The War of The Worlds–Vintage SciFi Not-a-Challenge Review

A couple questions you probably have:

1. Why only ONE update last week?–Well, see, my school concluded its interim  month (a month where students either study abroad or take a course taught by a professor about their particular area of interest/expertise) and in the ensuing break, the anime club that I am a proud member of had its annual 24-hour marathon. After actually staying awake through most of that, I was understandably exhausted and also became mildly sick. So, that’s why that happened. Sorry.

2. Why on Earth am I devoting a post to a classic H.G. Wells novel when there are more important things to talk about? Well, the Little Red Reviewer has been challenging people to review vintage sci-fi books all month and since this is the second to last day of January and I just finished it, that’s why.

(This is the version I have, printed in 1964.)

I’m guessing most of you who know about this book know about the ending. I did too, and I won’t spoil it here, but it is an interesting ending, not what you’d expect.

Actually, that’s a good way to describe Wells’  1898 novel: “not what you’d expect.” Given that Orson Welles’ famous radio adaptation largely focuses on depicting the invasion through a series of news broadcasts, the 1953 film version shows the front lines of the Human-Martian war and the 2005 film version focuses on a father and his kids, you’d think it would be more bombastic. But really, it’s not.

The bulk of the story is just the main character, a writer whose name is never revealed, struggling to survive in the shadows as the Martians first invade the English countryside and then storm through London. Apart from a brief interlude focusing on his also unnamed brother, that’s it; we’re just watching this one guy try to survive. He doesn’t try  to fight the Martians, he doesn’t try to communicate with them, he just tries to stay alive. But that macro-scale approach to things makes it ultimately more human; if such an invasion did happen, especially in this point in history, the average person would be cut off and isolated, and try to go it on their own rather than become a hero.

That human approach is what makes it more interesting instead of boring; Wells’ narrative voice, as well as the way he establishes the characters of those the narrator meets, is very strong and in control, carefully pacing out details when we need them and never going full on into detail.

So, it’s pretty easy to see why this book has inspired so much in SF. Because that’s one of the best kinds of SF for me: the kind that show an impossible thing happening, then showing how the ordinary person reacts to it. It’s truly remarkable. Recommended.

He’s Back!

I’m guessing more than a few of you who read this have probably heard of Internet comedian Doug Walker, best known for his show the Nostalgia Critic, which gave rise to the whole “criticism as entertainment” genre of Internet video.

I posted one of his videos before, but a few months after I did that, it was announced that the character would be retired and he was given a send-off in this year’s team-up anniversary movie done by That Guy With the Glasses, which hosts this show and several others. Walker explained in a follow-up video he retired the character because he wanted to move on to other original projects of his own that weren’t just reviews.

And although I was sad–having been a fan of the Critic since high school and him being hugely influential for me–I understood it. In art, there’s a fear of stagnation and if this was Walker’s way of avoiding it then so be it, said I.

Well, last night, this video was posted on the website.

So yeah, assuming you watched that, it looks like the Critic is coming back! I can’t really put into words how I felt after this video; I laughed as always, but this really got to me emotionally too. It honestly feels like the majority of this video–with Walker arguing to himself as both the Critic and him–is what went on in his mind. This is a deeply personal piece. On top of that, it got to me because I consider Walker to be an inspiration; I discovered him in high school and he’s taught me so much. Without him, I wouldn’t have my love of reviewing, I maybe wouldn’t have my current group of friends and I probably wouldn’t even have this blog.

On top of that, the whole feel of it is remarkable. I feel like this video is the equivalent of those shows in the early days of television like NBC Experiment in Television where people like Jim Henson did well…experimental films but for the Internet: somebody who knows the conventions of the medium they’re working in and pushes the boundaries as hard as they can.

Great job, Mr. Walker, and I’m glad you’re back! Your first new video is February 5th and I will be watching with joy.

Star Trek Saturdays #13

It’s time for Star Trek Saturdays #13!

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This week’s episode is “The Galileo Seven” and it switches up the roles of Kirk and Spock, making for a fascinating character study.

The episode opens with the Enterprise, en route to the planet Makus III with medical supplies, stopping to investigate the quasar Murasaki 312. Ferris (John Crawford), a Starfleet High Commissioner in charge of Makus III, is angry that they’re doing this, given that their medical supplies are going to be transferred from Makus III to the New Paris colonies that are dealing with rampant plague and are desperately needed, but Kirk reminds him that he has standing orders to investigate “all quasars and quasar-like phenomena” and the rendezvous is not scheduled for five more days. The shuttle Galileo, crewed by Spock, McCoy, Scotty, Lts. Latimer, Gaetano and Boma, and Yeoman Mears, takes off to investigate the quasar.

Galileo approaches Murasaki 312

(The Galileo heading towards Murasaki 312.)

But once inside the quasar, the shuttle experiences turbulence and also, due to electrical interference caused by the quasar, has its sensors and communications rendered useless. It crash lands on the one M class (Earth-like) planet, Taurus II.

As the superior officer, Spock is forced to take command, but his cold, rational logic begins rubbing other crew members, particularly Lt. Boma (Don Marshall), the wrong way. Meanwhile, Kirk has to deal with Ferris, his superior officer, who tells him that he has two days to find the shuttle then they must leave. And, on Taurus II, the officers discover that they’re not exactly alone…

After the faulty “The Conscience of The King,” this is a fantastic return to form. It succeeds because it takes the two central leads out of their elements: Spock is thrust from a supporting role into a commanding one and Kirk is forced to abide by an authority greater than his. It’s an interesting change of pace and the script by Oliver Crawford and S. Bar-David, combined with some deft acting by Shatner and Nimoy, does a great job of showing how the two react to their new roles.

Although Crawford conceived this story as a sci-fi reimagining of the ’30s film Five Came Back (which starred Lucille Ball, whose Desilu Productions produced Trek), I like to think of this as being the first of the show’s many “Vietnam War parallel” episodes. Think about it: a disparate group, dropped on their own into a shadowy jungle-like wasteland, surrounded by an enemy they can’t really see (indeed, we never see more than glimpses of the creatures on Taurus II) while their concerned commanding officer is sidelined by bureaucrats concerned with other matters. It’s a bit of a stretch, but I think this bears out, particularly with the moody, tense direction of Robert Gist. Regardless, this one is worth it.

Thanks to Memory Alpha, the official Star Trek wiki for the pics and episode information, as well as Amazon Instant for hosting the show. We’ll see you next Saturday and until then, live long and prosper.

CARTOOOOONS!

As I’m sure I’ve mentioned time and time again around here, I love cartoons. And this new year has given me even more reason to love them.

See, for Christmas, one of my friends gave me access to his Netflix account as my present (I know, right?) and I’ve been watching–and plan to watch–some shows I’ve wanted to check out for a long time.

Mostly, I’ve been watching the new Ultimate Spider-Man cartoon that aired on Disney 😄 this spring. And unlike the vast majority of adult nerds, I like it a lot!

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As I said in my review of The Amazing Spider-Man, the Ultimate Spidey comic was one of the defining things I read in my youth. That comic’s writer, Brian Michael Bendis, who’s still writing that book to this day, incidentally, is actually a writer and executive producer for this show, working with Paul Dini (the Batman: The Animated Series writer who made Mr. Freeze not lame anymore) and the writing team Man of Action (Steven T. Seagle, Joe Kelly, Joe Casey, and Duncan Rouleau, all comic book writers too, but best known for creating the Ben 10 franchise). Drake Bell-former Nickelodeon staple on The Amanda Show and Drake & Josh–is the voice of Spidey, Chi McBride—yes, that guy–is Nick Fury and a whole bunch of other voice actors are a whole bunch of other Marvel characters.

The two things that separate this show from its source material are that 1. It’s less about Spidey working solo than it is about him learning about superherodom under Fury’s guidance with a team of other teenaged Marvel heroes: White Tiger, Iron Fist, Luke “Power Man” Cage and Nova. 2. The show is humor-oriented with wacky gags, fast jokes and little cutaways featuring chibi versions of the characters. As to the first, I think that’s a smart idea, as it helps teach kids about teamwork while working in lesser-known Marvel characters (that’s Greg “Beast Boy from Teen Titans” Cipes as Iron Fist, BTW). As for the second, while cutaway humor annoys the living crap out of me on shows like Family Guy, here, the jokes are relevant to the situation and aren’t just a random gag showing how the writers ran out of story for this particular beat. Plus, it’s also true to the spirit of Spidey’s character: his propensity for wisecracking is his signature shtick and it’s part of what’s made him so identifiable to audiences. So I say, ignore the naysayers and give it a watch.

The other show I’ve been catching up on is decidedly more serious. The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes has gone through 2 seasons already and is now discontinued, although it will apparently return under the name Avengers Assemble this year. While this obviously stinks for fans, it’s good for me because now I get a chance to catch up on the whole story.

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This show is structured a bit differently from most. See, in order to generate more advance publicity, what Disney and Marvel Television decided to do was to break up the episodes of the first season into 5-minute microsodes and put them online, then reedit them together for broadcast. It’s a savvy move, to be sure, and probably indicative of what broadcast TV might have to do in the future, but it also has the side effect of making these early episodes (to me anyway) feel a bit disjointed.

Essentially, the structure of the show is similar to the Marvel Cinematic Universe: showing us the individual characters on their own before bringing them together as a team. However, this isn’t just origin stories all over again, which is refreshing and there’s also a great amount of interconnectivity here: Wolvering is part of Captain America’s WWII unit, the Fighting Commandos, Hawkeye and Black Widow work for S.H.I.E.L.D.–with the Widow being a double agent for H.Y.D.R.A.–and Iron Man is already well established. The show’s clear, focused writing–courtesy of veteran Marvel writer Christopher Yost and others–and stellar voice cast help cement it; while the animation isn’t the greatest, it’s still thrilling at its best.

So that’s what I’ve been watching on Netflix but meanwhile, on real TV, what’s quite possibly the best cartoon out there, Young Justice, has finally come back and oh man, was it worth the wait.

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For the unfamiliar, about 9 episodes into its second season (subtitled Invasion because an alien invasion is what the team is dealing with right now), the show–and the weekend DC Nation block it’s a part of–was unexpectedly pulled from Cartoon Network’s schedule with absolutely no one, not even the creators, knowing why. But now, it’s been back for a couple of weeks and it’s better than ever. Brandon Vietti and Greg Wiseman (yes, the Gargoyles guy) are excellent show runners and what they put their characters through is exciting and suspenseful. Mix that with terrific writing, a phenomenal voice cast and Emmy-worthy animation and you’ve got one of the best shows around.

Well, that’s all for that. Man, this was fun: if any of you out there have a show, animated or otherwise, that you think I should watch, leave a comment.

Does Whatever An…Octopus Can?

As I said in My Top 5 Comics post, I tend to avoid Marvel books because they take the whole concept of a shared universe of continuity WAY too far (they’ve published at least 2 titles devoted to cataloging all their characters and stories by my count) for me to feel comfortable starting out with or jumping on to any new series.

The best case in point, after the soap opera maze that is the X-Men family of books, is Spider-Man, who has gone through absolutely everything from having his first love die before his eyes to being possessed by an alien symbiote to selling his marriage to the devil, through a bunch of books but largely through his flagship book, The Amazing Spider-Man, which I started rereading from the very beginning after the most recent film came out, and which was published for 50 years from 1963 until 2 weeks ago, concluding with issue #700, in which longtime Spidey villain Doctor Octopus switches bodies with Peter Parker and letting Peter Parker die in his body, taking up the role of Spider-Man himself in the new ongoing series Superior Spider-Man.

Confused? I was too when I found out, largely because, like I said, I don’t read Spider-Man and I certainly haven’t read Dan Slott’s multi-year run (except for the main portion of the “Spider-Island” event storyline which I thought was pretty good). But luckily, MovieBob, one of my favorite people on the Internet, devoted the most recent episode of his weekly series “The Big Picture” to explaining this story and examining its immediate impact. Also, read this blog piece of his for a little more info.

Ok so, assuming you watched that, I gotta say I agree with him. Yeah, this is a crazy shake-up stunt but that’s how comics work nowadays for better or worse. And honestly, if this one crazy plot twist, after all the crazy stuff that Spidey’s endured throughout his history, is enough to make you throw your hands up in disgust, why are you reading it in the first place?

I mean, c’mon, if we can’t have craziness in our comics, where can we have it?

Star Trek Saturdays #12

It’s time for Star Trek Saturdays #12!

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This week’s episode is “The Conscience of the King” and while it doesn’t do as much as it should, it’s still pretty good.

Like last week’s episode, this opens with a quick cut: Kirk is in an audience with his friend, Dr. Thomas Leighton (William Sargent), watching a theatre troop led by actor Anton Karidian, perform “Macbeth.” Anton (Arnold Moss), as the title character, performs the killing of King Duncan and then delivers the famous “Will Neptune’s great ocean wash this blood from my hands?” sollioquy while Leighton whispers to Kirk his suspicion that Karidian is really Kodos the Executioner.

After the theme song, we find out that the teaser was actually in media res. We back up to the ship arriving while Kirk records in his Captain’s Log that Leighton got them to deviate from their scheduled course by telling them of a new synthetic food source he had invented that could end famine. We then cut forward to Kirk berating Leighton for luring them there under false pretenses. But Leighton is convinced that Karidian is Kodos who, on the colony of Tarsus IV 20 years ago, after the colony’s food was destroyed by an alien fungus,  rose up, took control of the government, declared martial law and wound up ordering the deaths of 4,000 people to ensure that the other more valued 4,000 would survive on what little food they had left.  Kirk–who was stationed on Tarsus IV at the time–and Leighton were both among the survivors. But when relief ships from Earth arrived, they found a burned body that was thought to be Kodos’ and so the matter was closed. Until now, Leighton explains, because he recognizes Karidian’s voice as that of the man who killed thousands and left him horribly disfigured. He reminds Kirk that they are among the nine in total who ever saw Kodos’ face.

Kirk claims to not believe it but back on the ship, he does some digging through the library computers and finds that not only does any form of birth certificate exist for Karidian, there is no record of him at all until a year after the presumed death of Kodos. Intrigued, Kirk beams down to a cocktail party hosted at Leighton’s home for Karidian’s theatre troupe in hopes of meeting him in person. Instead, he winds up meeting with his daughter Lenore (Barbara Anderson) and is seemingly so smitten that he abandons the party to walk with her in the desert…where they find Leighton dead.

Kirk then, after being asked by Lenore, arranges to have the acting troupe journey on the Enterprise to their next stop. He then looks up the other eyewitnesses who saw Kodos and finds that crewman Lt. Kevin Riley (Bruce Hyde)–who famously commandeered the ship in “The Naked Time”–is one of them. He has Riley bumped down from communications to engineering; this and his dogged pursuit of Lenore raises Spock’s suspicions. And there’s even more going on with Lenore than anyone can guess…

If there’s any fault with this episode, it lies in the direction. Other than the striking opening, director Gerd Oswald doesn’t really play up the tension and drama of Barry Trivers’ script as much as he should; Trivers, as Memory Alpha points out on their page for this episode, makes some parallels between Hamlet and the story, but Oswald doesn’t go far enough to suggest that. Really, his setpieces are a little bland and, with a few exceptions, not very exciting.

The actors do rise above it though: Hyde does a great job giving us more dimension to Riley than previous, Anderson is enigmatic and interesting as Lenore and Moss is perhaps the most Shakespearean when having to play up the inner torment a man like Kodos must face. As for the regular cast, we get some nice repartee between Spock and McCoy and some more awesome non-verbal acting from Leonard Nimoy. As my roommate noted, “His raised eyebrow says so much, it’s great!” So a bit disappointing, but I’d still give it a shot.

Thanks to Memory Alpha, the official Star Trek wiki for the pics and episode information, as well as Amazon Instant for hosting the show. We’ll see you next Saturday and until then, live long and prosper.