Saturday, August 17, 2013

MY list of disappointing science fiction sequels (Mine, not yours.)


 
 DISCLAIMER. The following is a list of science fiction films that disappointed me. I state this because invariably there will be someone out there who reads this and will probably make the comments “What do you mean? (Add title here) was the greatest movie EVER! You stupid (Add expletive of your choice)! I’ll never read another one of your books again! You’ve ruined my life!” I see this all the time whenever someone posts an article list the 5-10 worst whatevers. This is my opinion.  That’s all. I apologize in advance for ruining anyone’s childhood. There are spoilers contained within, but if the reader has not seen these films by now, they probably have no intention of seeing them anyway. Okay? Here we go then. In no particular order. . .

Alien 3- After the cinematic artistry of Ridley Scott’s original Alien, and James Cameron’s epic, exhilarating Aliens, David Fincher’s Alien 3 was a kick in the gut from which the franchise has never recovered. Many fans (myself included) were turned off before the opening credits finished rolling by the pointless killing off of well-liked characters Hicks and Newt. (It is understood that too much time passed between the filming of Aliens and this film for Carrie Henn to reprise her role as Newt, but a recasting would have been preferable to the immediate and shocking death of this well-loved character.) As for Corporal Hicks, played by Michael Biehn, his character deserved a better death. I’m not against killing the character, but at least let a warrior go out in battle, especially seeing as how he was the only one of his entire unit to survive the last film.

Next point: Having the entire cast sport shaven heads might have been a bold stylistic choice, and did have a suitable explanation, but made things too confusing because it was too difficult to tell characters apart, especially in the dark and gloomy subterranean surroundings. Wait! Didn’t that guy die 10 minutes ago???

However the most confusing point of all is where the alien came from in the first place. At the end of the last film, all the alien eggs had been fried (Sorry for the pun.) and the Queen jettisoned into space. Then, in another opening credit shocker, one of the first things we see is an open, empty egg casing. When, one must ask, did the Queen have time between skewering Bishop and battling Ripley to not only produce this egg (Considering that her egg sack had been left behind on LV-426), but to conveniently stash it away out of sight until the next film?

The film has its merits, mainly in supporting actors Charles S. Dutton, Charles Dance, and the late Pete Postelthwaite., but not much else. By the end of the film the viewer is actually happy to see Ripley take her own life, if not to save the galaxy from the alien scourge, then at least to save the viewers from having to suffer another cinematic alien miscarriage such as this. Of course, in science fiction, and in Hollywood, death is not always the end.

Aliens vs Predator: Requiem - I admit that I enjoyed the original AvP greatly, though it was far from perfect and far different from the original, vastly superior comic book material, so I was naturally excited when I heard a sequel was in the works. The early trailers looked promising. A promise that was short lived.

A lot of things went wrong with this one, too many to list all of them, so I’ll just hit on some key points.

The plot was sound enough. Picking up immediately after the last film, the Predator ship crashes back to Earth after the Predator/Alien hybrid seen at the end of the last film wreaks havoc onboard. Facehuggers emerge and quickly overtake their first victims, spawning the first of many xenomorphs. A lone Predator is dispatched to clean up the mess and chaos ensues for the small Colorado town in which the film is set.

Chaos it is. We are quickly introduced to multiple characters all at once, None of whom are all that interesting. They are: the local sheriff, the punk, the soldier returning home, the cute ,blonde love interest. (One look at her and you know that A) she will be taking her clothes off, and B) she’s going to die.) Every one of these characters is as two-dimensional as the comic books the movies are loosely based on.

The aliens swarm the town. The Predator kills aliens and anyone else that gets in its way (Including the aforementioned cute, blonde love interest.) People run. People scream. People die. The entire film plays like a cheap 80’s slasher film.

Bill Paxton was approached for a cameo so he could appear in the second 'Predator', 'Alien' and 'AvP' film in each series. Schedule conflicts prevented him from making an appearance.

Star Trek V The Final Frontier – I do like this film, I just don’t love it. Possibly the least popular entry in the Trek film franchise aside from the original Star Trek The Motion Picture. Coming in on the heels of the phenomenally successful Star Trek IV The Voyage Home, this installment had an uphill battle all the way from the start.

A lot of people blame director and star William Shatner for the debacle. Indeed, I once saw Walter “Chekov” Koenig at a convention who said :Star Trek IV was the Voyage Home. Star Trek V is the Ego Trip.” This may be true, but I don’t think Shatner is wholly to blame.

The story is an ambitious one, about a renegade Vulcan who hijacks the Enterprise in order to seek out “God”, and one of the few Trek films to focus on facets of the human condition and not just action set pieces, though the film has its fair share. According to Shatner in his book Star Trek Movie Memories,  Paramount was against him from early on, whether it be about the story, the budget, or Shatner himself being in the directors chair.

It is clear that Paramount decided to cheap off on this film, and the effects budget was hardest hit. Unable to afford Industrial Light & Magic, Shatner was forced to rely on a more modest effects house and it shows. While the effects are not terrible —save for the less than spectacular effects of the “God thing” at the films climax— they just do not hold up to the usual ILM standards we came to expect from the last few film entries.

The main cast does a fine job as always, and there are efforts to give some shining moments to characters other than Kirk, Spock, and McCoy. Guest stars range from good (Laurence Luckinbill as Vulcan renegade Sybok, and David Warner, doing what he can with the minimal role he is given as Federation representative St. John Talbot. He will return in Star Trek VI in a much meatier role as Klingon Chancellor Gorkon), to the laughable (Cynthia Gouw,  as Romulan Rep Caithlin Dar, the 23rd century equivalent of London Tipton from Disney’s The Suite Life of Zach and Cody.) Most of the Klingons in this film come across as overly-muscled schoolyard bullies.

There are high points. Jerry Goldsmith works his usual orchestral magic turning in what is possibly his finest score for a Trek film (and my personal favorite). The humor this time around is more forced than before, but there are some gems. McCoy’s lament that he liked Spock better before he died, or Kirk’s observation that the reason Spock’s rocket boots fail to keep them aloft while making an escape “Must be all those marshmellons” are genuinely funny and played well.

It’s a shame for all the technical and financial woes this film suffered. After the fun, lighthearted adventure of Star Trek IV, everyone expected, and deserved, more.

 

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace- This is the big one. One of the most anticipated movies in history. The one that caused over-zealous fans worldwide to lament George Lucas ruined my childhood!

A lot of the blame can actually be laid upon ourselves, the fans. After waiting over twenty years for this film, we had all built up in our minds what we thought this film should have been, but since George Lucas was the one calling the shots, it was exactly the movie that he thought it should be.

It is not a bad movie, and certainly a better science fiction film than many, and had this film actually been the first one released, I’m sure it would have done very well. However, viewed in regards to the series as a whole, it does seem to be the weakest of the six current films in the saga —seven, if you count the animated Clone Wars movie.

There is much that went right with this film, and much that went wrong. On the light side, the film is technically and visually a triumph. Strong actors such as Liam Neeson, Ewan MacGregor, and Ian McDiarmid, lend weight to a series of films that has never been praised for the abilities of many of  its actors. The final duel between Qui Gon, Obi Wan, and Sith apprentice Darth Maul is some of the best lightsaber work in the saga, and there is the podrace, of course.

Turning to the dark side, however, we are left with a film that is, at times, just too much talk, heavy on the political machinations and treachery that come with a republic on the brink of disaster. There is the God-awful Yoda puppet (I have my theory as to why the original puppet worked so well and the new one failed, but I’ll save that for later.) and, of course, Jar Jar Binks, a character more hated than any Sith Lord. I remember reading somewhere when the film was still in production that Jar Jar was “the Chewbacca of the prequels.” That’s enough for any self-respecting Wookie to tear the author’s arms out of his sockets.

One has to wonder how the series would have fared if this had come first. Seeing the hero progress from cute child to murderous villain might have turned viewers off enough that we might never have gotten to see his eventual redemption. Kinda makes you wonder…

***

Are there other sci-fi sequels that deserve to be on this list? Sure. Anyone remember Superman III or Batman and Robin? Prometheus anyone?  Actually, thinking on it now, there may be another list in the near future, but this is what I got for now. Hope I didn’t ruin anyone’s childhood.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Come Inside My Mind...

Perhaps one of the questions most asked of writers, or any artist for that matter, is probably about where we get the inspiration for our ideas. I cannot speak for all others and, to a degree, cannot even speak for myself. Sometimes things just come to me without explanation, but there are a great many influences that fuel my creative juices. Some are blatantly obvious to even the most remote outsider. Some, not so much.

Here I present five of those influences, not just of The Starhawk Chronicles, but behind anything I write. There are, of course, much more than five, but to share any more than that would make this blog far longer than any of us would want to read, and certainly longer than I want to write.


Star Wars  – I know, you’re shocked at this revelation. Who would have thunk it?  In all seriousness, I doubt that there isn’t a science fiction writer of my generation out there who was not at least marginally influenced by the original films of the saga. We bought the toys, read the comic books, listened to the soundtrack albums, tuned into the radio adaptations, and even (shudder) watched the Holiday Special (Yes, I have a copy of it on DVD.)

Silverado – This might seem an odd one, but I drew so much inspiration from this classic 1985 western. Jesse’s two gun holster rig and duster jacket were inspired by Kevin Costner and Danny Glover’s characters, respectively. And what’s a good western without a cattle stampede?

The Last Starfighter – Even more than Star Wars, this 1984 film was probably the biggest inspirational force behind the very first draft of the story, though there is very little that resembles it in the final manuscript. Almost 30 years later, I still love this film. Yes, the digital FX are crude by today’s standards, and the movie has more than its share of cheese, but it is still one of the great feel-good movies of the ‘80s. And how can you argue against the late, great Robert Preston as intergalactic con-man Centauri? Who else could pull off lines such as, “Did Chris Columbus say he wanted to stay home? No! What if the Wright brothers thought that only birds should fly? And did Galoka think the Ulus were too ugly to save?”

The film music of Williams, Goldsmith, Horner, etc – I have always said that I write cinematically, and when I do write, it is usually with the film scores of some of Hollywood’s greatest composers blaring through my MP3 player. Perhaps 80% of my music collection is composed of film scores. While I love Williams’ stuff, I find myself leaning more and more towards Goldsmith for sheer variety, and his score for Star Trek V The Final Frontier is easily some of his most beautiful work.

Walt Disney World – The end result of the worlds greatest dreamers greatest dream, it’s hard not to be inspired to flights of fancy while visiting this place. Tomorrowland, EPCOT’s Future World, the Contemporary Resort… all these locations have inspired some of the futuristic cityscapes buzzing through my mind.

There are, as I said, many more influences. If you’re a keen reader, you may be able to spot references to these throughout the story. If you think you’ve spotted one, drop me a line on the official Facebook page (www.facebook.com/TheStarhawkChronicles)

You can also follow me through Twitter. Can’t say how often I’ll tweet (Such a silly term) but I’ll try at least once a week.

Best,
Joe