Remake hell

June 11th, 2003

Inspired by the news that a sequel to V might be in the works, Max welcomes Newsday TV critic Noel Holston's suggestion that there's a long list of 80s SF TV shows which are ripe for a CGI-heavy remake.

I think this is an awful idea. Or rather, better special effects should be about the seventh or eighth priority, not the first. To the extent that V – by which I mean the original mini-series, not the sequels – was a success, it was mostly because the story drew parallels with World War II and the Holocaust in a science fictional setting, not simply because of the pretty flying saucers. (When I saw the opening episode of V I found the special effects to be just fine: specifically, my first thought was "They've just nicked the opening scene from Childhood's End!", not "Hey, that's a barely adequate bit of SFX work.") Holston suggests that the miniseries of Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles would be a candidate for a remake because the special effects and makeup work was poor, but it seems to me that of all the early 80s SF series that would be the one which was least reliant on high quality effects work in the first place. Yes, there were spacecraft and Martians, and the special effects weren't great, but that didn't get in the way for this viewer.

Granted, you can use CGI to tell some stories which just weren't practical on a TV budget a decade or two ago: without the ability to cheaply depict different planets and spacecraft, not to mention a variety of reasonably convincing (albeit humanoid) aliens, shows like Farscape and Babylon 5 would have looked very different. Even so, I genuinely believe that those stories could still have been told even with Blake's 7-level effects. In the end, I cared about the people and the situations they found themselves in much more than the eye candy. (Which is not to say that I didn't enjoy the eye candy.)

By all means tell the 80s stories again if you think you can get the message across more effectively now, or where you think a story will have a greater resonance in the light of current circumstances. But don't do it just because you can do flashier SFX now. Is the world really crying out for a better-looking remake of Logan's Run or Manimal?

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"With Futurama we were just making it up as we went along."

June 11th, 2003

Futurama producer David X Cohen discusses the Futurama video game, working with Al Gore and how tricky it was to find Bender's voice.

[Via mssv.net]

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Embarrassing Stories

June 11th, 2003

Embarrassing Stories: fifteen thank-$DEITY-that-wasn't-me moments. For example:

Story #9.

My boyfriend bought me a vibrator for Valentine's Day about a year ago. Still living at home I knew I had to hide it. Well, after having some fun one night I just put it under my mattress.

The next day my brother came in and laid on my bed, when he put pressure on the mattress, my vibrator turned on and started to buzz like crazy. Well, not knowing what it was he came in the living room and said, "sissy this was buzzing under your bed" and handed it to me.

It was a Monday, so my mom and dad and I were watching Fear Factor, and looking at the size of my vibrator, my mom laughed and said, "apparently fear is not a factor for you." And now my dad goes around saying, "BZZZZZZZZZZ." I have never been more embarrassed in my life.

I think my favourite is Story #1, about a very tall man and a particularly cramped aircraft toilet.

[Via dutchbint dot org]

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"Peter Jackson, you ****ing hack!!"

June 9th, 2003

Gollum gave an hilarious acceptance speech on besting Dobby, Kangaroo Jack (!), Scooby-Doo and Yoda to win the Best Virtual Performance award at the MTV Movie Awards.

As TheOneRing.net seems to be struggling to cope with demand for the clip I've mirrored the 8MB Quicktime movie version of the acceptance speech here. Other mirrors can be found in this Slashdot thread.

I'm pretty sure that whirring sound you hear is the late Professor Tolkien reaching about 10,000rpm…

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"It's really hard to believe someone is funny when you've seen a room full of people stare at them like they were the Nuremberg Trial defence team."

June 9th, 2003

Danny O'Brien went to a tech conference and ended up having a flashback to his days as a stand-up comic.

Me and Quinn (who was on the panel too) were both in the same state. We hadn't really worked out who the audience was, and we're both a bit rusty at public speaking. Also, we've had three months fairly intensive dialogue coaching in going "goo goo goo goo goo issy waddy baby!", which may have influenced our normally punchy style.

I think we managed to pull back some credibility in the end. I'm pretty good at damage control. Quinn has a background in bad stand-up gigs as well. I didn't cry when that drunken woman in Edinburgh climbed onto a table and started singing the "Yoooor shite" song to me, so I'm not going to cry when the man from Microsoft says that we're doing his whole industry a disservice. No, no, I sucked up to him instead. Mmm, five minutes on why Microsoft rules. Yeah, that was straight from the heart. No panic in my jellied bloodstream there.

Speaking as someone guaranteed to dry up completely in front of an audience of half a dozen, I have the utmost admiration for anyone who can function in that situation. Writing a funny, insightful article about the experience that same day is blogging above and beyond the call of duty.

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Jealousy

June 9th, 2003

You know, I'm generally a pretty mild-mannered individual, but even I can be pushed too far. Patrick Nielsen Hayden, editor and blogger, I'm looking at you!

June 08, 2003

Sorry, I've been busy. Books I've been reading or re-reading in the last few days: "Sethra Lavode" by Steven Brust. "Shelter" by Susan Palwick. "Eastern Standard Tribe" by Cory Doctorow. Currently reading: "Newton's Wake" by Ken MacLeod.

Oh, that's right, none of these have actually been published yet. Hey, you know, some days, this job doesn't actually suck.

Then, just to taunt his Macleod-loving readers a little further, he throws this little snippet into the comments thread:

Ken MacLeod's "Newton's Wake: A Space Opera" is indeed primo stuff, as Charlie says. Favorite scene so far: the one in which our heroine, semi-stranded on a planet being terraformed by Korean Juche-ists preparatory to selling it to the farmers of "America Offline," curries favor with her hosts by playing them a recording of the play "The Tragedy of Leonid Brezhnev, Prince of Muscovy." Some excerpts of which are given, in iambic pentameter. Exeunt, pursued by a bear.

It's cruel to play with us like this…

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Alfred Bester

June 8th, 2003

Idling away my afternoon reading rec.arts.sf.written, I came across a thread about Alfred Bester which reminded me that I've hardly read any of his shorter fiction. Since the one Bester short I have read – Fondly Fahrenheit – is one of the most memorable short stories I've ever come across, I couldn't resist a quick trip to Abebooks UK to order a copy of Starlight: The Great Short Fiction of Alfred Bester. Not that my to-read pile needs to get any higher – I'm going to need planning permission and start rigging it with navigation lights to warn off low-flying aircraft if it grows much taller – but that's not really the point, is it?

The same thread pointed out a delicious little Bester-related joke from Ansible 146:

Imaginary collaborations: '"He was one hundred and seventy days dying and not yet dead. He fought for survival with the passion of a beast in a trap. He was delirious and rotting, coming downstairs now, bump bump bump, on the back of his head, behind Christopher Robin." Yes, it's Tigger! Tigger! by Alfred Bester and A.A.Milne. The US title is of course The Stairs My Destination .'

I appreciate that at this point about 85% of the visitors to this site are scratching their heads. I can only suggest that you run to your nearest bookshop or library and get your hands on a copy of Alfred Bester's Tiger! Tiger!, otherwise known by the title of the US version, The Stars My Destination. Not for the sake of understanding the joke, but because Bester's Gully Foyle is one of the more memorable characters in 20th century science fiction and the novel he appears in is one of the undisputed classics of the genre.

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Skipping stone

June 8th, 2003

National Geographic's Photo of the Day for today is simply marvellous. The caption – "Leaving a wake like a skipped rock, an antelope speeds through water in Mozambique's Maputo Elephant Reserve" – gets the basic facts across, but doesn't begin to express how lovely that image is. Not that I can do any better, so I'll just put it this way: go and see for yourself!

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Gigantic

June 7th, 2003

I very much doubt that Gigantic (A Tale of Two Johns), director A J Schnack's documentary about They Might Be Giants, will show up in cinemas outside London, even assuming it makes its way across the Atlantic at all. Jesse Hassenger's review at PopMatters suggests it's going to be worth looking out for:

The band has often been marginalized because of their humorous, sometimes surreal approach to pop music, leading to an endless parade of adjectives like "quirky" and "goofy." Gigantic showcases their strong songwriting and good humor more naturally, treating them as fun and smart more than silly and smart-alecky, and the concert stuff, if sometimes overlong, captures the genuine joy and energy of their live shows.

How much of my enjoyment of Gigantic was based on its subjects, rather than filmmaking Flansburgh and Linnell's chemistry gives the impression that almost anyone could capture them at their best; their non-interview footage is especially charming and funny ("I'd like to be known as the Mike Love of They Might Be Giants," Flansburgh says at one point. "All the bad vibes start here."). We see them rehearsing, talking, goofing around, obsessing over coffee. It makes you wonder: is director AJ Schnack astute to capture them on film, or just lucky?

Yet another reason to be thankful for multi-region DVD players…

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The Incredibles

June 7th, 2003

Judging by the teaser, Pixar's The Incredibles looks like tremendous fun. Not that a good teaser is a guarantee, but the hot streak Pixar have been on ever since Toy Story gives cause for optimism.

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More Toddler Tales

June 7th, 2003

Another volume of The Story About the Toddler is up. More quality parenting tips from the man who isn't afraid to tell the truth:

Now that our baby Cordelia is sixteen months old, all of the pieces are falling into place. It is rapidly becoming clear that she is a sinister creature, a Bad Seed, which may have the potential for actual True Evil.

Even now, I can hear grandparents shrieking with dismay, perceiving that someone is writing what they would perceive as slander about their beloved, adorable grandchild. But trust me, despite her cuteness, which is so flawless that it makes pretty much every other child of roughly the same age (including yours) look like a lump of spackle in comparison, even now Cordelia is starting to dance the forbidden tango with dark powers.

[Account of specific acts of evil snipped]

Now don't get me wrong. I have no problem with the current moral alignment of her sixteen month old brain. Evil people live happier lives, they make more money, and they get all the good tax breaks. If I play my cards right, I can make myself useful to her and get some of that filthy lucre she generates thrown my way.

It'll work out. I'll just have to remember to be real careful walking down stairs late at night after Cordelia learns what a "will" is.

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Can you tell the difference?

June 7th, 2003

Sexxx or Something Else? Can you tell what these people are really doing?

I got a deeply unsatisfying 6 out of 16, and a suggestion that I go rent some porn.

[NB/- site probably not work-safe.]

[Via More a way of life....]

2 Comments »

"More accurately, the planet is an understated fiery umber"

June 7th, 2003

Marvin the Martian and Daffy Duck will be helping NASA send two probes to Mars later this year.

OK, so it's actually just a fairly lame bit of product placement for Warner Brothers, but the very idea of Marvin the Martian being associated with a real space project just amuses me no end.

[Via Boing Boing]

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My Blue House

June 5th, 2003

My Blue House is a stunning portrait of Earth as seen from space, albeit one which takes a few liberties with the relative position and size of the Earth and the Moon.

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"Got you chained to the desk have they?"

June 5th, 2003

Shauny had a charming phone conversation with a distinctly … frisky … old gentleman.

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Privacy? What's that?

June 5th, 2003

Declan McCullagh discusses the end of privacy with Bruce Sterling:

Q: We've been hearing a lot about the Pentagon's plans for a Total Information Awareness data-mining system. What's going to happen a few years down the road?

A: I don't think that Poindexter's nutty scheme has much real-world traction. I think the question's badly formulated, really. I don't think there's much distinction between surveillance and media in general. Better media means better surveillance. Cams are everywhere. A security cam is one small part of a much larger universe of cams. The much larger effect, socially, politically and economically, is going to come from a much larger trend.

I noticed that people are doing a lot of "googling" before a first date nowadays–this represents the real trend. Poindexter's doing this and DARPA (the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) allowed him to do it for the propaganda that someone's serious about cyberwar someplace. Googling is international. It's not just restricted to cranky Republicans who couldn't erase e-mail in their PROFS (Professional Office System). That's going to have more of an effect. It's difficult to escape a tragedy in your life that's not your own fault.

Years ago, if your husband died in a house fire, you could get a covered wagon and go to Oregon. Now, as soon as you arrive in Oregon, someone could google you. "Oh, well, widow Simpson. Really sorry to hear about the house fire."

You don't get to cut that chain of evidence and start over. You're always going to be pursued by your data shadow, which is forming from thousands and thousands of little leaks and tributaries of information.

Sterling's comments on David Brin's notion of the "transparent society" are particularly worthwhile, but rather than quote even more of the article here I'll simply suggest that you go and read it in full. It's worth it.

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Digging a deeper hole

June 5th, 2003

The latest news on the ID Card consultation exercise is discouraging: basically, the Home Office is refusing to answer questions from Privacy International about where those 6,000-odd responses went because an MP has tabled a parliamentary question about the consultation exercise and it would be pointless to dig out the information twice.

Tempting as it is to see this as a gigantic conspiracy, I suspect it's more of a cock-up. Even as I type this, I'd imagine that officials are trying very hard to come up with a halfway convincing reason for disregarding the views of respondents who used the internet to communicate their views. The alternative being to confess that, having made the initial decision to lump together the online responses and fed a number to a minister, they felt they couldn't backtrack without landing the minister in hot water for misleading parliament.

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Monster House

June 4th, 2003

Finally, a home improvement show I'd consider watching if they ever make a UK version:

"Monster House" is about insane custom houses. We're talking half a car bolted to a wall as a kitchen table with a race car motif in the debut episode. Or a fireplace turned into an 8-foot fire-breathing Easter Island statue in the second episode.

This is not subtle. Nothing is less than over the top. No color is mentioned that isn't in a Crayola eight-pack.

But what makes the show unique is its sheer anarchy. The homeowners are not consulted beyond suggesting a general theme and aren't allowed in the house during remodeling, which is based only on rough sketches stapled to the wall.

[Via Lots of Co.]

1 Comment »

Love Bite

June 4th, 2003

I find this photo totally endearing, for some bizarre reason. I think it's something to do with the blissed-out expression on the face of the first camel. We should all be that contented at least once a day…

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Arterial problems

June 4th, 2003

Some news stories just beg for a corny headline:

French Fries Clog Artery

MINNESOTA — A semitrailer truck loaded with McDonald's french fries overturned early Tuesday on Interstate 94 near Fergus Falls, Minn., closing the westbound lanes for more than two hours.

The driver of the truck, Eskender Dubale of Winnipeg, Manitoba, suffered minor injuries when the truck jackknifed and rolled over on its side, according to the Minnesota State Patrol.

The incident took place about 2:40 a.m., and one lane of westbound I-94 was opened at 5 a.m. Some boxes of french fries spilled onto the freeway, and the remaining boxes were unloaded from the truck before it was righted.

[Via Looka!]

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