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.