Thursday, November 10, 2011

Extraordinary Claims

Note: There are NO spoilers here. I don’t say anything about these movies that you don’t find out in the first few minutes.

I recently watched Happy Accidents (2000), starring Marisa Tomei and Vincent D’Onofrio. It was on instant play, so I took a chance, and was pleasantly surprised. Here’s the premise in a nutshell: She meets him in the park and likes him. They start to date. He seems like he’s hiding something, though, and he’s also strangely clueless about everyday things. When she confronts him, he “confesses” that he’s from the future—hundreds of years in the future—and that he’s come back through time to find her.

Because there’s an implication of time travel, this sometimes gets categorized as science fiction, which is how it got into my “recommended” list, but there are no time machines or fancy special effects. This is a romantic comedy-drama, mostly, but it’s also a movie of ideas.

The movie is well-acted, and is more subtle and profound than you might expect. Personally, watching Marisa Tomei for almost two hours is reason enough to see the movie, but that’s just me (actually, I think it’s a lot of people).

What I really want to tell you about, though, is the movie that this movie reminded me of. That movie—one of my favorites—also features a man making an extraordinary claim.

In The Man from Earth (2007), professor John Oldman has decided to leave his tenured position and move on. Some friends and colleagues come over to see him off and have a few drinks. They grill him about his reasons for leaving, and about what he plans to do next. After some hesitation, he poses a hypothetical question: "What if a man from the upper paleolithic survived until the present day? What would he be like?" Given that his colleagues are experts in various fields, they can actually take a stab at answering this question. Oldman suggests that he's researching for a science fiction novel, but he ends up claiming that he is, in fact, such a man.

Most of the “action” in this movie takes place in a living room. It’s a group conversation about hypothetical possibilities and consequences. Some of the characters treat Oldman's claim as an intellectual game; others are annoyed or upset by it. This movie has good actors, but no superstars, which is all the better. It says something when a movie can keep you riveted for an hour and a half with a continuous conversation.

If that doesn’t sound exciting to you, I suggest you try it. It’s on Netflix’s instant play, and if you’re not hooked in 10 minutes, then it’s not for you. If it is for you, though, you’ll be thinking about this one for days. I just checked to confirm that it’s still on instant play (it is); I started it, and I was totally hooked, again.

The Man from Earth
was written by Jerome Bixby, who wrote a ton of science fiction short stories and a few scripts for Star Trek and The Twilight Zone. One of the four Trek episodes he wrote was “Requiem for Methuselah.” Great title, isn’t it? In this episode, the Enterprise crew encounters a man who, they eventually discover, is six thousand years old, and who has been many well-known people during those years. Apparently Mr. Bixby, whose own time on earth ended in 1998, wanted to give this idea a more thorough treatment.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Light Recycle

I saw the preview for Tron Legacy. It looks neat, and gave me the slightest shiver of anticipation, but I've learned to squelch my hopes in these matters. In any case, it made me want to watch the original again, so I did.
I saw Tron in the theater when it was released, and I am still reeling a bit from realizing that that was 28 years ago. This movie is still fun to watch, and very pretty. Obviously, the animation will seem outdated at first, but once you give it a minute, you'll stop comparing and get into it. The computer animation, along with rotoscoping and other lighting and coloring techniques, all of which were cutting edge at the time, make for a movie that is still visually brilliant and absorbing. Ebert gave this movie four stars when it came out, mainly for the visual effects.
Tron is criticized for being light on plot and character development, and it is. But there's enough story and suspense to string together this eye candy necklace, and it's fun to see the young Jeff Bridges and Bruce Boxleitner in action. Also, there are ideas about deity incarnation and avatars in there - pretty cool!
Furthermore, now that it's 28 years old, the movie is also interesting as an artifact of the [then] young computer and video game culture.
Interesting lil' side note: According to Wiki, the Motion Picture Academy refused to nominate Tron for special effects because the creators "cheated" by using computers.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Qapla' petaQ!

I know, I know. That title is not a sentence you’d hear often in Klingon, as it seems a little contradictory. But According to IMDB, some Trek fans claim that the insult is derived from the name of Michael Pataki, the character actor who played a Klingon on the original Star Trek series. Specifically, he’s the guy named Korax who started the bar brawl in The Trouble with Tribbles by goading Scotty into throwing the first punch. In the scene, Scotty, as the ranking officer in the bar, urges other officers to remain calm as Korax roundly ridicules the Captain Kirk and the crew, but when the Klingon insults the Enterprise itself, Scotty stands up and slugs him. That was just going too far.

Pataki was a well-respected character actor who, during a long career, played parts on stage and in over 150 movies and TV shows. He died of cancer on April 15 at the age of 72.

Monday, April 26, 2010

'Tis a gift to be simple

We love post-apocalyptic scenarios. I think the reason is that we’re drowning in a sea of gadgets and information, and sometimes we’d just like it to all go away.

In an interview with Conan O’Brien last year, Louis CK jokes about how “Everything is amazing and nobody’s happy.” His routine, which went viral, is hilarious because we see the truth in it. Referring to the possibility of total economic collapse, he says, “…maybe we need that; maybe we need some time where we’re walking around with a donkey with pots clanging on the sides.”

I recently saw Book of Eli. It was a lot of fun, with some cool photography and symbolism to boot, and the setting reminded me a lot of the Mad Max movies. There are countless examples of books and movies taking place in a world that has been ravaged by war, disease, environmental collapse, or the total failure (or rebellion) of computers and electronics. In these stories, the unpleasantness is often glossed over – the crisis is just the vehicle to get us to a world that is familiar, but simpler than our own and full of adventure. After all, who wouldn’t like to camp in the desert with a nice fire, especially if your ancient iPod still works?

But really, I want modern medicine when I get sick, and I want a cell phone when my car breaks down. I want my kids to be safe and healthy, and technology can help, a lot. I geek out when I ask my phone (as in, with my actual voice) for a pizza place near my hotel, and it pulls up a map and a phone number. I love watching post-apocalyptic movies on my decidedly pre-apocalyptic high-def TV. Screw the good old days!

I think what really attracts me to fanciful settings is the combination of simple pleasures and adventure – and the lack of clutter and trivia. The cozy scene by the fire at the inn is as fun to read as the fight with the dragon. Even in most futuristic sci-fi, day-to-day life is often uncluttered. The folks aboard the Enterprise are not worried about answering email or finding their laptop cable. They are getting into scrapes on a wild planet or playing chess in the officer’s mess. They are laughing it up with friends in the ship’s lounge, not updating their Facebook status.

I find I need to make a conscious effort to occasionally unplug and sit by a fire, under the stars, with my cell phone turned off. Or at least set to vibrate. Then again, Google Sky Map could tell me what that constellation is…

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Long-lived and prosperous

This week are the birthdays of William Shatner (March 22) and Leonard Nimoy (March 26). Yes, Kirk and Spock were born within a week of each other in 1931, making them 79 this year. Wow. They both continue to work and create. They seem to have a lot of energy and show no signs of slowing down. Fascinating! These guys are a real inspiration.

This photo is all over the Internet, but I'm sure it's copyright Paramount.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Spock gestures

A few weeks before the newest "reboot" Star Trek movie was released, I watch the oldest one again. The original series pilot, The Cage, was made in 1964 but not shown on TV until 1986, though most of it was embedded in the regular season two-parter called The Menagerie. Early in the episode, Spock makes a hand gesture to change the image on the computer screen. I don't know of an earlier example of a gesture computer command on film, and he isn't even wear silly glovelets like Tom Cruise in Minority Report.
According to what I've read, this first pilot was rejected by studio executives because it was too erotic, Spock looked like the devil, and the first officer was a woman (played by Majel Barrett). I believe Barrett and Nimoy were the only actors in this first pilot to have regular parts in the series. Luckily, they were given the chance to make another pilot.
Whatever the case, The Cage still good sci-fi!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Aliens say God could exist

According to BBC News, Father Gabriel Funes, the official Vatican astronomer, declared in a recent article that alien life could exist in outer space, and that belief in extraterrestrial life did not contradict belief in God or the teachings of the church.

Catholic sci-fi fans the world over breathed a collective sigh of relief.

In response, Gok Grabbclrttttk of the Mu Arae star system and president of the Fomalhaut League of Intelligent Races, said that God could exist, and the belief in God did not violate any rules he knew of. “However,” he added, “It does seem kind of silly.”

Father Funes also said in his article that some aliens could be free from original sin. President Grabbclrttttk snorted at this statement, saying, “He’s not talking about any aliens I know.”