Thursday, August 26, 2010

Sci-fi week – The Trekkie Review

The newest Star Trek movie is a load of fun and was clearly meant to be.  Watching the special features, you find that to entertain was the filmmakers' only objective in mind (beside making money, of course).

As the 11th film, Star Trek is actually a prequel to the other movies and the TV series. The story basically highlights the early adventures of Captain Kirk, Spock, Uhura, Bones, Chekhov, Sulu and the rest of the Enterprise crew.  James Tiberius Kirk is in his early 20s when he meets Captain Pike, who encourages him to follow in the footsteps of his father and join Starfleet.  On the planet Vulcan, Spock is discriminated against because he has a human mother.  When his heritage is openly called a weakness, he decides it wouldn't a logical action to support his own species, and instead leaves his planet to join Starfleet.  Fate brings him and Kirk together, and they don't immediately get along.  Kirk and and his new friend, the cynical "Bones" McCoy, ascribe him a nickname, "pointy-eared b___d".  The plot moves quickly, and after five years of training, Kirk and the rest are suddenly called upon to investigate a storm above Vulcan.  The storm is actually associated with a time-travelling Romulan, Nero, who has come from the future through a black hole to take revenge on Spock, whom we learn he wrongly blames for the destruction of his planet, Romulus.  In a way, it's not at all surprising that J.J. Abrams, the creator of the hit TV series Lost, famed for its confusing time-travelling and plot twists, directed the movie.

There are a few problems with the script.  At times, the young members of Starfleet don't seem to act like the characters from the original movies and they end up doing and saying stupid things their older versions would never be responsible for.  One really lame part is when Neytiri - excuse me - Uhura kisses Spock after he's had a fight with Kirk.  In this film, Spock is shown as a logical Vulcan, but he is capable of feeling emotions because of his human mother.  Still, no way, no how would the real Spock ever be found making out with a human, or anyone else for that matter.  I was more comfortable watching Neytiri kiss Jake.  Anyway, the script is flawed, but not necessarily stupid, and the relationships between the characters, although not always resembling those of the original characters, are well developed.

I do believe there were problems in the casting department.  Most of the actors look nothing like the old characters, particularly Chris Pine as Kirk, whoever played Scotty, and Neytiri as you-know-who.  To be fair, Zachary Quinto was wonderfully cast as Spock (and he probably cost a heck of a lot of money too).  John Cho could pass as Sulu.  Karl Urban looks nothing like Deforest Kelley.  Leonard Nimoy is delightful, kind-of reprising his role as Spock Prime, the future Spock involved with Nero.

The special effects are quite phenomenal and if Avatar wasn't released the same year, I bet they would have won a couple awards.  The movie's not hyperviolent either, and other than some scattered bits of language and a few scary scenes, it's mostly family-friendly.  It's a bit of a shame that the film uses a lot of the "shaky-camera technique" which makes it very hard to see the action at pivotal moments.  The classics had it too.  The camera is - I mean - the U.S.S Enterprise is shaking!!!

Overall, the film is very entertaining, and a fine tribute to the classics.  To sum it up in one sentence: Star Trek is visually phenomenal, but it's missing the classic heroes and themes of friendship that the old series had.  Although I'm not by any means dissuading you from seeing it.

Grade: B+

P.S. Not sure how J.J. explains what happened to Vulcan, because the planet is there in Star Trek 3 and ST4.

2012 update: The movie actually makes a considerable effort to be philosophical with Spock's character, designing an overarching theme about logic and how it should be complemented with emotion.  I'm not saying this picture is on the same level as Batman Begins or The Dark Knight in terms of weighty themes, but Star Trek encourages the viewer to think about its characters for several hours after the movie ends.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Sci-fi week – Neytiri at the "National Parks"

You probably know from my mom's blog that my family went on a long road trip to Spokane in July.  During the trip we stopped at very many "national parks".  Why do I put those words in quotations?  Because we must have stopped at 10 or more of them along the way.  Remember that line from The Incredibles?  "I will sell my weapons to the world so everyone can be super.  And when everyone's super, no one will be."  I say that when every park can be called a "national park", no park can be.  The word loses its meaning when that happens.  I think that Yosemite and the Grand Canyon are natural phenomenons and rightly deserve to be called national parks.  Zion Canyon, although not as grand as either of these places, could count as a national park in my book.  But so many of the parks we stopped at were so lame in comparison to Yosemite and Grand Canyon, there's no way I'd even remotely consider calling any of them "national parks".  Even Yellowstone is incredibly overrated.  There are a few sights to see, but most of the time you're looking at trees, and hills, and shrubs.  Nothing you can't see on the freeway.

Anyway, there's supposed to be a sci-fi element to this post and I'll provide it right now.  During our vacation, I brought with me a tall and fascinating alien life form.  Her skin tone is blue, but at the same time she is surprisingly green.  A big nature person, she was just dying to enter all the middle-of-nowheres national parks so she could describe them to her god when she returns to Pandora.

First stop: Zion Canyon.

Fast forward 2 or 3 fake national parks.  Here's one of the cooler (by no means using the old definition) parts of Yellowstone.  Oh, by the way, she's posing as an archer in this image.  She'd be holding her bow and arrow if she hadn't lost them at a G-rated McDonalds.

Photo credit: Mom (bet you could've figured that out)

Then she was truly astounded by the 4 legged fauna at the National Bison Range.  I tried to explain to her that Earth mammals don't have queues.  If you mess with the bull, you're gonna get the horns!

Finally, we arrived at Grandma and Grandpa's house in Spokane.  Their backyard almost qualifies as a "national park". 

Thursday, August 5, 2010

He's finally here!

The computer finally arrived at my doorstep a few weeks ago.  I built him to find several pros and cons...but mostly cons.  I'll explain in pictures and videos.

 The box (not) upon arrival.

 The back of the box.

Look closer.

Now that's a glitch!

How come I suddenly have two boxes?

Oh.  The custom "box" is just a cover.

So I was a little disappointed with the box.  How about the contents?  The computer is assembled out of 299 Lego elements.  Here's the finished product.

Other than his awkward, inhuman legs (which appear so due to my own poor designing), he looks pretty okay.  He resembles the computer from my imagination.  But to make a feature-length brickfilm (i.e. stop-motion lego movie), heck, even a 10 second brickfilm with this guy, would be a herculean labor.  I wish I could show you why, but I don't have a very good webcam.  Anyway, he's extremely fragile, and the few parts of his body that move without breaking move too much and can't stay still like clay.  In the program I used to make "The computer in CGI", the virtual computer had built in muscles so I could keep his limbs in a certain spot.  Now with the real computer, his arms just fall off when I try to move him.  I could use fishing wire or tons of tape to try to immobilize him for a single frame of film, but it'd still take massive time and effort to animate him in real life.

I still think Oedipus has gigantic potential as a brickfilm and even more as a live-action film (although I have none of the tools or resources to produce such a movie).  But if I want to make it, I'll have to take the computer back to the drawing board, and figure out a way to make him STAND UP!!