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Syfy just launched its latests news vehicle The Caprican, Caprica City’s premier news source.
In addition to my science fiction problem, I’m a news junky. So fictional science fiction news= I win.
Here are my quick (because apparently your ability to focus on my words in non-list form is already fading…) thoughts on The Caprican:
The cutting of corners (in the literal sense) is essential, and every corner of the new site has indeed been cut. I imagine cutting corners in css is equally as tedious as cutting corners on books for props. I like the commitment. Well done! The formatting of the page retains the news feed/blog style that most news sites have taken to using—apparently Capricans are a lot like us and suffer from visual ADHD.
-Looks like there’s a logo centered in the header—what is it? Looks kind of like a key?
-In my opinion, the overall color palette might be a tad too mute (heavy on the shades of gray..), but this is a tightly wound future city with a teeming underbelly of rebellious counterculture, so I suppose it makes sense.
-Major props for some of the custom images, like this Soviet-era Communist looking Maglev graphic:
So far, so good. The basics of Caprican life have been covered, though I’d love to see the editorial content get as nasty as our current news media has a tendency to get. Imagine headlines on Tauron hate crimes or a whistleblower inside the Graystone company.
Overall Grade: B+
Hopefully, The Caprican will actually function as a well-scripted counterpart to Caprica the series, and reflect the political/social intrigue as it plays out on the show. The writing quality of the articles is a little on the USA Today side of things rather than The New York Times, but I suppose the point of the site is to entertain and it’s rather tedious of me to quibble over the quality of fictional journalism. But still…quibble I shall!
One last thing—I realize that ad space on a fictional news site is still technically real ad space, therefore it advertises real things, HOWEVER, it would be thoroughly impressive if The Caprican could intermix ads that remain within the world of Caprica. Of course, I also assume that The Caprican’s budget is about $50/month and getting Syfy’s web designers/marketing team to come up with completely fictional ad campaigns may be a stretch.
I haven’t seen Avatar yet, so I can’t speak with any real expertise as to whether or not Annalee Newitz’s claims about Cameron’s new opus are true. However, I HAVE seen the trailers, which as far as I can tell give away the entire plot and feel a lot like an overblown video game cut scene. Reviews of Avatar have not inspired me to rush to the theater and have a look-see.
At the heart of Newitz’s argument against Avatar and the many movies (both sci-fi and otherwise) that tend to reproduce the white guilt paradigm is this:
These are movies about white guilt. Our main white characters realize that they are complicit in a system which is destroying aliens, AKA people of color - their cultures, their habitats, and their populations. The whites realize this when they begin to assimilate into the “alien” cultures and see things from a new perspective. To purge their overwhelming sense of guilt, they switch sides, become “race traitors,” and fight against their old comrades. But then they go beyond assimilation and become leaders of the people they once oppressed. This is the essence of the white guilt fantasy, laid bare. It’s not just a wish to be absolved of the crimes whites have committed against people of color; it’s not just a wish to join the side of moral justice in battle. It’s a wish to lead people of color from the inside rather than from the (oppressive, white) outside.
In the end, Newitz wishes sci-fi would make movies from the perspective of the Alien/non-white instead of repeatedly deploying the secretly human/white “Avatar” who can “translate” the experience of being a minority for audience.
As expected, a rather extended conversation has ensued from Newitz’s analysis with most comments, unsurprisingly, reflecting the types of opinions people tend to hold regarding any discussion of race in pop culture. There are those who think it’s unreasonable to expect a mainstream movie to do anything more than entertain. And there are those who think we live in a post-racial society and analyzing anything from the perspective of race is, well, racist. Finally there are those who are grateful that Newitz had the cojones to bring up the subject at all.
Is it reasonable to hold higher standards for our mainstream multimillion dollar movie industry? Probably not. Or put another way, it’s unlikely that the relatively small minority of voices who want more out of their entertainment will be able to stop the onslaught of movies that traffic in ginormous explosions, naked ladies, and obvious moral conclusions. That said, I agree with Newitz when she says,
Science fiction is exciting because it promises to show the world and the universe from perspectives radically unlike what we’ve seen before. But until white people stop making movies like Avatar, I fear that I’m doomed to see the same old story again and again.
We can at least hold Science Fiction to higher standards. As this increasingly commercially influential genre takes over the box office, it should have the balls to move beyond the predictable and self-reflexive patterns we’ve come to expect from mainstream movies.
What do YOU think?
Read Newitz’s critique of Avatar here.
I, like many people apparently, have mixed feelings about SGU. As the show’s producers have repeatedly said, SGU is not supposed to be another SG-1 or Atlantis—and that’s fine. I get it. It’s a television show, and in order to survive SGU needs to expand its viewership and appeal to as wide a base as possible.
There seems to be a lively debate online as to whether SGU is innovative, sexy, and awesome, or slow, boring, and predictable. After viewing this week’s episode “Earth,” SGU proves once again that is all of those things at once.
“Earth” is all about the communication stones, those magical body-swapping calling cards that make it possible for Destiny’s crew to commune with people back on Earth. These communication stones are potentially the show’s greatest flaw, and this episode, while innovative in its exploration of characters’ backstories, proves that SGU might have been better off leaving the stones behind.
The episode begins with Gen. O’Neill ordering Young to put the Destiny and her crew in mortal danger in an attempt to dial back to earth using the power of a star to hotwire the connection. In order to force Destiny back into a star, the crew needs to quickly deplete Destiny’s power supply by firing all of her weapons at once and triggering the solar recharging sequence. The plan sounds insane, and if this were SG-1 or Atlantis, it might just work. But it’s SGU, so we know from the get go that the Destiny has a 0% chance of pulling this off.
While this is happening, Young, Chloe, and Eli have swapped bodies via the communication stones with Telfor and two other Homeworld Security people (who are they? who knows..). While in body-swap mode, we learn a little bit more about each character and their relationships back on earth. Eli has a touching moment with his mother, Chloe gets wasted at a bar and finds out her best-friend is dating her ex-boyfriend, and Young has sex with his semi-estranged wife.
Wait a second. Young has sex with his semi-estranged wife—in Telfor’s body? Chloe gets wasted—in some other person’s body? Did nobody think to establish communications stone protocols? Now, it is possible that these issues will be raised and potentially addressed in future episodes. However, given that the crew have been using these stones since the very beginning, it’s difficult to believe that certain rules were not put in place to prevent what is ostensibly abuse of another person’s body.
Imagine, for example, if Chloe had decided to use her counterpart’s body to have sex with Eli (something Eli actively fantasizes about in this episode, while inhabiting his handsomer counterparts body). If her counterpart had “awakened” from the body swap to find her body had partaken in a sex act without her express consent, doesn’t that constitute rape?
SGU skirts the issue by cordoning the non-consentual act to men’s bodies, where Telfor briefly “awakens” to find himself having sex with Young’s wife. His reaction is one of surprise, but not necessarily displeasure. Young’s wife has no idea that her husband is temporarily not the man she is having sex with. Is she now participating in a non-consensual sex act? These are huge ethical issues that SGU hasn’t come close to dealing with. If the show intends to be darker, grittier, and more real, then I hope the next episode explores the real outcomes of abusing the communications stones.
Back on Destiny, the attempt to dial Earth has predictably failed as Young, Chloe, and Eli return to their own bodies. The tension that should arise from learning that Destiny’s crew will be stuck millions of light years from Earth falls flat, since as an audience we already know Destiny’s not going anywhere. Young’s attempt to rally the troops in his big speech at the end rings somewhat hollow, as nearly every episode has ended in similar form. The mantra that they’re the wrong people in the wrong place has been repeated so many times, it’s difficult not to groan a bit whenever someone says it during the show.
As a viewer who appreciates good storytelling in any show, the communications stones have become the achilles heel of SGU. The writers rely upon them to explore character backstories, but in the meantime, we’ve ceased caring about the many, many people stranded on Destiny who I can only imagine are going nuts with nothing to do, and only goopy rations to eat. The real tension that should be at the center of the show—that Destiny cannot return to Earth—has been prematurely dissipated by the fact that the communications stones allow Destiny’s main cast to jump back and forth, seemingly on a whim, and talk to/sleep with whoever they need to whenever they want.
SGU needs to study its predecessors a bit more closely. Battlestar Galactica, a show that SGU seems largely inspired by, sustained tension by ensuring that the audience never knew when and if they were going to be completely decimated by the Cylons. Their survival was never a foregone conclusion, nor was it ever possible to assume that the BSG crew would find Earth. Even Star Trek Voyager, a show very unlike SGU in tone and style, sustained tension by isolating the Voyager crew from Earth. They literally had no way of telling their loved ones where they were and if they were still alive. Yet in that absence of communication, the writers managed to show audiences so much about character backstories.
SGU has its moments, and Eli and Chloe’s scene in the club is one of them. Eli gets the chance to live life as an attractive “always-gets-the-girl” kind of guy, while Chloe has the opportunity to learn how other people honestly perceive her. It’s a touching moment where we see these two relying on each other and coming closer together, even if only as friends (much to Eli’s dismay). Nevertheless, I stand by my assessment that the communications stones were a mistake, even if they do allow for occasional intriguing body swap revelations to unfold.
One last thing—Chloe seems remarkably upset about her best friend sleeping with her ex, even though she’s currently having a pretty hot and heavy relationship with Lt. Scott. It just doesn’t really add up. These emotional “short-cuts” are cropping up in too many places.
Last night I finally caught up with episode 3 of Dollhouse season 2. First off, I’m overall intrigued by the direction the show is taking, especially considering initial misgivings about Paul Ballard (Tahmoh Penikett) joining the Dollhouse as an insider/handler. Additionally, I’m more and more impressed by the performances of Enver Gjokaj, who plays the doll “Victor” and has a hilarious turn in this episode after being accidentally imprinted with the psyche of “Kiki.” And let’s not overlook Eliza Dushku—she’s grown leaps and bounds since her days as Faith, and is especially impressive at the end of this episode when she takes on the persona of a psychotic serial killer.
Acting acrobatics aside, the episode establishes an extended metaphor, likening “actives” to the victims of a demented serial killer. While Victor is imprinted with the mind of a serial killer to help find the real killer’s victims, Echo is imprinted with that of a silly, hyper-sexual college girl in order to fulfill the fantasy of a Medieval Literature college professor (hence the episode’s title “belle chose”). In each case, the writers suggest that victimhood extends only so far as the victim is unwilling to fight back. After accidentally switching imprints with Victor, Echo emerges out of the serial killer’s mind in a moment of temporary clairvoyance and asks her would-be victims to kill her, once and for all. It’s an intriguing suggestion, and poses the greater question of whether she would be better off dead than living as a human shell without an identity.
Overall, the episode sets up some very difficult questions about what makes us human, while simultaneously throwing in a bit of dark humor during Victor’s big dance scene (Gjokaj has got some serious moves).
My one gripe (yes, here it comes) is this: It is completely implausible that a Medieval Literature college professor would have the resources necessary to hire a Doll. Erasing peoples’ minds and reprogramming them to be whoever you want? That’s good science fiction. But beyond-your-wildest-dreams wealthy literature professors? That’s just plain nonsense. Nobody gets paid that much to teach Chaucer.
I finally caught the inaugural episode of Stargate Universe, the third television incarnation of the Stargate series. As a fan of Stargate SG-1 and Atlantis, I’d long become accustomed to the SG “formula” where a group of humans + one off worlder travel from planet to planet fighting a big bad, alien race bent on destroying humanity. The formula usually worked pretty well, gave us just enough of an arc to wonder what would happen next, and generally allowed story lines to wrap up by the end of each episode. That being said, after ten seasons of SG-1 and five seasons of Atlantis, the formula had become a bit…formulaic.
Stargate Universe represents the franchise’s newest variant on the formula. Right from the start, we’re thrown in media res onto the Destiny, a 1000-year old Ancient ship 70 million light years from Earth whose ultimate destination is as yet unknown. A random—and yes, rag tag—group of individuals have been stranded on this ship, unimaginably far from all they know and love, and forced to work together to survive. As the premier episode would suggest, story arcs will not find resolution on a weekly basis, and there won’t be any supercharacters like McKay or Sheppard to swoop in and make it all better. While RDA, Amanda Tapping, and Michael Shanks make guest appearances to help ease Stargate fans into the new series, make no mistake, SGU is a very different animal from its predecessors.
Let me be the gazillionth person to say that as I was watching “Air,” I couldn’t help but feel like the suits at SyFy literally said to someone over at SGU: “Make it like Battlestar, only different.” SGU is littered with BSG moments, from the shaky, quick zoom, documentary-style camera action, to the supply room/small arms sex scene and the ominous instrumental soundtrack. There’s no doubt about it, the pilot of SGU seriously looks and feels a lot like BSG, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. “Air” establishes a world where characters are defined, much like BSG, by their imperfections. I assume that as the series progresses, characters will continue to push the limits of their humanity as they make difficult decisions on whether to act in their own self-interest or for the good of all.
I will say that as a fan of previous Stargate series, after watching SGU I did long for some of the humor and camaraderie that made the ensemble casts of both SG-1 and Atlantis so darn likeable. As much as I relate to a cast of characters who are inherently flawed, I always enjoyed and relished even the humor inherent in T’ealc’s “indeed,” McKay’s hubris, and Sheppard’s begrudging die-hard heroism. David Blue, who plays the inadvertent genius Eli Wallace, does provide an inkling of relief from all the death and fear, at one point pulling a Mckay by solving of the ninth chevron problem. At the same time, the incredibly powerful scene where Chloe (played amazingly by Elyse Levesque) watches as her father sacrifices himself to give the crew another 24 hours to live could never have happened in the old Stargate series.
In Stargate Universe, the risks are more real than they’ve ever been before. With any luck SGU will be able to distance itself from BSG by finding a balance between its new, dark identity and its older self.
One last thing: SGU lacks the bombastic, over-the-top, instantly classic theme song of both SG-1 and Atlantis. This is a huge mistake, in my opinion. What will I use as my next ring tone now??
I finally saw Duncan Jones’ Moon at the local Sundance Theater this week (yes, after whining about how no theaters near me were showing Moon, it came). If you have yet to see it, do not delay! This one deserves to be seen on the big screen. I mentioned the beautiful soundtrack in an earlier post, and let me tell you, seeing this movie made that music even more haunting in its spartan dashes of piano against methodical drumbeats. As for the movie itself, I guarantee you will leave the theater with a nifty pile of philosophical questions that probe those eternal questions of what it means to be human. Sam Rockwell’s performance is particularly noteworthy. His motivations and internal conflicts never seem like forgone conclusions, and this is where the movie excels the most.
Moon is that rare movie that I’d classify as “high” science fiction. Even though such distinctions are a bit old fashioned and snooty sounding, it’s a useful way of distinguishing between movies like Alien and movies like Alien vs. Predator. The former fully ensconces you in the terrifying possibilities of predacious life forms beyond the realm of your worst nightmares juxtaposed against the horror of human greed, while the latter makes you you realize that hollywood is composed of predacious life forms beyond the realm of your worst nightmares driven by the horror of human greed.
Moon is special. Go see it.
Read this review of the new Transformers movie. Just read it.
While staring at one of my glowing rectangles, I unexpectedly found that NBC premiered the BBC import Merlin tonight. I tuned in about halfway through the first episode (they showed two back-to-back), so I missed what I imagine was a lot of setting up the medieval world stuff. However, I was pleasantly surprised to see Anthony Stewart Head (wow his website looks like a lost Gap ad from the 90’s) playing young Arthur’s tough-love dad/king. Overall, I went in without expectations but came away feeling like the show has some potential. Bradley James (young Arthur) and Colin Morgan (young Merlin) have a nice chemistry as their relationship grows from adversarial bully/underling mode to a tense budding friendship. The tone of the show seems pretty straightforward—no evidence of 21st century inspired tongue-in-cheek humor yet, but it is technically “drama” so for now I’ll just have to imagine that off-screen Arthur, Merlin, and company enjoy goofy in-jokes and play pranks on the King’s secret, chained-up flying dragon. Did I mention the imprisoned flying dragon who talks to Merlin?
Like many historical fantasy television shows, it’s difficult to divorce the image of Larpers at Renaissance Fairs from the sincere desire to recreate an authentic (albeit romanticized) version of the Middle Ages. Somehow the colors all look a tad too bright, the armor too shiny, and the people too not-smelly. Then again, in this world magic exists, so I’ll suspend my disbelief long enough to accept that there may also be some Medieval version of Tide with Color-safe Bleach. Check out those bold brights!
Bottom line, in the desert of summer programming (I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here??? Really?), it’s good to see that NBC is taking a gamble with Merlin. Also, when Merlin uses magic his eyes do a yellowish-flashy thing. G’ould alert!