Monthly Archives: May 2009

Nathan Fillion as Green Lantern? – Tuesday TubeWatch

I’ve posted before about the Green Lantern movie(s) in the works. No cast has been announced, no real information has come to my attention at all about the live action movie, other than it’s still on the books. However, some fan put together a pretty good trailer for what he’d like to see, using Nathan Fillion as the lead character, Hal Jordan. And you know what… it looks pretty good:

First of all, this took a lot of work to put together, so kudos to the guy that created it. I’m not usually a fan of fan-made trailers for movies, but this one is pretty nice.

Obviously it’s really a collection of clips from various sources, including movies (Superman Returns, the Matrix trilogy, Serenity, Star Trek, etc), TV shows (most notably, Justice League), and video games. But most have been modified with new graphics and lighting effects that fit the Green Lantern look, and it really looks good (usually). You have to forgive the differences in look between the video game clips and the others, but it comes off surprisingly well integrated, in my opinion.

The other thing this trailer does for me is begin to allay my fears that the effects in the actual upcoming movie might look stupid. That still could happen, obviously, but if somebody could make the effects in this trailer themselves, even building on others’ work, the professionals getting paid to put something top-notch out should be able to blow us away.

Another surprise in this for me is that I think Nathan Fillion could actually take the role of Hal Jordan and do it justice. He didn’t occur to me as a possible actor for this role, but in thinking about it, I kind of hope he gets it.

Better late than never (maybe): Tuesday TubeWatch

Okay, yeah, the day’s almost over, but you know how it is… things got away from me. The dog ate my homework. And then he did this:

So there you have it. Not just a dog on a skateboard… a dog purposefully riding a skateboard. There’s something very calming about that video.

Yeah, it’s been around a long time, but if you haven’t seen it before, it’s new to you…

Tuesday TubeWatch: Death Star Trek Wars

That is some seriously well-integrated CGI. I love it.

The Stormtrooper’s “Boo-ya” at the end kills me.

To be a total geek, here, I gotta say that a beam meant to take out a planet would not stop at taking out one ship, though. And what’s the Enterprise doing just sitting there? Fishing? Totally unrealistic. 😉

Review: Star Trek

The Enterprise leaving the station

The Enterprise leaving the station

Reviewing Star Trek (2009) is a bit of a difficult task. There is so much that has gone before, both good and bad, that it’s hard to not place this film within the context of everything “Trek.” It has a rather difficult job to fulfill in that it must honor that larger context while at the same time completely reinventing the franchise for a new time and a wider audience. And it’s an ‘origin’ story. It begs to be looked at both as an entity unto itself, and as a part of a larger whole.

So that’s what I’m going to try to do. Today’s review is a “two-fer.”

Note: I’m not even going to try to do this without spoilers, so here’s a quick thought before I get started — the movie works. It’s not perfect, but it’s well worth seeing.

Review 1: Stand-alone

The USS Kelvin in the opening battle

The USS Kelvin in the opening battle

Star Trek comes out of the gates with guns blazing as George Kirk takes command of the Federation Starship USS Kelvin, following the death of its captain at the hands of a mysterious and ruthless enemy. His first command ends in flames as he rams the ship into the invader’s vessel in order to buy time for his crew to escape, one of which is his wife, who is simultaneously giving birth to his son, James Tiberius Kirk. It is a great multi-layered opening scene full of action, tension, drama, and emotion.

This is followed by a virtually useless scene in which a young James Kirk drives a car off a cliff and mouths off to a cop. It’s pointless, destructive, and rebellious, which is exactly what Kirk’s life has apparently become, but this is all covered much more effectively in a later scene, which makes this a waste of a couple of minutes. I’m shocked it didn’t end up on the cutting room floor.

And that’s the biggest problem with this movie. The vast majority of it is really excellent (though the opening scene is the best, for my money), but every once in a while that’s punctuated with a “where’d that come from?” moment. Thankfully there aren’t many, but there are enough, in my opinion, to bump my excitement down a notch. It’s a small notch, but it’s worth mentioning.

Other things that didn’t work well with me were an overuse of the “shaky cam” style during battle scenes, coupled with external battle shots that were reminiscent of the Battlestar Galactica style of camera work, and an under-use of the villain, Nero. The last can be excused when you look at the film as hero-focused, rather than villain-focused, but still, it would have been nice to get more on that character than we did (more on Nero in Review 2).

What did work for me, though, was just about everything else. This was really a movie about Kirk and Spock’s friendship being forged, and there it succeeded. Both characters are rebels in their own way, and their stories are built well, with their initial animosity toward each other turning to mutual respect by the end. McCoy, though perhaps overacted a bit, complements the two nicely and is an interesting character in his own right.

The action scenes were well paced and exciting, the effects were top-notch, and the story was easy to follow without sacrificing its large scope.

It’s a fun action ride, and the obvious kick-off to a franchise that will leave you wanting to see the sequel. It’s also worth seeing in the theater.

Review 2: In Context

First of all, this movie does the impossible. It justifies a complete rewrite of everything you know about Star Trek without negating all that has come before. In fact, it even specifically preserves a piece of it.

Guess who doesn't make it back to the ship...

Guess who doesn't make it back to the ship...

Despite the fact that this is not your father’s Star Trek, it was obviously written with the fans in mind and with great respect for what came before. There are numerous references to the classic series. “I’m a doctor, not a…” “I’m giving her all she’s got!” and “I have been, and always shall be your friend” come immediately to mind. The Red Shirt bought it in style, and with attitude, too. That was actually played for a laugh, assuming you knew the joke.

The fact that Nero, the Romulan with a vendetta against the Federation, and Spock (old version), the Federation ambassador to Romulus, were from the future in the established timeline we all know and love was a stroke of genius. They even explain this during the film (rather obviously speaking to the fans in the audience). When Nero came back and destroyed the Kelvin, it created an alternate timeline. Not a change to the original timeline, which would have created a paradox, but an offshoot. This accomplishes two things: not only does it allow the movie to create its own version of events from that time forward – which it does unabashedly – but (somewhat less obviously) it allows the existing timeline to continue unmolested. If someone were to come along with another Next Generation story, for example, they could still do that and incorporate the events that Spock and Nero describe that caused Nero to go on his rampage within the original timeline. In a very real way, this movie is a sequel, not a prequel. These events follow, by necessity, events that take place after Star Trek: Nemesis. Take a moment and wrap your mind around that.

Now that they can change events with impunity, the writers do just that. When Vulcan is destroyed, for example, Spock is devastated at the loss of his home and people. As fans, we’re in disbelief with him. It throws us off, and truly makes us wonder if some members of the beloved crew may not make it. After all, they just took out one of the most important planets in Federation history. Maybe Chekov or Uhura won’t make it, either.

As a result of their losses – Kirk’s father, and Spock’s mother and home planet – our two main characters are a bit edgier versions than they would otherwise be. Thus, this version of Star Trek is heavier on the action, and lighter on the social commentary. To be honest, it did feel that something was missing. I’m a little conflicted on whether that is a good or bad thing, though.

Scotty was played more for comic relief in this version, though I loved the character anyway. Each of the characters had their comic relief moments, though, as they were each new to their positions and made some rookie mistakes. Those were fun to see. I think they played it up a little too much with McCoy’s fumbling over Kirk’s side-effects to the vaccine he gave Kirk, but there were good moments within that bit, too. Speaking of McCoy, I love that we finally get to hear where he got the nickname “Bones.”

One thing that may not feel satisfying to those who know the Star Trek universe is the explanation of Nero’s motivations. The destruction of Romulus and the involvement of the Federation and Spock, specifically, is sketched out during the film, but not to the extent it should have been. To be fair, there was no time to do it justice within the film in a way that fans would want. To those who are looking for more, I heartily recommend the lead-in graphic novel “Star Trek: Countdown” as a great backstory to flesh out the Nero character more and create a much tighter bridge between the post-Nemesis universe and this film. It’s a great story, and pulls in some Next Generation characters amidst the transformation of Nero from peaceful, helpful miner to raving, grief-stricken lunatic murderer. The downside of reading it, for me, was that I wanted to see more out of Nero in the film itself.

Overall Reaction

With all the changes to the original timeline and looking at the film as an opening to an essentially new franchise, what do I think of it? It may seem like a lot of complaining above (and to be honest, I’m enough of a geek that I could continue to nitpick all day), but I had a really good time watching this film. It wasn’t without its problems, but it really was good. I’m very interested to see what they’ll do in a sequel now that they have the new versions of these characters established and don’t have to work as hard to satisfy fan expectations. They did what they needed to do with this film: win a huge number of new fans without loosing many of the old fans. The field’s wide open now for new stories. I’m ready to boldly go into this newly re-opened frontier.

Hopefully you’ve seen it. If you haven’t, go check it out, then come back here and let me know what you thought.

Tuesday TubeWatch: Minority Report to Sixth Sense to PHUD – Interface Advancement and Integration

In Minority Report, Tom Cruise’s character was able to interact with a very cool looking computer desktop that he could manipulate with special gloves just by waving his hands around.

Tom Cruise in Minority Report with a super-cool computer interface

Tom Cruise in Minority Report with a super-cool computer interface

Everyone wanted it. Then Microsoft created a table that was remarkably similar. You could move and resize digital pictures directly on the tabletop with just your fingers! The future was here!

But was it really a leap forward? I mean, it was cool and all, but was it a better way than the traditional mouse and keyboard? And could it be made cheaply enough to be affordable for the masses? And was it really useful for anyone but graphic designers? Was it going to make an impact on my daily life?

A while ago, my wife and I were discussing technology that would be useful in our lives, and I decided I wanted a Heads-Up Display (HUD) to help me remember people’s names. I’m horrible at remembering the names of people I meet. The great thing about a HUD (displayed in your glasses, for example — or you could wear Iron Man’s helmet) is that you could get so much more information than just a name. You could see where you met the person, what you last talked about, how many kids they have — really anything you recorded the last time you met them, and it could all be triggered by face recognition software. Pretty cool idea, huh?!

There are other uses, of course, for a Personal HUD (PHUD — I think I just coined that (wouldn’t it be great if it was invented by a guy named “Elmer”?)) but avoiding social awkwardness is why I want it.

Keep that in mind, and watch this video from the TED conference on a project called Sixth Sense:

Obviously this is some majorly cool technology. To be able to interact like that anywhere and it only costs $350 in prototype stage is incredible. You can dial your phone without touching your phone! You can get product reviews right in the store when you’re deciding to buy! Take pictures without touching your camera! Escape from the tyranny of the watch manufacturers!

Okay, I was getting a bit facetious there at the end, but really I think this is a very cool leap forward in technology. It’s the portability and practicality it offers that is the real selling point. That’s why it’s better than Microsoft’s table, or Minority Report’s computer. It’s not meant to be a replacement for your laptop or desktop. You’re not going to be writing documents or doing serious graphic work on this, for example. It’s meant to integrate with your daily life, available anytime, anywhere.

From an article on BBC News:

“If I’m doing something like CAD, I’m not going to choose the SixthSense interface,” says Liyan Chang, an MIT undergraduate working on the project.

“But in certain instances, it can do something that a desktop or laptop can’t do, which is quickly put information right where I want it to be, right on a wall or a newspaper in front of me.”

And if SixthSense catches on, what will we all make of the sight of dozens of people checking their e-mails on the walls of airports and train stations?

Dr. Pattie Maes laughs: “Well, I think it might actually be more socially acceptable than those Bluetooth earpieces people use these days. At least with our system you can actually see that people are interacting with information, instead of watching someone that looks like they’re just talking to themselves on a street.”

That last bit brings me back to the PHUD. I don’t really want people seeing the content of my email, for example. Let’s combine the coolness of Sixth Sense with the PHUD, and have the information display (perhaps optionally) on the inside of my glasses. To me, it would look like it’s just hanging out there in space, and to everyone else, it would just look like I’m a crazy person with colored fingertips waving my arms around, but my private information would be accessible privately while I’m in public. Then when I want to share, I could project on the wall. That would be cool.

And let’s get back to the real problem I need to solve: remembering names. In my original idea, the PHUD would just know the information about the person that I saved myself. The Sixth Sense team took it a step further. Did you hear what she said? You could get all sorts of information on a person from the internet and display it as “tags” for the person. If they have a website, or a Facebook or MySpace profile, it wouldn’t be hard at all to gather quite a bit of information very easily.

Reduce everyone to a few tags

Reduce everyone to a few tags

This bit is controversial, as she says. There are definitely privacy concerns here. But the potential is so great. Is it a line you’re willing to cross?

What kinds of ideas do you have for practical ways to use this technology? Would you really use it? Does this sound like a good idea, or dangerous one? Or is it just a passing fad?