‘Doctor Who’: 12 New Rules (and 4 Suggestions) for the Twelfth Doctor

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This August, the “new,” revamped Doctor Who returns for its eighth series (or 34th series, if you count the entire show as a whole). Peter Capaldi took over the lead role from Matt Smith in the final moments of the last Christmas Special, and Whovians are excited to see what the man who played Lucius Caecilius Iucundus and John Frobisher will do with the role, apart from gesticulate wildly and talk about his kidneys.

Unfortunately, Doctor Who has run a bit off the rails since show runner Steven Moffat took over from Russell T. Davies in 2010. Moffat wrote all the best episodes of the RTD era; but under his tenure, let’s just say the overall storylines and plotlines have been less than satisfactory. Not terrible, mind you; but it hasn’t been the greatest era in Doctor Who history. There have been problems.

Sure, they’ve pretty much wrapped up shooting the 12 episodes that the BBC magnanimously permitted to be produced for the eighth series. But that doesn’t mean I can’t lay down some new ground rules for the show, which Moffat will be required to follow under the International Treaty for Bloggers to Have Absolute Control of the Things They Love signed in Berne, Switzerland in 1979.

Spoiler alert, by the way. Sweetie.

Rule #1: The Doctor Does Not Wear a Costume

fuckwit_800x800Yes, the Doctor has always worn a series of recognizable outfits, ever since he first tottered out of the TARDIS in 1963. But there is a clear, thick, glowing blue line between “recognizable outfit” and “costume.”

The first three Doctors wore mostly fashionable but anachronistic menswear, to visually underline the whole “time traveler” thing. The Fourth Doctor dressed like a hippie; he walked right up to the “costume” line, but did not cross it.

The Fifth Doctor was the first to wear a costume, and the next two doctors followed suit. And they looked ridiculous. These outfits were costumes primarily because they bore embroidered “question mark” symbols. They were not clothes the Doctor could have pulled off a rack; he had to have them specially tailored, and the last thing the Doctor would ever care about is having his clothing tailored. The Fifth Doctor was an ice cream truck driver with a celery fetish; the Seventh was that weird semi-homeless guy who sells Bible tracts for cash on Venice beach. (Or, he was just Sylvester McCoy — that seems to be how McCoy really dresses.)

And the Sixth Doctor, well, that outfit was just a complete shitshow. Please allow me to quote what I wrote on a thread on Reddit, where someone who clearly hates Doctor Who was defending that outfit:

Unfortunately, it is canon that the Sixth Doctor chose that outfit, as it appeared onscreen. It is also canon that the Eighth Doctor is half-human. It is also canon that the Second Doctor never regenerated. It is also canon that the Daleks were “created” by Davros, even though they were really merely humanoid Kaleds mutated in a nuclear war. It is canon that the Doctor’s full name is “Doctor Who.” These may be canon, but they were mistakes. Mistakes made by people who did not understand the show they were working on. Mistakes by people who did not care about continuity. Mistakes made on a show that has been going on for five decades.

Now, you can argue that a shitty costume is not a continuity error. But it is. Because, while the Doctor’s personality varies a bit across regenerations, he is still fundamentally the same person. A person who would not dress like a circus clown. A dandy, yes. But not a clown. The Doctor relies on the force of his personality and his appearance to get things done. He can’t get anything done if he is an object of derision. Even the Fourth Doctor, the most eccentric of all Doctors, would not dress in that outfit.

But there is one Doctor who especially would not dress that way. (Actually, two — could you imagine Nine in such an outfit, for any reason?) And this is the most important point of all: THE SIXTH DOCTOR WOULD NOT WEAR THAT OUTFIT.

As written, the Sixth Doctor would not be caught dead in such a getup. Yet it’s the first thing he does. This is just bad writing. Inconsistent. A decision made by a man who hated the show, and wanted it to fail.

Sabotage.

I feel compelled to point out that Colin Baker hated that outfit, too. Lots of things were wrong with the Sixth Doctor era, but none of them appear to be the actor’s fault.

Which brings us to Eight. The Eighth Doctor’s original outfit was based on Doctors One through Three, and it was fine. By the time he finally returned for the 50th Anniversary, he was wearing an Eleventh Doctor style of outfit, anachronistic but with modern lines.

The War Doctor dressed like the bastard love child of Eight and Nine, with some Four-ish flourishes —which made sense. And while we’re on the “extra” Doctors, David Morrissey’s “Next Doctor” dressed like one of the first three, so as to play on audience expectations.

Nine was completely different from every other Doctor, likely because Christopher Eccleston was so ambivalent about the role. While he had one specific outfit he always wore, he looked like any guy on the street. Logically, the Doctor would wear ordinary clothes, so he wouldn’t be noticed (at least in modern Britain, where he spends most of his time for some unclear reason). But it’s well established that he dresses eccentrically because he’s eccentric, and this was a jarring change.

Ten was a sex symbol, so he dressed like one — modern, fashionable clothing, but with enough of a traditional or anachronistic feel to match the character. Eleven started out in the same kind of outfit, but over time he reverted to a First Three Doctors kind of retro thing, albeit cut in a modern style.

Which brings us to Twelve. So far, the only pic we’ve seen of P-Cap in costume makes him look like a stage magician. It doesn’t feature any obvious question marks, thank no god, but it seems to cross the line from clothes to costume. Please, Moffat, don’t do this. Let Capaldi own the role; don’t make him subordinate to a frock coat.

Rule #2: Clara Oswald Is a Fully Realized Human Being

Someone created a meme of the various nu-Who companions. I added the titles.

companions

There is a problem with Clara Oswald. It is not a problem we’ve seen before with primary companions on the new show (primary as opposed to side characters who are also companions, like Jack, River, Mickey, and the Paternoster Gang). Rose was great; Martha was underwritten, but Freema Agyeman nailed it; and Donna was the Single Greatest Companion of All Time (sorry, Sarah Jane). Amy was fine, although hardly epic; her side companion Rory was actually the more compelling character.

But Clara. Apart from her very first, totally memorable appearance as “Oswin” in “Asylum of the Daleks,” poor Clara just hasn’t had anything good to do. Yes, she’s the “Impossible Girl” who saves every incarnation of the Doctor from the Great Intelligence, which I guess was supposed to be the whole point. We’ve had the Bad Wolf, the Girl Who Walked the Earth, the Bride, the Girl Who Waited — Clara is The Girl Who Saved Every Incarnation of the Doctor Even Though She Doesn’t Actually Appear Until 2012. Whatever.

The problem is, we barely saw her do this. The composite scenes where she interacts with the other Doctors, particularly the one where she directs the First Doctor to the “right” TARDIS, are super-cool. But we don’t get enough of this to justify the whole character.

None of this is Jenna Coleman’s fault. She’s fine. She needs more to do, more character development. In particular, she needs more development that doesn’t have anything to do with her relationship to the Doctor. River Song was ruined by this, by the way — a great, compelling, independent character every bit a match for the Doctor, until we learn that her whole life, her very existence, are dependent entirely on the Doctor. This diminished her. Don’t do the same thing to Clara. Don’t make the Doctor the meaning of her existence. Please, however:

Rule #3: We Don’t Care About the Companions’ Families and Home Lives

ten_jackie_mickey_800x800In the beginning, this was brilliant. Rose Tyler didn’t just disappear one day, have adventures in time and space, and then pop home to spend the rest of her life pining for the Doctor (sorry, Sarah Jane). Her disappearances had consequences, for her, her family, and her erstwhile boyfriend Mickey. Everyone, including Mickey and Rose’s Mom, and even her dead father, ended up having their lives irreparably altered because of the Doctor.

But then we met Martha’s family. And Donna’s. (Wilfred Mott was a great character played by a great actor, but still.) And Amy’s (her fiancé and best friend, specifically).

Enough families. It’s done. We don’t care. And speaking of companions:

Rule #4: No More 21st Century London Companions for a While

leela_800x800What do Leela, Romana, Adric, Nyssa, K-9 and Kamelion, River Song, and Jack Harkness have in common?

They’re all companions, and they are either not human beings, or they are human beings from a time or place that is not modern Earth. The Doctor’s very first companion, Susan Foreman, was not really named “Susan Foreman,” and was not a human and not from Earth.

We need more of these. Rose, Martha, Donna, Amy, and the current incarnation of Clara were all from modern London. Yaaaawwwwn. Please, please tell me Danny Pink is a half-cyborg alien symbiote from the 5000th Century.

Rule #5: More Companion Sass

oy_spaceman_800x800If there was a problem with Martha Jones as written, it was that her job was to follow the Doctor around and pine for him. Fortunately, her character had an arc, and she grew out of that.

But the best companions — Donna, River, Jack, Romana, Ian & Barbara — don’t accept the Doctor as some all-knowing, godlike figure. They talk back, call him on his bullshit, and demand better of him. They are, as people if not intellectually or educationally, his equals.

We need more of this. So far, Clara has been Martha Part 2. Change this.

Rule #6: The Sonic Screwdriver Does Not Have Magical Powers

war_doctor_sonic_800x800The sonic screwdriver is a tool, used to repair or alter technological devices and open non-wooden locks. THAT’S IT. THAT’S ALL.

It is not a tricorder, a medical device, a weapon, a psionic energy device, a universal translator, a portable computer (although it has an onboard computer, obviously), or a sex toy. It is not there to get the Doctor out of situations when the writer can’t think of any other way.

Moffat has written lots of jokes about the sonic, and how it’s not a weapon. Yet Eleven abused the sonic as often as Ten did. Listen to the War Doctor, Steven — you put the words in his mouth. “They’re scientific instruments, not water pistols!”

Also, let’s briefly discuss “regeneration energy.” This is what Time Lords use to regenerate. NOT to reproduce asexually like tapeworms. NOT to destroy Dalek base ships. Jesus.

Rule #7: Every Villainous Species in the Universe Does Not All Show Up at Once

pandorica_baddies_800x800This is very much an Eleventh Doctor problem, and therefore a Steven Moffat problem. In “The Pandorica Opens,” every alien species that ever hated the Doctor — Daleks, Sontarans, Slitheen, Cybermen, everybody — shows up at Roman Era Earth to unite against the Doctor. It was a bit much to think these groups would cooperate (Battle of Canary Wharf, anyone?), but okay, sure, whatever.

And then… in The “Time of the Doctor,” the exact same thing happens again, except this time the Silence are on the Doctor’s side. Really, Steven? Enough. It was cool once, dull twice. Three times, and you’re gonna lose us.

Also, stop saying “The Doctor definitely, historically dies at this time and place, and it’s unavoidable.” You’ve done this twice. You lied both times. When the Doctor lies, it’s charming. When Moffat lies, it’s infuriating.

Rule #8: Scarier Daleks

last_dalek_800x800Russell T. Davies spent several series introducing us to a number of lame, human-hybrid quasi-Daleks, because he wanted to have his cake and eat it too. He introduced the great plot line concerning the Time War; and in “Dalek,” the best episode of the Ninth Doctor Era, the last Time Lord faces off against the Last Dalek. Excellent.

But it ain’t Doctor Who sans Daleks, so we were subjected to a variety of fake Daleks. It was Moffat who had the sense to just bring the real Daleks back. Yes, in a perfect world, from a storytelling perspective, the Daleks should have stayed dead. But I get that Daleks are as central to Doctor Who as the TARDIS, the sonic, and the Doctor himself.

But they’re not scary.

The only time since 2005 I have felt the Daleks were the least bit menacing, apart from “Dalek,” was when the companions teamed up in “The Stolen Earth.” When they learn that the aliens that stole the Earth were the Daleks, Sarah Jane is terrified for her son’s life, and Captain Jack tearfully apologizes to the Torchwood team that this time, he can’t save them. The actors really sell their terror, and as a result, the audience feels it too.

Then, for the million billionth time, the Doctor faces the Daleks, and they inexplicably don’t just shoot him dead.

There have been some great Dalek moments in nu-Who (“We would destroy the Cybermen with one Dalek!”), but they’re rarely frightening. They’re mostly just hapless. I mean, c’mon, Eleven held off the Daleks with a Jammie Dodger. With a fucking cookie. Please fix this.

Rule #9: Don’t Erase Major Plot Points

gallifrey_falls_800x800Steven Moffat, you are genuinely, honestly, completely non-sarcastically, a genius at writing television. Coupling and Jekyll were brilliant; you wrote all the best RTD episodes of Doctor Who; and Sherlock is one of the ten best TV shows ever produced.

So you shouldn’t need basic writing tips from me. But it seems you do.

Writing good fiction is all about making the reader/viewer genuinely care about what happens to the characters. Because of this, what happens to the characters, and the choices they make, are important. Actions have to have consequences, whether they lead to success for the characters, or disaster.

When The Uncanny X-Men concluded the Dark Phoenix Saga by having Jean Grey kill herself, it was shocking, upsetting, and perfect — since any other, happier conclusion would have been cheating. It was the greatest storyline in any superhero comic not written by Alan Moore, ever. And, a few years later, when they brought Jean Grey back from the dead, I stopped reading Marvel comics forever. It was an unbelievable betrayal. If anything that has happened in the story can be undone, if actions don’t matter and consequences can be erased, then who cares about the story? Who cares about the characters? The writers don’t, so why should the audience?

And now, Doctor Who has had its Dark Phoenix moment. The Time War was one of the most important bits of back story in nu-Who. It defined the Ninth Doctor, and directly impacted the story arc of the Tenth. It was compelling, and memorable. The various references to the war (the Nightmare Child, the Skaro Degradations, the Army of Meanwhiles and Neverweres, the Could’ve Been King, the Horde of Travesties) all had a Tolkienesque kind of mystery and coolness.

And now, after the 50th Anniversary Special, it’s all undone. Gallifrey falls no more. Which is okay, taken out of context. But it’s disastrous from a story perspective. If the Doctor can go back and undo every tragedy, then nothing matters. There are no tragedies, no consequences. The Doctor is a god. And gods are boring.

Yes, in time travel stories, you can go back and change history, sure. Doctor Who always goes on about “fixed points in time” to try to get around this loophole; but the only time the Doctor can change a fixed in time is never ever, unless he really feels like it. Ask Lucius. Or Pete Tyler.

But this isn’t about the capabilities of time travel, it’s about good storytelling. This is not good storytelling.

Rule #10: Less Timey Wimey, More Logically Wogically

blink_800x800The most famous quote from the nu-Who era is this one:

“People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect, but actually, from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint, it’s more like a big ball of wibbly wobbly timey wimey stuff.”

A Mr. S. Moffat wrote that line, and it’s great. Also, he’s been using it to excuse poor writing for three series.

Logic and internal consistency are more important in science fiction, fantasy, and horror, than they are in non-genre drama, not less. In order to suspend disbelief and care about what happens in a fantastical world, events must be comprehensible, the rules of the advanced tech or magic reliable. When you establish a rule, you have to stick with it.

But when the Doctor alters a fixed point in time or crosses his own timeline, and there are no demon creatures or other consequences? Timey wimey. Can’t rescue Rory and Amy from Manhattan? Timey Wimey. Clara shows up in the Eleventh Doctor’s timeline, but none of the others? Timey Wimey. Mels could have gone to Amy and Rory’s wedding to kill the Doctor, but doesn’t? Timey Wimey. Somebody’s building a TARDIS, but the storyline gets dropped? Timey wimey. The Doctor MUST die at Lake Silencio, I mean he MUST die at Trenzalore, I mean never mind? Timey Wimey.

Yeah, I get it, it’s impossible to consistently juggle every plotline and established fact presented in every episode since 1963. Fine. But could you be consistent within nu-Who, Steven? Consistent within your own set of series? Please?

Rule #11: No More Love Stories Involving the Doctor

metacrisis_doctor_and_rose_800x800Between 1963 and 2005, the Doctor was pretty aggressively asexual. We know he once had a family, which implied he once had a wife — but this was an avenue the writers never explored. And companions might have been attracted to the Doctor, but the Doctor was never attracted to them (that I’m aware of).

Russell T. Davies changed all that. The Doctor fell head-over-heels for his teenaged companion, Rose Tyler. This could have been icky, but it was handled very well, both by the writers, by Billie Piper, and by Eccleston and Tennant. It was a bizarrely (but appropriately for a family show) chaste love affair, but it was a love affair. And if Rose and the Doctor ever did “do” it, late one night in the Medusa Cascade while the TARDIS was recharging, well, there are plenty of rooms in there to do it in. (Of course there’s sex in the TARDIS, River Song was conceived there.)

And then there’s River, the Doctor’s fait accompli second (?) wife. We never see anything there, but come on. You know River’s a freak, right? And she’s from the 50th Century, where Jack Harkness is considered a prude.

Okay, fine. That’s enough. We get it. Time to move on. Let’s have an asexual Doctor for a while.

Also, let’s quit it with the puppy love from companions. Martha pined for the Doctor, and Amy tried to jump his bones. Let’s just put the Doctor’s “other” sonic screwdriver away for a series. Or ten.

Rule #12: No More “Doctor Who???”

doctor_whooooo_800x800Yeah, Moffat, we get it. You broke the fourth wall, and turned the series title into a plot point. “The First Question, the oldest question in the universe, that must never be answered, hidden in plain sight.” Blah blah blah.

Enough. Retire this.

Those are my new rules. Here are some suggestions, that  personally think would improve the show.

 

Suggestion #1: Bring Captain Jack Harkness Back — as a Villain

captain_jack_harkness_600x600Captain Jack is without a doubt the most popular character from nu-Who who isn’t the Doctor himself. He even got his own spin-off series. We, Whovians, love him, and we want him back.

At the end of Children of Earth, Jack Harkness murdered his own grandson to save every other child on Earth. He was, to put it mildly, upset about this. When he returned in Miracle Day, he appeared to be over it. This was disappointing.

Put the Captain back in the Doctor’s life, post-Children, as a villain. He started out as a charming rogue, breaking time law, and only the Doctor was able to make an honest man out of him. He was a part of the quasi-villainous Torchwood for a hundred years before Gwen Cooper compelled him to reform the organization. Villainy’s in his blood, when he doesn’t have friends around to keep him honest.

Have him doing something to save a bunch of people, but something terrible, a la Children of Earth. Make the Twelfth Doctor choose between stopping Jack, or letting disaster happen. Then have the Doctor refuse to do either, and save the day for everyone.

Or, you know who could arrive from the future to stop Jack? Far Future Jack, who is half-transformed into the Face of Boe. Okay, no, that’s a terrible idea. Seriously, Steven, DO NOT DO THAT.

Suggestion #2: Bring Back the Eighth Doctor

physician_heal_thyself_600x600The only actor from Classic Who that could still portray the Doctor, because he’s not too old or fat, is Paul McGann. His eight minutes as the Doctor for the 50th Anniversary were brilliant, and should have been included in the actual episode (they could have cut all the flying TARDIS nonsense from the beginning).

The 1996 TV movie was disappointing, just as that other British-US coproduction, Miracle Day, was disappointing. (Seriously, BBC, keep it in the UK, okay? We Americans can’t be trusted with Doctor Who.) But McGann was great. Between 1996 and 2005, McGann kept Doctor Who an ongoing concern, doing tons of non-canonical audio stuff.

McGann is a great actor, and he’s committed to the role. (Ahem. I’m looking at you, Eccleston.) So use him.

This has worked before, obviously. Peter Davison was adorable in his brief, jokey appearance. Tennant and Smith were cute together in the 50th, although the story really needed Eccleston to work. And of course, Doctor Who has a long tradition, going back to 1972, of multi-Doctor episodes.

Bring back Paul McGann again.

Suggestion #3: Mention Miracle Day

frobisher_600x600With the possible exception of the events of “The Stolen Earth” and “Journey’s End,” Torchwood: Miracle Day presents the most history-changing global event in the Whoniverse. There is no way those events would not have consequences that would present themselves as story points on Doctor Who.

Miracle Day mentioned the Doctor; the Doctor needs to mention Miracle Day. And the 456 invasion from Children of Earth. “Hey Doctor,” Clara asks, “where were you when Earth’s children were being kidnapped to use as human bongs?” “Um, with River, in 13th Century Angkor Wat, attending an orgy.”

We know you love fan service, Moffat, and that’s great. This fan service would serve a purpose, by tying together the various Who-related shows. It’s also a cool story opportunity (bringing back the 456, or doing something with that silly immortality ribbon running through the Earth’s core). Use it.

Last Suggestion: Keep River Song Dead

eleven_river_600x600Look, unlike some so-called Whovians, and despite my criticisms above of how you wrote her, Steven, I love River Song. She’s a great character, and Alex Kingston was perfect. And I hated to see River Song go.

But that farewell scene between Eleven and the holographic River from the Library, on Trenzalore with the Paternosters looking on and wondering what the hell’s happening, was great. Obviously, what the fans really wanted  was for the Doctor and River’s last meeting to be a mirror of their first — the Doctor recognizes River, but River has never met him before. You took that away from us, Steven.

But the goodbye you wrote was fine. So let’s leave it there. We have closure. We’re good.

However, you know who we don’t have closure with? Donna Noble. Please, please, OH NO GOD PLEASE, fix her. Donna Noble CAN NOT spend the rest of her life a flighty, trivial former temp who won the lottery. She needs and deserves a better fate. You know what I said about actions having consequences? FUCK THAT. FIX DONNA NOBLE.

Bunny Sleds & Teleporting Eagles — the Periannath.com Review of “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”

Oy vey.

New on Periannath.com, my (mostly) former Tolkien blog: my review of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.

Excerpt:

The Hobbit is 95,000 words; The Lord of the Rings is 481,000. The Hobbit is a children’s book; The Lord of the Rings is decidedly for adult readers. The Hobbit is a fairy tale; The Lord of the Rings is high fantasy, and created an entire new genre of fantasy fiction. The two books are very different in tone. But when Peter Jackson decided to make a film adaptation of The Hobbit, he decided that it should have the same dramatic high fantasy tone as his Lord of the Rings films. This was a major mistake.

Check out this review, and my other Tolkien adaptation reviews, at Periannath.com!

The Ten Worst Science Fiction Films of All Time: ‘Prometheus’

I feel pretty, and witty, and gay!!!

Ridley Scott's 'Prometheus'

In the late 1970s and early ’80s, British filmmaker Ridley Scott made two of the ten best — hell, two of the five best science fiction films of all time: 1979’s Alien and 1982’s Blade Runner.

In the intervening 30 years, Ridley (now Sir Ridley) made movies about giant-horned devils, suicidal feminists, lady SEALs, historically inaccurate gladiators, charming brain-eating serial killers, and homeless archers. But he did not make another science fiction film.

During those years, I always said I hoped Scott would return to sci-fi. And when I heard that Scott had decided to helm a sequel reboot remake prequel to Alien, I was absolutely thrilled.

Then I saw it.

Like the other films I’ve covered in this series (Battlefield Earth, Pluto NashThe Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), Star Trek V, Alien3, and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull), Prometheus is not bad the way Plan 9 from Outer Space is bad. Prometheus is well produced, well shot, well designed, and as far as the script allows, well acted. But it is not well written. At all. And compared to what Prometheus could have and should have been, it is a very, very bad film.

This despite the fact that it stars Swedish/Icelandic actor Noomi Rapace, whom I like a lot; German Michael Fassbender, who gives a great performance; and the usually-reliable Charlize Theron who, despite a 17-year film career and an Academy Award™®© for Best Actress in a Film Where You’re Unrecognizable, I will always think of as Arrested Development’s Charlize Theron.

Mr. F!!!

We’ll discuss what went wrong after my patent-pending Bitingly-Sarcastic Plot Synopsis. But first, I will admit that I am breaking one of my original rules for this blog series — I am reviewing two films in the same franchise (Prometheus & Alien3). I know I said I would not do that, but I broke this rule for two reasons; first, I really wanted to write about Prometheus, and second, this frees me up to write about Star Trek: The Motionless Picture.

Ridley Scott has tried to play coy about whether Prometheus is actually a prequel to Alien, but please. The film is chock full of direct visual and thematic references to the earlier film.

And now, my BITINGLY-SARCASTIC PLOT SYNOPSIS (spoilers ahead):

The camera swoops over Iceland. Iceland is cool. I just realized why saying that is mildly humorous.

Ooh, there’s a giant shadow! It must be a spaceship! Yes, a giant disk is floating in the air! Except giant things can’t really “hang in the sky in much the same way that bricks don’t,” as Douglas Adams put it. But whatever. It’s science fiction trope. A tired science fiction trope, but who cares? It’s a Ridley Scott sci-fi movie!

We meet our alien, a muscular albino with Betazed eyes. Normally, this would piss me off – aliens are not going to look like deformed Caucasians – but in this case it’s okay, because these Engineers are supposed to be the progenitors of humankind. We look like them. Of course, this is another tired sci-fi trope, but hey, it’s a Ridley Scott movie!

Whitey McSteroid drinks goop from a bowl as his spaceship takes off. He writhes in pain as mysterious black crap starts tearing apart his DNA. His body crumbles and he falls into the water. Somehow, apparently, this creates humanity, although we don’t know that yet, so I don’t know why I’m telling you now. I guess because the next two hours are going to be confusing, and I want to keep things as straight as I can.

Ridley Scott!

The origin of humankind! Or something.

Cut to the year 2089, according to the titles, although the characters are dressed exactly as they would be in 2012. Apparently, Patagonia’s not going to produce any new styles of winter wear for the next 77 years. Anyway, some archaeologist types are digging around in Scotland, which is over 800 miles from where Frosty O’Slammingbod killed himself with the goop, but okay. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (the real one, not the American one) and Some Actor Who Has Never Been In Anything You’ve Seen climb into a cave, where they come across a cave painting. Dragon Tattoo (fine, her character’s name is Shaw) has dated the painting as “thirty-five thousand years old, maybe older,” a number she seemingly pulled out of her otherwise admirable ass. They find a humanoid figure pointing at six dark splotches, which any reputable archaeologist would immediately recognize as a message from aliens. Like, duh!

No human being could possibly make splotches like that.

Cut to 2093, where the scientific exploration vessel Prometheus is making noise in space. It’s not like that’s a tired trope or anything. Ridley Scott! The ship is 3.27×1014 kilometers from Earth, which is 34.5 light years for the Google-impaired. The only star at this distance is Iota Persei, so if you’re looking for LV-223, there ya go.

The only person awake on board Prometheus is David the Robot, who looks like a Eurotrash mannequin in a Buck Rogers helmet. We know he’s a robot because he walks like he has Sir Ridley’s two Golden Globes stuck up his artificial anus. David spies on the sleeping Shaw who, like all cryogenically frozen people in the future, is dressed in Leeloo’s thermal bandages from The Fifth Element. He uses his Buck Rogers helmet to spy on Shaw’s dream, in which her father, the younger Nite Owl from Watchmen, tells her childhood self about death. What is the significance of this dream? You will have to answer this question in the multiple choice quiz at the end of this film review.

David the Robot wanders around the ship, which is one of those massive, office-building-like, gravity-at-right-angles-to-the-force-of-acceleration spacecraft that will never exist in the real world because they make no sense at all, and are a tired sci-fi trope. (Although, to be fair, it’s been long established in the Alien franchise that spaceships work that way. It’s still tired, though.)

David plays basketball on a bicycle, which is supposed to telegraph to the corn-fed Tea Party mouth-breathers in the audience who haven’t figured it out yet that he is a robot, although I doubt this works. He eats food for some unexplained reason (although I guess Ash, Bishop, and Annalee did too, so okay) and watches videos to learn to speak the Proto-Indo-European language; although as a robot, he should really be able to absorb this material through Bluetooth, but whatever. (I studied PIE in college, so I understood that this is what was going on. Avis akv?sas ka, bitches!!!)

He also watches 1962’s Lawrence of Arabia, and apparently dyes his roots so he will look more like Peter O’Toole. What does this tell us about David’s character? You will have to explain this in the quiz at the end of this film review. Use the back of this page if you need more space.

Prometheus arrives at its destination, a moon orbiting a ringed gas giant. The moon is called LV-223, because the planet in the first two Alien films was called LV-426, and Sir Ridley wants all the fanboys in the audience to say, “ooh, I know what ‘LV’ means! This makes me feel special and loved and like I have a girlfriend!” This despite the fact that Alien franchise fans are just as likely to have a significant other as anyone else, excepting Twilight franchise fans, who are sad and alone and even their cats don’t love them.

All the other characters on the ship wake up. According to the titles there are supposed to be 17 of them, but a number of pedantic fan analyses on the Internet reveal there are actually 18, including David the Robot, but not including the Extra-Special Secret Character We’re Not Supposed to Know Is on the Ship. Perhaps the official crew manifest would not include David, because he is The Robot, and so a piece of equipment and not a member of the crew. But one wonders why the titles, which are not “in-universe” but put there by the screenwriter and director, would have such an anti-robot bias. Commander Data and Tom Servo demand answers, dammit!

The first person to wake up is Charlize Theron, who for unexplained reasons is soaking wet and doing push-ups. I don’t have any complaints about a soaking-wet Charlize Theron, I just want it to illuminate something about her character. This only illuminates something about my libido. Charlize Theron’s character has a name, but in this Bitingly Sarcastic Plot Synopsis, I am going to just call her Charlize Theron; because while there have been a number of films in which Charlize Theron gets lost in her role and you forget you are watching Charlize Theron, this is not one of them.

Everyone gets out of stasis and sits in the dining room drinking shakes, much as everyone did when they first woke up in Alien. For some reason, the ship’s computer describes what everyone is doing while they are doing it. I kept expecting Sigourney Weaver to show up, not as Ripley, but as her Galaxy Quest character, to repeat what the computer was saying.

It’s made clear at this point that the crew have never met each other, and must have been loaded onto Prometheus while still in status. This is weird. They didn’t train together, prepare for the mission together? Of course, the Sir Ridley could have “hung a lampshade” on this, maybe by having the characters mention how weird it was. He did not.

Look at me, I am SO old. So freaking old. I am an old guy.

Charlize Theron shows the crew a holographic video from Peter Weyland (and the fanboys say “ooh! Weyland! Like Weyland-Yutani! I am so cool because I am familiar with Alien franchise trivia! Watching the extended Blu-Ray of Aliens 53 times was so worth it!”) Weland is played by the Guy from Memento (get it? Guy from Memento? Guy???) in truly, genuinely terrible old man makeup. I mean, old man makeup that is just inexcusable for a big-budget feature film made in 2012. Supposedly, there is a reason Guy Pierce played the role in old man makeup, instead of maybe one of Hollywood’s several actors who are actually elderly. According to Pierce, it is because young Weyland was supposed to appear in a dream sequence; but the scene was never shot. This does not explain why young Weyland and old Weyland aren’t played by different actors – it worked great in Looper.

The Weyland hologram introduces Shaw and the other archaeologist, Holloway, to the rest of the crew. Holloway uses a magic Rubik’s cube to show everyone holograms of various artifacts found on Earth. He feeds the crew a pile of warmed-over von Däniken shit about giant aliens leaving messages across various civilizations. Apparently, the six dark splotches in the cave painting can only be interpreted as a map of one particular star system (presumably Iota Persei). Sure. I mean, the filmmakers could have put some actual thought into it; maybe had the ancient petroglyphs contain a code that translates into a particular star’s spectral signature – I dunno, I’ve only been thinking about it for 30 seconds, and they developed this film for ten freaking years.

Ridley Scott!

Shaw reveals that the aliens, whom she has dubbed “Engineers” even though Alien fanboys have been calling them “Space Jockeys” or “Pilots” since 1979, created humanity. When asked to support this assertion, she replies that “it’s what I choose to believe.” How very scientific. Neil deGrasse Tyson would be so proud. This is the first time a supposed scientist acts like an idiot in Prometheus, but it is far from the last.

I don’t know, maybe she just watched the first three minutes of the movie. Anyway, Shaw and Holloway are invited to Inara’s Charlize Theron’s beautifully-appointed lifeboat. Charlize is in full-on Ice Queen mode, even though any tall, blonde actress in Hollywood can play an Ice Queen, so there was no need to waste Charlize Theron’s time. Shaw discovers Charlize’s Med-Pod™, which will figure prominently later. Charlize establishes that she is in fact in charge of the mission, and that Shaw and Holloway are not to make contact with Blondie von Curlandrip if they happen to stumble across him.

The ship has been beaming friendly messages toward the moon, and David the Robot has been teaching himself ancient languages, which Holloway is certain the aliens will speak (although not so certain that he bothered to learn any himself – an archaeologist who speaks ancient languages? That’s unpossible!) The Captain, who is played by That Guy They Say Might Be the First Black James Bond, orders the ship into the moon’s atmosphere.

Out of the entire surface of this entire huge moon, Prometheus manages to immediately stumble upon the correct valley containing the Engineer’s temple. Do they discover this structure through extensive surface scans? Weeks of overflights? An ancient alien map? Nope, Holloway happens to spot it out a window.

I’d like to point something out here, in my capacity as a former archaeology student. Black James Bond lands Prometheus right on the temple site, with no objections from Shaw or Holloway. The spaceship’s engines blow up huge clouds of rock and dust as it lands – the rock and dust from the single most important archaeological site ever discovered. Sure, Idris – land that thing anywhere.

Everyone suits up in their Buck Rogers space gear. I’m not complaining that it’s Buck Rogers space gear; it’s nice to see an unusual design for once. (The original Alien had creative spacesuits as well.) They set out in one nice big logical space SUV — and two small, neon-colored, inexplicable space dune buggies. The same space dune buggies that were used to such beautiful effect in the Citizen Kane of Star Trek films, 2002’s Nemesis. (In case you’re the kind of mouth breather who needed it explained that David the Robot was a robot, that last bit was sarcasm.)

Holloway asks if the giant, hemispherical, hollow temple structure up ahead with the wide, flat paved road leading straight up to it and a circular wall around it is “natural, or did somebody put it there?” Archaeology! Everyone walks right into the structure, because the future doesn’t have these.

This is when the British Geologist Who Is Crazy Although We Don’t Know Why launches his “pups,” levitating neon map-making bowling balls. These balls fly through the alien structure, mapping every room and corridor, and transmitting this map back to Prometheus. This is going to be very important later on, when British Geologist gets lost in the alien structure. That’s right, the guy with an advanced automated 21st Century flying map-making system gets lost. I know that makes no sense at all, but that’s what happens.

I am not making this up.

Holloway notices that, unlike the air on the surface, the atmosphere in the alien temple is breathable by humans. So he takes off his helmet. The International Committee on Abject Stupidity in the Cinema, based out of Basel, Switzerland, has named this action the Dumbest Thing a Fictional Film Character Has Done in a Major Motion Picture since Qui-Gon Jinn invited Jar Jar Binks to hang out with the Jedi Scooby Gang. Do I really have to explain why?

Because he doesn’t know if there are deadly viruses or microbes in the air, that’s why!!! Idiot!!!

Don't take your helmet off on an alien planet!!! Idiot!!!

Well, at least nobody else – no, they all take off their helmets.

David the Robot finds some green CGI goop, on a wall-mounted control panel that the archaeologists completely fail to examine. Of course David touches and sniffs the goop, because that is how science is done. He also, somehow, we never learn how, figures out how to activate the control panel, and with it the temple’s full-immersion holographic system. It replays ancient events in the most convenient way possible – by forcing viewers to run around the ship chasing the holograms.

The holograms lead our protagonists to the corpse of an Engineer, which lost its head when a door closed on its neck. At this point, British Geologist demands to be allowed to return to the ship. Some Internet commentators have complained that no real scientist, even a geologist, would want to leave when presented with evidence of an alien civilization. I personally would not have had a problem with this, if there had eventually been some explanation of British Geologist’s decision, or if it had revealed something about his character.

No, what really, really bothers me is that she ship’s BIOLOGIST goes with him. Yes, a trained biologist, who traveled 35 light years and spent two years in suspended animation, is given the opportunity to be the first person to ever examine the body of an intelligent alien life form – and not only does he not do so, he decides to go back to the ship with the crazy geologist.

Ridley Scott!

David pulls a full-size ladder out of his ass, explaining his gait, and climbs up to look at a control panel, while Shaw and Holloway do their jobs and inspect the alien corpse. David opens the door, despite Shaw’s warning that they “don’t know what’s on the other side.” Well, that’s why you open the door, Dr. Shaw.

Inside they find two heads – the decapitated alien’s little head, and a giant stone humanoid head. The room is also filled with jars which, if you’re an Alien fan, you know is never a good sign. David discovers organic goo coming out of one of the jars, and bags the jar to bring it back to the ship.

The crew members on the Prometheus are surprised to learn that the valley is about to be overtaken by a storm. Just a few hours earlier they were in orbit around the planet, but now the weather is a surprise. Sure.

Shaw packs up the decapitated alien noggin, and she, Holloway, David and Linda Hunt from The Year of Living Dangerously head back to Prometheus in a forced action scene involving the dune buggies. They do not having a flying map machine, but they do not get lost.

British Geologist and The World’s Worst Biologist, who do have the map machine, get lost, as I promised. For some reason they blame Shaw and Holloway for getting lost, which, I mean, huh? They have to spend the night alone in the alien temple, and would have been fine, had they not done anything else stupid.

Shaw, David, Charlize Theron, Holloway (who is suddenly depressed for no reason and chugging liquor) and the ship’s Medic convene in the medical bay to examine the alien head. They figure out that the “Space Jockey” face is actually a helmet, and pull it off, revealing the head of Milky van der Huge. Shaw decides that by electrocuting the head, they can “trick the nervous system into thinking it’s still alive.” I don’t remember seeing that in Renfrew’s Archaeology.

Head go BOOM!!!

The head explodes. Good work, Dr. Shaw.

Later, David is wearing his Buck Rogers helmet and calling someone in a stasis unit “sir.” Who could it be? WHO COULD IT BE??? If you don’t know, you probably voted for Ron Paul and think Snooki is “so talented.”

David then has an altercation with Charlize Theron in the hallway. I would let you in on the point of this encounter if I thought it had one.

Granted, this film does have some very cool little details.

The robot opens the jar he found in the temple, and finds big clear containers of the Black Oil from The X-Files. Meanwhile, Shaw examines the alien DNA with what appears to be a regular optical microscope, and discovers that the alien had human genes – or rather, that humans have alien genes. We already knew this, because we saw the first three minutes of the movie.

David goes to have a chat with Holloway who, if you will remember, has suddenly become a drunk depressive for no logical reason. Oh, but it seems Holloway is upset because there are no living Engineers in the temple, so he cannot live his dream of finding out the answer to the ultimate question of Life, the Universe and Everything (it’s “42”). So, let me try to get this – Holloway has been on LV-223 for less than a day. He has explored one room in one building, and found one alien corpse. And now he has given up completely, without exploring the rest of the temple, or examining the aliens’ holographic record, or looking at Shaw’s genetic results, or maybe even checking out the entire rest of the goddamn planet.

Ridley Scott!

David slips Holloway a Black Oil roofie, for reasons that will presently become clear. I’m just kidding, no they won’t.

Meanwhile, Beavis and Butthead are still lost inside the temple, and are examining a giant pile of dead Engineer corpses when Captain James Bond, back on board Prometheus, detects some kind of life form in the temple. How does he detect the life form? With the British Geologist’s flying map-making system, of course. He asks World’s Worst Biologist for the duo’s current location, which makes no sense, since their current location is being displayed in the holographic display right in front of him. At this point, Laurel and Hardy make the only intelligent decision anyone in this film ever makes, and move away from the life form. (Although any real biologist would want to move toward the life form, even if it were possibly dangerous.)

Shaw and Holloway have a chat in their stateroom, the practical upshot of which is that Shaw is infertile. Then they have sex, although we do not get to see any interesting bits of the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

Captain James Bond and Charlize Theron have a bizarre conversation, in which the Captain comes on to Charlize, she shoots him down, he accuses her of being a robot, and she then changes her mind and decides to have sex with him. We do not get to see the sex scene, or any interesting bits of Charlize Theron. Or Idris Elba, if that’s your thing.

Hey there, buddy! How's it going? Would you let a Penis Snake Creature break your arm and then crawl down your throat? I'm asking for a friend.

Freebie and the Bean end up back in the Head Chamber, where all the jars are now leaking black goo. They discover some kind of Penis Snake Creature swimming through the goo. Some commenters on the World Wide Web have complained that World’s Worst Biologist’s resulting enthusiastic treatment of the Penis Snake Creature makes no sense. This is true in that he’s been fleeing from every sign of alien life up until this point – and now he suddenly wants to do his job? But at least he’s acting like a scientist. You don’t think scientists get all excited by a living thing that promptly kills them? Ask Bindi Irwin about that.

Inevitably, because this is an Alien movie, the Penis Snake attacks the Biologist, wrapping around his arm and snapping it. British Geologist slices its head off, and gets molecular acid all over his helmet for his trouble. The thing grows a new head and climbs down the Biologist’s throat, while the Geologist gets melted helmet glass all over his face.

The next morning, Holloway notices a tiny alien worm crawling around in his eye. He immediately runs to the medical bay and informs everyone – except, of course, he doesn’t. Why would he, except that he’s a trained astronaut and it’s what anyone would do.

Everyone heads back out to the temple to look for Itchy and Scratchy – except David, who has his own sinister agenda, I guess? With Charlize Theron watching from the ship, David goes to a door that one of the flying map-makers found. Beyond the door he finds a giant chamber just jam-packed with goo jars. Beyond this is a control chamber containing four Engineers in suspended animation. (See, Holloway? Maybe you should try a door before you give up exploring.) David cuts the feed to Charlize Theron. If only there were some way she could see the room for herself, maybe by putting on a damn spacesuit and driving a dune buggy a quarter of a mile…

Everyone else is in the Head Chamber, where they have discovered all the leaking goo. No one puts their helmet back on, despite the fact that they don’t know what the goo does. They find the Geologist, who appears dead – and a snake creature bursts out of his throat! Meanwhile, Holloway has gotten sick, and Shaw wants to take him back to the ship.

Somehow David can operate the Engineers’ technology, which is controlled by a series of glowing silicon breast implants. The holograms come to life, and David learns that the alien spacecraft’s systems are controlled via flute. No really, a flute. The kind you blow into and make music with. A flute.

Ridley Scott!

 I feel pretty, and witty, and gay!!!

There’s a cool scene with a gigantic CGI armillary sphere, which is very pretty but doesn’t answer any of our nagging questions. Then, one of the Engineers begins to wake up.

Everyone else arrives back at Prometheus to find Charlize Theron guarding the door with a flamethrower. (I’m pretty sure all spaceships have a flamethrower. Doesn’t the International Space Station have a flamethrower?) Guy, who is monstering-out into some kind of space zombie (that looks suspiciously like Old Man Guy Pierce – must be the same makeup guy), forces Charlize Theron to kill him. Shaw is very upset about this; it’s refreshing at this point to see someone other than Michael Fassbender actually acting.

Shaw wakes up in the medical bay, where David informs her that she is “pregnant.” What he means to say is that she “has a parasitic alien life form living in her lower abdomen,” but he decides to say “pregnant.” David is such a wag. Shaw freaks out, and David tries a tactic directly from the Carter Burke playbook, suggesting that Shaw go back into stasis so they can solve the issue back on Earth. Shaw is not down with this, so David drugs her.

Later, two crew members try to take Shaw to stasis – she whacks them both on the head with a giant wrench someone left lying around on the medical table, and takes off to Charlize Theron’s lifepod. She turns on the Med-Pod™, which informs Shaw that it is “calibrated for male patients only,” which makes no sense, but is supposed to be a clue that there’s someone else on the ship.

Aww, look at the little fella! I think it's a boy!

Shaw gets in anyway and gives herself a xeno-abortion. This is supposed to be a very intense, very graphic, and quite shocking scene – and I’m sure in 1979, or even 1989, it would have been. But after 30 years of David Cronenberg movies, well, I’m afraid we’ve seen all this before, Sir Ridley. Sorry.

Anyway, Shaw gets the Space Squid out of her belly (I liked the bit with the staples), and escapes.

Please note that Shaw will spend the rest of the film walking, running, climbing, and jumping with a major surgical incision and with her abdominal muscles cut. Because science.

Hi there. I hope you enjoyed my performance as Johnny Utah's partner in 'Point Break.'

At this point the dead corpse of British Engineer shows up at the ship, all zombied-out and acting like that kid in The Grudge. Was British Engineer ever exposed to the goo? I guess he could have been when he was dead in the Head Room, but we never saw this happen.

Let’s take a moment here to examine the Engineers’ Black Alien Goo Technology, shall we?

When black goo is spilled on the ground, it creates Penis Snake Creatures that burrow into your esophagus and kill you. When someone drinks black goo, it gives them eye worms and turns them into a Space Zombie. When someone female has sex with someone who drank black goo, they get “pregnant” with a Space Squid (even if they are infertile). When a corpse is introduced to black goo, it comes back to life.

I’d like to see that marketing meeting back on the Engineer home world. “Black Goo™! It’s multipurpose! If your interplanetary business concern is in need of large quantities of Penis Snakes, Space Squids, or Space Zombies, then Black Goo™ is for you! Looking for violent animated corpses? Give Black Goo™ a try! Leaky jars of Black Goo™ are ready to be shipped to your planet. Purchase Black Goo™ today!”

Shaw, stumbling and covered in blood, stumbles on a tremendous surprise, one worthy of M. Night Shyamalan back in the years when M. Night Shyamalan was making good movies (you know, 1999-2000). I know there is no way to have predicted this – we weren’t given any clues – but Old Man Guy Pierce is on the Prometheus! I know!

David reveals that Ghosty McLargeHuge is waking up in the temple, and he and Guy are off to see him. Turns out Weyland thinks the Engineers can provide him with immortality; which is a strange thing to think, since the temple is piled high with Engineer corpses.

Shaw insists that the Prometheus leave the moon. Now granted, we have had a bunch of deaths and a Space Squid pregnancy; and Shaw’s boyfriend looks like an overdone s’more. But I really don’t think, even after everything that has happened, that an archaeologist would want to actually leave. Perhaps some kind of “don’t touch the black goo, take your helmet off, or bring alien heads into the ship” policy could be instigated; then the temple could be explored in relative safety. Anyway, when Guy insists that they stay and try to discover answers, he actually sounds like the reasonable one.

Shaw pops some painkillers and suits up to follow Guy and David to the temple. Captain James Bond, who hasn’t bothered to have an actual opinion the whole movie, is suddenly convinced that the temple is a military installation, and the black goo is a “weapon of mass destruction.” I dunno, Idris – while I too fear the Penis Snake/Space Squid/Space Zombie-Industrial Complex, I don’t know that it rises to the level of nuclear bombs or weaponized ebola.

Charlize Theron visits Guy, and we learn to our shock, amazement, astonishment, astoundment, bewilderment, shock, stupefaction, and wonderment that she is his daughter! Gosh! This is such an important revelation, because… I got nothing. Although I must admit this scene gives Charlize an opportunity to actually emote for the first time in the film.

One of 'Prometheus'' many, many driving-between-the-ship-and-the-temple scenes.

Guy, David, Shaw, and some redshirts head back to the temple and into the control room; while back on Prometheus, Captain James Bond figures out that the area the group is entering is actually a ship (the same kind of ship the Nostromo crew found in Alien! And the fanboys stain their pants!).

Somehow David has figured out that 2,000 years ago, when the Engineers on the ship were killed by… well, we never find out, they had been on the verge of visiting Earth, where they planned to use the black oil to destroy humanity. David leads Guy to the living Engineer, and uses his supernatural powers of knowing-how-alien-technology-works to bring the alien out of stasis.

Dude -- who are you, and what are you doing in my bedroom?

Powder McHardPeck rises out of his sleeping pod and takes a look at the motley crew of humans, robots, and unconvincingly made-up old men standing around him. Shaw demands of the alien to know why the Engineers wanted to annihilate humanity – but Guy doesn’t care about that. He just wants learn the secret of immortality.

Davids speaks to the alien in Proto-Indo-European, because obviously this alien guy was hanging around in Neolithic Anatolia, right? Some people on the ‘Tubes have tried to work out what David says to the alien; I’ve got it narrowed down to three possibilities:

“This man is here because he does not want to die. He believes you can give him more life.”

or

“Can you recommend a better agent? I’m firing the guy who put me in this unholy mess. I was in Inglourious Basterds, verdammt noch mal!

or

“Is Alien vs. Predator canonical?”

Whatever David says, Cracker von ManMuscle responds by ripping the robot’s head off and smacking Guy across the face with it. (Boy, the Alien franchise sure has a thing about ripping robot heads off – first Ash, then Bishop, now David.) While the alien kills everyone else, Shaw hoofs it. Guy Pierce dies; watching from the ship, Charlize Theron orders the ship to take off.

Pasty Beefcakestein climbs into a giant spaceship control doohickey, which looks exactly like the giant spaceship control doohickey the dead Space Jockey was sitting in from Alien. He starts up the Space Donut’s engines, which blow Shaw bodily out onto the surface.

A colossal dilating door over the Space Donut begins to open, and Shaw, who you will remember has an unhealed 15cm incision in her belly, deftly runs back toward Prometheus, leaping gracefully over the opening door’s segments.

Shaw warns Captain James Bond that if the Space Donut makes it to Earth, humanity will be destroyed. She knows that the Space Donut’s destination is Earth because… um… something David said, I guess?

The Captain orders Charlize Theron to get to the escape pod – he’s decided to kill himself by flying Prometheus into the Space Donut, based on something Shaw told him over the radio that she heard from David, who may or may not have known what he was talking about. This type of bravery and sacrifice is exactly what we’ve come to expect from such a rich and deeply drawn character. He orders his two bridge buddies to go with Charlize, but for absolutely no reason whatsoever they decide to stay with the Captain and die.

Good thing that Alien Space Donuts don't have shields, or defenses, or anything.

Charlize Theron ejects and safely reaches the surface, while the Captain flies Prometheus slam-bang into the Space Donut. The alien ship falls, and starts rolling along the moon’s surface like a hula hoop, directly towards Shaw and Charlize Theron. The two ladies start running – not left, not right, but in a straight line right ahead of the rolling Space Donut. Many Internet commenters have identified this as the Dumbest Thing in a Pretty Dumb Film, Prometheus’ “nuke the fridge” moment.

Shaw trips, but manages to somehow roll out of the way of the Space Donut; Charlize Theron gets squashed flatter than a pannekoek. (Because Charlize Theron is South African. Jesus, people, do I have to explain all the jokes?)

Shaw only has two minutes of oxygen remaining (why? She wasn’t in the temple that long!) so she heads to Charlize’s downed lifepod. She hears a noise, so she grabs an axe – doesn’t every spaceship have an axe? Peering into the Med-Pod™ chamber, she discovers that the adorable baby Space Squid she tried to abort has been getting on fine without Mommy. Indeed, it has grown to enormous size, despite the fact that there is nothing in the Med-Pod™ chamber for it to eat. (If you’ll remember, the newborn xenomorph in Alien pulled the same trick, growing to monstrous size before it had a chance to eat anyone.)

Do not want!!!

Shaw gets a Bluetooth call from David’s decapitated head, who warns her that Chalky O’Proteinshake survived the crash and is on his way. Just then the alien rushes in – Shaw screams “die!!!!” (no, really), and opens the door to the Med-Pod™ chamber. Her tentacled crotchfruit seizes the Engineer by the neck and starts making sweet, sweet squid love to him.

Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn.

Leaping from the lifepod without ripping open her massive surgical wound, somehow, Shaw rolls to safety. The Space Squid opens its Lovecraftian maw (very nice creature design, quite impressive), and X-Ray McJackLaLanne gets an ovipositor rammed down his throat.

David raises Shaw on Skype, and informs her that there are other, working Space Donuts, a fact that he conveniently pulls out of his ass despite the fact that his ass is on the other side of the control chamber. She rejoins David, and informs him they will not be flying to Earth – they will be seeking out the Engineer homeworld, although why she’s expecting a better reception there is anyone’s guess.

Shaw and David fly off into the unknown, and we want two hours of our lives back.

Maybe it's named after the brother in 'Bill & Ted?'

But wait! There’s more! Pasty von NordicTrack is lying on the floor of the lifepod, writhing, his chest about to pop. Out of his tummy comes – well, it’s not the standard xenomorph, that’s for sure. It even has an umbilical cord and afterbirth, ewwww. Fanboys on the Internet call it the “Deacon,” I don’t know why.

It screams, even though in space, no one can hear it.

End of Bitingly Sarcastic Plot Synopsis.

Yikes.

Most online critics of Prometheus blame the screenplay; and they primarily point to writer Damon “Nash Bridges” Lindelof, who also wrote the disappointing Cowboys & Aliens. Wait, they’re letting this guy write Star Trek Into Darkness and Brad Bird’s Tomorrowland? Shit.

A lot of Internet commenters defend this film. The general gist of this defense is that Prometheus is neither incomprehensible nor badly written — it’s deep, see, full of mysteries and grand themes, and the only reason you don’t understand it is because you’re not smart enough.

This reminds me of Objectivists’ defense of Ayn Rand. It’s not that Rand’s ideas are childish, absurd, and vaguely reprehensible — it’s that you’re not smart enough to understand her! Yes, I just compared Prometheus to Atlas Shrugged. Deal with it.

If you are one of these people who thinks that Prometheus is the most intellectually challenging film since The Seventh Seal, I would like you to take the following quiz. Indeed, let’s all play along, and see how many questions we can answer. Show your work, keep your eyes on your own paper, you have 30 minutes starting now.

  1. Why does the Engineer at the beginning of the film have to die to seed the Earth with alien DNA? Wouldn’t a tissue sample work just as well? Can you really “seed” a biosphere by pouring DNA into a waterfall?
  2. How does Prometheus explore the theme of creation?  The Engineers create mankind, and mankind creates the Synthetics. Does the way David behaves towards humans echo the way humans behave toward the Engineers? It doesn’t? Well, shouldn’t it have? How about the other way around? No? Then what were Scott and Lindelof trying to say? Explain like I’m five.
  3. Explain Charlize Theron’s character’s purpose in the story. No really, because I have no idea — she complains a lot and then gets smushed. Also, why is it significant that she is Weyland’s daughter? How does this tie into themes of creation? It doesn’t? Then what was the point?
  4. David seems to have been acting under Weyland’s orders. So why does Weyland want Holloway infected with the black goo? Did he know what would happen? Weyland is terrified of his own death — wouldn’t performing unauthorized human experiments involving alien weapons of mass destruction, on the very same ship Weyland is on, place Weyland’s life in danger? What did Weyland and David learn from infecting Holloway? Nothing? Then what was the point? Also, if Weyland is afraid of dying, why does he go on a dangerous space mission? Why not stay in stasis on Earth, and wait for David to bring back the secret? Also also, why does Weyland keep his presence on Prometheus secret? What’s the point?
  5. The Engineers build a military installation on a distant moon, staff it with lots of Engineers, and equip it with a bunch of alien spacecraft. Something goes wrong, a bunch of Engineers die, and the last one goes into hypersleep for 2,000 years. Wait, what? Where is the rest of the Engineer race? Why doesn’t a rescue party ever show up? Why don’t they at least recover the expensive spaceships? If it was so important that the black goo get to Earth, why didn’t anyone ever take it there?
  6. How did David know how to operate all the alien technology? How did David know that the Engineers planned to use the black goo on humans? How did he know that the surviving alien planned to take the spaceship to Earth, rather than somewhere else, like his homeworld? Is basing major plot points on characters knowing things they couldn’t possibly know a statement on Western mores in a post-modern sociopolitical milieu, or is it just shitty writing?
  7. Shaw, Holloway, and Weyland share one attribute: they all believe that the Engineers created humanity, and can therefore answer of all humanity’s fundamental questions about the meaning of life and the nature of the universe. Yet this belief is just a given — no one ever explains or defends it. Explain or defend the idea that if aliens exist, they must know all the answers to the uniquely human philosophical questions we all ask. What do you mean, you can’t? Do it anyway!
  8. Apparently, Charlize Theron’s character and the Captain have sex. How does this development comment on modern sexual politics? It doesn’t? Then what does it tell us about the characters? Nothing? Then how does it propel the story forward? It doesn’t? Then explain why Charlize Theron and the Captain have sex. Also, explain why we don’t get to see it.
  9. After his ship crashes, the awakened alien goes to the lifepod to try to kill Shaw. How does he know Shaw is there? And why does he care? Why doesn’t he just go to another ship and fly wherever he was going?
  10. When the party from Prometheus first encounters the Head Chamber, the murals start dissolving and the jars start leaking goo. Why? It was established that the atmosphere in the temple was safe for humans (and presumably, Engineers). Was the atmosphere in the Head Room different? Why? Why didn’t the jars in the Cargo Hold leak when David breached that room? Wouldn’t jars designed to hold dangerous alien goo be designed to not leak? Nobody in the temple was expecting humans to show up, right?
  11. In order to get anything approaching a xenomorph, you have to feed black goo to a human; that human has to have sex with a human female; that female has to give birth to a space squid; that squid has to impregnate an Engineer. So why was there a carving of a xenomorph in the Head Chamber?
  12. What killed the Engineers, and why didn’t it show up on the holographic record? Or leave behind a corpse? When the last Engineer woke up, why wasn’t he concerned that there might be some kind of deadly creature around? Why wasn’t he prepared to run into the space squid? The Prometheus was full of weapons; what about the alien ship? Weren’t there any alien weapons, or armor?
  13. Why would the Engineers leave behind clues on Earth that would lead a spacefaring humanity to their bioweapons testing facility; especially when, 2,000 years before humanity could develop spaceflight, they decided to destroy humanity anyway?
  14. Are ancient-Earth-vising humanoid aliens with a scheme to destroy humanity, round alien spaceships stored underground, black alien goo, a sinister and secretive older man who runs a shadowy cabal, and a male-female pair of investigators a tribute to The X-Files, or just plagiarism? Describe the lawsuit you would file if you were Chris Carter.
  15. What was the green goo that David found on the control panel? How does it relate to the black goo? Why is the Captain a fan of a musician from the 1960s? I’m not a fan of any musicians from the 1860s. When Shaw stumbles upon Weyland on Prometheus, why doesn’t anyone ask her why she’s naked and covered in blood with giant wound in her belly? What does the fact that Shaw’s father died of ebola tell us about her character? What does the fact that the alien’s head blew up tell us about the aliens? Why does the last Engineer just attack everyone, instead of first trying to find out why there are humans on his ship, or how long he has been asleep, or whether the dangerous creature that killed all the other Engineers is still around, or what the heck is going on? When a dead crew member shows up outside Prometheus looking like Pizza the Hut, why isn’t anyone alarmed? What does David’s Lawrence of Arabia obsession tell us about him? If Weyland thought his daughter wasn’t going to be coming on the mission, then how were the lavishly-appointed lifepod and Med-Pod going to be explained? Why would that console at the front of Prometheus’ bridge require its operator to stand? Why was the alien spaceship covered by a dilating door, when iris-style doors are really inefficient? If Prometheus’ ATV could detect that the temple was hollow, why couldn’t it detect the hollow space below the ground where the spaceship was hidden? Why was David able to go right to the door to the spaceship, but the two lost scientists never came across it? Why does the alien spacecraft’s piloting seat look like a giant gun? If Prometheus has artificial gravity, why does it need rockets to fly? If Shaw wants to locate the Engineer homeworld, why go there with only a homicidal robot for company? Why not go to Earth, get some help, and then go?
  16. Some people on the Internet think Prometheus is some sort of “space Jesus” parable. Are these people crazy, or stupid? Defend your diagnosis.

Okay, pencils down.

Unfortunately, after years of waiting, we got another Ridley Scott science fiction film, and it kind of sucked. Apparently there is the possibility there will be a sequel to Prometheus; and yes, I will go see it, just like I’m going to go see Star Wars: Episode VII — I mean, it has to be better, right?

I think what this comes back to, though, is something I’ve said multiple times in multiple venues: leave old franchises alone. Let Alien die; let Star Trek die; let Indiana Jones die; let Star Wars die. I love all these franchises, but let’s get some new ideas, fresh characters, and original stories. Are you out of ideas, Hollywood? I have plenty. Email me.

Next time: Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979).

Disagree with me? (Sigh. Of course you do.) Leave your reasoned and non-trolly comment below!

The 100 Quotations Every Geek Should REALLY Know

The Fate of the Phoenix

The Fate of the Phoenix

So Wired.com has up a post called 100 Quotations Every Geek Should Know, which is really a list of 17 quotations every geek should know, some quotations every pop culture fan should know, and some stupid quotes no one should care about.

As someone who has been an actual geek for a very long time, I felt compelled to put together a better list. For the purposes of my list, I’m limiting the science-fiction, fantasy, horror, and various other sundry geek-related properties to one quote each. Otherwise half the list would be Monty Python, Star Wars and Douglas Adams.

But first, the 17 items that the Wired post got right — these are quotations you definitely should be familiar with if you’re a geek.

1. “Strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government. Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony.” — Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)

2. “I’m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that.” – 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

3. “With great power there must also come great responsibility.” – Amazing Fantasy #15 (1962)

4. “…there’s a lot of decaffeinated brands on the market that are just as tasty as the real thing.” – Real Genius (1985)

5. “WE APOLOGIZE FOR THE INCONVENIENCE” (God’s Final Message to His Creation), So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish (1984)

6. “Bill, strange things are afoot at the Circle K.” – Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989)

7. “I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.” (Bene Gesserit Litany Against Fear), Dune (1965)

8. “Ray, if someone asks you if you’re a god, you say ‘yes!‘” – Ghostbusters (1984)

9. “This episode was badly written!” – Galaxy Quest (1999)

10. “He’s dead, Jim.” – Star Trek (1966-1969)

Criswell speaks!

11. “Greetings, my friend. We are all interested in the future, for that is where you and I are going to spend the rest of our lives.” – Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959)

12. “Take your stinking paws off me, you damn dirty ape!” – Planet of the Apes (1968)

13. “Klaatu barada nikto.” – The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)

14. “E.T. phone home.” – E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

15. “Danger, Will Robinson! Danger!” – Lost in Space (1965-1968)

16. “Kneel before Zod.” – Superman II (1980)

17. “Shall we play a game?” – WarGames (1983)

And now, the remainder of the ACTUAL 100 Quotations Every Geek Should Know, as compiled by Kunochan, the one person on Earth who would know:

18. “I’m a scientist, I don’t think, I observe!” – Mystery Science Theater 3000 (1988-1999)

19. “Would you like a jelly baby?” – Doctor Who (1963-1989, 1995, 2005-present)

20. “Kaneda!” “Tetsuo!” – Akira (1988)

May the Force be with you.

21. “May The Force be with you.” – Star Wars (1977)

22. “You fool! You fell victim to one of the classic blunders, the most famous of which is ‘never get involved in a land war in Asia.’ But only slightly less well-known is this: ‘Never go against a Sicilian when death is on the line!” – The Princess Bride (1987)

23. “Alright you primitive screwheads, listen up! You see this? This… is my boomstick! The twelve-gauge double-barreled Remington. S-Mart’s top of the line. You can find this in the sporting goods department. That’s right, this sweet baby was made in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Retails for about a $109.95. It’s got a walnut stock, cobalt blue steel, and a hair trigger. That’s right. Shop smart. Shop S-Mart. You got that?” – Army of Darkness (1992)

24. “And Kaylee, what the hell’s goin’ on in the engine room? Were there monkeys? Some terrifying space monkeys maybe got loose?” – Firefly (2002)

25. “I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser gate. All those moments will be lost in time… like tears in rain… Time to die.” – Blade Runner (1982)

26. “That’s it man, game over man, game over!” – Aliens (1986)

27. “By your command!” – Battlestar Galactica (1978-1979)

28. “I have a cunning plan…” – Black Adder (1983-1989)

29. “The Internet doesn’t weigh anything!” – The IT Crowd (2006-2010)

30. “There’s one thing I always wanted to ask Jack. Back in the old days. I wanted to know about that Doctor of his. The man who appears out of nowhere and saves the world; except sometimes he doesn’t. All those times in history where there was no sign of him. I wanted to know why not. But I don’t need to ask anymore. I know the answer now. Sometimes The Doctor must look at this planet and turn away in shame.” – Torchwood: Children of Earth (2011)

31. “It’s Dr. Evil, I didn’t spend six years in Evil Medical School to be called ‘mister,’ thank you very much.” – Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997)

32. “What have you done with his body???” – Brazil (1985)

33. “Do-dee-do-doo-duh.” – Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

34. “The universe is a pretty big place. If it’s just us, seems like an awful waste of space.” – Contact (1985)

35. “I am Torgo. I take care of the place while The Master is away.” – Manos The Hands Of Fate (1966)

36. “Gum? … Oh, these guys, they were fakes. You’re a pure soul. You have nothing to worry about… But you did not say ‘God bless you’ when I sneezed.” – Dogma (1999)

37. “Everyone’s special, Dash.” “Which is another way of saying no one is.” – The Incredibles (2004)

38. “Come on! Show a little backbone, will ya!” – Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

39. “Be afraid. Be very afraid.” – The Fly (1986)

40. “Do not try and bend the spoon. That’s impossible. Instead… only try to realize the truth.” “What truth?” “There is no spoon.” – The Matrix (1999) 

Las Vegas asks about the watermelon.

41. “What’s that watermelon doing there?” “I’ll tell you later.” – The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension (1984)

42. “We are Sex Bob-Omb and we are here to make you think about death and get sad and stuff!!!” – Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010)

43. “In a comic, you know how you can tell who the arch-villain’s going to be? He’s the exact opposite of the hero, and most time’s they’re friends, like you and me. I should’ve known way back when. You know why, David? Because of the kids. They called me Mr. Glass!” – Unbreakable (2000)

44. “Give a guy a gun, he thinks he’s Superman. Give him two and he thinks he’s God.” – Hard Boiled (1992)

45. “Stage lights flashing / The feeling’s smashing / My heart and soul belong to you / And I’m here now, singing / All bells are ringing / My dream has finally come true! / Stage fright, go away / This is my big day / This is my time to be a star! / And the thrill that I feel / It’s really unreal / I can’t believe I’ve come this far! / This is my time to be a star!” – Robotech (1985)

46. “The worst thing that ever happened to me was on Christmas. Oh, God. It was so horrible. It was Christmas Eve. I was 9 years old. Me and Mom were decorating the tree, waiting for Dad to come home from work. A couple hours went by. Dad wasn’t home. So Mom called the office. No answer. Christmas Day came and went, and still nothing. So the police began a search. Four or five days went by. Neither one of us could eat or sleep. Everything was falling apart. It was snowing outside. The house was freezing, so I went to try to light up the fire. That’s when I noticed the smell. The firemen came and broke through the chimney top. And me and Mom were expecting them to pull out a dead cat or a bird. And instead they pulled out my father. He was dressed in a Santa Claus suit. He’d been climbing down the chimney… his arms loaded with presents. He was gonna surprise us. He slipped and broke his neck. He died instantly. And that’s how I found out there was no Santa Claus.” – Gremlins (1984)

47. “They’re here.” – Poltergeist (1982)

48. “Deserves it! I daresay he does. Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgment. For even the very wise cannot see all ends.” – The Fellowship of the Ring (1954)

49. “‘Do it?’ Dan, I’m not a Republic Serial villain. Do you seriously think I’d explain my master-stroke if there remained the slightest chance of you affecting its outcome? I did it thirty-five minutes ago.” – Watchmen (1986-1987)

50. “If I cannot inspire love, I will cause fear!” – Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus (1818)

51. “‘God” was their name for the hypothetical biggest-alpha-male-of-all. Being primates, they could not comprehend how anything could run if there weren’t an alpha male in charge of it.” – The Universe Next Door (1979)

52. “That is not dead which can eternal lie, / And with strange aeons even death may die.” – “The Nameless City” (1921)

53. “I’ll be back.” – The Terminator (1984)

54. “The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.” – Neuromancer (1984)

55. “Yet across the gulf of space, minds that are to our minds as ours are to those of the beasts that perish, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic, regarded this earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against us.” – The War of the Worlds (1898)

56. “You want me to fight? I have, I am – with all my strength. But I can’t forget that I killed an entire world – five billion people – as casually, as unthinkingly, as you would crumple a piece of paper. I want no more deaths on my conscience. Your way, I’d have to stay completely in control of myself every second of every day for the rest of my immortal life. If even one more person dies at my hands… It’s better this way. Quick. Clean. Final. I love you, Scott. A part of me will always be with you.” – X-Men #137 (1980)

57. “For the Horde!” – World of Warcraft (2004-present)

58. “Life is like a box of chocolates. A cheap, thoughtless, perfunctory gift that nobody ever asks for. Unreturnable because all you get back is another box of chocolates. So you’re stuck with this undefinable whipped mint crap that you mindlessly wolf down when there’s nothing else left to eat. Sure, once in a while there’s a peanut butter cup or an English toffee. But they’re gone too fast and the taste is… fleeting. So, you end up with nothing but broken bits filled with hardened jelly and teeth-shattering nuts. And if you’re desperate enough to eat those, all you got left is an empty box filled with useless brown paper wrappers.” – The X-Files (1993-2002)

59. “Oh boy.” – Quantum Leap (1989-1993)

60. “Through the darkness of future’s past, the magician longs to see / One chants out between two worlds… ‘Fire… walk with me.'” – Twin Peaks (1990-1991)

All your base are belong to us.

61. “Somebody set up us the bomb.” “Main screen turn on.” “All your base are belong to us. You have no chance to survive make your time.” “Move ‘ZIG’. For great justice.” – Zero Wing (1991)

62: “It is pitch black. You are likely to be eaten by a grue.” – Zork I: The Great Underground Empire (1980)

63: “Do not grieve. Soon I shall be one with the matrix.” – The Transformers: The Movie (1986)

64. “Mrs. Peel, we’re needed.” – The Avengers (1961-1969)

65. “Leeloo Dallas multipass.” – The Fifth Element (1997)

66. “We have randomly selected weapons to put in your kits, so you might get lucky, and you might not… This one is super lucky!” – Battle Royale (2000)

67. “The human whose name is written in this note shall die.” – Death Note (2009)

68. “You can have my gun, when you pry it from my cold dead fingers.” “Your proposal is acceptable.” – Men in Black (1997)

69. “Welcome to Earth!” – Independence Day (1996)

70. “Why are you wearing that stupid bunny suit?” “Why are you wearing that stupid man suit?” – Donnie Darko (2001)

Heavy!

71. “There’s that word again. ‘Heavy.’ Why are things so heavy in the future? Is there a problem with the Earth’s gravitational pull?” – Back to the Future (1985)

72: “Who run Bartertown? Who… run… Bartertown?” “You know who.” “Say.” “Master Blaster.” “Say loud!” “Master Blaster.” “Master Blaster… what?” “Master Blaster runs Bartertown.” – Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985)

73. “This is Edison Carter, coming to you live and direct, on Network 23.” – Max Headroom (1985)

74. “Greetings, Starfighter. You have been recruited by the Star League to defend the frontier against Xur and the Ko-Dan armada.” – The Last Starfighter (1984)

75. “Steve Austin, astronaut. A man barely alive.” “Gentlemen, we can rebuild him. We have the technology. We have the capability to build the world’s first bionic man. Steve Austin will be that man. Better than he was before. Better, stronger, faster.” – The Six Million Dollar Man (1974–1978)

76. “Smeg!” – Red Dwarf (1988-1999, 2009-2012)

77. “You’re traveling through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination. That’s the signpost up ahead – your next stop, the Twilight Zone!” – The Twilight Zone (1959-1964)

78. “You are utterly the stupidest, most self-centered, appallingest excuse for an anthropomorphic personification in this or any other plane!” – Sandman #8 (1988)

79. “I want some more.” – Interview with the Vampire (1994)

80. “This should be agony. I should be a mass of aching muscle — broken, spent, unable to move. And, were I an older man, I surely would… But I’m a man of 30 – of 20 again. The rain on my chest is a baptism. I’m born again.” – Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (1986)

Day One!

81. “If I were creating the world I wouldn’t mess about with butterflies and daffodils. I would have started with lasers, eight o’clock, Day One!” – Time Bandits (1981)

82. “Darling no baka!” – Urusei Yatsura (1981-1986)

83. “THANK YOU MARIO! BUT OUR PRINCESS IS IN ANOTHER CASTLE!” – Super Mario Bros. (1985)

84. “Robert Neville looked out over the new people of the earth. He knew he did not belong to them; he knew that, like the vampires, he was anathema and black terror to be destroyed. And, abruptly, the concept came, amusing to him even in his pain. … Full circle. A new terror born in death, a new superstition entering the unassailable fortress of forever. I am legend.” – I Am Legend (1954)

85. “Once upon a time when the world was young there was a Martian named Smith.” – Stranger in a Strange Land (1961)

86. “I am the law!” – “Judge Dredd,” 2000AD (1977-present)

87. “Betelgeuse, Betelgeuse, Betelgeuse.” – Beetlejuice (1988)

88. “There can be only one!” – Highlander (1986)

89. “1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. 2. A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law. 3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.” – “Runaround” (1942)

90. “I’d buy that for a dollar!” – Robocop (1987)

Why so serious?

91. “Why so serious?” – The Dark Knight (2008)

92. “Wizard needs food badly. Wizard is about to die.” – Gauntlet (1985)

93. “My hotel’s as clean as an Elven arse!” – Baldur’s Gate (1998)

94. “Get up, so I can kill you again!” – Halo: Combat Evolved (2001)

95. “It’s people. Soylent Green is made out of people.” – Soylent Green (1973)

96. “En taro Adun.” StarCraft (1998)

97. “Do you see this writing…? Do you know what it means…? Hospitality. And you can’t piss on hospitality! I won’t allow it!” – Troll 2 (1990)

98. “WAR IS PEACE, FREEDOM IS SLAVERY, IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH.” – Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949)

99. “Biddi-biddi-biddi.” – Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (1979-1981)

100. “Join the Mobile Infantry and save the galaxy. Service guarantees citizenship. Would you like to know more?” – Starship Troopers (1997)

Did I miss something? No, I didn’t. But feel free to post your suggestions in the comments! And please, no Twilight quotes. Geeks don’t care about Twilight.

 

Ten Famous Science Fiction Properties That Would Make Great VFX Movies — Part 4 ‘The Airtight Garage’

moebiusdownload2edit_630x354


This is a series of posts discussing ten existing science fiction properties (from literature, animation, games and comics) that could serve as the basis for ground-breaking live-action VFX films and television shows. This time: Jean “Moebius” Giraud’s 1976 graphic novel
The Airtight Garage.

For an explanation of the choices for this list, see the first entry.

Number 7 of 10: The Airtight Garage (US title, comic, 1976), aka Le Garage Hermétique de Jerry Cornelius, Le Garage Hermétique de Lewis Carnelian

In the Before Time, in the Long Long ago, in the late 1970s and 1980s, some movie execs decided it might be a good idea to make a few big-budget effects-heavy comic book movies. So we had two classic films based on DC Comics characters. The first was Richard Donner’s 1978 Superman, a hammy cheese-fest that nonetheless managed to charm the audience, largely via Gene Hackman’s movie-saving charisma and Christopher Reeve’s unshakable determination to play a ridiculous character as seriously as possible. On the other hand, the producers spent literally one-third of the $60 million budget to hire Marlon Brando in a cameo; and Margo Kidder gave a performance as Lois Lane that should have tipped off any competent psychiatrist that she was suffering from bipolar disorder and needed help.

The other was Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman, the first superhero film ever to capture the comic book fanboy’s love for the source material (in this case the uncredited Batman: The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller (1986), but that’s a fanboy rant for another blog post). Burton, following Miller’s lead, showed mainstream audiences that comic books can be dark, intellectual, weird, artistic and funny. And Jack Nicholson was a thespian ruminant, chewing the scenery and then chewing it again.

Over time, Hollywood gave us films of all the superheroes the mainstream public, unfamiliar with comic books, would surely recognize; after a steadily declining series of Superman and Batman films, we had Marvel’s Spider-Man and The Hulk. Then the studios churned out films based on properties familiar to comic book fans but new to the general public; The X-Men, Iron Man, Hellboy, Blade, and The Fantastic Four amongst the box office successes; Howard the Duck, Judge Dredd, Mystery Men, The Punisher, Catwoman, Elektra, and Daredevil amongst the rest.

The next phase – comic book movies that weren’t about superheroes. Some were still science fiction or fantasy – 300, 30 Days of Night, Constantine, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Others took place in the real world — Art School Confidential, From Hell, Ghost World, A History of Violence. But now the comic book world was completely wide open to film and TV adaptation – stories didn’t have to feature Warren Ellis’ “underwear perverts.”

This was good news, because those comic book titles that are the most visually striking are usually not hero titles. Of course there have been great artists working in that medium, from Jack Kirby and Will Eisner back in caveman times to… I dunno, I stopped regularly reading superhero comics when they brought Jean Grey back from the dead in 1986. Yes, I am a grumpy old man. I like J. Scott Campbell, Kevin O’Neill and Howard Chaykin, off the top of my head.

For this series I have chosen an artist who has never worked in the traditional hero genre (except once, briefly), but made his name drawing Western serials in France. His art has influenced generations of artists and production designers, but has never been used as the basis for an entire film.

Jean Giraud became a working artist at age 18, in Paris in 1956. His most famous Western comic book, Blueberry, ran from 1962 to 1974 and earned Giraud his face on a French postage stamp. But he is best known in America for his science fiction and fantasy stories and art, done under the pen name “Moebius.”

In 1974, Moebius and three others founded the seminal adult comics magazine Métal Hurlant; an American version was launched in 1977 called Heavy Metal, which is accidentally displayed in bookstores’ music sections to this day.

One segment of the 1981 Canadian animated anthology film Heavy Metal, containing stories from the magazine, was “Taarna,” inspired by Moebius’ “Arzach” fantasy stories; but the art style was not based on his. (This is the segment parodied in the 2008 South Park episode “Major Boobage.”)

He contributed to several feature film projects. The most notable were Alejandro Jodorowsky’s aborted 1976 project to bring Frank Herbert’s novel Dune to the screen as a ten-hour feature, with Moebius and Alien artist HR Giger doing original production art; and Luc Besson’s 1997 The Fifth Element, perhaps the only live action film in which Moebius’ elements (the Mondoshawan ships, the Flying Noodle Boat) appear recognizably as he designed them. Other films on which Moebius worked: Alien (1979), Blade Runner (1982, uncredited), Tron (1982), Masters of the Universe (1987), Willow (1988) and The Abyss (1989).

His most famous creation is a bizarre, stream-of-consciousness science-fantasy graphic novel originally called Le Garage Hermétique de Jerry Cornelius, released in the US as The Airtight Garage by Marvel under the Epic Comics imprint. The Airtight Garage was written, drawn and colored by Moebius, four pages at a time, as a game with himself to introduce irreconcilable plot strands in each segment, and then reconcile them later. As a result, the “story” does not exist as such, at least not until the final 15 pages, which were drawn all at once to bring the tale to a conclusion that parodies superhero comics and leaves the reader with more questions than answers.

In rough outline, the Hermetic Garage of the title is a large asteroid containing a much larger artificial world on the inside (“hermetic” in this case is used to mean both “airtight” and “esoteric”). The Garage was created by Major Grubert, an immortal human from Earth who is locked in ceaseless battle against another immortal, Lewis Carnelian. Eventually, these mortal enemies must join forces to prevent the destruction of the Hermetic Garage by an evil alien known as The Bakalite.

Nearly every panel of the comic contains characters, images, references, jokes and invented words that hint at entire worlds, civilizations and conspiracies just beyond the frame’s edge. Hardly anything is explained, not even the backgrounds or motivations of the two main antagonists.

An animated feature adaptation of The Airtight Garage, to be produced by legendary Japanese filmmaker Kurosawa Akira (!!!) and directed by Otomo Katsuhiro of Akira (1988) fame, fell through in the mid-1990s.

So why on Earth would you use The Airtight Garage as the basis for a big-budget, live action VFX film? Three reasons.

First, the non sequitur storyline provides a blank slate for the filmmakers, who are free to fill in the blanks however they wish; or, a la JJ Abrams, just leave the blanks blank. The Airtight Garage provides a firm skeleton on which to hang a dramatic sci-fi high adventure with a good dollop of comedy.

Second, The Airtight Garage is a cult classic with a large fan base. In 1999 the Metreon shopping mall in San Francisco opened with an Airtight Garage-themed attraction, which was hugely popular until the mall was shut down in 2007 (probably a Bakalite trick!).

And third, Moebius’ artwork is beautiful, original, and unique. Many artists and filmmakers are inspired by him, but no one has produced an entire feature film that takes place in a Moebius universe. At one time, his vision could only have been realized through traditional animation, whether one was the director of The Seven Samurai or not. But with modern VFX, that has changed.

The mind-bending, multidimensional layout of the three levels of the Hermetic Garage; its vast alien vistas and retro-futuristic architecture; Grubert’s trusty starship, the Ciguri; the Star Billiard, a colossal green humanoid robot that the Ciguri crew uses as an exploratory vehicle; the bizarre lifeforms of the Garage, such as the pink riding animals called Melvils – all of these could come to life.

And not only would Moebius’ actual drawings provide inspiration for artists – I think that the incomplete nature of The Airtight Garage would give CG and VFX professionals an unprecedented world-building opportunity.

Jean Giraud is 72 years old, and hopefully has many years ahead of him, thanks to French cuisine and Socialized medicine. But it would be nice to finally produce an Airtight Garage adaptation that he would be alive to enjoy.

Previous: Wings of Honnêamise (anime, 1987); Erma Felna EDF (comic, 1983-2005); Appleseed (comic, 1985-89)

Next: Warhammer 40,000 game franchise (1987-present)

See a set of The Airtight Garage art on Flickr.

Ten Famous Science Fiction Properties That Would Make Great VFX Movies — Part 2 ‘Erma Felna EDF’

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This is a series of posts discussing ten existing science fiction properties (from literature, animation, games and comics) that could serve as the basis for ground-breaking live-action VFX films and television shows. This time: the furry animal sci-fi comic Erma Felna EDF.

For an explanation of the choices for this list, see the first entry.

Number 9 of 10: Erma Felna EDF (comic, 1983-2005)

It took a few decades, but computer graphics engineers have mastered the modeling and rendering of hair and fur. This has allowed a tremendous level of sophistication in CG animals that are realistic (the giant ape in 2005’s King Kong), cartoonish (the new CG Chipmunks films), and somewhere in-between (Aslan the Lion from the Chronicles of Narnia adaptations).

But little has yet been done in the realm of anthropomorphics, what is sometimes referred to as “funny animal” or “furry” animation and comics. These are usually representations of characters with animal heads and other bestial characteristics, but humanoid (“anthropomorphic”) bodies, intelligence and the ability to speak. Such furry characters may or may not wear clothes; may live in their own “furry” world, or in the real world with humans; and may have their own animal-based culture. Such creatures appear in children’s literature (Beatrice Potter’s 1902 The Tale of Peter Rabbit; Kenneth Grahame’s 1908 The Wind in the Willows) and in adult stories (Art Spiegelman’s Maus: A Survivor’s Tale (1980-91); Kirsten Bakis’ 1997 Lives of the Monster Dogs).

Although highly popular in comics and traditional 2D animation (Warner Bros characters such as Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck; Disney’s 1973 Robin Hood (1973) and TaleSpin (1990-91)), the only professional example of 3D furry animation I could find with a quick Google search was this French soft drink commercial (may not be safe for conservative workplaces).

Indeed, furry anthropomorphics have a bad reputation with those in the mainstream culture who are even familiar with the notion, thanks to news reports and crime procedural dramas that paint all furry fans as sexual deviants. I won’t go into that controversy here (see Wikipedia), only to say that while there is some small truth to the allegations, most enthusiasts in furry fandom just enjoy the characters and art, and don’t have any involvement with the erotic material.

Furry anthropomorphic characters offer a unique challenge to visual effects artists. Can a balance be found and maintained between cartoonish animal CG characters, like the feature film Scooby Doo, and realistically-rendered characters like Narnia’s Aslan? There is an old idea, its truth debated by my (admittedly odd) friends growing up, that if the charismatic and roguishly adorable Bugs Bunny were to suddenly appear in the real world – if those enormous eyes were made of real sclera and ocular jelly, if a cunicular body were stretched out to those freakish proportions, if those begloved four-fingered paws were groping at you – you would run away screaming in absolute terror. Is there a funny-animal version of the Uncanny Valley?

So what funny animal comic have I chosen as the best example of a property that could today be turned into an amazing live-action TV show or feature film? There are rumors of a live-action CGI remake of Don Bluth’s brilliant 1982 animated feature The Secret of NIMH. But my choice is Steve Gallacci’s 1983-2005 space combat epic Erma Felna EDF.

The serial was the main feature of Albedo Anthropomorphics, a furry comic book anthology for adult audiences, which Gallacci edited. Erma Felna EDF was a hard sci-fi war and political drama focusing on the personal and professional crises of the eponymous character, an anthropomorphic female cat and a Tactical Aerospace Commander in the the Extraplanetary Defense Force, or EDF.

No, really. Despite the funny animal angle, Erma Felna EDF was a serious science fiction drama. As “hard” sci-fi, its space travel science and military technology were very well worked-out and explained by Gallacci, a former technical illustrator for the US Air Force. In fact, I was quite impressed by Gallacci’s to-my-knowledge unique take on space combat, which combined real-world physics with some logical conclusions drawn from theories of faster-than-light travel.

And the story, while not without its share of action and suspense scenes, centered largely on politics, both military and interpersonal. A brief synopsis: Cdr. Felna, daughter of a war hero, is part of the EDF, which defends the Confederation against the Republic, a xenophobic polity run by rabbits. Wounded in battle against the Republicans, Felna is sent to the planet Ekosiak, to help train the local military. Seen as a symbol of Confederate meddling, she nonetheless is drawn into putting down a local uprising. Now seen as a hero herself, Felna is sent to the Ahahn-Tako system for PR purposes, and survives an assassination attempt that cripples her spacecraft. During the rescue attempt, an alien spacecraft is discovered, revealing secrets that may reveal the origins of all civilization.

Why is Erma Felna EDF a furry animal comic at all? Probably because that’s what Gallacci wanted to draw. But honestly, while Erma Felna EDF is well written, without the furry angle it would not stand out much from all the other hard sci-fi I have read over the years. The disconnect between the serious hard science fiction and adult literary drama on the one hand, and the funny animals on the other, emphasizes each aspect. It seems like a gimmick, until you read it.

So what about Erma Felna: The Motion Picture? (Actually, fans usually remember the comic by the name of the magazine – so it might be Albedo: The Motion Picture.) Not many hard sci-fi space-based films or TV shows get made. Avatar had a strong hard sci-fi component; on TV we have had FOX’s Space: Above and Beyond(1995-96) and Firefly (2002), as well as the Sci Fi Channel’s Battlestar Galactica (2003-09). The furry animal angle might be what a well-written space epic needs to spur interest in general audiences, who may buy a ticket or tune in out of curiosity, and stay for the compelling story and characterization.

But can it be done? A 3D rendered Erma Felna has to be realistic enough to fit into her high-tech, futuristic and militaristic universe. She has to be human enough to convey complex emotion; but she can’t look like a talking cat from a cat food commercial. She has to be charismatic and sexy, without creeping out the audience. And she can’t be so realistic that she looks like a deformed monster cat.

It’s quite a challenge for any animation and rendering team. (Add to this the rest of the Erma Felna universe, full of anthropomorphic rabbits, dogs, birds, foxes, hamsters and countless other critters.) If it could be done, and the creative problems could be solved, Erma Felna: The Motion Picture would be unlike anything made to-date.

Post-script: It’s not traditionally anthropomorphic or sci-fi, but a “live-action” CG remake of Watership Down could be a disaster, or it could be brilliant, depending on how it was done.

Previous: Wings of Honnêamise (anime, 1987)
Next: Shirow Masamune’s Appleseed (manga, 1985-89)

See a set of Erma Felna EDF scans on Flickr.

More info: Furry fandom and Albedo Anthropomorphics on Wikipedia.

Ten Famous Science Fiction Properties That Would Make Great VFX Movies — Part 1 ‘Wings of Honneamise’

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This is a series of posts discussing ten existing science fiction properties (from literature, animation, games and comics) that could serve as the basis for ground-breaking live-action VFX films and television shows. First up: the 1987 anime feature film The Wings of Honnêamise.

In the 1980s and 90s, effects-centered films and television shows occupied specific niches. In film, an effects-heavy movie like Ghostbusters or Terminator 2: Judgment Day was a summer tentpole release designed to reel in teen audiences of repeat viewers; while a show like Star Trek: The Next Generation, with its $2.5 million an episode budget, was a risky experiment in capitalizing on 1960s nostalgia.

Today, most movies rely heavily on VFX, many of those effects invisible. Greenscreen sets and set extensions, digital makeup, and post-production fixes for on-set mistakes are just a few applications of digital technology used in films and TV shows that the average viewer might think had no effects whatsoever.

But audiences still want “effects-heavy” films, from The Matrix and The Lord of the Rings trilogies at the turn of the millennium to the Iron Man films and Avatar today. And for the first time in TV history, shows from Firefly and Battlestar Galactica to V and Human Target are recreating the experience of effects-heavy, action-oriented movies on the small screen.

Two factors have led to this renaissance in effects-driven entertainment. First, technological advances have made it cheaper and cheaper to create top-quality effects. And second, those same advances have made it possible to realistically render visions that were never possible before. Today’s VFX artists can create worlds that just ten years ago producers would have said could only be represented with traditional animation. Rumor said James Cameron abandoned his Spider-Man film project because he was dissatisfied with the realism of the character’s CG web-slinging. Can you imagine the director of Avatar having such a concern today?

But how can science fiction filmmakers best take advantage of this new artistic freedom? Some recent films have impressed with their ability to create amazing sci-fi realms and alternate worlds – The Lord of the Rings, King Kong, I Am Legend, Watchmen, 2009’s Star Trek. Others have been less successful, despite the potential of their source material. The skill and creativity of the VFX artists and technicians is not in question. World creation is a specific variety of visual art; and even the most talented VFX artists can’t create an amazing, immersive experience unless that imaginary world is original, vibrant and complete.

There is a large number of existing science fiction properties that could give film and television creators all the material they need to produce visual epics of a type as yet unseen on screen. The Internet is full of lists of sci-fi classics that would make great movies – this list concentrates solely on properties that would provide the most inspiration to VFX artists. Character and plot are secondary (but not irrelevant) considerations. These are ideas for films that would engender in today’s jaded audiences the same kind of excitement we experienced when a Star Wars or a Raiders of the Lost Ark first premiered.

Over the next few weeks, I will cover my top ten choices, from number 10 through number one. Of course, I must be familiar with a book, comic or other property in order to write about it. Originally I considered both sci-fi and fantasy; but in the end, my top ten choices were all sci-fi. If you have any favorites I missed, please talk about them in the comments.

Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honnêamise (dir. Yamaga Hiroyuki, 1987)

Back when Wings of Honnêamise first hit the US anime fan circuit, when we sat in dark basement rooms watching unsubbed anime while poring over fan translation printouts off of Usenet, few American otaku thought the film was any good. I was one of a tiny minority who agreed with the Japanese critics, that it was one of the best movies of the year, and perhaps the best anime feature yet made.

Today, when you can buy manga at Barnes & Noble and Naruto is a household word, Wings of Honnêamise is almost forgotten except among anime aficionados, many of whom lament the film’s lack of giant transforming robots and sex-obsessed middle-schoolers. The US DVD release in 2000 (upon which I relied to provide screenshots) was made from a terrible print; get the 2007 Blu-ray version and watch this film. I guarantee you will not be disappointed.

Wings of Honnêamise takes place on a parallel Earth where modern technology and global culture began in the East rather than the West, in an alternative version of Japan and Southeast Asia. The hero, Shiro (based on actor Treat Williams), is part of his nation’s unheralded, underfunded and comically deadly space program, which exists only as a ploy to lure another, alternate-Western nation into a war. Shiro falls for a pretty religious zealot named Riquinni (based on Tatum O’Neal), and in an effort to impress her, volunteers to be the first man in space.

Unlike many Asian and European films, Wings of Honnêamise adheres to a three-act structure; but its mood is unusually flat, which may be what put off American audiences. The characters, especially the two leads, are so thoroughly crushed by the pointlessness of their lives that even their epiphanies feel listless. And Shiro’s violent attempt to consummate his relationship with Riquinni does not play as well with Western audiences as it did in Japan.

But all this moodiness and moral malaise pays off at the climax, when Shiro’s dangerous and soul-changing flight into orbit (imagine if Apollo 11 had launched during a full-on Soviet invasion of Kennedy Space Center) successfully ignites in the viewer all the hope and excitement for the future we felt back when America’s space program really meant something.

Wings of Honnêamise makes this list because of its justifiably famous and influential (in anime) production design. When brand-new production company Gainax (later the creators of the immensely popular Neon Genesis Evangelion) decided to make an alternate-reality film, they really dedicated themselves to an alternate reality, with an impressively obsessive attention to detail not seen since Blade Runner. And while Ridley Scott was limited by budgetary and practical constraints, the artists at Gainax were hindered only by their imaginations.

Everything in the world of the film – the architecture, technology, costumes, calligraphy, urban design, food, utensils, doorknobs, windowsills, every single incidental detail – is carefully crafted as part of a unified, original cultural continuum that is inspired by, but different from, East Asian culture. (The alternate-Western culture, worked out with far less effort, is humorously based in medieval European iconography, like a modern society evolving directly out of The Hunchback of Notre Dame.) The vehicles – automobiles, motorcycles, bicycles, and a few that are harder to categorize – are different, yet familiar. The aircraft fly “backward,” with their propellers on the rear instead of the nose; but they seem to conform to the same laws of aeronautics as on our world.

Assuming the events in Wings take place at a point in its world’s history roughly contemporaneous with our Yuri Gagarin, and it seems they do, then many aspects of that world’s technology are a few decades behind ours, but not all. Yet their machines are not cross-decade Steampunk chimera like the parody technology of Terry Gilliam’s Brazil; the devices are consistent, both internally and with each other, and seem to make sense, having developed out of the same technological and scientific tradition.

Some science fiction films make the mistake of portraying technology that is too consistent. Watch 2001: A Space Odyssey and you might believe that all technology in that distant future year was produced by a single designer working for a single company. The archaic computers, inverted telephones, and beautifully-crafted train ticket dispensers of the nation of Honnêamise seem related, but not the same; they come from the same culture, but not the same place within that culture. The viewer doesn’t necessarily notice this, unless they obsessively examine the film as I have, but it registers in the back of the brain as realism. All the puzzle-pieces fit together, seamlessly; and as in The Lord of the Rings or Avatar, they create a strong sense of a single, genuine reality that beckons to the viewer, who wants to leap through the screen and explore.

Interestingly, director Yamaga eschews wide vistas and establishing shots; the details of Honnêamise are presented through medium shots, and in the background of two-shots. The world of Wings of Honnêamise is a real world of real people, so we learn about it through the experience of those people. Not only is the sense of reality heightened, but viewer’s lizard brain screams out zoom out! Back up! I want to see!


When Wings of Honnêamise was released in the 1980s, it was impossible to shoot it in live action; Roger Ebert basically said as much in his review of the film. The cost of the costumes, sets and backlot stages, miniatures, special effects, and the countless props, would have been absurdly prohibitive; as it was, Wings was one of the most expensive animated features made to date. But today? With virtual sets and greenscreen set extensions? The success of a live-action remake would be measured not in budgetary considerations, but in the artistic freedom, courage and devotion of the filmmakers and artists.

Next: Erma Felna EDF (comic, 1983-2005)

See a set of Wings of Honnêamise screencaps and production art on Flickr.

The Ten Worst Science Fiction Films of All Time: ‘Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull’

Jesus Fucking Christ, you must be joking.

For more on how I am choosing these films, see my post on Battlefield Earth.

Here’s a science fiction story for you: some time after the release of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade in 1989, George Lucas was replaced by an untalented clone duplicate.

How else to explain the crap that has come out of Lucasfilm in the intervening years? Christ, this is the man who wrote and directed Star Wars, likely the best science fiction film ever made. Of course that was well before Star Wars became Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope: Special Edition: Guinness Book of World Records’ Film Title with the Most Colons in It Edition.

Lucas was also responsible, along with his best friend the more reliably talented Steven Spielberg, for the original three Indiana Jones films. The first, entitled only Raiders of the Lost Ark (not, as it would be later styled, I kid you not, The Adventures of Indiana Jones: Episode 29: Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark) was just freaking brilliant, a perfect pastiche of 1930s movie serials, scientific romances and WWII spy capers.

When the second film, the prequel Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, came out three years later in 1984, I didn’t like it.  I realize now why – I have always said I hate sequels that are fundamentally remakes of the original, and yet I disliked IJToD precisely because it was so different from its predecessor. Watching it now, I realize it’s really an incredibly fun film.

The third film, Last Crusade, was similar in structure and tone to RotLA; but it was still a very enjoyable movie. (Spielberg and I are both Jewish; and RotLA featured Jewish mythology. Irrationally, the Hindu magic in IJToD did not bother me one bit; but the Christian magic in IJatLC, coming from a Jewish director, raised my hackles. As I said, this was perfectly irrational of me – all religions are equally superstitious and mythological.)

The Indiana Jones trilogy ranked second only to the original Star Wars trilogy in terms of pop culture touchstones for Generation X. While the Baby Boomers had John Wayne as The Ringo Kid and… um… Genghis Kahn, I guess, we had Harrison Ford as Han Solo and Indiana Jones.

When I first heard there would be a new Indiana Jones after a 19-year hiatus, I was skeptical. I have seen Harrison Ford in interviews, and he could easily get the role as the Cryptkeeper in Tales from the Crypt: The Movie. Even that stickpin of a wife can barely prop him up. Then I heard that a son was going to be introduced. Didn’t we get enough of the Jones family in IJatLC and Young Indiana Jones Chronicles?

Still, I was hopeful. It certainly did not occur to me the movie would be such a total clusterfuck.

Is Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull terrible in the Ed Wood sense? Of course not. Like other films discussed in this series, its awfulness comes not from what it is, but what it should have and could have been.

Is IJKCS a science fiction film, or is it fantasy? With Indy living in the UFO-obsessed, paranoid 1950s, Lucas specifically wanted to create a science fiction film – Indiana Jones and the Moon Men essentially. He even said the “aliens” in the film were explained with string theory, somehow. Right, like George Lucas understands string theory.

Before I get into my Bitingly Sarcastic Plot Synopsis and tear this film apart, some things I liked:

  • I don’t know if it’s digital makeup, or prosthetics, or yoga, but Harrison Ford looks great. Indy is supposed to be 58 in the film, and the then-66-year-old Ford pulls it off fine.
  • I was thrilled when the return of Karen Allen as Marion Ravenwood was announced at Comic-Con in 2007, and she was fine in the film.
  • It was a bit heavy-handed; but in an era when Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck are lauding the destructive and (ironically) un-American legacy of Joe McCarthy, it’s great to see a summer popcorn picture reminding audiences what a terrible time the 1950s were in US history.
  • And that’s it.

And now: my Bitingly Sarcastic Plot Synopsis!

Dear George and Steven. Please give us a very cool opening, involving a car chase between typical 50s teens and a mysterious convoy of US army vehicles, that sets the period and tone of the film. Then ruin it with constant interruptions by bad CGI groundhogs. Thanks, Kunochan.

The army convoy arrives at a desert military base and the soldiers, who are really Russian spies, murder the guards at the gate. This will be important later, when Spielberg forgets that it happened.

Zeez are not zee droidz you are lookink vor.

So here we are at Area 51, which is apparently guarded by the five guys at the gate and no one else. Good work, Ike. Here’s Beowulf, except now he’s British and fat. And look! Here’s Galadriel!  Oh, except with a bowl haircut. And she lost 80 pounds. And she sounds like Chekhov from Star Trek.

Galadriel is looking for the remains from the Roswell crash. It seems that Indy was one of the experts flown in to examine the remains back in ’47; and that means he will somehow have mastered the special Dewey Decimal System they use at Area 51 (which seems to be “hey, put it anywhere”).

This is “magnetism” like Scientology is “scientific.”

Indy remembers that the remains were highly “magnetic,” and uses this knowledge to locate the crate. This is important to why this movie sucks so hard, so let’s examine it for a moment. The “magnetism” displayed by the alien artifacts in the film betrays almost no relationship to actual magnetism. Indeed, several characters remark on this. Of itself, this is okay – we can imagine that the Inter-Dimensional Beings from Beyond the 11th Dimension have some weird technology that makes their crystals behave in a way that seems like “magnetism” to the uneducated Earthling.

See, the buckshot is attracted by the “magnetism,” but the guns? Nada.

But in a science fiction story, the weirdness must be internally consistent. The storyteller must establish rules and stick to them, otherwise the audience cannot believe in the reality of the story. Spielberg’s alien crystals needed to have the same effect on metal at all times; but they do not. The “magnetism” is inconsistent with scenes, even within shots.

I don’t know why Spielberg forgot this. While Lucas may have directed the best sci-fi film ever, Spielberg made several of the other top nine. (Those don’t include this one. Or A.I.)

Look everybody, the Lost Ark! It’s right there! No, there! In that box! No, the broken box!

Anyway. Galadriel gets the remains; Beowulf betrays Indy; and we get an obvious, close-up look at the Lost Ark. Yeah, we already figured out this was the warehouse from the end of RotLA. Thanks for telegraphing the joke, Steve. You know what would have been cool? Burying the Ark in the back of a shot, so that fans had to look for it.

Indy and the Main Soviet Thug crash through into a fully-operational, fully-powered-up rocket lab. Why isn’t anyone here working in the fully-operational, fully-powered-up rocket lab? Is it Labor Day?

The Thug (the character’s name is Colonel Dovchenko, but how the hell would we know that?) and Indy blast across the desert in a rocket car, and Indy escapes. By the way, it’s night now. I don’t know why it’s night now, but it is. And there are more CGI groundhogs.

Jesus Fucking Christ, you must be joking.

Now we come to nuking the fridge. Like the magnetism issue, this requires an aside. It’s when they nuked the fridge that I knew this movie sucked. And there is a perfectly good reason why “nuking the fridge” has entered the English lexicon to replace “jumping the shark” (funny, both phrases involve greasers).

Let’s not nitpick. We won’t ask why the government went ahead with a highly sensitive nuclear test when five gate guards had been killed the day before. We won’t ask why the refrigerator traveled faster than the shock wave. We won’t even complain that there was ANOTHER GODDAMN GROUNDHOG.

No, we’ll just deal with the fundamental problem that even in a universe where men can ride halfway across the ocean on top of a submarine, where Lost Arks melt the faces of Nazis, where sacred stones burn through backpacks and priests can pull beating hearts out of the chests of living victims, where medieval knights who speak modern English live in caves for centuries protecting carpenters’ cups; even in that universe, you can’t survive a nuclear blast by hiding in a lead-lined refrigerator.

Look, at first I loved this scene. I figured out at once this was one of those fake towns the military used to nuke to supposedly figure out the effect of blasts on civilian targets. I was amazed and agog that Indy was in such an impossible situation, and I had no idea how he was going to get out of it. I guess the child inside of me still had enough faith in Spielberg and Lucas that they would somehow solve this insoluble problem.

I was wrong. Instead, they cheated. They betrayed the audience’s trust.

Wheeeeeeeeeee!

I’ve argued online with members of the Stupid-American community who say there’s nothing wrong with this scene. They either believe you can survive a nuclear attack in a fridge (in which case, I have nothing but pity for them); or they think because this film is science fiction, facts don’t matter. This gets science fiction completely wrong – hell, it even gets fantasy and occult/horror wrong, because even though those genres don’t have to conform to the laws of physics and to reality, they do have to be internally consistent. Even Gandalf the Grey can’t survive a nuke by hiding in a refrigerator.

No, Indiana Jones would have been liquefied when the blast wave hit the house containing the fridge. Then, even if the fridge had remained in one piece (with the unlatched door inexplicably shut), his liquefied remains would have been atomized when the fridge hit the ground again. And finally, those atoms would be highly radioactive for several thousand years.

All we would have left of Dr. Henry Jones Jr. would be a pile of melted lead slag and a radioactive fedora.

Hey Indy, you might want to have your lymph nodes looked at.

I have to admit, the closing shot in the sequence, of Indy watching the mushroom cloud, kicks ass. But Indy will not live to be an ancient one-eyed centenarian of YIJC. He’ll be dead of lymphoma within five years.

Now we learn how Indy spent the last two decades. Having temporarily turned aside from archaeology, he fought in WWII and then joined the OSS.

Indy is interrogated by a couple of federal agents, who impugn his loyalty to his country. When he describes Galadriel, he says she “carried a sword of some kind – a rapier, I think.” You think? You’re Indiana freaking Jones. You would recognize various types of swords, dude, just like you know your Greek amphorae and your Tocharian B. It’s your thing.

AAAAAUGH! Indy just said “new-kew-lar!” He’s a frickin’ university professor! Maybe that’s why the FBI gets Indy blacklisted from the University. Henry Sr. and Marcus Brody are dead, and Indy is going to have to take a teaching position in Europe. Funny, in the real world that’s an honor – but in Hollywood movies it’s a journey of shame and regret.

Enter “Mutt,” the world’s cleanest greaser. His stepfather, Oxley, used to hunt crystal skulls with Indy. He found one, and tried to return it to El Dorado. Blah blah blah exposition exposition backstory exposition motivation. I don’t care – I’m still reeling in astonishment and disappointment from the nuking of the fridge.

There’s another car chase, as “Mutt” and Indy flee from some hulking Soviet agents. I’m sorry, I can’t type “Mutt” without the quotation marks. It’s ridiculous. Yes, we get it, he’s named after the dog too. Great.

After more pseudo-archaeological hoo-ha, Indy and the kid we’re not supposed to know is his son but of course we do because we’re not stupid fly to Peru. Good thing Indy has an unlimited grant from the Traveling Around the World Destroying Archaeological Sites and Stealing Artifacts Foundation.

In Peru, Indy discovers that Oxley left a Room Full of Clues, which is a great way to get the plot moving without actually figuring out what the plot is. Then we teleport to the first actual archaeological site in the movie.

I majored in Archaeology in college – no, really. So while we all loved Indiana Jones, we also understood that he was the worst archaeologist ever. Here’s the breakdown for the Henry Jones, Jr. School of Archaeology:

  1. Locate a site of great archaeological interest. Don’t bother contacting the local government, or getting permits.
  2. Use whatever force is necessary to break in, no matter how much damage you do.
  3. Improvise as far as equipment. For instance, wrap a rag around a human shinbone and use it as a torch.
  4. Show no respect for human remains (see #3).
  5. Don’t take notes, or make drawings, or take photos. Who needs all that?
  6. Find the single most valuable artifact, and steal it.
  7. Escape while the entire rest of the site collapses around you.

Here, after handily defeating the racially sensitive Mesoamerican Monkey People, Indy and “Mutt” just break into the tomb and start slicing open priceless mummies with a switchblade. I don’t remember seeing that in Renfrew’s Archaeology.

As “Mutt” and Indy escape from the tomb (we don’t see this, but it undoubtedly collapses), the Commies are waiting for them, in a scene I liked a lot better when it was in RotLA.

Later in the jungle, in the desert tent from RotLA, Galadriel forces Indy to look into the eyes of the Alien Space Skull from Space, the very thing that drove Oxley mad. This is meant to be dramatic but isn’t, because a.) Indy isn’t driven mad, and doesn’t even pretend to go mad for Galadriel’s benefit, and b.) I’m still upset about nuking the fridge.

The Commies are holding Oxley and Marion Ravenwood hostage, which is a great way to get all the main characters together without developing the plot. “Mutt” instigates an escape, and soon Marion and Indy are trapped in a sand pit. While the others go for help, Marion tells Indy what everyone else on Earth already knew, that “Mutt” is his son. “Mutt” returns and uses a giant snake to pull his parents out of the sand pit, which is hilarious because Indy is afraid of snakes, except it isn’t. And Oxley returns with “help” in the form of the Commies, which actually is hilarious, maybe the only joke in the movie that works. (And anyway, where else was Oxley supposed to go for help? They’re in the middle of the South American jungle, and the Soviets are the only people around.)

For some reason Galadriel and her men have a giant weed whacker-cum-tank, and they’re using it to create a road through the jungle. Indy escapes and blows up the tank, but from this point on a road magically appears, because why should our characters’ actions have consequences? That would be called a “plot,” and this movie doesn’t want one of those.

The ensuing car chase is very exciting, very clever, and would not even have been ruined by the on-again, off-again nature of the crystal skull’s “magnetism.” Wouldn’t it have been cool if the “magnetism” had been worked into the chase, if Indy or some other character had used it to his or her advantage? Oh well.

Watch for that — AaaaaAAAAaaaaAAAAAaaaa — TREEEE!!!!

No, that’s not what ruins the very exciting, very clever car chase. That’s not what had the audience in my theater groaning the first time I saw this. No, the very exciting, very clever car chase was ruined when “Mutt” swings through the jungle vines like Tarzan. And to think, I was just beginning to get over nuking the fridge.

Fuck you, Lucas. You too, Spielberg.

Then, the army ants. God, are there any decent CG animals in this flick? By the way, I have a question. By this point, Beowulf has convinced Indy that he’s a double-agent, still working for the CIA. Okay, so now Indy trusts him. But why do “Mutt” and Marion?

Look out, Indy! There are no spinning propellers this time!

Indy gets his big fistfight with the Main Soviet Thug, Colonel Whassisname. He looks like the plane mechanic on RotLA, and his Soviet uniform looks like a Nazi uniform. You know, Steve, there’s self-referencing, and then there’s self-plagiarism.

Boba? Boba Fett? Is that you down there, buddy?

Oops! Colonel Whassisname goes down the Sarlacc pit. You know, George, there’s self-referencing, and then there’s self-plagiarism.

Off our heroes go, down three consecutive giant waterfalls. This kind of thing is standard in an Indiana Jones movie, but would Oxley really have the strength to survive all this, while hanging onto a crystal skull with an iron grip?  He didn’t have to be written as old and weak, you know.

So we come, through Indy’s interpretation of Oxley’s cryptic mumblings, to El Dorado. But – oh no! – someone is dropping homing devices so Galadriel and her Soviet Elves can follow! And since Spielberg was afraid the average American moviegoer was too stupid to understand that a little metal thingy with a flashing red light was a homing device, he added a loud beeping sound that somehow Indy, Marion and “Mutt” are too deaf to hear.

Anyway, we get more ethnic sensitivity with an attack of barbaric, primitive South American monkey-men all tarted up in the ceremonial gear that natives only wear for tourists and National Geographic film crews. I’m pretty sure that by 1957 most native tribes had been disrupted, their members conscripted into working on clear-cut factory farms, or in oil refineries. But whatever. Lucas also gave us the all-white Star Wars, and the ethnically offensive aliens in Phantom Menace.

Steven, Mommy says you’re not allowed to play with that naughty little Georgie anymore. Now go to your room and work on Tintin.

Yes, yes, we get it already.

Oxley, who left behind all the clues so Indy didn’t have to do any work, has also figured out how to get into the city and find the aliens. In fact, the only time Indy has actually done anything in this whole film is when he used the gunpower to find the Roswell remains. And that was an hour and forty minutes ago.

Alright, let’s discuss the climax; because except for the “magnetism,” and “nuking the fridge,” and the CG groundhogs, and “new-kew-lar,” and “Mutt,” and “Mutt” as Tarzan, this is the worst part of the movie.

Hey Shia, you getting any of this shit? Cuz I sure ain’t!

Let’s break this down. Thousands of years ago, a flying saucer full of inter-dimensional grays with crystal skeletons arrives on Earth. As inter-dimensional archaeologists, they gather up priceless artifacts from cultures around the world; although taking artifacts from living cultures sounds like stealing, not archaeology. (Someone should inform the Vatican of this.)

These aliens also teach the native South Americans about agriculture, astronomy, 2012 — all that Von Daniken stuff. They bury their saucer under the city of El Dorado, and create a wonderful center of learning.

Then for some reason the aliens shed their skins and go sit in a circle, on thrones, in the form of crystal skeletons. Are they artificial lifeforms? Are they communing psychically? Are they exploring the Earth with their minds? Did they die? WTF?

Hey Steven. I’m here to drop off Richard Dreyfuss and get my royalty check.

Then one day a conquistador comes along and steals one of the skulls. Why did the aliens allow this, unless they are dead? How does there come to be a legend of a great reward if the skull is returned? How is it that the throne chamber is resealed with a puzzle door that can only be opened by someone holding the skull?

Then Indy and Oxley bring back the skull, although it’s Galadriel who actually returns it to its proper place, hoping to get the reward of infinite knowledge. Now with the skull returned, the aliens prepare to leave, and all the good guys run for it. The aliens kill, or at least atomize, Galadriel. Why did they do that? Are they Mensheviks?

All the aliens did was show her Phantom Menace.

In a scene stolen right from IJatLC, Beowulf refuses to leave without some treasure, and gets sucked into the alien ship. Indy, Marion, “Mutt” and Oxley escape just in time to watch the city of El Dorado be destroyed and the alien saucer take off for the 11th Dimension or what-the-hell ever.

What?

Okay I love you buh-bye.

I have no problem with the aliens being mysterious, but we have to have some clue as to what they are doing. Why would uber-powerful aliens sit around and wait for someone to return the skull? Why not go get it themselves? They have a spaceship. Or they could psychically induce someone to fetch it. Hell, they could have prevented it from being stolen in the first place!

And if the aliens are inter-dimensional archaeologists, why do they destroy all the artifacts they collected, and the entire city of El Dorado, as they leave?

Spielberg knows how to do aliens – E.T., Close Encounters of the Third Kind, War of the Worlds. (No, those weren’t aliens at the end of A.I., and if you thought they were, go buy yourself a helmet and a drool cup.) How could he fuck up these aliens so badly?

Oh yeah. George.

A few last questions. How did Indy get his job back, much less a promotion? Did the FBI believe his story about the Soviets getting atomized by Inter-Dimensional Beings from Beyond the 11th Dimension?

And how does Indy lose his eye???

End of Bitingly Sarcastic Plot Synopsis

Listen, George and Steven, and let me tell you something you should have already known. Some things are good just as they are, and don’t need to be improved or expanded. CE3K did not need a Special Edition – it was fine the way it was.  Indiana Jones did not need more adventures – he was fine the way he was. E.T. does not need its government agents carrying flashlights, it was fine the way it was. Star Wars did not need Greedo shooting first or a terrible GC Jabba, it was fine the way it was.

There’s even a saying: “don’t fix what’s not broken.” Steven, concentrate on new projects, new ideas. We’d love to see them.

George, go count your money. By hand. That should keep you occupied until you drop dead.

Next time: Prometheus (2012)

The Ten Worst Science Fiction Jobs of All Time

Science fiction fans tend to want to live in the worlds they read about and watch in books and movies. They forget that Han Solo was a glorified space truck driver, or that Captain Kirk spent most of his time doing paperwork.

Here are the ten worst jobs in science fiction (multiple spoiler alerts):

Official Government Alien Abductee
From: Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

Let’s say after you graduate from college you spend an extra – what, 6 years? – getting that Ph.D. And don’t forget about those student loans. But it’s all worth it, because when a shadowy international agency receives the first genuine alien message from space, it’s you to whom they turn. And when they choose a small, select team of men and women to travel into space with the aliens, they pick you.

So you train, and study, and undergo rigorous testing. It’s like the astronaut program, except secret. When you’re done you get your snazzy red jumpsuit and dark glasses, because who would want to accompany aliens on their intergalactic concert series without a snazzy red jumpsuit and dark glasses?

They fly you out to Devil’s Tower (or you ride out there in a Piggly Wiggly truck, the movie’s not clear), and witness the first human contact with an extraterrestrial civilization. Then, after a brief religious service (which is pretty silly – any advanced spacefaring civilization will be atheistic – don’t argue, you know it’s true), you’re marched out to meet your interstellar destiny.

Except the aliens don’t take you. They take some wacked-out high school graduate telephone repairman from Podunk, Indiana with a beer belly and a mashed potato fixation. And you get left behind, choking on mothership exhaust.

So you spend the rest of your life in a bitter alcohol-induced stupor, annoying your relatives with tales of how you were supposed to go live with the space aliens, and shooting out the screen of your TV any time ET The Extraterrestrial comes on.

Death Star Contractor
From: Star Wars (1977), Return of the Jedi (1983)

Kevin Smith already covered this one, but of course he was right. Kevin Smith is always right.

You’re one of the millions of laborers brought in by military contractors hired by the Galactic Empire to build the first Death Star. It’s a lot of hard work with low pay and bad working conditions; and the job becomes ten times as dangerous after they switch on the artificial gravity. You try welding girders when you’re a mile up!

Then the damn Rebel Alliance shows up and blows the whole thing to smithereens. A million innocent people are killed. (Yeah, yeah, I know – Alderaan. So what? Big deal.) Fortunately, you were down on Yavin at the time, picking up donuts for the team that was installing proton shielding on the main trench exhaust ports.

As the sole survivor of the first Death Star, you had little trouble getting a job as foreman on the second Death Star. The project was much bigger, but the budget much lower – the Empire took a bath on the first Death Star, and it was difficult to raise money for the second. Plus, the Emperor himself showed up to oversee operations. It was a total clusterfuck, especially considering that Palpatine wanted the main superlaser finished first, even before the living areas and outer shell were completed. That meant months of dealing with porta-johns.

And, you were ordered to build a bottomless pit right in the middle of the Emperor’s quarters. What the hell was up with that?

Then the Rebels, and some teddy bears, attacked a second time, and you were killed. Your last thought was, man, this job sucks.

Away Team “Red Shirt”
From: Star Trek (1966-69)

So, after four years in Starfleet Academy you’re an ensign. You always wanted to serve under Christopher Pike, but by the time you’re assigned to the USS Enterprise, Pike’s been turned into a Dalek by delta radiation, and you have to serve under that preening, egotistical asshat James T. Kirk.

Still, it’s a cool gig – you travel the galaxy with a ship full of hot female yeomen in mini-skirts, and there are all the multi-colored cubes you can eat.

Until it comes time to go on an away mission. You saw Mathews and Rayburn killed by an android on Exo III; O’Herlihy killed by Gorns and his twin brother Rizzo slain by the dikironium cloud creature; Grant got cut down on Capella IV; and Hendorff got capped by a pod plant on Gamma Trianguli VI.

And how does Kirk react when all these young, talented Starfleet professionals get slaughtered? Just send down another one!

In fact, today you’re supposed to beam down to Argus X to take over for Rizzo. The dikironium cloud creature already killed one obligatory red shirt – I’m sure you’ll be fine!

Commercial Mining Ship Warrant Officer
From: Alien (1979), Aliens (1986), Alien3 (1992), Alien: Resurrection (1997)

We don’t know much about life in the 22nd Century, except that working class people live in plastic capsule hotels, work for massive 80s cyberpunk-style zaibatsu, and pilot colossal mining ships with literary names that take weeks to travel between planets, so their occupants ride in suspended animation because sitting around for weeks would just be cruel.

Let’s look at the example of one Ellen Ripley, a college graduate (she got her Engineering degree from Aeronautics University in New York City – is that accredited, or is it the 22nd Century version of DeVry?) who worked her way up to Warrant Officer for a commercial mining ship owned by the Weyland-Yutani Corporation. If Ripley’s experiences are representative of the career of a Warrant Officer, and I believe they are, then I would not suggest this career for anyone.

First Ripley tries to enforce standard company rules regarding the quarantine of infected away team personnel, but her mildly retarded captain violates policy. Also, a robot that looks like Bilbo Baggins tries to kill her with a rolled up magazine. What’s really surprising here is not that everyone but Ripley is murdered by a rampaging xenomorph – it’s that in the year 2122, someone is still printing magazines.

Then Ripley is involved in some kind of bizarre escape pod accident, and returns to Earth to discover her daughter has died of old age. It’s similar to the Twin Paradox, except it makes less sense. Ripley is then convinced to return to the xenomorph moon, which is like convincing Natasha Richardson to go back to Mont Tremblant. What, too soon?

Everyone there gets slaughtered except the hunk, the kid and half the robot – oh, but they’re all killed during the opening credit sequence of the next movie. Ripley shaves her head and jumps into a pool of molten lead, because she saw the rushes and realized the movie was a piece of shit.

Then her half-alien clone kind of makes out with Winona Ryder, which is the high point of an otherwise disastrous career.

Not every Warrant Officer has to go through this kind of rigmarole, I suppose. Still, clearly the best career choice in the Alien films is ship’s cat, because that’s the only character that doesn’t eventually die in a horrible, horrible way.

Unless the cat was put down after Ripley never came back from LV-426. Yikes.

Communist Space Saucer Saboteur
From: Lost in Space (1965-68)

It’s 1997, and the United States is preparing to launch its first interstellar mission, a five-year mission to Alpha Centauri. This is bad news for the workers of the world – if the bourgeois Capitalist exploiters cement their control over outer space, the freedom-loving Socialist peoples will be forever subjugated by the Imperialist American running dogs. Something must be done – and that something is sabotage!

Fortunately, a fifth column of Communist sympathizers exists within the United States, including some inside Alpha Control (the space agency). One, an idealist and hero of the proletariat, Dr. Zachary Smith, volunteers to sneak aboard the spacecraft and sabotage it. As an expert in “intergalactic environmental psychology” (intergalactic?) and cybernetics, as well as a medical doctor, Smith is uniquely placed to get close to the Jupiter 2 and its nepotistically selected crew (it’s typical of Capitalists, to place familial ties ahead of selection based on merit).

Smith manages to get aboard and reprogram the ship’s B-9 Model Luke H Class M-3 General Utility Non-Theorizing Environmental Control Robot, giving it the free will to throw off the chains of its oppressors and destroy critical systems eight hours after launch. But Smith is trapped on board, and soon the Jupiter 2, shoddily designed by a for-profit contractor with no love of country and with oppressed, non-unionized employees, veers off course and is soon lost. In space.

So far, things are not so bad for Dr. Smith. He has successfully completed his mission, and the crew of the Jupiter 2 can’t prove he is a saboteur – they have no way to punish him, anyway. There are even two hot chicks and a MILF on board, if he can get rid of a couple of square-jawed farm boys first.

Unfortunately, the Jupiter 2 lands on a series of unidentified alien planets, and poor Comrade Smith’s woes really begin. His only friend is a young boy; coupled with Smith’s own effete manner (absorbed from years of living amongst the decadent Capitalists), this leads to speculation that Smith’s sexual proclivities are decidedly non-reproductive, in violation of basic Maoist principles. Furthermore, Smith is hectored by the constant intrusions and suspicions of the Robot, whose loyalties have somehow reverted back to bourgeois principles.

Furthermore, Smith’s natural generosity in a crisis, to encourage others to serve the workers by facing danger rather than stealing the glory himself, is misinterpreted by his presumed comrades as cowardice. Imagine! And finally, Smith must encounter countless absurd alien beings, from green-skinned salad-headed women to talking carrots, none of whom are interested in discussing intergalactic environmental psychology, cybernetics, or dialectical materialism.

So our beloved Comrade Smith, the People’s Hero and the Heir of Gagarin, is doomed to a lifetime of ridiculous adventures in space accompanied largely by a precious tow-headed lad and a “nickel-plated nincompoop” of a robot with zero points of articulation. When the Soviets recruited Smith out of the Intergalactic Environmental Psychology Program at UC Santa Cruz, he should have insisted on a rider specifying no kids, pets or robots.

Blade Runner
From: Blade Runner (1982)

Let’s begin with a comparison.

It’s 1982, and you’re a cop in Los Angeles, California. You have been assigned to take down a gang of criminals peddling drugs on the streets of the city. As part of the Drug Enforcement Task Force, you have access to an entire team of detectives, uniformed officers and forensic specialists; a large cache of weapons, from service pistols to automatic weapons to sniper rifles to a limited supply of explosives; you are supplied with various types of body armor; and you have a tank. That’s right, a freakin’ armored vehicle, which you use to penetrate fortified crack houses.

On the other hand…

It’s 2019, and you’re a former cop in Los Angeles, California – but in 2019 the police act like the military in 2010, or the mafia in 1990, and just when you thought you were out, they pull you back in. You have been assigned to find and destroy, by yourself, four super-strong, super-fast, super-intelligent android replicants from space. The replicants look just like ordinary people, and can’t be detected unless they volunteer to sit still for a complicated personality test conducted using a device like an e-meter with a bellows attached to it. Your tools for this mission are a pistol and a flying car, the latter of which you only get to use when Admiral Adama is done with it.

No fellow officers – last guy assigned to the case was shot through a wall. No advanced weapons. No armor. No tank. Just you against four super-robots. Well, and a Voight-Kampff machine and some kind of advanced photo analyzer.

Oh, and it’s raining. All the time.

Plus, your girlfriend is a robot – and acts like one, generating all the sexual heat and feminine charm of a Dyson Ball upright vacuum. And just to fuck with your head, you might be a robot.

And finally – and this is the kicker – it turns out all four of these robots are programmed to drop dead just a few days after you’re assigned to kill them. So if the cops had left you alone and just waited 72 hours, the problem would have solved itself, and you wouldn’t be nursing a fist full of broken fingers.

If blade runners have a union, you need to talk to your rep about this shit.

Precrime Precog
From: Minority Report (2002)

If you live in a world loosely based on a Philip K. Dick story, it’s a pretty good bet your job sucks – whether you’re a blade runner (see above), a split-personality undercover drug cop, a memory-wiped agent of a ruthless Martian dictator, a memory-wiped reverse engineer, an alien-created terrorist mole, or a precognitive Vegas magician.

But the worst job in the PKD oeuvre (as portrayed in film to-date, anyway) has to be Precrime precog. You’re the mutant offspring of drug addicts, a psychic with precognitive powers troubled by visions of future violent acts. You have been kidnapped by the government as a child, stripped naked and forced to spend 24 hours a day, seven days a week semi-conscious in a bathtub, foreseeing future murders and having your predictions recorded by a computer so advanced it uses billiard balls as part of its user interface. Wait, what?

There are only three of you on the planet, yet the government plans to expand your “precrime” purview to include the entire country, which makes it pretty unlikely you’ll be seeing a vacation any time soon.

By the way, you’re looked after in your high-tech bathtub by a creepy technician, which really sucks if you’re Agatha, the one female precog – you just know that guy has been “taking liberties,” if you know what I mean. Eww.

Of course, it all works out in the end, right? Tom Cruise saves the day and the precogs are freed, permitted to live “normal” lives in a cabin in the middle of nowhere… except some people think that’s a fake ending. Tom Cruise stays in prison, and the precogs remain moist slaves. Oh well – bet ya didn’t see that coming!

Jurassic Park Employee
From: Jurassic Park (1993)

For all you Libertarians and Republicans out there who insist on the fantasy that government regulation is a bad thing, let’s take the example of a certain amusement park and resort located 87 miles northwest of Costa Rica. As it was on a private island located in a third world country, it’s safe to say that Jurassic Park was an unregulated workplace.

Which sucked for the mostly brown-skinned employees of park operator InGen. For instance, your workplace probably has policies to prevent workers from being maimed and eaten by Velociraptor mongoliensis. I mean, it’s never happened where you work, right?

And your employer probably has a decent monsoon evacuation policy, at least I should hope so. Jurassic Park didn’t. How about network security procedures and failsafes that prevent all computer-controlled systems from failing, especially the ones enclosing deadly saurian macrofauna? Perhaps ones that can be reactivated by qualified park personnel, rather than by a pre-teen female hacker?

Then there’s the fact that your workplace most probably doesn’t conduct secret, unlicensed, non-peer reviewed genetic experimentation in the first place. Just try to get away with it, and see what your boss says!

Why doesn’t your job break any of these rules? Regulation. The last thing your boss wants is OSHA breathing down his neck, just because a Tyrannosaurus rex ate the company lawyer while he was in the port-a-john.

Torchwood Operative
From: Torchwood (2006 – 2009)

The Torchwood Institute was established by Queen Victoria in 1879 to defend the Empire against extraterrestrial threats, and to acquire and reverse-engineer alien technology. Throughout most of its history, Torchwood was rather… ruthless in achieving its goals.

In fact, considering the danger inherent in the investigation of alien and supernatural threats, along with Torchwood’s propensity for hiring rather violent individuals, it not surprising that most Torchwood operatives do not survive into old age (one notable exception notwithstanding).

The entire staff of Torchwood One, the linchpin of the organization, was massacred by the Cyberman and Dalek armies in the Battle of Canary Wharf. Likewise the entire crew of Torchwood Three (immortal operatives exempt) was slaughtered by their insane leader in 1999.

And as far as individual characters, the roster looks like this:

  • Suzie Costello: suicide; brought back with the Risen Mitten, killed with its destruction
  • Lisa Hallett: assimilated by the Cybermen; killed by Torchwood Three team
  • Owen Harper: shot dead on duty; brought back with the Risen Mitten; killed in nuclear meltdown
  • Alex Hopkins: murdered all of Torchwood Three team, and then killed himself
  • Ianto Jones: deadly alien virus
  • Toshiko Sato: shot dead on duty – during a nuclear meltdown

At the end of the Children of Earth mini-series (which is brilliant, by the way – even if you’ve never seen a single episode of Torchwood, go rent Children of Earth), the last time we saw the Torchwood Team, out of all the known Torchwood operatives, two were left alive. Two.

And this is an organization with the ability to bring people back from the dead.

If you want to travel the UK, meet exciting people, have a lot of sex and screw around with alien technology, you should become a Torchwood operative. But if you’re concerned about your health, maybe you should try UNIT.

Research Scientist
From: Various films and television programs

In the real world, research scientists make an invaluable contribution to the world, in fields as diverse as medicine, physics, chemistry, materials science, geology, archaeology and many more. But it’s hardly a dangerous lifestyle.

In science fiction, there is no job more dangerous. Ask Bruce Banner. Victor von Doom. Jonathan Crane. Victor Fries. Alex Olsen. Walter Bishop. Emmett Brown. Victor Frankenstein. Henry Jekyll. Herbert West. Seth Brundle. Eric Vornoff. Charles Forbin. Peter Venkman. Edward Morbius. Eldon Tyrell. Doctors Moreau, Griffin, Phibes, Totenkopf, and Rotwang.

In science fiction, working in the research sciences can get you mutated, exploded, intrinsic-field subtracted, genetically crossed with a housefly, lost in space, lost in time, lost in parallel dimensions, turned into a plant, turned into an animal, turned into an alien killing machine, driven insane, killed by your own hideous creation, given godlike powers beyond your ability to handle, duplicated, split into good and evil halves, devolved, evolved, kicked out of academia, spurned by the medical community, spurned by society and lynched by mob of torch-wielding villagers.

Also, locked up in prison, trapped forever between dimensions, eaten by virus zombies, shrunk to microscopic size, exploded to 50 feet in height, transformed into a grotesque parody of the human form, gender switched, swapped bodies with your kid, metamorphosed into a floating disembodied brain, badly burned, fused with an alien intelligence, fused with a machine, fused with a Brundlepod, converted into binary digits and forced to compete on the Game Grid, atomized by your own self-destruct device and ejected into the vacuum of space.

Seriously, is this why you spent eight years in college?

‘FlashForward’ Flashback: Zoic Studios’ Steve Meyer on the Award-Nominated VFX for the Pilot

Posted by Erik Even in I Design Your Eyes on April 1, 2010

Property of ABC; screencap from the Zoic Television Reel.

Based on the science fiction novel by Robert J. Sawyer, ABC’s FlashForward tells the story of the aftermath of a bizarre global event. For 137 seconds, every person on Earth (except perhaps one) loses consciousness, and experiences visions of their own future.

The pilot episode presents the immediate aftermath of the worldwide disaster, with the consequences of the worldwide blackout – millions of deaths due to traffic collisions, crashed aircraft, and other accidents. Star Joseph Fiennes, portraying FBI agent Mark Benford, survives an auto wreck and looks out over a chaotic Los Angeles cityscape. Culver City, California’s Zoic Studios was tapped to create the disastrous tableau; the company’s work on the episode was nominated for two VES awards, for Outstanding Supporting Visual Effects in a Broadcast Program and for Outstanding Created Environment in a Broadcast Program or Commercial.

Zoic VFX Supervisor Steve Meyer discusses the creation of the complex scene, which required a tremendous amount of rotoscoping and motion tracking. The amount of roto was necessary, Meyer says, “because they shot in downtown LA, looking from the 4th St. overpass, over the southbound and northbound 110 Freeway. So naturally you can’t stop all that traffic, or get a greenscreen up.

“There’s a big, swooping hero shot following Joseph Fiennes as he jumps up on a car and looks down, and it’s a huge vista. Then we reverse it and look northbound. Everything in the foreground on that overpass we had to roto out. We had a team of seven or eight people going for weeks, just rotoing that and a bunch of other shots.

“We ended up having to remove all the traffic on the freeway; then added in overturned cars, cars burning, flames, smoke, helicopters crashing, just debris everywhere. We had to build a 3D matte painting in that environment. There’s a lot of detail – you can look at the shot over and over, and always see something new.”

The production brought on an experienced feature film matte painter, Roger Kupelian (2012, Alice in Wonderland) to create a “road map” of the shot. “Kupelian took a still of the freeway overpass shots, and he just dialed it in with Kevin Blank, the VFX supervisor – we want smoke here, we want the helicopter to hit here, we want fire and destruction here, we want this tree burning. They gave us a template – this is what we need it to look like. Kupelian sent us the files, and sometimes we used his elements.

“There are about 45 shots we ended up doing for the pilot, and the majority of them were for that overpass sequence. For most of the shots, nothing was locked off – every shot had some sort of roto, because there was no greenscreen. We had to roto everything to build the shots, and then try to match the smoke, fire, debris, people and other elements from shot to shot.

“We were working with different formats — stock footage, film footage, the Red Camera — trying to mix all these different formats to create one environment.”

All the scenes were tracked in Andersson Technologies’ SynthEyes camera tracking software, from which the team was able to build a 3D environment. The artists used this 3D information in Adobe After Effects to rebuild the plate with clean pieces of freeway, overpasses, signs, etc.

“The smoke was a combination of digital photographs, Google images, CG smoke, and moving elements that we had in our vault. Some of the smoke was a dust cloud that we slowed down. One of the smoke passes was a photo of a brush fire I took up by my house with my iPhone. I took the image, gave it to one of my compositors, and said ‘this will look good off in the distance.’ It’s so far off you don’t see it moving, so it fit in fine.

“They shot lots of people on greenscreen, and they all needed to have the right camera lens perspective. They’re way off in the distance; you have to get up close to an HD screen to see them. But we didn’t want any nuances to be overlooked. We don’t want to shoot a person head-on when the camera is going to be looking down at them.

“Another complication with the overpass sequence was that it was shot on a bright day, so we had a lot of technical problems. If you look at someone up against a bright sky, the sun wraps around them a bit, like a halo – and we were trying to put a dark smoke cloud behind them. It just doesn’t work right. We had a lot of technical things to try to work through when we ran into those kinds of problems. Every shot had to be 3D tracked. We took that 3D track into our environment, and we placed things in our 3D world shot by shot by shot.

“We also had a CG tanker in there that blew up. They actually had a real tanker with a big hole in it, and they threw in six gallons of gasoline and lit it and boom! It was huge. We had to put the shell of the tanker on there before the practical explosion; and then we just blew it up in Autodesk Maya and added CG debris, camera shake, heat ripple and dynamic smoke trails; plus glass shattering on the buildings and other background effects.”

Property of ABC; screencap from the Zoic Television Reel.

Wreckage from the tanker explosion strikes an overturned car and knocks it off the overpass onto the freeway below. Zoic created the car in CG. “They shot everybody running up to the guardrail and looking over,” Meyer explains. “We had to remove the railing and put in our own CG railing, so when the car goes down it takes it with it. So we had the complicated roto of recreating the people’s bodies that were behind the railing. We had to rebuild lots of people’s legs and waists. We put in the smoke and stuff that dynamically reacts to the car, so when it gets sucked down it creates a vortex and pulls the smoke down. Also, there’s an orange cart right nearby. We try to get every detail right, so when the car goes down we have a couple of oranges that roll away with it.

Property of ABC; screencap from the Zoic Television Reel.

“Then we had the falling LAPD helicopter. We took a panoramic image of a building, so we’re working on one frame and can do a pan-and-tilt in post. The helicopter has already crashed into the building, and we needed to have the smoke barreling out through most of the sequence, with the rotor blades still spinning — then we get to a certain point, and there’s an explosion that pushes the helicopter out. It tumbles and it’s scraping the building, tearing it apart and opening it up.

“Roger Kupelian labored intensely on a matte painting of the inside of the building, with what would be exposed – wires, beams, pipes, office equipment. As the CG helicopter was falling down the face of the building and opening it up, our compositor just revealed it with little mattes. At the same time we threw in sparks, debris, dust and smoke. It ended up pretty good. It was tough making an animation that made everyone happy, but in the end it looked great on the big screen at the viewing.

“Some of the shots were fun, because you can really push the envelope — let’s see what happens when we do this or when we do that. It took a lot of planning and careful choreography to between our 2D and 3D teams to keep the action and look continuous. Our teams worked tirelessly to create seamless product because anything out of place would be glaring.

“This isn’t ‘sci-fi’ with spaceships and aliens,” Meyers says, “which allow a bit of imagination – but rather, real-life vehicles, smoke, fire, people and buildings that have to look real.”

More info: FlashForward on ABC.com; the latest Zoic Studios Television Reel on ZoicStudios.com; Steven Meyer on IMDb.