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This is a type of racism.

10. Trek/LOTR: The False Empire

Personally I have nothing against hardcore fans of Star Trek and The Lord of the Rings because I don’t know any. But when I say the word, “Fan Convention,” you probably picture what you’ve seen on TV, the very stereotyped image of fat guys dressed up like Klingons, with the forehead and everything, or cute chicks in elf costumes (booth babes) paid to solicit sex appeal. Let’s focus on the fat guy though.

Thing about fans of Star Trek and The Lord of the Rings is they are what we think of when we think “uncool nerd.” Nerds today are cool, for whatever reason, but these guys are the traditionalists. They got heart. But they’re parody-magnets, and reflexively self-deprecating.

9. The Internet

This one would be #1 but it’s too broad. Let me specify. These are the guys who both attempt to get very high ratings on YouTube comments, and cannot stand it when people attempt to get very high ratings on their YouTube comments. These can be the most spiteful, bigoted individuals who form a mass collective of the faceless, shrouded and shielded in the armor of anonymity. It’s an old criticism, but these people have yet to stop.

8. Non-Conformists

This relates to #2 on this list. When there’s a big popular thing out, where right now it’s The Hunger Games and Twilight, there are people who will love them, and people who will refuse to touch them. The camps are set, and historically it’s always been this way. There’s a certain phobia people have about popular things, about maybe ‘selling out’ or ‘if you can’t beat em, join em!’ as if this was some sort of competition.

7. Ex-Star Wars

Being more of an Indiana Jones guy myself, I could recognize but not empathize with the Tragedy of Darth Vader, that is, the downfall of the Star Wars trilogy duology. Especially since the last live-action Star Wars film to be released (not re-released) is easily my favorite. 1999 was a crazy year for Star Wars fans, who bought tickets for Wing Commander just to see the trailer for The Phantom Menace, and then leave before Wing Commander started. But then, you know what happened. I think Spaced put the post-Phantom Menace angst the best (“Jar-Jar makes the Ewoks look like fucking Shaft!”) and it touched on that very real nerve in pop culture.

But it’s been so long that they’ve re-released Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, in 3D, yet in that time the fire has only grown, as Lucas has continued to make bad decision after bad decision and care only about technology and the Clone Wars, but I think I’ve personally had enough. Extreme hatred is of course a measure of passion, and Star Wars has elicited great passion over its many years in existence, but I don’t know. Lucas is a businessman first, having long since given up on being an art film director, and focusing on moving the franchise sideways, infinitely sideways. We won’t see any proper sequels, we won’t see that live-action TV series. Not in his lifetime, unfortunately.

6. Arcade Fire

I’ve never heard Arcade Fire’s music, but I know that fans of alternative indie-rock all seem to like Arcade Fire. But at this point, they probably diss on Arcade Fire because it’s old. That’s the beef I got with fans of that type of music. I’ve found that these guys are really sensitive about their fandom (like all fans), with the whole “I liked that band before they were cool” thing. Ownership of what’s fanned over (fawned over, equally applicable) is always uncomfortable, because no one person can stake a claim to what they’re into. This isn’t just something that reccurs within fans of this obscure type of music, who probably resent the movies Drive and Scott Pilgrim for opening up all sorts of weird genres to a broader audience, but in movies too, where for me it’s the most troubling.

Some people, and I’ve been guilty of this, don’t seem to get that more people experiencing what you like is good — unless #9 on this list plays into it. I would love to discuss all things Alien Quadrilogy with a fellow nerdlet, but then again, I would probably go seething if some fool rolled up on me and was like “I’m a huge fan of science-fiction… because of David Lynch’s Dune…”

5. Cinephiles

I don’t want to hear your crap about whatever obscure movie from the mid-60s in France (the only time/place good movies came out of) or theories or movements because it’s all garbage and get out. I think the real problem I have with movie superiority is trashing on ‘lesser’ films, which typically are those directed by Michael Bay. I’m not too keen on Transformers, but Michael Bay has a solid eye for visuals and action. He doesn’t subscribe to auteur theory, because that theory is actually horseshit.

The thing about people who delve into the obscure is that they do just that. In an Age of the Internet anybody can know anything at anytime. In a week I can learn a whole lot about… this insect. But I can’t waddle up to you the next day and be like, “The dung beetle is … and that’s fascinating because … significance,” because you could just as easily sling trivia about… this car.

4. Whedonites

What’s worse, people who love Joss Whedon, or people who hate Joss Whedon? I cannot decide. I’m a fan of Firefly, and I greatly enjoyed Dr. Horrible, but I’m not a real reader of comics, and I’ve only seen a few episodes of Buffy, so while I like Joss Whedon, I also tire of his quirks. But I’m talking about the people who don’t tire of his quirks, and specifically I’ve had two college professors profess their love for Buffy — one going so far as to say that it’s the most important TV show in its time — which to me is crazy. Does it piss me off? Of course not, but I’m aware that high passions for things generate all sorts of heat. This is Whedon’s year too — we’ll see what happens for the dude.

3. Video-Gamers

There’s so many layers to this one; how do we approach it? Most recently there was the Mass Effect 3 kerfuffle that spawned an irritating meme, throughout time (since mid-2000s) we’ve had ‘those 12 year old kids on XBL,’ and the persistent image of the gamer as an immature loser ‘livejournaling from his mom’s basement.’ Video-games have definitely gotten cooler and sexier and all that, but children do make up a majority of the audience — just walk down any video-game aisle of your local Bestbuy or Circuit City (?) and take a gander at all the blood-soaked, assault-rifle toting heroes of war, standing over the conquered Arabs or Aliens plastered on box after box.

Games like Heavy Rain and BioShock do attempt to legitimize the medium, but as long as vdeo-gamers will be predominantly kids… they’ll stay at #3. I hate kids.

2. Trenders

I guess another term for these would be like, “Mainstream Fans,” which might sound bitchy on my part, but hear me out. There are passionate fans of The Hunger Games and Harry Potter, no doubt, but these things are so popular that you’ll get two types of non-fans: those who read or watch to join in on the conversation and keep up, and those who really get into it and then decide it’s uncool when everybody else has. They’re the real killers of these franchises (remember Eragon? Artemis Fowl?) although I’m sure quality of product plays a part.

When I was younger I always felt that Metallica would never die because while it was popular, it was never really like the biggest thing. That was always for like N Sync and Lady Gaga, so they could have their corner and keep it. In time of course I’d come to understand to some degree the complexities of the music industry, but I think the principle applies here. The Hunger Games unfortunately will fall hard, because it flies high right now. If I picked up The Da Vinci Code today, or hell, possibly even The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, I’d probably get laughed at for being behind on the times.

I’ll stick with my Philip K. Dick, although he’s starting to get really popular. That makes me so mad (#6).

1. Otakus

Well here we have the big one, the great godfathers of all fans and nerds. To explain, the ‘otaku’ is the term Americans use to describe American fans of Japanese anime & manga first and foremost, but also of Japanese culture. Otakudom is a scary thing, often synonymous with ideas such as the notorious and nefarious ‘furries,’ who often believe they are fantasy monsters born in the incorrect, human bodies.

This is only one example of why anime fans are so reviled by fans of anime and people who have tertiary knowledge of this culture — there’s also the anime/manga itself, which are mediums rife with tentacle porn, little girl porn, demon porn, alien porn — you get the picture. It’s weird stuff, the stuff that makes Akira look downright western. I’d recommend podcasts like Anime World Order or Fast Karate for the Gentleman for more information on the weirdness of anime. They’re fans, but also normal people, so they can comment on all the weirdness with a relatable voice.

The Otaku culture is one that’s maybe misunderstood, I don’t know. I do know that I would never, ever want to visit an Otakon or anything like that because… furries, man. I think American culture is a little hard on flamboyance, and I can understand that to an extent. I don’t appreciate the stereotypical ‘flamboyant gays’ when I see them because they, you know, perpetuate a dangerous stereotype, but these are just kids having fun. They do, frequently, take that fun too far, but fandom is a celebration of the things you like with people who share that interest. The Internet’s made that easier, and even if it’s caused a whole hell of a lot of hell, we got something good out of it. They did, at least.

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If you’ve seen The Thing from Another World, the classic Howard Hawks film from 1951, you remember the vegetable Frankenstein monster, the snowy setting, the 50’s charm, and the iconic line, “Always, watch the skies.” It’s a movie about the clash of ideals, here between military and science, about alien invasion and heroism. It may not be as intellectual as The Day the Earth Stood Still or as recognizable as Forbidden Planet (to use its contemporaries), but its an entertaining ride with a few great moments and wonderful characters.

It is, though, very light. The characters never seem to take the issue too seriously, and this reasonably reflects on the situation. There’s really nothing all that scary about Frankenstein’s monster in the year 1951 when one has access to rifles and electric floors. Never once did I feel like this creature would be victorious, or even half of the crew would be injured. This is where I come in and say that John Carpenter’s The Thing is so much different – and it is – but comparing these two seems almost wrong. Yes, they are two very different movies on a tonal and visceral level, but more than that, neither of these movies should have to live in each others’ shadow.

They’re both major entries in the canon of science-fiction film, but it seems that rarely do sci-fi fans appreciate both equally. I don’t. With the coming of a third Who Goes There? movie, I begin to wonder just what people will make of this unofficial trilogy sixty years in the making.

But that’s not important now. Merely musing…

We’re here to talk about The Thing, because this is not only one of John Carpenter’s best, but one of the very best science-fiction films. Certainly one of the best horror movies, though many would consider it second as horror/sci-fi to Ridley Scott’s Alien. Just like how Robocop owes its production to The Terminator from three years earlier, Scott’s sophomore picture is the reason why The Thing exists as it does. It showed a world hung up on Star Wars that space wasn’t such a nice place, and that science-fiction was more than a pretty face. It was an acne-scarred, sniveling one.

After the dreary sixties, and I suppose the dreary seventies, Star Wars reinvented pulp science-fiction, the romantic heroes who got the badguys and heroines who got kidnapped. I wouldn’t say that Alien is necessarily counterculture; it was born of a rather brilliant idea of O’Bannon and Shusett’s for a horror movie – what’s the scariest thing you can think of (the answer of course being rape by alien) – but possibly The Thing is. It’s aggressive, paranoid, violent, raw.

And yet, it’s a callback to the original short story by John W. Campbell. Carpenter wanted to do what Christopher Nyby and Howard Hawks didn’t: talk about what people do when thrown in an isolated space with the most frightening thing imaginable. This creature takes the identities of others, as well as their places, and this begs the question “who among us are human?” Since you can only be sure of yourself, this question offers Reason 1 why The Thing works.

The other is something of a controversial thing, the effects. Nobody can watch the The Thing and scoff at Bottin’s makeup and animatronic monsters. They’re a highlight in eighties visuals for sci-fi film, an absolute horror and joy to watch. Not only do they look freaky, they move around in ways you don’t want them to and do things to really mess people up. But some people are so understandably taken by these effects that they’re distracted, or come to think that they’re the reason for the movie. While the effects amount to Reason 2, they also did a lot to hurt the movie’s critical reception.

This is certainly an odd analogy but take for example Higher Learning, a film by John Singleton. Critics liked it, but didn’t think it had a strong enough romantic appeal (strong character relationships) and believed the characters were stereotypes. Essentially they wanted the movie to be more conventional drama. Having character drama about romance isn’t the movie’s point, that would definitely draw away from its message, which is all about how radical thinking is proliferated through generations, masquerading as education. Why is it that film is a medium that must conform to certain conventions and standards? Why must we always be entertained by these things?

The Thing‘s effects shouldn’t be tuned down. Perhaps that thinking stems from our appreciation of The Thing from Another World, which creates suspense with no gore. What works about the effects in The Thing is their service to atmosphere. There’s nothing more scary than Antarctica. Oh wait there’s nothing more scary than a creature that can take our identities. Now there’s nothing more scary than a stomach that eats your arms. We’re touring through a nightmare reality, a terrifying hallucination that is testing these men, seeing how long they’ll dangle over the abyss before falling off – snapping and turning on each other.

It’s a Twilight Zone-esque character study with a budget. We have characters thrust into a situation that keeps getting worse, where even survival seems pointless. In The Twilight Zone, the cheesy effects actually serve a purpose (whether intentionally or not), they create a layer for us to pierce through and see what’s just below the surface – they force us to investigate, and be rewarded, more often than not (some of those episodes are pretty aimless). The Thing does have the effects. No big-headed aliens, no Sasquatch thingy on the wing. We have an effective glimpse at not an alien creature, but at an alien world, and it’s scary as hell. I suppose it is forgivable for people to be distracted, but it’s the two elements that are absolutely crucial.

That of course is neglectful of the characters themselves, the script, the direction, the acting, and the music (though Morricone himself earned the film a Razzie, forever sealing that organization’s fate for me as “jokards”), all of which are astounding, especially for science-fiction film. Only rarely do we see attention to detail on all fronts in a movie with aliens.

Will we see it again tonight with The Thing (2011)? I know we’ll at least see the effects. They’re in the trailers, and they look great, if a bit Dead Space-ish (ain’t nut wrong with that). I assume that lip-service will be paid to the who goes there aspect of the story, but that’s just fine. As long as a body is on a laboratory floor morphing in the most horrifying ways only to be blasted by Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s flamethrower – that’s all I need.

In this year 2011, over a decade after The Matrix hit theatres and I was but a boy, I never thought I could ever be such a thing as a Matrix apologist. Of course, the sequels were poorly recieved so I had to defend those, but the original Matrix is one of science-fiction film’s proudest moments – from what I understood of critical consensus. Why then do I find that people can be so critical of it when it’s – on the level that they criticize it for – essentially Star Wars, operating on the same principle of gracefully synthesizing old tropes. Where Star Wars had Kurosawa and Flash Gordon, The Matrix had Gibson and Ghost in the Shell. It also, and this is something that Star Wars most certainly did not have, had a year that was appropriately surrounded by a bevy of cyberpunk and existential movies. We had, from 1995 to 1999, Strange Days, Dark City, Johnny Mnemonic, eXistenZ, and The Thirteenth Floor, and as Christopher Nolan will tell us, Memento. I can agree with that, though it lacks cyber and it has no punk.

If one day The Matrix actually came into your office and ripped you off, just jacked all your belongings and was seen only on the security feed, you couldn’t say a goddamn thing – it’d be crying wolf, as a legion of creatives has already beat you to it. It’s a fundamental problem the Wachowski brothers had with their universe. It’s hugely popular as a franchise in terms of finance, akin to Star Wars but obviously not as galactic (*laughs*), but have you ever really heard of a Matrix fan? As a devout science-fiction nerd, this is indeed something I’ve turned over in my mind not once but a frequently many times before.

A Star Wars fan has a Boba Fett T-shirt, a Phantom Menace poster – because I don’t know he’s a hipster – a Chewbacca bobble-head, and a preorder for Star Wars: The Old Republic, or KOTOR III-VI, if marketing jargon has been effective. The fan has a lot of universe to pick from, it’s so expansive and conducive to fandom. Same with Star Trek and Doctor Who and Buffy, I guess, though they might just say “Whedonverse,” which might as well just be Buffy for various reasons*. The Matrix on the other hand has something of a flawed universe if we’re speaking to fan-friendly terms.

The heroes in The Matrix universe are actively working to undo the universe. As a result it sort of feels temporary, and personally that’s something that doesn’t jibe with me. It’s definitely one of those weirdnerd things, but out of all the sci-fi universes I’d want to live in – where the Sprawl universe or Mass Effect ties for the top – The Matrix would be down near Ghost in the Shell, which is at the bottom because you can get real fucked up in that world. Being in The Matrix would just be no fun, and it does reflect on the movies, which are all very, very serious.

Despite some flashes of humor, all three movies and the one anime anthology, take themselves very seriously, and tonally that doesn’t always click with people. Not to harp on Nolan again but that’s one of the reasons why I can’t say without qualification that I like his movies, where even the jokes in something like The Dark Knight feel like they’re taking themselves seriously. At the same time though The Matrix always works for me, even if all the parts in Zion that don’t involve sexy robot-on-robot action come off something like… The Chronicles of Riddick.

I’ve said this before but The Matrix is not only exemplary in modern filmmaking (indeed such a general term), I’d also consider it to be the second best science-fiction film ever made, above Star Wars and 2001 and all the others. It fills out exactly what movies of this type aspire to – being hugely entertaining and taking the time out to allow the audience to think about what’s going on. Not even Blade Runner does that because not everyone can find it as entertaining. That being said, The Matrix doesn’t quite operate on the same intellectual plane as Blade Runner, where it’s existentialist questions and themes were upstaged a year earlier with Dark City.

It’s just a damn good movie that talked about all the things people have been talking about for centuries – Allegory of the Cave but the difference here is that the Cave is the Net, which I suppose makes it stretch only as far back as certain episodes of The Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits, but it never gets old and had two not-as-good sequels and a universe that nerds can’t get behind. Hmm.

*Well I didn’t want to get into it above because I thought it was just a funny throwaway joke but didn’t want to bog down the already needlessly joke-heavy post; a gamble, of course. But it occured to me as I typed the word “Buffy,” up there that Joss Whedon has Buffy, a huge series spanning like seven or twelve seasons or something, and then Angel, which is a spin-off and occupies the same universe, a little later on he had Firefly, which was so short it doesn’t count, and then Dollhouse which was about four times as long but nobody liked it.

The Chronicles of Riddick, written and directed by David Twohy, represents one of the biggest missed opportunities in recent years. The question I have is this: did it shoot too high, or did it not try very hard? It’s a tough call but I’ll have to go with – and this is a cop-out – a bit of both. Great pains were taken to put this character from Pitch Black into a greater universe, and measured creative actions were undergone to make it as cool as possible. Unfortunately I don’t believe that Twohy thought too far out of the box, or outside the box at all. When you think ‘space story,’ the first thought you may have is Star Wars. That particular franchise is very successful I heard, and had a war going on that the heroes fought on one side of. Want to know what The Chronicles of Riddick is?

I’ll tell you what it isn’t – very successful. Its critical and commercial failure, particularly the latter, can be blamed for the eight year delay between The Chronicles of Riddick and the expertly titled sequel The Chronicles of Riddick: Dead Man Stalking. Audiences didn’t seem to respond too well to the shoddy cinematography and editing during action, nor the underdeveloped characters, nor the length. I’ll take them one further; the chief issue with Riddick is its universe. The space war template is not served well here where it is in Star Wars because the enemies are so damned stupid. Indeed Stormtroopers and then droids were absurd enemies that posed no real illusion of menace – perhaps they posed a phantom menace – but they weren’t derivative and lame creatons known as the Necromongers, which are not only derivative and lame, but go on to influence the space story universe for the worst.

The perfect The Chronicles of Riddick movie, in my opinion, and a cool sidequel (is that a term yet? I suppose only Soldier really counts as one) and sequel to Pitch Black, would have Riddick out on his own in a galaxy that’s swarming with mercenaries, PMCs, space prisons (like Mass Effect 2), bounty hunters, and the occasional clawed alien. Twohy could have expanded the Crematoria sequence in the middle of the actual film into a feature, and it would’ve been fine. It wouldn’t have needed such a huge budget, and it wouldn’t have required such a lame universe, but kept in tune with the gritty original.

My own personal feelings on fantasy as a genre, as a well as the sword and sandal epic, don’t enter into this because even those who enjoy sorcery and magic will find those and other traditional tropes disjointed here when applied to the science-fiction world established in the first movie. In Pitch Black there were no Necromongers, and that’s how it needed to stay, because then we also wouldn’t have elementals and soul-stealing and something called the Underverse, which at this point I can only visualize as Robot Heaven from Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. These things are all reinvented pieces of fantasy bullshit – which I hate – which is coupled with planets and spaceships and guns that shoot bullets but sound like they shoot lasers. Sure, everybody likes Krull because they saw it as a young age, but that movie sucks. Perhaps that’s not due to its genre-mixing, but rather its pacing.

I’m not some genre stickler who never wants to mix things, I mean the horror/comedy is one of my favorite genres, and has only let me down once, with Zombieland, but it is very necessary to mix these genres correctly, or cleverly, or with a purpose. Star Wars, to go back to that one again, started out mixing fantasy and science-fiction very well, with all talk about planets and spaceships and lasers coming first, and the Force coming a bit later. It totally fit within the universe, but the Necromongers are more invasive in the context of the universe than the narrative. They show up and I’m just dumbfounded. They’re a religious empire on a crusade to convert all of humanity, and this is just no good for Riddick, so he goes and fights with them.

Another problem with the Necromongers comes out of their interactions with Riddick. Just like the Stormtroopers and the droids were not threatening villains that could ever scratch the heroes, these guys are in a constant badass competition with Riddick, who aspires to be the ultimate badass. He can kill anyone with anything, so that’s a really difficult character to create a sense of vulnerability. That doesn’t really matter – we still root for James Bond even though we know he’ll never die, surviving even time and the Pierce Brosnan era (my personal favorite) – but it really reflects poorly on the villains.

Even when we did have Stormtroopers we had Darth Vader, but I’m not too into Colm Feore as a badass. I liked him better as a John Woo regular and his brief but memorable turn as the First Gentleman in 24: Season 8. Not only that, but these Necromongers get taken out so easily. It’s like the badguys and cronies in a movie like The Punisher or The Marine. I’m not convinced that these dudes will be able to take out John Cena, not for a second. Riddick in the universe is the most powerful being, and the Necromongers seem to bend to his will, as do the mercs and the prison lions.

The most telling piece of the the universe of Riddick‘s haphazardness in its media world is a Franchise Collection (I think that’s the releasing company) DVD set called The Riddick Trilogy, including Pitch Black (or The Chronicles of Riddick: Pitch Black), The Chronicles of Riddick: Dark Fury, and The Chronicles of Riddick. That they’re actually going to make a real trilogy with Pitch Black as a prequel is just perfect, because in a few year we may see, in some less sensical retailers, The Riddick Trilogy collection sharing a shelf with The Riddick Trilogy, containing The Chronicles of Riddick, The Chronicles of Riddick: Dead Man Stalking, and The Chronicles of Riddick: Live 2 Tell.

It’s not all bad. The Crematoria sequence is the closest in comes to being genuinely entertaining, rather than ironically for its B-movie dialogue and acting. There is something interesting, reflected in the killer character who finds trouble in his replication; this is speaking specifically to Kira, an older version of Jack from the first movie. The heartless killer (proven to have a heart by the end of Pitch Black so WTF) takes responsibility for his actions as measured in this killer jr. character, and the audience could potentially read remorse in our anti-hero, where he can actually see the monster he is standing in front of a mirror. I’m glad it wasn’t a romance, but every element, including this one, comes across weakly, as Kira turns about to be a whiner and not nearly as badass as she thinks. And it’s once again interrupted by the ubiquitous Necromongers. In fact, all the elements in the movie are spoiled; ruined by either the Necromongers or the audience’s inability to immerse themselves in a universe that seems to exist only in support of its eponymous character. The minor characters in Star Wars probably wouldn’t have the same sense of importance or specialness were it titled The Adventures of Starkiller.

Here’s an example of how one action scene is marred by this strangely niggling idea: the action scene is ‘the fleet is mobilized during the Necromonger invasion, several pilots go to war.’ First of all, I don’t know what the fuck planet we’re on. Let’s call it Helios Prime, going off of memory. Why should I care about this planet? Riddick has no stake in it. Oh – Keith David’s here. Space Imam. Second-of-ly, what fucking fleet? Why do we spend so much time watching the pilots fly their spaceships into the air doing their standard “WHOOO-YEAH” yelps and getting blown to pieces if they ultimately don’t do anything? I’m not just saying they ultimately didn’t defend the planet – I’m saying we could have easily not spent so much time. Riddick, from the ground level, could have been fighting Necromongers (or massacring, as it were) while in the background we see the dogfight. Eventually, towards the end of the scene we watch as the remaining pilots are taken out.

The scene sticks out to me because it seems reminiscent of Star Wars – the Hoth scene or the final assault on the Death Star in Return of the Jedi where we jump around to different pilots in the cockpit radioing things to each other. But those guys were aligned with the hero, so we rooted for them somewhat. We have zero stake in the pilots of The Chronicles of Riddick, and indeed this scene happens so early that we don’t really care, and at the end, it amounts to nothing. The planet’s overtaken, and to Riddick, nothing’s changed.

This movie could have been an interesting story – dark, space-faring science-fiction about the seedy underbelly of the galaxy and the occasional alien. From what I understand this is what the video-game Prey 2 is going to be – aside from a total departure from the original. The Chronicles of Riddick is exactly what everyone says it is: overblown. It’s really too bad, and I feel like this may be science-fiction’s second Heaven’s Gate in terms of original material. I know you’re thinking ‘it’s not original – it’s a sequel,’ but I’ll take sequel over remake, reboot, or even adaptation any day. A writer who sits down to his typewriter and bangs out characters, situations, plot points, and in the case of science-fiction, sometimes an entire universe, is incredibly valuable and increasingly on the decline. These people know that you can’t turn up gold in mined areas – though you often run the risk of turning up The Chronicles of Riddick.

It hardly feels original – note how many times I brought up Star Wars in this post…

The tagline should be: There’s a fine line between anti-hero and dick. This summer, it’s crossed.

 

We’ve had one feature film and two television series about it, and fan response has been lukewarm as the franchise’s relevance begins to decline. Star Trek is possibly getting popular again, Battlestar Galactica was huge – there are seemingly better options nowadays for space opera. George Lucas has been known to hold out on his fans, not quite on the level of Harlan Ellison perhaps, but by not delivering on promising projects, for example a live-action television show, he’s being frustrating again. Just like in 2002 when Attack of the Clones was released to only moderate critical success, a movie that should have washed the sour taste of Phantom Menace out of the fanbase’s collective mouth, but instead kicked off a brand new storyline, a saga within a saga that would become the face of Star Wars for nearly a decade, spanning video-games and books and yes, even a whole Star Wars movie. Episode 7? No. The Clone Wars.

So not only does the Clone Wars provide a face for the series in this modern time where fans scratch their heads, it also feels like a huge waste of time. Remember in The Empire Strikes Back, when Darth Vader tells Luke that he’s his father? I sure do, and it’s those major plot points that kept the series going back in the late seventies and early eighties, kept the fans interested and invested in what mattered in the long term for the narrative – the characters. While having not seen any of Star Wars: The Clone Wars (not to be confused with Star Wars: Clone Wars, which was actually kind of good), I can’t say anything for certain, but I just can’t imagine they add anythng to the series canon when we already have Episode II and Episode III. Assumedly they all lead up to Anakin turning to evil, so I suppose the best the show can offer you is original characters and scenarios and what comes of those.

But then, why bother placing it in the Clone Wars? Not only do we know the outcome, this is easily the most uninteresting aspect of the Star Wars universe, one that contains such things as retroactively inserted dancing CG aliens in 1983 and Jar-Jar Binks. There’s so many problems with the idea of a the clone wars, and I think they’re analogous to why the films that contained them didn’t really connect with the audience.

We have Clone Troopers being made, an infinite army serving the Republic, which will eventually fall and become the Empire. These clonetroopers obviously become the Storm Troopers, the inept soldiers who are constant laser fodder in the original trilogy. So if they’re going to be evil, are we supposed to root for them now? Certainly we never get to know any of their characters, but if they’re good I suppose we cheer for their team. The only problem is we know they’re going to be evil. They’re only temporary heroes, and so watching Clone Wars battles between clones and droids is like watching two sports teams go at it who aren’t from your local area. I have no stake in either, and the main heroes aren’t as personally invested in the clonetroopers’ plight as the heroes were with the Rebel Alliance in the original movies.

It kind of leaves you cold, when you’re indifferent to such a piece of what’s going on. That’s exactly how I felt about the prequel movies – disregarding entirely the fact that I don’t care much for the series as a whole – cold and distant. No sense of gravity to anything that was going on; truly the writers fell into the easy prequel trap, where yes we know the ending, so we should have something to combat that fact which minimizes drama and suspense, but nothing was done.

Also, the entirety of the Clone Wars occur in the Star Wars universe to serve a singular, tiny purpose, and this is something that a long time ago I brought up in conversation with a friend who’s a Star Wars fan. I said “It’s kind of dumb that we have this huge war that’s orchestrated just so that the Chancellor can control the clone army, on a narrative level anyway. It really makes the Clone Wars feel useless.” His response was “Isn’t that what war is in real life? Useless?” Fine, you can make that argument, but not with any evidence gathered from Episode I-III. The themes of those movies were corruption and the fall of republics. This segues nicely into the original trilogy, which was about redemption and the fall of empires. Assuming that Lucas is following the mold set by space opera in literature, we can say that after Episode VI the Rebel Alliance too becomes an Empire and somebody must stop them.

It’s a series that would then be about cycles throughout the ages, and it would be about history. It’s not so much that war is pointless in history, but that it’s a constant. Even if you disagree with that, and you feel that the Clone Wars were useless by necessity, the product of that uselessness is still a major negative on the series. We have clones and androids, two of the most expendable creatures in all of science-fiction, being pumped out on a galactic scale to do battle with each other. Sound epic? No, that sounds like you could kill one thousand clones and do no better than when you killed three hundred thousand droids last week. There is no weight to the conflict, which can’t be said of the rebels and empire war.

I guess in the end we’re not supposed to be invested in the clones at all, but the Jedi. And all the clone wars do is just serve that one plot point of the Chancellor becomes the evil emperor of the new Empire. That’s fine, but why do we have to have so much of it? Star Wars could and should be a series of over a dozen movies by now, but it’s like pulling teeth with the guy to make another movie – what exactly is he doing up there in his Skywalker Ranch? Doesn’t matter. If we don’t have more Star Wars movies, that’s just fine by me, but why out of all the possible films to make set in this universe do we get one about the clone wars? And it was animated! With animation you could have done anything; the continuation of Luke’s story maybe, or whatever happened to Boba Fett, which I know is a point of much interest on the Internet. Anything could have been done, and it would’ve been eaten up because Star Wars is and always will be the biggest and most popular franchise in science-fiction history, eclipsing Star Trek by a margin.

The clone wars is just one insignificant dot in it, starting from one throwaway line in Star Wars and all the way up to modern times with I don’t know three seasons of the second animated TV series?

Shit does look pretty rad though, especially in Episode II at the end. As much as I’ve complained about it, the clone wars bits of the movies are probably for me the most memorable. But they’re so stupid… I need a science-fiction movie with that level of fantastical visuals and the burden of something ticking under its creators’ skulls. Too much to ask for?

 

 

 

The prospect of a big bad Mass Effect movie is enough to get fanboys in a tiff, as there is some actual mythology there to be potentially ‘ruined,’ just like how after the abysmal sequel to Resident Evil (2002), they couldn’t make any more video-games. What a ruined brand, damn shame. Super Mario, also. As a fan of space opera when mixed with military SF elements, the Mass Effect universe was a natural fit for me, and I’d gladly watch a non-playable version. We haven’t really had video-game movies lately, and I must be the only one complaining about that, but some of the best games have yet to be attempted – Halo, Metal Gear Solid, Bioshock, (what ever happened to Joust, man?) etc.

If Mass Effect was adapted into a movie, I would be into it, so long as they don’t get another music video first timer dude to do most of the creative aspects. But as far as I’m concerned, the more stuff like Mass Effect the better – let’s expand this franchise to what Halo used to be. My one concern over the potential Mass Effect movie (I don’t want to keep using it in terms like it’s being made, not matter what IMDb.com might have you think) is the hero of the tale. Commander Shepard is a wonderful character in the way that the Transformers (2007) script is: he is able to satisfy many different demands without necessarily being deep, or… good, in a traditional sense. The renegade option makes him more a badass than a creepo (you can tell the writers had a good time with some of the dialogue), and his depth, of which there can be none as an RPG avatar, is offset by the supporting cast. Garrus is totally awesome.

But the problem here is that he, the male Shepard, is the default. My only complete playthroughs of either games. Have been with female Shepards, but she is not the default sex. The default Shepard, the one you see on the box, is modeled after a real person. FemShep, as it were, is not. There are many fans out there who choose the female Shepard over the male, and some of these reasons are silly (lesbian alien sex). Sometimes people just want to follow around a cute little buttocks. Some people find Jennifer Hale to be a better voice actress. I agree, she is pretty solid.

I prefer the female Shepard partly on principle. No lesbians – my Shepard got with Kaiden, which was a strange experience for me to hit on a guy. But at the end of it all I reasoned that there simply aren’t enough badass female characters in audio/visual science fiction, and markedly less in this neato space opera environment. To support this claim, I’d like to deconstruct some of the names people bring up when we say, strong female character.

Let’s start this off with an easy one. I love the Major just as much as I love her respective series, though to varying degrees based on which medium. Stand Alone Complex Major was highly entertaining to watch kick cyborg ass, and the movie character (in both films) was thought-provoking in premise, and intruiging in Innocence. But there are several reasons why she doesn’t hold up under scrutiny. 1) Masamune Shirow. 2) That episode in 2nd GIG where she was touring China with that little kid… creepy hotel scene with ambiguity in the English dub. 3) it’s debatable whether or not the nudity in the original film came about prominently because of the existentialist themes, or for fan service bullshit. The fact that it is debatable is deflating, and is rooted in number 1.

Now for a fan favorite, one I’ll never understand. Princess Leia from the ‘holy trilogy,’ is considered to be a classic strong female character in SF. I guess it’s kind of easy to figure out; the reason why good or positive or equal-to-or-greater-than-men female characters are rare as good weather in New England (zing) is because it’s written notoriously by nerds. Male nerds. Remember what Philip K. Dick said about his kind, the SF writers – they know little about science and their fiction is generally dreadful. Indeed, these people are people after all, not gods. I don’t know if you knew that. So I guess you can’t blame them entirely for the Princess Leia being totally lame, first a kidnapped princess to be rescued, then an object of cliche romance, and finally, and my favorite, a ‘sexy’ slave girl in the iconic metal bikini. At least she had compelling characterization to back it all up, of course.

The Matrix gets a lot of hate. But one element people never criticize is the only element I ever will: Trinity. A good, if shallow and hopelessly sidekicky character, she does the Kung Fu and motorcycle jumping, and this is a good thing. But just like a lot of The Matrix, she’s not original. She’s essentially a carbon copy of Molly from Neuromancer, in terms of appearance and role, despite lacking Freddy Kreuger cyber enhancements and Batou eyeglasseyes.

Mace from Strange Days. No complaints. Now we just need people to watch Strange Days.

I’d catch a grenade or jump in front of a train for a woman like Summer Glau, like that terrible song goes, though in reality she’s had to endure plenty of networks lobbing grenades at her time and time again – and I just stood by, helpless. Firefly is one of the great tragedies of TV and science-fiction, and while Terminator: SCC was alright, it still got cancelled. If you put Summer Glau in your show, two things will happen: I’ll perk up, it’ll get cancelled. So let’s look at one of her better known characters: River Tam from Firefly/Serenity. I saw Serenity first, and thought she was just a crazy kick-ass crazy girl, but Firefly showed me that no, she didn’t do the kung-fu all the time. Basically what we have here is this blank slate personality akin to the Major, but instead of being quietly philosophical or barking orders, her perogative is to alternate mumbling and screaming. And going back, the kung-fu kind of pisses me off. I don’t know why. Firefly didn’t exactly have the best female characters though, probably the worst being Inara, who was so blatantly eyecandy it was embarrasing. What the hell does high-class prostitution have to do with anything in this universe?

James Cameron knows how to combine women and robots without compromising either. Sarah Connor was badass enough to warrant her own TV show, and the adapted Ellen Ripley earned Sigourney Weaver a nomination at the Oscars. Even the Lindsay Briggs in The Abyss was more complicated than required by the premise of an exploratory underwater adventure. But Netyri is hell weak, man. Out of context, “you will never be one of the people,” is one of the worst lines ever. “You are like a baby!” on the other hand makes me chortle; the former is cringe-inducing.

Think of the great man characters filmed sci-fi has given us. First one that pops to my mind is Snake Plissken. Bit of a cliche, but totally owned by Kurt Russel. How about Han Solo? Everyone loves Han Solo. I got nothing bad to say there. He was essentially the cookiecutter Western genre badass, maybe a Man with No Name (or a Man with a Ridiculous Name) in space. But he gave back to SF, showing us that not every space opera needs black and white heroes, but even anti-heroes can be redeemed and sympathetic. He also gave us Malcolm Reynolds, the successor to the form.

Some people do however know how to write cool female characters. A more recent example is Eden Sinclair from Doomsday. Awesome movie, awesome actress, awesome name. Maj. Eden Sinclair is essentially just a better version of Snake (that says a lot, both Escape movies are stellar), but with a robot eyeball. I doubt I would have liked the movie as much if it had starred, I don’t know the guy from Dog Soldiers. Conversely, Dog Soldiers would have been more entertaining to me had it starred Rhona Mitra. Well isn’t that interesting? Probably not, I think I just appreciate Rhona Mitra as a screen presence.

Basically I’m just tired of science-fiction film and TV and video-games being a man’s only club. For the most part, women play supporting roles, and when they don’t, they are men without penises. I guess it’s a difficult thing to write a compelling or at least positive woman character for the average SF writer. I know I sure as fuck couldn’t do it – I don’t hang around women, I just choose to see them shoot up alien worlds on the televsion.

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