Saturday, April 21, 2018

Star Trek Review: "The Cage" & "The Man Trap"

"The Cage"
First pilot
No stardate given

"There's a way out of any cage, and I'll find it."
--Christopher Pike

Synopsis

While investigating the crash landing of a science vessel, the U.S.S. Enterprise enters orbit of Talos IV, home of the Talosian race. Captain Pike is soon captured by the illusion-creating Talosians and held in a giant cage. While his crew attempts to break in and rescue him, Pike is put through a number of illusions reminiscent of his recent missions, and even one in which he has a wife back on Earth. The one constant through all of these illusions is Vina, the sole survivor of the science vessel that crash landed on the planet. Pike soon learns that the Talosians want Pike to fall in love with Vina and remain on the planet, in any illusion he wants, in order to populate the planet with humans since their own race is dying off. When Pike refuses to play along, two other women, Number One and Yeoman Colt, are taken from the ship and are offered as a choice to be Eve to his Adam. Pike manages to outwit the Talosians and escape the cage to the surface, only to be informed that this is where the Talosians wanted him all along. Number One sets a phaser to overload as the Talosians are downloading information on humanity from the ship's computers. All of this causes the Talosians to realize that humans hate captivity enough to die to avoid it, making them too dangerous to be kept on Talos IV. They are released, but Vina reveals that she can't go with them because while the Talosians saved her life from the crash, she is severely disfigured because having never seen a human, they didn't know how to restore her appearance. Pike agrees to leave Vina on the planet, where the Talosians will restore her illusion of beauty and will allow her to live out her life in comfort.

Themes

The studio rejected this pilot because there wasn't enough action. As they say, hindsight is 20/20. Star Trek has established its show as one that, while it can be good with action, is more about the commentary it makes and its examination of the human condition. So the lack of action is not a mark against the show, even if the studio didn't think it would make them money. "The Cage," even though it was written and filmed over 50 years ago, still holds up today, I think. Rewatching it now it still seems as fresh as it did back then, and it didn't leave me bored at all.

The main theme running through this episode is how one lives life. Captain Pike is finding himself worn out by the rigors of commanding a starship. He considers retiring from Starfleet and going home, or finding some less hectic job. His doctor tells him that one can either live life or avoid it and wither away. Through the many illusions that the Talosians give Pike, he realizes, as he's standing on Earth and looking out toward Mojave, a wife setting up a picnic with his horse, Tango, nearby, that a life of quietness isn't for him. Retiring at home instead of exploring the galaxy would be, for him, to turn away from life and start dying.

Of course, another theme of the episode is captivity and the lengths one will go to to avoid it. Captain Pike could have taken the easy way out and decided to live a life of comfort with Vina, sparing the crew of the Enterprise. However, Pike knew that as idyllic as it was, it was still only an illusion. Preferring real life to fantasy, he never let his guard down and he continued to look for a weakness in the Talosians' telepathic powers.

Grade: A-

Reason for grade: A good episode, a valiant attempt at a first pilot for a show in a genre that was still pretty new (before Star Trek, Lost in Space was the only hour-long science fiction show with a recurring cast). The episode keeps you engaged, even though it's short on action, and the episode never really feels like a solution to a problem was cheap.

"The Cage"
Directed by: Robert Butler
Written by: Gene Roddenberry
Starring:
Jeffrey Hunter as Captain Christopher Pike
Leonard Nimoy as Mister Spock
M. Leigh Hudec (aka Majel Barrett) as Number One
John Hoyt as Dr. Phillip Boyce
Peter Duryea as Jose Tyler
Laurel Goodwin as Yeoman J.M. Colt
Also starring:
Susan Oliver as Vina
Clegg Hoyt as Transporter Chief Pitcairn
Meg Wyllie as The Keeper
Malachi Throne as The Keeper's voice
Georgia Schmidt as 1st Talosian
Robert C. Johnson as 1st Talosian's voice
(Robert C. Johnson would go on to gain fame as the tape-recorded assignment voice in Mission: Impossible)

Items of note (if of no interest to you, skip down to the next episode):

"The Cage" was the very first pilot for Star Trek. The powers-that-be at CBS rejected the pilot but were happy with the concept of Star Trek. So they gave Star Trek a rare second chance at a pilot, as long as they made some changes. They wanted to "get rid of the guy with the ears" (i.e. Spock), and they weren't happy about Majel Barrett, either. Gene Roddenberry insisted on keeping Spock with his Vulcan ears, since an integrated crew was important to his vision of the future, and he replaced Majel Barrett with Nichelle Nichols. He promised he would get Barrett a role on the show again, and he followed through with that promise. Majel Barrett has had a few different roles throughout Star Trek's history, including Nurse Christine Chapel in the original series, Lwaxana Troi in Star Trek: The Next Generation, and the computer voice from The Next Generation on. Additionally, Jeffrey Hunter's wife convinced him that science fiction was beneath him, so he chose not to return and reprise his role as Captain Pike for the second Star Trek pilot. Instead of recasting Pike, the producers of Star Trek cast a new captain, James T. Kirk, for the new iteration of Star Trek.

Additionally, instead of wiping "The Cage" from the annals of Star Trek history, it is still considered to be canon with the show. Spock returned to the Enterprise under the new captain, and there was a sequel two-part episode called "The Menagerie," which was a sequel of sorts to "The Cage" and incorporated footage from it in the episode (but more on that when we get there).

"The Cage" also first established some Star Trek tropes:

1) We first hear the classification "Class-M Planet" (Class-M stands for Mutara Class, which means the planet is a small, rocky world which has an oxygen and nitrogen atmosphere similar to Earth's and is capable of supporting organic life).
2) We first see the rank of yeoman. Star Trek was heavily influenced by Earth's Navy. What a yeoman does is never explicitly explained in Star Trek, but in the Navy a yeoman is a petty officer in charge of supplies. It can be assumed a yeoman in Star Trek is similar. The rank of yeoman was discontinued by the time of the 24th century.
3) Another trope is the naming of teams who beam down to planets as the landing party. By the time of the 24th century, landing parties and boarding parties were collectively known as away teams.
4) Another thing we learn is that Captain Pike was born in Mojave in California (which is incidentally not too far from where I live).
5) Spock smiles in this episode when he and Pike find some musical flowers. It had not yet been established that Vulcans are trained to suppress their emotions, so this was a canonistic change that occurred during a later episode.
6) The transporter is first used in this episode. The technology was in its infancy, though, so the screen had to be freeze-framed in order to beam someone on or off. Eventually the technology would advance to the point where a person could be beamed into and out of a busy location.

We also get our first glimpse at a few planets:

1) The Orion homeworld -- It's not clear what world the Orions call home. Orion is a constellation near Taurus which contains the stars Rigel and Betelgeuse. But their homeworld isn't named. It is established, however, that Orions have green skin, they are traders, and they keep their women as slaves.
2) Rigel VII -- This planet is presumably near the Orion homeworld as Rigel is one of the stars in the Orion constellation. Not much is revealed about that planet, other than it seems to be equivalent to Earth's medieval period. This was the planet of a conflict in 2254 the Enterprise, under command of Pike, participated in which three crew members, including Pike's yeoman, were killed.
3) Vega -- Nothing is revealed about this planet, other than there is a Federation colony there. Vega is the brightest star in the constellation Lyra (the harp) as seen from Earth. That is its likely location.
4) Talos IV -- A barren world inhabited by a race called the Talosians. The Talosians were driven underground after their race was almost made extinct by nuclear war. The Talosians mainly developed their mental abilities to the detriment of other aspects of life, such as engineering, so their devices ceased being able to function and they didn't know how to repair them. The Talosians have been searching the galaxy for two people to repopulate Talos IV. When a science vessel, the S.S. Columbia, crashed there in 2236, leaving Vina as its only survivor and yet on the brink of death, the Talosians saved her life albeit inadvertently disfiguring her as they didn't know what a human was supposed to look like. The Talosians read her mind and discovered that Captain Pike fit her description of what an ideal man was like, so the Talosians lured the Enterprise to Talos IV and kidnapped Pike, in an attempt to get him to procreate with Vina. After this encounter, the Federation established General Order 7, making a visit to Talos IV punishable by death, the only death penalty that the Federation gives.

"The Man Trap"
Season One, Episode One
Stardate 1513.1

"But it's a mystery. And I don't like mysteries. They give me a bellyache. And I've got a beauty right now."
--James Kirk

Synopsis

The Enterprise pays a visit to planet M-113 to check up on Professor Robert Crater and his wife, Nancy, whom Dr. McCoy was once romantically involved with. They don't want a checkup but are in dire need of salt, their supply being critically low. When they encounter Nancy, she appears as three different women to the landing party -- Nancy having not aged a day to McCoy, Nancy as she would appear now to Kirk, and a woman that Crewman Darnell left behind on Wrigley's Pleasure Planet. Crewman Darnell dies unexpectedly, a piece of borgia plant, a mildly toxic plant, is found in his mouth but inexplicable red rings are found on his face. Dr. McCoy can't account for why Darnell is dead but later discovers it wasn't the plant at all -- all of the salt was evacuated from his body, killing him instantly. Remembering that the Craters were looking for salt and figuring there must be a connection, McCoy and Kirk return to M-113 with two other crewmen, Green and Sturgeon. Both crewmen end up dying the same way, but only Sturgeon is discovered. Nancy disguises herself as Crewman Green and allows herself to be transported up to the ship with Kirk and McCoy. While Nancy roams the starship looking for salt (killing one more crewman, Barnhart, as she does), it is discovered that Nancy Crater is not who she appears to be. The real Nancy Crater died over a year ago. This creature is one that can assume any form and is responsible for the deaths of the four crewman. The salt vampire ends up turning on Robert Crater, killing him, and almost kills Captain Kirk by draining him of his salt, but Doctor McCoy kills the salt vampire in time.

Themes

The theme in this episode deals with a creature that is the last of its kind. It is an intelligent, self-aware creature, so killing it unjustly would be an act of murder. Of course, killing the creature is justified by the fact that it is threatening the crew of the Enterprise, but the moral dilemma is complicated by the realization that this salt vampire requires salt in order to survive. It is not a premeditated attack on the ship, just a creature doing what it must to survive.

Grade: B-

It's a good story to open the series with. It's a good, compelling mystery, but when the creature disguises itself as Crewman Green and starts wandering around the starship looking for salt, the episode really starts to drag. Plus, Yeoman Rand and Lieutenant Sulu start to wonder about "Crewman Green" because he is acting funny and not talking to anyone, when it was able to convince Kirk and McCoy that it really is Nancy Crater. So this seemed like a pretty big plot hole to me, although it didn't really go anywhere (despite Green's bizarre behavior, neither Rand nor Sulu think to inform the captain or the doctor).

"The Man Trap"
Directed by: Marc Daniels
Written by: George Clayton Johnson
Starring:
William Shatner as James Kirk
Leonard Nimoy as Spock
DeForest Kelley as Leonard McCoy
George Takei as Hikaru Sulu
Nichelle Nichols as Uhura
Also starring:
Grace Lee Whitney as Janice Rand
Jeanne Bal as Nancy Crater
Alfred Ryder as Robert Crater
Bruce Watson as Crewman Green
Michael Zaslow as Crewman Darnell
Sharon Gimpel as M-113 creature

Items of note:

"The Man Trap" was not the second pilot for Star Trek, but it was the first aired episode. I'll be going through these episodes in the order they aired.

In this episode, we learn of "the one who got away" for Leonard McCoy. He and Nancy Crater were romantically involved.

This episode established the following Star Trek tropes:

1) This is the first episode which contained narration over the opening credits. "Space, the final frontier. These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange, new worlds. To seek out new life and new civilizations. To boldly go where no man has gone before." When Star Trek: The Next Generation started airing on television, it contained a similar narration, with two updates: "five-year mission" was changed to "continuing mission," to reflect the fact that the flagship of the Federation in the 24th century was not only commissioned for a five-year mission as the first Enterprise was, and "where no man has gone before" was updated to the more politically correct "where no one has gone before."
2) The usage of the captain's log. For Star Trek: The Next Generation, the captain's log really felt like a tool for Captain Picard to keep track of his adventures on the Enterprise. However, in the original series, it really feels more like a way to narrate the story and incorporate elements that the crew couldn't possibly know but the writer wants the audience to know, in case they couldn't pick it up by the hints and clues dropped in the episode, itself. That was especially prevalent in this episode. Also, when Captain Kirk wants to add an entry with the same stardate, he says "captain's log, additional entry." Captain Picard used a slightly different wording, "captain's log, supplemental."
3) Sulu uses a blessing, "may the great bird of the galaxy bless your planet." I don't believe this phrase is ever used again on any of the shows, but it was used, slightly differently, in Peter David's series of novels, Star Trek: New Frontier. In the novels, it wasn't a blessing; it was a curse, which was accentuated by the fact that the "great bird of the galaxy" was a real bird that would incubate inside a planet and then break the planet apart when it hatched (this was before a similar thing happened in Doctor Who). The phrase in New Frontier was "may the great bird of the galaxy roost on your planet." "The great bird of the galaxy" was also the nickname Robert Justman, associate producer on Star Trek, gave to Gene Roddenberry.
4) We learn that Uhura speaks Swahili. We also later learn that Uhura's name is the Swahili word for "freedom." Where Uhura was born is never mentioned, but considering these facts we can surmise that Uhura was born, or at least has ancestry in, East Africa.
5) Crewman Darnell has the dubious distinction of being the first person killed in Star Trek (the series and the franchise), although four people actually die in this episode -- Crewmen Darnell, Green, Sturgeon, and Barnhart, ironically none of these men wearing a red shirt.

The follow planets were shown or mentioned:

1) Wrigley's Pleasure Planet -- Nothing is revealed about this planet other than its existence and possible name (or nickname). Crewman Darnell saw the M-113 creature as a woman he left behind on this planet.
2) Vulcan -- The Vulcans are one of the most prominent races in Star Trek. As such,we will learn quite a lot about this planet (and even go there). We learn in this episode that Vulcan has no moon in orbit around it.
3) Corinth IV -- Nothing is revealed about this planet, other than there is a Starfleet facility located there.
4) M-113 -- a desertlike and nearly barren planet, the former home to a long-dead civilization. It is now inhabited by archaeologist Robert Crater and the M-113 salt vampire, though now after the events of "The Man Trap," it is left uninhabited. It is also home to the borgia plant, which is a mildly toxic plant described as Carbon Group III vegetation.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Movie Review: Rampage

Disclaimer: This review will contain spoilers. Don't read it unless you've already watched the movie or unless you don't care about being spoiled. I like to analyze movies, and I can't really do that unless I spoil the movie. You have been warned.


A company called Energyne has been performing unethical experiments on animals in a space station. These experiments have involved gene manipulation, in which a rat has grown to many times its original size and is wreaking havoc on the space station. The lone occupant of the station, Dr. Kerry Atkins, retrieves the experiment and heads back to earth. However, the escape pod disintegrates on re-entry, killing the scientist but dropping three canisters to earth. One is consumed by a crocodile, a wolf is exposed to another one, and a third victim, a rare albino gorilla named George, is exposed to a canister. Primatologist and former US Army Special Forces soldier, Davis Okoye, has befriended George. However, George has started growing, just like the wolf and crocodile, and soon all three are rampaging through the streets of Chicago.

I was flabbergasted when I first saw the trailer to this movie. I was actually able to guess that it was Rampage before the title came up, mainly because Rampage is a game I played on NES as a kid. I was floored that they would attempt to make a movie based on this simple game about giant monsters who rampage through a city and compete to eat the most civilians and crush the most vehicles. But I guess since Battleship was made into a movie, why not Rampage?

The game did have a story, although it wasn't much, but this movie doesn't follow the story of the game. In the game, the monsters were former humans who were all transformed by different methods (in the film, government agent Harvey Russell makes a joke about "internet nerds" calling the wolf Ralph, which is a nod to the game in which the wolf was originally a human named Ralph). In the movie, the monsters were all originally animals who grew to massive sizes based on the gene manipulation canisters. Of course, movies based on video games have sort of a checkered history. There hasn't really been a "good" movie based on a video game, although I'm one of the few people who actually likes the Super Mario Bros. movie (and I'll likely review it at some point).

I usually like to read reviews of movies after I see them, to see what the critics think. I hardly ever agree with the critics, and this is no exception. The critics seemed to have generally disliked this movie, which just shows that I'm never going to understand what critics are trying to get out of movies like this. No, this movie is not going to be the next Citizen Kane. But it was actually a surprisingly good kaiju monster movie. No, it didn't break any new ground in the genre, but the special effects are quite excellent and very believable (even though I knew a jump scare was coming, one jump scare with the giant wolf actually caused me to jump out of my seat). And the movie surprisingly gets to the action really fast. It doesn't really meander much with the story. Additionally, one of the most common criticisms of Kong: Skull Island I read was their two-dimensional people. There was no character development, or even really no identifiable personality in the characters in that movie (save John C. Reilly's character -- but come on, it's John C. Reilly). This movie did give a backstory to some of the characters, so that they weren't exactly two-dimensional. But the critics don't seem to care that a movie at least tries in this regard.

This was definitely a movie I enjoyed, and I would say should probably be regarded as one of the better video game movies. There are definitely worse kaiju movies (I'm looking at you, Godzilla 1998), and even though the plot is forgettable, the action scenes are very well done, and the CGI monsters are believable.

Themes

There really aren't many themes, to speak of. There's Davis and George's relationship, of course, and the fact that they anthropomorphized George. George is basically an ape that acts as a human, including playing practical jokes, and flipping the bird to Davis. So George was kind of over-the-top in how gorillas really act.

I'm not a fan of wrestling, but Dwayne Johnson (formerly "The Rock") has actually turned out to be a pretty good actor, although he's been typecast as the "action hero" type. However, one thing really stuck out at me. The main human villain of the movie, Claire Wyden, shot Davis in an attempt to stop him from giving a serum to George that would stop his aggression, leaving him for dead. Later on top of a building with George climbing and wreaking havoc, it is revealed (surprise!) that Davis didn't actually die from his wounds. Wyden holds Davis and his associate, Kate Caldwell, at gunpoint, saying that she is glad that Davis is alive so that they can distract George while she makes her escape. Then Caldwell says she is "feeding the monster to the gorilla", puts a serum in Wyden's bag, and then pushes her toward George so that George can eat her. A particularly gruesome death, which one might say was earned because of how evil she was and due to her actions in the movie. However, at the point she was not an imminent threat. In fact, she said that she was going to leave them alive so that they could act as a distraction for the gorilla. This means that Caldwell killing Wyden was not in self-defense; it was a revenge killing, all while dehumanizing her by calling her a "monster." This does not strike me as a heroic act. It strikes me as an act of murder, even though one might also call it poetic justice. Perhaps I'm mistaken on this point, and someone can set me straight on it.

Grade: B+

A fitting grade for a B-movie. Like I said, it wasn't great. There are better kaiju movies, but there are also worse ones. This was a surprisingly good monster movie, well acted, good CGI, good action. All-around, it's just a good popcorn flick that really doesn't try to be anything more than it is. And that's good enough for me. Not every movie I see has to be a thinker.

Rampage
Directed by: Brad Peyton
Written by: Ryan Engle, Carlton Cuse, Ryan J. Condal, and Adam Sztykiel

Starring:
Dwayne Johnson as Davis Okoye
Naomie Harris as Dr. Kate Caldwell
Malin Akerman as Claire Wyden
Jake Lacy as Brett Wyden
Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Harvey Russell
Marley Shelton as Dr. Kerry Atkins
Joe Manganiello as Burke
Demetrius Grosse as Colonel Blake
Jason Liles as motion capture for George

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Movie Review: A Quiet Place

Disclaimer: This review will contain spoilers. Don't read it unless you've already watched the movie or unless you don't care about being spoiled. I like to analyze movies, and I can't really do that unless I spoil the movie. You have been warned.


An asteroid has crashed to earth, bringing with it blind alien creatures who hunt by sound. The slightest sound you make can attract one of them, unless there is a louder sound nearby. This film follows the Abbott family (whose names, I believe, were never stated in the film but were indicated in the credits) as they struggle to survive in this new world, having to live as quietly as possible so as not to attract these monsters. Most of the people in town have been killed by the creatures, but the Abbotts have had an advantage in that since Regan, the daughter, is deaf, they know how to communicate without talking through sign language.

The trailer didn't reveal what the monsters looked like, but you did get a few glimpses in the movie. The first thing I thought was that they looked a lot like the Cloverfield monster (when I told the friend who attended the movie with me, he concurred that that was his thought, too).

The movie is quite good. It's a horror film, but not in the same vein as many horror movies are today. There were only four or five jump scares (relying on jump scares is lazy writing, so I'm glad there were so few). I'm not a person who can do horror films, but this is more a suspense thriller, which is a genre of horror I can handle.

As good as the movie is, it is not a perfect film. There were situations that were definitely contrived to add danger to the movie. Two that I can recall (and they might be the only two examples):

First, there is a nail on the staircase where Evelyn walks up and down. In one scene in which she is being hunted by a monster, she runs down the staircase, not knowing the nail is there, and she steps down right on it, dropping a glass jar. This, of course, would be incredibly painful, but she can't make any noise or she'll let the creature know where she is. The reason this scene is contrived is because prior in the movie she was pulling a bag made of what looked like cashmere up the staircase. It got caught on the nail, and she kept yanking on it to try and free it, eventually ripping the bag. Nothing comes of this scene (no monster attack, and she doesn't notice the nail); it is purely to let us know the nail is there and set up the later scene where she steps on the nail. Now, there was no rush in this scene. She wasn't being hunted, she was just casually pulling it up. Once the bag was caught, she should have stopped yanking (since she had to avoid making noise), walk down the staircase and see what the bag was caught on. This, of course, would have shown her the nail and she could have done something about it.

Second, there is a scene in which the kids are being hunted and they fall into a grain silo. They start to sink under the grain, nearly suffocating, until they are able to climb onto a metal door to prevent them from sinking. This is all well and good, except that the monster finds them and jumps inside, flipping the metal door over and trapping them underneath. The kids should have sank down into the grain, but they didn't.

Themes

This is a movie about family, and the great lengths a family will go to to watch out for each other and protect each other, including sacrificing themselves to save a loved one. This is a theme that is not properly expressed in fiction today, especially when it comes to a nuclear family (a mom and dad having kids naturally) and in treating the father as heroic rather than a buffoon. Lee doesn't just protect his kids, he helps them survive, including showing why they should go on, trying to live a relatively normal life even in this new, dangerous world.

This also includes forgiveness. Regan, who is played by a real-life deaf actress, blames herself for the death of her youngest brother, Beau, and thinks that her father blames her, too. She goes throughout the movie thinking that her dad hates her for it, and in a moment when Lee has to sacrifice himself for his children, he signs to her that he loves her and has always loved her, showing her that he has never blamed her for Beau's death.

Bishop Barron, and several of my friends, have pointing out the pro-life themes in this movie (Bishop Barron goes further and finds numerous religious themes in the film, including with their name "Abbott" and the way this new world forces them live essentially monastically). I'm always hesitant to call a movie "pro-life" when I don't know the political leanings of the writers or producers, especially since pro-choice people can find reasons why the pro-life themes really aren't pro-life. But in this movie, Evelyn becomes pregnant. One might wonder why anyone would become pregnant in this new dangerous world, but the Abbotts are not letting this world change their determination to live life to the fullest. Rather than leaving the baby to die somewhere because raising a baby is too dangerous, they take steps to find a way to limit the amount of sound that the monsters could potentially hear.

Grade: A

Reason for grade: As I said, this is a very good movie. It's sucks you in right from the beginning and doesn't really let up the suspense, except for brief moments of time (in a reversal, the music is used in this horror film to indicate when we're safe, and the music goes away to indicate when danger is near). It also has excellent pro-family (and possibly pro-life) themes. The only thing really keeping me from giving the film an A+ is the contrived scenes I mentioned at the beginning. If Evelyn had slowed down and found what the bag was caught on, she could have done something about the nail. And the kids should have suffocated when the door was overturned on top of the in the grain silo. Since these examples would have affected the survivability of the scenarios, they affected the grade I gave the film.

A Quiet Place
Directed by: John Krasinski
Written by: Bryan Woods and Scott Beck
Starring:
John Krasinski as Lee Abbott
Emily Blunt as Evelyn Abbott
Millicent Simmonds as Regan Abbott
Noah Jupe as Marcus Abbott
Cade Woodward as Beau Abbott

Monday, April 9, 2018

Movie Review: Moon

Disclaimer: This review will contain spoilers. Don't read it unless you've already watched the movie or unless you don't care about being spoiled. I like to analyze movies, and I can't really do that unless I spoil the movie. You have been warned.


Sarang Station has been built on the Moon in order to mine helium-3 from lunar soil following an oil crisis on Earth. Sam Bell was an astronaut contracted to oversee the mining, an AI named GERTY is his only companion. His contract was for three years, and it's quickly coming up. However, Sam begins having hallucinations, one of which distracts him and causes him to crash his rover, knocking him out. This starts a chain of events that reveals there is something more nefarious behind his work overseeing the mining process.

Moon is actually a movie that really interested me when I first learned about it. I discovered that it was on Netflix today so I wanted to finally sit down and watch it. The movie was real slow starting out. It followed the day-to-day goings on of Sam Bell, and this is a character I didn't know anything about or didn't care about, and it lasted a while. The Martian was sort of the same way, but there was something about it that really helped to latch my interest a lot faster than this movie did (perhaps because The Martian basically started out with a disaster before the day-to-day stuff). So it took me a while to get invested in the story, but once I did get invested, I got really into it. If you can make it through the slow start, this is a very interesting science fiction story. I haven't watched a lot of hard science fiction relative to the soft science fiction, but I'm thinking I'll want to seek out more of it.

One thing struck me as humorous. The sky (so to speak) on the Moon was littered with stars. However, as NASA would tell you, you can't see any stars on the Moon because there's no atmosphere to diffuse the light, and they're too dim to be seen without the atmosphere. This is a common objection from Moon landing deniers, and yet you see a lot of stars in this movie. If the Moon landing really was a hoax, I could imagine NASA would have dotted the black sky with stars, just like the director did here. Read this article for more information on that.

Themes

You should really see this movie before reading this review, otherwise the big reveals will be spoiled here.

I originally thought this movie was going to deal with the isolation of being so alone on the Moon for three years, but Bell had GERTY to keep him company and seemed to be doing relatively well. The real theme is regarding cloning. After Bell has his accident, we see Bell wake up in the infirmary with GERTY looking over him. It is soon revealed that Sam Bell is still in the lunar rover and the Sam Bell who woke up in the infirmary is a clone of Sam Bell. GERTY receives orders from Earth not to allow this Sam Bell to leave, but Bell manufactures a crisis and convinces GERTY to let him outside to check for damage. Bell finds the other Sam Bell, unconscious in the lunar rover, and brings him inside. The Sam Bell who had the accident believes himself to be the original Sam Bell -- but it soon is revealed it's even worse than that. The Sam Bell who had the accident was, himself, a clone of the original Sam Bell, who is still on Earth. Not three years, but at least a decade has passed since the mining operation began. Sam Bell was cloned hundreds of times, with each clone sent to the Moon to save money on sending astronauts there. The Bell we started this adventure with is not going home after his three-year contract. The clones are set to die after the three years expire and a new clone will be awakened to continue, unaware that there were any clones before him, thinking himself to be the original who landed and began the mining operation.

The movie presents this as unethical behavior (in fact, when the credits are about to roll, they mention that after this practice is discovered, the mining organization's stock plummets), as well they should. Cloning doesn't seem to be as common a theme in science fiction as other things like artificial intelligence, so the fate of clones and the way to treat them ethically doesn't feel like an overdone scenario to me. However, the cloning we do see in movies like Moon is not the way cloning is done in real life -- real life cloning is called Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer. To my knowledge, there have never been any successful human clones made (though I think a scientist in Japan once claimed that he has), but some animals, such as the sheep Dolly, have been successfully cloned. How cloning works in the real world is that the nucleus of the donor's cell is removed and the rest of the cell is discarded, then the nucelus of an egg cell is removed and the nucleus of the donor cell is inserted into the enucleated egg cell. The nucleus is reprogrammed by the host cell, then the egg (with the donor's cell nucleus) is given an electric shock until it starts to divide. In other words, real life cloning involves cloning the donor as an embryo, and the embryo must grow and develop normally. You just can't clone someone as an adult, and I'm skeptical that the clone would contain all of the donor's memories, as the clones do in this film. However, a clone does become a brand new human being, and so ultimately, I agree with the movie that this is an unethical practice. The nature of clones is an interesting one to think about, but I take it that since they are human beings and develop as such, so they have their own rights and value as human beings.

Grade: B+

Reason for grade: A bit lower of a mark because it does start off pretty slow. If it had managed to capture my attention right away, I could have easily given it an A. Still, I enjoyed the movie and it gives us something to think about, even if it assumes the clones have value rather than presenting a discussion of it.

Moon
Directed by: Duncan Jones
Written by: Nathan Parker
Starring:
Sam Rockwell as Sam Bell
Kevin Spacey as the voice of GERTY
Dominique McElligott as Tess Bell
Benedict Wong as Thompson
Kaya Scodelario as Eve Bell
Matt Berry as Overmeyers

New Project: Reviewing Every Star Trek Episode/Movie

Star Trek has been my favorite franchise for most of my life. I first got into Star Trek when I was in the sixth grade because one of my classmates couldn't stop raving about it. I decided to give it a try. Star Trek: The Next Generation was in its run, just finishing up its fifth season. The first episode I managed to watch was "Time's Arrow, Part I" (yes, when it was originally a cliff-hanger. I remember after the episode was over and a rerun was being previewed, wondering why the second part wasn't going to be shown next week.)

I've only ever watched one Star Trek show in its entirety on first-run episodes: Star Trek: Voyager. The Original Series was before I was alive, The Next Generation was a couple years away from ending. I gave Deep Space Nine a try but gave up on it after just a few episodes. I liked Voyager enough to stick with it throughout the entire show (while I was still trying to catch up on The Next Generation reruns). I also liked Enterprise enough to stick with it, but unfortunately during the third season I started working swing shift at work so I missed out on the entire season. Now in the age of DVDs and Netflix, I've managed to watch every single episode and movie Star Trek has ever made. Well, with the exception of Discovery. I'm ambivalent about that show. I saw the first episode of it when it aired on network television and wasn't impressed. It didn't resemble Star Trek at all. At any rate, I plan to watch the entire franchise in broadcast order and review them. After I finish each show (including the movies), I will give a top ten list of what I consider the best and the worst episodes of each show.

This will most definitely be a labor of love, but it will also give me a better idea of which episodes to suggest watching and which to avoid when I learn someone is wanting to give one of the shows a chance. I will begin with the very first pilot, "The Cage," then move into The Original Series. Since there are over 500 episodes and movies in the franchise, I will likely be watching and reviewing them two or three at a time.

Let the viewing begin.


Sunday, April 8, 2018

Movie Review: Ready Player One

Disclaimer: This review will contain spoilers. Don't read it unless you've already watched the movie or unless you don't care about being spoiled. I like to analyze movies, and I can't really do that unless I spoil the movie. You have been warned.


Ready Player One is a movie set in a dystopian future, though not very far in our future (set in Columbus, Ohio in 2045). The world's population centers have become slum-like cities, and in order to get away from the depression of the real world, a man named James Halliday has created a virtual world known as OASIS (Ontologically Anthropocentric Sensory Immersive Simulation). As I said, OASIS is a fully-immersive virtual world in which players can form friendships, play games, and basically escape the real world for as long as they want.

James Halliday has since died but users have discovered Anorak's Quest inside the OASIS. Anorak is Halliday's avatar in OASIS, so the quest was created by the creator of OASIS, himself. Inside the memory archives of OASIS lie clues to completing certain activities and locating keys. Once a player finds three keys, he will then discover the hidden "easter egg" in the game, and will then be given control of OASIS, among other prizes. Ready Player One follows five players on their quest to find these keys against other "gunters" (a portmanteu of "egg hunters") and IOI "sixers" (IOI is an acronym for Innovative Online Industries, and "sixers" are indentured slaves of IOI, known as "sixers" because of their six-digit identification numbers). In the process of hunting these keys for the easter egg, the five players uncover Halliday's life story and the true, nefarious nature of IOI.

Ready Player One was just really a fun movie. It was fast-paced from beginning to end, and it culminated in a major battle that was like Lord of the Rings with internet avatars. It's incredibly nostalgic. The soundtrack kicks off with Jump by Van Halen and runs a pretty good gamut of various styles from the 80s, also including Everybody Wants to Rule the World by Tears for Fears, I Hate Myself for Loving You by Joan Jett, and We're Not Gonna Take It by Twisted Sister. Considering how much 80s nostalgia was packed into the original book, securing copyrights was going to be a major hurdle to doing this film, and they didn't even get all the rights they wanted. This section of the article on Wikipedia is pretty interesting regarding the rights they wanted to secure.

The 80s nostalgia was largely due to Halliday's character being a huge fan of the 80s, not just with the music but with the movies referenced, as well as Atari games. James Halliday is actually a character I identify with quite a bit. He's probably the character I most identify with I've ever seen in a movie or television show (and there are some who have come close), from his extreme anxiety with women to his love of the 80s to how out of place he feels in the real world.

Themes

As with any movie or show dealing with a virtual reality, a major theme of this movie is real life vs. the fantasy world. One of the players we follow is a kid named Wade, who goes by Parzival in OASIS. His parents have died, so he lives with his aunt and his aunt's live-in boyfriend who is borderline abusive to Wade, his aunt siding with her boyfriend when he is rough with Wade. In the course of searching for the first key, he encounters Samantha, known as Art3mis in OASIS, who first tips Wade off that this is more than just a game and there is something evil going on at IOI. While this world provides a fantasy that allows people to escape the dredges of real life, in the end the victor of the easter egg game decides to shut down OASIS twice a week to coax people to spend more time in the real world. However, I think that particular message was neutered a bit by the fact that the protagonists' lives were all improved dramatically by finding the easter egg. It would have been much more impactful if their lives hadn't changed significantly for the better at the end of the film. It's all well and good to spend more time in the real world if your life has improved greatly, but what about all the people looking for an escape whose lives were still bad? I would agree living in the real world is better, but the film, itself, doesn't have any helpful advice for those people.

Grade: A-

Reason for grade: This was an incredibly fun movie, and the nostalgia was exciting. It was also gorgeous. Steven Spielberg has really outdone himself with this film (and has gone on record as stating this was one of his three most difficult films he's ever made). However, the movie has really very little else going for it. It doesn't really delve too deep into the theme of real reality vs. virtual reality, and the side characters are not developed very well, aside from playing into certain gamer and race-based stereotypes. This is a movie I would definitely re-watch, but not one to watch if you're looking for a movie that really makes you think.

Ready Player One
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Screenplay by: Zak Penn and Ernest Cline, based on the novel Ready Player One, written by Ernest Cline
Starring:
Tye Sheridan as Wade Watts/Parzival
Olivia Cooke as Samantha Cook/Art3mis
Lena Waithe as Helen/Aech
Philip Zhao as Zhou/Sho
Win Morisaki as Toshiro/Daito
Ben Mendelsohn as Nolan Sorrento
T.J. Miller as i-R0k
Simon Pegg as Ogden Morrow/The Curator
Mark Rylance as James Halliday
Hannah John-Kamen as F'Nale Zandor

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Movie Review: The Case for Christ

Disclaimer: This review will contain spoilers. Don't read it unless you've already watched the movie or unless you don't care about being spoiled. I like to analyze movies, and I can't really do that unless I spoil the movie. You have been warned.

The Case for Christ is based on the true story of modern Christian apologist Lee Strobel and based on his best-selling book of the same name. After a Christian nurse, Alfie, saves their daughter from choking, Lee's wife, Leslie, forms a friendship with her. Alfie invites Leslie to church which results in Leslie becoming convinced of the truth of Christianity and getting baptized. Lee, a staunch atheist, doesn't approve and this jeopardizes their marriage. Wanting to fight for his marriage, Lee sets out on the biggest story of his career: to talk to experts in various fields with the purpose of disproving the claims of Christianity and saving Leslie from what he deems a delusion.

When I got out of high school, I went through a questioning phase. Is Christianity actually true? Are there actual non-Biblical reasons for believing in Christianity? I could easily have been another statistic of a believer who loses his faith in college if I hadn't stumbled upon the right books at my local Christian bookstore. The Case for Christ was the first apologetic book I ever read (C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity was the second). That made the anticipation for this film even greater for me, seeing as it was the first exposure I ever had to Christian apologetics.

I'll just say right up front that this movie is quite excellent. I'm always a bit reticent when a new faith-based film comes out, as so many are cheesy, poorly acted and poorly written, etc. But this film is quite the opposite: the acting was good, the writing was good, and no real "Christianese." You really got the sense of urgency between Lee's and Leslie's deteriorating marriage, and the conversations between Lee and the various experts felt authentic (not to mention, it was great fun seeing Lee's conversations, necessarily condensed for the film format, reenacted on the screen). There are good faith-based films out there (Time Changer has long been my favorite Christian film), but they are few and far between. This is a film that any believer can confidently hold up as an example of a faith-based film done right.

As one would expect, in the months leading up to the film's release, there was no shortage of angry diatribes written by atheists about Lee Strobel, and calling him all sorts of things like charlatan, etc. One thing you don't see, from these alleged "purveyors of reason and evidence," is any sort of evidence that Strobel is a charlatan or a faker. At best, they could argue that Strobel was convinced based on bad evidence, but they have absolutely no evidence that Strobel's journey did not happen as he says that it did. However, this is a movie review blog, not an apologetics blog, so I won't be responding to any of the claims by atheists here. You can find responses to their claims in scholarly works by Christian thinkers.

Themes

A great thing about this movie is how brutally honest it is about Lee's behavior after his wife converts to Christianity. As you get a lot with Christian films and songs, there are no vague struggles here. You really get the sense that the Strobels' marriage is on rocky ground based on Leslie's conversion. The actors in this film were excellent, which was crucial to really give you that sense of drama that the film needs. The film is based on Lee's book, in which he details his discussions with these experts. The elements of drama in the film tell the untold story, of sorts -- what went on behind-the-scenes that spurred Lee's determination to talk to these experts. I was legitimately moved to tears in at least two parts.

As I mentioned earlier, the conversations between experts were condensed for the film format because of everything else the story needed in order to be told well. Of course, one can draw comparisons to 2014's God's Not Dead, which told a different story but still grounded it in apologetics. The apologetics used in God's Not Dead weren't terrible -- in fact, the lead character in that film used good arguments. But the problem is the format of the film didn't allow the arguments he did use to be properly expounded. In this film, the apologetic arguments are presented much better, probably because rather than trying to prove Christianity with a cumulative case of arguments, Lee was setting out to disprove one specific element of Christianity -- the Resurrection -- because that's the event that the truth of Christianity hinges on. This more specific focus allowed a better case to be made than in God's Not Dead.

The atheists in this movie are also presented well. They are presented as actual people who are only trying to do what they believe is right (Lee doesn't hate Leslie after her conversion, but he does believe she's been taken in by a delusion and wants to set her straight to save their marriage), and his skeptical mentor was portrayed as intelligent and compassionate.

Conclusion

The Case for Christ is one of the best faith-based films ever made. The only real nitpick I have is that while Alfie was certain sincere, she took a verse of Scripture out of context (a promise made to Ezekiel in Ezekiel 36 that God will replace his heart of stone with a heart of flesh) and told Leslie that the same promised applied to her and Lee. It is, of course, poor exegesis to take a promise made by God to an individual in Scripture and apply it universally. Lee could just as easily have not converted, as many people don't convert to Christianity. That's only a minor nitpick. There really wasn't much else I didn't like about the film. If you haven't seen it yet, go see it. We need more good faith-based films being made, and the only way to do that is to talk with your wallet.

So what do you think? Did you enjoy it? Hate it? Are ambivalent about it? Were you convinced by the arguments and evidence presented in the film? Let me know in the comments.

Grade: A+

Reason for grade: The film is extremely well done. It's the best faith-based film ever made, which really isn't saying too much, but I'll add to that comment that this movie may end up being my favorite movie of the year. It's certainly my favorite movie I've seen so far. It will have stiff competition with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 coming out in a couple of weeks, so we'll see. But it's extremely well-acted and well-written, you feel everything, and the movie never feels like it drags at all. This is simply a great film.

The Case for Christ
Directed by: Jon Gunn
Screenplay by: Brian Bird, based on the novel The Case for Christ, written by Lee Strobel
Starring:
Mike Vogel as Lee Strobel
Erika Christensen as Leslie Strobel
L. Scott Caldwell as Alfie Davis
Kevin Sizemore as Dr. Gary Habermas
Faye Dunaway as Dr. Roberta Waters
Tom Nowicki as Dr. Alexander Metherell
Rus Blackwell as Dr. William Lane Craig
Jordan Cox as Bill Hybels