Friday, November 28, 2014

Star Wars: The Force Awakens trailer

William Gibson: "How I wrote Neuromancer" @ The Guardian

From the article, written by Gibson himself:
My fantasy of success, then, was that my book, once it had been met with the hostile or indifferent stares I expected, would go out of print. Then, yellowing fragrantly on the SF shelves of secondhand book shops, it might voyage forward, up the time-stream, into some vaguely distant era in which a tiny coterie of esoterics, in London perhaps, or Paris, would seize upon it, however languidly, as perhaps a somewhat good late echo of Bester, Delany or another of the writers I’d pasted, as it were, on the inside of my authorial windshield. And that, I assured myself, sweating metaphorical bullets daily in front of my Hermes 2000 manual portable, would almost certainly be that.
Read the full article here.

Timothy Leary on Neuromancer:
"It's the way the world is going to be in ten years, like it or not."

I don't think there is, nor will there ever be, another story that makes as much sense to me as Neuromancer.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Sci-Fi Channel's 1999 "Thanksgiving Scinemathon"

Star Wars: The Hype Awakens

UPDATE: I wasn't aware of the following Tweet when I wrote this post yesterday:

so we won't have to endure camera phone footage after all!

The original post is as follows:

The Force Awakens still hasn't grown on me as a title yet, but give it time. It took ten years for me to admit that The Phantom Menace is not only a thing, it's canon. I have a feeling JJ's movie is going to stick quicker than that one did. And to be fair, I'm glad Phantom exists, if only because it gave us Qui-Gon Jinn, a dual lightsaber, and the podrace scene, which is one of my favorite big audio moments in all of movie history. The only thing I truly dislike about the prequel trilogy is the fact some misguided parents show it to their kids before showing them the real trilogy.

Speaking of the podrace, do you know what other sounds I love? The sounds of dinosaurs in Jurassic Park movies, specifically at a theater which isn't afraid to kick up the decibels. That sound is chilling, man. So the first decent Jurassic World trailer dropped yesterday and, in case you haven't seen it, here it is:

I loved Chris Pratt in Guardians of the Galaxy, but this trailer doesn't exactly do him justice. It sounds like the acting in a made-for-Youtube movie. "Hey, watch out. This thing can kill you. You hear what I'm saying? And genetic modifying is bad, 'kay?" He kind of looks confused about where he's at. And I'm not sure how driving with the velociraptors works unless they're all being chased by something big and bad. But if that's the case why doesn't Pratt look at all worried?

Remember how they fed cattle to the dinosaurs in the original film? And how you don't actually see the dinosaurs responsible for shredding up the cow's harness until later? That's Jaws awesomeness right there. Or when the kids realize the goats are gone. That was brilliant.

So in the trailer above it was great to see there would be a new dinosaur who eats sharks. That's exciting. What's not exciting is the trailer blows its load and shows us the dinosaur in full. Why does promotional material screw surprises up so badly? I would have gone to see the movie just to see what kind of dinosaur eats sharks.

I digress. As you know, Bob, Disney is showing the first trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens this Friday, which certainly makes sense: it's historically one of the biggest days at the box office, the day after Thanksgiving, otherwise known as the day idiots feel justified in going bonkers at Target. You think, "Well, obviously Disney wants as many people as possible to see it, so that's why they're releasing it that day." But then you hear they're only releasing it in thirty American theaters (originally it was reportedly nine) and you remember why you hated Disney in the first place.

Because Disney is run by assholes. That's why.

Seriously. The leaked trailer is going to end up online faster than the speed of light and it won't even look as good as the first time we saw The Phantom Menace trailer on shitty-ass Real Player at 56 kbit/s. As for all of us who are pretending we're not going to watch it... well, we're assholes too, because we'll be the very first who do. We won't hear a thing above the nerds' applause and the tapping of plastic lightsabers, and we won't be able to see shit other than the fact it appears to have been shot by a Parkison's victim. But we'll watch it a million times and Walt Disney's corpse will be laughing its ass off from a cryogenic grave. 

I'm still holding out hope that Disney has a surprise (UPDATE: They did!!!) that turns out to be a little more palatable than all this, but so far this decision sounds like pure corporate bureaucracy. They already know what happened when they tried to restrict the Age of Ultron trailer. Short of disabling all the electronics in the audience with an EM pulse, how are they going to keep this one from leaking, too? Perhaps they don't care if it leaks, but wouldn't it be better if we all saw it properly?

If I had to guess, the trailer will be officially streaming by Monday. And in case you're wondering: No, I don't blame a corporation for trying to make money with this, but again, couldn't they make more of that money if they showed it in more than thirty theaters? It's just such an odd decision in the internet age.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Summer Camp: an upcoming video game straight out of the VHS horror section

announcement trailer

Tom Savini is in on this. So is the composer who created the original Friday the 13th score. It's pretty promising, but let's not get too excited until we see some real gameplay. Read more here.

* * *

Hitler just wants to teabag a dinosaur

So it's been over two weeks since Halo: The Master Chief Collection released and I was pretty excited to get a copy. Unfortunately, the multiplayer matchmaking system does not work. I don't know who to blame—the developers or the publisher, or a mixture of both, and maybe even XBOX LIVE itself caused some of the issues. I don't know enough about this technical stuff so I won't point fingers, but goddamn. In the fifteen days since I got it, I've played a total of fifteen online games. In fact, since last week's patch, I haven't successfully connected once. (To be fair, I've kind of lost interest in trying at this point, but since the patch, things are noticeably worse for me.)

I was disappointed in Civilization: Beyond Earth, too. I know a lot of people are defending it because... well, I don't know why, exactly, but it's just not a fifty dollar game at this point. Although it worked well (for me) early on, that's not a bonus, it's just a realistic expectation. Rather, it used to be a realistic expectation for a game to work on launch day, but the only game that's really kicked ass in that department lately was Shadow of Mordor. 

And that's fucking sad. Again, I don't know who's to blame for Halo turning out so shoddy, but someone needs to be blamed eventually. Then there's talk of compensation for our troubles, but what's the chance it's anything any of us give a shit about? With the exception of Beyond Earth, I (mostly) stopped pre-purchasing games ever since Duke Nukem Forever. I don't want to have to stop buying games on launch week, too.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Monday, November 17, 2014

Chatbots have a conversation

Have I posted this before? I don't remember, but it sure is amusing. 

I've got superintelligence on my mind tonight. I was going to post this NPR article, but the title is pretty silly: Should Science End Humankind? 

Hmm. Let's think about this one for a bit.

I'm thinking no. No, it should not. Now, should journalists refrain from asking silly questions in their headlines? Yeah. Probably. But what do I know? 

Let's ask Cleverbot:

That's conclusive.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Chappie trailer

The robot looks great. Die Antwoord are awesome. A scaled-back Hugh Jackman should be interesting. 

I'm all in.

Friday, November 7, 2014

The Verge reviews Halo: The Master Chief Collection... and it sounds awesome

One thing Xbox has always done better than Playstation is the Halo series. There's nothing I love more than science fiction and megastructures, and Halo has never disappointed in those categories. I remember the first time I played Combat Evolved thirteen years ago. The elusive holy grail of shooters back then was actually being able to drive an enemy's vehicle... to this day I'm still frustrated I can't drive whatever I see in most video games. Halo: CE, however, finally let you do it. While the game was mostly linear, there was the feeling many battles could be bypassed completely as you tooled around on your hijacked Warthog or alien tank. And the first time you see a Banshee and realize, Holy shit, I can actually fly this thing! was a moment very few video games have recreated since.

From The Verge review:
... The Master Chief Collection represents such excellent value. The four mainline Halo games all look and play great on Xbox One, although the precise details of their upgrades differ. Halo: Combat Evolved is based on the 2011 anniversary remake for Xbox 360, this time running in 1080p resolution and at 60 frames per second. Halo 3 and 4 are essentially the Xbox 360 games with the same 1080p/60fps boost.
Check out the full review here. Sounds like this is the best gaming deal since The Orange Box... and that was seven years ago, believe it or not.

This weekend, if I can find the time, I'll be playing the spin-off title Halo: Reach since it won't be included in The Master Chief Collection and I doubt I'll be going back to the older games after the new collection comes out. Reach still looks pretty good on a big HD screen and there's a really great sequence which has a space elevator collapsing to the ground... the only thing better than megastructures is watching them get destroyed.

Interstellar: Grapes of Wrath meets 2001: A Space Odyssey

This isn't a review. It's more of a "first impressions" post as I just got back from seeing the movie. I still have my giant "small" soda in hand. I should probably think about the movie some more before talking about it, but man, I really want to talk about it before I conk out from the exhaustion that comes from seeing a three-hour movie on a work night.

What we have here is a very good science fiction film. Like, exceptionally good. The only problem is it's suffocating inside an undercooked melodrama. Okay, okay, that's not the only problem, as much as I hate to admit it. About three-quarters into the movie, things get extremely frustrating when we're forced down a detour, which insults us with the same kind of routine action that completely derailed Danny Boyle's Sunshine. Why Hollywood insists films like this must have a human villain, I'll never know. Is flying through space in a tin can not harrowing enough?

The Earth stuff is quite good before McConaughey departs on his journey. Early on the film champions NASA, though not enough, and gives us a startling prediction about what could happen to a scientifically apathetic culture: you know how creationists are constantly trying to sneak their ignorant propaganda into school textbooks? Well, in Interstellar's future, the odious moon nuts have managed to do away with any textbooks which mention the Apollo missions. Talk about a dark vision of the future. I wish more big movies dealt with issues like this. Here, McConuaughey gets his daughter suspended from school when he defends her decision to show her classmates a real textbook.

Speaking of the daughter: the actress who plays her younger self is much better than the one who plays her as an adult. Which brings up another point: there are movie stars in Interstellar you're not going to expect and, surprisingly, the trailers don't spoil that they're in it. Yes, the trailers show way too much, as they always do, but not as much as usual. So there are still plenty of surprises left.

My only problem with the opening act is there's a painfully obvious setup which I don't think many people will fail to piece together. Sure, nobody's going to figure out how it's going to resolve exactly, but they're probably going to know what the filmmakers are up to just the same. I just don't think the story is being as clever as it thinks it is as the clues are anything but subtle. Then there are some plot holes, which I didn't really catch until my girlfriend pointed them out, but now I can't stop thinking about why the hero did this, then immediately did that, which contradicts his desire to... well, I've said too much. (Update: actually, it makes sense when you think about it.)

Yes, it's more than fair to compare this film to 2001: A Space Odyssey, because this film makes it clear it isn't dumb enough to pretend 2001 doesn't exist. But having seen Interstellar, Kubrick's decision to focus on emotionally-neutral characters seems like a better move than ever before. By doing so, Kubrick actively avoided the pitfalls Nolan willing dives into headfirst. How Kubrick knew this kind of drama wouldn't work in a film like this is amazing, and it just makes 2001 seem all the more important. Don't get me wrong: I think the drama confined to the spaceships was good stuff. But trying to infuse that story with what was going on back on Earth just diluted the whole thing.

I know I'm nitpicking here, but it's extremely irritating when a secondary character has to use the ol' pencil-through-the-paper trick to explain wormholes to... you guessed it: an astronaut. Yes, McConaughey's character is an astronaut/scientist/engineer, yet when he sees the wormhole in person he needs a grade-school visual aid. But then this offensive moment is quickly and completely eclipsed by one of the best parts of the movie: the wormhole itself. Is that really what a wormhole would look like? Well, I don't know for sure, but I'll be damned if it isn't compelling.

And exciting, too.

In fact, all the space stuff in this film is absolutely fantastic. That just makes it all the more frustrating that the Earth scenes stretch on for so long after they're welcome. The spaceships all look and feel believable, the lack of sound in space is refreshing, and to merely describe the special effects as "dynamite" would be an understatement. What I loved the most, other than the wormhole and the black hole of course, were the robots. Have you ever seen cooler robots in a film? We've come a long, long way from stuffing little people into plastic shells and calling them robots. But then again, I've liked a lot of the movies that did that (Silent Running, for one, Star Wars for another) a lot better than this movie.

Oh, well. Science fiction fans will love it (I did, despite my complaints). Everybody else, though, might think it's a little flat.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Star Wars Episode 7 now has an official title

Sounds a little strange to me, but I'm sure Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi sounded strange when they were first announced, too. Honestly, I still can't believe another Star Wars film is coming out before I'm dead. I feel like Final Destination happenings are going to be haunting me all the way up until the release date. It just seems too good to be true.

Interstellar's physics

Interstellar, which comes out tomorrow, just might be huge. Gravity, although a damn fine picture, was hyped beyond belief yet is rarely talked about anymore less than a year later. Something about Interstellar—if you'll allow my gut instinct a moment to speculate—tells me it might have more of the staying power that 2001: A Spacey Odyssey did. I think it's less of a gut instinct and more of an educated wager: consider Christopher Nolan's filmography up to this point. I think it's pretty obvious he's been building towards a really huge movie all along now. Is it so hard to believe Interstellar might be that movie?

Then again, it might just bomb, so there's no point in reviewing the movie before the movie's even out. So far the only "review" I've heard was from the lead actor himself, telling the media he cried all three times he watched it. Reviews be damned, Interstellar is one of those very rare movies for me: the kind I've gotta see on day one, something I haven't done much of since I was a kid. (The next movie I have to see on day one is Star Wars Episode 7, and that's more than a year away.) Naturally, I'm rooting for it.

What I think is interesting is how the film is being promoted. The marketing material has focused on the drama while revealing more and more of the plot's technical side as we get closer to the release date. We don't have to see the movie to talk about that.

When the teaser trailer for Interstellar premiered nearly a year ago, I immediately wondered how director Christopher Nolan would create a believable story in which his human characters travel to another star system. When you think about all the space travel films so far, they tend to fall in one of two categories (and forgive me for simplifying because I am not saying one category is better than the other). It's typically "serious" filmmaking if it's set within our own solar system (2001: A Space Odyssey, The Right Stuff, Blade Runner, etc.) or it's "leave your brain at the door" space fantasy if it's set anywhere else in the universe, specifically if it includes FTL travel (Star Wars, Guardians of the Galaxy, Galaxy Quest, etc.). The closest we've gotten to a movie that closes the gap between the two categories is the uneven and overproduced adaptation of Carl Sagan's Contact, which some argue was a classic, but I beg to differ if only on the basis it included a CGI Bill Clinton.

A second trailer of Interstellar revealed "[Earth] ran out of food" and had us believe Matthew McConaughey and friends were setting off to find a suitable planet to colonize ("We're not meant to save the world," Michael Caine says during the preview, "We're meant to leave it."). Yet the film doesn't seem to be set very far into the future, which is possibly a warning sign that this is typical Hollywood science. Nothing wrong with Hollywood science, it's just that I would be very surprised to see Nolan's brand of human drama work within the confines of such a film, even if it did play nice with Batman.

Now, do I doubt scientists and engineers (and despite what one trailer says, the world will always need engineers, particularly in this scenario) would kick into high gear if our home planet was in serious trouble? Not at all. But traveling to another star, not to mention promising your kids you'll be back before they're dead of old age, is a bit of a stretch. All I'm saying is you don't see that kind of space travel (in other words: the all-but impossible kind) promoted in films with scenes as potentially heart-wrenching as the one in which McConaughey tells his daughter, "We have to fix this before I leave."

Then we got the third trailer. In it, McConaughey's character said something that simultaneously excited and worried me: "Are you ready to say goodbye to our solar system? To our galaxy?" And at that moment we knew beyond a doubt: this isn't just a space film, it's a drama with FTL travel in it. They're not only talking about going to another star system. They're talking about going to another galaxy. (I guess "Interstellar" makes a more poetic title than "Intergalactic," and the latter term certainly encompasses the former in this context, so we'll let that slide.) Now, I have my doubts humanity will accomplish such a thing in the next million years, much less in the near future. Then again, I sometimes have my doubts we won't.

Nonetheless, the idea intrigued me. While I try to stay clear of the promotional material of a film I've already decided is must-see, Interstellar was one that lured me in too much to stay entirely away. There were just too many questions. I couldn't help but peeking at the Wikipedia article and I'm pretty pleased there's already an entire section devoted to the film's scientific accuracy. I'll post an excerpt, but check out the entire "scientific accuracy" section here. I don't believe it contains even minor spoilers unless you're extremely serious about going into a movie "fresh."

In creating the wormhole and rotating black hole, Dr. Thorne collaborated with visual effect supervisor Paul Franklin and a team of 30 computer effects artists at Double Negative. Thorne would provide pages of deeply sourced theoretical equations to the artists, who then wrote new CGI rendering software based on these equations to create accurate computer simulations of the gravitational lensing caused by these phenomena. Some individual frames took up to 100 hours to render, and ultimately resulted in 800 terabytes of data. The resulting visual effect provided Dr. Thorne with new insight into the effects of gravitational lensing and accretion disks surrounding black holes, and will lead to the creation of two scientific papers; one for the astrophysics community and one for the computer graphics community.[54]

"Dr. Thorne," by the way, is the theoretical physicist Kip Thorne who worked on Contact, which also starred Matthew McConaughey and dealt with wormholes. This time, Thorne also serves as executive producer on the picture.

And I'm cool with that: that the film is about exploiting natural wormholes. That still leaves a lot of questions (For one: how does one find a natural wormhole, then get there and back within a lifetime?), but that's already a lot more plausible than, say, "World was messed up so a bunch of scientists got together and invented an FTL drive just in time to save the planet." In the context of a (presumably) near-future movie, I think what they've got going on is very exciting, not to mention a step in the right direction for big Hollywood films. I can't wait to see it. Man, I really cannot wait.

For more on the subject of Thorne's work on Interstellar, check out this article from Wired. I haven't read it all yet for fear it's going to spoil too much of the movie, but I plan to check it out as soon as I'm back from the theater.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Outland: High Noon in space?

You frequently hear Outland (if you've ever heard of it at all) being described as High Noon in space. That's misleading. The first three-quarters of the film is a mash-up of a serious science fiction movie and a somewhat routine (but solid) 80s cop flick. Sean Connery plays a space marshal who's been assigned to a mining outpost on IO, one of the moons of Jupiter. Early on his wife, frustrated with Connery's job, leaves him because their son hides pictures of Earth rather than the kinds of pictures boys usually hide at that age.

Peter Boyle plays the operation manager who is obviously mixed in with the drug-related subplot. When Connery introduces himself to the crew he's welcomed warmly. That is until Boyle's character has something to add: a thinly disguised warning to look the other way every once and a while. Everyone picks up on it. And, instantly, we know Boyle is the villain even though the clues are subtle.

Jumping back: the film opens during an otherwise routine mining job on the surface of IO. One of the miners (John Ratzenberger, nearly unrecognizable in a space suit) begins screaming about spiders. He's hallucinating, but the other miners think he's just joking around until his suit is depressurized and, well, his head explodes. Yes, this is one of the many science fiction films which believe human bodies explode in a vacuum and space habitats magically provide Earth-like gravity. You know what? This one gets a pass. There will be many more head/body explosions and each one is as dazzling as the last. The fact that, within the colony, there is seemingly one gee of gravity is probably less of an oversight and more a restriction of the budget.

It's not the first instance of a miner going berserk in the colony. Sean Connery quickly discovers an imported drug may be to blame. As the investigation unfolds, he makes friends with the outpost's head doctor, played by the extremely likable Francis Sternhagen. The way the banter flies between these two is as real as it is entertaining. It's a bit flirty and often very funny. Peter Boyle (also very good in the movie) doesn't like what Connery's up to and tells him something along the lines of "If you're after more money, you're very smart. But if you're serious, you're very stupid." Connery isn't after more money, of course, and we wonder why he's being so suicidal in his plan to bring Boyle down. There isn't a clear answer, yet it doesn't seem like a cheat, either. Connery, like Gary Cooper  before him, just has to be the hero. We, as an audience, are above questioning that.

Later on the film changes gears. Boyle hires some hitmen to kill Connery. They're on the next shuttle from the nearest space station and there are clocks placed throughout the colony, counting the hours down until its arrival. Naturally, Connery tries to recruit some of the miners and other policemen to help him, but everyone's too cowardly to stand up to Boyle's regime. One of the miners says, "Don't you have men to help you do that?" Connery replies, "My men are shit." Yes, it's very much like High Noon and it's unashamed that it is. That the last quarter of the film plays like the classic western isn't a detriment, it's the entire point.

But there's a plothole here: Boyle wants to kill Connery so he doesn't tell corporate about the drugs. However, the comms aren't severed. All Connery has to do, in theory, is call corporate and let them know what's going on before the hitmen arrive. Hell, that's all anyone has to do to put an end to Boyle's rule, but not a single person thinks to do it. Doesn't matter, though. Outland is still a very fun movie, especially if you're a Sean Connery fan. And really, who the hell isn't?

The best thing about Outland is its set design. The civilian quarters look more like a prison than a comfortable place to sleep, which is pretty accurate to what living in space will really be like, at least when compared to other movies: oxygen is going to be relatively rare out there. There's no reason to think a real mission in space will afford privacy to each of its crew members, not to mention haul around so much extra oxygen for something so nonessential. It really grounds the film in reality by relating the miners with real-life offshore oil workers.

I say the movie is routine, but not as a critique. High Noon itself was quite routine in terms of script development and it's still a classic. Director Peter Hyams is quite good at routine. Plot has always been one of his strong suits and his technical abilities get him steady work in Hollywood. Some artists are good at working within the system. Some can only exist outside of it. Both are equally admirable, at least when they manage to produce something as good as this. Think about it: Hyams later made a pretty decent sequel to 2001: A Space Odyssey, a feat which was all the more likely to fail miserably than be good. That alone is an indication of his talent.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

PKD's music playlist

October's over (actually, it's October 23rd as I write this, just to give you an indication of how I sometimes write stuff in advance... Present Me, your Past Me, is twenty minutes away from the release of Civilization: Beyond Earth and he's super excited). So it's back to the usual here at The Goug' Blog: mostly science fiction.

Like free music? Chorus of headbangers fist the air and scream: "Yeaaaaah!"

PKD, proving all writers should have beards

Open Culture has compiled a playlist of the music Philip K. Dick may have listened to while writing. From their page:

What did Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and A Scanner Darkly author Philip K. Dick, that visionary of our not-too-distant dystopian future, listen to while he crafted his descriptions of grim, psychologically (and sometimes psychedelically) harrowing times ahead? Mozart. Beethoven. Mahler. Wagner.
Go straight to the Spotify page here.

So how's the future, future folk? More of the same? No alien invasions yet? Good, good. It's not even November yet in my timeline, but I can already tell it's going to be a busy month.