2007 was the best year ever — for geeks

Originally posted on GGL Wire 12/29/07.

From left: Peter Jackson, StarCraft II, Neil Gaiman, Lunar X Prize, Steve Jobs

Okay, not really. The best year ever for geeks was 1977, because Star Wars, Close Encounters and the Atari 2600 all came out that year.

But it was a really good year to be a geek. Here are some of the top events, in no particular order, that made 2007 great.

Peter Jackson signs on for The Hobbit

Ian Holm as Bilbo Baggins.Ever since the final credit roll on 2003’s The Return of the King, Tolkien fans have waited desperately for the announcement that production would begin on The Hobbit, the prequel to The Lord of the Rings.

Unfortunately, there was a snag. In March 2005, LOTR director Peter Jackson got into a major legal battle with production company New Line, over the way the LOTR profits were divided. New Line fielded the possibilities of bringing in another director, and Evil Dead director Sam Raimi’s name was bandied around.

It was beginning to look like the two actors you need for The Hobbit, Ian “Bilbo Baggins” Holm and Ian “Gandalf” McKellen, would drop dead of old age before a deal was reached.

But this December, New Line announced that Jackson would executive produce The Hobbit, although someone else might direct. The first part of the two-part film is slated for release in 2010.

Why do we care? Because Jackson’s LOTR trilogy was the best possible film we could have hoped for. It wasn’t perfect (Sauron is NOT an evil lighthouse), but it was beautifully shot, perfectly cast, and brought the book to life magnificently. Jackson is the only person who should be making The Hobbit.

Two Neil Gaiman movies in the same year

Claire Danes in Stardust.It seems Hollywood spent 15 years ignoring Neil Gaiman, the acclaimed British modern fantasy author. In fact, I think it took a generation of Sandman readers growing up, going to film school, and getting jobs before anyone in the film industry took Gaiman seriously.

This year we finally got a film based on a Gaiman story, the critically acclaimed Stardust (based on his 1999 novel); and Beowulf, the film based on the ancient Anglo-Saxon poem, the screenplay co-penned by Gaiman.

Both movies featured Gaiman’s trademark wit, and his singular ability to take ancient mythology and make it relevant to the modern world.

An animated film of Gaiman’s Coraline (the creepiest children’s book you’ll ever read) comes out in 2008.

The iPhone

iPhone.No, I don’t have one, because I’m not made of money. Do you know what games journalists make? Not much. And anyway, you want to wait a year or two on Apple hardware, until the bugs are worked out.

Yeah, that’s the excuse I’m using.

In fact, the iPhone proves that the genius of Apple, since the Macintosh arrived in 1984, is in user interfaces. The iPhone touch-screen is remarkably clear and works great. It’s by far the best handheld unit for web browsing, and all the navigation is controlled through simple finger movements.

Some things about the iPhone suck – it’s crippled with useless DRM, you can only use AT&T, and you can’t play games. But the biggest consumer tech item of the year has lived up to the hype, overall.

StarCraft II announced

StarCraft II.I guess if you’re not part of the e-sports community, nor a real-time strategy addict, then Blizzard’s revelation that they have been working on a StarCraft sequel won’t seem so earth-shattering. But this was the biggest videogaming story of the year.

Blizzard announced StarCraft II at the Worldwide Invitational in Seoul; but it wasn’t until BlizzCon that we got to play it. The game feels just like StarCraft, and the designers are working hard to maintain StarCraft’s perfect game balance.

StarCraft is one of the best games ever written; and certainly the best RTS. No release date is yet set for StarCraft II, but when it comes, the world of e-sports will be turned on its ear. Will Korea lose its dominance in StarCraft? Probably not – but anything can happen….

Earth’s (larger) moon.The Google Lunar X PRIZE

I don’t like the privatization of space. At all. I miss the heroism and tragedy of the original 1960’s NASA space program, its only goal the expansion of human knowledge and exploration. (Well, okay, its only goal was to embarrass the Soviets. But I can opine nostalgic, can’t I?)
But between funding cuts, two shuttle disasters, a less-than-usless international space station, and a ridiculous imbroglio involving adult diapers, NASA is a laughingstock. Which is why, a la Andy Griffith, a community of half-crazy Internet billionaires is taking over.

The Google Lunar X PRIZE (why is “prize” all caps? Got me.) was announced at the Wired NextFest in September. The X PRIZE Foundation is offering $20 million to the team who can successfully land a robot rover on the lunar surface by 2012.

Let’s hope someone succeeds, and that their accomplishment spurs America back into space exploration.

Túrin Turambar wearing the Dragonhelm of Hador.The Children of Húrin published

More good news for fans of Tolkien’s Legendarium. This year Christopher Tolkien reached up his ass and pulled out The Children of Húrin, the first original J.R.R. Tolkien work since The Silmarillion in 1977.

The novel retells the story of Túrin Turambar, the most depressing chapter of The Silmarillion. The tale of Túrin and his sister Nienor was Tolkien’s attempt at Greek tragedy, involving murder, exile and incest; the Túrin of The Silmarillion is a jackass and an idiot, and his “tragic” death is not exactly unwelcome.

But the Túrin Turambar of the longer and more detailed The Children of Húrin is far more likable, which may have been Tolkien’s intention in writing it.

If Tolkien wrote it. I’m sorry, call me a kooky conspiracy theorist, but I’m wary of greatly-delayed posthumous works (I’m looking at you, L. Ron Hubbard). We know that Tolkien and his son Christopher were working together on The Silmarillion when Tolkien died; and Christopher admits that much of the editing on The Silmarillion was his own work.

But if a longer, more complete version of Narn i Chîn Húrin was available all this time, why wait 30 years to publish it? Did Christopher Tolkien have to write some of it, to fill in gaps? Inquiring minds want to know.

Blade Runner director’s cut

Blade Runner.In 1982 one of the best sci-fi films ever hit screens. Blade Runner was an adult (sorry, Star Wars), sophisticated (sorry again, Star Wars) film that presented a bleak future and ask its audience to challenge their own ideas of what it means to be human. And Daryl Hannah was hot.

But the 1982 release was a studio cut; the film had been taken away from director Ridley Scott, and a happy ending was tacked on. Harrison Ford was forced to record voice-over narration, which he hated.

In 1992, Ridley Scott was called on to participate in a director’s cut. The film was re-edited, but not by Scott; the happy ending was removed along with the narration, and footage was reintroduced that suggested Deckard, the main character, was not a human but a Replicant. The problem? The new “Director’s Cut” was released without any involvement from Scott.

That was fixed this year; the new Final Cut version, now on DVD after a brief theatrical re-release, is wholly Ridley Scott’s. Now we can see Blade Runner the way it was meant to be seen.

Hello Kitty for Men

No, seriously. Hello Kitty for Men.

What tremendous geeky events did I miss from 2007? List them in the Comments, or email me.