The Olympics Opening Ceremony

So, this will be a shorter blog post–I’ve managed to get behind in my school work (what’s new?) and I need to use today to catch up–but I wanted to give a shout-out to the Olympics Opening Ceremony which I will hopefully watch tonight.  I really love the Olympics, but I never really get to see a whole lot of it.  I probably (still) won’t get to see many of the sporting events, but I almost always try to see the Opening Ceremonies, but we’ll see if that happens today.

I cut the cord a while back and the major disadvantage is trying to find live sporting events that are not on regular TV.  In this case, NBC in America is showing it on regular TV, but I won’t be where I can get to the TV easily and it is always a crapshoot as to whether NBC (& to be fair, other providers such as CBS and ABC) will allow people to watch content without a subscription/login.  NBC also streamed the Super Bowl without needing a login/subscription, so I’m hopeful they will stream this as well, but I haven’t actually investigated it yet.

Here’s hoping and I’ll keep my fingers crossed!  If not, I’ll just have to miss this Opening Ceremony and hope that I will be able to see the Opening Ceremony for the Summer 2020 Olympics.

Sidney
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Battlestar Galactica: Then and Now

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Battlestar Galactica TV Poster,

Battlestar Galactica: Then
I suppose this is my “when I was a child . . .” posting where I rant and rave about these “darn kids” and how the new generation is messing everything up.  It is isn’t really, but I do want to briefly talk about Battlestar Galactica (or BSG as it is referred to these days).  I am lucky enough to have seen the original as a child and (some) of the newer series (more on that below) as an adult and one can see how media can shift over a generation.  I love the idea of BSG.  Yes, it was inspired in that wave of “knock-offs” where TV execs of the time wanted a “Star Wars“-like show to capitalize on the popularity of the movie.  BSG was one of many such endeavors, but it stuck around because even though the stories are “hokey” by today’s standards, they still revealed a pathos and a sense of “fun” that was endemic in late 70s/early 80s TV.  This was the Sci-Fi equivalent to The Love BoatFantasy IslandQuincy M.E., Alice, and The Facts of Life to name a few.  Even though it was on in the early 80s, it was just before the “New Wave” of 80s show exemplified by Magnum P.I., and Miami Vice, both of which, while having fun plots, had a much harder edge to them at the time.  BSG‘s plots were mostly sci-fi in nature, but with a social tinge to them.  However, they were mostly about family (Boomer & Boxie) being the main giveaways.  They could go dark (I seem to remember a character died in the show), but for the most part they were fun stories that shows like Gene Roddenberry’s Andromeda harkened back to.

 

Battlestar-Galactica_Now_FriendlyFireGameCenter

Battlestar Galactic: Now
However, BSG’s new series was critically acclaimed and lauded as one of the best shows on TV.  I watched the Mini-Series and was fairly impressed.  I knew that they would update the themes and the like, so I wasn’t expecting a “saccharine” version of the original.  I think the mini-series was very well done.  I could have gone without the fascination behind Baltar’s sex life or the rumination on Religion and the “Sins of the Father” that they use as a theme for the show, but the science fictional story/set-up was great and the music was exceptional (still influencing sci-fi shows and games to this day).  However, when the actual series started and season 1 began, it went downhill from there with me.  The science fiction lessened and the social, political, and religious elements took forefront in the stories to such an extent that I was only able to last midway through the first season.  I would periodically check in on the show by checking out various odd episodes, but I was never able to get back into the series.  The science fiction, when they focused on that, was top-notch.  Seeing the Galactica plummet in the atmosphere of a planet as it gives aid before jumping back out again is one of the strongest examples of sci-fi I have ever seen on TV and is seared into my mind.  Yet, in many ways, it helped to usher in the whole GrimDark idea that shows like Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones took and ran with as there were many times when I saw Bad Things Happen to Good People on the show and while others might argue that is “sophisticated” and “realistic,” I argue that it is exactly the opposite, “churlish,” and in “poor taste.”

I happened to watch the Mini-Series again on Amazon Prime and was reminded of the potential that the show had–potential to really focus on the greatness of humanity.  While others will say that the potential was realized–to be fair, it has more Emmy wins than I even have publications–however, based on the way the original BSG fired my imagination as a child and helped to mold me into the reader/writer/lover of Sci-Fi that I am today, I can’t help but wonder it that is really true.

Sidney
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Star Trek Backwards–Finished Star Trek: The Next Generation

tngcrew

So, over Winter Break I finished quite a few Sci-Fi shows (series).  One of them was Star Trek: The Next Generation.  This one was my first Star Trek series that I watched and finished during its syndicated run.  I had seen episodes of the original Star Trek series (and really liked one in particular which I’ll talk more about when I watch the original series), but STNG was the first series that I was able to sit down and watch on a weekly basis.

Old School and New School
The show starts off quite a bit rougher than I remember.  I knew that Worf’s character underwent alterations as the show went on, but I hadn’t remembered how extensive those were in terms of both characterization as well as costuming.  It was almost jarring to watch the first season (and most of the 2nd) until the third and fourth seasons, where the show began to resemble what my (nostalgic) mind remembered.  I have to be honest, I really liked the “New School” (later seasons) quite a bit better than I did the “Old School” episodes (the earlier ones).  I found the stories to be more nuanced and sophisticated.  Many of my most favorite episodes, appeared in the later half of the shows run.  My favorite episode would probably be “Cause and Effect” (in Season 5) which is a “Looping” sci-fi story done right.  This would be followed closely behind by “Remember Me” in Season 4 which is a mystery in which Dr. Crusher must find out what happened to an old friend.

Science Fiction vs Social Stories
To me, STNG is at its best (I feel) when it deals with Science Fiction first and deals with Social Issues second.  While I have enjoyed some of the social issues that the show presents, such as the episode where women are dominant in the culture and men are striving for a more tolerant society, I feel that the stories that deal explicitly with some science concept–even if it is based on “technobabble”–are the much stronger stories because they are what George Scithers from the book On Writing Science Fiction says is the purpose of science fiction: real people dealing with real problems involving science.  This is what truly sticks out in my head and something that I try to remember when writing my stories.  It is, in fact, one of the reasons I couldn’t get into the new Battlestar Galactica (I’ll talk about this in another blog post) fully and dropped out midway through the first season.  When BSG focuses on its science fictional plots, it was one of the best series out there, but too often, the stories (I feel) were weighed down with lengthly polemics on religion, politics, and the soul.  These are questions better left to the “subplot” of science fiction stories, but BSG often made them the primary plot which took so much of the fun out of it for me.  Luckily, STNG was before the current “GrimDark” nonsense that currently pervades media (such as Game of Thrones, Walking Dead, and others of similar ilk).  It kept the social commentary (mostly) to the subplots and allowed the main plots to focus more on how the crew of the Enterprise solved the problems that they were thrown into which revealed their characters’ drives and made the show such a well received entry in the Star Trek universe.

Overall Rating: A (I really should say A- due to the uneven nature of the plotting/characterization of the early seasons, but the nostalgia factor is high on this one, so I give it a slight bump up to the low A’s for being a Sci-Fi show that understood science and character first, social commentary second.

Sidney
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Mini-Review: Dark Matter, Season 3 (No Spoilers)

Without realizing it, I finished Dark Matter (DM) Season 3 (S3) last night, and overall, I liked it.  In my mind, it was a little more uneven than the previous two seasons were, but I think it is because they are trying to set-up multiple story threads to touch on in upcoming seasons (if the show has been renew–need to check as I haven’t looked to see if Syfy has renewed it yet).  Otherwise, the season had some ups and downs–more so than in the previous two seasons.

Permadeath & Exit Stage Right
They used death in S3 much as they had done in S2 to emphasize the (I guess) the capriciousness of the universe and to illustrate that they universe that the characters inhabit is a dangerous place.  The problem is, they used the deaths throughout the series, rather than at the traditional places where one might expect it, in order (again, guessing here) to keep viewers on there toes and to emphasize that no character is safe in this narrative.  However, they also had a fairly robust cast of “side characters” who existed in the world for a few episodes (or played a major part), who often left the ship for whatever reason, while others (new ones) would come on-board.  So this gave the episodes a less stable feel and very few characters on the ship were actually stable.  This contributed very much to the uneven feel of the episodes.

No Single Narrative Thread
There were many different plot lines running through DM: S3.  One such plot line (an important one that I won’t spoil) literally got introduced two episodes before the finale.  I think it (and another related “prophecy” plot line) should have placed earlier in the season, perhaps even in the first or second episode, and I think that would have gone a long way to giving the show a consistent plot “through line” to build on throughout the season.  As it was, there were many different elements going on–from double and triple crosses, to colonists rights vs corporate rights, to the idea of a good ruler vs a bad ruler, to searching for vengeance, to surviving, and et. cetera, that it all just came off just a bit jumbled.  A good kind of jumbled (for me, at least, as I love it when plots get convoluted), but still jumbled when compared to something that has a full season long arc that all the episodes have been building to (say, the final season of Star Trek Enterprise or Deep Space Nine).

Humor and Characters
One of the things that I really like about the show is that while DM can be a “dark” show (i.e., perma-death and all that), it isn’t all about blah, blah, world is such a bad place, blah, blah, blah, “Red Wedding,” blah, blah, blah, “hate all my characters, let me kill them all of in horrible ways,” blah, blah, blah.  (Yes, I know that this is a very unsubtle dig at Game of Thrones, but I’ll take any shot I can to restore a more “balanced” view of Fantasy that is more in line with tradition High Fantasy a la Tolkien, than the dreary, grim dark muck that we mostly have right now, even if that includes cheap shots).  DM allows its characters, particularly the character of the Android, but other characters as well, to inhabit an almost comedic space that one might find in a sitcom, rather than a drama.  Make no mistake, this is a sci-fi action show with the requisite space battles, warping, light speed, AI vs human conflict, etc., show that you might expect, but there are some truly hilarious moments that all characters get to participate in.  However, the Android gets to have some of the funniest lines, reminiscent of Data from Star Trek The Next Generation.  The actor’s deadpan delivery makes some of the lines truly laugh out loud funny.

Overall Rating: B (Above Average): Okay, so I was going to give it a B-, but then I got to thinking about all the fun that I had with the characters, especially the Android and I raised the grade slightly.  All it needs is a single through line for the season and less of a “revolving door” secondary character policy–let them stay on for an entire season.

Edit: Just discovered that Syfy has cancelled Dark Matter.  There will be no Season 4.  To be honest, I’m not really surprised, although it has more to do with Syfy than it does with DM.  To me, Syfy is just the television equivalent of EA at this point, with executives who care more about their investors and share prices that their audience.  I learned this the hard way when Syfy cancelled Star Gate: Universe just as it was finding its footing.  It put on the show Alphas as a replacement (only to cancel it after just two seasons).  Too bad, I really liked DM and thought it had room really grow.  I should let anyone know who might be interested in starting it though (a potential minor spoiler, but I don’t really guess it matters now): S3 ends on a cliffhanger (that is now likely to go unresolved).  Just thought you should know.

Mini-Review: Die Another Day

Okay, so I finally saw and finished Die Another Day (DAD).  Why is this so moments, you might add in the light of movies such as Thor Ragnarok Justice League releasing this month?  Well, it means that I have see ALL James Bond movies that have been released so far.  And, as expected, it was a slog–that was the reason why I missed this in the theaters and why I didn’t watch it all the other times it had previously been on streaming–it isn’t very good.

00Camp
It is way too campy, but played with a straight face.  It almost wants the audience to laugh AT it rather than WITH it.  Most of the blame for this comes from the story and script.  James Bond, particularly under the Roger Moore era, has some really corny and goofy things happen, but as I mentioned in a previous post, that was reflected in other movies of the era.  Much of the “campiness” of Bond during Roger Moore was a desire to appeal to American audiences who were far more likely to have seen/enjoyed a movie like Smokey and the Bandit–which is mostly campiness with a few places of seriousness.  However, DAD hit all the wrong notes.  Audiences in America  wanted a more realistic treatment of the spy genre–which is where Bourne (Jason Bourne) fits into this equation.  He was hyper resourceful and hyper capable, like Bond, but he was serious–no double-entendre, quips, or gadgets.  The honest-to-goodness down-home appeal and brutal/lethal moves when necessary.

00BadScript
As mentioned before, the script is really what hurt DAD.  From paper then characterization, to dialogue that didn’t work, to relationships that were unnecessarily muddled, etc., this is truly what kept this movie from shining–not necessarily the acting.  This wasn’t new Hollywood with its eye on the future and fingers on the pulse of the movie-goer, this was old Hollywood–you’ll like this movie because it is the next iteration of James Bond, darn it, and we know how much you like James Bond.

00Completionist
Still, for all my griping about the movie, it does feel good to have a complete repertoire of James Bond movies under my belt.  Until now, I’ve always had to put in that except or but when speaking about the franchise.  I really wish this could have been a stronger entry, but even successful teams don’t always get it right: Spectre for James Bond and the appropriately titled Jason Bourne for Jason Bourne.  Neither of these two movies did a great job in returning their characters to audiences in their last outings.  Both seemed to lose the thread of the character based on thrilling, climatic, and revelatory the previous outings before their respective latest movies arrived.

Implications for my own Work
I’m learning that character and story (plot) go hand-in-hand.  You can’t divorce the two.  For my writing, plot is what comes in first (99% of the time), but it is the characters that people fall in love with and invest with and I’m learning that I need to spend as much time developing the characters as I do the plot.  For the makers of Bond and Bourne, they perhaps need to do what I’m doing, but on plot rather than characters, as it is there plots that are hindering their characters.

Overall Grade: D (Below Average)

Die Another Day (The Farce is Strong With this One)

Having watched half of Die Another Day, I now know why 1) I’ve been so resistant to seeing it and 2) why it is considered such weak entry into the Bond franchise.  I will be honest and say that I haven’t completed it as of yet (I’m about half way through), but even halfway is enough to start to figure out where it went wrong.

Story
To say that the story doesn’t make any sense would be disingenuous because there is sense to be had if you really take the time to follow the convoluted logic of the story, but none of the story scenes really resonate.  There is a tenuous tie through out the first half of the movie of uncovering the identity of spy/source who gave up Bond’s identity and helped to “burn” him (in spy parlance).  Yet, Bond goes from scene to scene without the audience clearly knowing what is driving him.  For instance, a short time after escaping from what we assume is a MI-6 recovery room after being tortured for 14 months in captivity, James is back to his normal “antics” with Jinx.  He is supposed to be consumed with a desire for revenge on the unknown “person” who set him up and a desire to clear his name, but he is back to his old “self” and is as right as rain, even back to the clever quips and ridiculous sword fight that would have (at the very least) sent members of the supposed fencing club running for their phones to call the police or running for their lives..

Too Much Farce
Which brings me to another point.  In DaD, there’s just simply too much farce to take seriously.  In one scene, Bond strolls into a ritzy and glamorous hotel (5 star) in his pajamas completely unshaven.  Now, let’s be real, even the local McDonalds has a no shirt, no shoes, no service policy.  If you or I tried to do what Bond did in real life, we would be turned away.  If we insisted, the police would be called.  Yet none of this happens in this movie.  Bond turns heads, but it is meant to be humorous/funny, but the writers forgot that humor doesn’t come from ignoring the way things work in reality, but highlighting them and pointing out the absurdity.  Guardians of the Galaxy‘s humor works because Rocket the Raccoon knows he is a Raccoon and comments on the fact (& takes umbrage when others belittle him for his origins).  Groot’s humor works because the audience only hears “I am Groot,” but we know based on the others’ responses that he is expressing himself in some manner that we are not privy to and that’s funny.  And so on with each of the characters.  DaD, on the other hand, expects us to laugh when they break the rules of how the world really works, when in fact, they are calling attention to the fact that this is unreal, that this is a “movie.”

Changing Tastes in Realism
M: The world changed while you were away.
B: I didn’t.
This is exchange was meant to emphasize Bond’s dedication to the mission, but what it really did was emphasize how Bond refused to change to be relevant to the change in audience tastes and expectations.  While Goldeneye still maintained much of the Bond tropes, it was actually a “forward-looking” Bond movie that was more realistic in a fun way than the dour realism of the Bond movies under Timothy Dalton’s reign.  Obviously, Ge’s realism was nothing compared to the gritty realism Casino Royal and Skyfall under Daniel Craig’s stewardship, but at the time, and for its time, Ge was fairly well received as a return to form for the Bond franchise.  DaD, so far at least, undermines this.  Yes, I know I like Roger Moore’s Bond and those Bond movies are often as silly as this one, but in the mid to late 70s and very early 80s, you could still get away with that.  Movies like Smokey and the Bandit, Cannonball Run, Silver Streak and even as late as Superman III with Richard Pryor were a lot of what the Roger Moore Bond movies were taping into with their campiness.  However, with the introduction of the Bourne movies with Matt Damon, the world’s taste in spy movies changed, and DaD didn’t change with them.  Audiences craved a more realistic depiction of the clandestine spy hero, but DaD regressed at the very time it should have been more like its more realistic sibling, Ge.

So, I’m going to wrap this up for this week.  If all goes well, I will either finish this up piecemeal over the coming week while I wait for my phone to be repaired or I will finish it next weekend, but unless something major changes, this one is very much neck and neck with the George Lazenby Bond movie for the one I currently dislike the most.  I will, however, reserve judgment until I finish it completely.

The Bonds are Back (in Town)

So, this won’t be a long blog post today as I have a lot of work to do over the next few days–reading (Sister Carrie), grading (Rhetorical Analysis papers), classes (working on an informal paper proposal for 19th Century Lit. class) and writing (Character Sketch Plot Outline for Project Skye–yes, I’ve dusted off that old chestnut of a project and am going to try to revive it just in time for NaNoWriMo).

However, I felt compelled to note that Amazon (I believe) is getting all the Bonds back together.  They are streaming quite a few James Bond movies in the month of November.  After writing the post where I listed my favorite James Bond actors, I actually had a fairly large regret of not being able to say that I’ve seen all the James Bond movies and that I had to qualify them by saying all EXCEPT for Die Another Day.  Well, this movie is one of the ones that is coming back so I am going to make a special effort to see this movie.   They have quite a few of the Bond movies from all 4 of the recent Bonds if I remember correctly looking at the list, but it isn’t a complete back catalog.

Still, for someone who is a completionist such as myself, I need to make myself watch Die Another Day–even if it is only for half an hour a day so that I can have a complete grasp of the character through all his incarnations and hey, who knows, I might be able to use Bond in some way in an academic setting or paper in some way And I just know that “Shaken, not stirred,” would make a GREAT paper title! 😉