Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Hobbit - good and bad

A lot of people are complaining about the adaptation of The Hobbit. I think that many of the changes are justifiable.

First, this is not a straight adaptation of The Hobbit and I don't think that most ticket-buyers want that. This is an adaptation of all of Tolkien's writings. He alluded to numerous events in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. These are all shown.

In the book, Gandolf leaves the group half-way through. Dramatically, this was done to give Bilbo a chance to take over as the leader of the group. Without Gandolf, it is up to Bilbo to save the Dwarves from spiders and elves and to confront the dragon and eventually end the war.

When they meet Gandolf again he mentions that he was in an even bigger battle to the south. This was expanded in the Lord of the Rings where Gandolf discovered that the Necromancer they battled with was actually Sauron returned.

This sets things up for The Lord of the Rings which had not been thought of when The Hobbit was written.
The movies were made in reverse order so we know what is going to happen. A straight adaptation of The Hobbit would ignore this foreknowledge and disappoint the ticket-buying audience expecting a similar spectacle to the first set of movies.

Other points have been changed for dramatic impact or to fix plot holes. In the book, the dwarves have no plan for dealing with the dragon and there is no explanation of why they need a burglar. In the movie the idea is to recover the Arkenstone in order to rally the dwarf armies and kill the dragon.

Legolas wasn't invented until The Lord of the Rings but he was already hundreds of years old so he would have been there in The Hobbit. You can argue with the way he was inserted but he really needed to be there.

That's the good. The bad is in the execution. In The Lord of the Rings, most exterior shots were done outdoors with New Zeland acting as a special effect all by itself. In contrast, a lot of The Hobbit was shot in the studio and it shows. Murkwood went from an oppressive forest into a three-dimensional maze.

Many of the action scenes are over the top starting with the dwarves juggling Bilbo's dishes and continuing through the fights between the orcs and the elves and dwarves. These scenes would have more impact if they had been toned down. When a single elf can kill dozens of orcs single-handed without breaking a sweat there is no sense of danger. Compare that with Aragorn's fight against a single orc at the end of The Fellowship of the Ring. That was far more exciting.

Monday, October 07, 2013


Gravity belongs to the genre known as "one damn thing after another". Unlike most movies in this genre though, the question is not "what else can go wrong?", it's "How did she stay alive this long?"

The movie takes place in space, specifically high earth orbit. That is a hostile environment with little margin for error. After the Russians destroy som malfunctioning satellites, space becomes outright aggressive with a cloud of debris that the protagonists encounter every 90 minutes.

A great deal of the movie is CGI but you would never know it to look at it. Space lends itself to CGI. Because so much of it is CGI, this is probably the best animated movie ever made.

There is no question that this will get numerous Oscar nominations including best picture, best director, best actress, and best supporting actor. It has a good chance of winning all of those plus several awards for special effects and sound.

If it is nominated in the animated class then Pixar doesn't stand a chance.

Be warned that this movie will probably not hold up on the small screen. You need to see it on a large screen in a blackened room, preferably in 3D.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Face Off season 5

I don't watch many reality show competitions but this is one I love. The show started off interesting and has improved over the seasons.

The basic concept of the show is always the same. A group of makeup artists are given challenges, either as teams or individuals. A panel of judges made up of industry heavy-weights scores the makeups and divides them into Top Picks, Bottom Picks, and safe. They tell the people who did the top picks what they liked then choose a single individual who did the best job. Then they tell the Bottom Picks what they did wrong and select one person (sometimes two) who will be eliminated.

The show also has occasional Spotlight Challenges in which the contestants are given a short deadline and the winner gets immunity. These are often a tie-in to some other movie or show and there are fewer of these as time goes on.

Some things have changed. The first two seasons had a lot of monster makeup and titillation factor. Both seasons had nude body-paint challenges that must have been included to increase viewership. They dropped the body paint and even challenges that involve monsters have beauty makeup.

During the first season it was easy to tell who would be eliminated. Some of the creations were outright failures. Possibly the quality of the entrants has improved. It is still obvious that some contestants are not on the same level but there are few outright disasters.

The first season also had a villain - Frank who was so obnoxious obnoxious that you couldn't wait for him to be eliminated. I don't know if the producers asked him to act that way or if he thought that no one would ever see the show so it didn't matter how he acted. He's back in the 5th season without the attitude and is giving it his best effort.

In the first three seasons they had someone come through to advise the contestants. Sometimes this was a judge but often it was another tie-in with a show or movie. Starting with the 4th season, they have had a single mentor, industry legend John Westmore.

Another subtle change is the lack of drama. In the first two seasons there was back-biting and arguments. Since then everyone seems to get along as an extended family. There have been numerous examples where someone needed help and one or more others would drop their own work to assist. This sort of camaraderie is rare on shows like these.

Women had problems competing in the first two seasons. In the third season two of the three finalists were women (including the winner). In the 5th season, the two strongest competitors have been women.

The 4th season did have one big problem - a lack of drama. Anthony was such a strong competitor that it was obvious he would win. I suspect that the producers asked the judges to be harder on him.

By the 3rd season it was obvious that the judges were scoring based on past work as well as the current entry. One contestant always did the same face (a version of his own). Individually his pieces were all wonderful but the judges insisted that he do something different and he was eliminated when he failed to.

The big hook for the 5th season is that they brought back some of the best from the prior season. Some were huge fan favorites. The inclusion of familiar faces and the level of skill that they have has made this the best season yet.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Tolkien and Black Powder

In LotR:The Two Towers, Saruman breeches the wall at Helm's Deep with black powder (aka gun powder). This point always bothered me but I was finally able to reconcile it.

First, there is no reason that black powder would be incompatible with Middle Earth. It is basically a medieval civilization and black powder was known in Europe through most of the middle ages. Early guns go back as far as the 12th century but they were a poor substitute for bows so they didn't make much of an impression. Early guns were basically a pistol barrel on a sick with little range, accuracy, or penetration. An accurate version became common around 1500 but there was still a debate about the effectiveness of guns a century later.

Cannons developed faster and there were some useful siege guns but they were very expensive. The technology for casting iron was still in the future so there were usually cast from brass or bronze which cost a great deal more.

But there is no hint of any guns or cannon in Tolkien's writing. Is there any justification for including black powder? If you think about it, there is. Tolkien has black powder being used in the first chapter, A Long Expected Party and the context provides the justification.

The first chapter involves Bilbo Baggens's birthday party and he went all out in holding it. A high point of the festivities is the fireworks display provided by Gandolf. Fireworks use black powder.

If Gandolf knows about black powder then it is no stretch to believe that the other wizards also know of it including Saruman. And the wizards were a secretive lot. They were in Middle Earth to stop the rise of Sauron, not to bring knowledge and they may have known that black powder was a potentially disruptive technology. It's best to keep these things to yourself lest the enemy be the first to benefit from it.

Friday, July 05, 2013

The Lone Ranger

I grew up watching reruns of the old black and white Lone Ranger show with Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels. In the 1980s they made a major motion picture based on the character. It bombed.

So, you are a Disney executive and you want to revive the character. The old TV show was slow and boring by today's standards. You don't want to make the same mistakes as the 1980s movie so what do you do? You call on the team that took a failing genre (pirate movies) and made them into a multi-billion dollar franchise and have them give the Lone Ranger the same treatment.

There are a lot of similarities between the Pirates of the Caribbean (especially the first movie) and the Lone Ranger. Among other things, both feature Johnny Depp as a not-completely-sane mentor. Trains are substituted for ships. A lot of the stunts and fight choreography is duplicated.

The core story of the Lone Ranger is still there, intact. It is just told in a different way. The narrative device is an ancient Tonto telling the story in the 1930s to a boy who is dressed as the Lone Ranger. This allows a few surprises in the script since some parts at the end are told out of sequence.

Along the way we learn why Tonto is wearing a dead bird on his head and that even the other indians think is it strange.

After two days release the movie is already being labeled a flop which is premature. The actual weekend hasn't started yet. The movie is a lot of fun and hopefully will get some good word-of-mouth.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Comics on the Nook

It's been a while since I wrote about reading comic books on digital media. I stopped buying comic books years ago when I discovered Marvel's digital site. That gives me access to thousands of comic books without having to store them. They are also easier to read that way and, let's face it, modern comic books are not going to have any real collector value for decades.

When I got a tablet I tried Marvel's Android app. It was a major disappointment. It recognized my digital account but didn't let me access the digital content. The app was only for selling individual, digital issues.

That changed recently with Marvel's new Unlimited app. That is an Android implementation of the PC experience complete with smart panels.

I tried this on two tablets, a stock Android 7" tablet (actually a Nook HD with a  replacement version of Android) and a Nood HD+ using B&N's version of Android.

I am very pleased with the experience. The colors on recent comics jump off of the page. The smart panels make it easy to read comic books on a 7" screen. Performance is fairly good - possibly better than on a PC. There is also an option to store up to 6 comics for off-line reading.

It is not perfect. The app defaults to full page and you have to change it to Smart Panels. The PC-based reader shows you other books in the same series while the app does not. Also, on the HD+, it is hard to advance to the next panel. I don't have this problem on the HD so I suspect that the custom version of Android that the Nook runs causes this problem.

All things considered, this will probably be me preferred reading platform from now on.

A few words about the Nook line. I originally got a Nook Simple Touch as my ebook reader because it supports more formats and got top reviews. I still take it with me on trips because of the long battery life.

The Nook Color was a nice ebook reader that also had tablet functions. I used a chip from Root My Nook to make it into a stock Android tablet and was very pleased. The Android Nook app is as good as the native reader so I didn't lose anything by the change.

The Nook HD has upgraded hardware and an improved version of Android. A recent upgrade allows you to access Google's app store (Google Play) and install your favorite apps. That makes it into a tablet with a built-in ebook reader. It isn't perfect. There are inconsistencies like the back button moving around but it is useable. Also, a few apps that I like will not run on it. My biggest complaint is that I cannot change the size of the system fonts which are tiny. Facebook on the 9" HD+ uses a smaller font than on my rooted 7" HD.

Root My Nook has versions of Android 4.2 for the HD and HD+. This is really impressive. The Nooks are high-end tablets at a bargain price (unless you really want a camera or GPS). Even after adding the price of the chip, they are still a good value.

After trying both of them, the 7" HD is a great choice for a tablet to carry around with you. It is light weight and the screen is big enough for most things although I do have to zoom on some web pages.

The HD+ is heavier and harder to hold but it is still a very light-weight tablet. It is meant for magazines. I tried an ebook version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. On the HD I had to zoom and pan around. On the HD I could read it as is.

Barnes & Noble has been having sales on the Nooks, offering them for fire sale prices. I suggest snatching one.

Friday, June 14, 2013

The Classic Superman

There are all sorts of analyses of Superman based on the new movie. I'm going to look at the classic Superman - the Silver Age one. This is a little complicated because the character was developed by multiple writers, many of whom had little knowledge of science.

Officially Superman's strength and invulnerability came from his planet of origin, Krypton. It was described as being so massive that its gravity was many timed Earth's. That was fine when Superman was jumping tall buildings but it doesn't explain other facets of Krypton. I don't think anyone ever said it but the gravity on Krypton must have been so immense that it collapsed all matter on the planet into a new form. That includes both animate and inanimate objects. That is why Superman can only be cut by metal from his home world.

The other source for Superman's powers is the Earth's yellow sun. This puts out energy on some unknown wavelength which can pass through the entire Earth at night but are intercepted by Superman's body. These rays give him extra abilities such as flight and X-Ray vision. The mechanism for this is unexplained.

Most later writers simplified this. Superman's powers came from the sun, period. In some cases, simply exposing him to the rays of a red sun stole his powers.

I saw a discussion about why Superman didn't have PTSD. The best insight on this came from the Dark Knight Returns where Batman is speculating on the differences between them. Batman's parents were killed before his eyes when he was old enough to understand what it meant. Superman was so young that he had no real memory of his real parents. He was raised by a loving couple so his childhood was idyllic.

I can make a case that Superman did have a fixation on his native planet. He traveled there often (using a time travel device since he lost his powers as soon as he was there). He met his parents on several occasions.

Sometimes his fascination with Krypton got a little creepy. Consider the bottled city of Kandor. The entire city was stolen from Krypton before its destruction by an android known as Braniac. After recovering the city he kept it as a trophy in his Fortress of Solitude. Supposedly he was searching for a way to restore the city to its original size but there was nothing to stop him from simply opening the bottle and letting a hoard of tiny Supermen set up housekeeping where ever they wanted.

The fact that fragments of Krypton were converted to kryptonite which was lethal to Superman must have been confusing. You can't go home - because it will kill you.

Between losing his powers if he went to Krypton in the past and having pieces of it try to kill him in the present, there was plenty to ward off survivor's guilt.

One of the most touching stories about Krypton involved Superboy discovering that his parents were still alive in suspended animation. With the help of his adopted father and at great risk to both of them, they recovered Jor-el and Lara only to play a recording in which Jor-el revealed that the two of them had received a lethal dose of radiation. He hadn't told Lara and the suspended animation was to keep her from despairing in their last few days alive. If they were reanimated they would die quickly and painfully. So a teenage Superboy had to choose between meeting his parent and assuring them a painful death or leaving htem as they were. As always, he made the correct choice regardless of the cost to himself.

Thursday, June 06, 2013

The Shadow of World War II

Today is the anniversary of D-Day when the Allied troops invaded the coast of France. That got me thinking about World War II in general.

I was born long after the war ended but it cast a long shadow. A lot of my childhood in the 1960s was influenced by the war.

First, there is the most obvious connection - my parents met because of the war. If not for they war it is unlikely that they would have gotten within 1,000 miles of each other. Millions of people in my generation can say the same.

It was also assumed that anyone my parent's age had contributed to the war effort. My father enlisted, my mother ran messages at a local plant that produced aircraft. It was a big thing in the early 1960s that President Kennedy had been in the war.

And the war was all over the media. There were TV shows about it. There were movies about it, many of them huge hits. Nick Fury of SHIELD started out as a sergeant fighting Nazis. GI Joe was as likely to be fighting in WWI as to be in the current army. If boys were playing war they were more likely to be fighting the Germans than the Russians.

For my parent's generation, the war was the one big, shared event. Nothing can compare. 9/11 was shocking but it didn't affect people on a long-term basis the way that WWII did.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Iron Man 3 plot points

Iron Man 3 is a well-crafted, exciting, and funny movie but there are some plot points that are not as obvious as they could be. Most of what follows is spoilers.

Tony didn't escape The Avengers unscathed. He is suffering from post-traumatic stress. Seeing Worm holes, aliens, and gods is more than he bargained for.

A plot thread through Iron Man 2 & 3 and the Avengers is the government's reluctance to depending on Iron Man and the Avengers. The Iron Patriot is an example of this - a super hero who reports to the President.

The theme of the movie is "empty suits". This shows up in multiple ways.

Suit #42 gets most of its air time while empty. There is the scene with Pepper where Tony is remotely operating it. This leads to the Barrel of Monkeys skydiving scene in which the armor is also operated remotely. During the entire middle of the movie, the suit is empty and recharging.

Multiple people wear armor. Tony has suit 42 assemble itself around Pepper and Aldritch Killian. Iron Patriot was worn by Rhody, Savin (impersonating Rhody) and the President.

Stark wore multiple suits but never for long. I will bet that he spent less than 5 minutes continuous airtime in any single suit of armor.

The Mandarin was essentially and empty suit. Killian realized that the explosions caused by failures of the the Extremis virus. Killian invented the idea of a terrorist to distract people from the real cause of the explosions. The Mandarin would then give some historic trivia that seemed to justify the bombing. The Mandarin's speeches sound similar enough to Ward Churchill's Chickens Coming to Roost talk and similar speeches from the far left to sound plausible.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Superman at 75

I admit, I lost interest in Superman years ago, possibly decades, but he is the first superhero I can remember.

My first exposure to Superman was probably through the George Reeves TV show. He was also the first comic book super hero I can remember.

That was back i the early days of the Silver Age when Superman was a genre all by himself. He starred in two comics of his own (Superman and Action). He shared World's Finest with Batman. He was a supporting character in Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen. As Superboy, he had his own book and was a backup for the Legion of Superheros. He was also a member of the Legion and the Justice League of America.

The Superman family was huge. It included Superman/Superboy, Superman's co-workers, his adopted parents (who died before he came to Metropolis), his birth parents (who were featured a number of times), his girl friend and best friend from his Superboy years, his cousin Supergirl and her family, his dog, a monkey from Krypton, Supergirl's cat and horse (who was really a centaur), a mermaid he'd dated in college, the bottled city of Kandor, the prisoners of the Phantom Zone, and Lex Luthor.

The list of Superman's powers was lengthy. Besides the obvious super strength, flight, and invulnerability, he could see through anything (except lead). He also had telescopic vision, microscopic vision, and night vision. Using super hearing and super ventriloquist, he could talk with anyone anywhere on Earth. His super breath could freeze things or simply blow them over. He could move faster than the speed of light. If he flew that fast while spinning clockwise he went into the future. Spinning counter-clockwise took him into the past.

With all of those powers, there was little to challenge him so the writers often resorted to imaginary stories or dreams. Other times he traveled to worlds with a red sun where he lost his powers or was temporarily altered with Red Kryptonite.

All of this went out of style by the late 1960s and efforts were made to make Superman relevant. He was given longer hair. Kryptonite was destroyed. Imaginary stories were no longer written. Lois Lane was given a makeover and made a few appearances in a bikini. Superman went from writer to newscaster. He also began facing opponents who could physically challenge him. At the same time a plot formula was introduced and rigidly adhered to. The result was mind-numbingly boring.

In the early 1980s the DC universe was rebooted and Superman's history was rewritten. Almost all of the Superman family was erased. Superman himself was de-powered. He couldn't even fly through space without an oxygen supply.

In the 1990s he was killed and resurrected and finally got married.

In the 2000s, his history was rewritten again and the marriage never happened.

In the 1970s, Superman made his premier in a big-budget movie. The franchise lasted through four movies but got sillier as time went on. The character was rebooted in the 2000s in a movie that made money but left audiences unsatisfied. All of the summer excitement that year went to Pirates of the Caribbean 2 which came out a week after Superman Returns and buried it.

A new reboot is about to come out. It promises to be darker than the previous ones. We will see.

Still, it's impressive that the character is still popular at 75.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Superman's S

I always thought it was obvious - Superman wore a big stylized S on his chest to stand for Superman. In the early versions it was much more obvious that it was an S.

In the original Superman movie, his insignia got transformed. It became his family's crest - which just happened to look like his first initial.

In the new movie it has a new meaning - in stands for "hope" on Krypton.

Who hoo, isn't that special?

Monday, March 11, 2013

Oz the Great and Powerful - spoilers and subtle plot points

Oz the Great and Powerful (OtGaP) is a fun movie. It is officially based on the books, not on the 1939 Wizard of Oz (WoO). Still, they managed to sneak in several images from WoO. There are some other clever plot points that should be pointed out.

Spoilers and trivia below.

In WoO, the "horse of a different color" changes colors. In OtGaP we see a pasture full of rainbow-colored horses.

At one point Oz is attacked by a lion which he scares away with a smoke pellet. Obviously, it was a cowardly lion.

Oz creates an army of scarecrows to fight the flying baboons. None of these talk, though.

When Glinda takes Oz to a protected city, you can see the Yellow Brick road end in a spiral. This is where Dorothy started. In QtGaP, this area is only inhabited by Munchkins but there are other groups in it as well in OtGaP.

While performing in Kansas, Oz is asked to make a girl in a wheelchair walk again. In the China Village, he is able to do this by gluing China Girl's legs back together. Joey King was the voice for both girls.

In Kansas, Oz says that he wants to be a cross between Houdini and Thomas Edison. To defeat the witches, he combines techniques from both, fulfilling his ambition.

In Kansas, Oz tells Annie that he doesn't want to be a good man, he wants to be a great one. Later Glinda (played by the same actress) tells him that he isn't a great man, he is a very good man.

The movie explains why, unlike anyone else in Oz, Theodora has green skin and how Oz went from someone who arrived in a balloon to the giant projected image.

While he is in Kansas, we see Oz project an image. He also uses his quick-drying glue.

OtGaP shares some plot elements with director Sam Rami's earleir Army of Darkness. In both of them, a man is torn from his own world and uses knowledge from some books he is carrying to defeat a supernatural army. Both movies have a pretty character suddenly possessed and become an ugly, evil witch.

All three witches carry a magical item which is the basis of her powers. Glinda carries a wand and can project light and fog. Theodora wears a large ruby ring which lets her hurl fireballs. Evanora wears an emerald necklace which lets her throw green lightening. Since this is destroyed, she must have replaced it with the ruby slippers by the WoO.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Fighting Robots

What happens if a couple of guys get together with some RC (Remote Control) model cars? Chances are, they will run them into each other and see who wins. Now, suppose they started armoring those cars?

That was the idea of Battlebots which had five seasons on TV between 2000 and 2003. The robots were divided into different weight classes and tried to disable each other. There were a few imitator seasons which were never as good.

Enter the Robot Combat League currently showing on Syfy. Instead of small robots on wheels operated by geeks with joysticks, these are giant humanoid robots. Each robot has a pair of operators. One maneuvers the robot and the other controls the arms with controllers that match the operator's movements. It was probably inspired by the movie Real Steel.

It sounds awesome but it isn't. There are showers of sparks which have to be rigged since the robots seem to be operated by hydraulics. Their movements are not fluid. They shuffle around, held upright by a long T-bar behind them. The arms are the main thing that moves. Except for the sparks and the trash-talking, the show is nothing but pairs of Rockem Sockem Robots ducking it out.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Reality and Historic Movies

Movies based on real events are often nominated for Oscars. These are always fictionalized accounts of actual events. People know this but they still expect the movies to be accurate. This has become an issue, this year.

Three nominees are based on real events and all have their own controversies. Zero Dark Thirty shows torture producing results which critics say was not the case.

The big controversy in Lincoln is with the Congressional vote on the 13th amendment which abolished slavery. Connecticut is shown with a split vote (with the names of the people voting against changed to protect their families). Actually, the state's delegation was solidly in favor of the amendment. The vote was changed in order to introduce drama. This is not an important change although people from Connecticut are miffed. Since the movie boasted about its accuracy down to using one of Lincoln's favorite jokes and the sound of his watch ticking, there is an expectation that things were kept as accurate as possible.

The biggest offender was Argo. By the end of the movie the Iranians realized that American Embassy staff members were loose and sent a scary-looking squad to capture them. The pursuit includes police cars chasing a jetliner down a runway. There is also a hold placed on the operation by the President which almost leaves the embassy staff members trapped. All of this was added in order to add suspense to the end of the movie.

I say that it is the biggest offender because the other changes are invisible. You have to have detail knowledge of the actual events to know that anything was changed. In Argo I kept thinking, "This couldn't have happened." When the changes are so over-the-top that the audience starts questioning them then they have gone too far.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Who can create?

Recently the head of the School Board of the State of Ohio got into trouble after she used her private Twitter account to compare the current initiative at banning certain weapons to Nazi Germany disarming its citizens. This caused an uproar that lasted weeks. People insisted that she as comparing President Obama to Adolph Hitler and demanded her resignation. They felt that private anti-Obama views disqualified her from holding her job.

Think about that for a moment before I move on.

That brings me to DC Comics and Orson Scott Card. DC is coming out with a new series of comics about Superman designed to tie in with the upcoming movie and Card is the writer. This has become controversial because Card is a leader in the crusade against gay rights in general and gay marriage in particular.

I am not going to defend Card's views. His views on gays seem 50 years or more out of date. The big question is if these views disqualify him for his job. The activist group All Out thinks so and has started a petition drive to have him fired.

As far as I know, none of Card's views are included in the stories. The controversy is not over the work he is doing for DC, it is over the right of someone to hold views that some group finds offensive.

DC has taken what I consider to be the proper view:
As content creators we steadfastly support freedom of expression. However, the personal views of individuals associated with DC Comics are just that — personal views — and not those of the company itself.

This is important because as polarized as current society is, virtually everyone holds views that others find unacceptable. A writer that All Out approves of would be unacceptable to the organization that Card is on the board of. As long as writers refrain from preaching, I don't really care about their personal views.

At the same time, I don't like it a bit when they do preach. I think that does a disservice to the reader.

Even there, I will make exceptions when it is obvious going in that a certain point of view is going to be pushed. A few years ago Marvel re-imagined the Rawhide Kid as a gay cowboy. It was all tongue in cheek with lots of innuendo and in-jokes. Anyone who looked at the cover knew what the content was going to be and had no excuse for objecting. The same goes for DC's new Occupy-inspired comics.

On the other end of the spectrum, around three years ago an issue of Captain America implied that the Tea Party is unfriendly to minorities. That was uncalled for.

My point is that readers have to allow creators to have a variety of opinions and creators need to give the same respect to their readers.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Battle of Hoth

Wired has a series of articles on Star Wars including a detailed look at the Battle of Hoth which takes place in the first part of the second movie (officially labeled the 5th movie) The Empire Strikes Back. Wired has lots of criticism about every facet of the battle. A lot of it is unjustified if you make one assumption - Darth Vader was not there to destroy the Rebel Alliance, he was there to capture Luke.

Before I look at Vader's side I want to spend a moment defending the Alliance. Wired comes down hard on them but they were poorly-equipped. They had to make do with whatever they could get their hands on. So their first line of defense was to hide on an obscure planet. Their only backup was a force field that would give them enough time to evacuate if discovered. even then the, force field had to be dropped long enough for ships to get through so they had to accompany this with fire from an ion cannon. Sub-optimal but it actually worked.

On to Vader.

Wired's first complaint is that the Imperial fleet came out of hyperspace too far away to surprise the rebels. Maybe, or maybe they didn't have any choice. There is a good chance that gravity wells (planets) disrupt travel through hyperspace so they had to keep their distance. Han alluded to that in the first (4th?) movie.

Once there, Vader's forces found the force field waiting for them so they landed a ground force to take care of it. This force suffered heavy losses - 2 walkers lost out of four or five but accomplished its mission. Given Vader's disregard for his own men, this is in character.

While the ground assault was going on, Vader seemed uninterested in the rebel fleet passing by him. Why? Because he could sense that Luke was still on the planet and Luke was the real objective. That is why Vader led the assault personally instead of blasting everything from space.

As it turned out, Luke was one of the last off of the planet but he was also in a tiny, hard-to-detect ship.

So Vader turned his interest on the Millennium Falcon. Why? There are two possibilities. One is that he sensed Leia. She was his daughter. He might have mistaken her for Luke, at least for a while.

More likely is that he had a vision in which the occupants of the Falcon would lead him to Luke. Luke had a similar vision of Han and Leia.

At some point between the first and second movies Vader realized that Luke was his son. It was mentioned in one of the prequels that there are only two Siths at a time so Vader must have been planning to turn Luke and overthrow the Emperor. At the same time, the Emperor must have been planning the same for Vader. Maybe it was the Emperor who realized who Luke was and sent Vader after Luke. Regardless, the driving point of the movie was Vader's pursuit of Han and Leia which he knew would bring Luke to him. If you keep this in mind then the battle of Hoth seems quite reasonable.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Microsoft Surface and OS/2

In the early 1990s, IBM had a great alternative to Windows called OS/2. One big problem with Windows at the time was that one program error could crash everything. OS/2 was much more resilient. It was also a more advanced operating system since Windows, at that time, was an add-on running on top of command-line DOS.

Back then DOS had a limit of 640k RAM. There were several ways to get around this. Most games ran from DOS and it seemed like each one had its own way of bypassing the 640k limit. This meant that every time you wanted to play a game you had to boot your PC from a floppy disk with the proper memory drivers on it.

OS/2 fixed all of that. You could run Windows program or command-line DOS programs. Most games ran fine without any need to reboot.

In fact, this was its fatal flaw - it ran everything else so well that no one bothered developing native OS/2 applications. I used OS/2 for a few years but I only used one native program - something called Golden ComPass which worked with Compuserve. I paid for my Compuserve access by the minute. Under DOS or Windows, I had to stay connected to read messages. With Golden ComPass, I could fetch all of the new messages at once then read them off-line and write my replies. Then it would batch the replies. It worked great.

When Microsoft introduced Windows 95, there was no longer any perceived utility in using OS/2. Windows 95 offered a single memory model so everyone could launch their games from Windows instead of DOS. It had other enhancements including built-in networking which OS/2 did not have.

OS/2 was quickly left in the dust.

Microsoft has forgotten the lessons from those days. It just introduced an emulator that will let people run Android apps on their new Surface Pro tablet. That means that no one will bother to develop native Surface apps. And that will be that.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

The Hobbit the second time around

We went to see The Hobbit, an Unexpected Journey for the second time over the weekend. Both my wife and I thought that it is a better movie the second time you see it.

The first time I saw it I was distracted by the additions to Tolkien's plot. A number of scenes were added that are alluded to in The Hobbit, suggested in the LotR appendix, or simply made up whole. The second time through I knew they were coming and could appreciate how they added to the overall story line.

It also made it easier knowing where the movie was going to end. The novel is one continuous narrative. Looking back at the first movie, I can see that there are some natural breaks. The escape from the Orcs is one. Not long after this Gandolf goes his own way and Frodo, now armed with the Ring, suddenly becomes the one the group depends on for rescues from tight spots. The next break will probably come after the company makes it through Murkwood and escapes from the elves with the final movie covering their time at the Lonely Mountain and the War of the Five Armies. In the book, a great battle was fought at the same time further south and the Necromancer driven out (and into Mordor).

My wife found it easier to keep the characters straight, especially the 13 dwarves.

All of this makes the movie seem much shorter. It kind of flies along the second time when it seemed a little sluggish the first time.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Comic Book Marriages

Very few comic book characters get married. Even fewer stay married.

Probably one reason for this is the conviction that comic book readers are too young to relate to someone married. This may have been true in the 1950s and 1960s when the average reader was still young enough to think that girls had cooties. During this period, women were a distraction. Supposedly Superman cared for Lois Lane but his relationship with her largely consisted of him hiding his identity as Clark Kent from her. On Lois's part, it was obvious that she only cared about Clark if he was really Superman.

There were a few exceptions. The biggest one was Reed Richards and Sue Storm. They actually got engaged, married, and had a kid. That last part is probably what kept their marriage together. They have had problems. Sue left Reed for a while in the early 1970s. In the 1980s, Reed was accused of child molestation but eventually proved innocent. He "died" at one point and it was months before he came back. At another point Sue seemed to marry Doctor Doom but it turned out that this was Reed in Doom's body.

There have been several high-profile marriages. Superman and Lois Lane, Spider-Man and Mary Jane Watson, Cyclops and Jean Grey, The Hulk and Betty Ross all come to mind. None of those lasted.

Superman's marriage was wiped out of existence in one of DC's many reboots.

Marvel tried for years to undo Spider-Man's marriage. First they decided to bring back a clone who had appeared in one issue in the 1970s (in a plot that most people hate). The idea was that it would turn out that the Peter Parker we knew was the real clone. He would lose his powers and go off to a happy ending with Mary Jane. That idea was scuttled in internal politics but they were already committed to the clone story arc. So, for several months, the clone took over the books but no one's heart was in it. It was obvious that they were just marking time until Peter was brought back as the real Spider-Man.

After that, Mary Jane left Peter and for a while was assumed dead. They had a reconciliation only to have their entire marriage erased by a deal with the devil that Peter made in order to save Aunt May.

Cyclops married both Jean and her clone Maddie (not at the same time) but they later broke up and Jean ascended to a higher plane or something.

The Hulk's alter-ego married Betty in the 1980s and they stayed married for a long time until her sudden death. She was resurrected but maintained that her death and his subsequent marriage amounted to an annulment.

Most other comic book marriages have ended badly.

The Sub-Mariner's bride, Dorma was killed at their wedding.

Henry Pym (Giant Man/Ant Man/Yellowjacket/ etc) had his first wife killed by communists during the cold war. He eventually married the Wasp (who looked like his first wife). They split up for several years and reconciled before she was killed.

The Human Torch married the Thing's long-time girl-friend Alicia. It turned out that she was an alien Skrull.

The Vision married the Scarlet Witch and had twin boys. They later broke up after it turned out that their children never really existed and after the Vision's artificial brain was rebooted.

The Black Panther married Storm but later had the marriage annulled.

Supporting characters Ned Leeds and Betty Brant were married for several years but Ned was killed.

Prior to marrying the Hulk, Betty Ross married Glen Talbot but Glen was killed.

Things are not any better at DC.

Barry Allen/ the Flash's wife was killed. He was killed later.

The Elongated Man's wife was killed. He was killed later.

Wonder Girl married her boyfriend. They later broke up. Later, her continuity was changed and that version of Wonder Girl never existed.

Both the Golden Age and Silver Age versions of Hawkman and Hawkgirl/Hawkwoman were married. This was written out of the continuity.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Oscars - the animated movies

The nominees for best animated feature film this year are: "Brave", "Frankenweenie", "ParaNorman", "The Pirates! Band of Misfits", and "Wreck-It Ralph".

I haven't seen Wreck-It Ralph. I have seen the others. All are worthy of the nomination and reminiscent of the days when the live action Best Picture Oscar nominations went to entertaining movies instead of depressing art house releases.

There were five animated nominees instead of three. It looks like animation is here to stay. Only two are full CGI movies. The other three were mainly stop-motion animated with some CGI added.

Of the ones I have seen, ParaNorman stands out. Frankenweenie was good and the funniest of the group but it had a slow start. Because Tim Burton directed it, it is the most likely to become a cult classic.

There was nothing wrong with Brave but it didn't stand out as much as a Pixar movie usually does. It felt more like a Disney princess movie than a Pixar one. It would make a great double feature with Tangled (which was one of Disney's best).

Pirates was fun but it took a while before the plot really got off the ground.

I still think that Arthur Christmas and TinTin were robbed last year. Watching Arthur Christmas again this December confirmed this. It should have won the Oscar and it didn't even get nominated.