Godzilla Trailer

The trailer for the new Godzilla movie is out. We still are not getting a good view of the big guy. This is good. They are saving the reveal for the theater. We get to see more than we did in the teaser but we still have not gotten to see his classic profile. There’s a lot in the trailer. Why are jets falling out of the sky. Who’s skeleton is that? I don’t want to over analyze the trailer but the basic idea of the movie is revealed. Basically they say that the nuclear bomb woke him up and what we were told we nuclear test in the Pacific were actually attempts to kill Godzilla. Ok, I’m hooked. Oh, and apparently Bryan Cranston spends the whole movie either crying or with anguish on his face. Should be good. We’ll see in May. Here’s the trailer.

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Jumper

Jumper is the first of a series of novels by Steven Gould about a boy who finds out that he can teleport to any place that he’s previously been to. It is at its core a super hero origin story. The 2008 movie of the same name borrows the characters and the basic premise but leaves out the majority of the plot and character development. I have not yet read the sequel novels so I can only assume that the movie is borrowing elements from those other novels.

As a stand alone superhero origin story, I liked Jumper. We can believe the arc this 17 year old goes through as he learns about his power and chooses a path for his life. The story tries to follow its own internal scientific logic. The NSA reaction is much more believable in the novel. There is no mention of the Paladins. Perhaps that and his mothers fate are addressed in later novels.

The main character, David Rice, has to deal with mundane issues like getting an apartment while being a minor. He comes to the attention of the NSA for apparent border control error such that they think he’s working for another government agency. David’s attention turns toward anti terrorism in a day when the advice to pilots was to comply with hijackers and smoking was still allowed on a plane. The world has changed but this story holds up and is worth a read.

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Gravity

When I first heard about the Alfonso Cuarón movie Gravity, starring Sandra Bullock, George Clooney, and the voice of Ed Harris, it sounded like a space version of Open Water and I wasn’t interested. I heard that it was stunning to see on the big screen or in iMax format but I managed to resist. I later heard that Clooney was killed near the beginning of the movie like Steven Seagal in Executive Decision and that almost made me want to see it. I still managed to resist. Now that it’s out on video I set aside a couple hours and put it on. Actually, the movie was only 90 minutes long.

The first 12½ minutes of the film is one continuous long take. I thought the scenery was beautiful but I was too distracted by Cooney’s MMU antics. There’s very little character development before the incident happens. We see the Space Shuttle Explorer on mission STS-157. Note that the Shuttle program ended in 2011 on STS-132 and the Explorer is now on display in Houston and renamed the Independence. We’re expected to believe that this story is taking place in the near future when, probably around 2022 when the Chinese space station Tiangong (天宫) will be open.

Yes, it is like Open Water and All is Lost. The story ignores orbital mechanics and the laws of physics but in the end you just don’t care. Bullock’s character decides to survive and we see her emerge literally from the incident safely on the Earth. The way that Clooney’s character dies is just stupid. All Bullock had to do was flick a finger and he would have been saved. I think she let him die on purpose so she could have the second half of the movie all to herself.

If you can ignore the science problems with the story then it is very pretty to look at. It’s like an amusement park ride. Just enjoy it. It’s worth a rental if you have a nice big screen to watch it on.

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The Martian

You may not have heard of Andy Weir. He has no Wikipedia page and he only has the one book listed on Amazon. His web site galactanet.com looks like a 1996 MySpace page. andy_weirWhat he does have is the best hard science book about Mars I have ever read. The entire book involves the main character using science to figure his way out of an impossible situation. Although he lacks the world building and character interactions of Kim Stanley Robinson he still manages to engage the author in this MacGyver tale of survival.

The basic plot takes place in the near future. There’s actually very little future tech in this movie. We find ourselves with the lone castaway of the Ares 3 mission. This is the third mission of a planned 5 mission program. Each mission has 6 members. The mission profile involves sending supplies and equipment ahead of time to the red planet. Our crew use a reusable interplanetary ship called the Hermes. The Hermes has an ion propulsion system and is expected to be used for all three missions although it will never make it to the surface. There’s a dust storm and an accident on sol 6 of the mission. Our hero and botanist, Mark Watney is presumed dead when his suit is impaled and all life support readings are lost. The rest of the crew are forced to abandon him. He awakes to find his ride is gone and his radio is broken.

What follows is a very detailed assessment of the resources on hand. Mark works the problem eventually figuring out how to create food, water, and oxygen enough to survive for 15 months until he can be rescued. The facts and figures are daunting. He even says things like, “you can trust me on the math.” He deals with the psychological challenges of the isolation and the horrors of disco music. The facts and figures can overwhelm and be a bit tedious but in the end the story progresses and you care about the character. There are some minor characters that represent what you expect of NASA’s response to such a situation.

I highly recommend this book. When you finish reading it, check out Mary Roach’s Packing for Mars and Robinson’s Red Mars trilogy.

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RoboCopy

Just saw the RoboCop remake. Thoughts? Well, it didn’t suck (…as bad as Total Recall). But unfortunately it wasn’t great either.

The opening scenes of the Pat Novak show staring Samuel L. Jackson were supposed to evoke the same over-the-top media as we saw in the original. You could see what they were going for. The scene included a live feed from the pacification of Tehran by ED-209 robots. It wasn’t funny. It was very uncomfortable to watch. I think they missed the point. A reference to Iran is too close to reality. It would have been more satirical if they were pacifying Acapulco or Iceland. So the whole opening falls flat. Novak is lobbying for the use of these robots inside the US but federal law prohibits them. There was another missed opportunity here where they could have talk about different states or border patrol uses for robots. Jackson manages to get an audience laugh when he drops an f-bomb in the second half.

Soon we meet Officer Murphy starting with the back of his head. There’s a reference to Officer Lewis. We know she is his partner, or at least she was in the first movie. Lewis has apparently been hurt somehow. We meet other characters in the precinct. We spend time with the Murphy family. Later we find out that Murphy and Lewis went after a bad guy and Lewis ended up getting shot. Oh, and Anne Lewis is now Officer Jack Lewis. It must have been payback for Boomer on Battlestar Galactica. Bad guy decides our Alex Murphy is getting too close and blows him up.

So Murphy is hurt. He burned. He’s missing a couple limbs. But he’s not dead. His wife signs him over to OmniCorp. Robo is born as a way to get around the federal law. When Murphy wakes up he’s a little upset. They decide to suppress his emotions to increase his reaction time. They control his body chemistry and turn him into a robotic personality. Nearly an hour of screen time has passed and we are finally seeing Robo on the streets. Plot happens; bad guy dies; roll credits.

It wasn’t all bad. There was a lot to like about this movie. For one thing it was actually filmed in Detroit. No longer are they using Dallas, Houston and Atlanta as stand ins. We see OCP headquarters right on the riverfront next to the GM building. The city actually looks pretty good.

Gary Oldman was good playing Alfred to Murphy’s Batman. He was believable as the motivated scientist. Michael Keaton appeared to be playing an older cynical Bruce Wayne. I do not know Joel Kinnaman. He was very stiff it was hard to watch him. And that was before he put on the suit.

The effects in the move ran the gamut. The scenes of what was left of Murphy were reminiscent of of the Borg queen. The gun battles looked like video games. There was a lot of first person shots and a bit of shaky stead-cam. The battle with the ED-209s was good. I liked seeing them in the urban scenario. Overall the movie had a good look.

The whole movie was missing heart which coincidentally so was Murphy. This is the second in a trilogy of Paul Verhoeven remakes. While this one was not nearly as bad as Total Recall, it never made me care about anything in the story. The result is a flat procedural walk through of the first movie with Verhoeven’s biting edge. The original went over the line. This movie pulled back. Robo is armed with a taser instead of a bit gun. This was obviously done to get the PG-13 rating. I only saw blood in one seen. If you are a die-hard Robo fan there may be something here for you. The wait to video should not be long.

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RoboCop

The 1987 RoboCop has some endearing parts that have made it so memorable. The movie actually holds up pretty well after 27 years. It takes place in an ambiguous near future where artificial hearts are advertised on TV and there’s violence in Mexico. Some of the social commentary like the predictions on Detroit aren’t so funny any more. The commercial interludes are so good and convincing that I found myself reaching for the remote control to fast forward through them. I especially liked the 6000 SUX commercial featuring a Harryhausen inspired stop-motion dinosaur marching around downtown L.A.
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This movie came out just a few years before Phil Tippett worked on Jurassic Park. I’m glad they upgraded to digital actors by 1993.
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The tag line “I’d buy that for a dollar” was also memorable. I also found it funny when I recognized the TV reporter played by Leeza Gibbons.
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I remember anticipating this movie’s original release after a friend of mine told me that it was filmed in Dallas at his apartment complex, just around the corner from my alma mater. Many of the scenes were filmed downtown. For the chase scene with the van you can see Reunion Tower repeatedly both in the foreground and background as they drove back and forth on a road next to US-67. It’s sad to think they needed to find a place that looked like a future desolate version of Detroit and Dallas was able to stand in. For the sequel things have gotten worse so it was filmed in Houston.

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Here you can see that in the future cops will all drive ford Taurus.
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Dallas’s City Hall served as the headquarters for OCP with a little movie magic to make it a 97-story building.
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Of course the best parts of the movie involve our favorite robot ED-209.
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Just don’t ask him to climb stairs.
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I really hope the 2014 remake keeps the dark humor of the original. I noticed that it is rated PG-13 while the original had to be cut down to make it rated R.

I recommend watching the original again. It is available for rent (but not purchase) on iTunes.

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When Worlds Collide

I’ve seen the 1951 Rudolph Maté movie adaptation of When Worlds Collide. It is near the top of classic 1950’s Science Fiction movies. I never gave its source material much thought. The movie won an Oscar that year for its special effects which involved the use of miniatures to convey the large scale of the story. The 1951 movie is also interesting in their views on how interplanetary space flight could be made possible if the scientific community decided to accomplish the task. Reading the book is increases that interest because it was written two decades earlier.

Co-authors Philip Wylie and Edwin Balmer wrote When Worlds Collide as a six part serial. In the book and in the movie the hero of the story is a courier who starts out carrying a secret message from South Africa to New York. In the book this involved planes and a cross-Atlantic steamship. By the movie the entire voyage was flown. So right from the first chapter you can see who the twenty years would cause the stories to diverge. This opening seen was also the inspiration for the beginning of the movie Deep Impact with the discover’s name changed from Bronson to Biederman.

The books and the movie further diverge in the celestial bodies. In the book we have Bronson Alpha and Bronson Beta, two planets that are ripped out of the orbit of their own star and sent on a collision course with earth that culminates in a destructive flyby and then a pool ball like collision a year later. The two planets are a large gaseous body described like Neptune and a second Earth-like smaller planet. On the first pass the larger Alpha takes out the Moon. On the second pass it takes out the Earth before continuing out on a new trajectory out of the solar system. Meanwhile the Beta world is along for the ride. Through the mayhem of its sibling it is deposited in an eccentric elliptical orbit that ends up oscillating between Venus and Mars. These astronomical events are so mathematically improbably (possibly impossible) but the underlying message is the allegory of Noah’s Ark. You have to suspend disbelief and assume that there is a destructive hand at work.

Instead of two rogue planets, the movie version has the planet Zyra in orbit around the sun Bellus. I don’t recall the genesis of these names. They are sprung on the audience like the names of a Godzilla movie monster. The movie version dispenses with the near miss and introduces its own bad science. In the book there are earthquakes and volcanoes caused by the first pass and destruction of the Moon. In the movie those earthquakes happen as the planet comes into gravitational effect range. It is as if the earth crossed over an event horizon where gravity began to cause earthquakes.

To escape the planet and take refuge on Beta/Zyra the book and movie both built a space ship. In the book each nation was on its own and this seems like the more realistic solution. We follow about 500 refugees from the American contingency and there are references to British and Asian ships as well. In the movie a single United Nations effort that results in the salvation of just 40 persons.

The ships. I think the book version got a lot of things right considering that it was written 80 years ago. They assumed that atomic energy would be the source of power. The book contrives a ship with engines at both ends so that it could be slowed like a train as it approached the destination. They lined the ship with books to protect them from the engine’s radiation. The crew and passengers were strapped in and spent the 96 hour voyage in slings. At the mid point the crew turned off the engines on one end of the ship, climbed up against the force of Earth gravity and took their place at the other end of the ship. Here a duplicate set of controls allowed the duplicate set of engines to slow the ship and eventually land vertically.

In the movie version their rocket looked more like a traditional rocket. They refer to fuel and we can assume it is a more traditional chemical rocket. The plot focuses on the calculation of weight versus fuel, although we then see animals loaded in steel cages. It used a mile long rocket sled to accelerate up the side of a mountain and then used its own engines and stubby wings for the rest of the flight. The use of the sled was was popular at the time so this is a nod to the current science. As they neared their destination, they correctly realized they could turn the ship around and use the same engines for deceleration. Then they used their stubby wings to glide like the Space Shuttle for a belly landing in the snow.

Gravity. The affects of gravity are not well shown in either version. Gravity is seen as a force that is either on or off. Both versions recognized a transition at the midpoint of the voyage where where would be no gravity. They assumed that this weightlessness would cause unconsciousness and be a great physiological shock to our travelers. Once again this reflected the popular science theory of the time. It would be three years after the movie before Dr. John Paul Stapp’s famous experiments on the effects of acceleration on the human body.

The sequel After Worlds Collide was also published in serial form the following year. It never became a movie. It follows our adventurers as they explore the new world and deal with the remnants of Earth political rivalries of the 1930s that they brought with them. It is more political and makes overt references to Fascism and Communism. It is a nice complement to the first. It reminded me of later world-building stories like Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red Mars trilogy.

I recommend both books. They are both short reads. The ending of the second book is a little abrupt. I can only imagine that a continuation of the series was planed but never happened. You can see in these books the later works that they inspired such as Deep Impact and Superman.

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