only known in the Americas were now being grown in other parts of the World after Columbus's voyages. The potato helped to prevent the frequent occurrences of famine in Europe which occurred before Columbus. A diet consisting of potatoes, milk, and butter could provide most of the sustenance needed for the average person in Europe. Potatoes mature faster then grain crops therefore two plantings of potatoes could be grown in one season. And because they grow underground supported by the earth they can become quite large. Irish peasants would live on a diet that consisted mainly of potatoes.
Of course, the exchange of plants and animals that happened after Columbus had good and sometimes bad effects. Diseases like measles, smallpox, flu, and malaria did not exist in the Americas before Columbus but became widespread in the Americas after his voyages. These and other diseases killed off large segments of the American Indian population. When colonists traveled beyond the Appalachian Mountains they would find empty Indian villages because the entire tribe was killed by a European disease that had infected them. The disease had preceded the frontiersman. The Indians had no natural immunity to a disease that their systems had not ever encountered until the recent settlement of Europeans. After malaria came to the Americas from Europe and Africa both Europeans, and American Indians were dying in record numbers in the hot swamp infested regions of southern North America, Central America and South America. Africans were then brought in ever-increasing numbers as slaves to the Americas since they could tolerate malaria better then other races. This was because Africans were surrounded by the deadliest forms of malaria for generations and had developed a resistance to it.
So if you like history this book is a good one. Especially since the author has the ability to educate but not bore you. [-gf]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
A couple of weeks ago I reported that Ellen Datlow mentioned that there were at least ten original Lovecraft-inspired anthologies in the last year. THE MAMMOTH BOOK OF CTHULHU edited by Paula Guran (ISBN 978-0-7624-5620-8) is one of them. I had read one of its stories, "Those Who Watch" by Ruthanna Emrys, on tor.com, and really enjoyed it, so I checked the entire volume out of the library. (Yes, I know authors would prefer I buy the book, but one cannot buy everything.)
As with most anthologies, some stories are more appealing/rewarding than others. In addition to the Emrys, I enjoyed "The Cthulhu Navy Wife" by Sandra McDonald, which should appeal to anyone from a military family. And John Shirley's "Just Beyond the Trailer Park" is a different perspective on the horrors of Lovecraft's mythos.
The only problem I have is whether I should recommend this instead of any of the other similar anthologies. The best I can do is to say that if you can get this from the library, it is certainly worth giving it a try.
JEWS, SLAVES, AND THE SLAVE TRADE: SETTING THE RECORD STRAIGHT by Eli Faber (ISBN 978-0-8147-2638-9) is an extreme example of "annotations" gone wild. It is 366 pages long (plus 17 pages of introductory lists, acknowledgements, etc.). Of that, 146 pages (37%) are text, 108 pages (28%) are appendices, 76 pages (20%) are footnotes, and 46 pages (12%) are bibliographies, indices, etc. True, it is published by an academic press, and as is common with academic books, has no price printed on the jacket flap; the NYU Press site has $89 for the hardback and $27 for the paperback.
The conclusion Faber drew was that Jews were represented in the population of slave traders and slave owners (in English, Dutch, and Portuguese countries and colonies) in about the same proportion as Jews were in the general population. I would note, however, that the number were so small as to make any definite conclusions impossible--when you are talking about 3 families out of 102 or some such, the margin of error is significant. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper email@example.com Quote of the Week: In the U.S. you have to be a deviant or exist in extreme boredom... Make no mistake; all intellectuals are deviants in the U.S. --William BurroughsTweet
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