Posted by: jgurner | October 14, 2013

Feeling Gravity’s Pull

A couple of years ago, when I first heard about this movie Gravity by director Alfonso Cuaron, I wasn’t very excited. At the time, it was being described as a movie about astronaut Angelina Jolie trapped in space directed by the guy who who made the third Harry Potter movie so annoying and also made  that movie, Y Tu Mamma Tambien, I had to suffer through – without subtitles – for a college Spanish class.

Then, slowly, bit-by-bit, word about the movie began to change. I saw Children of Men, which while I didn’t think it was great, I gained a better appreciation of Cuaron. Angelina Jolie became Sandra Bullock, who I’m still not a big fan of, but she so much better than Jolie. And George Clooney came on-board and I’ve grown to like Clooney. Plus, the description of the movie began to sound more intriguing.

Then, last year, word began to leak out from people who had already seen parts of the movie. Stories began to emerge about the work being done behind the camera to make Gravity unlike any movie you’ve ever seen. Comparisons to Avatar were made – technologically and filmmaking wise – about the innovations behind the filming of the movie. People on-line whose opinions I respect, especially at Ain’t It Cool News, started frothing at the mouth about the movie. So my curiosity was piqued.

As the release date neared, more and more I was looking forward to the movie, but also fearful that after more than a year of hype, it might be a big let down.

Boy, was I wrong. If anything, the hype doesn’t even come close.

On paper, Gravity is a simple movie: Astronauts Ryan Stone and Matt Kowalski are stranded in Earth orbit after a disaster destroys their space shuttle. Their only hope of survival is finding some way to safely return to Earth. But while that succinctly sums up the plot, it doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of what the movie is about. It’s not a space movie, though it takes place in space. It’s not a science-fiction movie, though it’s set in a fictional world of science. It’s not an adventure movie, even though it’s pulse-pounding, edge of your seat excitement, to use a few cliches.

So, then, what is Gravity about? Well, if I tell you, it would spoil things a bit. Let’s just say it’s a very human movie.

I will say that it is one of the most beautiful, spectacular movies I’ve ever seen. It is the first and only movie I’ve even seen that makes me wish I could actually see it in 3D. (As those of you who know me are aware, I’m no fan of 3D movies in large part because I can really only see out of one eye. So, to me, 3D movies are red and blurry.) But even on a relatively small screen screen of the 2D showing at the localish cineplex, you became completely immersed in the world Cuaron created. From the beauty of the sun coming up over the terminator to the detail of the Earth’s surface, hundreds of miles below, the visuals will just blow you away.

As for Bullock and Clooney, well, let’s just say you have to be one hell of an actor to carry a movie completely on your shoulders. Though you hear a few other voices, they are the only ones on screen and through much of the movie, the story is shown, not told. Cuaron spends a lot of time telling the story through Sandra Bullock’s face. I read in an interview about the movie recently that Cuaron said most movies, you can close your eyes and still be able to “watch” the movie through dialog and sound. You can’t with Gravity. You have to watch. Watch every second. It’s like that Dr. Who episode with the weeping angels: Don’t even blink.

But do remember to breathe. I forgot a time or two.

Usually, when I watch a movie – even a big-screen spectacle – I go to the theater, watch it once, then wait for the Blu-ray. This summer, I watched Pacific Rum twice on the big screen, something I don’t often do. With Gravity, I can see myself going again and again, soaking it up on as big a screen as I can find because no matter how big my TV is and how high quality the Blu-ray is, it just won’t even come close.(I don’t expect the Pacific Rim Blu-ray to come close either, but it will still be tons of fun.)

I have a lot of hope for Gravity. I’d love to see it rack up a slew of major film awards – maybe even an Oscar in something besides special effects. But, most of all, I’m hoping it will show Hollywood that it is possible to make a big, spectacular, CG-filled science-fiction movie that, at its core, is completely human.

Posted by: jgurner | September 21, 2013

Ladies and Gentlemen… The Manhattan Transfer!

For weeks, I had been anxiously awaiting the performance by one of my long-time favorite groups The Manhattan Transfer. I’d seen them once before, 13 years ago at the same venue, and was looking forward to another unforgettable concert with them on stage belting out favorite highlights of their long career together.

But that’s not exactly what happened.

Instead, I and a few hundred of TMT’s closest friends spent a cozy, rain-soaked evening gathered around a piano (figuratively, not literally) as the quartet took a stroll down memory lane, reflecting on their 41 years together, telling stories, singing songs and showing off a few items they’ve collected over their many decades together. The show was one of TMT’s “Living Room” shows. Smaller and more intimate. No band, just Tim, Janis, Alan and Cheryl along with long-time TMT musical director and pianist Yaron Gershovsky.

As it turns out, the performance at the Performing Arts center in Bartlett, TN, was a return to the stage for TMT’s founder Tim Hauser, who has been recovering from back surgery. He, and the others, were in fine form, not only vocally, but also in telling a few of the tales from their long, storied career. At one point, Hauser harkened back to his days as a cab drive in New York City and a chance meeting with Freddie Green, guitarist for the Count Basie Orchestra that was the genesis for the TMT’s recording of Green’s tune “Corner Pocket.”

The night was filled with similar anecdotes about different tunes, their early years and various phases the group went through musically. One one side of the stage, they had a clothes rack containing some of the costumes they’ve worn over the years and every once in a while they’d drag a piece out and tell a story. Alan Paul even donned his leather jacket when they did a couple of do-wop numbers. They had some of the albums they put out in their early years and even had their first Gold-selling record. At another point, while Janis Siegel and Cheryl Bentyne did some vocal calisthenics on the tune “Why Not (Manhattan Carnival), Tim Hauser slipped off the side of the stage and came out a few minutes later as  “Eldorado Caddy,” replete with coat and hat, to perform “Killer Joe.”

This wasn’t a “greatest hits” performance, but more of a retrospective that included tunes dusted off from early in their pre-record contract career, but a number of signature tunes like “Birdland,”  “Tuxedo Junction” and “Route 66″ were included along with cuts that might not be as familiar, except to diehard fans, like “Clouds” and “Chanson D’Amour.” It was a very eclectic mix and the feel of the whole show almost stream of conscious with the group just reaching into a bag of memories and tunes and pulling them our at random. At one point early in the show Bentyne talked about their harmonies and how they put together their arrangements and, as a demonstration, they deconstructed a tune, with each of them adding their layer one at a time.

And as amazing as Time, Janis, Paul and Cheryl were, you have to really give major props to Gershovsky. He didn’t say a word the entire evening, but spoke volumes through his fingers on the keys of the piano. He shone on every tune, but really let it rip when about halfway through the show, the others left the stage and he went on a tear up and down the ivories on a medley that eventually morphed into the opening strains of “Birdland.” A setting like this really let this man who has been a behind the scenes player for so much of TMT’s career shine.

One of the things that made this performance so special was it really did seem like it was a group of long-time friends and colleagues who got together just to shoot the breeze and talk about their time together. They not only laughed and joked with the audience, but with each other, often clowning around on stage not for the our entertainment, but for theirs. It was a more personal and less “polished” (in a good way) show than I expected. Not that their vocals were anything other than amazing, but at one point when they were performing one of the tunes from their early days, Janis kept on going after the rest had stopped, just for a couple of beats, and all of them on stage just burst out into good-natured laughter. It’s weird, but it’s almost reassuring to see an artist you’ve admired for lo long make a little slip-up like that. It does more than anything to make them more “real.”

It’s been a long time since I’ve enjoyed a performance as much as I enjoyed this one. When we were leaving, I said I was a little disappointed because I thought the show couldn’t have lasted more than 20-30 minutes, while in reality, almost an hour and forty-five minutes had gone by since they first came out onto the stage. And, sure, if they had done a straight-forward show, they could have packed in another half a dozen or so tunes in, maybe some of my favorites that didn’t get performed, but that wouldn’t have been nearly as much fun.

I hope to get to see them perform again at some point, but if I don’t it’s fine. It can’t get much better than it was last night.

Posted by: jgurner | September 16, 2013

This Post Is Going To Be Boring

Did you realize that being bored is the worst thing in the world?

Let me set the situation up for you:

“I’m bored,” the young ‘un says on a long, lazy summer afternoon.

“Find something to do,” I reply.

The young ‘un tromps around the house for 10 or 15 minutes and then repeats “I’m bored. There’s nothing to do.”

I look around the living room. There’s a TV with a Blu-ray player hooked up to it and stacks of movies and TV shows on the shelf behind it. There’s a Wii hooked up to the TV. There are two computers. There are hundreds of books on the bookshelves lining the living room walls. In the young ‘uns’ room there’s another TV and DVD player, a Playstation, more movies, more books. There are board games, handheld video games, card games. And that’s not even mentioning the five acres of land in this place called “outside” that’s just aching to be explored.

I try to explain this, but it’s going nowhere.

“There’s just nothing to do,” comes the complaint again.

I make the suggestion that, if that is the case, then there are dishes that need to be washed, clothes that need to be washed and put away, grass that needs to be cut, etc. Any of these would be a fine solution to the current level of listlessness.

Again, this goes nowhere and the young ‘un continues plodding around the house announcing her boredom. I go back to whatever it is I’m doing. Something boring I’m sure.

Being bored, I have come to find out, is one of the most terrible, horrible things that can happen to you. Failing a test. No big deal. Getting in trouble at school. Nothing. Losing an eye in an icepick fight. A mere shadow to the horrors that come with a slow afternoon, when none of your friends are calling or texting and there is “nothing to do.”

Sadly, I’ve been unaware of the awfulness of boredom for more than four decades. I was well aware of boredom, but just didn’t realize all of the traumatic effects it must have had on me. (Okay, I’m well aware of the trauma that has come from actions taken to alleviate my boredom at times, but that’s a different story.)

Rather, in an obviously misguided effort, I’ve tried to tell the young ‘un that being bored is really not such a bad thing and that it’s actually good to be bored sometimes. Boy, was I wrong, because it really is the absolutely worst thing ever.

It’s sad, when I think back to my childhood to know that all the adventures I had that stemmed from a boring summer afternoon, all the woods I romped through, all the “forts” I built, all the wanderings around on bike or on foot, were the result of the most evil of human conditions. I hate to realize that all the great books I read on long, boring winter nights, all of the records I listened too and all of the practicing I did on my French horn were all tainted with the foulness of boredom.

And, really, I guess, we must have had a lot of it. I mean growing up I was so underprivileged. Only one TV and it only got about half a dozen channels, two of witch were, *gasp*, educational TV. No video games. No computer until I was a senior in high school, but even then, Al Gore had yet to invent the Internets, so what’s the use. No cell phone. Only one house phone. A few board games, sure and, of course, hundreds of books lining the walls.

Now that I think about it, how did I survive?

And now, I hear others talking about their young  ‘uns having to struggle with the same horrible bouts of boredom. At least I’m not alone. Apparently, it’s epidemic. Children everywhere are being stricken by this most malevolent malady and parents are having to work harder and harder to stave off this crippling affliction.

But I fear that, ultimately, there’s nothing to be done. Sooner or later there’s going to come a Sunday afternoon where the young ‘un will once again feel blasé about the world around her and there will be nothing left to dissipate  the feeling. There will be no stimuli adequate to help pull her from the ravages of her ennui. All will be lost. There will be nothing but darkness.

And all I will be able to do on that day is weep. Weep for her and for all of those young people everywhere who have had to experience the true vileness that is boredom.

Posted by: jgurner | August 6, 2013

AntMusic is alive and well

A couple of months ago when I saw Adam Ant was going to be playing in Nashville, I decided I wanted to go. Very badly, as a matter of fact.

But, as the concert approached, I began to worry a bit. Earlier this year I picked up Adam’s new album – Adam Ant Is The Blueblack Hussar in Marrying The Gunner’s Daughter – and was a bit disappointed. More for the quality of the actual recordings than for the quality of the actual songs. I began to wonder if this might be one of those sad concert tours of an aging artist well past his prime.

Holy shit, was I wrong.

While Adam is a good 30 years past his Prince Charming days, he is definitely not beyond putting on an impressive show. First, you have a stripped down sound – guitar, with Adam adding a second guitar on occasion; bass; and, of course, dual drummers. The 1812 Overture piped over the PA set the stage for a energetic, bombastic, raw, guitar driven opening with Marrying The Gunner’s Daughter from the new album. He then went on a tear, ripping through several tunes from the early days of Dirk Wears White Socks. In fact, over the course of the two hours, he managed to get in eight tracks from Dirk, as well as greats like Dog Eat Dog, Antmusic, Ants Invasion, from Kings of the Wild Frontier.

Each album got at least some love with the Adam and the Ants albums and, oddly enough tunes from B-Side Babies and AntBox getting a nice showing – Young Parisians, Steve McQueen, Fall-In that I remember. Sprinkled in the long set of classic tunes were the highlights from the latest album – Vince Taylor, Cool Zombies and a few others I didn’t recognize. I have only listened to it a few times so I’m not very familiar with the tracks.

Of course, all the popular favorites were in there – Goody Two Shoes, Strip, Wonderful, Viva Le Rock, Room At The Top and, one of my favorites – Desperate, But Not Serious.

The Cannery Ballroom in Nashville was a great venue for the show, even if it meant a bunch of folks in their 40s and early 50s, with a generous helping of 20-something hipsters mixed in, had to stand for three plus hours. But, the kind of “right in your face” setup was perfect for the energy Adam had on the stage. Plus, I think having a crew of younger musicians backing must have reinvigorated him as we’ll. Of course I hate that his longtime collaborator Marco is no longer with him, but the new group is more than adequate.

I need to take just a minute to mention the opening band – Prima Donna. They were good. Very energetic and loud. Overall, the sound for both performances was a little much for the venue, making especially Prima Donna’s sound a bit muddy, but it wasn’t terrible. Prima Donna had a 70s, guitar rock inspired sound, not overly original – in fact, every one of their originals sounded like a cover – butt they did it really well. The highlight, though, was when former Dead Boys guitarist Cheetah Chrome came on stage and joined them for a Dead Boys cover.

Back to Adam, he closed the regular set with Prince Charming, then returned for an encore that included Young Parisians, Fall In and a cover of Bang A Gong. He closed with a very cool version of (You’re So) Physical.

The raw, guitar driven sound and energy, along with the classic late 70s – early 80s punk inspired sound, might have made you think a little slam dancing might have been in order – except for the possible hip issues, rheumatism and arthritis issues of much of the crowd. But 30-something years ago? Definitely.

I may have missed Adam Ant in his heyday back ink the early 80s, but I have to say, I can’t imagine that I would have enjoyed his performance back then any more than I enjoyed this. Age has sculpted him into a greater presence on the stage and time and some new musical blood has breathed new life into tunes you’ve heard a thousand times.

Hopefully this tour and the new album are a new beginning for Adam. It’d be great to see what might be coming down the road.

Posted by: jgurner | July 29, 2013

Why Krull is the Greatest Sci-fi Movie Ever!

Krull; UK/USA, 1983; Starring – Ken Marshall, Lysette Anthony, Freddie Jones, Alun Armstrong, David Battley.

Okay. I know what you’re thinking: Krull isn’t a sci-fi movie. It’s a fantasy. There’s magic and swords and a cyclops that isn’t Leela from Futurama and kings and princesses and all the stuff you find in fantasy movies with just a little hint of sci-fi thrown in.

Well, you’re wrong. And I’m about to tell you why.

First, here’s what you need to know about Krull. It didn’t start life as a late-night cable movie you watch when you come home drunk at 2 a.m. It was a massive undertaking for a film at the time. The sets covered 10 sound stages at Pinewood Studios in London. The soundtrack was recorded by the London Symphony Orchestra and the budget is estimated somewhere between $27-50 million in 1983 dollars. In comparison, another, small, not so well known sci-fi movie called Return of the Jedi cost a mere $32.5 million. Chump change in today’s sci-fi movie budget standards, but huge back then.

The story centers around Colwin (Ken Marshall, who is probably best known to anyone reading this as Commander Eddington from DS9) and Lyssa (Lyssette Armstrong, who you probably don’t know from anything unless you’ve watched British television for the past 30 years. And BBC America doesn’t count), a young prince and princess, respectively, who are getting married to unite their feuding kingdoms against the scourge of a powerful enemy known as the Slayers (not the Buffy kind or the metal band kind.) Just as they are performing the marriage ceremony, and isn’t it always just as the wedding takes place, the Slayers attack, killing off everyone except… You guessed it, Lyssa, whom they cart of to the Black Fortress, and Colwin, who manages to survive the same laser blasts that kills everyone else. And, this, the quest begins. Along the way he is joined by not one, but two Obi Wan Kenobi types, Mr. Turkentine from the original Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, a band of criminals that include Hagrid and Liam Neeson – who is nowhere near as badass as he is in Taken – and, of course, a kid. Because you always want to take a kid along on a mission that means certain death. They quest. They fight. Colwin gets what is arguably one of the coolest sic-fi/fantasy weapons ever – the Glave. They face giant glass spiders and, finally, the Beast, who sounds a lot like the Borg.

Now, we come to the part where I prove to you that Krull is not a fantasy movie with a few sci-fi elements thrown in, but a full-blown sci-fi movie, with a few fantasy elements thrown in.

1. It’s on another planet.

That’s actually talked about quite a bit. And in such a way that you are led to believe they know about other planets with other people on them. In fact, the opening and closing narration, it says: “A girl of ancient name shall become queen. And she shall choose a king. Together they will rule the world. And their son will rule the galaxy.” That not only gives away the fact that both Colwin and Lyssa live through the movie, but it also says there is a known galaxy to be ruled.

2. The Black Fortress is a space ship.

I mean, c’mon. In the opening scenes, you see it come into orbit around the planet and land. It might look like a mountain, but it’s a space ship – a spaceship that has to descend through the atmosphere and land, but then apparently can teleport anywhere it wants to on the planet. And one that the inside looks kind of like what you might get if Salvador Dali designed the inside of the Tardis while dropping acid.

3. The Slayers are slugs in robot bodies.

Simple enough. When you see a Slayer die, you often see a slug crawl out of its head and burrow into the ground. The robot bodies are apparently supposed to be armor as well as a device which make it easier for the slugs to both get around and to be a bit more imposing that, say, a slug, but, judging from just how easy it is to kill a space slug wearing robot armor, the suits must be made by the same people who make the armor for the storm troopers in Star Wars.

4. The Slayers use lasers.

Did you hear the one about the guy who brought a sword to a laser gun fight? Yup. It’s swords and magic against lasers and space armor. Guess which one wins.

Okay, I hear you saying, you’re convinced it is at least more of a sci-if movie an a fantasy. But the best sci-if movie ever? Prove it.

Here I go.

What’s one thing that can make a sci-if movie great? Epic scale. Krull is epic. It’s a planet-wide adventure with galactic consequences in the vein of Dune. And we know there is more to come, we just don’t see it because our two hours are up and, for some reason, no one ever made a sequel. It was also an epic production, which I mentioned above. And we have definitely learned in the 30 or so years since Krull that elaborate sets, costumes and a big budget mean it must be good.

And speaking of Dune, Freddie Jones, who played Ynyr and Francis Annis, who was the Widow of the Web, played Thufr Hawat and Lady Jessica, respectively in the classic 1984 David Lynch movie.

What else is sci-fi gold? Star Trek.

As I mentioned before, young Colwin is played by Ken Marshall back in the days when he had hair. When he didn’t have hair anymore, he played one of the most memorable antagonists on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Colwin isn’t as complex or intriguing as Commander Michael Eddington, but you have to admit, if Eddington had gone up against the Federation armed with the Glave and with Hagrid and the man who played both Aslan, Zeus and Rob Roy at his side, things might have turned out different for Benjamin Sisko.

The second Star Trek connection is a biggie – James Horner and the score for Krull. While watching Krull and hearing the huge, dynamic score, you may think it sounds somewhat familiar. Well, it should. In fact, it sounds like someone ripped off the score for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, which was composed by James Horner. And someone did. That someone was James Horner. He took to heart the old musical adage: good composers borrow, great composers steal. And he stole his own work on TWOK for Krull. Not note for note, but pretty damn close.

What else is a tried and true sci-fi trope? Parallel universes, alternate realities, alternate timelines, pan-dimensional causality, and so on. So, with what we’ve seen so far, you can now use the Six Degrees of Star Trek reasoning to place Krull in a convoluted, alternate timeline connection with both Dune and Star Trek. (And, if you want to push it, Star Wars via The London Sybmphony Orchestra.)

And, if you really want to go the full distance and firmly establish that science fiction-fantasy crossover, you can think of Rhun, played by a young and not quite so massive appearing Robbie Coltrane, as either a temporal precursor or temporal shadow (depending on when the actions that take place in Krull are actually set) of an alternate reality that includes the half giant/half human Rubeus Hagrid.

So. I think I’ve laid out a pretty convincing case for my claim that Krull is, in fact, the greatest sci-fi movie ever. If you’re not completely sold, take some time out of your obviously busy schedule and sit down and watch Krull through paradigm shifted eyes. Then you will see just how right I am.

 

Posted by: jgurner | July 8, 2013

Reassessing a Fundamental, Long-Held Belief

During our lives, we form opinions, embrace belief systems and look for those things to hold onto that we feel are truths, or are at least truths as we see them and that fit into our ever-evolving worldview.

Sometimes, these things are handed to us and we never take the time to really question them. Sometimes, we question a particular belief – study it, examine our feelings about it and its impact on us – and we find sometimes it might strengthen our belief, but it also may cause us to alter or even abandoned something we have always held to be true.

I constantly re-examine those things that I hold to be true. Not just to question whether or not I still hold such a belief, but to also learn more about what that belief is and who I am. I constantly learn from these examinations. I believe they make me a better person, more at ease with myself and better educated.

However, sometimes, I find somethings I’m not as willing to examine as closely. Truths I’ve grasped on to and am loathe to examine because I might find they were not as “true” as I had once convinced myself.

I came to one of those truths in college. College for most is a time for exploration and change. A time to examine who you are, who you were and who you will become.

While in college, I embraced a belief that I now fully acknowledge was wrong. A belief that was so fundamental and so contrary to most of those around me, my friends, my co-workers – even some of those I loved – that it in some way isolated me. Over the years I believe this belief has built somewhat of a wall between myself and some others. It’s something that comes up in conversations with friends sometimes, but mostly it’s the elephant in the room no one wants to talk about.

Since I made this decision, in my early 20s, I have stuck by it. I have argued my belief unendingly since, but, always, in the back of my mind, I knew I was wrong, but I was to proud, or too stubborn to admit it. As I have grown, both in age and, hopefully, wisdom, I have finally come to the point where I can admit I was wrong.

Star Trek V is not a good movie. I hereby renounce the review I wrote about it and admit I was wrong. Though it has a few and far-between positives, it is fundamentally flawed to the point – story, script, acting, effects – that nothing can redeem it.

Whew!

There. I said it. I feel much better about myself. I feel as if a weight has been lifted from my shoulders.

Posted by: jgurner | May 18, 2013

Star Trek Into Disappointment

Star Trek Into Darkness

Starring: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Simon Pegg, Zoey Saldana, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Bruce Greenwood, Peter Weller and Benedict Cumberbatch.

Director: J.J. Abrams

“Written” by: Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Damon Lindelof

WARNING: I’m going to spoil the fuck out of the movie, so don’t read any further if you don’t want to know what happens.

When I was about 10 years old or so, what I wanted more than anything was a Micronauts Battle Cruiser.

This was it. The end-all, be-all of toys. It was the Holy Grail. It was my official Red Ryder Carbine-Action 200-Shot Air Rifle. It was the only thing I wanted that Christmas. I waited for weeks in anticipation, knowing I would wake up Christmas morning and it would be sitting there under the tree.

However, when I woke up Christmas morning, I did not get a Micronauts Battle Cruiser. I got a Bible.

I already had a Bible, but this was a new Bible, aimed at a new generation. It told the same stories, but in different way, hoping to make them more palatable for a new generation that had previously only heard the stories told the way their parents and grandparents had heard them

Well, yesterday, May 17, was Christmas morning and when I walked into the theater to see StarTrek Into Darkness, I just knew there was going to be a Battle Cruiser under the tree. But guess what…

This was a movie that I could have easily enjoyed. In fact, for the first third of the movie, I was enjoying it. The roller coaster of the opening scenes and the conflict it set up between Kirk and Spock over Kirk’s violation of the Prime Directive to save Spock’s life. The dressing down by Admiral Pike of Kirk and his demotion from Captain of the Enterprise and Pike’s moves to give Kirk a second chance. The scene in the bar between Kirk and Pike before all hell breaks loose is a great scene between the two. It hammers home Kirk’s relationship with the father he never had.

The terrorist attack on a Starfleet facility in London is great. The brief introduction of Cumberbatch’s character is done really well. Who is he? I mean, you already know, even though you’re really hoping against hope you don’t know and that Abrams has fooled you. Everything up to this point has been setting up something that looks like it’s going to be great. The pieces are all there.

Them, things slowly start to unravel. Pretty much from the moment Christopher Pike is killed in the attack on Starfleet Headquarters, it’s like  the writers ran out of steam and just started patching together parts from previous movies and episodes from various incarnations of Trek. There’s the plot from the DS9 two-parter Homefront and Paradise Lost that makes up a big chunk of the last two-thirds of the movie. There’s Section 31 from DS9 and Enterprise. There’s a some Nemesis thrown in – Enterprise vs. monster ship, flying through space to get to the monster ship, a death that has no meaning because it’s immediately undone. There’s Peter Weller playing a rogue StarFleet Admiral – can we say Admiral Dougherty from Insurrection and Admiral Leyton from DS9? And, of course Space Seed from TOS and Wrath of Khan.

But, even with a lot of the flaws that started stacking up after the first 30 minutes or so, I was still good with it. The actors were doing a great job of taking the characters and making them their own. Simon Pegg and Karl Urban as Scotty and McCoy in particular. Pegg definitely plays up the humor in Scotty’s character, but not to the point of buffoonery (or hitting his head on a pipe and knocking himself out by accident). Everyone focuses on how Quinto almost channels Leonard Nimoy in his portrayal os Spock, but they kind of pass over just how well Karl Urban has done with McCoy. He’s got the barbs and the one-liners down, but Urban really has the soul that the late DeForrest Kelley brought to the role. McCoy is a complex, damaged character and Urban really brings that across.

And while were talking actors, let’s touch on a couple more before we get to you-know-who. Bruce Greenwood. If there was anyone from the first Star Trek who really outdid himself, it was Bruce Greenwood as Christopher Pike. In those first few scenes with Chris Pine, he cemented himself in the role. He does the same in Into Darkness. That’s why I’m so pissed they killed him off. I get why they did it, but, considering how the movie went after his death, it was kind of a meaningless sacrifice. Then there’s Peter Weller. He actually takes a way overly cliched role with no real depth and does the best he can with it. He’s great. His part sucks.

Now. On to Cumberbatch. He’s awesome. Read what everyone else says about him. They say it much better than I could. The only thing I’ve ever seen him in was a docudrama on Steven Hawking that was on the Science Channel about 10 years ago and he played Hawking.

As for what the writers did with his character, I love parts of it and I hate parts of it. Khan was THE villain from the good old days. He only showed up twice – once in the series and once in the movie – but in those two appearances he made an impression and he changed the lives of those he encountered forever. Ricardo Montalban played Khan as the classic villain. He was dynamic, bigger than life. Cumberbatch’s Khan is a different animal. Unlike Khan of old, he’s not in control, so instead of being Montalban’s Khan, he’s more crafty. A little more Hannibal Lecter. It’s frustrating, because like so much else in this movie, they almost got it right, but ultimately fucked it up leaving the actor to try and save the day. As a result, despite Cumberbatch’s best efforts, Khan is really just another bad guy. He’s not really that different from Nero from the first movie. A little less generic, but only because of the relationship the audience has with the character and the efforts of the actor. Oh, and apparently, part of Khan’s genetic augmentation is that he was made to look completely European and nothing like someone named Khan Noonian Singh from the 1990s would look. At least Ricardo Montalban looked “foreign.” At least to American eyes. You know us. Hispanic, Asian, Indian – they all look alike so you can get anyone who isn’t white and European to play the part.

Okay, back to the movie. Admiral Marcus, blah, blah, blah. Klingon home world, blah, blah, blah. We’re going to kill the bad guy, no wait, we’re not supposed to do that kind of thing, blah, blah, blah. Lot’s of things that don’t make any sense. blah, blah, blah. The real plot behind everything that’s happened so far, blah, blah, blah. The capture and revelation of Khan’s identity, blah, blah, blah. That’s about as much attention as the middle third of the movie deserves. There are three great character moments – Scotty’s confrontation with Kirk that leads to his resignation, Checkov’s reaction to being named chief engineer and Scotty talking to Kirk on his communicator in the bar.

Then, big ship. Threats. Fire phasers. Run. Crippled ship. Scotty sabotage. Kirk and Khan flying through space. Khan’s oh so shocking betrayal.

Even up to this point, I could have come out of this movie and been fine with it. Not what I’d hoped for. Not a Micronauts Battle Cruiser. Maybe just a Mobile Exploration Lab or Hydrocopter and yet another Time Traveler figure instead of Acroyear. (Okay, if you don’t know anything about Micronauts, you should still be able to get the gist of what I’m saying.) It could have ended with a pitched space battle between Khan’s commandeered big-ass ship and the Enterprise with some contrived reason to get Kirk and Khan together to duke it out with Kirk ultimately winning. Fade to epilogue and the crew of the Enterprise starting on their Five Year Mission. I would have been fine. Slightly disappointed, but I’d probably still be going back today for a second viewing and anxiously awaiting the Blu-ray release.

But no.

On the Daily Show last week, J.J. Abrams said until he started working on Star Trek, he actually grew up hating the show. He tried to watch it. His friends loved it, but he preferred Star Wars over the deeper, more philosophical Star Trek. Well, that really comes through in this movie, because Abrams, Orci, Kurtzman and Lindelof apparently decided to end the movie not with a bang, but with a flaming bag of dog shit placed right on the theater screen. And, the sad part is, you actually have to sit there in the theater and watch the whole process as it unfolds on the screen: the dog hunkers down, Abrams and company pickup the dog shit and put it in the bag, they put it on the screen and then set it on fire. And you, as the audience, have to stomp it out even though you know exactly what’s going to happen.

And, to add further insult , all of it – Kirk’s “sacrifice,” the shallow aping of the greatest moment in Star Trek history with the death of Spock on TWOK – it’s pointless. It’s not needed. It’s like tits on an Andorian boar megahog. It’s useless.

And STILL, if that had been it, I could have still walked out of the theater and been all like “Oh well. It wasn’t that good, but it was okay.”

However, in the immortal words of Steve Martin: “But noooooo.”

And, speaking of “nooooo,” remember when Darth Vader screamed it in both the end of Revenge of the Sith and it was added into the final confrontation between Vader and the Emperor in Return of the Jedi? Remember how lame that was? And remember how great it was when Kirk was trapped inside the Genesis moon after Khan leaves him stranded? Here. Watch it again.

When Spock yells “Khan” after Kirk dies, together with the resurrection of Kirk, using Khan’s blood, that has been telegraphed for the previous twenty minutes, were the straws that broke the camel’s back. If fact, when I realized what I suspected was going to happen was going to happen, I uttered a very audible, disgusted “Oh fuck!” I never would have dreamed of walking out of a Trek movie. The mere thought hadn’t even begun to speculated about the merest possibility of crossing my mind. Not with The Final Frontier. Not even Nemesis. But I actually considered it and, if it had just been me, I might have.

I’m not even going to mention Leonard Nimoy’s brief appearance as Spock Prime. He deserves much better.

They could have cut out five minutes. Just five minutes and I would have been okay with the movie. Definitely not a Micronauts Battle Cruise. Not even Micronauts. More like a random selection of Metal Men action figures bought at the drug store.

Maybe they thought they were making a clever homage to TWOK as a special treat for the Trekkies. Or, maybe J.J. really still hates Star Trek and this was a middle finger to the fans. I really doubt both ideas, but I don’t have a clue what they were thinking. Did they really watch this in the months of putting it together and think it was good? They had four years for fuck’s sake. They couldn’t have done better than this?

And, before you say anything, yeah. I watch this and the first movie well aware that this isn’t “real” Star Trek. Alternate timeline, blah, blah, blah. It might be alternate, but that doesn’t mean it has to be alternate to good story writing. Let’s talk plot holes. Khan can beam to Q’onos, but Kirk has to go by Starship. To revive Kirk, they need Khan’s blood, because he’s genetically engineered and his blood can work miracles, but they have 70-something identically genetically engineered augments on the ship, including one they’ve already taken out of stasis. Or why Admiral Marcus was using Khan’s flight to Q’onos as a trigger to go to war with the Klingons, a war that was being planned before he even knew what Khan was up to. Or why he would need to send Kirk to Q’onos in the first place to start a war when he could have just taken his big-ass ship and done it himself. If you watch Trek, you have to learn to ignore plot hole (the transporter doesn’t work and those crewmen are stranded on the planet and will die. Shuttlecraft? Never heard of such a thing.) But when they plot gets too swiss cheesy, it makes it much harder.

Then, there’s the things only Trek nerds like myself have a problem with. In the first movie, I was able to forgive little things like the fact that apparently you can get anywhere in the galaxy in five minutes at warp, that the bridge looks like an Apple Store and the Engine Room looks like a brewery, or that the Enterprise was built on Earth in Iowa instead of in orbit at the San Francisco Navy Yards. Into Darkness carries those things ever further. Not only does the bridge still look like an Apple Store and the Engine Room still look like a brewery, the rest of the ship looks like a Galleria. The Enterprise isn’t designed to operate within an atmosphere and it certainly isn’t designed to sit at the bottom of an ocean. Oh, but this is an entirely different Enterprise, you say. They’ve changed the design because it’s an alternate timeline. So? It doesn’t matter. Does it even look like a ship that can land on a planet?

Oh, you might have noticed I haven’t mention Carol Marcus. I didn’t because there’s no reason to mention her character any more than there is reason to mention the inertial dampeners or the Heisenberg Compensators. She is completely irrelevant to the movie. Take her out completely and you don’t change anything.  You don’t make it any better. You don’t make it any worse. As far as I can tell she’s there because there was no reason for Uhura to strip down to her space bra and panties and there were no green girls.

In the end, it was just all too much. You know the rules when it comes to Trek: 347 strikes and you’re out.

I know I had my expectations too high, but why shouldn’t I have? It had everything it needed to work: a great cast, a great director, great writers, wonderful setups for telling a great story. The box was certainly the right shape to be a Micronauts Battle Cruiser and the first movie had really exceeded my expectations.

With the original series movies, initially, there was no bar, then there was Wrath of Khan. and suddenly, there’s a bar which was never reached again. The Undiscovered Country was close, but still fell short. And the Next Gen movies? They were all pretty much disappointing, even First Contact. I actually hated it too when I walked out of the theater. I’ve warmed to it since once my expectations for TNG movies were appropriately adjusted. What can I say other than Rick Berman.

I don’t see myself really revising my opinion of Into Darkness in the future, however. It’s got fatal flaws that not even the blood of Khan can cure. However, in spite of my disgust, I hope it does really, really well and there is a Star Trek III. If there is, then I hope whoever takes over, now that Abrams has left for Star Wars, can pick up the pieces and tell a good story. And the pieces are still there to do that. There’s still a great cast and the alternate universe is set up to tell some great, different stories. Even if they decide to jump off from a TOS story line. (Klingon war and Organians anyone? That could be awesome. Hell, even Spock’s Brain. At least that’s something they couldn’t make worse.) I still have faith in Orci, Kurtzman and Lindelof as writers. And maybe Abrams being out of the picture as someone who actually shapes the next movie will help.

No matter what, in two years (if rumors are to be believed) or how ever long it takes, one thing will be different. I won’t be expecting anything close to a Micronauts Battle Cruiser. My hope will be simply that I don’t get another Bible.

Now, if like me, you feel pretty down after seeing the movie, just watch this. It has nothing to do with Trek, but it’ll make you feel better.

Posted by: jgurner | May 9, 2013

Why Starcrash is the Greatest Sci-fi Movie Ever!

Starcrash (aka The Adventures of Stella Star, Female Space Invaders); Italy, 1978; Starring: Caroline Munro, Marjoe Gortner, Christopher Plummer and David Hasselhof.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: The greatest sci-fi movie ever has got to be 2001: A Space Odyssey or Star Wars or The Matrix, Bladerunner, Avatar, The Day the Earth Stood Still (original) or pretty much anything else besides Starcrash.

Well, you’re wrong. And I’m about to tell you why.

First, a little background. Starcrash was written and filmed by some Italian guy just minutes after he heard about a movie called Star Wars that was raking in the big bucks and he seriously wanted a piece of the action. So, he “wrote” this rollicking space adventure that will be enjoyed by audiences for years to come.  It debuted in West Germany in 1978 and then swept the world in 1979, showing in close to 10 other countries, including the U.S. where it was presented by a man who knows cinematic quality when he sees it – Roger Corman. It features Caroline Munro as Stella Star, a smuggler who is drawn into a conflict between the Emperor of the galaxy and the evil Count Zarth Arn, who is scheming to do some really evil Count kind of stuff.

BTW, if you haven’t seen Starcrash, you should watch it before you go any further. Here it is. I’ll wait…

Done? See. Wasn’t I right? Greatest sci-fi movie ever, right?

True, the movie has a rambling plot that at times doesn’t make much sense, bad acting, ridiculous dialog, questionable special effects, and appears to have a budget not too far ahead of the average Doctor Who episode of the same time period, but if you ignore all of that and concentrate on the essence of what makes Starcrash “Starcrash,” you will see its hidden greatness.

Let me just point out a few things you may have missed that really make this the greatest sci-fi movie ever:

1. Caroline Munro in a space bikini.

Sure, at first a space bikini might not seem like the best idea, especially under a transparent space suit, but it really is practical. Think about it. No cumbersome sleeves or pants legs to get caught in giant robot Amazon parts. You keep cool when you’re in prison and forced to carry giant beach balls and drop them down a tube. Plus, it makes your robot sidekick horny. Also, 1970s Caroline Munro was pretty hot. I mean, if it worked for Jane Fonda in Barbarella, why not?

2. Effects so special, they used ‘em twice.

On the surface, the effects look cheap. The models look like models and space looks like it’s full of Christmas tree lights, but obviously the FX people who worked on this movie did a really good job because the effects were so good, they were used for a whole other movie – 1981′s Escape From Galaxy 3 (another classic, but just not quite up to Starcrash’s level). Apparently, Starcrash effects director Armando Valcauda thought he did such a great job, especially with the spaceships, that he’d simply use them again for this kinda, sorta, but not really a sequel to Starcrash. Not the models mind you – the actual FX shots from the movie. That’s the mark of quality. Just like in the original Battlestar Galactica where they used the same battle scenes in almost every episode, over and over and over and over…

3. Mork with a lightsaber.

Not really, but close. Marjoe Gortner (former evangelist turned actor whose first name is a combination of Mary and Joseph) plays Stella’s partner in crime Akton. Akton looks human, but has a number of mysterious and very convenient powers, including the ability to play with little electric hologram type thingies in his hands. Because of his 70s fro and his spacesuit with a big upside down triangle on the front of it, he looks more than a little like Mork. I’m sure it’s just coincidence. I’m sure it’s also a coincidence that Mork… er, Akton’s weapon of choice is a laser-type sword. My theory on the laser sword is it was such a cool concept, it actually travelled back in time and George Lucas stole it retroactively.

4. The Hoff!

Really? Need I say more? International superstar David Hasselhoff in his first major role in a major motion picture as the son of the Emperor of the Galaxy? That, alone, is worth the price of admission.

5. A spaceship shaped like a hand.

Yup. That’s right. Screw the Death Star. It’s just a big ball-shaped space station that’s obviously no moon, floating around in space and blowing up planets. Big deal. The evil Count Zarth Arn’s ship is a hand, baby, and when it’s attacked, it can close up into a fist. Don’t see the Death Star doing that.

6. Oscar winners everywhere.

Seriously, this film is chock full of Oscar winners. Well, two, anyway, both of whom won their Oscars well after this.

John Barry composed the score. And it’s pretty good. You certainly hear the main theme enough to go around humming it after watching the movie. The Late Barry was no stranger to sci-fi scoring, giving us the music for other classic genre films like The Black Hole and Howard the Duck. Of course, he won his Oscars for obscure movies no one has ever heard of like Dances with Wolves, Out of Africa and Born Free.

The Emperor of the Galaxy, Christopher Plummer, on his galactic throne, along with his son, Simon (The Hoffster), and Stella Star (Caroline Munro).

Christopher Plummer, who is probably best know for his role as the Klingon Chang in Star Trek: The Undiscovered Country and didn’t win his Oscar until 2012, is the Emperor of the Galaxy. Of course he is. Who else, other than a time-tested, Shakespearian trained veteran of the stage and screen, could pull off lines such as “You know, my son, I wouldn’t be Emperor of the Galaxy if I didn’t have a few powers at my disposal. Imperial Battleship, halt the flow of time!” or “Our galaxy is split into two warring factions: our own and the one ruled by the evil Count Zarth Arn from the League of the Dark Worlds.” or appear as a hologram. He’s so good, it only took him a day to film his scenes.

7. It seemed really cool when I was 12.

One of the Amazon warriors from Starcrash in, what I’m sure is a very practical outfit for doing Amazon warrior type things

One of the great things about Starcrash is, for the time in which it came out, it had just the right mix of nonsensical science fiction, action and skimpy costumes to keep a sci-fi crazy youngster, just on the edge of puberty, interested without being explicit or embarrassing. At the time, the American backers of the film thought Munro’s costumes were a little bit too skimpy and had them made a little bit less revealing for the second half of the movie. Of course revealing in 1978 and revealing now are two different things.

You also have to remember, if you were actually born and of an age old enough to remember, at the time, sci-fi movies were all pretty crappy. The Star Wars influence was really just beginning, so the effects, dialog and story fit in pretty well with most other sci-fi offerings at the time. Remember, I grew up in an era when Star Wars and 2001: A Space Odyssey were the rare exception, not the rule. Compared to some, this was practically Shakespeare. (Wouldn’t it be cool if Shakespeare was alive today and writing sci-fi?)

Plus, one of the things you have to judge a movie by is how much it is enjoyed. I’ve enjoyed the hell out of it for 30-plus years, which means it’s a great movie. It’s still fun to watch and to expose other people to its obvious greatness. And, ultimately, that’s what I judge movies by. For instance, you couldn’t pay me enough to sit through The Godfather, Forrest Gump, Annie Hall, On Golden Pond, Gone With The Wind and a slew of other “great” movies again. I’d much rather watch this. Google this sucker and go and look at some of the sites where it’s reviewed. People love it.

Surely, by now, you’re convinced. All these things combined truly make Starcrash the greatest sci-fi movie ever made. If this weren’t the case, would they bother releasing a restored version on Blu-ray? If you still need convincing, come over and we’ll watch it in stunning high definition. Or, I’ll loan you the Female Space Invaders titled DVD release from a few years back (alas, my video tape version bit the dust years ago). I’m sure after sitting through two hours of this classic bit of cinema, (well, 92 minutes, actually, but your enjoyment will make it feel like two hours or more) you will be convinced.

Posted by: jgurner | May 8, 2013

Three sci-fi shows that deserved better

Sci-fi has a troubled history on television.

Usually, and often mercifully, it tends not to last too long. But occasionally, something works and a sci-fi or fantasy show will catch on and find a wide enough audience to be successful (defined as lasting long enough to get off the ground – three or four seasons at least). Not necessarily good, but successful. (I’m looking at you Sliders. I would have said Babble-yawn 5, but , just in case anyone actually reads this, I don’t want hate mail.) The X-Files ruled television during the 90s even though it started off in the Friday night Fox “time slot of death.” It may have gone out with a WTF?, but, for at least the first four or five years, it was a pretty good run. Star Trek managed to rise again on TV in the late 80s through syndication to produce four shows that ran a total of 18 years – six time longer than the original series. Stargate managed three shows before it petered out. But there may still be stories to tell in that universe as well.

But, for every X-Files (9 seasons, 202 episodes), there’s a Firefly (14 episodes), Surface (15 episodes) or Earth 2 (21 episodes). (Surface, solid but not great, seemed to be heading in that direction when it was canned. It got to be about more than Lake Bell in a swim suit, which in itself was pretty entertaining.)

I have recently watched, or am planning to rematch, three shows that I’ve always felt deserved much better than they got. Each lasted only a season, had great stories, actors and writing and did a great job of establishing their world almost from the get-go. There are more than three that deserved better, but I wanted to touch on some that are less obvious than Firefly or Stargate: Universe.

So, here we go…

Space: Above and Beyond – Fox, 1995-96, 23 episodes.

This was a hard sci-fi military series created by Glen Morgan and James Wong, who were both co-producers and writers for The X-Files. It centered around a squad or space Marines, the 58th Wildcards, as humanity battled an alien race known as the Chigs. Based on the spacecraft Saratoga, the 58th fought on land, sea and in space against a seemingly relentless enemy, with each of the six main characters  dealing with their own personal issues and lives.

While it did have its fair share of cliches and a couple of forgettable episodes (the very special Christmas episode comes to mind), it was an otherwise solid series. You have to ignore some of the bad science in the first few episodes, but that’s par for the course in even the best sci-fi. It gave you most of the important pieces of the world in which these Marines lived and fought in the first episode – a world filled not only with enemy aliens, but artificially created humans called Invitros and a rebellious sect of androids called AIs. Two of the main characters were Invitros, including the 58th’s commanding officer and a number of episodes dealt with the prejudice they encountered both in the military and in civilian life. There was a squadron leader haunted by the death of her parents at the hands of the AIs and another member of the squad whose fiancee was a captive of the Chigs after a distant Earth colony was attacked to start the war.

As with The X-Files, Space: Above and Beyond had its fair share of mystery and intrigue as well, though, lasting only one season, most of it never pays off. Most of the episodes were stand alone, connected by the overall arc of the war, so it was a series that you could get into without having seen it from the beginning. The special effects were very high quality – not a lot of reused shots in the battle scenes (Just how many times did the original Battlestar Galactica reuse the same battle scene, often in the same episode?). It’s nice to watch a scene with well done, practical effects and models rather than todays almost too slick CG. The acting was good, solid TV acting and the main actors did a good job of selling you characters with veteran actor James Morrison really owning the role of Col. T.C. McQueen, the commander of the 58th and also an Invitro.

Sadly, the series suffered from the beginning from being in that other Fox TV “time slot of death” – immediately after Sunday afternoon football. Sometimes it started on time, but often through the entire first half of the series, it was delayed, making it all but impossible to view in the pre-Tivo age of time shifting by VCR. Plus, while a dark, militaristic sci-fi show might seem like old hat now, this was pre-9/11 TV. At the time, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was just dipping its toes into darker, more serious stories and characters and the new Battlestar Galactica was years away. The story lines featuring intensely flawed main characters, intense battle scenes, stories of drug addiction and deciding whether the life of artificially created Invitros was worth the same as human life may have spooked some viewers who were just waiting for The Simpson.

I’m just finishing up re-watching the series. It still stands up, for the most part, after 18 years and America’s plunge into seemingly endless war. In fact, some parts of it are even more relevant today than they were when the series first aired. I could easily imagine this series being revived, the war still raging years later and some of the original characters brought back after rising through the echelons (or maybe not having so great a career in the years between). I think in the post Battlestar Galactica (new version) world of TV, it would work well.

The Dresden Files – The Sci-fi Channel (Not Syfy!), 2007-2008, 12 episodes (11 episodes, plus an unaired two-hour pilot which was whittled down to an hour and shown out of sequence..)

Okay. It’s an urban fantasy series, not science fiction. Still, the rules apply.

Based on the series of books by Jim Butcher, it focuses on a private detective in my second adopted home town of Chicago, who just also happens to be a wizard.

At first, I really didn’t have much interest in this series. I had never read the books and I wasn’t a real big fantasy fan, outside of Tolkien. But, in the pre-wrestling and reality TV days of the Sci-fi Channel, I’d give anything a try. Fortunately, and sadly, I did because this short-lived series proved to be greatly entertaining. Fortunate because I really came to enjoy the series and plan on getting to the book series soon. Plus, it really introduced me to the urban fiction genre, which I had paid almost no attention to previously. Unfortunate, because after its short run, I was left wanting more. So much more.

Harry Dresden, the down and out private eye and wizard, is greatly entertaining and Paul Blackthorne plays the role for all it’s worth. The stories are fun. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, just seriously enough.

It has been a while since I’ve re-watched the series, but it’s up soon on my rotation list and I’m looking forward to it. It was smart and clever. It took some of the best things about you average TV private eye and cop shows and mixed them with the fantastic in a way that complimented each.

The series had strong behind the scenes sci-fi and fantasy creds with Star Trek: TNG and DS9 veterans Hans Beimler and Robert Hewitt Wolfe serving as producer/writers. Plus, TNG and Generations director David Carson behind the camera on a couple of episodes. (Okay, maybe Generations isn’t the best sell for Carson. How about Yesterday’s Enterprise for TNG?)

Ultimately, The Dresden Files got dumped in favor of Eureka, which was a fun, enjoyable show, but not reality worth the trade to me. I think with the success of shows like Once Upon A Time and Grimm, The Dresden Files would be a great candidate for a reboot. I’d love to see Blackthorne reprise the role, but I also think it could be recast and be successful as well. But, like the original series, it would need to be handled with a light touch, humor and focus more on the story than on the fantasy.

The Adventures of Brisco County Jr. – Fox (Surprised?), 1993-94, 27 episodes.

Bruce Campbell should be enough to sell this one.

But, you might be saying to yourself, self, The Adventures of Brisco County Jr. isn’t really sci-fi or fantasy. It’s kind of a western comedy. Well, self, you’re wrong. While it is true toward the end of the series, it was headed in that direction, it definitely started off sci-fi with alien artifacts, people with fantastic powers and a mid-season twist, which I won’t give away, that is 100 percent sci-fi.

If that doesn’t sell you, think of Brisco as the 90s equivalent of The Wild, Wild West – the original, not the 1979 and 1980 TV movies and definitely not the Will Smith movie that’s just best forgotten about. See. I’ve forgotten already. I could definitely see a crossover with Brisco teaming up with James West and Artemis Gordon to go after Dr. Loveless, who has managed to get his hands on one of the golden orbs.

To give you a little background, Brisco County Jr. is the son of famed lawman Brisco County, who is killed by the Blye gang. Brisco Jr. is hired by a mysterious group to hunt down the gang, aided by former bounty hunter rival Lord Bowler,  trusty assistant Socrates Poole and, of course his horse Comet. Along the way, the find out about an otherworldly golden orb, fragments of which give people incredible powers. Joined occasionally by Prof. Wickwire (played by John Astin. I mean, come on! Bruce Campbell and John Astin together? How can you pass this up?), Brisco and friends find excitement, adventure and really wild things across the turn of the century west.

Though it started to change directions toward the end, and would have drastically changed in season two, The Adventures of Brisco County Jr. was a well-writen, smart and clever show with a fantastic cast led by Campbell. Ultimately, it was done in by the fact that westerns really aren’t that popular with people. (And how long has it been since you’ve seen a western make much of a dent on TV?) Plus, the changes in the direction of the show, removing most of the sci-fi elements, probably scared off someof the audience, even though there was still plenty of steam punkishness scattered throughout.

Now twenty years gone, this is one show I don’t think could be brought back. Bruce Campbell might still be game, but Julius Carry, who played Lord Bowler, died in 2008.  Though he wasn’t a regular, John Astin was perfect sprinkled over the series run, but, at 83, I doubt he’s up to the challenge. Plus, seeing how the series was set close to the turn of the century, you’d have to move it forward too much to accommodate the aging of Campbell and Clarence Clemenson (Socrates). And a reboot? Forget it. Who could take Bruce Campbell’s place?

Sadly, this one falls into the”What could have been” file as opposed to the “What could still be” file.
So, those are three that I feel deserved better. There are many more, believe me, but these three are fresh on my mind. They say there’s no use crying over spilled milk (or beer,if you’d rather), but that doesn’t keep you from thinking about what it would be like to have another glass. I guess for now, I’ll watch the final season of Fringe when it arrives (haven’t seen it yet and don’t know how it ends, so, hush!) and just be glad Fox gave it a chance to wrap up so it won’t be on any future lists.

Posted by: jgurner | July 26, 2012

When Is Closure Not Closure At All?

For a while over the past year or so, I had the feeling I needed to confront a section of my past I have been reluctant to confront. It was a fairly large part, almost a quarter of my life so far. Like any part of one’s life, it was fraught with conflicting emotions, complex relationship issues, happiness, sadness, anger and peace. For a number of years, there was an entire decade-plus of my existence I just really didn’t want to deal with because of the complexities of dealing with it.

But, slowly, I began to get the idea that I might be able to at least begin to make peace with this time of my life in some small way. Tackling it as a whole seemed too formidable, but maybe some small act could bring some bit of closure.

In July of 1993 I took a job with The Amory Advertiser, located in Monroe County. I was the news and sports editor for the publication. Newly married, I moved to the community and began my career in the newspaper business in true. Three years later, I moved to the Advertiser’s sister paper, The Aberdeen Examiner. We moved from Amory to Aberdeen, bought a house and would spent just a little over eight years of our lives living and working in and around both towns and the county. When we left, we had lived in Monroe County just one month under 11 years.

Life during that period was trying. The job, over the years, evolved into something I came to loath. It was a decade of severe financial strains, partly self-inflicted by us both and partly due to bad luck. My marriage… Let’s lust say it wasn’t what I thought it would be.

When I left in the summer of 2004, I almost couldn’t believe it. It felt like I was released from captivity. It was like emerging from a long, dark tunnel. September of 2004, when we drove over to Aberdeen to sign the papers that would finalize the sale of our house, was the last time I’d set foot in Monroe County. It’s not that far away: and easy hour and a half drive. But for me, it seemed best to pretend that part of my life took place thousands of miles away in another part of the world.

Yesterday, though, everything changed.

The feeling inside that I needed some kind of closure on that chapter of my life continued to grow until finely I decided I needed to take action. I had mentioned all of this before and Anita had encouraged me to make a return trip if I felt like I needed to. So, finally, I made the decisions it was time and we loaded up and began the journey.

Any time you revisit something from your past you find some things change, some don’t. And in this trip back into a portion of my history – seeing the changes in the newspaper I where I had my first “real” job, seeing the first house I lived in there and the first and so far only house I’ve bought, riding through the streets that were at the time so familiar, I began to realize something. It was nebulous at first, but it began to congeal on the ride home. This wasn’t a trip about the past, it was a trip about the future. And it wasn’t closure I needed. I needed to know it was okay to embrace that part of my existence and to not avoid it.

The world as it was from July 1993 to June 2004 doesn’t exist any more. The job is gone. The newspapers are gone, merged into a single history-less, generic publication. The houses belong to other people. Even the pets from those days, which made life a little more bearable, are gone. And the marriage, it ran its course.

I had started the day hoping by the end of the trip I would have found some small measure of closure, but, as it turns out, I never really needed it. It was an illusion trumped up in my mind. I thought if  I drove the streets once so familiar, walked through the offices where I spent so much time, saw the places I used to live, I would be able to put it all behind me and the demons that have been poking at my subconscious might just stop. But what actually happened is I came to the realization I need to do the opposite. Instead of pushing that time of my life into the recesses of my mental closet, I need to bring it forth and embrace it. And I need to change the way I look at it.

Instead of simply remembering it as a time of strife, I need to remember there were plenty of times of joy. There were plenty of times I was proud to be doing the job I was doing. There were times my marriage was happy and peaceful. There were people I got to know and become friends with. It was a very dark time in my life, but it wasn’t just a dark time, and in my effort to try my best to avoid this sizable portion of my existence, I seem to have lost sight of that.

Where I go from here, I don’t have a clue. I may never set foot over in that area that played such a big part of my life again, but at least now I know it’s okay if I don’t. Maybe this will eventually lead me to reconcile my feelings and thoughts about other parts of my life from those days. Right now, I just don’t know. I do know that instead of being the ending I though it would be, yesterday’s pilgrimage was only the beginning, but I think with that beginning, I’ll be able to rest a little easier now.

Older Posts »

Categories

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 222 other followers