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All the Books Show: Episode 225 – Interview with Alan Dean Foster

In this episode of the All the Books Show, we interview author Alan Dean Foster!

As prolific at they come, Foster has written many original stories, such as Icerigger. And, of course, if you’ve read a movie novelization, there’s a good chance you’ve read Alan Dean Foster.

We talk to him about his early work, about Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, his Star Trek work, his many other novelizations and works and what’s next.
You can follow us on SoundcloudYoutube or iTunes and even Twitter! I’m sure there’s another, cool platform I’m forgetting but you can follow us on that too!

See you next week, podcats!

Book Review – The Andromeda Evolution

the-andromeda-evolutionI thought for sure I was done reviewing Michael Crichton books. I mean, the man passed away in 2008. But, I guess CrichtonSun is a thing now and it seems that The Andromeda Evolution is the beginning of a Crichton-verse. What does the future hold for this line? Will all of Crichton’s books start getting sequels? Is this the expanded universe of the techno-thriller. How long until, piece by piece, these books start to take place in the same universe? Will the gorillas from Congo be recruited by Jack Forman from Prey to stop Elizabeth Halpern from Sphere from using her powers to resurrect the Eaters of the Dead from Eaters of the Dead? Will they bring Westworld into it? How small is the market for Crichton-related references like that?

Written by Daniel H. Wilson, The Andromeda Evolution is is not a lost manuscript or unfinished work. This is an original sequel by the Robopocalypse author. Back when I first read that book, I couldn’t help but notice the similarities between Wilson and Crichton. But, with that book, Wilson was obviously influenced by Crichton’s style. Here, with The Andromeda Evolution, Wilson is trying to mimic Crichton and he can never get the trick to work. You can wear your dad’s hand-me-downs, but it doesn’t mean they fit.

The Andromeda Evolution takes place fifty years after the first Andromeda Strain. The first conceit that took me a second to get through is that this sequel treats the first book as a scientific report released to the public by author Michael Crichton. Luckily, the book doesn’t dwell on that and goes right into this new story. The Andromeda Strain seems to be back, this time in the jungles of South America and a team of four scientist is put together to figure out why, how and what needs to be done.

My biggest issue with this book is how excessively Wilson uses “Crichton-isms”. The first book, and most of Crichton’s writing, had these moments of foreshadowing or reminders that what we were reading was a debriefing, a post-report of the whole situation. And, to be fair, it’s been sometime since I picked up The Andromeda Strain. But, in this book, the amount of “this decision would prove to be fatal”, “inferred footage of the scene shows”, “little did he know, he had determined the fate of four billion people” and all that becomes too much. Perhaps, Crichton was better at following up on those little moments. Perhaps, time has faded those from my memory.

Crichton himself was never great at character work. Many of his protagonist were simply mouthpieces for his ideas and theories and, sometimes, dinosaur food. But, the characters in The Andromeda Evolution are, aside from one or two, incrediblely paper-thin. The backstories that Crichton would provide are lacking in detail with this book. Wilson, I know, can right characters I care about. I couldn’t put down Robopocalypse. But, in trying to ape the coldness of Crichton’s writing without the thoroughly thought-out histories, we’re left with action figures without much to say.

That’s sort of the problem throughout. Wilson is a skilled writer who can write science fiction and action and loves his robotics, but he doesn’t have the interesting ideas of Crichton. There’s no science or theories so detailed and compelling that they feel like they could be their own book, no musings about the danger of our technology that we haven’t seen before. Many of these thoughts feel like Twitter comments made paragraphs. And, when the mysteries of this new Andromeda Strain are revealed, you begin to wonder why Wilson chose this project in the first place. He obviously has bigger things he wants to write about other than humanity dealing with a deadly microorganism. While what Wilson presents at the end of this book is interesting and would be something I’d want to read on it’s own, it no longer feels down to Earth. Some of Crichton’s concepts were so frightening you’d have to simply not think about them in order to live your life. The Andromeda Strain was that type of semi-realistic techno-thriller that, while very much science fiction, had a real world element. The Andromeda Evolution goes full blown science fiction and, while it might have it’s audience, it’s far and away from “smallness” of the original novel.

It took me longer to finish The Andromeda Evolution than any Crichton book or Wilson’s own Robopocalypse. It lacked the page-turning quality of either writers. There’s a twist or two I enjoyed, but the destination was not worth the rather dull journey. A promising start about the failures of human apathy becomes a tour through some rather uninteresting jungles and more.

And, look, I’ll keep reading these things. If they put out Michael Crichton’s The Greater Train Robbery by C.J. Box, I’ll read it. If these are the thing I’m weirdly dedicated to reading, fine. I’ll join the tradition of reading a late author’s universe like Tom Clancy and Robert B. Parker. I suppose that’s what Marvel comics are anyway. But, outside of current Crichton fans, I’m not sure who the audience for this book is. I’ll read anything with Crichton’s name on it, but the random browser? Will that name mean anything to them anymore?

I just hope the quality rises. Daniel H. Wilson is not a bad writer but he took on a task that’s not always so easy. Being influenced is one thing, but imitation is a lot harder.

Three Nice Things: Battlefield Earth

In this episode, Nic (of the All the Books Show!) and Crystal join me to try and come up with three nice things to say about the movie, Battlefield Earth! This was the hardest movie yet to come up with three nice things and it nearly broke me. But, the episode is a fun listen!

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Book Review – Annihilation

annihilationI had my wife read Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation and report back to me if it was worth reading before the movie is released. She loved the book and suggested I pick it up, as it would be a quick read. This was a fortunate turn of events, because had I read the book first, I would have told her that she wouldn’t enjoy it and to just wait for the movie.

The book tells the story of the twelfth expedition into Area X, a weird part of the country that’s been abandoned by civilization and taken over by plant life and bizarre new species of animals. The narrator, referred to only as the Biologist or Ghost Bird, records her findings and past experiences into her journal, which makes up the book.

Before the Biologist began her journey, her husband had been part of the previous expedition and he may or may not have returned. The Biologist is travelling, not just for scientific understanding of Area X, but to also discover the fate of her husband.

For a short read, this book took me a long time to finish after I started it. It was dense with descriptions of the bizarre Area X, in an almost Lovecraftian level of detail. There wasn’t much of a narrative push to keep me reading, as the story is moved along by one strange finding after the other. However, the odd environment is never explained, nor are many of the findings put into context, which means much of this book is the narrator saying, “Isn’t this weird” and me just nodding my head.

The book is written in a dreamy sort of way and none of the characters act like people. Everyone seems out to kill everyone, right from the beginning and we’re never allowed to grow attached to anyone. The dialog doesn’t read like real human speech but aggressive robots. The narrator freely admits to being aloof and preferring to be alone. However, in the context of the other members of the expedition, this doesn’t pack any punch as all the characters are eerie non-humans.

I think this is why I preferred the flashback scenes between the narrator and her husband. There was no science fiction in these chapters, but against an actual human, the narrator becomes more interesting. Her husband is more outgoing and a people-person and this shines a light on the narrator. She’s frustrating but not a cold monster, she’s solitary but has heart for nature. Watching her marriage strain against the clashing personalities, alongside the husband’s departure to Area X, makes for an interesting read that the science fiction parts of the book fail to replicate.

I think, when it comes to science fiction, I either need believable science or interesting characters. Annihilation had neither. VanderMeer’s writing is too abstract while also being too detail oriented, with descriptions down to the measurements but with zero context. The characters are like ghosts of people and maybe there’s artistic merit to that style that I’m missing. I’m sure I’ve read books with characters like this before that I enjoyed, but it wasn’t the case with Annihilation. I’m still excited for the movie, but that’s more to do with Alex Garland directing it, as Ex Machina was great. My wife will continue this trilogy of novels and, maybe, she might convince me to keep reading as well. But, unless such prompting happens, I personally have no interest left.

Why Revenge of the Sith is My Second Favorite Star Wars Film

wuytffbfpizc6lcyt1nonr69zmkNot the second best, mind you. I know Star Wars: Episode III: Revenge of the Sith is, for the most part, not a great movie. There’s bad acting, mishandled characters and weird choices throughout. I’m not here to explain why it’s a good film. I’m here to tell you why I like it so much.

First, I should mention, time heals all wounds. X-Men: The Last Stand is watchable, now that X-Men: Days of Future Past provides those original films closure. Jurassic Park III is no longer the disappointing end for that series. And Revenge of the Sith isn’t how Star Wars’ big screen legacy ends.

The thing about the Star Wars prequels was that they were always going to be depressing. They were telling a story about the rise of the Empire and it’s iron fist rule. Obviously, the movies dropped the ball on that and wasted a lot of potential, but Revenge of the Sith comes the closest to what that tone should have looked like.

itstreasonthen-rotsTake for instance, the scene where Mace Windu and some soon-to-be dead Jedi go to arrest Senator Palpatine a.k.a. Darth Sidious. There’s a tension in the lead up that the prequels didn’t have. We know the Jedi can’t succeed in that moment and we’re going to have to watch their failure play out on screen. The end result isn’t fantastic movie making, but the build before that has weight that remains even on repeat viewings.

The same tension goes for the two “seduction of the innocent” scenes between Anakin and Palpatine. “The Tragedy of Darth Plagueis”, as a story, might only be interesting to people who enjoy the expanded universe, but the scene is atmospheric and a rare, quiet moment that works compared to the previous two movies botched attempts at introspection. The scene where Sidious reveals himself as a Sith Lord to Anakin is one of Hayden Christensen’s better scenes, acting-wise. There’s a real sense of conflict in Anakin at that moment, of betrayal and anger. In fact, he comes across much more conflicted here than he did killing Tusken Raiders  or will when it’s time to kill some younglings. And, of course, Ian Mcdiarmid chews the scenery like it’s his last meal.

ddamosyMcdiarmid, alongside Ewan Mcgregor, comes out of the prequels with his head held high, and that might be due to the fact that he gets to be one of the only actors who gets to have fun. While Mcgregor gives his scenes the heart that is missing most of the time, Mcdiarmid gets to cackle and hiss and go gleefully into the Dark Side. This is a character whose been waiting for decades to see his plan come to fruition, hiding and restraining himself. Finally, after all this time, he gets to be himself and Mcdiarmid plays those scenes like Sidious is making up for all that lost time. His fight with Yoda, though anti-climatic, is like watching a Golden Retriever let off the leash for the first time. That dog isn’t coming back.

Back to the beginning of the film, though. Revenge of the Sith has one of the best opening of Star Wars films, alongside Return of the Jedi. Obi-Wan and Anakin’s adventure outside and in an enemy cruiser, filled with elevator high jinx and R2-D2 misadventures, is the type of adventure the prequels didn’t have. The climax of that opening, with the ship splitting into pieces as Anakin pilots and Obi-Wan cracks wise is the type of fun we should have had back when we first landed on Naboo.

spacebattleNow, of course, after that opening, there’s a lot of dead air. Outside the for-mentioned “The Tragedy of Darth Plagueis” scene, we don’t have much to latch onto for a while. Anakin finding out he’s going to be a father has some life, but the complete mishandling of Natalie Portman keeps all Anakin and Padme scenes far from enjoyable. Once Obi-Wan confronts General Grevious, the movie kicks back into gear. But, no surprise, Grevious is a letdown when it comes to his combat skills. Like most scenes, Mcgregor keeps the movie afloat by shear will.

But, then, Anakin learns the truth about Sidious and the Jedi fail. Anakin turns to the Dark Side, a lot quicker than it should be, but George Lucas was probably getting just as impatient with his script as the rest of us. So, we come to Order 66.

The Jedi should not have fallen the way they do in this movie, they should have had more fight in them. But, as time has moved forward, a theme has presented itself in these prequels, that has been later picked up and run with in later Star Wars stories, including The Last Jedi. These movies are about the Jedi at the height of their power politically, but they have become complacent and apathetic in their battle against the Dark Side. Watching Jedi Masters fall so easily due to their lack of critical thinking and weakness in the Force might not be a hundred percent satisfying, but John Williams’ score and a few visually striking shots help provide those moments with emotion.

Williams, I should mention, gave these prequels so much life and identity though his music that you could argue that he’s the reason any of these scenes work, and I would be won over to your side. As much as I liked The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, I don’t think anything Williams has done in those movies has matched the music in the prequels. And he helped Revenge of the Sith with that thrilling, heartbreaking “Battle of the Heroes”. There’s more than one reason why those final battles have as much weight as they do, but that piece of music, melded with “Duel of the Fates” in the film, is a huge part of it all.

The third act of Revenge of the Sith is what the prequels were building up to over three films. The battle between Yoda and Sidious is an entertaining one, with Yoda getting to be snippy and show off his power in the Force. It’s satisfying seeing him knock the Sith Lord over a chair, it’s cool seeing how much stronger he is than Sidious at times, but it’s also frustrating, knowing that the character we’re rooting for can’t win. I don’t buy into the fact that Yoda could have won if he had climbed back up those seats and continued the fight. This was a surprise counter-attack and fighting Sidious while dealing with guards and clone troopers after falling from such heights might have proven difficult for a eight-hundred year old Jedi Master who spends most days in a bean bag chair.

downloadThe fight between Anakin and Obi-Wan is a long one, with more ups than downs. The lead-up conversation between the two characters is full of great lines, and their delivery speaks volumes. When Obi-Wan tells Anakin that his “allegiance is to the Republic…to democracy!” there’s frustration and desperation in Mcgregor’s reading. He thought he and Anakin were on the same page about all of this, what is he supposed to do? “Your new empire?” he asks Anakin, in mockery and disbelief. You idiot, “You’ve allowed this Dark Lord to twist your mind” and yet still a refusal to take the blame for failing his student. Later, near the end of the battle, he tells Anakin, “I have failed you” but there’s still an arrogance in his delivery. Obi-Wan won’t be able to take the blame due to him for a while, it’s too much for him to handle.

On the other hand, you have Christensen’s lines being read like a petulant brat, but that’s what Anakin has become. And, to be fair, there’s a precedent for that. Darth Vader, in all his stern and fear in the original series, doesn’t like things going against what he wants. The line of succession for the officers in The Empire Strikes Back is due to Vader being a bully, who’s tantrums are now controlled Force chokes. But, in the moments on Mustafar, Anakin still has twenty years of anger, regret and loneliness ahead of him. So, when he shouts, “You will not take her from me”, it’s not as a regal and terrifying villain, it’s as a brat who still needs a few lessons from the Dark Side.

image_1aa52034I can’t defend the ‘high ground” moment or the “You were my brother but have fun burning for a long time and maybe surviving to come back to haunt the whole galaxy!” However, the scene where Anakin is taken by Sidious to be repaired, to be placed in a robotic suit of wires and machinery for the rest of his life, is too moody and sad not to defend. Yeah, Vader yells “No!” but first he asks about his wife. Sidious lies to him, of course, but, from a certain point of view, Vader did kill Padme (stupid poetry and medical failures aside). There was a Darth Vader comic I read, not a very good one, that had a moment where Vader was beaten and alone and losing his mind. He’s visited by a vision of Padme, who leaves him again, despite his protesting for her to stay. Reading that, it dawned on me how lonely Darth Vader must be, how much regret he must have to fight down every single day. It’s a heartbreaking realization, and I wish the prequels could have shown us that. But, bringing that into Revenge of the Sith gives these last moments a stronger punch.

I remember reading an article about how Darth Sidious’ rise to power was an accurate representation of Hitler’s ascent. I always found that interesting and I remember reading reviews in 2005 of people comparing Revenge of the Sith to the Bush administration. But, those people had no clue that this movie was going to become of the most documentary Star Wars films ever.

palpatine_3In November 2016, I started experiencing déjà vu. Because of their lack of foresight, the Jedi allow themselves to become embroiled in politics. Soon, after the Clone Wars start, you can’t separate the Jedi from the war. Once they were the defenders of peace and the helpless, but soon the government’s cause became theirs. Their Jedi code, their mantra, stopped being as important to them as their political standing. Meanwhile, in the real world, a large population that form organized religion have decided that politics, more often than not, far-right politics, are more important than their own doctrine or that the two line up perfectly. Where’s there’s teaching of love and being an alien just passing through this world, it was drowned out by a desire to see their beliefs in the place of power. And as the Jedi were betrayed, not just because they were no longer of use, but because their mortal enemy had taken power, many of the real world religious figures should be ready to be dropped as soon as they’re no longer useful politically. And, just like the fate of the Jedi, when those that desire greed and power are the ruling party, there will be a sudden realization that these politicians don’t share those beliefs of love or peace. Being part of the Republic was more important than being a Jedi, even if they wouldn’t admit it.

It’s hard to watch Darth Sidious boast about dissolving the republic and creating the “first galactic empire”, to thunderous applause no less while the real world becomes less global and more “patriotic”. A desire for security and a removal of those we don’t trust, along with people finding ways to defend self-proclaimed Nazis, creates a government and country that rules by fear and threats of violence. Suddenly, it’s harder for me to tell if I’m writing about the movie anymore.

the_forceAgain, Revenge of this Sith isn’t a great movie. Padme is ruined as a character, going from someone who was supposed to start the rebellion to a whimpering dolt who dies of a broken heart. Instead of taking responsibility for their mistakes and helping out those who will be hurt by their actions, the last remaining Jedi go into exile, continuing to fail at their own teachings. Hayden Christensen, while better in this movie than Attack of the Clones, still fails to deliver a performance to defend. Mace Windu dies like a chump, Grevious dies like a chump, Count Dooku dies like a chump, a lot of Jedi die…you know what, I lost my train of thought.

But, there’s that force push between Anakin and Obi-Wan, Sidious showing actual concern for the fate of his new apprentice, a visually impressive and exciting opening and that melancholy tone throughout. Objectively, it’s not on the level as Return of the Jedi or The Force Awakens, but it has more to say then those two movies. It’s not a crowd pleaser, but the prequels were never going to end on a cheerful note. They were about the collapse of the Jedi Order, the manipulation of the government, the creation of Darth Vader.

vader_sidiousIf this had been the first, or even the second movie of  the prequels, with more story launching from the end of Revenge of the Sith, I think we would have had a better trilogy overall. With one more film after this, about Vader hunting the last Jedi or the start of the rebellion, Revenge of the Sith might have been considered a decent start. Instead, it’s a somber, depressing, sometimes infuriating and disappointing film that does exactly what it needs to do while also failing to deliver the most obvious of moments or explanations. And while characters we like do stupid things, they also remind us why we like Star Wars. Obi-Wan is cocky, Anakin is relentless, Yoda is surprising and Sidious is bananas.

But, those are all reasons I, myself, like Revenge of the Sith. It’s my second favorite Star Wars movie, behind The Empire Strikes Back. Third is probably Return of the Jedi or A New Hope, but hopefully, time will place The Last Jedi high up there as well. I don’t need you to agree with me, I don’t need to you to say, “Hmm, I do like Revenge of the Sith now!” but I hope you understand why the movie has it’s defenders.

Let’s Play – SOMA

soma___official_cover_art_by_sethnemo-d93l45jFrictional’s SOMA depressed me and I found it hard to play for long stretches because of that. The tension of the horror elements, the grime of  the world and the hopelessness of the story left me having little initiative to keep going. Add in the fact that I’m worried I’m developing some sort of motion-sickness, first noticed while playing Dishonored, and it wasn’t a pleasant time.

Limbo was a depressing game but it had platforming elements to keep my brain occupied on something besides it’s oppressiveness. SOMA, like other so-called “walking simulators” has little in the way of actual “game. It’s immersive but that comes at a price. Like the main character, trapped at the bottom of the ocean, I felt like there was no escape. A tough sell for someone looking for escapism.

previewscreen_08-0Luckily, the story is well told and the voice acting is strong. But, the tension is raised by the monsters roaming around with you in this ruined science faculty. It’s not that I found the designs of these creatures to be incredibly upsetting, but the jump-scares that were set upon me made me feel anxious, which isn’t a state of being I love to be in. Sweaty hands from intense wall climbing and combat is one thing, but a queasy stomach because something is going to scream and chase me is another, less desirable thing.

I suppose that’s what makes for a fun stream. I don’t know how many other games have elicited a reaction so broad from me before. I’ve yelled and screamed before, but not in pure terror like I did in SOMA. I don’t know how much fun the monsters make a stream in the long run, since, after the initial scares, I had to spend most of my time just hiding and not looking at them.

maintenance-0The other problem, and this might be a technical issue on my end, is that the game is very dark, graphically speaking. Most of the tension, I would assume, would come from dark hallways and intense lighting. But, to get the game to be even visible on my Twitch, I had to raise the brightness all the way up, eliminating much of the atmosphere. Again, maybe I could have done something else to fix the problem, mess around with OBS a little more, but my days of being a technical problem-solver are coming to a close.

Either way, I’m glad I played SOMA and experienced it’s rich, sci-fi story first-hand. This is definitely the kind of tale I would have enjoyed in a movie or book. In game form, I still appreciated it, but it left me with a pit in my stomach. I doubt I’m going to go back and play-through Frictional’s Amnesia games, because I don’t think I could handle the tension. But, I’ll definitely be paying attention to what they do next.

You can find this stream and other videos here or watch live at my Twitch channel!

 

Book Review – The Three Body Problem

20518872The Three Body Problem took me forever to finish but I always enjoyed my time reading it. Because it’s hard science fiction, long and translated from Chinese, the book itself is dense. Every page takes time to get through and skimming will only hinder any understanding or enjoyment the book provides.

The first chapter starts in China during the sixties and I realized how little of China’s history I know. We follow cultural revolutions, scientific movements and political restrictions, most of which were new to me. I think I might have to pick up a history book next. The rest of the story is told in the modern day, as we follow scientist Wang Miao as he tries to understand visions that keep appearing as a countdown in his photographs.

The Three Body Problem takes its time getting to the main plot of the story. By that, I mean, it takes until the last fourth of the book to reveal what’s really happening. If the back of the cover didn’t tell me what this series was, I would have been fairly surprised by the change in direction.

For a long time, the book seems focused on these visions Wang Miao keeps seeing. Then, it’s more focused on this weird video game that shares its title with the book. The game, which doesn’t seem like something I would ever want to play, deals with players trying to solve an alien planet’s predicament of having three suns. See, you can’t really predict seasons, and most seasons are either freezing or scorching, so civilization can’t really grow. It’s a game that only a few brilliant players invest time into and there might be a bit of The Last Starfighter going on behind the scenes.

And that’s the book. Reading about Wang Miao’s gaming sessions, his visions and the scientific history of 1960s China. The mystery isn’t really handled like a mystery, the plot doesn’t really move along at a quick pace. By the time the reader and the characters know what’s really going on, there’s more behind us than ahead.

But, as I said at the beginning, I always enjoyed myself while reading the book. It’s dense, yes, but it’s never dry. I didn’t understand everything, especially near the end when the books got into particle physics. Michael Crichton always wrote in a way that made me say, “Yeah, I get it! Like too much helium in a balloon!” Liu Cixin writes in a way that makes me say, “Yeah, I get it! Like too much…wait, no. How many protons are in that much helium? What’s the quantum integrity of a common balloon? Wait, what exactly is particle physics? I dont…I don’t get it!”

And it’s still enjoyable! I don’t understand it all, but it’s not necessary to have a physicis degree to follow the plot. It’s also interesting to be reading this type of book written from a completely different perspective than I’m used to finding. Views on culture, science and extraterrestrial life never totally line up with what I’m used to, even if it’s just a different way of experience the same facts. It really is fascinating to see how different American science fiction can be from other countries, but also how strong the similarities can end up. Science is science in any language but it’s how we interact with it that create such different cultures. The Three Body Problem, which won Best Novel in the 2015 Hugo Awards, is a heavy read, but a fascinating one.

All the Books Show: Episode 104 – Hugo Awards 2017

It’s that time of year again! Where Nic and I talk about the Hugo Award winners! I guess it’s a seasonal thing. Maybe, even, a fifth season of sorts.

It’s nothing like a fifth season.

26228034We talk about the Hugo Awards, looking at the winners of most categories. Nic was correct in the movie, so he has that to boast about now. I was surprised by the winner of Best Novel, but that’s because I didn’t like the first book in the series and I didn’t expect a sequel to take home the top award. It’s happened before, yes, but it’s not super common. N.K. Jemisin joins a very short list of authors who won two years in a row. Congratulations N.K. Jemisin! I wish I liked your book!

I tried to stay out of the politics of this year’s award and after the winners were announced, I went back to see if there were any. It seems like most of the shouting has died down. I hope it’s for the better. The Sad and Angry Puppies made something I thought was fun not fun. But, now, I think there’s a bit too much “We shut them the hell up!” from the other side. I just want science fiction and fantasy to be fun for everyone involved. I hope we can just move on and enjoy good writing and interesting ideas.

You can follow us on SoundcloudYoutube or iTunes and even Twitter! I’m sure there’s another, cool platform I’m forgetting but you can follow us on that too!

See you next week, podcats!

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets – A Review

valerianWe shouldn’t compare Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets to The Fifth Element, even if director Luc Besson is behind both of these films.

We shouldn’t compare the two because The Fifth Element had lead actors we liked, like Bruce Willis and Milla Jovovich. Valerian, on the other hand, has Dane Dehaan and Cara Delevingne. Dehaan, who was compelling in Chronicle, is a black hole of charisma in this film. As the action lead, he’s a failure. Too young to be taken seriously, too much of a snot to be likable, Dehaan’s portrayal as one of the galaxy’s best soldiers is hilariously off mark. Delevingne, who you might remember as the shaking, shadowy non-character Enchantress from Suicide Squad, fairs betters in the film but not by much. She has a flat, no-nonsense delivery that helps some of the lifeless dialog seem planned that way. But, she too comes across too young for the type of character she’s playing. If I’m supposed to believe either of these two have the field experience to be given any of the responsibility they have in Valerian, then consider me unconvinced. The only time I had any affection for them was when the two were dressed like characters from Final Fantasy X. Then they changed clothes and I lost all my positive feelings.

valerian_and_the_city_of_a_thousand_planets-hdWe shouldn’t compare Valerian to The Fifth Element because that nineties film had an energy that felt more like a comedy than a drama. It’s almost a scifi Rush Hour and not just because of a manic Chris Tucker. Valerian’s plot moves at a snails pace but I still found myself forgetting what our “heroes” were doing or if it had anything to do with the plot. The movie’s second act is a huge detour from anything that matters to the story and, when it finally gets back to the main plot, I had almost forgotten the goals and problems I was supposed to be invested in. A good example of why we shouldn’t compare the two movies is how The Fifth Element has that famous opera scene that connects to main plot. In Valerian, we had a strip tease from Rihanna that has little to do with the threat to the city (of a thousand planets). Sure, Dehaan needs her help, but only because of a sidequest that’s taking up forty minutes of the movie.

valerian-and-the-city-of-a-thousand-planets-2017-dane-dehaan

There’s not much more to say about Valerian. It was an exhausting film and not in the way that War for the Planet of the Apes left me ragged. I was bored after the first half hour and was never won back. Clive Owen gives a performance that left me feeling bad for the guy. None of the supporting characters, alien or otherwise, were charming. While I complained about the reason Rihanna’s character is involved, she’s has an energy that the film desperately needs but then ignores. The alien race we follow from the beginning is too noble to be interesting and too passive to connect with. The film’s opening of humanity greeting hundreds of new races to it’s space station, all set to David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” is charming but false advertising for the rest of the movie.

Yes, we should support original scifi (even adaptations), especially the ones that get bigger budgets. But, when the results are movies like Valerian, it’s hard to fault studios for not wanting to fund one hundred and fifty million dollar films, no matter how pretty they are. We shouldn’t compare Valerian to The Fifth Element because we still talk about that movie and Valerian will probably not last in the public consciousness. Heck, this review is running short because there just wasn’t enough on screen to talk about.

All the complaints people had about the Star Wars prequels apply here. Technical aptitude over plot, archetypes over characters, and stilted dialog over, well,, human dialog. George Lucas was torn apart by fans. Yet, for some reason, I’ve seen people trying to give Luc Besson a pass because he tried something big and grand and failed in the process. Maybe they’re just fans of The Fifth Element. But Valerian is no Fifth Element. Let’s not compare the two.

All the Books Show: Episode 81 – The Programmed Man

New week. New episode. It’s a great time to be alive. We talk a bunch of book news and reviews, Advocacy Day, people co-writing books with their cats and we find another book that hasn’t checked out since the 70s.

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Here’s the cover.

This book sounds so bad. I can handle some old fashion views of manhood in old science fiction, but it either has to be surrounded by good ideas and plot or it needs to be a little bit subtle in its machismo. The Programmed Man sounds like neither. But maybe you’ve read it and love it. Let me know. Prove me wrong. Bet you can’t.

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See you next week, podcats!