Sunday, November 28, 2010

Crazy Fan Theory of the Week

The aliens in "Alien" (and it sequels) are sentient.

Sure, they don't talk, either to the humans or to each other. But that doesn't mean they don't communicate. Maybe they "speak" in ultra-sonic frequencies (those big, dome-like foreheads look suspiciously like the skulls of dolphins, used for echolocation) or use pheromones or telepathy or some sort of other sci-fi communications. And yes, they are astonishingly single-minded predators, and you'd think that an intelligent species would display some sort of ethical structure to their behavior. But intelligence doesn't necessarily imply culture, especially when (as is definitely the case in the first movie) each new alien has to create its own civilization from scratch wherever it's born.

But if you watch the movies under the working assumption that they're actually very smart, if uncivilized, a lot of things make sense. The alien in the first movie doesn't just wind up in the escape pod by chance, it heard the announcements and decided to get the heck out of Dodge. The aliens in the second movie display excellent strategy and tactics, placing their nest in a spot that neutralizes their enemies' most powerful weapons while allowing them free use of their own. And the alien in the third movie practically runs a textbook guerrilla warfare campaign against its opponents right up until the end.

So the next time you watch the "Alien" flicks, don't think of them as mindless, voracious killing machines. Think of them as extremely intelligent, voracious killing machines. Somehow, that makes them even scarier, doesn't it?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Rising--All-New, Extra-Plausible Edition!

Chapter One

Jim was a zombie. He'd been hiding in his Y2K bunker, but when his wife became an intelligent, tool-using zombie, she used the phone to call a dozen other zombies who had access to construction equipment and they broke in and killed him.


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

My Vision of "Doctor Horrible, Part Three"

First, let me offer the caveat that it's always easier to look at someone else's work and say, "Oh, I know what they should have done," than it is to actually come up with the idea in the first place. Everybody's a critic, everybody's an editor, and most of everybody is wrong about how good their changes are. (I have had people send me "corrected" versions of my short stories. Suffice to say that I was not moved to incorporate their plot holes and forced expository dialogue.)

That said, I really do think that the final chapter of "Doctor Horrible" dropped the ball on a lot of levels. Act Two ends, for those of you who haven't seen it recently, with Captain Hammer telling Billy that he recognizes him as Doctor Horrible, that he can see that Billy has a crush on Penny (who is starstruck by Captain Hammer) and that he plans on sleeping with Penny just to crush Doctor Horrible's spirits. Doctor Horrible, who has been struggling with the moral dilemma of "kill or be killed" (he's been ordered to prove himself as a supervillain by murdering someone, or else face death himself at the hands of uber-villain Bad Horse) decides that he's suddenly got it in him to kill after all.

Act Three picks up a few days later. UM? Doctor Horrible has just worked himself up into a killing frenzy over the thought of Captain Hammer molesting his sweet, innocent Penny...and his response is to go home and think about what to do next? Penny, who has up to this point been portrayed as more innocent than Mary Marvel, gives it up to Captain Hammer? (This also has the side effect of making Penny look dumber than a bag of...well, penises, I suppose...because she doesn't realize that Captain Hammer is taking advantage of her for sex, which he couldn't be more obvious about if he tried.) And then, of course, the story ends with a good old-fashioned Woman in a Refrigerator, as Penny becomes nothing more than the toy that the two Important Male Characters accidentally break. What's Penny's reaction to finding out that Billy is really a villain? Does she hate him, or does she see through his facade to the innocent beneath? Does she ever see Captain Hammer for the heel he is? Who cares about her, she's just a silly woman!

So, my Act Three takes a step back. It's the night of the Big Date, as Captain Hammer takes Penny to the HammerCave. Before their date, Billy gives Penny a friendship bracelet, to show that even though she's dating someone--someone handsome and rich and strong and charming and...**chokes down bile** Anyway, he still cares about her. In a strictly platonic sense, of course.

But secretly, the friendship bracelet has a tracking device hidden inside. When Captain Hammer takes Penny to the HammerCave, Doctor Horrible will follow them! And once you're inside a super-hero's secret hideout, they're always powerless against you. It's like you're in their underwear or something. Armed with his freeze gun, Doctor Horrible stalks the couple as they go on their date.

Of course, the date is all about CH making hideous faux pas after hideous faux pas, but still charming the innocent Penny with his smarmy manner. DH watches, his rage growing, until finally he takes her back to show off the HammerCave...and DH follows in after them. He stalks them slowly, waiting for just the right moment to strike...

And doesn't get the chance. Instead, Penny whips out a compact paralysis beamer from her purse and blasts the (stripped down to his boxers) Captain Hammer with it! As he gapes at her in immobile shock, she gloats at him--did he really think that anyone could be that sweet, that innocent, that pathetically naive? A homeless shelter? Pah! A perfect cover for a true supervillain, allowing her to pretend to be kind and decent while secretly reveling in the misery of others! A perfect place to hide for the soon-to-be-newest member of the Evil League of Evil...BAD PENNY!

Suddenly, Doctor Horrible leaps out of the shadows, filled with outrage. Penny can't be evil! She's the sweet, innocent girl of his dreams that he loved from afar! She can't have...lied to him? Penny, of course, points out that he's simultaneously confessing that he's a supervillain while complaining that she lied to him about being innocent, but he kind of misses the irony. The two of them do battle, causing rockfalls and explosions in the HammerCave. (Cheap rockfalls and explosions, natch.)

In the end, Penny is lost under the falling rocks. Doctor Horrible is about to let Captain Hammer perish as well, but realizes that while true loves come and go, a really good enemy is irreplaceable. He submits his victory over Bad Penny as proof that he's truly bad to the bone, and is accepted into the Evil League of Evil. (Yes, Penny still dies, but she dies as a well-rounded character with her own goals and drives within the story. And of course, during the stinger, we see her sitting at the edge of an underground pool, trapped behind tons of rock, but still alive. "I'm Bad Penny," she whispers to herself. "I'll keep turning up.")

Sunday, November 14, 2010

More About the Horse Race

Last week, I mentioned something in passing that this week reminded me of, and I thought I might ramble about it a bit. In specific, this week's political prognostication about the 2012 elections reminded me of my comments on the media's drama addiction last week, and finding out that they're already talking about the elections of two years from now with scarcely even a pause for breath from talking about the ramifications of the 2010 elections,'s hard not to notice, isn't it?

Elections are the perfect kind of news for corporations following the "news as entertainment" model. (Which is, and has always been, most of them--I don't want to suggest that this is some sort of "things used to be better back in the Good Old Days" post. Far from it--anyone who thinks that Rupert Murdoch is controlling the content of Fox News too much should read David Halberstam's "The Powers That Be", where he talks about the ways that the old newspaper magnates ruthlessly suppressed dissenting points of view.) The election provides the same kind of excitement and action that you get in a sporting competition, with clear winners and losers as you approach a finish line, but you can always claim that any article about the upcoming election is a legitimate, serious political discussion because the person who wins will be deciding our nation's future.

But realistically speaking, they're all treating it with about the same degree of concern as ESPN does for the baseball season. (Actually, possibly less. At least ESPN anchors are allowed to admit that they have a favorite team that they root for.) The endless polls are just a way of keeping score, sound clips from the debates are played like highlights on SportsCenter, and once the election's over? Who cares about who won and what it means, it's time to look forward to the next big game! As a result, the actual importance of governing is diminished in favor of campaigning. And whoever winds up winning, we all lose when that happens.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Giving Away My Silly Ideas

This came to mind yesterday, but I'm no cosplayer--I don't know how to make costumes, I feel self-conscious wearing costumes, and I certainly couldn't make myself participate in something like the Masquerade at DragonCon. But for those of you who do, here's an idea you can use for a group costume/skit. You'll need five people who can either sing passably, or who can lip-synch to a good singer that you can find. Some skill at performing elementary dance moves in synch will make it work much better, too.

Everyone will be a Green Lantern--you can just go with the basic costume, or be more elaborate and dress up like your favorite specific GL. Then you go out on-stage and begin singing the Temptations' classic hit, "My Girl". But, and this is the key point, you get a giant inflatable rubber ball, paint it with appropriate colors, have it tossed out right before the chorus, and replace said chorus with "Mogo".

"I guess you'd say, 'What can make me feel this way?' Mogo! Mogo! Mogo! Talking 'bout Mogo..."

Yes, it's a terrible joke. But the right audience would lap it up.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

It Needs To Be Said

The news media is all over themselves analyzing the results of the 2010 midterm elections. There are so many narratives to follow that they're practically getting dizzy (oh look! Minnesota's having another recount! Oh, well, at least we've got practice.) But the consensus seems to be that this was a resounding victory for the Republicans and a stirring rebuke to Obama's policies.

Which manages to ignore the facts of one of the most unprecedented election results in the history of the United States of America. (Literally. There has never been a time during the 96 years that both houses of Congress were directly elected by the people that one house has switched parties but not both.) The fact that the Republicans took back the House of Representatives, but not the Senate, is a clear signal that the major news media is managing to studiously ignore, possibly because they want to drum up some excitement for the 2012 elections. (I don't believe the media is particularly biased in favor of conservatives or liberals. They're biased in favor of drama. Elections are like crack to them.)

The fact is that in a year when Democratic enthusiasm was at its lowest ebb, when everyone and their mother knew that the Republicans were going to retake Congress simply because a dispirited progressive faction was punishing the Democrats by staying home, the Republicans still managed to blow an absolutely golden opportunity. They fell far short of everyone's projections in the House, and fell short of controlling the Senate at all. Why? Mainly because in a few key races, they nominated candidates who didn't hide behind platitudes about "living within our means" and "taking government back for the people", and instead talked in detail about what they stood for and what their policies were.

Those Republicans lost, big time. Joe Miller, Christine O'Donnell, Sharron Angle--every one of them said in detail what they'd do if elected, and every one of them heard the resounding voice of the American people saying, "No thank you." Even in reliable red states or red districts, outspoken conservatives like Rand Paul and Michelle Bachmann had to spend millions of dollars to hang on to what should have been safe seats. The fact of the matter is, in order to get re-elected, the Republicans had to pretend not to be Republicans. That's the narrative that you're not hearing about right now. But you might hear a lot about it in a couple of years. Because two years is a long time to ask the Republicans to pretend not to be Republicans.

Monday, November 01, 2010

A Modern "Dracula"

There really hasn't been a theatrical adaptation of "Dracula" in a while. The last high-profile effort was "Bram Stoker's Dracula", which is mainly remembered for not being much like Bram Stoker's "Dracula". There have been some TV versions since then, and there may or may not be a film in production for 2011, but it's a story that could stand another remake. Like "Hamlet" or "A Christmas Carol", it's a story that seems to reflect timeless themes and lends itself to a variety of interpretations--none perfect, but all interesting.

What might such a remake look like? Honestly, it'd probably look a lot like the recent "Sherlock Holmes" movie: A glossy, high-energy, high-budget version of the classic story with some big-name stars in the major roles. (I'm thinking maybe Viggo Mortensen as Dracula, perhaps?) And such a movie could be very good, just like "Sherlock Holmes" was. (Or, of course, it could be very bad, just like "Bram Stoker's Dracula" was. Big-budget Hollywood movies can be a crapshoot like that.)

But I think a more interesting approach would be one similar to the approach taken by Steven Moffat's "Sherlock" TV series. For those who haven't seen it, the show completely abandons the Victorian era that the character is synonymous with to jump into the present day, updating Watson to a military doctor wounded in the present-day Afghan conflict who blogs about his encounters with the eccentric, almost-sociopathic consulting detective, Sherlock Holmes. It's a little difficult to wrap your head around the idea of a world where nobody knows Holmes' name, but the series works magnificently.

Taking "Dracula" into the modern day...many people don't know it, but the original novel was written as a collection of letters from various people, compiled by Mina Harker (nee Murray) into a statement of evidence against the vampire, Dracula. A modern-day version of this might take the form of video footage--news reports, candid shots, home movies and the like--that Mina compiles after the death of her friend, Lucy, to show to van Helsing. Then the second half of the movie would involve van Helsing filming his vampire-hunting efforts, or at the very least getting one of the others to do so on his behalf, in order to prove to the world that his theories about vampires are real. It could have the potential to be the next "Quarantine", a found-footage movie that has a reason for its central conceit. You could do a lot of interesting things with Dracula's image on the video...perhaps it doesn't quite behave like a normal picture does. Maybe it flickers, or moves in strange ways, or changes when others aren't looking...something like the way things worked in "Paranormal Activity".

Of course, it could wind up more like "The Zombie Diaries". Found-footage horror movies can be a crapshoot like that.