Category: Science Fiction


A New (and old) look at Jekyll and Hyde

Steven Padnick over at Tor.com wrote up a fascinating bit of misunderstood history. Like many I’ve grown up with such a large number of reinterpretations of Dr. Jekyll and Mister Hyde that I can’t remember what the original story was like (and I have a copy buried away on my bookshelf!)

Padnick reveals that history has grossly misinterpreted the original story. In fact, if Padnick’s assertions are true, there was no Jekyll and Hyde, but instead just Jekyll in a new body. The physical transformation into Hyde essentially allowed Jekyll to act out his repressed fantasies without punishment. After all, Jekyll looked like a distinguished older man of the well-to-do class and Hyde looked like a young and hideous thug of the lower classes.

I’ve heard the book described as a “werewolf story without the werewolf” and all the reinterpretations of this tale follow that line. It will be interesting to dig my copy of the book out of hiding and read it with a new (or original?) perspective!

You can read the original article here:
What Everyone Gets Wrong About Jekyll and Hyde

Ghost in the Shell is a pile of garbage

What an execrable mess. It’s so embarrassing when a well-respected piece of storytelling is remade under the Hollywood banner and thoroughly butchered. You would think with so much access to talent and resources, a Hollywood film would take the work to the next level. Instead, it shoves it to the depths. This film is not worth anyone’s money. View full article »

Concerns About Ghost In The Shell

Ghost in the Shell Live Action FilmThe upcoming live-action Ghost in the Shell film captures the look of the anime films, but does it capture the soul? View full article »

Godzilla’s Nuclear Fury

Shin Godzilla Nuclear FuryShin Godzilla isn’t just a monster movie, it’s about one man’s revenge on humanity. View full article »

Visual Storytelling: Under The Skin, or “Story as Framework”

Note: This review was originally written for another site called Quantum Pop Blog. When that site went under, I brought the article over to my personal site. Aside from stripping out the words “Quantum Pop Blog”, the article is unchanged from its orignal format.

I once had an interesting argument with an aspiring director. He believed that the audience didn’t like to think and that if a story told them something, they would just accept it as true until they were told it wasn’t. I disagreed with this idea, mostly because I like to think about what is being presented to and I imagine others would as well. I could not, however, explain why I preferred this. Under The Skin is director Jonathan Glazer’s resounding rebuttal to the aspiring director’s ideas. For people who don’t like to think during a film, this is a terrible story to watch. For those that do like to think, it’s a deep philosophical statement. Still, before we get into this, we have to have a bit of theory on storytelling. View full article »

Where Jar-Jar Binks went wrong

By now everyone has seen the video postulating that Jar-Jar Binks was actually an evil Sith Lord. According to the video, Lucas had hinged the whole Star Wars prequel franchise on the success of Jar-Jar. When the fans reacted negatively, he created Count Dooku in order to continue the story without Jar-Jar as the big villain. The video suggests Lucas “chickened out” when he cancelled Jar-Jar as the one true mastermind, but Lucas did not chicken out at all. Jar-Jar was not working properly and had to be strategically replaced. What happened? Read on for more! View full article »

A Darth Vader Illustration

Darth Vader Illustration for a contest

Darth Vader Illustration for a contest

A few weeks back I decided to enter a contest to create the best image featuring the new Disney Infinity 3.0 game figures. For those that don’t know, the figures interact with the game, storing and sharing information. Had I won, the prize would have been a starter pack valued at around $80 dollars or so. Unfortunately, I misread the rules and submitted my work too late to qualify. Rather than just throw it out, I figured it would be worthwhile to discuss how I went about making it. A video accompanies this post, which you can see at the bottom of the page.

The Sketch

The rules of the contest were that the image had to have a Disney Infinity figure in it. There weren’t too many rules beyond that. I happened to get a hold of a Darth Vader figure for the game and I thought it would be cool to have Darth Vader hold Darth Vader. The initial art was done with a 4h lead pencil and finished with a 4b lead pencil. I was going to use acrylic paint to create an underpainting, but I felt like things were taking too long so instead I scanned the final drawing into Photoshop and went to work there.

The Background

I covered the illustration in a brown background before overlaying red and black clouds. The initial idea was to have lightening erupt from the clouds in the background, but at the last minute I felt this would be too busy. The cloud layer is slightly transparent so as to mix with the background layer. In retrospect, I should have blurred the background layer as the brush strokes were with hard edges.

Painting Darth Vader

Darth Vader is largely enveloped in a neutral black. at least, it seems that way to me. The material can be highly reflective depending on the part of the outfit one is looking at. For example, the helmet is highly reflective, and the arms and gloves are generally pretty reflective. The cloak and flowing parts of the outfit seem closer to a matte finish, though.

I began by filling out Darth Vader’s outfit with a dark grey that was mostly neutral but a bit on the cool side. After this, I began erasing various areas to reveal a white layer underneath. I did this because painting white on top of the grey didn’t really feel like the result I was going for. The highly reflective areas such as the helmet, breastplate and arms had large white areas to acknowledge the intense light source I was going to add in.

Final Effects

With Darth Vader done, I added in an image of the Darth Vader Disney Infinity figure. After placing the figure I added a glow with lightening as if Darth Vader were creating a version of himself. This would be the primary light source for the image. After that I played with levels for a bit until I was happy and sent the image off.

Final Thoughts

I wish I had done the work in acrylic before scanning it in. I still have the line drawing on my table, so someday I may do just that. I think perhaps I would make Darth Vader a bit darker and add some other effects, but I would have to think about it.

What do you think? Let me know in the comments below!

Writer Travis Beacham on Pacific Rim

Pacific Rim

Fans of Pacific Rim got a treat recently as the NuArt featured the blockbuster at one of its midnight movies! What’s more, co-writer Travis Beacham took the stage to answer a few questions! The event was arranged and hosted by Witney Seibold of the B-Movies Podcast. Read on for answers on the first draft, the inspirations for the film and Guillermo del Toro’s contributions!

Rock ’em Sock ’em Robots

Question: Do you hate the “Rock ’em Sock ’em Robots” Jokes?

Travis Beacham: Eh…I don’t hate ’em, I mean, I sort of see where they come from, you know, it’s just… it’s like… You go in and you know you’re not making, like, Chinatown, you know you’re not making, like, A River Run Through It, you know you’re making a giant robot versus giant monster movie. So I don’t hate it, but I’d like to think there is more to it than that, but I don’t resent anyone for saying that there’s not. You know, it’s all totally subjective. We all bring our own sort of baggage to it when we watch it.

On Godzilla and Pacific Rim

Witney Seibold: This is very anime-inspired, very Godzilla-inspired. This is a Legendary film… Legendary also owns Godzilla… Has anyone approached you yet about the crossover between Pacific Rim and Godzilla?

Travis Beacham: I have not been officially approached about it, but it definitely is something that’s been discussed, you know, in and out of the room, you know… I’m not going to say “never”, but as I like to say, I’d like to get a few other Pacific Rim movies out there… you know, lay the groundwork, you know… I don’t want Godzilla to eat my whole baby!

Prequels

Question: Do you ever see the possibility of a prequel happening?

Travis Beacham: I really hope so. I really, really hope so! At first when we were talking about stuff like that it was like, “Oh, no way! Sequel, sequel, sequel!” but even now behind the scenes we’re starting to talk about prequels more and more. That’s an area of the timeline that’s just breezed over in the movie that I think is really interesting. Because then you can bring the Russians back and you can bring Pentercost back…

Witney Seibold: Yeah, those Russians… fuck you for killing those Russians, by the way, I love those guys!

Travis Beacham: They sacrificed themselves, and you know what? They knew what they were signing up for!

Witney Seibold: They are a noble people! A moment of silence for the Russians!

The Original Draft

Question: One of my favorite characters in the original draft was the Ivo Czerny, the doctor. I remember reading a while back that Willem DaFoe was attached to that role. I was curious what led to that entire arc being cut out?

Travis Beacham: It went through a simplification process. That’s just the trajectory of any movie of this size. You’re developing it, you know, there’s concerns from execs, that “is this too much to deal with”. Originally we went into the Drift and stuff like that in a lot more detail and we’re saving that now for later movies, we have an animated series coming out, we have graphic novels, but it was decided, you know, for this movie, for it to stand on its own, to work on its own, we had to focus on the plot lines that really told the kernel of the story that we really thought was important. And so that stuff was jettisoned for this draft. That’s not to say that this stuff won’t show up in later bits of the mythology.

Witney Seibold: Will you bring the character back?

Travis Beacham: I’m not gonna say! I’m not gonna say! If you’ve read the first draft, there’s things you might recognize later on.

Witney Seibold: I feel like the monsters in this one get a little bit short shrift. You watch the old Godzilla movies and they’re really overly explained and that’s kind of one of my favorite parts. Did you write more of the monster personalities in the draft or just sort of in a bible?

Travis Beacham: The first draft had a very lengthy… at the beginning where there’s a montage there was actually a very lengthy kaiju voiceover… I’m just kidding!

The Kaiju

Question: I noticed that there was really sort of a plot thread in the movie about Kaiju Blue that doesn’t really get fleshed out a lot. Did you intend to do more with that, or intend to do more with it in the future?

Travis Beacham: We do intend to do more with that in the future. The whole idea there being that Kaiju Blue, you know, where the Kaijus bleed, it’s really poisonous. I can’t remember how much detail they go into that in the movie, but it’s in the mythology and the [movie] bible. The idea being that even if you were to beat one of these things, they’re dangerous in death. So you can’t even blow it up without, like, without killing a bunch of people. So on every level the Kaiju were designed to be sort of the perfect weapons that you throw at a civilization and there’s nothing they can do about it. EXCEPT BUILD GIANT ROBOTS!

Question: What is your favorite Jaeger and your favorite Kaiju?

Travis Beacham: My favorite Jaeger would probably… it’s the boring answer, it’s the generic answer, but probably Gipsy Danger? Because it’s the first one that I named, the first one that I thought of… and I look at her and some many things like the little nose art of the scantily clad lady riding the bomb on the chest and the fact that she’s blue… I just remember so much of that description from the first draft and it’s rewarding to write something and to just see it on screen like that. Especially for feature writers where your drafts go through so many changes that by the time it gets to the screen it bears very little resemblance to what your wrote.

Guillermo del Toro

Witney Seibold: You’re only credited as co-screenwriter on this movie. It was sort of your idea, but Guillermo del Toro took a lot of it and added a lot of his own stuff. What did he add?

Travis Beacham: He adds a whole sensibility that I think he brings to everything that he does. And I think there’s a sense of fun that wasn’t necessarily there in my first draft? My first drafts tend to come out very long and dour and serious. It was pretty long. It was pushing like 150 [pages], I think… yeah. See, I had a lot of fights, but they were short fights. And Guillermo, I think quite wisely, said “No, let’s only focus on a few fights”. That moment where Gipsy Danger takes the oil tanker and smacks the Kaiju with it, that’s the perfect example of what Guillermo brought to the table.

Writing The Movie

Witney Seibold: Were you inspired by any movies specifically, because I see a lot of “Robot Jox” in this movie. There’s a lot of Godzilla in this movie.. I know this is just sort of an homage to all of that but were you thinking of any one film in particular?

Travis Beacham: Never any one in particular, I was just sort of moving back and forth between them, just depending on what the scenes were. I think, when I was watching Godzilla movies as a kid, I was always frustrated with that thirty minute chunk before Godzilla shows up, just people in suits, like, talking to each other.

Witney Seibold: All Godzilla movies are like 90 minutes long. First 30 minutes, no monster, next thirty minutes, monster shows up, next thirty minutes monster fight. That’s every Godzilla movie.

Travis Beacham: And I knew if we had a giant monster thing and it wasn’t tied to any brand that couldn’t be a boring part. The people had to be interesting, you know, they had to be just as interesting as the monsters. So that’s really what we tried to do.

Question: Were there any giant fighting robot anime that were an inspiration or just giant fighting robots in general?

Travis Beacham: It was both. I really like Evangelion, was always like a touchstone, I think, and it was so serious. When I was a kid I remember, like, Voltron, you know, that was sort of like my first, you know, “Oh yeah!”. When you see these latter-day anime takes on it, they’re more tailored for adults. I think that really opened my eyes to… I really liked Big-O on cartoon network! Art Deco giant robot, yeah! Fantastic! I could go on and on and on, but it was like a general sort of love of it all, I think.

Witney Seibold: Is the upcoming animated series anime designed or is it American?

Travis Beacham: It’s somewhere in between. It’s sort of like the American-slash-anime style, you know. But the stuff I’ve seen looks really great. But it focuses on characters and tells a part of the story that I think is going to be surprising to people.

Question: I wanted to know if it was a conscious decision and if it was a fight that Raleigh and Mako don’t kiss?

Travis Beacham: It was a conscious decision and it wasn’t a fight, really, though. Because we kept going back and forth on the development of the screenplay. Like, “Should they kiss? Should they not kiss?” and there were times when it took place over a longer time. There were drafts where the movie took place over the course of weeks, or months even, and they had time to develop a relationship, but as we developed the story and it got more and more compressed, there just wasn’t… there was no believable amount of time to pass for them to develop that sort of relationship. And so we thought, instead of force it and have this obligatory sort of romance, to have it naturally develop and then it ends wherever it ends. I think that’s the non-patronizing way of doing it. I’m not, in general I’m not opposed to romances between lead characters, what I’m really opposed to is when you have the female character who seems to only be there to reward the man at the end with a kiss.

Witney Seibold: With this one, the reward is “Monster” and “Punch”

Question: I have to say that “Tonight we’re cancelling the Apocalypse” is probably one of the best motivational speeches since, I don’t know, Bill Pullman in Independence Day… Was that you?

Travis Beacham: Thank you! Thank you! Yes, yes that was my line. It was around the time, I can’t remember, it was like 2012 or something… I just got sick of people always talking about the Apocalypse, talking like the end of the world was near, that kind of thing. And through all these arguments and discussions I was having with these people, this line just poured out of me, just like, it was like, “We’re fucking CANCELLING the Apocalypse! You know what? Our footprints are on the fucking moon, you know? We’re not just going to sit down and die! We’re canceling the Apocalypse!” Yeah, I wrote that line.

Witney Seibold: Were there other zingers that you were proud of that didn’t make it into the final one?

Travis Beacham: I think all the zingers, all the really good ones, the whole thing about fighting a hurricane, that was one of my favorites, cancelling the Apocalypse… no, I think all of my favorite-favorite lines are basically in there. I wish I could say there was some golden speech or something that you’ll never see, that was lost like all volumes in the fires of Alexandria, but no, it’s all up there, so…

Thanks for the memories

Audience Member: I just wanted to say, thank you for the thought you put into it. So often, these action films, they’re so thoughtless, so I really appreciate not only, visually, it’s such a visual orgasm, but the thought that goes into the story line. So thank you!

Travis Beacham: Thank you, thank you! No, that means a lot to hear! Thank you so much!

Witney Seibold: I would love to see the phrase “A visual orgasm” on the poster!

Travis Beacham: Yeah, that’s the pull quote!

And with that, Travis and Witney got off the stage and the movie began! And it was indeed a visual orgasm… Until next time, folks!

Late in the film, one character declares that the nice thing about dystopia is that no one has to work for it. This, almost accidentally, bookends with a repeated analogy about two wolves. One represents light, the other dark and both are fighting each other. The one that wins is the one you feed the most. It’s a serviceable piece of trite fast-food enlightenment.

Now that Tomorrowland has been released to the world, there seem to be no end to the critics who enjoyed the film, but shredded the ideas behind it. Many felt that this was director Brad Bird’s least accomplished work, while others pointed out that the dream of “tomorrow” in Tomorrowland is more dystopian than it first appears.

The Deconstruction of Tomorrowland

Adam Rogers of Wired is quick to point out that virtually everything promised to us at the last great World’s Fair has been accomplished. We have jetpacks, albeit not for the general consumer. We have flying cars, but no one wants to see what happens when a drunk driver gets behind the wheel. We have robots to clean for us and transnational corporations to make it all at an affordable price. In order to get that, he points out, we also have to put up with things like pollution and heavily implied fascism. Not to mention the fact that we must exploit Third World workers to achieve the cheap prices that make all of this possible.

Steve Rose of The Guardian continues on the theme of fascism by pointing out that Walt Disney’s vision for the future came at a cost of enforced transience and dictatorship. Disney’s original vision for Tomorrowland included renters who could only stay for one year. Further, there were no voting rights. It was Disney’s way, all the way. In an sense, Disney was the Steve Jobs of his time. He pulled together many successful ideas and packaged them into something that seemed new and exciting. Once the vision was realized, however, it was “perfect” and he wanted no deviation from his masterpiece.

These discussions, I think, miss a bigger issue. The bookends I alluded to earlier are important to remember. The reason for this is that they are both inaccurate views of the problem. There isn’t a light and dark side fighting for the future, and no one is sitting back and letting it happen. Further, the critics have so focused on the failed illusion of the film, that they haven’t noticed the important issue that is accidentally brought to light. Everyone is fighting for a Tomorrowland. Everyone. The problem is, everyone’s Tomorrowland is exclusive to the others.

Tomorrowland as a Battle Royale

When Adam Rogers ended his article with “To get the future you want, you’re going to fight the one you already have”, he missed the fact that our world exists precisely because of this sentiment. Boko Haram and ISIS are not trying to create a terrible future. They have a utopian vision and they’re fighting for it. It’s just a utopia that no one else wants, so they’re going to subjugate as many as possible to get it.

When Neil deGrasse Tyson or Bill Nye discuss the importance of science in general, or climate change and evolution in particular, they are fighting for a future of science. Those who oppose them, the creationists, climate change deniers and so on, fight for a future where they are allowed to continue as they please without scientists telling them how to live their lives.

The Koch Brothers fight for a future where government is all but non-existent while others fight forĀ  a future where government regulates businesses to keep them from getting out of control. Anti-vaxxers fight for a future where vaccinations are akin to child abuse while doctors fight for a future where people actually listen to the medical advice that they are given.

The list goes on. Everyone fights for a future that is, more or less, exclusive to the other. That’s why the world is the way it is today. The importance of a film like Tomorrowland is the hope that we can create a better tomorrow. No one seems to realize, however, that the game is not to actually create a better tomorrow, but a question of who can defeat each other’s vision first. The king of the hill, so to speak, is the one that dictates the rules of the future. That’s a problem.

Building Tomorrowland

There are two ways to build a future, a new Tomorrowland, so to speak. One is to destroy what exists now. The other is to build what will exist then. Both require a certain flexibility. When we look at extremists causing acts of terrorism or social justice warriors harrassing people off the Internet, we see attempts to create a better tomorrow by destroying today. When we see chatterbots like Siri, or robots to take care of the elderly, we see attempts to build a better tomorrow by improving today. The missing element is adaptation. In all cases there needs to be the understanding that this perfect envisioned utopia is not going to solve all the problems the world has. Further there is always the possibility of making certain things worse. This is why any utopia is an unattainable goal. The problems are constantly shifting and changing with time. If this understanding can be baked into the vision of a better tomorrow then perhaps there would be more overall coordination to realize it.

At the end of the film, recruiters are sent out into the world to bring in people from all walks of life. People who are dreamers and will work together to create that better future. It’s a good start. If we could arrange something like that in the real world, perhaps we could have that hope for a better future come back to us. Until then, however, it’s basically a battle royale deathmatch. It will be for quite some time.

Several months ago, I wrote an article on how Mad Max: Fury Road was going to be spectacular, but not really a “Mad Max” movie. I was wrong. I apologize. I throw myself at the feet of the Gods of Cinema and beg forgiveness. This is indeed the Mad Max film we’ve all been waiting for. More than that, it may be the best action film we see all year. Before I dive into the rest of this article, however, there is something I have to do:

[box type=”warning” align=”aligncenter” width=”90%” ]WARNING: This article may contain spoilers! (although, honestly, this is a film where that wouldn’t actually matter)[/box]

With that out of the way, let’s talk about this film. By now, all the critics are waxing poetic about, basically, two things: the visual spectacle and the feminist undertones. These are worthy things to be discussing, to be sure, but virtually all the reviews agree the story itself is paper thin. To be honest it’s easy to see why. George Miller has stated in interview that Mad Max: Fury Road did not actually have a script, but a series of storyboards drawn under his direction by a pair of comic book artists. The visceral, emotional nature of this process created a visceral, emotional powerhouse of a film. Because of this however, it’s very easy to miss that there is a strong thematic current underneath it all. Plot-wise, this movie is paper thin. Yet, underneath the carnage and adrenaline, there is a story of desperation and the recovery of humanity.

Desperation, Redemption and Hope

Max begins the film with a voiceover that mostly just serves to establish the world he lives in. Up until about a third into the film, he’s either grunting or yelling incoherently over the noise of engines and mayhem. Imperator Furiosa (her name is Furiosa, her rank is Imperator) speaks more often, but in short sentences. Nux speaks the most of the three of them, repeatedly, loudly and often with ambivalence from others. There is a pattern here. These three are reflections of each other; each one at a different stage of the same journey from desperation to redemption and hope.

Mad Max

We begin with Max, who is living the with the trauma of his past life. Those who remember the first Mad Max trilogy know that he watched his family get run over by a biker gang. In the intervening years he has lived through a world-wide collapse and has nothing left. He’s been reduced to an animal-like state in which he eats, sleeps and evades predators, only to repeat the same the next day. Max’s first real encounter with Furiosa could have easily been a bargaining moment. “Let me free of my chains”, he could have said, “and I will help you.” Instead he growls like a dog and gestures angrily.

It’s no mistake that he doesn’t tell anyone his name until nearly the end of the film. By that point, however, he freely gives his own blood to save Furiosa’s life. His experience with her and given him someone to respect, then to care about, then to fight for. He isn’t completely whole, but there is now a foundation for a real future. Of course, anyone who has seen the original trilogy knows what happens, but here, there is a chance to be human again.

Imperator Furiosa

Furiosa is farther up the road than Max is, but her journey is still far from complete. Her body is a shattered as Max’s soul, but her mind is still strong. She has never forgotten who she was or where she came from, but her instinct is still to flee. Unlike Max, who has no place anywhere, she has in her mind a land called “The Green Place”. It was the home where she was raised, and the memory of it has fueled her whole existence.

Of course, these hopes and dreams become completely dashed. Furiosa’s journey is her realization that running will get her nowhere. The world has changed and hope along with it. As Max rightly points out, she can’t just run away and hope to find a safe haven. She has to risk everything to make one. This of course leads to the film’s climactic battle.

At the end of the film we see Max leave for parts unknown while Furiosa looks on. The camera angle is a worm’s-eye view. We the audience see her looking down at us. This is a classic angle for a position of power and indicates that she will become the next leader of her new tribe. She has moved from a lamb on the run to a queen; a soldier to a ruler.

Warboy Nux

Nux is even further up the road than Max or Furiosa. He’s completely embraced his world and can’t imagine life outside of it. He doesn’t yearn for escape. He’s ambitious, this one, and seeks approval from his leader Immortan Joe, and a place in the history books as a Warboy. His yearning to die gloriously is an indication of a higher ideal. In another life, he’d be fighting his way up the corporate chain, or perhaps an athlete of some sort. Here, he’s just another Warboy trying to stand out and make a name for himself.

Nux’s part of the journey is about realizing there’s more than just fighting for something. For all their evolution, Max and Furiosa are not at a stage where they can think about things like love, ambition or a higher calling. Max is to traumatized and Furiosa is too cynical. Only Nux, when he meets one of Immortan Joe’s wives, is capable of understanding that there is a difference between dying for something and dying for someone. Of the three, Nux, for all his ridiculous insanity, is the least broken and the most human.

The Feminist Aspect

There’s been a great deal already on the feminist aspect of the film. From reports of The Vagina Monologues to condemnations from “Men’s Rights Activists”, there’s been responses across the spectrum. All of these things are unimportant and a distraction from the film. It’s a nice nightcap to a fun evening, but otherwise something to be ignored. This is, first and foremost and action film. It’s a spectacular action film. It should be seen for what it is. It’s brilliant. It has a strong theme of human redemption and growth. And it has crazy guys in white makeup spraying their mouths with chrome paint. Why would you watch for anything else?

Conclusion

Mad Max: Fury Road is a great film. Go see it. Buy the DVD and Blue-Ray. Tell your kids about the day you were there to see the film in theaters. And forgive me for doubting how awesome it would be.