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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

The Ten Worst Sci-Fi Films of All Time: Star Trek V: The Final Frontier

Why does God need a starship?

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

Ah, Star Trek. Star Trek, Star Trek, Star Trek. Whatever are we going to do with you?

I was ten years, five months old exactly on 5/25/77, the day Star Wars came out. I was the perfect age, and the precise demographic: a ten-year-old suburban boy raised on The Lord of the Rings and Bob HeinleinStar Wars was the greatest thing I had ever seen.

Unfortunately, that meant I spent the next ten years dissing Star Trek. The show was stupid. The acting was bad. (Imagine a Star Wars fan complaining about acting.) The sets and effects were cheap. Everyone looked like an escapee from Laugh In. It was as if one couldn’t be a Star Wars and a Star Trek fan at the same time – a common delusion, but one I shared.

In 1979 I went to see Star Trek: The Motion Picture, because it was a science fiction movie and I went to see every science fiction movie. It did not change my opinion about Star Trek. Wrath of Kahn was much better, and I was excited for Search for Spock — more disappointment there. Voyage Home seemed like the best of the bunch, but I still wasn’t a fan.

During this period, I briefly encountered Gene Roddenberry at a comic book convention. I didn’t think I liked Star Trek, so I didn’t care, and didn’t speak to him. Idiot!

A few months before Star Trek: The Next Generation premiered in 1987, my friends and I went to an anime convention in Burbank. Next door was a Trek convention, and you could get in on the same ticket, so we stopped by. It was the first, and last, time I set foot in a Trek-specific con. I thought everything was stupid. There was already a Brent Spiner fan club. What losers.

Then Next Generation premiered, and I realized something. I had been a Star Trek fan, and not a Star Wars fan, the whole time.

I fell in love with Star Trek. I got caught up on the original 1960s series, and discovered that it was, at times, brilliant. It was possibly the most uneven show ever made, as far as writing quality, but the best episodes were classics in the true sense.

Star Wars was not a science fiction franchise. It was about knights and samurai, noblesse oblige and “hokey religions.” It was loud and cool and pretty, but it wasn’t about the future.

Star Trek was about the Cold War; the Chinese (Romulans), Russians (Klingons) and Americans (Federation). It was about racism (the Cherons), sexism (Janice Lester), hippies (Dr. Sevrin) and the nuclear arms race (Gary Seven).

But it was also about the future, while Star Wars was about the past. The Star Trek universe was something of a hodge-podge of conflicting ideas until Next Generation ironed things out. But basically, future humans lived in peace and mutual understanding within a large federation of advanced extraterrestrial civilizations. They possessed free energy, faster-than-light travel, wonderful technology, and a socialist economy that had eradicated money and poverty. Outside enemies were held at bay by a dedicated quasi-military Starfleet composed of highly trained, highly principled men and women of all races and species who were more interested in exploration than fighting.

Star Trek may be a silly space opera, but it’s not as silly as Star Wars. And it’s (often) thoughtful, (sometimes) brilliant and (occasionally) transcendent. Star Wars is rarely any of those things.

And yes, I became a Brent Spiner fan.

The question is, when should Star Trek have ended? When did the franchise jump the shark, or as the new idiom goes, nuke the fridge? Should Paramount have called it quits at the end of Next Generation? Then we would have missed Deep Space Nine finding itself in its excellent final three seasons. There were also some wonderful moments in the last couple of seasons of Voyager. The Next Generation films were never great, but contrary to popular belief, never terrible. First Contact was the best; Nemesis the most disappointing, but not impossible to enjoy.

Enterprise was… well, almost unwatchable. Certainly, the franchise should have ended, proud and whole, before Enterprise ever assaulted the world with its power ballad opening theme. And as far as the Abrams Trek film goes, well, I don’t have enough information to form an opinion. It sounds terrible. Then again, I loved Cloverfield.

Some people would argue that Trek never has to end. They’re wrong – The Star Wars prequel trilogy proved that. If the wrong people get hold of an intellectual property (Braga *cough cough* Berman *cough*), if they lose respect for it, if they wring every possible plot line and permutation out of it, if they let it migrate too far from it’s core principles, then the franchise is ruined. Like Star Wars. Like the X-Men films.

Like Star Trek.

So when should Star Trek have ended? I don’t know. But I know when it hit its low point. And it was not the Next Generation episode where everyone “devolved” into animals (although that was close). It wasn’t even Enterprise, because Enterprise had Jolene Blalock, so it can’t be all bad.

The low point of the franchise occurred on June 9th, 1989, when Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, William Shatner’s directorial debut, hit theaters in the US.

BEGIN BITINGLY SARCASTIC PLOT SYNOPSIS (spoilers)

Just working off a few pounds.

We open on Nimbus III, the Planet of Galactic Peace. No, really, “Nimbus III.” Might as well be Nimrod XII or Dorkwad XC. Or Naboo.

Anyway, Nimbus III. The funny-looking guy who played Wyatt Earp’s brother on the Original Series is digging holes in the desert and filling them with dry ice. No motive is given for this. He’s interrupted by Spock’s brother on horseback, a Vulcan who is supposed to shock us by laughing. There’s a name for Vulcans who laugh – Romulans.

Meanwhile, some fat guy is free-climbing El Capitan. This is Captain James T. Kirk, a man whom we can easily believe would be climbing 3,000 foot rocks without a harness, even in his old age. But Captain James T. Kirk would never have allowed himself to get fat. Or have worn a toupee.

Spock arrives wearing levitation boots, a nifty little gizmo that would have been really useful the dozens of times the crews of the Enterprise-D, Deep Space Nine and Voyager had to climb up and down non-functioning turbolifts. He inexplicably goads Kirk until the man falls off the rock, and in one of the worst visual effects since Jason of Star Command, catches Kirk just before impact.

This is hilarious.

What an excellent special effect!

Kirk, Spock and McCoy spend some time bonding over marshmellons and old camp songs. Kirk says that he expects to die alone, with no one at hand but a Frenchman with a British accent and that guy from A Clockwork Orange. Amazingly, this turns out to be true.

Some other hilarious things happen, involving Scotty, Uhura, Sulu and Chekov, which I won’t ruin for you. Hilarious.

Meanwhile on Nimbus III, a fat old Klingon, a sexy Romulan who can’t deliver a line read, and David Warner are hanging out together in a third-rate reproduction of the Mos Eisley Cantina. I’ll point out here that David Warner is the only actor in this movie, and he’s given absolutely nothing to do except suck on an anachronistic cigarette. Why doesn’t he pinch snuff or chew opium, fer crissakes? It’s the 23rd Century!

Spock’s brother invades the cantina and takes all three characters hostage, which would be exciting if we cared about them at all. Okay, we care about David Warner, a little, but only because we’re expecting him to sic a Recognizer on Spock’s brother so we can be spared the rest of this movie.

Starfleet orders Kirk to Nimbus III to handle the situation, despite the fact that the Enterprise-A, gloriously gifted to Kirk at the end of Star Trek IV, is a total piece of shit. Why the Enterprise-A is a total piece of shit, or why the much-lauded shipyards of Utopia Planitia would produce a piece of shit, is not explained. But it’s hilarious.

The usual, gratuitious USS Enterprise porn shot. There's one in every Original Series film.

The Klingons send a Bird of Prey to Nimbus III, because the Bird of Prey interiors from Star Trek IV were just sitting around and didn’t cost anything. It’s commanded by that old Trek staple, the maniacally villainous captain who ignores the sensible advice of his sage First Officer. This one is a smooth-foreheaded Klingon with skin the color of baby poo. I’m sure he has a name. It’s here we learn that while every other species targets enemy ships with computers, Klingons use a ginormous shoulder-mounted periscope. Yes, I said “shoulder-mounted periscope.”

Kirk takes his good ol’ time getting around to heading to Nimbus III. When the original, thin, full-head-of-hair 1960s Kirk heard about a crisis in the Neutral Zone, he was off in a flash. Fat Kirk dilly-dallies. Anyway, after much hilarity of a most hilarious nature, they arrive at Nimbus III, which in typical Trek fashion takes about 10 minutes. The Enterprise-A has no transporters, and no one at Starfleet thinks to have a working ship meet Kirk to help out. Oh well. So everyone flies down in a shuttlecraft. Then they steal horses, because this is Shatner’s movie, so there have to be horses (see Generations).

How do they steal the horses? Get out the eye bleach — Uhura performs a strip tease for the men guarding the animals. No offense to Nichelle Nichols, but this is the second lowest point in the worst Star Trek film. Yes, lower is on the way.

Ewww. This is the opposite of sexy.

The Enterprise crew defeats Spock’s brother’s army, but is captured by the fat Klingon, the sexy Romulan who can’t give a line read, and David Warner, who are now working for Spock’s brother. We still don’t know that Spock’s brother is Spock’s brother, because Spock has never seen fit to mention it. Neither, at this point, does Spock’s brother. Both men seem to understand that they can’t mention this incredibly pertinent fact, otherwise the upcoming scene in the Enterprise-A shuttle bay won’t make any sense.

Spock’s brother’s name is Sybak or Spibok or Spigot or something, so we’ll just call him Spock’s brother. He forces Kirk to take everyone who has so far had a speaking part back to the Enterprise-A on the shuttle. Just then, the Klingon warbird attacks, because this is how the Klingons avoid open war with the Federation and the Romulans — by attacking them every chance they get.

Allow me to mention the first of two glaring logical inconsistencies I have noticed in the Star Trek universe. If the Klingons are so obsessed with honor and glory in battle, why do they employ cowardly cloaking devices?

Kirk orders an emergency crash landing in the shuttle bay, which has never been done before except for all the times it’s been done before. Once the shuttle’s in the bay, Chekov orders the room filled with a harmless neuralizing gas. Kirk, Spock and Bones are rescued, and Spock’s brother and all his little buddies are locked up in sickbay until the situation can be ironed out.

No, not really. Kirk attacks Spock’s brother, and Spock picks up a rifle. Kirk orders Spock to kill Spock’s brother, but he does not, because Spock’s brother is his brother (gasp!). Instead he wounds his brother, incapacitating him until this whole situation can be ironed out.

Didn't I see you at the family reunion?

Not really. Spock hands the rifle to his brother, who invites him to join his cause and come to the bridge. Spock does so, because he knows he can do more to help Kirk and Bones from the bridge than from the brig.

Not really. Spock goes with Kirk and McCoy to the brig.

The brig is apparently the only part of the Enterprise-A that works. This is because the plot calls for it. Kirk is mad at Spock, even after he learns that Spock’s brother is Spock’s brother.

Scotty, who has gotten so fat he looks like he has two William Shatners stuffed down his shirt, rescues our heroes from the brig. He refers to the Klingons as “Klingon devils,” which is really racist or species-ist and I think it would really hurt Worf’s feelings. Then Scotty heads off on his own, and for reasons I’ll get into below, bangs his head on a girder and drops unconscious.

This is the lowest point in the worst movie in the Star Trek franchise.

Boink. I know this ship like the back of my hand, but I bumped into this thing anyway. Hilarious!

Now Spock, Kirk and McCoy are running from Sulu, who works for Spock’s brother, and they end up climbing up a – wait for it — non-functioning turbolift. Spock produces his levitation boots from his ass and rescues his two friends. This is hilarious.

Seriously, the boots weren’t anywhere nearby. It wasn’t even established that they were on the Enterprise-A. Maybe Spock had rented them at the levitation boot concession at Yosemite, who knows? He just suddenly produces them, light years away, in a Jeffries tube, while on the run from armed men. But it’s hilarious.

Well, they get to the observation deck, which inexplicably has an emergency transmitter hidden in the floor. But Spock’s brother is on to them, probably because he read the script in advance. Wait, this thing has a script?

Spock’s brother chooses to reveal how he has brainwashed the Nimbus III folks and the Enterprise crew. It involves the victim standing very still for a complex, extended hallucination, instead of doing the obvious thing and running away, or hitting Spock’s brother in the nuts.

Spock’s brother reveals that McCoy administered euthanasia on his own father, just weeks before a cure for his disease was found. This is what makes McCoy experience the most emotional pain, and not the whole thing with Edith Keeler. Or the whole thing with Nancy Crater. Or the whole thing with Spock’s ghost living in his head.

Ewww. I don't like humans. Unless they have tits.

Spock’s pain, it turns out, comes from the fact that his father was a racist anti-human asshat who inexplicably married several humans. But then, we already knew this.

We see in the hallucination that Spock was born in a cave. Now I get that Vulcan is a volcanic planet, hence the name. But Vulcans are hyper-logical scientists. They would not live in caves. They would live in gleaming white supercities, laid out in perfect grids or concentric circles. Spock would have been born in a sterile medical chamber, midwifed by robots, his every cell studied by experts in alien hybridization logically suppressing their thrill at witnessing the birth of the first human-Vulcan hybrid. Not in a cave.

Here’s the second glaring logical inconsistency I have noticed in the Star Trek universe. Supposedly, Spock has trouble achieving pure logic because of his dual Vulcan-human nature. But Vulcans pursue pure logic because they are naturally more illogical and emotional than humans, and they consider these super-strong emotions to be dangerous. Spock’s human descent should help him behave more logically than other Vulcans, not less.

Kirk turns down Spock’s brother’s offer to show him his pain, presumably because Merritt Butrick was unavailable.

Now successfully brainwashed, McCoy and Spock still resist the urge to aid Spock’s brother, raising the question of why Sulu and Chekov aren’t later court-martialed and shot. Seriously, it’s far too easy to get Chekov to turn on Kirk – all it takes is a crazy Vulcan, or a Ceti eel, or his ex-girlfriend Irina. The next thing you know, he’s stealing the ship, or starring on Babylon 5.

Hey, this image isn't from this movie!

Spock’s brother takes the Enterprise-A to the Great Barrier at the center of the galaxy, which is about as scientifically plausible as canals on Mars, Nazi planets or “fluidic space.” It is established that no ship can penetrate the Barrier. Everyone who has tried has died. It’s a long, dangerous, arduous journey no one in the history of the galaxy has ever, ever completed.

The Enterprise-A does it in about 13 seconds.

Just on the other side of the barrier is a planet that looks like an oversized blue Q-Tip. This is Sha Ka Ree, the mythical Vulcan heaven, where Spock’s brother expects to find “God.”

Spock’s brother betrays David Warner, hot chick, fat Klingon, his Nimbus III army, Chekov, Sulu and Uhura by leaving them behind, and taking only the three main characters down to the planet. The three main characters that want to throw him in the brig. Those three.

They arrive in the Mojave Desert down on the planet, but there’s no one there. Just when Spock is about to suggest they give up, giant stones burst out of the ground! Suddenly we’re on an indoor set with a flat floor, and the stones are sitting on that floor. What, the set dresser couldn’t afford any dirt?

I believe the original series had better (and more expensive) effects than this.

God actually appears, and has a chat with Spock’s brother. The deity demands use of the Enterprise-A. This raises Kirk’s hackles, and he asks incredulously, “What does God need with a starship?” Surprisingly, this line is one of the best and most memorable lines the entire 40-year Star Trek franchise, and Shatner delivers it so perfectly that you remember for one brief moment, in the midst of this turd of a film, that Kirk is THE MAN.

Spock’s brother immediately realizes the error of his ways, which you know is ridiculous if you have ever met an actual religious person. He tries out his Dr. Phil routine on God, giving the others time to escape. Scotty beams up Spock and Bones, but you know that piece of shit Enterprise-A is soooo unreliable, and Kirk is left behind.

God chases Kirk around the desert for a while, inspiring that great scene in Galaxy Quest with the rock creature. Meanwhile, the Klingon ship (remember that? the subplot?) reappears. Spock, taking his first sensible step in the whole film, asks fat Klingon to order the ship to stand down.

Look, in the background. David Warner is snogging the sexy Romulan! Go David Warner! Maybe he can teach her how to give a line read.

God is just about to kill Kirk, when the Klingon ship appears and kills God. The Klingons killed God! That is so cool.

What a great set. What did this cost, $10?

Kirk comes aboard the Klingon ship, thinking he’s a prisoner and that they’re going to read him their poetry. But fat Klingon forces baby poo Klingon to apologize – hilarious! – and then we see who’s manning the guns. For no reason whatsoever, it’s Spock!

Spock killed God! That actually makes sense.

Everyone has a party on the Enterprise-A observation deck. No, really, they all have a party. I’m not kidding. Even the Nimbus III rebels and the Klingons. An actual party. Rent the movie, I’m serious.

Also, they apparently have no trouble getting back across the Great Barrier. Nor do they perform a scientific survey of the Galactic Core.

Cut back to Yosemite, where our three heroes sit around a fire while Spock plays “Row Row Row Your Boat” very poorly on the Vulcan lute. Hilaaaaaaarious.

Row row row your... oh never mind.

END OF BITINGLY SARCASTIC PLOT SYNOPSIS

Why was Star Trek V so monstrously bad?

When William Shatner agreed to star in Star Trek IV, he demanded he be allowed to direct V. The only thing he’d directed before was eight episodes of TJ Hooker. (He never directed a major feature again; just a low-budget sci-fi crapfest called Groom Lake, starring himself and Dick Van Patten, in 2002.)

So Shatner’s feature director debut was a big-budget, effects-laden $30 million major studio release that Paramount hoped would knock Tim Burton’s Batman off the top of the summer blockbuster charts. Which was Star Trek V’s second strike – it was rushed through production to get into theaters two weeks before Batman.

As you might guess, this clever scheme on the part of the empty suits at Paramount did not go off as planned.

Shatner wrote the treatment, which is why it features KIRK free-climbing and KIRK riding horses and KIRK fighting God, although surprisingly only David Warner gets laid. Huh. Nicholas Meyer, who wrote the two best Trek films (II and IV), was busy. So the studio picked David Loughery, whose only writing credits at that time were the forgettable Dennis Quaid-as-a-psychic film Dreamscape and one episode of Hart to Hart. Whatever meager talents Loughery may have possessed, he was forced to do rewrites by Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelley, which cannot have helped.

Then the 1988 WGA strike cut into production, and Industrial Light & Magic refused to do the effects, which showed. The VFX in Trek films have always been iffy, at least in the Original Series films. But the effects in Final Frontier are simply laughable, created by a company called Associates and Ferren that went out of business just after this film came out. I wonder why?

Furthermore the original script, in a ham-handed attempt to inject pathos, killed off Scotty for no particular reason (a la Joss Whedon’s unnecessary murders of Book and Wash in Serenity, but I digress). Test audiences hated this, so there were reshoots on dimly-lit rebuilt sets, and it shows. This is why Scotty hits his head on the girder. And it’s why that scene looks like it was shot without a cinematographer or a gaffer, as opposed to the very next scene, which is professionally lighted with the set properly dressed.

So the movie was inept in its conception, production, post-production and distribution. Did I forget anything?

Fortunately, it was followed up by Star Trek VI, which… Jesus, I know I saw Star Trek VI.

Nope. I’m drawing a blank.

Next: The Black Hole Actually I just watched The Black Hole, and although it’s really cheesy, and has the second dumbest ending of any sci-fi film (Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes is number one), it’s nowhere near bad enough to belong on this list. So…

Next: Red Planet. Okay, I remember not liking Red Planet when I first saw it. Well, I just watched it again, and while parts are silly, and it belongs to the “everything’s red on Mars” school of nonsense, and some of the science is bunk, it still wasn’t bad enough to belong on the same list as Pluto Nash. Also, it stars Carrie-Anne Moss, and no movie can totally suck if it has Carrie-Anne Moss in it. So…

Next: The Island of Dr. Moreau (1996). Not that bad. Some of Stan Winston’s creature effects are a bit disappointing, and the plot doesn’t always make sense. The guy who plays Professor Lupin is pretty good, and without Marlon Brando’s appealingly eccentric performance, we would never have had Mephisto & Kevin. I guess I’m having trouble finding movies bad enough for this list.

Next: Babylon AD. I liked this movie a lot better when it was called Children of Men, and was better acted, better written and better shot. Unmemorable, but not heinous.

Which takes us, finally, to: Alien3.

The 20 Best & Worst Villains of All Time — Part 1: The Worst

I care about villains. I used to run a web site about villains. (And I’m working on resurrecting it.) The villain is often the most interesting character in a story. I like it when they win.

This is my own personal list of the 10 worst villains of all time — not “worst” as in most evil, “worst” as in dumbest. These are the villains that failed.

Of course I must have heard of a villain to include it on this list. So if there’s some obscure villain from Croatian soap opera fanfic I didn’t include, mention it in the comments below. But don’t flame me for it.

And if you’re a big fan of one of these losers, well, there’s no accounting for taste. Especially where Star Wars fanboys are concerned.

Arise my wifes. Give ear to the words of Manos. Arise my wifes! And hear the will of Manos!10. The Master (Manos: The Hands of Fate)

Plan for world domination: Step 1, buy a tiny ranch house outside Barstow. Step 2, enslave a bevy of moderately attractive women. Step 3: Hire a retarded “satyr” as your groundskeeper. Step 4: Kidnap a bland Midwestern couple, a la Rocky Horror Picture Show. Step 5: Profit!

Apparently, The Master learned about an evil god called Manos while attending a Frank Zappa look-alike convention. He wears an oversize black robe with giant red hands on it, and totters around making grave pronouncements and threats. He’s about as scary as a mall security guard.

Why do The Master’s wives fight over him? They should be fighting over who gets to swallow the last bottle of sleeping pills.

Even worse is The Master’s menagerie. He has a couple of “hell hounds” that look suspiciously like sweet, untrained Dobermans. And I watched this movie 20 times on MST3K before I figured out that Torgo was supposed to be a satyr — I just thought he had big knees.

Many terrible movies have been saved by a great villain — I’m talking to you, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. But Manos: The Hands of Fate is not one of those movies.

Ro-Man, with his advanced alien vacuum tube technology.9. Robot Monster (Robot Monster)

Alright, lemme give ya the pitch. This alien comes to Earth and kills everybody, see, except 8 guys. They hide out in this tract house, guarded by some kind of force beam or somethin’, it’s science, I don’t understand this stuff. So this alien, this Ro-Man, has to kill the last 8 humans or he gets it from his boss, see? He’s got his Calcinator, which turns people into calcium or something, I dunno — and the Billion Bubble Machine, which — well, it looks great. But this Ro-Man, he falls in love with the cute girl, and that’s his downfall. Ya get it?

Budget? Sixteen grand, with four days to shoot.

How are we gonna afford the alien? Aw, that’s easy. I know this guy George who owns a monkey suit. We just stick a diving helmet on it, and voila, instant alien!

Yes, the villain in 1953’s Robot Monster is a guy in a gorilla suit with an old-fashioned diving helmet on it. In fact, Ro-Man’s entire race consisted of guys in gorilla suits with old-fashioned diving helmets. And although he has access to space travel, vacuum tubes, and the Billion Bubble Machine, he doesn’t have a single weapon that could destroy a tract house.

Should I mention that at the end, the whole movie turns out to be a little boy’s dream? I hate that St. Elsewhere shit.

Mr. Mxl-whatever.8. Mister Mxyzptlk (DC Comics)

You’ve got to be kidding me. Superman was never a good comic. DC never produced a decent title until Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman came along. Matter-Eater Lad my ass. And Superman was always full of stupid bullshit.

Such as Mister Mxyzptlk, who was to Superman what The Great Gazoo was to Fred Flintstone. Here’s this little extradimensional imp who can do absolutely anything, and lives to torture Supes. (For those who don’t know, it’s pronounced “Mxyzptlk.”)

He’s an example of the Villain Who Can Do Anything. I guess he’s the perfect foil for the Hero Who Can Do Anything, but they’re both stupid concepts. Sometimes the Villain Who Can Do Anything is charming and funny enough to get away with it — Q from Star Trek is an example. Mister Mxyzptlk is not charming, and is decidedly unfunny.

Or the Villain Who Can Do Anything might be particularly well thought-out and well written, like Galactus from The Fantastic Four. Mister Mxyzptlk… well, no.

Alan Moore took a stab at making Mxyzptlk dark and sinsiter; and if Moore can’t make something interesting, no one can.

Comics writers need to stop taking lame old concepts some hack invented in the 60s, and trying to make them canon. Just let it die. Superman once had an adventure with the Quik Bunny — are we going to introduce a brand mascot as the latest DC character?

Darth Fett.7. Boba Fett & Darth Maul (tie) (Star Wars Universe)

Geroge, George, George. What the hell is wrong with you?

Boba Fett and Darth Maul both fall into a very important category of bad villain: The Great Villain Killed Off Perfunctorily.

Star Wars fans loved Boba Fett from the first moment he appeared — he was so mysterious, so cool, so entirely armored. We just knew that when Return of the Jedi came around, we were gonna see some great Boba Fett ass-kicking action.

Um, not so much. Fifteen minutes into the damn movie, Han Solo accidentally — accidentally — knocks Boba Fett into the Sarlacc pit. How delightfully wacky! Except not. One potentially great villain, wasted.

But it’s okay! Because in Phantom Menace, we were introduced to Darth Maul, Palpatine’s original apprentice. The costume was great — the long black robes, the demonic face, the double-bladed lightsaber. Sweet. And granted, Darth Maul gets to be in the single greatest lightsaber battle in the entire Star Wars series. How incredibly cool that Darth Maul will be Obi-Wan’s nemesis through all three prequels!

Except not. Obi-Wan, hanging off the edge of one of those unnecessary bottomless pits, telepathically retrieves Qui-Gon’s lightsaber and chops the guy in half. Might I point out, a la Revenge of the Sith, that Darth Maul had the “high ground,” and should have been the victor?

But it was okay, or so I thought. Darth Maul would be back in Clones, wearing the Darth Vader suit! Nope. Despite efforts to resurrect a great villain in some of the Expanded Universe nonsense, Darth Maul was dead. Leaving us with no decent villains for the rest of the prequel trilogy.

And although he didn’t make this list, let me take a moment to mention Count Dooku. How is it even possible to waste as great an actor as Christopher Lee? How do you suck all the presence out of that man? Was it the green screens? The dialogue? Working opposite Hayden Christensen? Dooku, indeed.

I hate those Smurfs!6. Gargamel (The Smurfs)

So let me get this straight. You’re an impoverished old alchemist who lives alone in the forest. You have access to countless potions and spells, and even have the ability to create new lifeforms. Yet the only way you can think of to get rich is to capture little blue mushroom-dwelling dandiprats and turn them into gold. Is this the missing ingredient Isaac Newton needed to find the Philosopher’s Stone? Little PVC figurines?

Gargamel is the archetype of the hapless villain, and no one likes a hapless villain. If your bad guy is bound to fail due to his own stupidity, timidity, or clumsiness, then what’s the point? Even in a kids’ show, we should have some small concern for the safety of the good guys. Disney gets this — their villains are often too scary for kids.

I loved The Smurfs as a kid, but didn’t care at all about Gargamel. I always thought Azrael the cat was kind of scary though. I imagine that without Gargamel to hold him back, I think Azrael could have brought us Deady Smurf, Corpsy Smurf, and Smurf-left-on-your-porch-as-a-gift-y Smurf.

5. Darth Vader (Star Wars prequels)

Why is Darth Vader so pouty?Oh, don’t get your panties in a bunch. Darth Vader is on BOTH the Best and Worst Villain lists. Original Trilogy Vader is on the Best list. Here we’re talking about Prequel Vader.

Where to begin? We can’t consider the brief existence of pre-black-suit Darth Vader without examining the ignominious career of Anakin Skywalker; annoying brat child, whiny adolescent, puerile Jedi Knight. The cool thing about Original Trilogy Vader was his mysterious back story, and fans waited two decades to finally see how good, noble Anakin Skywalker was seduced to the Dark Side. Well, this Anakin was neither good nor noble. And he wasn’t so much seduced as molested by a creepy older man.

I always got the impression that Original Trilogy Vader loved his work. Sure, he was mean and short-tempered; but I think he got off on blowing up peaceful planets, slaughtering moisture farmers and force-choking admirals. As soon as Prequel Vader defenestrates Samuel L. Jackson and turns all dark and moody, his attitude seems to be “well, it’s in the script, I guess I’d better bear down and kill the younglings.” Hayden Christensen’s idea of being evil is peering out from under his eyebrows and sneering. Prequel Vader is just as whiny about the responsibilities and consequences of being a Sith Lord as he was about being a Jedi Knight. Isn’t there any way to please this guy?

Complaining about the Star Wars prequels is a common geek pasttime, so I’ll let it be. But George Lucas had a wonderful opportunity to flesh out one of the great screen villains, and he blew it on every single level. “Do not want” indeed.

Oh yeah, the up-lighting really makes you scary. 4. Count Baltar (Battlestar Galactica 1978)

A villain should be three things: charismatic, scary and sympathetic. The original Battlestar Galactica’s Baltar was 0 for 3.

John Colicos’ Baltar was doughy and unlikeable. He whined, he vamped, he chewed his lines. You wanted to hate him for betraying humanity, but you just couldn’t. He was too much of a loser. You could not believe for a second that the Cylons, particularly Lucifer, would put up with this asshole. Why eradicate practically the entire human species, just to preserve the sorriest specimen?

Let’s edify ourselves by comparing him to the re-imagined Dr. Gaius Baltar. James Callis’ Baltar is very charismatic. He’s not really scary, because he’s not really the villain. He’s a total coward who will do whatever is necessary to survive and to feel better about himself. You don’t feel sympathy for him, because he’s so reprehensible. But unlike Callis’ Baltar, the viewer is interested in Gaius’ motivations. You want to know how the hell he’s going to get out of the latest jam into which he got himself.

The original BSG had one or two interesting heroes, particularly Starbuck. But as for villains, the Cylons were faceless machines — scary, but not really characters. That put the onus on Baltar to put a human face on the enemy. He failed.

By the way, I don’t mean to slam Colicos. He was a perfectly good Klingon. I blame the original BSG writers.

Can I interest you in a variable rate mortgage?3. The Ferengi (Star Trek Universe)

Even after they stopped sucking quite so much, the Ferengi were always annoying. Whenever they popped up on Next Generation or Voyager, one was tempted to change the channel, maybe take in some Small Wonder*. And with Deep Space Nine, you couldn’t get away from the nasal-voiced, big-eared homunculi.

They weren’t even an intelligent statement on the evils of Capitalism. Star Trek’s writers always steered clear of the fact that the United Federation of Planets was clearly a Socialist utopia; maybe they didn’t want to piss off the network or the sponsors. Portraying the Ferengi as the Gnomes of Zurich was a social commentary the producers were clearly uncomfortable with; and I’m sure it pissed off the Helvetian Anti-Defamation League as well.

But I’m writing about the original Ferengi, the season one Ferengi, the animalistic, laser-whip-cracking, sniveling mealy-mouthed rat-men that the Enterprise encountered on the Tkon planet. Gene Roddenberry was a hero to many of us in the sci-fi fan community, and legitimately so – but boy, could he have some bad ideas.

The Ferengi were originally intended to replace the Klingons as the main Star Trek villains. Um… no. No one would care if the brilliant and heroic Jean-Luc Picard had to face off against little Anti-Semitic stereotypes every week. Fortunately, the producers realized this right away, sent Gene off to Kinkos, and created The Borg to be the new Star Trek über-villain.

*Small Wonder was the worst television show in the history of the medium. Hence, preferring it to the Ferengi is really saying something.

Would you rub a man’s foot?2. Terl (Battlefield Earth)

Those who have seen Battlefield Earth and ask themselves, “What the hell was John Travolta thinking,” need to remember this man believes that the ghosts of dead aliens cause all your psychological problems. (In his defense, however, I must point out that what Scientologists believe is slightly less absurd than what Christians believe.)

Still, this movie was a freaking mess, and Travolta’s eye-grating, cringe-inducing emetic of a performance is the center of the crap-storm. The former Vinnie Barbarino played Terl, the scene-chewing Psychlo security chief who lords it over the oppressed humans with all the nuance of Carson Kressley after too many appletinis.

Of course the worst thing about Terl is that we don’t care. His appearances don’t thrill or frighten us, they only annoy. Then again, if you’re sitting through this execrable film, a bad movie starring a bad actor and based on a bad novel by a bad writer, then you have other problems.

Read The Ten Worst Sci-Fi Films of All Time: Battlefield Earth

Oh god, I forgot about the bird and the bug.  The HORROR. 1. Wilhelmina W. Witchiepoo (H.R. Pufnstuf)
I lived my childhood in terror. My parents had no idea. My teachers did not know. Social workers and Child Protective Services never came to my aid. In the 1970s, the horror that stalked me was ubiquitous, leering from every television screen.

The things I feared more than death, Disco and nuclear war were the television programs of Sid and Marty Krofft, the Lucifer and Beelzebub of children’s programming. Saturday morning, previously a bastion of joy and contentment for every little boy and girl, was transformed by these demonic siblings into a poisonous buffet of horrors. From the disturbing, drug-reference-laden haberdashical torture of Lidsville to the abhorrent, drug-reference-laden pelagic nightmare that was Sigmund and the Sea Monsters, my Saturday mornings were torture sessions to whet the envy of the most perverse Guantanamo interrogator.

The worst offender was… hold on. I have to go take some meds before I can continue. Maybe a shot of liquor, too. It’s hard to face these childhood demons, to reach back past years of post-traumatic stress and face the inky blackness that stains my soul. I weep as I type these words. The worst offender was… H.R. Pufnstuf.

Man-sized full-costume puppets, a la Pufnstuf and Barney, are like clowns. Everyone understands what they’re supposed to be, and that they’re meant to be entertaining. But they’re not, and no one can explain why they persist. We got rid of mimes, 80’s hair metal and ragtime jazz; why can’t we rid the world of these tick-infested felt-swaddled non-talents?

The titular “hero,” Mr. “Hand-Rolled” Pufnstuf, was bad enough; the crude googly-eyes, one stuck in position while the other roamed at random; his “speech,” which consisted of the puppeteer shaking the head up and down while writer Lennie Weinrib voiced the bipedal dragon as a mildly-retarded Andy Griffith; and the pantomime acting, too exaggerated even for a man in a lizard suit. Godzilla had more subtlety.

But the nightmare that still wakes me at 3am, drenched in flop sweat, clinging to my sheets as I scream for my mother, is the show’s so-called villain, Witchiepoo. Now don’t get me wrong – Darth Vader scared the pants off me as a kid, but he was a great villain. So did The Robot Gunslinger from Westworld, Box from Logan’s Run, and Willy freakin’ Wonka.

Witchiepoo didn’t frighten me because she was a scary villain. She frightened me because grown adults with their own television program would create such a thing and think kids would enjoy it. It threw my whole worldview out of whack. If grown-ups could be so completely and inexplicably wrong-headed as to create Witchiepoo, what other terrible mistakes were they making?

Growing older, of course, hasn’t changed my view of humanity, only solidified it. Maybe Sid and Marty did me a favor.

Witchiepoo was an idiot, so why would we care of she won or lost? Whiny, stupid, vain and childish. Her costume was okay, kind of a pre-Goth witch-meets-Alice-in-Wonderland thing. But that face makeup – oh god, I’m going to vomit!

I’m back. My hhands are ssshaaking, I ccan’t tttype. Suffice it to say that Witchiepoo ranks number one, as the Least Entertaining, Most Ill-Conceived, Worst Performed, Worst Everything WORST villain of all time.

And now for Part 2: The Greatest Villains of All Time

The 20 Sexiest Sci-Fi Babes Part 1

Originally posted 11/21/06 on Furinkan High School Kendo Club.

Well, these top ten lists seem to be real popular. So after winnowing down a long list, here are my top 20 sexiest sci-fi babes from live-action film and television.

When you’re finished, be sure to read part two!

Carmen Ibanez20. Carmen Ibanez (Starship Troopers 1997)

Okay, sure, you couldn’t buy Denise Richards as a tank-top-and-hot-pants-wearing nuclear physicist in The World Is Not Enough. But as a hotshot starship pilot and, eventually, captain? Sure, why not?

One of the main plot points of Heinlein’s original novel was that all the experienced officers were killed off, leaving only the kids in charge. And at least Carmen had the sense to dump goofy hunk Casper Van Dien for slightly-less-goofy hunk Patrick Muldoon – right? And she did look spectacular in those Nazi-esque uniforms.

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Padmé Amidala19. Padmé Amidala (Star Wars prequels 1999-2005)

It speaks volumes to the utter asexuality of the six Star Wars films that the hottest moments are (1) Princess Leia in the gold bikini and (2) Princess Leia’s mom with her tummy exposed. Yikes.

Formerly the World’s Sexiest Jew (but knocked down to third by Rachel Weiss and Scarlett Johansson), young Harvard-educated hottie Natalie Portman was the only reason to see the Star Wars prequels, apart from Ewan McGregor’s amusing Alec Guinness impersonation. Padmé is beautiful, smart, and takes full advantage of her planet’s inexplicable custom of electing teenage girls to rule over them.

Why doesn’t she rate higher on the countdown? (1) Her atrocious taste in men and (2) inexplicably dying of “grief” and abandoning her kids to be raised by Jimmy Smits and Phil Brown, respectively (both of whom get killed by the Empire for their trouble, by the way.)

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Jet Girl18. Jet Girl (Tank Girl 1995)

I knew who Naomi Watts was seven years before any of you did. So back off.

Tank Girl is one of the great bad movies, and Jet Girl is the best reason to watch. Tank Girl’s young, sexy, Aussie-accented sidekick in the aviator goggles and red polka-dot bandana was naïve, but kicked ass.

Lori Petty as Tank Girl was great, but Jet Girl stole the show. (No love for Sub Girl, but she was mostly edited out anyway.)

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Sil17. Sil (Species 1995)

If woman is going to rip your heart out and leave you a lifeless husk, she might as well look like Natasha Henstridge.

Hell, even in her H.R. Giger-designed alien form, the murderous human-alien hybrid Sil was pretty hot.

The best thing about Sil was that she didn’t want to be a homicidal sex machine – she was just cloned that way. Giger’s usual “Metamorph” Alien-franchise alien rarely elicits sympathy, but Sil was just too cute to eject out the airlock.

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Mystique16. Mystique (X-Men franchise 2000-2006)

Sci-fi makeup often takes a beautiful actress and ruins what Darwin gave her. I’m looking at you, Marina Sirtis.

The X-Men movies feature Dutch-American supermodel Rebecca Romijn running around NAKED, but no one really notices her under all that blue paint and latex.

But Raven “Mystique” Darkholme still kicks ass and takes names, as Magneto’s ever-loyal and efficient sidekick. (I know, they turn on each other in Last Stand, but I’m pretending that movie never happened – shelve it with Star Trek V.)

She’s smart, she’s dangerous, she’s bisexual, and her eyes glow yellow. Plus, when she takes “human” form, it’s as Rebecca Romijn! And as far as I know, Mystique never let John Stamos stick his penis in her.

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Space Girl15. Space Girl (Lifeforce 1985)

Lifeforce is one of the great underappreciated science fiction films of all time, Tobe Hooper’s 1985 paean to old-school Sci-Fi horror classics like The Quatermass Experiment.

Astronaut Steve Railsback is seduced by alien space vampire Mathilda May, who desires only to feed on the bioelectric energy of every person in London. The Space Girl doesn’t have much of a personality, but she spends the whole movie stark naked and has one of the most amazing racks in cinema.

Oh, and she gets to melt Patrick Stewart’s face.

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Emma Peel14. Emma Peel (The Avengers 1965-67)

A master of martial arts and fencing. A trained chemist and scientist. A painter, sculptor, and businesswoman. A high couture fashionista with the looks of a supermodel.

Oh and, incidentally, an international superspy.

What’s not to love about Mrs. Emma Peel? Well, she did give up espionage to go live a respectable life with her husband. Please. Once you’ve had Steed, he’s all you’ll ever need.

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Robin Lefler13. Robin Lefler (Star Trek: The Next Generation 1991)

Second-most annoying Star Trek character of all time Robin Lefler, meet most-annoying Star Trek character of all time, Wesley Crusher. Now flirt awkwardly for 52 minutes.

Still, Robin Lefler was by far the sexiest woman to ever appear on Star Trek: The Next Generation, because Ashley Judd was by far the sexiest actress to ever appear on Star Trek: The Next Generation. Maybe Mr. Data can explain how Judd can be so unbelievably beautiful, while her mother and sister look like lab experiments.

Anyway, one can assume that Ashley Judd would have a much easier time getting cast in a current Star Trek film than the vastly under-appreciated Wil Wheaton. Robin Lefler’s Rule #2: Always look smoking hot in a Starfleet uniform.

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Xev Bellringer12. Xev Bellringer (LEXX 1997-2002)

As proved by numbers 17, 16, 15, 10, 5, 4, sometimes 3, 2 and 1 on this list, there is something incredibly appealing about a super-sexy female who is as likely to kill you as sleep with you.

And when that female was raised to be socially submissive but sexually aggressive, and then transformed by a machine called a “Lusticon” into a beautiful sexual killing machine – well, you can’t go wrong there.

Xev was the second of LEXX’s “Bellringers,” but Xenia Seeberg can ring my bell any day. Get it? “Ring my bell?” It’s kind of a sexual innuendo.

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Trillian11. Trillian (The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy 2005)

Ah, Zooey Deschanel. Sure, she’s cute and smart and funny. But why is she so damn hot? She’s like Rachael Ray – you can’t explain the attraction, it’s just there.

Now turn Zooey into a smart space-trotting sidekick to a two-headed G.W. Bush-channeling alien madman, and add a silly white spacesuit, a pair of pet mice, and an inexplicable American accent. Voila, you have Tricia “Trillian” McMillan, the second best thing in the HG2G movie. (The Vogons were the best thing.)

If I were the last surviving human, but Trillian was around, I think I’d be okay.

That’s not the whole thing, Francis! Read Part Two!

Tired Sci-Fi Tropes That Must Be Retired — Part Deux

Read the first part of this blog post.

Continuing my study of tired science fiction clichés:

Explanations for Vampirism

Space vampires.  SEXY space vampires.Sci-fi writers like to find scientifical explanations for supernatural myths. Julian May suggests that fairies and dwarfs are aliens. H.P. Lovecraft proposes that ghosts and goblins are aliens. Arthur C. Clarke writes that Christian devils are… aliens.

But the favorite supernatural-meets-sci-fi trope is to describe vampires as either aliens or as victims of a disease. The classic example of the former is 1985’s Lifeforce, a great, underrated movie that everyone should see, if for nothing else than Mathilda May’s naked breasts. The best example of the latter might be 1971’s The Omega Man, which would be a classic film if it didn’t have Charlton Heston in it.

But now this has been waaaay over done. This idea even infected the Matrix movies. It was the main plot point of this year’s execrable Ultraviolet – and a movie really has to be bad if even Milla Jovovich can’t save it. And speaking of Milla, let’s stop explaining zombies as disease victims, too. If your zombie isn’t a shambling corpse created through evil Vodou magic, I don’t want to hear about it.

Nanotech as Magic

She can inject me with her nanoprobes any time.Any time nanotechnology comes up, someone quotes Arthur C. Clark; “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Well, it seems clear that the earliest advocates for nanotech very much overstated its potential as well as its dangers. Most likely, nanotech is not going to make us immortal. And the gray goo is not going to kill us all, either.

But it seems just as clear that nanotechnology, and related materials sciences, will completely change our world, and remake society as we know it.

Some authors have imagined these changes, and postulated in the impact they will have on humanity. Neil Stephenson’s The Diamond Age is my favorite of these; also the works of Rudy Rucker. And occasionally, a film will reference nanotech in an interesting way. The “mimetic polyalloy” in Terminator 2: Judgment Day is the first thing that comes to mind.

But you can’t just throw nanotech in there every time you need out of a dead-end plot. Lazy sci-fi writers are just using “nano” to replace all the usual pseudo-scientific jargon. Look, if you want to explore the medical implications of nanotech, please, go right ahead. But if you injured your hero in scene 24, and want him fully healed in scene 25, don’t fall back on a “nanopatch.” It’s asinine. Nanotechnology is not a magic word that eliminates the need for plot, character, and milieu construction.

I’m talking to YOU, Berman and Braga.

The Ineffectual Crew

Yeah, George, we get it.  That's a lot of guys.So, the U.S.S. Enterprise had a crew of 430. The Enterprise-D had a crew of over 1,000. Babylon 5 had a crew of 2500 (and a much larger population). The re-imagined Battlestar Galactica had 2800 crew. The SDF-1 had 50,000 people living inside of it. The Death Star had a crew complement of 1,226,000.

But only five people ever actually DO anything.

This is difficult to avoid; in fiction we have main protagonists, and we want to hear about what they’re doing, not about some lowly Photon Torpedo Loading Technician on Deck 23. Our heroes won’t be very interesting if all they do is bark orders all day.

One way to deal with this is a tiny crew. In Firefly, the Serenity had a crew of six, with three passengers (I’m counting the doctor, Simon, as crew). There was zero redundancy, so if someone got taken out, the ship was screwed. But at least everyone was busy.

The new Battlestar Galactica has faced this problem self-referentially. Apollo and Starbuck have both complained that they have to do all the heavy lifting. It’s a wink-and-a-nod to the audience.

To give Star Trek credit, the show did an excellent job from the very beginning of creating the illusion of a large ship with a large crew, through background sounds, the careful placement of extras, and dialogue. And Next Generation was pretty good about introducing supporting crew characters. Still, if someone was going to save the ship, it was most likely Wesley.

The message to sci-fi writers is this; if the life of a starship captain isn’t very interesting, because he or she doesn’t actually do very much on his or her own, then stop writing stories about starship captains. Or be more creative in inventing stories.

The Planet-as-Location

I met him in a swamp down on Dagobah, where it bubbles all the time like a giant carbonated soda.  S-O-D-A soda.The planet Dagobah is jungle planet with roughly Earth gravity and with oceans over only 8% of the surface. If we assume that Dagobah is the same size as the Earth, then the land area of the planet is 469,260,352 km2, or 181,182,435 miles2. Give or take.

Good thing Dagobah is in fact about one acre in size, and contains a lake, a hut, and a Secret Grove of Confronting One’s Enemy and Learning It Is Oneself. Because Dagobah is only an acre, Luke has no problem locating Yoda’s home. Imagine if he had to search 181 million square miles! And all while Han & Leia are hiding in the asteroid field!

Sci-fi writers love to treat “planet” as if it’s a single location. “Let’s land on the planet, where we’ll meet the one settlement of the one culture, and have the one adventure the planet can afford us.” Planets are entire WORLDS. Even with advanced technology, it will take a space exploration crew YEARS to explore and survey a single planet. Even an uninhabited one.

Under the “Planet-as-Location” cliché, Mars is done. We sent a robot, it roamed around a few hundred yards. We saw it. DONE. Nothing more to see here.

It’s absurd, it’s an overused sci-fi trope, and it’s time to drop it.

The Theme Planet

Mmmm mmmm, sandworm is good eatin'!The planet Dagobah is jungle planet with roughly Earth gravity and with oceans over only 8% of the surface. If we assume that Dagobah is the same size as the Earth, then the land area of the planet is 469,260,352 km2, or 181,182,435 miles2. Give or take.

That’s 181 million square miles of jungle. Jungle at the equator, jungle at the poles. Jungle in the plains, jungle on the mountains. Jungle on the ocean floor, I guess. No deserts, no tundra, no temperate grasslands. Just jungle, jungle, jungle.

Jungles occur at certain latitudes, and in specific geographic and climate conditions. Even if Johnny Jungleseed went all over the planet planting Kapok trees, it’s not going to create a single planetary biome.

Even Frank Herbert admitted that Arrakis – Dune – desert planet was not scientifically possible. Although he created a clever ecology for the planet, all of its unique (and impossible) features were due to a single creature, the sandworm. One wonders how such a destructive life form, that creates its own climate, ever evolved.

Some theme planets are possible (ocean worlds) or even probable (ice worlds). But they won’t have lovely, warm oxygen atmospheres. Look at the one “desert” planet of which we are aware – Mars. Not terribly hospitable to moisture farmers and their malcontent nephews who thirst for adventure. Scientists used to hypothesize that Venus was a jungle planet. Sulfur rain and 400Cº temperatures aren’t too conducive to rainforest conditions.

Enough with the theme planets. Again, planets are WORLDS, and should be treated as such.

Everything on Mars is Red

Dees red filtah ees makink my head explote!  Or maybe eet ees der Kahreefornia Demokrats!“Hey, let’s make this movie take place on Mars! We’ll just drive out to Topanga, and shoot everything with a red filter!”

Even movies as recent as Mission to Mars and Red Planet have fallen into this lazy, non-scientific trap. Is everything on Earth blue? Should everything that takes place on Earth be shot with a blue filter?

Mars’ surface is covered largely by iron oxide rust. This gives the surface, and atmospheric dust, an orange hue. But the sky is blue during the day and black at night, and objects are the color they would be anywhere else, unless they are covered in orange dust. The surface albedo might give objects a slight orange cast – but that’s about it.

The planet has no magical red miasma. You can’t depict the planet’s surface on the cheap with a red filter. Sorry.

Alien-Human Hybrids/Babies

Ripley Clone Number 7.  I'd still hit it.From Mr. Spock and Dana Sterling to Ripley Clone #8 and the Cylon Miracle Baby, sci-fi writers just love those alien-human hybrids.

Unfortunately, if you can’t get viable offspring from a human-chimpanzee coupling (and Lord knows I’ve tried!), what chances are there for two beings that evolved on different worlds?

Now the sticklers will point out, regarding the four examples given above, that (1) humans and Vulcans were both created by the Progenitors; (2) in some versions of the Macross back story, the Zentraedi are a human sub-species; (3) the Ripley clones weren’t created sexually, and were just Ripley with certain xenomorph genes spliced in; and (4) humanoid Cylons are almost completely human, and are designed to copulate with humans.

Excuses, excuses.

It’s funny, in 2001’s Planet of the Apes, director Tim Burton wasn’t allowed to show the human Mark Wahlberg get it on with the chimp Helena Bonham Carter. Yet James T. Kirk could get busy with any alien that had a shapely carcass and a hole.

When we finally encounter intelligent alien life, the social, psychological, and ethical challenges will be enormous. But the one thing we won’t have to worry about it alien-human babies. Time to give it up.

Sound In Space

Sound in space -- there isn't any.Everyone knows there is no sound in a vacuum. Everyone but George Lucas.

Some sci-fi movies and films have tried to accurately portray what a spaceship occupant might hear, during a battle for instance; or at least use the occupant’s perspective as an excuse to sneak in some sound. The new Battlestar Galactica does a pretty good job of this. Engine sounds, collisions, passing through gas and debris clouds, and voices can provide a lot of audio “business” in a scene.

But there is something eerie and beautiful about an appropriately silent space scene. (As long as it’s not all done in annoying slow motion, like 2001: A Space Odyssey.) Firefly had some excellent “silent” space scenes, with nothing but twangy guitar over the action.

Science fiction authors need to remember, physics is our ally, not our enemy. Make friends with it.