‘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.

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!

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

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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: 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 3 ‘Appleseed’

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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: Shirow Masamune’s manga and anime franchise Appleseed.

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

Number 8 of 10: Appleseed (manga: 1985-89; anime: 1988, 2004, 2007)

If there’s one thing modern CG can render with absolute realism, it’s hardware. From modern consumer automobiles, commercial aircraft and military vehicles to futuristic robots, mecha and spacecraft, VFX artists have mastered the art of heavy gear, from 1984’s The Last Starfighter to last year’s Avatar.

But the military hardware, vehicles and spacecraft in modern VFX movies and television shows and video games do not show as much creative variety as one might expect, given the nearly boundless flexibility of CG. Spacecraft usually look much like the USS Sulaco from 1986’s Aliens, which itself isn’t terribly original. The “APUs” in Avatar are nearly identical to the battlemechs from the BattleTech franchise, themselves inspired by anime mecha. And any time you see a BFG (Big “Effin’” Gun) or any other large military prop in a sci-fi film, TV show or video game, it seems to come from the same prop house or 3D model library as all the others.

This isn’t necessarily because production designers and VFX artists are lazy or unoriginal – there are creative and production concerns. If a giant futuristic space blaster looks exactly like what the audience expects a giant futuristic space blaster to look like, a filmmaker need not waste time explaining what it is. The same goes for spaceships – film-goers unfamiliar with sci-fi (are there any of those left?) might be confused by the giant, spherical spaceship at the end of the 2008 remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still (they were already confused by the plot); but will instantly recognize the alien ship in 2009’s District 9, given its resemblance to the bastard love child of the giant saucers from Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) and Independence Day (1996).

Furthermore, the use of preexisting assets can save a production a great deal of money; and looking to previous films, shows and games for inspiration can save time and effort. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Artists make artistic choices, referencing other artists for storytelling purposes. When director David Twohy introduced the evil Necromonger religious zealots in 2004’s The Chronicles of Riddick, their ships and armor intentionally referenced those of similar sci-fi characters in 1984’s Dune and the Warhammer 40,000 franchise. Likewise, the iconic city-destroying giant saucers in Independence Day are so recognizable because they are based on the nearly-identical ships in the 1980s TV miniseries V.

And finally, so many of these hardware designs resemble each other because of common science fiction tropes that artists often are not even aware they are perpetuating. I have already gone into this in detail elsewhere. But a few that apply here include: spacecraft designed according to a nautical paradigm, or to resemble an office building; the idea that while every other technological advance makes devices smaller, military technology will just get bigger and bigger – today’s hardware on steroids; and that human spaceships should be blocky and covered in devices, while alien ships are biologically-inspired and spiky.

So how can VFX artists and production designers break out of the sci-fi hardware design rut? Allow me to make one very specific suggestion. Dig into your manga collection (admit it, you have one), and pull out the collected works of Shirow Masamune.

One of the most popular and talented mangaka to see his work adapted during the anime renaissance of the 1980s, Shirow is known for many things – his trademark character design, bizarre humor, complex cyberpunk storylines, and (especially recently) ribald eroticism (NSFW). But he is best known for his hardware; aircraft, armored vehicles, military and police gear, and mecha; and two concepts he in particular created and popularized, the biological robot “bioroid,” and the child-like intelligent robot tanks, the “Fuchikoma.”

The best thing about Shirow’s hardware design is that it doesn’t look like anyone else’s. Indeed, Shirow’s designs have not been widely copied in the anime and manga world, precisely because the plagiarism would be so obvious. His vehicles and weapons have a decidedly biological inspiration; but this is tempered with the sensibility of a serious mechanical, industrial and military engineer.

Every detail of a Shirow creation serves a particular purpose. If an object transforms, then each of its pieces would genuinely fit together. If the device is a vehicle, then an operator would actually fit inside. He draws cut-away schematics of many of his creations, to prove they are thought-out and fully realized. Just as a realistic portrayal and a deep backstory make an audience care more for a human character, so the same principle can be applied to production design to make the viewer care about a world. James Cameron accomplished this in Avatar, and Shirow does the same with his futuristic environments.

For the purposes of a live-action CGI film, I propose an adaptation of Shirow’s 1985-89 manga Appleseed. This might surprise most Shirow fans, who would expect me to choose his most popular creation, the dark cyberpunk manga, film, television, toy and game franchise Ghost in the Shell, which stars the sexy cyborg police Major Kusanagi Motoko and the lovable Fuchikoma.

Appleseed, on the other hand, was Shirow’s first major success, a post-apocalyptic love story set in a utopian city-state. Deunan Knute, a sexy ex-LAPD SWAT member and Landmate (military exoskeleton) pilot, is in love with her partner, Briareos Hecatonchires, a faceless cyborg who has lost most of his original body to military replacement parts, but has not given up his soul or his love for Deunan. Together they roam the ruins of Los Angeles until they are recruited to police Olympus, a hyper-advanced city populated by bioroids.

Shirow’s Major Kusanagi is a bioroid, and her story explores the typical cyberpunk themes of human identity and machine consciousness. But for the most part, she looks human – she would be portrayed by an actress (Angelina Jolie, probably) with a bit of occasional digital makeup.

But Appleseed’s Briareos would be a challenge for VFX artists – a fully thinking, feeling, and emotional character without a human face. He’s the ultimate hardware as a character. And his relationship with Deunan (Charlize Theron?), and her acceptance of him in his inhuman form, is key to the story.

It should be noted that much of the preliminary work for a live-action VFX adaptation of Appleseed has already been done, for Aramaki Shinji’s 2004 and 2007 CG animated films Appleseed and Appleseed EX Machina. The Appleseed universe was 3D modeled for these films, although the final animation was cel-shaded. But they serve as a proof-of-concept that Shirow’s unique and compelling take on the world of the future could serve as the foundation for a successful movie experience.

Previous: Wings of Honnêamise (anime, 1987); Erma Felna EDF (comic, 1983-2005)
Next: The Airtight Garage (comic, 1976-80)

See a set of Appleseed art on Flickr.

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?

Zoic Presents: The Creatures of ‘Fringe’ – Part 1

Originally published on I Design Your Eyes on 12/22/09.

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Part 2 of this post is now available.

Now in its second season, the Fox Network’s science fiction drama Fringe tells the story of three paranormal investigators for the FBI’s “Fringe Division” in Boston. Created by veteran television producer and feature film director JJ Abrams (Felicity, Alias, Lost; Star Trek), the cult favorite features a variety of bizarre and otherworldly creatures, many created with the help of Zoic studios.

Zoic senior compositor Johnathan R. Banta sat down with IDYE to discuss the creation of some of these monsters. His previous credits include Quarantine, The X Files: I Want to Believe, John Adams and V.

The Heartbug (from episode 1:07, “In Which We Meet Mr. Jones”)

johnathanbanta_300x400In this episode, a strange, other-worldly parasite mysteriously attaches itself to the internal organs of an FBI agent. The creature wraps itself around the man’s heart, and surgery must be performed to attempt to remove it.

Banta says, “We received artwork from production, done by a very good illustrator; and I set about making a maquette of the creature for two reasons. One, because it would help us understand what the form was — it was hard to figure it out from all the drawings, because in the multiple views we didn’t quite see how it meshed together at first. And secondly, it was fun. I just wanted to sculpt something and this seemed to be a prime opportunity for it.

“A couple of people did versions of it, one in [Luxology] modo, one in [Pixologic] ZBrush, just to kind of play around — they weren’t actually anything we used. The final model was made by [Zoic artist] Mike Kirylo.”

A great deal of work was done to allow the creature to move along with the beating heart. Scans of an actual beating human heart, provided by Zygote Media as a morph sequence, were used. “Mike had to figure out how to attach this creature to the heart,” Banta says, “and as it pulsated he would have a ‘softness’ in-between each of the hard shell [segments]. So there’s the hard carapace of the creature, and the soft squishy connective bits. Mike said he was able to find a way to make the bones between the different sections scale as the heart was beating. That way it stayed connected without being stretched.”

Everything we see inside the man’s chest is CG. “They had a prop on set that was over the top of an actor. Oddly enough, it was not in the place where the heart would actually be accessed. So for a wide shot we actually had to cut the actor down by a third of his original height, so that the hole would be in the appropriate spot to get to his heart. But for the close-ups it didn’t really matter. It was a piece of foam rubber with green paint inside of it, and we keyed that out and continued it into the cavity; and put in CG guts and an odd-shaped little bug.”

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The Virus Slug (from episode 1:11, “Bound”)

In a lecture hall at Boston College, a biology professor gives a lecture about pathogens. In mid-sentence, he begins to choke and falls over. While his teaching assistant watches in horror, the professor’s throat becomes enlarged, and what looks like a massive slug crawls out of his open mouth. As the slimy creature slithers across the floor, students flee the hall in a panic.

Banta explains: “It’s a super-sized cold virus – a giant squishy slug with little cilia across its surface. This thing pulled itself out of his mouth, flopped onto the floor and squished away as quick as it could. It’s quite disgusting, and was played for dinnertime theater.

“It was a fairly simple model – a slug with a couple of things sticking out of it. But it had to maintain its volume and look like it was a rubbery object moving around, so there was a lot of finessing in the animation. We didn’t use any form of volume-preserving algorithms — other than Mike Kirylo — so it was all based on a really good animator.

“But the [professor’s] face was the interesting portion of it. This slug is rather large, and begins to distend his throat and pull his face into contorted positions that it wasn’t in originally, as the actor just basically laid there and flopped his head over to the side.

“We had to do an exact match move of the actor. We used our performance transfer system; projected the footage frame-for-frame onto our digital actor; and then we had the ability to push him around anywhere we needed to. Add a little bit of clever compositing, and next thing you know there’s a creature coming out of this man’s mouth.

“His movements were not tracked on stage — no tracking markers on him. They were tracked in post and match moved. Basically, we used every bit of detail that was available on his skin. Unfortunately, most actors don’t have very bad complexions.

“That’s something we’ve been doing a lot of, actually — digital makeup [for Fringe]. That all plays into what we’re doing with the creatures, because most of the time they are interacting directly with humans. They’re not just in the room walking around; they are becoming, or coming out of, or in some way touching people, for the most part.”

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Porcuman (from episode 1:13, “The Transformation”)

In an airliner bathroom, a man shudders in pain as a hideous transformation begins. His teeth start falling out — then he screams in agony as giant quills pierce through the back of his shirt. The passengers on the plane react when the bathroom door splinters and a hideous, inhuman beast bursts into the cabin.

Banta: “This man on an airplane should learn not to experiment on himself; as a result he turns into a giant porcupine creature which brings the airplane down.

“It was in very few shots. It is originally modeled in ZBrush and Maya; we import the model, and it is rigged by our animation department and put through its paces. We run the standard passes that you would expect – diffuse, specular, ambient occlusion, fill passes, indirect lighting, those kinds of things, so that we can integrate it in the composite.

“A lot of times we’ll do what is called ‘RGB lighting,’ where every three lights will be either a prime red, a prime green, or a prime blue; and that way we have a lighting matte in every single render that we can use to do some tweaks in the composite. Also, since we’re getting normals rendered from our passes, we can use a plug-in from RE:Vision Effects to re-light the object. Whatever lighting passes that the CG department was not able to get to can be generated at the end.”

Banta notes that because of the nature of the effect, very little of the transformation involves practical, on-set elements. “This is all post at this point. They shoot it as if the creature were there — they just shoot it very naturally.

“Now that [Fringe has] a make-up crew that is known for doing creature work, there is a lot more practical stuff being done. But we have to exactly, precisely match with the practical elements when we do the CG. There are things that practical does so much better than we can do, and vice versa. It’s an all-in equation for me, because whatever works best, works best. There’s something about having a light bouncing off of a card onto a person on set holding this thing, which just gives it a sense of reality that we have to try to recreate.

“Porcuman was a combination of digital makeup with practical elements. It was a close interaction. During the transformation scene, we have a medium shot of the back, and then cut to a tight close-up of the shirt ripping as these giant porcupine spines come through it. They had an inflatable balloon on the back of the actor for the shirt; so we tracked that inflatable balloon; used our performance transfer to get that onto the back of the creature; and then animated spines coming out, and composited that underneath his shirt, which had a greenscreen on it.

“We had to do some warping of the cloth to get it to line up to the actual geometry of the creature. Then for the close-up of the shirt, instead of using the photography directly, we went with a cloth simulation of the shirt, and animated the spines. But we took sections of the torn cloth from the actual photography, and used those to sell that the tear is ripping a piece of fabric. This is a good example where something done practically pays off in spades, because we could just grab that tearing fabric and place it on each of the individual spines, and save ourselves a lot of simulation time.

Read Part 2!

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.

Zoic Brings Visitors to Earth for ABC’s ‘V’

Originally published on I Design Your Eyes on 10/2/09.

v-screencap-manhattanship_630x354A Visitor mothership hovers over Manhattan.

Tomorrow evening (11/3/09), ABC will broadcast the premiere episode of its highly anticipated new sci-fi series V, which updates and re-imagines the original 1983 miniseries of the same name. The visual effects for the new V were created by Culver City, California’s Zoic Studios, known for providing VFX for a number of well-loved science fiction franchises.

Scott Peters, creator of The 4400, brings fans a modern take on the classic V that pays loving homage to its 80s inspiration. Written by Peters and directed by Yves Simoneau, the pilot episode stars Elizabeth Mitchell (Lost), Morris Chestnut (Kung Fu Panda 2), Joel Gretsch (The 4400, Taken); and Firefly alumni Morena Baccarin and Alan Tudyk.

The remake hews closely to the story of the original: mile-wide alien motherships appear above the major cities of the Earth. The aliens call themselves “The Visitors,” and appear to be identical to humans. They claim to come in peace, seeking to trade advanced technology for resources. But the Visitors are not what they seem, and hide sinister intentions. While much of humanity welcomes the Visitors, a resistance movement begins to form.

Four episodes will air this month; the show will return from hiatus after the 2010 Olympics.

Visual effects and digital production

Zoic is handling all of the visual effects for V, under the oversight of creative director and VFX supervisor Andrew Orloff (FlashForward, Fringe, CSI) and visual effects producer Karen Czukerberg (Eleventh Hour). Work on the pilot was split between Zoic’s Vancouver studio, which handled greenscreen and virtual sets, and the Los Angeles studio, where the motherships and other effects were created.

Zoic began work in February 2009 on the pilot, which featured about 240 effects shots, 125 of which involved live actors shot on greenscreen in Vancouver where the series is filmed. Another three episodes now in post-production have some 400 effects shots overall, half of which involve digital compositing of actors on greenscreen.

v-screencap-mothership_630x354A more detailed view of a Visitor mothership.

Orloff worked in collaboration with the show’s creators – Peters, Simoneau, and executive producers Steve Pearlman and Jace Hall – to design the motherships. The enormous, saucer-shaped Visitor mothership is one of the original V’s iconic images (along with a certain hamster), and visually represents the Visitors’ technological superiority and their domination over humanity. In addition, Orloff says, the creators were dedicated to realism and internal consistency and logic in the design of the alien technology and culture.

Orloff created the mothership on his laptop, working through numerous iterations with input from Peters and Simoneau. He wanted a design that was “freaky and menacing,” and would be emotionally impactful when it made its first momentous appearance onscreen.

v-screencap-mothership2_630x354The underside of a Visitor mothership begins its transformation. Buildings in Vancouver were supplemented with 3D models of real Manhattan skyscrapers from Zoic’s library.

Because the mothership itself is enormous, the 3D model used to represent it is huge and highly detailed. Zoic CG supervisor Chris Zapara (Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Pathfinder) modeled the “transformation” effect, in which the ventral surface of the ship changes, causing the frightened humans below to fear an imminent attack. In fact, the ship is deploying an enormous video screen, displaying the greeting message of Visitor leader Anna (Baccarin). After many rounds of pre-visualizations, a design was chosen with large, movable panels and a grid of smaller panels arranged in a snakeskin pattern. The mothership was created in NewTek’s Lightwave 3D.

v-screencap-snakeskin_630x354The “snakeskin” panels underneath the mothership flip over to reveal a video projection surface.

Digital artist Steve Graves (Fringe, Sarah Connor Chronicles) was responsible for filling in the copious detail that gives the mothership the impression of immense scale. After the pilot was picked up by ABC, the dorsal surface was remodeled to add photorealism. The model initially was detailed only from the angles at which it was shown in the pilot, due to the many hours of work necessary. As shots were created for the second through fourth episodes, Graves created detail from new angles, and now the mothership model is complete.

v-screencap-reflection_630x354Our first view of the alien mothership, reflected in the glass of a skyscraper.

The mothership design was not the only way the Visitors’ arrival was made to seem momentous and frightening. As businessman Ryan Nichols (Morris Chestnut) looks to the skies for an explanation of various alarming occurrences, he first sees the mothership reflected in the glass windows of a skyscraper. Although a relatively simple effect (Zoic took shots of real buildings in Vancouver, skinned them with glass textures, and then put the reflected image on the glass), the effect on the viewer is chilling.

v-screencap-shipinterior_630x354Visitor leader Anna (Baccarin, seated left) is interviewed by Chad Decker (Scott Wolf, seated right) on board the Manhattan mothership. The “set” was created virtually, with the actors shot on a greenscreen stage.

Because the motherships are enormous, it only makes sense that they would feature enormous interior spaces. These sets would be too large to build, so half the effects shots on V involve actors filmed on a greenscreen stage with tracking markers. These virtual sets, based on Google Sketch-Up files from V‘s production designers (Ian Thomas (Fringe, The 4400) for the pilot; Stephen Geaghan (Journey to the Center of the Earth, The 4400) for later episodes), were created at Zoic’s Vancouver studio in Autodesk Maya and rendered in mental images’ mental ray.

The ship interiors were created before the related greenscreen shots were filmed. For the episodes shot after the pilot, Zoic provided the production with its new, cutting edge proprietary Zeus system, which allows filmmakers to see actors on a real-time rendered virtual set, right on the greenscreen stage. The technology is of immeasurable aid to the director of photography, crew, and especially the actors, who can see themselves interacting with the virtual set and can adjust their performances accordingly. Zeus incorporates Lightcraft Technology’s pre-visualization system.

After actors are filmed on the Vancouver greenscreen set and the show creators are happy with the pre-visualized scenes in Zeus, the data is sent south to Zoic’s Los Angeles studio, where the scenes are laid out in 3D. Then the data goes back up to Zoic in Vancouver, where the virtual set backgrounds are rendered in HD.

v-screencap-london_630x354An alien mothership inserted into a stock shot of London.

v-screencap-riodejaneiro_630x354A mothership composited into a stock shot of Rio de Janeiro, with matched lighting and atmospheric effects.

Other alien technology was created for the series, including shuttlecraft and a “seek & destroy” weapon used to target a resistance meeting.

v-screencap-shuttle_630x354A Visitor shuttle docks with a mothership.

The alien shuttle and the shuttle docking bays were created in Los Angeles by visual effects artist Michael Cliett (Fringe, Serenity), digital compositor Chris Irving and freelance artist James Ford.

v-screencap-atrium_630x354The “Atrium,” a city in the interior of a Visitor mothership.

The “Atrium,” a massive interior space inside the mothership, was created for Zoic by David R. Morton (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Serenity). The complex 3D model served essentially as a matte painting. It was incorporated into a complex composited shot, with actors on the greenscreen stage inserted into virtual sets of a corridor and balcony by the Vancouver studio; the camera pulls out to reveal the Atrium, which was created in LA. Extras in Visitor uniforms were shot on greenscreen and composited into the Atrium itself.

v-screencap-f16crash_630x354An F-16 fighter, its electronics disrupted by a Visitor mothership, crashes onto a city street.

An F-16 fighter crash, featured in the first few minutes of the pilot, was done by the Los Angeles studio. The airplane, automobiles, taxis, and Manhattan buildings in the background, and of course the explosion, smoke and particles, are all digital. All the components came from Zoic’s library. The actor was shot on a Vancouver street.

v-screencap-eye_630x354FBI Agent Erica Evans (Mitchell) examines a wounded Visitor and makes an alarming discovery.

A scene involving an injured Visitor, which gives the viewer one of the first clues to the aliens’ true nature, was shot entirely with practical effects (including the blinking eye). But Zoic used CG to enhance the wound, merge human skin with reptile skin, and add veins and other subcutaneous effects.

v-zoomout_469x630Visitor leader Anna looks out over her new dominion.

According to Czukerberg, one of the more difficult shots to pull off was the final scene in the pilot. It involves the alien leader, Anna (actress Morena Baccarin on the greenscreen stage), in an observation lounge on the mothership (virtual set); the camera pulls out (practical camera move) past the mothership windows to reveal the entire ship hovering over Manhattan (CG mothership over an original shot of the real Manhattan created for this production). The shot required cooperation between the LA and BC studios, and took a great deal of time and effort – “it was crazy,” Czukerberg said, but she adds that everyone involved is tremendously satisfied with the finished product.

Zoic Studios looks forward to doing more work when V returns next year, and helping the series become a ratings and critical success. “Rarely do you get an opportunity to redefine a classic series,” Orloff said. “Everyone at Zoic put their heart and soul into this show, and it shows on the screen.”

For more information: V on ABC; the first nine minutes of the pilot on Hulu; original series fan site.

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!