Archive for the ‘TV/Movies’ Category

You are not worthy …

November 6, 2014

So, a friend of mine sent me a link to this preview of Age of Ultron. It starts with a scene where all of the Avengers are sitting around, and then they all try to lift Thor’s hammer, which can only be lifted by someone who’s worthy. Everyone who tries fails … including Captain America. Now, initially this bugged me a little bit because, in comics canon, Cap is one of the heroes who can indeed wield it (see this description). But this was a bit of a throwaway scene before introducing the serious issue (at least by the video) and the movies don’t have to stick to comics canon, so that’s not that big a deal. But the more I thought about it, the more it bugged me, and I eventually realized that that was because the scene would have completely destroyed the characterization of both Cap and Thor as established in the movies.

Let’s start with Captain America … in fact, the movie Captain America. Why was it that Erskine pushed for the 98 pound weakling Steve Rogers over all of the other candidates? Why did Erskine think that Rogers could actually use the serum without going nuts like so many of the others did? What was it that Erskine say in Rogers that he didn’t see in any of the other candidates? His internal character. Steve Rogers was, without the serum, a generally good and virtuous person. And Erskine said that the serum enhanced what you already had, so bad qualities were magnified … but so were good qualities. So taking the serum should have made Cap a better person, and in fact almost a paragon of virtue. So would such a paragon not be worthy of wielding the hammer? Especially since Thor isn’t, in fact, that sort of paragon?

That’s the real issue here: based on their movie characterizations, there is no way that Cap is less worthy — on the basis of character — than Thor is. Cap may have changed through his movies, but Thor is still deeply flawed, as evidenced by his reaction to the others not being able to lift the hammer. Cap has already learned the lessons that Thor needed to learn in order to be worthy of the hammer. So in order to have Cap not being worthy while Thor still is make sense, there are really only two ways to go: either Stark is right that the hammer really is tied to Thor as a person — which makes the statement misleading and hurts the implication that Thor needs to prove himself or someone else might — or it’s judging on different criteria than overall character, which would need to be explained and is difficult to pull off.

So, as one part of a joke scene, it has rather startling implications. It probably would have been better to have Cap refuse to try instead of Black Widow … unless you use Cap trying to demonstrate something. And to do that, I suggest that Cap didn’t fail to lift the hammer because he wasn’t worthy, but because once he clearly knew that he could lift it — with that first attempt — he, himself, refused to wield it and pretended that he couldn’t. Why would he do this? Because he didn’t know what would happen to Thor if he actually took it up. Would Thor lose his powers? Would they be able to share it? Doing so could greatly impact Thor’s life, and all Cap would get out of it is avoiding looking “unworthy” to Thor and the others, and access to some power. Since Cap wasn’t even interested in power when he joined the Super Soldier program, it’s perfectly consistent with his character that getting the power of Thor wouldn’t really interest him, and that he’d be able to ignore what the others thought of his worthiness, and didn’t want to impact Thor that way. This is why his saying “No, thanks” works better than Widow’s, since these sorts of things are in his character.

But doing it this way could lead to — and I hope things do work out that way — a really cool later scene. We’re at the climax of the movie (or movies, I guess). Ultron is about to win. Thor is out. Cap needs a weapon. His shield isn’t handy, but Mjolnir is. He hesitates for a second, grabs it, and uses it. He wins the day (or at least the moment). Thor recovers and sees him holding it. The following conversation happens:

Thor (a little regretfully, perhaps): So you’re worthy now.
Cap: I was worthy then.
Thor: But then why …?
Cap: You being the only one able to wield it meant the world to you. I didn’t want to take that away.
Thor: And now?
Cap: It meant the world to everyone else.

I’m not sure if this is where they’re going. I hope something like this is where they’re going, because if not this manages to wipe out their own characterizations in a really bad way … over a silly, fun, little scene. Well, you’d have to give them credit for efficiency [grin].

The Artistic Problem with Copyright …

September 1, 2014

So, when I was looking for as many episodes of “Just the Ten of Us” as I could find and enjoying all of them, and also reading comments people made about the show, and noting the critical reception that it received — which was generally good — and that it was a show cut short way before its time for business reasons that didn’t include “its ratings are too low”, a real problem with copyright became evident to me. See, from what I read Warner Brothers, who controls the rights to the show, were fairly aggressive in getting videos that were posted of the show removed from youtube through copyright appeals. Which is their right. But the problem is this: without that … no one can watch the show. There are no DVD releases of the show, and no indication that there were ever be DVD releases of the show. The cable channels that show old shows that are syndicated seem to have no interest in showing it (or, well, anything beyond a few really, really popular shows, which is another problem). Warner Brothers doesn’t seem to have any way for people who would like to watch the show and who might well be willing to pay for that privilege to actually do that.

The problem is that, in general, works like this are always in at least some sense artistic works. Acting and writing, even cheap and cheesy sitcoms, is art. Sure, the primary purpose of the work is to make money — which would make it not really “art” by my definition — but there’s no doubt that it has artistic elements, at least, in the sense that the writing is trying to tell a story and elicit certain emotions and the acting is trying to do the same thing. And when a work is simply no longer available anymore, all of that is lost. Whether worthy of praise or worthy of derision, you simply don’t get it anymore. You can’t use it to compare generations and how people thought, you can’t use it to trace progressions of, say, sitcoms from that time to now, you can’t use it to point out things that it might have done that more shows could use today … it’s gone. It’d be like refusing to allow even libraries to loan out books that are out of print, no matter how classic they might have been if they aren’t deemed “popular” enough.

Now, I completely understand the desire of companies to preserve their ability to make money on the products they own, and support them in doing so. But this always fails in cases where the product simply isn’t available for sale. If the company isn’t willing to sell me the product if I was willing to pay for it, on what grounds can they complain if I try to get it in any way possible, even if that means that I get it for free? Especially in relation to youtube videos, as almost everyone will still prefer it as a download or a DVD than as a youtube video. The focus on preserving their ability to make money even when they aren’t making money on the product and are unwilling to try to make money on the product only makes it so that some really good shows, games, and so on are lost. That seems to be somewhat tragic, and certainly frustrating.

As an aside, it seems cosmically unjust that “Pink Lady and Jeff” got a DVD release, and “Just the Ten of Us” likely never will.

A Perfect Ten

August 31, 2014

So, as as I recently noted, I’ve just gotten cable again. So I was home early and started watching some of the sitcoms that I used to watch as a kid, like “Full House”, “Who’s the Boss?” and “Growing Pains”. However, the episodes of “Growing Pains” that I watched happened to reference a sitcom that I definitely remember fondly “Just the Ten of Us”. Since that show isn’t running anywhere, I decided to search on the Internet to see if I could see any episodes of it. Most of them aren’t, but I did manage to find some of them and decided that, yes, I still really like that show.

The show was about an explicitly Catholic family — which was referenced a number of times during the show — that had eight children, and was headed by a high school football coach father and a stay-at-home mother. As stated, religion was referenced, but it was both mocked at times but also treated reasonably seriously; the mother and eldest daughter were both very religious, and this wasn’t generally presented as an odd or a bad thing (although the eldest daughter, in true sitcom fashion, took it to extremes). The cast was predominantly female, and that gave the show, in my opinion, its greatest strengths. Sure, it had a number of attractive female characters, as the four oldest children were female teenagers — whose actresses were all older than their ages in the show, in true sitcom fashion; the youngest of the four was actually played by one of the oldest actresses — which is what the show is probably best remembered for, especially once the show formed the band “The Lubbock Babes” where they sang old songs in attractive outfits. But that’s actually not the strength I mean. The strength it had is that by not having an overly mixed cast they could focus — in typical sitcom fashion — on building a range of “stereotypical” female characters, and then putting them together and letting that drive the storylines and interactions. So, a bit like the mix in “Sailor Moon” except the differences between the girls drove the comedy and the storylines, which didn’t happen as often in “Sailor Moon”.

The other thing is that despite them being stereotypical, they all were, in fact, teenage girls, and thus often a mass of contradictions as they tried to figure just how all of this stuff was supposed to work anyway. So, for example, Marie was the excessively religious, pious, and “good” sister … who still at times was interested in the more salacious details of what her less “repressed” sisters were up up, while at times being excessively judgemental about it. This being a sitcom, depending in the episode she was either more “trampy” or more judgemental and offended by that sort of thing, but her character is at its best when her interest is more against her better judgement than something that she accepts.

Ultimately, it was a very clever show, and it’s a shame that it effectively only got two full seasons.

Epic …

March 4, 2014

So, soon I’ll finally get my hands on the so-called “Epic” series of Battlestar Galactica … the original series (not 1980). When I first started shifting over to watching DVDs almost all of the time, I was disappointed that all of the versions of the original series were out of stock, and remained that way for a long period of time. However, I read that an important anniversary was coming up, and figured that they’d re-release it at that time … and, sure enough, they did. So I ordered it.

Interestingly, at about the same time — it actually started last year — DVDs are being released covering off the old Yu-gi-oh! anime/cartoon series (the dub), and I’ve been picking those up when I come across them. I still actually quite like it, mostly because the duels — even if not accurate to the card game itself — build well and dramatically. I finished off the latest one — Battle City — this weekend so that I could free up my schedule to watch Battlestar Galactica when I get it.

The Lost Mary Jane: Spider-man Casting and Looks in Movies

December 30, 2013

So, P.Z. Myers has finally noticed a controversy over a potential casting of Mary Jane in the next Spider-man movie, which from what I’m reading there has been dropped because they aren’t going to put Mary Jane in that movie. Anyway, Myers is going gung-ho over comic book fans being “sexist scum” (his words from the title) because many of them are saying that the actress tapped to play Mary Jane — Shailene Woodley — isn’t sexy enough for the role. (BTW, isn’t it a bit problematic that he refers to her as the “actor” in his post).

Anyway, hearing about this for the first time (I don’t tend to keep up with movies and didn’t like the first movie of that incarnation all that much), and looking at the images of the actress, I have to say that … I agree with those fans. As summarized in screechymonkey’s comment, Mary Jane Watson, as a character, has always been portrayed as sexy and fiery in terms of looks, at least in the mainline comic series (Ultimate has done that differently). I was worried that Kristen Dunst wouldn’t be “hot” enough to play Mary Jane in the Sam Raimi trilogy, and was pleasantly surprised when, in my opinion, she was. Woodley is definitely attractive, but she’s very pretty and very “cute”. She isn’t “hot” in the sense of being sexy, so her looks naturally bias her towards cute characters, girl-next-door characters, and more particularly “every person” characters. She’s best suited for roles, then, in my opinion, where you really have to believe that you could meet her on the street, that women could think that overall she could be them and men think that they might see her on the street.

Now, I have little doubt that Woodley can pull off sexy if she tried really hard. But even looking at the red carpet photos, her natural look is pretty rather than sexy, and that likely would always bleed through. But Mary Jane, in the main universe, was someone who’s natural look was sexy, where even dressed down the sexiness was still there. Mary Jane, dressed down, was still sexy. Woodley, dressed up, would still be cute. So Woodley’s looks, naturally, work against that sort of character.

Which, then, reveals the fear of fans, because with that contrast the fear is that either they’ll try to force Woodley into that type of role/image and fail at it, hurting our suspension of disbelief — ie everyone will wonder at her being treated as being so incredibly sexy when what we see on the screen isn’t — or that they’ll change the character into a girl next door rather than what she was. And comic book fans don’t like it when you fundamentally change the characters they love, which isn’t necessarily unreasonable. I know it annoys me when a reboot or reimagining of a series changes the things I liked about the series or characters in the name of “modernizing” it, and it can seem like a betrayal to fans if you finally make a movie about one of their beloved characters … and turn the character into something that is that character in name only.

The same sort of considerations occurred in casting Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman in the upcoming Man of Steel 2. There was a lot of criticism over how slight she was, and that she didn’t look the part. And I can see the complaints. Wonder Woman is not the sort of character who fights by avoiding getting hit, but by standing in the front line as a “tank” and getting hit, taking hits for other heroes, and essentially winning fights by hitting them harder than they hit her. Thus, she really has to have a presence that says that she can take a hit and a lot of them without really flinching, and has to do that even when you compare her physically to Superman and Batman. If Batman looks more able to take a hit than Wonder Woman is, you’ve done bad casting. So either you introduce a contradiction between what the character looks like and what they do and how they act and are treated on screen, or else you change how the character acts to make how they look match the character. Neither are good.

So, then, in general discussion over how an actor or actress looks are indeed important in considering the casting of a character, and so unlike as is asserted in the comments it shouldn’t just be about acting ability. There’s a lovely discussion about the Wonder Woman controversy and casting based on physicality here, which makes this excellent point:

We should campaign for realistically written, believable and compelling female characters played by actresses who can suitably represent them in every aspect of who the character is, not just one or the other. With so many actresses out there, we shouldn’t have to sacrifice acting skill for physical credibility, or vice versa.

So acting ability doesn’t trump the argument unless you argue that you can’t find a more muscular, taller, and more physically imposing actress who is also an equally skilled actress. If you indeed can, then it’s quite right to criticize the casting of someone who doesn’t look the part into the part. I’m quite sure that we could find an actress who fits a sexy Mary Jane better than Woodley does, if that’s what they’re going for.

Another problem with the casting, BTW, is that Mary Jane is the love of Peter’s life, and she’d be going up against Emma Stone directly, where you could see both of them in the same movie. Emma Stone is just far more attractive than Woodley is, in pretty much all ways. Not only is Stone sexier than Woodley is, she’s also prettier/cuter than Woodley is. The risk with this Gwen Stacey/Mary Jane Watson competition which canonically ends with Gwen Stacey’s death is that we want this to end with Mary Jane being considered the love of Peter’s life, and not just the woman he settled for because Gwen died. If we compare these two actresses in term of looks, Mary Jane loses. And considering that the first movie gave Gwen a very ideal personality for Peter, it’ll be hard to make Mary Jane the better woman for Peter without derailing at least one of the three characters. In the comics, this worked better because there was a lot of time between Gwen’s death and Mary Jane’s introduction, and they could string the relationship out more, and Peter had the chance to date other women as well, which pushes Gwen into the background. The movie series is not going to have that time. Making it feel like the main canonical woman of Peter’s dreams is his second choice is not a good thing, as I’ve briefly mentioned before.

Now, recall at the beginning of the post I said that I find Woodley attractive. But a lot of the comments about her are saying that she’s ugly. Why are people saying that, which I consider to be uncalled for? I have two theories:

1) It’s standard Internet overstatement rhetoric: instead of saying that a movie was mediocre you say it sucked, instead of saying that an actress is average you say she’s ugly, and so on and so forth.

2) Tying back to something I’ve talked about before, they are conflating their personal standard of attractiveness with an overall or objective view of attractiveness. I can certainly see why some people wouldn’t find Woodley’s looks appealing to them. If they prefer that sexier look and attitude, then she’s going to leave them cold. I happen to like prettier looks, and so at the very least won’t find her unappealing. Objectively, she’s not ugly and is attractive, but objectively she’s also not the top of the list either. So the people who will find her incredibly attractive are those that happen to like the sort of look that she naturally has, and if you don’t like that look you may not find her attractive at all. And so the comments about ugly, under this, seem to express more that they don’t find her attractive, and think she should be.

Now, in discussing how well she’d fit the role I think calling her ugly is going way too far, and that the comments should focus more on how she doesn’t have the right sort of attractiveness for the role. But I consider those comment more a sign of the mean-spiritedness of the Internet rather than a sign of sexism. Judging her by her looks when her looks wouldn’t be relevant would be a sign of sexism … but her looks are relevant to the roll, and so that part isn’t sexist. So the meanness is, to me, just general meanness and not sexist in and of itself, and the part that would actually be sexist isn’t because looks can indeed and should be relevant to casting decisions.

Prime Directive Analysis: Dear Doctor and Observer Effect

December 25, 2013

Long time readers of this blog shouldn’t be surprised by my revealing that I really like the stuff that Chuck Sonnenberg is doing over at sfdebris. While some of the shows he does don’t appeal to me, I particularly like the Star Trek reviews … even though, sometimes, I don’t agree with all of his interpretations.

He’s talked a lot about the Prime Directive, and even did a full video analyzing it. And while I don’t think that everything he says about it is wrong, I think there’s a fundamental misunderstanding in his analysis that means that he’s treating it unfairly … or, rather, that he ends up treating the characters who support it unfairly based on that misunderstanding. In thinking about this in my spare time — my brain doesn’t like to shut off, sometimes even when I’m trying to sleep, which as you might imagine would be really, really annoying — I ended up coming up with ideas for a four post series starting from Chuck’s analysis and videos to describe how I think the Prime Directive should be viewed.

This, then, is that series. The first post, this one, will look at “Dear Doctor” and “Observer Effect”, which Chuck tends to compare, and will argue that they aren’t that comparable and that neither really do reflect a proper Prime Directive example. The second will up the geek quotient by looking at “Pen Pals” and using AD&D morality to better reflect the arguments that are going on there. The third will look at “First Contact” (the episode) and discuss why warp capability is such an important and not at all arbitrary dividing line. Finally, all of this will come together to examine “Time and Again” and ask if being saved from death really is better than any other possible unknown alternative.

And now, the disclaimers. First, as Chuck says, this is just my opinion. It’s an evidenced and argued opinion, and since I do philosophy I do think that there’s a right answer and that this is the right one. But this isn’t something given from on high or proven by strictly deductive logic. There’s a lot of interpretation going on, and other people will have different interpretations. While I don’t want to fall back on “You can have whatever opinion you want” because I do think there are better and worse and more right and less right interpretations, what I want to highlight is that all of this is debatable, which means that if you think I’m getting something wrong that’s something we can debate, respectfully. We may never be able to convince the other, but we should at least debate it like reasonable people. Second, Voyageur and Enterprise are the two series that I don’t own and have never watched, and so all of my understanding of the plot and details of episodes from those series come from Chuck’s videos themselves. Thus, I might be getting things wrong, or leaving things out that are important. Finally, any discussion of Chuck’s views are my assimilated impressions across all the videos and the analysis itself, but I might be misinterpreting him, filtering his views through other views I’ve come across, or just plain forgetting things he’s said that would change the interpretation. I implore you, then, to watch any relevant videos yourselves, not just because they are very entertaining, but also to ensure that your take on them is the same as mine.

And with all of that out of the way, my analysis of “Dear Doctor” and “Observer Effect”.

The basic plot of “Dear Doctor” is this: a race called the Valkanians arrive at Enterprise in a pre-warp ship, and plead for its help. It turns out that there’s some kind of disease on their planet that’s killing them, and they believe that in a short amount of time it will wipe all of them out. The Enterprise heads to the planet, only to discover that there is another race on that planet called the Menk who are mentally behind the Valkanians and who are immune to the disease. The Valkanians and the Menk live together in harmony, even though the Valkanians tend to treat them in a way that leaves them dependent on the Valkanians. Ultimately, Phlox finds a cure, but notes that the problem seems to be genetic and that the Valkanians are a genetic dead end and that, more importantly, their continued existence is getting in the way of the evolution of the Menk. He insists that the right thing to do is to not help the Valkanians. Archer resists at first, but at the end of the episode declares that they didn’t come out here to play God and so that he won’t give them the cure, although he won’t stop them from finding someone else to give them the cure either.

Chuck interprets this as Archer taking on the big Prime Directive principle: we shouldn’t save this society from death because we don’t know what impact it will have. This is despite it being made clear in the beginning — at least from the Memory Alpha summary — that the risk of cultural contamination is pretty low. Chuck points out that what they have — as even Phlox admits — is a remarkably harmonious society where the two groups get along quite well, even when the dominant group is sick and the subordinate group isn’t, which might normally spawn violence and suspicion against the subordinate group. So he sees no reason to not help the Valkanians, and that justifying it on the basis that you don’t know what the consequences will be just ends up justifying not helping anyone ever. No one holds that, and so it’s not an excuse here either.

I want to analyze this from Archer’s perspective, which lets me ignore any potential problems with the interpretation of evolution. From Archer’s perspective, the person who really should know what the case is here is telling him that he has a choice: let the Valkanians die out or doom the Menk to this sort of mental development forever. He can question it — and does in the episode — but at the end of the day any real denial of the facts as Phlox presents them to him would be him putting is own personal emotional feeling over the cold, hard, scientific facts as presenting by a scientific expert in the field. Thus, Archer couldn’t reasonably use any doubts he has over the facts to make his decision, even if Phlox ultimately is wrong about it. So whether Phlox is right or wrong isn’t relevant to Archer making his decision. And what I will argue is that Archer is not choosing to do nothing based on not knowing what might happen if he interferes, but is instead making his choice based on knowing full well what the consequences will be, but being unable and unwilling to decide which set should come into existence.

To Archer, the situation is this: if he gives the Valkanians the cure, the Menk will never advance beyond their current mental development, but if he doesn’t, the Valkanians will almost certainly die. If you think that it is better for the Menk to live as they do than it is for an entire species to die off, the choice will be easy for you: save the Valkanians. After all, the Menk don’t have that bad a life; they aren’t really oppressed, get whatever they need, and aren’t being abused or slaughtered by the Valkanians. But recall that the Federation has a philosophy of self-improvement and self-development, and that this is considered to be the highest goal in life for them. It is not unreasonable, then, for people from the Federation to think that self-development is as important if not more important than life itself, and that it might be better to die than to be stuck at the level of the Menk. Let’s put side whether you think this reasonable or not, and just examine it as something that someone could reasonably believe. So, if that’s the case, we can see that Archer would see both sides as at least being arguably unacceptable and arguably equally unacceptable. Given the choice, Archer would see either condition or consequence as being unacceptable, and now he’s forced into a situation where he has to choose one or the other. To him, then, either choice has a nasty moral consequence, one that he doesn’t want to live with.

So … he chooses not to choose. Essentially, his “We didn’t come here to play God” line is that he didn’t come out there to make these sorts of decisions for other cultures, to determine their fates. That’s not his job; that’s their job. But because of the state the Menk are in, they themselves couldn’t choose to say “We’ll give up self-development to let the Valkanians live”, and the Valkanians can’t make that decision for the Menk because the Valkanians have a strong interest in choosing the negative option for the Menk. So, to paraphrase Jeffrey Sinclair, Archer has to be the advocate for the Menk because no one else can. He could choose what might seem like the most moral option — give up development to save the lives of the Valkanians — but if he does that he is choosing that life for them even if they wouldn’t choose it for themselves. And he’s not comfortable doing that. But he’s also not comfortable outright choosing the Menk over the Valkanians. So he decides to not choose, and let nature or fate take its course. It’s not his place to decide what life — or lack of it — these groups will have.

Now, what he forgets is what is commonly forgotten: choosing not to choose is still a choice. He effectively chooses the Menk over the Valkanians because that’s what will happen if nature takes its course, and he knows that. So if you can criticize him for anything, it’s cowardice: he’s not willing to actually make the choice based on his principles, but is instead allowing nature to decide for him, even if that decision is not the decision he would make based on his own principles. But the counter is that his doing so is indeed playing God, is his determining what course this society will take and what life these people will have — Menk and Valkanian — and that’s not something he has the moral authority to do. Even if he effectively chooses one over the other by not choosing, he simply doesn’t have the moral authority to make the choice. Thus, he is making his non-choice in full knowledge and consideration of the consequences, and it is the consequences themselves that force his non-choice. Thus, he isn’t doing it because he doesn’t know what the consequences will be, but because he does and can’t choose between them, which means that it doesn’t tie as directly to the Prime Directive. At best, it’s the “Don’t interfere in purely internal matters” part, but even that is shaky.

Chuck compares Archer’s decision in “Dear Doctor” to the actions of the Organians in “Observer Effect”, but I don’t think them the same at all. To summarize “Observer Effect”, Hoshi and Trip managed to pick up an illness on an away mission on some kind of trash planet, and there are two Organians observing them as the disease progresses by hopping in and out of the bodies of various crewmembers. They debate whether they should interfere, and one constantly espouses the idea that they shouldn’t interfere because they don’t know what the consequences will be, which is a direct link to the normal interpretation of the Prime Directive. Eventually, Archer debates with them over it, makes what seems to be a direct reference to his having had to make similar tough decisions in “Dear Doctor” — when his decision was, really, not to choose — and derides them over being heartless and wrong at least in part because they could have stopped the disease before they were infected at all. Eventually, the Organians bring Trip and Hoshi back to life and the disease on the planet is eliminated as any kind of threat.

Chuck uses this to argue that when Archer or members of his crew are likely to die, then he sees interference as a good thing, but when others are likely to die then it isn’t. That may be a valid interpretation of Archer, but it doesn’t follow from “Dear Doctor”, because “Dear Doctor” is, again, a case where interference had known negative consequences, or at least consequences that Archer could reasonably think negative. In “Observer Effect”, that’s not the case. At best, the Organians were simply arguing that some nebulous bad thing might happen if they interfered, but they didn’t have any specific consequence in mind. Archer did. Thus, Archer’s decision not to interfere is certainly more justifiable than that of the Organians, because he was forced to make a choice between two bad outcomes, while the Organians only had a vague “We shouldn’t interfere” idea to appeal to.

But note that I think that even the Organians aren’t a good representation of the Prime Directive here. They constantly compare the reactions of the humans to those of other species, and the first few times through the videos I never got that they weren’t comparing the reactions of the humans to those of the other species in similar circumstances, but were comparing the reactions in the exact same circumstances. Meaning, other species landing on this very planet and contracting this very disease. Which always kills at least some people on the ship and might kill all of them. And the Organians couldn’t be bothered to even put up a warning or actually just eliminate the source of the disease, which would have had no impact on any culture or society or had any real consequences whatsoever. Surely no one thinks that if the Federation came across a disease on a planet that they could then cure that they wouldn’t even put up a warning buoy. In fact, they’d be far more likely to simply eliminate it from the planet if they could do so without causing known harm. So why don’t the Organians do this? Well, they come across as treating the people like lab rats, caring more about seeing how they react and worrying about losing this wonderful research opportunity than about them as sentient beings at all. In general, those in the Federation do care about those that will die, and invoke the “We don’t know the consequences” as an argument in order to reveal their feelings that the interference might make things worse. At worst, then, the Federation may take the Prime Directive too dogmatically, but they don’t use it to justify ongoing research projects. The Organians, on the other had, seem to.

We will get into whether the Prime Directive, by TNG time, has turned into a simple dogmatic principle in later posts, but to summarize this one the Prime Directive doesn’t apply to “Dear Doctor” because the consequences are known and it’s a completely different moral principle that’s at work here, while the Organians in “Observer Effect” are closer to it but still violate its intentions, seemingly willingly.

Agents of SHIELD …

October 23, 2013

So, I’ve been watching “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” on Tuesdays, mostly because I’m a huge Marvel fan and did really like “The Avengers” and, surprisingly, the “Thor” movie (I’m still a bit lukewarm to the “Iron Man” movies). Unfortunately, so far I’ve seen 4 out of the 5 episodes — I caught this week’s episode, but missed last week’s — and have been disappointed. I joked that, similar to Battlestar Galactica and Farscape, if it wasn’t for Ming-Na Wen … and that’s actually because not only do I like the actress, I actually really like the character and wish she had a more prominent role, especially since the main focus characters seem to be Wade and Skye, and I don’t find either of them interesting.

I’m going to talk about the series and especially the latest episode in more detail, which will contain spoilers, and so for the first time ever I’m going to try to introduce a fold! Let’s see how that works …

(more…)

Smallville: They Should Have Kept Gina.

August 23, 2013

I’m watching Smallville again, and am again right at the end of Season 7 and the beginning of Season 8, and the end of Season 7 reminded just how much better it would have been if they had never introduced Tess Mercer to replace Lex Luthor, but instead had simply not killed off Gina at the end of Season 7. Everything that they had in Tess Mercer they had in her: she was only his assistant, and so all of the plot lines about her not being considered qualified to run Luthorcorp were valid, she had been involved with Lex in some of his dirtiest dealings and so was certainly trusted by him, she had the undercurrent of being in love with Lex, she was demonstrated to be absolutely ruthless and so was already established as being a threat, her background was vague enough that if they really, really, really had to do the link to Green Arrow — and I personally think that was a really bad idea — they could have done it, and since we had already been exposed to her it would have made for an easier transition from the old main villain to the new one. Add to that that Gina’s death was for the most part absolutely pointless and utterly unnecessary to most of the plot, and that even with that scene they could have inserted some kind of last minute save that could have also resulted in her losing her memory of who the Traveller was, and it smacks of lost potential.

And one thing that strikes me about Season 7 is that there was a lot of lost potential in it, sacrificed in an attempt, it seems, to make things seem more serious and to promote Lex becoming more villainous. The death of Julian is a prime example of that, as is the death of Patricia Swann, as is the death of Gina. None of them were necessary and all of them squander what could have been good plotlines. Having Julian as a naive intermediary between Lionel and Lex would have been a nice development, and even though the ending harkened back to Lex handling a similar situation differently (when Lex was the naive one to trust his brother, kinda), it wasted a long set-up with Julian and his relationship with Lois. Maybe he wasn’t really panning out to the audience at the time — he was kinda annoying to me as well — but because of the set-up the ending just seems to make it worse: focus on a character, interweave him, and then ditch him unceremoniously with a slightly out-of-character move from Lex, who had always tended to be focused on more subtle means first before rsorting to outright violence … just like Lionel. The same thing applies to the death of Patricia Swann. She was an interesting character who could have brought so much more to the table than merely being the person who delivered the plot MacGuffin and died. I was heartened by the hints that she was going to get involved in the story and disappointed with her, again, unceremonious death.

Not only did they waste good characters, the latter two really hurt Lex as a villain, turning him into more of a thug than a Mastermind/Chessmaster, someone who’s first answer is to kill opponents rather than co-opt them into doing his will. And the one that he does co-opt is Jimmy Olsen, who’s not much of a threat. Seeing Lex manipulate major players would establish his credibility as a thinking villain, especially since against Clark Kent/Superman brute force isn’t going to be all that effective. So, Lex’s methods in Season 7 tend to be crude, direct, and brutal, far more so than his methods in previous seasons and making him out to be a far inferior Chessmaster when compared to Lionel … who, don’t get me wrong, was indeed more than willing to kill as well, but was more subtle and had more pinache about it, and also seemed to be almost disappointed when he had to resort to those sorts of crude methods. Lex seems to jump to them first, which is disappointing, especially since Lex Luthor was an incredibly good villain in the previous seasons.

To return to the original topic, Gina could have provided a more brutal villain by combining her ruthlessness, her anger and the fact that she was just not the sort of Chessmaster that the Luthers were, without derailing a character to do so, or introducing a new character that no one knew or cared about to try to fill a void that was already going to be difficult to fill. That she wasn’t the villain Lex was not only would be understandable and expected, but could have worked into her story arc. Keeping Patricia Swann around would have allowed her to step into Tess’ more heroic role and allowed us to keep Gina as a more pure villain, and then Seasons 8 and onward could have set up a subplot of villainy where the main, head-to-head battles could have been between Swann and Gina, an intellectual and ruthless “catfight” to replace the Lex/Clark or Lex/Lionel showdowns, while still heavily involving Clark, Chloe and the others because all of the fighting is, in fact, over Clark, and the story that he presents. I think having two strong, capable women doing the at least public competing would make for a nice change, and those two characters — and actresses — could have pulled it off well.

And then we wouldn’t have had to have lines like Tess insisting that the desk was Lex’s be establishing lines, as opposed to being simple reflections of character traits that we already knew about. If Gina had been in that scene (from the Season 8 premiere), you could have seen the conflict in her from the right context: Gina wanting the power and control, but not wanting to supplant Lex and desperately wanting him to be alive. With Tess, we aren’t sure what that means, because the line is supposed to help us learn about the character. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it would have been so much better if we hadn’t had to learn about that character at all.

I Watched Dark Shadows Until They Played Dead …

May 20, 2013

So, after starting it at the end of January, I finally finished “Dark Shadows” … the complete original soap opera. I enjoyed it. There were some clunky storylines — I have to admit that I never liked the Pheonix storyline, that they did at least twice — but over all it’s a simple and reasonably enjoyable soap opera, perfect to watch while doing other things. The storylines were relatively simple, summarized well, and the characters were generally interesting. You can see not only where they got their inspiration from, but how they inspired others: the werewolf angle is similar to what you saw later in Buffy, and even the tormented vampire as a curse can been seen as an inspiration for Angel.

However, the show relied far too heavily on possession as a major plot point. Any plot point that is overused is problematic since instead of adding drama the audience starts to say “Again?!?”. I was feeling that way with a lot of their possession plots. And with the supposedly unpopular “Leviathan” story arc, the arc seemed to hint that Barnabas was possessed, and then that he wasn’t, but then didn’t really build up any kind of good motivation for him joining willingly, and this carried on throughout most of it: a need to have the people controlled by the Leviathans, and yet able to resist and act “normally” whenever they needed to. No wonder it was a bit unpopular, especially considering that it ran for a fair amount of time.

The biggest problem with the series for me, though, was David. It was clear that they were aiming for “Creepy Child” but instead got “Annoying Child”. The reason for this was that, in general, David was a complete jerk, taking after his father, it seems. But that works against the “Creepy Child” archetype. The Creepy Child is supposed to be incomprehensible, or at least capable of acting completely and totally out of character in a way that can be somewhat menacing. We’re supposed to wonder if they’re an innocent being influenced, or really evil, or something in between. But with David, we knew that he, say, locked Vicki in that room because he was mad at her and wanted to hurt her, and we knew that he was lying when he said he didn’t do it or didn’t know why he did it, because the series set it up that way. Thus, David came across as more of a sociopath/psychopath than as someone we were supposed to relate to, which made it very hard to relate to him when we needed to. Add to it that the actor playing him wasn’t a particularly good actor, and the character was just incredibly annoying … and yet played a very large role in a number of storylines.

Overall, though, it was a good series and it’s something that I will watch again. Just not this year [grin].

Movies March 6 …

March 7, 2013

So, finally, after taking a few weeks off I again wandered down the block to the video store and rented a couple of movies: “Date Night” and “Silent Hill: Revelation”.

Let’s start with “Date Night”. I had seen the ads for this movie a long time ago, and thought that it might be an interesting movie to watch when it came out on DVD. I’ve found Tina Fey entertaining in the past — although that was mostly from “Mean Girls”, watched when I had a free movie on VOD from signing up for cable — and while I didn’t find Steve Carrell all that entertaining in “The 40 Year Old Virgin” — or, in fact, the movie itself all that entertaining — he seemed mostly harmless to me, and so it seemed like it might be a good bet. And then, of course, I completely and totally forgot all about it … until yesterday.

Now, as seems to be the norm for me these days, I didn’t find the movie all that funny. Sure, it was aimed as being one of those “normal couple falls into madcap adventures” sorts of comedies, but for the most part the madcap adventures were pretty much the norm. Other movies, it seemed to me, had done similar things about as well. The most madcap of the madcap adventures was the car chase scene … and it was fairly standard, or at least it seemed that way to me. About the funniest part of the movie was a conversation between James Franco and Mila Kunis who played a rather shady couple who were arguing in the standard stereotypical old married couple fashion subbing in the shady terms, which was rather neat. But humour-wise, it really wasn’t that funny, at least to me.

That conversation I just mentioned, though, is one of the reasons I really enjoyed the movie, because to me the best part of the movie is the development of the Fosters, the everyday, average married couple going through a normal routine — that includes a regular date night — who start to wonder if, as the movie says, that they’re just really good roommates, and how things change as they go through this madcap adventure, finally ending with them realizing that, yes, they really do want each other. And the movie does a really good job at presenting them fairly even-handedly, with both of them having their faults and having their strengths. For the most part, we can easily see that these are two really nice people who treat each other well and care about each other, and that their complaints about each other are both somewhat valid and yet also not really serious. For example, it would have been easy to portray the husband as being the typical “avoid work and let the wife do it” type of husband, except that he really does show that he tries to help and she stops him because it’s easier for her, which he brings up when she talks about him not doing things, and she has to accept it. If there’s any inequity in this at all, it’s that he’s really so much nicer than she is: he goes to a book club full of women because she wants him to, and he actually reads the entire book when she doesn’t. He does it because it’s important to her. There’s no real scene like that for her in the movie, as far as I can tell, nothing that she does just because it’s important to him. Maybe the writers thought that if they didn’t make him so exceptionally nice — if a bit bumbling — that you’d get people thinking that maybe she is better off without him, and that would ruin the entire movie.

At the end of it all, you are supposed to feel that these people are a nice and evenly matched couple, and happy that they are together and stay together, and don’t really break apart throughout the entire movie. And, in my view, it succeeded, making it an entertaining watch.

Turning to “Silent Hill: Revelation”, I rented this movie because I have many of the games — although I haven’t finished one yet — and watched the first movie and liked it. “Revelation” would probably be better named “Silent Hill: Exposition”, because unlike other horror movies or even most survival horror games the creepy and somewhat gory horror and monster scenes are basically in there to satisfy your need for scares before moving you along to the next piece of plot exposition. The scenes are always short and always come after a bit of exposition telling you more about Silent Hill and what has happened. Most horror movies and games use exposition to explain just enough to you to get you to the next scary scene, and so have short scenes of exposition that lead you to a new monster, but that’s entirely reversed here. The monster scenes in general don’t even have a lot to do with the exposition you had, and so really do seem like “We probably should put some horror and gore in here just to keep the idea, you know, that this is a horror movie”. Which hurts it a bit, I think, because from what I’ve played and read, Silent Hill works better as psychological horror than as a gore fest, and while the gore isn’t all that heavy, there’s enough to distract from the psychological aspects, which aren’t played up much.

That being said, I think it really does try to capture and express the lore far better than the first movie did, which it can do because it does so much exposition. It’s at least roughly based on Silent Hill 3 — skipping over Silent Hill 2, but not in a way that invalidates it — and provides a bridge between what happened in Silent Hill to get us to this point. It also lays out a lot more of the lore, and also introduces the idea of there being multiple Silent Hills, and so allowing for it to include Silent Hill 2, The Room, and Shattered Memories at some point. It even makes a link to Homecoming right at the end, which even I smiled at despite only knowing about that game from a commentary by Shamus Young. Lorewise, it’s interesting, and personally I prefer the exposition to the monster fighting. And the final battle is, to me, brilliant in concept if a bit shaky in execution. For someone versed in the Silent Hill mythos, I think this should be a much more satisfying movie than Silent Hill, and in that way I like it better. So, also a very entertaining movie.

I can’t say that I’ll buy either of these movies, but I certainly enjoyed watching them, and stayed awake through all of them, which is rare for me.


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