Ugly Elves & Inflatable Orcs: Rankin/Bass’ 1977 ‘The Hobbit’ Reviewed

On Periannath.com: a review of the 1977 Rankin/Bass animated version of The Hobbit.

hobbit-panel-18-470x353

Author JRR Tolkien believed that we each have a great sacrifice to make, for the betterment of all humanity. Frodo bore the Ring, for the sake of The Shire; Aragorn walked the Paths of the Dead, for the sake of the Free Peoples; and I watched Rankin/Bass Productions’ 1977 animated television production of The Hobbit, for you, my readers.

You’re welcome. Do I get to sail to Tol Eressëa now?

Read Ugly Elves & Inflatable Orcs: Rankin/Bass’ 1977 ‘The Hobbit’ Reviewed on Periannath.com.

The 50 Laws of Science Fiction Physics

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Inspired by such mainstays of geek humor as The Laws of Cartoon Physics and The Laws of Anime Physics, I have assembled the following 50 Laws of Science Fiction Physics.

This list was in part inspired by my previous post, Tired Sci-Fi Tropes That Must Be Retired.

Law of Selective Gravitation: All artificial bodies in space generate an internal gravitational field, equal to one gee, with “down” defined as the “bottom” of the body; this gravitational field somehow terminates exactly at the outer hull of the body, even if it is irregularly shaped.

First Law of Gravitational Irrelevance: a spacecraft may travel from a planet’s surface into space in the same manner in which an airplane gains altitude, ignoring the need to achieve escape velocity.

Second Law of Gravitational Irrelevance: a spacecraft may fly directly towards or away from a planet or other large celestial body, ignoring the fact that objects in space must describe elliptical orbits about each other.

Law of Inertial Dampening: No matter how much kinetic energy is directed at an inhabited body (in space or on a planet), the resulting disruption will be enough to jostle the inhabitants and cause minor structural damage – nothing more or less.

Law of User Interface Equivalence: When a spacecraft or space station takes damage to any structural component, the computer screen or workstation used to monitor that structure from the bridge or engineering center will explode.

Law of Ethical Xenopolymorphism: While malevolent aliens come in many forms, beneficent aliens are always humanoid.

Law of Sexual Xenopolymorphism: Humanoid alien females will always have mammalian secondary sexual characteristics (breasts, wide hips, full sensual lips), even if they are non-mammalian (lizard, avian, piscine, insectoid, etc.).

Newton’s Fourth Law of Motion: In space, constant thrust equals constant velocity.

Kubrick’s Law of Motion in Microgravity: all motion in a “zero gravity” or microgravity environment will take place at 22% of the speed it would occur at sea level; this applies to animate persons as well as inanimate objects.

Exception to Kubrick’s Law of Motion in Microgravity: persons in a “zero gravity” or microgravity environment may speak at normal speed.

Allen’s Law of Motion in Microgravity: objects freely floating in a “zero gravity” or microgravity environment will behave as if suspended from a transparent thread within a full gravity environment.

Law of Sound in a Vacuum: Despite the lack of a medium for transmission, sound will travel in a vacuum, with precisely the same properties as in the Earth’s atmosphere at sea level.

First Law of Combustibility: Anything important – spaceships, planets, robots – explodes when it is critically damaged, whether any combustible material is present or not.

Second Law of Combustibility: When anything explodes, the mass of the resulting ejecta will be less than 2% of the object’s original mass; the remainder of the mass ceases to exist.

Third Law of Combustibility: When objects explode in space, all matter that makes up the object comes to a complete stop relative to the observer, whatever its previous velocity. The explosion will then expand in an equal sphere away from the point where the object stopped.

Fourth Law of Combustibility: All objects that explode in space produce a discrete ring that expands ahead of the main shock wave; this is a fundamental principle of Aesthetic Physics.

Fifth Law of Combustibility: The shock wave of an explosion is confined to the visible fiery ball of the explosion; and both will move at 98% of the speed of anyone attempting to fly, drive or run from the explosion. After a certain distance, the speed of the shock wave will quickly drop off for no apparent reason.

Sixth Law of Combustibility: The destructive force of a nuclear warhead, and the resulting deadly radiation, cannot penetrate the skin of a typical 1950s consumer-grade kitchen refrigerator.

First Law of Practical Stellar Physics: as an observer approaches a star, the brightness of the visible light it gives off diminishes proportionally.

Second Law of Practical Stellar Physics: a star will produce no radiation except for (1) visible light and (2) a variety of heat that behaves identically to heat convection in an atmosphere, despite the lack of a transmission medium.

Third Law of Practical Stellar Physics: the dangerous or destructive region of a stellar body ends abruptly at the outer termination of its photosphere, except for the heat and light described in the Second Law.

Law of Teleportation: the amount of energy produced when converting matter to energy for the purpose of teleporting that matter to a distant location is an insignificant fraction of the amount predicted by Einstein’s mass–energy equivalence equation; this is a fundamental principle of Convenience Physics.

Law of Technological Complexity: No matter how advanced a technology, anyone who needs to use it will be able to deduce its basic functioning within a few minutes – even if the person belongs to an alien or less-developed culture, or comes from the distant past.

First Law of Aerodynamic Irrelevance: Objects designed to travel solely in space may nonetheless be designed with aerodynamic properties.

Second Law of Aerodynamic Irrelevance: objects designed to travel in solely in space, and which therefore are highly non-aerodynamic, may still travel in an atmosphere as if they were perfectly aerodynamic.

Corollary to the Laws of Aerodynamic Irrelevance (The O’Brien Rule): any object in space that is not designed to alter its velocity, vector or location, such as a space station, may alter its velocity, vector or location through a minor, previously unrealized engineering trick.

First Corollary to Einstein’s Theory of Relativity: Einstein’s Theory of Relativity may be ignored at any time, for any reason; this is a fundamental principle of Convenience Physics.

Second Corollary to Einstein’s Theory of Relativity: when light, or any form of electromagnetic radiation, is employed as a weapon (such as with a laser or blaster), its speed is reduced to approximately 35 miles per hour.

Personal Equivalency Many-Worlds Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics: alternate universes and timelines do not follow the standard laws of contingency – rather, the same individuals will be born in the alternate universe as are born in ours, although their life paths may diverge; this is irrespective of any other changes, major or minor, to historical outcomes.

Ethical Determinism Many-Worlds Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics: alternate universes and timelines do not follow the standard laws of contingency – rather, historical outcomes are determined by the moral choices of the identical version of the visitor from our universe.

Abrams’ Many-Worlds Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics: in an alternate universe or timeline, events will conspire to place equivalent persons into the same social groups they occupy in our universe.

The McFly Rule: If a time traveler prevents a key historical event from occurring, he or she has one week to arrange an equivalent event that will restore the timeline.

First Law of Convergent Evolution: any alien species, regardless of the environment in which it evolved, will morphologically resemble an extant Earth species, albeit with changes in size, color, bodily features and level of intelligence; aliens may also resemble chimera of multiple Earth morphologies.

Second Law of Convergent Evolution: despite the fact that closely-related species from the same planet cannot produce viable offspring, any two humanoid species from different worlds may produce viable offspring that will bear blended traits from both species.

Law of Convergent Visemes: when a technological device is used to translate the speech of a humanoid alien, that alien’s lips and mouth movements will nonetheless appear to match the English speech of the translation.

Omegan Law of Convergent Social Evolution: a humanoid species on a distant planet is likely to pass through exactly the same historical eras, and evolve precisely the same social institutions, as the human civilizations of Earth.

Law of Extraterrestrial Euhemerism: any primitive human superstition is the result of contact with advanced alien technology; this includes psychic powers, magicians, ghosts, angels, fairies, vampires, werewolves, demons, dragons, messiahs and gods.

Law of Technological Trajectory: the more hyper-advanced an alien or future technological artifact, the more likely that it will resemble a large, illuminated crystal.

Law of Irradiated Macrofauna: due to mutations triggered by artificial radiation, animals may grow to enormous sizes normally ruled out by the surface-area-to-volume ratio.

Corollary to the Law of Irradiated Macrofauna: irradiated macrofauna will invariably seek out large human population centers and battle each other.

Influence/Malevolence Relationship in Science: the greater a scientific or technological achievement, the greater the probability that the scientist responsible for it suffers from a mental illness and/or ethical deficit.

Diamond’s Law: an advanced spacefaring species will always oppress, absorb or destroy any less advanced, non-spacefaring species with which it makes contact.

Anthropocentric Exception to Diamond’s Law: an advanced spacefaring species will always oppress, absorb or destroy any less advanced, non-spacefaring species with which it makes contact, unless that species is humanity.

Roddenberry’s Law of Cybernetic Omniscience: any sufficiently advanced computer system will contain the sum all of human knowledge down to the most inconsequential detail, even if the computer was constructed by and for aliens.

Gill’s Law of Alien Impressionability: any humanoid alien species will, upon being introduced to some detail of human history or culture, reconfigure its entire society based solely upon the human example; also known as the Iotian Law.

Law of Atmospheric Inexhaustibility: on a spacecraft, space station or other artificial habitat in a vacuum or near-vacuum, no matter how much air is lost when an airlock is opened or the hull is breached, after the air loss is terminated there will still be sufficient atmosphere to comfortably support the survivors.

Doctrine of Human Psychological Infortitude: any human gifted with transhuman abilities by an alien or future intelligence will initially attempt to perform good works with his or her new-found powers, but will be eventually driven insane and commit destructive acts; also known as the Mitchell Effect.

Doctrine of Hostile Alien Tourism: when technologically advanced spacefaring aliens initiate a war or invasion against the Earth, their first strategic maneuver will be to destroy a number of famous human landmarks, usually ones with no strategic or defensive value.

The ForbinCameronWachowski Corollary to Turing’s Test of Machine Intelligence: it is possible to demonstrate that a machine has achieved genuine intelligence or sentience, as its first act upon gaining self-awareness will be to attempt the annihilation of humanity.

The Lucas-Asimov-Herbert Model of Human Galactic Societal Development: any vast, galaxy-spanning interstellar human civilization will resemble in many or all respects the empires of the species’ ancient pre-technological past.

And… number 51:

Even’s Revision to Clarke’s Third Law: Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from lazy writing.

Feel free to add your own Laws of Sci-Fi Physics in the comments below.

Why Are Firefly/Serenity Fans So Devoted… Even After All These Years?

Originally published on I Design Your Eyes on 12/1/09.

A model of Serenity.

Last month, the Los Angeles Airport Marriott hosted Creation Entertainment’s Salute to Firefly & Serenity, a small but well-attended fan convention featuring appearances by series actors Jewel Staite, Adam Baldwin, and Morena Baccarin & Alan Tudyk, both also from ABC’s V.

Of course Firefly is the science-fiction dramatic series broadcast on the Fox Network in 2002-2003, created by Joss Whedon of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel fame. Canceled after only 11 episodes aired, the show has since engendered a major Hollywood motion picture (2005’s Serenity), a novel, a role-playing game, two comics series, soundtracks, a slew of merchandise & collectibles, and countless hand-knitted orange “cunning hats.”

I stopped by to get an idea of what’s going on with Firefly flans*, and to find out the answer to the question, Why are people still so devoted to a show that had only 14 episodes (and a movie), after nearly a decade?

Here are some answers from convention-goers, from commenters on fireflyfans.net, and from Zoic Studios co-founder Loni Peristere.

The Browncoats, a Firefly-themed band.
The Browncoats, a Firefly-themed band from St. Louis, Missouri.

Some credited the show’s realism, like Co-Pilot Gary Miller of The Browncoats, a Firefly-themed band from St. Louis. “[It’s] because Firefly feels so real. It’s a sci-fi show without aliens. It’s about real people and real-life types of situations — in the future. Not to mention the dialogue, the acting, and the story are all brilliant.”

For me, it was all about the writing. The dialogue, and the way the characters were developed through dialogue, were just brilliant. I especially loved the dialogue for River Tam (Summer Glau of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles), the ship’s ultra-violent fugitive waif — she rarely spoke, but when she did, it was always a bizarre window into her disordered mind. And usually either disturbing or hilarious.

On fireflyfans.net, hughff says: “I agree that the writing is the key. Too frequently today, television and especially film concentrate on the visual image. However, great films/shows recognize that it’s a synthesis of both visual images and dialogue.

“There was never any doubt from the very start that Firefly had the dialogue right. More than what it told us about the characters per se, I liked what it showed about their interrelationships. The verbal exchanges between Mal and Inara; the way Jayne treated Kaylee like a little sister, the way that Mal’s trust and respect for Simon grew incrementally — these were important to the flavor of the show.

“The show didn’t avoid complexity — these were real people living in a messy (i.e. real) world (alright, worlds) and as such, things were never simple.

“Finally, and Zoic can take more than a little credit for this, the show did have some great visual images: the Reaver ship sliding past in absolute silence; Crow disappearing through the air intake; Serenity rising up the cliff after the bar fight. The off-center and shaky ‘hand held’ camera work, even in the CGI, began a trend that has become everyday (Bourne Ultimatum, Battlestar Galactica) but broke new ground for me. When I first saw the first episode I thought, ‘How could they be so amateur?’ But by the end I was hooked into the vision and never let it go.”

Firefly-themed collectibles on sale in the dealer’s room.
Firefly-themed collectibles on sale in the dealer’s room.

One of the most interesting answers came from Dwight Bragdon, Board Member of the California Browncoats, a San Diego-based non-profit that promotes Firefly and Serenity fandom through charity. Since 2007 they have raised over $100,000 for charities like Equality Now and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. “We are still in love with Firefly ten years later because of the type of people the show attracts. We’re smart, funny and caring, and we took our energy and enthusiasm for the ‘Verse and turned it into a community of giving….

“We can also see how much the cast and crew cared about the ‘Verse too… They lead by example too with their charity. [Actor] Nathan [Fillion] co-founded Kids Need to Read with author P.J. Haarsma; [actor] Adam Baldwin shows great support to the Marine Corps – Law Enforcement Foundation; Joss [Whedon] is a great supporter of Equality Now; and the list goes on.

“These guys and girls are people that I am proud to call friends, proud to call family and I wouldn’t trade them for the world.”

For Beth Nelson, Chairman of the Austin Browncoats, another charitable non-profit based in Texas, the message of Firefly is hope. “People want to root for the underdog, because for many of us, we’re the underdogs right now. Firefly gives us that hope and inspiration. Firefly and Serenity tell the story of people who might have been forgotten, left behind, taken for granted — but if they work together, they can accomplish anything…

“So much of it has to do with how well the characters were developed and how sincere and believable the dialogue was – which is something Joss is known for… We’re all flawed; we can all identify with characters who… sometimes pick the wrong path, even with the best intentions.

“In the end, though, I think we all love what Firefly has become. Firefly went from being this amazing space western to so much more. Outside of the ‘Verse itself, the fans have become a family, a movement that got together to do more than just love a television show or a movie. Numerous fans are working towards charitable goals – ending violence and discrimination or making sure every kid has the wealth of knowledge literature can bring them.”

The dealer’s room.
The dealer’s room.

Loni Peristere was directly involved in the production of Firefly and Serenity, as visual effects supervisor. He created the Firefly-class spaceship Serenity, along with Whedon and production designer Carey Meyer. “When Joss first told me about the new show,” Peristere said, “he told me to read The Killer Angels,” the 1974 historical novel by Michael Shaara, which tells the story of the Battle of Gettysburg from the Confederate perspective. The novel inspired Whedon to create Firefly.

Firefly is about not fitting in, about finding a place for yourself in a world where you don’t fit, finding a family and making a living,” Peristere explained. “There are very few shows out there where the stars are outcasts, who join together as a family, which as Joss says is what ‘makes them mighty.’ None of the characters fit in – Nathan is a Browncoat [stand-in for Confederate]; Morena [Baccarin’s character] is a whore; there’s the fugitive; the tomboy; the interracial couple; the weary shepherd; the mercenary who’s incapable of doing anything else. They would all be loners, if they didn’t band together.

“How Zoic was part of that, is we made the viewer a ‘welcome voyeur.’ The camera followed the emotional beats. By using a handheld camera on-set and a ‘handheld’ camera effect for the CG exteriors, we put the viewer in the emotional center of the story. The viewer is a voyeuristic participant – another outcast, a part of the crew.”

Peristere also feels a special kinship with the Firefly cast and crew. “We knew it was important. We fell in love with it because it was a great story to tell. The show was made by creative people we loved and respected for their bravery, because they embraced the outcast. All the creative people I respect the most come from the cast and crew of Firefly. It was a moment that’s impossible to recapture.”

One last reason the flans and Browncoats stay devoted – because Firefly died too soon. From Jaydepps on fireflyfans.net: “Another reason it is still relevant is because of how abruptly it was cut [off], and it never received closure. We’ve been thirsting for more. A good TV series goes for a decent amount of seasons until the story is filled in, mostly. Then the series leaves TV… Firefly was never given the chance to do this.”

More info: Creation Entertainment; the discussion on fireflyfans.net; The Browncoats website and on MySpace; California Browncoats; Austin Browncoats.

If you want to know why they call us “flans,” just read this aloud: “Firefly fan.”

My Halloween Serenity O’ Lantern [UPDATE]

I have learned today that having the audacity to wear a Firefly costume to work at Zoic Studios for Halloween will get you little but eye-rolls. (It’s the same costume I wore in 2006.)

But my first attempt at a Serenity O’ Lantern has received rave reviews.


My Serenity O’ Lantern in the “living room” at Zoic, with a slightly more accurate model in the background.


And a shot with the lights on.


And.. the original.

UPDATE


Me as Jayne Cobb, with the Serenity O’ Lantern .


And me as Jayne Cobb, posing in an actual door from the set of the film Serenity.

Quiz: Can You Identify These Geek Icons?

Originally posted in 9/06. Images restored 9/14/09.

Can you identify all 12 of these sci-fi, fantasy and geek-culture-related symbols? Anime, comics, gaming and computers have not been overlooked.

Some of them are very easy — others, I hope, are pretty hard. If you’re unfortunate enough to be using Internet Explorer, you can mouse-over the pics for a hint.

Answers follow. Good luck!

Hint:  Kaneda! Tetsuo! Hint: John Smallberries!
1. ____________ 2. ____________ 3. ____________
Hint: Can you form some sort of rudimentary lathe? Hint: Don't say the P-word. Hint: 64.
4. ____________ 5. ____________ 6. ____________
Hint: Waaagh! Hint: Burn the land and boil the sea, you can't take the sky from me. Hint: JRRT
7. ____________ 8. ____________ 9. ____________
Hint: I'd like A Better Tomorrow on VHS, please. Hint: In space, no one can hear you scream. Hint: First great graphic novel?
10. ____________ 11. ____________ 12. ____________

Select the following invisible text for the answers:

1. The design on the back of Kaneda’s jacket, “Akira” (1988). 2. Sheeta’s necklace bearing the Laputa crest, Miyazaki Hayao’s “Laputa” aka “Castle in the Sky” (1986). 3. The symbol on the side of Buckaroo Banzai’s jet car, “The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension” (1984). 4. The logo of the NSEA Protector, “Galaxy Quest” (1999). 5. The logo for Network 23, Edison Carter’s evil employer, “Max Headroom: 20 Minutes Into the Future” (1985). 6. The Commodore Business Machines “chickenhead” logo; Commodore manufactured the PET and Commodore 64 personal computers. 7. The banner of the Imperium of Man from Games Workshops’ “Warhammer 40,000” series of science-fantasy tabletop wargames, RPGs, and computer games. 8. Logo of the evil Blue Sun Corporation from Joss Whedon’s sci-fi western “Firefly” (2002-03). 9. Runic symbol devised by fantasy author J.R.R. Tolkien as a form of signature; formed from the letters “JRRT.” 10. Logo of Tai Seng Video Marketing, major distributors of East Asian cinema in the United States; brought the films of Chow-Yun Fat, John Woo, Jackie Chan and Jet Li to the U.S. 11. Logo patch of the USCSS Nostromo, “Alien” (1979). 12. Blood-spattered “happy-face” pin of the murdered Comedian, Alan Moore’s “Watchmen” (1986-87).

The 8 Dumbest Alien Invasion Plans in Cinema

Look out, alien dude! It's water!

Any reasonable person must agree that there is life in space, even if we haven’t discovered any direct evidence for it yet. And speaking statistically (look up Drake’s Equation), there must be other intelligent, tool-using life forms with whom we could conceivably communicate.

If I were forced to place a bet, I’d say that the human race will never encounter another intelligent species, if only because they will be so remote in space and time. I’d like to be wrong, and I sincerely hope that SETI will identify an artificial radio signal before I die. That would be preferable to actual alien visitors, who may wish to invade, or exploit us, or force their culture on us, or accidentally kill us all off with alien viruses. Or anally probe us.

If the aliens do decide to invade our world, I hope they are as stupid as the aliens in many science fiction films. I guess if you postulate that a species that is technologically far superior to our own wants to kill or exploit us, humanity’s only hope is that the aliens are unaccountably stupid. Of course, a science fiction author can postulate intellectually inferior extraterrestrials who nonetheless make use of advanced space flight technology, a la Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle’s Footfall. But the explanation for the aliens’ cretinousness must be compelling.

The actual explanation for why movie aliens are so dumb? Lazy writing, and/or film producers and studio execs who don’t understand science fiction. Instead of inventing plausible circumstances under which humans could defeat aliens, they cheat.

There is a second option, what I call the Robotech Option – let the aliens win. On Robotech, the scrappy crew of the SDF-1 must protect the Earth from the Zentraedi fleet. How can one ship defeat over a 4.8 million alien warships? The answer – it can’t. The Earth is destroyed. Humanity does eventually eliminate the Zentraedi threat through cultural imperialism (Chinese pop singers as deadly alien-slaying viruses), yet the damage to Earth is done.

But movie studios seem to feel uncomfortable with the Robotech Option, so they make the aliens idiots. Here are the 10 dumbest alien invasions from cinema.

The ground rules:

1.) I’m only doing movies. Stupid alien invasions from novels, television, video games, comic books and the works of Harry Turtledove will have to be dealt with another time.
2.) I’m not reviewing or criticizing the film itself. I am taking its depiction of alien invasion at face value, and mocking the foolishness of the aliens.
3.) The aliens must be invading; idiotic behavior from friendly or neutral aliens will not be covered.
4.) As always, please read the whole damn article before commenting.

That's great, stay in that position. The reception is perfect!

That's great, stay in that position. The reception is perfect!

8. Robot Monster, 1953

The Great Guidance, the leader of an alien world populated by large gorillas wearing diving helmets, decides that humanity must be destroyed. He sends Ro-Man, another large gorilla wearing a diving helmet, to Earth, armed with nothing but a Calcinator Death Ray device and a bubble-making machine.

Ro-Man uses the Calcinator Ray to kill every human being on Earth except for eight – six people hiding in a suburban tract house and two on board an orbiting space station. All eight are immune to the Calcinator Ray because they took a serum developed by the last living scientist. Yes, a serum that protects you from a death ray. Accepting this at face value, shouldn’t the aliens who invented the Calcinator have known it could be defeated with a serum? Instead of a weapon the operation of which depends on the blood chemistry of its targets, perhaps they should have just brought along nuclear warheads.

Anyway. Ro-Man tries to kill the last humans, but their tract house is defended by an invisible force field – so invisible in fact, that the filmmakers felt no need to represent it using special effects. The obvious question is, why does Ro-Man care that there are still six humans left on Earth? What could those six humans possibly do to harm him? They’re trapped behind their force field, stuck in a tract house!

In the end, Ro-Man falls in love with the last hot chick, despite the fact she’s a nearly hairless alien primate who doesn’t have the decency to wear a diving helmet. This is a common theme in stories about unsuccessful alien invasions – the aliens fall in love with humans because we’re so darned irresistible (see Robotech and the reimagined Battlestar Galactica). For some reason, it’s okay for Max to sleep with Miriya, or Helo to sleep with Athena, or Winona Ryder to sleep with Sarek – but if that guy in Clerks 2 bangs a donkey, it’s disgusting. Why is inter-species sex okay if it’s with aliens?

The Great Guidance is disgusted with this xenophilia, and destroys the Earth — humans, Ro-Man and all. This raises two questions. One, if you’re willing to destroy the Earth, why bother to selectively wipe out humans first? And second, if The Great Guidance can blow up the Earth from his throne room on the alien home world, then why send Ro-Man in the first place?

If you’ve seen this movie, you know that at the end it all turns out to have been a dream, Bobby Ewing/St. Elsewhere style, which cinema experts all agree if the worst possible way to end a movie. Well, except an ending where you gratuitously kill off Book and Wash.

No, I'm not too busy to flirt with you! I'm just running the whole damn Borg Collective!

No, I'm not too busy to flirt with you! I'm just running the whole damn Borg Collective!

7.) Star Trek: First Contact, 1996; Star Trek, 2009

While probably the best of the Next Generation films, First Contact is riddled with silly plot elements. The only one we’ll worry about here is the Borg plan to finally defeat humanity once and for all. (No other species had been able to withstand the Borg – humans are just that special.)

The Borg, apparently frustrated that resistance has in fact not been futile, decide to attack the Earth directly. There are millions, maybe billions of Borg Cubes out there, but the Borg are feeling economical and decide to send only one. Despite their far superior scientific and technical knowledge, the Borg have apparently forgotten that Jean-Luc Picard, the former Locutus of Borg, can psychically locate all the defensive weaknesses in a Borg Cube. (It was established in the first Borg episode that Borg Cubes are too undifferentiated to have defensive weaknesses, but whatever.)

The Enterprise-D destroys the Cube, so the Borg go to Plan B – travel back in time and assimilate Earth in the 21st Century. Time travel in the Star Trek universe is ridiculously easy, so one wonders why no one ever tried this before. Picard and his crew go back in time and, taking advantage of certain long-standing tactical weaknesses on the part of the Borg, save humanity.

What tactical weaknesses?

1.) Well, there’s the aforementioned only bringing one Cube, instead of two, or 20, or 10,000. That’s a biggie.

2.) The Borg ignore any individual alien who isn’t currently threatening them, which means you can beam onto a Borg Cube and walk around freely, as long as you don’t touch anything. This is a very poor security philosophy.

3.) The Borg need only to destroy Zephram Cochrane’s warp ship. Yet they waste time and resources invading the Enterprise and assimilating its crew, trying to assimilate Commander Data, and building a transmitter to phone home. Here’s a tip for the Borg Queen: blow up the Phoenix, blow up the Enterprise, and then spend the next 500 years leisurely doing whatever else you feel like.

This explains why Admiral Janeway is able to single-handedly destroy the Borg Collective in the last episode of Voyager. Apparently, one of the things the Borg assimilated from thousands of conquered races across the galaxy was the ubiquitous humanoid trait of bone-headedness.

Lots of starship captains have scepters!

Lots of starship captains have scepters!

Note: Star Trek (2009), Watchmen (2009) spoilers ahead!

On a side note, in J. J. Abrams’ generally excellent film Star Trek, the Romulan Nero takes advantage of an accidental time travel incident to try to destroy the Federation. He makes several idiotic errors that doom his scheme:

1.) He waits around for 25 years until Spock arrives from the future, as Nero wants Nimoy/Spock to witness the obliteration of the planet Vulcan. One assumes that Nimoy/Spock would have been just as unhappy with his home world’s destruction if Nero had destroyed it at once. Anyway, this is a common supervillain blunder, requiring the hero to be present at the moment of triumph. Nero should have taken notes from Ozymandius.

2.) Nero seems to think that you can’t destroy a planet with a black hole unless you drill a hole to the planet’s core first. Believe me, just toss a singularity in the general direction of a planet and a few minutes later, you won’t have a planet anymore. Compare Nero to Gran Moff Tarkin – when Tarkin wants a planet destroyed, he just destroys it. No gloating, no fuss.

John, you'd better check that e-meter...

John, you'd better check that e-meter...

6.) Battlefield Earth (2000)

I have already dissected and ridiculed Battlefield Earth in great detail here. But to recap – if you’re going to invade the Earth and enslave its population, don’t leave advanced alien military technology lying around unguarded. Also, if the atmosphere of your home world can be destroyed by a single nuclear explosion, don’t put warheads and interplanetary teleport devices where humans can get at them. Also, don’t put Vinnie Barbarino in charge.

Ziggy Stardust meets "V."

Ziggy Stardust meets"V."

5.) The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976)

The Man Who Fell to Earth is a funky 70s cult adaptation of Walter Tevis’ classic sci-fi novel. Although far, far better than Robot Monster, it follows the same idea that aliens would send a single individual to invade the Earth.

There are certainly differences. The alien, Thomas Jerome Newton, is attempting to bring to Earth the last remnants of his ancient race, which is just a few hundred people. The aliens don’t really intend to “invade” the Earth, except insofar as they want to colonize Earth secretly and without permission. Then they hope to live in peace with humanity.

Also, there is a good reason they only send one invader – they don’t have the ability to send anyone else, as their civilization has collapsed. Newton’s plan is to patent advanced alien technology, make a billion bucks, and then build a spaceship that can fly home, pick everyone up, and bring them back.

Unfortunately, Newton blows the whole scheme by letting his friends know he’s an alien. His girlfriend (inter-species sex again!) freaks out and dumps him, and his supposed best friend Judases him out to the Feds.

The government kidnaps Newton and “accidentally” blinds him, leaving him powerless to complete his mission. It was a weak and pathetic plan that fails weakly and pathetically.

I bring you a message from the White People of the galaxy!

I bring you a message from the White People of the galaxy!

4.) The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)

Here’s another so-called classic that I have already eviscerated. But to recap: A single alien invader named Klaatu, accompanied only by his giant robot friend Gort, has a message to deliver to the nations of the world, preferably through the United Nations. So of course he lands in Washington, DC, which is not where the UN is located. The US government thinks he’s a Communist, and won’t listen to him. Nor has Klaatu apparently ever heard of television.

Instead of delivering his message, perhaps by flying around the world in his saucer and speaking to individual leaders, or by showing up at the actual UN, or by using television (did I mention that in 1951, people had television? They also had this advanced technology called radio. And telephones. And the US Postal Service…), Klaatu spends most of the movie hanging out with a widow and her young son. Why? I don’t know.

Klaatu gets killed and brought back to life, and at the very end of the movie delivers his message, which is that the Earth is to be monitored by giant alien robots, and will be destroyed if humans show any signs of hostility. Then he leaves. The end.

The invasion plan (send giant alien robots to rule over humanity) actually goes without a hitch, as there’s nothing humanity can do to stop it. But the rest of the plan is just stupid. Klaatu never had to land or leave his saucer. He could just broadcast a message, and then pull the whole “cancel all the Earth’s electricity” trick to prove he’s serious. No one gets hurt, and Patricia Neal gets to marry her evil dick boyfriend.

Which brings us to…

Dude, I was totally supposed to bring you this message, but now I totally forgot what it was. Are you holding?

Dude, I was totally supposed to bring you this message, but now I totally forgot what it was. Are you holding?

3.) The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008)

If there was any film that could benefit from a remake, it was The Day the Earth Stood Still. Unfortunately, the new version is just a dumb as the old one, albeit in different ways.

This time, Klaatu actually lands in New York, near the UN. He is kidnapped by the government, where he meets Jennifer Connelly. With her help, Klaatu escapes and meets with an alien spy. Gort gets locked in a missile silo. Grey goo threatens the world. Klaatu stops the goo and dies.

Um.. what?

The only part of the plan that makes sense is the hanging out with Jennifer Connelly part. Even a cloned space alien portrayed by a closeted gay actor would want to date Jennifer Connelly.

The alien plan is this: humans are destroying Earth’s precious ecosystem, and this upsets the aliens, so the aliens decide to annihilate the ecosystem — all of it, rendering Earth uninhabited. Yes, really.

Sure, afterward they will recreate Earth’s biosphere using samples collected by Klaatu. But seriously, kill every living thing on Earth in order to save every living thing on Earth (except humans)? Why not just kill the humans?

Once again, Earth is saved by human-alien bumpty-humpty. Well, not really — Klaatu and Jennifer Connelly never do it, because Keanu Reeves is no longer permitted to film sex scenes after Matrix Reloaded. But Klaatu decides to save humanity because Jennifer Connelly was so nice to him. And somehow, this failure to destroy the Earth is going to be accepted by the other aliens? But dudes, Jennifer Connelly is smoking hot! Whoa!

Hey, have you seen my contact lens?

Hey, have you seen my contact lens?

2.) The War of the Worlds (1953), The War of the Worlds (2005), Independence Day (1996)

When H.G. Wells published The War of the Worlds in 1898, the way in which the aliens were defeated was novel and clever. Now, not so much.

In the 1953 film, Martians send hundreds of their Tripod killing machines to Earth, and start systematically wiping out cities. Humanity tries nukes, but the Tripods have impenetrable force shields. That’s the whole plan, really.

Unfortunately, it never occurs to the Martians that they might be vulnerable to Earth diseases, so they fail to wear space suits, or seal the airlocks on their tripods, or filter their air, or get vaccinations; and all the aliens die from a virus. Through an incredible stroke of luck, the aliens don’t bring with them (intentionally or unintentionally) any Martian viruses, so humanity is saved. Hooray!

After falling in love with a human, the second most popular example of alien invader stupidity is forgetting to invent the space suit.

The film also suggests that prayer helped defeat the aliens, which is total bullshit.

Must... have... Nyquil Cold & Sinus...

Must... have... Nyquil Cold & Sinus...

Steven Spielberg’s 2005 version, which I enjoyed quite a bit, is pretty much the same, which is why it doesn’t get its own entry on this list. This time the Martian tripods have been buried in the Earth’s crust for thousands of years. This weirdness is never explained, although I guess we could come up with a variety of ways to retcon it.

In this film the aliens bring along H.G. Wells’ Red Weed, although apparently this rapidly-growing plant requires human blood in order to grow. How amazing that something which evolved to feed on human blood did that evolving on Mars. (I know, it could have been genetically engineered. But when all the humans are dead, how will the Martians feed it?)

Again, the aliens forget to invent the space suit, and Earth viruses kill them and their Red Weeds. The film possibly hints at a reason – when we see the actual Martians, they look and act like children. Are the invaders the descendants of a once proud but fallen race, like Thomas Jerome Newton? Have they forgotten to wear space suits, or maybe they just can’t read the instructions? Or perhaps those were highly intelligent, adult Martians with giant eyes, who idiotically forgot about communicable diseases.

Now, when I say "go," you press Apple+Shift+V...

Now, when I say "go," you press Apple+Shift+V...

The 1996 alien invasion film Independence Day attempts a clever riff on the War of the Worlds’ defeat-by-virus theme, but in this case, instead of never inventing space suits (the aliens do have those), they never invent Norton Anti-Virus. Somehow, genius cable repairman Jeff Goldblum is able to create a computer virus that shuts down the aliens’ force shields. Yes, Goldblum had access to decades worth of alien research from Area 51, but still – infecting the alien computer system with a virus using a Mac Powerbook?

A note to all alien invaders – update your virus definitions and employ a decent firewall. A decent IT department is the key to any interplanetary invasion. And for chrissakes, get vaccinated!

I am sure glad God is going to save us from these evil aliens He created...

I am sure glad God is going to save us from these evil aliens He created...

1.) Signs (2002)

The alien invasion plan in M. Night Shyamalamahammy’s Signs is the granddaddy of all idiotic alien invasion plans. (No, I am not making fun of Indian people and their names. I am making fun of M. Night Shamalamadingdong and his stage name – his real name is Manoj Nelliyattu Shyamalan.)

Let me just say that I really enjoyed Signs. Seriously. I enjoyed it so thoroughly in fact, that I was out of the theater before I realized hey wait a minute – that made no sense whatsoever!

Here’s the alien plan:

Step 1: Communicate our plans for invasion by creating crop circles. Everyone knows that cerealogical communication is far superior to such primitive methods as radio waves.

Step 2: Jump around on people’s roofs, and disturb their birthday parties.

Step 3: Be completely unaware of how to open a door. Make sure you have no weapons, or other devices that might help you open a door. Breaking windows is also taboo.

Step 4: Knock humans unconscious with the gas our alien bodies produce, and drag them to our invisible saucers, presumably to eat them. Or probe them anally. Or suck out their blood and feed it to the Red Weed. Whatever.

Step 5: ???

Step 6: Profit!

But the most important part of the aliens’ plan is this: Our bodies react to water as if it were acid. So when invading a planet which is 70% covered with water, the atmosphere of which contains water, so much so that the water forms clouds and precipitation, absolutely do not wear any protective clothing or gear whatsoever. I’m sure that if humans ever visited a planet with methane seas and a methane atmosphere, they’d just run around naked like we’re doing.

Be sure to check out my series on the Ten Worst Sci-Fi Films of All Time!

My Five Favorite Comedy Sketches (After the Parrot Sketch)

The Story of the Story of the Story of EverestFor no particular reason, here are my five all-time favorite comedy sketches (not including the Parrot Sketch, because that’s everyone’s favorite):

5.) UK Comic Relief 2007: Catherine Tate & David Tenant

4.) The Kids in the Hall, Citizen Kane

3.) Monty Python’s Flying Circus: Mr. Smoke-too-much

2.) Mr. Show, The Story of the Story of the Story of Everest

1.) Monty Python’s Flying Circus: The Cheese Shop (original broadcast version, live version)

The Ten Most Common Supervillian Blunders

As the creator of VillainSupply VillainSource.com, I know a lot about villains.

And yet, villains never ask me for advice. What’s up with that?

Here are the ten most common supervillain blunders. Eliminate these mistakes, and someday soon, you will RULE THE MISERABLE EARTH!

Lex Luthor10. Basing your evil activities on some ancient grievance or outmoded ideology. What, you’re “evil” because your hair fell out? Because that middle school tramp turned you down? Because you’re albino, or scarred, or have a hook for a hand? Please. You need a therapist, not an evil empire. And Communism? Fascism? Nationalism? Capitalism? Dianetics? These are all outmoded 20th Century ideologies, and they’ve all failed. Only one ideology will reign supreme in the new millennium: Global Domination!

9. Becoming friends with your “good” counterpart. Some foolish villains decide to befriend the very man or woman out to destroy their dreams of Global Domination. Do not respect your enemy. Do not allow him or her to find your lair so you can chat. Don’t ask them to join you, so that together you may rule the world. “Honor” is a hero’s weakness; don’t fall prey to it yourself.

8. Holding the world for ransom. So you’re going to blow up the Earth unless they pay you 400 trillion dollars. How the hell are you going to launder 400 trillion dollars? If you want to get rich, invest in stocks. If you want to take over the world, establish a worldwide cabal of intimidation and terror. And if you want to blow up the Earth, just blow it up. The U.N. can’t pay its own bills, much less give you 400 trillion dollars. It’s a rookie mistake.

7. Hatching an inflexible or overly complicated scheme. Does your plan for world domination require a single unique device, artifact, or crystal without which you will fail? Then it’s a bad plan. Does your plan require ten thousand henchmen, organized cells around the globe, the replacement of six of the seven G7 delegates with robot duplicates, and a coordinated global effort in conjunction with an alignment of the planets or the end of the Incan calendar? Then your plan is too complicated. Simplify. It’s the evil, stupid.

6. Trusting your henchmen. Don’t. They’re all idiots. And if you must hire scientists, or assassins, or butlers or bodyguards or sous chefs, be prepared to kill them all at a moment’s notice. Remember, you’re the god.

5. Trusting your femmes fatale. Oh sure, they’re perfectly loyal to you, sitting around your lagoon in gold lamé bikinis, seducing and murdering your enemies, and pleasuring you in sick and perverted ways in your private suite. But then some handsome government agent comes along, and the next thing you know, your beautiful female underling with the risqué name is helping the agent find your obvious and accessible self-destruct button. This is why I recommend that every woman in your employ get a gift: a dainty gold necklace containing a remote-controlled explosive charge.

4. Having an affectation. Your precious Persian kitty, your taste for wines from a specific French vineyard, your third nipple – they all serve to identify you or your lair to agents of “good.” And you look like an idiot in that Nehru jacket.

3. Explaining your plan to the “hero.” Sure, you’re impressed by your own genius – who wouldn’t be? But by giving your opponent an idea of what you’re up to, you are just insuring your own downfall. Keep your plans a secret.

2. Letting “heroes” near your obvious and accessible self-destruct button. Every villain needs one of these, of course, for obvious reasons not worth going into. But it’s up to YOU to keep some do-gooder from getting his or her hands on it.

1. Not simply killing the “hero.” No death traps, no female assassins, no scorpions in the hotel room. And for crissakes, don’t offer dinner or entertainment in your lair. Just shoot him in the head. One 9mm round to the forehead. Done. Corpses can’t sneak around your lair or base, looking for that obvious and accessible self-destruct button.

The Ten Worst Sci-Fi Films of All Time: Alien3

Hey baby, want a kiss?

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

Long long ago, in the before time, during the Carter administration, a plucky young filmmaker named Ridley Scott made a little film called Alien.

Scott would direct Blade Runner three years later. This means one man directed two of the ten best sci-fi films ever made, one after the other. Unfortunately, from there he went on to make movies about women driving off cliffs and painstakingly detailed, painstakingly dull films about gladiators. Please, Sir Ridley, make another sci-fi film before you die. And finish it yourself — don’t let Spielberg get at it.

But I digress. Alien was a science fiction film, but it was more properly a horror film. The Nostromo was the haunted house; Ripley and the crew were the horny young teenagers camping out at the lake; the Xenomorph was Jason/Freddy/Leatherface; and the evil Weyland-Yutani Corporation was… well, the evil Weyland-Yutani Corporation.

Alien was well acted, well scripted, and very well directed. The Xenomorph, designed by Swiss painter Hans Ruedi Giger, was unlike anything the average movie-goer had ever seen. Penny Robinson was in it, as were Bilbo Baggins, Trevor Bruttenholm, and the sheriff from Picket Fences. The actors were older and more experienced that the typical horror film cast, able to lend reality to their characters without too much wordy exposition. And Sigourney Weaver was super-sexy when she stripped down to her underwear.

In 1986, James Cameron followed up his excellent low budget sci-fi action film The Terminator with Aliens, the sequel to Alien. Cameron would go on to direct The Abyss and Terminator 2: Judgment Day, two very good sci-fi films.

Aliens was not a horror film – it was an action movie. Yet it somehow managed to seamlessly develop out of the first film, despite the difference in genre. This time there were lots of xenomorphs, and lots of heavily armed marines to blow them to bits. But ultimately it’s up to Lt. Ripley to save the day — and when she shows up at the climax in the power loader, it’s one of the greatest moments in any action film.

Get away from her, you BITCH!

Plus it was all, like, feminist and junk.

After Aliens cleaned up at the box office, 20th Century Fox decided they wanted a third film. Before we get into the clusterfuck that was the development process for Alien3, let’s first get through our Bitingly Sarcastic Plot Synopsis, shall we?

By the way, I must point out here that I am working from the 2003 “Assembly Cut,” which is a half hour longer and contains changes to about three-quarters of the scenes. It’s a vast improvement over the theatrical cut.

BEGIN BITINGLY SARCASTIC PLOT SYNOPSIS (spoilers)

Something is wrong aboard the Space Marines ship U.S.S. Sulaco — and I don’t just mean a terrible rewrite. Look — there’s a xenomorph egg on board! Because God knows Ripley and Hicks wouldn’t have bothered to search the ship before taking off for home! That’s just crazy talk!

How the hell do you miss that???

The Sulaco is passing right by a planet called Fiorina ‘Fury’ 161, because (a) it needs to slingshot around Fury 161 to get to Earth, (b) the Sulaco has drifted off course dangerously close to a star, or (c) the plot demands it and who gives a crap about science?

The Sulaco ejects an escape pod, which happens to land right next to the Fury 161 penal colony, and not anywhere else on the whole friggin’ planet. The inmates of the penal colony all suffer from XYY aneuploidy, the symptoms of which, according to the film, appear to include being working class, loud and British.

Actually, the film operates under the conceit that men with double-Y syndrome are more violent than the rest of us. This isn’t true — the actual symptoms of double-Y syndrome are learning disabilities and acne. But the filmmakers can be forgiven — Wikipedia didn’t exist in 1992.

Ripley is taken to the infirmary by the prison doctor, who is played by the guy who was the villain with the fake eye in The Last Action Hero. You don’t remember that movie? Lucky you. Think The Purple Rose of Cairo, but starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. Scary, I know.

Ripley learns that Hicks and Newt are both dead, thereby rendering the entire 154 minutes of the previous film entirely moot. (More on this below.) Ripley is initially very upset about this, but manages to get over it pretty quickly. Please note that, at this point, nobody performs a simple medical exam of Ripley. This is because (a) the doctor is incompetent, (b) the infirmary is not properly equipped, or (c) the plot demands it.

The Warden of the penal colony, played by a guy who seems to be Bob Hoskins but isn’t, demands that Ripley be confined to the infirmary to protect her from the prisoners, some of whom view violent rape as a kind of gentle foreplay. Ripley of course does the logical thing — and wanders freely all over the place. This is because (a) Ripley is retarded, (b) — oh, we all know the answer is (c).

Meanwhile, one of the facehuggers from the Sulaco impregnates a space yak with a chestburster. (In the theatrical release, it was a dog. The space yaks are cooler.) The chestburster bursts from the space yak’s chest, and grows into a quadrupedal variant of the usual anthropomorphic xenomorph.

Ripley demands an autopsy on Newt, to make sure the little girl wasn’t impregnated by a facehugger. She wasn’t. This would naturally lead to the question of whether Ripley was impregnated, yet this never comes up (c). Ripley doesn’t tell anyone about the xenomorphs, even after inmates start getting killed.

It’s somewhere around this point that a bunch of inmates try to rape Ripley, who only escapes because a messianic religious leader, played by that guy who starred the TV series Roc, schools the would-be rapists with a lead pipe. What, you don’t remember Roc? It lasted three seasons on FOX!

Stop rape -- consent!

Ripley decides to jump-start the damaged android Bishop, who reveals that yes, there was a facehugger on the Sulaco. Bishop asks to be deactivated, since he’s too damaged to be top-of-the-line anymore. What is he, an Apple product?

Ripley tells everyone about the aliens, but no one believes her, except maybe the doctor, whom she had sex with, although we didn’t get to see anything. This makes it all the more poignant when the doctor is torn to bits by the xeno-yak, who sniffs at Ripley but doesn’t kill her. The reason for this is obvious to anyone who’s not a character in the movie.

Snausages! Do you have Snausages?

Our heroine returns to the smashed escape pod, which nonetheless has better medical facilities than the prison, and discovers — GASP! — she has a chestburster in her chest. What a surprise! It’s a twist worthy of M. Night Shyamalan — in that the audience figured it out 90 minutes ago.

Using her five dots in xenobiology, she determines it’s an Alien Queen chestburster. Ripley asks the messiah guy to kill her, but he refuses because his religion forbids killing. Not maiming people with a lead pipe, just killing.

In the mess hall, Ripley tries to get everyone interested in killing the xeno-yak, or at least in not getting killed by the xeno-yak. The Warden gives a speech trying to calm everyone down, but the xeno-yak pops out of the ceiling and eats him. This is very much like the scene in Deep Blue Sea where Samuel L. Jackson gets eaten by the smart shark in the middle of his speech, except Deep Blue Sea was supposed to be kind of cheesy (I hope), while Alien3 wasn’t. (The only reason to watch Deep Blue Sea is to check out Saffron Burrows before she stopped eating.)

Wait -- this isn't Alien 3. It's motherfucking Samuel L. Jackson being eaten by a motherfucking shark.

Anyway… Ripley works out a convoluted scheme, whereby a planet’s worth of chromosomally-damaged murderous religious nutjobs will coat the insides of the steam tunnels with an explosive chemical. It doesn’t matter why she suggests this, because it goes as badly as you’d expect — one of the nutjobs gets attacked by the xeno-yak, drops his torch, and half the prison blows up.

Still, they manage to get the xeno-yak trapped inside a toxic waste containment unit, which features a giant sign that says “toxic waste” in a wacky font, just in case you forgot what it was. If the xeno-yak had seen Alien: Resurrection, it would have known to just bleed on the floor and use its “molecular acid” blood to escape (isn’t all acid made of molecules?). But alas, like most moviegoers, it hadn’t seen Alien: Resurrection, even though it had Winona Ryder in it, and she’s incredibly cool.

Now for some reason the Eighth Doctor is in this movie, playing the craziest and nutjobbiest of the crazy nutjobs. He helps the xeno-yak to escape, but never once explains that whole “half-human, half-Gallifreyan” thing.

With the xeno-yak back on the loose, Ripley and Messiah Guy work out their most convoluted plan yet — in fact, it’s pretty much impossible for those of us in the audience to figure out what the plan actually entails. Basically, if enough religious wackjobs run around through an inexplicable maze of tunnels, randomly shutting doors, the xeno-yak will somehow die in a pool of hot lead. The fact that the prison has a giant betunneled lead smelter is something it might have been good to establish earlier, rather than having Messiah Guy pull this important information out of his ass.

This is when a group of Weyland-Yutani scientists dressed in plastic trash bags arrives on the planet. The exciting footage of religious nutjobs being chased by a xeno-yak through tunnels is intercut numerous times with exciting footage of scientists walking. Jesus, why didn’t they just park closer to the prison?

Somehow the plan comes together, and Messiah Guy and the xeno-yak are buried in molten lead. Unfortunately, the xeno-yak makes his saving throw versus liquid metal, and pops out of the smelter, now totally pissed off. Only Ripley and a minor character we never paid attention to before are left alive. Hmnn — I’d better give him a name: Minor Character We Never Paid Attention to Before. He’s played by that guy who was in that one episode of Doctor Who where Satan lived inside a planet orbiting a black hole.

So Minor Character We Never Paid Attention to Before tells Ripley to spray cold water on the xeno-yak, which is the first smart suggestion made by any character in this entire movie. The water cools the molten lead on the xeno-yak’s exoskeleton, and the alien explodes. Conveniently, the giant cloud of molecular acid this releases doesn’t hurt anyone or destroy anything.

Now the scientists show up. One of them is played by Lance Henriksen, and claims to be the creator of the Bishop android. (Apparently he went to the Noonien Soong school of robotics.) He says he was sent by the company so Ripley would see a familiar face.

This makes no sense, and here’s why. Weyland-Yutani knows that Ripley was betrayed by the Ash android in Alien, leaving her with a deep bias against androids. They can’t possibly know that Ripley developed a friendship with the Bishop android in Aliens —  she was still on her way back when this movie started.

Anyway, Lance tries to convince Ripley to let them remove the chestburster from her body, promising not to use it for military research. Ripley knows he’s lying — and takes a double-gainer into the furnace, killing herself.

So Ripley is totally, completely dead — until Alien: Resurrection, when Bones returns her katra to her reincarnated body from the Genesis Planet.

END BITINGLY SARCASTIC PLOT SYNOPSIS

Alien3 isn’t aggressively terrible, just long, dull and pointless. It’s on this list because expectations were so high after Alien and Aliens.

So what went wrong? So horribly, horribly wrong?

First, the producers hired famed cyberpunk author William Gibson to write the screenplay. Handed 110 pages of sheer sci-fi gold, the producers then shat all over it by hiring one team of writers after another, doctoring the script until nothing from Gibson remained. Seriously, why hire talented people if you’re just going to ignore what they give you?

Then Sigourney Weaver, previously committed to never appearing in an Alien film again, finally accepted enough cash (reportedly $4 million) and came on as star and as a producer. She insisted that Ripley die in this one, so she wouldn’t have to star in another one. I guess she should have talked to Leonard Nimoy first.

The incredibly talented David Fincher was brought on board, very late in development, to direct Alien3 as his first feature. Fincher decided to become a filmmaker when he saw Alien as a kid, so this was his dream gig. Unfortunately, the studio and the producers and the star wouldn’t let him just direct the damn thing, and Alien3 turned into one of those typical Hollywood “too many cooks in the kitchen” clusterfucks. The 27-year-old Fincher didn’t even have a finalized script from which to work.

To this day, Fincher hates hates hates Alien3, won’t talk about it, and wouldn’t contribute to the special edition DVD features. (The 2003 Quadrilogy set even edited out part of an old documentary in which Fincher blasted the studio.) That’s okay, he made Fight Club, a film they’ll still be teaching in film school 100 years from now.

But people don’t just dislike Alien3, they despise it. And I can tell you why.

Aliens was a great film. It was fun, exciting. and action-packed. The plot gave us plenty of heavily armed people running around, trading quips, and getting torn apart by aliens. But the story is what mattered — and the story was about Ripley overcoming her fears and building a family unit with Newt and Hicks. By the end of the film we’re happy and relieved that the survivors are going to make it home.

Now obviously, any sequel starring Sigourney Weaver has to involve Ripley getting chased by aliens again. What the sequel did not need was Newt and Hicks slaughtered unnecessarily, offscreen, during the opening credits.

That’s right, moviegoers — screw Aliens, and screw you too. We just offhandedly killed your favorite characters. And we won’t even show it to you. It’s not even in the movie. It’s like The Empire Strikes Back, where we find out Han and Leia were killed off during the credits roll. Or Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, in which Bones, Scotty and Uhura get killed during the Paramount Pictures flying logo. Oh wait — that doesn’t happen!

Jesus Christ, if you have to kill off Newt and Hicks (which you don’t), then make it part of the movie! This might be difficult, since Carrie Henn selfishly insisted on growing up — so how about just not doing it at all?

In fact, a number of cast and crew from the series, including Aliens actor Michael Biehn and director James Cameron, expressed disappointment with the film’s story. Cameron said the decision to kill off the characters of Bishop, Newt, and Hicks was “a slap in the face” to him and to fans of the previous film. Biehn, upon learning of Corporal Hicks’ demise, demanded and received almost as much money for the use of his likeness in one scene as he had been paid for his role in Aliens.

Then there’s the setting, which is basically just the Nostromo with crazy religious people instead of space truck drivers. None of the prison inmates are compelling or interesting characters. We feel a slight emotional twinge when the doctor gets killed, but that’s only because he slept with Ripley. The other characters are just a bunch of asshole cyphers — even with the extra half hour of character development edited in.

After upping the ante in Aliens, going from one alien to hundreds, Alien3 tries to shake things up by going back to just one xenomorph. One small, quadropedal xenomorph. A small, quadropedal xenomorph that was shot as a puppet against a blue screen, and optically composited into the film. This was so we could see the xeno-yak running at high speed. Unfortunately, the composite effects are really, really poor.

We don’t see very much of the xeno-yak, and even when we do, each shot is identical to one we’ve already seen in Alien or Aliens. There’s nothing new. Even Alien: Resurrection has some original visual ideas, as crazy Ripley/Xeno clone interacts directly with the xenomorphs.

Unfortunately, what Alien3 boils down to is a poor remake of Alien. Which is too bad, because there was so much possibility there.

Next: Indiana Jones & the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull