Category Archives: sci-fi

Yes, Virginia, There Is A Barsoom.

Full disclosure: I had no intention of seeing John Carter in the theater, and I certainly had no intention of seeing it on opening night. But, a friend was all “What are you doing Friday?” and I was all “Nothing, what’s up?” and she was all “Wanna see John Carter?” and I was all “Yeah, okay. Why not?” Long story short (too late): I’m glad I did.

I’m a fan of a pulpy space opera–whether it’s Star WarsFlash Gordon, or Farscape (all of which owe their existence, in one way or another, to Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Barsoom series)–and John Carter delivers a pretty pulpy and splendidly spacey opera. The movie captures the very essence of pulp fiction: a thrilling, action-packed adventure.

I’m a fan of prosthetics, animatronics, and various and sundry other practical effects, so I was worried that the CG effects would be overwhelming, like the opening space battle in Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith; however, they whelmed just the right amount, like pretty much every second of The Lord of the Rings. Of course, like Tolkien’s epic, I don’t think you could have done Burroughs’s story justice without computer effects.

John Carter–like the novels on which it is based–combines aspects of sci-fi, fantasy, romance (in the classic sense) and westerns. Like the novels, John Carter is a frame story, introducing us to Carter through his “nephew” Edgar Rice Burroughs, who inherits Carter’s journal upon the titular character’s death. I imagine this might strike some audience members as being a bit twee, but you have to remember it was a common literary device at the time–for example, The Shadow stories were said to be factual accounts “told to” Maxwell Grant by the Shadow.

John Carter of Virginia was a cavalryman in the Civil War; when hostilities came to an end, Carter headed west with a desire to find his fortune and live out the rest of his life in peace. Events conspire, shenanigans occur, and Carter finds himself on Mars…which, coincidentally, resembles the United States that he just left–there are two warring Red Martian city-states vying for dominance, while tribes of nomadic Green Martians control the wilderness. If you’ve ever seen a western, you know that the one man who wants to be left alone is the guy who’ll end up right in the middle of things when shit goes down. There’s also a princess, who’s a scientist and pretty good with a sword (okay, you don’t often get that in a western).

John Carter has everything: action, laughs, the aforementioned sword-wielding scientist princess, Taylor Kitsch in a loincloth reenacting the scene in Return of the Jedi when Leia escapes from Jabba the Hutt and blows up his sail barge. Basically, I’m already looking forward to the day John Carter comes out on DVD.

(True story: the only problem I had with the movie was finding out that the voice of Tal Hajus was Thomas Haden Church and not Lance Henriksen.)

A Boy and His Box, Off to See the Universe.

I really wish I had managed to finish these in time for yesterday’s 48th anniversary of the Doctor Who premiere. Oh, well…timey-wimey and all that.

First Doctor

Second Doctor

Third Doctor

Fourth Doctor

Fifth Doctor

Sixth Doctor

Seventh Doctor

Eighth Doctor

Ninth Doctor

Tenth Doctor

Eleventh Doctor

Grimm Can Be Great

It’s usually not a good idea to judge a show based solely on the first episode. Few shows premiere with zero kinks and many shows can take an entire season to find their footing. Taking that into consideration, I think Grimm has the potential to be pretty damn good.

The set-up is a simple one: Nick Burkhardt (David Giuntoli) is a homicide detective in Portland, Oregon. While investigating the disappearance–and subsequent dismemberment–of a co-ed, Nick learns from his Aunt Marie that he comes from a long line of “Grimms.” Grimms are profilers, of sorts, keeping tabs on the supernatural whatchamacallits that plague humanity. Of course, Nick has to keep his secret from his fiance (played by Bitsie Tulloch) and his partner (Russell Hornsby), luckily he’ll be able to call on his supernatural informant, a reformed Big Bad Wolf (Silas Weir Mitchell).

If this sounds a bit familiar, there’s a good reason for that. Two of the men responsible for Grimm, David Greenwalt and Jim Kouf, come to us from Buffy and Angel. In fact, Grimm feels a little bit like a blending of the two shows: you have the Chosen One of Buffy and the sleuthing of (early) Angel. I’d also argue that the “family of hunters” angle ties Grimm to Supernatural, which makes the fact that the two shows are airing against each other kind of annoying. Given Grimm‘s Whedon-y pedigree, I wasn’t the least bit surprised by Mitchell’s reformed Big Bad Wolf (0r Blutbad, if you will). The feeb-demon–a noticeably un-demonic and comically humanized demon–was a hallmark of Angel and, later, Buffy. Grimm‘s Eddie Monroe is a Blutbad who has given up on his bestial tendencies, which allows him to tag along on Nick’s cases and offer exposition with a healthy dose of wry asides. Clem would be proud.

I think the biggest hurdle Grimm has to overcome is how people will ultimately compare it to Once Upon A Time, despite the fact that the two shows could not be more different. In Once…, the characters are actual fairy tale characters who now live in the real world. In other words, Snow White is real. Grimm goes down a different road. Here, the Brothers Grimm were criminal profilers of the supernatural. So, while there is no actual Big Bad Wolf, there are Blutbaden, wolf-like creatures who appear to be attracted to the color red. Folklorists tell us that fairy tales, like those collected by the Brothers Grimm, were used as teaching tools, showing people how to behave and that acting incorrectly had consequences. Grimm takes this and runs with it, claiming that the dangers depicted in fairy tales aren’t metaphors: if you leave the path in the woods, something will eat you. I love this hidden world aspect of Grimm and, if you enjoy the occasional urban fantasy novel, you might love it, too.

Top 10 Companions in All of Time and Space

Since I just did a countdown (sorta) of my favorite incarnations of the Doctor–one I am sure you all read–I figured that I should give equal time to the Doctor’s companions. This was not an easy task; while there are only eleven Doctors to sort through, there are (without doing an accurate count) about five or six times as many companions.

10. Zoe Heriot and Jamie McCrimmon (Second Doctor)

  

I can’t really think about Zoe without also thinking about Jamie, and vice versa. The math whiz from the 21st century and the 18th century Scottish Highlander are inextricably linked with my memories of the Second Doctor.

9. Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart (various, although primarily the Third Doctor)

The Brig was the perfect foil for the Doctor during his exile on Earth. As a military man, Lethbridge-Stewart had a very rigid view of the world that was often at odds with the weird crap that goes on when the Doctor is in the room. Also, the Brig kinda reminds me of a Monty Python sketch.

8. Rose Tyler (Ninth Doctor and Tenth Doctor)

I love the concept of Rose Tyler much more than I do the execution. The fact that this regular working-class girl can grow to become a hero is amazing. The fact that she was kinda reduced to the Doctor’s “OMG! greatest love of all the times!!!!!11!!!!” is kinda lame.

7. Dr. Elizabeth “Liz” Shaw (Third Doctor)

I blame The X-Files for the fact that I love me some scientist–I call it Scully-osis–and Liz Shaw certainly qualifies. Liz was a civilian member of UNIT during the Third Doctor’s exile on Earth and, as his lab assistant, frequently aided him in his adventures.

6. Dr. Martha Jones (Tenth Doctor)

Poor Martha had the misfortune of following the aforementioned “OMG! greatest love blah blah whatever.” Martha is probably the only character to be more awesome when she’s not with the Doctor. (Seriously, Martha on Torchwood is a-mah-zing!)

5. K-9 (Fourth Doctor)

A robot dog. I’ll say that again, in case you missed it: A. Robot. Dog.

4. Sarah Jane Smith (Third Doctor and Fourth Doctor)

  

What can be said about Sarah Jane that hasn’t been said by hundreds of other people before? Not much. She is, without question, the Doctor’s “best friend” and the best example we have of what happens to companions after their time with the Doctor comes to an end.

3. Amy Pond and Rory Williams (Eleventh Doctor)

The pirate and the centurion. The greatest married couple in all of time and space.

2. Romana (Fourth Doctor)

People keep saying that River Song is the Doctor’s equal. I guess…if by “equal” you mean “someone whose entire existence is tied to the Doctor and therefore isn’t really an individual.” As a fellow Time Lord, Romana was an equal to the Doctor.

1. Ace McShane (Seventh Doctor)

Not only is Ace afraid of clowns, but she makes her own explosives and knows how to handle an RPG launcher and a slingshot. If Ace were any more awesome, all of existence would unravel.

The Doctor Is In: A Countdown of the Eleven Incarnations of Everyone’s Favorite Renegade Time Lord

Everyone has a favorite incarnation of the Doctor. Some people have two or three. It’s only natural to gravitate towards the peculiar quirks of one or two of the eleven versions of the Doctor who have traveled through the time vortex for almost 50 years.

Personally, I like most of the Doctors for different reasons (the Sixth Doctor is just creepy, if you ask me). Where does each incarnation fall on the spectrum? Well, read on, gentle reader, and find out for yourself.

11. Sixth Doctor

Remember the first time you watched Willy Wonka and realized that, despite the garish wardrobe and frizzy blond ‘fro, Gene Wilder’s candy tsar was a certifiable sociopath? I give you the Sixth Doctor. He looks ridiculous, but he was the most arrogant, petulant, and egoistic incarnation of the Time Lord to date.

10. Eighth Doctor

I really have nothing against the Doctor’s Byronic eighth incarnation–except that bit about the grabassery in the TARDIS. THERE IS NO GRABASSERY IN THE TARDIS! The Eighth Doctor’s position at #10 has more to do with a lack of familiarity. (Side note: I really should check out the Eighth Doctor audio dramas.)

9. First Doctor

Frail yet tough. Cantankerous yet fatherly. Brilliant yet forgetful. Everything about the Doctor’s first incarnation screams “cranky wizard” and, as such, I consider him one of the least interesting Doctors.

8. Fourth Doctor

Prior to 2005, if you asked your average American about Doctor Who, odds are the scarf-wearing Fourth Doctor would have been what they thought of. He’s often considered the most “alien” of the Doctors and has a certain bohemian quality about him. At times, I find him unnecessarily standoffish and, I’m afraid, a little dull.

7. Fifth Doctor

The youngest of the Doctor’s classic incarnations, there was a reason the Fifth Doctor wore an Edwardian cricket uniform: he was youthful and energetic. The Doctor’s fifth incarnation was also compassionate, sensitive, and vulnerable. Perhaps as a result of his youthful appearance, the Fifth Doctor viewed his companions as equals, rather than as assistants.

6. Ninth Doctor

Guilt-ridden and alone, the Doctor’s ninth incarnation was devoid of most of the personality quirks of his previous selves: no gaudy colors or anachronistic outfits for the Ninth Doctor. He could be quick to anger, but also had a self-deprecating sense of humor. This incarnation was grittier and more down-to-earth, making him the perfect Doctor to reintroduce the series to a new generation.

5. Tenth Doctor

The Doctor’s tenth incarnation started as a welcome change from the broodier Ninth Doctor. The Tenth Doctor was witty and talkative, friendly and easy-going, at least until he went into an emo nosedive towards the end of his life. But, when the Tenth Doctor was fun, he was a blast.

4. Third Doctor

The Third Doctor was more physically active than his previous two incarnations, going so far as using martial arts to disarm his opponents. Exiled to Earth, this incarnation of the Doctor was a dapper man of action, not unlike John Steed of The Avengers. The Third Doctor loved gadgets and automobiles, and had a genuinely paternal attitude towards his companions.

3. Eleventh Doctor

The Doctor’s eleventh incarnation is twitchy and daft. While no less brilliant than his previous selves, the Eleventh Doctor could easily get distracted by a cool hat or a shiny doorknob. Like his earlier incarnations, the Doctor’s goofy demeanor hides a dark side and he’s not above deceit or manipulation. The Eleventh Doctor may appear to be the youngest Doctor yet, but at times he carries himself like someone three times his age.

2. Second Doctor

The Doctor’s second incarnation was a goofy little clown in baggy pants, a crooked bow tie, and a Moe Howard haircut. The Second Doctor was a clever manipulator who used his bumbling behavior to lull his adversaries into a false sense of security.  Also, unlike the First Doctor, whose main goal was escaping danger with his companions safely in tow, the Second Doctor was the first to decide to actively face evil: There are some corners of the universe which have bred the most terrible things. Things which act against everything we believe in. They must be fought.”

1. Seventh Doctor

Maybe it’s the Scottish burr. Or the fact that his hat and umbrella make him look like a carnival barker. Or maybe it’s that question mark jumper. Whatever the reason, the Doctor’s seventh incarnation is, no doubt, my favorite. The Seventh Doctor was affable, charming, and a tad bumbling, but he could also be a manipulative, deceitful chess master, willing to lie to his companions without a second thought for the greater good.

A Fistful of Credits; For a Few Credits More; The Good, the Bad and the Wookiee

So, this apparently happened. And, since this is the internet and something Star Wars related, you can already see virtual lines being drawn in the e-sand.

So far, the loudest voices I’ve heard are the “Boba Fett is lame” and “Oh, god, no more movies” voices. Both of these are valid opinions–that’s right, internet, they are just “opinions”–but, it might not be an inherently bad idea.

I’ll start by saying this: I am a fan of the Expanded Universe. I love the novels that came after Return of the Jedi. I know this angers certain people for some reason. I guess those people just hate when others enjoy things. Oh well.

Anyway, where was I? Oh, right…the EU (as the Expanded Universe is often known). I like it, and one of my favorite things in the EU are the series of anthologies that were published in the second half of the 1990s. The stories in these anthologies didn’t focus on Luke, Han, and Leia. While they were set during the events of the Galactic Civil War, most of these tales featured stories of regular folks just going about their day–as such they were similar to Babylon 5‘s “A View from the Gallery” and Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s “Lower Decks.” Okay, yes, there was Tales of the Bounty Hunters, which contained stories about each of the bounty hunters that Vader hired in Empire, but they’re still background characters, at best.

My point is this: the Star Wars universe is a big freakin’ place. There’s a whole galaxy of stories out there. A movie about Boba Fett bounty-hunting his way across the stars might not necessarily be a bad thing. It needn’t intersect with the characters or specific events of any of the existing movies. (I’ll admit that I’d love it if any movie about Boba Fett ignored the fact that his motivation is now he’s a whiny little daddy’s boy, but that’s just me.)

Final thought: Joe Johnston expressing an interest in making a Boba Fett movie isn’t a news item. I’m wary of even placing it on the level of rumor. I mean, the story I linked to above claims he’s quoted in “a recent interview.” What interview? Where? But, if it is something he wants to do, it doesn’t necessarily have to be bad.

Just sayin’.

A Dimension of Sound. A Dimension of Sight. A Dimension of Mind.

This past New Year’s Eve, as I do every year, I sat back and indulged in SyFy’s super-mega-marathon of The Twilight Zone. In 25+ years, I’m pretty sure that I’ve seen every episode of Rod Serling’s classic series at least once, and dozens of them too many times to count.

I think it’s safe to say that The Twilight Zone is a major part of American pop culture. People who have never seen a single episode are still familiar with basic plots–yes, mostly because of the Halloween episodes of The Simpsons…but, I think that still counts. And, for the most part, I’d argue that all of the episodes are more or less equally awesome.

However, while I was watching this most recent marathon, I realized that there are a handful of episodes that I must watch every year. I guess you could call them my favorites…but there really isn’t such a thing as a bad episode of The Twilight Zone. (Okay, I don’t really care for the ones that were broadcast live, but that’s mostly an aesthetic thing. Oh, and I could do without the ones with evil dolls or dummies because…creepy.)

5. People Are Alike All Over

“When a space exploration crashes on Mars, the surviving passenger is surprised to find that Martians are human-looking, very friendly and apparently just like us…”

4. Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?

“Troopers follow the tracks from a frozen pond, into a diner. Inside they find a soda jerk, a bus driver and his seven passengers. The bus driver is certain only six people boarded his bus…”

3. A Nice Place to Visit

“After being shot to death, Rocky Valentine encounters the amiable white-haired Mr. Pip, who gives Rocky everything he wishes for.”

2. The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street


“Paranoia strikes the residents of Maple Street when they believe human-looking aliens have invaded the neighborhood.”

1. The Howling Man

“A man on a walking trip of post-World War I Europe gets caught in a storm. He comes across a remote monastery with a mysterious prisoner.”