Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Star Wars, Fascism, Tinkering with the classics

Box Office Mojo has a very interesting article about fans and reporters criticising George Lucas for continuing to tinker with Star Wars. It relates areas of the criticism to fascism, specifically the idea that the artist (Lucas) does not own or have the right to change his own creation.

Now, i accept that Lucas has the right to do so and that he has the right to release whatever version on DVD that he so chooses, but in doing so he is messing with film history by saying that what he released in 1977 was incomplete and only 25% of what he originally wanted. By not allowing the original version to be seen ever again (unless you have the VHS or a bootleg), future generations of film lovers will never know what it was that we saw in the original Star Wars. They'll see tinkered with versions that have been changed. They will never see some of the charm and cheese that made Star Wars so good. Oh, they'll see some of it, and even most of it (until Mark Hamill is cut out of the movie for the double delux triple dog dare special extended director's edition), but it won't be the same. It won't be the Best Picture nominee that it was in 1977.

To me, this is the same as if Coppola would go back and change the Godfather so that instead of a horse's head in the bed, it would be just a picture of a horse. Or removing the kiss that Michael gives Fredo before saying "i know it was you, Fredo". Does the director have the right? Absolutely. Does it change the movie in a potentially significant way? Absolutely. Does it change the characters? Absolutely. Both Don Vito, Tom Hagan, and Michael would be different if these actions were changed. Han Solo is different because he no longer shoots first (even if Lucas said he was never supposed to, it changes what we know of Han Solo).

What i'd like, if it was up to me would be BOTH versions of the film to be released. The original 1977 Star Wars and the updated version! That's what Spielberg did on ET recently (I own the set, just haven't watched it yet).

Friday, September 24, 2004

Book Review: The Bloody Sun - Marion Zimmer Bradley

"The Bloody Sun" is the first of the Darkover novels set in "The Second Age" of the Terran/Darkovan contact. The Terran Empire has rediscovered its lost colony and has set up a spaceport on Darkover. But contact between Terra and Darkover is still tenuous at best. The "Comyn" rulers of Darkover are keeping Darkover out of the Empire and are keeping the Terrans restricted to "Terran Zones". In the decades since making contact, nothing has changed. With individuals, there has been communication and interaction between natives of Darkover and Terrans, but this has always been on a person by person basis and not any sort of policy. Some on Darkover, however, are pressing their lords to allow more interaction from the Terrans and to join the Empire so Darkover can move out of the "Dark Ages".

Jeff Kerwin was raised on Darkover in the Spaceport Orphanage. All that he knew was that his father was Jeff Kerwin, Sr, a Terran citizen. Working in the Terran service he finally gets an opportunity to transfer to a world of his choosing and Jeff chooses Darkover. He had been dreaming of Darkover his entire like and he felt as if something was missing from his life. On Darkover, Jeff tries to learn of his heritage and finds that, officially, he has none. The Orphanage which he so deeply remembers has no record of him ever being there. His bright red hair marks him as a member of the Comyn (telepathic ruling class of Darkover), though he believes himself to be Terran, and this sets him apart from any Darkovan citizen he meets. Because of his actions outside of the Terran Zone, the Terran authorities intend on deporting Jeff offworld. Instead Jeff follows a voice inside his head and joins up with the Tower of Arilinn. A Tower is where the major telepathic work on Darkover is done. He finds a sense of home at Arilinn and also learns that he will play a major role in shaping the future of Darkover.

This is the first time that the reader has had the opportunity to see the inner workings of a Tower on Darkover. Finally we get to see what it is that the Tower Technicians do and what matrix work is. The inner workings of a Tower have been hinted and spoken of by characters, but never before has it been seen in action ("The Forbidden Tower" was outside of a Tower structure).

While Bradley deals with the same main theme that she does in every other Darkover novel (a Terran finds himself having to adapt to Darkovan culture and the conflicts of two different cultures meeting and trying to understand each other), she tells a rather good story in "The Bloody Sun" and shows aspects of Darkover which have been previously left hidden. Bradley uses her main theme to explore how the Terran Empire is starting to change the lives of the Darkovans and how it is going to change the culture of the planet, which affects the Comyn ruling class. Bradley uses her main theme to show the changes in the Tower culture and how the telepathy can survive on Darkover. There are betrayals, heartbreak, and the amazingly fast romance that somehow morphs into a long lasting love which will last for years.

"The Bloody Sun" is one of the better Darkover novels and one which is as good a starting place as any for the series. It is a standalone novel, but ties into the novels earlier in the chronology and is the starting point for the "Second Age" of the Darkover/Terran era.

Monday, September 20, 2004


CNN.com: Why not release both the originals and special editions on DVD?
George Lucas: The special edition, that's the one I wanted out there. The other movie, it's on VHS, if anybody wants it. ...

I'm not going to spend the, we're talking millions of dollars here, the money and the time to refurbish that, because to me, it doesn't really exist anymore. It's like this is the movie I wanted it to be, and I'm sorry you saw half a completed film and fell in love with it. But I want it to be the way I want it to be.

I'm the one who has to take responsibility for it. I'm the one who has to have everybody throw rocks at me all the time, so at least if they're going to throw rocks at me, they're going to throw rocks at me for something I love rather than something I think is not very good, or at least something I think is not finished.


The problem is that the VHS copy i have is the "Special Edition". Well, it's the 1997 Special Edition, not the 2004 Special Edition. I don't have the Original Trilogy. But, i'm going to have to get the DVD because I have to have Star Wars on DVD.

It would be nice if we could get the original unaltered movies on DVD. It is a part of movie history. The original Star Wars was the film that was nominated for Oscars, not the "special edition".


Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Book Review: The Hutt Gambit (Star Wars) - A.C. Crispin

"The Hutt Gambit" is the second volume of A.C. Crispin's Han Solo Trilogy. At the end of "The Paradise Snare" a younger Han Solo was proud that he was accepted into the Imperial Navy and he looked forward to his career as an Imperial Soldier (potentially an officer) and a pilot. When we begin "The Hutt Gambit" we learn that Han had been dishonorably discharged from the service and he can be found in a bar with a Wookiee who has sworn a life debt to Han. The Wookiee, of course, is Chewbacca. Han acted against a superior office when he rescued Chewie from slavery, and from being killed. This brings Han full circle to become the smuggler we know in "A New Hope".

To start, Han does not want Chewbacca around. Han feels that there is no other way that he could have acted, and he was also paying off a debt that he felt he owed to a wookiee in "The Paradise Snare". But, Chewbacca insists and Han quickly gets used to having someone around to talk to. Han hires himself (and thus Chewie) out to the Hutts on the Smuggler's Moon. Specifically, Han takes employment with Jiliac and Jabba. Yes, that Jabba. This gets Han involved, on the periphery, of the interclan conflicts of the Hutts and also into battle with the Empire which is seeking to take control of some of the Hutt wealth.

"The Hutt Gambit" foreshadows Han's role in the Star Wars Trilogy, and does a good job in developing his character into the man we meet in "A New Hope". It sets up the relationships between Han and Lando, Boba Fett (this was interesting), Jabba, and Han's response to the Empire. This was a fast paced story and should be interesting to the Star Wars fan. I don't know how accessible this would be to those who are not familiar with Star Wars and it goes without saying that reading "The Paradise Snare" first is a must. This is worth reading for the Star Wars fan, but everyone else has to decide where they would like to enter the Star Wars universe.

The Sandlot 2

What what what?!?!?.

Raymond Feist Riftwar News

On Crydee.com there are two postings on Raymond Feist news. Both responses are from Feist himself about the future of his Riftwar Series.

I'll start with the second post:

September 7, 2004

In response to the question on the feistfans-l

I was wondering whether there are any plans to release the Legends of the Riftwar series in the US?

Ray posted the following

Yes there are plans. I can't give full details yet, but there will be US editions of those three titles in the not-too-distant future.

Best, R.E.F.

This is fantastic news. I've had his Legends of the Riftwar trilogy on my list for a couple of years now, but these books have only had foreign releases. It is set earlier in the Riftwar and doesn't really advance the overall storyline, but it kills me that there are books of his that we're not getting. His Krondor series wasn't that good but he's hit a gold mine again with The Conclave of Shadows.

The second quote i have has to do with the future of the series and what will be coming after Conclave is finished. This is exciting news for the series since A Darkness at Sethanon is my favorite of the bunch (well, that and Magician

August 1, 2004
Ray posted the following to the feistfans-l

Currently I'm working on Agent of Madness (working title, almost certain to change), book one in the Darkwar Saga. To be followed by Into A Dark Realm, and Wrath of a Mad God.

These are going to be larger, more sprawling books, akin to Sethanon and Rage, as opposed to the more recent, more personal stories.

For a longtime fan of Raymond Feist and his Riftwar series, this is great news!

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Shall We Dance?: Ballroom and Chain

I can't believe it. I had no interest in seeing that Richard Gere/Jennifer Lopez dancing movie, but after reading an article by the director on Hollywood Elsewhere, i'll be damned if it doesn't sound interesting. But maybe that what you get when the director is given a forum to talk about his own work.

Because Peter Chelsom comes off interesting, so does his movie. I still don't think i'm going to pay $9 to see it, but it may end up in my Netflix queue.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Book Review: The Winds of Darkover - Marion Zimmer Bradley

Dan Barron is a Terran who has spent 5 years working on Darkover. Like nearly all Terrans on Darkover, he has spent all of his time in the Terran Zone and not actually among native Darkovans (which is the way the ruling class of Darkover wants it). He is demoted after causing a nearly horrific accident at the Thendara Spaceport. It seems that Dan has been having "visions" where he suddenly finds himself in some castle somewhere, but he doesn't actually go anywhere. When this happens on the job, accidents can and do happen. While Dan is skilled at what he does, the accident was so severe that he can no longer be trusted to do his job. When the Darkovan Lord Valdir Alton requests a Terran to help teach and train Darkovans to grind glass for telescope and binocular lenses, the Terran Vice-Coordinator selects Dan to do the job. It is the only job that could keep Dan from being transferred off-planet.

One of the visions that Dan keeps having has to do with a young woman, red-haired, in chains, and covered with fire.

Since Darkover novels tend to be told from multiple perspectives (Terran and Darkovan), we are also told the story of the Storn family. Storn castle has been taken over by a bandit army and the Storns have been imprisoned. Lord Loran Storn, blind and nearly helpless, has protected himself with his laran (esp) power and has also sent his sister Melitta out to find help. Loran has also been trying to find a way to help his family himself, so he uses his laran to try to control someone and get the help the Storns need. That someone just happens to be Dan Barron.

Once again, as in the majority of the Darkover novels, "The Winds of Darkover" deals with the cultural differences between Terrans and the natives of Darkover and there is a Terran trying to assimilate to the new Darkovan culture. This is such a common theme that Bradley works with, but due to the nature of her world it is one that is necessary.

"The Winds of Darkover" feels more like a set-up novel than one that is telling a new story. It is world building. This story introduces Dan Barron to Darkover, but it also introduces something called the "Sharra Matrix" which will be important later in the series. The Sharra Matrix is powerful laran magic. It was outlawed years ago because it was viewed as "dangerous" and also "pagan" (of sorts). It can create powerful fire magic in the hands of a leronis (one who can command laran). "The Winds of Darkover" introduces this concept and a couple of others to our understanding of Darkover, but as a standalone novel it is not anything truly special. It builds on what we know of Darkover, but in the basics of the story it is one that Bradley has told several times set in Darkover.

By no means is this one of the best Darkover novels, though it is decent enough. "The Winds of Darkover" is one for fans of the series because it fills in some details and introduces a couple of characters and concepts that will be used later in the series, but unless you are trying to work your way through the entire series (as i am), this is one that you can easily skip. It is an average story (even for Darkover) with nothing to recommend it over some of the far superior Darkover novels (The Bloody Sun, The Forbidden Tower, Stormqueen).

a first review of the Star Wars Trilogy DVD!

The Digital Bits have posted a review of the Star Wars Trilogy! Whee!

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Hollywood Elsewhere

One of my favorite columns about movies is written by Jeffrey Wells: Hollywood Elsewhere. For movie news, previews, some reviews and entertaining journalism about film, check out Wells. I've followed him from Reel.com (which used to be a good place to buy movies and read articles on movies, to Movie Poop Shoot (the name came from Dogma) to his own site and it's probably my favorite column that i read.

Wells included a page which features Hollywood folk praising his work, which is no different than the blurbs you see on novels, but the list of supporters includes directors Philip Noyce, Cameron Crowe, Kevin Smith, Sydney Pollack and the Big Man at Miramax: Harvey Weinstein.

Now that Wells has his own site he is expanding and adding more content (and writers) to his site, so there should be more to read in the coming weeks. He gave a column to his 16 year old son, and Jett Wells has an interesting perspective.

Give the column a shot.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

The Passion of the Christ (2004): A Review

A film by Mel Gibson

"The Passion of the Christ" focuses on the last hours of the life of Jesus of Nazareth (Jim Caviezel). The film begins in the Garden of Getheseme where Jesus is betrayed by Judas for thirty pieces of silver. It ends with the crucifixion at Calvary. The bulk of the film is what happens in between Getheseme and Calvary and it focuses on Jesus' suffering. This is what sets "The Passion of the Christ" apart from every other film made about the life of Jesus. Many deal with the life of Christ, and others with his teaching. "The Passion of the Christ" deals with one very short, and particular, period in his life: those last hours, the Passion. The American Heritage Dictionary includes as one of the definitions of "passion" as "The sufferings of Jesus in the period following the Last Supper and including the Crucifixion, as related in the New Testament", and that is exactly what this film is about. This is Mel Gibson showing us what Jesus went through and at times I could almost hear Gibson saying "This. He went through this for us."

While "The Passion of the Christ" is a very brutal movie, and perhaps half of the film features in some way the beating that Jesus took on the way to Calvary, it isn't the violence that has stuck with me after the movie ended. What I found particularly memorable were some of the smaller moments: the flashbacks that showed Jesus with his mother (Maia Morgenstern), Jesus teaching, Jesus with the apostles. Just as memorable, though, were the moments of betrayal: the look between Peter (Francesco De Vito) and Jesus after Peter denied Jesus for the third time, Mary (the mother) and Mary Magdalene (Monica Bellucci) together weeping at the torture Jesus is suffering, and any time we saw Satan (Rosalinda Celentano) moving through the crowd, or tempting Jesus. Lastly, Mel Gibson's handling of the Resurrection was particularly moving. It is a mix between beautiful and simply powerful moments that allow this movie to rise far above what could otherwise be called (and has been) nothing more than two hours of Jesus being beaten.

What makes reviewing this movie a challenge is that it is very difficult to separate the story from the filmmaking. As a Christian, the story is one that is very familiar to me and is also one that I personally believe in. As a reviewer, I have questions about Mel Gibson's storytelling. If I knew nothing about Jesus of Nazareth and was not familiar with the story of Easter Week, would I understand what is happening in "The Passion of the Christ"? The film lets us know that this is a man named Jesus who is being persecuted, that it is the Jewish Pharisees of Jerusalem which have brought charges against Jesus to the Romans, and they feel that he is blaspheming God. For this they wish Jesus to be put to death. What the film does not go into is why. Are these Jewish leaders just blood thirsty? Are they threatened by Jesus' teaching? Is there a serious law that he has, in fact, broken? Why are they pushing so hard for his death? "The Passion of the Christ" does not answer these questions. Someone who does not know the story of Jesus may not know why he is being brutalized to this extent and what promises Jesus' life and death, and resurrection bring.

Viewing the film from my perspective, the lack of that detail being in the film did not affect what I think of it. "The Passion of the Christ" is a bold, moving, powerful film and the fact that the subject of the film is so central to what I believe only makes it more so. I cannot speak to what a non-Christian would feel about "The Passion of the Christ" because an emotional response is so personal and subjective, and that emotional response is exactly what "The Passion of the Christ" taps in to. The combination of how skillfully Mel Gibson has crafted his film (excepting that little issue with exposition) and the emotional response that it encourages, this is arguably one of the best films of the year so far and may very well be a contender for Best Picture come Oscar Season.

The one criticism that I would like to address here is the charge, of some, of anti-Semitism. It is one that I do not understand. At the beginning of the film, when Satan is tempting Jesus, Satan mentions that carrying the full burden of sin is too much for one man. The suggestion is that Jesus (and therefore God) is choosing to do this, and that Jesus knows what is coming. In fact, Jesus says as much in the flashbacks throughout the movie. Moreover, while it is true that it is the Jews who turn Jesus over to the Romans, there were some Jews who spoke up against their leadership saying this was wrong. It was also only in the power of the Romans to condemn Jesus to be crucified and the film shows Pilate symbolically "wash his hands" of the whole affair, which was a cop-out. Pilate made the decision. It is also the Romans who are brutally whipping Jesus as punishment before he is to take up his cross. The implication here is not that the Jews nor the Romans who are specifically guilty, but rather: All are guilty. All. With Gibson's hand being the one that drives the nail into Jesus, he includes himself in the "all."

Fahrenheit 9/11 will NOT win the Oscar for Best Documentary

The reason being the Moore
won't submit it. The short of it is if the film airs on television within 9 months of its theatrical release, it is ineligible for the Documentary category. Let us stop for a moment and think how cracked that rule is...and now let's move on.

The article does go on to say that the film will still be eligible for Best Picture...and it would be very interesting if it got a nomination, but right now i'm more interested in seeing The Passion of the Christ pick up a nomination instead...but i don't know how likely that is.

Review forthcoming on The Passion.

Friday, September 03, 2004

The Misplaced Legion - Harry Turtledove: A Review

Stop me if you've heard this one before: A Roman Legion is fighting a band of Celts when somehow some magic spell is activated that transports the Legion (plus one Celt) to some strange new world. The Legion and Celt are forced to cooperate to stay alive and not knowing how to get back or even if it is possible, the Legion takes service in with the local empire as a mercenary band. They are, of course, some of the finest fighters that this Empire has seen and they know battle tactics that the world has never seen.

This is the premise of "The Misplaced Legion." There are, I understand, ties to the Byzantine Empire in how this novel is constructed. If one has knowledge of that era then perhaps this novel will resonate more, but coming into "The Misplaced Legion" without that knowledge of history I was able to appreciate Turtledove's craft just as well.

This new Empire of Videssos is one where magic works and is fairly common. Marcus Scaurus, the Legion Commander finds himself mixed up in the politics of Videssos simply by being a talented mercenary commander and being for a foreign world. He finds himself in opposition to an evil sorcerer and helps lead Videssos against this sorcerer.

Much of this novel deals with the Romans in a new world and their adjustments, but with the battles against the sorcerer and the Yezda (the people the sorcerer belongs to, and leads) the storyline is one that looks to stretch across multiple volumes. This was a very interesting beginning to the Videssos Cycle and while I had never read any of Turtledove's work before, this is a series i plan on investing time into.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

The Coma - Alex Garland: A Review

A man sits by himself on a subway and watches a group of teenagers harass a woman and try to steal her purse. She gets away from them and moves closer, sitting down next to the men. The teenagers follow and try again to grab the woman's purse. This time the man stands up, raises his arm, and says "Hey". What follows is the man being struck, knocked down, and kicked until he is unconscious. This is the starting point of Alex Garland's third novel "The Coma".

The man (he remains unnamed throughout the novel) is released fairly quickly from the hospital and returns home. He tries, cautiously, to enter back into his life, but he begins noticing strange jumps in time and a selective amnesia. Acquaintances tell them man that they don't know something because the man doesn't know it either. Things do not add up or make sense to the man and he knows he has to return to the hospital. He is still in the coma, and these episodes are his coma dreams.

"The Coma" is a short novel, with less than 200 pages. This brevity gives rise to added tension in the story as Garland is able to build the narrative in little chunks that feel like movie scenes. We feel the jumps in the narrative, these confusing dreams as the man tries to figure out what happened to him, where he is, and how to get back to life. We feel the man's confusion in not knowing what is a coma dream and what is reality. Garland's technique is very effective.

Reading "The Coma" is trying to decipher the man's memories and take the man's journey through his unconscious. In the coma dream something is real only if the man can remember it. There is no rhyme or reason to what he remembers and why he remembers what he does, but isn't that how memory? Alex Garland takes the reader on a eerie trip through a man's unconscious and coma ridden dreams, and in the process tells a very interesting (and slightly creepy) story.

Garland is the author of the novels "The Beach" and "The Tesseract" and also wrote the screenplay for the zombie horror film "28 Days Later." His fiction is something to be anticipated and thus far it has not disappointed, though it is never what is expected.