The Plan to frak up Galactica

After me raving about BGS I think it’s only honest to admit – “The Plan” is a disaster. Cheap way to make a movie – cut-n-paste strips from past episodes and sprinkle it with boobs as per cracked.com:

Just The Facts
1. Boobs can either a) help you get a job/promoted or b) make the workplace more tolerable for the rest of us.
2. Boobs are often successfully used in place of a coherent plot or acting in movies to create a great film.
3. The power of boobs should not be underestimated.

After enduring 112 minutes of gut-wrenching lack of plot, holes in a storyline and amateur directing I would prefer to think this movie was done without knowledge or consent of the original BSG crew. Positioning of it on DVD edition we’ve got right after season 4.0 and before 4.5 is stupid at best – it breaks timeline and takes you to the future events you’re supposed to guess about at this moment.

I must say boobs played great role in keeping me awake and mildly interested in events on the screen but not enough to enjoy it.

Thinking about it I came to conclusion that “The Plan” was shot after watching copious amounts of “Coupling” and under Jeff Murdock‘s great influence:

Jeff: Cleft.

[Captain Subtext uses his “truth helmet” to read the main characters’ minds]
Jeff: Buttocks. Gusset. Bicycle saddle.

above coincidentally is a quick summary for “The Plan”‘s plot.

Jeff also offers a tip on how to watch such a movie:

Jeff: Well, it’s kind of hard to tell isn’t it ‘cos you tend to fast forward if anyone’s dressed. Sometimes I forget and do that with proper films. I can get through a lot of movies in an evening.

Just to add insult to injury I must say that “The Plan” is just as much of a “frak-up” as “Serenity”. Both delivered very little in terms of continuity, tried to reach out to the audience that didn’t watch original shows and failed everybody. Look, you screw up characters like that, you ruin continuity – you piss off your fans. You make plot very light, personal encounters casual and someone who never seen original will have no inclination to rush to videostore and buy original series because your movie SUCKS.

I am really glad I watched original series without knowing about those movies – I thoroughly enjoyed them and then when movies came out – I know those were “frak-ups” and never stopped enjoying original shows. Have I seen those movies as a lead-in to watch the show – I would have never made myself watch them – ever.

After some digging it turns out that “The Plan” was directed by Edward James Olmos (“Admiral Adama”) which confirmed my father’s (film director himself) opinion that actors are *not* directors and actors are only as good as their director. I don’t mind James Olmos as Bill Adama – he does add some spice to that role that is probably right when you’re talking about a military guy who his whole life wasn’t supposed to be emotional and build the impenetrable facade, so Olmos delivers there, but quite honestly his directing of “The Plan” was a mistake. While episodes directed by him ( Tigh Me Up, Tigh Me Down (1.9), Taking a Break from All Your Worries (3.13), Escape Velocity (4.4) and Islanded in a Stream of Stars (4.18) ) don’t really stand out in a bad way, the movie… well I think I’ve said enough.

Y'all Seen Dexter's Laboratory?

Long time ago, when western culture started pouring into Eastern Europe I enjoyed watching Cartoon Channel and one of the shows in particular – Dexter’s Laboratory. Something about this show tickled my geek side in a right way. Then TV died, then we moved to another country, then… I lost track of it.

A couple of years ago people around me started mentioning new show – Dexter and all that was appearing in my mind was "Dexter’s Laboratory" – lots of test-tubes, computers, lasers and crazy sister ruining brilliant experiments every time – kind of like Road-Runner’s Zen. I imagined "grown-up" version of Dexter and his sister running through the same routine over-and-over-and-over again.

The Killer Inside Me – Dexter meets big screen big time

Avatar, Smurfs and Multi-Dimensional Porn

I was not in the rush to watch Avatar but it finally caught up with me. Thanks to the promo at local movie rental place I’ve got 3 movies for $5 for 5 nights – pretty good deal. One of those movies was Avatar.

Some time ago one of my friends described to me Avatar as a Smurf-Movie: bunch of blue (mind you, somewhat overgrown at 3m tall) people running across the screen. They live in a commune, got Papa-Smurf etc. Well, I laughed and thought it was funny. Now I have to tell you that both me and my wife have this weird connection when we hear “Smurf”: “porn”. I’ll explain – as kids we didn’t have much exposure to “Smurfs” as a cartoon. Our teen years coincided with the growth of Internet (otherwise known as “porn DB”). And Internet was full of porn Smurf spoofs – all those cute characters with over-sized genitalia “having it” with each other left, right and center. I think I don’t have to explain logic any further. In other words somewhere on subconscious level I expected “porn”.

While having all of the above on my mind I watched the movie casually noticing that it did deliver in soft-porn department – with semi-naked Na’vi (Smurfs) running around culminating in a scene of “mating” between main character and his newfound love. And movie has managed to keep us mostly interested until the end not only because of “porn” theme 😉 Lots of special effects and liberally sprinkled battle scenes do their job well, keeping you entertained and glued to the screen.

For me however movie really starts after you have finished watching it – when you start analyzing it. My main criteria typically are:

  • Can you compress the plot into 1 sentence or less?
  • Could you tell the ending of the movie 10-20 minutes into the movie?
  • Did main characters make you sick with their righteousness?

In reality it’s a bit more complicated, but you’ve got the idea. Guided by common sense and curiosity I started to explore. Some things that I found were not speaking in Cameron’s (or movie) favor (from Wikipedia):

Cinema audiences in Russia have noted that Avatar has elements in common with the 1960s Noon Universe novels by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, which are set in the 22nd century on a forested world called Pandora with a sentient indigenous species called the Nave.

That naturally spiked my interest in Strugatsky’s books, but not in the movie itself.

Analyzing movie some more I realized that I wasn’t interested in the movie but rather things about it or related to it. Having as many contradictions as it had, not to mention that I could compress storyline into one sentence: “White American guy comes and rescues alien species who couldn’t defend themselves it on their own” it is hardly surprising that my interest in the movie itself was low (you want to dig deeper on that summary, look up Avatar’s meaning in Hinduism:

Avatar (Hinduism), manifestation or appearance of a Hindu deity

Which makes Jake-the-white-American-marine what? Deity?)

Now to the 3D part – we watched movie as a “mundane” DVD movie – no 3D gimmicks except that I cranked our sub up a notch for more dramatic effect. In that setup we both were able to pinpoint sections of the movie designed specifically for 3D – it was too bloody obvious. Not a single time did I feel myself being “robbed” of that extra dimension. So much for 3D. (BTW – we did watch 3D movies in iMax and so far only 1 really delivered on 3D front – “How to Train Your Dragon”, but I’m digressing).

In summary: despite the claimed “3D”, movie was seriously uni-dimensional. Characters have no depth; story is as straight as a line and stretches no farther than two inches from start to end. While gaining “extra” dimension visually in fact it lost at least one as far as I can tell.

I have to mention that among the rented movies was also “Jade Warrior”. Budgets of both are incomparable, latter doesn’t claim 3D. However that movie has way more dimensions than Avatar has. Interesting twist presents blend of: Finnish and Chinese cinematography, mythology, cultures, etc. Movie is rather poor in battle scenes department (comparing to Avatar). It’s budget was around $2.7 EUR which is a far cry from Avatar’s $230M (I suspect it could’ve been done even cheaper – because I didn’t care much for special effects but story was rally engaging). Yet characters have depth – story keeps you engaged until the very end, and while you and sort of kind of predict the end and the twists of the plot – you are never sure. …and I can’t really compress storyline into single sentence – I’ll need at least two 🙂 Don’t get me wrong – “Jade Warrior” is not a masterpiece by any stretch, but when compared to Avatar it sure feels like one.

Now back to the Smurf business. In a conversation with one of my friends I have realized what movie category Avatar falls into: porn. Yes, it is a Sci-Fi Porn. Judge for yourself:

Pornography or porn is the portrayal of explicit sexual subject matter for the purposes of sexual excitement and erotic satisfaction.

The word derives from the Greek ??????????? (pornographia), which derives from the Greek words ????? (porn?, “prostitute” and pornea, “prostitution”), and ????? (graph?, “I write or record,” derived meaning “illustration,” cf. “graph”), and the suffix -?? (-ia, meaning “state of,” “property of,” or “place of”), thus meaning “a written description or illustration of prostitutes or prostitution.”

as compared to eroticism:

Eroticism (from the Greek ????, eros—”desire”) is a philosophical contemplation with a focus on the aesthetics of sexual desire, sensuality and romantic love. Unlike sensuality, which concentrates on the pleasures of the senses, eroticism is concerned with heightening those pleasures. To achieve that objective, eroticism can involve a delay in sexual gratification in order to intensify the satisfaction level by extending the period of yearning desire.

The way I see it: porn is about displaying it all in full view, erotica is about hinting and letting your mind fill all those dirty details for you. In Sci-Fi terms Avatar is porn: it explicitly shows every detail without leaving much for your mind to feast on. Compare it even to such uninspiring item like “Chronicles of Riddick” and you’ll understand what I’m saying (better yeat – read my “Battlestar Firefly” post). There was no reason for it all to “hang out there” but Cameron decided it should, and “hang out” it did.

If after reading all of the above you ask me: “What do you think of 3D movies?” I’d reply: “It’s a poor substitute for depth of characters and screenplay”. And if you ask me what comes to my mind when I hear Avatar?” I’d say: “Smurfs” 😉

Battlestar Firefly

I like good movies. Scratch that – I LOVE good movies. Jim Jarmusch have opened so many great actors for me and his movies are the ones I keep going back to over and over again. Peter Greenaway let me explore my dark side, taught me the art of irony and sarcasm exploding human nature into some grotesque forms. Babbling and insecure Woody Allen made me feel better about myself. Kar Wai Wong, Yimou Zhang, Alice Wu shown me sides of Asian cultures that are free of Manga, Godzilla and flying kung-fu masters (although I do enjoy watching those on occasion). Point is – I like when movies get serious, I like depth, I like something I can watch over and over and over again and still enjoy it and be able to discover something new – some hidden gems, some imperfections (in the wabi-sabi way, of course) and some unexplored sides of the characters. And to complicate matters I do enjoy a good Sci-Fi (I wouldn’t be geek if I didn’t, now would I?)

Good Sci-Fi movies with depth are hard to come by and when you turn to shows things get even worse. So while frustrated with the lack of real choice in that category (Sci-Fi TV Series) I have learned to not expect much from those shows and my disappointment levels dropped significantly. For quite a while I thought Babylon 5 is “it”. It had mediocre depth to the characters, but it did have some storyline stitching the entire show together (well at least first 4 seasons). Then, one night, we were visiting our friends – it must’ve been party of some sort, but TV was on and somehow it was stuck on Sci-Fi channel right at the time when Battlestar Galactica miniseries were on. That was the night when my expectations for the Sci-Fi shows grew to the new level. All of sudden characters made sense, the whole scenery looked real, nobody was babbling about new inventions – everybody was busy using them and the laws of physics seemed to apply. “Oh, my $deity!” I thought to myself – it can’t be real. And then the full-blown series came out. It was a very new experience for me just like for the rest of geek population on the planet. Not only did this show turn upside-down formula of Sci-Fi show it also blew out of the water theories about piracy hurting entertainment industry (the last one being an unintentional side-effect that even the show-makers won’t admit to):

While you might assume the SciFi Channel saw a significant drop-off in viewership as a result of this piracy, it appears to have had the reverse effect: the series is so good that the few tens of thousands of people who watched downloaded versions told their friends to tune in on January 14th, and see for themselves. From its premiere, Battlestar Galactica has been the most popular program ever to air on the SciFi Channel, and its audiences have only grown throughout the first series. Piracy made it possible for “word-of-mouth” to spread about Battlestar Galactica.

Back to the subject – for a while there I thought BSG was the only game in town and in fact are trail-blazers in the area of character depth in Sci-Fi shows. Then I came across Firefly. Let me be straight here: I do not like Joss Whedon and his creations, none of them. Except Firefly. Buffy and it’s spin-offs had no characters with depth, even the ones that seemed to have depth had it only 1″ deep. Firefly all of sudden presents an interesting phenomena – characters have enough in them for you to want explore them, their stories go for miles and mix of corny humor, unique vision of future and “in your face” cutting through stereotypical behavioral patterns for both Westerns and Sci-Fi shows really sets it apart. Read through the comments in IMDb and you’ll see it’s a “love it or hate it” kind of show. People either hate it right away or they fall in love. But people do react: 100K comments is a very impressive number in my books – that is how many people decided it was worth their while to post a comment on IMDb just on account of Firefly.

So recently I came across an article on The Register titled “Shut up, Spock! – how Battlestar Galactica beat Trek babble” and while agreeing with most points made by Kevin Grazier about the science behind BSG and how it made it all more believable I realized that quite a few things mentioned there apply to Firefly as well. And it also looks like Firefly beat BSG to a punch by a narrow margin, but it did. Firefly was first to give characters some depth (in it’s own, unique way), it had no techno babble: “Okay, I need that in captain dummy talk, Kaylee.” and avoided most of the cliché’s of action movies like long villain/hero long talks before acting, disregards for chain of command, ships were actually worn out, people tired, nobody wears dorky bodysuits, no blasters left right and center and everybody speaks Chinese. Is it really that important who was first and who wasn’t? No. But I’d like to set the record straight anyway 😉

What does all of the above mean? Does it mean anything? Well, it does. To me it means a lot. It means it is possible to create a Sci-Fi show that I can enjoy on several levels and not only on a Sci-Fi level. It also means that the new standard has been set and now other shows will try to match it. And on top of it all it means that my respect to “Earth Final Conflict” (what a disaster! Re-watched it now after 10 years or so and still can’t figure out what did I see in it?), Lexx (just got DVDs delivered recently and setting my expectations sufficiently low) and “Star Trek” (the original series, I terrified to watch it again – the memory of it may be tarnished forever) is fizzling and the only way I can still watch those if I remind myself that at that time those were the best we’ve had. And they were “damn good shows”.

If I was a conspiracy theorist I’d think that it’s a plot to deny us pleasure of enjoyment of all shows and hooking us to new stuff forcing us to abandon all those purchased VHS tapes and DVDs for the sake of new Blu-Ray collections and anxiously wait for more new stuff. But it can’t be true. Can it?

Blu rays of death

There is an onslaught of infuriating things coming to my attention lately. And being the person I am I can’t just let it slide – it irks me. So here’s another one: doing a bit of casual research about Blu-Ray support in Linux I came across some happy blog talking about MakeMKV so, naturally I went on exploratory mission (it would’ve not been me if I didn’t)  and came across some interesting material about BD+ and SVQ files :

For example, if a blu-ray player is connected to home network then a BD+ program can scan all shared files on all computers on the network and upload the report to a remote server. While it is very unlikely that studios will put such an evil program on a disc, it is technically possible.

Whoa! What?!?!?! I was musing before on the subject of possibly revoked keys on your Blu-Ray device via acknowledged firmware update to accommodate newer disks requiring firmware higher than rev X, but this blows even my conspiracy theories!

Wikipedia article doesn’t alleviate the fears – it makes it oh so much more real:

BD+ is effectively a virtual machine embedded in authorized players. It allows content providers to include executable programs on Blu-ray Discs. Such programs can:[8]

  • examine the host environment, to see if the player has been tampered with. Every licensed playback device manufacturer must provide the BD+ licensing authority with memory footprints that identify their devices.
  • verify that the player’s keys have not been changed.
  • execute native code, possibly to patch an otherwise insecure system.
  • transform the audio and video output. Parts of the content will not be viewable without letting the BD+-program repair it.

While everybody was thinking that Blu-Ray devices were made for viewing movies by their owners, things are exactly in reverse – those movies are watching us. How can we be so stupid and let ourself be fooled into that?

While I have no problem paying for movies and I do exactly that to which I have a proof – my 300+ DVD collection, I object to any snooping done by any third parties in my house. My freedoms are being tampered with; I am being stripped of my privacy, my rights and my choices. I seriously, truly hate that.

Yeah, we all want high-def content on our monster-TVs, but I am not prepared to trade-in my freedoms for that. No way. I hope BD+ gets hacked just like DVDs were – once and for all. I do not to feel like criminal doing whatever I please with the Blu-Ray content within my Fair Use rights. I will not tolerate piece of equipment in my house that doesn’t play by my rules.

Blu-Ray spells death to consumer freedoms, death to privacy and death to democracy. You don’t have to think hard to imagine scenario where disks could be programmed to disable all “unwanted” content. As you’ve seen from above quotes and resources – any disc is allowed to “patch” your Blu-Ray player as it sees fit, including modification of locally stored key chains. And we though Microsoft was evil. There are new games in town that are bigger and meaner than Microsoft. Microsoft paved the way to all those new and brave entrepreneurs willing to grab you by the balls and squeeze it until you scream and then back off a little.

I am not exaggerating here. Yes, above post indicates that studios are not likely going to do it, but Sony CD rootkit scandal begs to differ. Corporate mentality dictates 2 things: maximize profits and do whatever it takes to get things done your way. Everything is evaluated as a price and apparently our freedoms cost very little in comparison to the opportunity to sell copious amounts of digital copies on different media while keeping a close eye on those who may step out of line. It has been proved over and over again – those who “pirate” content did not intend to buy or rent it in the first place so there is no “lost sales”. It is all boiling down to “creating new markets”… and selling MORE content. We who buy content may download a thing or two on occasion only to buy that same content on our next trip to the store. It is all about the availability and accessibility of content, Blu-Ray does nothing to cover those. Read “Piracy is Good?” and you’ll know what I’m talking about. Blu-Ray design proves that it was intended as a lock-in mechanism, and until I see some moratorium statement from **AA’s and elimination of accompanying functionality from Blu-Ray devices I won’t believe otherwise.

I truly and honestly hope that *AA gangs will choke on their greed and drop dead sometime soon. But that is not happening and not going to happen. I see people giving into the temptation of having “more” and it is sad. We do not ask questions and we do not think until it’s too late. Reminds me of Adbusters article” After America, there is no place to go” by Kitty Werthmann ( Issue #92 :  The Carnivalesque Rebellion Issue ). Looks and feels like we’re going through the same issues as Austrians in 1938 – they elected Hitler because they were OK trading in a “piece of freedom” for a “piece of mind” and a “peace of bread”. Very soon Austrians discovered that status-quo didn’t last. Within a year things have changed and freedoms eroded more and more every day while piece of mind and piece of bread were not forthcoming either. Our present freedoms are being taken away every day. We have elected our Hitler – the overpowering drive for “more” with Industry Admirals (or should I say Großadmiral’s?) at helm.

Don’t get me wrong, capitalism is a good thing and I do not pitch communism here, but what we currently have is not capitalism and democracy, it’s a corporatism and oligarchy – look up definitions and you’ll see I’m right.