Thoughts on Picard

Spoilers for Picard below.

I was excited as anyone for Picard, a series that served as a sequel to my favorite television series of all time (okay, it’s second to MST3K).

As hopeful as I was for it, I thought Picard was pretty uneven at best and downright bad at its worst.

One thing I realized was that Gene Roddenberry would have *loathed* this show. Not all of Roddenberry’s ideas about the future (e.g., that humanity would have moved beyond grieving) were great, and they certainly weren’t conducive to drama. But I have to say that I’ve quite had my fill of “the Federation isn’t the utopia you think it is” angle since Deep Space Nine introduced it in the ’90s. Every bit of Star Trek media since then has doubled down on this idea, including the reboot films.

I think there’s this sense among some people that the original Star Trek series was birthed in the midst of this period of optimism and big dreams for American society. This probably comes from the space race stuff that was going on at the time. But the show debuted three years after JFK’s assassination, in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War, at a time when American society was in upheaval. Star Trek offered a chance to see us as our best selves at a time when we weren’t.

I think we need that version of Star Trek again, and we needed the Picard of TNG, the humanist exemplar who represented our best selves. Instead, we got a show where that Picard is mocked, lectured and ridiculed (and sworn at) for those very qualities, and a Federation as incompetent and corrupt as much of our own world’s leaders.

I suspect the producers and writers were concerned today’s audiences would be too cynical to accept the TNG version of Picard, and that he had to be shown as flawed and arrogant and pompous or audiences would never take him or the show seriously. It’s the grimdark take on Star Trek, and it’s not something I’m that interested in.

To be clear, I’m not looking for a fairy tale. I think DS9 did a decent job, for most of its run, with wrestling with the ideas of utopia and its potential problems without dismissing the concept entirely. But similar to what happened to superhero comics in the ’80s and ’90s after Alan Moore’s Watchmen and Killing Joke and Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns, the later Star Trek creators became obsessed with the idea of the Federation being flawed. Maybe this is a reflection of American anxieties for the last thirty years, or maybe it’s the libertarianism that has historically run through so much American sci-fi asserting itself over Roddenberry’s utopianism, I don’t know. But I hope the next season of Picard can get back to some of the more hopeful views of our future. I’ve had enough of the post-apocalypse.

And on a less philosophical note, the show was just badly written at times. There were unbelievable coincidences, completely superfluous characters and subplots, and many unearned moments of pathos. It just needs better writing (and to be clear, bringing in Ronald D. Moore is not the answer).

One final note: the whole ludicrous rift-in-space-with-robotic-tentacles was such a ripoff of both the first Hellboy movie and the Mass Effect games that I can’t help but think it was intentional.

Thoughts on the Hellboy reboot

David Harbour in Hellboy (2019)

I just purchased my tickets to see the new Hellboy reboot starring David Harbour and direct by Neil Marshall (Dog Soldiers, The Descent). While I am a big fan of Hellboy, my introduction to him came through the 2004 film. I wish I had discovered the comic when it debuted in the 1990s, as I was obsessed with the X-Files and H.P. Lovecraft at that time and probably would have loved it.

It’s no secret that expectations are not particularly high for the reboot – even Hellboy creator Mike Mignola seems aware of that. The first trailer did not go over well, and the second, while better, did not wash away all the concerns. The film’s tracking is reportedly not looking so good.

My take on this film, especially with the most recent trailers and TV spots, is that while Hellboy is a character very associated with Mignola and his distinct style, the new film seems to ask, “What if Frank Frazetta created Hellboy?”

If Mignola and the producers are looking to create a new cinematic universe, I don’t see the wisdom of using this film to adapt two very late-era Hellboy stories, The Wild Hunt and The Storm and the Fury. In the comics, both of these stories take place in the early stages of what is essentially the Apocalypse; Hellboy actually dies at the end of The Storm and the Fury, leading him into a Dante-esque journey into Hell itself.

This story would have made more sense if this was the final sequel to the 2004 film by Guillermo Del Toro (although the odd subplot of Hellboy’s children from Hellboy II would have had to be dealt with). Of course, superhero films often have world-ending stakes, so it’s possible – even likely – the film’s conclusion won’t go in the same direction as the comics.

Nonetheless, it’s not the direction I would have taken with the reboot, regardless of whether it was intended to be a standalone film or the start of a franchise. Not that anyone cares about how I would have done it, of course, but here’s my pitch.

I’d keep Harbour as Hellboy; he’s a good choice, and could anchor a franchise for years. But I would have made the film a period piece – maybe the 1960s or ’70s – and made the stakes fairly low (i.e., not the apocalypse). I would have sidestepped the whole “Hellboy’s destiny” storyline, which took precedence in the comics fairly early on. The “chosen one” aspect of Hellboy never interested me very much; my favorite HB stories are the ones where he basically takes the place of some figure from a folk tale.

That’s why my take would have been somewhat like Mad Max: Fury Road or the Fistful of Dollars trilogy. The idea would be something like this: a wandering Hellboy comes to some small town that’s having a supernatural problem, gets involved in a mystery that ends up involving a monster or supernatural threat of some sort. But while Hellboy is present and gets some action sequences, the story is as much about the other characters as it is Hellboy. And again, fairly low stakes, a low, almost indie film budget (and look), not too much CGI — largely a character piece / mystery. And I’d give it to someone like Travis Knight to direct.

Finally, I would have given Hellboy a different characterization. Perlman’s Hellboy was a bit goofy and somewhat self-absorbed; Harbour’s take appears to be sarcastic and angry. Neither represents the Hellboy of the comics, who is thoughtful, a bit world-weary, and whose sense of humor is mostly of the “dad” type.

Anyway, that would have been my approach. If the film is cheap enough, it doesn’t have to be a massive hit, and if it’s successful enough you can build from there.

A Special Christmas Review: “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas”

Original Air Date: December 8, 1974

Wikipedia Page

Synopsis: A sentient teenaged mouse named Albert sends an insulting letter to Santa Claus, causing Santa to spurn the entire town of Junctionville (sentient mice and humans alike). A clockmaker named Joshua Trundel concocts a scheme to build a big clock tower that will play a treacly Christmas song on Christmas Eve to placate St. Nick. The mayor not only signs on to this huge construction project but (presumably) spends a fortune in taxpayer money to get it built within weeks. Albert then breaks the damned clock, but fixes it in time for Santa’s arrival. Santa, pleased by this idolatry, rewards the townspeople with consumer goods they could have bought themselves for about 1% of the cost of building the clock tower. (more…)

Rapture: The Series

While I thought the premise of Caprica was a little boring, I think a TV series about the development of Rapture prior to the events of Bioshock would be riveting. Pun intended.

Visually, dramatically, and even philosophically there’s a lot to be mined from the Rapture concept. The ambition of Andrew Ryan, his power struggle with the growing criminal empire of Fontaine, the development of ADAM and splicing and the ethical quandaries of the various scientists involved, the advent of the Little Sisters and Big Daddies…ever since the first moments of playing Bioshock, I thought the game developers had created something that could be fleshed out into an entirely new sf franchise, spreading to books, comics, movies, and even TV shows. So far, all we’ve had are two games, an art book, a soundtrack and a novel that may never come. That’s a crime.

Man or Saruman?

While they still seem like a long ways off, Guillermo Del Toro is hard at work on a pair of films based on The Hobbit. They haven’t officially cast anyone for the films yet, though Ian McKellen is very clearly on board. But what about that other wizard, Saruman? (more…)

On “On Stranger Tides”


Author Tim Powers has confirmed that Disney optioned his novel On Stranger Tides and is planning to use elements from it for the fourth Pirates of the Caribbean movie.

I find this really interesting, because right after I saw the first Pirates movie I went looking for some ghostly pirate fiction to quench my newfound thirst for ghostly pirate fiction, and the only thing I found (somewhat to my surprise) was Powers’ book. It’s a great novel, like most of Powers’ work (if you’re an H.P. Lovecraft fan, I recommend Declare–which would also make a great movie).

If I remember the story correctly, On Stranger Tides also offers a perfect chance to replace Orlando Bloom’s character with another straight man–preferably one who can be more evidently the straight man and not the ostensible hero (Norrington notwithstanding, Jake), but I suspect his character will simply be replaced by Jack Sparrow.

Still, it’s great that Powers is getting some notice. I highly recommend you pick one up–try On Stranger Tides (which, incidentally, was long out-of-print when I went looking for it), Declare or The Anubis Gates.

The Lost Swayze Movie: “Road Dawn”


What, me Curry?

Karen and I went to a dinner party Friday night, where we played a game–it was some sort of variant of Twenty Questions. It was introduced to us by our friends Andy and Ruth, who are a mathematician and an astronomer, respectively, so you know it had to be a little more complicated than that. Explaining the game would take a while, so suffice to say part of it was that you had to choose a person and then say what their last name started with.

When it came to my turn, I racked my brain for a good celebrity. We’d had Indian food for dinner, so while looking at the table I came up with Tim Curry. I figured the game would be over fairly quickly–Karen and other people who knew me well were in attendance–but my round took the longest by far.* It got to the point where they knew my person was male, an actor, British, appeared in comedies, and had something to do with a Stephen King movie.

What amazed me was how many British actors with a last name starting with “C” they got through before Karen finally got Tim Curry: Sean Connery, Michael Caine, and Daniel Craig. But ultimately I just felt a little sad for Tim Curry, who’s apparently more obscure than I realized, despite his memorable performances in Rocky Horror Picture Show, Clue, IT, Legend, and of course his tour-de-force in The Worst Witch.

*If Kate had been there, though, she would have totally gotten it as soon as she heard “British actor.”

Review > District 9


From an aesthetic and conceptual standpoint, I liked a lot of things about District 9. Director Neil Blomkamp has already proven to be a master of the use of adding special effects (such as aliens) to documentary-style footage to heighten their realism–the grainy, shaky camera work hides a multitude of CGI sins while anchoring the viewer in a familiar, real-world context (well, as “real” as your average news show is these days).

Then there’s the concept. District 9‘s set-up is simple: in the early 1980s, a giant alien mothership appears in Earth airspace. Rather than nuking New York–or even London, or Paris, or Tokyo–it settles over Johannesburg, South Africa, where it proceeds to hover for three months until the local government decides to take action. Drilling into the ship, they discover a million malnourished, sickly insect-like aliens. They take the aliens out of the ship and set up a temporary refugee camp below the vessel, which eventually turns into a permanent residence and, finally, a slum. (more…)

Passionate intensity on climate change

Here’s something that’s been bugging me lately.

One issue that concerns me is man-made climate change. I have my own thoughts on its existence, but I’m not here to debate that right now.

Rather, what I’m curious about is why, exactly, those who aren’t convinced man-made climate change is happening are so goddamned ginned up about it? I can read any article about global warming on any news website and be assured, without even looking, that there will be swarms of the MMCC-unconvinced going on and on in the comments, to the point where it soon crosses the “protests to much, methinks” line.

The only equivalent hot button issue I can think of is abortion (the current astroturfed health care stuff aside). Now, I get where the vehemence comes from on abortion. The passion on both sides makes sense to me. But in my experience on the climate change issue, I’ve seen a lot more vehemence from those who refute man-made climate change than those who are convinced it’s happening.

Anyway, my question is this: what exactly is at stake here? What happens if we take steps to reduce emissions and so forth, even if–for the sake of argument–they’re not responsible for global warming? (more…)

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