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Following or going back and researching production histories of your favorite movies can often yield interesting stages of development. For more troubled productions like Alien 3, a whole ton of writers submitted drafts, many promising, and many who probably would’ve murdered a then smiled upon franchise. Screenplays are written all the time, but are get the go-ahead much, much less often. In science-fiction, there can be any number of reasons for cooked projects. Budgets, that thing when an executive is replaced and he says “yeah none of these projects go forward,” you know how it is. Crazy world.

There is precedent for this type of thing, though I don’t think Dreck Fiction has enough clout to influence publishers, but Harlan Ellision’s I, Robot is widely available, so who knows. Maybe we will see some of this stuff. I also don’t even know if any of it is ‘lost,’ or just difficult for me to find. I don’t stray far from Amazon.com.

James Cameron’s Mother

Avatar is old, son. Older than me, came about in the days of Xenogenesis and Alien II. At the start of his career, James Cameron was just as much of a work horse as he is now (he does indeed take pretty epic breaks to dive to the Trench and stuff, but hey), at one high point writing three screenplays at once — a Terminator rewrite, an Alien sequel (terrifying I’m sure), and First Blood 2. Alien 2 benefitted from the research he was doing into the Vietnam War for Rambo, but it also happened to be influenced by Mother, a science-fiction movie.

The details are scarce, and if they aren’t I don’t very well remember them, but some of it had to do with Avatar (see, I didn’t mention it for nothing), and the Alien Queen. No matter what it is, it combines two of the greatest things ever, James Cameron and science-fiction, which has yielded some classics (T2, Aliens, The Abyss), and some clunkers (Avatar) — Cameron is definitely a hugely influential name in recent scifi, despite being a filmmaker and not an author.

Unfortunately, Mother has been so cannibalized by other Cameron movies it couldn’t possibly be made today (also taking into account Cameron’s Avatar-only agenda until 2020 AD), which isn’t quite the Planet Terror scenario — in that case, an old Rodriguez screenplay was chock-full of stuff, like Savini’s crotch rocket in From Dusk Till Dawn and Desperado, but by 2009 still had enough to make for a crazy-ass zombie movie. Maybe it’s fortunate though, because reading Mother would be a warm, familiar place for any fan.

William Gibson’s Alien 3

I gotta be honest, the premise for this screenplay is pretty absurd. The origin behind the Alien, which I suppose preempts Prometheus by almost exactly two decades, is nano-robots, in true Gibson fashion. We know that William Gibson is a good writer and he’s got a fascinating imagination, but in the film and television realm, he hasn’t had great success. I’ve heard that his two episodes of The X-Files weren’t among the most memorable (or were, but for the wrong reasons), and of course Johnny Mnemonic stands as a shining example of the author at its worst, despite the film’s lasting entertainment value.

It’s hard to know whether the scripts are good and the direction and Keanu “I Want Room Service” Reeves performance are what kills it, but I think that either way it’d be an interesting read.

David Hayter’s The Chronicles of Riddick

You might be scratching your head over this, but for me it goes two-fold. I would love, love to see an earlier draft of The Chronicles of Riddick, which is in concept a fun space romp. Modern pulp fiction with a dash of badass angst. And though I have little reason to be, I’m a huge fan of David Hayter. He’s the screenwriter behind the first two X-Men movies, which I don’t really care for, and The Scorpion King, which is not as good as my beloved first two Sommers Mummy movies but was enjoyable enough to a twelve year old, and the voice of Solid Snake, the mascot for a video-game system I never had until a few years ago.

But I follow him on Twitter and I really like hearing him talk about Watchmen and Lost Planet and stuff. And when I saw that he wrote a draft of The Chronicles of Riddick I was shocked. I’d like to see an unfiltered voice (not audio) for this guy.

Interestingly, David Twohy (writer/director of The Chronicles of Riddick) wrote a draft of Alien 3, another in the long line of screenwriters on that film with such a tortured development history that also includes Walter Hill, the great action director and career producer for the cycle.

Philip K. Dick’s Ubik

Need I say more? I know I just got through talking how Gibson can’t adapt his own shit or whatever, but that’s only because we do have Johnny Mnemonic on hand. Philip K. Dick didn’t have much experience with movies, but had something of a hand in rejecting the initial drafts of Dangerous Days, or Android or whatever, which were allegedly rather hokey. So from this I shall jump to the conclusion immediately that he’s got good taste.

And Ubik is a nice and rounded story. A Scanner Darkly seems kind of oddly paced and everything, but Ubik builds toward an ending — it’s more cinematic. In fact, Linklater attempted to do Ubik before ‘settiling’ on A Scanner Darkly. So this isn’t the only time Ubik was tried and shot down. Meanwhile Open Your Eyes and Vanilla Sky happen, so I wonder how the near future Ubik movie will bode now that people can guess the ending.

David Cronenberg’s Red

Red or Red Racers. I’m sure if I saw Fast Company I’d have a pretty good idea of what this movie was all about, but this is a passion project for Cronenberg that never got off the ground due to the whole “Cronenberg never ever made money,” thing. Now, David Cronenberg has asserted that screenplays are not art, so he wouldn’t appreciate this post none, but I’d still love to know what Cronenberg thinks about outside of sexual body horror and hardcore violence. In this case it’s formula racing, a peculiar obsession of the man. I wonder what a movie would be like with the Dronenberg thematic eye, but applied to something like… racing.

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It will be difficult for me to get across in words just how much I appreciate the Ghost in the Shell series, how much it means to me as a fan of science-fiction and… things that are good. I suppose that’ll make the next post somewhat ironic, but beyond that it’s all uphill, or downhill–good stuff anyhow, all good stuff. Ghost in the Shell appeals to me on almost every level as someone who’s watched a fair to nearly good amount of science-fiction movies and shows and never really ‘fallen in love’ with anything beyond the nostalgia movies of childhood.

They take a premise, which is that in the future we’ve blurred the line between metal and flesh, man and machine, such that our brains are computers and can be manipulated. But what of humanity?, and they don’t just make it about a detective or some dude, they make it about a paramilitary organization within the Japanese government–and they run into some crazy stuff. Of course, Ghost in the Shell 2 is more about detectives, but you still get the same dose of robot suits, cyber-terrorists, gadgets, gross bodily harm, artificial intelligence, and existential musings the series is known for.

It’s cyberpunk, or post-cyberpunk if you must, with a heavy philosophical bent. An obvious influence on the Deus Ex series in this regard (though it’s probably more successful), and something that took a few notes itself from the likes of Gibson and Blade Runner. The world it creates is much more frightening than 2019 Los Angeles, or the Sprawl, however, as the future tech has become so advanced it’s invisible. You can have a shotgun in your arm and walk around town fully loaded while none would be the wiser. That’s not really the scary part, but it’s kind of a fun idea. What’s scary is the ability to be hacked…

We don’t really feel for computers when they cluck up–we feel for ourselves and our wallets. But what if we could be compromised mentally by the will of some motherfucker with good hacking skills? What if an artificial life form created on the Net wanted no more than to exist, but first needed you to believe you have a family when you don’t? One minute you’re some poor dude and the next you’re a terrorist. Or, one minute you’re a terrorist and the next you’re a meat puppet killing all your friends and waiting for somebody to cap you–depends on who’s team you’re on.

Ghost in the Shell is much more concerned with cyborgs and virtual reality than megacorporations or cyber-drugs or androids; there’s a prevailing preoccupation with the man-machine interface and the loss of humanity. The Major can’t quite be sure of herself, as her body was patched together before our very eyes in a lab, and there exist fake memories, like Blade Runner. Might she just be a collection of false lives inside a robot shell? At least she’s got her personality… but we’ll get into that.

This choice of cyberpunk tropes is what I like most and least about the series, but we’ll get there too…

Before we begin, I suppose I should note something. I’ve never watched a single volume of Ghost in the Shell with the original language track, so… see ya.

If you’ve decided to stick around to see what I have to say–thank you, that’s very courteous. The truth is: the dub is excellent. Which dub? All. With the exception I suppose of the first movie, all the voice talent is consistently good. There are those weird pauses and awkward intonations that you’d expect from any translated work, but these are few and far between, and perhaps appropriate, given the inhuman nature of the cast.

Ghost in the Shell is one of my very favorite things in the realm of science-fiction, so I’ll try to do it justice here. It’s all worth seeing, so if you haven’t yet, I recommend you get your ass to Amazon right quick, and here to help is a Ghost in the Shell Buyer’s Guide, because it can get kind of confusing:

(These are things that I’ve bought–they’re all good. I won’t speculate on anything)

1. Ghost in the Shell DVD, released by Manga Entertainment: $10 on Amazon. Light on special features, from what I recall, but it’s probably the most essential to own for any cinema buff. If you prefer high-def, you’ll have to settle for Ghost in the Shell 2.0, which is nearly the same movie, but with awkward CG rendered scenes in the beginning.

2. Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence Blu-Ray, released by Bandai Entertainment. There was a big curfuffle surrounding the original US release of Innocence. The DVD by DreamWorks Video has apparently a terrible subtitle job, which is basically just closed-captioned. If you want to know that a helicopter is making noise or that footsteps are happening, check this one out (Netflix ships this one), but if you want a real version or the English dub, look no further than the excellent Blu-Ray disc. Along with the Stand Alone Complex cast dub, it’s also got some Oshii-esque special features: a trip to Cannes and a look at how some scenes were animated. It’s $149.99 New on Amazon, which is shocking because it definitely was not that when I picked it up. Sorry. The DVD version, with its weird naked girl cover is equally absurd, at $49.99. The poop CC version will have to do, it’s a more modest $11. Honestly, the CC isn’t that terrible…

3. Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex – I have yet to buy this one, because I watched it all on Netflix streaming, which it is currently on right as we speak. At the time, 2nd Gig wasn’t, so…

4. Ghost in the Shell: Anime Legends 2nd Gig, released by Bandai Entertainment. If I remember correctly, this is the same deal as the Cowboy Bebop I have–something like a Franchise Collection line, I don’t really know. It’s the cheaper version of the real thing, so you get all the discs but it’s bare bone–no special features. Being the whole second season I suppose $20 on Amazon isn’t bad, especially compared to the current cost of a new ‘real’ version, which may have better cover art, but’ll run you in the ballpark of $299.99. Used is only $24.95 at this moment, so if that doesn’t bother you it’s probably worth it. Like the first Gig, this is on Netflix streaming, so there’s an instant alternative if you have the subscription.

4. Ghost in the Shell SAC: Solid State Society Limited Edition Steelbook, released by Manga. Yikes this one is also expensive, running at $37.98 Amazon price. I paid maybe $20 for it so maybe the tides will turn in time. As it stands though it’s not a terrible deal. Three discs, including the soundtrack, which is pretty good–From the Roof Top by Ilaria Graziano is awesome–but not the series’ best. Considering the Blu-Ray is ten dollars cheaper I’d probably go for that one. The Limited Edition Blu-Ray is so expensive that it isn’t even available. (laughs)

5. Ghost in the Shell, PS2 game. Yeah I bought this for some unreasonable amount of money for the PS3, a system that refuses to play it. I think it was like $3, which wouldn’t be so bad but I also bought one of the PS2 classics–Zone of the Enders 2–the same day, and it wouldn’t play either. Thanks, Sony. You’re a pal.

So that’s the list. Pretty expensive. But worth it. I guess there were also two books, but… damn it. I’ll get to those later.

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.

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