Lord of the Rings: The Musical

May 28th, 2003

Coming soon to the London stage: The Lord of the Rings: The Musical.

Presumably they won't leave Tom Bombadil out of this version.

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"I have a better idea…"

May 27th, 2003

James Lileks is feeling let down by his evening's video viewing:

Years ago I caught the end of a sci-fi horror movie on TV, and I was riveted – it seemed as if the producers had hired every single actor in Hollywood and paid them fifty bucks to play dead. I'd never seen so many dead people. They were heaped in the subway, piled on the street, strewn in the churches. Big thick heaps of pockmarked, sallow-faced, zombified dead people. A cast of thousands! I never quite figured out what the movie was about, only that the final apocalyptic scene was like nothing I'd seen. And it had spaceships, too. I'd never caught the entire movie, so when I saw it at the video store this weekend I thought hey, this should be good!

Then the credits start to roll, and you see the words "Based on the books 'The Space Vampires'" and you think perhaps I have overmisunderestimated this one. The movie was 'Lifeforce,' and I have a crick in my neck from ducking the chunks it blew. Everybody in the movie was miscast, except for the woman who spent the entire film walking around naked, and for Patrick Stewart. You can't miscast him, because he always plays Patrick Stewart. The credits should just be honest, and say:

Prof. Patrick Stewart . . . Patrick Stewart

I remember Lifeforce very well indeed. On the plus side … well, the lead actress spends pretty much the entire film walking round stark naked, so for slightly more than half of the potential audience the evening's viewing can't be counted a total loss right there. At any rate, until you take into account the number of brain cells you'll kill off trying to make sense of the plot. Even good actors like Frank Finlay and Peter Firth were unable to do more than try not to look embarrassed on camera – and, no doubt, ponder how best to take revenge on their agents for getting them into this mess.

Lileks goes on to have a little fun imagining the meeting where the space vampires devised their cunning plan for taking over the world.

Space Vampire #1: "So when the astronauts come, we will spring from our suspended animation, feast on their delicious life force, assume their forms, strap protective armor around our most vulnerable spot, and return to earth to spread the contagion."

Space Vampire #2: "I have a better idea. Let's send Bob down here in human female form. Naked. He'll probably end up in some heavily guarded military facility, but if he escapes they'll all be like, whoa, a naked human female, and he can walk right out."

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Eye to the London Sky

May 27th, 2003

Olya's eye to the london sky is a striking night-time view of the London Eye.

It's the contrast between the various reflections of lights on the river and the overwhelmingly reddish tint to the clouds in the evening sky that makes the picture for me. Well, that and the bloody great Ferris Wheel in the foreground.

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Cool Antarctica

May 27th, 2003

Cool Antarctica was created by a member of an Australian expedition which spent 2002 in that part of the world. There's a fair amount of information about the local wildlife, as well as the history of the various early exploratory expeditions. However, the best part of the site is the photographs. In particular, this shot:

+100°C water meets -32°C air

A fun thing to do in extreme cold is to throw hot water into the air. Take a flask and fill it with boiling water to warm it up, pour this away and fill it again. Take the full flask outside, take a cup of this hot water and throw it all up into the air. As the +100°C water meets the cold (in this case -32°C) air, it instantly vapourizes. Most of it is turned into a cloud of steam that drifts gently away and some of the droplets that stay together are instantly turned into small pieces of ice that can be seen streaking down towards the bottom left in this photograph.

It's very weird to throw water into the air but none of it ever actually landing. Also seen in this picture is a solar halo around the sun formed by the ice crystals in the air.

[Via The Internet Scout Report]


Other People's Stories

May 27th, 2003

Other People's Stories does exactly what it says on the tin: it's a repository of tales, some of which may well be a tad on the tall side. To quote from the site's About page:

Every story on OPS is a story a contributor heard from someone else. These stories have been overheard and misheard, told and re-told and sometimes refined over time. They do not shy from hearsay, gossip, myth or guys we knew in high school. OPS is dedicated to the time-honored tradition of stealing other people's material and we therefore recognize our debt to those from whom we've stolen and acknowledge that these stories do not belong to us.

I didn't have time to read more than a sample of the stories, but I particularly enjoyed Three Stories Girls Told Me by John Hodgman.

[Via MetaFilter]

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Rejected Google Holiday Logos

May 26th, 2003

FARK's Rejected Google Holiday Logos contest is a hoot. My favourites are miles behind in the voting: Salvador Dali Day has attracted just 113 votes as of the time of writing, whereas Return of the King Day can only scrape up a mere 79 votes.

[Edited to add a link to FARK, rather than back to this page. Thanks to Zed for pointing out my omission.]

[Via Amygdala]

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Alfredo James Pacino

May 26th, 2003

Fametracker lauds the genius of Al Pacino. And, along the way, reveals that he was offered the role of Han Solo:

Now take a moment to imagine this: the young, pouchy-eyed Pacino reclining in the captain's seat of the Millennium Falcon, enjoying a moment with Chewie. Or the young, pouchy-eyed Pacino shouting "Hoo-wah!" as he zips like a frenetic elf up the ramp of the Falcon, trading blaster shots with attacking stormtroopers. Or the young, pouchy-eyed Pacino flying in like the cavalry in the film's climactic battle and, just before sending Vader's TIE fighter spinning madly into space, screaming, "Shay jello to my wittle vrend!"

Now, we're not saying that this would have been a better movie. But it sure would have been a more interesting one.

The article also notes the surprising fact that Pacino has appeared in just 36 films. Which sounds like a lot, until you consider that Ben Affleck has made 28 in the space of his first decade on-screen.

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It's true! Honest!

May 26th, 2003

User Friendly applies an old slogan to new(ish) technology.

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Matrix Reloaded speculations

May 26th, 2003

I've spent some time this afternoon catching up with the numerous Matrix Reloaded threads on rec.arts.sf.movies.

I won't go into any detail about the specific (spoiler-laden) theories being bandied about and my thoughts about the meaning of various … ah … oracular pronouncements by the characters, because it wouldn't be fair to put spoilers on a front page post. However, I do want to mention one point which has become clear: the extent to which the Wachowskis have scattered clues and hints about their storyline in the various tie-in products which aren't destined for the big screen.

I saw The Last Flight of the Osiris on Channel 5 the day before I saw Reloaded, and as far as I could see there were at best a couple of throwaway references to the Osiris in the film so I wasn't terribly worried one way or another at the way the animated story revealed some background information about the film proper. However, reading this post suggests that the Enter the Matrix video game provides much more substantial spoilers for the film, answering a couple of questions from the film itself, not to mention featuring an earlier appearance by someone Neo spots as he's on his way to meet with the Merovingian.

Perhaps by the time November rolls round The Matrix Revolutions will have explained all, but it irks me a little that right now the middle film apparently isn't complete as a narrative in itself. I read a Salon article (NB/- unregistered readers are required to watch a 15-second advert before gaining access to the article) the other day which proclaimed the multiple-medium storytelling approach of the Wachowski brothers as a new development in the art of storytelling, rather than just an attempt to grab some merchandising dollars while Matrix-mania was in full force. I discounted the article's claims of greater-than-usual involvement by the film's creative team as more pre-release hype, but having seen the film and read about the storyline of the game I can see the point.

The problem, as I see it, is that this approach leaves someone like me who has no interest in playing the videogame (and, come to that, no ability to do so unless I want to spend money on a modern games console which would soon be gathering dust alongside my Playstation) missing out on potentially significant details about the film's backstory. In my book, that's not playing fair with viewers of Reloaded. If we're not supposed to know anything about the man Neo glimpses in the restaurant, or why Neo could do what he did in the last five minutes of the film, why reveal it in the game? If we are supposed to know, it should be on the big screen. It's possible that it'll turn out that this is only a problem because the two Matrix sequels are opening six months apart, and that everything of any importance in the game will turn out to have shown up in the final film, but for now it's a pretty unsatisfactory position to be in.

Or is the fact that this bothers me enough to write a longish post about it just another sign of what a Matrix geek I'm becoming?


2001 and All That

May 25th, 2003

Ken MacLeod on 2001 and All That (or, Life before and after the End of History):


Karl Marx said that communist society would bear the birthmarks of the old, and Mikhail Gorbachev bore one of them on top of his head. Gorbachev rose to power as a result of the Chernobyl Reaction, which came about because the Russians discovered that their previous two leaders – Brezhnev, Andropov, and Chernenko (these are three, but the third does not count) – were dead but still standing. They had been propped up every May Day on the Leaning Mausoleum, reviewing the workers and soldiers who marched past. The workers and soldiers carried large pictures of the leaders to help them remember who they were, and for many years, they did. Fortunately for them, President Reagan had by then forgotten who he was too.


Unfortunately Ken's permalinks are broken at the moment, so you'll have to scroll down to the entry dated Sunday 18 May 2003 to read the rest.

[Edited to add a link to Ken's site. Thanks to Zed for pointing out my omission.]

[Via Amygdala]

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The Matrix Reloaded Reconsidered

May 24th, 2003

I've just got back from a trip to the cinema to see The Matrix Reloaded again.

On a second viewing some of the elements which bothered me first time round were less jarring – in particular, I appreciated the sheer kinetic fun of the Burly Brawl a good deal more now that I wasn't surprised at how computer game-like some of the graphics were.

Actually, all the major fight scenes went down more smoothly this time. I've noted this with other films which make heavy-but-imperfect use of CGI humans in the foreground. The first time I saw Blade II the surprise of seeing how unnaturally the CGI vampires moved in a couple of the fight scenes would jolt me out of the story for a second. Second time round I wasn't surprised, so I could appreciate the overall choreography of the fight scenes. (The exception to this rule is Attack of the Clones, in which the use of CGI versions of the three principals in the arena scene still bugs me every time I see it.)

As for the talky scenes which I felt had passed me by a somewhat first time round, I was much better able to concentrate on them this time round. I didn't come to any sudden realisation that I'd fundamentally misunderstood things first time round, which is encouraging – I'd have been upset if I'd missed some major plot point – but with foreknowledge of the way the story was due to develop a couple of the earlier talky bits (I'm deliberately being vague, because I wouldn't want to spoil a single minute of the film for anyone who still doesn't know who/what Neo encounters this time round) worked really, really well.

Overall, my repeat viewing pushes The Matrix Reloaded up from a score of 8/10 to 9/10. I'm still thoroughly unconvinced by Zion and my objections to the resolution of a certain situation Trinity found herself in stand, but I can appreciate more clearly now that the Wachowski brothers have done us proud. Instead of treating us to a formulaic rerun of the first film's best bits with slightly bigger explosions, they've done a good job of taking their original story off in an intriguing direction.

The 7th of November can't come soon enough.

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Pale Blue Dot

May 23rd, 2003

Earth as seen from Mars.

The image of Earth and the Moon is probably what'll get most attention – and it should, because it's a strikingly unfamiliar view of our pale blue home – but the first image, showing both Earth and Jupiter and their respective natural satellites as seen from Mars orbit, is the one that really floors me.

Every person you've ever heard of, every historical event, over thousands of years of human history and the rise and fall of countless civilisations, happened on just one of those little dots in the blink of an eye, when seen from a cosmic perspective.

How can you fail to be just a little curious about what stories there are to be told about all the other balls of rock out there?

[Via MetaFilter]

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We Find Ourselves … Guilty!

May 23rd, 2003

From the Department of Kooky Ideas (US Division, Economics Branch): the way to get "better" verdicts in jury trials is to pay jurors handsomely where an appeal is rejected, since this "proves" the original jury did their job properly. Conversely, you should fine jurors for reaching a verdict that is later overturned, because clearly they were slacking. Even if the original decision is overturned only because new evidence is discovered, or because of a subsequent confession. Because we all know that the only sensible way to attack any problem is to figure out a way to jury-rig the situation so that it's driven by economic incentives.

(What's most worrying about this article is the prospect that somewhere in the Home Office a political advisor is reading that Slate article and starting to compose a memo to David Blunkett…)

[Via Ignatz, via The Sideshow]

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May 23rd, 2003

I think the title of this eBay item says it all, really: A Really Horrible Mom & Baby Cat Lamp Yikes.

"Yikes" indeed…

[Via web-goddess]

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The Matrix Reviewed

May 23rd, 2003

Tonight's excuse for the lack of posts is … The Matrix Reloaded.

I'm in two minds about the film. On the one hand, there's no way it could match the impact of the first film, especially given that Reloaded is very much the middle third of a longer story and just ends in mid-story. There's a fair bit to admire, to be sure. The special effects are magnificent, though there are occasional lapses; the infamous Burly Brawl (aka Neo-fights-dozens-of-Agent-Smiths) looks at times horribly like a video game. The Wachowski Brothers have written an ambitious, complicated story which assumes that the audience not only knows the situation they set up in the first film, but is prepared to ask itself how much of what they think they know from the first film is right. The many elaborately choreographed fight scenes look terrific. There were moments that left me giggling with joy – the Burly Brawl may not have looked photorealistic 100% of the time, but the concept was fun enough and Hugo Weaving obviously enjoyed playing an evil bastard.

The major problem I had with the film was that it was so poorly paced, with everything stopping for talky bits way too often. True, some of those talky bits were tremendously important to the plot, but I still found myself wanting to press a fast forward button. Perhaps they'll make a better impression on me on the inevitable second viewing, or when I see The Matrix Revolutions. The other big problem I had was that the film's depiction of Zion didn't convince me one little bit. I don't see how Zion as depicted works as a community, or how it got that way given where they started out from. Finally, I hated the way the writers got Trinity out of (pause while I figure out how to say this without spoiling anything) the tight spot she got into in the last fifteen minutes.

On a first viewing, The Matrix Reloaded contains lots of eye candy and cool moments, certainly enough to make it worth a look. It's probably worth a second viewing, so as to permit me to concentrate on the talky bits and the various nuances of plot I undoubtedly missed first time round. However, I wish the Wachowski Brothers had got their way and the last chapter of the story was out next week, so the viewer could better judge how much better the story works when seen in the proper context.


Palm Pleasure

May 21st, 2003

I didn't post anything yesterday because I spent much of the evening fighting with my new toy, trying to transfer my diary entries from my old Palm. Eventually, thanks to some helpful advice from the denizens of comp.sys.palmtops.pilot, I found a program called Filez which allowed me to beam the various data files across without any extra hardware.

Now my Tungsten T has my data on board it feels as if it's really a PDA, rather than a pretty toy. (Next up, look into buying a MMC/SD reader so I can transfer MP3 files back and forth between my iMac and my Tungsten T.)


Meet Cow Tse Tung

May 21st, 2003

Cows With Guns is a very, very silly song accompanied by an ever sillier Flash animation.

That's silly in a good way, of course.

[Via MetaFilter]

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A Cosmic Database

May 21st, 2003

Dr Alex Szalay is helping to build a virtual observatory – one which aims to sift through the terabytes of astronomical data which have been collected by major astronomical projects over the last couple of decades. (NB/- New York Times link – free registration required.)

Early signs are that there are plenty of surprises hiding in that morass of data, particularly where the computers can cross-match data from different projects. In an early demonstration of the software, the developers found several brown dwarfs – failed stars which didn't quite have sufficient mass to ignite a nuclear reaction and are therefore quite cool and dark – which astronomers who had already reviewed the data had completely missed.

It's not simply the neat technology which makes this project noteworthy, it's the degree of cooperation between teams of observers which permits comparisons (and discoveries) to be made that the individual teams couldn't make alone. This sort of system won't ever replace flesh-and-blood astronomers, but it's a hell of a way of wringing as much information as possible out of everyone's observations. Once there are hundreds of teams sharing their data, the possibilities grow exponentially.

[Via Techdirt]

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The Truth Is In The Matrix

May 19th, 2003

I knew that Will Smith had turned down the role of Neo, but until I read yesterday's Observer I had no idea that David Duchovny had also passed on it. (Scroll down to the last part of this page, headed "10 1/2 things you should know about The Matrix.")

You know, I can definitely see Duchovny as Neo. That could have worked.

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Van Helsing's Hobby

May 19th, 2003

In honour of the week in which the last ever episode of Buffy will be transmitted in the US, I bring you a very strange thread from soc.history.what-if which starts out fairly straightforward but somehow spirals off into a very British discussion of how to calculate the value of a kill, the reason the EU mandated the use of the StakeCam by any Slayer who wanted her kills officially recognised, a dreadful pun, and the odd passing reference to Miskatonic U's reputation as a party school. Inspired lunacy, every word of it.

That's a good thing, you understand…

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