Monday, June 30, 2008

Don't Forget to Vote For The House Between!

Hey! -- Here's your bi-weekly reminder to vote (EVERY! DARN! DAY!...) for The House Between in the Sy Fy 2008 Genre Awards.

You can find the ballot by going to Sy Fy Portal, and clicking on the Twilight Zone-like icon in the upper right-hand part of the frame. And The House Between is nominated in the category for Best Web Production.

Now, another Season Three image coming your way. Not that it will make much sense at this point...

RETRO TOY FLASHBACK # 78: The Amazing ENERGIZED Spider-Man (Remco; 1978)

From Remco Toys and Marvel Comic Group in 1978 (the days of the Nicholas Hammond Spider-Man TV series...), comes this amazing, large-scale figure. This Amazing Spider-Man figure is energized "to climb!" Just "attach the Spider-clamp, turn on Spiderman's energy belt and his web climber goes into action. He climbs doors. Walls. Windows. Fences. Automatically."

But there's more. Spiderman is also energized "to pull! To lift!" Yes, "Spiderman's energized web actually pulls and lifts objects heavier than his own weight." The figure could also "throw light." His "Spider-Light cuts a beam through the night, lighting the way to safety...or to find the enemy!"

This figure was actually part of a very cool Spidey line from Remco. There was also a Spider-copter, and Spidey's powers could "turn the rotor" and also "send out a powerful search beam." Our friendly neighborhood figure also had an enemy in the form of the equally "energized" Green Goblin. Gobs was "energized to cut Spiderman's web" and "power his Goblin ray gun."

Finally -- and also sold separately -- was a nifty Spider-man accessory pack, which came with a Spider Trap, Spider Ray Gun, and a rocket camera; all of which could be attached to Spiderman's energy belt.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Movie Poster of the Week

The League of Tana Tea Drinkers

Just this week, I happily accepted an invitation to join a fantastic community of bloggers called The League of Tana Tea Drinkers (hence the logo; left). The League's mission statement is one I heartily approve and support:

" acknowledge, foster, and support thoughtful, articulate, and creative blogs built on an appreciation of the horror and sci-horror genre."

Among other things, membership in the League means that I'll sometimes be blogging on "unity" subjects with the other Tana Tea Drinkers (and there's some neat stuff ahead, I can already tell you...).

I am truly honored to be a part of this impressive community, and hope that you will enjoy my contributions there, and also regularly check out what the other League members are blogging about.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

CULT MOVIE REVIEW: Fahrenheit 451 (1966)

Imagine -- if you will -- a world in which you are not permitted to read a book on your lunch hour. Or one where you're not allowed a little summer reading on the beach. Imagine, even, a world where the simple act of reading a book could get you a berth in a government "re-education" center. It is a world of wall-sized TV screens (that are always turned on...) and ubiquitous walkman-type radios; it is a world where you are encouraged to always tune in to "The Family" on TV; and where your wife constantly pops pills to modulate her moods (and prevent depression).

This is the nightmare world imagined in Ray Bradbury's novel, Fahrenheit 451, and later in the Francois Truffaut film adaptation of 1966. This is a world of the "future" (looks to be late twentieth century...) in which helmeted, storm trooper-style firemen start fires rather than putting them out; where they rush to the scene of a crime in their scarlet fire engines and then proceed to gleefully torch every book they can find. Books with titles such as Othello, Vanity Fair, Tom Sawyer, Moby Dick, The Catcher in the Rye, Lolita, Plexus, Alice's Adventure in Wonderland and Madame Bovary. Even Mad Magazine does not escape the rampage of these authorized government officials. Even Truffaut's beloved Cahiers du Cinema is set aflame. Books are dangerous repositories of dissatisfaction, after all, at least according to the firemen, who are looked upon by the populace with a combination of fear and admiration.

How and why would a future world evolve like this? The Fire Chief in the film (played with fascist conviction by Cyril Cusack) explains it well after discovering a secret (and forbidden) library with his troops. Books, he explains, raise all kinds of uncomfortable questions. Some books even contradict each other. "Only I am right," some authors seem to say, "the others are idiots." Therefore, books clearly (and intentionally) upset a satisfied populace by making it think about things, and considering for itself which point of view is valuable. The very act of writing, according to the Fire Chief, is pure vanity because it is one person forcing his or her beliefs on the populace, and making it confront unpleasant things. "We've all got to be alike," The Fire Chief insists, explaining his distaste for the written word to the film's protagonist, fireman Montag (actor Oskar Werner). True equality, it seems, can only be achieved when everybody is exactly the same.

And the only way for everyone to be alike (according to the Government), is for everyone to be equally uninformed, I guess. Smoking is bad for people, the Chief explains, and but now -- in his world -- there are no written studies to prove it, and so there is nothing to feel bad about. This particular argument struck a note with me and seemed particularly timely as I watched the film last night. We've all heard how Bush Administration officials have suppressed NASA reports on global climate change, over the objections of the scientists who conducted them. These reports state facts, not opinions...but again they might make us feel bad about the state of best just to suppress them; keep them away from the eyes of a populace that is happy buying coffee at Starbucks, watching American Idol on flat-screen TVs, and buying groceries at Wal-Mart. I mean, "why bother people with that sort of filth?" to paraphrase a character in the film. Perhaps this future isn't so far away after all?

But I get ahead of myself. Fahrenheit 451 tells the dramatic story of Montag, a fireman who does not question THE WAY THINGS ARE and happily goes about his business of destroying books. He's up for a promotion, in fact, and this is good, because his wife, Linda (Julie Christie) doesn't want a bigger house; she wants a second wall screen TV installed.

Then, one day, Montag meets a woman, Clarisse (Christie again), who asks him if he ever reads the books he burns. This lively, vivacious, passionate woman plants a seed in his mind, one that grows, as Montag begins to see how heartless, cold and vapid his society (a society without the printed word) has become. Then, one night, Montag breaks the law and reads a book for himself, David Copperfield (by Charles Dickens). It is an especially appropriate choice of tomes because it begins with the sentence "I am born," and then goes on to ask the question whether the book's protagonist will turn out to be the hero of his own life, or whether that important task should be left to another. This is the very crisis Montag faces at this juncture. Upon reading the first words of this book, Montag - if not actually born - is certainly re-born, into a world of possibilities. And what will he choose: the conformity he knows (and there is security and safety in conformity, right?) Or the opportunity to be a hero in his own life and confront this new Dark Age head on?

As you might guess, Montag begins to question the system that has nurtured him, but turned his wife into a pill-addled vegetable. "You're nothing but a zombie," he tells her angrily. "You're not living, you're just killing time." After reading his first book, Montag rejects the fascist system one piece at a time. He refuses to use the automatic fire pole in the fire station (better to walk on his own two feet than be carried up and down automatically, without thought). Then, on a for books in a public park, Montag permits a perpetrator secreting books in his jacket to escape with the texts. This important moment is highlighted by Truffaut in interesting visual fashion. The moment is heightened as half the screen goes black with a progressive wipe, leaving us only a view of the important action (the interaction between fireman and book person) on the right side of the frame.

Truffaut, heavily inspired by Alfred Hitchcock here (down to the pounding Bernard Hermann score), does not shy from visuals that augment the film's point. For instance, the opening credits are not flashed on the screen in the fashion we are used to; as printed words, but rather "read" by a narrator over a montage of shots (zooms, actually...) of ubiquitous TV antennae. This choice effectively denies the audience a glimpse of the written word, which is forbidden in this future world. More to the point, perhaps, the montage reveals in detail (as we see the antennae in close-up again and again) how ugly, inhuman technology (the antennae) has supplanted literary artistry, beauty and humanity.

Perhaps the best aspect of this film is something more subtle, however. Truffaut has seeded throughout his film (a genuine masterpiece, I'd say) various scenes of intense narcissism or self-love on the part of many characters. Early on, for instance, we see a female passenger on a monorail gazing at her reflection. She kisses it. Later, a medic gazes at his own face in a reflective medical case and he lingers on the image as if entranced by it. Linda, Montag's wife, is seen standing in front of a mirror touching her own breasts, obsessed with her "image" and "beauty."

Others on the monorail touch their own lips (as if to prove they still actually exist), and massage the collars of soft, fur coats. There are simply too many shots of this type for them to be a mere coincidence or a mistake. So what Truffaut is doing with these sequences and these shots, I believe, is selling visually the point that in a world where there is no consideration of philosophy, no history, no biography, and no imagination, the human psyche collapses into orgy of hedonistic self-love and narcissism. When thoughts lose currency and everyone is the same, each person receiving his or her 15 minutes of fame (witness Linda in the film getting to "play" with actors on a reality-type TV series), there is nothing but "self" to obsess on. A society of "Me" has grown-up here, at the expense of the community as a whole.

This is the most valuable aspect Fahrenheit 451; and surely the most prophetic. Bradbury first (and then Truffaut) saw that books -- with all their ideas -- were being supplanted by the callow, colorful world of non-stop television. They saw too, how a government could conceivably exert control over a population by employing this superficial medium (one where style is championed over substance). This too has come to pass. Remember how after 9/11, color-coded terror alerts were broadcast to make people jump, make people fear, (and in some cases, change the way people were likely to vote...)? Remember, how the Bush Administration (with your tax dollars!) released propaganda supporting their Medicare reform (in truth, hand-out to the pharmaceutical and insurance industries...), but made it look like an authentic news report ("This is Karen Ryan reporting...")?

What Bradbury and Truffaut understood so clearly was that television could be manipulated in a most dastardly way by those with a hidden (and malicious) agenda. I'd say they also realized how television could appeal to the baser "train wreck" instincts of people. At the end of Fahrenheit 451, Montag's "capture" by the State is orchestrated for the TV cameras (it's actually a sham), but it reminded me of how, in 1994, TV viewers were held captive by the "real-time" pursuit of O.J. Simpson in his white Bronco. This kind of thing is ever so much more entertaining than thinking about the important things (like, say, genocide in Rwanda...) isn't it?

The world of Fahrenheit 451 is also one in which citizens are asked to spy upon one another to keep the system intact. Outside fire stations are carefully placed hot-red "information boxes" where citizens can leave tips about law violators (anti-social elements organized in "cells", just like terrorists....) Again, this doesn't seem very futuristic today. Remember, after 9/11 the Bush Administration proposed Operation TIPS (Terrorism Information and Prevention System) a program designed to help United States citizens report suspicious activity among their neighbors. In particular, the program suggested that workers such as cable installers and telephone repairmen should be reporting on what was in people's homes if it were deemed "suspicious."

Fahrenheit 451 saw all this coming, particularly how the ubiquitous nature of television (not religion) would become the opium of the masses. Now, it may seem supremely contradictory for me - who makes a living from reviewing television - to be noting the dangers of the medium, but I don't think that's actually the case. Television (as is the case with film), is -- universally -- what you decide to make of it. You can approach the medium actively, with curiosity, or you can approach it passively, as an opportunity to "veg" out. I submit that the world of reality television (about the ritual humiliation of other Americans) is the worst example of video rubber-necking or watching a train wreck. But watching and considering intelligent drama - of any genre- is something quite the opposite. Still, consider that in the world of Fahrenheit 451 you could not read this blog, even. That you would not be able to - with written words - analyze the events and characters you had seen on Battlestar Galactica, Doctor Who, Lost, Star Trek, Planet of the Apes, or anything else.

And this gets us to a point of importance, I believe. Even as TV news has become more biased and one-sided, telling only half the story (and usually the sensational half...); even as reality TV has grown more despicable and appeals more and more to the lowest common denominator, our society boasts an antidote: the counterweight of the Internet, which can provide free, instantaneous and democratic information. That's why our society, I believe, has not succumbed totally to the Orwellian tactics of the current Administration. As long as the Internet -- this series of "tubes," as one Senator described it -- exists, it allows dissent and investigation. Therefore, there is not total brain death, and the book burners and government fire men will never win. (Which is why the idea of "Net Neutrality" is so scary to me; it's basically the idea of removing the democratic independence of the Internet, making it the purview of - surprise! - the corporations.)

As a writer of books, I suppose I take Fahrenheit 451 pretty damn personally. The idea that the work of an artist's entire lifetime (Shakespeare, Joyce, King...) can be so easily destroyed is immensely frightening to me. Book burners, alas, are not merely the bailiwick of fiction. There have been book burners in Nazi Germany, in Stalinist Russia, and yes - here - in the United States. And the scary thing is those who burn the books often do so under cover of moral rectitude; hidden under the lie that they are protecting us from bad things (like, say, racism in Twain's Huck Finn, or witchcraft, as portrayed in Harry Potter or The Wizard of Oz). The end of Fahrenheit 451 offers hope, however, and it nearly brought me to tears. The climax of the film reveals a new sect of citizens called "Book People." Since books are illegal, these people have become the books they loved. They have memorized the one special book that means something to them, and so carry on the legacy of the writers. Every word. Every sentence. Every thought. All memorized.

As the film concludes, Montag meets someone who is Plato's Republic; someone who is Pride and Prejudice, someone who is The Martian Chronicles, even. There were Dark Ages before, periods in human history where knowledge was lost, and only some of it preserved. And the overall message seems to be here that we can survive another, should it happen. In Fahrenheit 451, the human spirit - the human quest for knowledge and truth is transcendent and indomitable - and man, even technological man -- finds a way to keep knowledge alive.

It makes me wonder. If you were to become a book, what would book would you choose? What book couldn't you live without? What book couldn't the world live without?

Friday, June 27, 2008

Muir Goes Beyond The Grassy Answer Live Calls

Hey everybody, I'm traveling back to the "Grassy Knoll" tonight from 10:00 pm to midnight (Eastern time) to discuss horror films and television with hosts Keith Hansen and Adam Gorightly.

We'll be discussing my books, my career, "The Sacred Mushroom" (the notorious episode of One Step Beyond in which host John Newland sampled peyote on network television...) and so much more. Should be ghoulish good fun...

We'll also be taking live calls! So join us if you get the chance.
The link is right here.

RETRO TOY FLASHBACK # 77: Star Trek: First Contact Action Figures (Playmates; 1996)

Today I'm attempting again to work up some 1990s nostalgia (again!) with a look back at the collectible toys from that era. In previous posts, I've looked at Playmates SeaQuest DSV figures and Hasbro Stargate figures from the early 1990s. Today, I turn my attention back to the prolific Playmates company; specifically to the Star Trek franchise as it existed in the middle of the decade.

In 1996, Star Trek: First Contact (directed by Jonathan Frakes) was released and immediately became a big theatrical hit. I can explain why it was so successful in one word: BORG!

No, seriously, First Contact not only featured an interesting and diabolical nemesis for the crew of The Next Generation to combat, it also featured some splendid action scenes (particularly one riveting and anxiety-provoking sequence set on the hull of the newly christened Enterprise E). There are other great moments too, like Picard calling Worf a coward; or risking his life to save Data. The film's ending, with the flight of the Phoenix and the "first contact" with Vulcns is also very uplifting and emotional, especially for dreamers like me. And how can I forget? The film boasts great Goldsmith soundtrack (and main theme). On the other hand, I was less enamored of the film's "comic" subplot, which found Riker, Geordi and others dealing with an often-drunk inventor Zefram Cochrane, trying to prod him into testing his warp ship, the Phoenix. Meh. Today, those latter sequences stick out like a sore thumb and seem really, really lame.

Still, First Contact is likely the highest-regarded of the Next Generation films (and next to Nemesis it is positively golden), and Playmates certainly went gung-ho with a number of high quality toys related to the hit film. There were a cluster of new spaceships to play with, including the Enterprise E, the Borg Orb (which some Star Wars fans complained looked like the Death Star...) and Cochrane's retro-Phoenix.

But Playmates also released a number of new (larger) action figures from the film. This was the first time these beloved characters were seen in their new black and gray ribbed uniforms. On the plus side, these First Contact figures were absolutely beautifully-detailed and authentic to the iflm. On the downside, they were out of scale with the rest of Playmates' exhaustive, amazing figure line (which included figures from The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager and classic Star Trek). That last bit was kind of a bummer if you wanted your Picards to mingle with your Janeways, for instance. The figures came with phasers, tricorders and the like, but also with a little mini-poster from the film.

Playmates released new versions of Picard, Riker, Data, Geordi, Troi, and Worf, as well as more First Contact specific figures. For instance, Alfre Woodard's character Lily Sloane, got an action figure, as did Cochrane (as played by James Cromwell). My two favorite figures, however, were Captain Picard in his bad-ass space suit (how often do we get to see space suits on Star Trek?) and the very mean-looking Borg soldier. But hey...why no Borg Queen?

Wednesday, June 25, 2008


The 2008 Sy Fy Genre Awards are now officially open for voting! You can vote once a day from now (June 25) through July 25, 2008. My series, The House Between is a competitor in the category "Best Web Production" so if you're a The House Between fan, now's the time to show the series some serious love!! We have stiff competition (most of it named Star Trek...), but make YOUR VOTE COUNT today! You can vote right here.

Thanks, and here's an image from The House Between's explosive (literally...) Season Three episode, "Devoured."

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Comic-Book Flashback # 9: Doctor Who: "The Stockbridge Horror"

Presented by Marvel in June 1986 (though originally seen in Doctor Who Monthly #72-73), this Doctor Who comic adventure was written by Steve Parkhouse.

The tale occurs in the era of the fifth Doctor, portrayed by Peter Davison. It's concerns a "the thing in the TARDIS," a being with "no name, no mind and no heart" who invades the Doctor's beloved conveyance feeling "fierce flames of heat...and awesome need." For a million years, this thing walked in "darkness" but "no more."

In fact, this thing is some weird reflection of the Time Lord himself; as the Doctor is currently sans companion in this chapter. When the creature invades the Doctor's
time machine (appearing first as an image of Spider-Man, no less, making this a rather odd Marvel cross-over...), a larger conspiracy reveals itself. On the Doctor's last visit to Gallifrey, the Time Lords apparently inserted a device into the TARDIS to monitor the renegade Doctor, and now the Time Lords have sent a warrior named Shayde to destroy the beast rapidly taking control of the TARDIS.

Shayde promptly informs the Doctor that the TARDIS and he have become too alike. Both are "quirky, idiosyncratic and ultimately schizophrenic." Wow -- great description (though not especially true of Davison's incarnation/interpretation)!

Then, a new brand of military TARDIS appears off the bow, ready to blow up the Doctor's time ship if things go awry. It is captained by the militant Time Lord Tubal Cain. The doctor expresses horror at the thought of a Time Lord in the military, and fears what's next: a Time Lord in politics?

As the story ends, Shayde prepares to do battle with the monster inhabiting the TARDIS. This Marvel comic-book also features two other short stories worth mentioning. The first is "Skywatch - 7, concerning UNIT (United Nations Intelligence Task Force) tangling with a Zygon (from "The Terror of the Zygons"). The second is "The Gods Walk Among Us," about a Sontaran trapped in Tutankhamun's tomb for 5,500 years. (I wonder if he ever ran across Sutekh while he was there...). Confession: I love the Sontarans. I just do. Can't help it. It might have to do with the fact that the first Doctor Who serial I ever saw (on WWOR TV, Channel Nine out of New York) was "The Sontaran Experiment.")

So "The Stockbridge Horror" is a flashback to 1980s Who, though if truth be told, I've always preferred 1960s and 1970s era Who (and now, David Tennant modern Who). This comic-book is plenty of fun, though, and I always appreciate tales that examine the deep bonds that tie the Doctor to his unusual TARDIS.

My biggest problem with this overall story (as well as this issue in particular...) is the concept erosion apparent in the dramatization and handling of the Time Lords. I wrote about this in my book at length, but originally in Doctor Who lore, the Time Lords were the most feared creatures in all of time and space (even the Doctor feared them...). They were more terrifying than Cybermen or Daleks. Their justice was Draconian, to say the least (witness the conclusion of "The War Games").

But by Pertwee-era Who, the Time Lords were effete British dandies sending The Doctor on special missions, like some futuristic "M" in the James Bond series. By the time of the Davison era, the Gallifreyan Time Lords were just like any other race on any TV show (like the Vulcans on Star Trek, for instance), and had lost all their menace...hence all their individuality and special nature. Their grandeur was reduced by multiple visits to the planet Gallifrey and the dawning realization that the Time Lords could not be dramatized (by the low-budget BBC production) in a manner that preserved their mystery and superiority. (That said, I quite enjoyed "The Deadly Assasin" and "The Invasion of Time," both set on Gallfrey; I merely mourned the death of the original -- and superior - concept of Time Lords as awe/terror inspiring.)

First the McCoy era and then the new series have attempted rather successfully to rectify this concept erosion (in vastly different ways...), but this comic chapter is perfect evidence of it at a terrible low point. Along comes Time Lord Tubal Caine, wearing shoulder epaulets and a green military uniform, (and twentieth century style military haircut...) flying a TARDIS that looks like a terrestrial tank, ready to blow up the TARDIS if "the exorcism" of the time machine goes badly. It just wreaks of...bad Star Trek.

Still, I've been waxing nostalgic for Doctor Who lately, and I today I felt like looking back at the adventures of an incarnation that I never liked that much (Davison's). So I plucked out this comic book and - right here, in one issue - I found the reasons that I both liked and disliked that era in series history...

Monday, June 23, 2008

One Step Beyond Interview Now Live!

The Beyond the Grassy Knoll interview I did Friday afternoon on the subject of the 1959-1961 anthology One Step Beyond is now live. You can listen in right here. For my cult TV flashback on the series from this blog (back in 2005), go here.

New McFarland Film and TV Titles

This study examines the changes in the American film industry, audiences, and feature films between 1965 and 1975. With transformations in production codes, adjustments in national narratives, a rise in independent filmmaking, and a new generation of directors and producers addressing controversial issues on the mainstream screen, film was a major influence on the social changes that defined these years. After a contextual history of film during this era, several key films are discussed, including The Graduate, Alice’s Restaurant, Easy Rider, Midnight Cowboy, M*A*S*H, McCabe and Mrs. Miller, Little Big Man, and The Godfather series. The author describes how these films represented a generation, constructed and deconstructed American culture, and made important contributions during ten years of great change in America.

Gilmore Girls and the Politics of Identity
This work examines the Gilmore Girls from a post-feminist perspective, evaluating how the show’s main female characters and supporting cast fit into the classic portrayal of feminine identity on popular television. The book begins by placing Gilmore Girls in the context of the history of feminism and feminist television shows such as Mary Tyler Moore and One Day at a Time. The remainder of the essays look at series’ portrayal of traditional and non-traditional gender identities and familial relationships.

Topics include the hyper-real utopia represented by Gilmore Girls’ fictional Stars Hollow; the faux-feminist perspective offered by Rory Gilmore’s unfulfilling (and often masochistic) romantic relationships; the ways in which “mean girl” Paris Geller both adheres to and departs from the traditional archetype of female power and aggression; and the role of Lorelai Gilmore’s oft-criticized marriage in destroying the show’s central theme of single motherhood during its seventh season. The work also studies the role of food and its consumption as a narrative device throughout the show’s development, evaluating the ways in which food negotiates, defines, and upholds the characters’ gendered and class performances. The work also includes a complete episode guide listing the air date, title, writer, and director of every episode in the series.

Hammer Film Scores and the Musical Avant-Garde
Music in film is often dismissed as having little cultural significance. While Hammer Film Productions is famous for such classic films as Dracula and The Curse of Frankenstein, few observers have noted the innovative music that Hammer distinctively incorporated into its horror films.

This book tells how Hammer commissioned composers at the cutting edge of European musical modernism to write their movie scores, introducing the avant-garde into popular culture via the enormously successful venue of horror film. Each chapter addresses a specific category of the avant-garde musical movement. According to these categories, chapters elaborate upon the visionary composers who made the horror film soundtrack a melting pot of opposing musical cultures.

This collection of original interviews, appropriate for libraries and fans alike, provides first-hand accounts from many of the entertainment industry’s most influential writers, filmmakers, and entertainers. Interviewees include horror film icons Elvira and Herschell Gordon Lewis; world-renowned science fiction and fantasy authors, among them Ray Bradbury, Laurell K. Hamilton, and John Saul; and many others. The 26 alphabetized interviews are accompanied by a brief introduction, several quotes from the interviewee’s industry peers, and the interviewee’s complete bibliography or filmography. Also included are a foreword by The Amazing Kreskin and an afterword by two-time Bram Stoker Award winner Charlee Jacob.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

CULT MOVIE REVIEW: The Illustrated Man (1969)

In 1951, Ray Bradbury's anthology of eighteen short stories, The Illustrated Man, was first published in the United States. Nearly twenty years later, in 1969, a film version of the Bradbury material directed by Jack Smight (and scored by Jerry Goldsmith) was released in theaters. An omnibus or anthology film, Smight's movie starred Rod Steiger, Claire Bloom and Robert Drivas, and dramatized three sci-fi tales ("The Veldt," "The Long Rain" and "The Last Night of the World"). These vignettes were tied together by an umbrella story set in 1933 and -- in an interesting twist for the movie anthology format -- the film's starring triumvirate appeared in each tale as different characters, as well as in the wraparound, framing story.

The Illustrated Man commences in 1933 as a young drifter, Willie (Drivas) encounters a bellicose old carnie, Carl (Steiger) by idyllic lakeside. Willie very soon learns that Carl's entire body (yes, even his privates...) have been decorated with the most bizarre skin illustrations imaginable. Carl ascribes life and even sentience to these illustrations (and don't call them tattoos, either...), noting that he can feel them "squirmin'" and "movin' up" his back. The illustrations were created by a beautiful woman, a haunting siren named Felicia. Carl is now in search of Felicia and her house (which disappeared long ago...) because he wants to kill her. Why? His illustrated body has made Carl a pariah. And worse: those who gaze into the creepy illustrations can see their own future and their own deaths in them, and that doesn't exactly make Carl a popular guy at parties.

Who exactly is Felicia? Good question. "She had lived in the past and had lived in the future, and she put it all on me," says Carl at one point in the film. A voice over narration from Felicia also warns that "each person who tries to see beyond his time must face questions to which there cannot yet be proven answers."

Willie attempts to ferret out the mysteries of Carl, the illustrated man, but is soon seduced and beguiled by the imagery on the old man's body. Willie falls into the irresistible spell of the skin illustrations, and witnesses three cautionary tales from humanity's future. In the first ("The Veldt"), two parents (Steiger and Bloom) living in Baltimore worry about their children, who seem to be "embracing destructive thoughts" during their playtime. You see, the parents have purchased for their kids a new kind of technological nursery or playroom (a kind of early silver screen holodeck device...), and the children keep calling up a savanna in Africa: one where sleepy lion packs feed on carrion. A government therapist (Drivas) indicates to the parents that the nursery has indeed caused some problems in other families, but is not prepared for what happens with this particular family. As you might guess, the children arrange a trap for their parents in the nursery...

The second story (and the most impressive visually) is "The Long Rain." Here, a spaceship from the Unified States of Earth (really a re-dressed spaceship from Planet of the Apes [1968]) crashes on Venus and the crew slowly goes insane under the pressure and incessant noise of the non-stop, ubiquitous rain. The ship commander, played by a belligerent Steiger, attempts to hold his crew (Jason Evers, and Drivas once more...) together as they search the planet for the respite provided by Sun Domes; small habitats boasting all the luxuries of Earth (including "space whores.") The crew mutinies one at a time, and one crewman (Drivas) commits suicide. The colonel alone reaches the Sun Dome...where he finds Felicia waiting.

In the final story depicted in the film (and from Carl's tattoos), entitled "The Last Night of the World," Steiger and Bloom play another futuristic married couple fretting over the health of their children. In this case, however, the situation is far different than in "The Veldt." Steiger's character here has just returned from a "Final World Forum" where he reports that all the men shared the same apocalyptic dream. They had a vision that this is the last day of the world and that the human race will die during the night. To spare the children a possibly painful doomsday, this cabal of men has decided to put the children "to sleep" (using pills to be administered at bed time...). Bloom's character protests that "our children are everything! They're our future." But Steiger's character is insistent. "There is no future," he tells her, adding "You're subject to the ruling too." Bloom finally appears to convince her husband that they should not murder the children; but during the night, Steiger steals into their bedroom to spare them the end of the world. Guess what happens the next morning? The sun rises, the Earth lives, mankind survives. And Steiger has -- over his wife's humanitarian and maternal objections -- given his children the suicide pills.

Back at the lakeside in the 1930s, Willie is driven into a mad frenzy by these visions of unhappy, tragic futures. He then witnesses his own death: strangulation by the Illustrated Man! Willie makes a ham handed attempt to murder Carl in his sleep, then runs off, down a country road. But Carl isn't exactly dead yet. Wounded, he rises from his sleep, bloodied but not defeated...

Sound like a strange movie? Well, it is. I first saw The Illustrated Man on television when I was perhaps ten, and it scared the living daylights out of me. It wasn't that it was overtly a horror film, only that the resonant images -- from Steiger's illustrated body to the world of never ending rain; to the specter of parents murdering their own children to spare them a holocaust that never arrives -- were disturbing enough to haunt my young nightmares. I hadn't seen the film in probably twenty-five years so I thought this was the time to see if the movie actually lived up to my memory or if it was merely one of those phantasms that only childhood and impressionable youth can explain.

The answer is that, in a way, the film does live up to my expectations and memories. Smight's effort remains unsettling, provocative, vulgar and, indeed, raises many more questions than it answers. Although there are few actors I would less like to to see nude than Rod Steiger, The Illustrated Man nonetheless remains a potent vision of 20th century turmoil. In essence, the anthology is a cautionary tale of the year 1969. Which puts the film at the height of the Vietnam War, on the cusp of a decade wherein such concepts as violence on television and reproductive rights (Roe v. Wade) would dominate the culture wars. You can see all those ideas and issues bubbling just beneath the surface of this film.

What I believe is at work here is an intense fear of a future where mankind has succumbed to a number of contemporary evils. There's Orwellian bureaucracy and inhuman, subversive technology ("The Veldt"), perpetual war and war-making ("The Long Rain") and even faith-based thinking ("The Last Night of the World") as the particular boogeymen. It is impossible not to note that the framing story of The Illustrated Man occurs in nature - in wild, untamed country (by lakeside), while all the stories themselves are set in nightmarish apocalyptic futures: worlds of technological "playrooms," "sun domes" and the like. A contrast is being made here. Even the era of The Great Depression (the 1930s), the film seems to suggest, will look like child's play (literally) next to the future of "The Veldt" or the other stories.

The first vignette, "The Veldt" is very forward-thining, even today. It is concerned, nay obsessed, about globalization and the impact it could have on the economy. Steiger's character obsesses on a world where "everything is done for us," a minimalist, plastic, heartless world of ivory sterility, where labor laws dictate that people can only work six months out of the year. Steiger experiences sexual difficulties with his wife in this particular world; another side-effect of a dehumanized future, no doubt: impotence. Here, children are also cruel little bastards: raised by government therapists and machine nurseries. They kill their parents without a second thought. Trust your children to the State (and to the TV...), "The Veldt" suggests, and parents risk the future and survival.

"The Long Rain" is another commentary on an amoral future. Here -- in the distant future and on another planet -- man continues his warlike legacy. The commander of the spaceship (Steiger) is so ruthless with his men that when one disobeys his orders, Steiger shoots him in the back and kills him. Later, Carl attempts to keep in line his surviving subordinate by tantalizing him with the promise that there are "whores" at the Sun Domes. The subordinate (Drivas) is angry at this enticement to stay in the military; to remain obedient; to stay under the thumb of a cruel captain. "What if a man doesn't want a whore?" he replies. Instead, this character opts out of a system devoted to perpetual war and chooses suicide instead. With its alien jungle setting, perpetual rain, discussion of murdering a superior (or "fragging" in the vernacular of the time), it is clear that "The Long Rain" is a Vietnam War metaphor.

The film's final story, "The Last Night of the World" offers some real sociological red meat too. Again, set in the distant future (after an apocalyptic gas cloud destroys most of the population...), this tale warns about what could happen when a ruling class (consisting entirely of men, by the way) experiences delusions of grandeur: selecting a course for the entire human race based on its own delusional visions of God and the future. This story comments on sexism (the men are blithering idiots ready to murder their children and consequently the future while the woman featured here is entirely more sensible). "The Last Night of the World" also touches on ideas like group-think, religious domination and even cultism. We mustn't forget that 1969 was also the year of the Manson murders.

In The Illustrated Man, the future is a dark, dark place. Nature is either destructive ("The Long Rain"), a technological recreation tilted toward murder ("The Veldt") or a backdrop for human-forged horrors ("The Last Night of the World"). It is interesting that at the conclusion of each story (upon return to the lake), Smight dissolves to a particular shot: that of a burning campfire (often seen in close-up). The views of this fire are like a visual suggestion that each future tale ends in conflagration, destruction and chaos. The film also features a preponderance of low-angle shots, especially in relation to Bloom, to suggest her fearsome, otherworldly quality.

Digging deep now, I see The Illustrated Man as a story of a woman who -- by some means unknown to us -- has seen the horrors of the future and goes back in time to warn mankind to change his ways before it is too late. The only way she can do so, perhaps, is through the art of the living skin illustrations she imprints on Carl. I suggest that this "art" is actually the technology of her world and time, and -- like the technology we see deployed in the remainder of the film -- can lead only to destruction and pain because it is misused and misunderstood. A fact which makes Felicia - our prophet of bad times to come - a tragic figure in the classical sense. She has gone back in time to save the future, but her own technology, the creative medium she utilizes to change the future, is not understood and only leads to further destruction, anarchy and murder. Felicia's wistful voice over narration, about each person trying to see beyond his time, "facing questions with no answers" may represent her final realization that man will always be man, even if warned. He will not change. Carl is not able to understand the nature of the illustrations and indeed, grows murderous over them. She calls the illustrations a gift, but for him they are always a curse. This strikes me as being very clearly of-a-piece with such contemporary genre films as Planet of the Apes. The Illustrated Man is thus an end-of-the-world tale.

If you think of all the things that were happening in 1968 and 1969, you can understand more fully the power and depth of Smight's imagery; the notion that the future would be one of fires. The Tet Offensive, the Battle of Saigon, the My Lai Massacre, the Robert Kennedy Assassination, nerve gas leaks in Utah, Chappaquiddick, the Nixon Doctrine ("Vietnamization"), terrorist bombing in Quebec, the firebombing of Cambodia, student demonstrations at Harvard, the Stonewall Riots and on and on. All this was going on concurrently with the film, and you can practically sense the unease about the future oozing from the screen. I believe it no accident either that the film is basically framed as a conflict between generations. Willie is a young man full of optimism; Carl an old man filled with cynicism, murderous impulses and hatred. It's a tale of the generation gap, and Willie is so tortured by the world he views through Carl's eyes (or through his tattoos), that he too becomes murderous. The cycle of violence, in the end, gets handed from one generation to the next.

The cyclical nature of human life (of human violence, actually) is visually represented in The Illustrated Man by the fact that the same three actors portray different roles in different time periods. This conceit makes us understand how history repeats itself, again and again, across time. The story of Carl and of Man repeats across the breadth of the future; intertwined with the story of Felicia and Woman, and the story of Willie and Youth.

Make no mistake, this version of The Illustrated Man is not a Ray Bradbury film per se. Much of the writer's trademark lyricism and romanticism is missing, if not entirely absent. This is a Jack Smight film, a Howard N. Kreitsek interpretation from the late sixties. It is a brutal rendering of Bradbury's work that speaks directly to a certain place and time (and a certain set of fears). I would never use the adjectives "grotesque" or "vulgar" to describe Bradbury's writing, but those are indeed critical adjectives in any accurate description of this film. Steiger plays an absolute brute in The Illustrated Man, one who abuses small animals, is obsessed with sex, and is consumed with hatred. Along with the character of young Willie, we want to murder this arrogant, monstrous man. We want to murder him for touching and destroying the beauty of Felicia. We want to murder him for revealing a world of such endless ugliness and pain. I would argue, however, that these feelings -- while undeniably far away from the vision of Bradbury -- are entirely appropriate to a world view where the idea "never trust anyone over thirty" carried such currency.

I suppose I should end this review with a notation that The Illustrated Man is being re-made right now for a 2010 release. I wonder if it will be a science fiction spectacle; an anthology more faithful to the work of Ray Bradbury, or another comment on this new, turbulent age? We shall see...

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Muir goes One Step Beyond the Grassy Knoll...

I recorded an interview yesterday with the website, Beyond the Grassy Knoll. This site has been around since July 2002 and deals mostly with conspiracy history, yet also devotes coverage to socio-cultural issues, events, and epochs. It has often covered such topics as rock and roll, and pop culture.

In particular, we spent about 90 minutes discussing the 1959-1961 paranormal anthology, One Step Beyond, hosted by John Newland. The interview was a lot of fun because we talked about the real paranormal cases (and the evidence behind them...) that formed the basis for many of the half-hour episodes. In particular, we discussed -- in detail -- about ten or so episodes that followed documented cases, provided eye-witnesses and the like. I researched all that material for my 2001 book, An Analytical Guide to TV's One Step Beyond, and it was great to revisit some of it.

The interview will be posted by Monday morning, June 23rd here, so I hope you'll check it out. Some of this stuff is very creepy. What I've always appreciated about One Step Beyond is that even when it took clear dramatic liberties with tales of the unexplained; it also attempted to explain the parapsychological concepts (such as crisis apparitions, apports, automatic writing, re-incarnation, psychometry, etc.) with a high degree of fidelity and accuracy to the literature about such phenomena.

I hope you'll check out the the interview. You can also read a transcript of my chat with the late host (and director) of One Step Beyond, John Newland, right here.

Yet Another Reason I Love The Seventies:

Friday, June 20, 2008

Muir on The Allan Handelman Show Today

Hey everyone,

I'll be a guest live on The Allan Handelman Show today from 4:00 pm to 6:30 pm, EST. You can find Allan here. He does a great show, and I've enjoyed my previous visits, where we've discussed everything from rock & roll movies to horror films of the 1980s, to monster movies. The show often includes live calls, which can be a really fun experience.

We'll be talking about a variety of topics from my writing career, including horror movies, 1960s genre television, and even my web production, The House Between. It's gonna be a great, eclectic time, so I hope you'll tune in.

I may also have another radio show announcement to make today. More on that soon...

There Is Still Only One...

Theme Song of the Week # 18: The Greatest American Hero (1981-1983)

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Star Wars Blogging: Episode IV: A New Hope (1977)

I'm old enough to remember when this film (or this "episode") was titled simply...Star Wars.

Yep, I was in the second grade when I first saw Star Wars in May of 1977 and it was -- without exaggeration -- a film that changed my life. It is easy to be disdainful or dismissive of such claims, I suppose, if you weren't there, or didn't live through that time. How can any movie -- especially a "fantasy" about a "galaxy far far away" change someone's life? Well, part of what I hope to blog about today is the manner in which Star Wars got so many details right. George Lucas's film was carefully crafted, so intelligently conceived, it opened up a new universe of possibilities in terms of cinema science fiction and in that way, it inspired a generation (maybe two).

First of all, I'd like to begin the discussion with the idea of Star Wars' antecedents and the considerable creativity it draws from them. In making his spectacular film, creator George Lucas gazed back to the space adventures of yesteryear. In simple terms, this means primarily the 1930s adventures of Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon. In fact, Lucas had sought to option the Flash Gordon property first...before deciding on creating his own original universe.

In 1987, Lucas also noted (on stage with Gene Roddenberry) that he had watched Star Trek reruns while writing Star Wars. You can also point to many important similarities between Star Wars and other literary and film epics. In broad strokes, C3PO physically resembles the robot from Metropolis (1927). Luke's home world of Tatooine is not that different conceptually (down to the giant critters...) from Frank Herbert's description of Arrakis in Dune. Much of the space combat (deliberately...) evokes memories of the aerial battles in 1949's Twelve O'Clock High. And as Roger Ebert once pointed out, the characters of R2-D2 and C3PO pay tribute - after a fashion - to characters and situations appearing in Kurosawa's The Hidden Fortress (1958).

None of this matters, however, in the long term, because George Lucas made a derivative film in an inspired, utterly genius fashion. He re-combined diverse elements in Trek, Flash Gordon, Twelve O'Clock High, Metropolis etc. into something daring, original. swashbuckling and new. He did what the best artists always do: he took the best and left the rest. Lucas didn't steal "the essence" of those earlier (popular) productions and books, but instead captured their spirit, the things that people enjoyed about them. He thus emerged with something cereative and different.

Contrast for just a minute that approach with the one might have taken, had he re-made Flash Gordon. We are now living in the Remake Age, and know what that's all about, don't we? I see artists today remaking the things they loved as kids (as Lucas picked up on things he loved in various productions), but despite co-opting the property name, failing to capitalize on the spirit and essence of the subject matter. I must admit, I was highly disappointed in George Lucas when he sued Universal over Battlestar Galactica, because he was claiming that series "stole" his ideas in Star Wars when they really weren't his ideas to begin with. No, he took the ingredients from other productions, mixed them together...and emerged with utter joy and genius. Lucas shouldn't have attempted to deny others the same creative process. But that's a discussion for another day.

So one thing that Star Wars got very right in the final analysis, was its re-shaping and synthesizing of old influences into a new and creative original. Lucas picked remarkably well, if you think about it. He found a model for his space battles that made them seem realistic (from World War II aerial combat) rather than confusing; he granted his inhuman characters (droids) human characteristics thanks to Kurosawa's film, and so forth. Again, I'm not saying he stole anything. I'm saying he used familiar ingredients but mixed them in an original and creative way.

But Star Wars also got so many other things right. Foremost among these was his decision to create a "lived in" universe. Go back to 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) or Space:1999 (1975-1977) -- two productions I love, by the way -- and you see a marvelous view of man's technological future. It is white-on-white, minimalist and also remarkably sterile. While I groove on that vision, it is not difficult to see how Lucas went in the opposite direction, imagining a messy universe where spaceships don't always operate right, where there are items stored in every corner, and where robots have carbon scoring and dings on their mechanical bodies. The brilliance of this is that the universe does not look like it was created in a day by a production designer; but that it has been there all along...aging, gathering dust, falling apart. That viewpoint adds tremendously to the "realism" factor of Star Wars. Make no mistake, Star Wars represents a huge shift in the cinema's visual paradigm. The next step (after Star Wars) was represented by Alien (1979) and Blade Runner (1982).

Go back and study the interior of the Jawa's Sand Crawler for moment to see evidence of what I'm talking about here. This cramped, dark locale is almost anti-futuristic in conception. It is home for droids of every possible variety and so looks like the greatest yard sale or flea market or thrift store in the galaxy. The level of detail is amazing, but more to the point, Lucas's approach to photographing this setting is amazing: he doesn't linger. He doesn't explain. He doesn't provide background, exposition or detail on who these droids are, where they were made, or how they got here. What's important is that they are here, and speak to the "history" of the Sand Crawler's journey. Each droid has a story, no doubt, but we are not privy to it. (Sequel?)

What I'm writing about here is the confident and dedicated manner in which Lucas creates in one film - from whole cloth - a universe that boasts a history and therefore resonates with viewers. Again and again, this is the case, and I find it rather amazing. For instance, look at the Dianoga (the creature in the trash compactor): it's somebody's pet alligator that got flushed down the toilet, right? How did it get there? When did it get there? Who, specifically put it there? Those questions are left unasked and truly unimportant. But from the setting ( a trash compactor), we get the idea, and the monster itself is just another shade of this highly-detailed universe.

Also, I love the shape and cadence of the dialogue preceding the final confrontation between Ben Kenobi and Darth Vader in A New Hope, because it's all about history. History that - the first time you saw this film -- you had no knowledge of. "You should not have come back," says Vader [italics mine]. "The circle is complete." "When last we met I was but the learner. Now I am the Master." Etc. These characters constantly reference situations which we, as audience members, know absolutely nothing about. This is the end of Ben Kenobi's journey and yet this first film in the Star Wars cycle (though fourth in the chronology). We are spoon-fed nothing. In fact, we're asked to keep up, really.

I suspect George Lucas doesn't get enough credit for the "generational" aspect of the Star Wars mythos. He had no idea if his film would ever spawn a sequel (or prequels, for that matter). He could have set the story simply in the "now" of Star Wars with no sense of history, scope or scale. But instead, he seeded the mythic, generational material deeply into the film, providing the sense of both an age past (the Age of the Jedi) and the age in process (the Age of the Galactic Empire). In some senses, Lucas might have made a simpler, more straightforward (and much more manageable...) film without all the references to "ancient religions" and "ancient weapons." But instead, he had his characters reference (unfamiliar...) history, in the process making his universe all the more realistic.

This element of Star Wars occurs over and over again. Leia reports that only Darth Vader could be "so bold," to attack her ship, meaning that she knows him, or at least knows of him. The big deal here is that the story takes place in media res, with no sense of introduction or beginning, and so there is the sense that we are "swept" up in it without knowing everything. Star Wars seemed to move at a breathtaking pace when released because it throws everything at you at once, new action and historical information alike. It's a film alive with information. Not necessarily, explained information, but information nonetheless.

I think this is important because before Star Wars it was much more difficult to believe in the worlds created by Hollywood sci-fi movies. Logan's Run for all its various and sundry wonders, appeared to be set in a futuristic shopping mall, and was based on 1970s apocalyptic/futuristic thinking. Star Trek, even by 1977, looked dated to my eyes. Space:1999 appeared very realistic but like the other productions I've mentioned here, it was grounded deeply in our pre-millennial reality (spaceships were a product of the 20th century, and so were the Earth men featured on the show).

By contrast, Star Wars seemed to create an entire universe of Wookies, Droids, Jedi, Sand Crawlers, Jawas, Tusken Raiders, and Empire from whole cloth. Had any single detail or effect been wrong, had any element of the movie appeared fake or superficial, the entire endeavor would have been scuttled. In my opinion, this is why Star Wars remains a great and watershed film. There are a million little things that the film just nails, from the moment when Ben pulls a light saber out of an old trunk (filled with other mementos which garner no attention...), to the big things, like the scale and complexity of the Death Star...which is awesome.

I could keep writing this post forever, but I just want to highlight a few other element that I appreciate about the film. For one, George Lucas is clever the way he sees the shape of the galaxy being decided not in halls of government, or in the hands of leaders, but on backwater worlds. Luke's ascent to Jedi Knight begins on a world that he describes this way: "if there's a bright center to the universe, you're on the planet it's furthest from." I think this important not just in terms of the hero's journey, but in terms of the democratic nature of Star Wars. Anyone can become a hero, if he or she believes (and dedicates one's self) to the Force, "an energy field created by all living things." It doesn't matter if you live on Tatooine or Dantooine for that matter, so long as you are in "touch" with yourself and your environment through the Force. What an amazing message (and one, alas, watered-down in the prequels; where you must have midichlorians in your blood to harness the force, which in my opinion is the ultimate in elitism...).

Lucas gets criticized as a director quite a bit, and after the staginess and green-screen awkwardness of some moments in the prequels, I understand why. But here, in A New Hope, he projects a wonderful and highly romantic sense of lyricism. The scene that involves Luke at the Skywalker Homestead by sunlight, with those two giant orbs setting in the sky, speaks to some universal quality of adolescent yearning. As John Williams' beautiful score fills your ears, and you see that young man standing there alone, gazing at the world beyond his grasp, you share his impatience, his youth. He wants to get on with it, to make his mark in the world. I submit we have all felt that way; all shared that emotion: that longing to do something important; to grow up. This has become an iconic moment for Star Wars fans and for good reason. Again, this is Lucas being clever: the story may be set in a galaxy far away, but the emotion is all human (and therefore, resonant).

I'm ticking through my notes here. Ah yes, next up: Han Solo. He is the greatest character in the film (and one of the great characters in film history), because he offers humor, arrogance and incredulity in the face of all the cosmic ups and downs. Without him, Star Wars would not feel nearly so much fun or light . Han Solo (as played by Harrison Ford) is the secular, skeptical voice of the 1970s viewer (which may be the reason he has no corollary in the 1990s-2000s prequels). "Better her than me," he tells Luke, when Skywalker informs Solo that Leia will die if they don't help her. Indeed. Well, Solo is the perfect representation of the Me Generation, isn't he? Dismissive of religion; just trying to get by; just watching out for number one. But - in the end - someone who will be there when the chips are down.

I can't end a discussion of the film without mentioning the famous opening shot. We pan down from deep space to a planetary system. Then, a small ship (the rebel blockade runner) is chased, and the Imperial Star Destroyer takes positively forever to cross the screen. The result is that we understand the menace of the Empire, and the scope of the attacking ship visually. I guess it goes without saying that this shot has been imitated and lampooned (Spaceballs [1987]) quite a bit.

A New Hope is a pitch-perfect space fantasy, and one of the most important American films produced after 1968. Star Wars changed the face of the movie business. In particular, it changed the ways films are marketed, and the way that science fiction films are created. Which isn't to say that there aren't some nagging questions worth asking about how and why things go down in the film as they do. Kathryn and I watched Star Wars two nights ago and maintained a running dialogue about the things that fascinated and tickled us. Here are a few:

1. C3P0 lies to a stormtrooper on the Death Star. When is it permissible for a Droid to lie? Is that ability included in a droid's programming? And if it were, wouldn't you feel rather nervous about having droids around in your house (especially while you're asleep)? This may finally explain the line: "we don't serve their kind here..."

2. This one had Kathryn up in arms: but why doesn't Chewbacca get a medal in the rebel ceremony that closes the film? In her words, 'Bacca should either be out of the ceremony all together (and off the altar), or he should get a damn medal. Then Kathryn went into a long discussion of "species-ism" in Star Wars. Was Chewie denied a medal because he's a Wookie and not a human being? Only three-fifth of a person, perhaps?

3. What's with Ben Kenobi's line (at the wreckage of the Sand Crawler) that "only Imperial Stormtroopers are so precise" in their targeting? Obviously, he's never watched Star Wars, because the Stormtroopers have the worst aim ever! Exhibit A: In the moment before Leia and Luke swing across the chasm on a wire, about six troopers follow at point blank range to blast the rebels, and every one of them misses. Precision? Maybe the Force was just against them...

4. Okay, here's a question about The Jedi Mind Trick. In Mos Eisley, Kenobi utilizes this technique on a Stormtrooper. He tells Luke that it can be used effectively on the "weak-minded." Now correct me if I'm wrong, but aren't all the Stormtroopers clones? (Copies of one another?) So if one has a weak mind, they all have a weak mind, right? If this is the case, defeating the Empire should be easy. In proximity of the Empire's Infantry, Ben need only issue a directive like "Kill Each Other" or "Walk off a mountain." Lemming-like, they'd all have to follow, no? Hmmm...

Okay, so these questions are snarky, but that's only because I love Star Wars so much and have seen the film so many times that I'm left now to dwell on absurdities. I suppose it's only fair to go out of this post with a mention of the aspect I like best about Lucas's film: it's about activism!

"I can't get involved," Luke says at first, when implored by Ben to help him get to Alderaan. Ben replies that Luke sounds like his uncle, or some such thing. But the point of Star Wars, very explicitly, is: pick a side; choose to be a hero. Stop whining about Toshi Station from the sidelines and do something about the way things are.

That's a message that - unlike the hairstyles in A New Hope -- never goes out of fashion. Oh, and finally -- for the record -- Han shoots first. Greedo never fires at all. (I know, because I watched the film on laserdisc, a version that emerged before all the maddening special editions...).

May the Force Be With You (and with Me too) for a long, long time.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Stan Winston passes away

Some very sad news to report today. Stan Winston - Hollywood special effects genius - has passed away. Here's the report:

Stan Winston, the Oscar-winning special-effects maestro responsible for bringing the dinosaurs of "Jurrasic Park" and other iconic movie creatures to life, has died. He was 62.

Winston died at his home in Malibu surrounded by family on Sunday evening after a seven-year struggle with multiple myeloma, according to a representative from Stan Winston Studio.

Working with such directors as Steven Spielberg, James Cameron and Tim Burton in a career spanning over four decades, Winston created some of the most memorable visual effects in cinematic history. He helped bring the dinosaurs from "Jurassic Park," the extraterrestrials from "Aliens, the robots from "Terminator" and even "Edward Scissorhands" to the big screen.

My deepest condolences to Mr. Winston's family and friends. We've lost a great talent today.

MOVIE REVIEW: The Happening (2008)

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth's sweet flowing breast;

A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray...
-Alfred Joyce Kilmer

Who would have guessed that the world would end (sort of...) with a whimper instead of a bang? At least if we consider the "revenge of nature" story depicted in the new film, The Happening. In this film, man's destruction is carried like a whisper on the wind.

Of this, however, I do know for certain: the cinematic works of writer/director M. Night Shyamalan tend to fiercely divide modern film-goers. Some of the smartest, most film centric people I know despise his work deeply. And they have their reasons. I've heard them, and I respect them.

Others - of equally good taste, I hasten to add - find the director's work fascinating and love with a passion every film he's crafted. His titles, in case you've forgotten include: The Sixth Sense (1999), Unbreakable (2001), Signs (2002), The Village (2004), Lady in the Water (2006) and this summer's The Happening (2008).

Personally, I enjoy Shyamalan's work very much. I admire a few of his films with reservations (The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable), love a few of them with admittedly irrational exuberance (Signs, The Village) and am deeply, irrevocably conflicted about one (Lady in the Water). As for The Happening...the good news is that it's far better than Lady in the Water.

But the reason I consistently appreciate M. Night Shyamalan as a filmmaker is that he -- like John Carpenter, Mira Nair or even Rob Zombie -- makes films that are uniquely his own. They come straight from his soul; from his heart and you ALWAYS know when you are watching one of his efforts. It is impossible to mistake his work for that of any other director. That fact alone certainly doesn't mean his films are always perfect (any more than every Carpenter or Zombie film is perfect...) but in today's suffocating climate of cookie-cutter blockbusters, Shyamalan's work stands apart as that of a true individual; a true artist. Love him or hate him, you can't deny that his films represent the consistent oeuvre of one (sometimes flawed) storyteller. I find his individuality refreshing and commendable, and when people are bashing him, what they are really saying, I think, is: that's not my thing. He's not my guy.
Okay, well that's not always the case either...but that's what I sense when I hear intelligent people complain about his work. Like I said, they have their reasons and those reasons are's sort of just how you weigh those flaws against other facets of his work, I guess, that results in your binary decision of "thumbs up" or "thumbs down."

The most ill-founded criticism of Shyamalan comes from my own peeps, alas -- film critics taking pot shots at his films over "the twist" ending scenarios portrayed in his features. Pick-up any mainstream review of a Shymalan film in a newspaper and you'll find critics who are complaining that the twist either works (meaning they didn't see it coming...) or that it doesn't (meaning they saw it coming and guessed it correctly). Sometimes different critics report different problems with the same twist ending, which shows you just how hard it is to please people.

For example, the reviews I've read about The Happening tend to be disappointed because there is no twist ending. So now Shyamalan is being reviewed on the basis of what's not in his film? Nice. I think this really stinks; and is brutally unfair to the artist: to reduce a director's work to whether or not there is a twist ending and whether or not it subjectively works. If Rod Serling were making The Twilight Zone today, I bet he'd get the same wrong-headed notices. Why do I say they are wrong headed? Well, in my experience you can't judge an entire film on whether or not you were successfully tricked...that's just poor movie reviewing.

Secondly, after watching all of Shyamalan's films several times (save for The Happening, which I've seen just once), I would argue that the director doesn't make films with twist endings at all. Critics just misperceive them that way.

On the contrary, Shyamalan makes films that reveal more than one perspective. We are watching them from one perspective, only to learn -- often in the last act -- that our perception, our perspective was wrong to begin with. We often learn this fact right beside the main characters, which makes the characters sometimes tragic; sometimes all the more human. Technically, this approach isn't a twist: rather this is a clever director dramatizing for us a story from a variety of angles. If he cheats all the way through, there's reason to be angry, I suppose. If he's consistent and we're surprised or touched, I suggest we have reason to feel satisfied. How many films even have one perspective to begin with? In M. Night Shyamalan's work we are fortunate enough to have a filmmaker who can see that his story has shades; and more to the point -- reveal to us those shades. That takes talent, and no small amount of subtlety. We think we're seeing one thing; but we're actually seeing something else all together.

Tell me: the second time you watch The Sixth Sense, what's the "twist?" Ditto Unbreakable? And heck, what's the twist the first time you watch Signs?
See? Critics have pigeonholed Shyamalan as a "twist" director and so they all review every one of his films based on that viewpoint. And, if you'll forgive the pun -- given the subject matter of The Happening - they've missed the forest for the trees in the process.

Again, I'm not saying you'll like every film this guy makes. I'm just saying that he makes distinctive, individual films (a good thing, no?) and that it is wrong for critics to judge him entirely on the misperception that his films must feature a twist ending. And on top of that, a GREAT twist ending.

Now, I've made the claim that M. Night Shyamalan's films are unique and individual, and so I need to back up that assertion by mentioning a few of his consistent conceits (besides the multiple perception bit). In all of Shyamalan's films (save for Lady in the Water), for example, we see strongly the director's sense of morality. Not his moralizing, mind you, but his morality. And by that, I mean simply that he presents a moral universe where a family unit of some type is forced to countenance with...a happening, for lack of a better word. Sometimes the family unit is "unofficial" (not biological); but there's always a parental figure and a child (or young person) involved in some capacity. In the course of the film, and often because of the "happening," the family learns to move past tragedy and grow closer. You could even argue that the family in Lady in the Water is actually a community - a larger family, I suppose. Regardless, Shyamalan clearly has an affinity for blending regular family life with the unreal and super-real (whether ghosts, an alien invasion, superheroes, mermaids, or a deadly plague).

But what separates Shyamalan from another family-oriented director (like, say, Spielberg), is that he genuflects to the reality of unhappy endings in life. A mother is killed in Signs. A small girl loses both her biological parents in The Happening, and so forth. There's a shocking scene in this film when two young boys are shot in cold blood. In these tragedies, the survivors don't merely learn to grow closer, they somehow express a dawning sense of spirituality; and an acknowledgment of their interconnectedness. This is not religiosity (which is totally different), but true spirituality. Things like fate (in who survives and who doesn't) and belief and synchronicity are examined in the director's films in the most oblique and often wonderful ways.

I believe that these twin ideas of synchronicity and spirituality are the most important factor in Shyamalan's films, and that's why he often sets his climaxes in small, unspectacular settings. A swimming pool (Unbreakable, Lady in the Water), or basements (Signs, The Happening). It's an unconventional choice - and an uncommercial one as well, but perfectly in keeping with Shyamalan's storytelling ethos. His stories aren't about the alien invasions, superheroes, ghosts or deadly happenings, but rather our simple, emotional, grasping, human response to them.

I am perfectly willing to admit this is my bias but I love that idea. When so many films are satisfied with the lowest common denominator, I welcome the lens of Shyamalan's world view. He may occasionally talk down to us; but he universally comes from a place of intelligence, morality and heart, and frankly those qualities are often missing from today's blockbusters. There is nothing canned or phoned-in lurking in Shyamalan's vision, and even if his vision is occasionally schmaltzy, I dig it. A lot. Mea culpa.

So The Happening? Honestly, It boasts in roughly the same percentages the same strengths and the same flaws as Shyamalan's other films. It is long on heart and short on spectacle. It is long on humanity but short, occasionally, on plot. Like much of his work, it straddles the line between being absolutely inspired and absolutely derivative. At times it stretches for brilliance and achieves it, and at other times it retracts to basic truisms and hackneyed explanations that leave you cursing at their banality.

The film's storyline involves a science teacher Elliott Moore (Mark Wahlberg) who is estranged from his wife, Alma (Zooey Deschanel). One day, this couple (and dozens of other citizens...) flee Philadelphia when what appears to be a terrorist nerve gas attack is responsible for the (gruesome) deaths of many New Yorkers. The attack begins in Central Park, but before long, it seems to be following the Moores to rural Pennsylvania. They continue to flee, in ever smaller population circles, as the entire North East is decimated by an attack that seems to be carried on the wind, but which originates not with foreign fighters...but with Mother Nature.

As I wrote above, this is "Revenge of Nature" film like Frogs (1972), Kingdom of the Spiders (1977) and Day of the Animals (1977). You know the meme:-- man's pollution causes nature to go haywire in response and self-correction. Only The Happening takes a vegetarian slant on the threat, an idea that has been explored in the sci-fi genre for generations (notably in One Step Beyond's "Moment of Hate" and Space:1999's "The Troubled Spirit.") But perhaps the closest antecedent for The Happening is Alfred Hitchcock's masterpiece, The Birds (1963). There, as you will recall, a swarm of birds suddenly and inexplicably went on the attack and nearly took out an entire town. There was no explanation for the battle and the bird assault ended as mysteriously as it began. Same deal here, save for an entirely unnecessary explanatory coda (more like Psycho than The Birds), in which a talking-head on a cable news show makes an entirely too heavy-handed environmental point. I liked the the message and the metaphor (that by destroying nature we are killing ourselves), but I didn't need the spoon-feeding.

Still, The Happening carries a commendable aura of impending, escalating doom. Put simply, the movie is never less than utterly spellbinding. The characters also grow on you considerably, and viewers will find themselves invested in their survival. John Leguizamo plays a character who sees his end coming from a distance, and his performance is haunting and memorable. The Happening also forges a unique threat unlike any seen before, and makes it clear that this threat is inescapable. Most importantly, the film focuses on the ties that bind us (and the reasons they bind us...) and finds humanity at both his most noble and his most ugly (depending on the person) in a time of crisis.

So sue me: I really, really liked this movie. Yet I have a creeping suspicion I will be one of the few (along with Roger Ebert). Some of you may not like The Happening at all. If you go, try to see it with your mind and heart open and the "twist" you may find at film's end is that there's a lot to inspire you here.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Battlestar Galactica & Philosophy: An Interview With Editors Josef Steiff and Tristan D. Tamplin

Several months ago, I was contacted by editors Josef Steiff and Tristan D. Tamplin to contribute an article (or maybe two?) to the latest entry in Open Court's Popular Culture and Philosophy line. Open Court has published such popular treatises as The Simpsons and Philosophy: The D'oh of Homer (2001), The Matrix and Philosophy: Welcome to the Desert of the Real (2002), and even James Bond and Philosophy: Questions are Forever. For the 33rd volume of this series, the subject was going to be...Battlestar Galactica.

To my delight, the editors were not only asking me to contribute to their book, but they were going to focus on the entire Battlestar Galactica franchise going back to the Glen Larson original of 1978, not merely the current RDM re-imagination on the Sci-Fi Channel.

In other words, this was an offer I simply couldn't refuse. And as I began to craft my work, in particular an article that gazes at the original Battlestar Galactica in the historical context of the Cold War ("SALTed Popcorn," it's called...) I quickly found Josef and Tristan to be amongst the most thorough and supportive editors I've had the good fortune to work with during my ten year writing career. They pushed me as a thinker, made me re-consider and validate my arguments and all the while made it seem as though I had come up with the re-edits and improvements myself. Must be Cylons...

Anyway, Battlestar Galactica and Philosophy: Mission Accomplished or Mission Frakked Up? is now in print and I felt this would be a good opportunity to interview Josef and Tristan about their fine work, about the nature of the book, and about Battlestar Galactica in general.

JKM: How did you both come to this project?

JOSEF STEIFF: At about the same time that Open Court had been hearing about the show and was starting to wonder if it might be a good fit for their Popular Culture and Philosophy Series, I was talking with Series Editor George A. Reisch about a couple of possible science fiction-related book topics I was interested in editing. Though I am a big fan of Battlestar Galactica, I assumed the topic was already taken. When I found out that no one was editing a Battlestar book for Open Court, I immediately asked to do it. Because my background is primarily in film (theory and production), I thought it would be good to have a philosopher co-edit the book, and I asked my friend Tristan.

TRISTAN D. TAMPLIN: Even though I'd left academic philosophy, the project was intriguing to me, both with regard to the aims of the Popular Culture and Philosophy Series in general as well as the specific focus of the book. I'd taught a course called "Philosophy and Film," and I enjoyed the experience immensely. It allowed for philosophic engagement by focusing on something that the students were already interested in, and this book appealed to me in much the same way. Philosophy is always the most interesting to me when it engages our day to day lives and our actual experiences of the world around us.

JKM: Were you already admirers of Battlestar Galactica, or was there a steep learning curve as you solicited participation and began editing the collection?

JS: We were both big fans; it seemed the perfect first book for us to co-edit for that reason. We could now talk incessantly about Battlestar Galactica and rightfully tell people, “we're working.”

TT: That's right. And, moreover, it was obvious from the very start that the show was rife with opportunities for philosophic inquiry.

JKM: Can you provide our readers with a general idea of what kind of analyses they'll find in the book, and who, specifically, is involved in the writing of them? Did you seek out a certain "model" (to coin a series phrase) when deciding on the content of the book, (for instance film studies experts, philosophy experts, whathaveyou)?

TT: We never did an open call; we began by contacting people we knew personally who we thought were well-credentialed but also had a prior interest in the show. We didn't really have a model in mind for contributors as much as we did for the approach we wanted them to take. We thought that it would make the book much more interesting if it involved people from a range of backgrounds engaging the show philosophically.

JS: And our approach was that first and foremost, the book was to be about the show. Philosophy and theory were to be the tools used to more fully analyze and understand the ideas within the show, not the other way around. As we were reading the first drafts of chapters, I heard about the first BSG academic conference held in England. At first I was bumming because I couldn't go, but I contacted the organizer, Ewan Kirkland, who ultimately contributed the chapter about Galactica being "A Dangerous Place for Women," and he sent me the conference abstracts. From there we invited several presenters to contribute chapters to our book. A few people like Louis Melancon and Isabel Pinedo contacted us after hearing about the book on Open Court's site or through friends. And then, near the end, when we saw that there were several areas that might be interesting to round out the collection, we sent out a small call for very specific topics.

JKM: This is a book about TV and philosophy, with an accent on making certain philosophical concepts are discussed accurately and fully. While writing for the book, I found your editorial suggestions and standards excellent, but also quite rigorous. It was a rewarding experience for me to be involved in it. So can you tell us a bit about how you encouraged the shaping of a piece from start to finish for this Open Court series? How tough was it for you to corral all these writers like me? How many drafts did the typical article go through?

TT: While we had some sense of the kinds of issues that BSG would give rise to (for instance, personal identity), we never really had a laundry list of topics we wanted to see covered. Instead, we initially let the process be driven in large part by the particular interests of the contributors, and primarily concerned ourselves with guiding them to develop and pursue the sort of approach that the Popular Culture and Philosophy Series generally strives for.

JS: If we had told people from the start, “these are the topics we want you to write about,” the book wouldn’t be nearly as good as it is. Though we didn't do an open call, word gradually got around that we were editing this book, and the number of people who contacted us wanting to contribute was so many that we had to turn people away. Clearly, we fans have lots to say about this show, and our contributors suggested areas that neither Tristan nor I could have anticipated. So reading the proposals and submissions was inspiring and fun. The authors worked incredibly hard and took our suggestions to heart, and we were all working towards the same goal, to make this an exceptional book about an exceptional television show.

TT: And because BSG itself involves such philosophically rich material, we always sought to make sure that the contributors stayed focused on the show during the course of their analyses, so that their chapters didn't end up simply shoe-horning some issue or concept into a discussion of the show.

JS: I have to say that for me, one of the most enjoyable aspects of the process was our email exchanges with contributors during the rewriting process -- discussing various aspects of the shows, speculating about future developments and talking about their chapters. Everyone who contributed to the book loves the show. As we began reading early drafts by individual writers, we began to see ways in which certain chapters might link or reflect different facets of a similar topic. And sometimes a writer would mention something that we knew no one else was tackling, so we’d encourage them to develop that idea more fully. Or if two chapters were too similar, we’d ask the writers to take different stances on the topic. As a result, many of the chapters went through several drafts.

JKM: As an admirer of the original BSG, I was quite gratified to see that this book gazes at all facets, incarnations and generations of the franchise. This alone grants it distinction amongst other scholarly works on the series, in my opinion. How did you arrive at the decision to be all-inclusive, and did this distinction make your job, as editors easier, or more difficult? Were you familiar with the original Galactica too? Galactica 1980?

JS: I remember watching the original Battlestar Galactica at my cousin Howard's house. I loved it. I did see a couple of episodes of Galactica 1980, but that series did not register as much in my memory. In fact, I came to appreciate it more after reading your book. Part of my original pitch for editing this book was that it should include all three TV series and as many of the other versions as possible. I love that we have chapters that deal with the video games, comics and novels as well as the movie Razor. Of course, our main reference point and focus is the new series, but in the same way that the series builds on the idea that "all this has come before," it seemed that an analysis of the re-imagined series would be even more interesting when we look at all the different versions of the story, regardless of their format or era.

TT: I actually was a fan of the original Galactica as well, and often intoned "Cylon Raiders: Attack!" as I rode my BMX down a particularly steep hill.

JKM. I always appreciate it when form reflects content, and Battlestar Galactica and Philosophy takes an interesting form in that five (mystery!) article writers are actually designated "Cylons." Can you more fully describe this conceit for the readers? How did you come up with this novel idea? How difficult was it to execute? Have you had any feedback on this? Are people accosting you with guesses on Cylon identities yet?

JS: Our series editor, George Reisch, encouraged us to be creative, to think about ways in which the actual experience of reading the book could be like watching the show.

TT: We talked about a variety of methods, including the idea of "intrusions" into the text much like Number Six intrudes in Baltar's head. And while, in the end, we didn't represent those intrusions graphically, most of the footnotes in the book operate in that way, providing counterpoint, sidebars, digressions or additional ideas.

JS: One of our favorite ideas was too expensive to actually do – cutting the corners of the pages like the books in the show – so instead we used the modified octagon shape as a border on our divider pages. Even calling the different divisions within the book "models" rather than sections reflects the series. So the idea of a Final Five was an early decision and grew out of this freedom to fully express our love and admiration for the show and its conventions or elements.

JKM: Let's go over some of the chapters in the book. In broad terms, tell me about Model One ("Some Are Programmed to Think They Are Human..."), and the kind of articles included there...?

TT: As I mentioned before, because issues of personal identity are such a central theme to BSG, Dan Milsky's essay seemed a good place to start our philosophic journey because it engages the reader in a very real way, and raises issues that we can't pawn off on the characters in the show because they actually implicate us.

JS: As the book progresses, the chapters lead us more and more fully into the world of the TV series, until we come full circle in the final Model (or section) and look back at the show as a TV show.

JKM: Model Two ("They Look Like Us Now?")

TT: Where the focus of the first section is on more subjective aspects of personal identity, this section shifts the focus to the body in particular, thereby raising somewhat more objective issues regarding our identity and self-conceptions.

JS: Model Two is also where we first encounter a bonus chapter available as a podcast. There's an easter egg in the book letting readers know about bonus materials available for download at iTunes and Open Court's website at Drawing on the physical body, emotions and memory, Caroline Ruddell addresses the difficulties in differentiating humans from the new Cylons in her podcast, "What Lies Beneath? Distinguishing Humans from Skin Jobs."

JKM: Model Three ("We Became What We Beheld?")

TT: The scope of inquiry becomes much broader here – we’re no longer looking just at our own conception of self, but at how we interact with one another. Questions of ethics, morality, and social organization come into play and are addressed to Cylon and human culture alike.

JS: And like the previous model, Model Three has a bonus chapter podcast, in this case, a comparison of the Galactica with the Pegasus, and in particular, Adama with Cain, that is written by Thomas Fahy (and like Ruddell’s, is available on iTunes and Open Court's websites). Fahy’s chapter is titled "'By Your Command:' Leadership, Civilization and the Limits of Violence."

JKM: Model Four ("Battlestar Iraqtica")?

JS: When we first asked for proposals for the book, Dan Dinello submitted one that alluded to and actually used the term “Battlestar Iraqtica.” We loved it, though at that time, we debated how much to examine the resonances between Battlestar Galactica and world events, and whether such an analysis should be a single chapter or a section. But as the book kept evolving, this seemed to be an important part of the discussion and analysis of Moore's vision, worthy of an entire section. The perfect cap for that section was to go back and look at the original series in much the same way, to see if it was as resonant with the world events of its day as the current series is in ours. And I think you [John Muir] make that point convincingly.

TT: Like issues of personal identity, the analogy between the occupation of New Caprica and the situation in Iraq seemed almost a mandatory component of the book. The show and its creators are explicitly invested in these themes, so a discussion of them felt nearly required.

JKM: Model Five ("Finding Purpose in the Void?")

TT: While much of the show is focused on crisis situations both chronic and acute, this section looks at issues of day-to-day life under truly unique circumstances. Sure, we need to avoid the annihilation of our species, but we still need to cook dinner and do the laundry. Trudy Millburn and Jean-Paul Martinon and the other authors in this section address issues of how we manage to go on with the business of living in the absence of much of what formerly gave value and meaning to our lives.

JKM: Model Six ("Near the End of Our Journey?")

JS: "Nearing the End of Our Journey" actually comes from the opening narration of Galactica 1980 and it seemed fitting for the final section. As a final section, we're sending our readers back out into the world around them, and it made sense that these chapters should address issues of the show itself as a phenomenon.

TT: This section completes a philosophic journey that parallels the narrative journey of BSG. We started by looking at issues raised by the show and how they implicate us, then immersed ourselves in the show itself and critically analyzed various characters and situations in the universe it creates, and now we've returned to the perspective of our own world and look back and consider the show as a show.

JS: For example, Richard Berger tackles head on the question of whether the new Battlestar Galactica is GINO or not, and even if you aren’t persuaded to share his viewpoint, what’s clear is that there’s more to say on all of these topics, and that’s part of our goal, to keep the conversation going. In that sense, our final chapter is the perfect re-entry back into the world around us: what’s important are the things Battlestar Galactica makes us think about and want to talk about.

TT: And, as a final send off, we have an interesting array of appendices, where you can find clues as to the identity of the book’s Final Five but also learn more about various aspects of the BSG universe.

JS: Andrew Dowd did a great job researching and compiling the appendices, with some great suggestions and information by several of our contributors.

JKM: The schedule for Battlestar's fourth season changed radically during the preparation for this text. When the end now comes, and all the secrets are revealed (or not revealed), will it necessitate an update of this text? Just as a side-note -- how do you think the series will resolve? Any guesses?

TT: I'd love it if they pulled of the same sort of thing that "Newhart" did in relation to the earlier "Bob Newhart Show." That second series ended with Bob Newhart waking up in bed with his wife from the original series and describing the strange dream he had. So I'm hoping that after we find out that Starbuck really is a Cylon and really does somehow lead mankind to it's destruction, she wakes up in her bunk with an apparent hangover and stumbles into the bathroom to see the face of Dirk Benedict staring back at her from the mirror.

JS: I think our contributors did an amazing job of anticipating certain developments in the fourth season, for example, Hal Shipman’s “Some Cylons Are More Equal Than Others,” but obviously there were some things we didn’t know when the book went to press. So who knows? Maybe we’ll have to publish a second volume. My fantasy is that the Final Cylon is one of the Sixes. Just think -- we’ve been witnessing the identity crises of four characters who thought they were human only to discover they’re this unique type of Cylon, and they’re having a tough time of it. Imagine what would happen if a Six found out she wasn’t just one of thousands (or millions) but rather unique and different – imagine what her identity crisis would be like!

JKM: Tell us a little bit about your next projects...

JS: I am about to start shooting a short film of my own, and then I hope to dive back into editing another Open Court book.

TT: I'm thinking about maybe trying to figure out how to use my oven.

JKM: Finally, let my readers know where they can order the book...

JS: Battlestar Galactica and Philosophy: Mission Accomplished or Mission Frakked Up? is at major book retailers like Barnes & Noble and Borders throughout the USA and Canada now, and it will be available on the shelves in Europe, late June.

TT: You can also order the book directly from Open Court or from any of online book stores like Amazon.

JKM: Thanks, guys.

JS: Thank you! Great questions. We have had a great time watching the show, working on this book and meeting contributors just as enthusiastic as we are (if not more so). And we get to keep talking about Battlestar Galactica – what could be better?

National Twilight Zone Day: "Come Wander with Me"

There are, perhaps, several episodes of Rod Serling's classic   The Twilight Zone  (1959-1964) more sharply-written, more morally-valuab...